Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Spoke in the Wheel

So I had considered all kinds of topics for today’s post.  I thought of talking about recreation (besides reading) and how it impacts the writing life.  I thought of discussing the obligation which friends occasionally place upon the writer to leave behind paper and pen and laptop.  Those weren’t all my topics, either.

And doubtless I will discuss them at some future point – probably quite soon.  However, I had something more immediate come up.  A fellow teacher texted me two Mondays ago and asked me if I wanted to take care of her dog and house while she was out of town for a few days.  I’m on summer vacation and I like dogs, so I thought the plan sounded like fun. 

A cute little alien!
Now, I have house-sat before.  I’ve even been a house-and-dog-sitter before.  What I’ve never done, however, is take care of an indoor dog, who basically has to stay inside, because she is a pound rescue who was semi-feral at some point in the not so distant past.  A dog like that needs a lot of attention.  The house-sitting has turned out to be not quite the five days of peace which I anticipated, and I’ve had to adapt my writing schedule accordingly. 

I thought, therefore, that I’d write my blog post about how my life as a writer has progressed, while living in another person’s house and caring for another person’s dog.  It’s been an interesting – and actually a very fun – experience.

Tuesday, June 26

I arrived to let the dog out of her crate at about 10 in the morning.  She was very glad to see me, and excited about her walk – until we opened the front door and found it was pouring rain.  Suddenly she was much more interested in the comfortable indoors.  I persevered though, and once she was out in it, she perked right up and found all the smells of wet grass, etc., most intriguing. 

The face of religious fanaticism!
After that the day turned quite helter-skelter.  Poor doggie only got about thirty minutes out of her crate between 11:30 and 7:30, because I  needed to shop, pack, make beer with friends, and eat.  I did make it up to her with a long walk (luckily the rain had stopped), but even so the hours of being cooped up had left the dog extremely hyper, to say the least. 

I sat down about 9:30 to do some editing, foolishly thinking that my furry charge would be worn out by her walk and by the thirty minutes I’d spent throwing her beloved red toy for her.  I was quite wrong.  About once every two minutes for the next two hours I had to throw the blasted thing, or else she would nudge it into my side, paw at my leg, climb on my back – you get the picture.  She is very insistent.  Needless to say, I did not edit much that night.  I began to despair about getting any work done during the five days.

Wednesday, June 27

I did not wake up with much more hope.  The dog had felt insecure without her real master there in the house, and so had spent the night whining and shaking her collar each hour on the hour, regular as a little clock.  We were both a little tired and grumpy, but staggered around the neighborhood anyway.  Luckily the weather had returned to normal and it was a sunny and invigorating walk, even if the dog did pull on the leash excessively.

Then I went to my parents’ house to celebrate their anniversary, before returning home.  By this time I was desperate to work.  I’m in the process of trimming my second novel down to a reasonable size, and I was determined to finish Chapter 6 this week – dog or no dog.  I let her wander in and out of the porch door, so that she could entertain herself in the back yard and I could keep an eye on her, even while editing.

Much to my relief, the plan worked great.  I edited for two and a half hours total, throwing the inevitable red toy occasionally when the dog insisted (she even barks at you if you don’t throw it fast enough – an extremely cheeky creature).  Mostly, though, she basked in the backyard sun, sniffed at interesting things, or stared out the front door.  To reward her for being such a good dog, I threw the red toy in the backyard for about a half hour.

Refreshment in a glass!
Then I made dinner for my college-age brother, since my parents had gone off gallivanting for their anniversary. My dish was a Greek stew with peppers and sausage called ‘spetzofai’ – delicious!  Once I’d cleaned everything up, it was time for the next walk.  The dog and I trekked single-mindedly through the hot evening and came back panting to slurp down bowls of water in her case and gin-and-tonics in my case.  Nothing more refreshing after a long summer walk than a gin-and-tonic, it turns out.  I congratulate my hostess for keeping the necessary ingredients. 

The evening was spent much like the afternoon – me editing, and throwing the ubiquitous red toy for the dog.  Luckily she was much better exercised than Tuesday, so she was not a pest, and by eleven both she and I felt quite ready for bed.  I slept the sleep of the justified, since I had done right by my canine friend, and also managed to edit no less than nine pages of my chapter.

Thursday, June 28

Today has been the smoothest yet.  We got up at eight, performed our morning ablutions and then walked at high speed around the neighborhood, returning for a much deserved breakfast.  She soaked up some rays on the back deck while I ate and caught up on my emails, then I cleaned up the kitchen, threw the – you guessed it – red toy for her some more in the backyard, before heading home.

Once there I die my laundry, made a delicious coffee and brandy parfait, popped it in the freezer to do its thing for 24 hours, ate lunch and then was reunited with my doggie friend.  She was glad to see me, but the hot day made her willing to take it easy (which in her terms means only throwing the toy once every five minutes), which give me time to edit some more.  You'll all be glad to know that I finished my chapter – actually early, because I would have been happy to be done tomorrow.  It turns out that, even with a bored dog who wants a lot of attention,  progress on writing projects can still be made.  An encouraging thought!

We saw this alley on our walk - isn't it lovely?
I also contributed to another homebrewing session, ate dinner with my parents, and collected the things I’ll need for the rest of my stay, before returning to take the dog for a (long, hot, extremely fast) walk. 

We were both tired and thirsty upon returning (more bowls of water! More gin-and-tonics!) but after a shower for me and a little nap for her, we’re full of energy for the evening.  She’s still pushing the red toy into my thigh just to remind me that I really, really want to throw it for her, and I’m still determined to get some work done.  In fact, I’ve written this whole blog post in about an hour and a quarter, even with momentary pauses to play fetch.  I’d call that a productive evening. 

Anyway, sorry for the rambling , but I thought it might be fun to share what sort of odd challenges I meet in writing.  Even dog-shaped spokes sometimes get stuck into our smoothly rolling creative wheels, it seems.  To be sure, I’ve probably moved a bit slower than I would have if spared the need to throw a red rubber thing of indefinite identity for a brown and white English pointer, but I’m still content.  It’s nice to have the company, to feel needed and responsible.  I feel successful because I've balance her need and my responsibility with some very satisfactory progress in my writing. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

To Read or Not to Read

On Robin McKinley’s totally awesome blog, she has a rotating cycle of quotes from famous people in the top corner of the page.  One of these contains a witticism about reading and writing – and of course I can’t find the exact quote, because the internet is perverse. 

Anyway, there is a moral to this story.  The elusive quote declares that a person can certainly be a writer or a reader, but not both, because both are full-time occupations. 

This shelf, for example: the owl keeps the books company
This is true in some ways.  Because I teach and write, spare time for reading is hard to come by.  I teach a literature class, so I read for that, of course.  Otherwise for nine months out of the year, I put books on the shelf and merely stare at them longingly as I pass by.  I do this so that I can keep up with my writing, rather than get absorbed in someone else’s.

It’s a sad thing, though.  I love to read.  I was one of those children who can get a whole stack of books from the library (and not picture books for preschoolers, either, but real books with a hundred or more pages) and read every one of them by the end of the same day.  It was kind of like an addiction, actually.  The sensation of my eyes traveling down the page was downright pleasurable – and of course I loved the stories too. 

Now, let me make a distinction about the kind of reading I’m talking about.  I don’t mean ‘work’ reading, that you do in order to maintain your GPA, or for your job.  I mean the honest-to-goodness, curling-up-in-a-comfy-chair, drinking-tea, staying-up-to-all-hours style of reading.  The sort of reading where the book calls to you and you can hardly put it down, even for showers, so you just take it with you inside the shower. 

Anyway, after I grew out of being a book-devouring child, I went to college, and had reading for classes.  This was so time-consuming that pleasure reading got pushed further and further down my list of priorities.  For example, I was once assigned Kant’s Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, a hundred pages of Moby Dick, and three dialogues of Plato, all to be read in about three days.  My college believed in reading, but it wasn’t exactly fun (except for Moby Dick, which I loved).  Then came teaching, which I’ve been doing for quite a while now, and again, I read for work, but not for myself. 

I like FAT books!
During the summers, though, I always try to catch up.  This summer I’m working through a book lent to me by someone who wanted my opinion on it, and then I want to read The Hunger Games Trilogy, and I was thinking about attacking The Tale of Genji as part of my attempt to expand my exposure to world literature.  I feel excited just thinking about those lovely words waiting for me.

Why am I saying all this, though?  Well, because it’s easy to get into the mindset where we tell ourselves, “If I’m not writing, I’m wasting my time.”  So after coming home from a long day of work, we decide not to read, because we should be writing, but then, because we don’t have the energy to write after a full day, we don’t stick to our decision.  The result: guilt.

I think a writer has to resign him- or herself to the reality that it’s simply impossible to force writing in every free moment – sometimes it’s not even possible to force oneself to do it every day.  And that is okay. 

If a writer is having writer’s block, or is tired, or depressed, or busy, etc., etc., then getting to work on the latest novel may not actually be the best idea.  Sometimes, for example, if I am really upset about something, I decide to try to write anyway.  Then because I’m distracted and blue, I can hardly concentrate on the words I’m typing, progress is slow, and frustration is thrown in on top of my other negative emotions. 

Each book is a world of its own!
It’s far healthier at such times, I’ve discovered, to read.  At least for me, reading is so engrossing that it draws me out of myself.  I stop thinking about whatever was on my mind as I follow the twists of the plot and revel in meeting new characters.  Best of all, when I finish reading a chapter or two (or six), I find that my mind is refreshed.  Through contact with another writer’s style and ideas, my own style and ideas are awakened and ready to be used.  Just yesterday, in fact, I spent the evening reading and then, thanks to the expansive effect on my mind, I was able to write a poem.

The reason I bring this up, therefore, is to encourage anyone dealing with work and art simultaneously not to hesitate to throw in a bit of some third pastime.  In moments of strain when life and writing are at odds and I feel like I can do neither, it’s a restful escape to have some other occupation that actually restores my ability to balance the primary ones. 

We all have to get out of ourselves occasionally.  What better way is there than to plunge our minds into an activity which sends us back, revived for our daily lives.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prose or Poetry or Both

Even daVinci couldn't quite get things lined up
The topic of balancing work and art (whether writing or anything else) can hardly be summarized in just one short blog post.  Last time, I mentioned the patience we need to sustain the artistic self.  I think we can all agree such a quality is essential, but we also have to be careful.  While necessarily absorbed in other, primary obligations – to family, work, or what have you – we have to find a way to keep our skills and intuition alive. 

When I can’t write for a while, which happens fairly often if I’m deeply involved in teaching, I start getting itchy.  I can feel the sensation practically physically, it’s so strong…I realize that may sound a little weird.  Chalk it up to my hyperactive imagination! 

A feeling like that, however, can’t be totally ignored.  We can’t expect our artistic side to just shut up and go away for three weeks, or 7 months – even 40 years, as JulesPaige mentioned when she commented on my last post.  It will continue to prod us towards a creative outlay of some kind.  If we completely squash it I think we are almost blameworthy, in some small way, for ignoring our natural talent and drive. 

So what to do when only a moment here and there can be snatched for writing, when small toddlers, or teenagers, or report cards, or sick parents, or any of the other million and one possible duties completely consume our time?  My solution is poetry.

I consider myself a novelist.  I have written three full-length novels, and I’m within range of the end of another.  I enjoy almost more than anything the process of giving structure to a large plot and dimension to a full cast of characters.  I love the feeling of standing in the shower (my rather random favorite place to think about stories) and realizing that the inner logic of one of my characters ensures that he or she will behave in just the right way to compel the plot forward to its appropriate end.  There’s something beautiful and exhilarating about that. 

Writing a novel is a bit like building a city:  complex, slow, but amazing results!
However, up until now I have not distinguished myself by brevity in writing.  My first novel (granted it needs to be thoroughly reworked and shortened) is currently the somewhat stunning length of 205,000 words.  My second in its unedited state was 190,000, though I’m in the process of cutting it down and I suspect it will end up at around 130,000.  My third, also unedited, is 184,000.  I have been making conscious efforts to say more in fewer words, so my latest I estimate will be around 100,000 when I finish it, which is a far more manageable length.  My point, though, is that writing a 100,000-word piece of fiction, not to mention one twice that long, is extremely time-consuming.  I'm a fast writer, comparatively, but even so, I’ve devoted an average of fourteen months to the writing process of each story.  Also, that time-frame does not at all include the multiple edits I have to make afterwards. 

Whenever anyone is engaged in a project which takes a minimum of 14 months (let's be realistic - it's more like three years, editing included) to complete, there will inevitably be periods when it can’t be worked on, because other things come up instead.  Also, if you know in advance that you have to commit that much time to something, you may have to put it off and keep putting it off until you know, in good conscience, that you’ll have free time to devote to it. 

A poet appreciates the details.
That still leaves us with the question of how poetry saves the creative side of our personality in such a pinch.  My answer is that a poem can be blessedly and mercifully brief - at least, if I need it to be.  I can write a haiku, a mere three lines, encapsulating some tiny experience which strikes me on any given day, and then move on with my duties.  It may not be wholly satisfying, I admit.  If I’m in a busy spell of my life, I may still long for the freedom to devote hours to writing, so as to expend all my artistic energies – but at least I’ve let off a little steam and, in some small way, honed my skills and my vision of the world. 

Granted, very few are probably true poets:  we may lack finesse of language or a sense of rhythm or a perfect image of our experience.  However, jotting down a few words on the back of an envelope, or in a journal, or a word document kept for that purpose – even something so small (and seemingly ridiculous) as sorting photographs and finding an expressive title for each one – I believe these small efforts can sustain me as a writer, even when I’m too busy to do anything else. 

After days (even years) of waiting for the right moment to begin a magnum opus, if we have maintained the habit of small creative acts, surely we will find that our talents have been honed for a grand one.  We may even look back on the accumulated tiny efforts and discover we have already produced something great enough in itself. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Work vs...More Work

So the real quandary about being a writer, it turns out, is work. 

Why is that?  Well, because, unless you are the type to fling caution to the winds and let necessity force you to figure out how to make writing a paying job, other work has to be found to support the writing habit.  I admire those who are daring enough to make the move I mentioned, but I can’t be like that myself.  I admit that I like having a bit of security.  It’s nice not to be the classic starving artist, scrambling for every penny. 

Moscow, Idaho
Teaching is like lightning! 
However, it’s not just security that keeps me at my job.  I’m a teacher, and even though I didn’t suspect this would happen when I started working at my school, it turns out that I actually enjoy the job.  I like children and I like knowledge, and I like the electric sparks that can happen when children and knowledge meet.  The only problem is that teaching is really, really time consuming….but so is writing.

I’m not the only one with this problem.  My friends, Vasnefy and Mrs. L, have very similar difficulties.  Vasnefy writes luminous novellas and poetry, but is also a teacher, working at two schools and traveling on weekends to tutor.  Mrs. L writes lyrical short stories about the beauty and sadness of human life, but is also a stay-at-home mom with two busy toddlers to look after.  When, in such full schedules, does the peace and quiet needed for writing ever appear? 

I’m not sure there is a permanent answer for anyone who is basically balancing two occupations at once.  If one of them is noticeably less appealing, then of course it’s possible to deprioritize it, even shirk duties a bit in order to win time for the other, more engrossing work.  When both are fulfilling and absorbing, though, it’s hard to find time to do them justice.  Vasnefy, for example, simply loves the students she teaches, and moreover finds her incredibly busy schedule fun and challenging—a way to prove she can rise above herself and accomplish great things.  In the case of Mrs. L, too, how could a mother ever justify placing her writing above the welfare of her family?  It can’t be done.  Writing gets put on the back burner.  

Eventually, though, if it stays back there, we start to feel frustrated.  It's possible even to become resentful of the job that's absorbing all our efforts.  To prevent those destructive feelings, a balance is a necessity.   

Have I achieved this balance?  Probably not. 

I keep as busy as the proverbial bee!
For example, just a month ago, I was completely engrossed in helping some of my students prepare for SATs, practice for a play, improve their essays, study literature, check out library books and deal with teenage drama.  For three weeks I did not have the energy or the mental capacity to write down a single word.  I had the time, for sure – there is always time – but there is a difference between having time and being actually able to do something, even as crucial for me as writing. 

Sometimes I feel like a failure because I can’t force myself to write in every last spare moment of the day.  Then I think about things more logically and realize that if I did, I’d quickly turn writing into an onerous and impossible chore.  I might even (God forbid) come to hate it, and give it up entirely.  That would be tragic. 

I’ve concluded, therefore, that writers who also have some other duty to perform must develop patience.  We have to look beyond the week or month or year where other work keeps us from writing.  From that overarching viewpoint, I can see that every time I must completely focus myself upon my students and my teaching, I actually collect valuable experience. 

Coeur d'Alene Resort
I look about like this when I don't get to write enough...
The best writing comes from what is real.  How can we collect true experience of reality unless we are willing to plunge wholeheartedly into the situations that come up in our lives?  Even though I forget this principle sometimes and feel anxious (even grumpy!) about not getting to write often enough, what should keep me sane is the idea that I am most expanding my horizons as a writer when I am intensely committed to my life, interacting with people and storing daily memories.

At some point, after I’ve incorporated this wealth of experience into myself, I will be able to sit down and pause from the business of teaching or any other occupation I might try.  Then I will find that not only do I have all the time in the world to write, but my other work constitutes an invaluable resource for fueling my story-building and character-crafting.  For any writer – or any person who is trying to maintain an artistic endeavor while surviving at their job – keeping this idea in mind could be a life saver, a sort of buoy. 

I myself am spoiled, though.  As a teacher I may be swamped for nine months of the year, but at least the other three are open for as much writing as I can possibly manage.  I admit that I’ve got a pretty sweet deal – I really can’t complain!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ideal Day

It’s easy to be negative about our own lives.  For example, I occasionally read about other (usually younger) people who are already getting published or winning contests, or what have you, and I feel a little twinge of jealousy.  I think:  it would be nice to be in their shoes right now.

However, so that we don’t all turn into raving, jealous maniacs, life is set up to give us all occasional good times.  Indeed I was not published at the age of twenty, but still I have wonderful days, and at the end of them I think, “This is what life as a writer should be like.”

Today was a day like that.  Let me show you how it went.

9:00 am:  Breakfast, which is my favorite meal of the day.  It’s always light and energizing; it always tastes good and, best of all, there is coffee!

Who can resist?
9:45:  I’m making Mexican food tonight, which means the beans have to be started early.  I pick through them to sort out any broken ones, put them in a pot on the stove with onions and water, and set them to simmer away merrily for as long as they like.  Three cheers for slow-cooking, low-maintenance food! 

10:00:  I’ve had a deep desire to eat cinnamon buns lately, so I pull out the necessary ingredients.  Making the dough for them is so satisfactory.  A random assortment of ingredients go together and then, tada! they produce a perfect, homogenous mass of deliciousness.  Baking is actually singularly like writing a novel, I realize.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of cooking and other kitchen activities!

10:30:  My main dish for dinner is served at room temperature, so I can do all the cooking in the morning, and have my afternoon free – a delightful thought!  I start preparing the beef.  It has to be shredded for my dish (Salpicón - a word that rejoices in the translation ‘hodgepodge’) so it also slow-cooks for 45 minutes, which leaves me with 20 minutes to start editing some writing from last week.

11:00: A timer rings, so I pause my editing to discover a pillow of beautifully-risen dough waiting for me in its bowl.  I roll it out, brush it with butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar, before rolling it up, slicing it, and packing it into a baking pan.  I think about spirals and how I've loved the shape ever since my college roommate, Vasnefy, and I planned out a whole science-fiction world where time operated on a spiral.  The shape seems to me the perfect balance between the motion of a line and the unity of a circle. 

Mexican food
The unassembled hodgepodge!
11:15:  The meat is ready, so I take it off the heat while I’m finishing the cinnamon rolls.  It cools in its broth and then…it has to be shredded.  Shredding two pounds of London broil is not exactly my cup of tea, but hey – it’s worth it for the end results.  Once that chore is done, the rest of the hodgepodge gets mixed in, and I leave it to marinate in its own deliciousness until dinner. 

12:00:  The beans are coming along, so I add salt and a bit of cilantro, give them a good stir, and then clean up the kitchen.  In the midst of that, the cinnamon buns pop in to be baked and I start my laundry for the week.  It’s a good feeling to have accomplished this much by midday.  

12:20: The buns emerge looking appetizing, and I consider having one for lunch, but resist the temptation.  They are meant for tomorrow’s breakfast, since my Friday schedule is going to be crunched. 

1:00:  The kitchen is squared away, the beans are happily simmering, so now it’s time for some more editing.  I work for half an hour, completing a whole chapter of my novel-in-progress.

1:30:  Lunch-time, followed by another once-over for the edited chapter.  I write emails, shift laundry to the dryer, fold and hang it, check the beans periodically, and finally make my bed.  I have an excuse for leaving it unmade for so long, though:  I decided today had to be sheet-washing day.    

3:00:  The beans are done at last:  I didn’t rush them at all, and they are soft and perfect for refrying just before dinner.  I feel proud of myself, since this is the first time I’ve tried my hand at refried beans from scratch.  It’s deeply satisfactory to know you can do something for yourself, rather than relying on a can from the grocery store.  To reward myself for a job well done, I start some preliminary writing for this blog post.

5:00:  After an hour of writing and another of reading, internet-browsing, and photo-editing, it’s time to make some frosting for the cinnamon rolls.  They are delectable on their own, of course, but I never say no to the chance to smooth on a dollop of cream-cheese frosting.  Frosting is to cinnamon-rolls as illustrations are to a story: not essential, but always welcome to us creatures of the senses.

Mexican Food
Salpicón of Beef!
6:30:  I put the final touches on dinner (guacamole! refried beans!).  Then my family arrives and we eat.  Gin-and-tonics are had by all, creating (as gin-and-tonics will) a most convivial atmosphere. My glamorous hodgepodge is universally declared a success.  Finally there are dishes, goodnights and now, at 9:30, I find myself in my room, content and ready to do a little more writing to round off my day. 
The story was long, but the moral of it is that sometimes, even in very simple circumstances I can enjoy myself perfectly.  I may not be published or commercially successful, but still I can have utterly satisfying days, in which I exercise all of my creative abilities, whether over the stove top or at my desk. 

Smetimes we don’t have to scramble around looking for our balance.  Instead it simply creates itself out of the materials at hand.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Mercenary Matter

Whenever I think about the work it takes to get published, I feel puzzled.  This isn’t because I’m confused about the publishing process, but because it’s very good at absorbing all my efforts, even though I still have plenty of other things to do.

I sit down and draft a query letter; I scroll through internet lists of agents, looking for one that might fit me; I search for contests to which I might submit my very occasional short stories.  By the time I'm done, four hours have gone by and I’m no longer interested in working on my latest novel, or thinking about a new poem, or editing old work.  Such lethargy is, of course, a problem, but I’m sure it’s familiar to anyone trying to make what he or she loves a commercial success.

American IPA
Relax! Don't worry! Have a homebrew!
For example, my friend who is studying architecture also loves to brew beer.  He loves it so much that sometimes he thinks it would be more fun to be a brewer than an architect.  Of course he enjoys his profession, but there is something particularly relaxing about brewing.  I can attest to this; I’ve helped him upon occasion and it is indeed peaceful and restorative.  Besides, the results are literally intoxicating and what could be better?

However, once you devote a lot of spare time to something you enjoy, you start to think, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be paid for all this extra work I’m doing?’

Of course it would be nice!  Everyone wants to be paid, and in an ideal world absolutely everyone would in fact be paid for doing what they love. 

Fort Worth Zoo
This is how writing makes me feel!
The world is sadly not ideal. 

When I sit down to write, I enter a state where I am happy, calm, and sane (not that I’m insane other times…I’m just more sane when writing!).  I put all my efforts into creating new things and at the same time I ‘recreate’ myself.

On the other hand, when I work at getting published, I feel uncertain, nervous and skeptical about my chances for success.  There is definitely a conflict between the two pastimes. 

From what my brewing acquaintance tells me, there is a similar conflict for the homebrewer-turned-professional. Working for yourself, you get to make what you want while simply enjoying the pursuit for its own sake.  Once you move to a bigger audience you have to stand out, and also curtail any impulse to tweak or adapt the recipes which people particularly like.  Brewers suddenly have to invest a lot of time and energy into advertisements and mass-production. 

The creativity and constant experimentation which kept the hobby fun turn out to be almost a liability.  Anheuser-Busch doesn’t indulge in creative experimentation, after all, and look at how successful Budweiser is.  On the writing side of things, you see authors settle into a comfortable rut where they write almost the exact same thing over and over, with different names and titles, because it sells

Is there any solution to this tension between marketability and individuality? 

New York City
This is how publishing makes me feel...
I think there is, or else I would probably stop trying to get published right now.  For example, one of my solutions is this blog.  For sure I think that an internet voice is something that agents look for in new authors, so there were practical considerations that inspired my Balancing Act.

On the other hand I wouldn’t have started to write it unless I thought it would be a new and interesting way to exercise my skills and ideas. 

My other solution is time management.  It’s easy, as a creative personality, to work whenever the inspiration hits, even if that’s only once a month, but more structure is needed if a person is going to maintain his or her artistic identity while looking for publishing options.  Otherwise, inspiration will fade and monetary considerations will conquer.

This summer I'm fighting against that mercenary spirit, even while dividing my time between publishing efforts and actual writing/editing.  I’ve decided to allot days of the week to the two endeavors.  Monday, Wednesday, Friday: creative work; Tuesday, Thursday: publishing work.  I think the split in favor of writing will help prevent any surrender of my personal standards concerning what constitutes good fiction.    

As for homebrewers who want to become professionals while maintaining their brewing integrity…well, I’m not qualified to offer you solutions.  Instead I wish you best of luck and promise to sample your efforts with great enjoyment.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Why This Blog

This angel, for example
I decided to start a blog about a month ago when I unexpectedly spent an hour talking to another writer in a Starbucks.  She was very interesting and very savvy, and explained to me how she had been self-promoting her self-published novel with considerable success.  I felt flattered by her attention, but also – slightly inadequate.  I do very little to self-promote.  
If my publishing dream came true, an angel would appear at my left hand right now and say, ‘Send your manuscripts to this agent and you will automatically be published in one year.’ 

However, the likelihood of angelic apparitions is slim, so I figured the next best thing is to build an internet presence, or at least a bigger one than I already have.  A blog seemed the obvious solution.

Feeling satisfied with myself about the decision, I turned to the question of a topic and drew a blank.  I am a writer.  Writing is not exactly riveting to describe….“Wednesday, June 6:  Today I went to work and then came home and wrote for three hours.  I accomplished my goals by finishing a new blog post and a rough draft of a novel chapter.  The end.” 

See?  Kind of boring. 

So then I thought about the type of blogs I read. 

My favorite kind is about cooking.  I love to cook, so theoretically I could write about that and post recipes and either scrumptious-looking or artistically atmospheric photos of food.  

Artistically atmospheric food photo!
The only catch is…there are seriously a million food blogs out there.  I don’t take incredible pictures of food.  I don’t make up my own recipes, but cook happily from cookbooks.  I don’t naturally link important personal memories to the food I eat.  In other words, I don’t seem to do any of the things that make food blogs successful. 

Okay, so if not cooking, I could talk about fashion!  I love clothes (especially shoes).  Moreover, I even make some of my clothes.  I could discuss the fashions I like and how I adapt them in my sewing.  Then I’d take pictures of the finished results.  Perfect – except there are as many fashion blogs as food blogs.  Besides, I don’t have the funds to indulge in the massive variety of clothes which would make such a blog engrossing.

Proof of my travels!
I have traveled, so I could write about that, but I only average one big trip every 18 months, which isn't frequent enough to sustain a blog.  I enjoy photography, so I could post my pictures, but I don’t actually know a thing about the technical side of the art, so that’s too cheeky. 

I could be obvious and post stories and poems, but I already do that on my deviantArt page; I’d rather not be redundant.  There’s the subject of beauty and body image which women always find fascinating, but I’m a reasonably confident person, so it seems hypocritical to talk about issues which don’t particularly bother me.  Relationship blogs strike me as creepy, since the internet at large doesn't need to know about the intimate details of my personal life, so that wasn’t an option.

As you can probably tell, I was stumped for a topic – until last week, when a sudden inspiration hit me.  I am certainly interested in all the above things (it’s the curse of the writer to have a ridiculous range of interests), so why not talk about how to balance them with writing?  Being a novelist is, after all, a time-consuming thing.  So are work and cooking and sewing and travel and photography and beauty and a social life and relationships with people, etc., etc.  It’s enough to make me wish for a thirty-six hour day!

Since it’s the rare person who can do the one thing they absolutely love for their whole life without distraction, I figure I’m not alone in wondering about how to squeeze in my passions and interests and hobbies amidst my work and obligations.  A blog about what it’s like to achieve that balance – or at least attempt to – seems like a perfect fit for me. 

Now let’s see if it’s a perfect fit for any readers out there!