Taking Your Art Seriously

I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.

I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.

AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.

So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.

But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.

First, obviously, is writing.

Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.

Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.

And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.

So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.

Tweaking or Just Tweaking Out?

Tweaking words is the name of the game.  Like a sound engineer with one of those giant soundboards of nobs and levers and sliders and digital output, I am constantly trying to nip my writing into something better, something perfect, something *just* right.

At some point, though, you have to stop tweaking.

My current battle is with this new publication I have on Amazon.  It is the short story “Church of the Palomino.”  I can’t post a link to it here, but you can search by the title and find it.  Please go…search, find…and do what you will (i.e. buy it)!

So, the object of my tweaking has shifted from the story itself to the description of the story.

It used to say this (a blurb I fashioned around midnight one night in a feverish attempt to meet my self-imposed publication deadline):

A widower finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is an exotic dancer. Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.”

When I read it the next day, my reaction was, “WHY did I start my description with “A widower?”  A WIDOWER?  Really, what was I thinking?  That’s not going to sell a story!

So, then I started using this hashtag in a handful of tweets about the story: #everybodylovesastripper.

Much better, I think.  More light-hearted anyway.  And everybody DOES (or should…strippers are people, too).  So, I updated the brief description to this:

“Everybody loves a stripper, right? Well, formerly puritanical Max does. As a widower he finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is Lexi–self-described as “a stripper with a heart of stone.” Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.”

I also managed to introduce the characters by name and include some meatier descriptions of them aside from “widower” and “stripper.”  The problem with describing a short story that has a twist at the end is that you don’t want the brief description to give it all away.  I am so tempted to have this whole diatribe about the relationship between these two characters and what they effectively do for one another, quite by accident, just by having a conversation and living through a couple of strange experiences together.  And it really has nothing to do with who they are or sex or any of the stereotypical things you might think when you put “a widower” and “a stripper” together.  He is not a dirty old  man.  He is lonesome and sad and desperate.  She is a girl (not a woman) who has been driven to this way of making money, because it is her best bet, given her circumstances, for survival.  They are just two people.

But I want people to get that for themselves when they read the story.  Someday I will put down my “English professor” agenda and just let my writing live on its own.

Back to tweaking…out.  I am a watcher and a hoverer.  I can admit this.  The number of times per day that I check my “Amazon Best Sellers Rank” is almost equal to my rank, which is, as of this moment: #152,433.  Woo hoo?  It has gone from 196k to 98k and back again in a matter of hours.  It kind of freaks me out.  And considering how little this story has sold, I know that this number is mainly dependent upon the success (or lack thereof) of others.  So, I’m easing off of the watching, because you know what they say about a watched pot…

As hard as it is, I have to just let it be, and hope that it does well.  And stop tweaking out.  And start working on the next thing!

Church of the Palomino

So here it is.  I apologize to those of you who read both of my blogs, but today is the day.  The Church of the Palomino…the short story I worked to build on this blog…has gone “live” on Amazon as a Kindle single.  Here is the cover:
church of the palomino cover
 
I am nearly peeing my pants with excitement!  After all that time and effort, I have finally put my writing out to the world for everyone to see.  And while it is exciting, it is also nerve-wracking and sort of scary.  Just a wee bit.
 
So, here is the brief description:
 
“A widower finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is an exotic dancer. Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.”
 
And it even includes three endings and an homage to Flannery O’Connor.  For just $1.29, how can you resist?  You can’t!
 
I hope you give it a read and share it with your friends. By the way, you do not need a Kindle to read Kindle downloads.  You can read on your iPhone, iPad, or PC.  Convenient AND paperless!
 
Now, though, it is time to work on the next story…a writer’s job  is never done.

The Vocation

I started this blog because my stepson challenged me to.  Because I want to be a writer when I want to grow up.  Because I feel as if writing is my true life’s vocation.  And by vocation, I mean:  I can’t not do it.  I am miserable when I don’t do it.  When I write, something inside of me unlocks and I am able to be myself.  My “real” self.

I have, largely, felt as if my hands are tied by the reality of life.  I have, though, dreamed the craziest of dreams telling me I must…that I have no choice, if I want to live a fulfilling life.  I dreamed last night that my hands were dripping what felt like blood, but when I looked down…it was words, dripping from my fingers on to the floor, where they lay there in a puddle, like alphabet soup.

When morning rolls around, and I have to get dressed to go sit at a desk, and do other people’s work, I have to damn up those words and stories and keep them at bay until I have time.  When the end of the work day comes, I am frazzled, and stressed out, and tired.  And then there is dinner to make, kids’ sporting events, dogs to walk, exercise to do, dishes to wash, floors to sweep…and then I really ought to go to sleep.  And then, my mind whirs out these ideas and notions and stories–things I would really like to explore on paper, research and write about, and I make a mental note and finally fall asleep.  And then it starts over again.

I want to know…how do I make this dream life my real life?  I remember Toni Morrison saying that she had to make time to write…that she had to carve it out for herself or it would never happen.  In an interview from the Paris Review (1993), she said, “Writing before dawn began as a necessity—I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning.”  {If you have read my blog, you know this does not work for me…I am not a morning person.}  But then, she says this:

Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.   I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I know that I have to carve out the time for my writing life.  I know that I am going to have to prioritize and carve the time from the day for this act of creativity, because no one else is going to, because no one else needs to.  It’s not their vocation…it’s mine.

Have you designed your perfect place, found your perfect time?  I’m taking this as my task today.  To schedule it and make it known.  To steal it, if I can.  To listen to the calling.  To write.

Happy NaNoWriMo Eve!

I found this list from another author…you may know him as the man who wrote Tropic of
Cancer (oh so scandalous back in the day!), Henry Miller:

Writer’s, write!

I wish (with eyes closed and heels clicking) that writing…the art and craft and community of it all…can become my primary, sustaining, fervent, fulfilling work.

There is no reason to be waiting until tomorrow to do any of it.  But tomorrow, I start on THE project of the month…that 1,667 words a day undertaking…the one I will do my best to apply the above rules to.  I AM going to have to shoehorn it into my life, but once I get my foot in there, I am going to wear it out like my favorite pair of pennyloafers.

Church of the Palomino…if I have time for it, I will pluck and pin and reshape it into the thing I want it to be…it is still not quite “there” yet, so I am going to have to put you aside for a while.

Tonight (and surely, I should have done this already), I am going to set up my workspace for NaNoWriMo.  The pencils and pencil sharpener will be within reach, the notebooks meant to capture this particular story will be stacked and ready.  I have decided NOT to do this on my computer because I write better in longhand first.  First pass editing happens electronically.  There is no time for editing with NaNoWriMo.  I DO need to set up a particular playlist on my ipod and/or queue up my favorite CDs, so I have no excuse to go looking for them when it is time to write.  And now that I am thinking about it, I need to have a writing “outfit” ready to go, too.  I know that sounds crazy, but that’s how I roll.  Big shirt over pajama pants and slipper socks.  It’s the little things, people.

I have to admit…this feels kind of like Christmas Eve…so exciting with the getting ready!!!  All that is missing is hot chocolate and plate of cookies (and carrots for the reindeer).  And to think…a book is going to come out of this!  That is the most exciting part of all.

Good luck, all ye other NaNoWriMo-ers!  Let the insanity begin!

A little quote…

From a dream I had…

I have a lot of dreams related to writing. Mostly they tell me that I need to, that I am not spending enough effort toward it, that I have a calling, what am I waiting for…you know: WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING?

I go through phases where it is all that I think about. But sometimes, when work is burdensome and I am tired and there are too many other distractions either personal or professional, I will have one of those dreams that knocks me back into place with a jolt.

The quote above was a from a dream. One that I woke up from like walking through a door. I won’t go into details, but the one person whom I would listen to without question said these words to me: “Write like your life depends on it.” I’ve been haunted ever since. And I must write these instructions on my heart and do so.

This little kid I know…

So, I know this little kid.  Let’s call him Mitchell.  Mitchell is one of my favorite kids of ALL TIME.  Tonight, during dinner over chinese food (which he insisted he didn’t like, but then which he ate quite a bit of), I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up.  He is 7, and so, very logically, answered, “I don’t know yet.” 

I asked his father what he wants to be when he grows up.  At this, Mitchell was flabbergasted.  “He is already a grown up! He works!”  I explained how not all grown ups get to do what they REALLY want to do for a living.  Again, Mitch was flabbergasted.  When asked what I want to be when I grow up, I answered, “I want to be a writer who farms.”  Mitchell’s sage advice, given without hesitation and with a forkful of beef and broccoli on its way to his mouth: “Then just go do it if that’s what you want to do.” 

And although I have graduate degrees in the craft of writing and the science of soil, I have failed to choose either of these pursuits for the way I “make a living.”  The universe has nearly bashed me over the head with what I need to be doing with my life, but this was the statement that made me pay attention. 

After Mitch made this statement, a challenge was thrown down.  I must start tonight with my pursuit of writing as a career.  I must start a new blog for writing or else…Mitchell told me I would have to wash all four of my dogs as punishment.

So, although my dogs could use a bath, I am writing tonight to seal the agreement. 

I have a ridulous number of works in progress, but I am starting a new creative development workshop with my cousin, who is also an artist committing herself to its legitimate pursuit, and I want to use this as a forum for the creative works I will bring to light during this workshop.  So what if it sucks?  That’s what editing is for.

And that’s what this blog is for.  Being a writer.

Thanks, Mitchell.