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.

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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!

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.

Writing Myself into Bliss

If you’ve ever read or watched “The Secret,” you know that the power of positive thinking is purported to be…well…almost magical.  Now, now.  I know what you’re thinking.  You are thinking… Fine.  Maybe I don’t know what you are thinking, but I think there is something to this theory.  I have set a goal for myself, in the short term and the long term.  I have set up a writing retreat for myself in the mid-term.  So one of the secrets of the secret, is that you MUST convince yourself of the actuality of your goal.  If your brain believes it, then your life will align itself, somehow (magically?) to make it so.  Hence, you must present your goals in present tense:

I am a writer.  I am published.  I make my living by writing. 

Okay.  That’s cool, right?

Guess what I have to do now. 

Write. Write like my life depends on it.  Because it does.  If I don’t make it my life, I’m never going to create the reality of “being” a writer.  For now, I will write as much as I can in my spare time, I will carve out spaces in weekends to write, I will create a routine to write every single day.  My goals will be like stepping stones that get me from one side of a river to the other.

I can totally do this, and so can you

Here’s an exercise: 

Write a scene using color as a theme. 

I will post my results tomorrow.

(good luck!)