Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Dark Moon
Saturn Retrograde
Sunny and Cold

The new post is up on Gratitude and Growth.

I saw my acquaintance’s scene online — the one I missed with the power outage. It was FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC. Good work, Babe! 😉 I’m really proud of you and can’t wait to see what they put you through next season!

My class “Unsticking Your Book” starts today over on Savvy Authors, and it is packed to the rafters! Which is a good thing, but I have to get into “teaching head” — AFTER I’ve completed my daily quotas on the book and on the play. It’s easier to switch from fiction head to teaching head than the other way around, so I have to make sure I get my own fiction writing for the day done before I teach. I can slide out of the non-fiction/business writing any time I want, basically, but to dive into the world of the book or the play, I need uninterrupted, untainted time.

Speaking of switching heads, I’m really tired of business writers ghetto-izing fiction writers. I’ve seen it over the last couple of years over a wide cross-section of blogs and articles online and in-print. When yesterday morning, I read five pieces back-to-back that came across as denigrating to the creative side of writing, opposing it to the business side, I was spitting nails. Business writers are not the ONLY freelancers out there — novelists, short story writers, designers, fine artists, potters, animators, professional musicians who move from gig to gig, dancers, actors, playwrights, hell, even television and film writers are freelancers, too. The dictionary defines “freelance” as working for multiple companies or organizations, not just one. Pretty much anyone who works in the arts is a freelancer.

We have to be good artists AND good business people, so the complete and utter contempt that the bulk of business writers show for the artistic process — which, in order to earn a living has to be birthed WITHIN the business smarts process — is working my last nerve. Frankly, one of the biggest problems I see in business writers who claim they want to write fiction is that they don’t take the fiction seriously enough to make it a priority, and they are too deeply entrenched in their non-fiction process and walking away from the desk at 5 PM and not working weekends no matter what to be able to let go in the way one needs to in order to write fiction.

They see writing and life as separate. It’s not. Many people claim walking away from the desk indicates “balance.” What you need is “integration.” Plenty of writers with jobs and families manage to do that and still not shortchange their jobs and their families, because they integrate and they want it badly enough. People trying to make the switch into fiction are often so worried about being “in control” that they can’t let go enough to create. They’re so worried that writing will “interfere” with their lives that they don’t allow it to inform their lives.

As a teacher, who’s now had hundreds of students pass through my classes over the years, I see business writers who claim they want to expand into fiction make the same choices over and over and over, even when they’re warned that “their process” — which they get very defensive about –may not work and there might be a better, different way. When that “process” has failed the three hundred people ahead of you, maybe you should rethink it. Maybe you’re “the one” who’s different — likely, you’re not. There are certain mistakes all students have to make to learn, and certain mistakes they don’t have to make, but insist on making anyway. As long as you learn, it’s worth it. But, so often, this particular type of writer doesn’t learn.

Different types of writing require different approaches. Flexibility and a willingness to try different ways of doing things. It takes time. You will have to build that time into your day or take that time from something else. Kicking a stone wall will result in a broken toe before you move the wall, so find a better, less painful way.

It’s interesting — I thought freelance writers would be the most receptive to working in new ways, because they already earn their living by writing. Writers of nonfiction books and lengthy feature articles that require lots of time, research and interviews are usually great. They’ll try anything. Copywriters, annual report writers, corporate writers — they are the most resistant and the most inflexible, in my experience thus far. They are the most vociferous about how professional they are and how unprofessional “artists” are. They don’t whine, but they get very aggressive in why they HAVE to do it THIS way, and they’d rather keep bashing the same wall until they knock themselves unconscious than try anything that might work better, if it means doing something differently. Makes me wish I’d kept statistics. I’m keeping loose publishing statistics — right now, about 70% of my students are selling the work developed in class, which is a pretty good track record for all of us.

Fiction writers write all the time, even when they’re not at the page. Every sensation, every experience, is material. They may deny it, they may not be aware of it, but we are always living two lives simultaneously — living in the moment to soak up every detail, and living outside the moment, turning it into writing. That doesn’t take away from the living of it — it enhances it, because, like one is supposed to do in meditation, we are thoroughly in the moment — and yet, we are able to skillfully, artfully, magically, creatively transform it into something that can transport the reader.

For me, that’s translated the other way, too. The best (and highest paid) of my business writing jobs involves taking the skills I have in fiction and translating them into something that engages the audience and sells them on the product.

If you sit around and wait for inspiration to strike like a bolt of lightening, or if you think writing for money demeans you — no, you won’t make a living at it, either as a fiction writer or any type of artist, unless you have a solid business manager who can enable the lightening strikes and turn it into hard cash to tide you over in between. Most of us don’t have that luxury, even if we have a good agent. You have to integrate the artist and the business person, not separate them. Not only will you feel less fractured on a daily basis (because aren’t we supposed to strive to be the best WHOLE people we can be?), but you will see the rewards both financially and creatively.

Also, with fiction, you build rhythm. It’s not something you can work on piecemeal, work on for a day, put it away for a week, pick it up for two days, etc. It’s vitally important to put completed drafts away for periods of time so you can revisit them with fresh eyes, but within a draft, you have to work on it regularly to learn and develop the piece’s innate rhythm. Or it will sit around half-finished for years, sucking the life out of you.

I know, in my own experience, when I kept everything separate, compartmentalizing different types of work, I was always scrambling for decently paying jobs. Once I started integrating, everything started to flow more smoothly. And, then, of course, changing the living situation so I can actually write without having to worry about some thug bursting through the door wielding a baseball bat, or someone contaminating the water supply helps a great deal, too. I can’t forget that element. I am someone who prefers a rock-solid stable home life to do my work. I CAN work no matter what — I’ve proven that over the years — but the best situation for me is quiet and stability, especially early in the morning, when it’s my best writing time.

Speaking of writing, one of the best articles on writing I’ve read anywhere ever is in the new issue of POETS & WRITERS, by Lauren Grodstein, about how to develop the character’s working life. That’s been one of my biggest bitch-and-moans about a lot of writing — supposedly the characters have jobs, but you never actually see them work, so how do we know how the work affects them? If they’re any good at it? How they earn a living? How they interact at work? We spend a lot of our time at work — in many situations, so should our characters.

Further speaking of writing, I wrote the lectures for the tele-seminar yesterday, did some research for some statistics to be inserted, and, after another pass, I’ll send them off to my partner today or first thing in the morning.

I’m having to turn down work — on the one hand, it’s a good position in which to be, on the other hand, I hate saying no. But there are only twenty four hours in the day, and there are only a finite number of those hours I can be conscious and coherent. Sometimes I have to say no. Sometimes I say no to the wrong project, but one makes the best choices one can in the circumstances, and, hopefully learns moving forward.

Because, let’s face it, I am far from perfect. Let’s hope I’m learning from my mistakes, too!

I have to drive up to Plymouth this afternoon to pick up something for a class, but I’m going to try and get in some solid writing time, and then, some solid teaching time.