Tag Archives: art

What makes me a writer

There are certain words in the English language whose meanings are set in stone.  Words that have little to no ambiguity, in most situations.  Words like ‘lungs,’ or ‘North,’ or ‘diabetes.’  These words have specific meanings that are not really open for debate.

Other words are a bit more malleable.

For example, ‘writer.’  I remember going to a writing conference and hearing someone say, ‘if you write, then you are a writer.’  In the strictest sense of the word, I suppose that’s true, but I think that it diminishes the relationship between many writers and their work.

I don’t have the right to determine who is or isn’t a writer, obviously, but I do feel comfortable sharing why it is that I call myself a writer.

And it certainly has nothing to do with sales.  I’ve got three or four books out in the world, under various names, and in an average month, I sell right about at enough to get myself a coffee.  One coffee.  Thankfully I don’t drink coffee, so I get to use the money for other things.  If finances were all that was involved, I’d have to call myself a farmer, since that’s where the majority of my income comes from.

The amount of time that I invest in my activities might have something to do with it.  I do make a point of writing every day… most every day.  Five out of seven?  Anyhow, the point is, I put in time.  But even when I’m working a full time job and can’t put in nearly as much time, I still consider myself a writer.

I figured out what made me think of myself as a writer one day after depositing a check from work.  The check wasn’t huge, I’ve never had a job that paid a lot, but it was for a couple hundred bucks.  Enough to cover rent and a couple of meals.  I deposited the money, I went home, I checked online to see if anything had happened with anything I’d published and… something had.

My heart jumped, my breath caught, and I read a five star review on goodreads.

It was not my first five star review, but it was one of the first ones I’d received from somebody I didn’t know.  I don’t think they wrote a review of the book, but they gave me five stars.  Somebody liked what I’d written.

The book that I’d sold them made me all of a buck sixty.  Unless they bought an electronic copy, in which case it was closer to a buck.  According to their goodreads profile, more than half of their reviews were five stars.  There was no value to what they’d given me, but I was exhilarated! More than exhilarated, I was ecstatic!  I had connected to a reader.  I had created something, they had picked it up, and they had ingested a little piece of my mind.  And they enjoyed it.

I rode that high all day long.

The money for work would let me live and keep a roof over my head, but my writing made me feel whole.

I believe that everybody has something in their life that keeps them sane.  We spend most of our time dealing with things that we must, but we all need something that anchors us and helps us define who we are.  Whether it’s religion, family, art, work, study, some activity.

For me, it’s writing.  I love it.  There are parts of being a writer that are difficult and frustrating.  There are times when the words don’t come, and when everything I write seems trite or absurd.  There are bad days, of course, but writing is more than just a thing I do, it’s a part of who I am.

That’s what I mean when I say that I’m a writer.

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My Really, Really, Ridiculously Long List

So one of the things that’s important, if you’re going to be a writer, is to read.  It’s kind of like the way that if you want to be a chef you need to eat, or if you want to be a painter you need to look, or if you want to be a composer, you need to listen.

Anyhow, I’ve got to admit, I haven’t been reading as much as I should lately.  Part of it is finding writers I enjoy.  I spend so much time analyzing what I read that I have trouble really losing myself in a book the way I used to when I was younger.  Now I just see the faults, and what I would have liked them to change.

But another part of the problem is money.  My god, am I so freaking broke right now.  I have dozens of books that I need to get.  I have nearly a dozen writer friends who have books out that I promised to buy and read as soon as I can.  And I have at least as many books that people recommended to me.  No, not recommended, recommended would be ‘hey, you should try this.’  What do you call it when people are like ‘READ THIS!  You HAVE to read it!’  Foisting?  Is that it?

The long and short of it is, if somehow my book hits the right niche and suddenly becomes wildly successful, I will have to spend my entire first paycheck, and probably the one after that, on books.

On the plus side, I will then have a lot of books to read, and I have to admit, I miss those days when I would lie in bed, glancing at the clock every few minutes and going ‘I don’t have to get up THAT early tomorrow.’

Starting at Zero

Have you ever gone to a movie and realized about halfway through that the jackass who made the trailer for it spoiled one of the major plot points?  One of my favorite examples is The Sixth Sense, where the creepy kid confides ‘I see dead people,’ in the trailer, a very important plot twist that doesn’t come until about halfway through the movie.

Well, the same sort of thing can happen in books.  I’ve had, on multiple occasions, found myself a chapter or two into a book when I suddenly realize that the author wanted to spring something on me that I knew going in.  Perhaps it’s the fact that the novel is set on a spaceship traveling to a new solar system.  The first few chapters take place on a farm, so when we get to the end of a chapter and the boy is peering through the glass dome and realizes that he’s out amongst the stars, it’s supposed to take our breath away.

It’s a little hard to be surprised by that revelation, though, when the cover of the book shows a spaceship that happens to have a giant dome on its back and what appears to be a continent within it.

Similarly, the scene where the kindly old professor reveals himself to be a bloodthirsty vampire is just a bit less of a shocker when the cover shows me an old man grinning to reveal two impressive fangs.

Not to mention everything that a back cover can give away.

Part of the problem is where the control over these things lies.  If a writer has final say on a book cover and jacket blurb, he’s got a good chance of getting out ahead of these problems.  But if the publisher isn’t interested in feedback and just wants to rush the manuscript through their machine and get it out in the world, things can be a bit more complicated.

But even if the writer does have control over these things, it can be tricky figuring out how to market certain stories without giving things away.  Take that story about the farmer who discovers he isn’t on a world, but on a spaceship.  If that revelation is in chapter two, then presumably most of the book is a science fiction story.  How do you hide what it’s about, while making certain that the appropriate audience reads your book?

It’s a conundrum.  And something to think about.

Those little gems

One of my favorite feelings, as a writer, is when I’m reading something I wrote a while back and I come across a section that I don’t remember, but love.  I’m working on book two of the corpse-eater saga, which I wrote a month or two back, and then set down for a bit.  I’m actually kind of stoked to find large swaths of text that I think are pretty danged okay.

I’m not saying that it’s the best writing I’ve ever read, but there are bits here and there that I just don’t remember writing, or thinking, and which do their job perfectly.

Sometimes it’s just a little bit of narration that uses an unusual, but appropriate analogy.  Sometimes it’s a section of dialogue that seems to fit the characters just perfectly.

I know that, as a writer, I still have work to do.  I need to try to improve my writing each and every time.  I need to learn to be open to new things.  I need to read more and write harder.  But it’s nice to see that the work I’ve done has led me somewhere.  I’ve made progress.  I am better today than I was yesterday, and I hope to be better tomorrow than I am today.

Just wanted to share that.

An introduction

I guess I have to start somewhere with this, and the place that makes the most sense, I think is with me.

Please allow me to introduce myself.  I’m a man without wealth or taste.  I hope some day to have wealth, but as for taste, I could do without it, I think.

The most important thing that I can tell you about myself is that I am mentally ill.  Specifically, I’ve got depression and anxiety.  I strongly suspect that there’s more to it than just that, but those are the ones I’ve been diagnosed with.  Well, sort of.  Diagnoses related to mental problems are a bit different than diagnoses related to physical problems.  Basically I just told a shrink that I spend a lot of time depressed for no discernible reason, but I don’t have any periods where I partake in excessive risks or think I’m immortal and she goes ‘yeah, that’s depression.’  I don’t know exactly what I expected, to have to pee on a stick or get some blood drawn or something.  Honestly, I think it’s the word ‘diagnosed’ that through me off.  I spent years thinking ‘hey, I’m anxious a lot.  maybe I have an anxiety disorder?  But I shouldn’t say that for sure until I’ve talked to a doctor.’  Then when I do they just go, ‘oh, yeah, anxiety for no reason?  Okay, I can give you something for that.’

Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent.  Just something that always felt weird to me.

Anyhow, I’m currently medicated for the depression, and sort of medicated for the anxiety, which has helped me more than I can express.  I mean, it has literally been years since I’ve laid in bed, crying, praying that I’d die before I woke up.  That sucked.

The funny thing, looking back, was the little voice in the back of my head doubting everything for me.  I remember, very specifically, thinking ‘this is it, it can’t get worse than this, I have to see a shrink and get something to help me deal with this.’  And then this little voice in my head goes, ‘but what if there’s nothing wrong with you.  What if this is how everybody feels, and you’re just such a giant pussy that you can’t deal with it like everyone else does.’

I don’t know if there’s a name for that little voice, but there should be.  And he should get his ass kicked.

Well, that was another tangent.  Let’s see, what was it I wanted to talk about?  Oh, right.  So, one of the interesting patterns I’ve seen is that a lot of people with mental illnesses end up working in the arts in one form or another.  A lot of painters, a lot of authors, a lot of sculptors, when you look into them, they were pretty screwed up.  They would maim themselves, kill themselves, go bat-crap crazy.  I’ve felt for a long time that the reason for this is because those of us with mental illnesses find the standard means of communication to be insufficient to encompass what we feel.  People use words like happy and sad, frustrating and invigorating, and we know what those words mean, so when we feel something that seems to press beyond the stifling borders which normal speech allows, we feel that we need to find some way of expressing it.  I remember somebody asking me once what I thought the job of a writer was, and I said, after much consideration, that I thought our job was to help readers experience the full range of human emotion.  Because so many of us don’t experience it.

Perhaps we need to create bizarre scenarios to allow those feelings out, but in the end, I believe that what all of us are trying to do is connect with others, to communicate those things that standard words and pictures don’t seem to quite accomplish.  So we have to reexamine language.  Sometimes that means making up new words, sometimes it means building an entire universe.

That’s what’s on my mind at the moment.  Hope somebody got something out of this.