Tuesday, 26 April 2011 02:47

A Nation of Artists

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I think the creativity I see all around me is getting to critical mass and we are about to become a nation of artists.

The Internet has its users making their own films, posting their own writings and music and art, organizing and collaborating, and sharing ideas, opinions, and new software. But the Internet is only part of the arts revolution. The postal carrier does crafts; the doctor paints; the street kid makes up poems; the stay-at-home mom does Japanese-style gardening; the teenager designs and sews her own clothes; Grandma writes and publishes her own cookbook.

Somewhere I read that "The M.F.A. is the new M.B.A." and I believe it. Employers used to shun "creative types," thinking them too dreamy or weird to become compliant worker bees. Now these companies are clawing the walls to get creativity.

During the T'ang Dynasty, if a man wanted a high-level job he had to go to the regional capital and take exams. One of the tests was whether he could write a good poem.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 02:44

I Gave Up Cleaning and Lived

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It isn't like me, but I haven't cleaned house for four months while manuscripts, queries, synopses, proofreading, job, etc. took up all my time. But the cobwebbing doesn't look that bad. And three books got done while I spent March through June lying flat (axing cedar trees, I tore a ligament or something). Vacuuming caused pain. Bending. Opening the oven. Washing sink. Bedmaking. Pulling clothes from washer into dryer. Just sitting up was an ordeal. Sorry, Mom (she's Polish, and the only people scrubbier than the Dutch are the Poles), but I couldn't do anything for longer than 1 minute but write. From the bed I used a wireless keyboard and mouse.

This is the longest time I've ever gone without housecleaning, and the most productive writing time of my life so far. Coincidence? V. Woolf advised writers to "kill the angel in the house." Who knew she meant: "Don't clean"?

I'm mobile and pain-free now, thanks to Laura Self, physical therapist at SSM in Eureka, MO. (When we met she asked agonized, skeletal me if I'd like to sit down. I told her, "Oh, no ma'am. I don't sit.")
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 02:41

Irons in the Fire

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I've got three book manuscripts out circulating, which rather takes my mind off the long, ambitious poem I sent to a magazine that may or may not take it, for political reasons (aside from the fact that they might not like it. But I do). Strange that I worry most about the poem, not the books.

It really helped getting my writing group involved in readying the Writing Group book for submission to publishers. One of us photocopied the book outline and sample chapters; two of us split the work of writing customized cover letters for each publisher; I made a spreadsheet to track submissions; someone did stapling and envelope-stuffing; she with the best handwriting addressed them and the SASEs; and finally one of us carried the packages to the post office and got them stamped for going (and returning; but we hope not). Any anxiety about that book -- now titled The Writing Group Handbook -- is divided eight ways. And so it rests lightly on the individual creative soul.

We, and specifically I, have no worries about whether the Writing Group book is good and worthwhile -- we know it is. Eight writers can't be wrong! A poet can never have the same secure feeling about a poem. But that's the price of writing poetry and wanting to publish it. I'll pay it -- but I am glad of having several other irons in the fire, and some writer friends.
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 02:39

Go for Broke

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I just put all my eggs in the basket of Writing.

Decided not to return to school to retrain to do something practical.
Decided not to beg and campaign for raises, or go hat in hand to higher-paying employers. (I'm 50. Think I'd get the job?)
Not to go into advertising or public relations.
Not to start my own small business.
Not to punch cash registers or wait tables for the money.
Not to take a second job.
Not to tweak the resume so it won't reveal I write poetry.
Not to send an anguished email to all correspondents saying If You Have Work, Send It to Me, I Need It!
Not to look at 1960s motel-like apartment complexes with tiny cheap small-windowed units and think, "That's where I'll end up when I'm old -- if I don't decide to return to school. . .campaign for raises. . . go into advertising. . . .start my own business. . ."

Now I have no choice but to take Writing and go for broke.

Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:17

People Are Basically Good

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I know nobody who wants to see a writer fail. In all my writing life, only one person ever elected himself as my sworn enemy. A writer, he actually wasted his energy trying to destroy others he thought were rivals. He did this by fault-finding. Their work lacked this, or lacked that. Moral, intellectual, or esthetic deficiencies: he found them wherever he looked, from the work of the lowliest E Comp student to the life work of the most decorated author.

I suppose his work lacked nothing. I did pay him some mind, and what he said annoyed me; that I recall. But the interesting thing is, ten years later nobody remembers what he wrote, or anything he said besides his catty remarks.

Guess what: He works in public relations now.
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:15

I Remember This Girl I Hated

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"Mickey," as she called herself (her name was Vivian) just loved to be wide-eyed and creative and stoned, and wear Danskins, and play with her food if someone was watching, and hang scarves from her apartment ceiling, and so forth. This was years ago; if it were today, she'd be designing slow-moving, psychedelic websites. She thought that although I said I was a writer, I was not creative. I lacked a cute haircut, a creative job. I wasn't taking a class in American Sign Language, lived in a basement I didn't bother to decorate.

I said creativity was not a feeling, or at least not necessarily a feeling. Writers create one step at a time, word after word after word, sentence following sentence. Creativity, yes, but sort of through a funnel. Plus some research and training.

She found this distasteful and made a childlike face, wrinkling her nose. If I had been five and not twenty-five, in return I would have stuck my tongue out.

Stoners, fake Buddhists, parlor pinks, and scarf-twirlers -- there they are, shelved in the past, where they stay, and where they belong.
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:13

The Future of Writing: Read Locally

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The latest issue of Creative Nonfiction, #31, is about the Future of Writing.

In the future, says one of the essayists, Astro Teller, huge omnimedia publishers will publish and mass-market seven books a year. People will buy and read them. But readers will be far wiser about the string-pulling and adthink that goes on behind those books. They will want to do a new thing: seek writing directly from the writer, guaranteed no middleman -- the Real Thing, the Genuine Item, pure and honest. It will be "in" to "read locally."

Writers will still want to write and sell one of those seven big bestselling books. There will be more writers, which means more competition. But you won't be looking for an audience; the audience will look for you. Books will rise to the top by choice of the readership, not the publishers. Local will be cool. And with no middleman, you will get 100 percent, not 10 or 15 percent, of what your writing earns.
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:11

Keeping Writers at Arm's Length

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I spent December through March querying agents for our writing group's second book. Score zero. Or, better for my mental health, I can say, "I didn't find the agent who wanted us."

We're now sending the book proposal directly to publishers. More than ever, publishers' listings say, "We don't take "un-agented" submissions, or look at unsolicited submissions." No, not even a glance at a two-page book proposal.

It looks as if publishers think they benefit from a setup that keeps them apart from writers. Now, think: Does that make any sense?
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:09

On Self-Respect

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My book Island Universe: Essays and Entertainments, is done. Yesterday I got the letter from painter Siegbert Hahn of Germany giving permission to use the chosen cover illustration. That was the last piece in the puzzle of putting that book together. I will E-mail the ms. to the publisher Tuesday, when I can get a broadband connection.

Next, a project I almost forgot about -- to arrange my writing group's next book. And when that's done, maybe I'll hear about the manuscript I sent out in mid-June. And then -- how about harvesting some newer poems and putting together a poetry chapbook?

I didn't realize it, but over the years I had just kept writing and writing, sometimes articles and reviews only for the pennies they might bring me, always grumbling and berating myself: "This isn't the best I can do," "Wish I had more time," "It's the deadline, I have to finish now," and "One day I'll do some real writing." Darned if it wasn't all real writing. I'm only seeing that now, and only now respecting myself for doing it. You, of course, will be smarter, and take pride in all the writing that you finish.
Sunday, 23 January 2011 03:06

I'm A Happy Little Cheat

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Adjusting for subject matter and experience, a writer friend of mine, age 60, is as good a poet and essayist as Elizabeth Bishop -- to whom she has been compared. She published a book of poems (having won a competition) in 1991. She has three more books in manuscript. I guarantee you they are stunning. For a decade she sent them to publishers, receiving rejections mainly because they're literary and won't make money. She's worried that when she gets old and dies the manuscripts in her file will be thrown away.

I said to her, "What good are they in your file drawer? How about self-publishing?"

She found this idea distasteful. Self-published books are "not legitimate." But then she complained that a poet friend whose book was accepted three years ago by the "legitimate" LSU Press now hears it is scheduled to come out in 2010.

I said, "The system is broken. We all moan about how the publishing world is insane. We have to do things differently. Look," I said, "a book is a book. If you self-publish at least you'll have a book. It'll have an ISBN so people can find it. You can give it to libraries. You can give it away. Somebody somewhere will read your book."

My friend says it isn't legitimate. She wants to be legitimate more than she wants to publish. And she is getting what she wants.

Me? I'm publishing another book! It's essays this time. I am happy that my illegitimate books get bought and sold, and are in print, and in libraries, and on, and not in my file drawer. I'm a happy little cheat who beat the system.