Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing Is A Job

So I write for a living. It's what I always wanted to do, and I'm good at it. But it isn't exactly what I imagined it would be when I was younger. I saw myself as "The Artist", the one who would never sell out, who would never compromise my ideals. Then I realized that I wanted to get paid.

I've always seen writing as a noble profession. Novelist, journalist, poet...all people who understand the craft, who love words, who need to express themselves in the written medium. The thing is, I think we all started out with high ideals. The reality is that we're lucky if we can find our niche and make money at it. The rest of us have to compromise if we want a pay check. Being a starving artist may get you laid, but it doesn't put food on the table or pay the bills. Unless you're sleeping with your landlord or the grocery store manager.

I wanted to be an artist, crafting words on paper like a painter manipulates the canvas. I wanted to be famous, rich, well-known. In a way, I'm disappointed that I didn't stumble upon that path. Who wouldn't want to be the next Stephen King or John Grisham? Seeing my name on the best-seller list would be awesome. Having their money would be cool, too. But then there's the pressure to top your last work, to constantly exceed everyone's expectations, to be a publishing machine.

I think I'm happier as a simple freelancer. No, I don't make a ton of money. No, I'm not famous. But you know, I'm happy. I get to write for a living. I get to write on a wide variety of topics. I get to write in different areas, like articles for trade magazines, e-learning courses, marketing copy. It's fun. I also get to write my short stories, work on my novel, be creative.

It ain't a bad gig.

Sure, the hours are long. No nine to five here. The pay can be low, but at least I can make ends meet. The main thing is I get to write, to express myself in a variety of ways, and I'm having fun. Writing is a job, but it's a job I love.

RB

Friday, May 17, 2013

Music On The Brain

How's this for odd...I wake up every morning with a song playing in my head. It's always a different song, various genres. It's been happening for years and I have yet to figure out why it happens.

At first, you'd think it was residual memory from the day before. I listen to a lot of music throughout the day. I have my podcasts, playlists, and if all else fails, commercial radio. So it would be easy to assume that I hear a song during the day that gets caught by the filter in my subconscious and breaks free when I wake up the next morning. Plausible explanation. But that's not it.

I say this because some of the songs that pop up in my waking brain are not songs I ever listen to. They are obviously songs that I've heard over the years, but why would a Madonna song (shudder) suddenly begin playing in my brain when I don't listen to her music, and probably haven't heard one of her songs in months or years?

That's the weirdness. I've woken to songs that I haven't heard since childhood. Songs that I don't even remember hearing before. I know it's all caught in the mind, bits and pieces that slowly build up and, I guess, push one song each day into the rotation.

I've met a couple of other people who experience the same thing, and none of us can figure it out. I'm sure there is a nice, tidy medical/psychological explanation, one that I'm sure I'd find if I were to Google it, but there's also something about the mystery of it that intrigues me.

So there you have it, my morning jukebox.

RB

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Everyone Is A Story

I can't remember exactly where I heard it...it may have been an interview on NPR, but someone was talking about our inherent selfishness. The comment they made that stuck with me was something like, "We're all living our own stories, and everyone else is a secondary character in that story. We are the stars. Everyone else is a supporting player to everyone else's story."

It's not an exact quote, but that was the gist of it. We're all the stars of our own lives, in our own minds, and everyone else is an extra in our comedy/drama. On the surface, it's an interesting idea and seems fairly obvious. But there's more to it than that. It's a perfect example of our selfishness, how we are self-absorbed by our own lives, our own wants, our own needs.

Of course, some of us are more selfish than others, those are the assholes we run into every day. Many of us understand the need for compromise, for a story crossover, if you will. Take marriage, for example. Marriages/relationships that work do so because of compromise. You have to put the other person's needs and wants ahead of yours, while they put your needs and wants ahead of theirs. Sure, it's not a perfect scenario and not everyone plays nice all the time, but it's what we do for companionship.

That's where infidelity comes from. Jealousy. All those bad relationship killers are the result of selfishness.

It also makes me wonder if we all narrate our own stories/lifes, and if so, what the commentary is like. Do some people do it in third-person? First-person? Not at all? I'll have to see if I can find any information about that.

So there's your thought fodder for the day.

RB

Saturday, May 11, 2013

New Project

So I'm starting my first novel. Writing, not reading. I've read many novels in my time, so starting another one generally isn't a problem. Writing one, on the other hand, can be a bit of a chore. That's why I'm writing here instead of there. Writing here means I'm procrastinating.

Well, not so much procrastinating as feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of writing a novel. I've been writing poetry and short fiction for years...decades, actually. Damn, that makes me feel old. Short fiction is fun, relatively quick, and I can knock out a complete and mostly satisfactory short story in a month or so. The problem is I'm one of those writers who never feels the work is right, that there's always room for another edit. Then another. And oh, I should tweak that sentence just a bit. But then that plot point isn't clear enough. And so on.

That's why I feel trepidation when I sit down to work on my novel. I'm worried that it'll end up in a morass, my feet stuck in the muddy banks of an ever-flowing river of words. Try as I might, I won't be able to pull free and I'll be slowly sucked down and drowned by my inability to let go.

It's not as if I don't have a good idea, or that the outline for the book isn't laid out (fairly) neatly in my head. I can see the story, see the characters, see the obstacles they must overcome. It's (mostly) there, ready to pop out of my brain and splatter itself all over the page. I'm ready. I'm willing. I'm able.

I'm just concerned.

But that's what it is to be a writer. All the neurosis and doubt and weirdness and comes with the territory. Non-fiction never bothers me. Short fiction is fine. Poetry is a walk in the park. The novel, however, is an unknown beast, lurking in the dark recesses of the soul. Is it growling, or merely purring? Maybe I should poke it with a stick.

Nope. Bad idea. Note to self:  Pencils should never be inserted in nostril.

But never fear, I have started on the novel...sort of. I have some character sketches done (all the better to know my players), and I actually have the opening scene written. So it's there, ready and waiting for me. I think it's grinning. Or maybe that's a snarl. Might as well take a deep breath, stick out my hand, and see if I can make friends with it. We'll have a nice relationship for a while, maybe six months or a year, then I have to learn to let it go. Send it off into the world to seek its fortune.

If you love something, set it free. It's hard to do sometimes, but I'll learn how.

Back to it...

RB

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Miss George

George Carlin was one of my great inspirations. I'm not talking about early George...not the short-haired guy in a suit, and not the hippy-dippy guy that appeared in the late sixties and early seventies (although he was funny as hell back then). No, the George that is near and dear to my heart is elder statesman, the one who became a master of words, who could turn a phrase on its head and make you wonder why you never thought of it yourself.

George was a lover of words. The eloquence of a well-crafted sentence, the silliness of an oxymoron, the power that words can hold, and the damage they can do in the hands (or mouths) of idiots. I loved to listen to him speak. It didn't matter what the topic was, just as long as it was George expounding on it.

I loved it when he spoke about words, about their power. There was a bit he did, and forgive me if I don't remember it exactly, but it was about the danger of words. The line that stuck with me went something like, "Words aren't dangerous. It's the ignorant redneck using them that is dangerous."

Basically, words by themselves aren't dangerous. His "Seven Dirty Words" aren't bad words. We made them bad. It's all about the context. One of his favorite words (and mine) is "fuck". Like George said, it's so versatile and perfect for any situation. "Want some coffee?" "Fuck no." "Do these pants make me look fat?" "Fuck if I know."

Consider the word, "nigger." Yes, it's the dreaded "N-WORD" that makes white folk look over their shoulders when they whisper it. Why? I don't really know. It's just a word. I grew up with that word, as did most Americans. It's part of our culture. What I don't get is where we took the left turn that makes it okay for black folk to use it, but no one else can. It's just a word. Personally, I don't use it because some of my friends are offended by it (black, white, and asian).

What it comes down to is that WE gave that word power. Otherwise, it wouldn't really matter. It's like calling a woman a "cunt." Yes, the "C-WORD." I asked by wife about that one time. Was she offended by the word? Did it denigrate her? Did it make her feel anything? She said no, it didn't. So if someone were to call her a cunt, would she be offended? No, she said. She explained that if she let the word offend her, then the person who said it would win. By not letting it bother her, the word loses it's power, as does the person using it.

George knew this, and maybe my wife picked it up from him. I think it's something we should all consider. We are the ones who give words power when we let them offend us, anger us, let them hurt our feelings. If we could learn to control our fear of words, we could turn the tables on the bigots and racist and ignorant assholes of the world.

I think George would like that.

RB

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard

I've been writing for most of my life. Started with writing and illustrating my own comic books when I was around eight or nine years old, and started a short-lived neighborhood newspaper (creatively titled Neighborhood News). Then I discovered the fun of writing poetry, then short fiction. I went pro back in the early 1990's, and I plan to continue down this path for the rest of my life.

Through it all, I've struggled with the best way to get the words out of my head. Going back, I started out with pencil and paper, then moved on to pen and paper. In high school I inherited by father's old Smith/Corona typewriter that he had used in the Navy. The thing weighed about as much as a battleship and the "e" key would always stick, but it was fun to use. I thought it might help to increase my productivity, but inevitably ended up going back to my spiral notebook and pen.

Later, in my twenties, I bought a word processor. No, not a computer, a word processor. That's all it did. Big, boxy thing, ran like crap, and saved in a proprietary file format that wasn't compatible with anything. It was okay for typing up reports for community college, but I found myself going back to a pad of paper and pen.

Eventually, I had enough cash to buy a desktop computer and figured I'd never look back. Over the next two decades (holy crap!) I went through WordPerfect, Word, and a variety of other word processing software in an attempt to find that elusive replacement for the tree by-product I was hooked on. Alas, a replacement has not yet been found.

Sure, I'm typing this on my laptop, and I regularly use Scrivener when I'm writing electronically, but still, after all these years, I go back to pen and paper to get the creative juices flowing. I wonder if it's the way my handwriting flows on the page...it's manual, personal. Scribbles, inkblots, torn pages...it doesn't matter. Whenever I'm writing electronically and can't seem to get the words out, I switch to pen and paper.

There's no school like Old School.

RB