Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of writing

Wealthy writer is kind of an oxymoron, sort of like slutty nun or diet ice cream.  Yes, a good writer can become wealthy and, judging by some shlock out there that has garnered movie deals, even bad writers can become wealthy.  But it is all too easy to be a good to great writer and wallow in anonymity (and the concomitant poverty) due to myriad factors of publicity, chance, circumstance, and so on.  There are literally millions of books on Amazon competing for a reader's attention.  Getting someone to notice your book without lots of money to advertise it is like sitting in the back of a giant classroom, raising your hand, and shouting "Pick me! Me!" in a very tiny voice.  So, considering the sacrifices one makes to pursue writing (or any artistic pursuit for that matter), I sometimes get the idea in my head that I should return to a full time job.  It was with this thought that I began a conversation with a friend who recently quit her full time job to pursue, well, her life.

Now let me be clear.  I was born on the fourth of July.  I am a tremendously independent person.  I would never advocate mortgaging your home or going on public assistance in order to fulfill your dream of becoming a unicycle rider in the circus.  On the other hand, if you can sustain yourself through your art or some other non-soul-sucking means, is it worth giving up your dream to have certain luxuries?  This was the conversation I had with my friend.  Her approach was this: put (fill in the blank with desired luxury material possession) plus the full time job you would need to obtain it on one side of the scale, and put your artistic pursuit on the other.   No matter how I varied this imaginary desire (Mercedes Benz and FT job, Nikon D3X and FT job, date with Johnny Depp and a...oh, wait, that's another imaginary desire), writing always sent that little mental balance tray kerplunking down like a block of parmegiano on grandma's table on pasta Sunday.

In a much earlier post, I shared some of the vocations and avocations I've engaged in over the years -  pursuits as disparate as taxi driver and actress.  Whenever I participated in something creative I felt far more comfortable in my skin no matter what I was being paid (or not being paid).  Whenever I participated in endeavors that weren't creative, I would make mental notes of those experiences so that I might use them later as reference for a character I might someday play or write about.  In this manner I would attempt to transform the banal and drab into something with the potential for color.  There was no question of where my heart lived.

Ursula LeGuin once wrote of the quandry of explaining "How do you write?".  For many writers, myself included, the process is intuitive.  I can discuss grammar, spelling, and punctuation but I can't explain the process of writing anymore than I can explain how I breathe.  I know the basic mechanics of both but I'd be hard put to go into great technical detail.  I don't approach writing in a linear way.  Words (and music) were things I was born with.  I might keep notes and draw sketches when I write, but I don't create extensive outlines or plan everything out step-by-step.  Everything comes from someplace within. It's almost as if I "meet" my characters one day, I "hear" their problem or dilemma, and they tell me their story.  All the time I am listening to them, I am aware that my characters are a part of me, but that part is magnified into a whole person with exaggerated flaws or talents, new quirks and, sometimes, a taste for disco fries.

So don't expect to see me trolling LinkedIn with a three page resume any time soon.  I feel compelled to tell my characters' stories.  And I am happiest when I'm doing that. 

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