Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Ramble

Current Reading: Ubik, by Phillip K. Dick

Inspirational Quote: "Writing is easier than not writing." -- Me (although I admit someone may have beaten me to it).

Over on Nathan Bransford's blog, he posed the question: what is the most difficult thing about being a writer?
My answer was overlong and gramatically offensive, and I post it here because I thought it was funny.

Good Lord, is there anything about writing that is NOT difficult?

First, there's the actual production of words. Not only do you have to fight your inner editor ("Wrong word! It's not working! You're incoherent!") just to put something down on the page, but you've got to fight the "real" world for time. You've got to work at something else because writing barely covers paper and toner costs, and that demands time energy and concentration. Then there's your wife and children and friends who demand time and attention or they'll divorce you, taking you for every cent you're worth, or maybe they'll borrow your car and see how long it takes you to notice, or maybe they'll just turn up the television so loud there's no way you can think and you've just written that same sentence four times in a row.

Or you've just come home from work, and shuttling a van full of rowdy kids to and from a soccer game where you had to stand in the rain shouting encouragement to your kid, who's increasingly embarrassed by your existence, and trying to dodge that fellow-parent with fourteen-cigarette breath who seems to think that having your kids share a field entitles him to share a few confidences that, to be honest, you'd really rather cut off your ears than be forced to hear, and stopping for soft drinks half-way home even though you know you're going to spend the next three days trying to get coca-cola out of the seat covers, and you get home to discover that your daughter and son have broken your mother-in-law's favorite lamp while fighting over which song to play on the ipod docking station, and really when you finally get things calmed down to the point where you can think straight, you just can't bring yourself to stare at the computer for all of the final fifteen minutes you have left in your evening before you drag your silly carcass to bed. And when you do it anyway, the only words you can type are ones that would make an angry sailor crawl to church and give up whiskey because he might as well join the priesthood because he'll never be able to swear as well as you even if he were to stub his toe every minute of every day for the remainder of his life.

No. Because you've also got to face all those people who hear that you've been known to write and either their ears perk up in a "Ooh, I've always wanted to write," way or they frown as though they've heard that you've been known to molest small animals, and the first group is terrible because you've got to hear about how great it is that you've got time to write and they know they've got a book in them but they're just too busy or they have a great idea and maybe you can write it and you'll both get rich and split the profits fifty-fifty, or how you must be rich and do you know Stephen King because he's a writer too and he wrote this one book and I can't remember the name of it but it was green, and the other group is terrible because apparently you should give up childish dreams like being a writer and start doing something productive with your life like maybe insurance sales because I know a guy who could use some help from a real self-starter, or maybe printing is dead and they can't understand why you bother to try traditional publishing when iUniverse is out there and they've just published their own book which came out two weeks ago and it's about goat raising on the Prairies, and would you like to buy a copy because there's a box in their trunk and worst of all are the other writers or would-be writers who have a twelve-hundred page manuscript at home that they're still working on but they're almost done and you should have a look because either they'd value your input or maybe you could learn a thing or two from them because their characters are even better than J.K. Rowling's, who they saw once at a reading from a distance of a quarter-mile because the crowd of kids dressed up in wizard robes was so thick.

Then there are all those articles and pundits and joes-in-the-street like Steve Jobs who insist that reading is dead, that traditional publishing is dead, that God is dead and took author advances with him, and really what's the point of writing when nobody's going to read it, and if they do, they won't pay for it and the only way you'll ever see your name in print is to go with iUniverse again and they've got a box of books in their trunk... Anyway, then you've got to convince an agent by means of a 1-page query to take a look at a few pages and pray to God, Fate or Random Chance that something in those pages sets the agent on fire so much that they have to read the whole thing, which stands a miniscule chance of being so completely wonderful and captivating that they don't mind taking you on for no money either way because they think they might be able to convince Editor Joe, or Frank or maybe even Ted, if Ted's still got a job, to take a look at some samples, and maybe Ted (if Ted's company hasn't been absorbed by a voracious imprint) will be so in love with what you've done that he'll take it to the editorial board, charging in with manuscript held high like some kind of modern day Crusader (only without the armor or weaponry) ready to champion your work until someone points out that the previous seven books about lesbian vampire stewardesses in high-school didn't earn out their 1-figure advances, at which point he shreds the manuscript and does his best to phrase the word "no," in a manner that won't send you into a suicidal depression.

But your book gets published eventually and five thousand copies are printed and four thousand are shipped and three thousand are remaindered and five hundred are packed off to discount stores but the other five hundred find their way into the hands of readers who flip through the pages while suffering insomnia, or lying on a beach or during commercial breaks in American Idol but they get read anyway and the check arrives and you stare at it because you can't believe its real and now you're a real published author and it turns out that the check just barely covers your celebratory dinner and if you break it down, you start to cry because you realize you've been pouring your heart and soul into an enterprise that has consumed your life and ended up repaying you with a grand total of one dollar and eighteen cents per hour but you're a writer and that's what matters because people loved your book but not critics who either ignored it or mentioned that volume six in your eight book series was "a good first effort" and what do they know anyway and it doesn't matter you're just hiding in your closet crying because sometimes you do that and would someone please shut the door so you can be miserable in peace but you're invited to a signing or a conference or to maybe a convention where you're sure to meet your rabid fans who turn out to be one step away from psychotic stalkers half the time and the other half, have come up to berate you for their choosing to buy this piece of claptrap with your name on it or maybe they've come to tell you that you've got everything all wrong and there's no way that your protagonist would wear that purple shirt on Wednesday in Hoboken because that's the color of Hoboken's greatest rival's football team and she'd be run out of town and how could you not know that what kind of writer are you and incidentally, I have a box of books from iUniverse that are much better than yours out in my car and would you care to see how good books are really written?

And so you go home and back to your life of work and soccer games and exhaustion and that's it because there's no way you're ever going to put yourself through that again but wait a minute you've got an idea about this character who finds themselves wearing a purple sweater in Hoboken on a Wednesday just before a football game and you're staring into space while your wife threatens to call the divorce lawyer who's on speed dial by now and you hardly notice when your best friend takes your car and your kids turn the volume up on the television to cover the sound of another lamp breaking because you're going downstairs to the computer and the words, which are all wrong are already coming to you and looking back on it you realize that maybe writing isn't that bad after all and maybe it's worth it in some non-monetary way because here you go again and you can't tell yourself it's because you don't know what you're getting into.

And if things don't work out, there's always iUniverse.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for a good chuckle!

Ulysses said...

You're welcome.

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