But saying we want to go PRO is easier than knowing what one actually looks like. To be blunt, there are far more people “playing writer” than “going pro.” Even those of us …
I’m gonna jump briefly on the bandwagon here, one that’s previously been touted by, among others, Kristen Lamb (this one on how we’re paid is informative as well) and Wil Wheaton, and that’s the issue of free work for exposure. It’s as if, because we’re creative, we’re supposed to let you have parts of our work for free just because we’re not part of what’s considered “normal” working folks.
Really? You very rarely see this kind of thing from other professions. Sometimes free samples at restaurants, but you’re not gonna make a meal out of them. Yet we’re expected to give away stories, songs, and artwork in the hopes you’ll come back and buy more.
I live in Northwest Arkansas, the land of Walmart. Now, I gotta tell ya, sometimes when I shop there, you’ll see them giving away free samples of what are usually new products. But if you look at those samples, you’re not getting more than a bite or two, or a couple of drinks in the case of liquids. They’re not giving boxes of the stuff away.
And no one expects them to. No one goes to, say, Keebler, and says, “Hey, give us a case of free cookies and maybe we’ll come back and buy some more.” No one petitions Coca-Cola for free products. No one goes to an insurance agent and says, “Give me free coverage for three months, and if I like it, I’ll renew at the end of that term.”
Why? Cause they’d get laughed at, that’s why.
No one else, anywhere else, is expected to do this. Only creative people are. Why? I have no idea. Yes, we need exposure. But we get hungry and cold just like everybody else, so we need food and clothing as much as they do. And electricity. And cars. And for God’s sake don’t let me hear you tell me to “get a real job” cuz I’ll slap you on the back of the head. Writing is a real job. If you don’t believe me, just try it sometime. Quit using that excuse that you’ll do it when you have more time. Or when you retire. When you’re a real writer (or artist or musician), you write whether you want to or not. Know why? Because it won’t let you sleep if you don’t.
I’m not an artist or musician, so I can’t tell you how long it takes them to get a finished piece, but I can tell you that even a short story can often take days to write, and that’s not counting editing the damn thing. If you think we sit down at a keyboard and pound out something in a short amount of time, you’re sadly misinformed on how all this works. Sure, we occasionally blurt out one or two thousands words at a sitting, but those occasions are rare for most of us. I shoot for around two thousand words a day, and it’s been a long time since I’ve met that goal in any kind of a consistent manner.
A novel can take hundreds of hours altogether before it’s ready to be published. Hundreds. Easily. And then you complain when our book is fifteen bucks. Yet you’ll spend five bucks on fifty cents worth of ingredients at Starbuck.
Think about that next time you browse a bookstore or Amazon, would you?
You know, I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, but I will say I’m envious of folks who, week after week, and in some cases day after day, find things to blog about. For me, it’s a struggle some weeks to find anything that isn’t pure fluff (like this post may end up being), and I really don’t want to write fluff, so I tend not to post when I’m having an off week.
I look at blogs like Gordon Bonnet’s Skeptophilia, and I can’t help but wonder how he does it. I can’t even keep up with reading his blog, much less post as often, and I like his blog because many of his opinions are opposed to mine—but you shouldn’t live life in an echo chamber, and I like to try and look at all sides of an issue before I form an opinion. I’m human, and there will be opinions I hang onto doggedly in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Heck, that’s what beliefs are all about. But reading someone like Gordon makes me think, and it keeps me from being the kid who doesn’t like the food even though he’s never tried a single bite of it. Gordon has a large following—the kind us writers would love to have—and I’m sure it’s translated into some book sales for him. It also gives him a largely neutral place to talk about what he believes and what he thinks should change. I’ve often thought about starting some kind of ranting blog, or one where I simply state my opinions about various subjects, but I’m not sure if I want to go down that road.
Then there’s Kristen Lamb and her Warrior Writers blog. Again, as much as I enjoy her writing, it’s a bit hard to keep up with her. She
has a way of getting across to you that makes it feel like she’s talking only to you, that you’re her bestest friend in the world and she’s discovered this wonderful thing she thinks will help you and she just can’t wait to tell you about it because she cares, man, I mean really cares. That attitude comes across in every post and every Facebook status the woman produces. You feel like you’re her friend even if you’ve never met her, and she deserves every bit of success she gets. I don’t think she posts daily, but she does post several times a week.
And then there’s me, struggling to come up with something once a week to talk about. I don’t want to stick with the stuff I started out talking about because, let’s face it, there are more than enough blogs about writing out there. Sure, I want to address issues pertaining to writing on occasion, but if that’s all I talk about, the only people who’ll read this thing are other writers. I have no problem with other writers, being one myself, but that’s not the audience I want. I want jus’ folks, you know? I want to give the everyman kinda person like me a peek into the life of a writer, without sounding like I’m trying to give you a peek into privilege. I’m no different than other folks. I don’t have some mysterious place I go to get ideas, other than my mind, and since the mind is a mystery to everyone, it’s not like that’s unique.
The advice that makes the most sense to me (and it comes from Kristen Lamb, by the way) is to make your blog high concept. I get high concept in theory. It’s where you take subjects everyone can relate to and find a way to say it that makes folks want to come back and hear what you have to say post after post. It’s taking something in your life and making it accessible to everyone else by showing how everyone else can either learn something from it or at least be entertained by it.
Putting it into practice seems to be an entirely different matter, though.
One of my favorite examples of high concept is Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin explores life and most of its anxieties and frustrations as well as the plain ridiculous aspects of it. He doesn’t speak like a six-year-old. He has a much better vocabulary. And yet it all seems to fit. Added to that, we get Hobbes’s opinions, which often differ from Calvin’s. Hobbes frequently acts as Calvin’s foil, showing how ridiculous Calvin can be about some things.
And it’s pretty much unfailingly funny. A six-year-old examining life from the perspective of a much older person, and yet he tends to react like a six-year-old. Even the strips that seem to be about something strictly humorous have an underlying question beneath them.
Twenty years after it ended (Bill Watterson stopped writing the strip in 1995, having said all he wanted to say with it), fans still wish for there to be more, and we read and reread the existing strips, generally enjoying them every bit as much as we did when we first read them.
I doubt I’ll ever come up with something to equal Calvin and Hobbes, but a weak facsimile thereof would satisfy me.
Meanwhile, I’ve rambled. Guess that’s something we all do every now and then, huh?