Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The BEING of the Writer

A friend who is also a writer, maybe the most gifted one I know personally, was lamenting about all the things a writer must have. As she has taken care to have most of these things, her lament was born of experience.

She is, yet, unpublished, although if there is any smidgen of justice in this life, she will be. She has a website, a blog, a backyard cottage with a dedicated writing room, a critique group, and an agent. She has gone on writing retreats, some rather costly. She has attended workshops. She has travelled to conferences in New York (also costly) and has a taken a two-years-long MFA course resulting in a master’s degree.

And she’s got the most germane thing of them all of all— the time and means to dedicate to writing.
And now, she told me, she has realized that while all of the above have given her this thing called the writing life, none of them is necessary. Great novels were written and published without their creators having these.

We broke it down thus:

WEBSITE— Good to have, but not absolutely necessary.

BLOG— Ditto

WRITING COTTAGE— a dedicated space is really nice and helpful, but not a must

CRITIQUE GROUP— this isn’t for every writer, and many never belong to a group

AGENT— Helpful, but, again, not an absolute must

WRITING RETREATS— Lovely and romantic, but the act of writing requires only a periodic inner retreat, not an actual cottage in the woods

WORKSHOPS and CONFERENCES— Helpful for some, not a must

ACADEMIC DEGREES— these never make a writer, but they could make a teacher

TIME and MEANS— many have managed their first books without having either

All these are helpful, and some are immensely so. But not one makes a great or even fine writer. The “business around The Business” will make you think otherwise. But they are selling the above.

As we talked about it, and wound up dismissing one item after another, we found ourselves laughing giddily at the energy expended on the periphery of the creative vortex. It’s lovely and interesting to “be a writer,” but no substitute to, ahmm, writing.

It’s a funny thing about writing. Whether it’s cute ditties or the great American novel, we don’t need much, nor should we use not having much as a reason not to. We only need to buckle up and do it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Game of... What?

I was walking with a friend, for a “walk & talk,” i.e. exercising the body and the mind.  We just had our mid-session coffee and were headed back. On a winding street, right next to their trash, neighbors had put some of their discards for the garbage folks to pick up.

One of those discards was a cat-perch & scratch contraption. I marveled that anyone would throw out a clean, unused looking and solidly built cat dream. I couldn’t afford such a delightful gift for my three humble felines, and they make due with cardboard circular scratch-a-ma-things. They’re happy anyhow, being of humble stock and having spent too much time in a shelter before we became their parents. But this could be a Cinderella story. A mini-palace just for them.

My friend and I carried it for two miles back home. There, I placed it on the porch, shampooed it just in case it contained some hidden vermin, and let it air for a day before bringing it in. As I worked to make sure it was indoor house-proper, I imagined the sad circumstances that might have caused someone to put it with the garbage.

The shortest story, one consisting of only six words, came to mind. Some say Hemingway wrote it when he wagered he could write a complete story in six or less:
For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

You can imagine the sad circumstances I was conjuring as possible back-story for our “find.”

But this one has a happy ending. You never know with cats, especially ones not used to fancy-froufrou, if our hauling this heavy tower, made of a plywood core, would appeal.

Since then, it’s been a revolving Who’s-on-top—

DD called it “our very own GAME OF THRONES.”

*We honor discards. One kitty’s garbage is another’s throne.*

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Do You Need an Agent?

Do you need an agent to publish?
Time was, in kid-lit, when the answer was that you may want an agent to provide the editorial support, submitting work, negotiating contracts, and general hand-holding, but you didn’t need one.

Do you need an agent nowadays?
Today you can self-publish and even launch a small press at a fraction of the cost of what it would have been in “olden days,” only a generation back. E-books and online book retailers have made marketing a possibility. The stigma of self-publishing is also receding some, and many traditionally published authors have done well moving that-a-way. You don’t need or want an agent to self-publish.

Do you need an agent if you want to be published by a publishing house that pays you?
You don’t need an agent for many of the smaller and self-started publishers who still accept unsolicited submissions directly from writers. Medium and larger houses may still accept submissions intermittently, or through personal contact with an editor after attending a seminar or conference with them. You need a great story and persistence, and an agent would be helpful. But you don’t absolutely need one.

But do you need an agent to get a traditional contract with any imprint of a large and established publisher if you have no contacts or the budget for conferences?

Yup. You pretty much do. You need an agent to even have a smidgen of a shot at that.

Grateful for my agent. She’s the definition of persistence.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I’ve Died and Gone to Heaven

Almost ten years ago, when my daughter (though only ten years old then) already set her path as a pianist, I told her what I wanted her to play at my funeral. It was not a morbid conversation, but rather my way of pointing an exquisite piece of music to her attention.

You can hear it on this link, played with beautiful restraint by Dinu Lipatti—

Fast forward ten years, and DD, back home between semesters, had a recital scheduled in Berkeley for the last day of her break. She had programmed this chorale, J S Bach chorale prelude bwv 639, to be included in the concert. 

She polished it on our piano, and for ten days, it seemed that every time I walked into the room, my funeral music was playing. 

On Saturday January 7th 2017 she played it for the audience, and it was magnificent.

I figured that now I don’t have to go to, or even be at, my funeral. I can skip it, because I got to hear it already.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Letter P

Two-thousand and sixteen has been a challenging year for me. Personally, professionally, and politically.

I got through it with persistence, perseverance, and prayer.

The first two are second nature to me. I’m a stick-to-it person. 
The last is hard. I’ve never had a home with ritual prayer, though the creator knows I’ve tried.
Attempting proscribed prayers left me emptier and feeling like a phony. Personal prayer leaves me feeling like a false friend—one who talks to you only when they have a need. prayer, like this whole last year, has been hard for me.

So here goes, anyway:

May two thousand and seventeen be the year of personal courage, professional clarity, and may our leaders be not clever and smart, (a given, if they got to where they are) but wise.

       * As they say on Sesame Street, this post was brought to you by the letter P *