Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why I No Go Pro

Does this subject line qualify as pidgeon English? It's certainly "nonstandard" or incorrect English, but I can't resist the sound of it.

In his comment to last night's entry here at the Outpost, Paul latched onto a curious, almost shameful fact about my writing, quite aside from the typos I initially missed in the opening paragraph:

Also, she rejected one piece, and "that was that"? [insert incredulous smiley here] It seems to me that everything I've ever read about writing tells us to expect rejection, ignore rejection, and keep submitting. Of course, I'm one to talk. Never submitted anything anywhere. I think we're a lot alike.

Yes, it's true. The first time a review of mine was rejected by the editor to whom I'd previously sold several other music articles, I stopped writing them. If memory serves, Teresa and I did much the same thing again a decade later, quitting our collaboration on science fiction-related articles for Starlog the moment we ran out of easy pickings. And when a Dell puzzles editor bought my "Five Proud Mothers" submission and offered me a shot as a regular contributor of logic problems, I glanced over the writers' guidelines and never submitted another puzzle.

As a professional writer, I make a lousy role model. Perhaps that's because I'm not a professional writer. Call me, at best, a semi-pro.

Yes, I've sold bits of writing from time to time, and I've cashed the checks. That means I've been professionally published. But to really be a professional writer, I'd need to make a living at it, or close to it. Aside from a thick skin about rejection, being a professional writer would require much more of a commitment to the business of writing than I'm prepared to make.

People who make their living as writers, as for example John Scalzi does, tend to be writing something new all the time, often geared to specific markets, whether they are interested in the subject matter or not. (Yes, this is a gross over-generalization.) My personal history as a writer shows that I'm not at all good at that. The real reason I stopped writing the music articles wasn't so much the single rejection as the fact that I'd pretty much already said what I wanted to say on the subject. I'd written about the Beatles and the Clash, and said some long-overdue positive things about Yoko Ono. Anything beyond that would have just been reviews of Ohio rock concerts - and a New York-based rock magazine wasn't an ideal market for a review of Talking Heads at Blossom Music Center outside Akron. A professional writer would have either found a market for Ohio concert reviews or found something else to write about. Instead I stopped writing for about four years. Shame on me!

Then in 1985, I discovered the tv series Route 66 on Nick at Nite. I taped all the episodes, and got interested in writing a book about the show, or at least a TV Guide article. When John and I got to drive around the country for several months in 1986, with Jenny Dog on a mattress in the back of the van, part of the purpose of the trip was to research Route 66 the road, which didn't officially exist any more. We bought a Route 66 sign in Oklahoma, followed a bit of frontage road until in dead-ended in a cemetery full of browsing cows, fell in love with Gallup and an obscure county park north of Winslow, and took lots of notes. We even interviewed the stars and producers of Route 66, the series.

Then Nick at Nite stopped running the show, and it became obvious that at least two other people were writing books about the road. So all the material for the book, some of it in these red folders, the rest on Commodore 64 floppies, was essentially abandoned.

It appears that I'm a dilettante when it comes to writing. I write in spurts, and then quit as soon as I hit an obstacle. Yeah, it seems like that. But really, except for a few brief periods, I've been writing all along. I just haven't always been writing professionally.

Take that fallow period in the early 1980s, for example. I'm sure I pulled out The Tengrim Sword a few times, and at least tried to write it. Then there was the Route 66 project, and the Critters book, another abandoned project. In 1989 I co-wrote the Christmas Trivia book with John, and finally finished the novel, by then called Lost Heirs of Mâvarin.

In the 1990s, aside from the Starlog articles, I was in fanzine mode. For a while I was editing about eight magazines a year, writing about a third to half of the material myself. Later on, we cut back drastically on that schedule, but that was also the period during which I wrote several series of Doctor Who trading cards, revised the first novel, and started the second one. Eventually I gave up editing the two fanzines, but I continued to write for The Observer, and designed the covers - for a while. But I was terribly bored with the fan stuff by then. It had become a chore instead of a pleasure. So I stopped--mostly.

Even then, I was still writing. I was on to the second novel, which kept getting longer and longer as the plot turned in unexpected directions. And as that draft wound down, I got sidetracked by school, and wrote a bunch of papers and group projects. And two years ago today, I started blogging, in Musings from Mâvarin.

Yes, I'm terrible at the business end of writing. I don't write a variety of stuff for paying markets, I hardly ever submit anything anywhere, and I tend not to write anything that isn't fun or interesting to me.

Am I doing it wrong?


Technorati Tag:


Georganna Hancock said...

IMHO, you're a pro. You've been paid for your writing. Being paid is the difference, in general, between amateur and pro status. Nowhere does it [whatever it is] say that earning a living is part of the definition of being a professional anything. I don't think I've ever earned enough in one year to support myself. My writing addiction usually pays for itself, though, and it bought me my first computer and a snazzy little sports car, eventually! One description of "professional" I used to hear is that it means to carry out your job despite your feelings. I'd peg that one more along the lines of "maturity".

At any rate, you're a happy hobby writer who has made some money at it. [insert big grin]

DesLily said...

I would think you are only doing it wrong if you are not happy with what you are doing. But what I have come to know of you, I believe if you wanted more things published, I have no doubt you would go after it.

you only write what is fun or interesting.. well, just don't forget that at times if you have to research information on something that you think you have no interest in... you may find while researching that you DO have interest in it..?? ya think? lol

JessN said...

I think you have to come to terms with the reason you write. Is your writing driven by money or the curious need for fancy things? I somehow doubt that. I don't think we should measure our successes in writing against others. Sure, John is up for the Hugo, and we are not. While it seems that he always has something going, it's his path. Your path, my path, other writers' paths are different. There is this author from South Carolina I fell in love with many years ago (I love her so much, I can't remember her name). She didn't get published till she was 80 and living in an assisted living community. She spent her life being a minister's wife, and doing other things. She found her writing at a time when others are winding down their lives. I'm not saying wait till your old, but I am saying that your path may yet get you to the writing place you want to be.

As long as you're happy with where you are as a writer, it doesn't matter that you aren't published all over the place. Write what makes you happy. The rest will fall in place in time.

bea said...

Karen, does it matter, then? It would be nice to be recognized nationally and even world-wide, I'm certain, and there are the monetary benefits. But we all know life isn't about collecting awards and paychecks. I think you write what you like, you follow your interests, and maybe someone will pick up on that, and maybe not. You may not be pursuing fame and fortune. Maybe you just like to write! There's got to be millions more people who love to write than who get paid to write. You know there is a plan for you that you don't know about. I'd trust in that. In the meantime, keep writing. A flower doesn't stop growing simply because it gets no attention (fame and fortune). The sun and the rain take care of the flower. You are the flower, and growth is reflected in your writing. The sun and the rain come from God's perfect plan. Faith!