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Marketing Meatballs

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I told you.  I’m just making up titles for a while here.

But seriously, it’s Sunday. And I did actually get to sleep in this morning, meaning I didn’t get up until half past five.

But it’s not the usual calm day, because I’ve got a lot of running around to do.  And then tomorrow I’ve got even more, including a guest appearance in the class of somebody who is teaching creative writing to regular (rather than remedial) admits.

Yesterday was the writers’ conference, which was held on the campus of a local private school.  The campus was really gorgeous, and the conference’s organizers solved the problem of the fact that I still had a cold and was getting tired out easily by driving me if there was anywhere I had to go.

And the food was incredible. 

I ended up being, perhaps inadvertantly, something of the star of the enterprise, in spite of the fact that I was not the main/keynote speaker, largely because I was the only “real deal,” as one of the participants put it.

That is, although I wasn’t the only writer on the panel who had had real books published by real publishers, I was the only one who was or ever had been actually making a living at writing. 

That meant that my “workshop” was the best attended of the day, and quickly turned into a “business of being a writer” fest, with lots of discussions about agents, editors, marketing, sales, you name it. 

I was happy to oblige.  In fact, given the way I was feeling, I was a lot more effective doing that than I would have been doing a regular writing workshop with everybody reading from little scraps of paper where they’d written done exercises.

That being said, the real difference I noticed between myself and all the other speakers was my approach to writing–and a couple of the participants noted it, too.

That has to do with the way in which people described their experiences actually doing the writing.   Everybody else besides me talked long and in detail about how difficult writing was, how painfully they had to work and rework, how they had to clear themselves off all distractions.  I think one woman compared writing to the kind of labor that produces a baby.

Well, I remember labor.

If my writing felt like that, I wouldn’t do it.

The fact is, I don’t find writing hard.  I love doing it.  I do it for money, and I do it when I’m not getting paid money. I just do it.  I’ve always done it. 

Writing is a really happy thing for me.  I probably started when I was about six.  I know I had started by the time I was eight, because I’ve still got the yellowing sheets of paper with my plans for the Susan Derringer Mystery Series on them.  I’ve even got a few papers of an actual Susan Derringer mystery novel.

And, you know, the whole thing signed with my name and my grade and the universe on it, and that kind of thing.

I’ve been at other writers’ conferences where people spoke like this, and I’ve been trying to remember if this is because what these things were were conferences, and therefore largely academic. 

Since Bill died, I don’t go to big conventions like Bouchercon, so it’s probably been 15 years since I was on a panel at one of those, but I don’t remember those discussions centering so heavily on the painful difficulty of writing.

I really don’t remember many people saying that writers make practically no money and you therefore have to go into it for the…what?  exactly.  Hobby aspect?  Self expression?

That, I didn’t get at all.

What’s more, all the writing-as-agony stuff sounded a little unreal–as if it were the Standard Emotional Expectation rather than something that anybody was really feeling or doing.  And yet I know some of the people who were speaking there, and they are not in general ungenuine in their emotions or their expressions.

Maybe this is why I will never be Hemingway.  I just don’t understand the whole idea of writing as a recreation of the myth of Sisyphus.

I will say that what all this stuff reminded me of is the way people write for my college “alumnae and alumni” magazine–you get the same sort of earnestness, the same emphasis on “painful” whatever (change, in the case of the magazine). 

Every time I’m in the middle of that kind of thing, I find myself thinking that, to the extent that I know about it–and it’s often quite a significant extent–I have had an objectively more painful life than most of the people talking, more early deaths and that kind of thing, than the people talking or writing, and yet I do not feel that way about living.

And Vassar was certainly a time of growth and change, as everybody says, but I found neither particularly painful.  In fact, I had a very good time, and although I was a bit disappointed–I think what I really wanted out of a college education was the kind of thing I could only have gotten if I’d gone back in a time machine to about 1700, and been a boy–I did manage to get some of what I was looking for.  There is a Western tradition out there, and in those days Vassar taught it.

Ah, well, maybe I’m nitpicking about nothing.  I finished the P.D. James novel I was reading an, searching through the stacks for something nonfiction and maybe polemical, I landed on a collection of short essays by “young conservative writers” edited by Jacob Sullum.  I think it’s called Glad to be Right, or something like that.  It’s in the other room.

The essays are, you know, okay.  They’re not particularly extreme in any direction.  They cover the ground from religious conservatives to libertarians.

They’re just not very well written in the way that it matters to me that something is well written.

They’re the kind of thing all those creative writing teachers–and probably most of the speakers on the panel yesterday–would have really liked.  The prose is grammatical and clean.  The ideas are clearly and logically expressed.

It’s the old so-what factor that’s the problem.  A professor I had in graduate school explained that as the difference between a B and an A.  If the essay was perfect but he was left at the end of it saying “so what?”  then you got a B. 

For me, writing, to be good, has to sting.  It’s got to glow in the dark.  There’s got to be some there, there.

And in these things, even when I agree with them–maybe about a quarter of the time–they’re something of a yawn.

If I’m going to read conservatives, I’d prefer a P.J. O’Rourke, or a William F. Buckley.

Or, hell, in contrast to this, an Ann Coulter.

I virtually never agree with Ann Coulter. I find myself yelling at her a lot when I read anything she’s written.

But I damned well remember it.

I’m going to go finish tea and then go running around some more.

I tellmyself that, eventually, all the work will get done, but I’ve got a feeling that that’s not how it works.

Written by janeh

October 17th, 2010 at 6:56 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Marketing Meatballs'

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  1. I’ve read maybe half a dozen professional writers on writing, and they all describe it as you do–something they enjoy, and did from childhood. Austen never described the process, but she has the same paper trail. Perhaps everyone’s being sincere, but this is WHY you’re a real writer and they aren’t?

    And if I paid for such a conference, and it turned out that they only had one real writer, I’d feel gypped.


    17 Oct 10 at 7:20 am

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