Jun 28

Screening Test: Is The Applicant a "Writer"?

Employability/Disability Assessment (Instructions to screener: Check all applicable items)

This applicant:

writes for hours without being compelled to
calls word-processing "creative writing"
ignores housework
buys books
reads Middle English
asserts that the 18th century is important
believes beauty is truth
believes publication confers validation
claims his/her condition is congenital and "fun"
thinks 12 percent is fair and 15 percent is generous
feels uncertain about the line between poetry and prose
likes closed captioning
will struggle for an hour to get the "1" off manuscript page 1
thinks it would be "great" to live alone in a lighthouse for a year

Jun 27

Your Skill Set and Power Blouse

Whatever you write -- know how to write something else. That's how I got lunch with the publisher mentioned in the previous blog. I know how to write public-relations materials such as press releases. The publisher wanted me for my "skill set."All writers should be able to write more than one type of thing. I told the publisher I also knew where to send the press releases and what to do after that. Normally I hate the phrase "skill set" -- it's so 1980s "corporate." But mine works in my favor. No 1980s bow-tie power blouse is necessary.

Know-how -- in something other than creative writing -- got me the face-to-face meeting with a publisher who incidentally happened to be looking for a book ms that sounded rather like mine.
Jun 27

Nabokov's Day Job

Today I learned that Vladimir Nabokov spent six years in the 1940s organizing the butterfly collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. He told species apart by looking at their (microscopic) genitals and wouldn't consider any other way. He collected their genitals. His books are loaded with butterfly references and inferences. In upstate New York he discovered and named the tiny Karner Blue butterfly. Apparently it doesn't hurt one's career to obsess about something in life besides writing (if, like Nabokov, you can rely on your wife to drive you everywhere and run the household -- i.e., you have "an angel in the house"). But a 3-inch beauty from Missouri I photographed today -- although it looks blue and black to me -- is in fact called a "Red-spotted Purple" butterfly -- Limenitis arthemis astyanax, as Nabokov might say.

Jun 07

The Death of Capacity: Having No Time to Write

If no one else supports you financially, the work you must do to pay rent and bills makes it difficult or impossible to write. Your job might be one long daily grind, or marginal and multiple. Makes it hard to do your writing. Is that true or false?

True.

What drives my life, has always driven it, the real job beneath the job, is subverting the fate prepared for the writer in this society, and once I woke up to the reality, I took and cajoled and stole the time to write, and to finish and polish, because nobody was going to give it to me. If I was writing I would not "be there for them." And I published my own books because nobody was going to publish them for me. And I will use every tool in the box, or those that I find, to keep writing.

Back in the day there were books about this, one called Silences (1982) by Tillie Olsen, a short-story writer who completed only one slender book of fiction; her nonfiction study Silences is about the forces that keep writers from writing, about "the death of capacity," according to one reviewer.  People don't read or talk about this book any more, maybe because The Feminist Press is the publisher. Now available in its 25th-anniversary edition.
Jan 17

What Poetry Was Meant to Do

From Wikipedia. I got a genuine thrill reading this, and hope you do too:

When the book was first published, Whitman was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior after Secretary of the Interior James Harlan read it and said he found it very offensive.Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have thrown his 1855 edition into the fire.Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote, "It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote 'Leaves of Grass,' only that he did not burn it afterwards." Critic Rufus Wilmot Griswold reviewed Leaves of Grass in the November 10, 1855, issue of The Criterion, calling it "a mass of stupid filth" and categorized its author as a filthy free lover. Griswold also suggested, in Latin, that Whitman was guilty of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians", one of the earliest public accusations of Whitman's homosexuality. Griswold's intensely negative review almost caused the publication of the second edition to be suspended.Whitman included the full review, including the innuendo, in a later edition of Leaves of Grass.

On March 1, 1882, Boston district attorney Oliver Stevens wrote to Whitman's publisher, James R. Osgood, that Leaves of Grass constituted "obscene literature". Urged by the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice . . .Stevens demanded the removal of the poems "A Woman Waits for Me" and "To a Common Prostitute", as well as changes to "Song of Myself", "From Pent-Up Aching Rivers", "I Sing the Body Electric", "Spontaneous Me", "Native Moments", "The Dalliance of the Eagles", "By Blue Ontario’s Shore", "Unfolded Out of the Folds", "The Sleepers", and "Faces"
.

P.S. Whitman's title Leaves of Grass was a veiled way of saying "this is trash written by a hack or unimportant person."
Jun 24

Do Real Writers Write Every Day?

It is said that "real writers write every day," but of course that is a myth.

I once was in conference with a famous writer. (It was E. L. Doctorow.) The first thing he asked me was, "Do you write every day?"

I said, "No. I have to work."

His manner changed. I understood that my answer had disqualified me in some fashion; that it proved I was not truly committed, and had no future in the big leagues. The rest of the conference was perfunctory.

I didn't think it was a rude question at the time. I had read, over and over, that some writers were "too lazy" or "not disciplined" if they did not get up two hours earlier in the morning or use their after-work time to write. I tried those things, for about three days each, and couldn't see straight, much less think straight.

"Do you write every day?" E. L. Doctorow is a fine writer. But that question proved he was not a teacher.

Maybe writers who do nothing else can and should write every day, but writers with responsibilities other than writing can get too burnt-out. Tired. Depleted. And if you feel that way -- you are exactly what you feel like!

The following coping idea came from a writer with a full-time job. She tried writing in the evenings, but at best put in a spotty half-hour. The results were not worth her efforts. Weekends had to be spent on housework and errands. So she told herself:

Okay, no writing Monday through Friday. Period. You are not to go near pen and paper on those days. Writing is permitted on the weekends only -- and then only if you feel like it.

The first week she rejoiced in her freedom from the mental burden of "writing every day."

By Friday night of the second week she could hardly wait to get to her computer. She did her housework and schlepping on weeknights, didn't short herself on sleep, and on Saturday and Sunday, rested, she got good chunks of time to sit down and write. She's a real writer.