Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm A Happy Little Cheat

Adjusting for subject matter and experience, a writer friend of mine, age 62, is as good a poet and essayist as Elizabeth Bishop -- to whom she has been compared. She published a book of poems (having won a competition) in 1991. She has three more books in manuscript. I guarantee you they are stunning. For a decade she sent them to publishers, receiving rejections mainly because they're literary and won't make money. She's worried that when she gets old and dies the manuscripts in her file will be thrown away.

I said to her, "What good are they in your file drawer? How about self-publishing?"

She found this idea distasteful. Self-published books are "not legitimate." But then she complained that a poet friend whose book was accepted three years ago by the "legitimate" LSU Press now hears it is scheduled to come out in 2010.

I said, "The system is broken. We all moan about how the publishing world is insane. We have to do things differently. Look," I said, "a book is a book. If you self-publish at least you'll have a book. It'll have an ISBN so people can find it. You can give it to libraries. You can give it away. Somebody somewhere will read your book."

My friend says it isn't legitimate. She wants to be legitimate more than she wants to publish. And she is getting what she wants.

Me? I'm publishing another book! It's essays this time. I am happy that my illegitimate books get bought and sold, and are in print, and in libraries, and on, and not in my file drawer. I'm a happy little cheat who beat the system.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I Hope You Know How Cool You Are!

A writer is the world's coolest thing to be. Everyone secretly wants to be a writer.

Scores of people tell me that when they retire they will take up writing. Or they wish they could quit their good-money job and stay home and write. (It looks easy.) I am pretty sure they never will -- because when they ask me how to begin they don't listen when I say, "Start by taking a writing class." They usually talk about where they're going to move so they can write (a place with an ocean view) or how they will panel and decorate their home office. Anyone who wants to do something hungers for information. Anyone who wants to just talk about something talks.

It's true -- you don't have to imagine it: Hundreds of thousands of yuppies and middle managers and deans and real-estate sellers and stockbrokers and lawyers pass their days on earth hoping to summon up the bravery and confidence to be like you.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sinister Software

There's a bit of software, in your head and mine, that boots itself up

I am finishing two book manuscripts and the software is working right now. I sure don't want to arrange the book (chronological order? thematic? other?) or write up that table of contents and acknowledgements page. I think it'll take up too much paper to print out the manuscript for proofreading. I'm not thinking, "How great it is I've finished a book, or nearly." I'm thinking, "What awful things will people say about me when I publish this book?"

The software kicks in just as you are about to succeed. In fact it signals that success is near. But suddenly you're exhausted or depressed. The world doesn't need another writer. In fact, you need to train for a triathlon. (Note: The world doesn't need another triathlete, either.) You quit your writing group, thinking they don't respect you, they never did. . . It's not writer's block. You can write just fine; you just can't finish.

Don't try to pep-talk or bribe yourself. It won't work. Get help. Ask a friend to help you scout a bookstore for names of likely publishers. Ask a fellow writer for encouragement or to set a deadline. Pay someone to write three query letters for you. Talk to a businessperson about business; this can help you lose your fear of it. Tell a therapist, if you can afford one, that you have written a book you just can't bring yourself to finish.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

River Styx: Theme Issue about Food

Deadline is September 15 for River Styx's theme issue on food, called "A Readable Feast." Send food-related poetry, stories, essays, and art to:

River Styx
A Readable Feast
3547 Olive Street, Suite 107
St. Louis, MO 63103

Tell them The Confident Writer told you! And pass it on.

And remember -- never quit. Keep writing and stock up, and wait for your chances. They will come.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Get The Going Rate

Just to let you know: I am getting the rate that I asked for, the going rate! I forced myself to grow up and ask for what I am worth after 30 years of writing and 20 years of college teaching.

Now I see that it was always a matter of growing up. And asking for what I want, and not settling for less. I had to step out of my comfort zone. My old comfort zone was about half the going rate. Isn't that pathetic? But now I am a grownup. A professional who finally asks for and gets paid a professional rate. It's a wildly new feeling. The air I breathe feels different. I have more energy. I have more confidence!

Don't know what to charge for your writing-related services? Consult the chapter "How Much Should I Charge?" that appears in the front matter of every annual Writer's Market. In the 2006 Writer's Market, that chapter begins on page 68.

Whatever your comfort zone is, whether financial or artistic, I urge you to try stepping out of it.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I'm Booked

Neighbor says: My sister's daughter is having a wedding shower Saturday at the VFW Hall; you will drop in, won't you, and say hello to Marie and give your blessings to the bride?

Writer says: I am booked.

Relative says: I've tried for an hour and I just can't get the inkjet cartridge out or the new one in. And I've got to get this thing printed by tomorrow. You're into computers, right? You can come over tonight, can't you?

Writer says: I am booked.

Dear Writer: You're working on a book, aren't you? (Who isn't?) Then you can confidently say -- when someone tries to railroad you into doing something you didn't promise to do, aren't obliged to do, never agreed to do: "I'm booked."

Your score doubles if you use that time to work on your book for real.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Go Easy On Yourself

I've been fiercely disciplined lately. I'd love to go easy on myself today. So:

I will think highly of myself and my accomplishments. In fact I will list them.

I will finish a piece or leave it unfinished, as I please.

I won't wish I were another writer. I'm who I am, and I'm where I'm at. World, you can just deal with it.

I won't wish I had been born with an Anglo surname. I won't notice that the new issue of Natural Bridge, #17, features six "emerging writers" from around the U.S. Their surnames are: Boyle, Garrett, Fenton, Williams, Kohler, and Merrifield. (This issue was edited by John Dalton, who is a nice guy.)

Just for today, I'll puke up a draft of something new, maybe even something totally "out there," without caring how good it is and where I will publish it and how people may shun me when it's published. I may write as badly as I want, or as badly as I can. (Fun.) How about a poem about a dragon and a princess...

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

If Not Now, When?

"If it's good, it will eventually be published." Tess Gallagher said this to our class twenty years ago. It is true. (Cringe.) Yes, it's true.

I didn't want to wait for "eventually". I mean, Tess published her first book at about age 30, the age I was then. And I didn't want to take a chance that somebody who was somehow incapable of appreciating my work now would find it to be good -- "eventually."

I hate to be patient or advise any other writer to be patient, because they won't be. So I'll say "Have confidence," and "Keep writing."

You believe what you write is good, don't you? That it's literature? If it's good, it's like any other good literature, like Twain or Dickens or Dickinson or Cather or what have you: It'll keep! Have faith that one day you'll know exactly where to send it, or what to do with it, or that someone will ask for it. Keep writing because "eventually" will come. It will surely bring with it requests for other things you've written. "We'd like to see more of your stories -- do you have any?" "I heard you read your poems at ____. Want to do a reading for us?" (And at that reading is an editor, or someone who knows someone who publishes chapbooks, and if your poems are truly good. . .)

If what you write is good, "eventually" will come. So stock up now!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Who Will Help Me?

Lately I've been consulting horoscopes and swamis, praying to God and wearing crystals, wishing and hoping in all sorts of ways that my writing efforts will soon bring me success. I have just put in five hours on a writing project. I'm surely working hard, can't be faulted on that.

I stopped and looked out the window and thought, "Who will help me?"

The answer I won't accept anymore is, "Nobody will help you; you'll have to work even harder and do it all yourself." Believing in the lone-writer-in-the-tower, man-against-the-world myth almost cost me my sanity. If you believe in it, it can cost you yours. One may write alone, but one can never succeed alone. A writer needs friends, editors, a publisher, and readers, just to get started. Ideally a writer also has a good teacher or a writing group. Then a writer wants acclaim, reviews, invitations, grants, prizes, and opportunities, and those come only through other people.

Well, I've been acting as if I don't know that.

Did I ever tell anybody what my current project is? About nine people know, and those are folks I can't hide it from. It's 95 percent done and I've only let one person read the whole thing.

And the project that follows that one? It's about half done. Two people know about it.

Should I tell more people? But I want to keep these secret! Why?
1. So no one will steal my ideas. And then give them better life than I can. And then get the success that should be mine.
2. In case these projects fail, I won't be embarrassed when I'm asked, "Whatever happened to that thing you were working on?"
3. I'm ashamed in case someone will think these are selfish projects.

Sheesh! What idiotic thinking! Nobody wants to steal from me. These projects won't fail. And calling a writer "selfish" is an old trick to keep the writer from writing. But nobody has actually called me selfish. I'm only worried that they will. Sheesh!

If people don't know what I'm working on because I'm hiding it, how can they encourage me? How can they help me?

They can't!

It's as if I've painted over my own window and am wondering why I can't see the view!