Welcome to my writing war zone. Keep your fucking arms and legs inside the car, don’t stand up, and whatever you do don’t try to take the fucking wheel. This is my rattle trap and I’ll be the one driving it to the finish line. Okay, so my cat Biscuit wakes me up in the morning sometimes by repeatedly kissing me on my nose. I try to ignore him, push him away, fall back to sleep, but Biscuit won’t let up, you know why? Because the door to my bedroom is closed and Biscuit needs to get out of my room to reach the litter box. See? He needs something from me, and this is how he gets it, by interrupting my groove until I’m like, “Holy crap, fine! I’m up, I’m doing it.” Then once I’m up I might as well, you know, make coffee, get dressed, copulate with the yard boy, whatever, just anything other than the groove I was just in.
Now, see that above paragraph about the cat? Before last year if I posted something like that on Facebook, Grant would descend a wrath of ridicule on me for having turned into such a depressingly dowdy adult diaper – and in public! — because it’s seriously not cool to write about waking up to cat kisses on your nose. It’s way cooler to write about waking up, for example, beneath a crust of dried sperm embedded with dirty hypodermic needles left over from the orgy the night before.
So I want to take a second here to explain the writer’s brain. Not all of what we write ends up in the book or article or column we’re working on. We have what we call a process, and we have to get through it in order to tap the vein. If that process is interrupted, we never find the vein. Like that bit about the cat kisses? Did you think for a second it would end up where it did, under a dried crust of drug sperm? I didn’t. But I had to start where I started to get where I got. If you interrupt that process, then you never get anywhere. You’re either always in bed getting cat kisses or chiseling your way out of a cocoon of sperm, but there is no “from here to there” that serves as a launch pad to propel you to find the vein, and once you find that it’s . . . well, it’s already written, that’s how fast it comes.
And believe me, writers themselves can be guilty disrespecting their own process. We allow things to interrupt it. We allow friends, for example, to chip away at our confidence until we are certain that every single sentence we manage to write is such a waxball of boredom that, upon the sight of it, readers will drop on the spot in a narcoleptic stupor, so why fucking bother? That’s how, if you’re a writer, you can get stuck for years. Start. Interrupt. Start. Interrupt. Stop.
People say I was jealous of Grant because he struck it rich. And to those people I say, fuck yes I was jealous! What the hell is wrong with you? Of course I was jealous! But even so, c’mon. I’m a writer and a decent person, a double fucking handicap when it comes to striking it rich, believe me. I knew my abilities. I could not have done what Grant did — live in subsidized housing while making a shit ton of money, borrow still more money from family and friends, get filthy rich, fuck them all in the face, treat people terribly, steal your friends’ ideas, break the spines, necks and hearts of those who love you – any more than I could have performed a fucking backward triple camel on ice skates while wearing bowling balls around my neck. I do not have that talent in me. There is not even a tiny little seed of that talent in me that might grow into having that talent in me.
Because writers don’t become writers to make a lot of money. We become writers because we are cursed and can’t help it. If we ever make money, believe me it’s by accident. We are more surprised than anybody. I’m talking about memoirists, humorists, and novelists. Of course if you’re a “10 Best Ways to Get Rich Only Working 4 Hours a Week,” or “What to Expect While Expecting” kind of writer, then money isn’t going to be that big of a surprise. So for the purpose going forward, when I say “writer,” I mean the creative variety.
And writers are a rare breed in that we are so grateful if something we’ve done resonates with people that we will drive four hours away to rent a hotel for a weekend on our own dime, to accept the invitation to host a book signing at a used book store (remember we don’t even get a royalty on used books), all because the person extending the invitation said something we wrote changed their life. I know this because I have done this.
So writers have a hard time saying no. Couple that with the fact that we also have a hard time asking to be paid, and you’ve got kind of a tortured juxtaposition for a livelihood. It’s really no wonder that a fraction of one percent of writers actually make a living at it. (I am in that fraction of a percent). Here’s an example: A consultant for a TV network once emailed me in regards to a website they planned to develop, a precursor to web television. She asked me to come in and brainstorm with some studio wonks, dangling the carrot of “possible long-term job” as the new channel “figure head.” This consultant, mind you, was freelance, the network was paying her to come up with ideas. The idea she came up with was to get me and others like me in there to come up with ideas, get it?
After the third time I got roped into actually physically showing up there so they could for hours-on-end frack my brain for ideas, I finally asked to get paid — or, to be more precise, I presumed I’d get paid (because why the fuck wouldn’t I?), and asked where to send my invoice. The consultant looked stunned, like, “Oh, my God, you want to get paid for this?” And I was like, “Well, YOU get paid for this, right?” and she was like, “Well, none of the other ‘possible figure heads’ we’re considering are asking to get paid to talk to us,” and I was like, “Well, I’m not telling you to pay them, even though you should, I’m telling you to pay me. It’s up to them to tell you to pay them.” And she was like, “Well, okay, I’ll email you later with the info on where to submit your invoice.” Of course she never emailed me where to submit the invoice. I never heard from her again. And the website they built hit the ground like a safe.
Another example: A few years ago I received an email from a PR person contracted by Cadillac, telling me, thusly abridged: “Since you’re a ‘person of influence,’ we’d like to offer you one of our Cadillacs to drive at your disposal for four entire days. All you have to do in return is write a blog for us for six weeks, and not just any blog, but a blog that competes with the blogs of other ‘people of influence,’ all compiled on our site where you will be required to direct your readers, and the ‘person of influence’ who gets the most votes wins a whopping $1,500 donation (or whatever) to their favorite charity.”
I didn’t immediately flush the email. I mean, this was a job offer, right? She wanted me to work for her for six solid weeks. It’s just that the pay obviously needed to be renegotiated is all. So I got back to her and said I’d be happy to slave away at a blog for her for six solid weeks if, instead of four days of having the car at my disposal, I got to keep the Cadillac all together. That sounded a fuck of a lot more reasonable to me.
She replied by saying she was “sorry I didn’t see this as a good opportunity to reach out to my readers and bring attention to my charity of choice.”
Okay, now I was pissed. This was not an opportunity for me to reach out to my readers, but an opportunity for the long fucking oily fingers Cadillac to reach out to my readers and harvest an audience I’d spend 20 fucking years cultivating. And speaking of my audience, you yourself are part of my audience, right? How would you have felt about me if I’d suddenly started bloviating about the benefits of Cadillacs and demanding you vote for me in a ridiculous contest so my charity can get a $1,500 donation? And regarding my charity; I think I’ll just donate the $1,500 myself rather than pimp out my poor audience to some meglo car company that plans to eye-rape them with advertising every time they log in. So fuck you, Cadillac.
But then many of my colleagues fell for it, and soon I was getting emails from them begging me to vote for them and post their shit on my Facebook page telling my people to vote for them so they could be a WINNER! See? That’s how we writers roll. Often we’re money-dumb but audience-rich. To a writer, the world is full of people who place themselves between you and the pay you deserve, intercepting it for themselves. It’s just the way things are. Frog meet scorpion. It’s up to you not to let the scorpion climb on your back.
Here’s another example, but a positive one. Years earlier I was asked to host a book signing and art exhibit for a local writer who’d won a Pulitzer for a brilliant piece of nonfiction. The signing was held at my writer’s workshop, a big loft in Castleberry Hill, and it was a big deal for me to put this thing together, I mean I made posters, provided wine and snacks, allowed my space to be transformed into an art gallery, etc. A few months later I emailed this writer asking if he’d be interested in speaking to my writing class in the future, which would entail one hour of his time as well as a fee that fell within the “high-end hooker price” range. He got right back to me to say he was pretty sure he’d be busy, “so no thanks.”
Okay, first, I’m not saying this dude’s a dick at all. I wasn’t insulted by his response. I was impressed by it. Me, if someone had asked that of me at that time, I would never in a million years have had to balls to say no. But you know what? Thanks in part to this guy, now I do. As a writer, it’s up to you to protect your process, keep it from getting interrupted, even if the interruptions come from other writers, which it often does.
Me, early on I couldn’t say no to anything, and it was killing me. Once I even let a women host an event at my writers workspace, during which she insisted I give a speech (because my “story is so inspirational,” you know), and later I learned she had charged each attendee $25 in advance to come there. This event took six hours of my time, was held in my workspace, yet this woman is the one who walked away with the money. But that’s my fault, people. Even in the case with that Pulitzer winning author, the author himself never asked me for the favor of allowing my space to be hijacked for his book signing, some PR person asked it of me, and I should have said exactly what I know now to say. I should have said, “I’m pretty sure I’ll be busy, so no thanks.”
What I’m getting at is, if you’re a creative person, there are those whose actual job is to co-opt that creativity. The print industry used to do this to writers. Often a writer or editor would be off doing something amazing on their own small-time terms, garnering a nice audience, then in comes a major newspaper, magazine or publisher to snatch them up and promise them a job with all kinds of creative reign. Often, as in most of the time, the writer would find that over time the qualities that made him attractive to the publication in the first place, were qualities he was now being forced to fucking pasteurize in order to keep the piece-of-shit job. Pretty soon these writers were spending their work days doing just two things:
- Being packed like bovines into meetings with mid-level management suck-ups, and
- Planning to fake their own death, because living behind a dumpster would better than this.
But then something wonderful happened. Blogging happened. Blogs allow writers to remove the middle man, and in a lot of cases those middlemen amounted to traditional papers and magazines. Don’t get me wrong, journalism is important, a trained craft, and shouldn’t be trusted to some Millenial masturbating bag of bacon fat pecking away on a laptop in his mother’s basement. Journalism should be trusted to journalists, even if that journalist is a blogger (Case in point: Maria Saporta’s Saporta Report, fucking genius). I’m talking about memoirists and humorists, right? Blogging gives us our own platform, and also subtracts any co-opters who stand between us and our readers, because we don’t need our readers to pay our publishers anymore, only to have them throw us a few literal cents our way.
And this is why, YES I AM GOING THERE, below is a button for you to tip me if you like what I’m doing. Because this book, The Rise and FAIL of Sister Louisa? I am not taking this book to a traditional publisher, who can then make my work available for the low, low price of nothing on Kindle, or allow used versions of my work to sell for one single cent on Amazon. I am publishing this fucking thing myself. And if you want to help me do it, mash the fucking button, please. Or don’t, do what you want. I promise I’m not keeping score. Maybe you think your money is better spent by throwing $9 at my old friend, now a filthy rich carnival barker, in exchange for a 25-cent Walmart ruler with the words “Fuck Fear” carved into the side. It’s totally your choice. Thank you! (Free Shipping!)