Sunday, April 18, 2010

Peddling Prose

As I look into my crystal ball, straining to receive some glint of knowledge, some pearl of wisdom about the world of writing, all I see are swirling smoke trails and chards of mirrored light. I’m left with the dichotomy of learning the ropes that become spaghetti and pull apart when striving for a reliable foundation. Let me tell you what I mean.

We have the Chicago Manual of Style, the Strunk and White Elements of Style, and Roget’s Thesaurus, and dozens of how-to writing gospels, but the major best sellers are the ones that break the rules. We have scholarly masters that tell us never use cliché, yet every great story is full of them. Admittedly, crafted to look like a spanking new version, but many are just old hats skillfully placed. What is the virgin writer to do?

The baseline for publishing is to get an agent, who nurtures the young writer and becomes the sales conduit to a publisher. We all know from experience that agents are really hard to find. Maybe they don’t even exist! They are so deeply buried within the forest we just can’t see them for the trees. They seem to be part of the dead letter department of the post office. All you get are rejections and returned manuscripts.

Then there is the dilemma of fame. Most new writers don’t have it. How do you become famous enough to show on the radar of those mysterious agents that really don’t exist? Books deals rain down on the famous even if they don’t know how to write! They hire a ghostwriter to carry the load. Maybe that’s the secret—just ghostwrite, the box canyon for the creative mind.

So you want a career as a writer. (A question without a question mark…) Well, it is naggingly suggested to write magazine articles. Be a stringer. Get the experience and you will develop a following. Sure, that will pay the bills. If you’re lucky, seventy-five dollars here, a hundred dollars there, on a project where you pour many long hours to create an article packed with your best stuff. When you look at the ROI, you gasp when you see a negative index. The longer you do this, the further into the red you go! (Notice I used incomplete sentences—a real baddie, but all effect writing has them). All the rules dissolved into a jelly mess and the logic of what you are doing defies any economic sense.

How can you reconcile being a writer? When does the pain stop and the satisfaction begin? Is it meant to just be a starving artist existence or the creative genius that is only recognized after they’re dead? There are a few outs as they say in poker.

Become a corporation, an investment broker, a venture capitalist. Somehow you have to be vested in some kind of economic benevolence. You have to be financial stable enough to walk into the woods and fend off the wild beasts hidden in the dark places and still be able to breakout the other side unscathed. The ones that can’t probably died off already as one of those endangered species that was never recorded. Maybe a tattered book of poems remains for someone to pluck from a second-hand store shelf, wondering who the author was—nice work. You have to be ready to prime the pump with cash and suck enough opportunity up the pipe to draw a drink from; then you can make a go of this occupation. Once opportunities start to flow, you have to keep pumping that handle until you drop. Otherwise, it all falls back into the depths where it came and you are there, slumped over at the well’s edge exhausted, watching your aura fade away.

I have to conclude that seasoned writers have suffered the slings and arrows, are the brave hearts that throw themselves into the fray, but survive to become stronger because of it. Real writers have scars on their backs. When he says, “Call me Ishmael,” your face drops open and pales as you stare into the character’s eyes. This is going to be a good read. You just have to keep writing until your style bleeds through and the stains of your agony form a pattern that readers find appealing. Readers are a devious lot. They have no mercy. Just when you’re on a roll, they pull an ace from their sleeve and pull in your profits. Your aim should be to create your own legacy. You have to build a wall with your work, a body of work that can pull the chains through enough time that readers and critics alike will accept you like a bastard child at the table of the wealthy established elite. They still look down their long noses, but you are getting a hot meal despite it all. You have to design and sew your own flag and plant it in the terra firma of your convictions. You are what you write no matter what the nutritionists tell you.

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