Everything I’ve ever done in life, I’ve done my own way, usually depending on myself and no one else. One thing anyone who knows me can tell you is I’m persistent. When I set out to achieve something, I don’t stop until I do. It has been no different with writing. But I’m discovering that I need a little help with this endeavor.
I had an unpleasant experience with a student teacher in the English department as an undergrad, so just when I was beginning to learn that I liked writing and maybe English should be my major, I was soured on the whole idea by the feeling that the field was too subjective for me, and I chose to major in psychology instead.
But after I’d been out of college for a few years, I discovered not only that I had a love for the written word, but also that I had some talent for it. I started out writing poetry, which I’ve since learned, is not my strong suit, but even there, I don’t do too bad. I sold my first poem to Dusk & Dawn Magazine in 1996 for $5. Problem was, that didn’t even cover all the postage I had spent submitting, and I couldn’t afford to play the starving artist. I had a family to help support. There were others to consider. So, writing went onto a back burner, just simmering for about twelve years.
Then, I discovered the Internet and rediscovered my abilities for writing as new opportunities presented themselves. The rise of the Web actually changed the entire publishing industry over time, opening up all kinds of new opportunities for writers, including, but not limited to, self-publishing, marketing via social media, vanity presses, and content mills. As blogs and websites grew in number, more content was needed than ever before. Problem was, I’m technologically challenged. Slowly, over time, I have learned to use social media to my advantage a little, and I’ve learned to use many of the writing sites and content mills to make minimal amounts of money.
One of the coolest things happened in my writing endeavors didn’t involve any money at all. I had one of my poems featured in a painting by artist Mitch Barrett and displayed and sold at the Kaleidoscope Gallery in Battlesea Park, London. (There’s a lengthy story behind how this came about, which I may relate in a future blog post. Anyone who knows me is surely tired of hearing it.
As a freelancer, I became the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner for Examiner.com, which didn’t really pay, but offered opportunity to meet other writers, get free books for review and obtain credits for my portfolio. I also cranked out articles for other content mills which did pay, at least a little, which added to my skill set, diversifying my writing talents, and I was published in Freeman, which was a bit more profitable.
I thought I was quite fortunate when I was able to obtain a publisher for one of my children’s stories. After seven wasted years, it turned out I was not so fortunate, since my book still wasn’t published. But we learn from experience.
Still struggling to launch my writing career, I discovered the low residency MFA program for Creative Writing offered by Western State and I applied. Maybe I couldn’t do it on my own, but I would learn what I needed to know, one way or another. And I have learned a lot. I’ve learned about my own writing process. When I started at Western, I’d never even thought about it. I’m not even sure I was aware I had a process, but I did and still do. Now I’m just more aware of it. I learned how to craft my words to be pleasing to the ear. I learned how to read aloud in front of an audience, and I’ve learned that I do it well.
Last summer, I completed my emphasis in genre fiction and read from my thesis novel, Playground for the Gods: Book 1: The Great Primordial Battle. I’ve learned how to treat my writing as a business, at least in theory, although I’m still trying to get it off the ground. And I’ve learned how advances and royalties work, and that you have to sell a lot of books before you will ever receive royalties.
And I learned that screenwriting is where the big money is. When I took genre screenwriting for my out of concentration class, I also learned that it was fun, it came pretty easy to me and I was fairly good at it. So, instead of graduating, I stayed in school for another year to get a second emphasis in screenwriting. What I’m learning this year, is that there’s a lot of competition on screenwriting and it’s tough to get a break. You practically have to live in L.A. to get anywhere. Yet, I am determined to make all the money I now owe for my schooling pay off. I haven’t given up yet, and I don’t intend to now.
I’m currently shopping my thesis novel and two of my children’s stories, five short stories, and various poems. I’m also very close to finishing my western novel, Delilah. At Western, thanks to my instructor, Russell Davis drawing us out of our comfort zones, (and maintaining as much discomfort for us as possible), I discovered that I enjoy writing in the western genre, and although it is not one of the bestselling markets, I do it well. And I’m working hard, through this blog and social media, to build a writer’s platform and gain a following to make myself look more appealing to agents and publishers.
Here’s where you, my readers come in, because you can help. Without my readers, my writing just sits there on the page, not doing much of anything. You are my writer’s platform. You are my following.
Many people don’t realize that liking a link on Facebook, while cool, doesn’t really help the author grow their platform unless they actually read the post and subscribe by email. What does help, is if you’ll take the time to read the post here, on my Writing to be Read site, and subscribe to the blog. That’s what shows how large my reader following is, and it does my heart good to watch as it grows.
You can also like the post below it, with all the “share” buttons, but you must have a WordPress account. If you don’t have one, you can sign up for one, but then, of course, you will have a blog to maintain, so be sure you know what you’re getting into. I’m guessing that many people just like the link on Facebook to show their support, but they don’t actually click on the link and read the post. But, if you leave a comment, I’ll be able to tell that you read it, and if you subscribe, it will show you liked what you read. You’ll make my day.
If you’d like to show even more support, you can buy my short science fiction story, Last Call. If you like it, write a review on Amazon. And, you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Pintrest. Help an old writer get a break.
Your support is always appreciated. Thank you for being a reader of my work. After all, for me, it’s not really about money. It’s about Writing to be Read.
I recently read several articles that discussed the value of reviews in today’s market place. These articles questioned the reliability of reviews, in a time when there are people being paid to write positive reviews and the difficulty in knowing which reviews to believe in a market saturated with positive reviews. I do book reviews here, on Writing to be Read, as well as on my Southern Colorado Literature Examiner page, so as a reviewer, I looked at my own work to determine the validity of their arguments.
According to Richard Brody in his article in The New Yorker, How to be a Critic, “Critics don’t need to be nice (programmatic niceness is itself another sort of self-falsification and self-punishment, and is at least as sanctimonious as self-justifying meanness), but they do need to know where they stand.” I see an obligation of the reviewer to the readers, to portray the books reviewed as honestly as possible. I feel a certain responsibility in knowing that someone may or may not chose to read a certain book, based on my opinion of it. Readers that concur with the opinions offered in my reviews are more likely to visit my sites again. However, I think that honest, unbiased opinions may also generate repeat readers, even if they don’t agree with the opinions expressed in my reviews.
I am not one of those reviewers that is paid to write positive reviews. Five star reviews that are bought and paid for cheat the reader, setting them up to be disappointed by a book that was not all it was portrayed to be. I don’t receive monetary compensation for my reviews, although I do receive ARC copies from the authors, which in no way influence my opinions of their book. According to David Streitfeld, in his New York Times article, The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy, part of the problem is that readers have no way to know if the review that they are reading is a paid review. In a market that is over-saturated with the rise of self-publishing and digital media, anyone can pay to have a five star review written for their book.
On the other hand, I do feel an obligation to the author, who has put his or her all into the work, to portray it in as positive a light as I can possibly shine on it and still be honest. As Brody puts it, “It takes months or years to make a film or write a book, a few hours or a few days to dash off a review…” As a reviewer, I hold in my hands the power to dash dreams with an unkind word or a negative opinion. It is a matter not to be taken lightly. Daryl Campbell explains it well in his the Millions essay, Is This Book Bad or Is It Just Me? Anatomy of Book Reviews,
“The decision to like or not like a book is where every book review
begins. This is what gives the genre its underlying suspense …
but also its frustrating sense of chaos, because no matter how
technically sound or philosophically sophisticated or beautiful
a book might be, something minor or tangential can turn off a
reviewer so much that he or she decides the book is not good.”
While in the Salon article, The Case for Positive Book Reviews, Laura Miller claims the necessity of more positive reviews,
“Everyone who has ever been disappointed by a book praised
in the press is prone to embracing the too-nice position; as a rule,
only authors worry that reviews are too mean… All too often,
people relish negative reviews with a free-floating glee that leaves
the reviewer, however justified, feeling a bit dirty afterward.”
I am compelled to be honest about my thoughts on a book, never shirking from expressing what I did not like about it, as well as what I did. Likewise, I try to relate things that I found to be likable about a book that did not appeal to me, even if they were few. Seldom have I picked up a book that I could not find something positive to say. It is a fine line that must be walked in order to achieve a balance between the positive and negative aspects, making the book review a literary work, in itself. Campbell goes as far as to claim that, “book reviewing is a genre with its own conventions, just as every murder mystery must start with a body, and every epic fantasy must feature elvish words with too many apostrophes.”
The idea of book reviews being a genre of their own lends credibility to my craft. Of course, book reviews are not the only thing I write, but I do pride myself just as much in them, as in anything else I write, and I put just as much thought and effort into them. Not only do I truly read every book that I review, I actually take notes to keep my thoughts about them in order, and I work hard to word my reviews so that are not too harsh, nor do they turn out to be gushing fountains of worthless praise.
My regular readers know that I just spent the last two weeks taking the first classes toward earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Western State Colorado University, in Gunnison. It was an intense two weeks. The first week and a half I put in time in the classroom, making my brain explore uncharted territory in order to learn about my own writing style and process, as well as reinforcing and renewing my knowledge of writing basics, such as dialog punctuation, story structure, plot and character. When not in class, I spent my time actually writing and reading the writing of my peers for critique the following day. The last three days, I attended the 2012 Writing the Rockies conference, as a part of my college credits. How cool is that? The intense pace didn’t really bother me until after I had returned home and gone back to work, but let me assure you that it did catch up to me. I have been exhausted all week, twice actually falling asleep with my laptop in my lap. I was that tired.
While considering whether or not to enroll in Western’s MFA program, there were many things to consider. Could I fit a two week residency in Gunnison each summer into my already bustling schedule? Could I commit the time that it would require to get my master’s degree and still fulfillment my obligations to my family as I have for the past thirty years? And what, exactly, did I hope to accomplish through seeking this degree? Did I think I would be magically transformed into a professional writer once I have that degree in my hand?
I had to do some sincere soul searching to find the answers to all my concerns. While I will surely have to do some rearrangement of my schedule to accommodate residency classes each summer, and I will have to forfeit certain activities that I enjoy in order to study and practice my craft and complete assignments, to me it will be worth it. My hope is that I will come away from this experience with credentials that will demonstrate that I’m not just someone who dabbles as a writer, but a serious author with at least one published book. I don’t expect this to happen through a magical transformation, but through hard work and lots of practice. In the end, it came down to one thing: I want to be a writer more than anything else in the world, so it would be worth whatever sacrifices I had to make to achieve that status. It is how I want to make my living, and I have played around enough at it. It is time to get serious and do what I aspire to do.
Now, with the first classes finished, I have to look at whether my expectations have been met, what I’ve already had to sacrifice, and whether it was worth it. In order to analyze all of this, I also need to examine what I actually learned, and evaluate its value to determine if the payoff is what I had expected. To that end, I thought I might share my thoughts and insights with you, my readers.
By looking at my current resume, you will see that I’ve already taken many steps toward my goal. I have written as the Southern Colorado Literature Examiner for the past three years, as well as keeping up this blog, Writing to be Read, for about five. In addition, I wrote gardening how-to articles for Demand Studios for over a year and a half, had two short stories published in Static Motion, an online publication, and a poem published in Dusk and Dawn magazine, where I made my first $5.00 as a writer, back in 1996. Another of my poems was featured by artist Mitch Barrett, in one of his paintings, Intimacy, which was displayed and sold at Kaleidoscope Gallery, in Batter Sea Park, London. My first children’s book, Heather Hummingbird Makes a New Friend, is scheduled to be released in October of 2012, by 4RV Publishing, as well. So, you see, I have a little bit of a head start on this writing thing, although none of it has paid enough for me to give up my day job.
So, did I come away with from these first classes with anything of value? I believe I did. For one thing, I gained insight into myself as a writer, aspects that I had never examined closely before. For instance, I discovered that I am a closet binge writer. I knew that I wasn’t much for planning, which is probably why I have not been able to make it beyond the short story format. Novels require planning and you have to truly know your characters to make your readers believe in them. Binge writers take an idea and run with it, and that is what I do a lot of the time. It seems that when I try to plan out what I’m going to write, it comes out flat and lifeless, as if the work were forced. So, this is one area that I definitely have to work on. That’s one thing that I learned.
I also learned many basic concepts that are sure to improve my writing style. In fact, they already have. Our assignment to write a novel excerpt in the western genre produced the beginnings of a story narrative, the likes of which, I did not realize that I was capable of. The class might be over, but my work to develop this story is only beginning. Two paragraphs in a genre we had never before written in lead to an epiphany about a YA story that I had written four or five years ago, which was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on, so I had never done anything with it. The challenge to write in a new genre prompted me to try my hand at mystery, and it suddenly dawned on me that this story should have been a mystery to begin with. That’s what had been missing! The resulting two paragraphs featured the characters from the YA novel and read well enough to convince me it could work.
I gained knowledge about the writing business, as well. Some of the writing activities that I had engaged in, such as publishing with online sites that don’t pay, were cheating both myself and my profession. While I was glad just to have the writing credit, I could be setting myself up to have my work stolen, because it is out there where anyone can grab it. It may have been a mistake, but as a self-taught writer, I launched my writing career the only way that I knew how. I also learned that you really do need an agent, all the professional writers that we heard during class and conference agreed. The agent handles all the legalities of contract, which most writers are not qualified to do, unless prolific in contract law. The how of finding an agent promises to be revealed at a later date. And, I learned the differences between the large publishing houses and the smaller presses, and when to try for each.
In some ways, I had been doing the right things. I have always parked my butt in the chair and wrote, (a theme that had been reiterated over and over again during my brief educational introduction to the world of writing), blocking out the world around me for the sake of putting words to page. I found that although my dialog may set off alarms with spell check, it rings true and encourages reader “buy in”. I discovered that I had ability in areas that were previously untried for me, warranting continued exploration.
Above all, I learned how much I really don’t know. I look forward to exploring and discovering all that I still have left to learn, through Western’s MFA program. I can’t wait for my online classes to begin this fall. I think the payoff will be more than worth it.
To learn more about my work, visit my website at Kaye’s Literary Corner