Writing (Is) For Dummies

The other night, my wife called me a freak.  Okay, I think she actually said I was "freakish," which I suppose is preferable.

Her comment was prefaced by something a co-worker who had read this very blog said.  She complimented my writing and asked me if it was hard.  It was difficult for me to answer, if only because I didn't want to seem like I was boasting, because these blogs are obviously not hard to write.  In fact, when she made these comments, I had written another blog in my head on the way to work (coming soon).

This happens to me a lot.  The things I've written make up perhaps 1% of the things I've thought about writing.  That's why my wife called me freakish: I'm never at a loss for something to write about.  I never have writers' block.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that really isn't the case, and that I'm not really all that different from most writers.  When people think of "writers' block," they think it means that a writer is unable to think of something to write about.  But that's not really what it is.  To put it frankly, writers' block involves thinking that everything you write sucks.

I recently read "The New Dead," a collection of short stories about -- as I'm sure you can guess -- zombies.  The collection was a mixed bag, as most short story collections are.  Aside from the range in quality, there was a range in setting.  While many of the stories (and generally the better ones) were stories about a world where zombies existed, some of them took it further, changing their worlds beyond just the undead, adding any number of other supernatural elements.

I found the stories loaded with supernatural aspects interesting from a process standpoint.  While I realize that genre books involving the supernatural can do well, I don't know that the demand for supernatural short stories is really that great.  And, even if books in the dark fantasy realm do okay, there's obviously a ceiling for them.  That's an audience that's at least fairly limited.  And that's just looking at something like sales figures; niche books don't get a whole lot of critical acclaim, either (of course there are exceptions to all of this, but I'm speaking in general terms here).

I found myself wondering how these writers maintained their motivation, because it's entirely possible that they could have been writing stories that would never see the light of day -- and they were consciously choosing to write material that was going to be a hard sell.

Now, that's not to say that writing something for the sheer enjoyment of writing it is wrong.  But then it really just becomes a hobby, doesn't it?  At the same time, there's a certain level of self-indulgence that you have to be wary of.  The best lesson I ever learned was how to identify something as being egocentric to the point where I might think it's horribly interesting, but everyone else just finds baffling.

Ultimately, writers' block isn't so much not having ideas as it wondering what the point is.

This might sound crazy, but I kind of envy people who write fan fic (stories involving pre-existing fictional characters -- usually from TV -- that are posted online) if for no other reason than they are content with what they do.  They never question the validity of what they're doing.

Life imitating art imitating life: I'm actually wondering about the validity of this blog entry right now.  So I'm going to move on.

The other day I read a comment on someone's web site from a person who had either an MA or an MFA in the writing field.  This person pointed out something that was so incredibly obvious to me, but that I had never realized: graduate programs in writing don't teach anything about how to get published.

This is a pretty startling revelation.  The business side of writing  is essential for success, particularly these days.  The majority of writers who make a living cranking out words do so under the radar with very little fanfare, and the majority of those writers have to spend much of their timing writing for others -- writing things that may not hold any interest to them.  Even then, a full time writer is going to spend nearly as much time submitting and tracking their work as they will writing it.

It is truly baffling that I never took a course called something like "The Practical Writer."  Now, I can appreciate the idea that perhaps academia didn't want to stomp on anyone's dreams, but the fact is that no matter how much I might day dream it be otherwise, I will ultimately not make it to the New York Times Best Seller list.  More than likely I will publish my little books in obscurity while either working a tedious day job or taking care of theoretical children while my wife brings home the bacon.

In some ways, it makes me wonder if perhaps there's something more nefarious afoot, that perhaps academic institutions are aware that the art of writing isn't the be all and end all anymore, and that maybe, just maybe, some of their students might choose to audit a few workshops while pursuing their MBA.

I'll admit it: there are times that I wonder where I would be if I'd had any idea how to write in the real world after I graduated.  I don't know that I would have been better off, but it couldn't have hurt.