Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Hot Topic: Writing Ambitions

From a half-mad ragbag collective of high-minded but low paid bloggers referred to in hushed tones in speakeasies across the land as the Mondo Gentleman's Club comes the Hot Topic. Watch slack-jawed as the panel dissects the critical and cultural issues of the day! Wince as it sinks in a frenzy of angsty whining and barefaced self-promotion.

Mind your heads as you enter, readers, and stick to the path...

This issue: What are your writing ambitions?




From: Mathew Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

I got a BA in English not because I love grammar and such, but that I love to read and figured talking about literature for a living wouldn't be such a bad thing. Plus English degress have minimal math requirements. I got sidetracked in graduate school and now my degree is little more than a $15,000 wall hanging, but I digress. Along with the grammar and the literature I took some writing classes. Loved 'em.

Writing was (and is) tiresome, frustrating and difficult, but extremely rewarding. I remember sitting in a poetry class getting a big ovation for one of my readings and feeling completely elated. Thus began the whispers of hope that maybe someday I could be a writer.

I'm much too practical to take that whispering too seriously though. Go to your local Barnes and Nobles and count the books on the shelves. A very small minority of these books are best sellers. And these are the ones that actually make the shelves of a big giant book chain. How many books never see the light of a booksellers shelves? How many writers never get published? That's a lot to fight against.

The blogging phenomenon has suddenly made writers out of all of us. Instantly I can publish my latest sublimely written piece to the world. Millions can read my work with the click of a mouse. I remember publishing those first few pieces thinking about the hordes of fans that would be entranced with my every word. Fan sites would pop up, groupies would be knocking on the door. Then I got a site meter and realized that there were exactly two people reading my blog. Me and my mom. And even she doesn't stop by that often.

There might be millions of potential readers out there, but there are also millions of writers vying for attention. Even with a site like Blogcritics, bringing thousands of people to my words on a regular basis, there still isn't enough to make anything like a living out of it.

So, no I have no plans of becoming a professional writer. As for goals, I don't have anything really specific in mind either. I enjoy the process of writing. I dig that Blogcritics comes with a plethora of eyes to read my writing. I hope I'm entertaining and once in a while thoughtful, or at least halfway intelligent. If I make a couple of fans along the way, then all the better.

And hey, if the perfect writing gig comes up, then I can split my day job like *that*.




From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

I was a writer long before I ever thought of myself as a "writer." That label has all kinds of wonderful and grandiose and even pompous connotations, smoking jackets and rubbing elbows with intelligentsia and jumping in the Seine with a bottle of wine strapped to your abdomen, a platter of cheese plastered to your trousers and so on.

Writers tend to not be like everyone else. We're weird, we see things differently. Looking back, it all kind of makes sense. I was a kid who was lucky enough to be part of a much-smarter-than-me crowd, but other than that I never fit easily into any "scene." I liked sports but wasn't much of an athlete. I adored music but turned out to be merely competent on the double bass. As I stated, I had friends but was by no means Tall Man on Campus.

I was shy among those I didn't know well. I observed, sucking in the world and often making up detailed lives about strangers that I saw (often some combination of bizarre and comedic) without consciously realizing I was writing in my head. I concocted fantastical scenarios where I would swoop in to save the damsel in distress (always the pretty popular girl sitting across the classroom) from grave peril.

Moving on, I have clear memories of realizing, some time in my early 20s, "Dead God, I'm a writer!" and had all the rushing feelings of power and creative destruction and terrible ego that comes along with that at such an age. However, I was also cursed with a terrible laziness that went along with that ego and clearly decided that traveling and partying and getting kicks and avoiding responsibilities were far more the way to go.

You see, it was just all so hard! I had decided that to be a writer absolutely meant that you wrote novels -- and not just a novel, it had to be huge teeming piled stacks of tomes, dust billowing off the thousands of pages that you whipped off in a month's Benzedrine and instant coffee pan-dimensional muse-lock, pages that would clear the world's concerns off the map in the built up ecclesiastical mania to read my work, yes My Work, the Novelist's Grand Vision Made Real.

But how do you that? Where do you start? I wrote short stories, a few that were pretty good, made awkward forays into all different kinds of styles and modes of thought. Eventually, I realized that I must delve into the novel game or die trying. I made it a bit further each time: 10,000 words about saving the world before time ended, inspired by Stephen King's The Langoliers; 40,000 words about a bizarre and updated ode to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Then, in 2004, I was close, by golly. Strengthened by the wisdom of Stephen King's On Writing, I was writing every bloody day. Didn't care how hard it was, how painful, how awkward the words or stilted the plot ties. 600 words, 1,100, 588.

And I finished a first draft, all 85,000 reeking words of it! And yes, there's a story in there too, a surreal (yet) comedic thriller based upon my experiences playing rugby and my Animal House-esque final year of college. Upon completing, I realized that the very best parts of the story were the real parts, the actual anecdotes and scenarios and pitfalls and mania of that wonderfully debaucherous year spanning 1995 and 1996.

Sometime in late 2004, as a lark and to to rest my brain while thinking about the next phase of the novel, I started blogging. It was so... easy. Easy and fun. And the instant feedback. My God, I said to myself again (not to say I am my own God, that's an entirely philosophic brain-shaker that I won't deem to get into right now), there are people who read my stuff. My shit. My gold, and all in between!

And I was hooked. After a brief spout of soul doubt, I realized I had come to where I always was meant to be, cheerfully spouting off into the electronic heavens about politics and music and television and life-things, all with the Big Picture perspective I've come to see things with and, one hopes, enough comedy and interesting bit-ends to keep people along for the ride.

So I take myself less seriously these days, or at least I try to! I sure do have a lot of fun though. It turned out that blogging was the place for me where "working" wasn't work at all, that my need for creative outlet and instant feedback and the occasional e-pat on the head saying, "Well my, aren't you so clever then!" could be met anytime I wanted, rain or shine, daytime or the darkest reaches of the vast electronic night.




From: Greg Smyth

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

Okay, so I lied. I'm a great big faker. Sorry.

You see, the original post to the Mondo Group stated quite assuredly that, yes, I, Greg Smyth, had really quite obvious writing ambitions that were easily spelled out and that left me feeling quite good about myself. "I'm a do-er", I thought to myself, "and all the multitude of plans and schemes I have are currently paying off."

What a fool I am, because, as soon as the teeth of the Mondo Chattering Classes began chewing over the various novels and poems and the like that the great and good of this collective have in the backs of their minds or sitting, unedited, on their various hard drives, I felt somewhat foolish. All I wanted to do was write music reviews.

Sure, I'd love to write a novel but there are two things that either put me off or prevent me from churning out the Great Masterwork. The first is that, really, I'm not sure I have the patience or concentration span to stick with one thing for so long. Second, at what point do you realise you've got sufficient inspiration or ideas to begin such a huge undertaking? That's the beauty of music writing, and I'm sure I've said this before, you're espousing on one of a thousand objects that will pass over your desk in that year, each one for both a limited amount of words and always with some ready-made frame of reference or backstory. Never, really, are you as a critic faced with the purely blank page and the very specific Fear that instills in the writer. And particularly in one who doubts his own dubious level of talent.

Both Eric and Mat mention the liberation that blogging brought them. That, to me, is a whole hornet's nest that could be saved for a future Hot Topic - is blogging proper writing/journalism? But let's give it a spin here in the meantime. Blogging has meant that, when I'm sufficiently on the ball to do it regularly, I have an outlet for the finished product regardless of whether the commissioning editor of the magazine I'm pitching the samples to likes them. Prior to my introduction to blogging (and, perhaps more crucially, prior to getting a laptop and associated internet connection) I had a box file with old printed samples into which would go the latest attempt at getting a writing gig. I'd send out samples much less frequently and, so, a real lack of momentum developed and I wrote less and less. Since blogging properly, I've produced much more, and crucially, better content. Coupled with the ease of approaching editors via the likes of the internet (and, to my surprise, MySpace) I've begun to foster links with a range of publications. Hopefully one day I'll meet one who'll start to pay me!

So yes, initially, my goal is to write for (and, crucially, earn money from) mainstream music publications. Ideally, I'd like to write fiction in one form or another but the question of just how inspired you need to be before you can sit down with a novel on your mind is one that vexes me. Is a germ of an idea enough, with everything coming out in the wash eventually? Will the twists and turns that your imagination will invariably take you on be reliably frequent so that you can do the high-wire without the safety net of some sort of roadmap (mixing metaphors there, but you get the drift)? Hopefully, one day I'll have to balls to find out.




From: DJ Radiohead

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

This is, quite seriously, the 11th or 12th draft of this. I beg forgiveness from whoever has to edit it. Just know it's late and the caffeine stopped working hours ago. I must go sleep now. Feel free to replace my scribblings with an excerpt from the Latvian translation of The Book of Mormon. I won't be offended.

I have written, re-written, and re-re-written my contribution to this edition of the Hot Topic. In the process of trying to describe my ambitions and goals for my writing and podcasting I came to a surprising conclusion: fuck all if I know.

What the fuck do I do all day and why do I do it? I can't explain it. I can't make it make a whole lot of sense.

In some ways, my ambitions and goals have already been achieved and exceeded. I write pieces for Blogcritics and record a podcast. My work has been read and downloaded and listened to by people in Red states and Blue states. I have an audience. That blows my mind. "I'm bad, I'm nationwide." The real mind fuck is knowing people in Canada and the UK have downloaded and listened to my humble podcast. I am international! Holy shit.

Here's the kicker: some of them liked it. The hell you say! I've written and recorded works and other people have liked them. The praise of strangers has meant more to me than the encouragement from family and friends. My mom is supposed to laugh at my jokes. When someone else does, my feet don't touch the ground for days.

Want to hear something more amazing than that? I have actually liked some of my own work, too. I have been annoyingly and sometimes intolerably insecure about the quality of my own work. I am often my harshest critic. I don't like everything I do but even I have taken some satisfaction in what I have been producing as of late despite a predisposition not to see any of my own growth or improvement.

Could I hope for anything more than that?

Finding someone to pay me to do this would be great. Maybe some day that will happen. Maybe some day I will chase that dream and find that opportunity. There was a time when I thought anything short of that was a failure and a waste of time. It turns out I was wrong. I do not need the cash or the fame (although I will still take it) to feel fulfilled. I never would have believed I would feel this way. I am having fun doing what I am doing now. I enjoy it. It pleases me.

My goals and ambitions and hopes and dreams have changed a lot just in the five years since I graduated college. Maybe someday this won't be enough. I might wake up one day and decide it's not worth it or I want more. Who knows? Hell, someday we'll all look back on this and plow into the back of a truck.

Has any of this made a damn bit of sense to any of you? Me neither. I guess I am just putting one foot in front of the other, gratefully plugging away for another 24 hours.




From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

I see "ambition" as a funny sort of word when it sits in such close proximity to my name. Not that I'm a slacker or anything. It's just that things like ambition and career and success... they're sort of foreign to me.

Does that mean I've been doing nothing all of these years? Of course not. Twenty-something planet-revolutions of CAD/CAM, pre-press, and various flavors of control system software. Lots and lots of bytes. Still, it never had inertia, if you know what I mean. Or... maybe it used to.

But... this writing thing kind of snuck up on me and, maybe for the first time, ambition isn't such an odd concept.

A few years ago I started writing music reviews for Blogcritics. Yeah, there's some inertia there. Plenty of it. The funny thing is that the source for this transformation, the push, the cause... has origins from my teen years. Many nights of scouring issues of Creem magazine cover-to-cover. Hours and hours spent in the University of Maine microfilm lab looking at old copies of Rolling Stone (Did you know they used to give out roach clips to new subscribers?!)

I lived for this stuff. But.. I just could not write. Not at the age of nineteen, anyway.

So what has changed 25 years later? Good question. I don't really know. Maybe I needed to read a thousand or so more books. Maybe I needed to go to a bunch more concerts. Maybe I needed to discover jazz. And Kerouac. Maybe I just needed to live.

All I know is that this feels right... and I'm determined to make it work. It feels weird saying that. Good, but weird.




From: Duke DeMondo

To: The Hot Topic Collective

Re: Writing Ambitions

Is there a thought more potent with regards stirrin' the sour waters a' insomnia than the notion that, at 63, a fella will be as far forward, career-wise, as he is at 23? (It's nothin' short a' shameful, an' a touch ironic, that I couldn't grasp a better word than career just now.) Not a day passes that I don't get myself wound up twenty shades a' mental with regards When Will Stuff Happen?

When will a fella be paid to write, that he might spend his days thinkin' a' new jokes involving "fuck" an' not have to worry 'bout also, seems I'm starvin' an ain't an ounce a' chow.

When will sympathetic ears light on mine net records an say "Oh, how 'bout we give you the money for to play this nonsense an also survive"?

When!?

The thought that, as far as statistics would suggest, never is the answer, well, that's a mighty cripplin' mind-fry right there.

Getting older an' closer to the age when a fella has to say "Right then. Looks like it's the Civil Service till I end up dead 'hind a spreadsheet an' no one notices till the death-stench starts fuckin' wi' the pot-plants."

The glory of the web-net is that anyone can fling words an' songs an' images up yonder an' have folks read, hear an' watch. The terror of it all is that, yeah, anyone can.

"Yeah, he's a writer an' some sorta song-flinger."

"Wow, that's great."

"Yeah, posts it all on the internet."

"Oh. I thought maybe he was a proper one."

It's surely not enough to produce, cause we all do that, look here, can't move for screeds an' melodies an' prose an' poetic fuckery. Some blockage up yonder, somethin' keeping a fella from slinkin' that bit further 'long the line, from the Amateur to the Professional.

There's only so many lovely words a couple eyes can read before they start toyin wi the brain-glands, sayin "But if it is so very pleasant, how come The Real World remains oblivious?"

What the blog tomfoolery provides is the finest tools thus spawned for grabbin' an audience, if'n a fella puts in the time. When the veil slides off the yap though, an' the realisation hangs there cross the screen, the fact that however many hits yon page gets a day, it hasn't made much difference in the ol' Life, that can be enough to stomp any ambition to globs a' frazzled shite.

So we keep on keepin' on, an' the hope remains. Those bloggers done got book deals, those Arctic Monkeys used the web to kick themselves up top the Record-Breaking Debut Record Sales ladder, these things are possible.

An' try not to think how tiny, tiny, tiny that percentage is.




Okay people, so that's what our panel of selected bloggers had to say, now it's your turn. Do you find yourself locked in turmoil between the job you have and the job you want? Have you learned to find a happy medium that works for you? What are your creative ambitions and how do you express them? Has blogging helped you find a method of creative release or just led to niggling haven't-posted-in-a-while tension?

Let us know!

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