Mark Terry

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Up & Down


February 28, 2008
I'm back today to having one of those days where I think writing fiction must be insane. I'm not entirely sure why. Some of it has to do with this ridiculous back-and-forthing going on on the BookEnds blog about sending in manuscripts electronically versus hardcopy. One of the responders was taking some heat because he had a very business-like approach to it and I essentially defended him, noting that there should probably be some give-and-take on this issue, where perhaps the writer's needs and preferences need to be taken into consideration. Apparently someone didn't like that and sort of went on the attack. Not too much, but enough for me to sigh and go, "Oh brother."

Another reason might be a phone conversation I had with my agent yesterday that was simultaneously inspiring and frustrating, but which, like so much of the publishing industry, evaporated into "let's see what happens."

And Nathan Bransford's blog asked why people write and I was skimming through the 130+ responses and noted that there seemed to be an awful lot of free-floating obsessive-compulsive disorders out there with the predominant response being, "I have to write. I just have to."
I understand. I really do. I've been writing almost every day for 20+ years, long before there was any reason to suspect I could make a living at it. It's like breathing.

But now that I make a living at it, I'm not entirely sure the "I have to write, I just have to" response is entirely accurate, healthy or, gulp, sane.

I don't know how silly this sounds, but do you remember the TV show "Busom Buddies"? It starred Tom Hanks (yes, him) and Peter Scolari (I think that's the name). Hanks was an artist and Scolari was a writer and they moved to New York City to make it big as a painter and writer, ended up dressing in drag and living in a hotel for women, and got jobs at an ad agency as a copywriter and graphic artist.

Anyway, the show was only on for 2 seasons. In the second season they leave the ad agency and open up their own ad agency. By the end of the second season, there's an episode where they comment that they started this whole thing to be a novelist and a painter... but it had been months since either of them had written or painted something.

Which may be my longwinded and oddly zig-zagging way of saying, priorities change, life changes, needs change, compulsions change. Maybe for the better.

I still write fiction. I still want to get published. I'd be delighted for this to work out the way my dreams have wished they would.

But...

At the end of the day, there's my wife, my sons, my life. There's paying the bills and walking the dog and family and music and reading and watching TV and traveling. There's lifting weights, biking, running, karate, guitar, kayaking, walking. There's my sister's condo on Higgins Lake, Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, Mackinaw Island, the beach at Luddington State Park, Disney World, the coast of Maine, Washington, D.C., the keys, Hawaii, Austin and a whole lot of the rest of the world.

There's an awful lot of life to be lived that seems to be independent of that "gotta write" thing.
If you've ever read Stephen King's "On Writing" you probably remember what he said about his big Godzilla-sized desk, and how it was in the center of the room, and how his entire life was about supporting that desk; and how eventually he started to change and the desk was about supporting the life, which was more important.

Cheers,
Mark Terry

20 Comments:

Blogger Reenie said...

Exceptional post, Mark. Great writing. :) You had my emotions all over the place with laughs and sighs throughout.

Omigod. I am a closet fan of “Bosom Buddies.” I l-o-v-e-d that show. So clever. Impeccable comedic timing. And the *drag* thing was so edgy back then.

Stephen King's "On Writing" is superb – met an entirely different Mr. King. My other favorite is “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott, which you have also probably read – though she might be too neurotic for you.

You are wise to remember your “end of the days” and your raison d'être.

9:14 AM  
Blogger Ron Estrada said...

You forgot middle school band concerts.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

yes, Ron, simultaneously with elementary school wrestling clubs.

10:37 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

SO true. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post which I haven't posted yet, where I said it's difficult to make the next choice in my writing career when I realized that, at the moment, I don't give a damn what I do to make money as long as DH and I never have to be parted again.

People are more important than any career, no matter how much we love that career.

I accidentally posted in the manuscript discussion. I meant not to.

There are a lot of writers out there, and a lot of them do this for the dream. I never dreamed of it, never. I just did it. Okay, I dream of winning the lottery in my shower, as well as hitting the NY Times Bestseller list. But only in the shower.

I don't have a day job, per se. I have to make my way in the world with the skills I have. Music and writing may be dreams for some people, but they are the only skills I have. That's it.

So if I'm going to spend money on submitting manuscripts, it's going to be a calculated risk with Quicken open in front of me.

I insist that my fiction make a profit every year. See above: it has to.

I know some people have this dream, and they're willing to pay for it. I can understand a desire that big, but ... I simply can't afford a price that high.

Fiction is always a risk, but everything I do with my fiction career is a calculated risk.

Sorry to go on. It's a little bit of a sore spot with me. I can't tell you how much career advice I've gotten from unpublished and hobby-published writers that would mean me taking a paycut, or a risk that wasn't wise at the time. Usually so that I would be a "real" writer in their eyes.

I'm afraid that amidst all the talking to writers I've done, I haven't been lucky enough to talk to someone who understands that, at the end of the day, I need to make choices in my fiction career that will make my little family safe, healthy, and happy. I need to make choices that mean that DH doesn't have to go 2,000 miles away to make money.

12:47 PM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

Oh good lord. I'm embarrassed. I didn't know I'd gone on that long.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Sounds like we're on the same page, SS. The question I sometimes ask myself is this:

Would you rather write fiction

Or...

Would you rather take a vacation trip with your family with the money you might make writing something else.

And I gotta tell you, it's increasingly a no-brainer.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Sigh. Even though I have that announcement today over on my blog, I increasingly want to chuck it all. Honest to God. I am just weary of it . . . and like sort of being alone and making sh*t up, but I don't know what I want to do beyond that anymore.
E

2:54 PM  
Blogger Maria Zannini said...

Mark, I've been reading you for a while but have never been moved to comment until now.

>>...and noted that there seemed to be an awful lot of free-floating obsessive-compulsive disorders out there...

I spit up fizzy drink all over my keyboard! LOL!

I'm with you a hundred percent. I don't mind sharing space with so many of the writing addicted. It's when they tut-tut me for treating writing as a job rather than a passion that irritates me.

I'm glad people find comfort in their passion. My passion goes far beyond writing and includes those I love best.

Damn, I feel a post coming on. But it'll have to wait until next week. I'll link back to you then.

Great post, Mark.

3:37 PM  
OpenID eric-mayer said...

No one *has* to write. We have to breath. We have to eat. Some of us may want to write.

I've always written a lot perhaps because, in part, it's one of the few things I do fairly decently. This idea of the driven artist seems romantic or maybe even heroic to some people. But it's just words. It's not worth your family, or your enjoyment of life.

I suspect many of us have a problem with getting our self image too caught up with our writing, and people will do that with other things as well. Hard to avoid but not a good idea.

More and more I avoid publishing industry discussions. I'm a writer, not a publisher. I write. Someone will like it or not. Who knows what makes writing work for someone, or not. But all he agonizing over technical details is mostly a waste in my opinion. You need to learn some basics about how the industry functions and how to present your work professionally. Basic stuff. With that there's wide wide variation allowable which is not going make any difference to whether someone will buy it or not.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous jw johnson said...

Thats why I come here. I love your insights on the writing life.Its a place I can only dream about. I love your insights so much I bought one of you books.
I can tell you get a little frustrated with it but just remember there are tons of people who wish they could say they've been where you are.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

Mackinac Island. No W. But The Straights of Mackinaw. Go figure.

Listening to the tone of this post, and Erica's comment above, and knowing how relentlessly you guys hit the keys, maybe this is just a matter of "all work and no play." Maybe a trip to Mackinac Island is in order after all. Then again, you'll probably come up with a story idea while you're there.

1:54 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Erica
--no intent to bring anybody down, although I suppose when I'm down and write about it I bring people along with me. I'm sure your waiting 4 or 5 months for the money on the deal to show up is frustrating you. You'll feel better once the check clears. (I signed a contract on the last day of October 2007 and was supposed to get $10,000 in January. Still no money. Very frustrating.)

Maria
--welcome. I love it when people comment. I agree with you completely. I'm glad people find comfort in their passions. I would also note that many people seem delusional about, hey, I'm going to write and become a bestselling novelist and be on Oprah; the same way they might think they're going to win the Lotto. Sure, people do. But that's not the point. The point is, if that's what gets you out of bed in the morning, good for you. We've all got our crutches, I guess.

Eric
--very good point. I tend to be a bit of a wonk about publishing, although I'm not sure that knowledge is very useful. Dismaying sometimes, sure. And there is a recurring theme on my blog on how you shouldn't pursue writing the way Ahab pursued Moby Dick. Pursuing your passions is one thing, letting them destroy your life and those around you is something else.

JW
--frustration is definitely a part of the writing life. I'll be up about it soon again, that's part of my cycle.

Stephen
--yeah, I always get them confused. I'm pretty sure a trip to Mackinac Island this weekend would be filled with blinding snow and ice (sort of like staying home), but we do have a couple days trip planned in a month or so for the largest indoor water park in the U.S. I'm looking forward to it.

4:42 AM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

I said to Spy on her blog: Build a better mousetrap. Write a big, breakout novel that'll bring you a solid advance and promotional support from the publisher.

That'll give you a whole different mind set.

Stephen: Ever since I saw "Somewhere in Time" I've wanted to go to that island.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Jo
You make it sound easy. It's not. And it's not like I haven't tried.

Alternately, Mackinac Island is pretty cool. Also, if you're in the mood, you go west on route one from St. Ignace and there are literally miles of totally empty sandy beaches on Lake Michigan. No facilities, but no crowds, either.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Melanie Avila said...

Mark, great post. I also posted a little on Nathan's blog about why I write and saw a little of the discussion you mentioned on BookEnds. Lately I've seen the "I have to write..." statement a lot and it's had me questioning if I'm really serious about this writing thing. Sure, I'd love to be published but I am realistic and know it may never happened.

Then there are the people who say "I'd write even if no one else ever read it." I don't fall into that category, so again, what am I really doing?

I used to write a lot but got caught up with life after college. I decided to start writing again when life flipped me upside-down and I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. But I WANT other people to read what I write, even if it's just the people I know. I've had positive feedback so far and I'm trying to keep at it, so who knows.

But I certainly don't feel like I must write or the oxygen will no longer reach my lungs. I feel guilty if I put it off for too long and for now, that's the best I can do.

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