Sunday, August 26, 2012
I Believe I Am Really a Writer
I am not a number! I am a free man!
– The Prisoner
Back when I was learning this stuff, this writing craft and business, I devoured books on writing and the contents of two magazines, The Writer and Writer’s Digest. I always plucked something useful out of all of them, every single one, and once I read something that was put in as magazine filler, written by the English novelist Malcolm Bradbury. I liked it so much I cut it out and pinned it to my bulletin board. It’s from his memoir, Unseen Letters: Irreverent Notes From a Literary Life:
I believe I am really a writer. I write everything. I write novels and short stories and plays and playlets, interspersed with novellas and two-hander sketches. I write histories and biographies and introductions to the difficulties of modern science and cook books and books about the Loch Ness monster and travel books, mostly about East Grinstead….I write children's books and school textbooks and works of abstruse philosophy…and scholarly articles on the Etruscans and works of sociology and anthropology. I write articles for the women's page and send in stories about the most unforgettable characters I have ever met to Reader's Digest….I write romantic novels under a female pseudonym and detective stories.…I write traffic signs and "this side up" instructions for cardboard boxes. I believe I am really a writer.
I thought of this quote the other day when I read a now infamous article wherein one Ewan Morrison laments the new paradigm of self-publishing, which he calls a “classic race to the bottom.” To quote the article:
Many will cheer, Morrison admits, including the more than one million new authors who have outflanked traditional gatekeepers by “publishing” their work in Amazon’s online Kindle store. “All these people I’m sure are very happy to hear they’re demolishing the publishing business by creating a multiplicity of cheap choices for the reader,” Morrison says. “I beg to differ.”
I was more impressed with another writer quoted in the piece, Jake MacDonald. “My ecological model is the raccoon – a diversified survivor,” MacDonald said. “I’m always writing, but the survival plan continues to evolve. I’m surviving as well as I ever did, but in completely different ways.”
Hear, hear! MacDonald is a guy who gets it. It’s the Raccoon Way or the highway, my friends. Adapt or die.
Not long ago I was talking to a traditionally published author who saw what I was doing—stories, novellas, novelettes, non-fiction, backlist (all in addition to my trad books)—and wondered if I might be spreading myself too thin.
It’s precisely the opposite. I’m spreading myself thick. I’m making honest lettuce every month by writing what I want, finding readerships for each item (which makes for cross-over to my other works), adding to my platform and making business judgments accordingly. What is wrong with this picture? Nothing, if you are a writer who thinks it’s okay to make money off your writing.
So I, too, believe I am really a writer. I write full length thrillers and crime novellas. I write short stories about a boxer named Irish Jimmy Gallagher, and novelettes about a martial arts nun named Sister J. I write “how to” articles and books on the writing craft, and a treatise on law for California lawyers. I write historical romances and, in my spare time, zombie legal thrillers. I write blog posts and writing tweets, emails to my fans and journals to myself. I make up more stories than I’ll be able to write in my lifetime, and choose the ones that excite me most and write those.
Traditional publishing needs to embrace this model. It needs to understand that a self-publishing writer who follows “The 5 Laws” is building a solid platform because it’s based on readership. Publishers inside the Forbidden City should now see themselves less as potentates granting approbation, and more as “creative partners” with enterprising writers (see my Declaration of Indie-Pendence).
And any writer entering such a partnership must be willing to do what’s best to support the traditionally published books––by not competing with them and not being a ratfink to the publisher. This is all worked out in what is called negotiation. Which, I hasten to add, is supposed to be two-sided and win-win.
The bottom line is there is no bottom line. There is no one way to go about any of this. And even though that’s causing indigestion in Manhattan board rooms, the Alka-Seltzer of the new reality is just a plop plop, fizz fizz away. Drink of it!
I am a writer, so I write. And continue to read books on writing and review my binders of articles on the craft, because this is what I do. I’m never going to rest or just “mail it in.” I’m going to write as long as I can, as well as I can, until they find me with my cold, dead fingers poised over the keyboard, hopefully after I’ve just typed THE END.
I am a writer.
I believe it.
What do you believe?