Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pasteups, Part Deux

These days the closest thing I get to doing a pasteup is linking my latest articles to my portfolio page on my professional website. I always put it off because it's a pain in the ass, but it's a necessary pain in the ass since as a freelance journalist, you're only as good as your latest article. I have a bunch more articles to post this weekend, it's on my list of (procrastination) things to do this weekend, along with some PR copywriting work I'm not in the mood to do right now.

Since I'm waxing philosophical anyway, allow me to continue my post from yesterday about writing for yourself versus writing for an audience. We've already established that amateurs write for themselves and pros write for others. But what happens when a pro gets stuck in a self-involved rut and can't see the forest for the trees? Well, I've got an anecdote to share.

A former coworker and acquaintance of mine wrote and published about 30 pulp sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels (think Conan the Barbarian type stuff) in the 70s and early/mid 80s. Although he never made enough money to give up his editing day job entirely, he did quite well and had an international readership for those books. At one point, he even had the same agent as Stephen King. (No joke). Then, in the late 80s the market changed and nobody wanted to read those kinds of books anymore. Readers' tastes' changed, and the market changed with it.

But instead of exploring new things to write about (which is how any writer grows professionally), my acquaintance just kept writing the same damn book over and over again. Small wonder his novel-writing career was dead in the water. His agent dropped him, his publisher killed the rest of his contract, and he couldn't even give his work away.

And so it went for him for about 25 years. He stopped writing altogether because he was bitter. Then he started writing again, but he was still covering all the same old ground. He went the self-publishing route, at great expense to himself and his family. He reached out and mentored younger writers like me (and since he'd been tutored himself by the great Leigh Brackett, I appreciated that---for a while anyway), but his own career still went---you guessed it, nowhere.

Still, I liked the guy. He was smart and funny and knew a lot about books and movies, so he was fun to chat with, and his much-younger wife had a child about my son's age. We would hang out sometimes. Then we got the idea to have a monthly writers' group meeting, where he, I, and one of his hanger-on friends who also wrote on the side would discuss our work.

I went to a few of those meetings, but pretty soon figured out they were a waste of time. First of all, this guy's writer friend was completely self-absorbed, not to mention kind of creepy (he once threatened bodily harm on me for disagreeing with him on something), and second of all, we didn't really talk about writing or discuss each other's work. Mostly the two men talked about old movies, with smatterings of sex and booze and assorted other misogynistic topics, and then they'd switch gears to talking about all the self-publishing projects they had going. They were "investing" thousands of dollars of their own money into vanity-press contracts, not to mention slick, expensively produced book trailers, going so far as to hire professional actors to appear in them. (And neither of them could really afford to be doing that, either).

They would insist doing this was the "wave of the future" of publishing, and neither of them wanted to hear much about how I had managed to land multiple book contracts that paid ME advances and royalties instead of the other way around. Not to mention that I earned a steady full-time living as a journalist. No, neither of them wanted to hear anything about how I'd accomplished that. No, they just wanted to talk about how cool they thought their new characters and plots were and how much fun they were having writing them. But there was still plenty of complaining from the both of them about how they weren't making a living as writers and how they thought the whole publishing system was bogus, and people were stupid not to want to buy pulp sword and sorcery books anymore.

The one time I brought up to them that they were not succeeding as writers because they were thinking too much about themselves and not about readers, well, I didn't get a good reaction.

So, suffice to say I ended that friendship. But I learned a great deal from it nonetheless. And I'll leave you with this. Yesterday I got copyedits back from my editor on two articles I wrote about mental illness in the United States. My editor said,"Wow, these were great pieces! Really made me think, and even made me outraged. I can tell you're really passionate about this topic."

And it's true, I am very passionate about it. I have multiple family members who struggle with mental illness so it's a topic close to my heart. I told her that, and also said that I try to do my part as a journalist to keep people informed about it. She replied, "Wow, that's great. By the way, my grandfather committed suicide, I wish we could have gotten him some help. It's nice to see journalists like you take that topic on."

And that, my friends, is what makes my job worth doing. I don't write for myself, you see. I write for others. Peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment