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Building a Writer’s Platform, and Other Modern-day Nonsense that I’m sure Hemingway wouldn’t have put up with

I recently read a very depressing book about how to find a literary agent, which basically said that you couldn’t get an agent these days unless you had a major internet following. The author of the book suggested blogging as one way of building an “author platform” which, in order to grow large enough to catch the attention of the literary agent, has to be massive and will therefore take twenty years to grow. As I said, this was depressing to read. I really have no clue what to blog about, and I don’t feel it’s the type of writing I want to be doing, and actually runs the risk of harming my writing by taking time and energy away from the true writing I like to do, which is storytelling. But, I figure in twenty years, despite not having a clue about blogging, who knows? I might have gained such a huge fanbase that no agent would turn down the chance to sell to my massive following.

So, there we go. I’m blogging, despite the fact that I don’t really want to. And lucky you, whoever you are, reading this: you get the pleasure of reading something written by someone who didn’t want to write it nor even knows what to write it about (hey, is it everything you dreamed it’d be?) Because this is what writers are supposed to do, I guess, in this day and age. It’s actually kind of sad for Hemingway, because he would have really been adept at the whole 160-character mentality of Twitter, if only he were writing in modern times. He would have probably advocated for an even smaller character count, actually. And just think if Shakespeare were alive today, slaving away at his growing email list (he’d no doubt draw us all in with a tantalizing free e-sonnet offer). Jane Austen is just lucky she never had to create a YouTube channel (although I totally would have signed up for Dorothy Parker’s).

This is the side of stuff that I don’t know, and I’m barely willing to learn. I have a hard enough time making sure my characters do the things they’re supposed to do, like fulfill their destinies within their intended plot lines. Do people even know the gravity of my responsibilities? I’m responsible for shepherding each of my characters through the horrible destitution that befalls them, and bring about such a profound change of mentality that they emerge at the end a different person altogether. These characters have to be believable, relatable, relevant, complex, and they have to be so good at these traits that the real people reading about them forget their own lives for awhile. Wow, when I put it like that, I feel like I should give myself a raise.

So these are the things I work on. This is what I find important — putting more stories out there into the hands of people who appreciate stories. Every writer has their own version of what’s worthy of being written about; some people choose fantasy or horror or science fiction. I just choose the basic format — how people relate to each other. How they relate to themselves. I find that fascinating. I find the human spirit fascinating, and my characters never disappoint me in this regard. I can hit them over the head with the heaviest of clubs, and they will rise again, fighting harder. They will see their goals to an end, more determined than ever. That, to me, is worthy of writing about.

I don’t look at writing as a “hobby” but more like a passion. Sewing is my hobby. It’s fun and I like to do it for awhile, but then I might leave it for awhile and go surfing the web, not stopping until I’ve learned the entire history of the subject of “milk” on Wikipedia. Maybe I’ll return to sewing afterwards, or maybe I’ll find some other way to entertain myself. But writing is more than passing the time, or practicing a hobby, because you can walk away from a hobby, and not spend hours of time away from it, still working at it in your mind. Anyone who has this level of dedication to anything is practicing art, not a hobby, in my opinion. And this dedication is what I want to continue working on, to get better at every day, honing my ability to finely interweave subplot within plot, create diversions, distractions, surprises. I want to learn how to be better and better at expressing human thought, and contemplating those age-old questions that generations of human beings before me had inevitably, at one time or another, asked themselves: “How do I love without losing myself?” “What will become of me when I die?” “What, if anything, is worth going to war over?” “Can I get away with tearing that little piece of mold off the bread and eating around it?”

These are the passions that writers keep returning to, and when it’s going beautifully and the dialog just flows naturally and the plot comes together, you get a high that’s better than any out there (I’m extrapolating). But there are the other times, when your character doesn’t want to grow with the labels you’ve placed on him or her; there are times when you feel like you don’t really know your character at all, and they question it too. It’s like having kids – you have all of these visions for what they might grow up to be, but they grow into these amazing people that are so much better than what you envisioned. If you can get out of your kid’s way, that is — and the same is true for a writer’s characters. You can just sense the resentment in your main character’s mind, as he wonders how you could ever expect him to run (and win) a local election when all he wants to do is dance! “What the hell?” he seems to ask you over your shoulder, as you struggle to piece his story together. “Don’t you know me at all? I would never do that. I would never say that.” Suddenly you’re consumed with doubt, and it’s not long until your entire plot outline begins crumbling to the ground. You abandon the project for awhile, but find yourself struggling with it as you stare at the ceiling at night.  Eventually you stop fighting your character’s need to dance. He belongs on Broadway; stop with the podium debates and put his name in lights already.

And so you’ve learned, just like you do with kids: when you stop forcing them to perform in a role you arbitrarily made up for them, they suddenly have the freedom to say what they ought to be saying, and do what they ought to be doing. In this way, writing can be a madness, too. Of course these people aren’t real — we’re creative, but not crazy, right? Well, there is a level of craziness to writing, and if you’re like me, you’d jump at the chance of finding a 12-step group where you can finally utter the words “Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a writer.” The first step is admitting that we are powerless to our craft, including the craziness that comes from interacting with imaginary people. It’s like the belief that every person has something that he or she is meant to do. For literary characters, this is true, and telling their story becomes an intimate project that, in the end, the writer feels completely honored to have been a part of.

But nowadays, writers are having to split their time between the worlds they create and the mouthpieces by which their potential reading public can get to know them by. Writers these days can’t even get the attention of a publisher without going through an agent, and before an agent will give you the time of day, you not only have to have finished your novel, but paid a couple grand to have it edited, too. What??? Isn’t that the editor’s job? Nope. The writer pays for editing services, not to mention publicity. This is why the words “day job” exist, because a career in writing is expensive, and time consuming! Long gone are the days where we were only responsible for sitting in front of the typewriter, making the magic happen by pecking out 90,000 words over a few rolls of ink ribbons and couple of reams of paper.

So, there you have it folks — whoever you are — this is my blog, that I didn’t want to write. As boring as it sounds, my blog is going to be about writing (because what the hell else does a writer blog about???) I was actually pleased that this blog already existed; apparently my plans for building this writer’s “platform” was on my agenda a year ago. So that means I’m now only 19 years away from my big break.

I’m going to go now and remove the strange looking taco theme that seems to be in use on this blog; I’m also thinking I should try to flesh out some of the content (like, actually put something into the boxes, instead of leaving them to say “This is a text widget. The Text Widget allows you to add text or HTML to your sidebar. You can use a text widget to display text, links, images, HTML, or a combination of these. Edit them in the Widget section of the Customizer.” Or I might just leave the text widget to announce its own usefulness; it kind of underscores the idea that this is all so generic.

Hemingway didn’t have to deal with generic. He got to go off watching bulls be stabbed and go sport fishing in Cuba, then came home to write about it. Damn you Ernest, you had it so easy….

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