Monday, July 27, 2015

10 Minutes About When You Should Quit Writing (And Other Things Websites and Blogs Made Me Think About)

I started "10 Minutes About" a while back when I couldn't find any good book podcasts or websites on the Internet, and decided that rather than be part of the solution I'd make it somebody else's problem. (That's how that saying goes, I'm sure.)

Since then I've actually found a couple of good sites/podcasts that talk about writing, books, and literary stuff in general in a way that's neither boring nor pretentious.

First the podcasts.  I actually tried my hand at podcasting a couple years back. How hard could it be? I thought. I had a digital recorder on my phone, and a voice.  Only the results were terrible, and I decided that unless and until I could actually do it right I wouldn't bother doing it all.

"Right" in terms of podcasting, at least for me, is hard to describe. Some podcasts are technically proficient but annoying to me.  Snap Judgmente and The Moth are very popular podcasts that I can't stand.  They seem like they're trying to hard.  I don't know how else to explain it.  There's a certain tone to people who try to hard to be entertaining, and both of those podcasts have it. Overly produced with hosts and speakers doing voices and the stories arranged just so.  They're what would happen if Wes Anderson made a movie about Wes Anderson doing a podcast about Wes Anderson movies.

At the other end of the spectrum are the podcasts that are more like mine was: terrible and lo-fi.  People seem to think (about blogs, books, podcasts, etc.) that if they can think/type/talk -- communicate in general -- that their communications are inherently interesting.  I don't know how many times I've struggled to read a post or listen to a podcast while thinking make it interesting!  It's not that the story has to be inherently interesting.  David Sedaris writes articles about looking at a turtle as he stands on a bridge, and it's interesting.  The Pop Culture Happy Hour people at NPR, who I used to listen to, also talk about nothing, and it's interesting.

So you can do nothing, or just sit and talk, and be interesting.  But most people aren't, at least in the podcasts I listened to.  They were just people talking, people with unoriginal, uncompelling thoughts presented in a blah way.  I listened to about 10 different podcasts, each of which ended with my thinking you sitting around talking about stuff isn't interesting.

With that, I did find two podcasts of people sitting around talking about books 'n' stuff that were worth listening to.  The first is the Book Riot podcast.  There are three people on the podcast (the website has their names; don't ask me what they are.) I've only listened to two episodes of it so far, but both of them were pretty entertaining.  The latest one had the three discussing for most of the time their reactions to Go Set A Watchman, and while I don't intend to read the book (and find the story of how it got published way more interesting than the story in the book), the discussion of the book and its circumstances and how they reacted to it was pretty interesting.

The other podcast is All The Books!, and it's from Book Riot, too. Of the two, I so far like this one better.  It's just two women, discussing a bunch of books they've read or which are being released, or both. But they do so in an interesting and fun and intelligent way, so it's worth listening to.

The website, finally, is "Literary Hub," and I've only just discovered it.  I can't tell yet if it's a site that collects writing about books and writing from other sites, or if it has its own writers, or both, but it's been interesting so far.  There are articles on 'weird' fiction (like Vandermeer and Lovecraft and Gaiman), unappreciated authors, and things like the one I read today, "The Unemployed Life Of A Professional Writer," in which a poet/novelist/children's book author describes how she's trying to make a living doing that (she's been published, traditionally) while also trying to find full-time jobs to pay the bills.  Spoiler alert: it ends with her selling copies of her books at yard sales.

The writer, Shelley Leedahl, talks about wondering whether she should stop writing:

I was at a launch in Victoria recently where an author read in a T-shirt printed with his book cover image. Writers are making book trailers. I’ve read in an organic food market, with fruit flies buzzing around my head, and was damn glad to have the opportunity. Time to go where the people are—not just to libraries, and bookstores. It’s the hour for new audiences, and new sales’ strategies.
We try and we try. It’s exhausting. Honestly, I feel that if this book doesn’t make even alittle stir—and frankly, earn me even a modicum of income—it might just be time to stop scribbling.

My first thought on reading that was why? Why would you ever stop writing? But the more I pondered her actual situation: trying to land a job at Home Depot and get public assistance to buy steel-toed boots for that job, while also booking her own readings at friends' houses, the more I understood why she might, finally, decide to not write for a living.

And that made me wonder if I could just stop writing.  I have slowed down my writing a lot, especially this summer. I used to maintain several blogs plus write books and short stories.  This summer, I have written one short story.  Since May.  And I blog more, but nowhere near the level I used to.

In part, I feel as though I am written out.  I wrote a story a day for the past year, and I have been (slowly) editing that, and I did that while editing my book Codes AND starting a new firm back in January, and so this summer I've let myself slide a bit and done more reading at night instead of writing.

But even with that, I'm constantly thinking up ideas and jotting them down and thinking about what my next project might be, when I begin it.  I'm not sure I ever could give up writing, which of course is a silly thing to think because for years and years I never was a writer.

I wrote my first couple of stories in grade school, and then through high school I didn't write much at all, aside from some poems.  I didn't write until I was about 21 or 22 and took a creative writing class, and I don't even really remember why I took that.  After that, I wrote a bunch of short stories and two novels, and then didn't do anything again until probably 2005 or so.  Since then, the past 10 years, I've been pretty prolific.

But that's only 10 years, really, out of 46.  So to think I could never stop writing is to freeze myself in time, because the me that loves to write is the me that used to focus on learning musical instruments, or the me that spent an entire summer teaching himself card tricks, or the me that organized softball teams for a few years, and so on.

I'm not like the lady in the story; I'm not thinking about giving up writing, and when I don't write these days it's not because I find it too hard to make a living at.  But having read the story and spent the day wondering whether I could quit writing, I realized that I could. 

I worried, for a bit, tonight, whether realizing that I could quit was the first step in actually not writing anymore.  Sometimes I'm like that. I used to be way way more in shape than I am now.  When I lost a hundred pounds in six months back in 1993, I started on a fitness regimen that I stuck with for years.  Every other day I worked out, rain or shine, for at least 30-60 minutes.  I ran, mostly, running 5, 6, 7 miles even when I wasn't feeling that great.  (I once ran 6 miles and felt terrible the whole time.  The next day I went to the campus nurse and she said I had a terrible case of pneumonia. I nearly had to be hospitalized.)

One day, in law school, some friends called me up and asked if I wanted to go get a couple beers at the Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota.  I said I had to go running first and might meet them later.  Then I was tying my shoes and getting ready to go and I thought Wait, why don't I just go? What am I in training for? Nothing.

That was the beginning of the end: it was a long slow slide to where I am now, helped by heart attacks and bees and asthma, but now I've put a lot of the weight back on and my idea of exercise is getting up to get the remote.  The realization that I didn't have to do something ended up with me not doing it as often.

On the other hand, knowing that I can quit at any time makes it easy to go on.  The last time I ever went running was about 4 months after my heart attack.  I went to the health club and just started jogging around the track, to see how far I could go.  I'd been walking and lightly jogging for four months and wanted to see how healthy I was.  Each lap I thought I could quit now but I guess I'll keep going.  I did lap after lap after lap, and got to 8 miles before I had to quit because the playroom was closing and I had to go get Mr Bunches and Mr F.  Otherwise, I might never have stopped running.

So I guess I could quit writing anytime I want, and it's too early to see how that knowledge might ultimately affect me.

That's way more than 10 minutes, but I was on a roll so I kept going. After all, I didn't have to stop.

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