Saturday, April 25, 2009

I Need a New Business Partner

The problem with running a freelance writing "business" is that you are pretty much a one-man band. Not only do you need to manufacture the product, you have to be the salesman, the marketing division, the legal staff and the guy responsible for the coffee and donuts.

Production I don't have a problem with. Since proposing to start treating my writing as a business some six years ago, I am writing better and more consistently than ever. It's the joker in charge of marketing and sales that I have a problem with. In truth, that comes as no surprise; my lack of business acumen is long documented—I still have a copy of a memo I sent to my boss many years ago assuring him there was no future in Microsoft Windows, and I bought a Beta Max; 'nuff said—but as I enter the seventh year of my "business" I would have thought that, even by accident, I might have made more progress.

It so happens that I track my hours and finances meticulously (yeah, I'm a bit OCD) so I can reveal that last year, my writing salary was £0.21 an hour. Not exactly enough to make you consider giving up the day job, especially when you take into consideration that, during the same periods, I spent £1.48 an hour.

To exacerbate my dilemma, I am currently in a position where I need to make a choice about which direction to steer my business in. Though I am chuffed to bits about having a book out, this presents a new problem: do I continue to write humorous books on being an expat, or return to mainstream novels? I can't do both—there simply are not enough hours in the day—and the only thing I can be certain of is, if there is a business decision to make, I will make the wrong one (refer to earlier mention of memo and Beta purchase).

Another irritating fact is, any chance I have of publishing a second book hinges on the first one. "Postcards From Across the Pond" doesn't have to be a best seller, but I can't really see myself writing to a publisher with my one and only credential being a book that sold 12 copies.

So the guy in charge of marketing and sales had better start pulling his weight or he's going to find himself out of a job.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Art Imitating Life, Imitating Art

I finally finished the post on Writer’s Block, but the story about the post so clearly illustrates my point, that I thought I’d frame my little essay on Writer’s Block with my essay about writing the essay on Writer’s Block.

When the idea for the essay hit, I dove into it as I generally do, but after a paragraph or so, I started to think it would make a pretty good filler article for Writer’s Digest and decided to submit it when I finished. (I’ve sold to them in the past, so it wasn’t quite as off the wall as it sounds.)

And I continued writing, but now I was conscious of what I was writing. The weight of an unseen audience began to crush me and the idea—so big and grand when I started—grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether. Then the words stopped coming.

Fortunately, I have no shortage of things to write these days, so I simply moved on. I continued to visit the languishing essay, but however hard I tried, I could not bring it back to life. At length, I gave up on the idea of sending it to WD and decided to just attack it and post whatever crap appeared.

So I wrote:

The Case for Writer’s Block

Popular opinion among writers these days has it that Writer’s Block does not exist. “Plumbers don’t get Plumber’s Block,” they tell us. “Therefore writers do not get Writer’s Block.” It’s an interesting hypothesis, but they are comparing apples and oranges, or more to the point, writers and plumbers.

A plumber may be a craftsman but his skill relies on manual, not mental dexterity. He has likely received training in his trade, he has probably taken tests and, at some point, someone has pronounced him a plumber. Doubts are not a part of his day. He doesn’t lie awake thinking, “Who am I kidding; I’m not a plumber. Everyone must know I’m a fake. I’m probably the worse plumber there ever was. Maybe I should try being a bricklayer, instead.” If they did, I expect they would take more time off from work, and they would put it down to Plumber’s Block.

But writers whose synapses have seized up—and more than a few successful writers claim to suffer still—are expected to face the blank page every day and dredge something up from the echoing, empty depths of their minds. And not just anything; it needs to be worthy, yet marketable; new enough to keep their readers surprised, yet and similar enough to keep them comfortable. Is it any wonder many writers are frozen by stark terror at the thought of hitting the first key? The writer’s mind is where their work comes from, it is the part of their being that must be functioning properly in order for them to do their work, and if it is blocked by fear or self-doubt, then they are unable to perform. This is Writer’s Block.

Besides, plumbers actually do get Plumbers Block; it’s called the flu. If they have it, the part of their being required to carry out their tasks won’t function, blocking them from doing their work as thoroughly as if they were a writer shackled by insecurity. (For the record, I’d rather wrestle with stifling emotions; writer’s block doesn’t stop me from going down to the pub.)

The only problem with writer’s block is, unlike the flu, you can’t really use it as an excuse to bunk off if you want to be a professional, and that’s where we get the notion that it doesn’t exist. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t real; it just means you can’t give in to it.

And I don’t think that’s fair; after all, no one expects a plumber to show up for work when he has the flu.


I looked over what I wrote and felt rather pleased with myself. I’d broken my writer’s block and produced something that was probably good enough to submit to Writer’s Digest after all, and I proposed to do just that as soon as I got home. To celebrate, I packed away my laptop, pulled out my new edition of Writer’s Digest and settled in for a good read. And there, on page 62, was a filler article on Writer’s Block.

At least they saved me the angst of composing a cover letter.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Adult Supervision

It's a lazy Saturday afternoon; day two of a four-day weekend. My wife is out with friends and I have nothing planned. I am, however, in possession of a credit card and reside within a seven-minute walk of three different bookstores (four, if you count The Works). That is, I have discovered, a dangerous combination, especially when I am left without adult supervision.

I actually went out to buy Sarah Lyall's book, The Anglo Files, because it keeps getting such bad reviews and I want to see how she is slagging off the British and what she's said to piss them off. I was not surprised to discover the book was not in any of the stores. (I was also both gratified and disappointed to find my book on the shelves of Waterstones—it's always nice to see your book on the bookstore shelves, but why hasn't it sold out yet?)

So, I came back home with Tom Bale's Skin and Bones, Alexander McCall's Tears of the Giraffe, a steak and Stilton pasty, an Easter card and some chocolate as a surprise for my wife and a bunch of flowers, bought on a whim. But the one item I went out for, I still don't have.

Luckily, there's Amazon UK.

(NOTE: I realize this hardly constitutes a post, but nearly two weeks have passed and I wanted to stick something up here to keep you from thinking I had abandoned the site. I actually have several posts planned. The one is progress is about Writer's Block but I'm having a lot of trouble with it. How ironic is that?)