Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

I came across an interesting post over at Nathan Bransford’s Blog titled: How Do You Deal with the “Am-I-Crazies?”

Mr. Bransford is talking about the “Am I crazy for spending so much time doing this" conundrum. He was referring to the writing, but in my case, I have those moments multiplied by infinity. Of course, my answer to the question of how I deal with it is: I drink, I smoke, and I talk to myself -- a lot -- using a myriad of expletives. However, I may be eccentric, but I am no raving lunatic. I chill in my garden, I exercise daily to relieve the stress of it all, and I shower my husband and ferrets with as many kisses as I can spare and as many as they can stand.

People, especially non-writers, think I am crazy because I edit my work to within an inch of its life, and I am still never completely satisfied. We grow, we change, and every time we re-read the work, something new comes to the forefront. That’s what revision is all about, but at some point, the work does need to see the light of day. Some share their work with other trusted writer friends, some use critique groups, some use social networking sites like Scribd, and some actually publish the work and set it out into the world of strangers for review. I did this, and I found the commentary so beneficial that I took all the work out of print for revision. Actually, I took the work out of print in order to start-up my own imprint, but in the end, it seemed to make sense to have a look at it all again whilst I had the perfect opportunity to do so. Certainly, everyone said I was crazy, but I am a self-published author, so releasing second editions or revised work is not as daunting a task as it is for mainstream published authors. I needed the serious critique -- from people who didn’t know me -- and this was one way to go about doing it. The objectivity was what I was after.

This leads me to my other “Am I Crazy?” moment. That being: Why do I spend so much time on this blog reviewing self-published books and writing columns and commentary on the craft and the not so artful act of self-publishing? I receive no compensation for my work here even though I have garnered the coveted literary curmudgeon status and people seem to like what I write about, but none of this amounts to book sales or fame and fortune. Not to mention, popular opinion seems to be that writing reviews, especially the critical ones, is a thankless time-sucking lacklustre pursuit, so why in the world would I want to devote so much time to it? (That’s why most review blogs last less than three years, BTW.) So, all that being relatively true, what’s the deal then? Well, I am crazy, and to me, this is some sort of demented “pay it forward” karmic love-in I suppose. I’ll explain.

I’ve been writing since high school -- off and on for twenty-five years now -- nothing really serious, misogynistic penthouse forum type shit, and I just loved to write. In my twenties, I was too stooopid to write anything of value; I was too busy enjoying a suck career, a bad first marriage, and watching many of my friends and lovers self-destruct in a variety of interesting ways. In my thirties, I spent my time putting things into perspective and trying to recover from all my own failed efforts . What can you do aside from taking a lot of mental notes whilst trying to hang on to your own sanity, but I do have thirty years of literary study under my belt, and I still study literature in my spare time for my own personal pleasure. I know, it’s sick, but studying theory ain’t a bad thing, if you want to be a writer that is.

There is nothing like the smell of a used textbook.
I love the language.
I am a word nerd, and I love literature, the real artsy fartsy maudlin shit that by page two has you thrust into the middle of your own existential crisis.

But all that’s beside the point, really. After a while, I got serious about my own writing. I’d lived a nasty bit of life, and finally, I felt I had the emotional experience to tackle some of the issues I wanted to write about. Nothing fancy, no Proustian prose here, though some people seem to think the poet in me needs a bit of release … anyway, I had a traditionally published writer friend ask to see some of my draft scribble back in 2005. She read it and urged me to continue, that the stories were good and needed to be finished. I had gotten a bit rusty from the sporadic writing and the equally sporadic living, and she gave me the no shit version of a workshop critique, really kicked my ass, and told me in no uncertain terms where I needed to improve. I had been out of academia for fifteen years at that point, had barely scraped two sentences together for ten of those years, so the gears needed a bit of oil, but if it weren't for her honesty, I might have thought my horrible shite was actually good.

So, it’s all because of her really, and the fact that this blog agreed to review one of my original drafts back in 2006. As far as motivations go, I just really want to give back to the Indie community. A community who nurtured me without coddling me. A community who wasn’t afraid to tell me the pencil I had up my ass smelled like shit. That's right, I want to give some of that back, not the shit, the pencil -- promise, I’ll wash it first. If I can share thirty years of academic knowledge and help another writer be a better writer, then so be it. If I can shine a light on an Indie writer whose prose is worthy of recognition, all the better. Occasionally, I get a nice thank you note in my email for being honest and writing a real review -- a review that had some constructive use. Some of those thank you notes have, over time, turned into bona fide friendships and trusted critique partners.

So you tell me … am I crazy? I might just be, but my heart is in the right place.

How do you deal with the "Am I crazies"? Comments are open.

The Art is By William Hogarth titled “In The Madhouse” circa 1735

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Jim Murdoch said...

I'm probably not the right person to comment on this post because – using your own criteria – I'm as crazy as a loon. The question I think we both need to answer is: Do we feel satisfied by what we do? And the answer clearly is: Yes, we do. If we didn't we would have both given up by now. I've been writing my blog for two years. I was actually of the opinion that most blogs fail within three months. It doesn't really matter though. We're not measuring ourselves by other people's standards. If we did we surely would fail. It's like when you tell someone you're a writer. The first question is: Have you been published? The next usually is: Have you been paid? And I've never got to the third or fourth questions because I generally fall at the second hurdle. By their standards.

There will be a time, and it's coming faster than anyone cares to think about it, when all reviews will be done online. There are a lot of sites doing it and most of them won't have readers that hit triple figures a day. There was a time when if I hit double figures I was in seventh heaven. Now I get irked if it's less than 100. Publishers now send me books. Okay, it's not much payment for the amount of work I do but it's something. It's an indication that they're starting to appreciate which way the wind's blowing.

In my case it's mainly mainstream publishers but I've done the odd self-published book that comes my way. I don't differentiate in the review. They're published – full stop. If self-published authors want to be respected they have to earn it. My first novel sold very few copies and I expect the sequel to do no better despite the fact it's been edited into the ground but the reviews of the first one were virtually all positive. That matters. The thing is I'm in this for the long haul. If I never wrote another word I can keep publishing for years to come. You never know who is going to read your blog.

To come fact to your final question: How do I deal with "the crazies"? I embrace them. I make them my own. I set high standards and try and live up to them. People may think I'm crazy spending the hours and hours I do spend in front of this laptop but no one will ever read my post and think a crazy person wrote that. I've got them all fooled.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

You and I are so alike. I get the most pleasure out the satisfaction I feel, whether that be writing a review, writing a blog post, or writing my own work. I feel that way in my garden or when I am painting or designing a book cover. The hard work feels good no matter how small the accomplishment seems to anyone else's standards.

I even feel that way when I look back over a page or a paragraph or a chapter and realise, damn, that really is fuckin' shite. But that realisation leads to the challange. It's hard work to accept the challenge, and the hard work is what makes it better -- makes us better.

So I agree with you on all counts. I too am in it for the long haul.

Brent Robison said...

"Crazy" can be said to be anything not "normal" in the society in which we live. And we live in a culture that teaches us that all our efforts should be toward growing our bank account, getting more stuff, and/or increasing our power over others. So those of us who spend our hours in solitude lining words up in a row for no guaranteed pay and little recognition... yes, we are definitely crazy. And that's a good thing. Without the crazy people, the future of our species would be truly dismal. So I'm proud to be crazy.

On the other hand, all this is how I rationalize away the emotion that arises in those lonely moments when it feels like the rewards may not be worth the effort.

In the end, none of it matters, because the truth is, I can't stop. I have to write, I have no choice. As Popeye said "I yam what I yam!"

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Agreed Brent. I never liked the equation $$$ = accomplishment = success.

I have always felt that a sense of accomplishment has to come from within.

I also have always felt that the best effort is often made when there is no reward. True artists, I have noticed, all seem to have an air of selflessness about them.

Jim Murdoch said...

One of the good things about the web is the knowledge that we're not alone. No matter how much of a minority we feel we are in the real world at least we can comfort ourselves with the fact that there is someone else very much like us out there. He or she may be – or will most likely be – on the other side of the world so meeting for a coffee is usually not an option but at least they're there. And that helps. But every now and then I need them to speak up – like we've just done – and reassure me that they're still there going through much the same stuff as I am for much the same reasons. Even if those reasons only make sense to the two of us.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I was fortunate enough to have Emily, the head peep here and blog owner, allow me the freedom to start this column in the first place.

When I began, my intent was to use the iconic author quotes as a way to connect writers of the past to the writers of today on a more intimate level. The paintings slipped in there because I studied art history for a while and am an art appreciator on so many levels that it seemed appropriate to connect those dots, as well. Although, my painting is even more crap than my writing. :-)

We all share the same sense of isolation. I think all artists tend to work inwardly, their only companion is their shadow. That can be a lonely place. Of course, everyone's mileage will vary as will everyone's level of dementia and angst ... but in the end, it is nice to know we aren't the only crazy on the block.

I was thinking next year of opening the column up to submissions from other writers, cross posts, and what not: Thoughts from abroad, maybe.

Nishant said...

very thoughtful article.......

Work from home