Saturday, January 10, 2015

What "being a writer" means.

author hitching a ride to the next level
--> "How's the writing going?" is a question friends often ask a writer. Big news would be: 1. I got a three-book contract with a six-figure advance; 2. My novel is being made into a movie and I'm quitting my day job; or 3. I won a few literary awards and contests. But that's not what friends usually hear. Below are other common questions readers ask, and how at least this author would respond to them.

"When are you coming out with another book?" Writers write and between starting page one of a new story, on the one hand, and getting to the level of the three possibilities above, on the other, can be a long road. Some writers or novels take years to reach completion. That's the art and the trade.

In my case, 2012 was a prolific year, getting a half dozen stories, including my first novel, traditionally published, some in journals, anthologies and a magazine. But it's been two years since the last story was published. What does that mean?

"Weren't you working on something new?" Friends who are unfamiliar with the art might be thinking other things when they ask this. Was he a one-hit wonder? Is he burned out? Out of ideas? Were reviews and sales so bad that he decided he's not very good at writing and so he quit? While any of these could be true, often the answer is more complicated and might make you wonder why writers subject themselves to this art, to begin with.

"What are you working on now?" Again in my case, I spent the last two years writing: A new, children's book. A new YA novel. A new Sci-Fi story. And also revising: A southwestern SciFi/Fantasy novel. A southwestern fantasy. A Mexican fantasy novella. And several other fiction and nonfiction pieces. Few have been accepted for publication, though all of them are in front of publishers, contest judges or literary agents. That's mostly how I spent the two years, as far as actual writing.

"I hear that so-and-so got another one published." Underlying this question might be another, unspoken one. There can be great contrasts between you and other writers, Latino or otherwise. There are some who are literally getting at least a short story published every month or so. Are they better writers than me? Possibly, probably and quién sabe. Also, qué importa? Every writer keeps writing, not losing heart, not beating his pen in the dirt. Good writing is not necessarily as obvious as a good painting. You can sometimes easily see that one artist is "better" than another. At the same time, beauty is in the eye of the purchaser, so there's no accounting for taste, too.

"Why don't you just self-publish and keep all the money for yourself?" Self-publishing would obviously keep my writing in front of possible readers. But I, and others, don't have much time for this. Writing is what we're supposed to get good or getting great at. Self-promotion is a whole different dinosaur.

For my debut novel, I spent months preparing to promote it, spent thousands flying to conferences and bookstores to conduct readings and signings and also had promotional materials produced that cost money. The months' drain on me was incredible. I was quite lucky to have patrons who assisted me in that, since the book hasn't strained my publisher's bank account. Every writer needs to promote themselves, but self-promotion can be its own addiction.

Out of that, I not only came to a decision that self-publishing would add too much more work and time that would take me away from writing. I also decided I needed to attempt to scale the publishing ladder and reach agents and companies that could do more of the work of promotion, with their money. Raising the bar contributed to my two-year climb, with more months to come.

"Has your writing won any awards?" During the public absence of new, published works, how else do writers spend their time? For me, other tasks came up that required my attention. For instance, my novel The Closet of Discarded Dreams received honorable mention from the International Latino Book Awards in 2013. The organization made cover stickers available to put on our books.

They also suggested that all "winners" should use AWA, Award Winning Author, in our literary biographies. I wrestled with that idea and decided, not. AWA, to me and probably others, sounds like my novel took 1st, 2nd or 3rd place, which it didn't. That may be a technicality, but I prefer to either be specific about what the novel won, or not use AWA and wind up disappointing someone when they learn that the novel only received honorable mention.

"Are you making any money writing?" I also volunteered to teach writing in inner-city, non-hipster or -charter schools. That keeps me in touch with some of my intended, new audience, like English-language learners, for instance. The work also meets part of my responsibility to pay-forward what I can and use what I've learned to help develop young or new writers.

a garden project, made from recycled wood
"What do you as a writer do for fun?" For most writers, writing is more fun than climbing mountains, skiing or scuba diving. But, all writing and no fun might make for a boring writer. When weather permitted--which can be a joke in global-warmed Colorado--I spent afternoons working on wood projects. Designing and building furniture out of salvaged or repurposed wood. The tactical, physical exercise strokes the brain and imagination in ways that a keyboard can't. Sanding away for hours can produce new stories or characters in surprising ways. I'd recommend some type of more physical art--whether it's gardening or landscaping or painting or whatever--for any writers who find themselves in a screen-burn rut.

"Why aren't you in a writing group?" No. I spent over a year in the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop and benefitted incredibly from participating. I recommend joining a writers' group or workshop to any beginning or aspiring writer. After my time with NCWW, I elected to not join another group because I believed it had pushed me up to the next level. From there, I am going it alone, for the time being. If I did join a group, it would specifically need to include some Chicanos, focus on children's/YA lit, and have writers who are interested in speculative literature. That's just my best-choice decision.

"Why don't you show me what you're working on?" Not all writers enjoy reading their WIPs to other people. A Work-in-Progress means it's not perfect, complete, totally ready. I don't mind that. Almost weekly, I try sharing passages from my WIPs with whoever has the patience to hear and comment on them. If you're in Denver on almost any Friday, drop me a line, come on by and you can join in, sometimes with other writers sharing their work.

"What else you been doing, besides writing?" These are not all the activities writers engage in between writing conferences, public readings and debuting their new works. Hours, days of preparation, research, interviews, typing, mailing and some thought keep us busy. Until we hear that one of our unpublished works has been accepted. And will be in print. And that we'll have to do book signings. In my case, that's also the time to break open a new bottle and give a toast to the two years spent getting there. We'll see how soon the next one happens.

So, the next time you ask questions of a writer, you can assume a lot is boiling inside their pots, even if you can't smell how picoso it is, yet.

To aspiring writers, I'll suggest, now go "Make good art," like Gaiman said. Be a "writer who knows the difference between the production of a commodity and the practice of an art," as Ursula Le Guin put it. Or take the words of the fabulous Chicano poet, Lalo Delgado, as a challenge and help mentor an aspiring writer: 
"stupid america, hear that chicano
shouting curses on the street,
he is a poet without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write
he will explode."

Es todo, hoy, but maybe mucho is coming,
RudyG, a.k.a. the "AWA" Rudy Ch. Garcia, who doesn't consider himself that. Yet.


msedano said...

AWA echoes a baby's cry for agua, so here's wishing you a deluge, keeping your head above AWA.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the shower, Em.