Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Inspire or Perspire, Thoughts From An Old Determined Rookie

istock_000017878764xsmallThere were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.

My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.

In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.

It didn’t happen that way.

I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.

I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down. 

And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.

Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?

I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.

What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Friended, Fanned and Porned (How To Make Facebook and Other Social Media Un-Fun)

iStock_000017966432XSmallSometimes I hate social media! The problem didn’t start when I listened to a respected friend tell me that I needed to build my Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that when I have a book published, I will have social media in place. Up until her suggestion, my social media list had plateaued about 100. Those are actual people who I know. So I followed my friend’s advice and began making friends with lots of other writers on Facebook. Not hard to do when everyone and their mother is a writer these days. There is an initial high when you see your FB friends list go from 100 to 550. And the seduction in that is that I started to believe for a hot minute that I really had 550 friends. But we all know that’s not really true. If I died today, 450 of those people would not give a rat’s ass.

And the problem didn’t start when I got porned on Facebook. A sexually violent picture appeared on my timeline. I was able to report it and get a response from FB. But then I started getting porn sites in my friend requests, so that if I went to check out someone’s profile to see if we had friends in common or writers in common, I’d land on a porn profile. No way to report those to Facebook. Facebook started to become really un-fun for me.

Here is where I think the problem really started: I bought the line of bull about branding yourself. Oh my God, what a better world we would be if we didn’t worry about branding ourselves. Remember when being a decent person, one who cares about being good at what they do was enough? Is that so old-fashioned that it isn’t even relevant anymore?

Donald Trump is branding himself as the guy who is going to make America great again, but we all know that he is really just an asshole. Kim Kardashian is branding herself as a role model for young women, when we all know, oh well, never mind. . .  We live in a world of branding where we think we need a platform, where business as usual is not about what you can make well or about the good services you can offer, it’s about your brand. Brands sell. Unfortunately branding has taught us that whether or not you’re a company or an individual, creating a brand trumps (no pun intended) honesty as the best policy. Takes me back to the original question: remember when being a decent person who is good at what they do was enough?

In spite of being porned and feeling foolish for thinking that building a platform for my writing is essential, I am going to keep on writing. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I hate it though, that writing now means you need to market yourself, promote yourself and friend and fan yourself. And more, I hate it that I let those things get in the way of the fun part of Facebook–watching cat videos from my friends and finding out what my nieces ate for Christmas dinner. So today, I unfriended 450 people and made my FB pages visible only to my friends, not the public. Unless I’ve met you, I won’t be accepting any new friend requests.

None of this, of course, has affected my writing. In the early morning hours I will still sit and write. There will be no selfies of that daily ritual. What I learned from this is that I can be satisfied with letting my work speak for itself. And if I don’t attract enough attention to it, I will be satisfied that I set out to do my chosen craft well.

As for the Twitter account, here’s my summation: It’s like being in a room where everyone is talking at the same time, and you can’t hear what anyone is saying. It feels like thousands of people you don’t know are pressing in, trying to get you to read something, buy something, like something or otherwise validate their platform, their branding or their status. It’s exhausting. Truth is, I don’t believe that all those writers on Twitter actually follow links or reads content, they’ve just learned to play the game well. It’s all about numbers, and if you are a writer it gives you some sort of perverse cred that you have lots of “followers.” What you have is your feet stuck in a landscape of goo with a bunch of other sheep that hope to tell their agents that they have several thousand Twitter followers. It’s like Donald Trump (because he is such a great example.) He keeps telling everyone how wonderfully well he is doing in the polls–which says nothing about policy. It’s just another version of being “friended.”

I’m not sure which is the worst of the pornography–inappropriate sexual content or the strangling culture of self-promotion. Okay, here’s the review: I unfriended 450 people today. My friend Mary assures me she will keep posting cat videos. I already feel lighter. And the next time someone tells me I have to build a platform and start creating my brand, I am going to smile politely and tell them that I am done being me, mainlining me. I just want to write.