The Washington-Centerville Public Library is running an Erma Bombeck writing competition. Writers can submit 450 words in two categories – human interest and humor.
From the site:
A personal essay “deals lightly, often humorously, with personal experiences, opinions, and prejudices, stressing especially the unusual or novel in attitude and having to do with the various aspects of everyday life.” ˜Phillip Lopate, The Art of the Personal Essay.
Erma Bombeck inspired people worldwide with her columns and books about life’s trials and tribulations. Her memory lives on in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition hosted every two years by the Washington-Centerville Public Library and the University of Dayton.
Over 1,300 writers from around the world entered the 2008 competition!
On Tuesday, 1/5/10, the Wall Street Journal published the best and worst jobs of 2010 (as compiled by job site CareerCast.com). While I’m not sure how we can possibly know the best and worst jobs of just 5 days into the new year, I’m curious about spot 74: author (books).
According to the WSJ, the list is based on five criteria–environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands, and stress. To put the list in some perspective, actuary is in the top spot, while roustabout placed last. Typist/Word Processor is ranked 60th, PR Exec 79th, Psychiatrist 98th,and Nurse (registered) 100th. Reporter (newspaper), one of writing’s sister professions, clocks in at 184.
Now, while I’m happy plugging away at my keyboard and listening to the voices in my head (Don’t Jump! Eat ze wagon wheel! Chocolate is a vegetable!) I think 74th out of 200, or the 63rd percentile, is actually quite high for writing. Why? As with most things, there’s a lot more to writing than salary.
Many writers, full-time, part-time, or hobbyist, work from home. It may be from a dedicated study, or, as in my case, it may be in a rocking chair, beneath tired teething baby and precariously balanced laptop. But working from home has its drawbacks.
Overwork is a common complaint of the writer, especially she who moonlights as a stay-at-home-mother, full-time corporate exec, podiatrist, or pastry chef. In fact, there are few writers who actually get to write full time, and finding precious moments to put words to paper can be even more challenge than writing the dreaded query letter. Interruptions are another worry–it’s incredibly hard to focus on that love scene if your one year old is screaming for string cheese, your husband is waxing poetic about the latest Warhammer 40K book, and your cat is performing exploratory surgery on your prize-winning geraniums. Perhaps worst of all, though, is isolation. Writing is a solitary pursuit, a mind game only you can play. There are no other hamsters to crowd into the wheel and to help push your mileage up, no one to hang around the water cooler and chat with, no boss to get you motivated. A writer is entirely dependent on his or herself–even the most dedicated agent or editor can’t put words on the page for you.
According to CareerCast’s research, an entry level author can expect to earn $28,000 p.a., a mid-level $53,000 p.a., and a high-level author $107,000. The latter figures, though not Harry Potter or Twilight-esque, sound quite nice, don’t they? If we’re conservative about the time it takes to write a novel – say, 8 months, the hourly rate looks pretty good.
8 months = 30 x 8 days = 240 days.
4 hours per day X 240 = 960 hours
28, 000/960 = $29.10/hour for an entry-level writer.
53,000/960 = $55.20/hour for a mid-level writer
107,000/960 = $111.50/hour for a high-level writer
Of course, that’s not factoring in genesis, development, any planning, finding representation or a publisher, or the myriad to-and-froing with said agent or editor. In fact, Miss Snark, literary agent and ex-blogger, recommends:
- Finishing your first book
- Writing your second book.
- Rereading the first book, then using the experience gained from the second to fix it.
She then warns that this process will take around two years. So, if we redo that calculation, remembering that it’s likely the first novel will never see the light of day:
2 years = 360 x 2 = 720 days
4 hours per day X 720 = 2,880 hours
28, 000/2,880 = $9.72/hour for an entry-level writer.
53,000/2,880 = $18.40/hour for a mid-level writer
107,000/2,880 = $37.15/hour for a high-level writer
Granted, these figures don’t take everything into account. And they’re still a respectable wage. Yet writing is ranked above some highly paid positions, (with great hourly rates) such as attorney, architect, dentist, and psychiatrist. Go figure.
This is a difficult one to tackle. Writing requires a very employable skill set–the articulate expression of complex ideas. A good, resourceful writer can find employment in any climate, as long as they’re willing to compromise. But it’s hard to put a number on employment outlook, even if we limit this criterion to publishing novels. From what I’ve heard around conferences and workshops, though, it’s not so hot. Sure, there are Cecily von Zieglars (Gossip Girl) and Stephanie Meyers (Twilight) out there, but there are also one-book wonders. Sometimes, the sole effort isn’t the author’s fault–smaller, independent publishers are ever-fewer. Unrepresented authors, even those with credits, may be shafted by the “agented material only” becoming popular. Longtime non-fiction, first time fiction authors may have their manuscripts eaten by the slush pile.
Okay, this one’s on the money. Writing–unless you’re a bungee jumping memoirist or the Crocodile Hunter–is not a physically active pursuit. While I’m a fairly active person, the most physically demanding things I have to do as a writer are pace while I think, make tea or coffee, and balance the laptop. And rock the baby, of course.
Ah, stress. I knew we’d get to it eventually. There are many stressful jobs out there–fighter pilot, cardio-thoracic surgeon (if you believe Grey’s Anatomy, anyway), police officer, public defender, marine biologist, Dalek hunter. And I know, writing doesn’t compare to any of those. But it’s not as easy-going as your average Dalek hunter likes to think, either. Why? Writing requires guts: guts to spill, that is. Every time a writer–a good writer–puts words on the page, they’re putting themselves out there. Every time a writer sends a manuscript out to an agent, they’re putting themselves out there. Not the public I’m-so-happy-I-eat-springtime-birds-for-breakfast self, but the inner self, the self we are when we’re alone in a dark room, the one with the beliefs and the dreams and the guilt and the fears. That, my friends, is demanding.
And then there’s the rejection letters. So. Many. Rejection. Letters. Some may be personal, some may be forms. But each and every one hurts, and each and every one makes it harder to try again. Lots of people give up–giving up is a heck of a lot easier than getting back on the query horse. So while writers may not have to deal with crazy lungfish and creepy radioactive coral, they don’t have it easy, either.
Writing is hard work. Fortunately, it’s also enjoyable work–many writers, this one included, admit it’s a labor of love. Would I switch jobs? No. I love writing in pretty much any form (well, not the Danielle Steele form, but kindling has to come from somewhere). But I still think 74th out of a list of 200 is misleading, making the work seem easier than it is.
Where would you put writing on the list? Top, bottom, middle? Before or after protestant minister (96th)?
Guest Post @ The Flash Fiction Chronicles
I have a new post up at The Flash Fiction Chronicles, the blog for flash fiction ezine Everyday Fiction. It’s all about writing classes–why they’re important, and what to do when you get there. Check it out here.
For most of us, writing is a somewhat solitary pursuit – after all, it’s hard to actually work on a story if you’re chatting to your Mom, IM’ing your best friend, or grabbing lunch with hubby. But there comes a time in every’s life when a certain kind of company becomes necessary.
A certain kind of company? I know, it sounds very Eliot Spitzer-ish. But choosing who to talk to about your baby novel is a fraught process. Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they think it’s-actually-very-funny-or-realize-I-stole-all-my-jokes-from-ten-year-old-Leno-shows?
Read the rest at FFC, here. And when you’re done, read the rest of the blog, too! It’s filled with excellent advice on every aspect of the writing life.
Yesterday, we talked about authenticity in a nebulous sense - what it is, and why it’s important. Today’s post is about co-authorship, or building a relationship with your audience. [As Crouch is an actor and playwright, he speaks specifically about theater, though the same ideas carry into other aspects of fiction, too.]
A large part of Crouch’s theater philosophy revolves around the idea of acting and not acting. “I’m bored to the back teeth of watching actors act,” he says. “There’s a truth about actors – they have to do everything…and there’s no room for the audience left. Art is about making connections, the act of suggestion. If I suggest something is so, then it is so.”
So what exactly does the audience do?
“It’s an act of co-authorship,” says Crouch. In a play, “the idea is present but is given manifestation by a contract between the audience and the performance.” In Crouch’s one man play, “My Arm”, the driving idea is that the character (also named Tim Crouch) can’t lower his arm – said arm has been held above his head since he was a child. Despite the obvious idea that Crouch would sit on stage speaking with his arm above his head, he does not. Instead, his arm is down, by his side, the entire performance.
At one point in the story, Tim Crouch the character talks about a scar on his back. He turns around to show the audience the scar – the audience who know that Crouch has two normal arms – and most everyone leans forward to see it. “That’s a writer’s gold dust,” says Crouch. “The know, empirically, that it’s not my story…[but they] will things to happen. We will make things appear…between out eyes and our ears some miracle happens. Our eyes see a physical presence but our mind sees something else.”
Other examples of this co-authorship include metaphors and similes. “[ When I was done] I removed the adjectives from the manuscript. I didn’t want to do the work for you [the audience].” How can a narrative get by without adjectives? According to Crouch, it’s all about personal experience and visualization. At one point in “My Arm”, the character describes a low point in his life. Instead of saying “I really cried, and I never cry” or “I was really depressed, so I cried for the first time in ages” he says:
…not having cried for as long as I can remember I have now taken to crying like a newborn lamb in the rain.
This is an incredibly powerful image. Why? Because almost everyone can envision a newborn lamb, and the lamb’s lament. It immediately pulls the audience back to a place when they felt like a newborn lamb in the rain, creating a much more powerful emotional connection than “and then I really cried, and I never cry, like, ever”.
“If you forget the audience are going to do 90% of your work for you,” says Crouch, “then you’re in trouble. I think.”
So how do we create this sort of sincerity and suspension of disbelief in writing? A good first step is to consider the first person autobiography. We already know the story, and all the details, but “it’s very authentically an image,” says Crouch.
“[An image] created not by me, by by us.” The character I see as me, a writer with husband, small child, and a novel on the way – is tall, dark-haired, brown-eyed. The character you see might be red-haired, pale, and green-eyed, because that’s what writer suggests to you, or perhaps because you once knew a red-haired woman with a similar one-line bio. Of course, it’s hard to resist the temptation to tell the reader what a protagonist looks like in detail – it’s human nature to want to share our vision. But, when reading, “a reader brings the pages to life, otherwise they’re just papers”.
Building a relationship with readers, co-authoring, requires letting go. Like any venture involving two people, there’s an element of trust involved. Writers have to trust their reader to fill in the blanks, to get what’s going on – because that’s the most effective path to creating a suspension of disbelief. Why? Readers want to suspend disbelief. Readers want to get into the story, and see what you have to say. Banging them over the head with every little detail, leaving too few gaps, actually pulls a reader out of the story. And nobody wants that. (There’s a good example of this over at Livia’s blog, here.)
Today’s takeaway: Trust your readers, and trust your instincts and personal experience. Don’t tell your readers how your character feels (I felt depressed, so I cried). Hook into their personal experience, and let them do the work for you. It’s much more satisfying on both sides.
Do you have trouble trusting your readers? Why? How do you hook into a personal experience?
I resisted blogging for a long time. “After all,” I thought, “what’s the point? Who cares if I skipped breakfast on Monday and spent two hours bathing a ferret on Tuesday?” (Answer: my mother.) So I read other people’s blogs, soaking up tips, tricks, and encouragement. Yet, despite everything I gained from reading blogs, I still didn’t want one of my own.
Enter LiveJournal. For a long time, I read my friend Toni’s journal, savouring her small slices of home. But it wasn’t until Toni posted a polished memoir piece with the tag “critique me” that I realised the true power of blogging: it’s habit-forming.
Working as a writer, I’ve learned, like many, that ninety percent of the process is sitting down to write. True, this can be difficult – and there are days when I have trouble focusing on both my WIP and freelance assignments. Sometimes it’s Baby, sometimes it’s a lack of caffeine (I’ve had zero caffeinated coffee since Baby), and sometimes I just don’t feel like working.
I post something to my blog nearly every day. This is as much for me as it is for my readers. By posting every day, I have to sit down and write every day–write something that’s not related to my ongoing client projects, that is. Monday through Friday, I sit down to post an entry. Sometimes, this means editing a draft, other times it’s writing from scratch. Regardless, I sit down at almost the same time every day, and am forced to think about an issue, a story, or a writing exercise/technique. Which brings me to…
Blogging gives me a chance to dig into things I might not normally think about. I spend a lot of my time revising my WIP, reading to Baby, and juggling client projects. I get up early to go running five times a week, and I try to fit in three Pilates sessions. I take piano lessons once a week, and also have to squeeze in practice time. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted–too exhausted to think about the Nook, or ways to incorporate senses into my scenes.
Enter blogging. In the half hour I devote to it every day, I have the opportunity to learn something new. I think about how I do things, why I like a certain thing, then find a way to use it to my advantage. Where appropriate, I research–something I love–and learn new things. I try out critiques and exercises, and, if my mind is agreeable, freewrite, or play with some very short fiction. Then, after posting, I get feedback and ideas from other writers, which brings me to…
I’m a shy person. For a long time, I had trouble even talking about my work, unless it was project-related. I rarely spoke with other writers (until a class with the most excellent Mike Heppner at Grub Street). When I started blogging, though, I found myself growing more comfortable, more open. I started conversing with other fiction writers via my blog (comment threads), and via email. I picked up not just tips and techniques, but a sense of belonging–something most writers crave. Fiction writing can be a lonely business, full of self-doubt, self-pity, and self-criticism. Connecting with others helps us not only build confidence, but live and write the way we want to write. This may not seem important, but, to me, confidence & connection are the first steps to writing well, and that’s the first step to getting published.
Tomorrow: 3 Reasons You Should Blog for Business.