Wednesday, March 05, 2014

If anything, this post is even more aggressively anticommercial than my usual ones, judging by how many pictures of kittens it doesn't have. (An IWSG Post)

This is an IWSG post.  For more about the Insecure Writers Support Group, click this link.

I have been writing now, 'officially', as it were, for... 


I only just realized how long it's been since I started writing again, and it's been 9 years, which surprised me because it honestly doesn't seem that long.

I began writing in grade school, as probably all writers did. Or did they? I think every writer I've ever read about began with stories they wrote early on in their life not because they were assigned to do that, but just because they liked to tell stories.

My first story ever was one called "Starhounds," and it was a Star Wars ripoff, in the sense that if you took the "Star Wars" script and replaced "Rebel Alliance" everywhere it appears with "Starhounds," you would have my story.  I'm pretty sure my villain was still called "Darth Vader."

The public reception to "Starhounds" was not encouraging, as shown by this ACTUAL RE-ENACTMENT:

(played by a child actor of some note, like... I don't know any child actors. Just go get that "Oliver" kid from The Brady Bunch out of the Cryo-Tank.): 

Look, Mom, I wrote a story.

(Played by Meryl Streep, as is required by federal law)
Isn't this just Star Wars?

Yeah, but someday all popular culture will be based entirely on Star Wars so I'm not as much a plagiarist as I am a visionary.

Yeah, that's what Herman Melville used to say. And look what happened to him!*

*Herman Melville tried inventing the motorcycle, but failed miserably at it, as he was working exclusively with dried macaroni.  Disillusioned, he took the entire manuscript for "Jane Eyre" and republished it as "Moby-Dick." Nobody has ever caught on to this because nobody has ever read "Moby-Dick." Your English teacher didn't even read it. The white whale is a lie.

SPOILER ALERT: I was right about the future. We're only about 2 years away from the Star Wars Pop Culture Event Horizon, after which we will all have to wear formal bathrobes to work.

Wait, society picks THE BATHROBE outfit, and not THIS?
Couldn't we at least have gone with his "Sensitive Poet" all-black suit from Return of the Jedi?

Later, as a kid, I wrote the thrilling space adventure "Apogee," in which the space shuttle has a problem develop (near the apogee of its flight!) and they have to fix it and land safely, and I need to emphasize that this was years before both the Space Shuttle disaster AND before Ron Howard ripped off my idea and made "Apollo 13".**

**There are those who would say that Ron Howard did not steal my idea, and that he used a real-life story, but those people are forgetting something. I not only wrote "Apogee" but I also HAD A REAL LIFE? So Ron Howard stole THAT idea from  me, as well. 

Then I didn't write anything for a while, until college, when I wrote a series of short stories (which are now, edited and revised, turned into my collection of short stories, Just Exactly How Life Looks, don't worry, there'll be a link to the book at the end of this, I wouldn't write a post without heavily overcommercializing it, so just be patient.)

And I wrote a novel, called Finding Elvis, because at some point, every writer will try to shoehorn Elvis into a story (Elvis is always played by Meryl Streep, just as he was in real life.)***

***Did you think it was coincidence that as soon as Elvis "died" Meryl Streep's career took off? She only started in showbiz by dressing as a man -- Elvis-- and thus her story was the inspiration for "Tootsie," in which she played Dustin Hoffman.

From then until 2005, I didn't do any writing, other than for work, until one day I had heard about blogging and decided to see what that was all about, and so I created my first-ever blog, Thinking The Lions, (which was named after a short story from that book I'm going to try to sell you at the end.  Just keep your money in your hands until I tell you to send it to me via the Internet.)

That blog was originally sort of shapeless, like pizza dough before you mold it into delicious, delicious pizza.

Great, now I'm hungry.

Eventually, it sort of turned into a blog about my life and the things I do, with a humorous slant to it, something I started doing because I figured (a) my life was interesting to me, it probably would be to readers, too [and all BOTH of my regular readers agree!] and (b) if you're going to talk about yourself, at least laugh at yourself, too.

That was my first blog, but not my last.  Since then, I have created or modified numerous blogs.  I started a second blog where I posted short horror stories, originally called "AfterDark," which in retrospect I realize makes it sound more like a Cinemax late show where the sexy blonde detective realizes that she is in love with the sexy woman executive she is trying to investigate, and they make out on a pool table for a while.***

***That is literally the plot of every movie on Cinemax.  Or so I assume, as I certainly don't watch those movies.  
Then I started "The Best Of Everything," which was a blog about pop culture and an attempt to get rich and famous because I assumed that's how the Internet works: you create a blog about stuff and someone gives you a book and movie deal. I'm sure my contract is in the mail.

Then I started "Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!", a sports blog for people who don't care for sports blogs. (It made sense at the time.)

THEN (are you still with me) I started a serialized story called Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World! and then another blog called "5 Pages" where I wrote a book 5 pages at a time, and then I folded Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! and started Aaaaugh!, a blog where I talked about my efforts to get published, LATER transforming that blog into Why I Hate People where I wrote about awful people like those rich people who drink cat-poop coffee*4

*4 THAT IS A REAL THING It's called "kopi luwak" and is made from beans a civet cat eats and poops out
And meanwhile I resurrected the sports blog as a weekly feature on Thinking The Lions, only then I sent it over to take over the Why I Hate People Blog, while I also started a political blog called "Publicus Proventus," before turning THAT one into another serialized story site in which I was going to write a steam punk version of The Odyssey, but by then I'd turned my sports blog into a short story blog and so I turned The Odyssey into a blog where I'd repost 'classic' posts from other blogs and I forgot that for a while in there I also had a blog called Babies! Babies! Pets! Pets! where I would post picture of Babies!, Pets!, and also poetry, but not poems I wrote.


During that time, I also joined Twitter, and tried writing different kinds of stories, and also wrote several novels and published them, and worked on poetry, and I added a blog about law because technically THAT IS MY JOB, and I used to post stuff on a site called "Gather" that I think still exists, and I kept adding other things to my blogs, like the year I spent posting three good things that had happened to me each day *5

*5 I read once a tip that said you will be happier if every day at the end of the day you sit down and think of 3 good things that happened to you that day.  You have to be specific and can't be negative, so no saying "Well, I didn't die."  So I did this for a year and the hardest part, honestly, was limiting myself to just 3 things.  You should try it, too.  No matter how happy or un- you are now, if you do that for a year you will be happier. I promise.
And that almost brings us up to today where I've ended my pop culture blog, started a publishing venture--

-- joined an Indie Writers Group, become a magazine editor for that group, become a contributing writer at another website, and... am I forgetting something?

I've also started little side projects that I'm not even ready to talk about yet, because they're a secret.  So secret, even I don't sometimes know what it is I'm working on.  (I don't have top-level clearance yet.)

Part of the reason for all that change is commercial.  I like to make at least some money doing all this writing, and when sponsorships and ads dry up, it's time to try something else or jazz it up a bit to make the money again.*6

*6 I am always hesitant to point out that I blog and write to make money. I mean, yes I like doing it but I like doing it for money even more (I typed that sentence and realized how dirty it sounds but I'm leaving it).  There's kind of an undercurrent of protest, though, about blogs with ads and the idea that blogs could be making money.  One writer I know complained once on my blog that it was "too commercial," because I had banner ads.  I doubt that writer objects when NBC puts commercials on so that he could watch TV for free, and I really doubt that writer would offer to pay me per post, so the ads he complained about were making it pssible for him to enjoy my writing for free.  For all the talk about how indie writers want to make money, there is a bit of snobbery, too, that if you try to be too commercial you are not indie, especially with blogs.  It's almost the exact way indie bands used to be and sometimes are treated: It's okay to be successful if you do it in a way the mob approves of.   But, yeah, I make money off my blogs. I make more money off blogs than books, to be honest, and if someone's going to pay me to post pictures of my kids, I'm going to take the money.

I should note that I never write something specifically to get money.  I don't see that YA books are doing great and try to write a YA book, and if I really wanted to make money I'd turn this into a Mommy Blog and write about couponing, because that's where the money is.  In fact, I could probably be a jillionaire if I just started a Mommy Blog under a fake name and with a fake family, and then got it to be wildly popular and then got exposed as a man pretending to be a Mommy Blogger, all of which would eventually result in me getting tons of money, free publicity, and having my life made into a movie, a movie in which Meryl Streep would be played by Charlie Sheen.

Gotcha there, didn't I?

I think, in fact, that you could say that almost everything I do is aggressively anti-commercial.  I mean, when you say "Epic Poem Ode To McDonald's Cheeseburgers In Which The Rhyme Scheme is Based On Classical Music Works," you're not exactly saying "Crowd Pleaser."  I don't try to be commercial, as you'd guessed from posts like this, which (a) have a complete lack of kittens in them and (b) clock in at about a jillion words.

In fact, I can say with near-certainty that most people who started reading this post have stopped by now.  Raise your hand if you're still reading. Now put it down. Nobody can see you, anyway.

The bigger reason I make all those changes is that I want to always be trying something new, challenging myself and trying to be more creative, have more fun with it.  Someone will say something, offhand, like, say, "fish tacos" and I will go and write an entire story based on that and then NOT EVEN OFFER TO PAY RUSTY CARL A DIME.*7

*7 He's who I stole that idea from. But in fairness, I also steal ideas from George Lucas, and anyhow, Rusty only said "fish tacos," but it was up to ME to add all the stuff about monsters from outside the universe, Seal Commandos who fight imaginary creatures, and the Number 5, one of the worst villains you'll ever hear about.  Don't worry, there'll be a link to this, too. Be patient, my young friend.
 I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now, because I saw that Andrew Leon had started questioning why he blogs and is on Twitter, and my response to him was more or less what I've been saying in here: If you find yourself questioning why you're doing something, stop doing that thing.

Just stop.

Because when you're not sure why you do it, why should you do it?  "Everything you do should have a reason for doing it," I tell my clients and my staff and my associates, and that applies in hobbies like writing, too.  Whatever your reason for doing something, it should have a reason.

(I realize that this is pretty close to ripping off Joss Whedon's brilliant movie, Serenity, which I just watched last Friday and which is incredible.  There's a scene in there where Shepherd Book tells Mal "I don't care what you believe in, just believe in it."  But I'd prefer to think of this as "inspiration," not "plagiarism.")*8

*8 Raise your hand if you now think I am going to make a Moby-Dick joke and somehow reference Meryl Streep in doing so.
That, people, is how you do a METAJOKE.
"METAJOKE" is copyright 2014 Briane Pagel all rights
reserved not available for rebroadcast or republishing
without the express prior written consent of Meryl Streep.

My reason for changing things up is to try new things, to keep from being too comfortable, to not get caught in a rut.  I once did a year-plus of posts called "Sweetie's Hunk Of The Week," in which she'd name a guy she thought was hunky *PLEASE DON'T SAY OUR NEIGHBOR, SWEETIE, FINGERS CROSSED* and I would write jokes (or, "jokes",) about that guy.  After a while I got bored with that and started playing with the format to the posts, and eventually dropped it because I got too bored with it.  Also, if we're being honest here, I was a little creeped out by JUST HOW MANY PEOPLE SWEETIE THOUGHT WERE HUNKY.

I mean, she NEVER had any trouble coming up with examples of guys with awesome hair, and rippling physiques, both of which I am notably short on.  It's enough to make a guy regret having that third slice of pizza for breakfast.


I'm not automatically good at these things, and sometimes they don't work out.  My publishing empire is more of a Potemkin village right now (HISTORIAL REFERENCE ALERT!), I've abandoned the Steampunk Odyssey because it bored me, and I'm only on the second part of that Epic Cheeseburger poem, but that's not the point.  The point is that by trying new things and dropping the things that have grown stale, I'm always interested in what I'm doing, always like doing it, and always have fun doing it.

I can't control whether people read my books or comment on my blogs or follow me on Twitter.  I can improve the odds of those things, through aggressive marketing and constant work and the like, but I already do aggressive marketing and constant work, when I'm at work.  So I'm not going to turn my hobby into a job, any more than I'm going to turn any of my OTHER hobbies into work by, say, practicing piano.

(In fact, I don't turn my work into work: I have a lot of fun at work because I'm constantly trying new things there, too -- new kinds of cases, giving seminars, different incentives for my employees, etc. -- so why would I turn my fun into work?)

It'd be easy to keep on cranking out, say, horror story after horror story, or a jillion blog posts about the funny way my garage door once exploded, but "easy" isn't fun, and I want to keep this fun.

Too many writers, I think, opt to try to do what everyone else wants them to do, or what they think they should be doing, or what everyone else already is doing.  That's one way to be secure, I suppose, but it's boring and I don't think it's any more likely to lead to riches, fame, or whatever it is your goal is.  And suppose it does?

Suppose you DID make it big, doing something that you chose simply because it was the best way to make it big? Are you going to be happy?  I doubt it.  You'd just be another person at a job you didn't like.  Maybe you'd be making money, but you'd be forced to keep writing whatever it was that made you big, and if you didn't like it at first but did it only for the money, do you think you'd start liking it over time?

Think about a kind of story or writing you hate most of all.  Let's say it's "Moby-Dick," because that was probably what you were thinking.  Suppose someone offered you a job, paying $1,000,000 per year, and you had to spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (you get vacation, but no sick leave, because: America) retyping Moby-Dick, over and over, and then publishing it again each year.

You'd be making money writing, right? Why don't I see many hands raised saying you'd choose to do that.*9

*9 Because (say it with me) THAT'S NOT HOW THE INTERNET WORKS!

The point is, I think you've GOT to be insecure to keep on meaning anything to yourself and others.  You've got to be trying new things, or trying something nobody else is, or doing SOMETHING different, because if you're not moving, you're standing still, and if you're doing what everybody else is, why should anyone pay attention to YOU?  In a sea of YA books or zombie television shows, you should try to be the guy bringing back gothic romance, or the girl inventing a new genre, or whatever.  Even if you really like zombie television shows or YA books, at least try to be something new there, because being different is what'll make you stand out, even if being different makes you insecure.  (This, too, ties into another post by Andrew Leon, so he can get right in line behind Rusty and wait for that royalty check I'll never send. No line-jumping, guys.)

It's that insecurity that makes you try harder, too.  After it was pointed out to me that my editing... what's the word? Oh, right: "sucks", I decided to try harder at editing.  I offered people $5 if they could spot an error in my last book, and I took on the job of editing a magazine, all to get better at that, among other changes I made.

I look back on the rubble-strewn path of my writing past, and I see a lot of things that I tried that didn't manage to work out or keep my interest for long, and things I tried that DID work out but which I stopped doing because they got too easy.  My pop culture blog, for example, used to get tons of hits and made me a decent amount of money, but I was getting bored with it, so I tried changing up the types of posts and how I did them and then eventually just dropped it more or less altogether and tried something new.

And while there are some things in my past that I've written that I now cringe at, and things that I think were better left on the drawing table, so to speak, there's a lot of stuff I'm glad I did and things I think I really perfected and all of it made me a better writer in the long run, because even if you NEVER manage to finish that epic story of life, love, 73 different dimensions, and lesbian zombies (it's at 500+ pages and counting), you'll learn something about yourself and about writing and about publishing (although that thing you learn will apparently NOT be "finish the #*#%&$ story") and you can apply that to the NEXT project, and the NEXT and the NEXT, and maybe something you do will catch on, maybe it won't, but two things are for sure, if you embrace newness and insecurity:

1. You will constantly be challenging yourself and keeping your life interesting, and

2. I will almost certainly finish up by mentioning Meryl Streep again.


I mentioned Rusty Carl and Andrew Leon in this post, and not only am I engaged in a push-up duel to the death with them (I AM LOSING) but they are also awesome writers who blog, so go look at Rusty's "The Blutonian Death Egg" and Andrew's "Strange Pegs" and read them every day.  Even if they haven't posted something new, just read an old post, so that you read them every day. They're worth it.

Remember when I said I can't control whether you follow me on Twitter? I lied. YOU ARE BEING HYPNOTIZED... NOW FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER.

Fish Tacos? Did I mention they could save the universe? Because they can.  My story "The Electronic Fish Tacos From Jupiter Save The Day??!?" was something I tried on a challenge from Andrew Leon, and you can read it here.  (SPOILER ALERT: There are no fish tacos in it.)

HERE IS THAT LINK TO MY COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES. You should definitely read it, and not just because one of the cowboys in one of the stories is named "Presley."  IS IT ELVIS? Only you can decide that.

You can read some of my stories, and some other awesome stories from other awesome writers, on "Inky," where did I mention I AM A CONTRIBUTING WRITER? I'm a contributing writer there.

And finally, Indie Writers Monthly is both a blog and a monthly magazine, the latter of which just published it's first issue chock-full of tips on selling your book, interviews with authors, writing contests, and other helpful stuff for indie writers.  PLUS IT'S FREE THROUGH MARCH 5, SO CLICK HERE TO GO GET YOUR COPY.

Did you read this far? I bet you didn't. If you did, let me know in the comments.


Elsie Amata said...

Blogs just like yours are one of the reasons I love to co-host the IWSG. I'm so glad I found you, you really made me laugh, think and well, a bit hungry too.

You're right, if you have to wonder why you're doing something, quit doing it. It's why I'm not on Twitter anymore. I didn't enjoy it. Blogger and Facebook, well, that's another story.

Let me know how mommy-blogging goes if you decide to go for it. Maybe that's how I can make some quick cash. Although, I am really a mom. Hmmm.

Oh, and Andrew sure is getting a lot of notice today. I mentioned him in my blog too!

AJ's wHooligan in the A-Z Challenge
co-host IWSG

Andrew Leon said...

Hmm... maybe I need to do an ego search like Scalzi did which caused him to stumble on my blog.

I'VE read Moby Dick. Great book.
No, seriously, I'd read it again if someone hadn't stolen my copy (in which I actually took notes!).

I don't really wonder why I blog, which I hope today's post clearerd up.

Um... there was one more thing...
Okay, technically, I suppose I did write my first story when I was a kid, but my mom, while snooping in my room, found it and read it, without permission, and her only comment was, "You came up with all of these names by yourself?" I threw it away.
I didn't write prose for myself again until my 20s, but I did spend some time on poetry while I was in high school.

Pat Hatt said...

Wow, nine years is a long arse time, congrats on that, a milestone indeed

Anonymous said...

Wow you've been busy and that is a very interesting way of looking at insecurity! Good luck with the new venture!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'd already fixed the link for your first entry on the IWSG list, so deleted the second one. You are still there at #175

Liz A. said...

9 years! That makes me an abject failure. I've been working on a book since 1999...

Then again, I think I finally got it right.

(Yes, I did read the whole thing. I like how you ended it. It's true. Reinvention can be a good thing.)

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