Writer's Advice

Starving Artists and Working Writers: Don’t Feel Bad for Having a Career

Writing is hard work.

To be fair, anything worth doing is hard work.

But, this is a writing magazine.

If you’re reading this and you’re concerned this will be an attack on someone who makes a living out of being a full-time writer or has an economic support system that enables them to write full-time, rest easy, I’m not going after you guys.

Hell, I’m not going after anyone. I’m going after an idea.

And the idea is that you’re somehow a sellout for working a non-writing job to finance your writing career. Or that you’re less creative if you have early mornings, long commutes, and a 9-5 workday; or that you’re less creative for using those creative skills and talents to benefit The Man™

You’re not.

We all have to make money. Money isn’t the end-all be-all of things, but it’s a pretty neat way to keep a roof over your head and your stomach full. Money pays for gas which I use to drive to work and get groceries. Money lets me travel to see my family. Money is good. Money is not evil. Greed is bad, but wanting more resources for yourself and your own isn’t, so we must dispense with the mentality that making money is bad. There is no glory in intentionally being a starving artist.

A lot of you doing NaNo this year have jobs, school, and/or family obligations. My own path to winning NaNoWriMo in 2015 included working on my MFA thesis, still being a decent boyfriend and father to two furry children, and a 40-50 hour work-week. I’m not saying this to tell you “well, look at me, I’m awesome.” I’m saying it to tell you, “Hey, you’ve got a lot of crap on your plate, and it’s tough, but you’re able to do this.”

Example:

Person A  takes an entire day to loaf around and takes 7 hours to meet say, their daily NaNo word count of 1,667.

Person B comes home from work, tired, fed up, but knows there’s stuff to do around the house. As they do their home errands, they leave their computer open, eventually logging 1,667 in 2 hours.

Who was more productive?

The answer is neither.

You want to be a writer? It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you write. Sometimes, your work is going to stifle creativity. Sometimes stress will do a marvelous job at that, too. And you’ll feel cornered, you’ll feel like at that moment you’re done as a writer.

I want you to focus on that feeling and expel it outwards. A cornered predator is a dangerous predator. Use that energy to push forward, to drive, to hustle.

You want to be a starving artist? Make that figurative starving. A hunger for success, a hunger for your passion that you can only nurture by feeding it. You can do it. Sometimes you’ll miss on some things, but passion requires sacrifice. There’s been some nights where I’ve passed out on the cold glass of my desk. Some of you know this kind of feeling. In Spanish, we say, no puede ni con el alma when someone gets to that level. (“They can’t even carry their soul.”) I’m not saying do this every night, I’m saying that be open to the possibility that some nights are going to end like this.

Eric Thomas, in his ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’ speech says: “You already in pain, you already hurt. Get a reward from it!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuuPUKom2Nk)

Another good source is the ever-awesome Chuck Wendig, who as a hybrid author (self-published and traditionally-published) knows a lot about hard work. (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/02/20/how-to-push-past-the-bullshit-and-write-that-goddamn-novel-a-very-simple-no-fuckery-writing-plan-to-get-shit-done/)

You, the working writer, are perfectly capable of this. You have a career. You have a job. You have mouths to feed. You have the passion for writing. You can have all those things without compromising even a little bit.

We believe in you.

Writer's Advice

Putting the PR in [P]ublished W[r]iter

Putting the PR in Published Writer

There’s enough digital ink out there spilled on what you should do when you’re a writer and what you should do when it comes to marketing yourself. So I’m not going to talk about that.

What I am going to talk about is the importance of PR, that is, public relations when you are trying to market yourself. This advice goes to both traditionally-published authors and indie authors.

Say this with me:

There is no privacy on the internet.

Once again:

There is no privacy on the internet.

I’m over-simplifying things because, you know, I’m not allowed to hack into your webcam and spy on you. That’s the NS+++++CARRIER LOST+++++

But when you post something on the internet, everyone can see it. Crazy idea, right?

I’ll give you an example: My work shift for the past year and a half allows me to waste some time on the internet at 7-8 in the morning. I’ll see a note on Facebook or a link to a news article and I’ll read the comments. Why? Because I have morbid curiosity (and just a teensy bit of masochism). I’m looking at these comments out of amazement that someone can post the most vile things with their proper name, which is often tied to their place of employment or their school.

Then they act surprised when they face disciplinary action, and claim an assault on freedom of speech and the press.

I want to ask them:

  1. Wow, dude, do you not have work right now?
  2. You do know other people can see what you’re posting?
  3. You do know that you’re exhibiting a clear case of misunderstanding the first amendment, right?

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences; Consequences like losing endorsements or getting fired from a job.

You’re now wondering: Oh, c’mon DosAguilas, don’t let your feathers get rustled. That’s all political. I have my own blog, too! I just talk about writing and what I’m reading.

Here’s the thing: Your blog is still public. I’ll give you an example and I’ll use vague details, because I don’t want to add on to the mob.

Writer A goes to a small convention and meets Agent B, who offers a cursory critique of his work.

Writer A is offended that Agent B didn’t fawn over them.

Writer A pens a diatribe attacking Agent B’s person.

Writer A is descended upon by a well-meaning lynch mob seeking to defend Agent B (who is 100% in the right)

Now, what happens?

Writer A is now pretty much radioactive.

All because he/she/they decided to go on to the attack, in a field where marketing is crucial to success.

That is why it’s important that you, the budding and soon-to-be established writer, are very careful about what you post. Now, I’m not saying, don’t post negative things. That’d be silly of me. You’re completely entitled to post negative things, but I highly recommend that if it’s something contentious, as the situation with Writer A and Agent B was, you back everything you say up with data and figures, and stand by them.

I’ll give you an example: A few months ago, I wrote about an issue I had with a state-wide convention. Then, the convention did an amazing thing: they listened to the concerns I and many others had voiced. And then…check this, not only did they apologize, but they also worked with many of the people who had voiced concern to come to a compromise. And what did I do? I wrote a post about how they had done just that, because just as I’m willing to say something negative, I should be just as willing to say something positive. I thanked them, I made sure to tweet at them, and I showed my appreciation. It’s like yelp. We, as a culture, are so quick to rush to Yelp when our food is cold or a waiter decides to take a detour through the former Soviet Union before bringing you the wrong order. How come we’re not as willing to do the same thing if we have a positive experience?

So be mindful of what you post. Know that there’s an audience out there. Know that someone is watching, someone is reading. Personally, I don’t shy away from Twitter or Facebook when it comes to subjective opinions.

For instance, I don’t like Domino’s pizza. If I had to rank the (national) chains, it’d be Pizza Hut > Little Caesar’s > Papa John’s > Cici’s > gravel that’s been soaking in fertilizer for a week > Dominos.

But I’m not attacking a person. I don’t want to attack people. I blog three times a week and the most “political” I get is when I talk about the lack of diversity in Young Adult literature or MFA programs. I don’t talk about my own political viewpoints because I’m extremely [ redacted ] and I’ll be voting for [ redacted ] in the 2016 election and I would hope that the people who are voting for [ redacted ] don’t just write me off as a [ redacted ] no-good, filthy  [ redacted ],  because I want them to judge me for my writing, my works, my poems, not for my views. If they want to go on a lengthy commenting tirade about how my characters are too blank, or too blanky-blank, awesome! I’ll politely and excitedly disagree, because to me that’s one for the W column anyway: someone read, and someone felt something about my work.

Plus, I don’t have my writing blog as a platform to proselytize about the wonders of [ redacted ], and you shouldn’t either. Talk about your writing. Talk about your work. Talk about your art. Talk about your books and why you’re impassioned about them. Bring positivity. You’re eventually going to step on feathers SOMEWAY, and that’s fine, but keep your head held high. Ego is a hindrance in this business. At the end of the day, we were all dragged out kicking and screaming from someone’s insides, so we have no right to get all huffy.

All that being said:

When a fellow writer does engage in some shenanigans, says, or even does something stupid, don’t join in the lynch mob (unless the person did something to you or an immediate friend, in which case, pitchforks away), because you’re not adding anything. Rather than jump in against the Mr./Ms. Shenanigan, jump in for the other person. Talk them up. Counter the negativity with the positivity.

Here’s an interesting perspective on the subject.

At the end of the day, I go back to what I said earlier: This is about marketing. I’m not saying be buddy-buddy with everyone, their mom, and their dog. But you can be polite. You can have disagreements. You can also avoid other people and they can avoid you.

Writer's Advice

Career Advice from a Barista*

*I’m not really a barista.

But I did major in the liberal arts. I have Bachelor’s Degrees in History and Mass Communication from the University of Texas at Brownsville (it’s now known as UTRGV) and a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso. Liberal arts degrees.

Degrees that, from every joke about liberal arts degrees out there, make me uniquely suitable to be a Starbucks barista.

And it’s funny, because I’d be terrible at it. I mean, I love to cook, and I’m a great cook, but I’m a messy cook. One time, cooking mole, I somehow ended with chocolate splatters ON THE ROOF of my apartment. The mole was delicious, the cleanup afterward was tedious.

I’d be a terrible barista.

But it’s a good job for some people, and the way some big-name companies work, you can also get paid benefits and even a college education. At the very least, it’s employment of sorts.

So now that we’ve confirmed I’m not a barista, I can tell you what I am. I’m a career professional with close to seven years in the “big-boy” workforce, with stints in Fortune 100 companies and start-ups. Jobs that have provided me with a good source of income that helps keep my writing career chugging along.

And I have liberal arts degrees. Two of them from a small, relatively unknown and inexpensive community college and university in the southernmost tip of Texas. The graduate degree from another border-town university, but that came much later in my career.

A lot of you are budding writers and are considering the liberal arts as an option. That’s amazing! I mean, I’m obviously biased but you should know that the liberal arts are just as important as the STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, Medical) and let’s be fair, if you’re bad at math and science but great at English and History, why the hell would you want to go into the sciences? Or maybe you’ve aced these in high school and in college during your basics you discovered that they’re not your cup of tea; why would you not major in something else you enjoy?

“The money.” Some of you will argue, because, well, you’re right; on average, a STEM degree-holder will make more money than someone with a degree in the humanities. But that’s an average. It’s not a given.

Here’s what getting a degree in the humanities or getting a degree in a STEM field means:

You have a college degree.

Full stop.

What you decide to do with it is what makes the difference.

Now, granted, there are some realities you have to accept as a liberal arts major. The first one is that you’ve added a statistical handicap to you. And that’s okay. What that means is you have to make adjustments so that at the end, you’re on equal or better footing than your STEM-degree peers.

Why is this important? Because when you’re a freshman in college, yeah, it’s all fun and games, but you have to keep the long game in mind. Keep your grades up. I’m not saying miss your college parties or any of the fun freshmen activities. Do those, but keep the grades up. Then as a sophomore, junior, and senior, keep that balance and start looking for opportunities. Maybe as early as your sophomore year, you’ve already pretty much gotten a more-or-less-kinda idea of what you want to do when you graduate. So start hustling. Email people, call people, make yourself heard. Talk to professors, ask them for externship leads and opportunities. Take classes that could provide you with marketable skills. For instance, if you’re an English major, high chances are you can take a class in grant writing. Follow that rabbit hole and you’ll realize that grant writers make some pretty decent chunks of money. I was a mass communications major, one of those “useless” degrees. My coursework included learning the ins and outs of Photoshop, InDesign, sales, marketing, conflict resolution, media writing, etc.

“Okay, but, I’m really, really interested in Old English Literature.”

Then go for it. You’re still going to have to hustle to find those resources that can help you find a job in that field.

The reason some people do get that perspective of liberal arts majors is people who are pining for a magical job after graduating cum laude in Parakeet Dynamics but who never did anything to further their dream of working in Parakeet Dynamics. I have little sympathy for that. Just like an English degree isn’t automatically going to make you a best-selling author.

Because here’s another reality: There is no magical job.

Every job is going to have stress, even if it’s your dream job. You’re going to have to work hard at every job you get. Loving what you do makes the stress easier to deal with, but it’s still going to be there. If you don’t love what you do but you need to do what you do to provide for your dreams and/or family, consider it temporary.

And if you love the liberal arts, major in them. It’s not a given that you’ll get a job when you graduate, nothing is. But you can certainly make yourself more attractive to potential employers if you can show them that you’ve hustled and diversified yourself.

Writer's Advice

Mental Health Conditions Are Not Adjectives

 

In 1969, in an interview with the Paris Review, E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, said the following: “I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”

As writers, we have a great responsibility; we must be careful how we represent–or refuse to represent–certain conditions, cultures, identities, etc.

Articles, Writer's Advice

Beyond the Coffee Shop: Finding Character Inspiration at Events

Your lips press against the warm, thick rim of your fragrant mug of coffee. The woman in the corner booth has kinky-curly hair. It keeps falling into her brown eyes, and she brushes it back to reveal a healed-over eyebrow piercing–wait a moment. You’ve written about her before. What does a writer have to do to get fresh meat in a coffee shop full of regulars? What you need is a muse, a character model. You need the fire of your creativity to bloom hot in your head and crackle down your nerves until it reaches your fingers and urges them to write, write, write.