The Devolution of a Writer: On How I Became a Blogger

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When I decided almost twenty years ago that I wanted to really take a shot at being a writer, I knew the reality of what I was getting into. Or I thought I knew. Sure, I dreamed of hitting it big and becoming the next Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac and being able to walk away from my day job without any fear of literally becoming a starving artist, but I knew that was unlikely. I figured that like the majority of writers, I’d have to keep my job and squeeze in writing on nights, weekends, and vacations. Two jobs, no problem.

Twenty years wiser (and not a penny richer, unfortunately) I am wishing I had been closer to the mark. In addition to trying to be a writer and poet, I’m now also attempting to be a blogger, contract publicist, website administrator, press-release writer, and social networker extraordinaire. Attempting being the key word.

It seems the days of writing a book, finding a publisher, and sitting back watching it sell are over – if they ever existed at all. Now even writers at the bigger publishing companies need to wear many hats to be successful. Those of us wearing the smaller beanies with the propeller attached practically need to clone ourselves or learn to live without sleep. I have friends with babies now, so I’m trying to take lessons from them, but most are too incoherent to be helpful. Not a good sign.

On my pessimistic days, the expression “Jack of all trades” dances through my swarming brain. It doesn’t make sense that in order to be a writer; I’m spending less time on my writing and more time on other jobs. On my optimistic days, though, I look for the benefits of these added duties. Blogging, which is suggested to beginning writers because it is a free and relatively easy way to build a platform and publish our writing for the world to read, has forced me to write in a completely different manner than my “book” writing. Though I haven’t attempted one yet, I also know writing a press release will also stretch my skills; I haven’t written a news-style piece since high school journalism. However, in my opinion, the more genres a writer works in the better. Variety creates growth, which is a good thing. Since both of these tasks are writing oriented the time spent on them seems worthwhile.

Of course having a blog and building a platform requires at least a minimal knowledge of technology. Learning to maintain a website and utilize social media is a must for writers. In addition to keeping us up to date on the tools which have become second nature to most readers, especially young readers (who are our future market base as well as our hungry competition), it allows us to connect with our potential audience in a way authors a generation ago could never imagine. Reading books is no longer a solitary experience. Sure readers read in the privacy of their homes imagining our characters in the worlds of their imaginations, but most are in doing this in reach of portable devices that provide the opportunity for them to interact. If they have a question about us, our characters or settings, our other works, they can find an answer almost instantaneously – if we’ve put it out there for them to find.

The stereotype of writers as recluses lost in their heads may have some merit for a few past and present authors (like the aforementioned, Charles and Jack), but for the most part, if we’re going to be able to capture the essence of people in our writing, we’ve got to be able to interact with a variety of them in our daily lives. In this way, the time spent online can also help us to be better writers. Hopefully, I’ll even learn to interpret what the heck the millennials mean when they start talking in tweets. I’m not skilled in writing essays in 140 characters or less quite yet, but we’ll see; they would be quicker to edit.

To be sure, having to deal with the business end of things, as well as having to help promote my work and myself, has certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, which I also view as a positive experience. I’m not saying I won’t appreciate the panic attacks of signing my first contract or that I’ll love the immersive baths of self-doubt whenever I have to pitch my book to someone new, but I’m looking forward to the day when I have enough experience that these side-effects become part of my writing experience. Though these tasks may not have as direct an impact on my writing as the others mentioned, they help me grow as a person, which is good in any career.

There aren’t too many people who don’t have to do some serious multi-tasking these days. Back to those moms and dads I mentioned earlier, they are the kings and queens of this, and I am in awe. They can juggle parenting, jobs, hobbies and everything else life throws at them with sleep in their eyes and spit-up on their shirt, and at the end of most days are happy they had the opportunity. This is the same skill and outlook writers need. The more things we experience, the more accurately we can write about life. The more we have to work to be writers, the more we’ll appreciate the time we get with our own “babies,” our books.

Finally, I’m going to embrace my new tasks in case my next book is about a person with a multiple-personality disorder. Coffee, anyone?

 

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THE WANDERER by D.L. McHale

 

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I am what they call a “Wanderer.”  Not exactly a social pariah, more of a curiosity.  My disdain for social conventions puts me upon a lonely path, but I am not alone.  There are others like me; dark, brooding, faithless.  In another time we were called Writers.  Much like spiders who craft intricate webs to ensnare their prey, Writers painstakingly spin intricate phrases with the thread of words designed to trammel the unsuspecting Reader.

In another age, Writers were revered.  Turned and examined, magnified for detail, polished until their inherent nature shimmered in the light; their words lovingly bound in the finest of leather and placed high upon shelves as a beacon guiding the lost through the fog of Human condition.  We were Artisans and verbal Musicians, who, with the careful stroke of the pen cuts through the suffocating haze of uncertainty and lays straight the path toward true understanding.  But that was then.  Today, we are held in much lower esteem, not quite reviled, but avoided nonetheless. And so we Wander.

We Wanderers toil in the wee hours of the morning, honing our craft for eyes that cannot and will not see.  Our books, our life work, are used to prop open unruly doors and to serve as false counter-balance to the plasma screens and the computer monitors.  In a pinch, they still serve as excellent mortar to chuck at the wayward spouse.  Few of us who remain still wield the courage to load the printer with paper and actually print out that which we write.  As  long as our words remain framed in the relative safety of the Internet or the hidden Journals, no one can do more harm in their criticisms than the “delete” button or the roaring  fireplace  will allow.

We exist in the sharpened edges of social relevance, often cut asunder beneath the weight of the smart-phone and the IPad. We subsist by prostituting our vocabulary for a few meager coins of acknowledgement, often to our fellow Wanderers.  Yet we remain shackled to our craft and devoted to that slim chance that we might one day rise again in ascendency.  Like Moses, we roam the deserts of art with our tablets tightly tucked beneath our wings, searching for the promised land.

Until that day, we Wander.

Writing for Ghosts

It is 4 a.m. and once again I am planted before the keyboard attempting to craft words into clever sentences…and there you go, failure in the first keystrokes. The good news, based upon my dearth of hits on WordPress, is that no one will read this anyway.

I once envisioned myself a budding writer, but now I am thoroughly convinced that feeling was nothing more than insomnia in the early morning hours combined with a pot of cheap coffee flushing out last night’s indigestion (don’t worry, that’s as graphic as I am capable of writing!)

I know I could be a good writer, if it wasn’t for all that grammar and words and things. But who am I kidding? It’s all about the words…the fucking words! (Hey, I used “dearth” in my second sentence…doesn’t that count for anything?) Well, I don’t have words or ideas or pesky plots, but what I do have is way too much time on my hands, so here you go.

When I write, I don’t have a particular audience in mind. Well, sort of, I guess…I have the ghosts of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hemingway, and Plath. Sweet Sylvia Plath. Lots of dead people who, while not necessarily helpful critics, at least show up in my head and watch the circus of confusion unfold. Sometimes I can hear the occasional clicking of the tongue, a sure sign to lay on the backspace and come at a line from a new direction. Or maybe the clicking is the melting cubes in Ernest’s posthumous cocktail. The revolver of his pistol being locked into place? Who knows? The point is, I’m often guided by the whispers of spirits.

It feels as though when I write it has less to do with me having something to say than something that has to be said having me to write it. (Wow, I just plagiarized myself..that last line was something I wrote a year ago!) But it’s true, nonetheless. I often find that it is sufficient for me to just press the keys, and somehow the story will tell itself. Don’t believe me? I just wrote everything above without a thought in my head.

The key to being a great writer, I’m convinced, is to be a great reader. There is nothing I can say now, or will ever write, that hasn’t been said or written before. But a studious reader understands that there are a million ways to say the same thing, and that’s the beauty, and salvation, of writing. You don’t have to be original. You just have to have a unique dialect. In my case, it also helps to have a really poor opinion of most of today’s writing. I continually lie to myself and say, “I can do better!” And sometimes…I do. Then I pull down a worn copy of Pushkin and think, “shit..fuck this!! I can’t write!” And again, I am right.

So I continue my early morning ritual and if it’s true what they say, that if you give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters, in a thousand years, one of them will bang out the complete works of William Shakespeare, then surely, if this continues for a thousand mornings, I can bang out something worth reading.

Welcome to Insights and Observations!

Welcome!  The purpose of this blog is to provide a forum for writers and poets to discuss their craft; their efforts, their hurdles and challenges, their observations, their successes and their failures.  Sometimes, when I am in the middle of crafting a poem, my thoughts walk off into the fog of introspection, and this forum allows me to share with each of you what I discover about: Why I write, to whom I write and why, what I have learned, what I can share….so that we all become better stewards of our craft, I have created this blog so that we might assist one another.  That we might build “knowledge bridges” to get our work across the rivers of despair.

This is not my blog…it is our blog.  If you have something you have written that describes your journey, feel free to email those insights and thoughts to dennis.l.mchale@gmail.com. Your opinions will not be excluded or edited. What you have to say could well lift many like-minded artisans move past their percieved limitations and self-imposed killjoys.

Thank you and happy writing,

Dennis L. McHale