Guest Blogger David Wagner: On Being a Writer

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On Being a Writer
by David Edward Wagner 

The Reality of Being a WriterThe aim of this blog entry is to give a bit of friendly advice and insight into the mindset and processes of the professional (or honestly, even the non-professional or the trying-to be-professional) writer.

The simple question, what is a writer is simply answered, “A writer is one who writes.” The similar question, what does a writer do, is similarly answered, “A writer writes.” But, alas, as we all know, things are seldom if ever so simple.

So, with this in mind, I will answer the question as thoroughly and straightforward as I can.

In reality, the simple question, what is a writer, is properly answered, “A writer is one who plans and creates through the methods of thought and writing.” And the question, what does a writer do, is accurately answered, “A writer plans, writes and edits.” It is this second question that I will focus on (as the first question is embedded within it).

A Writer needs time

While simply writing is surely the foundation and prime aspect of a writer’s life and career, it is not the only thing he or she must do and it is, in the end, only of shared importance with the tasks of planning and editing one’s work.

In my own life, I have struggled, sacrificed and fought to keep ahold of the one thing most important to the writing process: Time. That is your most valuable asset and tool as a writer.

All of the imagination, all of the great ideas, all of the valuable connections or amazing insights you have do not mean a thing if you cannot carve out and maintain the long hours necessary to bring your thoughts from intangible mind to the actuality of words and paper (or sure, digital document).

This is a simple truth: a writer needs time.

Perhaps the most important question then becomes: how do I use this time I have? Maybe even better, you could ask how do I use this time wisely and efficiently? This is the best question because writers in general (and I am a great example) are known to be some of the world’s most triumphant wasters of time, pissing away the hours with flights of fancy or organizing their bookshelves or cleaning their fingernails or… doing anything but writing.

So, do not despair, this is another thing I have at last learned and become comfortable with. A writer, if truly a writer, never truly wastes a second. They are merely fulfilling one of the three aspects of their writerly labor. Perhaps it is best if I just dive into those three aspects and explain each one as fully as I can.

To begin, let’s talk about planning, as it is the most vague and easily misunderstood.

A Writer Plans At All Times

While writing and editing are rather straightforward in their explanations, the various types and levels of planning a writer needs to do in order to be successful are a bit more complicated.

To begin, writers need to plan their time properly. Loose but self-regulated weekly schedules are used to keep projects properly juggled and moving forward, with flexible (unless otherwise noted) long-term deadlines for the completion of individual works spread out over the coming months.

Even more, basic daily schedules are necessary for carving out the space to give each current project its due and proper focus at specific times.

If you want to support yourself with your writing, the odds are great that you will be working on and needing to finish more than one project at any time until it is necessary to focus on completing one, and you need to remind your artistic self that generally, when people want to support themselves or their family, they have to get a job. It’s the modern world still, and you can’t pay the landlord or bank with good intentions.

That means you have to get comfortable with the fact that your art is a job and you have to treat it with the same mindset you have when working for wages at the great time-sucking company of your choice. You are a business, your mind and your personal effort, and you have to show up at your job regularly and do your work efficiently and with inspiration.

My own example that has truly changed my life and my relationship with my own creative process is as follows: I plan my week day by day, working on one project in the morning until lunch, (sometimes at noon, sometimes at 2pm, sometimes at four pm, depending on my outside responsibilities and level of inspiration). I eat and then switch gears, working on another project for a few hours, always less than the earlier project. Then, I will generally be burned out after four to eight hours of writing, writing, writing. I take a break and spend the final hour or so of my workday on non-creative projects I call ‘busy work:’ updating websites, formatting completed manuscripts, researching online, submitting completed work to magazines, contests, publishers and agents. Then I go to my job or cook dinner for my wife and me, depending on the day.

I want to turn my passion into a suitable career and so I treat it like a full time job, giving 30-50 hours a week towards directly working on my ‘product.’ Part time opportunities are also available.

But beyond that, you have to plan the work itself. Trace story arcs, plot points, major events. You have to develop compelling characters and keep timelines straight and make sure everything is coherent and cohesive.

This takes pages of notes, sometimes charts, as well as research in books and on the Internet.

And between the time to work and the work itself, you have to plan the projects in general, keep a running list of the story and time worthy ideas you come up with at random times, crossing them out with each precious ‘The End.’ The more ideas the merrier and as the movie says, “If you build it they will come.” Keep adding to your work, everything you can, different mediums and styles, different genres and formats, just keep writing and stretch your limits and virtuosity.

For you non-writers reading this blog entry, or even to you writers reading it, in your defense, I can honestly say that a writer is always planning, always working mentally on that one part, that one character flaw or upcoming cool moment when you can’t quite get your story from here to there in a logical way and you know you can if you can just think of that one missing piece, that one crucial decision…

The most intangible parts of planning for a writer are those seemingly blank and lazy times when you are sitting doing nothing to the outside observer, when you feel scattered and lost in your own house or neighborhood while your brain works through some idea. To the outside world it looks like you are idle, spacing out and being weird again, but do not fear, you are working. You are wracking your brain and doing real, honest, roll-up-your-sleeves creative work. Simply because it is abstract does not mean that it is intangible; concrete results come only from such mental endeavors.

Planning is an important part of writing and the writer’s life, and it should be remembered and taken seriously.

Writers write as much as they possibly can

As I mentioned, the idea that writers write and edit their work is a pretty straightforward and logical notion. With this in mind, I will keep the rest of this blog entry mercifully short.

Here I will just say that you have to write, write, write. Just get it out, don’t loose your momentum on a project just because that transition from act one into act two doesn’t quite work and doesn’t really make sense. Just power through, keep moving, make a few notes where it feels choppy or poorly paced and just get to the end. Write it all out and type ‘the end.’ Get it completed in any fashion you can. This is the first draft, it’s not supposed to be perfect, just finished.

This first draft is simply carving the rough shape from the blank white marble of page and mind. You’ll never know where you’re going if you don’t arrive there in some shape. Don’t forget, you have time and you have your third necessary responsibility in your life as a writer: editing.

Writers edit like their lives depend on it.

The title of this section pretty well sums up the truth of editing. You edit like you life depends on it because it does. If you want to support yourself by writing, you have to be willing to tear your work apart, killing your favorite line or paragraph for the sake of the whole, change and retool everything and anything that suddenly makes you realize you are reading something and not experiencing something.

You have to condition yourself to step outside of your own creative ego and wear the separate hat of an objective, non-partial editor. And then when that first draft is more presentable, you need to send it to at least one second pair of eyes, get their feedback and typo findings, and decide what insights you will apply to your further drafts.

Do this at each stage until the final draft, but be aware that everybody you are sending drafts to also have lives and time issues, and may not want to or be able to read four drafts of the same novel. So widen your pool of friendly and interested eyes for your own sake.

I generally begin each daily session by re-reading the previous few pages and editing and note-taking as I go, sliding gently into the flow of the days work as I near the end of what I wrote yesterday. Then it is only forward towards the ever-shortening distance between here and the end.

Editing is vital and the true work of successful writers. It is also the most nerve-wracking and difficult part. But do it. Love it. Know that it is the difference between great writing and plain old everyday schlock. Do it with pride and patience.

Conclusion

Get to work. And have a good day.

Ask A Flash Fiction Editor: Erasure

Ask a Flash Fiction Editor: Erasure

So first off, huge thanks to Denis Bell for allowing us to use his story in progress, “Dreams”, for our discussion of flash fiction today! (Full text of “Dreams” below).

One of the beautiful things about flash fiction is that, like poetry, it requires us to drastically trim, shrink, and carve our own thoughts. It leaves no room for bloating, filler, tangents or indulgences—and even forces us to utilize our silences.

Silences can be full of meaning—think back to the last time you sat in an uncomfortable silence with someone. What isn’t said is just as important—and often louder—than what is spoken.

ghost

The first time I ever heard the term “erasure” was in a class at Naropa taught by Laird Hunt. It was the first time that I had ever considered cutting intentional holes in my work, rather than just trimming to remove fat and fluff. Well-placed silences can carry huge implications.

Most of us understand the implication of silences in speaking. When I teach performance, I remind my students to

pause…

…because a pause is a way to emphasize what just happened.

Or

a pause can shift a mood… to prepare for what is coming.

As a listening audience, we understand the signals that silences create. We understand how the absence of sounds adds drama and importance to the remaining ones.

The same is true on the page. As a flash fiction writer, we can trim our stories to create gaps of information and to leave purposeful ghosts.

So Denis, let’s look at your story in progress, “Dreams”, with this in mind:

First off, I love the universality you establish as you begin to take us into the dream sequences—the images are both familiar and unique. I love the staircase he’d never noticed and I particularly like the way the family members come in and out. As the interactions with mother and sister grow even weirder, the story takes on a dimension of foreboding, the ghosts in the texts become real, and the reader is disorientated in a good way.

There are a lot of stories out there where a character “wakes up” at the end, (think Bobby Ewing in the shower of Dallas). But I like how you take that cliché and make it fresh by allowing the waking to be a vital portal into the final pieces of information (more on that later).

I think there are two (or three) important places in this story where some strategic cutting will activate the power of silences.

In flash particularly, you need to arrive into your story at the latest possible moment. And while your opening right now is fairly concise, I wonder whether you can begin with the second paragraph, jumping right into the staircase and the dream sequence? We will recognize the dream landscape in the title and your descriptions, so we probably don’t need that extra setup.

I have the same thought about the middle section where he wakes up and then falls back asleep. It seems to me that it serves as a literary device to remind the reader that we are dreaming, but again I wonder if a succession of dreams with no interruption would be more interesting? Without all the awakened asides, we will be fully embodied in the dreamscape, and we will accept the oddity of things (such as the mother talking to him even though she has been dead for 15 years) with the same certainty that Joe accepts them. (Brilliant, by the way, how you state that so matter-of-factly.)

Which brings us to the end. I really love the idea that the waking life Joe is contemplating suicide, and his dream world and dream sister stop him—it’s a great crossover. If you make the other cuts I’m suggesting, then the question becomes how do you successfully give us the suicidal info only at the end. I think the place to look is your last paragraph, where he wakes up with “steely intent” and thinks of the knife. The way it’s written now makes it almost seem as if he has never considered suicide until this moment. So we’re left wondering: what just happened? Is he so mad at his nightmare that now he’s going to kill himself?

We might need a longer beat between the dream world and the real world. Maybe when he awakens he’s reminded of his pain, which he had forgotten in the dream world. Perhaps we, like Joe, need to see a few choice items that remind us, “Oh yeah, we hate our life”. Perhaps he sees the knife sitting next to the bed where he left it before he passed out? The empty bottles? The phone off the hook?

Ultimately the ending will be most effective if we are gaining a final level of insight into Joe. This is not the “surprise! we were dreaming all along” ending that can come off as too easy but it instead adds a layer of organic surprise. Joe wakes up and remembers that he is in a hospital, missing both his legs. Joe wakes up and remembers that his wife left him. Joe wakes us and remembers…that he has nothing to live for. Whatever it might be. But do it through showing us what he wakes up into.

With a bit of focused trimming your story is going to ring both haunted and wise, lovely and liquid. You are almost there. Thanks for letting me play with it—keep going!

~Nancy

 (I welcome all comments and conversations, so join in! And feel free to find me on Facebook or contact me at nancystohlman@gmail.com)

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Dreams

By Denis Bell

On the day after his thirty-second birthday, Joe took a swing at the foreman and was fired. Now he spends most of his days in the bedroom, ensconced there with a bottle of Jim Beam and a bag of weed. He sleeps fitfully and has a series  of vivid and affecting dreams.

Joe’s apartment contains a staircase he’d never noticed before leading to a large suite of lavishly furnished rooms. The apartment is much grander than he had imagined. Children are playing in some of the rooms. A cousin packs up the mood in a plastic box to be buried in the back yard at the end of the day.

Joe is presenting a report in science class. A new teacher is standing at the back of the classroom wearing a hood that hides his face. Joe’s classmates are cheering but behind the hood the teacher is angry. The teacher reaches into his pants and pulls out a –

The clock on the bedside table reads a groan worthy 11:35. Beside the clock are a stack of porno mags and a wadded up rag.  The room is too bright.  He stumbles to the window. Outside there is snow on the ground. A child’s broken tricycle is rusting in a neighbor’s yard. He pulls down the blind and steps into the bathroom.

When he gets out his mother is standing there, pretending not to notice the magazines. Why did you leave us like that, she asks. Joe looks away.

She tells him about a house in the country she bought for herself and his sister. Sturdy wooden frame, brass fittings, hardwood floors. Nice gated community. She wants Joe to move in with them. Now that you’ve lost your job there’s no reason to stay in this dump. Soon, he tells her. The conversation seems strange because both mother and sister have been dead fifteen years, but it would be rude to point this out.

Fragments of Joe’s past float through his dreams. The ramshackle house where he grew up. The dank cellar with the rusty furnace. His sister with her coloring books. Days spent fishing alone in the creek. His father fish-eyed and silent.  His mother grimacing as she reaches to button his coat, his father absently nursing a damaged hand.

The swish of a belt.

His mother’s cries.

Bloodless lips, twisted in silence.

White napkins dark and crusty with dried blood.

Memories from the night they died.

Don’t hide in the cellar, lend us a hand, his sister says (bossy as ever).

Joe awakes with a start, head full of steely intent. Thoughts of kitchen utensils. He starts to climb out of bed but a hand restrains him. Not yet, a voice whispers.

Nancy Stohlman and two Flash Fiction Events coming to Portland Nov 19-20!

Nancy Stohlman is coming to Portland for 2 Flash Fiction events next week!

Tuesday, Nov 19, 7 pm: Figures of Speech Reading Series with Nancy Stohlman and Kirsten Rian
In Other Words Feminist Community Center
Corner of N Killingsworth and Williams
web site: http://inotherwords.org/
www.figuresofspeechpdx.wordpress.com

FREE!

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Wednesday, Nov 20, 6-8 pm: Flash Fiction For Poets Workshop

Flash forms have arrived as backlash to genre boundaries and flash fiction is leading the pack, redefining how we tell stories. By embracing the compressed form, writers are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story. In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousin, the prose poem. This workshop is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form.

World Cup Coffee Meeting Room.
World Cup is located on the corner of NW Glisan and 18th ave.
Web site is: http://worldcupcoffee.com/taxonomy/term/1

Limited workshop spaces. To register email: slw1057@hotmail.com

portland

 

 

Flashnano Pep Talk/Writing Flash Fiction: What You Don’t Say Is The Story

In the month of November, in solidarity with our Nanowrimo friends, we’ll attempt to write 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days.

So you’re going to try your hand at this flash fiction thing, huh?

In the beginning you will still very often land closer to the 1,000-word cut-off mark, trimming and pruning to make sure your story makes it into the official flash fiction guidelines. As you become more comfortable with the form you will find that your stories naturally shrink and start to land well beneath the 1,000-word mark.

What happens in between is a process of letting go.

Boy-Jumping-From-a-Plane-with-an-Umbrella-76482First of all, let go of being good at it. Whether you come from poetry, longer fiction or nonfiction, it takes a while to get used to the new form. So let go of the need to be an instant expert. So many of us find it frustrating to “start over” and embrace being a beginner in a new genre. I invite you to instead see it as an opportunity.

Let go of exposition. We have become fond of our exposition techniques, our lush, sardonic, witty, poignant, clever, or otherwise expository voices. This is often the first thing to let go of in flash. It doesn’t mean you must let go of it altogether, but your urgent storytelling voice must trump your love of exposition for the magic to happen.

Let go of description. Not all together, but let your description come only in service of your storytelling. Let go of the urge to linger. In flash fiction, one well-placed detail brings an entire story into focus. Opt for one or two telling details over a wash of description—you just don’t have that kind of time.

Let your silences become informative. Don’t rush to fill them. As we learn to let go of exposition and description, we learn to embrace silence as a tool, and the juxtaposition of silences to infer information.

Let go of extra words. Try removing words and see if you can create potent gaps of intuition. See how much you can not say. Often what you don’t say is the story.

So what’s left you ask?

What’s left is tightly crafted little nugget of concentrated gold.

What’s left is flash fiction.

~Nancy Stohlman

Check here for daily Flashnano Prompts during November.

Join our Facebook Event page here.

Launching Your Book Into the World

LAUNCHING YOUR BOOK INTO THE WORLD

Individualized Coaching To Help Your Work Succeed!

spotlight (1)You wrote the book…so you’re done, right? Wrong. Whether you are self-publishing, traditional publishing, or still undecided, today’s market requires that writers build and sustain their own readership. But how? Who are your readers? Who needs your book? And how do you find them? Personalized coaching can help you uncover blocks to self-promotion, give you practical skills to approaching the market as a professional, and help you understand and take the necessary steps to not just writing a book but building a long term audience for your work. Individualized coaching will explore:

• The difference between an amateur and a professional
• Who are your readers and how do you find them?
• Self-promotion: Are you avoiding it? (You’re not alone)
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• Building a long-term fan base
• Creatively marketing your work
• What’s keeping you from taking the next steps?

Your work is worth it. Give your book the greatest chance of succeeding!

4 and 8-week individualized coaching packages tailored to you and your work.

Contact nancystohlman@gmail.com to discuss your needs.

To your success!

Nancy

Nancy Stohlman on flash novels and The Monster Opera, debuting as an opera Friday

By Alex Brown Wed., Oct. 2 2013 at 9:00 AM
Publishing in The Westword. Read original here.
Nancy.jpg
From Nancy Stohlman

Nancy Stohlman can do it all. She can create new genres of literature, write operas and teach you how to do both. Someday she hopes to become a pirate, but in the meantime her new flash novel The Monster Opera will be transformed into an opera on Friday, October 4 at the Mercury Cafe. In the novel, a writer travels to Mexico to find inspiration to write — but there are monsters everywhere waiting for her. It turns into a “gothic literary noir, a genre-bending novel-meets-libretto that combines recitative with dialogue, aria with prose, and ultimately asks the question: Who owns a story?,” explains Stohlman. In advance of the opera’s debut, we talked with her about being a revolutionary in her craft, some childhood memories and finding the confidence to produce authentic work.

See also: Kinky Mink Loves the ’80s

Westword: I noticed you say you coined the term “flash novel.” Can you explain what a flash novel entails, and how you came up with it?

Nancy Stohlman: I first coined the term in 2008 for my master’s thesis at Naropa University. At that time I’d already written three traditional novels, but my new work was hijacking me — it was trying to escape the constraints of a traditional novel. None of the terminology, including “novel” or “novella,” really described what I was trying to write: a sparse, lean book that behaves and resonates as if it were much longer with the scope of a novel.

When our art begins to change, our language needs to change, too. So I basically invented the term as a way to give my work permission to misbehave and to give legitimacy to a new type of storytelling.

Are there other flash novelists, or are you the sole front of the movement? Did you feel like a revolutionary when you put the term on the cover of your first book, Searching for Suzi?

I absolutely felt like a revolutionary! I remember the conversation with Searching for Suzi publisher Nate Jordan. I said, “When people start tracing the term, I want them to trace it all the way back to here.” So we put it on the cover. It was awesome.

But in terms of being the sole flash novelist, no. There are many writers whose work has also been pushing these same boundaries; their work is being labeled anything from a novel to a novella to a collection. So many amazing new works defy the old definitions; if the writers are like me, then you finish and you sort of look at it and say, well, great. Where will Barnes and Noble shelve this? Miscellaneous?

But I’m excited that the term “flash novel” is starting to catch on. Writer magazine featured an article about the flash novel, “All Meat and No Fat,” in 2010, and Bartleby Snopes Press, which published The Monster Opera, has even begun a flash novel series.

The Monster Opera took a few years to complete and get staged, and you said you thought it was just “too weird.” How did you finally overcome that barrier and realize its true potential?

In this case, it wasn’t about me overcoming, it was about me waiting. I believe the job of any artist is to point audiences into thickets that may at first seem intimidating. Which means that naturally, at first, there will be resistance. In fact, if there isn’t at least a little resistance, than perhaps there isn’t enough at stake. I like my art raw, vulnerable, 100 percent true to the authenticity of the vision. So rather than try to make my work more widely accessible to speed up the process, I just had to wait.

Funny story: The same morning I got the acceptance from Bartleby Snopes, I was in the process of abandoning The Monster Opera. I had decided that it was too weird for public consumption and I should move on. Within hours of “letting it go,” I opened my e-mail to find an acceptance.

I heard Gertrude Stein was a real inspiration for you. Do you feel that reading her Four Saints in Three Acts gave you permission, or made it easier, to produce The Monster Opera?

If I hadn’t, quite by accident, discovered Gertrude Stein’s libretto on one of my adventures through the Denver library stacks, I probably would never have written this book. It was one of those aha! moments when smoke clears and little birdies start singing: All at once it became possible in my mind for an opera libretto to become a piece of literature. Certainly there have been works of literature that have been turned into opera. But I wanted to go the other way around — I wanted to write a libretto that behaved like literature. I wrote The Monster Opera as a book before any music was put to it.

You’re also involved in hosting many writers workshops; what do you have coming up for those? Does helping others with their writing help your own writing?

Absolutely. Over the summer I taught an intensive workshop for writers to finish their manuscripts and take the next steps launching them into the world. (I’ll probably give that one again in January.) I’m currently working with several private clients and I’ve just started individualized coaching sessions focused on book launching and self-promotion. The best part about working with other writers, especially other talented writers, is you will always be learning from the process; it’s especially wonderful to bear witness to another writer’s breakthrough, then turn back to your own work with your own breakthroughs simmering…

Nick Busheff composed the music for The Monster Opera. You work with him in your metal/ lounge band Kinky Mink. Did it help to use someone whose musical styling’s you were so familiar with? Were you two really on the same page with this project?

Nick Busheff is a brilliant musician and composer, and this production would never have happened without him. And yes, there is absolutely something magical that happens in a collaboration between artists who are really in tune with one another’s vision. I’ve done lots of successful collaborations, but it’s rare to find another artist who can hear the music in your head before you’ve even heard it yourself. I believe this is Nick’s finest work to date.

With this project finished, how close are you now to your dream of becoming a pirate?

I’m always practicing my looting and pillaging skills. I actually just stole your wallet. Why do you still have a Blockbuster card?

You said when you were nine you wrote a screenplay called Superman: The Musical. Any chance of adapting that into a flash piece for the stage? Sounds really fun.

Ha! I think the Lex Luthor/Lois Lane duet will have to be rethought. Gosh, that was really when I became a writer, I think. I remember typing it day after day on my mother’s electric typewriter, loving the sound of the keys hitting and how important I felt sitting there, creating something where there was nothing before. Perhaps it’s time to resurrect the paper mache volcano…

Anything else you would like to add for the readers out there? Promotions/shout- outs?

Definitely shout-outs to my awesome cast: Marta Burton, Erik Wilkins, Jonathan Montgomery, Dee Galloway, Toby Smith, Scott Ryplewski, Mayra Walters, Van Yoho and Kinky Mink drummer Rory Reagan. And a huge thank you to Marilyn Megenity at the Mercury Café for being a rock of support, not only to me but to the artistic community in Denver for so many years.

Stohlman will debutingThe Monster Opera on Friday, October 4 at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street; the show starts at 8 p.m. and Stohlman will have a book-signing after the show. Tickets are available here.

Your Success Is Mine and Mine is Yours

spotlightAs an artist, I walk a path that has been smoothed by others. If I take an easy step, it’s because someone before me has been kind enough to move a rock out of the way. And each rock I move on my journey leaves the road a little clearer for you.

What if we all stopped and really embraced this idea for a moment? What if, instead of feeding the fear, the jealousy, the insecurity, and the competition, we wrote ourselves a new story of mutual success?

Unfortunately most of us operate from a vantage point of scarcity. Writers live in a very real world where publishing houses are folding, or merging, a gazillion books are being written and published every year, and every year we are faced with a new study about how few people read books. We’ve been conditioned to believe that by this time next year there will be only one reader left on the whole planet…and she’s dying.

So if I’m living in the scarcity paradigm, then your success is a direct threat to my own.

But what if this isn’t the only story?

We’re storytellers, after all. We are writers and artists and painters and musicians—our job is to create ideas that weren’t there before. So what if we created a new story? A story that says there are enough readers/fans/audiences for all of us?

What if we created a story that said every reader you recruit is a reader for the collective? What if every book I sell is a potential reader for you? What if, as a collaborating community, we can rebuild our dying readership and infect the world with our love of words?

If I step out of my fears, the ones that say there isn’t enough for us all, then your success can only support mine and my success is in service of yours. And like a perfect partnership we take turns: I teach, you learn. I learn, you inspire. I surprise, you applaud. I applaud, you dazzle.

We are traveling a well-worn road, and every one of us owes our successes to someone before us. In return, we share our successes with those who follow. Applause is contagious, after all, and when one of us wins, we all win.

Together, we can create a new story.

Self Promotion or Self Prostitution? Why We Resist Putting Ourselves Out There

Do you hate the idea of self-promotion? Do you tell yourself that you’re not good at it? That you shouldn’t have to do it? If you hate self-promotion, or even the prospect of self-promotion, you are not alone. No matter the genre, all artists seem to share a similar aversion. Most of us are still waiting for an agent/manager/publicist to come and rescue us from the prospect of having to promote…ourselves?

But why?

As artists, we have internalized certain agreed-upon stories, certain cultural mythologies that may be blocking our ability to put ourselves and our work out into the world. And since most of us agree that self-promotion is necessary, it’s worth taking a look at these stories and deciding whether perpetuating them is serving our art and our careers—or not.

1. The Starving Artist Story: “I’m not going to make any money at this, anyway.”

The-Lemonade-Stand1If we were running a company, a large portion of our budget would go to marketing, right? If we were selling shoes, our livelihood would depend on us getting out there and selling some shoes. Even if we were running a lemonade stand, we would understand that, in order to sell lemonade, we would need to make signs or hire neighborhood kids with megaphones to let people know that lemonade is available. If no one knows about our lemonade, then no one will buy it no matter how fantastic it might be.

But when it comes to our art, we’ve swallowed a toxic “starving artist” story, which tells us that we’re probably not going to make any money at this, anyway, so we don’t take the task of promotion seriously. In fact, most of us would probably do a better job promoting the lemonade than we would the art that we have poured our blood and souls into.

It’s crucial to realize that if you want to make a career out of your art, then you have gone into businesswith yourself. I am now the CEO of Nancy Stohlman, Inc., and my product is my work. If no one knows about my product, they can’t buy it. And then I am out of business.

But as long as we are stoking the starving artist story, then we’re going into the game already defeated. If we believe we cannot make a living out of our art…then we probably won’t.

2. The Overnight Success Story: “Once I’m famous someone else will do this.”

This is the story of the mythical artist who is catapulted into fame from obscurity with no promotional effort of their own. While this mythology is exciting, and the media loves to dangle it as some warped version of the American Dream, it’s also a bit like expecting to win the Powerball.

This overnight success story is a darling of artists and runs deep in our culture. But if you look carefully behind most successes, you will usually find a different story. Madonna made hundreds of demos with her own money and personally brought them to every DJ in New York City; Truman Capote sat for 8 hours a day in the lobby of the publisher who refused to see him. Even Rosa Parks, our favorite little old lady who wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and thus triggered the Civil Rights Movement, was actually a veteran activist for 15 years when she was finally delivered to the right place at the right time.

Because that’s what it comes down to: “It’s not enough to be at the right place at the right time—you have to be the right person at the right place at the right time,” says musical agent Justin Sudds in his interview for “Take Your Talent to the Bank”. The truth of the overnight success story is that it is usually not overnight at all.

But what’s most problematic about the Overnight Success Story is that it is ultimately disempowering because it takes the responsibility for our careers out of our hands. Our careers become like playing roulette, and we feel powerless to affect real change. And I like playing roulette, but only with what I am prepared to lose.

3. “It’s Not Polite To Brag.” This country is still influenced by our Puritan roots, and so this story is the one that often paralyzes us into non-action.

Here’s the truth: Will some people be annoyed by your promotional efforts? Yes. But usually the ones who are annoyed, offended, or otherwise triggered by your efforts are the ones who have not yet embraced their own self-promotion. So it’s important to remember that their support or non-support for you and your work really has little to do with you and much more to do with where they are on their own path. It’s pretty hard to jump on someone else’s bandwagon when your own bandwagon is rusting in the garage. It’s pretty hard to muster up zest and enthusiasm for someone else when you haven’t put your own work out there in a big way, yet. So when you encounter this kind of resistance—and it can come from the most surprising places—be kind, and remember this quote: “Those who have abandoned their dreams will always discourage yours.”

But the rest of the people won’t care, and in fact they will be happy that you’ve made it so easy for them to support you and your work. It is said that a person needs to hear about something five times (yes, five!) before it sticks, and most people are happy for the reminders.

Self-promotion is not bragging. It’s asking for the support we need to make the careers we want.

In this Puritan society we are told that “it’s better to give than receive,” so we give, we give, we give…but most of us have a hard time receiving. And most of us have an even harder time asking for the support we need with clarity and confidence. If I want people to read my latest story—I have to ask. If I want people to come to my my website, my lecture, or buy my latest book—I have to ask. “Hey, I’d love it if you checked out my work and passed it along.”

In our everyone-for-himself society we have attached a stigma to asking for help. In order to get over this stigma, we have to remember that artists must exist in community, and in order to create and sustain a community, you have to put yourself out there with honesty and authenticity. Self-promotion is truly about asking for the support we need, and building relationships with those who are excited about us and our work. It’s the greatest thing you can do for the promotion of art outside of creating the art itself.

So when self-promotion starts to feel like self-prostitution, remember: We promote our work because we aren’t okay with the mythology of the starving artist; we respect our work enough to take control of its dissemination, not leaving it to the agent fairies to rescue us; we have both the confidence and humility required to put it out there in the world and ask for support.

Many of us don’t promote because we would rather fail privately than publicly  We fear rejection and ridicule; we retreat into craft instead. And yes, it’s true that Emily Dickinson did no promotion. But then again, she never got to enjoy the rewards, respect, and recognition of her work while she was alive.

I want more for myself and my art.

And I want more for you, too.

“The Private Investigator”

Flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman

I walked into his office and closed the door. There were piles of papers everywhere and a deer head hanging on the wall.

What can I do for you? he asked.

Well, I just don’t know what I’m doing half the time anymore, I said. I think it would be great if you could keep an eye on me.

Sure, he said. Is someone threatening you?3.21-PI

No, nothing like that. It’s just me. I can’t trust myself.

Any clues or suspicions?

No … but the whole thing is pretty suspicious.

He pats my hand. You’ve done the right thing, he says. Usually if you suspect something to be true, it is.

I left his office feeling much better. Almost immediately the eyes were upon me—cars that followed a bit too close and too long, people watching me from across the street. At home a red light blinked between the books on my bookshelf.

A week later I returned to his office. Well, we have news to report, he says. Are you ready?

Yes, I nodded, sitting down.

The first picture was my car parked in front of the post office. If you’ll notice, he says, circling areas of the photo, this is a no parking zone and the sign is clearly displayed. The subject arrived at 3:14 and parked for 23 minutes, in blatant violation.

I nodded, didn’t say anything as he handed me the photo.

During the car ride home, subject picked her nose and then, after looking around, consumed it. At 5:17 subject arrived home, drew all the blinds, and proceeded to watch XXX rated videos for 17 minutes, the final one, 80-year-old grandpa does his nurse, commencing in what we presume was an orgasm.

Subject, after watching said video, stared at the computer for one hour and forty-six minutes without pants on. The phone rang on three different occasions and the subject ignored the calls without even checking the caller ID.

Subject smoked marijuana at 9:16 and then took a bath while drinking an airplane-sized bottle of cinnamon flavored whiskey. During the bath, subject appeared to have a conversation with no one that lasted for 11 minutes.

At 11:34, subject got into bed and read a book until 12:13, when she turned off the lamp to presumably sleep. Then the most curious of all: at 12:21, just 8 minutes later, the subject got out of bed and laid directly in the middle of a moonbeam shining through the skylight. Subject cried until 12:31.

After that, our man couldn’t see anything else. He handed the stack of pictures to me.

I sighed. I’m not completely surprised.

If it makes you feel any better, I see this kind of thing all the time.

I guess it’s just better to know for sure.

I’m sorry to be the one to have to tell you, he added, handing me a tissue.

 Originally published in Atticus Review. Read original here.

Finish That Manuscript (And Get it Out Into The World): A Virtual Workshop

Do you have a manuscript you’ve been sitting on forever? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world?

In this workshop on finishing we will explore:
• What’s keeping you from finishing?
• Are your blocks telling you something about your manuscript?
• How to fall back in love with your work and your vision
• Allowing your manuscript to transform
• Publication—is your manuscript ready to send into the world?
• The different stages of “finishing” a manuscript
• Self-promotion—are you afraid of rejection? (You’re not alone.)
• Finding the support you need to take the next steps

writers-blockIn this 4-week virtual workshop I’ll give you the deadlines you might need, help you structure your writing time into your life, help you transition more easily between creation and revision, and help you become your own best editor. Whether you are planning to submit or self publish, you’ll learn writing tips, editorial and publication advice, how to excerpt and query, and even when to let a manuscript go. And most importantly, you’ll finally rescue your work from the desk drawer and give yourself the satisfaction of completion.

The workshop format will include weekly online instruction, telephone check-ins, and professional line edits (limited). Both fiction and nonfiction manuscripts are welcome.

Begins July 1. For late registration or a free info call contact me ASAP at nancystohlman@gmail.com.

Let’s do it.