Recently, in Stephanie Vanderslice’s Rethinking Creative Writing (National Association of Writers in Education) I read of her school’s program of bringing in “working,” writers to meet with undergraduate creative writing students. The idea being that learning the art and craft of the form takes more than the workshop method (agreed) of trading stories and getting feedback, and that students should have some level of awareness for the actual lives of writers.
In the book, Vanderslice mentions bringing Catfish Sutton to the University of Central Arkansas to which the author was only too willing to “make sure his audience knew exactly what a typical month in his working life was like.” Typical?
It’s an astonishing list of monthly accomplishments, which I won’t enumerate fully here, but it includes things like writing fifteen blogs, editing three chapters, several hours of research, submitting invoices and the like; it goes on for two pages.
The first thing that came to mind was the sheer volume of what Sutton is able to accomplish over a “typical” period of thirty days. For days, after reading this, I walked around chastising myself for being lazy and unproductive. I could no long do this work in twice the time, let along write up a list nearly as accomplished of my so-called “typical” work period(s).
Or could I?
So, I thought on that for a few days. This is how I tend to operate. In Patti Smith’s new memoir M Train she writes a lot about sipping coffee, staring off into space, with the occasion scribble making its way onto a table napkin. Sounds about right. I’m in my head for long, long stretches of time. Dyan often jokes to people we meet not to mind me, because I’m not always there. She gets me. Over great expanses of time, I’m always adding more and more experiences, thoughts and data to the filed and processed material in my head. Hannah Arendt says when we think or are in the process of remembering something, we are not in the present, but inside our heads in the lingering past. Sounds about right. The reels continue to spool. And unspool at seemingly random and involuntary intervals.
A few days ago I posted a video on my Facebook feed. It come from a site where a guy dissects art and posts his analysis up for subscribers. My friend, John, watched the video and was quite taken with the writer, in particular the writer’s site, which had an impressive number of paying subscribers. John texted me.
“I’m looking at a site called XX, he’s up to $1,000 a week in contributions on this thing with 100,000 subscribers…this might be interesting for us, we sell our knowledge.”
I texted back, “I do sell my knowledge. I teach graduate students creative writing :)”
Another text followed, where I said while I could appreciate it, the idea of a writer having a Web site, charging subscribers, and selling some kind of knowledge; it just wasn’t for me. It’s more or less become the contemporary model for writers–have a blog, gather up readers, and over time, monetize the site. Get a book deal.
I’d looked at this very idea for many, many years, as far back as 2004. I even contacted one of its best purveyors: Jeff Goins. He wrote back that just like anything else it takes time to build up an audience, build up a site, create that all-important stickiness and eek out some kind of living.
But it’s just not me to do this kind of work; you end up writing about writing–I’d rather write.
John, a sensible guy, agreed. Plus: he didn’t like to beg for money. On his own, several sites he runs and writes for garner an impressive audience of over 20,000, so he’s no slouch.
Sunday morning coffee in bed with Dyan and our boys–Story and Leo, a pair of rapscallion dogs–is always a time for great conversations. Over some Keirsey pages (a system of determining psychological traits and sets) we talked about the world of consultancy–a move our “type” (which we share) would employ to engage the world and share knowledge. I told Dyan about Vanderslice’s author example and his impressive list of monthly accomplishments and work schedule. For all intents and purposes, Sutton is a lone consultant, who just happens to produce writing.
Pondering out loud–again I’d been processing for several weeks by then–I wondered if I could produce a similar list either by noting what I do actually in a month, and could this list confirm a similar load?; would the list illustrate/show me that when all is said and done there was/is time in my own schedule and work habits to add in a few more avenues of productive sharing?
Possibly. But I note that Catfish Sutton doesn’t teach, full time.
Simultaneously, I have been thinking for the better part of two years now on the tensions between wanting to share my work and the desire to absolute hide from sharing it at all. A tension for me between being a public or private writer. I very much want my work to be read and appreciated, in other words, but I’m not one for the modern way of garnering an audience, as I think I’ve made clear. I write a lot, and most of what I write never gets a public airing. Admittedly, its ‘s odd tension. A conflict to be sure. For in the end, an examination of one’s writing life might result in an increased need to having your time so dictated and, frankly, taken away. Right? What would happen to staring? To being in your head? Or could the examination simply confirm a desire to write and let the chips fall where they may?
The compromise might be to fulfill your writerly duties–writing books, published works out there, and engage a community–but not speak of it.
I’ll have to give that some thought.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her new book Big Magic quotes poet Jack Gilbert, no relation, on what it takes in the long run. Courage, apparently. “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden and in you?”
Or as Mary Oliver puts it in her poem “The Summer Day:”
Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?