The Business of Writing

Yeah, so the last blog post I did in these parts that wasn’t about Phish was over a year ago. Not that I’m complaining. I like writing about Phish and their music and if this is more Kaufmak’s Lazy Phish Blog, then so be it. Might be a little more accurate these days. Of course, then I want to write about other things.

More to the point, I want to write more, but that just is about impossible these days. There are a lot of reasons, family, job, social life, video games, television, simple exhaustion, you get the idea.

But, I don’t want to just write more, I want to write…for a living? Yeah, I’m really not sure how that works. A big change needs to occur, one that I’ve been slowly circling like the water going down the worst drain ever. That change is a one of identity. I need to see myself as a writer, at least as part of my identity. I just can’t seem to mentally pull that trigger.

It’s not like getting a Ph. D. Someone told me, now I’m a historian. All you fuckers need to call me doctor. Some people have told me a I’m a good writer (some have said I suck.) But writer validation doesn’t work that way, at least not for me. I’m so glad my writing gets out to others, even if the numbers are small. I’ve even won a couple of “posts of the month” deals at the other blog. But I haven’t been paid to be a writer. Production is great, but production for free just doesn’t work in my head.

This is my hang up, by the way. I’m not say if you write a blog and aren’t getting paid for it you’re not a writer. However you define your “writer-ness” is entirely up to you. I’ve got this annoying notion about pay and validation, not you, you’re a sane, rationale person. Good on you! You writer!

What’s more, I’m seriously stuck in two places. It seems like the people who strike out and make a go of it, get further opportunities, and get to make a living at this stuff seem to have three things in common. They write, or started to write, about one thing, did it well and did it frequently. I’m not sure if I’m 0-3 in that last sentence, but in the light of optimism, let’s say 0-2. Time just needs to happen, either make it or not. It’s that other part, that “one thing and stick to it” thing that just doesn’t work. But if I don’t do that, then I’m just some dude with a blog writing about stuff. Why read it? I mean, I’m a nice guy and all, but yeah, why else? What makes me so damn special?

It’s the one thing, that niche that I can’t seem to find. I like to write about certain things more than others, but I get bored or discouraged or busy. Sometimes all at once. These last couple of months, it’s been a shitty place to be.

Conflicted About the Residency

I’ll state right from the beginning, I’ve already checked out airfare and Air BnB prices around New York. I’ll admit too that Madison Square Garden is a bucket list venue for me, especially when it comes to Phish. I’d love to see the Knicks play there as well, but it is right on the Mecca-level when it comes to Phish. So, it isn’t like I hate the idea of 13 shows at the Garden come this summer.

I get why the band is doing it as well. Trey is on record saying the band was going to take it a bit easier this summer and short of not touring at all (eek! bite my tongue!) staying put for the better part of a month, where at least Trey lives no less, seems pretty good to me. I also can’t imagine the money will be bad and if Phish is going to do a residency anywhere, New York is pretty much the most logical choice.

The truth is though, I can’t go, unless I hit the lottery. Even then I’m not sure. It isn’t just the money, though that’s a big part of it, no doubt. The time involved is kind of hard as well. Going to a local show is a lot less of a hassle. Also it isn’t just my life getting rearranged, but my wife and kids too.

Now there are rumors that there will be something of a summer tour in June and July and they almost assuredly will be coming to the Chicago area in that case. If they don’t, it will make for a less enjoyable summer. That’s probably what’s at the heart of all of this. Since 2009 and 3.0, Phish has been a part of the summer. A little nostalgia, a lot of good music and a predictable routine. If Phish prides itself on anything, however, it’s being unpredictable. There’s always couch tour.

(Wow. This really has become a bit of a Phish blog:-) could be worse.)

Phish Song Rankings: A Bit Of A Confession

Yes, I know, Fall Tour is well underway, but I’ve been experiencing a writing existential crisis of late. It isn’t particularly writer’s block, but more like writer’s paralysis or writer’s indecision. I haven’t expressed this much on my various outlets, other blog, podcast, and another blog, but here goes.

So, I saw a call for a sabermetric focused blog through the SI affiliated group, Fan Sided. Why not? A bigger audience, a bit more national and for the first time really working in a group. Well, the site was (or technically still is) called Statliners and it lasted about a week. In that time, I was blown away at the pace, dedication and sheer ability of those writing. I finally pitched an idea, got it approved and went to work, albeit feeling very intimidated and a bit overwhelmed.

Then it all went to shit. I’m not exactly what all went down, but it went down and the managing editor for the site (not his proper title) resigned. Then there was a mass resignation by at least 80% of the contributors. The site is technically still in limbo. As much as I want to passively resign, I think the better thing to do is resign and not leave the site hanging, but also to give myself a sense of relief and not feeling guilty about not writing more.

Which leads to the other blogs, including this one. The White Sox blog is lurching along, much like the White Sox themselves. I know some of it is that the team, the entire organization is just…boring. Nothing they do is inspiring, entertaining or even remotely surprising. They have been following the same playbook for years from top to bottom and at some point it just isn’t fun to cover.

Then there is this blog, the first blog, the ur-blog. I can’t seem to let it go. I like doing the Phish Song Rankings and other stuff, but it’s a matter of finding time and also considering, is this just a Phish blog (seems to be anymore) or something more? (always was the intention.)

Have I mentioned the podcast? Yeah. Looking at time spent on various blogs, writing projects and other non-work work, the podcast takes up A LOT of time. It has somehow become the top priority and I’m not sure why exactly. I do think it has to do with the, you know, Ph. D. and what not. There is a sense of, “ahh, history, I know this. This is my stuff.” Also, it is just plain labor intensive. Reading, note taking, script writing, recording and editing all need to happen before I hit publish. The rate of one cast every three weeks is bumming me out too. I just feel, with no outside pressure whatsoever, all internal, I need to be better, more consistent.

Where does that leave me? Here. I’m resigning at Statliners. I’m still interested in being a contributor somewhere, part of a team, but this just didn’t work out. I want to keep my Chicago and the White Sox blog, and might try and work that into more of a consortium. We’ll see. I will definitely keep with it, but at my pace.

The podcast still retains its privileged status, because it gives me the most back. It does, however, need to give me some time back. I have a screenplay to edit and send out and I want to get some Phish stuff back on line. ¬†I wouldn’t mind being part of a Phish team either. Also, Phish, always a key player in so much of what I do, does need to give up some space on this blog too. I just banged out this blog in 22 minutes. It may not be the most interesting thing ever, but obviously I needed to get it out.

Oh, let’s not forget in all of this: two jobs, family, attempts at social life and sober life. Yeah, I’m a little busy. Feel free to offer advice ūüôā

The Architect

‚ÄúI think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.‚ÄĚ — George RR Martin

I’ve always liked this¬†quote from GRRM. ¬†He along with Stephen King share similar ideas about writing. ¬†King is much more demanding, pretty much dismissing planning a story at all. ¬†Considering King, Martin and quite a few other writers that I love all talk about letting stories grow, seeing where they go and the like, I figured that was the only way to do it. Or at least the only way to do it well. ¬†I even started, or at least tried that “let it grow” method here at Kaufmak’s. ¬†I still haven’t worked up the courage to show the world what that looks like. However, a funny thing happened on the way to writing something new. I got inspiration and validation all from reading a book.

First to come clean. ¬†If not squeaky clean, at least washed behind the ears. ¬†Ok, here goes: I’m writing a screenplay. Just putting that out here is liberating and nerve wracking all in one swoop. ¬†I’m not ready to divulge all of the details just yet, but I’m almost 50 pages in so I’m pretty sure I’m going to, at the minimum, finish a draft. ¬†I’m also going for it as it were. I know the odds of any screenplay getting read, let alone optioned, let alone produced are slim at best. ¬†But why the hell not give it the full go? Another lesson from that aforementioned book.

So, the book? It is a book I first picked up back in the 1990s (which gives you some idea of how long I’ve thought about doing this sort of thing), maybe a decade or so after it was first published. ¬†It is called¬†Screenplay¬†by Syd Field. ¬†It’s been updated a number of times, but the main body of it has remained the same. The great thing about the book is that for the first time ever reading about writing, the idea of being an architect, of planning things out, was wholly embraced. ¬†Field goes so far as to insist that you plan out a screenplay, otherwise you’ll never finish.

For me, that idea was so freeing. I think it is the extensive background in academics, history specifically, has made planning in¬†writing second nature. ¬†Trying to be a gardener just didn’t work. ¬†Also, and probably why I like history and also kind of how I write, I like to have a plan. Furthermore, when I come up with an idea, it usually isn’t a “what if?” kind of scenario, but is much more formed if that makes any sense. ¬†I not only see the beginning, but a good bit of the middle and usually the end.

Which is exactly what Field preached*. ¬†He talks about paradigms and outlines; notecards and markers; know the beginning, plot points and the end. So many of the ideas, those very tools are the same ones I’ve been using my entire writing career. So as I got through my research (which, get this?! Field also finds essential to writing!) I was reading¬†Screenplay¬†and nodding my head all the way. ¬†I finally found my instruction manual.

*I’m sorry to say preached, Syd Field passed away a couple of years ago. I am truly saddened by this. Even if I find no success in this, I’ve gained so much from his book. As I said it liberated me, validated me. I would have loved to attend one of his seminars. He seemed like a very good teacher. He wrote in Screenlay about dreaming, about having a full time job and the realities of life. ¬†Again, things I deal with in all my writing. I never met him, but I will miss him.

The Second Week of Lent:Transfiguration

One of the great things about Lent is the Gospels associated with the season. ¬†We get the same stories, reaffirming Jesus’ journey to his death and key moments in the establishment of the faith of the apostles and by temporal extension, us. ¬†This past Sunday was the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. ¬†I’ve always found this story to be one of the more interesting passages of the gospel. ¬†It is Jesus revealing himself to his followers ultimately showing them his true essence, that of the divine. ¬†I especially like the description of ¬†” no fuller on earth can white them,” kind of the Mr. Sparkle of the 1st century.

Mr._Sparkle

I find myself dealing with this concept of transformation in recent weeks. ¬†As I reflect more on Lent, write more about it, and at the same time write on other topics, I’m realizing that not only has writing been a constant in my life, it is something I am, a writer. ¬†I think the big realization came when I was talking to my mom about something I wrote. ¬†I was genuinely touched that my mom read something of mine and that she liked it. ¬†I mentioned the podcast I do (The History of the United States! go take a listen!) and she just asked if I got paid anything. ¬†The answer as most people with a blog or podcast know, is no I don’t get paid. ¬†Mind, it wasn’t a judgmental kind of question, just a curious one, but it did lead to other thinking. ¬†I seriously thought, “why do I do this?” I won’t say it’s a need or a complusion or even a love, but it is a joy. ¬†I honestly don’t care if I get paid or not, I’ll still do it.

Having said that, I wouldn’t say no to a writing gig that pays. ¬†What I’ve found with getting paid, however, is that the patron is apt to call the tune. ¬†I don’t know, seriously, if I could do that. ¬†I love to read, watch, listen to people talk about writing. ¬†So many of them seem to be able to compartmentalize it, make it a job. ¬†I don’t think I could. ¬†At the risk of sounding very vain, I like to write what I write and not what someone wants me to write. ¬†Especially at this point in my life. ¬†I put the final period on the dissertation, that great opus of trying to impress three people, and I just don’t have the desire to go back to it, get more feedback from an editor and rehash it all again. ¬†I just can’t see the creativity in that. ¬†I suppose there isn’t a lot of creativity in writing reviews of Phish concerts and White Sox ballpark food, but it still is mine.

And isn’t that what a professional writer would do? ¬†Give their big project some legs, make it work for them as well as work on new things. ¬†I tell students all the time that editing is part of writing. ¬†I was talking to friend the other day about the division between work and other stuff. ¬†We share a diversity of interests, though different in their approach. ¬†We work, we write and we podcast. ¬†I asked if he would change the relationship between work and the other stuff. ¬†Let’s face it, work takes up a lot of that time. ¬†The other things are on the fringe.

In a way, I’m making a living on the fringe. ¬†Yeah, I like my job and where I work, not things I take lightly. ¬†But I won’t say it feeds my soul. ¬†It isn’t where I feel inspired. ¬†And that is where this idea of transformation comes into play. ¬†I’ve been satisfied with this fringe existence, but I can feel dissatisfaction creeping in on me. ¬†It’s only a glimpse, that dazzling white, but I can’t unsee it either.

 

I Can Do It. Maybe. Sometimes. Well, Not Everything

I’ve been doing some serious de-cluttering around Chez Kaufmak. Over the last couple of weekends I have cleaned my kids bedrooms with a ruthlessness that I didn’t think I possessed. Old toys, old clothes, strange random bits of paper are all history now. It isn’t stopping with the kids either. I’ve ben through my closet, my comic books, my books. The scythe was not to be denied. ¬†All of this new space, this new clean house has also spilled over to my, what is it, exactly, creative life? writing life? Whatever. I realize that some cleaning needs to happen in this arena as well.

dilettante

I’ve always felt like a bit of a dilettante when it comes to writing and other creative endeavors. ¬†I like writing the blogs but I think about writing other things too. ¬†The idea of screenplay has intrigued me for years as has a novel of some sort. ¬†Of course I’m trained as an academic and I do like researching and writing in a strictly non-fiction sort of way. ¬†And that is just the writing side of things. ¬†I sometimes think of doing more stand-up comedy. ¬†I’ve been enjoying the hell out of doing the podcast. ¬†I would like to make improvements/tweaks to that to make it a better product. ¬†The one major drawback to doing the podcast is that it reminds me how much I miss teaching.

Speaking of being an academic and working in higher education, the killer is that I like my job and I want to do more stuff with that too. ¬†I went to a presentation the other day and the focus was on how to recruit and engage more students in doing research as undergraduates. ¬†It was a great discussion, but very science heavy. ¬†Getting students in a lab and directing them dovetails nicely with the natural sciences, but how do we get students outside of the hard sciences equally engaged? ¬†And that is just the tip of the iceberg. ¬†I went to a documentary screening about urban gardens in Detroit. ¬†What else can we do to revitalize our cities? We can’t nor should we make all reaches of a city into a pasture.

Which of course leads to politics, especially local politics.  There are so many things, SO MANY THINGS just in Chicago to want to affect real change.  An elected school board, curbing gun violence, homelessness, preserving the lake shore are just a few of the items that make me want to get involved.

And then there is just fun stuff.  I would love to get back to playing guitar in some fashion.  I enjoy playing Magic and would like to get better at that too, or at least win a match or two during Friday Night Magic.

You get the point. ¬†This is just the “me” stuff too, this isn’t even bringing in being a parent and a husband which are pretty awesome. ¬†I wish I could be laser-focused on one particular thing, but that just isn’t me. ¬†I wish I could just let some things go, not be nagged by the feeling of “What If?” or “Why Not?” ¬†I just can’t get it out of my head sometimes, that I need to finish something I started. ¬†That to work and try, to try and¬†fail is not only ok, but rewarding in its own right. (Geez, I didn’t even get to physical fitness goals.) I think I have some priorities set, have put some ideas and such away after trial and error, or lack of desire. ¬†If I could design a perfect day it would involve a good dose of writing(lord knows what though), some teaching and some kind of activism. ¬†What do you think that is filed under?

Good to be Back

I’ve been meaning to write a bit back here at the home blog, but did quite a bit to start the White Sox season. ¬†I hate to say a couple of my regular blogs over here kind of got put on the back burner, but I hope to get back on the good foot. ¬†I like to use this blog for my other interests and passions, to explore other topics, and discuss other, more personal topics too.

A good place to jump back in on this blog is to share about something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. ¬†I think the best way to describe it is, I’ve been thinking a lot the past week or so about writing. ¬†I know I’ve written about writing before on this blog and if you check in on the Sox blog, you know I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing lately. ¬†No, I’ve been thinking about doing more writing if that is at all possible. ¬†Well, I’m trying to squeeze even more out of my writing time, my creative time than I do now.

It is a bit of a victory, quite frankly, that I’m recommitting to writing more even as my output is the highest it’s been in years, especially if you count academic writing. ¬†I find myself thinking how awesome it would be to write full-time. ¬†I’ve been thinking of the year and a half that I spent writing my master’s thesis. ¬†I generally would wake up around 9 or 10, make my way to the cafe I worked at for a cup of coffee, a newspaper and bagel. ¬†I’d get back to my kinda crappy apartment and watching something on TV that inspired me. ¬†I remember deliberately choosing stuff that put me in the right frame of mind. ¬†Then I would go over to my kitchen table and write, long-hand because at the time I didn’t have a computer. ¬†I relied on the computer labs on campus for word processing. ¬†I also remember that my goal was seven pages, every day, more if possible, but no less. ¬†Usually I’d finish in a few hours, just in time for a bike ride and then off to work at the cafe for the evening shift. ¬†If it wasn’t the cafe, I’d maybe hit an AA meeting, or do something else until I had to go to my other job of being a night security guard, from 10-6, then I would sleep later, but otherwise it was the same routine.

That kind of lifestyle isn’t realistic anymore, but I’ve plotted out a helicopter view of my week and looked for the empty spots where I could put in a little more time. ¬†More importantly, also kind of like I reported back in January, I’m still committed to writing a larger project. ¬†I kind of slowed down on that as well as this blog as I was focusing on White Sox matters, but now I feel like a bit of a balance is within reach. ¬†I also like sharing this with all of you. ¬†Somehow, checking in on my process, or lack thereof, makes it more real, more like a contract. ¬†It’s good to be back.