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.


Friday Phish Fry: Rift

Time to show my age.  I thought the five CD changer was one of the greatest inventions ever.  I remember working at a cafe that had one and then finally getting my own Sony 5-CD player.  By the time I had my own, it was possible to get a 100-CD player, but I thought that was excessive.  I couldn’t nor would I want to figure out 1-100 artists that would go well together. Five discs was perfect.  I could do all Beatles (very popular at the cafe) I could do five different jazz CDs (also popular at the cafe) or I could do my favorite mix, Zappa, Genesis and Pink Floyd (not all that popular at the cafe, but more popular than you might think.*)  Then one day a co-worker brought in a CD from this relatively new band, Phish.

*One of the coolest memories I have from that job: A woman came in and was listening to a Zappa song and asked if the trombone player was Bruce Fowler.  Indeed it was.  Turns out she was a music major and a big fan of Bruce Fowler but never listened to his Zappa recordings.

He loved this band, had seen them a year or so before.  He even met them back stage.  I was (and still am) open to new music, so he put it on.  He said I needed to hear it all the way through.  This was the fall of 1993 and the latest album by Phish was a concept album called Rift.  Jayson showed me the album cover and how every song on the album was pictured.  I remember my initial reaction was really enjoying the record, especially because the guitar playing reminded me a lot of Steve Hackett and the early days of Genesis.  Hearing the piano and keyboards so prominently added a Genesis kind of vibe too and the lyrics, well, the lyrics were just kind of weird, but I liked that too.


It wasn’t long before I got my own copy of Rift, then A Picture of Nectar, then Junta, then Lawnboy (the only one I had to buy new.)  After I had all of the studio recordings Pink Floyd lost their place in my 5 disc rotation, listening to Zappa, Genesis and Phish all at once became the new favorite.  I soon found out that people traveled all over to see this band and a lot of folks were making the trip to New England, Worchester, MA to be exact to see them over New Year’s Eve.  I didn’t quite get that yet.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that Ann Arbor 1994 is where I got it when it came to Phish.  But if I didn’t hear Rift, I don’t know if I would have travelled to Ann Arbor to see them.  It was a perfect album for the music I was into at that moment, a concept piece that wasn’t dealing with huge personal or political issues (like The Wall or Animals) or with social issues, especially from a teenage perspective (like The Who.) No, Rift is a personal record about a relationship and the intricacies of navigating all of the ins and outs that entails.  It also isn’t bleak at the end, again like Pink Floyd records, and as much as I love the concept record of Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Rift takes place in a very real place, unlike the journey of Rael.

At the time I was also into REM and Peter Gabriel, both producing two of my favorite records of all time, Automatic for the People and Us, respectively. But I was looking for something else, something in that place that Pink Floyd, Genesis and the other Prog rockers filled.  I never really gravitated toward Yes or Emerson Lake and Palmer or any many of the other Progressive acts.  I kinda sorta liked Rush, but they always seemed a little too earnest, too dour.  Rush and many of the Prog bands just seemed to take themselves way too seriously.  I don’t think anyone would say that Phish took or takes themselves seriously.

More importantly, at least to me, Rift was new.  It had just come out earlier that year and the guys in the band were basically my age.  Phish was band that, at least in the studio, was making music that I would want to make if I had any musical talent whatsoever. I was sure that more was to come.  I just didn’t know how much nor what it would be like.  I finally felt like I was pretty close to the ground floor of following a band.*  I couldn’t wait for the next step.  Almost twenty years on, I’m still anxious and excited for that next stop.

*I found out later that I was part of the cohort of fans, coming in with the release and tour for Hoist, that was going to ruin the band and the scene.  That is a different story for a different time.

Write What You Know

I always felt that the title of this post was the worst piece of advice ever given.  What if I want to write science fiction? or fantasy? or noir detective stuff?  I don’t “know” any of those things, but I like those things and might want to try my hand at them at some point.  Even more, writing what I know seems particularly boring.  I’m a middle-aged, over-educated, slightly overweight white dude.  I don’t want to read anything about that, let alone write about it.  And while my dissertation hit pretty close to the mark (it’s about AA, I’m in AA, you get the picture) much of what I wrote, including my master’s thesis, (it was about Negro League Baseball) had very little to do with what I know.

In the last couple of weeks though, I had a few realizations.  I finished up a blog and just thought, “that was fun.” I sometimes forget that, that this is for fun, blogs in particular, writing in general.  More to the point, or writing what I know, it’s probably better to say writing how I know.  I’ve done a ton of academic writing.  I’m not sure how particularly good or bad any of it is, but it is what I know, and it can be fun too, especially when I’m starting on something new.  Which was another realization.  I’m at the very least, proficient at reading information and synthesizing it into a coherent work.  That is how I write.  That is what I know.

Thinking of this, writing how I know how to write, has led me to a new project.  It is slow going so far, but it is going.  I’m making progress on something that has been in my brain for at least seven years.  How am I measuring progress? Through research, by the notes I’m making in margins, by the questions that keep popping up as I continue.  The great part, I mean like super-duper great, is that this isn’t for an academic audience, this new project, far from it.  I don’t need to dig into loads of sources, take research trips, and especially have it reviewed by anyone.  Eventually, if I finish, it will get read and reviewed and probably critiqued pretty harshly.  That’s ok, I’ll be moving on to the next project.

After all of these years, of believing that academic writing and other writing were related only by time at a key board, I’ve finally figured out that isn’t the case at all.  I like to write.  I do it best in a particular way.  When blogging, the source material happens all around me; Phish, running, baseball and the list goes on.  I’ve always wanted to write longer stuff too, and didn’t realize until now (a little late) that I’ve been doing it for a long time already.  Now, going forward, I don’t have a grade to get, a committee to please, or any real academic goals.  I can, oddly enough, move along at a faster rate, but still at my own pace, which is pretty slow.  My goal is simply to enjoy it.  I tend to enjoy things more when I finish my goals.  Whether or not it is a “success” isn’t a huge concern.  It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but research and writing is where I’m happiest.  I knew all this education was good for something.

It's what I know
It’s what I know

Blog Update:  You may have noticed a thing or two is different over here.  I finally figured out how to change my background, instead of that blue background.  I also went through the links I have listed and took out quite a few.  I hadn’t checked in on a lot of those sites, so it wasn’t a surprise to find out some were gone, might as well be gone or require a login now.  As of now I’ve kept the few celebrity blogs I still read, but honestly I think they will be the next to go.  Neil Gaiman and Joe Posnanski don’t need links from me.  I’d rather link to folks that might not be on the radar.  Also, if ChicagoNow is any indication, the best way to build a blog following is to follow and interact with other bloggers.  Finally, I changed my tag line too.  Pretty much all of my sports content has moved over to ChicagoNow at Sox and Stuff.  Feel free to stop on by.

What is the Point of Writing? A Navel Gazing Blog.

We interrupt the reviews and such for a bit of an introspective blog.  What can I say? The recent blogs between here and the ChicagoNow stuff have definitely been more of the reporting/observing nature. Nothing wrong with that to be sure, I enjoy it quite a bit.  That isn’t all that blogging is about, at least for me.

I may imagine being a cultural critic and fantasize about filling the vacancy left by Studs Turkell, but the truth of it is, I’m not.  Writing will probably never pay a dime nor podcasting or a potential radio show currently in development (I always wanted to say that 🙂  Some of that comes down to talent, to be sure.  I’ve faced it, if I was good (and I don’t think I’m bad, mind you) I would have been discovered long ago.  In addition to that, I firmly believe, after reading and watching enough interviews with writers and other artists, one has to hustle, work at it, and keep working at it.  Um, yeah.  That just isn’t me.  I’m not adverse to work or working hard, but when that bleeds into self-promotion I find it excruciating.  I just watch some of my fellow bloggers over at ChicagoNow and am simply amazed.  Some of those are just relentless in getting their names and work out there.  There are many adjectives to describe me, relentless probably isn’t one.  To split that hair a little, it isn’t that I don’t finish or pursue things either, see PhD, marathon and the like.  I love the longue durée, and seeing projects of weeks, months, years come to fruition.  It is that…sales aspect I just don’t have.

Deep down, it is lack of confidence.  After the thousands of words I’ve written, with some great praise and wonderful feedback (thanks everybody!) I don’t believe enough in my own work to promote it.  I’ve haltingly put my stuff out there, drips and drabs of things, mostly academic writing.  It wasn’t so much the rejection; I was expecting that.  It was so much the futility of submitting something either, but rather the lack of satisfaction with the whole process.  Honestly, ever since I’ve put pen to paper and finished something, I feel good.  I hated editing in the past, but the dissertation pretty much cured me of that.  Editing and proofing isn’t so bad.  I don’t do it a lot for the blogs (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) but I don’t feel like my thoughts are complete as is, take it or leave it.  I think it comes down to the aforementioned lack of confidence and the overall lack of interest I have in the process, if that makes sense.  Don’t get me wrong getting some things published would be great but I won’t get much more personally, emotionally if it were to happen.  I’ve pretty much got to a place where I like writing, I like that it is out there for anyone to see and it is a relatively easy to accomplish those things.  Why bang my head against the wall if I’m otherwise feeling pretty good?

To answer my own question, it would be friggin’ cool to get paid to write.  I would love to sit in my office all day and blog, blog, blog.  That is a bit of the rub though isn’t it?  The truly successful blogs are those that are very focused, one key topic or genre of material like sports or motherhood or just about anything.  A dedicated blog to fishing lures is going to find its audience.  Another knock against me I suppose.  I write about a lot of things all interesting to me.  I am not the one stop for anything in particular.  My dilettante nature pretty much assures that I will never make many inroads in the business side of blogs.  Seriously, I’m just some dude writing about shit I like, not exactly a great selling point.  The real truth: anyone can, and many people do, exactly what I’m doing now.

If you’ve made it this far in this extreme navel gazing regarding my lack of desire, drive and focus when it comes to writing.  Oddly, I feel better than when I started and it makes me want to start something…long.