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.


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.

Well, I Did Call it Lazy.

DON’T CALL IT A COME BACK! Ok, so it’s been awhile. What can I say? I’ve been busy. Nothing too crazy, but I’ve really put in an effort toward the dissertation and progress is slow, but there is definitely movement. It may not seem like much, but I think about the dissertation daily and have put in work almost every day for a month. I wish the amount of work that I’ve put in every day was enough to move the needle further, but as it goes it looks something like this: A huge chapter has been split in two, one of which is completely formatted and done. The other half of mega-chapter is almost done, but I’ll double back to that as soon as I am able. The World War II chapter is almost done, basically I’m bolstering my secondary sources and putting them into the chapter where appropriate. That process is much more tedious than I could have imagined, but it’s moving along. Finally, the last REAL chapter is on deck. My introduction and conclusion will need work, but I’m going with the advice give to a fellow advisee about the conclusion, short and to the point. All things considered, yes I hoped to be done sooner, but I swear I see the end. Of course I thought I would be done years sooner, but that is another story for another time, like never. Honestly, I can’t say I would change anything, the things that slowed my progress down anyway. I’ve been very active in my kids’ lives, I’m working at a job I truly enjoy and I’ve done a number of fun things that, on the balance of things were worthwhile and healthy. Anyway, it is going to happen.

Speaking of the job, probably the biggest surprise that I’ve encountered while working as an advisor is that I really like what I’m doing. I get to have interaction with students, help them, in a way teach them and best of all build relationships with them. The number isn’t great, but there are a few alumni who stay in touch, who I’m getting to see continue on and I feel, in a very, very small way that I helped them achieve their goals. It is a pretty good lot. If I could make one change, one addition, I’d be teaching at least one class a term. That would truly be the icing on an already pretty good cake.

Finally, I have been working on the blog, just behind the scenes. After the summer and the White Sox blogging, a break was inevitable I’m afraid. Having that deadline that impetus to writing something one a regular basis was great for output, but when it was all over I really wasn’t in the mood. Anyway, I feel like I owe my loyal dozen of committed readers a White Sox wrap up, which I kind of already started with my friend AJD. After that I’ve got something Phishy in the works, again something that I actually have been sorta kinda working on and finally before spring training and the turtle’s roar, I’ve got a really fun project for the White Sox again, enough to keep me going anyway.

Closing Time Part Two

A few more old posts from an old blog, circa 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

one small step…
Just heard back from one of the other readers of my diss., and a provisional greenlight was given. Yikes! I was expecting to go through a whole new give and take process. So much for being able to blame aloof and out of touch academics for slowing me down. Only one person to blame for not getting the work done, me. That sucks, I’m not keen on responsibility…

Current mood: bouncy
Still feeling the positive effects of a successful conference in Baltimore. While only having three people in the audience is a little disheartening, it was nice that one person came specifically to hear my presentation. Yippee ..1! I also held my own with full faculty members from a selection of Universities, even out performed a few, though the bar was pretty low if we go by the worst performance. Yippee ..2! Finally, found out from a faculty member here at LUC that we attended regional conferences of the same organization. Feels good to know that I’m working on something that can get accepted at a pretty high level. I know, I know, getting a paper into a conference isn’t exactly a challenge, but hey it is something. No more travel though. It just isn’t worth the headache and time away from the family. I’ll stay local. Back to work, feeling good…

A break? not so fast…
Current mood: optimistic
It has been a great couple of weeks as far as getting work done. Really was hitting the bricks as it were, and as my shrink recommended, I had all these great plans for a week off. Maybe see a movie, go to my work cafe and just read trash for a day or two, buy a soccer jersey. Except my plans did not take into account a sick 3 year old. Usually, he’s sick for a day, and back at it. Not this time, the boy just can’t get over this, what ever this is. The doc says its just a virus, but man the little guy just can’t break his fever. So my week off has been at home, taking care of the boy. Even a semester ago, I would have said “well, looks like I’m taking another week off.” But that thinking leads to two weeks off, before I know it, I haven’t done jack shit for 3 months. Nope, this wasn’t the week I had planned, but it still is my week away from the grind. Monday, back to it, child’s sickness is no excuse to lurch into a months long break…

getting down to business
Current mood: accomplished
So, the chapter, draft, whatever is finished. I hit some high notes, and some of it is, in a word, crap. As long as their is enough silver to make a presentation on Sunday, then I’m okay until November. i’m not nervous about the presentation just yet, but I haven’t read the paper yet either. I could go through my draft and think “wow! this sucks!” and that will cause some problems. After the presentation, I don’t know what to do next, keep working on this chapter, make it stronger, and more sources, examples etc. or move to the next chapter, keep drafting new stuff and edit as I go? I’ll figure it out sometime next month…

Trey at the Vic
Current mood: cheerful
Okay, the way to go to a concert is with low expectations and a low stress level. The last time I saw Trey Anastasio, I had horrible seats, just failed part of my comp exams, and was hoping a jammy, phishy-style show would boost my spirits. It didn’t. Instead, I sat there, obsessing over my failed exam and what the hell was I going to do if I failed the retake. Fast forward to 10/19/06. Exams are history (ooh, bad pun) and life is good. I didn’t expect much from the show, and was of course blown away. Part of it is definitely from the intamacy of the Vic, but also Trey was REALLY into the show as well. I’ve seen Trey 4 times and Phish 40 and I’ve never seen him quite so enthusiastic, considering it wasn’t a “special” show. (i.e. NYE, halloween, a festival) I’ve thought all along that Phish would be back together in 10 years, now I’m not so sure. The last couple of Phish shows I saw were good, but looking back the joy wasn’t there like it had been say in 1994, when Phish was still playing venues like the Vic. I still think that Trey and Co. will get back together, maybe it’s wishful thinking. Some of the jams produced were on par with Phish on their best night, but the magic of a great segue, or a quick shift that comes from playing together 20+ years wasn’t there. Trey might miss that magic in time. Maybe so, maybe not…

My Awesome wife
Current mood: grateful
Just had a great conversation with my wife, if you haven’t guessed is the stunning woman in the id picture. What made this conversation so great was that we talked about my dissertation for a good 20-30 minutes and she helped me to flesh out some ideas. I know according to some writing guides, talking things out is a bad idea, but I’ve always found that once I’m in the middle of something, I go through vicious mood swings. One minute I think I’ve written something brilliant, the next that I, along with what I’ve written is a piece of crap. So, having a sounding board, who isn’t just indulgent, but is genuinely interested in what I’m working on is an incredible asset to me and my work. BLK not only listens, but asks good questions and gets me to think about what I’m working on in a different way, usually a different perspective than what a fellow historian might say. Like I said, awesome.

slow and steady
Current mood: tired
A very busy weekend, but still managed to get some work done, not a lot, but still, work is work at this point. Unfortunately, no time to celebrate, more work to do! It was nice to have a little time alone with my wife, but I’m ready for my kids to get home. Mornings have been all out of sorts these last two days. Without them, there is no reason to rush through the morning, instead I kind of walk around confused for fifteen minutes. I think normal is better for writing…

Well, now!
Current mood: chipper
Okay, back to it! the proposal is finished (again!) and off to various proofreading folks. One big step for the month down, one more to go. In some ways easier, in some ways harder. I have to write a new chapter/presentation for a conference. Easier, in that I can just sit and write and get it all out. I’m not a big fan of editing, then re-editing, etc. For people like me this is the worst part of the process. I would imagine that this aspect of the thesis/dissertation adventure claims a fair amount of victims as well. It is harder to start a new project in that I have so little time to celebrate the small victory. Big victory party when the conference is over!

Closing Time, part one.

I’m finally getting around to closing my Myspace account and I remembered, “I had a blog here!” I feel like I’m reissuing my back catalog as opposed to actually recording any new material. Either way, here are some tidbits from 2006.

Crappy writing…
Current mood: busy
Is still writing, by god! just spent my morning shift slogging through temperance historiography, and let me tell you it is pretty bad stuff. But to use a trite aphorism, “I can fix a crappy page, but I can’t fix a blank page”; and as the ultimate goal “a good dissertation is a finished dissertation.” To be completely honest, just getting thoughts on to paper is always a great feeling, no matter how ill-formed they are. “Keep Moving!” cried Lt. Winters…
11:28 AM
Thursday, October 05, 2006

What is going on…
Current mood: anxious
Category: School, College, Greek
truth to tell, a lot is going on, really. Parenting is exciting, maybe I’ll post about that another time. What is on my mind, and what I imagine this blog will mostly be about, is work. I’m currently getting my Phd at Loyola University-Chicago. I’m in the final stages, working on the disseration. The best way to describe what is going on is to compare my experience with a scene from Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. In both scenes, soldiers are huddled behind protection of some sort, and their commander is telling them to keep moving. If they don’t move, the soldiers will die, but they are safe at the moment, so moving seems like a bad idea. I feel like those soldiers, scared to death to make a move, yet if I don’t “keep moving” eventually, I’ll never get moving and I’ll never finish. That is more frightening that submitting my proposal (again) and getting it rejected (again). All I can do is keep moving…

White Sox Recap: A Perfunctory Post

What can I say I’m behind the times. I missed the entire road trip after the 11 game winning streak. I was busy and out of town for pretty much the entire week. Of course, my worst fears were realized with the White Sox losing two of three to the Royals (who are currently leading the majors in team batting average!) and then played so well against Texas, one of the hottest teams going right now, taking two of three right back making it an even steven road trip at 3-3. In that time my deadline for giving up on the season has come and gone and I’d like to pick over what I said needed to happen and compare it to what actually happened, but I’ll save that for the All-Star break. So, I’m not going back over the recaps and box scores, the Sox had an ok trip, I missed it. Sue me, it is called Kaufmak’s Lazy Blog, after all.