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.

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

In Praise Of Anthony Trollope

I wish I could say I happened upon the example of Anthony Trollope all on my own, but I can’t. ¬†I first came across his name reading Stephen King’s book On Writing. The basic gist of Trollope’s story is that every morning from 5-8 or thereabouts, he would get up and write and then off to work for the post office of the United Kingdom. ¬†He is credited with creating the octagonal mailbox famous throughout Britain and he had quite a career rising up through the ranks of the service.
mailbox

He was also a very successful ¬†and prolific writer. ¬†He published over forty novels, numerous short stories, works of non-fiction and even articles for the magazines of the day. ¬†He was so productive that no matter what, he wrote every morning without fail, until it was time to go to work. ¬†As King recounts, if he finished a story within the writing window he’d type “the end” and immediately start the next one.

I have no designs on being as productive as Trollope. ¬†For the better part of his writing window, I’m trying to get children out of bed, off to school and then myself to work. ¬†I do, however, get to work early (like now!) and instead of popping open Twitter and my other news sources, I get to work.

Since the end of March until last week, pretty much every work day, I’ve written. ¬†The goal was three pages. ¬†I rarely made it over that number and I often fell below. ¬†However, I kept on working. ¬†The result? a 245 page screenplay. ¬†Yes, that is twice and then some the size that is recommended for a screenplay. ¬†I’ve got some serious editing to do. ¬†The feeling of accomplishment is striking though. ¬†Honestly, I didn’t think I would feel this…good. ¬†I fully realize that the odds of this project getting much further than a recycle bin in an office somewhere are unbelievably high. But it’s finished, at least the first draft and the odds of getting it made have improved greatly from when it was just an idea.

Of course something crazy like 95% of screenplays submitted get turned down, but during this break I get to dream a little. ¬†I can start casting roles, prepare my award acceptance speech, start budgeting the payment I’ll be receiving soon. ¬†Come the turn of the year and a return to the routine, I’ll be back to my routine, perhaps my least favorite part of the writing process, editing. ¬†But for now it’s a time to relax and celebrate both the holidays and my progress on this project. ¬†Oh, and give thanks to Anthony Trollope. I couldn’t have done it without you, Tony!

The Phish 52: A Jam A Week!

So, only three or so months after hatching the idea I’m finally getting around to trying my hand at discussing particular songs/jams performed by Phish. A few things you should know going forward:

  1. I have no actual background in music. I’m not a musicologist, musician or anything else related to the study or production of music. I know a few chords on a guitar and that’s about it. If you are looking for analysis of tonal changes, progression shifts and other such concepts, this series of blogs will be wholly inadequate.
  2. This is not a ranking. ¬†These are just particular moments in Phish time that I happen to like. I might compare one to another, but I won’t be rating anything. There are no grades in this exercise.
  3. This is an exercise. Like I said, not a trained music guy. I’m just writing what I hear as best as I can. Why? Well, because I’ve always felt intimidated by those that can review the music and really explain it well. So, I’m getting out of my comfort zone a little bit and hopefully improving at something that I’ve long envied and admired.
  4. This is a bit personal. I mean that in the sense that the selections come from my little slice of the Phish universe. Most of the songs reviewed here will be from shows I attended. ¬†There might be a personal note or two as well, We’ll see how it goes.
  5. This is a bit of a commitment. Yeah, kind of crazy, but I’d like to do this once a week. I’ve done a few things like this, but I don’t think for an entire year, so we’ll see.

So, that’s the plan. To those that follow me on twitter because of our mutual obsession, your feed back is most welcome and I have a feeling needed when I’m hard up for songs/jams to write about. For those of you that read my blog for other reasons…sorry. Feel free to move along.

I finally got my podcast working the way I’d like, so if you’d like to hear some US History presented in a lively, fun way, check it out! (warning! the first two episodes audio is not good, but by episode three, I got it!) Episode 18 is up! Get Your History On! Oh and you can get it on iTunes too!

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.

#Easterishere!

And that is that. Made it through Lent with my fasts mostly intact. ¬†I must admit I stumbled a few times, once when there was some awesome bread left over in the kitchenette and once on Twitter when a kerfuffle went down with a couple of my favorite radio hosts. ¬†As you might guess, I wasn’t particularly pleased with myself in either case, but overall, all areas were a good exercise. ¬†Did it strengthen or inform my faith? Not that much I suppose, but that might be asking a lot of the absence of Twitter and Facebook.

What I’ve found surprising a week or so back to social media is how low my threshold has become for stuff I don’t particularly want to read, especially on Twitter. Rejoining Twitter and baseball coming back coincided quite nicely, but when I signed in and started reading through my time line, there was a huge bitchfest going on regarding the strike zone, led mostly by Joe Sheehan. I get it, good calls, accuracy, blah, blah, blah. It was the first game of the year, can’t we just enjoy baseball for baseball? At some point the constant critique just becomes more noise to filter out. ¬†Which is what I did. I turned off my phone and just watched the game. No, I don’t think statistics have ruined the game, or Twitter is ruining the game. Nothing is ruining the game. Sometimes the over analysis is ruining the experience. ¬†What’s more, I really agree with Nick Hornby when he wrote:

I don’t want my children growing up in a world where refereeing mistakes have been eliminated. Kids have already spent too much time being told by broadcasters that professional sport is deadly serious, that the teams and players are at war. ¬†I grew up watching fat players and slow players whose first touch took it farther than I could kick it; I watched a lot of drunk players too…They’ve all gone now, and the game is, of course better for it, faster more athletic and more technically accomplished. But it really isn’t as funny and if we are denied the chance to see goals like the one Juan Mata didn’t score, it will be less funny still.

As far as Facebook goes, I’m pretty much where I was before Lent began. It’s nice to catch up with old friends and hear how family members are doing around the country. ¬†Other than that, I don’t do much on Facebook. I don’t take quizzes, rarely click on links, or play any games. ¬†I’ve seen the screeds from time to time of people getting pissed about being asked to play games. I’m not that committed to my Facebook feed. ¬†I just scroll on through.

Like the last few Lents, the practice of season has had a lasting impact. It has altered my behavior in a positive way. After 40 days, I’m pretty sure I’ll be spending less time on social media going forward. Does it translate to more spiritual and religious behavior? probably not. I have found however, (this week not included) that I’m more productive, especially when it comes to writing. While not religious per se I do feel that when I’m writing, really getting to it every day or so, I’m acting in accordance with God’s will. Writing is what lights my soul, it’s what I would do (and in fact do!) for no money. I’m not sure if this message is what was intended from Lent, but it’s a good lesson all the same. Happy Easter everybody!

 

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.