Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Past, the Present, the Future: the Writer Described

It's a great a scene. It's not uncommon, no, rather, you've probably been cast in this scene too. It's a holiday party. People are everywhere. They all have ugly holiday sweaters and wearing them proudly. If this scene should take place elsewhere in the English speaking world it's exactly the same except people are wearing “jumpers”. Somewhere between the kitchen table and the back door, you run into a group of three or four people. It's four. One is your mother or aunt or grandma. We'll call her MAG. Next to her is a cousin, an unknown cousin, we'll call this one SUC. Then there are the other two, simply called TOT. You have never seen TOT before. You could be related to them, you just don't know. All you really wanted was a cup of mulled wine, and now you wish it was a tumbler of vodka. When you're stopped, you realize that you don't even know these people. Sure, you share genetic material, but the same can be said about you and a banana. Then scene begins:

MAG: Oh, you all know [Insert your name here]. You know [Insert your name here] is a writer.
TOT: Oh? Like a reporter?
[Insert your name here] : (Journalist? Those days are over.) No. Not really.
SUC: Writer? (said with confusion and disdain.)
TOT: What do you write?
(The question of the hour)
[Insert your name here] : Novels.
SUC: What are they about?
(This is really is the question of the hour. Why do you have to explain this over and over and over and over again?)
[Insert your name here] : Death and destruction, robbing people, oh, oh, oh, what's that called when you fuck around on your wife?
MAG: Adultery.
[Insert your name here] : Right. And adultery. But at the heart of it, I like to write love stories.
TOT: Oh?
[Insert your name here] : Yup. Well, happy holidays. (Exit stage left, glass of mulled wine raised in a toast.)

Does this ever happen to you? My parents are older, they believe a young man should go out and get a job. They think a young man with college degrees should be making tons of money. They think a short story published in a small magazine is a paycheck. I know it's up to me to tell the family how I want to treated and it's up to me to explain the ways of the writer's life. But I don't care. It's family and even if they don't get it, they should love me anyway, and if not, they should love me because I was once a cute little boy. Right?
Then there are the other people. You share genetic material with them too, more than a banana but less than your family. These people may know a thing or two about writing or art or academia. These people are possibly peers, colleagues, potential employers or publishers. These people may still wear ugly sweaters (jumpers) and they may still ask you what you're writing. Death, dismemberment, adultery and thieving although fun, may not be what you want to tell them.
You will probably want to tell them something more favorable.
This post can probably help you with this conversation, and possibly with the conversation with the family too.
We can break this up in three parts: the past, the present and the future. Sounds like my beginning, middle and end I'm always on about. I digress.
The past: consider building a Curriculum Vitae commonly called the CV. I say it's the past because it is a concise record of what you've done. There are ten thousand articles about this subject. Sufficiently said: keep yours simple, and showcase your best work. Since we're writers here, let's focus on that. Education, publication and current projects are the most important. If you teach, add that. I added my acting experience (it's limited, yes) because I write screenplays. Wanna see mine? Spend your time with it and add anything you think is pertinent. This will focus what you have done if not for others than for you.

The present comes next. What are you doing now? We're standing next to one another at the punch bowl and I'm asking: “What are you doing now?” This is your opportunity to tell me and everyone else in a tangible way. There are a few ways to do this is a concise way. Keeping a public blog, working a press or magazine or teaching are real showcase things to say. Mention forthcoming publications. Handing someone a card with your personal website or blog address listed will be a tactile reminder. Adding a hotlink to either of these things as a signature at the bottom of each email you send works too. These are great ways to share the present. If you are not working, you may consider carefully what you share. I mean, if you tell someone you're a writer and you had one publication in 1992 and you haven't written anything since, this approach won't work. If you're actively adding publications to you CV and you write a blog or whatever, let people know: “here's my website, I write a weekly column about canned spinach.”

And the future? Well, this may not be for others to see or know. But whatever you want to be, don't hesitate to tell people: your peers, colleagues; employers, readers or parents. You never know when one of them may be able to help. Think of this “future” as self promotion. Get involved, community projects, or build a community. If you have a personal mission statement and that is the goal, consider that the future.

Next year at the ugly sweater holiday party when you get interrupted by that gang of four, you won't be so unaware. You will hand them your card with all the entreaties and information. You'll say: “I'm doing all kinds of things, writing, publishing, teaching, blah, blah, blah. Check me out.”

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