Tag Archives: The Writer’s Life

Funding the MFA: A New Approach

25 year-old Denis wants to attend the MFA program at Hollins in the fall, but can’t afford to go. Sound familiar? Denis’s solution, though, is new. He decided to do some internet fundraising. He writes on his blog:

Instead of asking people to loan me money for school, I’m now asking them to simply give me money. To that extent, I’ve created a fundraising page on fundable, and if you can spare $10, please pledge towards my goal. Since I can’t get a loan and there is no way my parents can pay my tuition, I’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

You can check out his fundraising site directly here. At time of writing, Denis only had $10 in contributions. Is this because his campaign is brand new (launched 7/13/09) or because there’s a recession on, or because this idea simply isn’t going to work?

There’s also this article, over at Publisher’s Weekly, about writer and blogger Dianna Zandt, who, after signing a deal for her first book that provided no advance, decided to “crowdfund” the money she needed to write over the summer. It helps that her topic is “…writing about the power of social media to shift perceptions and cultural values.” She’s been pretty successful so far, it seems – you can read her thoughts and feedback on the process (plus tips for others who are considering going the the same route) here.

What do you think? Are Denis and Deanna smart to try this approach? Is their initiative laudable? Do their requests for funds seem justified to you? And is this a sign of things to come?

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Something Naturally and Abruptly Crawls In

Or: Why Daydreaming is Good for Your Writing Life.

This interesting article from the Wall Street Journal should make anyone (like me, for example) who seems to spend hours in unfocused thought feel a little better. A couple of quotes:

…our brain may be most actively engaged when our mind is wandering and we’ve actually lost track of our thoughts, a new brain-scanning study suggests.

And:

By most measures, we spend about a third of our time daydreaming, yet our brain is unusually active during these seemingly idle moments. Left to its own devices, our brain activates several areas associated with complex problem solving, which researchers had previously assumed were dormant during daydreams. Moreover, it appears to be the only time these areas work in unison.

A third? If all is going well, I’ll spend longer daydreaming than that, mate. There’s nothing like a good daydreaming session to make me feel productive. The brain mechanisms that this article talks about might also be the reason that I get great writing ideas when I run. As I’m plodding round the park, sometimes, admittedly, I’m listening to 1980s rave tunes and reliving my clubbing days. But other times, my mind enters a fugue state and, well, I just realize something. That scene I have been stuck on, about my grandmother? It’s really about my father. Aha. Of course.

Haruki Murakami, a novelist I admire, is also a runner, and his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, contains his own treatise on why running is good for the writer’s life. In this quote from an interview on the Runner’s World website, he seems to describe the same experience that I have had, and that the researchers in the Wall Street Journal article are talking about. Murakami says:

I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometimes. That might become an idea that can help me with my writing.

Our next challenge is to pay attention to that thing that has crawled in. Write it down. Follow where it leads.

The Tubes

That’s where the publishing industry is going, apparently. As in, down. Way, way down. Deep into them there tubes.

Massive lay-off and some resignations, and entire trade divisions being wiped out. As gloomy as this might seem — especially for young writers, signing up for MFA programs and laboring over yet-to-be-sold first books — you can be sure of one thing: The human need for story will never diminish. How people buy and consume those stories, though, is likely to change, perhaps beyond recognition. This metamorphosis is going to be painful (what metamorphosis isn’t?) but whatever emerges might well be stronger, more efficient and actually better for writers.

In the meantime, information is power, people! KNOW what you are getting into. Be informed. To that end, here’s a helpful links round up. All hail the death of book publishing as we know it!

Read Galley Cat for breaking news. In particular here, here and here.

Things are not much better in the UK, in case you were wondering.

The Times weighs in, with some good common sense, about what new technologies mean for the demise — or not — of the book.

Booksquare has their own, ballsy take on the situation.

Then, if you really want to shock yourself, read this:

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Bloggers as Literary King-Makers

Adam Kirsch, writing in Poetry, about the writer Keith Gessen:

The author had claimed recognition, the critics wanted to deny it—it was as simple and passionate as that. Inadvertently, they had exposed literature for what at bottom it really is—a power struggle.

It’s a thoughtful article. Check it out here to read more. And here, on the VQR’s blog, is Jacob Silverman’s response.

You could draw all kind of conclusions from these two mini-essays, but the thing I’m thinking about is: blog — friend or foe to the serious writer? There are quite a few well-respected, high-profile writers who blog. I’m thinking of Jennifer Weiner. And Mark Sarvas, And…um…yeah, I know, I said “quite a few” and “well-respected” and “high-profile”…um…hang on, there must be more…er…

Anyone have any suggestions?

And while the two I have referenced happen to have blogs I actually like, I’m searching here. Obviously the truly high-profile — your Philip Roths and your Maya Angelous — are way too busy, you know, creating art to blog up a storm, which brings me back to my original question now restated as: is blogging good for writers or an evil time suck and distraction from the real work. Opinions, please.

Sarah Palin Is Ruining My Writing Career

It’s true. I can’t get anything done while there are more Sarah Pain videos out there for me to laugh at. It used to be that my first stops on the internet were literary: maybe Papercuts, followed by The Guardian books section, followed by, say, The New York Review Of Books. Now it’s straight to Wonkette and the HuffPo.

It seems I am not alone. This week, someone writing under the pseudonym “Stumped” sends this complaint to Cary Tennis, Salon’s advice guru and creative coach:

I am taking a creative nonfiction writing course, and I’m supposed to be working on a piece about what I ate for breakfast. The problem is, every time I sit down at the computer to work, I start compulsively reading the election coverage online, sometimes spending two hours or more on variations on the same five articles. I am ashamed of my lack of self-control in this area.

I hear that. I’d find it tricky to write about what I had for breakfast too (two slices of multigrain toast with hard boiled egg, in case you were wondering). More to the point, I am ashamed by my lack of self-control in the internet area also. I have watched that clip of Palin’s interview with Katie Couric, the one which shows her stammering about the economy, fifty sixmany times. That should be enough. Alas, it is not.

“Stumped” has other problems too, though, including what sounds like an over achievement complex combined with some self esteem issues, and Cary’s full response is all over the place, accordingly, while never failing to be encouraging and supportive, which is one of the things I like about him.

My one critique is that he kind of skips over the essential point — a lesson that is essential for all writers. Here it is:

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Juicy Links. And the End of Book Publishing as We Know It.

Why hello! Thanks for visiting. You are looking great, by the way. Younger every time I see you.

I’d like to serve up, today, some luscious literary links.

First up, David Gessner, in the New York Times magazine, on what it’s really like to be an MFA writing professor. Times have changed since his day:

I attended graduate school at the University of Colorado in the early 1990s, and only one professor there ever learned my name; the rest, most of whom were granted their positions in the 1960s after the publication of a chapbook or two, approached their jobs with all the liveliness and enthusiasm of members of the Politburo. Iowa, of course, set the standard for the genius approach to writing in which the great man or woman allows the eager young to gather round, where they are to learn by osmosis.

Gessner teaches at UNC-Wilmington, in case you are interested. At the end of the piece, Gessner worries that he might be intentionally sabotaging his teaching career by publishing his thoughts about it, especially a few weeks before he goes up for tenure. But if I were applying for nonfiction programs right now, his essay would make me add Wilmington to my list, if it wasn’t already on there.  Just so you know, tenure committee.

Then there’s New York magazine on the end of book publishing as we know it. Cheery!

Lately, the whole, hoary concept of paying writers advances against royalties has come under question. Following their down payments to authors, publishers don’t have to pay a cent in royalties, which are usually 15 percent of the hardcover price, 7.5 for paperbacks, until that signing bonus is earned back. The system is supposed to be mutually beneficial; the publishers guarantee writers a certain income, and then both parties share in the proceeds beyond that level. But it only works for publishers if they’re conservative in their expectations. As auctions over hot books have grown more frequent, prudence has gone out the window— paying a $1 million advance to a 26-year-old first-time novelist becomes a public-relations gambit as much as an investment in that writer’s future.

That money has to come from somewhere, so publishers have cracked down on their non-star writers. The advances you don’t hear about have been dropping precipitously. For every Pretty Young Debut Novelist who snags that seven-figure prize, ten solid literary novelists have seen advances slashed for their third books.

That’s it! It’s all Jonathan Safran Foer’s fault!

Finally, Wired magazine is blogging the development of one of their stories, from the pitch to the “get” to the copy edit, with all the emails in between. It’s a great primer for anyone interested in the actual process an idea goes through to wind up on the pages of a mainstream magazine. Read it here.

Man Booker Prize: Not About Literary Value?

Like every other book blogger in the Western Hemisphere, I’m here today to chew over the Man Booker Prize shortlist, announced yesterday. Here it is:

Aravind Adiga — The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry — The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh — Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant — The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher — The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz —  A Fraction of the Whole

Two first time novelists, one woman, and no Rushdie.

The two first-timers, Aravind Adiga and Steve Toltz, are currently getting the best odds, though how the bookies calculate these things I have no idea. Here’s a link to The Guardian’scondensed read” version of the books. And here’s an absolutely fascinating article, also from The Guardian, in which Man Booker judges from previous years talk about their experiences. Warning, folks: It ain’t pretty.

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