Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Way of the Writer

In feudal Japan, samurais were taught how to write poetry along with how to slice people in two and put an arrow through a neck. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying (and trying and trying) to hone my writing skills. I can’t help wondering if I shouldn’t have tried to pick up a little kendo on the side. Maybe it works both ways. Writing makes you a better warrior, warring makes you a better writer. I certainly think the way of the samurai might make a writer more mercenary. That could be helpful.

Ending my year-long book tour in Erie, Pennsylvania (the perfect choice. Everyone should finish his or her tour of anything in Erie. The place embodies the concept of ending.) I had the honor of sitting with acclaimed artist Charles Urbach and his wife for several hours at ErieCon. We ate pizza and drank Bawls energy drink (proud and appropriate sponsor) and couldn’t help but chat. We ripped through a number of interesting topics. Charles has had a splendid career doing illustrations for games like Magic, The Gathering and Star Wards Galaxies. He’s insightful, talented and making a living. That last part proved the most interesting to me.

Charles asked me how much the market directed my writing. In his business, artists are frequently asked to create something along the lines of someone else. In a particular style or with a certain feel. It is not art for art’s sake. It’s for a card or a box or a poster printed to lure buyers. It’s still art, though. He couldn’t really do it otherwise. He needs to find an angle of approach in each piece he’s asked to do, that intrigues him as an artist.

I, and I think a lot of writers, work the opposite way. I write what comes to me and hope I can find an audience for it. More or less. I’m not totally ignorant of market forces. I’m not enthralled by them, either. Nor can I make a living writing fiction, like Charles can. We all trade in frustration. Artists deal with clients who want the last big thing. Writers face audiences who fear new writers like the dark. Accountants face rules. Astronauts face gravity. Doctors face insurance companies. Insurance companies do whatever they want, they’re the exception.

Whether we’re dealing out frustration or sucking it up, our capacities determine our successes. I can’t help thinking, if I’d learned to attack, retreat, parry, thrust, riposte, I might have gained a little more control along the way. Control beats frustration. (Life beats control and frustration beats life, just so you know all the rules.)

And the bonus of bushido: You get to kick ass. Writers don’t get much of that from under the laptop.

1 comment:

  1. I suspect that a lot better books would be written if people wrote to their strengths and not what they thought people would buy. I used to think that the majority of writers wrote this way. I thought genre writers were very much a minority. Boy were my eyes opened when I came online and started to see what my peers were up to. I’m not a genre writer. I have aspirations to be a literary novelist. A part of me wishes I could write what people want to read but I find I have to write what I need to write and hope that it touches a chord with readers. My first two novels did even if they are basically unclassifiable but that also meant they never sold very well. I’ve just released them as ebooks and I’m hoping I might have some small success in this medium. Time will tell.