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Cheating Art

July 1, 2011

Writing is a business. In order to make a living with your art, you have to sell a book. Unlike music, it can’t be heard. Unlike a painting, drawing, or sculpture, you can’t see it. (Yes, smart ass, you can see a book but you know what I mean.) An actor’s work can be seen and heard, but unless a writer can make someone pick up their book and read it, the book is useless -- useless to the masses and useless to the writer.

Yes, you can slap your story or book up on the Internet for the whole world to see. Or you can go to a vanity press and have your book printed and hand them out on the street corner, but this will neither make you feel like a successful writer or pay your bills.

The book market has been crap, and dealing with the New York publishing wheel has always been hard for free spirits and people who are not from that part of the world. New York publishers want people to all write in the same box and G-d help you if they can’t shove you into that box.

I used to say I was not some artsy fartsy writer who had to create just what I wanted to create, but it turns out that’s exactly who I am.

I have been majorly screwed over by a great many people in this business, but they can’t be held accountable, because if I tell the truth anytime something has turned out to be a real bitch -- you know, a bottomless pit of my energy with no real capital gain -- I knew when I was doing it that it was a waste of my time.

The older you get, the madder you get when someone double talks you into doing something that wastes a huge chunk of your energy and time. My energy is no longer boundless:  I don’t have much to spare. And as for time, well, the older you get the less of that you have.

I’m 51. Everyone is pulling me in different directions all the time like I’m a huge deranged Gumby. Anything that eats copious amounts of my time takes me away from 50 other things I could do that need to be done -- forget about things like leisure time and a social life.

I am now three months behind, and I have been now waiting three months to be paid the second half of a piddly-assed amount of money I was supposed to make when a project got turned in. Well, that project has been turned in, and I have since learned that there is no future for me with this project. Since I wasted my talent and six months of my life on it and I don’t make any royalties on the project, I just want the rest of the money the contract says I will get. Then I’ll chalk it up to yet one more lesson I have learned.

At 51 and after 30 years in this business, I should not be learning new lessons. I should be smart enough to know when I’m being taken for a ride. The problem is that often people you are talking to really believe the crap that comes out of their mouths. They don’t mean to screw you over -- it just happens.

I’d say my career has had a lot of highs and lows, but that would be a lie. My career has seen a lot of lows and then some mediocre spikes. So when someone approached me to do a book -- even though it’s a work for hire -- I took it. I wanted to believe it was going to do great things for my once-again-sagging career. I wanted to believe that there was a great future in this. I gave it my all and, even though the process was painful, I kept going because by G-d this might just pay the bills. I wrote a good book that the editor hated, so I did a complete rewrite and got a great book. Then they made me do two more rewrites -- neither of which in my opinion helped the book at all -- and then they gutted the entire book, ripping anything really funny right out of it, supposedly to suit the audience.

Not MY audience, but someone else’s audience, because of course MY audience is too small to consider.

It’s my fault -- all my fault -- because if I’ve learned one thing in this business it’s that no one ever tells you everything you need to know. And it’s all my fault because I know better than to cheat art to make money.

Cheating art may work for other people, but it has just never worked for me. Maybe it’s the universe talking to me, or maybe it’s just that writers should never write something just for the money.

Some people have great careers and the do well just writing exactly what they’re told to write. It’s not easy to do work for hire: basically, you are asked to leave your soul at the door, take yourself completely out of the work, and then bring yourself back into it -- but not too much. Writing with a bunch of rules about what you can and can not do with characters and a world doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for freedom of expression.

Some people who do work for hire actually enjoy the structure of it and the process.

Me? Well, I’m one of those people who wants to be left alone to write what I want to write. You let me write just exactly what I want to write, and it’s going to be brilliant. It may not be for everyone. It may not be marketable. But by G-d, it WILL be brilliant.

The problem for the artist in all of us is that the boys at the top don’t know how to market different. If they can’t stick you and your work into a box and put a label on it, then they simply have no idea how they to sell your book. They need to be able to slap a similar cover and blurb to the other 40 cookie-cutter books they have lined up in Walmart to get you enough sales to make it worth it for them to buy your next book.

We live in a packaged-for-the-masses world. They make laws to keep us all the same. They punish children for acting different. There are too many of us, and it’s just flat plain easier to control people who are all the same.

But isn’t art by its vary nature supposed to make you feel differently? Does anyone want to read a book about someone whose life is so much like theirs that they could have written it themselves? We want to see ourselves in the book, but we don’t want it to be about us. We know what our lives are. The idea is to experience, through someone else’s words, something different.

There ought to be a way to make money writing. There ought to be a way for writers to make money writing without constantly getting the shit screwed out of them by someone who insists the writer is only worth a couple of thousand bucks when the guys who sit in the middle and punt are worth millions.

The writer does the work and then sits and waits for their pay and everyone else has their hand out waiting to take the lion’s share before the writer ever sees a dime.

But I’m not bitter.

I’ve been kicking myself ever since I found out there was no future for me with this project, because I should have seen it coming and I just didn’t. Over and over as I was told to do one rewrite after another, I was told do a good job and down the road it will turn into money. I think they believed that it would. I have no one to blame but myself, and those are the things that always kick your ass the worse.

My father always used to say, “You’ll never get hurt as bad as you will doing something you knew you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.”

But I did and here’s the thing about having no one to blame but yourself: You just feel stupid. I know better. Yes, times are desperate, and yes, desperate times call for desperate measures. But I knew from the very beginning in my gut that this wasn’t going to work out for me, and there were signs all along the way, but I just kept plugging along. Why? Because I had Hope -- hope that somehow, this time, things were going to work out for me, and I’d be able to bring in some real money doing something I love doing which is writing.

But wait -- I don’t actually LIKE writing in a box. I prefer to be free to tell the story I want to tell, when I want to tell it, how I want to tell it. So maybe this worked out after all because now I don’t have to write any more of those books.

Selina

If you enjoy these bitches, please contact Selina directly at selinarosen@cox.net. Thanks!

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