What the actual reality looks like from here
They are sitting on their parchment, fat white circles with a neat hole punched through each with my thumb a few minutes ago. Six of them, slowly rising as yeast cells multiply inside their gluten skins. In thirty minutes or so they will get a swim in sweetened boiling water for a minute or two and then a nice 400 degree tanning session in the oven, and I will have bagels.
Why I decided to make bagels midday when I have a pile of well paying work is a classic writer question. I might answer it’s cold outside, or I answered that complicated email from the Polish software company, or I’m irritated a tiny bit by a German software company wanting me to invoice them via PayPal which I hate, sort of. Or it could be a looming battle with Wordpress that I’ve been studiously avoiding for several days with a meeting requiring me to have dealt with it happening tomorrow.
Or it could be the novella I just read that either intimidated me or encouraged me to get my five hundred daily words done on the current novel I’m hacking away at. So, since I’m sharing, I might as well talk about that for a minute while the oven heats up.
The commercial writing is blissfully predictable these days. Even those marketing pieces are just a relaxing interlude, not unlike poking holes in dough with your thumbs. But the novel is a different thing.
My character, Nella, started out being a damaged person making a new life in a strange city, after her husband committed suicide (drama!). We watched from our third person perspective, not unlike a camera on a drone, as she put her life back together in an altered state. Then we altered that state, by her occasionally breaking that fourth wall (or is it the third, I forget) and telling us something she is feeling or remembering. All very stylized and minimal. That was the first part. Then I got stuck.
But I came back to it because I thought it was good and I liked her, or so I thought. But I couldn’t see where it was going. Then the second part happened. She jumped in twenty years later and started talking about her life, that past, and was she the writer or the character? Very meta.
So now I have this woman in my head, strong personality, brighter than me (of course), telling a story that I never saw coming. Writing fiction is simply weird and that is absolutely the best thing about it. Not anything like a software blog post or baking bagels, both of which I like, one for the money and the other for the chewy goodness I’ll have tomorrow morning.
Interlude. Sorry, I needed to take a minute and get the water boiling for my bagels’ bath. I was writing about a writer’s life, one of those ‘day in the life of’ things. The reason I’m writing this today is that I was a little unkind in a comment this morning on a blog post from an excited young man writing about getting paid for a blog post and how he did it and is now an expert. I think what I really wanted to tell him, and many here, is to be careful. These things will come back to haunt you years later when you may read yourselves and cringe at what you thought you knew. Or the things you wrote to convince others that you know.
The really unfortunate but wonderful thing is that we don’t know. If we knew how writing worked it would be boring and become a job. It’s like my morning meditation that almost always starts out sucking, as my mind does everything it can to distract me with random itches and aches and things I really need to do right away. But then you stick with it and just follow your breath and it gets interesting. It always gets interesting if you hang in there. Writing is no different. Well, I can think of two times it isn’t.
When I wrote advertising copy, clever stuff, I really hated it. It was BS and when marketing got measurable, I quickly ditched that stuff. And technical writing- it’s not for me, writing manuals and procedures. Fortunately there are people who like this kind of thing. Not me.
Ok, they’re in the oven and I have instructed Alexa to set a timer, about the only thing I use her for, if a disembodied voice in a plastic hockey puck can be a her. So, writing life. Here are a couple of words of wisdom:
- Those who don’t write are often in secret awe of it. You can capitalize on this, literally, because people will pay you to do something they seriously dread.
- Don’t outline fiction and don’t write backstories of characters. Why? Because discovering these things are the fun part. You’re doing this for fun, right? Because if you’re not you are missing out. Money aside, this is the real reward (yes, I’m a mercenary).
- If you’re writing for money, ask for more than you expect to get. At least double. Say it like this: my usual rate for this kind of thing is XX. Then shut your trap. You left an opening for negotiations but you’ll ruin it if you don’t wait for their response. Most of the time they will say, “that works”.
- The bullet point above is true and will turn you into a pro faster than anything else. People respect those who know what they are worth and they think you’re an idiot if you undersell yourself.
- Over deliver and always beat your deadline, but not by too much. Doing what you say, when you say you will, instantly makes you the first choice in any endeavor.
Enough wisdom. It gets old fast.
The reality is that sometimes you just have to go do something else like baking bagels. This week, every paying job seemed seemed to turn into two jobs, which is amazing and overwhelming. I had too many things in my head this morning. My usual thing is a long walk or a workout in the weight room at the gym, but we’re having a bit of winter today and baking made more sense. And it smells good too.
Welcome to my life.