Synchronicity and our Stories

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Walk into the woods with an open mind. You'll be surprised at what you find there and how much it meets the needs of the stories you're telling.

Walk into the woods with an open mind. You’ll be surprised at what you find there and how much it meets the needs of the stories you’re telling.

We often notice how many things come in threes and how often seeing and noticing a thing (car make, idea, book) leads us to seeing it again soon.

I’ve often thought that where we focus our attention seems to enhance whatever it is we’re looking at and thinking about. So it is that whenever we begin to casually think about a story idea, we find ourselves stumbling over the ideas for scenes that will enhance the plot and characters that will be memorable after readers get to the last line.

Passion seems to fuel an interesting synchronicity throughout the research as well. One thing leads to another thing which leads to marvels that truly fit the story that we weren’t even looking for. The Internet and its links plays into this unfolding scavenger hunt for relevant facts, prospective locations, and the little details that can make or break a story.

Recently, a writer friend of mine told me about a call for submissions from an upcoming anthology of ghost stories about a city many miles away from there I live. The publisher wanted new paranormal stories that fit the city and its attractions and culture or new takes on legends and haunted places.

My first thought was to dismiss the idea out of hand. There was no way could fly or drive to that city and soak up its ambiance and turn my impressions into a story. But, if you’ll pardon the pun, the idea haunted me. An Internet search turned up a few ghostly legends that might possibly be brought forward into a current-day story. One legend kept drawing me into the facts and suppositions people had about it at the time it happened over a hundred years ago.

I kept saying I was just dabbling with the idea because, really, the anthology seemed best suited to people who lived in the city and who knew it well. Okay, maybe I could use Google’s maps and street view to see what the place looked like. Hmm, spooky. Then I stumbled across an author who’d written a book about the incident and who had been inside the house where it happened.

Oops, I just got hooked into submitting something. I have no idea whether the publisher will like it.* Either way, I had a good time watching characters, real-life facts, ghostly musings and plot ideas unfold before my eyes as though they had a mind of their own. Did the ghost herself lead me into her lair? Naah, stuff like that doesn’t happen. But the synchronicity behind the things an author becomes interested in is typical.

Another author recently said that whenever we choose to involve ourselves in a story, the universe aligns itself with us to help us tell the tale. I like that idea, and I find it works best if I don’t begin my dabbling with either an outline or a preliminary list of prospective characters.

These approaches may or may not be helpful later, but if they’re used too soon, they tend to restrict the incoming flow of information. How? Because the outline tends to limit the synchronicity to that which you include in the outline, leaving out the better ideas a writer could have used if s/he hadn’t made arbitrary decisions before the universe showed him what was possible.

I love discovering stories while I’m writing them.

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spiritsanthologyUpdate: That story, “Patience, I Presume,” was accepted for publication in the Rocking Horse Publishing anthology Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories.

This post, written last summer, is from the Magic Moments blog archive. Before I removed that blog from WordPress, I wanted to share a few of the entries.

Malcolm

If I were J. D. Salinger, I could sell all this stuff for millions

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“Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all; a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there.” – George Karlin, A Place for My Stuff Lyrics

paperstuffWriters tend to save paper stuff – books, magazines, newspapers, clippings, letters, certificates, notes, business cards, programs, photographs, greeting cards, postcards, legal papers, vintage business forms, brochures and guidebooks, old highway maps, maps of the world the way it was when they were born, grade school drawings and fake Confederate money from old Cheerios boxes.

I even saved my deed for an inch of land in the Klondike from out of a Quaker Oats box long after the Big Inch Land Company went out of business. I had big plans for that square inch.

There’s an unwritten rule about paper stuff: once you throw it away, you’ll need it.

I’ve thrown away a lot of stuff and then regretted in some years later when I needed it for a book or article I was writing.

Brainwashing, Bad Genes, Or Bad Karma

The Karma train is at least 100 cars long.

The Karma train is at least 100 cars long.

I probably threw out somebody’s stuff in a previous life and now the karma train has dropped it off at my house in this life. Otherwise, all this stuff is my parents’ fault. Here’s why: brainwashing. Before I could walk or talk, I knew that stuff was the be-all and end-all of a writer’s life no matter how many rooms of the house it took up, and even if you didn’t know what it was and never looked at it.

When my wife, brothers and their wives and I cleaned out my parents’ house in the 1980s, the place was filled with paper stuff. If they had been famous people, this  would have been the kind of stuff that ended up in the basement of a historical society where online references would refer to it as X number of linear feet of unsorted papers: please contact the archivist for an appointment. Hourly research fees to find what may or may not be in one of the boxes are $150.

I threw away a lot of the stuff. We got rid of a lot of the larger stuff in a garage sale and got roundly criticized by my parents’ friends got getting rid of the stuff. We explained that we lived in small apartments and houses and had no room for a giant household full of stuff that wouldn’t even fit in a moving van.

Time being short to get out of that house, we moved some of the stuff with us. My wife and I have moved several times since then, usually bringing along the boxes, still labelled as they were in the mid-1980s without looking in them.

Time to See What The Hell All this Stuff Is

Well, now I have to look into them. We no longer have room for it. So, I’ve been throwing away stuff for the past several months. I hated to see some of it go because, well, it must have been important stuff at one time or another, the kind of stuff I could sell for millions if I had the fame of Salinger or Rowling.

They have room for some of my book-type stuff

They have room for some of my book-type stuff

I have a tip for you: if you save paperwork from several generations back in time, eBay doesn’t want it. I’ve dumped (donated) 15 boxes of books to the local library for their yearly garage sale and I think I’ve just about worn out my welcome. The recycling center knows my name because they’ve seen me dump some 50-60 grocery bags of magazines and “office paper” into the recycling bins.

Throwing away stuff would be easy if I could tent a backhoe and a dumpster and clear the “treasures” out of the house during a long afternoon. Even though my parents never hid $100 bills in old books and papers, I keep thinking, “But the time I don’t check, that’s when it will be there.”

But then I would never know, so it would be the same as it not being there.

I should have listened more closely to George Karlin’s “A Place for My Stuff” the first time I heard it. I guess I thought it only applied to non-writers.

So far, nobody’s called and said, “Malcolm, you know that crap you threw out two months ago? I was going to give you $100000000000 for it, but you weren’t answering your phone that week.”

For years, I thought, I’ll wait one more week to see if I need this stuff or somebody calls and wants to buy it. You see how it goes and why there’s so much of it.

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You may also like: You Should Spend Money on Experiences, Not Things: Anticipation of a new experience is the best part, new data shows - “It’s been over a decade since American psychologists Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich concluded that doing things makes people happier than having things.”

Malcolm

TSScover2014Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy adventure novels including “The Sailor” and “The Sun Singer.”

GoodReads giveaway for ‘The Sun Singer’

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TSSgiveawayThe paperback edition of my contemporary fantasy novel The Sun Singer was released by Second Wind Publishing under its Blue Shift imprint on August 17.

Now you have a chance to win a free copy of an uncorrected ARC by entering the GoodReads give-away by September 15, 2014. Five free copies are available to residents within the United States.

Click on the graphic and you’re read to enter.

Malcolm

On Location: Glacier National Park

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Lobby of Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1915.

Lobby of Many Glacier Hotel, built in 1915.

Those who have followed this blog for years know that I worked as a hotel bellman at Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Hotel while in college and that I’ve returned to the park when finances permit.

I suppose many people have a favorite beach, romantic city, mountain range or scenic highway they call my favorite place, and that for reasons they may not be able to explain, are drawn to it time and again.

Glacier is my favorite place, though it hasn’t been easy falling in love with it inasmuch as I live in the Southeast and travel to and from the park in northwestern Montana takes time and/or money. The historic hotels, many of which were constructed by the Great Northern Railway many years ago, are only open between June and September. This means the primary park season is short and room rates are high.

Most people reach the park by car via U. S. Highway 2 or by air via Kalispell which is near the west entrance to the park. Some people fly in via Calgary, Alberta and then visit Jasper, Banff, and Waterton parks in Alberta before driving south past Chief Mountain into Montana to tour Glacier. Glacier is named for its glacier-carved mountains with a geography featuring horn-shaped peaks, narrow aretes, cirque lakes and stair-step valleys. Existing glaciers add glacial flour (finely ground rock) to the water and that makes for turquoise colored lakes.

BoGlacier cover flat r1.inddDue to an ancient thrust-fault, there are places where you’ll see older rock on top of younger rock. Many rock strata are visible throughout the park. If you take a launch trip on Swiftcurrent Lake, Lake Josephine, St. Mary Lake, Lake McDonald or Two Medicine lake, the guides will point out the rock strata along with glaciers (slowly melting away), waterfalls (a lot, especially early in the summer), primary peaks, wildlife (including grizzly bears), and other points of interest.

If you like hiking, there are 700 miles of trails for you to choose from. My favorite is the Highline Trail which you can use to go from Logan pass on Sun Road to Granite Park Chalet to Many Glacier Hotel on the east side. Many trails remain closed due to snow throughout June, so check with the park service about trail closures if you go early in the summer.

If you have time, take a red bus trip on Sun Road or up to Waterton. These 1936 restored tour buses are fun to ride in and, when the convertible tops are rolled back, give you a great view of the mountains. If your time in the park is short, consider including one bus tour, a launch trip, and scheduling in some time for short hikes around the hotel where you’re staying. Alan Leftridge’s book (shown here) lists the best places to see, grouped by category. It’s a valuable guide for people who only have a day or so for a quick trip.

TSScover2014If you have problems with stairs, you should know that while Many Glacier Hotel has an elevator in the main section, the four floors of rooms in the annex are accessible only by steep stairs. Glacier Park Lodge has no elevators, so try to get a room at ground level. I found the foods served in the main dining rooms of the hotels to be tasty, but overly rich. (Be sure to try at least one of the deserts, drinks or ice creams made with Huckleberries.) If you’re there for a few days, you can venture out to Swiftcurrent if you’re staying at Many Glacier, multiple private restaurants at East Glacier if you’re staying at Glacier Park Lodge, several restaurants at St. Mary if you’re staying at Rising Sun, and a variety of restaurants at Apgar and Kalispell if you’re staying at McDonald Lodge. Bison Creek Ranch a few miles for East Glacier is a favorite of mine for steaks and chicken.

If you’re a light sleeper, take a white noise machine. The walls of these old hotels are thin and the doorways are not tight fitting–you won’t want to hear people talking or snoring in adjoining rooms. WiFi in the hotels is only available in a few areas and is overloaded by multiple guests trying to log on. Cell phone reception is spotty or not available. Take multiple layers of clothes. You may need a jacket at night in August and the wind in the higher elevations can be chilly all through the summer. If you have a small umbrella or a fold-up poncho, take it: rain comes out of nowhere.

Yes, the 2014 season only has about a half a month left to go. Had you been at the park a few days ago, you would have seen a great display of the northern lights. The wind at Logan Pass and elsewhere will be getting noticeably colder. You may see some snow in the higher elevations. If you like to ski or hike with snow shoes, the park is open throughout the Winter.

Glacier is on my mind this month with the release of the new paperback* edition my contemporary fantasy adventure novel which is set in and around Many Glacier Hotel. The reality comes from faithfully including what I remember about the Swiftcurrent Valley, Lake Josephine and the Ptarmigan Tunnel. The fantasy comes from a look-alike universe reached via a portal (which you won’t see from the Lake Josephine Launch) hidden near a shelter lean-to used by hikers. If they only knew how close they were to a very dangerous world–as my young protagonist discovers. He’ll have to learn how to use magic if he wants to make it back to the world of Glacier National Park.

Malcolm

* Please be patient if you prefer to read e-books. While posted on bookseller sites, there are formatting issues yet to be resolved.

Sky, from the toes up

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“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e. e. cummings

When I was in the first or second grade and learned that the earth revolves, I wondered why the ground did not move beneath my feet when I jumped. How perplexing; I come down just where I started, I thought.

My dad explained that the atmosphere moves with the earth and, in fact, if it didn’t, there would be a substantial windstorm blowing us down around the clock.

For years, I viewed the sky as something far way, especially on clear nights when the stars—according to my observations—moved on flight paths much more distant that clouds, airplanes, or the helium balloons that escaped our grasp at the county fair.

I supposed at an early age that an ant’s view of the sky includes everything from my toes up. My feet are shadows and my hands are clouds and my head is a far planet. I believed they were misinformed and/or had poor eyesight because the sky was miles away.

Dog Island (marked with an “A”) is three and a half miles off the coast.

Early on a Saturday morning when I was in high school, I went to Alligator Bay on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee, Florida, with Tommy and Jonathan for a boat ride over to Dog Island. Jonathan’s family had a speed boat anchored just off the beach near his family’s summer cottage. The faraway sky was blue and cloudless, and the water was tranquil.

After a day of swimming, snorkeling and sand-dune exploring, we headed back just as a storm began developing farther to the west. The sky grew very dark before we reached the bay sheltered by Alligator Point. The high chop of the waves slowed our progress, so the afternoon was winding down before we set the anchor and waded ashore. We were quite relieved we hadn’t swamped the boat, something we hadn’t done for a year or two.

As we stood watching the storm pass by outside the bay, the setting sun appeared low on the western horizon with one of the most spectacular golden sunsets I have ever seen. The beach, the boat, and the surf were bright orange and glowing with light. Meanwhile, the lightning from the passing storm to the south of us, was also bright orange, and it hissed as it snaked across the sky over our heads and shook the world with its hollow thunder.

We stood without saying a word, and to this day, I think those moments still represent one of the most mystical experiences I have ever had. On that golden beach just out of the storm’s reach, everything was possible and yes and hopeful and connected. “The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet,” wrote Jandy Nelson in her young adult novel. Yes it is, and on that afternoon, it was clear to me that I stood within the sky and not below it.

–Malcolm

This post originally appeared on my Magic Moments weblog. As I get ready to shut down that blog, I thought I’d run a few of my favorite posts from the archive. Looking back on that day on the beach made it easier for me to understand a quote from “Seth” in the books by Jane Roberts: “There is no place where consciousness stops and the environment begins, or vice versa.”

Sunday Sample – ‘The Sailor,’ a novel about an aircraft carrier

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“Somewhere behind the haze-gray façade of bulkheads there are people, people too important to be likened to small cogs in a massive non-human machine. Each man has a distinguishable face and personality, a specific job to perform and memories of a world an ocean away.” —Malcolm R. Campbell, Cruisebook, USS Ranger, 1969–70

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right.

USS Ranger Public Affairs Office on the 03 level. I am second from the right.

Even though the USS Ranger (CVA-61) has been designated by the U.S. Navy as off the donation list and on the list of ships to be scrapped, people are still trying to save the ship. It’s a shame to see the navy selling aircraft carriers to scrappers for a penny when, if the right backers, public officials and local groups got together, the ships could be converted into museums with a great deal of benefit to local economies. I keep reading the online news stories about the ship, but so far no high-power group has come forward to save the ship.

My contemporary fantasy The Sailor is not about the USS Ranger. You can tell that by the fact the publisher put a photo of the USS Enterprise on the cover. That’s fair, I guess, since Hollywood used the USS Ranger in movies as a stand-in for the Enterprise.

My your of 1968-1970 tour of duty in the Gulf of Tonkin on board the Ranger did, however, inspire many of the events I used in The Sailor. Names have been changed, of course, and then, too, real life on board the ship wasn’t a fantasy trip! The novel isn’t a war novel or a derring-do novel; it’s a story about a pacifist from Montana who ended up on board the ship in the AIMD department where he looked after aircraft. He was in little danger there compared to the carrier sailors of World War II. Most of his troubles came from friends and family back home. When it came down to it, a bar girl in a sailor town saved his life.

The Sample from the “Boot Camp” Chapter

thesailorcoverDuring his “Service Week,” he worked as a yeoman at the Brigade HQ typing up forms. One hot summer night he met a troll-sized man whose name he subsequently forgot after he typed it into multiple boxes on multiple sheets of paper.

“I’m going to put you in my book,” the troll shouted, threatening each man in turn as he was processed from desk to desk.

Nobody worried about his upcoming exposé. Marks, the first class, and Headley, the CPO, both said, “Well, fine,” and then shrugged and rolled their eyes behind his back.

“You type my name on those forms and I’ll put you in my book, too,” he shouted as he stood in front of David’s desk.

“Make sure you spell it right,” said David, sounding more like his father than he wanted to. The troll sat down after that.

The CPO told David to ride shotgun in the van when they took the man over to Mickey Mouse. Except for the guards at the doors, the barracks looked pretty much like his own recruit company’s barracks, with a center aisle running down between double-stacked racks. But the sounds were different, as though wounded coyotes and unknown swamp creatures were confined there, and while escorting the man from one end of the long room to the other in the dim light, everyone or everything awoke and spoke in private tongues
and watched. There was an exchange of paperwork and then, as he left, the last thing David heard was, “I’m going to put all you assholes in my book.” David considered staying to hear more.

“A real nut case,” Marks said as they got back in the van.

“I guess.”

“A doctor once told me guys like that are born with their heads stuck up their asses and it affects them for the rest of their lives,” said Marks. David couldn’t help but laugh. “Most of them end up in the army unless they have a shoeshining fetish, and then they end up in the marines.”

“Is that information going to be on the next test?”

“Always take a good set of notes. What the hell is that?”

“What?”

“That bird sitting on the brigade sign,” said Marks.

“It’s a raven.”

“As in, ‘Quoth the raven nevermore’?”

“This one looks meaner than Poe’s raven,” said David, “but one thing’s for sure.”

“What’s that?” asked Marks.

“If it flies over to Mickey Mouse, it will end up in that guy’s book.”

“You got that right.”

The raven took a shit on the sign and flew off toward the lake when they walked up the sidewalk.

“You’ve got an emergency phone call from home,” the chief told him. “Take it at my desk and keep it short.”

He had been expecting it. “What is it, Grandmother.”

“Pretend like I’m telling you that Jayee was thrown from a horse and had to be rushed to the hospital.”

“Gramps was thrown from a horse? Is he going to be okay?”

“Madness isn’t the answer. You’re running from something, three women, many things, but don’t go there. You must follow Eagle on this matter.”

Marks and the chief were standing close.

“They took him all the way down to Missoula? What kind of surgery?”

“I don’t want you coming home singing M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E like those Mouseketeers, you understand me?”

“Yes, Grandmother. But I thought he could roll a cigarette with one hand. Did his elastrator get stuck or has he gone senile?”

“Stop it,” she snapped. “I’m already on my third stick of Beemans; don’t fash my stomach with your sass. Look around: is that lanky first class petty officer with the smudge on his sleeve writing all this down?”

“No. Do want me to ask the chief if I can come back home until he’s off the critical list?”

“You’re on the critical list,” she said, and turned away from the phone shouting, “Áisopumstàu, wáiá’é!”

As she said it, the doors blew open and every paper in the office ended up in the air like windblown leaves on a brisk autumn afternoon.

RTCgreatlakes“You’ve made your point.”

“Remember your first duty. You didn’t survive Nináistuko to end up crying like a wounded coyote in a mental hospital.”

“I know, I know, and I won’t. Thanks for the tip.”

“Goodbye, Káyiopok, my little bear cub, and as they say, ‘fair winds and following seas.”

“Goodbye, Grandmother.”

“Help us clean this crap up,” the chief said. His face was harder than gray granite and twice as coarse. Somebody was going to be working late that night organizing the damn paperwork back into file folders and in-baskets. Marks sat in a chair with a cup of coffee as though he needed a rest.

“Your granddaddy fell off his horse?”

“He was rolling a damn cigarette and that cantankerous little Morgan dumped him across a fence.”

The chief decided he also needed a cup of coffee, which was just as well since his right hand was more or less frozen into the position needed to hold a fair sized mug or a small penis. Marks brought that news bulletin to David’s attention the previous evening while the chief was in the head reading a Playboy magazine. “Probably caught in limbo between relieving his sexual tensions and relieving his thirst,” Marks had speculated.

“So your family lives on some kind of farm?”

“Ranch.”

“I didn’t know they had those anymore,” the chief said.

The conversation went on for longer than it was worth. When David walked back to the barracks at 2 A.M., he kept a sharp lookout for ravens. Katoya had a point: madness was not an optimal refuge from the tension between head and heart. Needless to say, it was a bad choice, was it not? But of the real conflict, he could not accept the cold logic of “the establishment” any more than he could accept the unlicensed passion of the anti-war protesters. Four years ago, most of his classmates were ensnared by the film Zorba the Greek and lives devoted to nothing but the dance.

He understood the temptation of it; and so did Anne, she of the everlasting moonlight that had pulled him into the twist of matched bodies while promises dripped from her sweet mouth. It was easy for Grandmother to say, in so many words, that he should pull himself up by his bootstraps and square away his life. But how? He did not yet know how to “say farewell to all things at every moment” as Kazantzakis prescribed. Logic and intuition pulled at him from opposite sides of the universe and—other than madness—freedom lived only in the act of killing either the logical Eagle or the intuitive Black Horse, his holy mentors.

That brought him to this boot camp moment dead center between his barracks and the Mickey Mouse barracks. A kind light had been left on for him at both doors, and rather than standing there for eternity like an existential ass between two tempting bales of hay, he flipped a coin to see whose number was up and walked inside.

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I hope you enjoy the story.

Malcolm

Is a copy of the publication suitable payment for your work?

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This is the inside joke of creative writing programs in America. We know creative writing doesn’t make money, and yet we continue to graduate talented writers with no business acumen. At best, it is misguided. At worst, it is fraudulent. –  Nick Ripatrazone in his essay in The Millions, Practical Art: On Teaching the Business of Creative Writing

The short answer: can you use that copy to pay the rent, buy a Happy Meal or a new toner cartridge for your printer? If not, why would any writer want to work for a copy of a magazine or anthology while the publishers make money off his/her work?

Another short answer: or, maybe you can legitimately view writing for payment in copies as similar to blogging which–unless you have a highly popular, monetized blog–isn’t paying the rent either. Blogging is part of an author’s platform. That’s how we justify doing it. In both cases, free blogging and unpaid publication in anthologies and little magazines sooner or later have to lead to a money making business or they are not doing what they’re supposed to be doing: improving your craft and moving you from a hobby writer to a professional writer.

The Longer Answer: When mainstream fiction magazines were more prevalent, writers were told that writing stories for “little magazines” and for non-paying anthologies for free was a necessary part of building up a list of writing credits. If BIG MAGAZINE ABC saw that you had been published in MEDIUM MAGAZINE YXZ, you supposedly had a better chance of acceptance. The practice still has value and, perhaps, may be even more important for those in publish or perish careers. This view has many ramifications to it depending on the kind of paid writing you ultimately want to do and how valuable those at the top of that ladder view publication in one place or another as a prudent step.

“What does it mean,” asks Ripatrazone, “that we, in the literary community, have accepted lack of monetary payment as commonplace?”

While I’m old school enough to impractically view college as a place heavy with liberal arts that teaches students how to think rather than providing then with a certificate that allows them to move right into a job like a technical school, I see the need that Ripatrazone sees when he says writing programs often do little or nothing to prepare graduates for the business side of their chosen profession. Likewise, many writers groups online and offline, though self-publishing has brought marketing and PR more heavily into the discussions and seminars.

As he puts it, the art of writing is sometimes taught as though it’s a spiritual process in which long-term practical, positive results are viewed as an unnecessary luxury. According to the disciples of this approach, finding yourself and telling your story are the important things even if nobody pays a dime to read what you write.

The odds of making that dime are long odds. That’s reality. But saying that dime doesn’t matter sounds like a lot of self-effacing denial to me. “Payment for little old me? Golly, writing the story is what counts.”

Maybe so if you plan to live with your parents into your 40s or find a spouse that makes enough money to support you while you find yourself or you win the lottery or you work at a day job and stay up all night writing.

Look at the Business Side in Addition to the Art of Writing

Ripatrazon’s essay includes a handy checklist of ideas for bringing students more into the mainstream of what their chosen profession is all about, from demystifying publishing to an introduction to freelance writing and how it works to what editors want and how they want to see it presented to them.

Writing nonfiction can become a viable means of supporting oneself while working on fiction after hours. Taking a look at such magazines as the Atlantic and the National Geographic is proof enough that nonfiction isn’t a secondary kind of writing. Becoming good at it, helps improve a writer’s art and craft while building a list of credits. Writing for low rates of payment at first and working up to higher rates of payments seems to me to be a much better route than writing for copies of publications.

That’s not a hard and fast rule, especially if you’re making money some other way to pay the rent. And who knows, getting accepted by a prestigious publication might help your career. It’s hard to say, because no matter how much all of us study the business side of writing fiction, making money from novels and short stories is always a gamble. The number of writers who live off fiction writing is a very small number.

When we write, we can’t be like our non-writer friends who go to a 9-5 job that pays them to work their craft in a cubicle or assembly line without having to worry exactly how customers are found and products are marketed. Even if we’re lucky enough to find helpful publishers’ editors, agents or even business managers, we’re still–as novelists–both the CEO of the whole process as well as the craftsman down in the shop.

We need two mindsets, one that sees the dollars and sense in practical terms and one that sees the beauty of a well-told tale coming together on the page. As Ripatrazone says, “I need my students to know that they will likely struggle every step of this way in this business. They must be shrewd and determined and aware. But when they close the door and go to their writing desk, they must be generous, sensitive, and open to the mystery of this art.”

Being too willing to write for copies may be a sign that we’re not really looking at the practical side of the profession. Or maybe for a while it’s an expediency.

Malcolm