Wednesday, September 19, 2007
A Writer's Life
Some men are musicians, some are orators, some are craftsmen working with their hands. I am a writer. It is the only gift bestowed upon me and I take the writing craft seriously.
As far as a talent, it's a pretty lame one. Face it, everyone should know how to write. Everyone communicates in language and can imprint characters on paper in some fashion, making letters and words and sentences. Yet everywhere I go I hear people tell me, "You're a writer? I wish I could write!"
Writing doesn't seem to be a problem for most people. Writing well is. Now I'm no Shakespeare by far. I'm only an average writer at best. I don't claim to work miracles with my prose or stupefy with my verse. But I'll tell you one thing, Charlie - I'm no hack.
During college I corresponded with a writer from Canada named Ara Baliozian, an Armenian writer who wrote books about the Armenian diaspora. Most of his stuff was bitter and stark social commentary, a fish-out-of-water tale of immigrants dealing with the phonies in their own immigrant communities. We wrote letters to each other for years. This was the neolithic age of communication, before e-mail, when people actually wrote letters, what's commonly referred to today as "snail mail." So Ara and I wrote back and forth, exchanging war stories about writing and how undervalued and under-appreciated writers in America were. He sent me his books to review which I did for the Armenian-American newspapers. I've been published in papers from Massachusetts to California.
Baliozian offered the following advice to young writers: "Even if you were to write with the wisdom of Socrates and the compassion of Jesus Christ, there is no guarantee that you shall escape the hemlock or the cross. But if you write as most writers do, don't be surprised if you are dismissed as an idiot by idiots, a jerk by jerks, and a Turcophile by Turkish gypsies parading as superpatriotic Armenians."
Another one of Baliozian's statements concerning writers: "Writers are a harmless a bunch; all they do is scribble, scribble, scribble. They are a threat to no one, except perhaps to the prestige of riffraff parading as noble specimens of humanity."
Baliozian was a political writer, a dissident who enjoyed reaching out to young writers. He lived in poverty with his mother in Canada, refusing to work and receiving money from a benefactor who published his books.
To me, at 23, the guy was living out his dream of the writing live, a bohemian existence where books and words mattered and where material success a frivilous daydream.
I saw my first story in print in 2000 in a game publication called the Deadlands Epitaph. It wasn't really a story, but a scenario for a roleplaying game called Deadlands. I wrote a lengthy article about Fort 51, the 19th century equivalent of Area 51, a secret fort in the Nevada desert. It's my only contribution to the Deadlands product line.
In 2005, I sold the rights to a roleplaying game I designed called the Ravaged Earth Society, a game currently being published by Double G Press.
I never set out to write roleplaying games; that opportunity fell into my lap. What I really want to do, my ultimate goal as a writer I think, is to maximize my creativity and produce plays, screenplays and novels. I have so many projects under my belt and seemingly not enough time to do anything.
Working as a reporter for a local newspaper, I'm writing every day, staring at the computer screen, that flourescent cyclops blinking back at me. Hoping and praying I'd get enough time to transcribe the multitude of ideas in my head onto a blank page. Predictably, something always crops up and distracts me from my work.
I've got plays and novels in the works. I've got notebooks filled with scribblings and notes that don't make sense to anyone buy me. They beg me to decipher them. Alas, I never find the time.
The greatest book on writing I've read was Stephen King's "On Writing." I can't recommend it enough. King ploughs through all of the bullshit other writing books tell you and he lays it out bare and clean. You've got to have it in your veins to be a writer, you've got to have that urge, that desire, that crazed mania.
I can tell you this: the money sucks, the lonliness is unbearable at times and the respect is non-existent. The moment you do write something good, you're proud of it. You want to show the world. Nobody, not even your priggish 8th grade English teacher, can take that moment from you.