Friday, February 17, 2006

A writer's funk

Maybe it’s the winter season and the doldrums that accompany this season's lack of sun that has me in such a rut. Maybe it’s the fact that since just after Christmas, nearly every aspect of my life has seemed like a never-ending string of kicks in the teeth or some other part of my anatomy. While most would say I am just being overly sensitive, my experiential meter has me worried. I’d be the first to admit that “life is a bitch, and then we die,” but this winter seems particularly difficult, and even cruel on many fronts. It’s not the worst winter of my life, but it certainly ranks in the top five!

I’m perfectly capable of handling the reality that I’ll never be a best-selling author, or a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but at some point, when you’ve been writing and having some quality work published, at least locally, it would seem to grow a bit easier to receive some recognition and have an occasional bone tossed your way. I know enough writers and am part of a big enough network to know that most of Maine’s busier writers had some fortuitous breaks that landed them career-building assignments.

I grow weary of the preponderance of self-help and other books, aimed at teaching readers how to be docile underlings for their overbearing managers. These books inevitably preach self improvement, always on your own dime, and prepare you mostly to tolerate being bossed around and exploited by some semi-literate, mid-level manager of a boss. Or, if you live a freelance existence, as I currently do, to have your pitches rejected, or even worse, ignored. Meanwhile, in your regular jaunts to the library, to do research, you keep seeing the same names bylined, in Maine’s miniscule roster of publications.

My experiences, which I’ve acquired in the trenches of life, reveals to me the ubiquitous layer of mediocrity and close-mindedness that pervades businesses, organizations, and particularly, non-profits in our state. If you have more than perfunctory interactions with the so-called “movers and shakers” in Maine, it’s easy to become jaded, or worse, cynical, about what absolute charlatans many of these folks are. I have no doubt it’s the same in other places, across the country.

It defies my understanding why good people seem to find it so difficult to make a success out of their business, and the usual suspects (the poseurs who don’t return phone calls, yet promote their company or organization’s people-oriented focus) have customers lined up at their doors. Recently, a wonderful local bookstore was forced to close its doors, due to lack of sales and untenable overhead, partly caused by a lease that just wasn't workable. This store was one of the state's most supportive of local writers and had the type of diverse inventory that readers should have flocked to. Instead, after moving several times and trying a variety of marketing promotions, they were forced to liquidate their inventory, and shutter the shop.

On the writing side, it amazes me that most writers who seem to get regular work, or whose books succeed, are often formulaic and are nothing more than scriveners for the status quo. Other writers, the ones who have roots firmly planted in Maine’s soil and culture, are rarely read and find discouragement at every turn. I recently engaged in some correspondence with one of these writers—someone who would be recognizable if I named them—told me they are writing less than ever before. It was their opinion that there are too many writers and that their time would be better served producing something of value, like food, or other usable goods. I can’t say that the thought hasn’t occurred to pitch it all and do something less frustrating than write. The problem is, I have a need to set my thoughts down, even if it’s to read them myself.

Maybe my spring book tour, for When Towns Had Teams will shake this lethargy and sense of foreboding that I currently feel. Possibly, happier days are just one hidden assignment away. All I know is that of late, the day-to-day grind of scratching out an existence and promoting other people’s mediocrity has caused me write as little as I have for the past year.

2 Comments:

Blogger JoBra said...

Amen!

As a spare time web designer I feel many of these same pains Jim.

Spring always seems to bring with it some creative salvation (or at least some warmer winds). Maybe the longer days are to thank, as they give us more daylight to find clients, or maybe just the opposite in the sharper (more focused) slice of dark hours we have to sit in our back bedroom home offices and pour our weary souls into our work.

The days are getting longer.

9:03 PM  
Blogger Jim Baumer said...

I'm hoping that the longer days mean an uptick in productivity.

I'll attribute my current "funk" to SAD (seasonal affective disorder). As you have indicated, I'm not alone in this state. I've seen other creative folks struggling, so maybe it's part of a greater cosmic phenomenon?

8:35 AM  

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