The Grasshopper #80, Flying Solo
When we get down to it, it is just us and the words
Before I get into it, a news item. Scholastic, the children’s book publisher who ventured into the wonderful world of censoring their own books, pulled back from that decision in the face of overwhelming anger.
A small victory for freedom and speech and books in general. We need any victory we can get.
How do you feel about working alone, even when you’re in a crowd? When you’re working as a writer or aspiring to, you have to embrace the fact that this is not a collaborative process as you write. Later, when it’s published and readers can respond, it may get a little more social. But writers have to be self-directed.
Unlike music or visual arts, readers are less likely to see our work while in progress- the sausage making stays in the meat packing plant and out of sight, a very good thing in my opinion.
The interesting thing about this solo flying is it can be done in public places, but the relationship between us and the proverbial page is intensely private. I can’t imagine a writer who could work with someone looking over their shoulder.
I’ve been in that scenario when I was, among other things, the go-to writer in a workplace. Someone comes to you and wants to compose something with your help- a memo, email, sales letter, etc., and then the nightmare begins.
You find yourself taking their words, writing them down and then watching them second guess, slice and dice, and generally turn a simple message into a clusterf**k, for lack of a better word.
Or it happens, shudder, in a meeting. Writing by committee is a horrible thing.
I learned very early on how to deal with this and become the hero of the moment, but you have to trust your capabilities as a writer. When this process begins, you spend your focus figuring out the basic message, who it is for, desired length, and the how, what, whys.
Then you get up and suggest you take this info and come back in fifteen minutes or half hour with a draft. Then go write the thing. Unless you didn’t understand the message or get the voice drastically wrong, chances are very good they will be thrilled with it.
And you just saved both of you a lot of time. That’s one solo scenario. But that process is exactly what any non-fiction writer does even when writing for ourselves.
But the real challenge of working solo is not the actual writing, it’s everything else. These days I am completely self-directed as a writer, meaning I write what I want, a huge luxury (that doesn’t pay all that well but there is more to life than money). But I’d go nuts if I didn’t have a couple of rails that help me stay on track.
The first are my newsletter deadlines. I have three a week, entirely self-imposed, that I generally try to stick to, both for consistency and for staying on top of things. I’ll be honest, I love deadlines. A project without clear deliverables and times always get pushed back.
Deadlines are my friends, even when I’m the one imposing them on myself.
I have another form of deadline and that is timeliness. A lot of my writing is tied to current events in politics and climate and that means staying up to date when publishing. A great article about old news, is just that, old news.
I love my online writing on Medium and Substack because these platforms automate most of the money and formatting stuff (I have my issues with Medium these days but not so much with process stuff). This means that transactional things like taking in paid subscriptions or tracking payments based on reads is done by the platforms and my payment system Stripe just deposits in my bank account.
It’s a relatively well-oiled machine that allows me to focus on my writing. And it did not exist just a few years ago, so even if the money is not making me rich, I still have that degree of freedom.
As an old guy, I could dwell on the way things were back in the old days, but that is not where I live now. And I do not miss waiting for responses for weeks or months or writing books and never knowing if anyone read them. Or even how many sold.
To hell with that.
One of the challenges of working solo is motivation. Years ago I was writing a series on self-employment for a mid-size publisher out west. I had done books on marketing and sales, my expertise at the time, and my editor suggested doing a book on self-motivation for the self-employed.
Not thrilled, but not ready to say no, I told her I would talk to some of my self-employed friends and see if the topic had any relevance to them. I did, and each time it went like this: no, they said never thought about it. Then they would tell me the things they did to stay enthused.
Contradiction aside, that told me there might be a book there and possibly a demand. So I wrote it and honestly it was not a bad book (Self-motivation for the Self-employed, Prima Publishing, sometime in the nineties, out of print). They paid the advance, then Prima got acquired and that was the last I heard of it.
But motivation is an issue when it’s just you and a screen. My deadlines are my best form of motivation along with the stats the platforms provide to track readers, subscribers, and money.
I don’t need ideas to keep me motivated. The more I write and read, the more ideas I have, basically not an issue for me. As lala as it might sound, I really enjoy writing, and being a communicator is enough motivation for me.
But my latest writing project, my newsletter The Remarkable, a recovery letter, is driven by a new to me desire to share something very personal in the hope that someone else finds value in my recovery experience.
That’s a very different and powerful form of motivation and not one I could have made up. If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know the story. But it is taking on a little life of its own even though it’s reaching just a few readers so far.
But a few more come on board every day. But my stated goal to myself was that if it reached one reader, I was good. Sort of the opposite of my typical goals of reaching as many people as possible.
So, oddly enough, setting a very low goal, but a meaningful one might be a legitimate motivational tactic. Who knew?
The unrelenting war in Israel and Gaza is wearing on everyone. Here in the US it is a seriously polarizing subject, the kind of thing that divides in ways that can’t be mended.
As a writer, controversy is inherent in some of the things I write about daily. But this conflict has proven a huge challenge for me because I have things to say but I want to maintain a balance. I see both sides and both make me angry at humanity in general.
In the Middle East violence has always been an acceptable political tool, though most will disavow that obvious reality. That acceptance of violence has migrated here and we see it in events like the January 6th 2021 insurrection at the Capitol.
I’ve published two opinion pieces about the terror attacks in Israel and their response, which appears to be escalating into a long term war. Hitting the Publish button on both of these felt like risky business, more so than on many topics I write regularly about.
Would I get barraged by angry denunciations in my comment feed? I am gratified to say that so far that has not taken place and those two articles have been among my most read in recent weeks.
Like many of us, I have strong feelings about events like these. I am in the only American demographic that did not find itself forced into participating in the wars we seem to constantly be waging. Right between the Vietnam draft and the Gulf War.
During that time I went from being just under draft age to being too old for military service. So, I have no personal experience of warfare, a fact I am proud of but recognize that I was just lucky.
As a writer I feel the need to serve as witness to these kinds of events, particularly climate change and mankind’s constant reversion to violence as a means to some end, often not clearly defined. The Israel/Gaza/Hamas war’s purpose is not defined beyond ‘kill all Jews’ on the Hamas side, and ‘get revenge’ on the Israeli side.
There doesn’t seem to be any end game and that is why I write about these things. I understand that many of my readers will never do that kind of writing, but as I said earlier, it is my little form of witnessing.
I’m a little late getting this issue of The Grasshopper out. My usual goal is to trigger it to hit email around 12:01 am on Sunday mornings. But schedules and a busy writing week have me finishing this on a Sunday morning.
The trees around here are just past prime and the weather changed this weekend from early September mildness to a blustery, cool rain. The lovely burnt orange trees outside my windows are rapidly turning a tobacco brown and will lose their leaves all at once, any time now. I see it every year.
We’re in the thick of the SAD season, Seasonal Affective Disorder, with increasingly dreary days and descending darkness. Days like these are when having my writing keeps me relatively sane. Relatively.
Did you write today?
~ I write The Grasshopper, a letter for creatives, The Witness Chronicles, a weekly digest of three of my articles on politics and climate, and The Remarkable, a recovery letter, about my addiction and reentry experience. All are weekly and free with a paid option to share support. Please check them out.
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Believe me, it makes my day. M
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