Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Dear Students: It ain't easy to feed this fiction-writing habit, but you gotta do it

What secrets will I be sharing with student writers at Western Wyoming College on Feb. 7?

It's a secret. Don't want to ruin the suspense. What kind of fiction writer would do that?

I will begin by telling them a bit about myself. I was born a poor white child in suburbia. My father built homes for rocket ships. My mother was the Florence Nightingale of Denver. I spent my youth reading and taking care of my many siblings. Along the way I started to write and haven't stopped since.

Words of wisdom: The Nike ad said it best -- "Just do it!" If I had a nickel for everyone who told me, "I want to write a book," I would be as rich as Warren Buffet. If I had a nickel for everyone of those people who actually finished a book, I would have enough to buy a cup of coffee -- at Starbucks. If I had a nickel for everyone who finished a book and got it published, I would have enough for a cup of coffee -- at the Loaf 'n' Jug.

Last year, I read a quote by Florida Governor Rick Scott who said that Liberal Arts degrees were a waste of time. He may be right. If you measure an English degree on production values, it isn't very practical. Will it help it get you a job? Possibly. Let me make a list of the jobs I've had since graduating with an English degree from the University of Florida:

Correspondent for a construction industry trade journal
Book store clerk
Book warehouse order filler
Sports reporter
Telephone salesman
Junior high paper grader
Weekly newspaper managing editor
Weekly newspaper columnist
Business newspaper editor
Teaching assistant
Partner in an advertising/marketing firm
Free-lance writer
Free-lance editor
Newsletter editor
Literary magazine editor
Anthology editor
Corporate publications editorhttp://hummingbirdminds.blogspot.com/
Fiction writer
Free-lance writing teacher
Adjunct professor
Arts administrator
Event planner
Grants panelist
Grants writer
Arts magazine editor
Public Information Officer

Some of these jobs overlapped, especially the free-lance ones. Almost all of them had something to do with writing and editing. All of them fed my fiction writing habit.

Author and National Geographic Magazine roving correspondent Mark Jenkins of Laramie (who spoke at WWC last year) once told me that he majored in philosophy at UW and then retreated to the mountains for a year to think big thoughts. Eventually he had to come down from the mountain and decide how to make a living. And he did. He became an international adventurer and wrote about it. Wrote very well about it. He's won all of the fellowships you can win from the Wyoming Arts Council. We don't have any fellowships for philosophers. But we do for those people who want to spend the 10,000 hours it takes to become a good writer or artist or musician. And that's just for starters.

I can't wait to address those emerging writers coming to my workshop at WWC in Rock Springs on Feb. 7. By the end of my workshop, they will either be scared to death, ready to find a practical major such as agronomy or nursing, or they will be fired up and ready to go write and write and write some more.

I'm guessing it will be the latter.

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