A Few Thoughts on The Difficulties of Being a Writer Today



Book appearances are coming for my writer’s group (it’s more than just a mutual interest in writing): the True North Writers and Publishers Cooperative. After our initial defining and organizing efforts, we decided to send up some trial balloons to see just what the pressure points are in writing, publishing, and marketing. And so this summer our first foray will be these book appearances, and we’re going at it like the business venture we are. We’re making scheduled appearances in August and September, so if you’re interested in the where and “what-about,” let me know by responding to this post.

Which brings up the subject of what to talk about at book and writer-related gatherings. We’ll be appearing primarily in North Carolina, and our first talks will be about (besides our books) our relationships with dear friend and mentor, esteemed writer and writing teacher, Doris Betts, who we’re sad to report died about a year ago. And in another part of the state we plan to talk about genre – or the blurring of such lines – even, dare we say, the irrelevance of genre to writers.

There are other topics that will come up in appearances. I recently attended one writer meet-up – on a topic I would’ve loved to have spoken on myself: the new world of publishing, how self-publishing fits into that, how the Internet and e-books, e-readers, etc are affecting writing and publishing. The person who made this presentation did a most capable talk and kept writers on the edge of their seats with dry wit and layers upon layer of useful information.

But the one topic that grinds on writers’ nerves seems to be the nature of how to write.I recently made a talk to a writer’s group and tried to work my way into a mutual conversation on what works, what doesn’t work, in creative writing, whether short or long fiction, essays or nonfiction book or memoir. What was the response? Blank stares. Smug smiles. And one writer who wanted to bloviate on how many copies he’d sold of the one book he’d written.

So, given the fascination with famous writers, the lure of DIY writing and publishing, the tug of writing and publishing technology, what’s the proof of the pudding regarding quality writing? Certainly not in resistant-to-writerly-growth writers’ groups. Not in immersing oneself in technological publishing and marketing. And not in hitching your  wagon to the latest trend in genre writing. Whatever you write, the proof lies in what we at True North call the long haul. Meaning constant commitment to growth as a writer, to a slow but sure amassing of discriminating readers, a perhaps even slower collection of writers dedicated to writerly growth, and (this is the one area that comes spontaneously from within) a personal willingness to be open to something new, something that the publishing industry may find hard to understand or assimilate. The trap here is in resisting ideology, religion, a yearning for the past, anger at the present, fear of the future – – unless these can be written about objectively, without too large a dose of bias, and unless such topics can be written about in a rather universal way, applying to all, regardless of proclivity or emotional state.

Seen this way, it’s not surprising that many writers – and writer’s groups – allow themselves to be corralled by ego, belief structure, self-satisfaction in some state of personal stasis. We’re all susceptible to such things. But those of us who are willing to push those limitations aside and allow REAL stories to emerge are the ones who may just be the remembered and emulated writers of a difficult era.


Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place: Stories, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.


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