What’s With the Post-It Notes (and what I’m doing with the makeup you gave me)

I’ve been doing this weird writing/art experiment lately. I was in a bit of a writing slump, so this was just my attempt to try something new. When I start to explain it, I trip over my thoughts and ruin it, so I’ll just share a bit here without too much yammering.

It started with Post-It Notes. And a Sharpie.
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The process involves hanging out with cats a lot. wpid-img_20141007_222140.jpg

 

Sometimes it gets political. And sometimes it gets sparkly. I don’t see any reason you can’t have both. wpid-20140930_140742.jpg

Sometimes I draw a little bit, or scribble. And I have some strong feelings.
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Sometimes I outline a whole essay on Post-Its. They don’t always translate well to regular text. I think that’s because the colors, sizes and placement have become part of the text. That or I’m not a very good writer. Totally possible. wpid-20141104_101934.jpgSometimes it evolves in interesting ways. Here we have moisturizer, makeup brushes, donated makeup, and a gridded Post-It pad. Several of my friends have donated makeup they had just lying around, and I’ve been pulling from my own stash as well. The truth is, I hate wearing most makeup, so this seemed like as good a use as any for it. I got a lot more offers for makeup than I needed, considering that I don’t actually know what I’m doing with the stuff, but I’m starting to get some ideas. If you’re thinking about giving me makeup, please do not purchase any on my behalf. I intend to waste it, and I’d feel like an asshole if you spent money on that. wpid-20141027_201506.jpgTurns out makeup is not the greatest to draw with (that is, it doesn’t make my mediocre drawing skills look any better), but it can make for interesting paper textures. A bit of moisturizer helps eyeshadow cling to the paper. wpid-20141027_200638.jpg

This was my only semi-successful attempt to draw with makeup. I’m sure someone who understand make up and drawing could do something really fancy with it, but I’m not that person. My sister could probably do it. Me? I require words.

wpid-img_20141010_154706.jpg I honestly don’t know what the end goal is with all of this. It’s just fun. Ellie suggested publishing it, and I do have some ideas about that, but I’m not ready to share them because I will scare myself out of it if I speak too soon.

 

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Why Creative Nonfiction Writers are Scared of Self-Publishing

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I’ve been thinking about the place of self-publishing in the creative nonfiction (CNF) world since last summer when I participated in a round-table discussion on publishing in which my perspective as a self-published blogger was not well received. Granted, I was flustered and may not have represented my point well, but it seems that while fiction writers are embracing self-publishing a little at a time, the CNF community largely rejects it and sees any writer who pursues it as naive, vain, and delusional.

There’s a belief among CNF writers that association with a traditional publisher lends us credibility. Obviously, credibility is essential to anyone who writes nonfiction. Additionally, we believe that being accepted by the publishing establishment proves our worth as writers. I don’t know why we still believe this because I’ve seen plenty of truly awful books published the old fashioned way, but we cling to this idea like a middle schooler trying to believe in Santa Claus.

The flip side of our over-valuing of traditional publishing is that we believe self-publishing devalues our work. We believe if it were any good, an editor would have picked it up or that if the writer were not so lazy, she would have shopped it around. These are self-defeating assumptions rooted in intellectual classism, which tells us someone Up There, some overdressed academic in a sky scraper is a more qualified judge of our work than we are.

This may be vain of me, but I disagree. It’s true that writers get attached to our favorite sentences (no matter how awful they are) and everyone can use editorial help, but if we decide what’s good writing based on what’s popular, then it’s no surprise mainstream literature is going the way of pop music. Hint: Incredibly innovative and beautiful music is still being made every day, but you’re not going to hear it on your top 40 station.

Some writers will say, “aim high and work your way down,” a piece of advice I heard repeated many times at Goucher last summer. I get it. Everyone wants to publish big. Everyone wants a book deal. I want to be paid an advance and have a publisher finance my trip around the world so I can write about it, but those opportunities are increasingly rare. So you can pursue that, and that’s great because sometimes that path works out for people. But it very often doesn’t work out, and even traditionally published authors suffer from low sales numbers and awkward party conversations in which you have to explain your book to people who have never heard of it and are only pretending to be interested. So if that path looks miserable to you, pick something else.

Self-pub is equally difficult and lacking in guarantees, but it’s no less valid. Yes, there is a risk of entering a flooded market, but there’s also the possibility that your audience will find you where a publishing house wouldn’t have reached them. Maybe they wouldn’t have given your weird book a chance. Maybe “that’s not selling this year.” Maybe they just don’t think anyone cares about your story. But if you care enough about your story to write it, you should write it. And if it’s important to you to publish it, you should publish it.

If you want to be a famous writer and sell millions of books, I can’t tell you how to do that. I’m not even sure I’d want to do that if I knew how. What I do want is the ability to write what matters most to me and reach people in a meaningful way. Self-publishing gives me the opportunity to do that and the control the do it in a way that’s sustainable for me. And by sustainable, I mean it doesn’t make me hate my life. That’s goal number one.

At the end of the day, it’s up to writers to decide the future of publishing. The more we cater to “what sells,” the more mainstream literature homogenizes just like pop music. Independent musicians, film makers, and fiction writers have taken it upon themselves to do their work and publish it regardless of the nod from on high, but for some reason, the CNF community can’t do that. The only reason I can see is fear:

  • fear that you lack the credibility and validation supplied by a publishing house.
  • fear of being seen as a lesser writer by your peers.
  • fear of having to explain self-publishing to people.
  • fear that you’ll never sell enough books to make any money.
  • fear that you will publish something terrible and no one will have the heart to tell you.
  • … or that they will.
  • fear that you will negate future opportunities by marring yourself with the sin of self-publishing.

In other words, the CNF community still believes that self-publishing is not for serious writers, so I think it’s time we clear this up:

If you write and you’re serious about it, you’re a serious writer. If you write and you laugh about it, you’re a humorous writer. If you write and you’re a judgmental jerk about it, guess what that makes you. :)

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write about the question until it reveals your answer

 

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Write about My Little Pony and Smurfette. Write about bath products stores. Write about having to walk down the diaper aisle to get tampons. Write about the 16-year-old stock boy who asks if you need help finding anything. What the fuck are you gonna help me find?

Write about feeling self-righteous in the checkout line. Write about “I’m not judging, but…” Write about the shit people talk about, how they try to sound like sitcoms, how everyone acts like a celebrity on Facebook.

Write about the things you can’t say out loud. Write about the things that don’t make sense. Find the cracks in your understanding and repair them. Write about that.

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couldn’t write

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I couldn’t write last night. I put on my headphones and tried, but it didn’t work. I kept staring off into space, space being the window in front of my desk which was transformed into a creepy mirror thanks to the dark night outside and the lamp on my desk.

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memory, dream and prayer

A slow drive through memory.
The kind of sweet that
shatters in your mouth.
A love like chewing glass,
Every word a chance to choke.
Waking up shaking sand out of my mouth
from grinding your glass all night.

Always misdressed for the occasion,
watching everyone else’s feet,
trying to remember how to walk.
Go where they go, drink what they drink,
smoke what they smoke,
lie what they lie.
Still couldn’t sing the song right.

Pacing the open road to nowhere
and back again.
From your home to mine
more than a stretch of the imagination.
Voice turned inside out with rage
and salted lungs.

Occasionally a face gives me a jolt
of fear and revulsion.
An instantaneous prayer:
no.

One of my favorite ways to write is to put on some strange music and see what it stirs up, so last night, I found this song and produced this poem. I’ve been writing all my life and still don’t know what’s good. I can hear in my mind the critiques my various teachers would give it, and I’m trying to learn to write despite their voices in my head.

 

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