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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The 'ink and paper' business

   
Author Topic: The 'ink and paper' business
billawaboy
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I figured this has something to do with writing, so I put it here:

Usually, whenever someone (usually a woman) asks me what I do, I say "Nothing. I'm a full time college student and I study my tukhus off." It doesn't sound too fun. And if I say "I'm a writer" (because I do consider writing as my job, though I may not be good at it) it leads invariably to "Ooh, really? What have you published?" to which I say the usual "Uh...nothing yet," which leads to the disappointed "Oh..." (sometimes followed by the repressed eye-roll and forced smile.) A definite conversation stopper.

A few weeks ago, at a bar, I got bored with my usual answer and instead said "I'm in the ink and paper business," (not around my friends since they know what I really do) and the conversation did end with an "Oh" but on much more decidedly positive note. (Not sure why, I didn't think it was any better of an answer.) But then I told her what I meant and explained myself, and she thought it was funny and the conversation went on to better things. Nothing came of it, but I thought I really had something here.

Yesterday, at another bar, I decided to try it again. The conversation went something like this:
She: "So what do you do?"
Me: "I'm in the ink and paper business."
She: (pause) "Interesting. What's that about?"
Me: "Well, it's complicated...I'm basically trying to, uh, find new ways to, uh, apply-" (I'm not very good at improvisation, even worse at lying - you can really tell by my face.)
She: "You're the writer, aren't you?"
Me: (pause) "Yeah?"
She: "Yeah. You used the same line on me last time."
Conversation over.


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billawaboy
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whoops, forgot my question: have any of you felt a stigma in calling yourself a writer - which sometimes might have led you to do stupid things?
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Foste
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I usually don't talk about it unless I see that the person whom I talking to shows an interest towards books or writing.

I remember one particular instance when I was "forced" to talk about being a writer.

My college hosted an informal meeting at a local cafe. U.S. students were visiting so I dropped by to meet some new people.

Everyone at the table had a turn introducing oneself and before I get the chance to actually speak my teacher drops the bomb:

"Oooh, he is an interesting case, he is a writer."

While I was flattered that he mentioned it a tiny urge surfaced: I wanted to throttle him senseless.

12 pairs of sparkly eyes were directed at me. Good thing I kept my cool but I was a bit flummoxed that people showed so much interest.


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posulliv
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Great question. Yes, I used to feel pretty strange calling myself a writer -- I got the funniest looks from the guy in the mirror.

Now that I've gone back to calling myself a storyteller and a typist things are back on track. Both are more accurate descriptions of what I really do all day.


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sholar
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My current choices are stay at home mom, writer or tutor. Technically, the SAHM is what I spend the most time at, then writing then tutoring. So, of course, I answer tutoring most of the time. That is the only one that pays and generally, it is the most relate-able. There are lots of potential things to discuss tied to tutoring- education policy, crazy teenage behavior, wealthy elitest parents, the economy (tutoring is a luxury), benefits of different types of motivation, bosses, coworkers, etc.

Writing is hard to discuss unless the other person is also a writer. And since I am not published, no one has ever read anything I wrote, so discussing what I write doesn't work. It can sometimes bridge into a conversation about what I have read recently, but as a fantasy fan, that often leads to the oh, so you are like a total geek.

As far as being a stay at home mom, well who really wants to hear about the exploits of mini-me? I really don't care about mini-you so I assume others feel the same. Though, I am one of those rare SAHMs that actually kind of hates kids. I love mine, but she is special and amazing. The rest of them, eh, they are just little balls of destruction and bodily fluids.


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billawaboy
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SAHM! Awesome acronym!
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satate
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I never call myself a writer. I will when I have something published. For now I am similar to Sholar, I am a stay at home mom and I teach piano and flute. I'm sure my conversations would be the same as Billawayboy's if I told others I was a writer.

"You're a writer? What book have you published?"
"Uh, none yet. I have one that I need to edit though."
"Oh,(awkward pause) so nice weather we're having."


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KayTi
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I do call myself a writer, but I also call myself a number of other things that don't occupy me full-time (a mom, the wife of..., a technology consultant, a volunteer, a parent education coordinator, a fan of native plants and natural gardening, a cat/dog owner, etc.)

The way I get people interested in me and my quasi-role as a writer (which hasn't gotten me paid much yet, but I aim to change that slight detail) is to talk about what I write. "I write young adult science fiction." If the person I'm talking to is at all interested further, I talk about how I write girl-oriented sci-fi. I write the books I wanted to read when I was a girl first interested in sci-fi, since it seemed like only guys wrote scifi and if they wrote about girls, it was more of an afterthought. This usually leads into a great conversation about girls and technology and science and how important it all is and the people leave thinking I'm really awesome. You know, because I want to inspire young minds and all.

My challenge to you is to suggest you should talk about the part of writing that excites you. Do you write fantasy because you love imagining alternate histories? Were you inspired by a specific writer? "I write fantasy because reading Lord of the Rings at 16 changed my life..." or "I write sci-fi stories about aliens and distant planets. I love imagining all the possibilities of what is out there. (look dreamily toward the sky.)"

I imagine you'll have greater luck with the objects of your writer speech if you talk about it with some excitement. If someone asks if you're published, you can always answer, "Not yet, but I'm trying!" Effort makes a good impression with the ladies, in my humble opinion.


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Violent Harvest
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Personally, if someone tells me they're a writer, the first thought in my head is not "Is this person published," but rather, "How much writing have you actually done?"

If someone tells me that they've written two 5k word short stories, I would take a different conversational approach than someone who told me they've written three 60k novels and they're just having trouble breaking through.

I don't see being published as a demonstration of prowess or higher value. I mean, realistically, if Courtney Love or Kobe Bryant write an autobiography tomorrow, they will sell millions of copies and they will be published, but that doesn't mean they can write.

If someone has literally spent years in front of their keyboard opening a vein of creativity, that speaks worlds to me. Not "did you make any money off of your writing?"


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon when it comes to questions like, "So, what do you do?"

A lot of times I'll respond with my own question: "When?" Because that can make a huge difference in my answer.

There are other, similar questions that can be stumbling blocks, as well:

"Do you work?" (a favorite question of SAHMs) (If I want to know something like that, I try to remember to ask, "Do you work outside of the home?")

"What's your sign?" (SO eighties--or is that sixties?--but still an attempt to start a conversation)


Anyway, I like KayTi's response, because it's a better, more specific answer than "I'm a writer," and if the person really cares, it really will open up a conversation.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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By the way, if you tell people you are a writer, you run the risk of having to listen to the plot of the book they've always wanted to write, and which they are willing to share the profits on 50/50, if you want to write it, since they came up with the idea.

I remember a guy I knew in high school who taught English at a middle school after he got out of college. I overheard him say, one time, that when people asked him what he did, he told them he was in construction, but he had a part-time job in the winter when it was too cold to do construction. When they asked what that was, and he said English teacher, they usually didn't know what to say.

It's an attempt to find something to talk about, but it's also a little touchy when it doesn't work (and doesn't find common ground).

I have to ask myself why I would be curmudgeonly about a question like "So, what do you do?" Most of them mean well, and I should give them a break, right?

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Violent Harvest
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"By the way, if you tell people you are a writer, you run the risk of having to listen to the plot of the book they've always wanted to write, and which they are willing to share the profits on 50/50, if you want to write it, since they came up with the idea."

LOL! I didn't really think about it until just now, but I realized that I've had so many intoxicated people come up to me and rattle off some hairbrained, plot-hole ridden, alcohol-induced story that's being told off their top of their head like it's been their greatest mental diamond in the rough for ten years.

Funny stuff.


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dee_boncci
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Hah, Kathleen. Your answer is a lot like mine to that question. I usually say "Lots of things." I've never been one to be confortable letting an occupation define me. I almost never tell people I'm a writer. None of my close friends know.
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InarticulateBabbler
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I'm a writer. I've never had a problem saying that. I never have a problem with the, "What have you written?" question, either.

What I struggle on is: "What do you write?" Because, "everything," isn't really a viable answer. I dabble in so many fields, it's hard to narrow it down. I have published Horror, Maintsream and Sci-Fi, but I actually work more in the Historical/Fantasy realms--or a mix of them. Fact is, I'm not opposed to many types of fiction. I don't see myself writing Chick-Lit, Literary or Romance, but, as I get older, I find merit in new places.


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MAP
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There are only four people who know me in real life that know I write. Writing is very personal to me, and I won't call myself a writer until I am published.

@ billawaboy, what is wrong with being a college student; going to college is just as interesting as a career.


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billawaboy
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True, there's really nothing wrong with saying "college student" or "writer" - I say it often and interchangeably. I was just tired of giving the same ol' answers. The monotony of the whole introduction/get-to-know-you routine was driving me bored.

Sometimes you just feel like saying "Oh me? I'm just a professional spelunker. It's my passion."

-
KDW, I think I dig what your saying, my folks to taught me it was impolite to ask about someone's job/salary. But I guess people are just more upfront these days.

-
About getting pitched a story: Florida must be short of writers, cuz I've never really met one in person, let alone have one pitch me a story. I guess the 20-something crowd aren't aiming to be writers. Or maybe they're busy writing. Heck I wish I had some writer friends - apart from online ones. You guys are the only writers I know. Every time I mention writing to my buds suddenly it's "duuhuhuuude, did you see LOST? It was f'in awesome!" (which is pretty sneaky because I love to theorize about LOST.)


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posulliv
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Hey, I'm in Florida and I can look out my upstairs window and see the houses of three writers from here, if you count getting paid to write travelogues, cookbooks, and documentaries writing (I do). Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry are still in Florida as far as I know. Heck, even Jimmy Buffett has a couple of novels under his belt. And that's just Floridians writing about Florida.

There aren't any universities within sixty miles of here, but I'll bet if you look around you'll find a lot of writers near you.

I'm not endorsing this, I don't know anything about it but that it exists, but there's something called the Florida Writers Association that has a web site with listings of local writers' groups.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited March 27, 2010).]


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Brad R Torgersen
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I had a hard time calling myself a writer, until I sold.

Now that I am making money, it feels much more legit.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I have to say, one of the cool times for saying you're a writer is when you are asking questions and someone asks you what business it is of yours. If you are a writer, Connie Willis says you can say, "I'm a writer. Everything is my business."

I love that. If you write, it's all grist for the mill, and EVERYTHING is your business. (And when you have a sponge--as in "always soaking it up!"--for a brain, you find yourself asking a LOT of questions, all the time.)


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billawaboy
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I struggled with this for years. What did it mean to be a writer? Should I call myself one? Some time ago I came to the conclusion that taking writing seriously as a craft is what makes someone a writer. The important result is (obviously) not the sale, but the work-product one has in mind.

As long as one focuses on the story that one wants to write, worked hard to develop the skills to write it, and did one's best to create the effects that the story was supposed to have - then that's the minimum a person needs to be a writer in my book, sale or no sale. Without that specific drive, writing just becomes a means to achieve something other than the work itself - money, fame, satisfaction, purpose, sex, destiny, etc. One can add these perks later, but the core has to be there.

Of course, one could argue that merely typing the words can makes one a writer regardless of the reason for which the work is being written - anyone vote for that? Is Machiavelli a writer simply because he wrote The Prince even thought he wrote it for many ulterior motives? What about the pulp writers some of whom may have written primarily for money or fame or some grand idea of being in an intellectually superior career than, say, being a waiter?

Hmm. I seem to be hijacking my own thread...


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axeminister
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I call myself a writer because I write.
I'm saving the term author for when I'm published.

My wife's an author, and at each social function there are one or two people who bee line to her and want to talk about getting published - all night.

The best was the guy who wanted to know how to get his seven books published. She says "How far are you into them?"
Answer: "A couple chapters."

Most writers we encounter - don't actually write, they just want to know how to get published. She politely tells them to contact her again when their books are finished.

I believe we've heard back from a grand total one person who we met at a party/wedding/event."

Axe


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rich
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Loved the anecdote, billawaboy. I did a speed dating thing awhile back, and one of the first questions, if not the first question, is: "So what do you do?"

I was unemployed at the time so I didn't want to say unemployed so my answer was writer. You could see the light die in their eyes when I said that. (Except for the lady who was high; the light in her eyes never died, but it definitely had nothing to do with me.)

And now that I'm gainfully employed, I still would say, "writer". My employment just pays the bills.

One of the guys at a workshop I went to had business cards made up, and underneath his name he just had a simple, "Writer". If you think of it as a business, approach it as a business, perhaps it will be your business.


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Robert Nowall
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For tax reasons, I have to claim another occupation---besides, it's the one that pays me.

*****

I'm in Florida as I write this...it's a big state.


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Lynda
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I always say I'm a sculptor and a novelist - it's the truth and I do spend about equal time on each. I also write magazine articles and PR kind of stuff, but not many folks are interested in that. I find it easier to explain the art biz to those who aren't involved in it than the writing biz. They just don't understand how I can spend long hours alone at my computer creating worlds, characters and action out of nothing but the random firing of my mental synapses. Explaining how I create a bronze from nothing but my imagination plus reference material, clay, wire and pipes is easier somehow, and easier for them to grasp, as well.
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billawaboy
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Awesome, Lynda! Sorry, you opened the door and I have to ask now cuz I'm curious - how does the art biz work? I admit I've wondered. Where is most of the demand these days - CGI? Ads? Comics? Do you need a degree or can any ol' fool freelance? How about for sculpting?


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posulliv
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rich's post, as usual, is so true it hurts:

quote:
You could see the light die in their eyes when I said that.

Now that all the good jobs in Retail Petroleum Distribution are dead except in New Jersey and Oregon, what's a guy supposed to say?

I find it odd that the same person that submits a story isn't really a writer until the moment someone they don't know all that well says, "I'll buy that" and less than a second later they're not just a writer but an author. If you finish what you write and send it out you're a writer in my book. If you have to wear one of those Steven King sleeveless sweaters, though, consider me unemployed.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited March 29, 2010).]


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sholar
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I would say those who actually write are writers. People who think about writing but have never actually written anything, not so much. Submission might be a good standard, except that if you are writing a novel, you could easily have written 100k words, polished it to 99% shine, but not submitted. And those people deserve to be called writers too.
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rich
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quote:
If you finish what you write and send it out you're a writer in my book.

I would agree with this criteria, also. I think the difference between this, and what sholar is saying is that by submitting you're actively trying to become a professional. In the age of blogs, i.e. public diaries, I don't think just writing is enough to say that you're a writer. Even if you're never published, if you continue to try to be published, then you're a writer.


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Brendan
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As I am employed elsewhere, I usually say scientist (or engineer or consultant) to the question of what I do. This is necessary background info for the following anecdote.

One time I was getting my hair cut at the local salon, and the young and somewhat ditsy girl asked me what I was going to do later that day. I told her that I was "writing my thesis". She asked what that was, so I said that it was a book about my research. I told her that I would typically write at a coffee shop. As I was the only customer at that time, the other hairdressers kept half an ear out to our conversation, adding comments that were occasionally amusing.

Towards the end of the cut, a petite, but somewhat older, hairdresser came up and talked to her about shifting a heavy chair to another part of the salon. The newcomer looked at my generous frame and, with a tone somewhere between cheeky and mischievous, suggested that "perhaps" I could shift it for her. My hairdresser immediately jumped to my defense "Oh, he couldn't possibly do that. He's a writer." The amused looks from all the other hairdressers was worth the price of the haircut.

I have never had negative feedback about being a writer - in fact, quite the opposite. My wife would complain that, even though she earned more than me, no one cared what she did (PA to a GM). But these same people would always be fascinated by what I did (both the science and the writing). So it surprises me that some here have received such negative feedback.

[This message has been edited by Brendan (edited March 29, 2010).]


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posulliv
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sholar wrote:

quote:
I would say those who actually write are writers.

You're right, writers are people who write.

I can only speak from my own experience, but even with that big fat novel that I'd polished to diamond-like brilliance I didn't feel much like a writer when I happened to glance down to see it there in its dusty drawer. Was I a writer while I was writing it? Absolutely. But I felt like a fraud when the book was done and just sitting there.

I was really afraid that I couldn't write another one, and if that was true then I wouldn't be able to tell myself I was a writer anymore. Of course I didn't have to face that fact if I just kept shining up the old diamond in the drawer.

With some help from a bunch of folks (some on this board) I moved past that, and while it's not a twelve-step process, here's how it works out for me now:

I think of myself as a writer when I'm writing.
I call myself a writer when I finish something.
I feel like a writer when I ship something.

I don't generally tell people who aren't writers that I'm a writer because it's just too weird. It may work for others, but I don't need it.

Anything after sending the work out is out of my control so that's where I draw the line. I don't like the idea of depending on selling a work as validation of my worth as a writer or as a person.

Whenever I feel that selling is what makes a writer I think of George Fitzmaurice, the Irish playwright whose early work "The Country Dress Maker" was at one time the fourth most staged play at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Fitzmaurice started writing plays that didn't draw, stopped selling, and died in obscurity.

When his effects were found there was a note in his suitcase offering his collected works for a paltry sum; I don't recall the exact amount. Of course that made a great news story, and renewed interest in his work, much of which had never been seen before.

In my opinion some of his best works are the ones that failed in Edwardian times. They feel modern today. If you're interested look in Google Books for "Five Plays by George Fitzmaurice" and compare the folk realism of "The Country Dressmaker" to the dramatic fantasy of "The Magic Glasses" or "The Dandy Dolls". These unsuccessful works by a writer who rarely published are taught in university now.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I come here for the fun, and suddenly I'm all serious. I didn't intend to imply that writers that have nothing finished yet aren't writers; I know they are.

Sorry for the long post.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited March 29, 2010).]


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rich
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Great post, Patrick.
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Teraen
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So is someone who has written and published a few books, but no longer does so still a writer?

For instance, JD Salinger only wrote one famous book, then no more. Was he a writer?

I wonder if the labels we tend to apply could use some help. Maybe we could use:

Daydreamer: one who wants to write, hasn't really done so.
Writer: someone who has either a) finished a story recently, or b) is working on one actively.
author: published. In other words, a "good" writer, because someone recognized their work as good enough to try and make money off it...

Yeah. I think I'll adopt this terminology.


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Robert Nowall
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Of course Salinger had something most of us haven't had---success.
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Teraen
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Hence the distinction between "author" and "writer."

I am a writer (see? Typing words right now!) But, nobody of consequence has ever recognized my brilliant prose, and nobody has ever thought it worth paying even $1.95 to read said brilliant prose.

I kind of like the distinctions given on this thread, it has actually helped me clear up my own thinking a bit. I am currently moving from the daydreamer to the writer definition. I've only got one complete novel manuscript and 2 short stories under my belt, yet I've never felt comfortable calling myself a writer simply because I type words. There is always that nagging voice at the back of my head saying it really doesn't count unless people are willing to sacrifice something to read it: namely, time and/or money.


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Robert Nowall
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Salinger did publish a couple of other books...famous one-book writers would include Harper "To Kill a Mockingbird" Lee and Margaret "Gone With the Wind" Mitchell. (I discount posthumous publication---Mitchell had one. I think Harper Lee is still alive.)
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Teraen
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Yeah, you're right. My reference to Salinger was because he was in the news recently and it was on my mind. So I wasn't being clear (ach! The cardinal sin of the writer!)

What I was trying to point out was that I found the distinction between an activity (writing) and an accomplishment (being published) to be very enlightening. It helped me think of the whole process in a new way. Now, I don't aspire to be a writer, I aspire to become an author.


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Robert Nowall
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Thought of another one-hit wonder...Ross "Raintree County" Lockridge. (Spelling uncertain.) You wouldn't want to do what he did for a followup act...
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Lynda
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billawaboy, sorry for being late in replying - I've been too busy to visit here for a few days.

The art biz is like the writing biz - if you're talented and can produce what's necessary, no formal education is required - seriously. My degree is in music. I'm self-taught at art, but I'm fairly successful as an fine artist. I couldn't support myself on what I make, but that's one of the many reasons I'm grateful to have a hubby who's an engineer!

I produce bronzes of my own design as well as portrait commissions, and I do a lot of trophies, both bronze and resin. Sometimes I'll get lucrative contracts with race tracks or breed associations to do the trophies for their year-end awards or for all their races in a season. That's a LOT of work, but also quite nice for my bank account. I do the original work and deal with the customer. I have casters (a bronze foundry and a husband-and-wife team of resin casters) who do the casting and finishing, a woman who makes my wooden bases (and she usually mounts the sculptures on them for me), a guy who does the name plates for trophies and does marble bases and name plates for me too. We are all tiny businesses, but we all work hard and produce beautiful work that pleases those who get it immensely, so I've heard. When Funny Cide won the Derby several years ago, he also won a New York Thoroughbred Breeder's Award, which I made (I did the NY TB Breeders awards for several years). Since he had 11 owners, and all of them wanted a trophy, I had to make ten more! Not a bad deal, LOL.

I use my writing skills in my art biz for advertising, my website and for contracts. And for novels and stories and magazine articles, as well.

To get back to your question - as an art career, I suspect CGI and ads are in the most demand, but if you think about it, everything that's made has been designed by an artist at some point. The shape of the keys on your keyboard, the shape of your monitor, the shape of your chair, the color of your carpet, your clothes, your dishes, your eyeglasses, your Pez dispenser, your TicTac container, etc. - all were designed by an artist (usually with computers, these days).

There ARE jobs for artists out there, lots of them, but the artist has to be clever enough to figure out which kind of jobs are available that he's interested in and then learn the skills necessary for the job either in school or on his own (like I did).

There aren't a lot of jobs for fine artists, which is why you hear about "starving artists" - those who consider themselves "starving" (and sometimes are, literally) aren't CGI or computer-design artists, but fine artists. Most fine artists have no business training, and some are taught in school that "selling your art is prostituting it!!" (sad but true - I've heard this from lots of folks with art degrees). I'm in BUSINESS and my business is making and SELLING art, so I do a lot better than a lot of fine artists simply because of that mindset and the way I've educated myself about my business.

Did I answer your question? Let me know if I haven't and I'll have another whack at it!


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Since the creator of this topic has moved it over to include art as well as business, I'm not going to feel guilty about referring you all to a blog post on technology taking over art. The title is "When we lay art down, what will we pick up?" and I think it is relevant, especially to some of the things Lynda has just said.


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posulliv
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If the artist is at the top of the pyramid as Sam Payne says (I don't buy that, unless we include all creators, not just those we class as artists at the top) and machines can satisfy that need, then I say "Bring it On". It will just make the pyramid taller, and more broad.

[This message has been edited by posulliv (edited March 31, 2010).]


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billawaboy
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Lynda, wow, you did answers pretty much what I was looking for. I only have a little experience with Maya and other 3d/2d software graphic. Currently I use Inkscape (a wonderful free graphics software contemporary with Photoshop I think; I also use gimp) in helping a friend design a boardgame with cards etc. I was wondering how I could market my limited skills. Tougher than I thought. I keep seeing freelance work for graphics and am trying to get into that. Currently I saving up for a wacom graphics tablet. Thanks! I didn't know much about art world, but now I see that pretty much anything that has design parameters needs an artist - but with the requiste special set of skills.

Interesting article KDW... I'd say i'm on the side of I don't think art will be taken over by technology. As with any piece that moves us - part of what make anything art is what we bring to it. If a robot with built in principles is programmed to create a drawing - that to me is still human created art - just via the tools of a machine. Someone isn't an artist just because they use a paintbrush instead of a mouse or a piece of computer code. Even if something like an AI comes about and creates art, I don't think that would kill art - most likely will inspire some to think 'if a robot can - I can too!' What I think destroys art is the loosening of the boundries. For example, I don't consider any Jackson Pollack work as ART. Rather he just brought to attention certain nontraditional techniques and ideas when using paint. That's are far as his work goes for me.

Personally i like the idea of create a paiting on computer - now people have no excuse of lack of skill with a brush, or mixing color. You can goto pixel level if you serious enough, to pull that image out of your head on onto a screen. What would the great artists do if they had the oppourtunity to create art on a computer? I wonder...

[This message has been edited by billawaboy (edited April 01, 2010).]


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