Sunday, July 31, 2005

Validation! I crave validation!

Writing is a psychologically dangerous profession. We writers tend to be insecure anyway, which is why we choose such an isolated activity. But we open ourselves up to criticism and rejection whenever we let other people read our stuff. We send it out to be evaluated, judged, and deemed “suitable for publication” by people who believe they’re qualified to do so. These people are called editors.

We writers have more. . . colorful names for them.

The problem comes because writers take rejection personally. It’s not just that our work wasn’t good enough or right for that publication. It’s that there’s something wrong with us as people. Our souls are stained. We’ve got some fundamental flaw in our psyches that the editors recognize but we don’t. And while we never admit it, this is what we believe deep down in the dark places we never talk about, but end up making it onto paper. Or our blogs.

“Don’t take it personally,” other writers tell us "Just resubmit it somewhere else." Writers like Stephen King and his multi-million dollar empire. I'll stop taking it personally, Stephen, as soon as you funnel your next book advance my way. Until then, I’ll crumple up my rejection letters, gnash my teeth, and have my revenge fantasies against these nay-sayers of my life’s work.

I remember two editors in particular. One was an editor of a publication who decided he didn’t want to be bothered with dealing with the dirty rabble of writers who dared to distract him from putting out a magazine. So he had a rejection stamp made, and he stamped it on everyone’s submission and sent it back. Because he stamped “Does not meet our needs” on my humor submission.

My fellow humor writers said I should get my own stamp that says “Doesn’t know shit” and stamp it on his rejection and send it back to him. I didn’t, but I did take some satisfaction when his magazine folded. Apparently his magazine didn't meet his readers' needs.

Another one was a guy who had his own website. He listed all the humor writers on the web. I had been writing for two years, had my own website for about six months, and was very excited to find that I made his list. A month later, I discovered I wasn’t on it anymore. I emailed him and asked why. “You’re not funny,” he responded.

Jerk. I mean, it’s one thing to say “I don’t like it.” It’s another thing to speak in the realm of universal truths and say “YOU are NOT funny.” A devastating blow to someone who calls himself a humor writer. But I never even considered quitting. I just focused on my column, worked at it, and made it better.

I got funnier and funnier, and have been doing this for over 10 years now. My column appears every week, both in print and online, and is read by over 10,000 people. Meanwhile, this guy’s website -- a list of funny people, mind you. Not his own work, just a list of other people -- went under less than a year later. Now who’s funny? The guy who creates it and is still published 10 years later? Or the guy who just stood on the sidelines and watched other people do it?

Those who can write, do. Those who can’t, edit. Those who can’t edit make stupid lists about people they wish they could be.

Not that I’m bitter. I just have an overdeveloped sense of schadenfreude about people who didn’t believe in me.

I’ve been thinking about these two editors a lot as I’ve been working on my first book. It’s a collection of Guy columns, and I’m very optimistic about it. I’m nervous about sending it out, well, because I’m a writer, and we’re very insecure about that sort of thing. But I’m maintaining a positive mental attitude about its publication.

And I’ll meet these two guys again. It will be at the launch party of my book, or at one of my book signings around the country. They’ll introduce themselves, and say “Hey, do you remember me? I’m the guy who. . .” and they’ll remind me of their story, and how they didn’t believe in me, but wow look at how far you’ve come I’m glad you’re so successful.

I’ll thank them and give them a copy of my book to show there’s no hard feelings. They’ll get a picture taken with me and say they’re looking forward to reading my book.

And then I’ll hand them my ticket and a couple bucks and they’ll retrieve my car from valet parking for me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The dangers of blogging

It's hard being a humor writer. We find humor in everyday situations, whether it's work, school, or home. The problem is that most situations are only funny to us and the people around us, so they don't make good topics. The other danger is that a situation could be hilarious but you'd end up offending an awful lot of people. Maybe even your bosses.

That's why there are sooooo many warnings to bloggers not to write about work or your industry. It happened to Nadine Haobsh, fellow blogger here on blogspot.com. She publishes Jolie in NYC, an insider's look at the beauty industry. She used to be anonymous, but was outed somehow, and was not only fired from her job, but had another job offer taken away.

Definitely a raw deal! Of course, she now has a book deal out, so I can only hope she makes more money than she would have at both jobs.

Jolie/Nadine's situation definitely served to educate me: don't blog about your work, I told myself. Then I realized I didn't have a blog, which made it a moot point. So I created this blog so I could specifically not write about work. So thank you Jolie, and good luck. As a Guy with a capital G, I don't do beauty stuff. However, I'm a sucker for a story like yours, so I'll buy the book when it comes out.

Coincidentally, I have found myself tempted to violate my own rule of not writing about work. I had an extremely funny situation happen to me a few weeks ago, and it became the topic of a column. I showed it to a few people, and they all said the same thing.

"It's freaking hilarious. You can't publish it."

So here I am with my own now-solved dilemma. I have a great story that I can't -- and won't -- tell (so don't ask). I like my job too much to even risk such a thing. And while I'm inspired by Jolie in NYC, I somehow don't think people will be clamoring for a book written by a Midwest small business marketing director-slash-weeekly humor columnist. So the column has been pitched -- my first spiked story after 525 consecutive columns, I'm proud to say -- and I'm working on a new one.

Oh well. Maybe I'll publish it when I'm fabulously wealthy.

Monday, July 25, 2005

New website coming

I've always enjoyed writing, and thought I was pretty good at web design, but I'm starting to hate the latter because it's keeping me away from the former. I've been trying to come up with a new web layout, and hope to launch Laughing Stalk 3.0 in the next few days. New photos, new look, same funny stuff. . . I hope.

The problem is that if a writer wants to become published, he or she needs to become a marketer. Most writers bemoan this fact and whine about how they're artists, not businesspeople. And this is true for many of the ones I've met. No business sense, no idea of how to market themselves, and no idea that their work has only begun once their article is written.

Basically, the rule of writing (or any artistic endeavor) is this: you're not just a writer anymore; you're a businessperson. You have a brand to build: it's [insert name here]. You need to market, sell, and promote yourself if you ever want to be seen as a writer. You have to learn how to write solid cover letters, get a good looking website, and figure out how to get mroe and more people to read your stuff.

Look, I know it's drudgery, and your art should rise above the mundanities of everyday nonsense like money and trickery. But how many literary savants are out there that we've never heard of? I'd guess plenty. I do sales and marketing for a day job, and even I don't enjoy doing it for my writintg. But it has to be done.

So if anyone wants any pointers on how and where to do it, let me know. I'll come across with a few free ideas for you (actually a lot, because I like to hear myself talk!). Just email me at the blog link provided here. And check out my website sometime after July 27th to see Laughing Stalk 3.0.

Friday, July 22, 2005

My first post

Wow, my first blog post! I'm sure every new blogger has one of these. Don't worry. I'll delete it as soon as I discover it's a lame thing every blogger does.

I created this blog because of all the frustrations I've had as a humor writer. We're the bastard children of all writers, apparently. People think that if we make people laugh, we're clowns and therefore, not serious writers. But I can say this: more people remember writers like Dave Barry and Bruce Cameron than they do David Brooks or David Broder. They don't stand around the water cooler and say, "Hey, do you remember that column Broder did on Clinton's foreign policy on China? Man, I furrowed my brow over that one!"

They
DO however, say, "Hey, did you ever read Bruce Cameron's '8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter? Man, I laughed my ass off!"

So this is going to be a glimpse in the life of a humor writer. I hope you enjoy it.