Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Guest Blogger: George Singleton

Writing Through the Depression

There is no better time to write, I believe, than when bread costs ten bucks a loaf, everyone’s unemployed, gasoline prices unpredictably jump fifty cents an hour, and so on. The best time to write, oddly enough, occurs when the publishing houses decide to stop acquiring books, editors get laid off, and PR departments vanish. Right about now--and certainly for the next couple years, I’d say--is prime writing time. I understand that there will be doubters to my argument, and let me point out that the forthcoming spiel will only work if and only if the writer is moderately insane and completely obsessed.

During economic hardships and rising unemployment, most dependable, level-headed people spend their time looking for work, or extra work. They cut back on frivolous expenditures like overpriced coffee, books, magazine subscriptions, dining out, heat, and electricity. Ninety-eight percent of the people who thought, “You know, I’m going to write a novel this year” focus on other goals, like how to ruin their stockbrokers’ lives, or flatten the tires of their bankers, or perfecting hexes on governors and legislators. So right away for really determined writers, the playing field’s much bigger and less opponents are out there.

In a year or five, when the nation is back on its feet economically, who is going to have about three manuscripts ready for the publishing houses? It ain’t going to be the pinheads who spent all that time looking for work, or picketing the state house.

Now, I understand that you might not have electricity, thus no use of a computer, and so on. I have met people who said, “I can’t write unless I’m writing on a computer. I can’t handwrite! I must have a computer. Where’s my computer? Hey, don’t ask me to write a draft in a notebook, then retype the thing,” et cetera. Those people should will never continue to write, especially these days. Good. They’re the ones who always have their computers crash anyway, and they don’t have hard copies, and then they whine forever. Less of those writers is fine by me.

You’ll need pens and pencils and paper, and there’s no money. I have found that stealing bank pens can be fun. There are all kinds of pens nowadays, since the bailouts. They have more pens than they need, seeing as no one’s going in there to make a deposit. Pen on a metal chain? No problem with some wire cutters. Also, if you should happen to walk past a golf course while collecting aluminum cans on the side of the road, meander over to the carts and notice how those stubby little pencils are shoved onto the steering wheels. For paper it only takes a side trip to a hotel between noon and four in the afternoon. Pretend you know what you’re doing. Go down the halls, enter the open rooms when the cleaning person’s distracted, and find the stationary.

Or if you still have a job now, start stealing copy paper.

If you no longer have electricity, you might have to write only in the daylight hours. Or you could write your novel at the bank’s withdrawal/deposit slip kiosk, seeing as the only people who’ll distract you are other writers in search of pens. Swipe some of those slips of paper while you’re there in case the hotels run out of stationary.

Now jump ahead: The lights come back on, people get hired, and the aforementioned 98% of novel writers begin their books. You have all these handwritten manuscripts. As long as your fingers haven’t frozen off, it’s time to type them up, send them to needy publishing houses, and so on. You’re way ahead of everyone else.

And of course, during those moments when you wonder if it’s really worth it, you’ll pick up Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds for more of these motivational diatribes. Or if you have an irrational friend who continues to write, you’ll direct him or her to the book. I hope. So I can buy new shoes, to walk to the bank, to steal pens…

George Singleton’s the author of four collections of shorts stories (These People Are Us, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars, Drowning in Gruel); two novels, (Novel, Work Shirts for Madman); and a new book of advice called Pep Talks, Warnings, and Screeds. His stories have appeared in magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Georgia Review, and Southern Review, among others. He’s had work anthologized in nine editions of New Stories from the South. Singleton lives in Dacusville, South Carolina.


Anonymous said...

Love it! And I totally relate. Off to the bank to steal pens.

Carolyn said...

Thanks for that George. I needed it.