1.24.2015

Juice Flow

This morning, I got up around 7 AM to get ready for a three hour Creative Non-Fiction Workshop via the UW Madison Continuing Studies program (the full course title was How to Write Compelling Creative Non-Fiction). I fed Buddy and Foster and let them out, drank some coffee, and ate some tofu sauteed in olive oil with herbs and spices, before I left the house about 8 AM to drive downtown.

I wasn't exactly sure where I was going, so I gave myself ample time to get there and explore parking options before the 9 AM workshop began. I chose the Lake Street public parking ramp and walked the couple of blocks to the Lowell Center. A cute college co-ed working the reception desk directed me to the classroom and I arrived about 15 minutes early.

The workshop instructor, Laurie Scheer, and one other student were already in the lecture room.

The class was basically a discussion about the elements of creative non-fiction that make it different from journalism (pure factual reporting) and fiction (fabrication, reality-based or not). Creative non-fiction is a form of writing in which the writer's perspective is an integral part of the reality that is being written about. In some cases, the author is a participant narrator and in some cases they are just providing an informed analysis of reality, adding their own slant. But the key element is that the writer is not objectively outside of the writing, as with journalism. They are mentally or physically "in it." Creative non-fiction is exemplified in the work of Hunter S. Thompson (Gonzo Journalism; participant narrator) and Jon Krakauer (informed expert analysis; "Into the Wild"). Creative non-fiction goes beyond reporting on reality. It incorporates the thoughts, experiences, analyses, and slant of the author. To that extent, it is more subjective than objective journalism is, but it is still a rendering of reality as filtered through the writer's mind. In the case of Hunter S. Thompson, it is unclear how reality based the rendering is after it passes through the meat grinder of his drug- and alcohol-addled neurons. But it still makes for a compelling read and most people get something out of it, albeit heavily slathered in the gooey gray matter of Thompson's thought patterns.

As often happens to me in these sorts of classes, I got excited once the discussion began and ideas began swarming my mind, like screaming banshees, distracting me from the topics and discussion as I began to jot these ideas down in my JUICE journal, which I had fortuitously brought with me. It is probably 80% this inspirado that makes these classes worthwhile for me. For some reason, when I attend these workshops, my mind explodes with ideas and I am able to focus my mind like a laser. The only problem is, my focus is on my ideas, not the topics of the workshop itself. So I probably only gleaned about 20% of the material the instructor covered, which was OK given that a lot of it I already knew...I just sought reinforcement of my knowledge base. That said, I acquired a few new tools I am going to use to try to improve my writing. The instructor also offered to critique up to 1,500 words of our creative non-fiction as part of the course fee, which to me is far more valuable than the knowledge gained. Provided I can get her my piece by the deadline of February 9, that feedback will be great.

It is both an up side and a down side of these classes that they inspire me to write. Ultimately, it is all about the writing. You can learn all you want about a genre of writing, but ultimately you have to put pen to paper.

One idea that came to me during the class was this one...

The personal essay is a popular form of creative non-fiction (this blog post is one!). One reason is because it is fairly easy for people with a grasp of English to write about personal experiences. Almost anyone can do it. The personal essay is to the field of non-fiction as the pun is to humor. The pun is an easy form of wit. Most people, even those without a sense of humor, stumble on a pun every once in a while (hence the cliche "no pun intended" uttered whenever a pun manufactures itself from the mind, unbeknownst to the punner until the very words cross their lips). Likewise, anyone can type out a personal essay. It's just writing what you know, feel, and experience. However, continuing the analogy, there are good puns and bad puns, just as their are good personal essays and bad ones (thus far, I would rate this blog post mediocre, but if you are still reading it, then I have underestimated my prose powers). You can write a personal essay even when there is no other inspiration to draw from. It is "filler" in many ways, something you can do to practice the mechanics of writing about personal experience.

About four years ago, I set a goal to blog for at least 10 minutes every day. Writing books that I read always suggested free writing for 10 minutes a day to practice the mechanics of writing, the way an athlete goes for a 5k run to stay in shape for the big marathon in a few months. It's a way to limber up the writing neurons in the brain. I didn't always manage to write for 10 minutes every day, but I did most days and after four years I definitely feel like I am a better writer and writing comes a lot more easily to me now.

The reason I am taking writing classes and workshops over the next couple of months is actually to get beyond the personal essay and do some more meaningful and hopefully publishable writing. I still have a goal to publish my JUICE YOUR LIFE book before I am 50. I have no illusions of becoming a profitable writer, making a living on my writing passion. But if it happened, that would be totally fine. It does happen to some people. Not very often, but it does. And I suppose what separates the wheat from the chaff is DOING. That is, writers who write prolifically push the odds in their favor, because you can't help but get better and better at something if you practice it all the goddam time, as I do with these blog posts. The goal with the writing courses I am signed up to take is to focus my skills and direct them to creating a viable written product that people will read and appreciate. If it brings enough VALUE to others, maybe they will even pay money for it. That correlates with writing something that is awesome. Not just good or great. Awesome. Because it has to rise above all the other good and great things out there and be sought after above those things.

I am totally optimistic I can get there, with diligence and focus and practice and DOING. However, if I only get most of the way there, that's cool too.

I call it LOTTERY THINKING when I think about success in the arts, like music and writing, my main passions. When you buy a lottery ticket, your chances of winning are somewhere between zero and epsilon (a number slightly larger than zero). But the chances that SOMEONE will win the lottery are better than 50% usually. It is this fact that someone usually wins the lottery that keeps people buying a ticket.

In pop music, only about 1% of signed artists are successful enough to make a living at their art. But naive artists continue to quest for the elusive record deal in the uber optimistic belief that they will be the next Rock Gods. It's true that SOMEONE will be selected by the record industry corporate suits to be the next Rock Gods, but that someone is very unlikely to be most musicians and artists. There are a lot of reasons why this is. Even among artists who get signed to record deals, the odds of success are highly stacked against them because recording contracts favor the industry executives, not the artists. A label can sign an artist, have them record and album with a cash advance, and then decide not to go forward with the record. The artist owes the label back its advance. When they got the money it was all bitches and drugs and fun, but the Piper has to be repaid.

In high school, I was so naive that I was sure I was going to become a rockstar, sign a record deal, and become famous. Then I learned about the music industry and I don't even want to be a signed artist now. The music business is totally corrupt and exploitative. I much prefer the DIY approach. Plus, the record industry has a demographic and a specific sound it is looking for. It's very narrow. There is so much great local independent live music in most places in the world that will never even be considered by the record industry. And who can blame them. They go after the money, and that's usually "the kids," who buy music with their parents' money.

As I get older, my tastes in music expand exponentially and I appreciate all kinds of local music. It's really good. It's just not especially "marketable" on a large scale. Some DIY artists niche market to their friends and fans, using crowd sourcing. That's a delightful way to bypass the corrupt music business.

That's how writing is too. It should be about doing great art, even if it is not commercial. Someone will appreciate great art, even if it is only three people. You can definitely stack the lottery odds in your favor by practicing and trying to be the BEST. That's where the lottery analogy breaks down, because the lottery is by random chance. Success in the arts has a big chance factor, but also a big DOING factor. They say it takes 10,000 hours of doing to be great. I don't know how long that is, but someone figured out that the Beatles had played about 10,000 hours of shows, including street busking, before they hit it big. Numbers don't lie.

Anyway, I have a hot date, and I need to go shower. There is a high correlation between scoring chicks and personal hygiene, and damned if I am not going to push those odds in my favor.

P.S. This is clerical, but I just needed to throw a backlink to Summerfest lineup here, for SEO reasons on another post. Thanks GOOGLE...love you!

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