Thursday, March 31, 2011

Want to Write? Don't Do It for the Money.

A friend on a Yahoo Group recently linked us to an author who was musing about how writer's will make money in the future. I want to know how they're going to make money NOW?

I was at a recent Chicago Writer's Association event giving a presentation about The Writing Life. It's one I've given before in some shape or form. I always talk about "knowing your values." What I mean by that is this: think about why you write; determine what it is that motivates you to put story to paper. Most will say it's not about money. Well, it better not be because you are not going to get rich. Oh sure, there will be a few breakouts who will write a bestseller and get big four-book contracts, but that is a very...very...small percentage.

When I used to work full time in the broadcasting business, I was asked about making money all the time by students and career seekers. "You make a lot, right?" they'd ask. All they had heard about were the salaries of Howard Stern and Oprah. Just like in the literary world, about 1-percent of the broadcasters are millionaires, most rough out a respectable living, some starve. At the recent BEA (Book Expo America), a presenter had a statistic: something like 3-5 percent of the books published sell more than 1000 copies; the rest less fewer. Fewer than 1000!

It's become a cliche, but you better be writing because you can't think of doing anything else that is so satisfying, rewarding, insightful.

Remember - Van Gogh was a pauper. He sold his first painting only after his death. This is not to be negative, it's about "knowing your values." If you're writing because you want to be rich, I would suggest making writing a hobby and go get your MBA. Come to think of it, these days getting your MBA may not make you rich, either. :)

David W. Berner

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Wild, Wild West of Publishing Rides Again

A group of writers from the Chicago Writers Association have been kicking around a discussion about self-publishing and traditional publishing. Not exactly a new fresh subject these days, I know. So much talk about the way to go for an author with a manuscript, and even more talk about readers - how do they really want to read an author's work? Paper, digital bytes?

I saw this in the NY Times this morning...

If you are a writer, looking for a publisher or an agent, this story is worth a read. It's not the typical of the publishing world these days - but, it is a sign, I believe, of how the change has come and is likely never going to reverse itself, of how publishers are rethinking their existence, and of how self-publishing has taken on new and interesting hues, and the colors just keep on changing.

David W. Berner

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remember the REAL Elizabeth Taylor

I didn't grow up in the Mad Men era of Elizabeth Taylor. I remember her mostly as a celebrity, a philanthropist, and a friend of Michael Jackson. But, even as a little boy, I was keenly aware of the black-n-white images of Taylor, especially from the movies Butterfield 8 and Giant, and I was enthralled. She was stunning, strong, interesting. Even as a pre-pubescent I knew there was something special about her. Oh sure, she was beautiful. But it was more than that. She was real.

Elizabeth Taylor was my mother's favorite. Or, wait, was that Audrey Hepburn? Or Eva Gardner? Well, Taylor was certainly ONE of her favorites. My mother, when she was a young woman, looked a bit like Taylor. Not to take away anything from my mother, but there were a lot of women in those grainy black-n-white photos from the late 50s and early 60s that looked like actresses. Everyone was always dressed up, hair perfect, smiling in that 'ingenue' sort of way. Elizabeth Taylor was part of the reason.

If you only know Taylor as an older woman, heftier than her movie days, sitting in the audience at an awards ceremony, or showing up on a goofy talk show, or making tabloid news with ailments and strange marriages to construction workers, then you have missed out on the story of one of Hollywood's most endearing, candid, talented stars from an era when "star" really meant something.

Over the next few days, maybe over the weekend, rent an Elizabeth Taylor movie - a good one - A Place in the Sun, Giant, Butterfield 8, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (forget Cleopatra) - and marvel how she takes over the screen, but yet seems so accessible. If you're younger than 50, it's likely you know only half of her marvelous story. Take some time to read about, take in, watch the early and middle years of her time before the camera and discover an American original.

David W. Berner

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where is all the good writing? Right in front of you!

I was reading a piece in the latest GQ magazine this morning over oatmeal and coffee. "Operation Iraqi Vacation" by Saki Knafo is a wonderful piece. It's first-person journalism, memoir, and personal essay all wrapped into one. And it got me thinking about where all the good writing is these days? What I mean by that is this - with all the new platforms for writing, where can one find the truly solid, authentic, meaningful writing?

It's not a simple answer, really. But I do have my own observations. GQ, as much as it can be an advertising hound (more ad pages than real writing), it still has at least one tremendous piece of writing every month. But my favorite old-style magazine for great writing remains Esquire. In its heyday it was unmatched. Hemingway wrote in Esquire, for goodness sake! But even today, it has a marvelous bench of writers, consistently producing engaging, interesting, sometimes groundbreaking work, and much of it is personal essay/journalism.

Certainly there's plenty of good writing on the web. SLATE comes to mind, and there are others. Sure, there's a lot of junk on the web. But there are gems too. Obviously, the great writing in the NY Times, The New Yorker, etc. is still there and of course found on the web.

One other thing today - related, somewhat.

It's the birthday today of poet Billy Collins. Who once said, "My poetry is suburban, it's domestic, it's middle class, and it's sort of unashamedly that, but I hope there's enough imaginative play in there that it's not simply poems about barbecuing."
I love this! It reminds me that memoir and personal essay does not have to be fantastical. It does not have to be incredibly harrowing. It just has to relate to the human condition in a way that is uniquely reflective. This also reminds me of John Updike's famous line, "My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me—and to give the mundane its beautiful due."

Live your day, remember your moments.

David W. Berner

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Online Writing Workshops, Classes

I teach college, and when I teach online classes, they are exclusively writing classes. When I was in school finishing my MFA in Creative Writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University, all of my classes were online. When we met in person it was at a designated residency. They were very helpful and fruitful residencies, I will say. But, honestly, the online writing classes were the best of the process - convenient, efficient, and highly rewarding.

I find the same thing when I teach a class online. Yes, it can be a bit impersonal. But the feedback I am able to give and the give-and-take online between teacher and student works exceptionally well. I am even able to deliver "lectures" on You Tube or Vimeo. Now, not all online classes work as well as writing-based online classes. I believe web-based creative writing workshops, if facilitated well, can be a dynamite experience for everyone.

Don't dismiss taking an online writing class. Sure, check out the credentials of the teacher, the institution or school conducting the class, but be open, willing to work with the new technologies, not against them. It will benefit you and your writing as you move forward as an artist.

David W. Berner

Monday, March 14, 2011

Re-Drafting, Editing, is NEVER Over

I have a few things going on.

First, I have a new manuscript I'm shopping around. Second, I'm beginning (very much BEGINNING) a new manuscript, a child's memoir of the 1960s. Third, I've been doing a number of readings around Chicago. There are a few more things, like touch-up painting at my house, moving furniture around, selling a few things on Craigslist, getting ready for some travel related to writing work - Vegas, Rockford, Illinois and Orlando (I'm pleased to have been named the Writer-in-Residence at the Jack Kerouac Project) - and taking the car to the shop.

The first three, however, have fueled, in a way, yet another "something" I've been doing: editing.

Does it every stop? Every time I send out the manuscript for an agent or editor, I tweak it, compulsively. I change a sentence, rework a paragraph, substitute a word. It's never anything major, but there is ALWAYS...something. Then in the new manuscript, when I write one day and return to it the next for a redraft, I edit again. And with the readings, well, that's continual editing. As many of your know, reading your work, making it ready for the spoken word, sometimes means a bit of rewriting to allow it to be at its best when delivered live. So, yes, more editing.

The redrafting, the editing process, never goes away. You can edit forever. There is never a perfect manuscript, it seems. Even if it's technically right, the subjectivity of an editor or agent will request a shift, a change, an edit in content.

Writing is not a scientific endeavor; it's an art. Creative writing is a living, breathing entity. It has its own life, in many ways, and needs to be massaged. Sure, sooner or later in the real world, we have to say, "This is it. This is as good as it's getting" and stop the redrafting. Deadlines help, right? But sometimes our internal clock, and our internal self-confidence has to allow us to put the work "to bed."

It's not easy, I can attest to that. In fact, this blog entry is coming to an end right now because I have some editing to do.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Question of the Day...

Is the personal essay becoming the "I've got something wrong with me" essay? Disease, abuse, death of a loved-one. I've got nothing against this. There is a place for it and some of the writing on these subjects is incredibly wonderful, heartfelt, and strong. But can't we write a couple of personal essays/memoirs that are NOT about the three Ds - death, disease, and dysfunction?

Think Phillip Lopate's - "Confessions of a Shusher" - PLEASE!

Just a thought in my day...

David W. Berner

More Publicity than Charlie Sheen!

Well, not really. But Charlie is EVERYWHERE! So, any author would love to have the level of his pub. Of course, not the content of his pub. Train wreck!

Good things since last checking in...

I was privileged to present at the Writer's Festival at University of Wisconsin this past weekend. Two workshops: one on memoir, another on outlining for creative people. Good students, good group, fun time.

New honor. I'm humbled to have been award 2nd place in the My Kind of Town writing competition for the Chicago Writer's Association. (CWA) Congrats to Cynthia Clampitt for his first place essay, and Geralyn Mcgrady's third place work. Great reading!

And - ACCIDENTAL LESSONS, my memoir, has been featured twice now at Book Daily ( You can go there and read a full chapter, if you like.

Getting ready for a presentation at the Beverly Library in Chicago and then to Rockford for a reading/signing/presentation for a new writer's group and an event at Barnes and Noble. Looking forward to it.

Now, regarding Charlie Sheen - HE should write a memoir! Oh, he is! Well...of course he is....

David W. Berner