The Writing Life: reflections by a working writer. The Writing Life

Reflections of a working writer, a university screenwriting professor, and the editor of Oregon Literary Review.

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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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Finalist, Oregon Book Award

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"Can We Talk About Me For A Change?"
Playwright Debra Neff Nathans

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, a weblog for writers (resources)

Silliman's Blog
Ron Silliman, contemporary poetry and poetics

Maud Newton
literary links, amusements, politics, rants

Darren Barefoot
Technical and creative writing, theatre, Dublin

Rob's Writing Pains
Journey of a struggling writer.

Mad, Mad World
Cara Swann, fiction writer, journalist, "reflections on humanity, random news & my life."

Random musings on a writer's life and times.

Barbara Flaska's compilation of the best online articles about music and culture.

Write Of Way
Samantha Blackmon's written musings on writing (composition and rhetoric).

Alexander b. Craghead: blog
Writing, photography, and watercolors.

Rodney's Painted Pen
Rodney Bohen's daily commentary "on the wondrous two legged beast we fondly refer to as mankind." His pen runneth over.

Frustrated Writer
This one named Nicole.

scribble, scribble, scribble
Journalist Dale Keiger teaches nonfiction scribbling to undergraduate and graduate students at Johns Hopkins University.

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The official blog of science fiction / horror author Terence West.

William Gibson Blog
Famed author of Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic: The Screenplay.

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Joe Clifford Faust's "blog of a working writer: tracking writing projects, musings on the creative process, occasional side trips into music, media, politics, religion, etc."

A Writer's Diary
By Cynthia Harrison, who has the good sense to quote Virginia Woolf: "The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial."

Bow. James Bow.
The journal of James Bow and his writing.

Michael Montoure's weblog about writing, primarily horror and speculative fiction.

By David Henry, "a poet's weblog from Aberdeen, Scotland."

Modem Noise
By Adrian Bedford, a "fledgling Pro SF Writer, living in Perth, Australia."

"A wry writerly blog named in honour of a minor character in a minor Shirley Temple film."

Real Writers Bounce
Holly Lisle's blog, "a novelist's roadmap through the art and ordeal of finding the damned words."

2020 Hindsight
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downWrite creative
Phil Houtz's notes on the writing life.

Vivid: pieces from a writer's notebook
Blog of Canadian poet Erin Noteboom.

The Literary Saloon
The literary weblog at the complete review.

Rabbit Blog
The rabbit writes on popular culture.

This Girl's Calendar
Momoka writes short stories.

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Musings by writer Michael Gates.

Plays and Musicals -- A Writer's Introspective
A blog by John D. Nugent - Composer, Playwright, and Artistic Director of the Johnson City Independent Theatre Company

The American Sentimentalist
"Never has any people endured its own tragedy with so little sense of the tragic." Essays by Mark W. Anderson.

Screenwriting By Blog
David C. Daniel writes a screenplay online. "I've decided to publish the process as a way to push myself through it. From concept to completion, it'll be here."
Official site of occult fiction author Sean-Alonzo, exploring symbolism, alternative history, philosophy, secret societies and other areas of the esoteric tradition.

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Maunderings of Alex Epstein, tv scribe, about life, politics, and the tv show I'm co-creating.

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Venal Scene
The blog of bite-sized plays inspired by the news (by Dan Trujillo).

'Plaint of the Playwright
Rob Matsushita, a playwright from Wisconsin, "whines a lot."

I Pity Da Fool!
Glenn's adventures in screenwriting.

Time In Tel-Aviv
Hebrew modern literature at its best, by Corinna Hasofferett.

Big Window
Robin Reagler's poetry blog.

John Baker's Blog
Author of the Sam Turner and Stone Lewis novels.

The Writing Life With Dorothy Thompson
What goes on during a writer's busy day?

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Barry's Personal Blog
A running commentary on writing and the writing life.

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Maintained by Bonnie Burton of

Writer's Blog.
By easywriter. "From the walls of caves to cyberspace."

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Man Bytes Hollywood
Sharing tools, strategies and resources for the screenwriter's journey.

Mad for the smell of paper
A writing journal.

The Writing Life
A blog by Katey Schultz.

It Beats Working 9-5
A screenwriting blog by a young Canadian screenwriter.

Stealing Heaven From The Lips Of God
Writer & Artist, Dee Rimbaud reflects upon politics, religion, art, poetry, the meaning of life, the nature of God and why toast always lands butter side down on carpets.

Robert Peake
Heart and Mind, Fully Engage ... a poet's website.

Sidestepping Real
By Ren Powell, poet, children’s writer, essayist and editor.

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plagiarism blog

The Writing Life...
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
J.D. Salinger

"All my best friends are writers and are dead."
A friend over beer, Berkeley, winter, 1959

"And it came to pass that all the stars in the firmament had ceased to shine. But how was anyone to know?"
The Half-Life Conspiracy

After October 31, 2006,
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Friday, April 21, 2006  
On "being a writer"
There are many ways "to be" a writer. Writing can be a job, like being a janitor; writing can be an avocation, like being a priest. It can be all things in between.

Today, I consider being a writer rather like being a priest, which is to say, it is the focus and substance of my way of being in the world. My "God" is, well, I suppose I would call it literary coherence, according to my own vision of the world, my sensibilities, my ability to communicate what I feel and mean, which I am able to do much of the time (this was not always so). But in the past, I've had employment as a writer, both as a freelance journalist and, my last 9 to 5 job (more than that, of course), as managing editor at Oregon Business Magazine (over 20 years ago now). Interestingly enough, it was the conflict between writing as employment (managing editor) and writing as vocation (playwright, at the time) that forced me to choose between conflicting ways of "being a writer." While at the magazine, where I edited and also wrote features for each monthly issue in an under-staffed, over-worked environment common to small magazines, I discovered that when I went home at night, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was write. Therefore, my playwriting suffered immensely. I wrote myself out at work and while I wrote many features I was proud of, this was writing outside-in, like an employee, not inside-out, like an artist. I was making good money "as a writer" but I also was frustrated because I wasn't writing much of the work that mattered to me most. I was able to change this when I received a substantial literary grant -- seed money for a transition, if you will. The very next day after learning I received the award, I gave my notice at the magazine. I entered a much less secure, more stressful life as a more or less full-time playwright, and eventually I had to supplement my income with freelance journalism work, but I was happier and my playwriting flourished, especially after becoming playwright-in-residence at a theater company, which guaranteed a production of a new work of mine each season. A playwright's heaven. But none of this would have happened if I hadn't quit the magazine job. I sometimes wonder if I would have quit without the seed money of a grant -- I like to think so. I was becoming pretty frustrated. The grant, of course, made the transition financially less stressful than it would have been otherwise.

This came to mind after reading the two comments yesterday, at least one from a beginning writer, and also after an especially invigorating class yesterday, brainstorming new work by my students. There are so many ways to "be a writer" that one of the first tasks of the beginner is to try different forms of writing and ways to be a writer. There are perfectly happy journalists in the world. I wasn't one because I really wanted to be a playwright. I found it easier to be both when playwriting came first, journalism second, and not the other way around.

The great challenge of writing, of course, is paying bills. Work is the curse of the writing class ha ha. If your inclinations are toward the artistic modes of writing, I suggest using writing as a primary income source may end up causing conflict in your time management the way it did with me when I was at the magazine. The great American poet Wallace Stevens, after all, was an insurance man. Poets, of course, have the luxury of knowing they'll never make any money writing poetry. The rest of us, novelists and script writers, can always dream of striking it rich with a serious work that also finds a large audience because now and again this happens. I don't worry about "fame and fortune" the way I did when I was younger, though I still experience frustration that I don't have a larger audience than I do. At the same time, audiences and critics are fickle. The same local critics who praised my work so highly in the 1980s did not give me the time of day two decades later when I was writing superior work (as measured by international, i.e. non-local, success). I especially recall a play that was a finalist for a prestigious prize in Ireland that totally bombed here, raked over the critical coal in mean-spirited reviews. Fascinating, really. When I became a judge myself for various literary competitions, I realized what a crap shoot the whole prize and grants games are. My tastes were the determining factor, not any inherent quality in the world. It's a relative business. The "secret" is to place the right material in front of the right judge at the right time, if winning a competition is your goal.

So writers can't worry about this stuff or they'd go nuts. You have to do your work for other reasons. For your own reasons. For me, now, it's simply the way I am in the world. The way I breathe in the world. It's really that simple. This is not a good thing in many ways -- more than one ex-wife has pointed out to me that I'm married to my work -- but I believe it's an accurate description of what it means to me "to be a writer."

4/21/2006 08:06:00 AM | 2 comments


Interesting narrative of your writing history. Didn't know you left a "real" job to be a playwright. Even with a grant, it took extraordinary commitment. I thought your comment about poets was funny, because it's true.

In 1979 I took a job in IT with a large electric utility. They gave me an office and a trash basket. A few weeks after starting, I taped a headline I had cut from a newspaper to the inside top of the wastebasket. It read, "Gonna Fly Now," and served as a reminder of what I intended to do someday. Twenty years later I did it - I quit my good-paying job and began writing full time.

On my last day at work I walked past the guard's desk with my wastebasket in my arms, stuffed with personal items. The guard asked me if I was stealing the trash basket, and I said I was. We both laughed. It now sits in a corner of my home office, the headline still intact.

You have been an invaluable support to me in my new career, mostly from reading your posts, and it has meant the world to me.

George Smith
Lawrenceville, Georgia
Appreciate the comments, George.

You should send us something at Oregon Literary Review.
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