Ah, yes. Last week I went out. After much whining and "I don't really feel like getting out and talking to people I don't know tonight"-ing my longsuffering husband INSISTED that I go to the event which I had dog-eared in the latest edition of the Boise Weekly.
So off I went to the Rediscovered Bookshop to join the the Boise Non-Fiction Writers Group in hearing a presentation entitled "Writing for a Living." If I had to grade the evening, I would give it an "exceeds expectations."
First of all, the kind of people who show up for a non-fiction writing group seem to have a lot more going for them than your average wanna-be writers. Aspiring fiction writers remind me of community theater actors (I know that of which I speak) in that there are many many many of them who hope to become famous and successful and think that all they need is a lucky break or the right agent and then the world will know how wonderful they are; but, in fact, very few of them are talented. (There ARE a few of us who just do these things just because we enjoy them and not because we think we could ever make a living at it.)
So, the non-fiction writers were an interesting bunch. There were people there who actually had JOBS as writers. There were medical writers for Health Net, and a land-use writer. There was a man writing a book about the year 1955, and another man who brought his just-completed manuscript on the use of creative writing in therapy. In a group of 20, there were THREE people with British accents, none of whom knew each other. And this was in Boise. The speaker was really late, so we got a chance to chat and then introduce ourselves. I sat next to a woman about 15 years my senior named Elizabeth. She had the loveliest accent and had written a children's book based on her childhood with her brother Jack. I had to suppress a nearly irresistible urge to invite her home for a cup of tea. I would have, if I hadn't known that we're not long for Boise.
Nor did the speaker disappoint. Her name was (and is) Jill Kuraitis; she is the Idaho editor of NewWest.net, and her bio is worth a read. She is a corker. While we couldn't be farther apart ideologically, she was a font of useful information. She told us where the money is. Where is the money? Not in memoir or fiction or personal stories. It is in magazine articles 3-5 pages in length, packed with data. The money is in information. To make a living writing, one needs to be putting out about 3500 words (or 4-5 articles) per week.
She told us what she hates as an editor: grammar and punctuation errors, and boring pitch letters. She told us, as a successful non-fiction writer herself, what she writes about and how she pitches stories. It was an utterly fascinating look into a world I have no interest in joining but always wondered how it worked.
In all, it was an invigorating night. The world being the place it is, there were of course a few downers. One woman was looking for a publisher for her really tragic and spiritually creepy memoir. One man (in his late sixties?) had written down his life story and throughout the talk asked many questions which showed that he had a hard time thinking about anything but himself. He seemed to lack any basic understanding of what we were even talking about.
After the talk wrapped up, I chatted with a few people who were curious about my name. As I was leaving the store, the older clueless man engaged me in conversation. I might note that I was wearing an argyle sweater and was dressed very conservatively.
"So, your parents named you Gypsy. You don't look like a Gypsy."
"Well, you know how it is. The next generation rebels against what came before, so I had to be a conservative instead of a hippie."
We were in the parking lot, and I was heading for my car.
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way..."
I tensed, waiting for the comparison to an old-timey movie star. Oh, wait. That only happened when I had platinum hair.
"...but you have such a pretty face. You don't have to put THAT THING on it to try to make it prettier."
(In case you haven't seen me in the past two years, he was referring to the tiny tiny diamond I pierced my nose with. I was surprised he could even see it.)
He sounded so genuinely grieved and disgusted that I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Ah well.
Taking a deep breath, I said, "Oh...well...I guess I don't really think of it that way."
I could tell he was disappointed by my failure to immediately disavow my nose piercing.
"It's your smile," he said as he walked away. "It's your smile that does it."
I got in the car and drove home. It really was a good night. I met some people whom I would have liked to get to know better. I found out that no one indents any more. I learned that I'm really thankful that, while I may feel like writing something some day, I don't ever want or expect to make a living at it. And, honestly, I really never did think about the fact that some people would find a nose piercing (ok, it looks gross in writing) not only unattractive, but downright repulsive. After the weeks of exile in toddlerville, all that food for thought was a good thing indeed.