Friday, December 19, 2014

Don’t be afraid

Were Keats’ final words.  More light, more light—the dying words of Goethe.  Fear not, was what the angel Gabriel said when he appeared to Mary, and the command most often repeated in the Bible.  How many times do I have to hear it?

And still I am afraid.  Occasionally I have moments of boldness.  As today, posting a Kickstarter campaign, supporting the fiction residency to which I was accepted this month.  I’ve been at this business, trying to build a career, trying to publish, for ten years now, but this is the first time I’ve actually come out and ask anyone for money—what if all of you say no?

The Vermont Studio Center has granted me $2100 to attend their residency program for a full month:  including room, board, and most precious of all, my own personal writing studio, with desk, chair, privacy, quiet, silence, and space.  But an equivalent amount is mine to match, mine to find somewhere in the dwindling free digital economy.

In my video (watch, to hear me read you a story), I say:  "I know, from personal experience, the ways in which writers are finding it harder than ever to make a living.  Traditional publishing has been upended, and publishing companies are finding their budgets and staff cut yearly.  Yet the demand for content—satisfying, beautiful, well-made content—is at an all-time high."

I can say that I am alive, working as a writer, but am I making a living?  I am alive by the grace of God, by the grace of my dead grandmother, by the kindness of family members and strangers.  Making a living means people actually buying my work.  Choosing to spend their money on it rather than on a coffee or a donut or a mortgage payment.

Writing as a career is a diaphanous veil over an abyss.  Since I was a child, I’ve been told to give up, that I’ll never be successful financially as a writer.  My grandfather started his own publishing company to put his exegetical theology in print, a publishing company that’s slowly going out of business even now.

The things I create do not exist in any space except in your own mind.  Jonathan Safran Foer said, in an interview I attended, that writers are artists that paint on the canvas of other people’s subconscious minds.  The terror of the internet age, as Gillian Welch tells us, is that everything is free.  If everything is free, then how shall any of us eat?  But the terror of the internet comes with corresponding beauty: it puts the power into the hands of the masses.  Into your hands.  What we want is ours to ask for, ours to ask the whole universe for.

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter while on welfare.  She trusted in her work enough to demand that the British taxpayer to pay for it.  I’m just asking you.

So go check it out.  The worst that can happen?  Utter humiliation and a big fat goose egg.  Nothing to be afraid of.

[Edit to add a link to the campaign--realizing I forgot to include it last night.  Clearly I'm a beginner at this:]


Ellen said...

See Amanda Palmer's book: The Art of Asking

Melissa Jenks said...

Thanks so much, Ellen--and thanks for your support, too. Can't wait to write your stories!