Making Writing Work

by William Skink

Yesterday the University of Montana hosted an afternoon of panelists talking about writing at work. Though the event was geared to young English majors wondering how they will start digging out from the mountain of debt with their humanities degree, it was also open to the public, making it an ideal way for this aging writer who quit his non-profit job to spend the afternoon.

To get to campus I first had to run the gauntlet of chain-link fencing under the Madison Street bridge, hastily put up because the bridge is literally crumbling apart. After surviving my brush with Montana’s decrepit transportation infrastructure, I bee-lined for the UC on campus.

The first panel consisted of free lance writers, including Dan Brooks, who did in fact resemble Val Kilmer in Tombstone by the end of the day (Dan was gracious enough to withhold physical contact when I introduced myself to keep the pestilence from spreading). The panelists offered good, practical advice for aspiring writers who want to free lance their writing skills, like don’t turn down any work as you’re getting established and be weary of the personal essay, unless you want to become hairball girl.

As the second panel started I felt something dark stir the air, like maybe I was in the presence of evil. Then the panelists from the business world were introduced, and the slick guy on the far end was introduced as Tim O’Leary, the co-founder of R2C, an advertising company. Exhibiting an impressive degree of self-awareness, O’Leary did acknowledge that some see the business of advertising as a wicked field of capitalist deceit (he didn’t put it quite that way), but also some apparently study it like literature, especially after the popularity of Mad Men. Gross.

Time ran out at the end of the Q&A, so I didn’t get a chance to ask my question about whether any of the business panelists were concerned about the attack on the humanities happening at UM and across the nation, but that was probably a good thing. No need to bring controversy into the mix, right? Just let those youngsters believe the business world wants critical thinkers with the historical context to understand what has happened to every single empire throughout history.

Overall it was a nice afternoon. I handed out a few of my poetry books (hot off the vanity press) to friends I ran into on campus, then I registered to vote, chatting up the young co-ed about politics (I was encouraged that sharing lady parts didn’t translate into fealty for Hillary for this particular college student). It was almost possible to feel like maybe the world isn’t totally going to shit.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Making Writing Work

  1. Greg Strandberg says:

    We know Dan Brooks doesn’t have any books published, how about those other ‘professionals?’

    Publish or perish, right?

    The truth is, just about everyone wants to be a writer. Most want to have six-pack abs as well, but you don’t see many that have ’em.

    It takes work, and when it comes down to it, most would rather talk than put the work in. Talk doesn’t make a writer.

    You need to sit down and move your fingers across they keys and you have to do that everyday.

    If you don’t do that, what are you doing? I guess hoping that you’ll be a writer one day.

    I did that for most of my 20s, hoping I’d be a writer one day. Didn’t get me too far. I feel that’s what most at the U are doing too, hoping.

    So what turns that hoping into taking action, what makes you finally start putting down the words in a concrete and sustainable way, each and everyday?

    I dunno – everyone has to find their drive. For me it was getting out of China. I needed money to do that and writing seemed a way to do it. It was one skill I had, one skill that I could use to earn money.

    Now that’s how I make all my money. Anyone can do the same, it just takes work.

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