This is Part 11 of a multiple-part live-blog of Jane Friedman’s The Business of Being a Writer. Parts 1-10 can be found here.
Writer and editor Jane Friedman believes writing can be a career, and her latest book, The Business of Being a Writer, lays out just what components go into writing as a business. It should resonate with everyone out there who writes or would like to write for a living. It’s my hope that teachers of writing, especially at the MFA level, will also take up this refrain.
I’m working through Friedman’s book right now, and I am finding places where my own experience either bolsters or informs Friedman’s neat summation and gentle advice. For the duration of my time through this first read of The Business of Being a Writer, I will be posting these experiences for you. I invite you to share widely, and add your own experiences to the comments. Each post will begin with a quote from Friedman’s book, and end with some actionable tips that you can put to work in your own writing career.
In a section on Building a Blog Readership, Friedman posits a few methods. One is “Create Guides on Popular Topics,” and in it, she writes,
“If you’re a nonfiction writer, then this probably come s naturally. Put together a 101 guide, FAQ, or tutorial related to your topic or expertise…If you’re a novelist, this strategy may take some creative thinking. Consider a few examples…”
Friedman then goes on to list a few tactics, including a travel guide if your book is strongly regional, a list of favorite reads by genre/category, or an FAQ around a strong “avocational pursuit” that influences your novels.
Please indulge me while I do a little beating up of myself. For bucket’s sake, my novel is based in Taiwan. And Las Vegas. And New York. My character is obsessed with self-help books. And diaries.
Listen. You are never going to be able to hit all the marks when it comes to marketing your own books, or building your own platform. Someone somewhere is going to look back on your marketing efforts and see big, black, gaping holes, and if you’re very unlucky, that someone will be yourself, say, two years after your book has been published.
Woe. Oh, woe.
Listen. This is why they created the Internet, so that we can correct our own mistakes. And now, I would like to tell you a little bit about Marty Wu’s Taiwan, or, rather, the Taiwan that *I* know, which made me feel like my heroine needed to go there.
Taiwan 101, for those who might someday want to visit
My mother calls it “Our Little Sweet Potato Island.” This image has stayed with me for so long that, whenever I look on a map for Taiwan now, I half-expect to see a tiny orange blob in the middle of the ocean, Not only that, I expect to see little tendrils of roots, sprouting into the water on any map.
My late dog used to lie on his belly on the floor, one leg tucked in and the other–*sproing!*–canted out at an angle. From above he looked like Taiwan, and thus like a sweet potato.
Do not call Taiwan the sweet potato island when you visit. No one will know what you are talking about.
You might see it on older maps as “Formosa.” This is the name the Portuguese gave it in 1542. It was named this for a very long time, well into the 20th century. Although it carries with it a lot of baggage, my parents, at least, never seemed to mind it being called that, since it translates to “Beautiful Island.”
“I speak only Taiwanese, not Mandarin,” is a common refrain for me when I go back home.
The people who have come over from the mainland to make their homes on Taiwan are usually perplexed. “But…are you uneducated?” one said to me. Silly cow,** I said back, this is Taiwan.
In the south, more people speak Taiwanese than in the north. In Taipei, the capital, you will find people who speak English. And most signs are spelled out in both phonetics and Mandarin, although Taiwan seems to have not decided on a system of romanization of the Mandarin.
Ah, the Mandarin. Yes. This is the official language of Taiwan. This is a hangover from the many years we were occupied, and then, the post-war years, when we were under martial law. Also, Taiwanese can be written, but it doesn’t have a strong written tradition.
Which I kind of love. Hearing a story told in my native Taiwanese is probably close to one of my top ten experiences.
Hot. Sticky. Rainy in the afternoons, providing brief respite from the humidity. Winter is the best time to visit Taiwan, hands down. We took a November visit one year, and although it rained a fair amount, it was still utterly beautiful. I’ll always aim for a winter or late fall visit. I’ve also been in December, and I loved it then, too, although the humidity made it feel like it was summer.
Bring layers. Light sweaters are a good thing.
In the mountains, there is coffee and bamboo.
There are hot springs in vinegar distilleries, at which you can taste the produce.
In the fine, fertile fields of the west, you’ll find such fresh vegetables that you’ll never want to season with anything but a little bit of salt, ginger, and garlic ever again.
Further southwest, mudflats are everywhere, and so are oyster beds. Have some oyster and dried-radish omlette; you’ll never be the same.
In the woods, out on the flats, in the cities–wherever you go, eat the fruit.
Oops. See “Geography,” above.
Places I have Been and Loved
Anping Fort, or Fort Zeelandia: I love it because it is the last memory I have of my second uncle before he passed away. You will not have these memories, but you will find it very weird that there is a Dutch fort in the middle of Taiwan. Also, around the fort there are people making candy and you should buy some and eat some.
Kaohsiung: I love this city. Another uncle teaches at the medical college there, and my cousin teaches Mandarin for foreigners at yet another university. My aunt, an artist and loosely the inspiration for Marty’s aunt in the novel, had an exhibition at the art museum here. You will not have such memories. But you can walk along the Love River, and go to the wonderful department store, and have good coffee and a kick-ass Taiwan breakfast, all within just a few miles of each other.
Taroko Gorge: The waters through this gorge used to run so clear and so blue, but then there was an earthquake in 1999, one that really rattled the entire island. Since then, the locals say, the waters are still blue, so deep is the gorge, but they are very, very cloudy. It doesn’t matter. This is an extraordinary place and you will walk away knowing there’s nothing else quite like it in your recent history and probably in your near future.
TouLiu: This is home for me. It means nothing to you, except we grow great fruit and coffee. If we go together, though, I will make you visit. There is a street here called “Taiping Old Street” which is…I don’t know. It’s the place I eventually set some key scenes. But it’s also a place of great pain: the Japanese occupied Taiwan for a very long time, and this stretch of shopfronts has been preserved to recall this era of architecture and history. How strange, to remind oneself every day of this period, while you are going about your daily marketing.
Anything else you need to know
Call me. I will talk your ear off. I will show you my photos. The place will steal your heart, and then some, and you will be happy you went.
Mostly, though, you are likely to be interested because you know me. Maybe you have read my novel, and you are a little bit interested in the things that drive Marty.
What drives us to visit a place, after all, but the stories we’ve heard about it, and the stories we hope to find for ourselves?
I do have tips for you:
- When you get an idea for anything tangentially related to your book, write. it. down. You do not want to be kicking yourself for later.
- Don’t forget to review this sheet of paper on which you will write things down. Do not pull a me.
- Think of your book as a reader might. What things will this reader discover in your pages that would make them curious, or want to Google something or another?
What exciting things can you think of to do with the book you’re working on, or the books you’ve published? Tell me in the comments below.