Thursday, June 16, 2011


When my kids first started karate, it was pretty expensive each month. But they would miss some weeks and we paid by the lesson, so that was not bad for us. But it was terrible for the school because of the irregular cash flows. The boys cooled down on karate after a year or so.

Then my oldest decided to go back after a few months. This time we had to sign a two year contract with the "association" that was located in another state. We could either pay a huge chunk up front or by the month--which was just a bit more than the old "by the week" payments. After two or three months the owner/main guy was a jerk to my oldest and my kid didn't want to go back anymore (he was in third or fourth grade). So I quit sending payments. When they dunned me, I explained. Then they explained--threatened to ruin my credit rating. So I grumbled and paid it off.

I guess they got what they were aiming for, so it was a success for them. But I bet that the institution of "lump-sum easy-payments" for lessons for the kid got a bad cumulative word of mouth. I know I griped at every opportunity--even now, 11 years later!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sad Truth About Writing

When two economics professors meet, they talk about economics. When two writers meet, they do not talk about writing. That is part of my experience from meeting lots of professionals at Writers of the Future 27.

When I meet an economics professor, I want to know what area he/she does research in. I want to know what his/her approach to the area is. For instance, in this vein, I might tell another economist that I wrote my dissertation on terrorism. I looked at problems of terrorist bargaining and have published a lot about terrorism and the media. My favorite work I did on the subject showed that if terrorists vie for media attention, then there is an upper bound on the amount of terrorism as they shove each other off the front page and bore the public with more and more events. Then we would talk about what we're working on now.

Two writers talk about the kids and about the crazy thing that happened last week at Costco. They may talk about the business--how a publisher is trying a creative way of cheating them with a new contract offer. But they do not talk about what they just wrote or what they are writing. I have a theory as to why this is true.

Writing is like farming. When two corn farmers meet, they do not show each other pictures of their favorite ears of corn from the last harvest. "Oh, look at the silk on this one! It is enchanting."

There are thousands of farmers. There are thousands of writers. There are tons of corn. There are tons of manuscript pages. When a writer sends a manuscript to an editor it goes into a huge pile, called slush. There are thousands of other manuscripts there. Eventually someone--usually with a lowly station, "reads" them. Maybe they read a paragraph or two of them. When you have to pick one manuscript from a possible two thousand, you are not looking for small flaws that will exclude. You are looking for something that grabs you by the throat. And everyone's throat is different. Here is an article by Mike Resnick, who has published a few million words and has a stack of the top awards in his field.

Professional writers are accustomed to this view. Many writers produce lots of manuscripts and realize that they're going into a big pile--though well-known writers' manuscripts go into a smaller big pile than the slush. And well known writers will see plenty of rejection--which is not personal.

Writers do lots of writing. They see lots of writing. They do not want to talk about writing.

What about economics professors? I am in a class of professors that teaches and does research. And in my area of the profession, twenty-five publications in twenty-two years is considered great. I read about economics--for fun! I love to listen to economics podcasts.

Maybe when two of a different class of economists meet, they are more like farmers and writers. Some economists sit in front of a computer screen all day and churn out spreadsheets showing that this part of an company is efficient or that part is not. When two of these meet, I doubt they say, "My new spreadsheet technique works so well! Look how I pivot those tables. It makes everything so easy."

If writing is so boring, why am I now talking about writing? I'm new to writing--look at the luster of the kernels of this ear! It brings tears to my eyes.