Still Pushing the Envelope

Aging is many things—we stop being active, no longer take risks, start referring to ourselves as “old”—these are just three things that come to mind when I think of people I know who have transitioned from being “young” to being “old.”

I’ve been thinking about my own life, and what motivates me to keep pushing through resistance. Recently getting another book out the door—my fourth title in nine years—doesn’t qualify as prolific, but it’s still a respectable output for a writer that does more than just write to make a living.

When I set out down the road to be a writer in 2002, I knew nothing about what lie ahead. Fortunately, I was aware that in order to compensate for starting later than many (I was 40 at the time), I would have to work my ass off at learning the craft of writing. For me that’s always been about writing as much as I could carve out time for, in a nod to Stephen King’s advice in On Writing, I’ve written almost every day for the past 12 years.

“Have you written your own success letter?”

I hear writers talking about “writer’s block” from time to time. Personally, I don’t know what that is. My problem is usually figuring out what to pick from—I almost always have more things to write about than the time to fully develop each idea. Most days, even on the blog, I’m choosing from 2 or 3 different topics to post about. I guess I’m lucky in that way.

Occasionally, this can also be a curse. My son believes that there is danger inherent in talking about ideas before setting them in motion. I agree with him somewhat. Sometimes, talking about our ideas engender feelings akin to accomplishment, which take us away from actually doing the hard work of creation and following projects through to completion. Not always, however.

My new book of essays has been in process for at least four or five years. I say, “four or five years,” because most of the essays were written over that period of time. One in fact, “A Dog’s Life,” about losing our beloved sheltie, Bernie, was written in May, 2009, just after he passed away in our dining room at age 15. Mary and I were devastated. So was Mark. Fifteen years is a long time to have an animal that embodied many human qualities—or at least we ascribed this qualities to Bernie—and then, losing him, it rips your heart out.

“A Northerner’s Journey Crossing the South” was written a few months after Mary and I hit the road to meet up with Mark in 2010, as he walked crossed the US in a mere 81 days. We met him in Sweetwater, Texas, spent two days with him, and he ushered us on our way. He gave us a gift, recognizing he had his own journey to complete and that we needed to find our own. We were sad to leave him, but compliance and traveling east bestowed unique experiences on Mary and me.

Sometimes we need a spark to take a project from mere idea to completion. My spark became my fall 2013 writing class for Lewiston Adult Education.

After teaching narrative nonfiction classes for the past three years, I wanted to offer something new and have it be a bit provocative. The class, Let’s Write That Book: 8 Weeks to Writing and Publishing Your First Book, became my most popular class for LAE—we had to turn people away.

No one writes a book in 8 weeks—at least not a book anyone would want to read. However, it gave me the kick in the ass I needed, and here we are in mid-2014, and I’m now marketing a brand new book.

The challenge now becomes—how do I convince people to buy it and read it? For me, it’s the best writing I’ve ever done. I’ve moved on from writing about novelty subjects, like Moxie, and I’m tackling life and the challenges that come from living it. Pushing past the strictures of organized religion, including Catholicism, fundamentalist Xianity, and parents that didn’t really understand who I was, along with some really tough years out in Indiana with a young family, working in a prison—these are just a few topics I tackle in The Perfect Number: Essays & Stories Vol. 1.

Part of the Jim Baumer Experience brand is given to being provocative (but able to back it up). So let me throw this out there. While I may not be Maine’s best-known nonfiction writer, I think I might be one of the more unique ones.

While many so-called writers seem to be focusing their energy on building a Twitter following rather than long-form content like blogging and books, I keep trucking along, working on putting up consistent content, building a diverse catalog of books, tackling independent publishing, and bringing a DIY sensibility to the process.

Who else in Maine is doing something similar?

Up next (on Friday): I’ll be writing about how the poor and capitalism, with comments about John Hope Bryant’s provocative new book, How the Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class. Provocative stuff and much different than this drivel coming from Maine’s current governor, and passing for informed journalism.

2 thoughts on “Still Pushing the Envelope

  1. Bravo Jim, write on! I am not on Twitter anyway. Some years back I thought I had a brilliant idea in going back to long hand written letters to friends and family via “Snail Mail.” Like you mentioned, the sense of accomplishment hit me before I actually set that idea into motion. We have lost something with instant messages and immediate responses, abbreviating our thoughts and losing emotion among our written thoughts. Thanks to your sharing above, I WILL actually begin my letter writing campaign to include an occasional printed, instead of “shared,” photo. Thanks Jim!



    • Thanks for checking in, Brian.

      I did the “snail mail” letter writing a few years back. There were three people that I wrote letters to. It lasted for more than a year and then fizzled out. I enjoyed the process, particularly the time spent reading and then, crafting a response to the letter received. It felt more like communication than the need to blurt something back at someone on social media.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to some aspects of social media and in the case of Facebook, I’ve connected or reconnected with old friends and others that I might not have without the platform.

      Back to letter-writing; I think it is increasingly difficult in our amped up, always on the move world, to slow down enough to make the writing of letters work. Sadly, I’m no longer doing this, although I could see it happening again in the right situation.

      While on the subject, I found this from the NY Times on the subject–quite interesting in how writers once viewed the art of writing letters.

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