How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
I started when I was four. Doing the math, that would be 1972-73, depending on when. Supposedly, the first notebook I used back then is still in existence somewhere. (I still remember much of what was in it. Today we’d call it “bad Speed Racer fanfic,” but that term wasn’t around in the seventies. The first story involved a Satanic goose. Nope, not kidding.)
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
Often a line pops into my head, and I start turning it over and over to see what I can do with it. That may have a genesis (it happens often at poetry readings, unsurprisingly), but at other times it may come out of thin air, like when I’m driving and bored.
I don’t think of “blocked” the way most people do, because writing every day has never been a specific goal. If I’m writing every day, wonderful. I don’t think I’ve done so for more than a couple of months since 1994, though. I’ve gone through three-year stretches where I haven’t written a single poem more than once. I don’t really think of it as frustrating; I’m usually just channelling creative output into another medium (criticism, music, etc.).
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I was a media critic (mostly amateur, sometimes semi-pro, and pro for a couple of months in 2000; a couple of my reviews can still be found on CNN’s website if you know where to look) for thirty years, and I’ve been in bands more often than not since 1982; my current flagship project, XTerminal, is a little over eighteen years old as of this writing.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
I do a lot of answering questions on the website Quora, and I can’t believe how often I have to say this to people… if you’re getting into writing for the money… don’t. The number of novelists who make a living from writing full-time has increased tremendously with the rise of self-publishing, but it’s still a minuscule number compared to the number of novelists. And that’s a mainstream form of artistic expression. If you focus on short stories or poetry, well, the number of people I have known over the past almost fifty years who have made a living with one of those, without having another job, has been in the single digits. (With poetry, there’s Bukowski, and… yeah. That’s it.) Philip Levine was a factory worker for years while being one of America’s most celebrated poets. A lot of them are professors. A few are on disability. Hey, it counts as a source of income. You don’t make a living, much less get rich, doing this stuff. My first publication credit came in 1988. I crossed the 500 publication mark early in 2016. I’m closing in on grossing $200. (I should add that from 1988 through 2015 inclusive, the amount of money I made from publishing poetry was $3.)
Check out Robert’s work in Volume 3, Issue 2.
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