It’s been awhile since I posted and I thought I would take a moment to do so. I’m crafting this in a small break time between writing and moving onward to firing up a Sunday grill and dinner. Please pardon any horrible grammar or typo issues! I just wanted to get this out there today.
I think I’d really like to review where I stand since kicking off this “Writing Semester” thing back at the first of the year. Quite a bit has happened and I’ve learned some pretty powerful bits of writerly wisdom.
I’ve mentioned a few here but I’ll re-state them. First, the writer’s gig is a lot harder than it sounds. Sitting inside during some of the most amazing Spring days I’ve seen in awhile was one of the toughest things I’ve put myself through. Secondly, digging down to understand why you subconsciously seem to resist the one thing you want the most is perhaps one of the most exhausting experiences one can have!
Other things learned? Scheduling is invaluable in trying to get a daily dose of words done. Another is learning how to say no to people when I should be writing. I failed at that more than I was successful but I learned how to do it. This is more than I can say for the first several decades of my life!
The cost of learning that lesson? I ended up being about three weeks behind my schedule.
The main success? The goal of getting a short story done, taken through a round of drafts, finished and being ready to start submission by May is still on track. It’s coming in at about 15K word wise and I can’t wait to get my first rejection notice! The submission process may not begin till June but, again, I’m closer to it than I’ve ever been before in my life.
I’ll take it as a win.
Another success? I ran smack dab into another story idea. In resurrecting a short story I’ve wanted to do for a long time, it morphed on me and as of right now appears to be turning into a novel. I’m happy about it since I love the main character.
I’ve learned a veritable slew of new tactics and ideas to bring into my daily writing. One of those came from a very dear writer friend who turned me onto a series of podcasts called “Once and Future” hosted by author Anton Strout. These podcasts are interviews with successful published authors in the very fields I am looking to place my work. It’s good to hear their stories and, honestly, they’ve inspired me and brought me hope on days I was really struggling. I’m working my way through the list but each interview opens up my eyes a bit more to the world of writing.
The most surprising thing I found from listening to them? I’m not as far off track or as behind as I originally had thought!
Ok, so I had a bunch of successes. Cool. Now, let’s look at what went wrong. It’s as crucial a part of the review process as looking at the successes. Besides the above-mentioned habit of letting myself get a bit sidetracked by other people in the middle of the day, I have to admit that I did not get the horror novel re-write done. I wanted to do it but every time I started it seemed to just slither and slide away. Maybe it’s because of it’s Lovecraftian origins? Maybe because it’s not that good? It’s caused me to take a very healthy pause about the piece. Perhaps it needs to sit longer or maybe I really do need to simply start all over from the beginning? It has a lot of issues and I need to re-evaluate where I am in my time and energy behind it.
Other things –
I didn’t log my time very well.
I was distracted/blocked with my short story, “Spex,” about halfway through the third draft because I couldn’t come up with a solid ending to a scene. I let it bounce me off track for about a week.
I played around too much with trying to find different writing times instead of sticking with what worked.
I also never really gave a steady effort to finding an “outer office” or somewhere to go that wasn’t my desk in my house. This was something I really wanted to try and somehow, in all the chaos of what I was doing, fell down on that one. I’ll be looking into this one in the next few weeks.
Now what? Well, to be honest, the past several months feel like the first months of a new job or a new semester. It took a lot of energy to get myself acclimated towards what will NEED to happen and what is simply distraction, delineating between what works and what doesn’t work. My aim now is to take that knowledge and to move forward even stronger towards finishing and submitting more pieces.
I want to get more short stories out but I’m struggling with the fact I may be more of a novelist. The jury is still out and so for the next few months I want to continue to push myself. I’ll be crafting my new fantasy novel idea from the ground up as well. Shouldn’t be too difficult as the story has lived in my brain for several years.
Another thing I’m working towards is to actually get some fiction up here for you to read. I’m considering a series of stories and a character whose home would only be here. I never wanted this blog to just be me talking about my “thuper theekrit projects” but never getting around to sharing them! Hopefully, I can change that in the weeks or months to come.
I had one more success over this time period. As May started to come up hard and fast on me and I was struggling with the craft of edits, re-writes and plotting I had a moment. I realized that I was deeply in love with this craft. That taking a piece from a chunk of raw idea and getting it into something that was shiny and pretty and entertaining toggled all of my creative switches. Even if my time diminishes in the next few months as financial pressures push me towards taking a full time, low paying job, I’m going to keep doing this.
I just don’t think I have a choice in stopping anymore.
Fighting with personal imps is rough business. I call them imps because I ascribe to the old Hellenistic version of demons or daimons. In that regard, daimons are teachers and helpful spirits. Imps on the other hand. Well, they’re just a pain in the ass.
First of all, they’re so damn sneaky. It’s easy when they come at you head on like a rampaging zombie. They’re easy to spot. It’s when they come to you clothed in a skin that looks promising, alluring or, Universe forbid, play to your ego and make you feel important or helpful . That’s when they REALLY get you!
What they really hate is when you make a schedule. What they hate even MORE is when you actually stick to it. It’s their bane. It makes them hiss and spit and pull at their barbed tail. From that point forward it’s their job to distract you, attack you and entice with you anything and everything in their disposal so you trip up, get off schedule and get distracted. I suppose I can’t really get too mad at them. It’s their job. It’s what they were made to do. It’s sort of like getting mad at deer or a gopher for devastating your garden. It’s sort of what they are built for, you know?
I posted Part One of this series a little less than a month ago. In that time, I crunched out all the goals I set out for myself. Things were smooth and rolling right along. During this time the imps were, like Elmer Fudd, vewry vewry quiet. They were plotting and planning, looking for chinks in my schedule.
They came in the form of Spring Break, of spending time with family. They came in the form of distractions and helping other people out of jams. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are things FAR more important than writing. However, in these cases, it wasn’t so much the acts themselves which were wrong it’s how I handled myself once they were over! Instead of hard knocks and shoves, the imps used a gentle pull technique, like a gentle shoreline tide which drifts you slowly and pleasantly away from shore.
This is what I meant by the battles ahead when I closed out Part One. Even as I wrote that post I knew the easiest part was going to be the first week of writing. The real fight was yet to come. I knew the imps (or as Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance) would be circling the fire, waiting for the right time. I knew they were there and I still wasn’t ready for them.
There seems to be this misconception in the public that writing is an easy job. In one way, it’s correct. You stay at home in your pajamas, eat ice cream and sit all day telling stories to yourself. Well, two out of the three isn’t bad. I don’t eat a lot of ice cream. Where this misconception is dead wrong is where it encounters what I am discussing here, the internal fighting that goes on with not just writers but most creative types. It’s a daily struggle. It’s the self-control that makes you sit down, day after day, for hours on end and crank it out.
If you decide to not take your opponent, your imps, seriously for one day, one week, then you will get bum-rushed like nobody’s business. You end up like me, sitting in a daze and wondering where the last two weeks went. In the worst case you might even decide this creative writing stuff just isn’t for you. If you do decide such a thing make sure you pause and listen. In the distance you will hear an impish cackle of utter, infernal joy.
These last few weeks have been hard. I’m still claiming victory over this little time period though. I’m claiming it because I spotted them at their little game and called them on it. I’m still here and plan to be a bit longer. I say it’s a victory because I learned something.
Who knows, I did learn something so therefore they taught me something. Perhaps imps are just more annoying forms of a daimon? I can go along with that. It’s all in how you look at it.
As mentioned in the last post, I’m writing again. However, that small phrase just doesn’t capture the scope. It’s more than just a story here or a story here. It’s with focus. It’s with intent and it’s taking up a large chunk of my waking time during the day.
I’ve had an interesting start to the year and learned a few things about myself. One of those things was admitting, straight up, that I was scared to succeed at my dream of being a writer. I think it happens to a lot of us creative types. Hell, I think it happens to just about everyone. It comes in all sorts of different flavors. You get scared of criticism. You get scared of not being able to finish. You get scared of “revealing too much about yourself.”
What was it for me? Honestly? I’m scared to succeed. If you only knew how much it took for me to not only see this fear but then admit it! I’ve still not been able to find the root of it’s origin but I know it goes back decades. It caused an entire chain-effect of blockages to my writing. Blocks such as — If I succeed then a part of me is concerned it will bring all sorts of changes, all sorts of transitions and transformations. It means that somehow, someway, I’m good at what I do and, more importantly, the responsibility and duty that comes with it. I’d insert some pithy Spider-Man quote here but I think most of you already have what I’m saying. It also means that I have to take something that I love and do it every day, every month and every year for the rest of my life.
I just thought you should know something. Since it applies to the nature of the blog I thought it would be good to mention it. Besides, this blog could use a post, right?
I’m writing again.
After the long and weird year that was 2011, I’m back to the fine craft of telling stories to myself and then hoping that someone, somewhere likes them too. In a way, it sort of crept up on me. More accurately, I would say it slid up next to me in my subconscious like a submerged reptile, looking at me with its gleaming and hungry eyes.
Yes, my writing is an ambush predator.
When I wrote here last I was doing something I had never done before. I had given up on having any writing goals. No word counts. No time in chair. Nothing. None. Zip. Nada. What was I thinking? I ended that post with the wonderfully archaic kernel of truth, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” I busted out laughing so loud reading that sentence yesterday I’m sure I startled my neighbor.
I laughed because 2011 proved it. As a journey, 2011 was an amazing, terrifying ass kicking I never saw coming. Somehow, someway, a part of me knew it ahead of time and took a little of the pressure off in advance in regards to my writing. No goals, no pressure, right? Of course, it means not much writing either. I really didn’t write anything last year. Well, nothing in fiction anyway. I wrote on coyotewatches.com. I poked around here and there with some small bits of fiction for an MMO game I play.
This is because, elsewhere, I was getting my head handed to me.
I lost my job in March. I floated in a weird limbo state for a month or so afterwards. I kept looking for jobs but there was nothing happening. I kept kicking around the idea of using the extra time to write but for some reason, I never did. It never came to me or, using the analogy from above, maybe I never ventured close enough to shore? Regardless, I did what I felt was right. I worked on other projects, I kept applying to jobs and spent time with my family. In late summer an incredibly freakish alignment of supernatural forces allowed me to return to college after being gone for 20 years and finish my degree. It had to be supernatural. It was the only way to explain my ability to get financial aid for the whole thing.
I went from coasting to an action packed overload of credit hours so as to get things done in one semester. Nothing much else existed in the span from late August to December. Nothing but books, paper writing, classes and relearning that most interesting of dances, the academic shuffle. I persevered. The dragon was conquered and a 20 year quest was complete. What I got out of it was something more powerful than a diploma. I had gained self-confidence.
With the end of the year came a chance to relax, overlook my achievements and to spend time with my family and friends. I sat on the beach of my accomplishment and allowed the storm of 2011 to drift away as quickly as it had rolled in. I fiddled with the little umbrella in my drink, relaxed, closed my eyes and mulled over my options as you would on vacation. Perhaps a nice walk on the beach later and then a visit to that nice restaurant? Oh, yes, that sounds very nice and tomorrow we’ll take a hike and make dinner for the family.
And that’s when the damn alligator jumped me!
It hit me with story ideas and death-rolled me so I couldn’t sleep at night. I would hear dramatic music and scenes would start to gnash at me. Characters growled to me in my downtime. They grabbed, tugged, twisted and pulled me back into the water with the only thing left behind was a little pink drink umbrella tilted and askew on the ground. For a two weeks it bashed me badly and I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was depressed. I was tortured. I was unfocused. I needed to DO something but for the life of me I couldn’t figure it out.
Then, well, I did and here I am, proudly wearing a fine set of alligator boots and once again looking at long hours sitting by myself at my desk and typing about people and things that don’t really exist. (or do they?)
One destination reached only means another journey can now begin.
That’s fine. I’m looking forward to it.
I realized something this past year. I’m incredibly creative in the shower. Maybe it’s why some people sing or talk to themselves? Whatever loosens a person’s vocal chords and inhibition, for me, seems to loosen up my creativity and storytelling. Maybe it’s the perception of privacy behind the closed door, pulled shower curtain and wall of water in a confined space? I’m not sure what it is but what I do know is that as I relax, my mind wanders. As my mind wanders the ideas start coming fast and furious.
This can be incredibly frustrating.
My office is right next to the bathroom so there have been many times I’ve finished up quickly, toweled off and rushed to my desk, clad only in said towel, to type out those ideas or scribble down what thoughts I could before they misted off into the void. Usually, it’s too late. Or worse case scenario, I have to get dried off, dressed and dash off somewhere that involves responsibility or errands and doesn’t involve sitting at my desk. I feel like I might as well be throwing a handful of delicate gems in the trash.
It doesn’t apply to only writing. All manner of inspirations come to find me in that little steam cubicle, from organizational ideas to how to better handle a clunky project at work. Funny enough, this included the final idea that allowed me to put an end to all of my shower woes.
“How can I get this stuff recorded for later?” The question rattled around and around. I was leery about a voice recorder. Last I checked, electronics were a no-no around moisture. Maybe hire a secretary to dictate my thoughts? I think my wife would disapprove. Hire my wife to do the same? More of a possibility but not by much.
What about a dry-erase board? Uhm, what part of “dry-erase” do you knot get, genius? I started thinking about a small piece of chalkboard but wondered if the chalk would clog the drain. Then, it hit me. I dashed out and typed out a Google search for “scuba underwater writing.” I could almost hear the choir of angels floating over my computer desk when the results were in and the solution to my problem stood a mere click away.
Now, I don’t know how the stars had to align in order to get a dive shop landlocked in the middle of South-Central Indiana but I already knew we had one in my hometown. Another quick search and I had the location; no more than five minutes away! Oh, kind fates, how I thank you! Over the holiday break, I took a quick drive, decided to spend $10 of Santa money and came home raring to get wet!
Yes, it worked like a charm. I purchased the 6″ x 8″ slate and the size is perfect for writing notes and even small paragraphs of fiction. The pencil writing does have a tendency to smear just a bit and you have to be careful holding it. The small pencil is a bit of a pain but any pencil will work. I’ve even thought about using the cheapo plastic mechanical pencils for this sort of thing. Who cares if it gets wet if it works?
Yes, you can use both sides and after you’ve dried your hair AND put on pants, the wonderful snippets of creativity are waiting patiently and sitting on a towel. Warning – y0u have to let it air dry because drying it off has the same effect as, well, a big cloth eraser. As eraser’s go, anything will work to clean it up when you are done. I use a kneaded eraser from any self-respecting art and craft store. A big Pink Pearl eraser would do just as well. I don’t think I need to say this but, for your own sake, wait until it’s dry.
For those that may either be financially or scuba shop challenged and/or don’t want to pay shipping charges, I offer a site I discovered AFTER I’d purchased mine – DIY Dive Slate. Yes, they’re pretty easy to make and I might just have to craft a larger upgrade in the near future.
The ability to make my own larger version is good because, with this new discovery, I may have to start putting back funds for a larger water bill.
There are other jokes I could have gone with there but I decided to keep it clean.
Because I started this blog at the beginning of the year I felt beholden to offer up a post at the end. It’s all the rage in the blogosphere this time of year but just because it’s fashionable doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It’s a good thing to look over the navigational charts and see where you started, what went right, and what went wrong. What I learned this year though is that it’s more about how you represent your journey.
This blog was started near the end of 2009 but, as the year turned into 2010, I decided to “hire myself” as a writer. I was hoping to kick things off forcefully and this blog was going to help. I had some grandiose plans coming out of the gate of January 2010. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. At the end of January, I lost one of my writing icons, Robert B. Parker. That one stung and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the year. Funerals, stress, finances, and an overall crazy life tossed me around. As Life came rolling over me, I couldn’t seem to get the energy to write fiction. I poked at it. I played. I DID do some writing and some of those pieces fit nicely under the category of “a pretty good start.” However, I didn’t get anything done. As far as this blog goes, counting this one, I’ve got 8 total posts over the course of the year and the first kick-off to an Allegory Harbor story.
I had high hopes for so much more.
As the end of the year wraps up, I’ve been thinking about all of it and my writing. It’s hard not to look it over and call it a failure. Some kernels of truth did come forward and they might just serve me well for many years to come. If so, then it’s possible the stress of the year of 2010 was well worth it.
Number One – I talked about this in my previous post in November. It’s not about goals. It’s about getting something, no matter how small, done on a daily basis. Even if I take the time to scribble out 20 words on a scrap of paper, I’ve moved it forward.
Number Two – It’s not really about the completion of goals as much it’s how much you learn from failing at them. I started the year with bold, strong steps. I put forth a forceful push and you can hear it in the tone of my writing. “Fear was no longer an option and I realized that this was it. It was fight or die. Write or die.” I talked about going hard until my eyes crossed. I might as well have added things like “I’m pushing forward until my fingers bleed” or, maybe, “I’m going to finish this story or pass out from exhaustion and hunger.”
Isn’t that what all “great” writers do? Poundy, pound, pound! Isn’t that what much of the writer’s advice says? “Force your way through it!” “Hammer it out!” Maybe I’m not destined for greatness because looking back, it all comes off a little silly. There’s something to be said for conviction of purpose. Many a great deed has been accomplished by running till the wheels fall off. It’s just that I think this year I went “more boldly” then necessary and what I found is that particular mode of thinking, right now, may not be the most healthy for me.
Number Three – This one might be more powerful than the previous two. It’s also been a bit harder to wrap my head around. It’s hard to write when you run around with the perception that your life is hectic/crazy/insane, that your world is falling down around you. If you carry that perception you also carry with you the appropriate responses, some of which are not the best for a healthy, creative lifestyle. Those responses have a way of wearing you down, tiring you out, so that when you DO actually get a chance to sit down and be creative, you’ve got nothing to give. You’re tapped out. In order to fix that you’ve got to go to the source, take a hard look at your deeper perceptions and, in turn, how you react to them.
Don’t misunderstand, sometimes life throws a lot at you at once. It happens. You’re forced to triage. This year was definitely one of those for me and I never got the chance to recalibrate those reactions until much later in the year. As things wrap up, it’s what I’m doing right now.
You live. You learn.
What about the year ahead? Do I have any plans? Any goals? I may be the only blogger this week that takes this particular stance for my end-of-year/ New Year post but for once I can say, with utmost confidence, “Goals? Nah, not really.”
I know I want to post more here this year. I’d like to get more than 8 posts, that’s for sure! I want to add a bit more on shared storytelling and definitely offer up a web-based serial piece. I’m not gonna put those down as goals though. Consider them notes to myself that I may or may not look up at the end of 2010 when it’s time to do this all again.
This year I’m planning on just cruising around the Harbor and seeing what happens.
Which brings me to the bonus Kernel of Truth.
It’s about the journey, not the destination.
June is over and I’m happy to report that I completed my goal of 1,000 words a day. The bonus data is that I succeeded that goal by a decent amount. The surprising bit is that on a weekly level, I was able to kick out much more then 7,000 a week. My key drop off points were, as you might imagine the weekend. Looks like I’m going to continue this crazy quest after all!
I’m very pleased with it but I am not about to shoot myself in the foot and raise the goal. Success is invigorating and I plan to keep it right where it is.
And yes, the promise I made last month of putting a short story up here is legit. I’m working on it now. Think of it as a July special.
Thanks everyone for your support and encouragement.