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A Suggestion for Struggling Writers

Back in the 2012-2014 period, I was blogging and writing a lot more. There was a very active community of writers, bloggers, and poets that were doing a lot back then. Most of those people have seemed to step away from blogging and a lot of the activity dried up with their departure.

One of the things I did back then that I never thought I’d do is dabble in poetry. Primarily through prompts provided by other bloggers, I wrote short poems of various types. Some were political, some were whimsical, some were heartfelt. But none of them I took very seriously because I’m simply not a poet.

The thing is that writing poetry, even if you’re not good at it, can help your fiction writing. You learn how many words simply are not necessary to make a point, to draw a picture. You experiment with flow and rhythm and imagery and all of that can only improve your storytelling ability.

As I’ve struggled with writing over the last few years, I’ve tried different ways to get going again and very few things have worked. But two things have helped me in the last couple of months.

One of those things I’ve blogged about recently. Being invited to contribute a short story to Utopia … Pending and then being able to write and complete the story felt pretty good.

The second thing came along as I was writing and finishing Two Turtles, my contribution to Utopia … Pending. One of the most inspirational poets who contributed to all of that activity back in 2013 and 2014, but who then disappeared, is back and blogging again. Back then she was Kirsten Interrupted. Today she is Kira at eat Create repeat

Several times a week, Kira posts a poem or quick piece of flash fiction and then explains the poetry form, idea, or picture that inspired the piece. I’ve written something in response to just about everything she has posted and here’s what is happening. I don’t have any delusions about my poetry skills, so I just do my best. In other words, my internal editor apparently is not an expert on the poetic form and I’m generally able to write something relatively quickly and freely.

Most important, this is all quieting my internal editor when I sit down and try to write fiction now. Although I’m not writing as often as I’d like (there are still all those pesty distractions), when I do write I’m getting things done. For the first time in years I have hope of completing The Irrepairable Past and if I do that, I can’t wait to get back to Northville Five & Dime or K Street Stories or maybe something completely new.

For the first time in years, I’m starting to feel like a writer again and it’s thanks to Fallacious Rose’s invitation to write a short story and Kira’s return. I can’t say enough about how Kira’s prompts and ideas have opened a creative window for me again.

So, if you’re a writer and you’re struggling (and, yes, I know there are a few of you out there), give poetry a try. Head over to Kira’s blog and see if anything lights something in you. Don’t worry about what it is or how it comes out, just give it a try. Make a practice of it. And then go back to your fiction and see what happens.

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A Lesson Learned

Regular readers will know that I have written quite a bit over the last few years about my struggle with writing fiction. What started around fifteen years ago and turned into an explosion of writing over an 8-10 year period has turned into a whimper. There has been barely a spark for the last few years as I have struggled with generating new ideas or making any progress on my various works in progress.

Some months I’m able to write about what I could write in a day or two back then. Some months I write even less. There are many causes of this deterioration in my writing ability.

Lack of energy — most work days I find myself drained at the end of the day and writing takes energy. Mental energy and emotional energy and creative energy. When I get home I want nothing more than to be able to do … not much. Which means with the hour or two I have each evening I end up surfing the internet. It’s easy, it doesn’t take much energy — at least not the kind writing takes. Which leads to …

Distractions — when I started writing, I wasn’t on FB, didn’t have a blog, Twitter didn’t exist. Nor did Instagram, Words with Friends, or so many other things. As I’ve developed my own social media habit, it is far easier to just cycle through those websites, social media outposts, blogs, and other places over and over again than to crack open a document and see what I can write. Why?

Internal Editor — as I have written more I have cared about the quality of my writing more. As I have written more I have found my writing function slowing down and being more careful. When I wrote that first novel, One Night in Bridgeport, I just wrote. My only requirement was to see whether I could actually write a novel. I just wrote. But once I did that and started having all sorts of other ideas about stories, both short and long, I started to care more about how I told the story and the crafting of the thing. The more I cared, the more the voice inside of me told me what I was writing was complete crap. That doesn’t really lead to an enjoyable experience. So, I shut down.

Motivation — having started writing fiction around when I turned 40 years old, I’m not a lifelong writer who considers it a fundamental part of who I have always been. I have struggled in recent years with the question of why I write and whether it is worth the time I have committed to it once I started writing. If I can’t figure out why I’m doing it, the impetus becomes harder to find.

Which has lead to my dearth of creativity, the lack of writing, the feeling that maybe my writing life has reached its end. I learned something yesterday. It may be that the distractions are the biggest cause of all this.

A couple of months ago, a fellow writer/blogger I first met around six years ago when I launched my self-publishing efforts asked me to consider contributing a story to a collection she wanted to publish. Fallacious Rose‘s idea was to collect short stories built around the idea of Utopia — as an antidote to all of the dystopian fiction that is written these days.

I said I would try but could make no guarantees.

After a couple of weeks, I came up with an idea and started working through it. I could write a couple of hundred words and then I’d get stuck and bored. And there are always those distractions to pull me away. Fallacious Rose wanted complete stories by this time with publication by mid-December.

By Friday, I had written 2,900 words, which breaks down to a few hundred words per week. That’s not really writing and no way to really get somewhere with a story. I knew I had at least a few more thousand words to go. I also wasn’t entirely sure how I would wind the thing down.

You see, the idea I had was really more dystopic than utopic. What I wanted to do was turn a dystopian situation into a utopian conclusion. Those first 2,900 words were all about the dystopia and I liked what I had done, but I was at the point where I was going to have to turn it around into the utopian ending.

People who read my fiction regularly comment that somebody always dies or why is it always so sad. I don’t do “happy” very well. “And everybody lived happily ever after” would likely be the worst line I could ever come up with. Or as I have told people numerous times, “there ain’t much drama in happy.”

I really wanted to see if I could do this and be a part of Fallacious Rose’s project, however, so I went into this weekend knowing that I either was going to get it done or I wasn’t. For the first time in my writing life I faced a deadline. An impending deadline for a story I still had no idea how I was going to wrap up.

I told the missus that this would be my focus this weekend. No making dinner Saturday, not doing much around the house. I was going to write and write and write some more.

Around the same time Fallacious Rose invited me to contribute, I also learned from Shannon Thompson, another writer blogger, about the Forest App. It’s a way to shut down the distractions. An app that blocks whatever websites you want for a specified period of time. The app isn’t fail safe. You can block it. On my laptop, it only works for Chrome, so I could still access anything I want using Internet Explorer. As a result, using the app requires a bit of commitment on my part.

I tried the app a couple of times. Each time for 45 minutes. Each time I was able to write a few hundred words during that time period. Each time I moved forward with the story.

Yesterday would be a real test. I’ve said before that I would be writing a lot and haven’t done it. But there was that deadline hanging out there for me now.

What did I learn yesterday? It’s really about the distractions — that’s the single biggest reason I haven’t been able to write. Yesterday, I had three different writing sessions between the time I woke up and we went out to dinner. Each session was 45-60 minutes long. I put the app on my laptop and my phone for all three sessions.

And … drum roll, please … by the time we stepped out of the house for dinner, I had written another 2,400 words and finished the story.

I have no idea if it’s any good. I also have no idea if it will fit Fallacious Rose’s theme. In my mind, it is more about every-day utopia and what can happen when a few people turn the tide. It’s not about a utopian society or a utopian vision of perfect humans acting perfectly.

But I did learn that I could focus and get something done. Which really hasn’t happened in far too long. It felt good. My internal editor has remained relatively quiet — although I feel like taking a little more time might have produced something better in those final 2,400 words.

We shall see. Whether or not Fallacious Rose accepts my story, at some point in the future, I’ll post it over on my writing blog. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s about the last two turtles in all the world.

By the way, thank you to Fallacious Rose for the invitation and providing the motivation for me to crack the door open again.

 

 

What Scares Me

I’m suffering with serious motivation issues with my writing.  Trying to slog through part two of Northville and just really struggling with it.  But that’s not what scares me.

What scares me is this…

The well has run dry.  Kind of.  Sort of.  For the past ten years, once I started this writing gig, I have never stopped coming up with ideas for short stories and novels.  Now, while I have several half-completed novels that tempt me and frustrate me but which I don’t seem to find the ability to work on, the short story factory has closed as well.  Every idea that pops up in my head is the same.  It’s about longing and desire and need for something that is just not quite there.  It’s on the tip of the tongue.  On the edge of the horizon.  It is, unfortunately, a story that revolves all around where I am at in life at the moment.  And I don’t want to write that story.  I want to write a story that has nothing to do with me.  But I find myself completely incapable of contemplating such a story.  Every idea comes back to that same thing.  So, I don’t really even think about short stories anymore.  And struggle with the motivation to continue the slog through Northville and those other projects.

That’s what scares me.  I feel like something has fundamentally changed in my head.  In my creative mind.  In the things that go into storytelling for me.  Something is shutting down.  Or maybe has already shut down.  The first part of Northville is complete at 30,000 words.  Part two is now at 9,000 words.  I want to be able to complete part two at about 30,000 words.  And then a part three at another 30,000 words.  Every day I think about it.  Every day I wonder how I’ll possibly get it done.  I know there’s plenty of story I could tell about Pete, Sophie and Lily.  I just don’t know if I have it in me anymore.

Is it writer’s block?  Could be.  But this doesn’t feel like writer’s block.  Even when I’ve struggled with a work in progress, I’ve been able to switch gears and work on something else.  A short story.  A blog post.  Something that interested me and kept me writing until I could go back to that work in progress and carry it to completion.  Now I just find it so difficult to pull words out of me on anything.  Like I said, something fundamental seems to have changed and I don’t know how to make that happen.

 

Thank You, Andrew Sullivan

Still my favorite blog because of the sheer variety of topics and the excellent writing, Andrew Sullivan’s blog is a go to for me every single day, multiple times during the day.  It’s amazing what comes out of his blog every day.  Here are two examples from today, and they just scratch the surface:

Jack London.  Andrew posted an excerpt from a review of a new biography of Jack London.  Here’s the interesting writerly thing that Andrew also highlighted:

Jack London’s writing routine was the single unchanging element of his relatively brief adult life. From the age of 22 until his death at 40, he wrote a thousand words every day, a quota he filled as a rule between 9 and 11 a.m. He slept for five hours a night, which left him with 17 hours of free time. But in his writing hours he was prolific: he produced short stories, poetry, plays, reportage, ‘hackwork’ and novels, many of them bestsellers. In 18 years, he published more than fifty books. ‘I’d rather win a water fight in the swimming pool,’ he said, ‘than write the great American novel.’

It’s a huge encouragement for the idea of a writing life.  Write for two hours a day, producing 1,000 words each day and, you too, can end up producing 50 books over the course of 18 years.  Only problem is this … the math doesn’t add up.  Go back and think about it.  Unless books back then were a whole lot shorter than they are now, which I don’t think is the case.

There are a couple of interesting quotes from the book referenced in the review:

After The Call of the Wild was received as an allegory, London said, “I plead guilty, but I was unconscious of it at the time. I did not mean to do it.”  According to the review, he’d meant to write a story about a good dog.  This confirms my own feeling that many stories that are interpreted as having particular “meanings” or “points” were frequently intended by the authors to just be a story about nothing other than … a good dog.

I also get this:  “Every time I sit down to write,” London wrote, “it is with great disgust. I’d sooner be out in the open, wandering around most any old place.”

*********

And then there was this.  According to the chart and the research, the top 10% of Americans average how many alcoholic drinks per week?  73.85.  That’s 10 a day.  Every day.  Week after week.  Wow.  I get that there are alcoholics and they drink a lot, but imagine this.  If these numbers are correct, one out of ten people you know drink that much.  It’s stunning.  I have a problem, but it never, ever got close to that.  I don’t even want to think what my life might be like if I drank that much.

Interesting thing … wasn’t Jack London known for his vast consumption of alcohol?

A Confession

I am an objective-driven person.  As it relates to writing, I don’t write just to write.  Particularly since I started publishing my own work via Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace, I write with an objective.  To get my books out there, to get feedback, to believe I am writing good stuff, and to, one day, figure out a way to make some money at this thing called writing.  One of the reasons I got sluggish about writing over the past couple of months is that I wasn’t seeing the objective anymore.  Without anything “new” out there and without running any promotions, or at least any that were working, I wasn’t seeing much in the way of sales and not a whole lot of new reviews.  And with my struggles to complete anything, I wasn’t seeing anything “new” on the horizon that would help meet my objective.

So, I withered for a time.  A couple of months of not believing the time and effort was worth it.  I’ve turned the page on that, however.  Last night, I finished my final edit of Northville.  I’ve got one more editor to go — my sister is a pretty incredible copy editor.  She finds all of the typos nobody else saw.  And then it will be on to the next chapter in Lily, Pete and Sophie’s story.  I’m undecided whether it will be a three novella series or one novel.  That’s my next decision.  I may just keep writing until I’ve got no more of their story to tell and see where it ends up.

My confession?  I’m a praise slut.  OK.  There, I said.  I’m a praise whore.  In person, when somebody tells me I done good, I’m embarrassed by it.  But behind the privacy of a computer screen, I can’t get enough of it and you can’t imagine how good it feels to read things like this:

Forty-something Kel is experiencing a mid-life crisis, but it’s not the typical crisis of wanting a sports car and a much younger girlfriend. His crisis revolves around a seemingly loveless marriage, two kids who don’t care if he’s around or not, and a job he despises. One night, after a conversation with a stranger in a bar, Kel decides to embark on a journey that may give him enlightenment, or if nothing else, a few days away from his unhappy household. Kel reaches his destination of Santo Cielo, Baja California, and seeks out Father Santos. Over the next week, the old priest teaches Kel lessons that have long been forgotten, and more importantly, shows him how happiness can be found in the simplest of things. In the ensuing weeks and months, Kel wrestles with what he has versus what he wants and needs, and agonizes over his needs versus the needs of his family.

This is a tremendously well-written story of one man’s struggle to find harmony and contentment, even where it may not exist. Eye-opening and thought-provoking, it delivers a powerful narrative of a man hurting inside, who only desires happiness for himself and his family. This book spoke to me (on so many levels) as few others have. There are some pearls of wisdom which the reader can take and apply to their own lives, especially the concept behind the title. An absolutely wonderful book. Five stars just aren’t enough!

That second paragraph describes exactly why I ended up writing Weed Therapy the way I did and my hope that it would reach people in a deeper way than just having read a story that was a throw-away.  (Yes, Beaver, if you read this, this is one story that had a point.)  The individual who wrote those two paragraphs is an unknown reader who has now read both of my short story collections and both of my novels, giving each of them five stars with glowing reviews to accompany the ratings.  That I have struck a chord with somebody who doesn’t know me is meeting the objective.

A co-worker just let me know that she finished reading the draft of Northville Five & Dime.  Her words for the story and my writing included “your writing is really powerful,” “a very insightful read,” and “never stop writing, you have a talent for it many don’t have.”

You can’t imagine how much I needed to read those words.  The review above, the comments from a friend.  They help.  They really do.  So, thank you to the strangers who post good reviews, the fellow writers I’ve met through blogging and who provide so much support, and to my friends, family and co-workers who continue to support my efforts.  It helps. It really does.

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