Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Writing and Resistance

Photo Credit: N. M. Scuri
Writing isn't always a blissful ride down the stream. OK, most of the time, writing isn't a blissful ride down the stream. There can be a lot of reasons for it, but for today, right now, I want to talk about having to write something you wouldn't necessarily choose to write about.

This can happen for a lot of reasons. School assignments and projects for work are two common scenarios. If we have any say in the matter, we generally choose to take the task on because it'll be "just this once," and "not a big deal." Of course, the quick afternoon's work drags on, becoming Sisyphean.

What can you do?

1) Can you just say no? More often than not, it's not an option, but on worth exploring. Neil Gaiman counsels against writing for money, but sometimes, no isn't an option.

2) Can you get help? Breaking up the task and/or bringing in a specialist can work wonders if the situation allows. Many times, unfortunately, it's just going to be you and the blank computer screen.

3) Can you get started already? Sorry, but in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, If you're going through hell, keep going. The best thing to do is sit down and get to work. Preferably, you don't want to start the night before the thing is due. Break it up into small chunks and do a bit each day. It's easier to tell yourself to work on something for 15 minutes per day for a week or two, rather than have to crunch through hours of work just before you have to hand it in. You may find you don't mind the task you've been given, and if that's not the case, at last it won't be hanging over your head, and you'll know better than to say yes next time.

Good luck!

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Monday, July 25, 2016

What Have We Here?

Photo Credit: N. M. Scuri
One thing I've learned is that when you invest your time and efforts into something that brings you joy, you receive gifts that you never expected. I'll get into it more in coming days, but an example is my little Luna Mothra buddy. I had no idea that they lived in my part of the world, but there he was (I checked. It was a boy). Luna Mothra hung out for about a week, as they do, and then he was off. Who knows what else is out there, right in front of my unseeing eyes?

So the takeaway message (if you are looking for one) is to keep an open heart, and open mind, and open eyes.
Art courtesy of +byron rempel 

Especially the last thing. Good to help avoid zombies.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Write Way to Happiness

My love for all things Stephen King is well documented. His works are an early influence, and to this day, I look forward to his new titles. I've read many of his books several times, and I continue to recommend On Writing to anyone and everyone. What, you haven't read that yet? Well, do it now. I'll wait.

That was good, wasn't it.

One of the things I take away from his book is that he's a real guy. He is admittedly not perfect, but he is willing to take the lesson and move on. As is the case for most of us, this has happened in his life more than once.

In his memoir, he recounts the first time he got drunk during a school trip.He then describes his intoxicated state during his mother's funeral, with a fast-forward to his complete inability to remember writing at least one of his novels. The madness only ended with his family staging an intervention, complete with coke vials and half-drunk bottles of mouthwash ("I preferred Scope...").

For one of his shorter books, there is a ton of stuff: autobiography, writing advice, etc. What I got out of it after several readings is this: Do not expect any activity, be it writing, making music, anything, with the expectation that it will magically fix your life. It won't make your parents love you. It won't make you rich overnight (if ever). Journaling is great as part of therapy, but it isn't the same as publishing a novel.

It's not the external thing, but the internal process that heals. One day may be better than another, but if telling a story makes you happy, then tell your stories, and be happy.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

On Writing -- and Other Verbs


As a child, I cut my teeth on the works of Stephen King (among others, but that's a blog post for another day), and one of my favorite books is his writing guide/memoir On Writing.

It works on several levels: It gives insights into his creative origins, it reminds us that Stephen King is just a regular guy (even if he does keep the heart of a small child on his desk, so did Robert Bloch). Best of all, he provides a master class of the writing process, applicable to any genre. I often make use of his advice for my composition classes.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
Running a close second [as a writing lesson] was the realization that stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.
 If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.
If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.
If you haven't already, please pick up a copy of On Writing. After over 15 years, it still rings true as the day it was first published. 

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Business of Art

Quote courtesy of +Crystal Lake and +Joe Mynhardt 
We like to think of writing, visual arts, music, as this free-flowing beautiful thing that should be open to all. It's pleasant to think of the lone artist up in an unheated garret waiting for the muse to set in and reveal artistic brilliance.

 Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way. To begin with, the public, for whatever reason, seems to think it's OK to get free art for "exposure." Can you imagine going to a brain surgeon and asking for a free procedure in exchange for a good Yelp review? I don't either, but it doesn't seem strange to ask the same from painters or writers (or editors, for that matter). If it's important, it's worth paying for.

Another misconception is that artists just, well, just flop around and wait for inspiration. It is fun to not have a plan or deadline for ideas, but it isn't conducive to being an artist. In the words of Jack London “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” The best, most prolific artists gave themselves a schedule and then stuck to it, working around day jobs, families, and everything else adults have to deal with. 

What is all comes down to is being a professional isn't just about having an excuse to get business cards. An artist's professionalism actually serves to protect the art. It's tough to be productive when you not only give away your art, but it costs you time and money in the form of training and supplies you aren't being reimbursed for. It's hard to maintain any sort of continuity when creating is something that's done when the mood strikes. Here's a hint: The muse tends to show up more often when we're working. 

I've had the pleasure of working with the publisher of +Crystal Lake, a publishing house located in South Africa. +Joe Mynhardt has taken his company from humble beginnings to a solid company with titles from people like Jack Ketchum and Neil Gaiman. The other day, Joe gave an excellent piece of advice to a writer who is just starting out: Writing might be an art, but your career should be handled like a business. Meet the right people. Help others and pay it forward. 

It's certainly worked for him. I think it'll work for you, too. 

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Monday, July 11, 2016

You Are the Author





There's an old joke where a doctor is pointing to an x-ray and telling his worried patient that there's nothing wrong, there's "just a book inside that's waiting to come out." 


It's not just a joke, though. Think about what you do on a daily basis. Consider the things you've experienced over the course of a lifetime. There are people out there who could benefit from what you could share with them.

"But I can't write," you say to yourself. How do you know? Did someone tell you that when you were a child? Did a well-meaning family member encourage you to "get a real job?" Did a teacher from long-ago instill a dislike for books?
The good news is that you don't need your approval to open up a file on your computer or pick up a pen. The process isn't always easy, even for people who write for a living, but if you're reading this far, I'm guessing you'll find it all worth it.

One of the nuns in my school once told me "if you think you'd like to teach, you should." I say the same to you now.

If you feel the need to write your story, you should. 

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What's Your Why? On Writing and Motivation

A review of Stephen King's Just After Sunset appeared in The New York Times. The reviewer made an observation that stayed with me.

In any case, he is a tireless storyteller. One tale in this collection was written during a few hours’ lag time in a hotel room in Australia, just because he had time to kill. Mr. King’s introduction explains that his new surge of short-story writing was prompted by the job of editing the 2006 volume in the Best American Short Stories series. He wondered whether he still had the knack of miniaturization and decided to find out. And simple, everyday situations became his open portals to fantasy and horror. Even a stationary exercise bicycle yields a richly scarifying tale.

Photo Credit: N. M. Scuri
Artists in general, writers in particular, spend a great deal of time discussing what inspires and motivates them. The destitute poet in the garret, writing by the light of a candle stump may be romantic, but ask any ten writers you know, and they will tell you, rich is better. Boswell was kind enough to pass along the message from Samuel Johnson that "no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money," but what's going to make you push pen across paper when the mattress is stuffed with hundreds?

Although the odds are not with them, some people start writing with the idea that they can make a living at it. Others write because it makes them happy at one level or another and eventually decide to send something out to see what happens. Eventually, the both the Stephen Kings and the John Q. Publics of the world must come to the same conclusion if they wish to continue writing. Money cannot be the prime motivator of creation. Even if it does not make us happy in the moment, the only way we will invest the time, energy and resources needed to create anything of quality is if we feel in our guts that this is not what we want, but need to do, even if it is just to prove to ourselves that we still have the knack.

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