I’ve written extensively about the many things that a writer needs to do to make time and create good works and excel at his or craft.
That was before my wife and I ushered in Mattie, our precious little spawn.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Mattie to death. Nothing cheers me up more than hearing her laugh. That little smile of hers and her “I know I own your ass” look she gives us are some of the greatest moments of my day.
That being said, our toddler can be such a baby.
Every parent knows this. We certainly knew that any semblance of free time was gone the instant Mattie was born. What does this mean for our projects, though, for my wife’s photography and for my writing? It means we have to work much smarter than before.
I can write almost anywhere. Give me some paper and a pen and I can outline, draft, and do anything I need. I could do this before, but it’s so much more important now. I can’t just go to the computer and write an idea. Sometimes, I can’t even pull out paper to write said idea. Taking care of baby requires two hands, after all.
Time to get creative.
My wife and I have started using Evernote. It’s a handy way to quickly write down a note or save a webpage that we need for future reference. Because we both have the app, we can share lists, photos, and anything else we need while keeping everything sorted and catalogued for later. Barring that, having paper and pen handy, despite the abundance of thrown food, is still a viable option. I keep a notebook and pen nearby whenever I’m with the little one, and despite the focus needed to keep a little human in good working order, I’ve found that it’s still the best way to quickly write something down and keep going. When I do have time later in the day to actually sit and work, I quickly pull the notebook out and start expanding the notes and ideas, or the outright passages, into Word documents.
This stop-and-go method to working is tiring, though, perhaps more than actually sitting down for a few hours to type. You can’t focus and let ideas just come to you. Sometimes, it feels like you’re forcing creativity, that the clock is ticking, and you need to get it done NOW. There’s no sitting and thinking and drafting and just letting ideas happen.
While it would be easy to think that any free time should be devoted to craft, that’s not the case. I’m not about to spend every minute the baby is asleep working on my writing. Aside from the fact that we still need to cook food and keep the house clean, there’s also the very important matter of spending time with my wife, talking, just spending a few minutes lying on the carpet and relaxing as the Little One plays by herself. This was one of the mistakes I made years ago, one for which I apologized profusely. Despite the writer in me demanding I sit down to work if I have even five minutes, I need to spend time with my family too. I can’t ignore them or the people I’m doing this for will suffer.
This all means focus is so much more important than before. When I work, I work. Nothing else matters. It helps that my wife and I have our desks next to each other, so that when one of us is working or if we’re both working, we can still chat and share ideas. This also means we need time to relax. Mediation, music, a walk outside, anything and everything to clear the ol’ brain pan before the next mad session. It’s not a perfect set-up, but it works, and discipline is paramount.
Stay tuned for Part 2! In the meantime, enjoy this:
January 28, 2013
Getting back into the groove of things after taking a month off reminded me of one of the most rewarding, and frustrating things about writing.
As I work on “The Lights of Pegasus” and get ready to send it out for publication, I found myself happy with the overall story, but unhappy with the details. For example, this story is set in a series of short stories I called the Endeavor Stories, a set of tales all set in the same 5,000-year span of human history and following the same families. I literately have years of notes, slang, and tiny details on everything from culture to food.
But I didn’t use any of it.
Looking back, it’s the reason the story seemed to so dry and empty. I ended up erasing most of it, except for the first five pages, and starting over. For many writers, that’s the kind of action that instantly spells doom. Why start over like that? Why not just rewrite it?
It’s the same reason I love drawing with charcoal.
When you use charcoal, you make the general outline of the drawing first, starting with the light and shadow and slowly building up the general shapes. After a while, you have something that’s similar to a first draft in a story. The image is simple yet captures the general essence.
Then you smear the whole thing.
You take your hand and you smear that charcoal until it’s nothing but dust. But the paper remembers. A vague outline remains even after you erase like this. That outline serves as a sort of guide. You start over but now work faster since you have a better idea of what the picture should look like. You know the mistakes to avoid. Little errors don’t compound. After a while, you end up with a cleaner, more layered image that builds on the afterimage of the first.
And then you do it all over again.
I may redraw something two, maybe three times. Each time, I build on the remains of the previous drawing until I’m satisfied with my shadows and light. It’s then and only then that I go in with a finer set of charcoal and add texture and details.
It’s the same thing with a story or poem. After erasing, you still remember the broad strokes, but you also remember the mistakes that slowly built up. That’s when you erase and start over. You can’t just try to “fix” the story by rewriting parts of it. Writers are sentimental and will want to latch on to every word and letter.
Better to just cut the whole thing off.
The new draft will be cleaner, sleeker, and still have that overall story, but now it may even move faster. You’ll be free of your own work.
At least, that’s the theory. It’s worked for me so far, but let’s see. Of course, you can do this with individual sections if you’re really happy with some parts but not others. It’s up to you.
While I keep writing, please enjoy Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren kicking ass and taking names in Red 2. I thoroughly enjoyed the first one and hope the second doesn’t suck a bag of donkey phalluses.
I came across this little gem on Buzzfeed this morning. I’m sure it’s in jest, but the idea is simple: e-readers are here and printed books are dead. They’re just material to be used and abused now. While I have a tablet and a pretty good library of e-books in it, I find the idea of thinking of books as a fad or things that are now antiquated offensive. Sure, Kindle has so many benefits. For example, I’ve got so many free books in it that, were I to actually have physical copies, I would need three new bookshelves.
As someone who works online and does business electronically, it might seem odd to defend the humble paper and ink book, but they will not go out of style or be subverted by e-readers.
- You can’t get autographs on e-readers.
- Physical books don’t crash.
- Real books become more valuable with time.
- E-books don’t have that wonderful old book smell.
- Real books don’t need to get plugged in and don’t run out of power.
- Real books include touch, sight, and smell, creating a sensory experience that, while subtle, will never be duplicated by any electronic reading format.
In short, real books are here to stay. I’m sure the Buzzfeed article isn’t serious, but if anyone DOES think books are on the way out, let me just war you of how wrong you are.
October 3, 2011
It’s no secret for any long-term reader that I have a certain, shall we say, hatred for the state of Texas. Between gutting education and replacing it with conservative propaganda and lies and then electing a governor that’s little more than Yosemite Sam with a bad hair-style, this state has shown time and time again that it really would be better off floating into the vast void of space.
And then my family went to Fredericksburg, Texas for Oktoberfest. Nothing cures the soul like the proper application of family, German sausage, and microbrewed beer.
I walked the streets of this little town with my fiancée and sampled various German beers and food. We checked out arts and crafts made by the residents of this small town and I felt a new invigoration for my own art.
We got to walk the streets of Fredericksburg with beers in hand. It’s legal there, like Las Vegas, and it wasn’t until later in the day that we noticed something. There was almost no security anywhere. No one was falling-down drunk. There were no incidents. I’m guessing people were, like us, too stuffed with bratwurst to really move too fast. Or people were just nice.
Seriously, though, if I had to stay in Texas, I’d choose Hill Country. The number of artisan crafts, the weather, the country, and the food are awesome. Plus, San Antonio’s less than an hour away if you really need a bigger city’s resources.
The retroactively best moment of the night, the one that really washed away the last ten days, was at the restaurant where we had our forty-fifth or forty-sixth bratwurst. Not sure. I was in the restroom when I heard two gentlemen talking.
“What? Restaurant this big and only one pisser?”
“I know. I don’t think they planned this out. Don’t they know you don’t ‘buy’ beer? You rent it.”
That’s when the world crystallized. Everything turned razor sharp and I ignored the rolling blend of spices and double bock beer in my stomach. Beer is rented? I’m sure I’d heard something similar, but the combination of sunlight, beer out in the open parks, and the love and company of my family created a perfect point in my brain for me to hear that phrase and think, “This is all temporary.”
At once, I knew I had to go home at the end of the day. I knew come Monday, I had to try and cram 60 hours of work into a 19-hour week. I knew I had to find a way to fit my writing and editing schedule in with a new job that, while it will provide much-needed income, will make things more hectic.
I knew all that, and at the same time, I knew those things would also pass.
Like beer at Oktoberfest.
Also, I found and bought the collected works of H. P. Lovecraft in a beautiful hardbound edition, so things are good.
Here’s the week. May it bring drink in the end and aspirin in the middle.
In the meantime, here’s Susan Boyle doing a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” It’s odd, but I find this song strangely inspiring considering this week.
September 7, 2011
I looked through You Are NOT a Photographer. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s amazing. It’s a collection of “professional” photographs that could have been done with a webcam and a buggy version of Microsoft Paint. The fact that people hand over good money for this kind of work is a crime.
And I’m NOT a photographer. It doesn’t take genius to see these images are crappy, but reading through the intent of the site, something struck me.
The writers contend that being a photographer is not about having a camera and taking pictures. You have to know what you’re doing, know the technicalities of photography, and put out professional work.
It’s funny, but similar arguments abound in any art form. You’re not a writer unless you’re published. You’re not a painter until you make a living at it. You’re not an artist until you’re recognized.
Let’s have a little vocabulary lesson, shall, we? Because, really, what’s more exciting on a Wednesday?
The dictionary definition is someone who makes a living at something. In fact, every definition of the noun is only concerned at whether or not the person you are describing works at something. If I started working as a chef tomorrow and got a paycheck, that would make me a professional chef…
Except there’s a difference between being a professional and being professional.
I can cook well enough for myself and my family. I think I make a fairly good boeuf bourguignon and can cook a mean omelet, but I would get creamed against any chef who’s been doing this for more than three weeks.
Professional behavior and skills are a separate matter. They are what we assume someone has if he or she makes a living at something. I am a professional writer. So is whoever writes Sarah Palin’s speeches. Both of us make money by writing, but I can guarantee that in a test of skill, I have more. I’ve ghostwritten, written speeches, worked in education and journalism, and studied a wide spectrum of genres.
But making a living with this knowledge makes me a professional. So is Dan Brown, as much as it pains me to say that.
This one’s a little more complex. There are four noun definitions:
1. a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional.
2. an athlete who has never competed for payment or for a monetary prize.
3. a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity: Hunting lions is not for amateurs.
4. a person who admires something; devotee; fan: an amateur of the cinema.
Interesting… An amateur is someone who does something for pleasure and not for money, yet there is no mention of actual skill except in definition #3, and even then the definition states “or.” Some people have natural talent when it comes to certain things. You might never have written a poem in your life, and the first time you try, you find you have a knack for rhyme and meter. You are inexperienced, but not unskilled.
Putting It Together
Now, let’s look at what You Are NOT a Photographer is actually doing. It’s not that the shots they put out are bad. Well, they are, but that’s not the point. The people who put them up, if they have a business and make money despite this level of shoddy work, are still professionals! They are unskilled, however, and that’s the key term.
Language is a funny thing. Most of us would say that a “professional” knows what he or she is doing. That’s an assumption based on the fact that if you’re going to make a living at something, you should be good at it.
But there are plenty of people out there that are TERRIBLE at their jobs!
It’s not that I don’t appreciate what You Are NOT a Photographer is doing. I do. The problem is that if you define a professional as someone who is good at his or her work AND makes a living at it, you’re missing the point.
A professional does not have to be good, and an amateur doesn’t have to be bad. Like Man on Fire said, “No such thing as tough. You’re either trained, or you’re untrained. Now which are you?”
I am a professional writer. I may not be as successful as others, but I am skilled and enjoy my work. And sometimes, that knowledge is enough.
Actually finishing Charcoal Streets and selling a million copies would be nice, too, though…
July 25, 2011
Amy Winehouse is dead.
It’s a tragedy to be sure. We saw her self-destruct before our very eyes since, well… since she broke out. As of this writing, the cause of death is unknown, but my money is on her becoming another casualty of too successful and no way to deal with the pressure.
She’s not the first member of the infamous 27 Club, and I doubt she will be the last.
But the rest of us writers, singers, composers, and artists need to be careful to not fall into the trap of thinking this was inevitable. As artists, we already have a reputation as loners, weirdoes, and self-absorbed misanthropes. We don’t need the world thinking that we need the sweet release of cold death to make us go out in a blaze of glory.
That’s what creation is for.
There’s a misconception that real art is indefinable. That a tortured artist is the truest type of artist, a man or a woman who creates something no one truly understands because they lack the artist’ genius, is the stereotype many attribute to our community. That being said, most people really don’t understand art. I’ve written about this on MANY occasions.
But the point I’m trying to make in this little rant is that if you create something no one gets and you see this as proof of your genius, you’re not a genius. If your art doesn’t speak to SOMEONE, it didn’t do its job. Art does not exist in a vacuum. If you do happen to create something that touches millions, something that says or shows something we haven’t seen before, the pressure to perform and create something better can be overwhelming. I’ve been there. The urge to create clashing with the need to perform can turn anyone into a quivering pile of humanity.
That being said, I would appreciate it if people stopped drinking themselves to death or shooting their brains out because they feel they can’t even try.
You know what? Art is hard. If the next attempt isn’t as good, is it still good on its own? I recently heard one of my friends say that everything the Red Hot Chili Peppers made after their drug years was crap because it wasn’t as good as their early stuff. That’s a matter of taste between the funk and thrash of early RHCP and later, more melodic music, but it shows the kind of mentality that we adopt when we rate things based on a curve.
Did Winehouse kill herself over the need to be something larger than she was? As of now, I don’t know. If she did, it’s a tragedy, not only because a talented artist is gone, but because we have another example of an artist who, instead of stepping up to the plate and at least trying, went on a slow suicide binge.
And even if it was just an overdose and an accident, I’m still mad at her.
Oh well. Let’s remember (relatively) happier times.
June 29, 2011
Okay, I need a break.
No, really. I don’t mean an “Oh, let me catch an episode of No Reservations,” or “I think I’ll play one game of Angry Birds” kind of break. I mean, I need a real “don’t do anything break.”
Charcoal Streets is going on the backburner for a bit. It’s been a year this month since the first story came out, and I’ve been writing and editing almost non-stop since then. Except for a few days here and there marked by personal tragedy or holidays, it’s been near-constant grind.
And I am about to explode into a hydrogen-fusing fireball of pure stress.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried. I really have. I told myself I’d detox a bit, listen to music, go to work, and just pound at the keyboard until something, anything, appeared. I told myself that if I kept a solid writing schedule, if I tried to keep the writing as so many other authors said I should do, eventually I would have enough to work with, I could edit the hell out of it, and I’d have the story I wanted to tell.
Truth be told, it’s been a HEAVY strain. I mean, I’m starting to DISLIKE my stories, and I don’t think I’ve improved them much, especially in the last month.
I need to look at the with fresh eyes, and as much as the perfectionist in me wants to just keep at the anthology, the rational side of my brain is telling me I need a break like a California fault line.
This won’t affect the blog in any way. Except…
Okay, here’s the deal. I’m going to publish regular articles, but they’ll be around 400-600 words. Tops.
And I mean it this time.
Except when I REALLY have to make them longer.
Links will go up on Tuesday, Thursday, and maybe Saturday as I bring back Divine by Zero. It’s been a while, but I think I can bring it back to keep up with all the weird crap out there and give me more time.
The other reason for the changes is that I’m looking for a second job. That’s going to cut my writing time, both for the site and my personal work, in half. I think I need to get into the habit of writing less and saying more.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the first Divine by Zero article in… nine months. Holy crap.
And now, to finish a day of painful self-awareness, I give you one of the only good things from Mirrors (aside from Jack Bauer, demon hunter): the soundtrack. See you tomorrow.
June 1, 2011
First off, let me apologize for the weird temporary home page. I’m trying to figure out why everyone’s only seeing a blank screen there, and as soon as that changes, I’ll let you know.
Now, on to business.
Some months ago, while I was working for… a businessman of questionable ethics… I had a dream. Let me set up the weeks prior to this.
I was hired as a screenwriter and told I would be writing scripts for documentaries and short films. It was an exciting opportunity and I would get to work with a man I quickly confirmed had the cred, the fan base, and the resources to make this come true. I would be making much better money, getting more exposure, and reaching out to other areas I’d ever researched before. It was an unexpected and seemingly miraculous turn of events.
Well, you know what they say about Greeks bearing gifts, right?
Yeah, I was technically the guy’s screenwriter, but over the next few months, we wrote ONE film together and my days (and I mean 24-hours a day) were spent doing errands for this guy, picking up his lunch, driving at odd hours to hand-deliver packages, and essentially being his transcriber. All I had to do after he told me what he wanted written was to clean up the grammar and make it sound good.
Well, that and the fact that I was the one who did research, edited pictures, made phone calls, and would eventually write the book that he and his buddies were going to use to make mad moneys… four ways. There were four of them. My cut?
That’s what I thought.
This was the world I’d put myself into, and I really have myself to blame for jumping into this. At the time, however, I kept thinking that if I just stuck with it a little longer, if I found some way of actually sneaking my writing into a letter, or suggested something to do with the videos he edited, maybe I would get him to give me more leeway. Maybe I could show him. All I had to do was bring my writing down to a high school level for a bit longer…
Then Neil Gaiman intruded on the whole thing.
I had a dream that I was in some gothic looking cabin by a beach. Multiple rooms with desks, small libraries, and writers everywhere made for an even stranger scene since this dilapidated cabin was bright and cheerful on the inside.
It seemed like every room was taken by someone, and other writers sat in the halls, in the living room, anywhere they could find and plugged their laptops in or just went at it with pen and paper. And me? I couldn’t think of a thing to write. I just watched these men and women, some old, some young, and wondered what they had that I didn’t have.
Where did this creativity come from? I knew I hadn’t written much for Charcoal Streets in a while. I knew my writing wasn’t as sharp as I wanted it to be. I knew I was writing much more than I ever had at any point in my life, but the output didn’t match an equal jump in quality.
I wandered that house and, much like the TARDIS, it was quite larger on the inside than the outside. I went from room to room. The sun kept shining in and eventually I came across a room filled with writers at desks, on the floor, and on windowsills.
I turned around and saw a man walking down the sunlit hall. If it’d been in slow motion, it wouldn’t have been any more epic. It was Neil Gaiman. THE Neil Gaiman. Neil I-Got-More-Talent-In-My-Left-Earlobe-Than-You’ve-Got-In-Your-Whole-Brain Gaiman. He had that leather jacket he always seems to be wearing and could have easily been a rock star.
I started to say something. All I remember was “What?”
Not a question of what he was doing… It was more like I was asking “What do I do?”
“What can I do?”
“What am I doing?”
“What is this?”
He smiled and said, “If you keep this up, you’re going to hate writing forever.”
That’s when I woke up. I looked around. My fiancée was fast asleep next to me. It was a few hours before I had to be up to teach the morning class I’d taken on because my boss wasn’t paying me what he promised. It wasn’t THE moment I decided to quit, but it helped.
And I’ve been wondering about that statement: “If you keep this up, you’re going to hate writing forever.”
This will be the second job where I’ve been hired for my writing, then promptly told to “dumb it down” or otherwise hold back. In Congress, I learned how to say absolutely nothing with a full page of text. Here, I learned how to say just a little more, but make it sound really deep.
That dream has haunted me for a while. I think I was trying to tell myself that if I sacrificed my art for the sake of money, if I demeaned myself enough, I could get that shot. All I had to do was write about hunters, put down the words with Tea Partiers, and work with men more interested in mafia-like business than actual quality.
Neil was right. I would have hated writing, and myself, for it.
Frankly, it wasn’t worth it. I learned a few things, so it wasn’t a total loss, but I figured I could do this myself. I have the talent (I hope) and the dedication. Ask anyone who’s seen me work. When I set my mind to something, I get it done.
Charcoal Streets and Randomology are my babies. I’m going to make them household names one day.
Hey, look at that! Links!
- Kentucky is giving aid and tax breaks to a park that promotes the story of Noah as though it were historical fact. What?!
- Some guy had his Macbook stolen. I didn’t really feel sorry for him. Macs suck (don’t hurt me!). However, this guy was smart. He used a program to take pictures of the guy who took said Macbook since the cops were too busy to do anything. Now that’s taking action.
- One of my followers on Twitter posted this link to the world’s fanciest, most advanced toilet. I don’t know about you, but this thing’s just for taking a dump in… how fancy should it really be?
- Is the Right conceding it has lost the war on gay marriage? It sure seems that way…
- I knew that the image of Death playing chess (or really any game) to win a person’s soul was kind of an old idea, but I didn’t know it was THIS old…
- Here is proof that when you call someone an animal, it’s really an insult to animals. Humans fight over petty things and kill their own kind without a second thought… while REAL predators will apparently take pity on a fellow hunter and try to feed it. Said hunter was a mistakingly identified National Geographic photographer that was being taken care of by a sea lion that thought the wayward cameraman wasn’t eating enough, so the seal brought him PENGUINS. Now THAT’S a maternal instinct.
- Is oral sex the ticket to an Oscar? It’s not what it sounds like…
- Alcohol? Yup. Classic literature? Of course. Blending them together into amusing new liquors? WIN!
- This article claims that the ease with which we can change writing has killed the traditional screenwriter. Screenwriting, for those out there who have never done it, involves meticulous margins and indentations that are a real pain to do, even on a computer. However, I’m willing to say I call “CRAP” on this entire article. I think this makes it easy to change a bad idea into a good one, and computers let writers go through multiple drafts, which often leads to better writing.
- And finally, I don’t know if this video is real or not. Probably not. I don’t know if these guys hacked the Fox ticker, but if they did, it was awesome! See you on Friday!
May 27, 2011
Okay, this is going to be brief, but I have some advice for all your writers and artists out there struggling to get the next paragraph out. I know you’re staring at the computer screen, or the easel, or something else and you think that if you stare at it hard enough, it will write itself.
Get out of the house.
This morning, Mary and I went to do a little field work. To be honest, I was getting a little burned out on Charcoal Streets. Things started to sound flat. It didn’t pop like it used to. Things just read, well, boring.
I’d wanted to go downtown and take pictures, walk through the border, and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of border culture. Three hours, one hundred degrees, and three hundred pictures later, we had some incredible shots to work with for both photomanipulation and as final works themselves.
The smells of the streets, the feeling of being utterly exhausted in the heat and still feeling accomplishment at everything we did, energized me more than I can explain. People-watching is a wonderful tool for artists, and this trip offered a lot of notes, images, and memories.
We found a church that was bricked up down to the windows. The door was rusted shut and nothing, not even a sign, told us anything about it.
Another church had a beautiful metal cross… though one quarter was rusted and falling apart while the rest remained almost pristine.
Mansions and former elegant homes dot the city, and many have been turned into offices for lawyers and others. Some, however, are empty, overgrown shells that wouldn’t look out of place in a Silent Hill game.
I haven’t sweat like that in years, not since I worked door-to-door sales in a cotton uniform in the middle of July. I still feel hot despite having drunk cool water since we got back to the apartment, but I’m sure it will pass.
I’ve often said how you need to keep moving if you sit all day. I think today I met my quota for at least 30,000 words.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to keep drinking water until I’m at least 50% dihydrogen monoxide again. See you Monday, and keep sharing Randomology links!
- This year marks that 10th anniversary of the death of Douglas Adams. Let’s look back at what the man himself said so long ago.
- Courtesy of the awesome Wil Wheaton, here’s what Isaac Asimov thought of libraries. Now go hug your bookshelf.
- Speaking of awesome… this duck has style.
- While we’re at it, anyone want to buy the head of the patron saint of genital disease? It might make an interesting centerpiece.
- Also, speaking of things I didn’t know existed… I though kiwis were extinct! Apparently, they’re breeding more than before, although in captivity.
- Here’s a guy with WAY too much free time. You know those McBain movies on The Simpsons? Well, it seems that if you take all those early clips and put them together, you actually get a coherent plot and movie. A very short movie. But it’s a movie nonetheless.
- The Right Wing’s endless battle against reason and women takes another step forward. In Kansas, lawmakers want women to get a SEPARATE insurance for abortions. One politician even said rape was like getting a flat tire. Why not have insurance specifically for it? Of course, the common-sense response is that THAT’S WHAT NORMAL INSURANCE IS FOR. Of course, it’s just a really transparent way of making sure women can’t pay for abortions.
- And finally, there’s a FOURTH Matrix movie… but it’s a fan film that actually looks better than the official movies.