Tag Archives: Writers Resources

Structure, Space, Time

13 May


I sat myself down in my studio today with one simple goal in mind: Write. It proved to be easier than I expected. I mean, I write all the time – even when I’m not writing, my  brain is churning over something. But this was different. I just wanted to put some words on the page and my nose to the grindstone.

Now, my studio space has very little in the way of amenities – or distractions. I bring my mp3 player, but usually don’t use it. There is no internet, unless I want to relocate to the coffee shop down the block. And usually there are no other people. Even when there are, the atmosphere of the place is geared towards work, rather than socializing. This is the kind of setup I’ve always wanted. In so many ways, it is perfect. And today I sat down and kicked out over two thousand words… of utter crap.

good structure, bad facade

good structure, bad facade

What do you do when  good plan leads to terrible results? I mean, you can always start over. And believe me, that’s something I have some experience with. Novel projects come and go – I have no shortage of things to write. I get stuck on a book, so I set it aside. Months later, I pick it up and decide to gut it – rework it into something better. Back at square one, everything seems shiny and new. Now, instead of post-World War Two England, it’s set in modern Seattle – just after an alien invasion. Same character concepts, same basic structure, but it still ends up a hulking ruin. Who cares if the structure is good – it looks like it caught the worst of a bomb blast. Yes, I still have material to work with, things to draw from.

Am I going back in to the studio tomorrow? Yes. Of course. I can’t NOT go back to work. I just need to figure out how. And as I was sulking in my unsatisfied funk, an idea came to me. I did about five minutes of research and I hit upon a weird piece of inspiration. And as we all know, weird inspiration is the best kind.

I’m going to write the WORST story I can. I will cringe while I do it, but at least I know that I will succeed! I found a recent post with some interesting “guidelines” to follow, over here. To tell you the truth, I’m really excited to try this technique. I can’t wait to hit the studio tomorrow. And if I manage to put together something truly wretched – I mean, to the point of being entertaining – I will think about posting it. At this point, I can’t think of a reason why not. Pride? Ha!

Now, maybe there is a downside to this plan that I just can’t see. Perhaps taking the lowest possible path will only lead to bad habits, dependency on terrible prose, and an addiction to adverbs. Maybe. But I think there’s a chance to learn something from this kind of work. At least I won’t be disappointed. And I might just have fun while I do it too.

Wish me luck!



Things That Work, Part 2

26 Apr

Things That Work
Part 2

I wish my shower was this cool

I wish my shower was this cool

It was Autumn and the precious few hours of sunshine were long gone. I leaned my head against the side of the shower and let the hot water pour over me. Warm steam filled my lungs and began to thaw my chilled joints.

I had been working on my story almost all evening, only coming out for dinner. My wife was now in bed, my daughter was in bed, and I was supposed to be in bed already – after all, I had to wake up and pretend to be a responsible adult in just a few hours. My thoughts began to drift, away from my writing, to the looming deadlines I had at my so-called real job.

And that is when it hit me. A connection between two big themes in my book – the close of a gap that had been driving me nuts – just popped into my head. Not only was it A good idea, it was the RIGHT idea. Unfortunately, it arrived at a terrible time.

“Wow,” I said through the drizzle of hot water. “Thanks a lot, brain.”

I dried off, wrapped my bathrobe around myself and headed out to my computer. My mind was happy and irritated, at the same time. Two hours later, even more exhausted and stinking of cigarette smoke, I collapsed into bed.

The next day was torture, but I knew I deserved every moment of suffering. How could I have gone to bed, in the face of such illumination? What other choice was there? I couldn’t imagine any other course of action.

Three days later, the same damn thing happened. It felt like I had been cursed.

Again, up very late. In the shower, trying to not think about words, or stories, or anything. Really, just minding my own, and ready for the sweet embrace of sleep. And that’s when I suffered an epiphany. And believe me, I think “suffered” is the right term. I tried to push the idea away, but it just nailed me.

“God damn it,” I muttered to the shower wall. “Why didn’t I think of this four hours ago?”

A few hours and several rewritten pages later, I fell asleep in my chair. When I awoke around dawn, my legs were numb, my neck was sore, and I felt as if the best part of my will to live had been dried up. In other words, it was a Writer’s Hangover. As I stumbled to bed and burrowed under the covers, I took small consolation in the fact that it was my day off.

When I dragged myself out of bed a few hours later, I swore this wasn’t going to happen again. After I drank half a pot of coffee and reviewed my changes and edits, I realized that I had been too tired to write clearly. The ideas were sound, it was my writing that had turned sour.

The next night, I tucked my daughter into bed. I checked in with my wife. And instead of rushing off to get to work on my book, I decided to do something else, first. I took a shower. It was half a clever notion, I’m sure. But the other half was grim determination. I’d be damned before I let some stupid inspiration or clarity rob me of my good night’s sleep.

“Stupid brain,” I grumbled as I dumped shampoo on my head. “So you like showers, huh?”

It was a ridiculous notion, I knew. But I stood under the scalding water, letting my mind wander, trying to focus only on my breathing. And the ideas charged down from the steamy ether. I pushed them aside, but they regrouped and mounted a counter-attack.

I stepped out of the shower, into my bathrobe, and perched on the edge of my seat. The words slipped into place, the scenes lined up, and nobody had to get hurt. Midnight rolled around. I went to bed.

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And THAT is what works. For me, anyway. But only when I feel ‘stuck’ in my work. If everything is jumbled up, inside my head, I know that I should walk away. But just the simple distance from the writing can loosen up the ideas.

It doesn’t work like a magic trick, or like some silly ‘cheat code’ for the brain. But it kind of is a mind game. I don’t know a lot about meditation, or self-hypnosis, but I like the results of this silly process. You should give it a try, if the need arises.

I think this comes back to my mantra, as a practical word-jockey: Whatever puts words on the page – that’s what I need to do.


My Own Worst Enemy

11 Apr

The worst thing about being an editor is (surprise!) reviewing your own work. As Alexandra delved into in her Psyche Fiction piece, if you try to write while you’re in the wrong frame of mind, you will screw yourself up. A lot of writers that I know have the same problem: their Editor is louder and has more control than their Muse. I am sadly, no exception.

I have often characterized my muses as hard drinking, morally delinquent, unforgiving and cruel mistresses. This is profoundly unfair of me, I know. It’s okay to have a love/hate relationship with your creative process. Hell, it’s better than no relationship, right? But if I step back and really look at my creative head-space, it’s much more playful and innocent than all that. My muses just want me to play – to let go of my worries, stop being so uptight, and just fucking CREATE. They assure me it’s a simple thing. Ha.

photo by David_B

photo by David_B

I try not to take myself too seriously. It helps that I’ve gone down that road before. Yes, I have written lots of poetry and angst-filled love letters. Of course, I have set out to pen the very finest prose the world has ever seen. In other words, I really tried to show the world the colors of my rainbow. Once you’ve done that – and come back down to Earth for a bit – it’s easier to laugh at yourself. We all must breathe the rarefied air of the highest self sometimes. But if you can’t poke fun at your own over-inflated ego, you’ve got real problems.

That’s really what it comes down to, for me. The proof is in the pudding. “Did you get any work done today?” I’d rather write five thousand words, only to throw out 4/5ths of it, than only write a thousand to begin with. And it all starts with shutting up that goddamn editor. The editor stops me from writing in my journal, keeps me from trying out new perspectives and narrative techniques, and experimenting with style. The editor is all business and no fun. And you had better not screw up on the easy stuff, ‘cuz the editor will never let you forget that time you published “form” when it was supposed to be “from” – ‘cuz the editor is a world-class JERK.

But just like a bad habit, the editor serves an important role. You can’t just “fire” the damn fool – you’re going to need a jerk when it comes time to get serious. My own creative process is a bit confusing these days, but the editor stays in his freaking office most of the time. I trick him, with busy work and simple distractions. Anything I have to do, just to let my muses out to play.

Maybe it’s a holdover from when I studied early childhood education. We learn through play. And we’re a lot like our primate cousins in that regard. Games with rigid rules help us sometimes, but unstructured play is when we expand our minds. Whether it’s writing haiku, or playing surrealist games, or coming up with the silliest flash fiction we can come up with, it’s all good. It rewards us – immediately – which is pretty damned important in this line of work. Rewards are few and far between. You have to count your successes and fudge the results from time to time.

So that’s my takeaway from this week: Let your brain out to play. Have some fun for a change.