July 2, 2017
 
  It’s kinda sad to me that I have spent the past six or eight months (I lost count) being frustrated and unproductive because deep in the back of my head I was beginning to realize something. The realization has become apparent I’ve been wasting my time. I am nearing the midpoint of my sixth decade on this planet, and honestly, I haven’t that much time left. At this point, wasting time is a crime. I need to fill every moment that I can with pleasures and accomplishments.

  My realization has to do with my writing. I know that I am fairly good at putting words together. This is something I’ve heard time and again since junior high school. Yet, my own insecurities are in the background telling me that I do not know what I am doing, that I am not good enough and that I need training. I have pursued many types of training over the past couple of years. I found a few interesting things:

  1.) There are lots of people out there who are willing to offer advice.

  2.) There are even more people out there willing to offer training, for a price.

   3.) For every piece of advice or training saying do this or that, there is nearly an equal number saying just the opposite.

   4.) The credentials of those offering advice are not exactly from the best sellers list.

   5.)  Writing is hard work… writing takes dedication… writing takes persistence. None of this is new, but add this piece, writing well means going back and rewriting, correcting, tweaking, cajoling, and shaping to get a story.

   6.)  Being in love with the idea of being a writer is not the same thing as being a writer. (Well, Duh) That is what I found myself doing. I love the idea of being a writer. Even when I wasn’t writing, I would tell people I was a writer. When I am writing, I don’t have a lot of time to be talking about writing. In fact, the more I talk about writing, the less I write.

  I want more than anything to get back to the writing on a regular basis. Doing that would give me a sense of accomplishment; (It has in the past, and I believe it will continue to do so.) but only if I actually write and complete stories.

  To be fair, I have picked up a few useful tips from the classes and the groups I’ve been a part of. The biggest thing though, and I knew this before, a writer must write. Getting past my self-esteem, my self-doubt and my self-sabotage is a major undertaking. I believe I must go back to the attitude of writing daily and not worry about what others may think about my words. Do it for me and do the best I can. If something good comes, great. If not, I have scratched the itch that seems to always be in that hard to reach spot. Forget money. If it comes, great, but write to satisfy the muse… the rest, if it is meant to be, will follow.

  Submit my work and let it fail or succeed as it will. This is something I haven’t done in a year and a half. Realize no editor is dying to publish my work. Hell, they don’t even know who I am. Nor will they until they see my stories, even then, they may not be in the market for what I have to offer, that does not say my writing is bad or even weak. It means I found the wrong marketplace.

Finally, lighten up. Enjoy what I do. Write for me. Seek only to complete the stories and make them as best as I can. Nearly everything else is out of my hands anyway. Enjoy life!

Why I Write
 04-18-2017

 
            I had planned this as a whine session about motivation that keeps sliding away. I love to write. I love to share what I write, and I realize that focusing on my present lack of motivation is inviting more lack of motivation. Instead, I think I shall focus this morning on why I enjoy writing. Let’s turn the negative thoughts toward positive ones.

            Number one reason I enjoy writing is the creative process. Understand, I do not need to write to fulfill that need. I could build or rebuild something, spend time in my garden or take a long walk on the beach looking for agates or fossils or at the things the sea has decided to deposit in the last high tide. All satisfy that sense of adventure, and all leave me with a feeling of accomplishment. (To attain a sense of accomplishment on the beach, I generally fill a bag with whatever trash I find and can carry.)

            A close second enjoyment I find is in the story itself. I think that I enjoy finding out what happens more than a reader does. You see, as a writer, I am a “pantser.” That means I do not have a plan when I start, I follow where the story takes me. Yes, this may be a more difficult path when it comes to making something sellable because often there is more rewriting required. But the story tells itself. I just have to record it as it flashes through my brain. 

            Other reasons would include the look on a person’s face when they finish one of my stories and their comments afterward. Most are pleased. Though I have seen individuals, who did not like a story try to find something positive to say too. But in the end, I write for my pleasure, I share because I feel like that is the value in writing. The story is what it is. As a writer, I do not sugar coat life. I do not hide the ugliness that appears. Life is seldom clean, sweet and cozy. It has jagged edges, it has slime, it has people who are despicable, it has people who are victims.

            From teachers, I have learned that a writer cannot trust the opinion of those nearest to them. They will say things to make one feel better even though they may not believe the words coming out of their mouths. They may, through a misguided sense of charity say they like something to spare the writer's feelings.

           The truth from my end is, you do more harm than good by telling me what you think I might want to hear. I want honest feedback, bluntness works. Your well-intended lies make it more difficult for me to better my craft.  

            Ah, see, there I go on the whine again. I appreciate any positive feedback. I appreciate any negative comments. I adore constructive criticism. All these work towards helping me improve my craft. That becomes the goal of my writing, to make the stories more believable by bettering my skills as a writer. I love taking a reader on a journey. I want them to experience the adventures of my character whose life has hit a rough spot. I want them to ask, ‘What would I do in this situation.’

            Other reasons behind writing are to teach, to persuade and to offer alternatives. My passion is in fiction. My highest goal is to have a book accepted for publication by a traditional press. From what I’ve learned over the past few years, that is a lofty desire. So many people opt to self-publish, and that is an easy process. Probably too easy, as so much stuff that would never reach the level of acceptance by the traditional press ends up for sale that it may turn many potential readers away from books. Yet, I have little doubt people with a passion for reading will continue to pursue a ‘good story.’  

            I do not limit myself with fiction. I do not turn away from working with what is around me, telling stories that are true, or reporting on situations that need attention. These are fun too, only not quite as satisfying as creating something from nothing.

          My recent blog entry about the burrowing owls provided me with an opportunity to learn, to raise awareness and to get out with my daughter and granddaughter to indulge in another passion, photography. The owl’s plight is similar to so much wildlife in the world whose habitat is shrinking – they find themselves on an island surrounded by humanity who would without thought, sweep them aside to put up another fast food restaurant.  

    Where do Story Ideas Come From?    02-21-2017


            Every day I find new things to write about.  There is nothing magical in coming up with ideas because they exist everywhere.  Yeah, sometimes I find myself stuck on a blank page, but I firmly believe that isn’t due to lack of ideas, more like a lack of motivation.  Finding things to write about is sometimes as simple as a look around my room. I find some obscure object and place it in a scene that can build from there.  I once used a rounded quartz stone to initiate a story, and it ended up becoming an epic fantasy novel. 

            Other times I take a trip down memory lane, looking for some small gem that had a ton of emotion attached.  I put the words, or description into a character’s mouth or mind, and off we go.  Still other times I will use a game I bought a few years ago called Story Cubes.  There are three sets of nine dice each.  I toss these on the table and randomly select five or six.  I will use whatever I find depicted there as either part of a scene, (rocket) or part of an action, (children playing), or even as a motivator, (arrow in flight). 

            On occasion I go online and find other people’s prompts, though most of the time I don’t care for the lack of information that I have to start with.  I like my prompts to provoke a question.  There is another method for digging out starting points, and that is random words.  I might throw two three or more dice to determine a page number in a random book. Throw again for a word number and count down the page to pull a word out of the text, repeating until I get half a dozen quality words.  When I land on something like: ‘to,’ ‘a,’ or ‘the’ I will take the next noun or verb instead. 

            Another favorite is to take up a story someone else has written, and create a prequel, “What happened to bring us to this starting point?” or a sequel as in “What happens next?”

            In truth, there is a story in anything, any object, any word, or any thought.  That’s why I don’t have issues coming up with ideas to write.  For example, let us take a lowly copper penny, dated 1972.  One story might be:

             I paid for the hamburger with my last dollar, Misty was hungry, I was too, but I knew she hadn’t eaten in more than a day.  The penny fell from the twenty-nine cents of change when the cashier shoved the money at me.  Misty picked it up.  We both understood the value of every penny. Even back then one penny didn’t buy much, but there, on the edges of starvation, pennies can add up quickly to something to eat.  When she handed it to me, our eyes met. Maybe this feeling had been building over time and culminated in that instant.  But I’ve always thought of that moment, as the beginning, the instant, we fell into each other’s hearts and never looked back.  Today when I see that penny, mounted and hanging above the mantle, I am transported back in time and emotions well up inside me.  Misty and I celebrated our forty-fifth wedding anniversary last week.

The story could have taken a different path:

            Wow, a penny! Who would have ever thought I would spend so much money to obtain a single copper penny. A coin that is useless in today’s economy except for the purpose of weighing down our pockets.  But this penny is peculiar, special even. When it went to the press in Philadelphia there was a small glitch in the die. The machine that had created the die  had struck it twice, causing the die to leave a double impression on the penny. In mint state, it turns out this penny is something rare, but still, I cannot believe I just spent $1200 for one penny. Crazy huh?

Or maybe this:

            I found this little treasure in her red Strawberry Shortcake Purse. Renee dearly loved that purse. It had been a gift from her grandmother on her fourth birthday.  I don’t know the source of the penny and it makes no difference.   What matters is that she held that penny in her tiny hand. She was such a beautiful child. The policeman recovered the purse from inside the car where it lay next to her body. Renee and her mother perished in a split second of stupidity when a stoned big rig driver cut into their lane reducing the VW Bug and its occupants to a mangled heap of scrap.

            Stories come from anywhere and everywhere.  Often multiple stories well up from the same starting point.  All one has to do is open their mind and let them roll in.   Enjoy the creative process and see what gems you uncover. 
Writer's Life: An Endless Series of Tests

02 10 2017

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In the beginning, there is the blank page. It is neither wall nor barrier, though at times it can appear insurmountable.  No, a blank page is an invitation to pour out the burning embers of emotion, the smokiness of memory, and the blistering pain of heartbreaks. It is the place to drain the cornucopia of clutter that took up residence in the mind overnight. It is the therapy of a lost soul in search of something firm to build into a foundation.  Writing is a never ending test.

Each morning when I fire up the word processor, the blankness of a new document greets me with another attempt to intimidate me into submission. Its mission: test my resolve of follow through. Will I meet my goals today?  Each day, I struggle to find a new way or reuse an old way, but always I push at the confines of the envelope and write anyway.  Although there are times when the intimidation of blankness wins and I walk away in defeat.  On those days, the vastness of the empty lines caused the locks on the floodgate to freeze beyond my ability to open them.

Yet, regardless of isolated failures, each morning I sit here, turn on the laptop and open the newest test: a blank document.  Each morning if I manage to overcome the first hurdle of blankness I pour the contents of my mind onto the screen.  With the status of digital storage today I can never fill a document to the point of choking the program into submission. Yet, accepting the daily challenge and allowing the soul to experience a free form fantasy flight is more than worth the struggle.   

All too often the blather that lands on my screen is just so much scree cluttering the page in wasted effort. As a writer, I know there is nothing wrong with that.  With each attempt, I gain perspective, skill, ability, and hopefully motivation.  I know my efforts are for those other times when something shines out from the debris. Jewels, small tidbits of something useful that can, with work, be teased from the matrix of waste, cut and polished until every facet sparkles, and then mounted beneath a glowing title. Those jewels are the reason I keep writing.  

But there is also satisfaction in facing down intimidation, climbing the sheer rock face to force open the floodgates holding the mind back and watching words spew across the page.  There is gratification in believing someone else, someone outside of the universe of “me” might enjoy a short dip into my otherwise private insanity and relish the beauty of the gemstones I discovered.    

Author’s side note:

I never cared for tests as a student in school.  In general, I failed to manifest enough motivation to excel in the contrived atmosphere of public education. I suppose I was too busy finding ways to entertain myself or escape the tensions of my dysfunctional home life. I got through it.  I even got through college and some post-grad work, but tests were never my forte.  Now, as a writer, I enjoy the daily challenge.  I enjoy striving to push myself beyond what I was capable of just yesterday.  I thrill at the idea that something that originated in my head brings an iota of pleasure, a moment of escape to someone else living in this strange and dangerous world.


Procrastination:                                                                                      January 31, 2017


     It comes as no surprise that for me, the one creature I must be most concerned about especially when something is holding me back is me.  Seems that I have great intentions, but when something comes up that is not as comfortable as I would like, editing previous work for example' I have an uncanny way of finding a myriad of ways to absent myself from the computer.

     Funny, I am all too aware that the only way I will ever get anything published is to edit it into something that is sellable. Yet, when editing time comes, I discover I would rather dig holes in my backyard (for no real purpose) and fill them in as opposed to sitting and going word by word to correct the little issues that exist in my stories. 

     No way is this acceptable behavior for a writer. For a hack it may be par for the course. But I want to be a writer, not a hack. It just goes to point out the importance of creating a work schedule that I can and will adhere to.  Maybe one-hour creative writing, quarter hour play, two hours editing work, then more play (half hour this time), followed by a submission period of an hour or so.  The time frames can be somewhat flexible if I am on a roll (meaning I can go over on work time)  but not so flexible as to allow myself to undercut times for any of the sections -- giving myself too much leeway here would be detrimental to my progress.

     Maybe a schedule would get me moving again.  I know I can hold to a commitment when I want to. I did it to lose fifty pounds a few years back, and a couple of decades ago I did it to quit smoking. I know I am capable of making it work.     I suppose that I should also reinstate a commitment to a minimum number of words per day in the creative section.  I used to do five hundred (did this for a year), moved it up to a thousand and then to fifteen hundred.  At that highest rate, I burnt out. Then I stopped committing to a minimum number.

     Okay, Fifteen hundred is too much. However, it should be obvious: when I was committed to minimum numbers, I created a lot of stories, blog entries, and journal entries. It is time, I think to start again.  Five hundred is pretty easy, so maybe the one thousand mark. It is something I will have to play by ear, it may come out to start I will only make 750, but my goal will be 1,000 daily.  This is only for first draft stuff.  On the edit work, a minimum of two hours – period. If I get through ten pages or only half a page that is acceptable – so long as I am working it two hours every day.   
      
     That’s it then. As of this morning, January 31, 2017, I commit myself to a minimum of 750 words per day with a goal of 1,000. This is to be accomplished in the first hour of work each morning. I can take a fifteen-minute break and then, two hours working on previous work polishing and cleaning. Lunch of half an hour or so, then an hour submitting stories to magazines or some other publishing type activity.