Friday, December 30, 2011

7 Points For Keeping the Backside In the Chair - Thoughts on Keeping Those Writing New Year's Resolutions

With the burgeoning number of self-published success stories, and the discovery of new writers going full force in traditional and indy publishing, it's clear the world is filled with people with the discipline to put in the time at the keyboard required for producing finished work.

Yet "Backside in Chair" is always the challenge for writers. The allure of not writing is fierce.

I do pretty good in getting myself to the keyboard at a fixed time every day, but making things meaningful is still a challenge. I thought some techniques and thoughts  I've picked up from a variety of sources might be useful as everyone is setting goals for 2012.

1. Forgive yourself. 
Victoria Nelson, one of my teachers at Goddard College, has written extensively about writer's block. When she offered a session during one of the residencies I attended at Goddard, I was quick to sit in.

I was surprised how many of my classmates were also on hand. I thought I was the one getting a little slower and less driven, but I discovered all those fresh-faced fellow students who I assumed were chipper and devoted and knocking out 20 pages in the morning before breakfast were also wont to creative struggles. The best advice Victoria gave all of us was to be lenient on ourselves.

We all get tired. We all have conflicts that zap creativity. Don't be so demanding on yourself that a walk outside becomes the trait of a malingerer. Be gentle and kind to your creative self. You're nurturing a gentle spirit. You shouldn't try to motivate it by becoming the sales manager from Glengarry Glen Ross.

2. Relax
Sometimes it's good to go with the flow or let the muse push you rather than resisting. I've had a project on my plate that hasn't ignited for me the way I'd hoped.

I recently decided to stop forcing it for a while and do a couple of projects I wanted to work on. I wrote a couple of short stories, and a 10-minute play, which is an interesting thing to try. Having some parameters within which to focus creativity proved invigorating. It was a blank page with a few lines to color inside. That kind of got me ready to focus again on the other project.

If there's a stone in the stream, the water moves around it. Going with the flow can be a way to stimulate yourself creatively. Look for the wanna.

3. Tomatoes!
When the backside, all right the ass, is in the chair, that doesn't mean the fingers are being effective on the keyboard. I learned about The Pomodoro Technique® in a podcast all writers should listen to, KCRW's Martini Shot. Storytelling techniques may differ, but creative foibles are universal as TV writer Rob Long reveals each week.

He mentioned trying the Pomodoro Technique® (means tomato in Italian) some time back. It involves a cooking timer and concentration goals. A timer on a smart phone will probably serve also.

The goal is to stay focused for a set period. Set the timer and then, coffee is for people who've written for 25 minutes. Don't browse your Netflix queue, set a task for your Sims or check e-mail, just write until the tone sounds.  It's a good way to nudge your consciousness into that creative zone where sparks ignite.

4. Just do it.
You have to nurture the spirit, but don't be the malingerer you accuse yourself of being either. Years and years ago in Writer's Digest, Lawrence Block wrote a "just do it column." That's what it boiled down to anyway. It's probably in one of his books on writing as well. They're worth checking out as is is fiction. See No. 6.

Everybody has bad days. Almost anything can throw a kidney punch to the creative spirit. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out and put something on the page. Wipe the blood off it later. Sometimes in writing you're just getting the shapeless clay on the table so that you can begin sculpting.

Another of my Goddard teachers, Selah Saterstrom, had another great metaphor for polishing a first draft manuscript. She called it wrestling with an angel, working to bring a book or work into its best form.

Whatever the metaphor, get something down so  you can hone it.

5. Don't worry about your neighbor's work
Another great podcast from KCRW is The Business. It's usually a mixture of film industry news and an interview with Matt Damon. But sometimes other snippets are woven in, such as advice to film animators collected by an aspiring animator. In a recent 'cast, one animator noted he was always encountering better animators. That only nudged him to be better.

There are better writers than you. There are gonna be better writers. Worse ones exist, too. So what? This really is all about you. Cheer on your compatriots. Celebrate excellence. Look in awe upon brilliance, and do what you can. Be inspired by the great. Don't let any of it hold you back. As basketball coach John Wooden said: "Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

6. Always be reading.
Goes without saying.  Maybe it's the writer's version of that Glengarry Glen Ross bastard's "Always be closing." E-books have really made this easier. There's good and bad to the electronic universe. One good is that you can have a library in your pocket now, not just one pocket book that doesn't really fit in a pocket. I find it hard to read on a smart phone, so I have some cargo pants. My Kindle will fit into the larger pocket on the thigh.

I try to click through a few percentage points on a book in any down time. I'm not as good at it as my friend Katie, but then she is topped bya friend who puts her Kindle in a zip-lock bag so she can read in the bath.

You learn by reading others. You get inspired by reading others. You figure out what works and what doesn't by reading others. And when you read something bad you think "I could do better" and that gets the backside where it belongs.

7. Always be submitting
Maybe this point is more the Glengarry equivalent. Rejection isn't fun, but it's part of the process. E-mails aren't as much fun as rejection slips used to be. I pinned rejection slips to my bedroom wall back in The Pleistoscene. Michael Avallone once suggested "build bonfires with rejection slips."

Whatever you do with rejections in whatever form, they should serve as a kick in the pants. They're often indicative of one person's taste or a market's particular need.

Or if they suggest something truly wrong with the angel, then it's an opportunity to get back in the ring.

Hope if you found your way here that those are helpful ideas. May 2012 be a wonderful, productive year for all those compelled to create.

Further reading

Image: healingdream /

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Red Cardigan

I was slipping on my red cardigan this week, and I realized how long I've owned it, and how long things last even as time marches on.

I also realized that Christmas in my adult life has become a series of fragments and impressions, of moments that come back to me in no particular order.

I had the sweater when Christine and I were only recently married. I wore it to Christmas lunch with my folks, and I wore it later when Christine and I went for a walk in the (thankfully) cold Louisiana air at our apartment complex. Best guess '91.

I had the sweater the year the highway to my parents house was being resurfaced. You had to take a detour, and it was like going through war-torn territory. A few days before Christmas I drove out anyway and visited around lunchtime. The Bold and the Beautiful was on, and my mom's old Christmas tree glistened beside shots of Brooke walking in the snow. Best guess, '94.

I had the sweater when I worked as a librarian and got low pay but abundant time off. I took several days of leave ahead of Christmas, burned logs in our fireplace, read and relaxed in my sweater. Best guess '98.

I had the sweater after we moved four-hours from my folks. I remember driving home around Thanksgiving then returning on the weekend. Best guess '01.

I had the sweater a little later, the Christmas of the year my old man died. He went into the hospital in late August. As we got him settled in a room, the nurse strangely said, "In four months, it'll be Christmas." My old man didn't make it quite that long. For sure, '03. I'd bought him a series of big band CDs the previous Christmas, the music of his youth. I'd wondered then if it might be his last as his house was filled with Benny Goodman. '02

I had the sweater after my mom was in a nursing home. We went to see her Christmas Day that year and hung out with her in her room even though she wasn't quite sure it was Christmas, but she held up the stuffed animal she'd acquired and smiled. Best guess, '05.

I've had it for Christmas dinners Christine and I have prepared. And for trimming the tree and holiday outings and for Christmas walks we still take if the weather allows.

It's a simple cardigan. Plain, a single color, but it holds a mosaic of memories.

Happy holidays, my friends. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Biblioholic's Bookshelf - A Christmas Carol - Classic - Tor Paperback Edition

Charles Dickens is in the public domain, so editions of his classic works are in great supply. E-book editions abound, along with many hard and soft cover editions.

Regardless, I loved the cover on this Tor edition when it turned up in a local store a number of years ago, so I added it to my shelves. It's a nice volume to slip out on the years I don't re-listen to Patrick Stewart's one-man rendition of Scrooge's redemption.

A Christmas Carol Cover


Monday, December 12, 2011

Doctor Who Christmas Wallpaper 2011

Happily, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe" will be airing in the U.S. on BBC America on Christmas Day, as it's supposed to.

Since a lot of people drop by in search of Doctor Who wallpaper, I thought I'd do an updated link for the new special. Wallpaper including a great wintry shot of Matt Smith holding a sonic screwdriver can be found here.

A prequel to this year's special has just gone online also. Happy Who Holidays!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Blog Tour: Credible Threat - A Christmas Story

Welcome to my dark little stop on the Holiday Blog Tour.

I love the holiday season and all its trappings, so I was happy to receive the invitation to participate from Icess Fernandez of Writing to Insanity.

As soon as she contacted me, I knew I wanted to offer up a story as a holiday gift.

It's a little grim, though not horror. It's also slightly longer than flash I sometimes post here, so I thought I'd provide it in a format ready for easy digital reading.

Jump to the story on ScribID now.

Or read on to get an idea of what it's about and how it came to be, then jump over to the tale via the button below.

The Back Story
My wife and I vacationed in New York City several weeks back, and the idea for the tale sprang to me as we began our journey home. I sat in the waiting area at my gate, knowing I had a story to write for this blog tour. I began flipping through the battered idea notebook I've carried for many years.

What if it fell into the wrong hands and was read out of context? How would it be interpreted in this paranoid age?

The tale that developed is representative of a kind of dark-humored short fiction I'm writing and beginning to submit in these days of my post-MFA writing life.  It has  reverberations of my early horror writing while going in a slightly new direction.

It's where the muse is pushing me at the moment, and perhaps there'll be a collection of these twisted tales including the one that's in, shameless plug, Soul's Road. A few of the pieces in the collection of my early stories, Scars and Candy, hint at the style, though they're more visceral.

Click below to read "Credible Threat: A Christmas Story," and see if you like it.

And be sure to continue the blog tour tomorrow with a visit to Toni Margarita Plummer, author of The Bolero of Andi Rowe. See all the stops on the tour here.

Credible Threat

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Friday, December 02, 2011

The Holiday Blog Tour Has Started

The Holiday Blog Tour mentioned in my previous post has begun. Keep up with all the stops at Writing to Insanity, and be sure to keep up with us all month.

Julia Amante, author of Evenings at the Argentine Club, began technically yesterday.

Be sure to check back here Dec. 10 for my post. It'll be a special holiday gift from me, a twisted holiday short story called "Credible Threat" available for download. I'm working on the cover art now.

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