Category Archives: Mindset

In sickness and in (kind of) health

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I had decided to do NaNoWriMo this year on a lark, with an idea for which I’d only had the opening at first, but which then turned around and came back to me almost fully formed: the beginning and ending I had, and major scenes were in my head. Terrific! I’ll do NaNo, something I’ve never really participated in, with this idea.

And then I promptly got pneumonia. Again. For the sixth time this year.

It has lingered on, thanks to all the circumstances that go with post-cancer treatments, but luckily it is on the fade. Now that I can really focus on a screen and words, I thought I’d talk about ideas.

From time to time, I’ll run across people who say they don’t have any new ideas, or that they are sometimes wary of writing because they think at some point they will run out of ideas and not be able to come up with any more. To both, I say: relax. All that’s necessary to get ideas is to pay attention and never lose your “what if” mentality.

If you’re a crime writer, for instance, the NY Daily News is a treasure trove of kickstarts for the writerly brain. An artist consumes the world, their brains selecting a pebble from this story, a grain of sand there, a word here, stirring these things together and then incubating the result to create a story only they can tell in whatever medium they prefer. There is no particular limit on creating ideas, no statute of limitations on the stories one might tell. You should always look to refill the well of creativity that belongs solely to you. If it seems to you the well is running dry, refill it: the world around you has everything you need to create your art. You simply need to be aware of it, and more importantly, be willing to take in huge amounts of information, even if you never immediately use every scrap of that information in some manner in your art. With all this information, and your questioning, your brain will eventually find the combination of things that burble up into an idea worth pursuing.

I hope those of you doing NaNo this year make it across the finish line, and those of you who are not doing NaNo reach whatever goal you’ve selected.


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I’m watching the Raiders and the Dolphins duke it out, and the video resolution of the game keeps going from the usual HD, perfectly clear resolution into a very poor, over the air sort of resolution, and then back again. I know it’s the game transmission, because all of the ads come through in lovely HD, from the fine print about all the various side effects of whatever the drug du jour is to fight cholesterol or diabetes to the latest artery-clogging sandwich from any number of fast food joints for which one may very well need cholesterol or diabetes drugs.

But this sparked a thought in my head about writers (some writers) who are paralyzed while writing because they believe what they write on the page must match exactly with what is in their head, and if it doesn’t, they cannot move on until it does.

This is not a good way to write that first draft. I know this, because I’ve had the same paralyzing grip of perfectionism myself that prevented me from making any decent progress on whatever I’ve been writing. It is the type of mindset that leaves a drawer full of half-written pieces – if we’re lucky to have made it that far – and folders of uncompleted manuscripts on the computer. Most of all, it is the type of mindset that, if maintained, will ensure you will finish nothing at all, thereby avoiding even the slightest whiff of external criticism.

There is a solution to this, of course. The solution is to plow past any roadblocks that tiny voice is putting into your head about how each sentence must be perfect before moving along to the next one. It’s completely acceptable to acknowledge that things are not going to come out of your head to the page exactly the way you thought it would or how you think it should be. These are things that can be fixed later – but you might find that some of the things you thought were simply awful and that you have now contributed to the detriment of literature overall are not really that bad. This can be particularly true if (as in my case) the story has been banging around in your head for so long that the entire story is basically written, and the story has been revised multiple times as it baked in your brain already, making the first draft very much like another’s second or third draft. Even if this is so, however, it would be a good practice for some writers – me again! – to not read back over the previous day’s work. It is just too easy to get caught in the quicksand of the perfectionism mind and have all the progress and momentum you’ve built up grind to a halt.

Remind yourself of this: you can edit what you’ve written after the work itself is complete. Make yourself a deal with that little voice that tells you everything you write stinks and you’ll never get anyone to act as a beta reader and you’ll never be able to revise it to come close to the imaginary utopia in your head and you’ll never get any interest from any agents or traditional publishing houses and you’ll be lucky if anyone at all reads it is you self publish and on and on and on. You can deal with these things if they even appear. Write without looking back over your shoulder at the road you’ve laid and instead look ahead to the road less traveled, as Frost would say. That is your path, and no one else can create it but you.

Deep breath. You may pour your heart and soul into the book, but the book is not you. It’s just a small piece of yourself you’re bravely sending out into the universe. And that’s more than most people ever accomplish.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

The next big thing

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The gardens. They are in terrible shape, thanks to the way 2017 was a total bitch.

The biggest project: weeding. We did get a good number of frames set up with weedblock, but the areas along the edges and in the holes punched for the transplants need to be weeded in the worst way. Fortunately, I decided on no fall crops this year, just allowing the frames to go fallow and break down more of the composted manure they have in them. Unfortunately, I decided on no fall crops this year, and could not/did not keep up with the weeding. Luckily, we do have a winter, such as it is, and the next few months will be devoted to weeding, replacing the plastic-covered frames with weedblock and positioning the irrigation lines, and getting the sides of the frames that have bowed out back to full vertical and braced.

Now I know, in my head, that this very big project just means starting with a small corner of it and working through to get it done. But there are also those fleeting moments when I’m looking out on the mess and thinking that it’s just far too big a job – it’s the same feeling I get from looking at the narrative outline here for this book and thinking about how much crazy is in me that I presume this is something I can do.

But in those moments, I just step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that the elephant is eaten in pieces, not in one big gulp.

Unlike the novel, which I feel like I could write in two weeks with the story so fully developed in my head, the gardens are going to take a tad longer. It’s good exercise, though, and I’ll be able to visualize the plans for spring before the seed catalogs start arriving and it’s time to place my order(s).

Get outside, people. Even if  you’re not pulling weeds or thinking of corrupt cops and drug-distributing biker gangs like I am. There’s a big, wide world out there, and you should sometimes remind yourself that your small piece of it has something – at least one thing – you are grateful for when you look out over it.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

The art in us

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Here we are. November has arrived after an October that seems to have gone far too quickly.

So what are we doing this month? Writing. Every day. On something real – the blogs don’t count, the facebook page update does not count, twitter does not count (although I will be trying to update this and those every day this month as well, even if my author twitter account tweet of the day is just a quote. This is not to say these things do not count in the overall scheme of things, because they do, but these things are not items I’m looking to publish. But novels? Yes. Poetry? Yes. These are the things that are roadmaps to some kind of audience at the other end. These are the things that someone will want to read, I’ve no doubt. There was a quote I discovered back in high school while researching something or another:

“In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” (Andre Maurois)

This is true, of course. One need only peruse some reviews at Amazon or GoodReads and see that people love books we ourselves can’t stand, and for every one person who thinks the writing by an author is puerile and careless, there is another for whom the author’s prose sings in their heart. For every one person who thinks a particular book is a poorly done rehash of some other author’s story, there is another who has encountered the underlying story for the very first time and feels the story resonating in their bones. For every one person decrying a book as tedious because it seems to have been stitched together from many pieces of fight scenes just so the author could tag the book a thriller, there is another person who sees that same book as a page-turner of nonstop action that they read in just a few hours because they could not put it down.

And so with this in mind, it makes no sense to listen to that tinny, false voice criticizing every word that makes it to paper, that says no one will want to read any of the pap that’s been written, that says giving up on the writing is the best and honorable thing to do, to save others from having to experience its badness. No: that voice is lying. The words we have matter,  to someone. Making and finishing the art is far better and certainly more honorable than giving in to a voice that does not have our best interests in mind.

Until next time, peeps: Be well. And make your art, whatever that art may be.

Passing fancies

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The other night, as I was in that hazy zone between awake and asleep, an idea flitted across the front of my brain. I had a notebook within arm’s reach of where I was sleeping. I told myself to reach over and grab that notebook and write it down. Did I? Nope. I made the usual big mistake that people make and told myself I would remember it in the morning. It was, after all, a very good idea, and something I thought could be built up and turn into something rather good. Something that good, my sleepy brain reasoned, would stick around.

It didn’t.

The object lesson for today: if it occurs to you, write it down.

It doesn’t matter if you think the idea is so good that writing it down isn’t necessary, or that it is so good that it will stick to your brain until you get a chance to write it down (after waking up, perhaps): write it down as immediately as possible. There is no reason not to these days, when everyone practically carries a computer in their pockets. Almost every cell phone I’ve used has some kind of notepad application on it by default, and the new ones almost all have basic voice recorders of some sort – even without a voice recorder, they all have video recording. Even if you hate the sound of your voice or your visage captured digitally, keep in mind it’s only there until you can get it down on paper or your idea file or whatever else it is you use to keep track of what you think up here and there. It’s temporary, and no one has to listen to it or see it.

Whether the idea is one you think would be subordinate to a larger theme in a piece of work, or one you think could carry a work alone and be a bestseller. remember to write it down. It’s the best insurance for your brain you can have.


I remember

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Once upon a time, in AP English, our instructor (who had gone to the Christmas break single and came back married and with a new last name) had us in a poetry unit. I was a senior then, and already had been writing a ton of poetry for years. But we read Thomas Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard and English classes (and literature classes in college) naturally revolve around getting to whatever “deeper meaning” is in a poem, as if every single poem in the world is written with Deep Inscrutable Meaning instead of being anything more mundane, like observations on a place or time or objects, or a description of an ordinary day, or how we value this thing over that other thing, or any of a million other possibilities.

At that time, after reading it, Mrs. Poole (that was her name after she married) asked us what the tone of the poem was. No one answered, and into the silence, I said, “Grave.”

I thought the reply quite funny, but did not laugh out loud, and no one else reacted at all to it. I don’t even believe Mrs. Poole even smiled at it.

That’s the down side of life: saying or writing things people don’t get, especially if it’s some off the cuff witticism that some (rather humorless) people don’t understand right away, or at all.

But I enjoyed that moment, even if no one appreciated it but me, because it isn’t often you have the perfect answer jump to your lips. Those memories should be savored, even if they are solitary ones.


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A lot of the “luck” you get in this life is the luck you make. If you get some megadeal for a book you wrote, that isn’t something that just happens. You have to do the writing. Win the lottery? Gotta buy a ticket. Make a spectacular catch? Gotta practice. Find a buried treasure? Gotta dig. There is very little luck in life that involves you doing absolutely nothing.


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Quite an interesting article on productivity. I had read about the Pomodoro technique many months ago, and have played with it a bit in various arenas – those of you who know me personally and all the things I do will understand that a bit better, I expect. For writing, though, it has really helped, as has another item mentioned in that article: setting a distinct goal for something in small chunks instead of being dwarfed by the enormity of the entire project (such as “write 500 words” instead of “work on the book”). The techniques in this article about how to be more productive intersect and at times overlaps techniques to combat procrastination and/or plain old laziness.


Retaking the pen, day one

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I had previously (months ago, back in March, just after my birthday) created a goal of finishing a first draft of the current work in progress by the end of June. Three months, from April to the end of June, would be, I thought, plenty of time to complete it, as when I do write, I write very quickly, since the scenes have been bouncing around in my head for awhile – in a few cases, over twenty years.

If you have read a couple of the older entries here, you’ll know this did not happen. However, you’ll also know that there is a reason behind it. I had to switch from doing the actual writing to wrestling with that rather annoying (and, I had thought, forgotten) issue. I believe I’ve kicked it down enough at this point to not be as huge an impediment to getting some serious work done and get the novel (first novel!) rolled out.

Toward the end of June, I decided to also simply push aside social media. I had done this before, with some good success, but some events in June pulled me back to facebook. Today, though, is the end of the first full day with zero visits to the three social media platforms I more or less surf around: twitter (where I do more scrolling past people hawking their books nonstop and the people retweeting them than finding actual news or interesting tidbits), instagram (dogs!), and facebook (the Mothership of the Time Sink Armada).  I used the time to address a few things that had to be done, and today – day two, since the clocked tolled past midnight almost an hour ago at this point – I will begin working my way back into the writing pool, with a low hanging target of 250 words. That’s right: about one typeset page. This post is longer than that, but I’d rather work the novel writing  upward in a gentle manner, instead of trying to be like the gym cowboys who show up after New Year’s, work out for six hours, then cannot move the next day and eventually let it slide.

Almost every writer on the planet says “write every day”. I’m a believer of that myself. It is not, however, because I think that such writing has to be done because the train has to keep moving forward nonstop – after all, it’s possible whatever was written on day x may not make it into the final draft, or may be cut down significantly, or rearranged, or whatever else could be done to it. I think, at least in my case, it is because when it becomes a habit to write every day, it is like any other routine that becomes ingrained in our lives, done automatically, without a lot of thought that it could be terrible, that everyone will hate it, that a meteor will fall from the sky and crush you at your desk for daring to write. Instead, it will be just another part of the rhythm of the day, and will be eventually be noticeable by its absence rather than its presence.

So, here we begin. The map is laid out, and the path is faintly scratched over it to the destination to which we strive, but those lines await a heavier hand with the pen, to clearly define the journey’s progress. I have the greatest expectation that this time things will be different, because sometimes digging at the scars of your psyche is the only way to get to the truth, and then gain the ability to move large obstacles from the very start of the trail to discovery.

Writing slowly and the myth of relative goodness

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If you listen to some authors – a ton of very famous authors, writing literary fiction in particular – you would think writing, the act itself, is a torturous process, eliciting words by yanking them out of one’s very soul, and chiseling them onto paper, only to wind up discarding hundreds or thousands of words to net a paragraph at best or merely one word in the end.

While it may be a painful activity for some people, I’m not a big believer of the tortured artist thing, in any sense. That includes both the physical side (drugs, alcohol) and the mental side (“I wrote a whole book that took three years and scrapped everything but the first sentence!”).

I get that it may be difficult to write in the sense of actually getting the words on paper due to some issues, like a huge load of self-doubt, brought on by whatever factor helped build that wall. But these things do not have to result in a grand output of ten words a week that are deemed good enough to keep.

On the other side, there is, for some reason, this idea that writers can only write one book a year and have the book be good. While this may be true for some writers, I have a suspicion that a lot of writers think they can only write well if they only write one book per year, because there is a persistent theory that any more than that would automatically poor writing. I don’t agree with this. After all, I’ve read a number of books that were written in the course of a year (or more) and have found them to be terrible. This is because it is not the amount of writing a writer does that makes it good or bad, but the amount of editing and review a manuscript goes through that does (assuming that the writer is at least halfway competent at the craft and can tell a decent story). Just as it’s difficult to tell from a manuscript when a writer had a bad day, or was sick, or was dealing with some kind of issue, it’s just as difficult to determine from that manuscript when a writer was writing very quickly, or rather slowly on any given day.

Does this mean I think every writer could pump out multiple novels per year? No, of course not. Some people simply write more slowly than others, because every writer is different. My nitpicking here is related only to the myth that writing quickly automatically means the writing is bad. It isn’t.

Now, I may have a slight advantage here because I’ve had stories kicking around in my head for quite some time – decades, in a couple of cases – and by brain has been whirling them around for all this time, honing them, discarding things that are not interesting, and in general, keeping the hopper full. I also tend to write very quickly most of the time, which is part having those things in my head all this time, part dealing in the tech support world, where the tickets never seem to end and need to be worked through as quickly as possible, and because, thanks to my aha moment, the floodgates are now open, allowing everything to flow downriver.

There are some ideas I’ve had, though, that are very recent. Just today, in fact, I had an idea for a humorous series of books, that came into being from the mere fact that someone had two cell phones in their purse (no further details, sorry). The character who will wind up as the main character is already being fleshed out in my head, along with a job, and a couple of potentials for what would be the first book of the series. When it comes time to write on that, I’ll likely have much more, and I think it will be no different than what I am working on now, with the words flowing onto the screen as I work my way from Point A to Point B. Do I think the writing I’m doing any worse on this project than it would be if I wrote more slowly? No. In fact, I am quite pleased with how it’s going, and I expect to continue both in this routine and in the feeling pleased arena now that I am able, once again, to put words to paper.

Speed does not always kill – not in writing, unless someone speeds through so quickly that they do not bother with editing at all before putting a work out to the world.