Grumpy Writer

IMG_0163IWSG Question o’ the Day: What are your favorite and least favorite questions people ask you about your writing?

But…but…but there are so MANY annoying questions!  Quite a few good ones, too, I should add.  But to define the best and worst?  That’ll take some thought…

I guess I have to say my favorite question — the one I’ve talked about far more times than actually had it asked — is “Do your characters talk to you?”

You’re damned right they do.

My characters don’t just “talk” to me, the most powerful and important of them won’t shut the hell up.  Those little ghosts fluttering around the back of my mind, the voices of stories and characters, are always there, always waiting and wanting to be told.  And when I start writing them?  Yeah, those whispers rise to words and shouts…

My characters have to talk to me, by the way, in order to have power and influence and agency within the story I’m trying to tell.  They have to be real.  If my characters and stories are not real to me, if they don’t truly connect with me at a fundamental level, then there’s just no point in writing them.  If I don’t care, why would any reader?

There have been a lot of those failures, by the way.  I have more unfinished/unused story ideas and material than I like to think about. From ones that are just a few scribbled lines about plot and concept, to others that have seen weeks of planning and development, all were abandoned because they didn’t “talk” to me.

Okay, so what about my least favorite question?  What about the one that gives me a headache?  There are a lot of those to choose from: when will it be done?, what’s it about?, can I sit here?

Okay, so those aren’t the worst — they’re pretty freaking normal, actually — but they are situationally annoying.

It’ll be done when it’s damned-well-done, goddammit!  This question is especially bad when asked right after I’ve found a flaw that is going to require a good chunk of rewriting to fix…

Do you really want to know the details of what it’s about?  Or do you want to know what it’s about?  Do I tell you it’s about an exiled god who wants revenge against his brethren?  Or do I tell you how it’s about the cynicism and weariness that comes with getting older amongst younger friends that (seemingly) aren’t?img_0142

And, no, you can’t sit there.  I’m writing, for fuck’s sake, leave me the hell alone!

Ahem.

But the worst?

“What are you working on?”

Creating the history of my setting…

Throwing together a half-drunk blog post…

Fleshing out my plan for the Act II plot…

Editing a story/article proposal so I can, you know, try to get paid

Writing my favorite characer’s death scene…

What are you working on?  What are you doing?  I’m doing what I always do, I’m writing.  Now leave me the hell alone.

The Music…Oh, The Music…

Well, shit.

How many times do I have to write about music?  About how important it is to me?  About how it inspires and drives my creative side?

How many times?

At least once more, it seems.

So, if you haven’t guessed by now, I decided to take a break from the blog.

A long break.

I haven’t written since Thanksgiving, and — quite honestly — I wasn’t sure when I stopped if I was going to take up again my keyboard and the commitment to share my thoughts and myself three times a week.  I was burning out, I was tired, and I wasn’t sure I gave much of a damn anymore.  Oh, the words were still there, but they were harder to find.  The urge to share was still there, but the energy…the energy was not.

And the worst part was that I didn’t know why.  I couldn’t put it together.

“What changed?  Why is it so hard now?”

What changed?

What changed, indeed.

I had stopped listening to music.

Oh, it wasn’t anything conscious or driven or intentional.  No, it was the stupidest of things: I got into a few podcasts, and they took up all of my “listening time”.

Now, look, I’ve talked many times before — many, many times — about music, and about how it matters to me.  Well, none of that was exaggeration.  Take away the music, and I find it hard…no, strike that.  I find it all-but impossible to really write.*

*The shitty pseudo-temp job didn’t help, either, by the way.

So tonight…

Tonight I was sitting there, starting to cook, and I decided to fire up some music.  I had no stinking idea what I wanted to listen to, so I went with a favorite artist…an artist who has inspired a number of writing sessions and flash fiction pieces in the past.

Umm, not to repeat myself or anything, but…well, shit.

It wasn’t a chorus of angels — that is reserved for when I have my first coffee after a long time without — but it was stinking close.  Almost as soon as the music started, the urge came back.  The words came back, and the energy came back.  I had to take that bit of advice that I’ve given to others so many times: when a thought/idea comes, you don’t wait, you don’t try to “capture” it, you write it. 

So I did.  Write it, I mean.

The particular song?  Well, I’ve talked before about my current favorite band (Gaslight Anthem).  The creative force behind that band has a solo career as well, and he is far and away one of my favorite songwriters.*  As for the song that…err…well…got me going (again)…well, it speaks to me.  It’s a symbolic song, a song with a lot to say.  It is, in the end, a song that speaks to me about a number of things, but especially it speaks to me about me (and, no, you don’t get any more explanation than that):

*The artist’s name is Brian Fallon, by the way.  He wrote, for vastly different songs on vastly different albums, two of my all-time favorite lines:

“I get up in the morning / Like a ghost chained to a haunting” from Proof of Life

And

“With everything discovered just waiting to be known / What’s left for God to teach from his throne / And who will forgive us when he’s gone?” from National Anthem

Oh, I burned my dinner, by the way…

I Have My Words

I’ve had that time and energy thing biting at my ankles over the last couple of weeks.  Now, in most ways, I just don’t care all that much when times like this hit.  I can work around my lack of motivation and focus pretty damned easily…but not with this blog.  The sad truth is that when time and energy fail, so does blog-writing.  Or, at least, blog-writing in a timely enough manner to get posts up when I should.

But that’s not what I sat down to write about today.  Nope, today I sat down to write about Thanksgiving…and about what goes with it.

I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but most of the time my life ain’t exactly an unending series of blessings and goodness.  It is, in fact, fairly hard to get all excited and thankful when you know the down side of up better than you know any lover…

Shit, just to give an example — most of you probably remember that I took some temporary work a few months back.  Well, that job quite kindly gave us all the day off for Thanksgiving.  How nice!  If we wanted to get paid for the “holiday,” however, we had to use our own fucking vacation time!  I’d love to say that was one of the worst and most stupid things I’ve seen over the last few months…but…well…not even close.  All that little gem of a policy was worth was a shrug and a mutter about typical managerial asshats and corporate greed.

And for this I should be thankful?image

Yeah, my lead-up to the holiday wasn’t great.  As much as I love the winter, and the holiday season, I just couldn’t get excited this year.

So I did something to myself that I do to my characters all the time: I changed the situation.  I changed the rules.

Screw the regular Thanksgiving rituals, I decided.  Screw the turkey, and the football, and the food-coma.  Screw, more importantly, the self pity and frustration.  Screw the expected.  It was time to do something different.

I spent my Thanksgiving serving at a homeless shelter.

It wasn’t happy.  It wasn’t warm & fuzzy.  It didn’t lead to some “road to Damascus” moment.  The scales didn’t fall from my eyes, and a chorus of angels didn’t suddenly start singing in my ears.

No, it wasn’t any of that.  

It was a reminder.  A reminder of where I could be…but am not.  A reminder of all that I could lose, and haven’t.  A reminder, in the end, of that trite and overused — but still powerful — phrase: “but for the grace of God, there go I.”

There go I.

I’ve talked before — in this post — about the fact that, but one or two changes in my life, I could very well be one of the “clients” of that shelter.  I could very well be that dirty, crazy guy on the corner, that guy holding a sign and begging for enough money to get a meal and a roof for the night.

But I’m not.

No, instead I have my life.  I have my toys, and my hobbies, and my little nerdy obsessions.  I have my stories and all those little ghosts in my head.  I have, when it really matters, my writing.

And for that I truly am thankful.

PS — And, yes, of course there’s a song for that!  By the way, I actually was at the concert this particular video is from…thank you, Red Rocks!

Beware the Plague

Bring out yer dead…HolyGrail003-1

Bring out yer dead…

Err…

You might have guessed by now, but I’m not very good at being sick.  I am, in fact, a big freaking baby when it comes to being sick.  And right now, at this very instant, I am as full of big-baby-ness as it’s possible to be.

220px-Biohazard_symbol_(black_and_yellow)Watch out — I bear the plague!

Okay, so, unlike the Black Death, this particular plague probably won’t kill over a third of the world’s population — hell, it probably won’t even kill me (in spite of my over-dramatizing) — but, well…  Whining can be fun when you feel like crap.  Just ask any four-year-old.

I did try to write this morning, however.  I figured I could get at least one decent hour of production, in spite of my patheticness.

You know what one line I managed to produce?  I don’t wanna go to school today, Mom!

Ahem.

Okay…I have to be tougher than this!  I think my brain and I need to have a talk about putting on our big-boy-pants and making stuff up for a few hours…  I mean, how the hell am I supposed to finish my story if all I want to do is watch RiffTrax movies and feel sorry for myself?

Update: Random music note — I’m listening to a new song from a favorite artist of mine (a cover of a Brandi Carlile tune), and it’s really good: