2017: More Right Than Wrong

IMG_0163“Regret is a part of life.  But keep it a small part.”

Blakes 7, 1980, BBC

Regrets…

Specifically, anything I regret from 2017?  The actual question was: is there anything I would do over, do differently?

I try to avoid things like that, if only because…well…where do you stop?  There are always regrets, always things you would rather have done differently.  But, really, would you?  Should you?  As trite as it is, we really are made from our experiences.  Do things over, do things differently, and you start changing just who you are today.

Besides…as not-good as parts of 2017 were for me, there were others that were very, very good.  Those good things are what color the entire year as I look back. Let’s be honest: it’s hard to be too full of regrets when you’ve spent half the year living in the middle of Yellowstone.

No, I didn’t write as much as I should.  No, I didn’t break any new creative ground.  And, no, I definitely didn’t make shit for money (or did make shit for money, as the case may be!).  But what I did do was renew myself, and rediscover certain parts of me that I thought I had lost.

If February and March were low points, well…they were that bleak moment, that point of despair, in the story before the protagonist starts to pull it together.  They made the next bits all that much better.

Now, if I leave aside my life and just focus on the writing…

Well, there are always things to change, things that could and should have been done differently.  I could have played with the tone of Silence earlier.  I could have thought more about the fragile mental state of my protagonist.  I could have planned and anticipated better the swings and changes, and the evolution, of the story I wanted to tell.

Most of all, I guess, I damned well should have changed back from writing sequentially to writing the scenes in the order I chose.  My outline is there to serve and help my writing, not the other way around!

But all of that is ancillary.  All is merely detail.  If I were the hero of my own story, as the old writing exercise goes, the choices I made may not have been optimal, but damn if I didn’t advance the plot!

So, instead of looking back, I have to look forward.  And, looking forward, I have to, above all, write more.  I have to be more intentional about the work, and about the goals and milestones I set for myself.  I also have to rediscover that voice, and that focus, that is so important to making my (current) stories work.

Writers write, as the old saying goes, and in the end I need to remember that.  I used to have a daily goal that I stole from a Chuck Palahniuk piece: put on a good album, and write for the length of it.  If things are working, just put on more music and keep writing.  If things aren’t working…hey, you got in an hour of writing!  It has proven, for me, a better “win-win” system than trying to produce X words per day.  Now, I just need to remember that…

As a last thought on the regrets thing: I want to shout out my thanks to IWSG and the folks I have met, and am meeting, through that group. Y’all are awesome, and joining has been one of those “very, very good things” I mentioned above. Writing is inherently a solitary activity (even when you write in taprooms!), so it’s good to know I’m not doing it alone!

NaNoDrinkMo … Err, Maybe I Just Don’t Get It

IMG_0163Sooo…it’s NaNoWriMo time. Again. Now, maybe I’m the only writer in the world who feels this way, but…really? What the hell is that syllabic mishmash supposed to be?

If I can’t be bothered to write during the other eleven months of the year, why would November be any different?

Shit, November is the last month in which I should be writing seriously. October is home to more beer-focused events and festivals than any other time of the year. And December? Well, what the hell is Christmas except family stress and waaay too much booze? I don’t know about your family, but with mine…well, let’s just say that family harmony starts and ends at the liquor cabinet.

Honestly, November ain’t for writing, it’s for giving my liver a fighting chance to survive.

If I haven’t been clear enough: I barely know NaNoWriMo is a thing, and I certainly have never taken part.

I know, I know, there are a ton of other writers out there who love the damned concept. Giddyup, yippee-ki-yay, have-at-it….I’ll never really get it, but boats are floated by many, many things.

Okay, so enough venting and griping. But…but…NaNoWriMo…really? Why is this a thing?

I can only put this in personal terms: writing is who I am, not what I do. If ever I am not writing, there is a problem. If ever I go more than a few days without keys clicking, or pen in hand, then my life has very much taken a turn for the worst.

I can’t think, can’t process, can’t function, without writing. How the hell could I ever say, “No, let’s wait until November”…? Even in Yellowstone, amidst all that distraction, I wrote better than 25,000 words…more like 35,000 if you count the blog posts and other stuff I wrote up there. And still there is a backlog of stuff in my head — and in my soul.

So, to answer the IWSG question for this month: no, I have never written anything for NaNoWriMo. Or, more accurately, I’ve written a shit-ton in November, but because those stories — those words — demanded to be written, not because some artificial Twitter-drive told me it was time to “buckle down”.

What spurs me to write is, more than anything else, an internal thing. I write for me. If others like my stuff, then I’ll do the happy-danceIMG_0443…but even if I end up exactly as my family expects — and let’s not get started on that particular demon, shall we? — still will I write.

To (mis)quote a song: I don’t stutter when I write.

The thoughts and the words, well, they carry and express themselves…and that is, for me, how it has to be. That is the how and why of writing for me — not because the calendar tells me it is time, but because I simply can’t stop. Not and stay “me”.

Nothing To See Here – Move Along

IMG_0163I know I’ve mentioned IWSG Day before. But, for those who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, I’ve never really explained. So, here goes: on the first Wednesday of every month, the idea is to put together a blog post focused specifically on writing. Preferably one that other writers will find interesting and/or useful. An additional part of the challenge is a suggested theme for those posts. Now, for a guy that pretty much writes this blog in the purest stream-of-consciousness, that thematic element is a fun little mini-challenge.

The hard part of the whole thing? It’s that stream-of-consciousness thing. When I write these posts, it is mostly just a short burst of effort to give me a break from whatever else I’m writing or doing. They receive, at best, one editing pass. That’s it, just one. Hell, most of the time I’m having a beer while I write them.

And other writers read them.

Uhh…

Maybe I really am just as nuts as my family thinks.

Ah well, we all have our crosses to bear.

At any rate, today’s theme is about putting yourself into your characters. Specifically, about whether or not you have, either on purpose or by accident, put personal info into your characters.

Umm…ahh…ahem.

No, not me. Not at all. Nope…and I’m just gonna slink away, now, whistling an innocent little tune. Nothing to see here, move along.

For me it’s more than putting myself into the characters. No, for me, the personal things go into the story itself. Even more, they go into the subtext of the story.

To dredge up something from a post I wrote a year or so ago: my favorite character – far and away my favorite! – has not even the slightest bit of me in him. He is, honestly, in no way an element of me, nor of my subconscious.

No, what he is is the most personal character I’ve ever created: he is a collage of the dead, of those friends I have lost. Oz is the face, and the pain, of suicide. To me, he embodies the very real grief and regret of that tragedy…and the very, very real memories.

In Wrath, given the limited POV I chose to use, Oz’s reality – and his power – wasn’t always easy to show…nor was I always successful. In Silence, however…

In Silence, I am playing a great deal more intimately with Oz, and with his relationship with Connor. Some of those bits make me laugh, while others are still strong enough to bring a tear.

The subtext of Silence is very much Connor’s struggle with survivor’s guilt, and with all of the shit that particular demon brings*, but…well…Oz is still my favorite. I may have killed him, but I can’t leave him behind.

*Not that I would know anything about that. Nope, not me, not at all…

And, before you ask: yes, my characters speak to me. That was, honestly, why I put aside everything else in my life to write the stories I am currently working on: Connor and Oz just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. I had thought (hoped?) that writing Wrath would quiet them down…

…boy, was I wrong.

And, yes, that does in fact make me officially nuts. Oh well, what the hell; I write sci-fi and fantasy, true sanity was never more than a distant dream, anyway.

Go Where The Story Takes You

IMG_0163It’s IWSG day again – yay!

If you haven’t guessed by now, this blog is pretty much a free-form flow of rambling thoughts. I have, of course, always planned to completely avoid stream-of-consciousness posts…and generally failed at that.

Oh well.

But…but, at least IWSG-day gives me ONE day a month where I can be planned and structured!

Err…well…sometimes…

Hey, what can I say? I’m sitting in the Yellowstone sun after a relaxing hike (just eight miles), with a beer in hand and my iPad open and ready for the words…

Life doesn’t suck right now, and fully planned & structured posts ain’t really at the top of my mind.

Okay, with that in mind, it’s time for the post itself: Has writing ever surprised you?

Every time.

No, really…every single damned time.

Honestly, it would be better to say that if my writing ever stops surprising me, it’s time to burn all the pages and hang up my pen.

My writing is my characters, and my characters have voices and minds of their own. They are – as I’ve mentioned before – the little ghosts fluttering around the back of my mind, always talking, always telling their stories to me.

For me to write a story, I have to believe in my characters. They have to be real, they have to have their own needs and demands. The creative process is very much a tug-of-war between me and them. What they want is not always what I want, or what I had planned.

And sometimes they win.

I suppose the best way to illustrate that point is to go back to my planning & preparation steps. After I’ve come up with the characters themselves, and the basic plot outline, comes the single biggest prep item in terms of time and effort: I write a summary of the entire story from each and every significant character’s POV.

Keep in mind, these ain’t little 300-word synopses, these are 3,000-5,000-word detailed summaries. In a lot of ways, they are stories in and of themselves. To do that, I have to put myself into all of my characters’ heads. And that, very often, surprises me.

I’ve said before that Oz (from Wrath & Tears) is my favorite character, bar none. Well, his (never shared) POV document is the most heart-breakingly painful thing I’ve ever read (let alone written)….it also completely changed the story I had planned.

Not only is that the best example I can think of for why I do what I do, it is also a very good example of why a writer should always look for surprise, and always be open to change: before I wrote that bit, Wrath was Connor’s story, it was the story – both upfront and in subtext – of a simple street kid trying to fight his way out.

But after?

But after…the story became real, and it became very much Oz’s story. Yes, my protagonist was the same…yes, my plot was the same…but after that, all of the subtext became (or was supposed to become) about the despair and self-destruction that led my favorite character to commit suicide.

And that surprised me. Suicide has always been far too personal, and far too real, for me to ever write about.

Until Oz made me.

I could write about the other surprises in my work: I could write about how creating Silence’s final scene first made me go back and rewrite the entire fucking story…I could write about how, every time I sat down to write the conspiracy theory story, the words that came out were for another story entirely…I could write about how planning and structuring in too much detail ruined the first two novels I ever wrote, and how letting go of my inhibitions made all the difference…

But, in the end, it comes down to one thing for me: if your writing does not surprise you, if it does not make you want to keep writing just to see what the hell happens, why bother?

Grinding Tears Into Wine

I’m supposed to write about pet peeves today. More specifically, I’m supposed to write about those pet peeves that I have in regards to the writing.IMG_0163

God knows, I’ve got my share of ‘em. You’ve all already heard about my need to write in taprooms, and about the impenetrable shields that are my earbuds…

But I’m still not ready to write about that. I’m not ready to write the sarcastic, wry post I had in mind. My friend’s death is too near, and far too powerful: I still hurt, and I still mourn.

So, instead, this is a post about catharsis…about how I heal with the words, and about the need to write.

I’ve never mentioned before, but the first piece I ever got paid for was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was supposed to be a simple obituary, voluntary and unpaid. But it became something far, far more. It became an ode to pain, and an expression of my rage at the loss, and at the fucking uselessness of it all…and it got picked up for that.

It was the obituary for a seventeen year old boy who committed suicide.

Writing that was the only way I had to deal with the pain, the only outlet that preserved sanity. Just under thirty years ago, in similar circumstances, I hadn’t yet learned that outlet. I hadn’t yet learned the power of putting words onto paper. I hadn’t learned the healing that comes with storytelling. Instead, I internalized everything: the loss, the pain, the rage, and the complete and utter confusion.

Oz very much is the combination of those two suicides…of those two friends. Yet, even now, I still haven’t released it all. The pain and rage and confusion are still there, and still they shape who I am, and how I think. Every single word I write is part of the healing process – and part of the venting. Every single word is my own blood on the page…and the blood of those many friends I’ve lost. If I didn’t write those words, if I didn’t use the blood, I would go back to drowning under the weight of it all.

Sometimes I still do.

Most of the subtexts and messages in both Wrath and Silence are planned and intended. Most, but not all. Some…some grew organically out of the writing…grew out of my own subconscious telling the rest of me to fuck off and taking over.

Alone is worse.

For something I once thought a simple throwaway line, that particular phrase has taken on a hell of a lot of power.

Writing Oz’s death scene almost broke me….but with the writing also came a certain amount of healing. I had to write it, I had to explore that particular moment…almost as much as I had to heal.

That is why I write. That is why I tell people that, while I write this blog for others, I write the stories for me. That is how I cope, and how I heal.

And if, someday, something I write can make a difference to someone I never meet…then it was all worth it.

You Can’t Outrun Who You Are

IMG_0163Enough’s enough.

I give up.

Take this job and shove it.

I quit.

We’ve all been there. Hell, we’ve all very likely been there more than once. There was this one job, way back in college…

Never mind, let’s…err…not discuss that particular incident.

Bad jobs aside, that “I quit” moment can come all-too often in the other spheres of our life just as much as it does with work. I have, for instance, mentioned my serial bachelorhood more than once, I believe.

But what happens when that moment hits you as a writer? Writing isn’t, for me, a job; it’s who I am far, far more than what I do. So what happens when you face that Johnny Paycheck moment in regards to the words? That’s more than the song, that’s more than walking out on a shitty job, that’s real.

I hit that moment.

Oh, I fought it and fought it. I did whatever I had to to balance the “real world” with the writing. But still everything paled and faded. The words and emotions and thoughts weren’t the same.  I wasn’t even connecting with myself, let alone with a reader.

I’ve said it before: I write this blog for others, but I write the stories for me. When even that fails, something has to give.

I had to give up, I had to shift my focus and my efforts. I had to quit.

I quit the real world.

As writers we always talk about the stakes for our characters. What do they have to lose? What is at stake?

Well, for me the stakes were huge: I had writing to lose.

I gave up everything else instead. I put my life into storage, grabbed a couple of bags and agreed to a deal to live and work in Yellowstone for the next six months.

It’s made all the difference.

The words are back, and the honesty and truth of the emotions. I work my ass off five days a week…I hike and camp and drink my ass off the other two days…and I write every chance I get.

Wait, you thought I was gonna quit writing? Are you nuts?

It’s who I am.