What is the power of the PEN?

Benjamin Franklin once said that the pen is mightier than the sword. Maybe he was right. So I’m driving down the street this morning and I’ve been wanting/meaning to get some windshield wiper blades– for cheap (we have two cars and a truck, six rubber blades are going to be expensive). I pass the local auto parts store and do I want to go inside? Of course not. I want to go home and play a COMPUTER GAME. You might have wanted to watch TV…no matter…. I don’t want to, but I turn the car around to go in to ask what size blades I need. I park the car and after I grab something to write on…suddenly I realize….I don’t have anything to write with (ACK!!! NO PEN!). Frantically I start rummaging around in the junk in the car looking for ANYTHING to write with (by now, I’ve already realized that I can walk in the store and borrow a pen, but that’s not the point). Miraculously, I find an old pen between the seats. I go into the store and get the information.

I come back to the car, and then after almost failing in my mission, I have an IDEA. I placed the pen in one of the cups on the dashboard and I named it the “double emergency” pen. By that I mean that THAT pen never leaves the vehicle for any reason (except to walk into the store and come RIGHT back), and it serves no other purpose…other than writing something down right at that exact moment.

Put the pen in my pocket? I’ll lose it…if I’m lucky. If I’m not, the pen goes through the clothes dryer and ruins my wife’s clothes (VERY bad). Leave the pen “on the counter” at the store? Someone steals it. I “steal” other pens so I try not to take it personal. Leave the pen on my desk? That’s great! That pen on/in my desk doesn’t do me any good when I’m in the car.

Now the pen is all well and good, but having boxes of pens in each room isn’t the same as that one pen– at the right time– to save what’s really important…THE IDEA.

How does this relate to the writer? Someone once said to the affect of: If you want to write better copy, go do something else. What was meant by that was the brain has a really cool place (probably the sub-concious) where good writing happens. It needs to “rest”. While it’s resting, it keeps working on that problem scene or character, then RIGHT in the middle of doing something else, the brain gives the writer that wonderful idea on how to fix that scene/character/problem.

No pen? No idea. It’s gone.

Now for you, the “double emergency” pen may need to be in the cup with your toothbrushes, or next to the bed for those 3AM flashes of light, or it might even need to  be between your ear and your head (if you can keep it there, I can’t). Where you put it doesn’t really matter– as long as the pen is “available” when you need it….and the pen does not move….from it’s special place.

Use your phone? Sure…that might work too. What if your phone is dead? Cell phones need…you know…electricity…. Leave your phone at home? No great ideas remembered that day….nope.

No paper? No problem. If the idea is THAT important, you can always write on your arm if you have to (it comes off eventually, promise).

The power of the pen is NOT in the pen itself, but in the IDEA that it records.

There is a Price to be Paid…..

In wanting to become a writer…a good one….there is a price to be paid….and I’ve been trying to come to grips with it. This is another reason why I’ve been gone for so long….trying to reconcile my want to become a writer and…..competition…..

If your brain is anything like mine is, I’m not referring to competition from fellow authors. That is the obvious high hurdle. The other hurdle is more insidious– the “could, should, would”s…..

I was watching TV the other night and at one point the whole episode of a particular space oriented serial was destroyed (I have since gotten over this and have gone back to watching the series as of today). In this particular show, the bulk of humanity is on a space station after an apocalypse and the oxygen supply is going bad. Within months everyone will be dead unless they go back to Earth. The engineer maintaining the equipment realizes this and threatens to tell everyone (thus likely causing a panic). The penalty for breaking any of the rules on the space station is death. Harsh, but that’s the situation. The slang term for the punishment is to be “floated” (out into space). So as I’m watching the first scene in which someone (the engineer in question) is “floated”, he accepts his fate and steps into the large air lock. They close the inner doors, throw the switch to open the outer doors, and off he goes flying out into Earth Orbit to his death. Instead of feeling sorry for the “good” character and enjoying the show, all I can think about is [referring to the author of the script for the TV show]….

.oO(You stupid fuck! That’s at least 1,000 cubic feet of AIR that you’re going to have to account for leaving the station. What ELSE are the survivors going to breathe??? What an irony! The punishment does NOT fit the crime!)Oo.

Same show (it may have been a different episode), all the children sent back to Earth are delinquent or for whatever reason have broken the law in some way. That’s why they were selected to be the “guinea pigs”– to see if Earth is habitable again. As you may imagine, after crash landing on Earth, fairly quickly the children divide into two groups. There are the “good” ones who want to follow the rules and the “bad” ones who want to break all the previous rules that were back on the space station. So the leader of the “bad” kids rallies around the idea of “anarchy” and “no rules”. He wins the “election” handily and most of the kids side with him. The “good kids” go off pretty much to start a new life by themselves. Well, what bothered me in the next episode (or MAYbe the episode after that) is that the same character who styled himself after “anarchy” and lawlessness suddenly had organized his band of followers and had already built themselves a series of walls around water and other needed resources for the group. Effectively, they were finishing building a functioning compound for a worthwhile if not misguided society.

HUH??? What happened to “Mr. Lawlessnes”???

Now, in the author’s defense, TV shows have less time for the intricacies of plot and other dynamics that book/story authors do, but I think that you see my point. In becoming a writer, so it would seem I can no longer read or watch TV without becoming a full-blown critic…….

There is a price to be paid….and I’m working on it……

Feelings and Writing…..

I come here….troubled…. I have no desire to give up writing…no…of course not. By the same token however…I have “lost steam”. I have not written to speak of in weeks– probably longer. Disillusionment is only a small part of it– Kindle’s Draconian payment model (You don’t have an established fan base to bring to us? We don’t do ANY advertising for you. Period.) isn’t THAT depressing. There are other places to sell books I’m sure. To get this out into the open, I do know that at least a very small part of the problem is a four letter word in this life– work. It’s not something that I signed up for as I was coming out of the chute. Be that as it may…the other side of the coin is that the old adage is true: There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I was under the impression that reading the book that I may have hinted at before has been distracting. More to the point…it was not “Reader’s Digest”. To really absorb the material took full concentration such that reading the book again is so much easier the second time around. ….but still I don’t write. The book (and reading it) is not the issue either.

I think that the base problem is two-fold. The first (and more minor) issue is– fear of being wrong/disliked as a writer. To a certain point at least this is normal and must be
surmounted. I’m not all that worried about that….that’s at least fairly straightforward. Shut up and do it anyway (write the damn story).

this is it….this is why I came….. The base issue is that in order to write a story– any story– one must have more than an interest in but a raw FEELING about a given subject. If
people really wanted facts they would read the almanac or a technical journal. Feelings are messy…they are inconvenient in Peter’s sterile world…. When I really think about it…to
truly feel means that I have to “let go”. Ultimately, that is the problem. For in letting go, that means that I lose control.

Control is everything…..

Why?

After pondering the question for several moments, I don’t know. There are many other little reasons but this might be it…. I keep thinking that if I relinquish control, I will lose
who I am (who Peter is). I will lose my self just as those who talk too much believe that if they stop talking, they will cease to exist.

Time to turn feelings on.

Fear sets in…. In delving into feelings– what if I have a perfectly good feeling in the middle of rush hour traffic? I might lose control– of the car– and crash. ….maybe not….
Until proven otherwise– real or fancied– the fear exists.

To get where I want to go…I’m going to have to turn them on again (in stages I thing, but at this point baby steps are better than no steps). Time to turn feelings back on again– and stay away from Facebook. It makes me thing too much. How does the saying go? Paralysis by analysis…….

What to write about?

A new (or “between stories”) writer may wonder what to write about….and it would be too easy for me to say: “Whatever you like…..” Something that is interesting and/or entertaining to you goes without saying, but it’s more than that. Ideally, something that you are passionate about in some way or something that drives you to want to know more about it. Such motivation will also serve you well on those days when you really don’t want to write. They’re going to happen…. Either way, most good fiction is going to require at least some research, whether we enjoy the pouring over reference books and/or web pages or not. This is largely because as much as emotion and tension to find out what happens next keeps the reader turning the pages, at some point or another some facts need to be presented either as a basis for the story or to be later challenged before the end of the book.

While writing has more paradoxes than rules that are made to be broken, one must consider one’s audience at some point or another. There is an old saying– you can’t please everybody. Even if we could….the work to do so would require more effort than the copy is worth. Either we research (or pick) a select group of readers or (more commonly) we write what we want to write and then go find an audience to present to. Either way works, to each his own. That said, if we are writing science fiction to a church group or (worse) writing of gray-area heroes that swear like a truck driver to little school kids it’s not going to work. One of the biggest factors to consider is the age group of your target audience. Typically speaking….young adults read (and purchase) more copy than old farts. More importantly, they both have different interests and tastes. Write a story about teen age love and give it to an octogenarian and they will likely throw it in the trash before the end of the first page. Write a story about a hero fighting back aches, blurred vision, rising drug costs, and Medicare D and the teenager might throw the book back at you. It’s a matter of reader preference and audience.

Back to passion and interest….one must also consider how it relates to the story. For example, if you wanted to try comic book style fantasy or science fiction and you also have a love for crochet, the villain whipping out a pair of knitting needles as his final attack isn’t going to be understood (let alone believable). Now a villain– especially a like-able one– who just happened to use crochet to relax would make more sense. Another consideration is the setting of the story. As a precaution, “period” pieces have a limited audience the further back in history you go. Want to write about the life and times of the 1980’s? Sure. If you’re aspiring to write about the roaring 20’s, you’re going to have a very limited audience outside of (forced) college students as very few people remember that time, let alone relate to it. While you might find a smaller section of readers that like to read/learn about Roman times, this is going to be a hard sell not just because of market saturation as it is also somewhat of an acquired taste.

All in all, typically you can write about most anything– as long as there is enough conflict and interaction between the characters that drive towards a goal to keep the reader turning the page. The important thing to remember is that it is something that you want to write about– as much as we want to believe otherwise– books do not write themselves and no one has ever paid for a finished book that hasn’t been written yet.

What is your writing style?

One of the unspoken things in writing is determining your style. This indirectly determines your audience, and visa versa. For example, if you write and speak like a truck driver, you wouldn’t (easily) write schoolbooks for children. The latter (school children writing to truck drivers) would have the potential reader stop for lack of interest and the latter would be inappropriate.

In your past writings, are they light and flowery? You might want to consider writing the aforementioned children’s books. If your writing is prosy, not pretty, and haunted by darkness, you might want to consider writing more “gray” area heroes in your sci-fi or fantasy musings. More so even, eee gads, go all out and delve into horror.

Especially if you haven’t written more than a few stories or a single novel, you may want to consider your speech. Are you funny (it’s okay if you’re not)? Do you talk a lot, or mean a lot when you say little? For example, I was about to attend a meeting and one of the other attendees noticed that there was only a quarter pot of coffee left as the meeting was about to start and asked if he should make some more. A “normal” coffee drinker of higher caliber might have responded:

“You’d better make three!” This would have signaled that the lot of us (about thirty in the room) would rather have the coffee already made so that non one would have to later disrupt the meeting to make another pot. I didn’t even think about it….it just fell out of my mouth:

“Does a bear shit in the woods?” The underlying meaning here is that the requester should keep making coffee until we say stop (bears don’t go to the bathroom other than in the woods). Conversely, had the request been if more MILK should be poured, I would have responded “Does a bear use a commode?” (No, they don’t…at least not that I’ve ever heard of.) Sidebar: I don’t intend on writing children’s books anytime soon.

There are no right or wrong answers here– only honest ones. Another facet of style is that whether or not you like to write expansive descriptions describing every detail of the weather, the sounds, and smells of a particular scene? A romance novel might be better suited to you. Conversely I seem to have a knack for….how do they say….being “direct”. Some months ago a friend of mine was in the hospital and I went to go see him. After being informed that only immediate family were allowed to see him I politely asked the nurse for something to write on. I wrote him a note– Hey Joe! Give ’em Hell! ….and then I signed it. Later I found out that the patient (knowing who I was) thought that it was rather funny. Am I going to be writing romance novels anytime soon? No, of course not.

Another part of style is the context of yourself and the analogies you use to describe things. If the reader is unfamiliar with the context of the analogy, then it may be time to find a different audience. As an example, I was retyping a story of mine onto the Internet the other day and in writing the story I was trying to impart on the reader how many boxes (as in lots and lots of them) were crammed onto a shelf. I mentioned something about how closely cares are parked in New York. Now if the reader has never been to New York but still has lived most or all of his or her life in a large American city then the vision of what I’m trying to have the reader see comes off fairly well. What if the reader has never been to America or heard of New York? Maybe I should stick to North American readers….probably a good idea.

So the question becomes, what do you do if you don’t know your audience (i.e. you’re trying to find one)? Keep writing. Not everyone is going to like your writing– and that includes me. That’s okay….someone will. The trick is to find a fan base that wants to read your writings– of whatever genre you choose– and success will follow.

 

How to Get Around Writer’s Block

If you’ve never had a problem putting pent to paper/hands to keyboard, you are extremely lucky. It happens to the best of us, typically it’s temporary, and completely normal. There are ways around this– other than waiting hours/days needlessly on the hope that something “will just come to us” as we sit with pen/keyboard in hand wondering where the aspirin is. In general, each tactic should be attempted for only five or ten minutes at most. Anything longer is probably a waste of time. In a rough order of preference:

  • Go for a walk or engage in some other activity
    • Clean your office/desk or play with the dog or cat
    • If you haven’t already, eat something or take a shower
  • Think/meditate on the goal, not the work
    • Going on vacation? Retiring after your 3rd (or 33rd) book?
  • If practical, write some other plot/story/device that is still productive (or not)
  • Make phone calls or pay bills
    • Other minor things on your “to do” list
  • Perform religions duties/practices (if any)
  • Read material in your chosen genre to “see the other side”
  • Marketing/promoting your script as an example, use social media. Set an egg timer….AND stop when it goes off.
  • Take a nap (again, set an egg timer/alarm for a reasonable amount of time)

Failing that list, one must ask oneself if the problem is not so much in the mind (take an aspirin), or in the willingness to write? Samuel Clemens once observed that “work” is something that one is obligated to do. “Play” is something that one is obliged to do. More to the point, in his story Tom Sawyer (the hero) hated whitewashing his grandmother’s fence. All the boys in town hated the chore equally, and before the end of the chapter, he had them all whitewashing the fence for him after he convinced them that they couldn’t whitewash his grandmother’s fence better than he could.

The trick is to make the writing more about play (obliged) and less about work (obligated). To do this, set small goals (500 or 1,000 words) then a small (reasonable) reward. Another trick is to focus on the goal, not the work as stated before. Another trick is to start another page/document and “flip it over an play with it”. For example, re-write a particular scene where all the character are evil (as opposed to good, and visa-versa). Go whacko if you want– no one ever needs to read it except you. Still another trick is to get a blank page/screen, shut your brain off, and *just* *write*. Let it flow….what comes out doesn’t matter. The fact that it does come out, that’s what matters. Yet another trick is to write something a little more pleasurable (for several minutes only) and then come back to the needed script. Lastly, you might try a somewhat larger reward– for continued composition. When completed, give yourself that reward and relish it. This will make for better progress the next time this tactic becomes necessary.

Given patience and effort, success in getting over writers block will be yours!

Where/When/ How to write?

The short answer to this question is: Wherever. <Update> As I type this, I am sitting in the company break room working on my latest yarn– on thin web site– from my cell phone. </Update>

It’s not quite that simple however. I have heard stories of writers writing on the train, in the car on their lunch hour, really every waking moment that they are not working their day job.

When no paper/pen/keyboard are available, I have been known to write into my phone if necessary and then refer back to it/retype it later.

Good lighting goes without saying, but what about music? I personally don’t play any music (I find it distracting), but some writers like to get “in the mood” depending on the scene/story that they are writing. Either works fine– if it works for you.

The time of day is important only insofar as it helps you keep a “rhythm” of writing every day. Creative juices flow better like a water pipe– not like a river. A river has rocks, twists and turns, and backwashes that impede the flow. Important errands ARE important…but if allowed to continue….they do interrupt my writing routine (hence, into the phone or in the car if necessary).

Some writers still prefer paper and pen/pencil over a keyboard. I still prefer paper and pen when I’m trying to sort out my thoughts– only in my personal life. There is some sort of MAGIC that happens during “paper and pen” that does not happen on the keyboard. To each his or her own though I guess.

So you want to be a writer?

Who wouldn’t want to be a writer? Occasionally I have wondered that myself. With the invention of the Internet as we know it today, ANYONE with at least a good command of their chosen writing language and a connection can publish any few thousand words (or more) that they have written for themselves. Trying to make money at it– that’s the subject of another blog post.

If you’re really lucky (Did you get that? REALLY lucky?)….they money is not the why of it. It’s not even the admiration of all your fellow homo sapiens (although that’s nice too)….it’s that a writer NEEDS to write. In other words, a writer will write stories or other copy in their free time whether they are paid or not. When a writer (for whatever reason) is prevented from writing for any length of time, they get bunched up inside. They don’t feel quite right. If this is you, rest assured, you are not defective. This is normal.

Now if this is not you, do not lose heart. I am trying to get back there to that state myself. Few things in this life are worse than my current profession, hence wanting to go back to writing. Not that I was ever paid (the Internet as we know it today hadn’t been invented yet), but I was getting to that point where I preferred writing to other pursuits. Among other things, it gave the rat on the treadmill something to do.

Just….write. I can’t put it any simpler than that. Even if it comes out like a turd, keep writing. You’re probably going to be changing it later anyway. Even if you are right and it IS a turd, you can’t keep writing turds for too long. Very rarely does worthwhile copy come out “on the first try”. The important thing is to write part of a story (technical journal, newspaper ad, etc.) DAILY. If you honestly miss a day, do not “beat yourself up over it”, just get back to writing.  Continued….writing….that is what makes one a writer. It gets easier as one goes along as well…..

Another thing is to read. I’ve committed to a half-hour a day of reading or in some cases researching (which involves reading) toward my goal. Again, I don’t beat myself up over it if I miss a day– occasionally. Reading helps keep the mind sharp and among other things is a good way to learn what the other authors are doing. Plagiarizing is wrong, taking notes on a particular STYLE of writing is not.