Friday, December 7, 2007

A short update

Moving is wiping me out. Don't expect another post until Monday, I'm afraid. Sorry, life just gets in the way.

Also, Tony's making me a very awesome layout. It's basically awaiting me to get my heading image done, now. I will look into starting that next week, I think. And then this blog will look awesome, and I can begin selling it like the worthwhile thing it is.

Words written so far this week: 12,000
Words hoped for between now and Sunday: 4,000
Days of disappointment so far: 0
Words hoped for next week: 15,000
Days allowed to slack off: Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday

Monday's topic will be The Unanswerable. Unless I change my mind.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Rule Number One: Writers Write

"You certainly seem a more dedicated writer than I claim to be."
- comment sent to me

Here's a writing topic worth writing about. Something that I know about (sort of), have struggled with (before still and in the future) and something that I feel I can speak about and do it justice (sort of, again). Writers and writing, the eternal conflict between the two of them.

There are many people who want to be writers or claim to be writers but find trouble understanding the profession and what it means to be a writer. "I can't find motivation" they say. Or "I can't find time." Or "I have no ideas" or "my writing is terrible so I don't write." For all the writers in the world, there are a great number of them who don't write. Who are afraid of or even dislike writing. I'm not picking on the friend who sent me this comment. It just inspired me to go ahead and address this issue now instead of later.

I will tell you the hidden secret to being a writer! I know it, and it's deep magic, pulled from the depths of a great wealth of experience and angst. I quested into the past and into the present far and wide looking for the answer, and I finally found it sitting there in a shining treasure chest on a far off island where the natives always tell the truth and the visitors always lie. And I opened that chest, and what did I find? A chorus of angels. Heavenly light. And the answer to writing.

Writers are writers. What does a writer do? Writers write.

Huh? You might scratch your head. I certainly did when I ran into that pearl of wisdom. Writers write? Surely there must be more than that. Some sort of trick. Some sort of know-how. The secret society of writers where they all band together and give each other some potion that motivates them to produce written works. The Brotherhood of the Pen or something equally evocative and enigmatic. And alliterative, also, apparently. (That's a triple and then QUADRUPLE alliterative score, for those of you playing along at home.)

But I'm here to tell you what every writer will tell you after a while, amateur and professional alike. There is no secret society. There is no secret, even. There is no mystery to our profession at all. Writers write. What does that mean? That means that we put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and make words. That's what we do. We consider that our goal and our focus. I don't care if you're a journalist, a novelist, a poet, or whatever. A writer is a writer is a writer. We all have got to eventually write words. That's what makes us who we are.

And it's not easy. Let nobody tell you writing is easy. It's pretty neat seeing the professional writer, sitting there talking about his novel, the small compact book sitting on the shelf. You look at it and think to yourself: gee, that's so small, how hard could it be? That writing gig looks like cake.

I laugh everytime someone says that. It's a very, very bitter laugh.

Writing is hard. Excruciating. It goes against how our bodies and minds are programmed to work. It taxes your creative energy, your logistical skill, your emotions, and most likely your time and your health (both physical and mental). Writers, especially creative writers, have an abnormally high rate of mental illness and suicide. Nobody's sure why, but take it into consideration. Writing is a demanding job. It's not for those without will or perserverence.

And that's the key. What separates that 'one day' writer who sits and says "I'm a writer and one day I'm going to write a book!" or heaven forbid, "one day I'll be a writer" from the person who actually does it? In the end? Willpower, self-discipline, and hard work. If you continue to say "one day I'll write" you're setting yourself up for failure. You WILL NOT become a writer with that mindset. You won't ever find time, you won't ever be hit with motivation, the muses will not drop mystical fairy dust laden with ideas on your head.

If you want to be a writer, you only have to do one thing: write. Write now. Write today. Write immediately after reading this. Write while you're reading this. I don't care. And I don’t care what you write. Write a poem. Write an essay. Write a short story or a novella or a novel. Write trashy fan-fiction. Just get online and look for 'writing prompt' and write a short bit on the prompt. It doesn't matter how much or how little you write either. You can write 50 words or you could write 50,000. Do it now. Don't wait. In fact, stop reading this and write something down. Like I said, I don't care what. Come back when you're done.

… I mean it. Go. Now. We'll talk when you're done. I'll still be here.

Done? If not, you should feel guilty, and either go write or recognize that you might not have what it takes. Not terrible, just something you'll have to make peace with. Now, if you did do what I asked? Guess what: you're a writer. "Really?" Yes, really. That's exactly what I do or any other aspiring dedicated writer and it's exactly what James Joyce did and its exactly what Frank Herbert did and its exactly what Tolkien did and its exactly what Stephen King does or anyone else who you admire or trust in the literary world. It's no different. No magic formula. We sit down and we write. Most of us probably started slow, and waited for that brief flash of inspiration. It doesn't come. It might dance in front of you like some sort of ghost from time to time, but it goes away faster than you can capture it. Guess what? I've done that. More times than I've thought about. Chasing the will-o-wisps of 'inspiration.'

And if you're the struggling writer, wondering why you can't write everyday, you have two choices. You can ignore me and keep waiting and always wait and wait for the inspiration that won't come, or you can sit down and put words on a page. If you can only write 500 words one day, that's fine. The next day sit down and write again. Don’t judge what you do one day based on another. Just write. You won't like it. It won't be fun. It'll feel forced and your writing will be terrible.

Do it anyway.

If you actually listen and write every day, you'll find that you get in a habit. You might not like it, and it might not be fun, but we're creatures of habit and once it sticks we won't feel right if we don’t write. And when you feel like you're not doing enough, do more. Don't set an upper limit. Having an expectation is fine, but be realistic. Don't expect to just start pounding out 5000 words a day. Or even 1000. Or even 500. Just write. Find what you think you can do and try for that. You won't make it every day. Don't beat yourself up about that. When you beat yourself up you just cause anxiety the next time you write. Accept that sometimes plans go awry and write the next day as if the day before never happened. And if you write well one day, twice or three times your limit? The next day you're going to sit down and write again. No celebration. You're a writer. You don't celebrate. You write.

Don’t have the time? That's untrue. If you can't find 15 minutes in your day, then you need to reevaluate your priorities. Either one of your hobbies is more important than writing or you're doing an unhealthy amount of required activity. And if its your hobbies, look at them carefully. Are they more important than your writing? If yes, then you're probably not very seriously considering being a writer, and you might want to look at changing your mind about what you want to be. If you're unsure how serious you are, cut down on a hobby for a few weeks and write. Just 15 minutes, even. That's fifteen uninterrupted minutes sitting at your word processor of choice (or notebook or typewriter) and writing. Don’t think. Don't talk. Don't surf the net. Just write. Make words. For fifteen minutes. Then go do whatever else you're doing with your day. Come back in a few weeks and read this again, and see if my words make sense. If they do? Congrats, you've solved the great puzzle of writer-dom. If they don’t? Maybe writing isn't for you.

But don't wait. Don't ever wait. Writing isn't a job anybody's going to make you do. You have to fight for it every step of the way. You have to make the time and use the time and write like its going out of style. Because guess what? It is going out of style if you don't stop it. You're the only one who can make you into a writer. I can't do it. I can help give you advice, but you have to make that choice and make that leap. If you don't decide to be a writer now and write now you never will.

So stop claiming to be a writer and feeling guilty about not writing. Stop saying 'one day I'll write a book'. You won't. Don't lie. Either put up or shut up. Good intentions don't buy anything, and talk is cheap. Only the words you create will prove your intentions. I'm not asking you to present me a novel. Just write. Anything. Do it because you want to be a writer. Learn to love it. You can learn to love it, even if you don't believe me. Don't do it for the approval, the money, or the acceptance (because let me tell you, there is none). Do it for yourself. Do it because you have the burning thoughts in your head and the desire to make the words come alive. Do it because you know in your heart that you should be a writer. It's simple. Write, and you're a writer.

I believe in you. Now you have to believe in yourself.

Good luck, and good writing.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On Limits, Exhaustion, and Burning Out

So I've hit that interesting point of tiredness. I'm so tired that I sleep poorly. My eyes hurt. My head hurts. My body is in that tired state that I feel almost sick but I know that it isn't sickness but a great weariness that has settled deep down into my bones so entrenched that I can barely see it for what it is.

I've never felt better.

I've come to recognize certain things about myself, and one of them is the fact that I'm a sucker for my own forms of punishment. Not in a hugely masochistic, self-destructive sort of way. Don't get me wrong. But I like the adversity of things. And when I create my own adversity I don’t have to go looking for it.

I've been writing hard and long, lately. I know some writers make it a habit, but I've been writing anywhere from 2500 to 4500 words every day for the past seven or eight weeks. The days I've taken off can be counted on one hand. While I've been doing this, I've been working my day job, reading, trying to keep a social life, gaming, watching movies and anime, and starting up my blog and providing for my future plans. Not to mention getting involved in the NaNo community locally, meeting writers and forming bonds. Not to mention getting ready to move this Saturday.

This is not my typical state of being. I'm a lazy fellow. Or I always have been. Left to my own devices I tend to settle into well-known, poorly reaching patterns of thought or action. I lounge. I sloth. I letharge. I invent poorly conceived verbs.

But lately that hasn’t been the case. I was worried, a while back, that I would eventually reach a point where I became devoted to my art. Where I would become the 'crazy writer' who was all about his books and his dreams and ideas. I saw this as some sort of self-destructive behavior. Something to be avoided in favor of 'grounding' in that thing people call 'reality.' But somewhere along the way, I became that thing.

Not on purpose! I just resolved to write every day sometime in the middle of MS. And then I did. And it got worse and worse. Now when I don't write every day, I feel terrible. I feel like I haven't showered or brushed my teeth. I feel like I haven't eaten. It's something completely essential from my day missing. So I write, at least something. And specifically I write my novel. After writing no more than … oh, 30,000 words a year for the past four years, this year I've written somewhere to the tune of 250,000. That's a staggering jump. I finished Margot early this year. I started and completed Marton Syan. I began and just crossed the 70,000 word mark on WTC.

It's like some sort of burning torch in my mind driving me. And the more things I take on, the more I want to do! What seemed like an impossible time demand a year ago has become something that I do without blinking an eye. I write every day. I don't think I'll stay that way, but I'm going to try. And I find myself with so much more mental energy! So now I want to do all of these other things. My enabler, Tony, has labelled it my Ever-Expanding List of Wonder. In that I'm always reaching for something new with a crazy, manic sort of exuberance. I like that label. I've accepted it. Because it's true.

And so I'm tired a lot. And I keep pushing myself to this strange place where I'm so tired that I find energy everywhere. I have a few days left until I move, and that will probably very nearly wipe out the last of my reserves, but I'm looking forward to it. Each time you push yourself to your limit, your limit expands to accommodate. And you become that much stronger the next time. And so I push. And I will continue to push. And when the long-coming, inevitable burnout comes, I doubt I'll fall too far. And I will have all that potential at reserve to build back up to. I'll keep writing until it kills me. I'll keep adding to my EELOW until I'm a whirling tempest of idea and intuition and insane notions and aspirations.

I've become that crazy artistic fellow. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

In My Head, We're All Doing the Time Warp Again!

I woke up today and I swore it wasn't 6 AM. That just wasn't possible. It was another filthy lie constructed by the bourgeoisie, just like logic and pork. And yet, because there's money to be made and I don't like the idea of not making it, I slowly disentangled myself from my bed and got myself going.

Or, I made a valiant attempt at it. You see, it didn't work for very long. Soon enough I was once again nodding off, but this time it was sitting here at work. Maybe it was my big breakfast of yummy hash browns? Maybe it was the caffeine I had had to wash it down with. Perhaps it was the < 6 hours of sleep I had last night. I would guess some horrible triumvirate bent on my personal destruction.

And that was when I decided to get proactive!

I have a great amount of energy on reserve, like most people. It's just usually untapped. Most of mine is my belief-energy. A great reservoir that I keep, much like Alaskan oil, for a time when I'm exhausted and I need it. Mainly for if inspiration strikes or I have to do some mental construction and I'm drained. Hence why it's belief-energy. It's there to support my beliefs in my art and myself. But that's hard to tap when it comes to just getting through my work day. My body physically rejects those connections.

That's when I decided to change my music. I live in my music every day, my iPod is on for hours and hours each day so I can tune out my noisy work environment and have a pretty extensive soundtrack to my life. It entertains me to have music. I focus much better with it than without. Feeling my eyes beginning to droop into the final depths of exhaustion and sudden narcolepsy, I threw it onto the one thing that would save me:


Now I don't know if most people know this, and wikipedia doesn't really have an article on it, but the power of the musical cannot be denied. If we could create an engine that would run on musical, it would operate at 150% efficiency and look/sound awesome the whole time. It would be a perpetual motion machine. It would power the world with no pollution, aside from the noise pollution inherent in it.

World peace exists. It's in the power of song and dance.

So now I'm hopping from Hedwig to Hairspray to Phantom of the Opera to classic Disney to Rocky Horror Picture Show. I'm trying hard not to completely rock out. I'm trying very hard not to sing along. But I'm much more awake. And I remember what I know to be true:

If I had a genie, I would wish for life to be more like a musical. Then I'd go to a coffee shop with my friends and sing about being yuppie and pretentious while doing a choreographed dance number with steaming coffee and tea cups and barristas in flashy costumes leaping through the air with long strings of coffee beans and fellows dressed like professors doing backflips while shouting the names of various isms as the beat and refrain.

Yeah I feel much better.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Affected Youth

I'm reminded, reading The Bell Jar, of the subsection of society that has remained the subject of media for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, the subsection that I most find myself relating to in a surprisingly real, honest way. This group includes literary figures such as Telemachus, Steven Dedalus, or Holden Cauffield. In movies the best example would be James Dean, though there are examples in many younger actors and actresses. A more modern example might be Leonardo DiCaprio. This group is marked by people, usually younger people, who hit a point in their life where they become disillusioned with the norms of the environment around them. When the people begin to crush in and the opinions of the masses grate just too much and these people reach a point where they have to break away. When they embrace the different and the difficult and the 'anti-social' in order to challenge what they believe and hopefully find their place.

This group has been typically labelled the disaffected youth, but I dislike that term on principle and would recommend another one. Disaffected is such a negative term, with such negative connotations (especially in today's overly positive, sugar-coated social schema) that it calls to mind a bunch of burnt out hippie slackers doing drugs and getting into trouble and whatnot. That kind of image misses the point. That kind of image is more damaging to that group than it needs to be. So I propose another name.

Affected Youth are just that. They are those who have been affected. Disaffected, by definition, is an aggressive, divisionary term. It creates the disaffected youth as a group who has lost faith in, or trust of, authority figures. And while that is certainly a hallmark of someone in this subgroup, it isn't everything.

The Affected Youth are not those who have simply lost truth or faith in authority figures. If that was the case, the common 'disaffected' label would be applied to anyone who goes against the establishment group. Yet that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, let's look at where the disaffected youth label is applied most commonly, and see why that application is faulty but does refer to a specific social group.

Most disaffected are youths. They are typically highly intelligent, though perhaps not formally schooled. They typically came from traditional upbringings, though this isn't always the case. They typically are introverted types, described as 'serious' or 'mature for their age' by those around them. They typically feel alienated by their peers. They typically remain skeptical of adults but prefer their company to that of people their own age. They typically like to press buttons and boundaries. They ask lots of unanswerable questions.

I'm sure everyone knows the type. It doesn't just have to be youths. 'Youth' implies an age bracket, but that's not the case here. I'm using youth as in 'one who is young' with young being a metaphysical mindset of youth where minds are uncertain and impressions are made more quickly and both belief systems and mindset are in a state of flux.

And that's really the key here. The affected youth isn't alienated because of some sort of rebellious impulse. There are rebels and there are affected youths and sometimes they're both in a person but they don't have to be. But what makes an affected youth so alienated is a questioning nature that is finally coming into a place of power. It isn't a typical counterculture 'let's blow of the man' mentality, but it is a mind that has come to feel some sort of wrongness about the status quo and is now looking for the meaning behind it and their place in it.

And that's why I choose affected. There are people in life who never hit the affected youth stage. It doesn't always have to be angsty, semi-depressed detachment from all that is 'normal'. It can be much healthier. But it does have to be a period of asking questions such as 'what is my place in the world?' and 'why do people believe _______?' and other questions. The Affected Youth is a person who sees the world as it is and is deeply affected by it. They feel a call to change something. A dissatisfaction with the status quo. And this is what drives them to slowly begin the process of determining what it is and what they can do and who they are that is different enough to make them the person to do it.

The people who don't ask those questions typically (not always, but typically) are those that end up just blindly supporting the status quo. Terms I've heard for them include 'normals,' 'old folks,' 'sheep people,' 'society at large,' and 'zombie-citizens.' They are usually marked by a closed-mindedness that borders or is willful ignorance, the inability to even consider questioning the status quo, a complacent discontentment with their lives and the world around them, and a general lethargy when it comes to any sort of pro-active life action.

What does this say about the affected? It means that they are the ones who are coming awake. The ones who see the world in a more critical way. The ones who at least think about changing their place in it. I believe that to blindly accept one's place in anything is the sign of a mind that is closed and dead. The affected youth might have their problems, and they might be prone to failure in their endeavors, but they do at least turn their minds to the question. Asking that question is what is most important. The development of the attitude of not accepting what's presented as 'true' and forging your own path is the way towards becoming a truly realized person with all the potential that comes with it.

I'm a card-carrying member of the Affected Youth. I'm proud of that fact. And I look towards a time when I can move past it into the place beyond (which I've stepped into and do step into from time to time) without losing the nature of the Affected Youth. Even the next step beyond, the Clay Existence, and the step beyond that, the Purposeful Life, can take from the questing, unaccepting nature of the Affected Youth. The Affected Youth is the enemy of dogma.
And as we all know, dogma becomes stagnation becomes death.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

When the Weekend is Wintery

There was an interesting ice storm on Friday. The whole world covered in a quarter inch of frozen water. There was some absolutely wonderful sights. Grass that was individuated and sheltered from other grass by sheathes of ice. Branches that looked like crystal decorations. I even saw one person who left flowers out on a porch and they were things of glass and beauty. I wonder if it wasn't on purpose.

I was driving when it hit. I slid Adam home, and then stayed with him. The last time I slept in the same room as him was when we roomed together in college. So much time passes, and yet the body doesn't forget. We're crashed on his couches, tired and content. And the memories just burst back. We're a thousand miles from college (spiritually) and yet here it is again. That feeling. It was bittersweet. I had forgotten what it was like to feel sweet nostalgia. My nostalgia has been of the bitter, revelatory kind because of my novel.

Within a day all the ice was gone, which was fine by me. I even went out to breakfast last night. Old men falling apart, people who live in bars, college students drifting through their life. These people all converge at the late night Cecils. Anyone who is in Omaha owes it to themselves to go to Cecils on a weekend night. They're open from 11 until 4 AM on Friday and Saturday, and they're the best greasy spoon in the area. It's not just a meal, it's an experience.

When I was there this drunk shrew of a woman pulled a giant ziplock bag out of her purse and started handing everyone chinese finger traps. Amusing, sure, but I'm not sure what else I think about it, if anything. I'm not above (if you're arrogant enough to look at it that way) looking for signs and messages in life. And here comes a cheap wicker sign to me, sliding across the dirty counter like manna from heaven.

When we're stuck, when we're unhappy, the normal response is to fight it. To retreat, to flee, to turn whatever is bad around to 'something not-bad'. The trick is that often our reactions are more harmful than the natural course of events. The more you struggle, the tighter the trap becomes. It's only when we close in and allow ourselves to dive into our issues that we can find their solution. Enlightenment over animal instincts. I believe that I was told that key lesson last night for a reason.

Too bad I don't know what it is.

Current Reading Queue:
Just finished Heretics of Dune last night.
Started The Bell Jar today.

Novelling Status and Goals:
Words Written Last Week: 12,000
Days of Disappointment: 4
Words to Write This Week: 10,000 (and pull myself past this scene of hell I'm in)
Days I'm Allowed to Slack Off: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday