Sweet, Sweet Acceptance

I’ve been missing in action for a bit, but that’s okay, because honestly who is reading this? Probably no one as of it’s posting, but that may change soon.

I’m pleased to announce that my short story – “The Centipede’s Dilemma” – has been accepted for publication by a lovely writer’s collective and lit-site called Soft Cartel. They’ll be featuring it in March, and hopefully people read it and don’t hate it.

I’m excited. Soft Cartel is a small operation (but what small press isn’t?), but they’ve been around for a couple years now and regularly feature some very talented writers and poets, as well as a lot of current and graduate MFA students. And in the brutal land of the short fiction market, where newcomers crop up and die within months, it’s always awesome to see a publication gain staying power. Hopefully that staying power continues to last, because the editor’s passion for and focus on good stories (coupled with a disdain for overly-stringent submission guidelines, thank goodness) is refreshing to see nowadays. I appreciate labors of love.

Head on over to Soft Cartel and do some reading, and keep an eye out for my short story’s debut.

Until next time.

Advertisements

Writing Hygiene

Everyone, in any given field, is bound to have some cool ladies and dudes they look up to. I’ve got a list myself, and Ray Bradbury is very close to the top.

In 2001, Ray Bradbury spoke at the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea  and had a helluva lot of wisdom to throw down (I highly recommend giving that whole keynote address a watch, especially those with writerly ambitions). And to start things off, he tells you, you gotta develop writing hygiene. Which is to say, a routine. Practicing, learning, applying. Quite a bit of the advice he gives is still spread today, adhered to by many a-word bandit. Me, I’m one of them.

I’ve developed my own hygiene regiment, and figured, why not post it? It’s not me trying to give advice, who am I to do that? But it’s stuff that works for me and hey, maybe it will work for someone else.

Most of this seems like a lot to do daily or weekly, and it might be, but we all have the same amount of time in the day and I think most writer’s know the struggle of fitting in words. I work a full time job, maintain a healthy social life, and run errands like we all do. But, I also try to remind myself of a philosophy held by a brilliant writer (Stephen Graham Jones, whose work you should immediately seek out), that goes along the lines of: the day is filled with little moments, moments where we’re doing nothing, when we could be writing. Even if it’s on a little pocket notebook while you’re on your lunch break, or waiting in the DMV. I think that’s important.

Anyway, here’s my regiment.

1. Daily Dose of Longhand Flash & Verse

I was lucky enough to be a kid in the 90’s, before the internet was a thing (and damn did it blow my eight year old mind when it was) but for the most part I’ve always typed. It’s just one of many items on my list of “Reasons I Want to Punch Backwards In Time to Punish Young Me.” Because now adult me can’t write longhand without fast-onset hand cramps. So, I decided to, as they say, kill a couple birds with this stone: every day I write a piece of flash fiction or a poem by hand.  I carry around a pocket notebook and a pencil with me at all times so, if an idea comes on unexpectedly, I’m prepared. Any outlet for creating prose is a good one, I feel. Flash fiction is great for developing good writing habits that will help your short stories and novels. Poetry is the music of literature, and if you want to write lyrically it’s a great place to practice. I wrote a ton of poetry before I started writing fiction seriously, and I’m happy for that now.

2. The Noun List

Credit for this one goes to Ray Bradbury. In order to help him with ideas, he made lists of nouns to trigger what he called “something honest”. He explains in an essay, where he writes:

These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.

The lists ran something like this:

THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON.

I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds. Glancing over the list, I discovered my old love and fright having to do with circuses and carnivals. I remembered, and then forgot, and then remembered again, how terrified I had been when my mother took me for my first ride on a merry-go-round. With the calliope screaming and the world spinning and the terrible horses leaping, I added my shrieks to the din. I did not go near the carousel again for years. When I really did, decades later, it rode me into the midst of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

And so I tried this, too. And I loved it, and it worked for me. It was inspiring, and even a little cathartic. Difficult to do at first, but eventually you grease the wheels of your brain and you find the words flow rapid. Of course, my subconscious takes liberties, and I end up with quite a few non-traditional nouns with adjectives, and some just plain made up. They still help me, so I think it works. Here’s a couple of lists I did:

The Symphony. The Mockingbird. The Violin. The Macaw. The Narwhal. The Spinning Whistle. The Guarded Night. The Gilded Man. The Book. The Secret Face. The Shadow Inspector. The Miracle. The Gray Goddess. The Mystical Penance.

The Marshal. The Kite Brigade. The Talisman Retriever. The Dissident. The Slave Crafter. The Massive Statue. The Con Artist. The Grail Seeker. The Mastiff. The Calamity. The Caravan Machine. The Lies. The Miredowns. The Commander. The Vixen. 

If I never make it as a writer, I could always become a consultant for band names, at least.

3. Bullet Prose

This one is maybe more ad-hoc. Or maybe that’s just an excuse. Regardless, bullet prose is just my bullshit cutesy name for random lines, sentences, and dialogue bits that pop into my head throughout the day. Maybe inspired off the cuff by something I see or something someone says. Sometimes it comes out rough, sometimes like a sniper’s shot. But it always comes on like a bullet. It can be great for drawing more inspiration for, at the very least, some good flash or a short story. And sometimes you find yourself writing something and, wouldn’t you know it? that little piece of prose you wrote fits perfect. You’ll soon find that the seeds of ideas sometimes begin long before they’re fully conceptualized in your head with lightning-strike inspiration. Sometimes the clouds have to bloat first, to make way for the storm.

4. Daily Required Reading

Taken from Ray Bradbury again, for the most part. As he suggests, every day I read — at least — one short story, one poem, and one “essay.” I say “essay” because this is where I deviate. I basically read up on a different subject every day. Usually this will be, well, essays if I can find them, or I’ll find reputable write-ups online. Sometimes I’ll spread out a subject over the course of days to soak up as much as I can. Some favorites are astronomy, true crime, conspiracy theories, ancient & modern history, AI, existential threats, folklore, geology, and language. I try to mix it up and look into new things, or subjects outside my comfort zone. The benefit here should be clear. If you’re writing, you should already be reading a ton. Your head should be filled with prose until it’s spilling from your eyes and ears and mouth and fingers. Poetry gives you an eye for things like rhythm, structure, metaphor, and much more. Lastly, we all have thousands of years of accumulated human knowledge sitting in our pockets, so tell Facebook to fuck off and learn something instead. They say, “write what you know.” So it follows you should know a lot, so you can write about a lot of cool shit. Right?

5. The Ray Bradbury Challenge

This is the last one, and the biggest. For those unfamiliar with this challenge, it comes from that video I linked above. It was really more of a piece of general advice given by Ray Bradbury, but it’s developed into something more. The idea is simple. Write a short story every week for a year, 52 stories total. As Ray reminds us, chances are good that there will be a few gems in there. But really the point is practice. Not your innate talent, that’s not something that can be practiced obviously. It’s a cocktail of nature and nurture that pushes us into being Word-whisperers. But everything else absolutely can be: craft, structure, subtext, plot, active voice, omitting needless words, writing with brevity, and so on and so forth. It’s a great way to purge yourself of bad habits. I’ve only just started the challenge, but so far I love it.

This list is ever expanding. I’m always trying to think up or find new mental exercises, they keep me focused. I’ll add to this list or do an update in the future should these changes.

Finishing My Shit

An awesome writer once told me, “Finish your shit.” Okay, maybe he didn’t tell me specifically. I don’t even know him, but I’ve followed Chuck Wendig’s work and writing articles for years now and he’s been invaluable in helping me grow as a writer and to improve my craft.

After nearly a decade of reading his articles and lists of writing advice, I’ve found two things he preaches to be the greatest truths of the word world: The aforementioned “Finish your shit” and “Writing advice is bullshit.” This post is really just about the former, though.

I’ve had issues finishing stories for years. In my last post on writing while dealing with anxiety, depression, and ADHD, I talked about this a bit. My ADHD was not diagnosed until this past year, but by its very nature it’s been causing issues my entire life; lessons learned in hindsight. In that same article I wrote that I don’t like using any of these problems as a crutch or an excuse. But I also cannot ignore the problems that untreated mental disorders cause. So for years, my ADHD mind flitted from project to project to project, leaving a trail of half-written stories and fragments in its wake. In my early twenties I was able to finish a few things (fueled by energy drinks no less, which as I’ve learned, is self-medicating for the attention-deficit crowd) and even got them published, albeit in small independent fledgling markets with tragically short lifespans (I don’t even know if that counts at this point). But the years between that and now have been stagnant, with bursts of creativity, and the once-inevitable crawl back into my cave of self-agonizing creative void.

Then, I got medicated. And a better support system. And therapy. And a writing group. And all this has put my head into a better place than five or ten years ago. Which means one very important thing to me: I’m writing again, and constantly. My productivity is through the roof. But above all: I’m finishing my shit. Thanks for the mantra, Chuck.

I recently just completed a short story titled “Fidelity”, a horror story that clocks in at around 5,000 words. It’s a story that went through about five complete re-writes before it felt even close to done, and for someone who used to get impatient after even thinking about having to do any rewriting, it’s my own personal achievement. I finished the story in time to submit to one of my favorite markets before their open submission deadline. I don’t expect it to get accepted, but I’m happy it’s finished and that I got the chance to tell a tale I wanted to tell. And I’m happier that, after I finished it, the one thing I wanted to do is keep writing. More stories. Bigger stories. Novels. Novellas. Shorts. Whatever. I have a lot to say.

So, on to the next one.

 

The Long Road: Writing With a (Molotov) Neurotic Cocktail

When you’re riddled with anxiety, oftentimes, one habit you form is the curse of many forks. Splits in the road in twos and threes and more. What I mean to say is, that in the quiet of the night, you will travel down every path of doubt and dread, whether real or imagined. Things that could have been, should have been, and even things that could and should be. In the sleepless void you will crawl into the folds of your mind and find shadows. Shadows thick as fog. Fog that spills over every forked path you travel down to trip you up and lose your orientation. For a spell, you’ll travel down the path of the following work day, just your average day in the office. But in the swirls of misty shadow you get distracted by reminders of how much you despise the place. You want something new so badly but the chains holding you there are many. Your boss looms over every keystroke in his kingdom. Your peers are miserable and rude. Everyone who isn’t miserable and rude is at the very least arrogant and rude. And to top it all off, since anxiety is not anxiety if it isn’t making your life more difficult, you find it difficult to deal with from moment to moment. Eventually people begin to take notice.

But this is the many-forked path. So soon you find yourself further down the path of your day job, only to be greeted by a great many more splitting off into the wood. So many choices, will you travel down the path of “What if I’m late because I can’t sleep and get chewed out?” You can see the path of “What if I fuck up so bad I get fired” leads off into a clearing of self-doubt and into paths of unemployment and unpaid bills. Ahead lie the paths of “What if my co-workers think I’m weird and talk behind my back?” and “What if I’m stuck here forever and miserable?”

Each path into more paths, into more, and so on and so forth. It’s an exhausting hike. You’re completely lost. And like some grim second job you’re sent there every night. Thankfully my day job is not one of my current nightly anxieties (though that’s due to a recent career change). But one of my biggest anxieties is also the reason I have this page to type any of this: writing. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t try to write, when I wasn’t reading books and stories. But only in the last decade had I decided that it was what I wanted to do with my life. And that quickened a terror inside my belly that I’m carrying around still. Questions and doubts would come and go but one looms eternally, “What if I fail?” What if I spend years filling pages and documents only to have it all dashed against the slush pile by a faceless editor hundreds of miles away? But then, here I am, just under ten years after my decision to go for this, and after many periods of inactivity that made me question my commitments, and I’m still writing. Earlier today, I was going through some old notes when I found something I had scratched into this little pad a year ago, when I was living in a dank little apartment and wallowing.

If I don’t have this then what is the point?

Now before I get further down this path, I have to admit to another mental malady only recently discovered: ADHD. A controversial one to be sure, so much so that many of you just rolled your collective eyes. At one point in time I would have been rolling with you, but after months of study, trips to doctors and psychiatrists, I’ve learned about what a complicated condition it is. And why shouldn’t it be complicated? Or any mental condition for that matter? The human brain is one of the most complex organs we know of. It’s allowing me to tell you this and you to understand it. As I have come to understand it, ADHD is a disorder of the executive functions of the brain. This is not relegated only to hyperactive children. It means an issue with brain-work in regards to attention control, cognitive inhibition, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. For those playing at home we’re talking inattention, being easily distracted, impulsiveness, short-term memory loss, and hyper-focus. Those terms have been my biography since I was a child. But I was never hyperactive. Many of us that run on fumes were overlooked for warning signs as children, in an age where special attention was given to cases with hyperactive and over-imaginative kids running around.

But one thing I’ve never wanted to do is use my problems as a crutch. Everything boils down to the choices we make. I will say that my ADHD did not help with my dedication to this or that throughout my life. My writing, to get back on topic, suffered numerous blows. Months to years of something much more malevolent than “writer’s block”. Writer’s pit. Writer’s hole. Writer’s oblivion, if we want to be melodramatic (and doesn’t that feel good sometimes?) In periods where I did write, things would go unfinished. If you combed through my hard drive you’d find hundreds of unfinished projects and strings of ideas. Anxiety played its part, too. Even their buddy depression. But in ten years, while I have turned to and away from countless hobbies and ventures and pursuits and decisions I thought would help, one thing has remained a constant in my life. I want to write. For me, writing is the long road.

If anxiety is the many forked path, depression is the woods. And the sky above me filled with shifting stars, the ones I futilely try to use to navigate my way home, that’s ADHD. But writing is the long road. It’s that single constant stretch of endless drag that I walk alongside. The paths of my neuroses wind around the long road of writing and each fork I follow still manages to stay in line with it. It’s the source of comfort I look back to time and time again. And my ultimate goal is stepping onto that road and walking it.

But I think I’ve exhausted this (most likely unoriginal) metaphor.

The fact remains that at many points in my life I’ve been worried that I’m wasting my time because nobody will like what I write. I’ve been concerned that I’m just a man pretending to be a writer and that it’s just not in me and I should give up and move on. But I know that even if I couldn’t do this for a living I’d still be writing. If I was the last man on earth I’d still be writing. If tomorrow I was told I have months or days to live, I’d spend them getting down every last thought and story I could with what little time I had left. Because the constant comfort in my life has been this long road, this path of my soul’s desire that has a destination I may very well never even reach – and yet I would still walk it even past the mile marker where that realization hits me. It’s not as simple as something I want to do. It’s something I have to do.

After all, if I didn’t have this, then what’s the point?

And one day, It woke up

A preliminary post in what will be a space for those concerned with my writings and thoughts. And if that describes you, you’re probably my partner or someone else in my life that puts up with me day to day.

No, but seriously.

This site will collect my works and hopeful achievements. In particular, this journal will be less of a regular blog and more of a chronicle of my career and my learning. Like every other word-wrangler before me, my dream is to sell stories and pay my bills. With only a few now-defunct indie publishing credits under my belt, I’m prepared to dive into the world of literary magazines, agents, and publishing houses. I’m ready to have my ego destroyed and those dreams dashed against the pixelated rocks of the internet. And you’re invited! I’ll use this space to make updates toward my progress including works I’ve written, ideas I’ve had, outlines and edits, publishers I’m submitting to, rejection letters I nail to my wall, and hopefully what comes after those sweet, sweet acceptances.

In addition, I’ll post about the things I learn. As a human and a writer I try to teach myself something new every day. I like to pick morsels of knowledge and digest them into stories, I like to research (over-research) my concepts and premises. The most interesting things may end up here, tidbits and fun facts unrelated to writing save for the fact I most likely looked into it so I could write about it.

Here’s to creating something that lasts.

Welcome to the Old Night.