Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Detox for Writers

When you're stressed out, everyone and everything suffers. You neglect your family, forget to clean the fish tank, let the yard grow out, piss off your boss with your latest raging case of The Fuckits, irk your loving wife because you'd rather sleep on the couch (because, probably owing to the PTSD associated with your divorce and all those years bedding down the cushions, when you're stressed, the couch feels safer), and above all other things, you impose a magnificent injustice on your writing.

It's this latterest point I'd like to address specifically, and the others tangentially, if at all.

Writing is important to me. It quiets the voices. I release an energy inside me that opens up a whole new level of creativity that I can apply to anything else in my life. Writing helps me coach soccer. Writing helps me analyze engineering problems at work. Writing helps me communicate with my wife and children.

Writing is a huge part of who I am, and what I do. When I stress out, and can't write, I need to find ways to detoxify the stress levels and unleash the worms.

First, I believe you need balance in all four areas of your life: Head, Heart, Spirit, Body.

That sounds a little Buddhist or Taoist or Maoist or some such, but there it is. I add a fifth on there sometimes, Financial, but I'll leave out that sucker since most of us don't have nearly the control over our finances that we like to think we have.

Anyway, here are some things that detoxify me when I get cluttered up.

I hole up and read. That, friends, is a huge escape for me, and a fine way to prime the writer's pump.

I work out. I've done globogym work since college, but did martial arts and burst training in high school. I recently went back to burst training (doing CrossFit) and some light martial arts, and it has reinvigorated a youthful side of me I had forgotten I still had. In fact, it's inspiring my latest story.

I attend church or pray. Pick your religious poison, but having some sort of spiritual relationship will put you back on keel. Like the burst training, a good religious experience will awaken that inner kid, the one who let Mommy and Daddy worry about everything, and who believed Dad when he said it would be all right and that he was the meanest mutherfucker in the woods, ain't nobody gonna hurt you, ever.

I cuddle up with my wife and watch a movie. I let her pick the flick, and God love her, she picks guy-movies every last time. I don't know if she actually likes the movies. She says she does, and then we rent the latest Resident Evil. How can I not love that woman?

I think I'll buy her flowers tonight, just for the hell of it, and cuddle up with her, even though I should be working and mowing that yard.

Man, screw the yard.

How do you detox? How do you stay in-the-game during stressful times?

- Eric

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why do you read?

Why do you ~read~? How does that apply to writing? And if you don't understand why you read, how the hell are you going to understand why you write!

Collectively, writers say they write, "... because I must."

Collectively, readers say they read, "... to escape."

I have no idea what those mean. I've said both, sure, so have you, but I invested some mental capital into the topic and came up with this:

I ~write~ because I want to be heard. I want to connect with and capture an audience.

I ~read~ because I want to be captured. I want to sit with an author and listen to a voice I'll never hear, meet a person I'll never know.

There's no must in wanting to be heard. There's damned sure no escape in wanting to be captured.

It's a speak-listen relationship between the author and reader. I want to speak, they want to listen. I want to listen, they want to speak.

Simple, really, when you think about it.

Why do you read? Does your writing style serve the purpose you, as a reader, would demand of an author?

- Eric

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Death Scene Blogfest

For Tessa, a death scene:

Mandy screamed, "Stop it!" to the brothers and their hecklers. For some reason, Mandy threw her book at Luke and Lionel, but she missed and hit Hector in the thigh. Hector kept chanting without looking up at Mandy.

Lionel hit Luke in a steady cadence of fleshy smacks. Smack. Smack. Lionel's boots kicked over desks as he fought for footing, forcing Hector and the other boys to step back, out of the way as they chanted, "Fight! Fight!"

Constance and Locos stuck their heads into the room, and behind them a throng of other kids formed from the emptiness of the hallway, coalesced by the chanting. Ms. Kennedy, Mandy saw, was behind the crowd, standing like a shocked student and not at all like a teacher.

There was blood on Luke's face and Lionel's fist. The smacks sounded wetter as the boys huffed and grunted on the floor.

Mandy turned to the teacher behind her. "Mr. Beaks!"

He didn't look up. Mr. Beaks's mouth moved as he read to himself. He licked his lips. The top of his scalp looked wet.

Suddenly the screaming stopped and Mandy turned back to the fight. Huffing, Luke stood and leaned on the front of Hector's desk for balance. Luke's face was torn from cheek to lip, and his eye already looked swollen. His nose was either bleeding or bloody from the other cuts on his face. Breathing hard, Luke hunched above his brother dripping blood on Hector's desk.

Lionel lay on his back, having let Luke out of the headlock, looking up at his older brother. Though he hadn't been hit, Lionel's face was a deep bruised purple. He was crying. "I'm sorry," Lionel said.

Then Luke lifted Hector's desk by the front. Pencils and a notebook slid off as Luke raised the desk above his head. Luke yelled, "You fucker!" and dropped the desk onto Lionel, hammering the metal leg of the desk through Lionel's sternum like a two-inch spike.

- Eric

(PS: This is based on an actual fight between me and my little brother. He beat the hell out of me. So I threw a stereo on his head and then hit him with the top drawer of my dresser.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What is it they want?

What do publishers and agents want most?

Anyone? Anyone?

Let me enlighten you: They want professionals.

They want a mystery writer who will bust his ass selling books.

They want a YA author who can rip out a full trilological book series with each book stronger than the last.

They want a romance or a literary woman who knows her target audience and is willing to sit down and bang out two novels a year, steadfast, from A to Z, starting with A is for Alibi.

Let us face reality, my pre-published friends and neighbors: Agents are business people. Publishers are businesses. Editors don't work for free.

So when you ask, "What does an editor/agent/publisher want from poor little unpublished me?"

The answer is simple, and they respond, "We want you to make us some money, you dumb knucker!"

Don't forget that.

Be professional. Show them a strong work ethic. Demonstrate the ability to bust your ass in sales and marketing.

You might be surprised at their response.

- Eric

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some Random Thoughts

All right, knuckers, there are some posts I skip entirely on your blogs, because it is mostly a rant and I usually don't read rants.

Unless I feel like a-ranting myself.

So if you skip this blog, more power to you. Knuckle-tap and Wonder Twins unite, I would've skipped this one, too.

If you made it this far, here's my rant. I hope you're ready.

I've been writing on my current piece now for a few months. I plotted, re-characterized, re-plotted, wrote some concept scenes, so on ad nauseum ad infinitum pro bono bona fide veni vidi vici.

Only sans the veni vidi vici part. I came. I saw. I got my ass whupped Texas style.

Actually, I kicked my own ass. I've been a-ranting these past few weeks on the rules. Now, that's not a random occurrence. I didn't accidentally rant on that stuff.

I also didn't listen to my own little voices well enough. I ducked back into my cave -- that's where I can be alone, without the spotlight, no blogs, no editors, no betas and no worries -- and I wrote myself some personal notes. It's my way of digging up the worms and hearing them speak.

They're soft creatures, worms. You pot em, they die. Squeeze em, they die. Over-water, they bubble up to the surface and the birds get em. Under-water, and they dry into crunchy little twigs.

But cut em in half and you get more worms. You can't hardly kill em with a knife. Go figure. Sometimes God doesn't make a bit of fucking sense, does He?

Anyway, my personal notes-to-self, the ones I'd never publish online or anywhere else for that matter, are the ones that mean the most to me, and the ones that do their speaking in a voice so loud I can't help but not ignore it.

How's that for some triple negatives stacked ad nauseum?

I heard it, the voice, and here's what it said:

Swing on the coattails of your characters. Grab hold and hold on tight. That's a Bradbury quote. It was more along the lines of unleash your characters and hold onto their coattails. Something like that.

I realized what I already knew, and it is this: I cannot re-write. I cannot plot. I cannot think ahead and expect to write something brilliant and well-planned.

I am not a pantser, nor am I a plotter. I am something in-between.

My mind prefers a vague concept, a cool scene, something fun to begin with, and then a follow-on scene, something fun to write, interesting characters, and I'm turning the page of my own work and each morning reading for the first time a story that ~I~ wrote.

I've re-written my current piece seventeen times, now. That's a fact. I am on cut #18.

And you know what? I looked back at the first cut, and it wasn't that bad. I should've kept going, but now I'm afraid I may have killed it.

I over-watered and it drowned. I might be able to suck off the excess and keep going, but I have other bodies in my trunk besides this one, dead stories, the almost-concepts, the ones who didn't make it off the operating table. I have so many of them I bet there isn't enough lime and formaldehyde in Dallas to cover the stench.

Anyway. That's the worms a-talking. That's my rant. That's why I've been boogering so hard on the rules these past few weeks, because they've been fidgeting so much with my worms that I can't write!

I must write from the cave, from inside my own self, for myself, by myself, to myself, holding nothing back.

Embrace the rules for your own protection. You get that, don't you? Like how you might tackle a growling dog and then rub its belly.

You have any rants you'd like to share?

- Eric

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Education Kills Creativity

Now here's a great lecture on the art of killing the worms. I call it education, book-learning, following the rules and doing and believing and parroting what you're told.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The more you learn, the less you know.

So very true. I see it at work. I see it at home. I see it everywhere I go. The innovators are the rule-breakers, the ones who don't shackle themselves with the process and insist everyone else wear these chains with em.

They're the Brazilians in soccer, constantly inventing new moves on the field.

They're Einstein at his clerk desk ponderizing physics without the anchor-weight of a professor telling him he was wrong wrong WRONG!

They're Hemingway and Vonnegut with total disregard to accepted literary practices.

These people are educated, smart, and in their own right they are learned and stand on top of what others have learned.

But they don't repeat in rote droves what they learned as gospel and unquestionable truth. They understand ~why~ the rules are in place, and why breaking them might improve the process.

They question the rules. They question the process. They challenge and prod the limits of what is acceptable practice.

Many fail -- and don't be afraid of failure -- but the ones who don't fail, the ones who manage to get off the ground, God how they soar!

- Eric