Saturday, March 26, 2016

Reach vs Grasp

I've always yearned to write a significant story, one that elicits tears and deep felt emotion, perhaps something of significant social value or a mind-blowing revelation. I occasionally find such short stories, always written by others.  When I do run across such I  tell myself that I could have done better and then tear the tale apart to find out how in holy hell the author managed to cast his/her spell on me. Was it their word choice, their phrasing, or the underlying structure of the tale (i.e. plot+sequence?)  Was it the conceptual framework that held me in thrall or was it the gripping introduction or later development that made the telling magical?  I often go through this sort of analysis as a learning experience, not intending possible plagiarism.*

But when I intend to write something with serious heft using that knowledge something always goes awry.  Somewhere along the way, I find myself making some humorous aside, or giving the hapless protagonist a self-critical observation then, in the blink of an eye, the tale is turned into something less than originally intended, even when the result is publishable.  I seem to be my own worse enemy, self-sabotaging my initial dramatic narrative. This usually casts me into such depths of despair that I end up writing humor.

Why does my reach for meaningful stories always exceed my grasp?  Why do I always trip shy of the finish line or worse, find myself diverted onto a different path than I mapped, and finding my story expressing a different purpose than intended?  Those pieces that do evoke some emotion occur almost by accident instead of being deliberately planned; sudden scenes that arise from my muddled unconscious without forethought.  Is it a failure of resolve, a willingness to dissemble, or simply a lack of talent?

What am I doing wrong?
*but I have to admit I am sorely tempted at times.


Saturday, March 19, 2016


The writing urge is enticing, enthralling, and at times frightening.  You might begin on impulse, trying to relieve an itch with the point of a Number 2 yellow pencil and a pad of lined paper.  It's not too hard, you imagine and, eventually, if you keep at it, both your writing skills and tools become more sophisticated. You are amazed at how a brilliant idea or sudden insight becomes a reality as the words flow and, sometimes, publication might follow.

So you do it some more.

A second appearance in a publication ignites your imagination and more ambitious stories quickly follow, some good and most otherwise, but  you persist. To ensure more publication of your works  your occasional writing spurts mutate into a practice of setting aside certain days or hours to write.  Soon that bit of set-aside writing time becomes a habit and one that is rigorously followed else you might fall into the chasm of failure.  Any missed writing session makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps egging you on to extend the time a bit to make up for the loss. One must suffer for their art, after all.

At some point your habitual writing session becomes an obsession, so much so that you experience physical pain should you miss a personal deadline or fail to conceive and execute a decent story.  Your physical pain makes you question whether your obsession  is due to your need for the endorphin rush of creativity.  You ask yourself if your once benign writing urge become an addiction?

Of course not, you answer.  You can certainly put down the virtual pencil, stop thinking of imaginary worlds and situations, and even reacquaint yourself to your loved ones that is, if they will still have you. It is so simple to simply stop.

But can you? Can you ever walk away from the joyful creative aspect of writing? Can you ever return to the colorless life of mundane concerns when a universe of imaginative worlds beacons?

Can you NOT write?


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Economics 101

Why, dear God, did I ever aspire to write?  It makes no economic sense to put years or a lifetime into composing a novel with no expectation of the effort producing a decent return on investment.  Neither is it smart to write short stories on spec.  Word rates are slightly better for short story writers but only marginally so. In both cases one invests hours of creative time isolated from friends and family, from activities that might provide more pleasure and richer rewards, pouring out your soul for a pittance.  You'd make more money slinging burgers or joining the pizza delivery rodeo.  The advantage of these latter endevours is that you might eat better while enjoying a greater income level.

But earning money isn't your objective, is it?  No indeed; you aspire to greater heights to prove your superiority over lesser mortals for you alone have the gift of crafting the precise word, the most effective phrase, the most convincing paragraph, and the most compelling tale....on the fiftieth or one hundredth revision.  True, your odds of producing a better story than the proverbial million monkeys are better, but those monkeys don't have to edit their words or deal with editors, publishers, critics, and deadlines. Again, they probably eat better.

If  you look at the effort on the basis of an hourly rate you quickly realize that you make far less than the minimum wage and barely enough to buy extra fries for the sumptuous meal you have to celebrate a successful sale. I'm not saying that lightning doesn't occasionally strike and a precious few rake in the rewards that brings, but for the large majority of us who strive in the darkness of our rooms with only the cats for company that wondrous flash will never brighten the stygian darkness of our wallet.

There is absolutely no sense to being a speculative writer of fiction; casting  your bread upon the wicked waters of editorial whimsey, hovering over the mail in hopes that your submission has met someone's approval, and basking in the ephemeral glow of holding the stage when it is published.  But that glow fades when the next issue comes out and everybody forgets your story and worse, your name.  It's a fool's game and one few writers have a chance to win.

But that doesn't mean we can't play, does it?


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Time Slips

Time.  When you are setting out there is seemingly endless time to write, at least until life intervenes, and things like school, love, marriage, children, mortgages, and housing come about.  Then there is that JOB, the great time-sucking machine that drains your energy even as it nourishes you and yours.

But still you preserve a small sanctuary, a fragment of time where there is nothing but you, your muse, and a blank sheet of paper*  onto which you will pour your soul. But the kids need attention, your spouse needs food in the house, and you've got to have some social life, don't you? Time begins to slip through your fingers.

First you skip an hour of writing, then it's an evening, a weekend, or vacation time. Little by little your sanctuary of writing time is eroded.  When you do manage to wrest some time for the muse you suddenly find that she has abandoned you, fled to visit some hack with no talent who will probably get a fucking Nebula or Hugo for their illiterate work. So you stare at the blank sheet of paper* and wait for the words to come, the inspiration to lift you to rapturous realms of poesy, to set  your fingers dancing on the keys.

Uncertainty starts as a small worry: what if you no longer have the spark that set your feet on the climb to greatness. What if you have already used up what little talent you might have had? What if the family, job, and friends have drained you of all your creative energy?

Over the years these doubts pile up as you struggle to eke out writing time - a paragraph here, a line there, an idea for a complete scene, or even GASP a novel!  You begin to think that it is a senseless venture, this writing urge, this pathetic attempt to talk to the universe and explain some aspect of the messy lives we all live.  Nevertheless, you keep on as best you can and even if you never achieve the heights you desired you will know that you have done your very best.

That's all a writer can hope for.

*This is a metaphor for computer, for God's sake!