An Ode To Stickin’ Around

Man in striped apron paints canvases in Bardolino
Eddy Klaus, Unsplash.com

I’ve been married for about thirteen years, been at the same company for nearly twelve, and pursuing the same art (writing) for twelve.

This may seem long or short depending on your perspective. All of those years in those areas of life have not been meadows filled with daffodils, but through the grace of God, mountains of encouragement from my writerly and non-writerly friends, I’ve stuck with them.

Recently, I wrote about how I haven’t been writing. How I’ve been uninspired and if I’m honest I felt that I wouldn’t miss much if I stopped. This would not be true but it’s how I felt.

This feeling has occurred multiple times with my art. But because of an awesome community and this nagging in my mind that just won’t go away I keep huffing and puffing along.

The reason I started writing again is twofold. One, because I want to publish a work of fiction. I have two books that I’ve been attempting to ship for a combined eight years. The second is because recently, I looked back at what has happened through the ups and downs of twelve years of chasing my craft.

I was astonished at their cumulative weight

Reading that list may have made you feel gross, like I was boasting, and I apologize. But what I wanted you to take away was that all of those mile markers happened because I stuck around.

There were failed starts, massive struggle, five kids being born (zero upon negative-infinity-absolute-zero hours of sleep) and all the while managing a full time job, and making sure that my wife and I have a strong marriage.

I wish life could be straightforward. I learn something, improve, and then move onto the next thing. But what I’ve come to understand is that sticking around for a while, staying in the game, and being downright stubbornly consistent can offer an opportunity to build a foundation then a first and second story and so on.

Are you thinking of stopping your art? I’d encourage you to keep working.

Who knows where you’ll be in twelve years?

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Are You Waiting For Perfect?

A man in boots sits on a ledge in front of plate glass windows
Brooke Cagel – Unsplash

There have been many changes in my life recently, great ones. They’ve kept me busy.

A new home. A new town, a promotion to a dream job, and a new child. Amazing provisions for which I am unequivocally grateful.

Through it all, I waited. For the perfect post to begin my blog again. I searched for the perfect subject line, moving content, the best beginning, but I wrote nothing at all.

An email hit my inbox a few weeks ago from illustrator/writer Jessica Abel author of Growing Gills and my personal favorite Out on the Wire (which has an amazing podcast by the way). The title went like this – If you are waiting for conditions to be perfect, you’ll die waiting.

Distractions, both good and bad, are everywhere.

She said this in her email:

And it’s easy to look at all those things (any distraction in life) and despair, to think there’s no way you’ll ever get a handle on it all. You might be right. But here’s the big secret to having a sustainable creative life.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

You can CHOOSE your work even if everything else in your life isn’t dialed in.

You have a right and a responsibility to your creative work.

We’re imperfect people with imperfect schedules. Why would I think shaking the rust off would mean anything more than an okay post with mediocre passion for it?

It’s time now to move. For action.

I truly hoped to start blogging again with something amazing, but this is what you get. A resolve to not wait and a commitment to write. Also, an admission that I let the beast of perfection win for a while.

But no more.

In what area of your life are you waiting for perfect?

 

A Big Lie About Writing And What To Do About It

Years ago I believed a lie about writing. Today you might believe that same wretched tale spun by Stephen King and other writers that reside on the level of master writer. This falsehood can dash the hopes of the beginner and cause those waist deep in their novels to give up.

Typewriter 2

What is this deceitful thought?

That writers are born.

Consider this sentence written to a publisher from someone considered to be one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century – “It has lost my favour, and I have no idea what to do with it.”

Who was this writer? JRR Tolkien. What was he talking about? The Lord of the Rings, after working on it for months. He also said this after aching over chapter one:

“it is difficult to find anything new in that world.”

Incredible, no?

Today, if you are dealing with writer’s block or stuck in the middle of your story don’t believe the lie that writers are born. Writing is hard. That is the true problem. Our books are deep work yet must be born in the midst of life where we juggle our paying jobs, family, and writing dreams.

Often we have to dig to understand what is blocking our path. This might require journaling it out, discussing our struggle over coffee with a friend, or quiet reflection for an hour.

Maybe you need to further invest in your creative energy so you have more to give when you show up to the page. It might be time to work on another story for a week or two. It could be a busy time of year so you have to throttle back to two hundred words a day.

Whatever challenge is blocking you from a more fulfilling writer’s life, face it and then get creative. I am sure there is a way over it.

The quotations contained in this blog were taken from a charming little book Tolkien: A Biography pages 210-211 by Humphrey Carpenter.

The lie I mentioned about is from Stephen King’s On Writing which I highly recommend. Except the lying bit of course.

How Small Details Can Make A Huge Impact

Each night before my two-year-old son goes to bed he runs to his bookshelf and yells Goose! Goose! This means he wants to read Favorite Nursery Rhymes From Mother Goose illustrated by the talented Scott Gustafson, before bed.

This is some of the best time I have with my children each day. My three-year-old daughter perches on the arm of the chair and joins in. It is calm and quiet and the kids are in awe of a great story or fun rhyming verse.

One of the nursery rhymes has stuck with me ever since I read it to my five-year-old four years ago. Here it is.

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,

For want of the shoe, the horse was lost,

For want of a horse, the rider was lost,

For want of a rider, the battle was lost,

For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshose nail.

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Photo Credit: Funpack via Compfight cc

The message is simple. Small, sometimes seemingly inconsequential, details can have huge a impact.

I’ve written about my attempts to stay organized, the importance of making boundaries for our blogs and keeping them tidy. These are some of the ways I keep track of the details of my work and my life.

What are some ways you keep your kingdom in order? Are there small changes you could make that would have a huge impact on your book, business, or the life you want to live?

A Prolific Writer

The writing advice on this blog is learned from my own experience and failures. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I treat my writing. Am I a slave to it? Do I treat it like a job, as it should be, because I want to do it as a career?

I listened to an interview by James Scott Bell recently and I think it would be helpful for you to hear from him as well. I posted it below. If you have not heard of him he is a best-selling thriller writer. He also has written several books for Writer’s Digest about the craft. I suggest visiting the library and reading a few of them if you want to strengthen your fiction.


Write well today my friends.

Cheers,

Bob

Adventures with (and lessons from) Ernest Hemingway

Think back to the first time you read a novel and it opened a new world. You finished the last page, sat back, and soaked it all in, knowing you read something grand.

Now imagine you jump on a train and travel across a continent to meet this literary giant and end up being their apprentice on a sailing vessel for a year. You have great discussions late into the night, have writing time (after all there is no place to go!), and you get a really really great tan.

Sounds like something from a movie, right? Well this happened to a man named Arnold SailingSamuelson in the spring of 1934. He met and was an apprentice to none other than Ernest Hemingway.

It might shock some of you, though not all, that I never liked Hemingway. His stripped down brilliance and clarity of prose is obvious to anyone trained in literature but, I think most of his stories are depressive like Burmese Days by George Orwell. However, I have begun to enjoy his stories more and more. Okay, let’s be honest. I was finally won over by Corey Stoll’s brilliant rendition of him in Midnight in Paris.

I wanted to share this article with my writer friends and thought a post was the best way to do that.

There were two things I took away from this article that I believe any writer should consider. I implore you to read the whole article by clicking HERE and post your thoughts below.

Lesson’s from Hemingway

  1. Never write too much in one sitting. Essentially, never empty yourself of everything you have. This way you will always be fresh and so will your book.
  2. Read good writers that are dead. Why? Because though they are dust their books have withstood the crashing waves of contemporary literature. Hemingway compiled a list of these books, which I have included below.
    •  “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
    • “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
    • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
    • Dubliners by James Joyce
    • The Red and the Black by Stendhal
    • Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    • Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
    • Hail and Farewell by George Moore
    • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
    • The Oxford Book of English Verse
    • The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
    • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
    • Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
    • The American by Henry James

Find some time to write today.

Cheers,

Bob

Kurt Vonnegut On Short Stories

 

My friend Josh loves Kurt Vonnegut. If you know him it should come as no surprise. I bring him up today because I recently unearthed a few short stories to submit to a local writing contest. If you are a Michigander go HERE for details.

Whenever I begin a new project whether in writing or on the house I read and watch videos about how it is done. Obviously, short stories are more compact and can even be more complicated than a novel. You have to be precise in every single word in order to avoid wasting the readers’ time.

Below is a video of eight principles Mr. Vonnegut employed to write successful short stories. I am glad for his sage advice.

Cheers,

Bob