If you’re new to this blog, welcome. If you’re a seasoned reader, thank you for sticking around. As some of you know, I posted a Facebook status update not long ago in which I said the shackles which held me in a creative block / writer’s block for so many years have been dropped. In this post I wrote the following:
The War is Over; or Thoughts on Overcoming Writer’s Block
I’ve written 12,000 words this week. In book terms, that’s roughly 48 pages. It’s felt wonderful. I haven’t done this since before my dad got sick at the start of 2009, which is when my creative block began. Have I still been writing over the last seven years, yes. But sporadically and not consistently, and not with the language and the joy and the paintbrush of my early 20s.
I’ve been creatively blocked and that’s okay—and yes, my dad’s death was a major reason for that. Death rocks you to the core. I needed to pause these last years and comprehend some things, some things more important than writing a novel.
My dad’s death has taught me about pain on a level I didn’t know could exist. It’s taught me about love, loss, and introspection. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that my dad comes up quite often. My blog has allowed me a space to remember him, talk to him, and work through and try to make sense of his death. It’s made me ask the big questions in life like why am I here and what is my purpose.
I’ve been depressed and recovered. I’ve faced my lifelong battle with severe anxiety and the fear of death and dying and meditated the shit out of it.
This is a beautiful moment for me.
I am not creatively blocked anymore.
I can write again, and I can write the words and the sentences that electrify my soul and make me feel alive.
So, if you want to follow along, go to the link below and add your email address to subscribe.
Some other items to note: I’m dusting off the memoir I started when I was 21 and the novel I wrote when I was 25, and punching through a few other novels I outlined in my 20s. I’m re- visiting other old work and writing new pieces. Vignettes. Slices of life. Words you want to hug sometimes and words that punch you in the teeth sometimes.
And frankly I don’t care if there’s some cynical asshole reading this right now that could care less and is scoffing at this post. Go find what brings you joy and be joyful. Sing your song and I’ll sing mine.
I feel good.
An update on the direction of this blog
I was talking to a friend recently, someone who is a regular reader of and subscriber to my blog, and I made the comment that, generally speaking, the type of writing I enjoy writing, and reading for that matter, rarely populates my own blog. It took me saying this statement to realize it—and an amazing thing happened when I did. I started writing again like I once did in my early 20s. Perhaps you’ve noticed this change in my last five or six blog posts.
Here’s what you can expect more of in the future from my blog, and by me saying this, it doesn’t mean I’m doing a complete 180 on my blog—more like a 90. It means I want my writing to depict better what goes on inside my head, if that’s even remotely possible. Details below.
More vignettes, more short reads
Expect more vignettes like this, this, and this. Fair warning: these vignettes may occasionally be a single paragraph or two. Life is in the details. It’s in the observation. It’s the background noise you never hear until you do. It’s the tiny egg of a monarch dangling on the underbelly of a leaf.
Often, when I blog, I feel as if I have to make a point of some kind before hitting publish, like there’s some sort of expectation warranted. Wrap it up nicely and put a big red bow on it. Some gesture to humanity and the twinkling stars in the universe. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to end a musing mid-sentence whenever I feel like it and leave you to ponder the rest, if you even so choose to ponder the rest at all.
What does it mean?
I don’t know.
That’s what good writing does. Good writing doesn’t show you the way and walk with you hand in hand down the road. Good writing doesn’t even show you the way. Good writing kidnaps you in the dark of the night, drives you to the middle of nowhere, and dumps you off without shoes and a jacket, and then spins up gravel and dust in your face in its wake, the tires returning from whence it came. Granted, good writing isn’t always that rude. Sometimes it’ll just splash cold water in your face. Other times it may give you a big hug. The type of writing I want to populate my blog will do these things, at least that’s my aim.
So, I’m going to drive you
to the middle of nowhere,
and push you out of the car
and you’ll have to find
your own way back.
Are you ready?
And the door is shut…
More long reads
I’ve long struggled with how to incorporate narrative memoir and semi-autobiographical fiction into my blog. The problem is twofold.
Problem One: Short Attention Spans
The longer the post, the less reader engagement; meaning: once a blog post breaks 700 words, a lot of readers stop reading. I was talking to my friend and fellow TNB (The Nervous Breakdown) contributor Duke Haney when he flew in to Charlottesville from Los Angeles a few months ago, and we discussed this at lunch.
“Write it long,” he said. “If the reader can’t sit still long enough to read it, they aren’t your reader. You’re doing the piece a disservice by breaking it up.”
I respect Duke’s opinion greatly. He’s an accomplished screenwriter, essayist, and novelist, and his specialty is long form. Duke would probably disagree with me that he’s “accomplished,” but he is. He used to hide certain aspects of his writing past, but the truth of the matter is, almost everyone under the age of 45 reading my blog right now watched the Friday the 13th movie he wrote in the 1980s. I’m not even a horror fan and I think that’s a pretty cool writing credit to your name. Note: His screenwriting credit is under his real name Daryl Haney.
What Duke suffers from, perhaps, is the acknowledgment and readership his current writing—nonfiction and fiction—rightfully deserves. I’m not the only one to say this. Countless other contemporary authors have said the same of Duke. Writing (and getting noticed) is as much about talent as it is luck. Some people are just more lucky than others. As French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac once said, “For artists, the great problem to solve is how to get oneself noticed.”
If Duke started breaking up his long reads, frankly I would be disappointed. Duke is #longreads, #longreads are Duke. That’s his style, his calling card. I’m the same way. While I may live a minimalist lifestyle, my writing style is very much maximalist. I like reading long form and I like writing long form.
And while I have found myself in the past waffling on whether to go long or break it up into chunks and spread it out like peanut butter over three or four posts, I am no longer waffling. I agree with Duke. It is doing the piece a disservice by breaking it up.
Breaking up a piece is a disservice to the reader who can sit still long enough to read it from start to finish, even if that means just a few of you. They say when you write, you should have an ideal reader in mind and you should write to that person only. If you haven’t defined your ideal reader, you’ll wind up trying to write to everyone and you’ll second guess every word and every decision because you don’t know how it will be perceived. I’ll be the first to raise my hand in guilt at doing this for far too long.
I defined my ideal reader recently, and my ideal reader enjoys long reads. She likes other types of writing, too, including vignettes (short reads), contemplations, and experimentation. More on that.
Problem Two: Identifiers
Except when you need to break it up…
By nature of what they are, long-form narrative memoir tends not to have a clear end, save for when in book form, which creates a problem on a blog. What if I want to write on another topic entirely, then come back to the narrative piece later? Currently, I feel constrained that I can’t, which is precisely why I haven’t, and I dislike that.
The remedy is that I am going to designate certain naming conventions for the reader as identifiers. These identifiers will signal that an individual piece is part of a series or longer narrative. If there is no identifier, then it’s simply a standalone piece and not of some greater construction.
For the Overcoming Anxiety series, all posts will be written as Overcoming Anxiety: [Title of Post]. I’ll be picking back up on this topic immediately, because, quite honestly, I feel as though I’ve failed my readers by stopping in my tracks on this one. Hence, one of the main reasons for this post. I’ve been mulling over how to go about this series and have felt stuck because it’s really a beast of a topic; but now that I have made a decision on how to order it on my blog, I’ll return.
My life is radically different than it was a year ago as it relates to anxiety, and while I don’t pretend to be a self-help guru and have no desire to be a self-help guru, if some of what helped me can help you, then I’m all for it. Give it some time, see what works, and trash or re-mix the rest to your liking.
When the Lights Go Out at 10:16
Informally, I’m happy to announce I am dusting off the memoir I began in 2003 when I was 21 years old. Wow, does that statement make me feel old and a squanderer of thirteen years worth of time. The full title is When the Lights Go Out at 10:16 (formerly The Court: Jeremiah’s Story). On this blog, the identifier will be 1016: [Title of Post].
Some of you may have read a rendition of this story back in 2006 or 2007 on MySpace (remember MySpace) when it was titled The Court: Jeremiah’s Story. I haven’t touched it since really, but I’m going to now. I’ve been scared of revisiting it for almost a decade. I’ll go more into detail as to why this is in a later post. It legitimizes its own post, nothing shared.
For organizational purposes, I will be creating separate pages that link back to the individual contents. That way, if someone wants to go and find these particular #longreads, they won’t be buried in the archive.
Profiles of Interesting People with Interesting Stories
I enjoying writing profiles of people, whether they have an interesting life story (or even an interesting moment in their life) or are the creative type like a painter, writer, or musician. In truth, I tend to find everyday people have far more interesting stories than artists talking about their work. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the latter because I do. I have two such profiles of ordinary people in waiting I hope to complete by the end of 2016. (1) One is about an individual who had a very bad experience with drugs (acid) who says he’s always wanted to share his story but is too scared to stand in front of people to tell it, and the other (2) is about life, death, and an eating disorder.
There’s probably no easier way to turn off an agent immediately than to be experimental in your literary style. It’s gimmicky, the literary critics say of all but a select few. It’s odd because art, as I define it, should be about experimentation. The problem lies in that experimentation is not so easily packaged and sold, and agents want to earn a commission and publishers want to make money. Nobody is in the business of losing money.
Since my blog is not a book, I don’t have that worry, so I’m going to experiment.
I’m not going to feign originality here, nor do I plan to experiment in a way that makes reading what I write pointless, such as starting every word with a vowel. I plan to employ some of the following literary techniques: stream of consciousness, indirect interior monologue, maximalism, fragmentation, disambiguated narratives, flashbacks, flash forwards, collage.
I’m a reader who legitimately enjoys the initial confusion and puzzles sometimes set forth in work by the likes of James Joyce, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and others of this bloodline. If you hold on to the rope long enough, you’ll find the end and it’s not going to hang you, it’s going to lead you to the escape hatch and to triumph, and you will feel triumphant.
What these writers do to my brain I can only compare with what abstract expressionist art does to my brain when I look at it. That’s the type of writing I enjoy. That doesn’t mean what I write will be nonsensical. It means I will have more freedom with my words to create a potentially deeper meaning and a more enriching narrative. Not to mention, it may show me some new stairwell of creativity and where that staircase leads only walking down it will say.
Yes, poetry. Why do I feel like a loser sitting by myself at a high school lunch table wearing a pair of black and white chucks when I say “yes, poetry”? Cultural stigma. That’s why. I love poetry. I love reading it though I don’t read it enough. I haven’t written poetry in years, really since high school, but I’m going to try my hand at it again. I enjoy poetry. It’s terse. It says everything it needs to say in a finite amount of words. Poetry strengthens a writer’s writing.
To be totally honest, some of the vignettes I have written (“Birds of One Feather”) are prose poems in disguise.
To quote William Faulkner in an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, “Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”
That is the precise route I took, though I slipped in memoir prior to a novel.
There’s this common belief about poetry and that is it’s flowery. I blame the greeting card industry. Way to bring down to size T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, among others.
Poetry doesn’t have to be flowery or sentimental. It doesn’t have to rhyme. It can be raw and in your face. Have you ever read “The Wasteland”? It can punch you in the teeth and make you taste pennies. It can be flowery too, if it wants. It can do whatever it wants—that’s the point.
And it’s coming to a blog near you, this one.
Drawing and artwork
I don’t draw much anymore, but lately, mostly because my daughter asks me to draw with her, I do occasionally, and I’m going to share some of it with you. It’s mostly in a cartoon style—something I never did growing up, but I wish I would have because it’s a lot of fun.
My thoughts on writing as a craft
Similar to what I’m writing at this very moment, I’m going to write more on the craft of writing. I’ve avoided this mostly since the inception of my blog. I don’t want to write about writing, I’ve often thought. I want to write. But no more.
I enjoy reading about the craft of writing, and writing about the craft of writing helps me understand style, technique, and other literary devices better; and while I’ve been hesitant about writing about writing in the past, I think, ultimately, it will be beneficial to my writing and beneficial to your reading experience. It pulls the leaves away from my line of sight. It’s important that writers talk about writing. Jeff Goins is a great example. If you’ve never read the Goins, Writer blog, check it out now. He’s inspired thousands and will undoubtedly inspire thousands more.
Random musings on life and other topics
Without divulging too much on this topic—random musings—because it’s a future post all to itself, you’ll see more of this. There will be a portion of my blog which serves as a digital cork board of sorts for my contemplations and reflections.
Greater frequency of posts
A definitive number of posts per week I am not going to say because I’m not going to promise a calendar to abide by when I don’t know myself just yet. But I will try to stick to a more consistent schedule. Ideally, there will be at least eight to ten blog posts per month. It won’t be more frequent than that (I don’t think, but I won’t promise), but it may be less frequent. It’ll depend on family and work commitments and internal motivation more than anything.
In summation, I’m going to post more because I am unshackled now, and prior to this creative blockage, once upon a time, I wrote about 10,000-12,000 words a day. I call this period in my life ‘college.’ Obviously I’m not going to write that much now nor should you expect it. My life is drastically different from then. I have a wife and kids who I don’t plan to ignore, much less my dog. She wouldn’t like it either.
But I will be writing once they fall asleep and 10,000-12,000 words a week will not be out of the question. Will that all make it to my blog? Of course not. Some of it will though.
I hope you’ll join me.
Thanks for reading.