Jan 262015
 

The best way to irritate and alienate other authors is to brag about your accomplishments.

For most of us, however, that’s not a problem. We deplore the self-promotion aspect of marketing our books.

That’s one reason we should have tribes. We need writer cohorts, such as you’ll find here at this site, who don’t just cheer us on, but celebrate our achievements. Which is a ‘round-about way of introducing a fact that I want to scream from the proverbial rooftops of the blogosphere. Continue reading »

Jan 162015
 

Episode-39Justin-SloanWhen we think of post-military careers, “creative writing” isn’t always the first thing to come to mind. But that’s what writing is for our own Justin Sloan.

He was recently interviewed for a One Bold Move podcast (link below) that focused on his transition out of the military and into a life of creative writing. But for Justin, it’s not so much about choosing creative writing.  It’s about (1) How to discover your passion, and (2) How to follow your passion.

Continue reading »

Jan 052015
 

WordPress.org Plugins.

The writing life should be about sitting in front of your keyboard and creating. Even better if a roaring fire, quietly content children, and an adoring dog and spouse are thrown in.

But, for most of us, it’s not that simple. We blog. We take to the blogosphere, not out of a desire to create and communicate, but because it’s good for business. Website builders and their plugins can boggle the creative mind.

When I decided to get serious about blogging, I looked to my small business and non-fiction authoring idol, Stephanie Chandler. Back in 2011, she had published 8 Favorite WordPress Plugins for Business Blogs. Although not all her favorites are my favorites, I found it a great starting place.

Of course, the plugin landscape keeps changing. It’s time for a fresh list. Continue reading »

Nov 042014
 

 

exlaxI like to write early. And by early, I mean that knife-edge, where-does-the-night-end-and-the-morning-begin? ass-crack-of-dawn kind of early where everyone’s still asleep and the house is quiet and even the dogs look as though they’re trying to sleep off the remnants of a ruff night (har har…get it?). The smell of coffee wafts through the house and it’s the time of day when I’m at my least self-critical. Early in the morning, everything seems in place. Distractions are limited. All I can hope for is that once I finally sit down at my laptop, my expectations don’t go slamming head-on into a wall.

I once had an idea for a novella about a long-haul truck driver who, at day’s end and by the glow of a map light in his sleeper cabin, commits himself to writing a poem a day. Its working title was Road Scholar and I’d kept detailed notes on everything from semi-truck mechanics and nomenclature to radio jargon and trucker lifestyle (with two subsections devoted entirely to trucker gastronomy and lot lizards). I’d given my salty dog protagonist a Kris Kristofferson-look and had even sketched out a limited backstory that included a dishonorable discharge from military service for having killed the pimp of a Laotian prostitute.

flower between rocks

It was a sure thing. Something easy and fun. The intellectual equivalent of ordering-in. But in those precious, waning hours of early morning silence and concentration, I found myself barely able to squeeze out even a few sentences. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Weeks passed, and nary a page came and before long I had all but aborted the project.

I suspect that, like most writers, the turbine that generates my creativity comes from some precinct of my unconscious; a place that can never be charted or mapped by even the most sensitive of neuro-imaging instruments. It can be an ornery and complicated thing. A frigid lover. And you have to ready yourself to accept that inspiration might just reject you when you’re most ready for it, only to come pounding down the door of your unconsciousness at 3 am when you should be asleep.

Personally, routine is what seems to be the best companion for writing (I like to write in the morning…rarely do I ever write past noon). But on a bad day, when I’ve squandered my time with self-doubt (which is the inevitable by-product of non-performance), I find myself feeling as if it’s necessary to work past my “normal business hours” until I can find just one sentence I feel good about ending the day with. Perhaps it’s no different than a gambler at a blackjack table who feels he’ll win it all back if he just hangs in there. It doesn’t help, of course, when you compare yourself to other established writers who seem capable of churning out one work after another with little to no effort. In a swelled and euphoric state, you may produce a good six or seven pages of what might seem keepable material one day only to scrap it all the next; perhaps no different than bedding someone one night only to regret it the next morning.

Inspiration can strike at any time.

Inspiration can strike at any time. Have your coffee ready.

Consider horror maestro Stephen King who was, at one time, contracted to produce three books a year. Norman Mailer’s series of child support payment books were written quick and haphazardously just to keep the Friend of the Court off his ass. Literary jokester David Foster Wallace once famously said of John Updike that “…he’s never had a single, unpublished thought.” Each writer I’ve just mentioned have themselves struggled with productive droughts. Yet, between the three of them, the words produced would probably rival the number of stars in our galaxy.

So, is it still possible then to plod through and produce volumes of passable material in a relatively short time? I guess the answer is subjective. If you think what you’ve written isn’t entirely shit, then it shouldn’t matter how much time or effort you’ve put into it, which brings me to my own self-evaluation. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I acquiesce too much to the ebb and flow of inspiration to begin with. Perhaps the advice should be to just ram through any future creative roadblocks and keep…writing.

That’s the thing about advice, though. It’s much easier to give, than follow.

Oct 232014
 

cloud of cereberal liesOne thing I’m learning— “I’ve learned” would be a lie—is that there are no short cuts on the Road Less Written. That is, unless you do actually want to take a road to writing less.

But when it comes to listening to gurus, we’re always tempted by the most unreliable one: our brains. Our so-called centers of higher thought, the very organ that should be busy helping us plot out an optimal path to success, can sabotage us.

Sure, it provides inspiration, strategy, and common sense. However, it also peppers us with false rationales. We get caught up in delusions of grandeur, denial – not to mention feelings of hopelessness and discouragement.

So why do we buy into the load of shit our rationalizing cerebral cortex spits out…?

Continue reading »

Oct 092014
 
dscn5448-archive-reading-room1

Re-writing history requires intense research.

Grounded in my Jewish heritage, choosing to write about the Holocaust was never the question. It was how to approach it. I wanted to create something more meaningful than the recitation of facts and figures. Those brutalized by of one of history’s greatest crimes against humanity were more than nameless, faceless numbers. They deserved to be experienced as human beings. Breathing life into fictional characters to enact their stories, the voices of real people who had experienced historic events in actual places became the narrative. Stepping outside the role of WRITING history to relating its stories, my task shifted to RE-writing history. Continue reading »

Sep 102014
 
Learning by doing

Learning by doing isn’t the hard way; it’s the only way.

Writers, by definition, have to learn by doing.

“A writer writes.” Yeah, duh…

It’s that “doing” that separates the dreamers from the aspirants and achievers.

“A writer writes,” uttered with conviction by a fictional character, was one of the catalysts that induced me to commit to full-time writing. I wrote now and then for non-profits. I reveled in the fact that my cousins all thought I should write a book after they read my annual holiday letter. Strangely though, it was the urging in the young adult novel Sahara Special that made me start taking risks.

“A writer writes,” struck a chord with me. Ability, creativity, ideas, and aspirations didn’t mean anything if I wasn’t actively writing and developing my craft. Finding my voice.

Redwoods Society and Learning by Doing

“I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” With that, John Kingston pretty much summed up the Redwoods Society writers’ experience with launching a group website. Blogging and curating a website require different skill sets than writing a book. The Redwoods Society writers are also learning by doing—and by adjusting and growing to find our collective voice and to refine our focus.

We could try to do all that based on others’ expertise. In fact, we did—try that is. But, we didn’t know… you know… all those things that we didn’t know.

What we didn’t know

Redwoods Society grew out of a meeting of minds and purposes at the 2013 San Francisco Writers conference. We expected writers from the West Coast to join us. One of those things we didn’t know then was that four out of five of us would live in Michigan.

We also didn’t know that the mantle of “expert” or “teacher” would sit heavily on our shoulders. We’re all learning and experimenting. All of us are much more comfortable with sharing our journey as writers and authors than telling others the right way to do it.

What we’ve learned

Writers aren’t bound by a geographic region.

Writers can help themselves by helping each other.

Looking forward

This site will continue to be a site full of content for writers by writers, a meeting place for writers to share content and thoughts.

In addition to our blog, we’ll be rolling out some additional resources pages and prompts. No matter where our travels might take us, we look forward to meeting you here to share the road less written.

Aug 292014
 
Writing Career with a Muse

Muse Attack

Having rescheduled yet another appointment due to my predilection for getting lost in my writing, I decided that it was time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my Muse. Seriously! When I chose a literary career, I thought I was supposed to be in charge of the writing process. After all, many successful authors describe how they structure their days, “reporting to their offices” to write for several hours, after which they go about the rest of their lives as they see fit.

Obviously, they never met my Muse. Like a selfish child, it can clamor within my head at the most awkward times. The following is an example of a recent exchange. Feel free to offer suggestions as to how you would handle my quixotic Muse!

MUSE:  “Hello there! Remember me? I just thought of a way you can improve that chapter you’ve been struggling with!”

ME:  “It is 3:45 am. Can’t I just put in a wake-up call for 7:30? I’ll be fresher, and my fingers should work better then. OK? Good! Keep in touch . . . . “

MUSE:  “’Fresher?’ And how do you think that is going to fix that overwritten, narrative-starved, clunky excuse for writing? I need you edgy. Nervous. That’s what’s missing in that chapter. Now, get your butt out of bed and let’s get busy!”

ME:  “Get busy? I’ve been pounding away on that keyboard until my fingers have gone numb. I’ve had to call to push up meetings with kind and patient folks who have decided that there is simply no way they are going to get me to conform to a ‘normal’ schedule, and even find me mildly amusing in an eccentric way. Besides, who put you in charge anyway? I’m the writer, you know!”

MUSE:  “Really? And who do you think planted Max inside of your head anyway, ‘Madam Writer?’ Who do you think woke you up that morning so many years ago with a little old man chattering away in a Yiddish accent you simply couldn’t ignore? Who do you think presented his entire story, beginning to end like a shimmering rainbow, even showing you the pot of gold on the last page? Who kicked you out of bed and drove you to your computer, so you could quickly record a rough outline of chapters before the Universe reabsorbed the story? ME, that’s who! So, who is in charge here? Do you really think you have much of a choice in the matter?”

ME:  “Well, I agree that you got the ball rolling. But, I don’t see you sitting hours upon end at that computer until your tailbone screams for relief. I don’t see you longing to be lost in Max’s world when your beloved partner impatiently calls you to yet another dinner he’s prepared just to hear, ‘Five more minutes. I just need to finish this paragraph!’ (With me generally appearing an hour later, my plate of food in the microwave awaiting resuscitation). I was the one who went into postpartum depression when I completed the first draft of the manuscript because I couldn’t bear to lose Max. Why shouldn’t I have the choice as to when to write? I’m not a television remote control device, you know. I have never found it comfortable to write, ‘On Demand!’”

MUSE:  “Because of ME! Do you know how lucky you are? Just think of all the people in the world who are asked to write on a subject that bores them to tears. Yet, they have no problem doing it. You’ve been there. I’ve rescued you time and again from linguistic drudgery in dreary offices. And this is the thanks I get? ‘Wake me at 7:30?’”

ME:  “OK, OK. You have a point there. How about we make a deal? You are allowed to wake me at 3:45 am to plant a thought, but as I need all the strength I can get to finish these revisions, how about your letting me hit your ‘snooze button’ so I can get a little extra shuteye until 7:30 instead?”

MUSE:  “I am more than a little bit offended! Likening me to an alarm clock is like comparing a brilliant sunset to the streetlights that go on at appointed times. I can’t give advance notice as to when I’m going to burst forth with some magnificent insight, rain glorious words down upon you like a refreshing shower, or fill your head and heart to overflowing. No, I’m afraid there are no deals if you want to be a writer. Writers aren’t doctors. There’s no vacation time, weekends, or full nights of sleep. That’s simply the name of the game.”

ME:  “But, doctors certainly get paid a lot more. A LOT more when you consider that being a full-time writer often means having to go long periods ‘on sabbatical,’ from any type of meaningful employment!”

MUSE:  “’Meaningful employment?’ Crunching numbers, or trudging to an office with bland people doing bland things while they answer to bland bosses who direct their lives? Writers are on their own! If you want a structured existence, than forget living a life with a Muse to provide you with pictures that dance in your head. It boils down to one simple question. Are you really serious about being a writer? If not, I can look for somebody else . . . . ”

ME:  “NO! Don’t leave me! Without you, Max wouldn’t be jabbering away in my ear and I don’t quite think I’d ever be whole again without him. He takes long walks with me and draws me into his world so I can experience the full flavor of his life and times. We’ve become very close. If you left, I’m not quite certain he’d know how to find me, nor I him. You win. If you can’t wait until a reasonable hour, than I suppose my nickname, ‘The Late Sue Ross’ will have to stand. Of course, I may never have work again, not to mention friends or colleagues who have trouble understanding the way of the writer, but that’s the way it will have to be.”

MUSE:  “Truly, I really don’t want to cost you friends, or employment, but I think you’re being a little melodramatic here. We’ve been working on this book for 14 years, during which time you’ve held down some pretty impressive jobs (with a few breaks here and there). I guess it’s hard for me to hold back when the energy is flowing.”

ME:  “I get that, but keep in mind that when you aren’t holding back, neither can I!”

MUSE:  “True, but if I’m on a roll, and you decide to come along, you’ll just have to accept the consequences. I will continue to wake you up and typing whenever the spirit moves me. You will simply have to accept your lot in life as a writer enslaved to me, your Muse, for as long as it takes. Not really a bad gig. You could have been born into a life as a telemarketer or bill collector! Instead, you are living two lives. Your own, and Max’s.”

ME:  “My own, and Max’s, hmm? Well then, let’s get back to work!”

MUSE:  “Now, that’s more like it! OK, get some rest for now. But, remember . . . I’ll see you in your dreams.” 

(“Muse Attack” created by – http://intergalacticwritersinc.wordpress.com)

Aug 152014
 

Grave

Now that there is time you feel as if you have none.

But ignore this. Keep your pace. And take in the serenity of your surroundings.

You don’t realize how absurd it seems until you try explaining it to your child: the concept of cemeteries.

“You mean there are dead people…like, in the ground?”

You nod matter-of-factly and watch as she glances around at the serene and perfect symbiosis of garden and stone. Gentle slopes of green cascade down from hills dotted with statuary and there, against the gathering velvet of dusk, you can make out the coifed gothic structure of a mausoleum on a hilltop. Continue reading »

Mar 242014
 

writers-blockWhile in the throes of my most recent bout of writer’s block, I made the following observations:

  1. Dee Wallace is disproportionately represented in the number of movies we keep on hand at our vacation cabin.
  2. I have a difficult time wrapping up conversations.
  3. Every time I go shopping in a department store I become irrationally paranoid that people think I’m there to shoplift.

On the surface these things may seem unrelated to the condition of writer’s block, but upon further scrutiny, it would appear as if, somewhere along the way, my psyche might have gotten short-changed on balls. Continue reading »

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