Category Archives: Writing

2016: A Nowtrospective

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which I’ve not read, btw), author Stephen R. Covey declares one of the titular habits thusly: Begin with the End in Mind.

Real original, dude. Begin your New Year’s post with a quote from a culture-saturating motivational book.

Hey, shut up. This is my post, and I’ll do what I want with it.

*ahem*

It’s with that idea in mind that I’m doing a New Year’s restrospective, not on the year that has just ended, but rather with the year that lies ahead.

You know this whole “New Year” thing is really a misnomer. It’s just another day. You can make changes at any second of any minute of any day of any month of any year. But hey, yaaaaaaaay inspiration! Tony Robbins, blahblahblah.

HermioneDeathLook

Sorry.

new_year_2016

In 2016, I:

  1. Did All the Things I Set Out to Do.

EndofListLemon

I’m going to admit that this list is not a complete one.  In a book that I actually read this year called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (lotta Ste(v/ph)ens in this game, apparently), one of the things he talked about was not sharing your goals with everyone. The idea behind that is if you share your goals, dreams, intentions, etc., with everyone, you get a false sense of accomplishment just by laying out that list. I had always thought that spelling out your goals for others to see would make them hold you responsible should you start to slip or pull some much-needed encouragement when things get rough.

The flaw with that plan, besides weighing everyone else down with the responsibility of keeping your divergent butt on track, you’re also surrendering the active ownership of your goals to other people.

Nobody is going to do the work I need to do for me. Nobody else can. I know several people that would love to, have asked how to help, and offered whatever they have in order to help me. The answer is simple.

I have to do the work.

I’ve never been good at doing the work. In school, once I learned how to do something, homework was useless to me because I didn’t see the point. That was from elementary school. It took me many years and thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loan debt to understand the value of doing the work and seeing it turn into good grades, opportunities, and eventually my first published academic paper.

In another book I read this year–

Why isn’t this just the list of books you read this year?

DeanRealization

–That’s not a bad idea. Maybe when I’m done waxing philosophical. On Writing by Stephen King. It’s an amazing read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. In this guide, the creepiest dude in Maine lays it out like this: “Amateurs wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

On Writing and The War of Art have had a great influence on me this year, and what I took away from both of them was that the most important thing is to do the work. Reading these books, I felt like Bart Simpson at the chalkboard scrawling out line after line of “I will do my work.”

“I will do my work” doesn’t just apply to writing, though. I have many goals that I want to see fulfilled so I can look back on 2016 and be satisfied that I did everything I could to make those goals become realities.

One goal I had from 2015 was to read more. Now that the year is over, I’ll share with you the list of books I read in 2015.

  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • The Shining – Stephen King
  • V for Vendetta – Alan Moore
  • The Last Days of Video – Jeremy Hawkins
  • Button, Button / Uncanny Stories – Richard Matheson
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
  • Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (previously read)
  • Ultimate Spider-Man TPBs vols. 1-22 – Brian Michael Bendis
  • Ultimate X-Men TPBs vols. 1-12 – Mark Millar, et al.
  • Tough Sh*t – Kevin Smith
  • Carrie – Stephen King
  • In the Blink of an Eye – Walter Murch
  • Deadpool Kills Deadpool – Cullen Bunn
  • TMNT/Ghostbusters – Erik Burnham & Tom Waltz
  • Gotham by Gaslight – Bryan Augustyn
  • Superior – Mark Millar & Leinil Yu
  • Tales From the Script – Peter Hanson & Paul Robert Herman
  • The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
  • Dancing Barefoot – Wil Wheaton
  • Jaws – Peter Benchley
  • Y: The Last Man Deluxe Books 1-3 – Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra

Jeez, there are sure a lot of comic books–

You read through V for Vendetta and tell me it’s not a novel that happens to have pictures. But sure. Not counting comics, I still read 14 books this year. I started more than that, but I’ve only included the books I finished. I guess that could be a subheading for my one-item list up there:

In 2016, I:

  1. Finished What I Started.
It's too good to use just once.

It’s too good to use just once.

 

I’m off to a good start. I finished this post.

Happy New Year, everyone.

WE’VE SURPASSED THE FUTURE FROM BACK TO THE FUTURE AND NOW I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE

Do the work.

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Consumption vs. Creation

All artists struggle with creation. It’s grueling, terrifying, discouraging, revealing, time-consuming, and can be very expensive. All media comes with a varying amount of not only monetary expense, but also expense of time.

Really, expense of time applies to everything we do. Do you watch a movie, or read a book? Do you stay up late to do homework, or go to bed early? Do you clean the garage, or do the dishes? Everything comes at the expense of something else. Want to multitask? Too bad it’s not really possible.

Unfortunately for artists, one of the ways we acquire knowledge, experience, and ideas is the consumption of other artists’ work. You find out what works and what you like in movies, books, art, music, design, etc., by sifting through the mountains of work that have already been produced. This becomes an easy excuse not to create. “I’m studying my craft.” And there’s nothing wrong with studying. By all means, do it. But don’t let it get in the way of creating your own work. Creating your own work is invaluable. It lets you work out the kinks on your own, and you learn so much more from doing something yourself than you will ever learn by watching someone else do it.

Even if you fail. Even if it’s terrible. Even if you feel the distinct need to spit on it, cut it in half and set it on fire.

You will learn. You will grow. You will become better and faster and more confident. You’ll find your own voice instead of clinging to someone else’s.

We are what we do.

Will you consume? Or will you create?

Writers Reading Readers’ Writing

Writing is gonna come up a lot. After all, the reason I started this blog was to get myself writing regularly. This is the first stretch of time since <saves draft, checks posting history> May of last year that I’ve posted with any semblance of regularity, and I’m giving myself credit for that. Allowing yourself to be proud of your accomplishments is just as integral to personal growth as realizing what your weaknesses are.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

Lately, I’ve felt like one of my opportunities for growth lies in reading more. I’m a writer, and I want people to read and like the things I’ve written. I’m a terrible reader. I know in our day and age, the reader has largely been replaced by the viewer, and if that’s the case, I’m an excellent modern-day reader.

If I haven't seen it, it's new to me.

If I haven’t seen it, it’s new to me.

I’ve been frequenting our local library, and I find I’m too ambitious when picking out books. There are books I know I should read (or should have read by this point in my life), so I get about five or six of them, start reading two and finish none. If I wrote out a list of books I’ve never read, I’m sure some of you would shake your head at me. So I’m going to do just that. Because I hate myself. (Keep in mind these are books I haven’t read)

  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Call of the Wild
  • Brave New World
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • 1984
  • The Great Gatsby
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Atlas Shrugged
  • War and Peace
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Don Quixote
  • The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Animal Farm
  • Moby Dick
  • Watership Down
  • Robinson Crusoe
  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • Paradise Lost
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Red Badge of Courage

I’m surprised I made it through LOST.

That list is only 25 (more, considering the Tolkien) of the books I haven’t read. I’m sure there are literal volumes of books, stories, essays, and documents one might consider essential reading on which I have never laid eyes. I’m sure if I wrote out a list of must-see movies or must-hear albums I’ve never consumed, the reaction would be much the same. But as Mark Twain said, “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.”

MarkTwain

“Yes sir, I have read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”

There’s a shelf at my workplace full of what management decided would be helpful reference/resource books. I work in IT, so they’re mostly to do with networking, programming, or software. They’re books that employees may have gotten from college courses, acquired for themselves, or have left over from software purchases. Among them is a Literature for Composition book. The first chapter is entitled “The Writer as Reader.” It begins with an excerpt of an interview with author Toni Morrison.

Interviewer: Did you know as a child you wanted to be a writer?

Toni Morrison: No. I wanted to be a reader.

The chapter continues by stating that “learning to write is in large measure learning to read.” The heading on the book’s back cover reads, “Inspiring great writing through studying great writers.”

There’s a whole book saying that to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

FreewaySign

– The Universe

I used to watch movies with the attitude (probably more like the excuse) that I was studying for my future career. I should be reading like that now. I may not want to write novels or poetry, but just like it takes seeing many good movies to know the good from the bad, it takes reading many books to know the difference between good and bad writing. Subsequently, understanding what makes writing good will help you write well.

Fortunately, I’m taking a Literature course this semester as part of the prereqs for my film degree. That will help me read in an analytical way. It will help introduce me to new material, authors, and writing styles. I also have 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library and 100 Books to Read Before You Die (not counting overlapping entries, this list cuts off at 85) that will give me a list of books to read from to expand my literary horizons.

"Here you'll see the required reading for Wednesday."

“Here you’ll see the required reading for Wednesday.”

There are plenty of lists to tell me what to read. Knowing what to read is not the problem. Knowing I ought to read is not the problem. Just like I know I should exercise every day. Or I ought to take the garbage out when it’s full. The point is, there is a massive difference between knowing what needs to be done and actually doing it. Actually doing it requires effort. A failure won through fervent effort is easily vanquished; a failure won through laziness or apathy is neither forgotten nor overcome.

"Listen to us on this, Lydia. This is something we know a lot about."

“Listen to us on this, Lydia. This is something we know a lot about.”

It’s not enough to know. I have to do. Read. Write. Put in the work.

I think I’m ready to do that for the first time in my life.

Just look at me, posting a blog for <saves draft, checks posting history> three weeks in a row.

Entropy

Well, I haven’t written in a while.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way… Gosh, a lot’s been happening lately.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been in a creative way. I seem to get stuck in this loop of getting ideas and breaking them down before I start any real work on them. I thought I had fixed that a while ago when I decided to write some screenplays based on stories I was already familiar with (comic books, games, even other movies), just to get the rhythm and process practiced. But I haven’t even done that.

I’ve been watching lots of movies and TV shows, which I used to pretend was studying, but now I’m pretty sure is just mindless consumption. There’s no analysis or deconstruction, it’s purely entertainment.

“INPUT!!”

That might be because a lot of my TV/movie viewing is done while I’m at work, which means I’m watching them by myself. I’m neither currently in any kind of class that requires me to analyze the material, nor do I have a fellow audience member with which I can launch a discussion about the themes, styles, or messages behind what I’m watching. That being the case, it’s easy to identify things that catch my attention, and just as easy to let those slip from my mind.

More and more, I find myself challenged to form an idea that I feel strongly about, let alone strongly enough to develop it into a cohesive story. When I do have ideas that I get excited about, this happens:

Now, I don’t have a General Disarray, nor was it actually the Simpsons who did it. This is just the tiny explosion that happens in my brain when I realize one of my ideas is too similar to something else.

There are some old sayings that are good to keep in mind during times like these:

  • There is nothing new under the sun.
  • The way you tell a story makes the story different.
  • I’m Henry the Eighth, I am. Henry the Eighth I am, I am.
  • Second verse, same as the first.

Heh.

But no amount of Patrick Swayze references are able to quell this defeating feeling of “You just came up with an idea that’s already in existence! Feel good about that all day.”

But I’ve got to get past that. To progress, I’ll do what I mentioned before, and instead of creating new ideas, write stories about things I already know. That way I’ll know someone else has already done it, and I can focus on the process of writing. Once that’s down, then I can stress over writing something more original.

Until next time, true believer!* Keep your sword sharp, and your wit sharper!**

*Not an original phrase. ** Also not an original phrase.