What will you do with your 20.000 days?
Watch “A Conversation with Ray Bradbury” from the NEA on YouTube.com
I’m feeling very cranky and vulnerable right now, in fact, I’m experiencing a panoply of feelings.
As I was listening to this excerpt from Still Writing by Dani Shapiro, for some reason, I started to cry. Not in a deep sobbing way, but in a “wow, I needed to hear that today,” way.
I wanted to share some of those reasons with you.
As Dani says, “sometimes all we can hope is that we fail better.” The failures and the triumphs of the year that has passed are at the forefront of my mind.
We lost our house and moved in with friends. We then had to move out of the friend’s house and into an apartment. I’m still not done consolidating our storage units and our car has just died.
The Tony’s are over and friends and loved ones have either won major awards or not been recognized at all even though everyone has done amazing work this year. The arbitrariness of who gets recognized and who doesn’t can sometimes seem overwhelming.
I’ve been offered some summer work that I love and enjoy with amazing people, but I know it will take time away from my family and writing. There is an inner voice tugging at me that says, “Protect your time this summer and write” but another voice that says, “don’t miss this opportunity, it may never come again.”
I feel pulled in many directions.
I recently received an email saying I’m being considered for a job in academia that feels like a new adventure, a new opportunity, but it is far away from our families and friends. While it is exciting to be considered for the position, I am only being considered and it feels very uneasy not to know what will be happening next.
My teenage son is about to graduate from high school. This is supposed to be a joyous time, but today I found out that someone from his class, a young woman who was supposed to graduate with them this week, died suddenly. She was ill, fell into a coma and died five days later.
This is my son’s first real loss of a person close to him. He wrote a very moving tribute to this young woman on his own blog. I’m sad for the loss of his friend, but I’m also sad because he has now moved into the world of those of us who have lost someone close to us and realize that our time must come, too, someday. Prior to this, I’m sure he felt invincible. Now that invincibility is gone. He is no longer the little boy I remember and he is not yet the man he is to become.
All of these thoughts have been floating around in my brain all day as I worked with my hands, sweating and dirty, at a job that I had to take to pay the bills. When I finally got home and showered, curled up on the sofa and then listened to this excerpt, I cried.
If you haven’t yet, listen to the Soundcloud excerpt from Dani Shaprio’s Still Writing as read by Dani Millman. Then pick up her book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, (one of 2013’s best books on creative writing) you’ll be glad you did.
I’ll end this post with a quote Dani uses in her book. It’s Donald Barthelme. “Endings are elusive. Middles are nowhere to be found, but worst of all is to begin, begin, begin!”
Begin! Stories are the Wildest Things.
Original source: Brainpickings.org
Arsy-varsy – head over heels, topsy-turvy, backside forward
I shouted, “Don’t jump on the bed!” But my four-year-old didn’t listen. He jumped up and down twice and then went arsy-varsy off the bed and onto the floor.
Also used in Isaac Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn.
Tell me about your “arsy-varsy” moments in the comments section.
So the guys, Sean Platt and Jounny B. Truant, are “steaming” along with their ideas for their 30 day novel and the process is FASCINATING. Getting to sit on their story meetings has given me some valuable insights into a working method for collaborators that could really help writers pump out the kind of volume the guys have been pumping out.
For the first three days they threw around a lot of different ideas based on the Steampunk genre. They’ve already written and discarded tons of words.
They worked hard to come up with a world for the characters to live in and a story line that they would both be excited to keep exploring. This process is difficult enough when you are working in private, but adding the stressful element of everyone watching has to be affecting the guys in some way. They do discuss how strange it is and how aware they are that people are watching, even incorporating it into the story idea. It will be interesting to hear them talk more about this as they move forward.
They’ve also been posting their pages. As of today we’ve seen emails, beats, and a first draft of Chapter One. You can check out where they are in the process by visiting FICTION UNBOXED. There are some FREE levels you can still take part in.
Here are a few take-aways from the past few days:
Discipline is key to getting this accomplished, what the guys call “ass in chair” time. Agreed.
When talking about their protagonist Johnny B. Truant said, “You can’t desire something you don’t want and you can’t want something if it’s too easy to get.” I think that’s really good advice for creating a character your readers want to follow. Give them something they want more than anything else and make it REALLY hard for them to get.
While trying to figure out the beats, the guys discussed how they wanted to find the story that is true to them. They used a great term while describing themselves – genre agnostic – and said that no matter the genre, “our voice is what matters.”
As they work, there is not a lot of changing the other person’s ideas by saying “how about this instead.” What they do is ask a lot of questions about WHY the world works or doesn’t work as they are creating it. They also say, “I like that ” a lot and then riff off of the given circumstances they are creating for the characters to live into. You can see why they are a great team by how they communicate their ideas to each other.
At one point Sean Platt says he talks to his wife, Cindy, about the ideas and immediately feels like he can expand on it, this happens for me as well. It seems that if you start telling the story to someone else and get caught up in it yourself, that can be a really good sign that you are headed in the right direction.
They continue to spin the story out as they go along and keep comparing it to other stories and tropes, mixing and mashing them up into new combinations. “Good writers borrow, great writers steal!” (this quote and versions of it is attributed to various people: Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Elliot, Austin Kleon even Steve Jobs)
They keep talking about what they like, “I like this, I love this, I want to get that” and they laugh and curse and make fun of their own ideas and get excited about them as well. It’s strange to watch because it is very similar to the process that goes on in my head.
The last quote for the day that I’d like to leave you with is “Our hero has this itch that she can’t scratch for her entire life.”
This is brilliant because if we build characters that have something they have a deep longing to accomplish or solve or acquire, we as an audience will want to go on the journey with them.
This experience is just like that, too.
The guys have a deep longing, or itch, to get this book done in 30 days and we are following along on their journey fascinated by how difficult it is and wanting to know what their process is and if they are going to accomplish it, even though we know they will (but do we?). We started with nothing and by the end of this journey we will have watched them build a whole new world with all of its bumps and bruises and false starts and unknowns. In some way, watching them do it, can give us permission to do it too.
You can get insights and inspiration like this to help you on your writer’s journey straight to your inbox by signing up to be a Stories are the Wildest Things Insider. Just click on the Become an Insider menu link or sign-up HERE.
All participants in Fiction Unboxed with the guys at Self Publishing Podcast got a free copy of Writer Dad by Sean Platt. I started reading it on my phone as soon as I was able to download it and finished it in one sitting (with a few minor breaks for coffee, tousling my four-year-old’s hair, nodding to my wife and cooking some food).
It’s a moving story and one that will be familiar to any writer parent. Sean talks about his struggles with school, money, relationships, parenting and trying to break through as a writer. It’s a very personal book and Sean wasn’t even sure he was going to publish it because it felt too private, but in the end his wife, Cindy, and those who read it encouraged him to put it out there in the world.
I’m glad he did.
As a writer dad myself, struggling with many of the same issues, Sean’s book inspired me to keep going, to keep writing, to keep discovering what my journey will be.
Writer Dad is a romantic love story, an adventure in possibility and an inspirational book for all the “writer parents” out there. Buy it and read it, you’ll be glad you did. Click on the cover below to get your copy now.
Writing quote created by Paul Jenny with Flickr photo “Happy” by Greg Westfall
Watch Georgann Eubanks, author of the Literary Trails of North Carolina guidebook series, talk about Durham and its connection to novelist Anne Tyler, whose books Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and The Accidental Tourist have been made into movies.
A retro illustration of people flying with jet packs.
Send me a link to your stories. I’d love to read them!
Fiction Unboxed, from the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast, has started and it’s very exciting to participate in this “never-been-done-before” online event. I put that in quotes because I think that most everything has been done before, but that brilliance comes when people combine things that have been done before in new ways. This is a great new combination that is generating a lot of creative energy and excitement in the self-publishing world.
Over the next 30 days the guys are opening up their writing process to those who invested in the project on Kickstarter. I kicked in at a higher level than I normally have for other projects because the guys are funny, dedicated storytellers that believe we can change the world with a story.
As usual, the guys are giddy and unfocused at first, but after a short segment of rambling they get down to the nitty-gritty of world building for this 30 day book. If you know their podcasts, Self Publishing Podcast and Better Off Undead, this style of working will be familiar to you. If you are just coming is as a supporter of the project, it might be a little distracting at first. Hang in there, though, because what happens is a fun and truthful way of approaching story building.
The world they are describing sounds really fascinating and watching the guys “spit ball” and toss ideas around is enlightening. They bring up their favorite movies, books and television tropes to create their new world. As they describe their ideas, they go off on side tangents, double back on themselves, joke around and as Dave says, “It’s an awesome thing.”
It’s like a question and answer session with their own imaginations and each of the guys contribute in different ways. Sean has logorrhea and is the cheerleader. He drives the conversations forward and wrangles the random tangents and ideas into some kind of cohesive whole. Johnny B. Truant is the calculating mind, adding and subtracting the value of each idea and how he can use it to get the first draft on the page. Dave is the dark and stormy naysayer who quietly drives the story into the shadows so that Sean and Johnny can steer it back into the light.
I think it’s extremely helpful to see them work in this way. My takeaway (to use a business term) is that you have to pump out a LOT of ideas and then ask yourself questions about how these ideas will work when you begin telling the story within the world.
If you haven’t been listening to the Self-Publishing Podcast, check them out. As Sean says, “You can tackle any creative idea if your how and your why are good enough…it’s stupid and/or impossible but we believe anyway.”
This blog, my current MG paranormal adventure novel, and several other projects I’m working on now are because of these guys and their inspiration (and the ongoing encouragement of my four-year-old and lovely wife).
I’m looking forward to seeing where their process takes them and, as a result, takes me as well.
I’ll be posting about Fiction Unboxed and my experiences for the next 30 days as well. Please follow and like the blog to keep updated.