Steven Pressfield – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from morguefile.com photo

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny from morguefile.com photo

NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. Thousands of writers will be sweating out a first draft of 50K words between November 1-30, 2014. I took this week’s writing quote from Steven Pressfield’s inspirational manifesto – Do the Work! (I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this book if you don’t have it.) I think it embodies the spirit of NaNoWriMo – don’t try to control your idea, figure out what is is and wants to be and then bring it into being.

I’ll also be posting a more extensive post about Getting NaNoWriMo Done soon. Look for it over the next day or two.

Please leave a comment about your success or failure with NaNoWriMo in the past few years. I’m curious to hear how people have done in the past, whether you completed (and sent out) your novel after writing your first draft and what you hope to accomplish this year.

Thank you for commenting! I love hearing from everyone.

Alice Walker – Writing Quote Wednesday

Alice Walker Quote

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny with Flickr photo “Run” by Satish Krishnamurthy

What do you do to stay healthy as a writer?

I know that mentally, I’ve done what Alice Walker has said and healed myself many times over by writing what I need to write. But physically, it’s a much different story. In our crazy, busy world, it’s hard to make the time to do the things we need to do stay healthy.

Those of us who have day jobs might be standing on our feet all day. We might have to be at a desk at our other job (or jobs). When we get home, we put in more hours at the desk to get the pages for the day done. Our minds are active, but what about our bodies?

I know that when I spend too many hours surfing the internet, I feel less healthy. If I’ve spent the whole day sitting, the inertia keeps me from wanting to be more active. This article from Popular Science even states that you can die from sitting too much.

At Stories are the Wildest Things, I want to examine ways that we as writers can be more healthy. Leave a comment about how you motivate yourself to get active when all you really want to do is lie down. Share your story with the rest of us and we’ll all be healthier! (You, for writing what you need to write, and us, for following your advice.)

Run” by Satish Krishnamurthy (CC License)

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Speaking of stories, I’m still accepting submissions for the Stories are the Wildest Things podcast. I’ve gotten some GREAT submissions so far. (Thank you! You know who you are.) I’m going to make a choice of which ones to read over the next week or so. Please send me your stories with the subject line: Podcast Story to pauljennynyc@gmail.com

William Wallace Cook – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing Quote by Paul Jenny from morgueFile.com photo

Writing Quote by Paul Jenny from morgueFile.com photo

Also known as “the man who deforested Canada,” William Wallace Cook (see his IMDb page here) supposedly wore out 25 typewriters churning out hundreds of nickel and dime novels over his forty year career. He wrote under a bunch of pseudonyms, even using one to write his own memoir, The Fiction Factory.

In 1910 he pumped out fifty-four novels, just over one a week, and could pound out a completed manuscript in 24 hours if he had to. He worked out a system where each novel fit into the same 40,000 word format of sixteen chapters of five single-space pages each.

The writing system was based on a simple statement: “Purpose, opposed by Obstacle, yields Conflict” and he set down his system of storytelling in a book called Plotto. His plot generating system includes hundreds of scenarios using the “purposes” and “obstacles” he devised over forty years of grinding out pulp fiction for the masses. In the instruction manual at the end of the book Cook says, “he earnestly believes that here in Plotto is TRUTH, and a Method of Originality as firmly founded as human nature itself.”

The Boston Globe in September 1928 announced “MACHINE GRINDS OUT PLOTS WITHOUT ANY FALSE START.” I’m not sure if they were referring to Cook or his book. There are over 438 pages of plot ideas relating to Cook’s theories and it makes for a fascinating read. At the end of the book Cook quotes a “London publisher” who says, “Plotto will be condemned publicly – and probably used privately.”

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read Plotto or used any other kind of plot generator in your work. Have a great writing week everyone!

GLITCH! The Week of Breaking Down

harddrive

Photo from Morguefile.com

This has been a rough week.

There have been GLITCHES in life that have made it difficult to get anything done. We were planning on staying home to get things done around the house and get ready for me to travel for a play I’m working on. But then the phone rang.

GLITCH.

“Mom has taken a turn for the worse.” It’s my wife’s brother, the same one who took me fishing a few weeks ago. He tells us that the small spot on Mom’s liver has now developed into a mass. She’s refusing treatment.

My mother-in-law’s health has been failing for about a year and she’s been in and out of a rehab nursing facility about four times in the last six months. She goes home, can’t take care of herself, falls or forgets to take her medication, and ends up back in rehab.

We pack quickly and drive to the Cape to see Mom. She sits in the corner of the darkened room, her hair sticking up in tufts around her head. She looks surprisingly like a baby bird: soft, wrinkled, eyes wet and wondering. She is glad to see us this time. There aren’t the usual complaints and demands to go home.

We get her up out of the chair to go outside. She walks twenty steps and has to sit down on her walker. “I need to rest. This walking is for the birds,” she says.

We walk twenty more steps and rest. Twenty-five. Rest.

I punch in the code on the door leading to the covered sun porch and it beeps and clicks. I push it open. It takes Mom so long to get through the door, the alarm goes off. I have to punch in the code again to get it to stop.

We play cards and the four-year-old squirms and runs around, catching imaginary bunnies and shooting imaginary monsters. “Do you have any Jacks?” I ask.

“Go Fish,” Mom says.

We never knew Go Fish could be so cutthroat and we play several rounds, laughing and teasing each other. We don’t talk about what will happen soon, we only focus on now.

“Go Fish.”

It gets dark. We walk Mom back to her room and settle her into her chair. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mom tells us she wants us to take her Buick. She realizes now that she can’t drive it anymore. We say thank you and tell her we’ll bring her the paperwork tomorrow. Kisses. Flutters of bird wings. We step out into the light.

We get the Buick and I drive it the 250 miles or so home. It smells like burning oil and when I hit a bump, the car sways and rocks on its shocks like the baby buggy going down the Odessa Steps in Battleship Potemkin. I listen to Mom’s CDs of Neil Diamond and Nat King Cole and bounce my way home.

As I go to take a sip of coffee, I feel something small and hard inside my mouth. I reach in and pull it out. The dental work a hack dentist did a few weeks ago has fallen out. Again. This is the third time it’s happened.

GLITCH.

I put the piece of dental work into the cup holder. My tongue keeps finding its way to the broken spot. I try to distract myself by singing along to Neil’s rendition of Song Sung Blue. It works, for a little while.

We pull into the garage in New York where we trust the guys running the place and leave the car overnight. We’re hoping that we can get away with a couple hundred dollars in repairs and have another car. We also want to make Mom feel good that we are using her car and giving it some “exercise” as she says.

We make it home and after packing away the things we brought to the Cape and putting the little man in bed, I flop on the sofa and fire up my old Windows PC that I keep attached to the big screen TV as a way to watch Netflix and do some blogging. There is a bump and a whirr, but the computer doesn’t boot itself up.

GLITCH.

I spend the next hour or so trying to get it to boot, but it’s gone. The hard drive has crashed while we were gone. I’m not too concerned because I recently did a back-up of most of that hard drive’s contents, but eventually I’ll try to find something and it will be gone forever. I fall asleep on the couch dreaming of shiny metallic hard drive platters flying through a dusky purple sky.

In the morning, I switch to the laptop. I’m ambi-computer-ous so I pull out the Mac laptop and fire it up. I’m looking forward to getting some writing done. I have beats to finish for a Steampunk YA novel I’m working on and chapters to write for the MG adventure in progress. When I put my finger on the trackpad, the cursor suddenly starts whipping from side to side on my screen. Apps start opening of their own accord and I can’t control the cursor.

GLITCH.

I do some research and find out that I am experiencing something known as phantom cursor. I try many things to resolve the issue and it takes HOURS.

GLITCH.

A text message pops up on my phone.

“The car will cost $2100 to pass inspection.”

GLITCH.

I look up the Kelley Blue Book. It’s only worth $1500 in GOOD condition. This car is not in good condition. The garage tells us the axle is broken, the shocks are leaking, oil is burning.

GLITCH. GLITCH. GLITCH.

I text back. “I give up.”

My wife calls. She’s crying. She’s overwhelmed. Her mom is dying. The car her mom gave us isn’t salvageable. The computers are breaking down. We have another broken down car we need to get rid of. I’m going away to work. She has projects she has to finish. A film we both worked on is premiering soon.

GLITCH.

We dub this the week of breaking down. It’s something that is inevitable, breaking down, but it doesn’t have to break us.

We drive to the garage to get the car and bring it to the junkyard.

“Umm, it’s sitting in the garage all taken apart. We were waiting for you to let us know what to do.”

GLITCH.

My wife cries again. I explain to the worried man behind the counter, “It’s her mom’s car. Her mom is dying.”

He nods and we leave.

It’s overcast and cold in New York. Rain hits my face like tiny needles. My wife goes to work. I go to find a dentist to fix my tooth. He’ll be in tomorrow at 2:30 but they don’t take my insurance.

GLITCH.

I have to get the tooth fixed. I have to go say Shakespeare’s words and need my teeth unbroken to do that properly.

There is a Dunkin’ Donuts next to the dentist’s office. I go and sit with my Dunkin’ coffee and pumpkin doughnut and breathe. The news blares from a TV behind the counter.

Ebola is in the United States.

GLITCH.

An armed ex-convict was on an elevator with the President.

GLITCH.

The phone rings. It’s my wife.

“Hello?”

“Where are you?”

“Dunkin’ Donuts. Trying to catch a moment to breathe.”

“I talked to the garage. They didn’t realize our situation. They’ll buy the other junk car from us for $350 and make enough small repairs to make Mom’s car safe enough to pass inspection. We can make the other repairs later. Total cost will be $300 or so.”

“Really?”

“Yes. What do you think?”

A break in the glitch-iness.

“Yes, let’s do it.”

In A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

I guess I’m in no special hurry. I feel stronger in my broken places. One glitch has been resolved for now and I turned the rest into a story.

Harlan Ellison – Writing Quote Wednesday

Harlan Ellison Qo

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo by Cory Doctorow

I really love making these Writing Quote Wednesday posters for Stories are the Wildest Things. I get to look for images on Flickr.com that are listed as Creative Commons. I love doing research about the writers quoted and sometimes add their work to my TBR list. I learn something about writing and myself with each quote I publish.

I especially love that I’m quoting Harlan Ellison using a photo put on Flickr by Cory Doctorow (CC License) of two covers of pulp fiction novels by the “author of Sex Gang, Paul Merchant”, who also happens to be Harlan Ellison. (You should definitely click on that link to Sex Gang over at Amazon.com. You’ll be amazed at what price that collectible novel is going for. If you buy it, let me know.)

Today’s quote is one that I originally saw on Twitter via Jon Winokur on @AdvicetoWriters. Jon has tons of great advice and I’ve been following his Twitter feed and the Advice to Writers site for some time. I’m always inspired by what he puts out there. Thanks for the inspiration, Jon!

Here’s a video from Harlan Ellison’s YouTube channel called “Pay the Writer” from Erik Nelson’s definitive Ellison doc, Dreams With Sharp Teeth. (Some NSFW language in typical Ellison style) Enjoy!

Please leave a comment about staying a writer, Harlan Ellison, Jon Winokur (or anything else you’re inspired to share) in the comments section. I love hearing from you.

Julio Cortazár – Writing Quote Wednesday

juliocortazarquote

Julio Cortazár Writing Quote by Paul Jenny using royalty free photo from Morguefile.com

Julio Cortazár, professor, translator, boxing enthusiast, prolific novelist, playwright, poet, essayist and master of the short story (i.e. a WRITER) was born in Belgium in 1914 to Argentine parents but emigrated to France in 1951. He was granted French citizenship in 1981 and he died in Paris in 1984.

His father left the family when he was six. His mother, a prolific reader, introduced him to the works of Jules Verne and in Plural magazine (issue 44, Mexico City, May 1975) he was quoted as saying, “I spent my childhood in a haze full of goblins and elves, with a sense of space and time that was different from everybody else’s.”

What is your more intense and compelling reality?

Send me your short stories to pauljennynyc@gmail.com and I’ll read them on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. You can hear the first episode HERE.

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 Watch more about Julio in this YouTube video.

E.L. Doctorow – Writing Quote Wednesday

Writing quote and photo by Paul Jenny

Writing quote and photo by Paul Jenny

For today’s writing quote I chose another actor/writer and fellow New Yorker, E.L. Doctorow. According to Wikipedia, Doctorow acted in college productions as an undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. He did one year of graduate work at Columbia in English Drama before being drafted into the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army.

Doctorow married fellow Columbia drama school student Helen Esther Setzer while in Germany. He wrote his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, as a response to his job as a screenplay reader. He had read so many Westerns while working on that job that he decided to write a parody of them, but by the time he finished the novel it had become a serious contribution to the genre.

His most recent novel, Andrew’s Brain,published in 2014 is about a “freakishly depressive cognitive scientist klutz”. You can read a review of that work by Terrence Rafferty HERE. 

You can also buy the novel on Amazon.com.

Watch Doctorow talk about Andrew’s Brain on YouTube.

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According to Cory Doctorow, most recently the author of the YA novel Homeland, is often asked if he’s related to E.L. I found a quote on Answers.com where he’s attributed as saying, “Writers always ask if I’m related to award-winning novelist E.L. Doctorow. The answer is ‘probably.’ Family legend has it that my paternal grandfather’s uncle is E.L.’s grandfather. My folks met E.L. in 1998 and tried this theory out on him, and he said that it sounded about right, but didn’t seem very excited by it. ”

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DON’T FORGET, I’m still looking for short-stories and essays about writing to read on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please send me your short-stories and essays to pauljennynyc@gmail.com

Madeleine L’Engle – Writing Quote Wednesday

MadeleineLEngleQuote

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo by Scott Cresswell

Madeleine L’Engle was one of those authors that made me want to be a writer as a kid. Reading A Wrinkle in TIme opened up a whole new world to me and I devoured it eagerly one summer when daily rain kept us from playing outside.

When I see a copy now in a bookstore I get the warm fuzzies recalling the rainy summer days I spent reading this book. She and her husband, Hugh Franklin, were actors like me and I’ve always aspired to live as rich and full a life in creative work as they did.

I chose this quote this week because it reminded me of what Samuel Butler talks about in his essay How to Make the Best of Life. In the first episode of the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast, you can hear this essay about how our lives as writers might be more engaging and “real” when we live on in our writing. It’s a fascinating read from the Victorian era by an iconoclastic satirist. I hope you’ll click through and take a listen.

I’m also seeking submissions of short stories in any genre and short essays about writing for the next episode. I talk about all the details on the Stories are the Wildest Things Podcast. Please submit your stories and essays by email to pauljennynyc@gmail.com and put Podcast Story and your story’s title in the subject heading.

I’ve received some great stories already and I’m looking forward to reading all of them.

Have a great writing week!

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Listen to Madeleine L’Engle talk about writing, A Wrinkle in Time and her process on YouTube.com.

You can visit Scot Cresswell’s Flickr photo here. (CC license)

David Foster Wallace – Writing Quote Wednesday

DFWWQW

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo by Livid Fiction originally taken by Steve Rose

What does it mean to be authentic?

According to Wikipedia, it is “the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.” 

I was in a relationship for a long time where I couldn’t be my authentic self for many reasons (which I won’t go into here). I felt that, to have a successful relationship, I needed to hide my true self. Whenever I’d venture into an area in my creative life that made me happy and felt true and right for me, the other person would put it down, or make it seem bad and wrong.

I made the excuse to myself that I needed to be inauthentic in order to make the other person happy.

This was a major mistake because, in the end, both of us ended up being much more unhappy than if we were true to our own spirit and character from the beginning. The relationship ended. My creativity and psyche suffered for a long time; I didn’t express myself as powerfully and as authentically as I knew I could.

I know for myself, when I acknowledge what’s authentic for me and pursue that (not always achieving it, but at least pursuing it), my writing and other creative work is clearer, stronger and reaches a wider audience.

When I try to write what I think other people want to read, it’s not as strong as when I listen to my authentic self and try to write from my vision, my way of “fracturing reality,” as David Foster Wallace said.

I think the journey to authenticity is lifelong and changes as you grow and change as a person. It’s one of the many reasons I continue to pursue a creative life. Every day I get to decide how authentic of a life I’m going to lead.

Do you remember a time when you weren’t true to your authentic self and how it affected you?

Leave a comment to tell us about it.

If you aren’t being as authentic in your life now as you’d like to, what’s stopping you?

Maybe by telling your story, you’ll find an authentic way of breaking through whatever is holding you back. I know I have.

Now it’s your turn.

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Watch David Foster Wallace talk about ambition from PBS Digital Studios on YouTube.com

Livid Fiction on Flickr.com. (CC License)

Richard Rhodes – Writing Quote Wednesday

Richard Rhodes Writing Quote

Writing Quote created by Paul Jenny using Flickr photo “Look Downstairs into the Stairwell Whirl” by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

How often do we ask ourselves the questions posed in Richard Rhodes’ quote?

  • Who am I?
  • What right have I to speak?
  • Who will listen to me if I do?

A great teacher of mine once said, “No matter what has happened in your life, you always have the right to tell your unique story NOW.”

Often, we think of our failures, our lack of trying, our excuses, as reasons to give up. We say, “I failed again, I might as well stop doing this thing I really love doing.”

But at any moment, you can choose to start again, to tell your story, to enlarge the circle.

With the passing of Robin Williams, many people have shared the stories of their experiences with depression. Each story I read gives me strength to tell my own.

My struggles with depression and anxiety happened during a time right before I was hired for my dream job. Instead of being happy about finally achieving a modicum of success, I had constant worries and thoughts about how it could all go wrong. I thought I deserved my illness somehow, that I was a bad person and was being punished. I thought that I didn’t deserve happiness.

Then, when I sought help, I realized that those thoughts had more to do with mixed-up brain chemistry and the need to share my stories more openly and live a more authentic life than anything to do with who I was as a person. The depression was causing me to think of myself as undeserving and bad and wrong. My only crime was being human.

Those closest to me didn’t understand. They said things like, “Cheer up, don’t be sad, look on the bright side,” and other clichés that people say to those who are feeling down. But depression is not just feeling down. It is a dark, spiral staircase that descends into a deep cellar of despair and loneliness.

It took a mental health doctor and prescribed medication and telling my stories to really help me recover.

I lost some important relationships and a job or two while I struggled with depression. I look back on those years and wish that I had been able to find help sooner. Maybe by sharing this story now, I can help someone else find the help they need more quickly.

Those relationships and that job cannot be recovered, but I can continue sharing my stories with passion and hopefully enlarging the circle.

Please share your stories, you have every right.

Watch Richard Rhodes talk about his writing on YouTube.com

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Get Richard Rhodes’ book How to Write: Advice and Reflections on Amazon.com.

If you are feeling desperate, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK or visit them at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Karl-Ludwig Poggemann on Flickr. (CC License)