Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Hopefully 2018 will be a more productive year for my writing than 2017. I finished 2017 with a lot less fiction than I had intended and fell short of my poetry goal by about 30 poems. I’m going to learn from that lesson and refrain from making specific commitments this year. Instead, I’m going to have a general writing goal of spending at least one hour a day on writing-related activities, whatever they might be. I think this will be more productive than not completing the things I say I will. If nothing else, I won’t feel as guilty about not finishing things.

When I was screening the comments in my blog’s spam folder, I came across one that might contain a legitimate question. Since I am not sure it is genuine, I decided not to post the comment; however, I am going to respond to it here. The question was: how do I “center [my]self and clear [my] head before writing?” The person who asked this question also writes, but struggles to be productive during the first 10-15 minutes of a session and would like some advice. So, here is my response:

  • I have obsessive compulsive tendencies, so I generally don’t have problems with focus while I’m writing, provided I have a general idea of what I want to do. In fact, I usually spend a lot of time thinking about what to write (consciously and subconsciously) before I start working on it, so much of the prewriting takes place in my mind instead of on the page. Also, I sometimes call my mom when I am toying with different ideas to see what she thinks about them, and those conversations have certainly helped to generate ideas and motivate me to continue with the novels I’ve written.
  • Usually, if I start to write, I don’t have any problems doing it; however, that doesn’t mean what I write is always good. I’ve deleted quite a bit over the years because it wasn’t salvageable.
  • One of the things I learned in graduate school is that it usually takes 15-20 minutes to become immersed in an activity. So, if you are struggling during those first 10-15 minutes, it’s pretty normal, since it takes that long for your brain to get in gear (so to speak). I have the same issue, but most of the time, it doesn’t take that long for me to get in sync with my writing. In addition to doing most of the prewriting in my head, I usually start a session by revising previous scenes in order to recapture the mental state I was in when I wrote it. Even though doing this helps a lot, there are still times when I start a story or scene half a dozen times before it feels right and I am able to finish it.
  • As for advice, don’t worry about the quality of the first draft; you’ll be revising it. The important thing is to get something down that is decent enough to work with. My first drafts are often about half as long as the final revision, since I focus a lot on dialogue and the plot sequence in first drafts. I add in descriptions and make changes as needed during the revisions. Revision generally doesn’t suffer from writer’s block the way that first drafts do, and making revisions can invigorate the creative juices (so to speak).
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Poem #54: “Avocation”

It has been an unproductive year for my writing. I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by other things (mainly Slotomania), and let my mood control my writing (particularly the disappointment arising from the low sales for Aftermath, a general apathy toward writing, and my emotional response to a few of life’s obstacles). I did not come close to satisfying my writing goals for fiction, and even poetry has been far more of a chore than it has been in the past. I still need to write about 40 poems to reach my goal of averaging 5 poems per week, and that seems unlikely at this point even though I have written some of late. “Avocation” is one of them, and it will help you to understand why I need to step back and reevaluate how and why I write. That’s my New Year’s resolution: to reevaluate my writing and minimize the impact of the external factors that impeded my writing this year. I need to reclaim the attitude toward writing that I have had in the past. Specifically:

  • I need to avoid letting my book sales influence my writing. This is difficult, since I can’t afford to lose money on my writing again, like I did last year.
  • I need to avoid letting my teaching schedule undermine my writing; it should liberate it. I taught one less class this year than in past years, and it should have given me more time to write. But I didn’t use that time for writing like I would have done in the past few years. (The loss of income further compounded the issue, since the revenue from my books did not offset it.)
  • I need to play less Slotomania. This is, perhaps, the most significant obstacle, since a lot of my writing time has been taken up by this addictive pursuit.
  • I need to write what I want to write, not what I feel obligated to do, so no more promises. My readers may need to adjust to this, since what I should do is: 1) change Aftermath (book 1 of Aftermath) to book 5 of my Angus the Mage Series; 2) treat I Will Be King as a separate series or a long stand-alone novel; and 3) postpone or abandon writing The Dwarf Wars and Symptata’s Curse. However, I have made a commitment to do these books as the Aftermath series, and I am very reluctant to change that. It’s not the only mistake I’ve made, but it is a major one.
  • I need to be more disciplined about my writing by creating a schedule and keeping to it. This will be a challenge, since I’ve developed some bad habits this year that I need to break in order to do it, and my attitude toward writing is a hindrance at the moment.

To accomplish this general goal, I am resolving to do writing related activities (jotting down ideas, outlining, writing first drafts, revisions, proofreading, etc.) for at least one hour each day in 2018. Hopefully, I’ll make it to the Fall semester before this resolution crumbles…. I also intend to read for at least an hour a day, which should help reinvigorate my desire to write. What I won’t be doing is making a commitment to write poetry. It doesn’t sell, the quality declines when I force myself to do it, and it is impacted by my mood far more than my fiction is. So, I’m only going to write poetry when I feel like it, instead of imposing a quota.

I am debating not publishing 2017: A Year of Poetry, which I haven’t even begun to organize or format. Instead, I am thinking about expanding my thematic collections to include the poems I’ve written since I published them, and then publishing the results as second editions. (I probably won’t do it, though; it’s a lot of work for something that isn’t going to sell.)

Avocation

I loved to write, to feel the surge
of inspiration and the thrill of finding
the perfect word or phrase.
Ideas sprang fully formed
or half-baked with regularity,
and I was driven
.            —yes, driven
.                              to develop them.
I loved the feel of the keyboard,
the sound of keys rebounding,
and the undo button.
.                  And revision!
What better way to spend the day
than by making a story better?
I loved the characters, spoke
to them, felt what they felt,
saw what they saw—even the
villains—especially the villains.
I loved the plot’s twists
and turns, and letting it take
me where it wanted to go.
Yes. I loved all that
.           really loved it—
.                                      until…
When did it happen?
When did writing change
from a joyous exploration
to a dreadful chore?
When did it become an onus?
Was it before or after
the onset of this depression?
Cause or effect?
Cause and effect?
And how do I rekindle
that lost love?

© 2017, all rights reserved.

Poem #53: “A Vice of Excess”

I wrote some poems this week, and I’m going to try to reach my yearly goal while I still can. I’ll have to write about 45 or 50 more poems, but I might be able to do it. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s one of my recent poems:

A Vice of Excess

What is this strange affliction?
I sit for hours and hours,
pressing the button
again and again,
mesmerized by the spinning reels.
Sometimes I lose.
Sometimes I win.
But always, always, time passes by
and is lost forever.
Why do I do it?
What is this fever-filled madness
that drives me, this perverse hope
for a massive win that so rarely comes?
It’s not even real
money.
Pavlov would love
my slavering tongue
when the bells and whistles
ring out, bringing with them
news of a bonus won.
Will it be a good one?
Will it be a bad one?
Ah, the anticipation of the thrill
or the disappointment.
There is a tiny part of my brain
that reinforces this behavior,
a little clump of cells
in the cerebellum
that gets excited
by the intermittent reinforcement
B. F. Skinner so cleverly designed.
But understanding
the mechanisms of this addiction
is not quite enough
to overcome it,
no matter how desperate I am
to stop.

© 2017, all rights reserved.

 

Poem #52: “Plight of the Polar Bear”

It’s been awhile since I gave a writing update, but I haven’t had any reason to do so. Now that the Fall semester has come to a close, I’ll have some time to do some writing. I started by writing some poetry, and I plan to work my way back into I Will Be King before too long. I’ll start by proofreading / revising what I’ve already written, which should help me get focused on it, and then start working on some new scenes. In the meantime, here’s one of the poems I wrote the other day:

Plight of the Polar Bear

The polar bear evolved
.     for fields of ice and snow,
And there it has survived
.     for centuries untold;

But now that ice is melting
.     and the snow has turned to slush;
No longer does its snow-white pelt
.     conceal it in the brush;

Will they die off quickly
.     like so many species have?
Or will they linger long enough
.     to once again adapt?

© 2017, all rights reserved.

Poem #48: “Playing With Words”

I still haven’t done any writing of note, so there’s no reason for an update. The Fall semester is winding down, though — it ends in mid-December — and I’ll have a lot of free time after that. I’m sure I’ll get some writing done then. Here’s this week’s poem:

Playing with Words

A Wordsworth
of poetry
for
a Romantic
interlude: Ssssexy!

A Frost
y
response: Nyet!

Hmmm…
Russian for no?
Or a contracted
Not yet?

The road
less travelled?
Or the one
not taken?

A Dante’s
chance in
Hell?
Or
queued
up waiting
in purgatory
for the gates of
Heaven to open?

Not
to be?
Or
to be
coming
sssssoon?

© 2017, all rights reserved.

Poem #43: “Ball and Chain”

I didn’t feel like doing any writing this week, so nothing to report on that end. Again. I’m a bit late posting this, since I was busy grading midterms. The first batch are done, but there will be more to do next week. So, don’t expect much progress (if any) on my writing.

Here’s the poem:

Ball and Chain

Stranded in a sea of sorrow
with no life raft or a buoy,
no lifejacket made of foam
to keep my body floating,
and there you are beside me
trying to drag me under,
like the ever-present weight
of a soul-absorbing anchor.

© 2017, all rights reserved.

Poem #42: “Shucking Poems”

I didn’t do any writing this week. I worked on the reviews for the midterms and the midterms, instead. So, here’s this week’s poem:

Shucking Poems

I see the long poem
and wonder if it’s worth reading
through the rambling diatribe
and unnecessary verbiage
to find the kernels of wisdom
that might be hidden among
the dry, crinkly husks.

Then I think about the cob
lurking in its center
holding the husks
and kernels in place,
and I wonder:

Where would they be
without it?

 

© 2017, all rights reserved.