A Writer’s Funk: Writing Plenty, Producing Nothing

I have not forsaken the blogosphere. Normally I would blame my absence on the Muses forsaking me, but that’s not even true. I’m in one of those funks.  This particular funk is the no-matter-how-I-write-it-it-looks-like-crap-to-me funk.

Generally, I try to say something profound or at least remotely helpful in my blog. Taking a step back to consider that only posting when things work might be a misrepresentation of the writing life, I decided to post about what’s going on now—the time when nothing at all seems to work.

Gah

That moment when it gets really tempting to say, “Screw this shit! It’s whiskey o’clock!”

I have a couple of undone blog entries and an almost-finished short story for my project 13 Morbid Tales sitting on my laptop.

The blogs are being hindered by two pesky little demons: the Nobody Wants to Read That demon, and his bitchy associate, the What Will They Think of You demon.  The former whispers, “Seriously, who on Earth really gives a crap about that? The few who might have had similar experiences, so you’re not exactly enlightening anyone.” Meanwhile, the latter whispers, “What? You want the whole world to think you’re a wack-job, in addition to the few who know you well enough to know you’re a wack-job?”  Posting this is kind of my way of telling both demons to f*ck off. Hopefully it works, and you’ll see these posts soon.

The short story is another issue entirely. It has, in my opinion, everything a short story of its nature should have, except for that whole being finished thing.  It started with a loose outline, and of course, as the story started taking shape, it evolved well past the outline. Great! It should have done so. I had momentum.  I had direction. Well, I still have direction, but suddenly no momentum.  Every paragraph I write reads back to me a little something like this:

Blah, blah…Is that even a word?…Blah, blah…Bad segue…Blah, blah…Sentence I really like…Blah, blah, blah, blah…and, oh yeah—blah!

A friend and fellow wordsmith once advised me against doing the “writerly” thing, which, in that particular case, meant reworking a whole paragraph over and over to no avail just because I was too in love with the one sentence that was screwing it up to remove it.  Realizing how great that advice was after I took the troublesome sentence out (because I ended up with a great paragraph), I placed it in the great advice file in my memory bank to be revisited any time I saw myself in a similar situation.  Well, you know what I read after I took out that great sentence? Exactly the same as above minus the “sentence I really like” part! So I scrapped the shit. And by that I mean I scrapped the paragraph, not the story. The story is good.

So, for half a second, I decided to turn to free-writing exercises to help unclog whatever has been stopping me up. But that idea was shot to hell by my own screaming at myself to, for the love of Pete, focus on the task at hand!

Gah!

There is no conclusion to this post. No great pearl of wisdom. Hell, there isn’t even a plastic Mardi Gras bead of wisdom. Just know that I’ve not abandoned you. I’ve been keeping up with the reading of posts, even if I don’t comment, ’cause God(ess) knows, I haven’t even been able to write a good one of those lately!

Random Thoughts About Writing

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been absent from my blog for quite some time again lately.  This is not actually for lack of trying.  Pages of illegible scribbles in my notebook, numerous one-paragraph-long Word documents, and emails to myself (because sometimes inspiration strikes me at the day job, and a “remember this idea” email is the best I can do at the time), will all prove otherwise.  But not one thought materialized into what I would call a publishable blog.  This happens to me a lot.  It’s my thinkin’ ’bout stuff phase.  But I know if I don’t write something, I’ll just sit and think myself to death.  So I bring you…

Random Thoughts About Writing

1. Technical writing is not the same as writing writing.

To translate my thought for those lucky enough not to be living in my brain: Technical writing is not the same as creative writing.

Well, duh!

Some of you may know that I’m a technical writer as a day gig.  On a good day, I really like it.  On a so-so day, I tolerate it.  On a bad day, well…On the chance that someone from the place that puts food on my table is reading this, I’ll refrain from writing how I feel on the bad days. This, by the way, is not how tech writing is different from creative writing.  I have good, mediocre, and bad days with that too.  In fact, I’ve most likely had worse days with creative writing than I have tech writing. After all, I haven’t been collapsed on the floor sobbing about how badly I suck and how no one in their right mind should ever read or publish my atrocious work at the office yet.

One of the biggest differences between creative writing and technical writing (besides the obvious ones, of course), is how foreign technical writing still feels to me sometimes. While I’ve picked it up quickly—as it turns out, every time I’ve written “Proven ability to adapt to new editorial styles quickly and efficiently” on a cover letter, I wasn’t just talking myself up—it sometimes feels like I’m playing in a world I don’t fully grasp.  The best way I can think of to describe it is buying a shirt that says “yacht club” from the $5 rack at Wal-Mart. I can look the part.  I can play the part.  And I’m very good at my job.  But some part of me will always know that I’m a great big poser where technical writing is concerned.  It just isn’t my world.

2. Am I too rebellious to be a successful writer?

Some of you may be looking at that thought and asking yourself, “WTF?”  But stick with me.

I’ve always loved reading. I read all the time.  I think back to high school when, yes, I read all the time—just not necessarily what was assigned. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the literature I was assigned. It’s that it was assigned in the first place. I was told to do it, and so I did it grudgingly at best. At worst, I refused with the panache that only a poor, put-upon teen can muster.

Now I’m a grown-up and so I follow the rules because I’ve worked too hard and have too much to lose not to, but in a lot of ways, I’m still like that teenager I once was. Tell me not to do something; you best believe that’s all I’m going to want to do. Order me to do that very same thing; it’s the last thing I’m going to want to do. (Just so you know, asking nicely goes a long way with me.)

I, like most struggling writers (and what I mean by “struggling” here is that we still need day jobs and probably will for a very long time), dream of the day when my job is simply to write.  But what happens if and when that day comes?  What happens when I’m given a deadline to write precisely the stuff I like to write, and told to just do it? Will I still love writing as much as I claim to? Will I wake up in the morning excited for my day, or will I come to hate it simply because it’s what I’ve been told to do?

For the record, I’m pretty certain I’d still love it in spite of my rebellious nature, but since this thought kept me awake one night, it was worth addressing.

3. What in the hell kind of god am I?

“Whoa! WTF did she just write?”  But again, stick with me.  I’m not a weirdo. Well, actually, I am.  I’m just not that brand of weirdo. And truly, this thought isn’t even all that original.

Writers create worlds and they create the inhabitants of those worlds.  So as far as Word files and stacks of paper are concerned, writers are gods. That’s all I’m saying. And, like I said, it’s not even an original comparison. So, moving on…

What in the hell kind of god am I?  It’s actually a conscious decision that must be made.  If a piece is to be character driven (as the best pieces are), that means giving the characters free will.  Okay, got that.  So what if one of my favorites, my chosen (okay, maybe I am having a little too much fun with this metaphor) does something stupid that could get them killed? Do I let them die, or do I step in and throw them a bone?  And what made that character my favorite to begin with?  Was that character the most godly (the one most like me)?  And what about the characters I had no problem offing?  Am I a vengeful god? Did they have it coming? Did I create them solely for the purpose of being offensive enough to kill? And if so, what does that say about me?

And what about those characters I’ve abandoned altogether?  I have tons of work that just wasn’t working so it’s been put aside. Do my characters lament being abandoned by their god when I’m not working?

Like I said, I’m not that kind of weirdo. I am aware that my characters live only in my mind and on paper, and so I would have to write characters lamenting for them to do so. But it’s a fun little brain teaser for the next time you’re lying awake thinking about a writing project.  There are endless questions that can be considered along this line of thought. So I invite you to examine them for yourself, unless, of course, you actually want to get some sleep.

So that’s what’s been going on in my head lately.  Aren’t you glad I didn’t try to make any one of these topics its own blog?

Why It’s So Damn Difficult to Blog Daily

*Note: I changed the blog title shortly after this post.

I have to say that I had never really intended to blog daily, hence the name Devon’s Not-So-Daily Blog.  No, the name isn’t at all creative.  I know this.  It was one of those things I just slapped down when I realized how incomplete my profile really was, much like the bio blurb on my Twitter profile that reads, “I spent way too long trying to think of something clever to write here.  I gave up.”  I realize, that as a struggling writer (with experience in marketing, advertising, and public relations), these little blurbs may not be the best way to present myself, unless they are taken for self-deprecating humor, as I will claim was intended.  And if the blurbs are not received that way, I can always change them when the time comes.  But I digress.

Part of the reason that I never intended to blog daily is that, in hard truth, my life is just not that interesting.  While I’d like to think my fiction is pretty damn engaging and entertaining (see, friends, I’m not always hard on myself about my work), real life is pretty boring.  I get up, go to work, come home, do some other mundane stuff, and then go to bed so I can get up at the butt crack of dawn and do the same stuff all over again.  Sure, I get some writing done.  I attend social events when they come up.  This very night is game night.  But I question how blog worthy any of that is.

I certainly muse about any number of little life experiences in any given day, but does anybody really care about my theory that you can profile an entire personality based on how a person drives on the interstate?  Maybe someone might if it was based on some scientific fact or some research or experimentation, but it’s not.  It’s really just made up of the mean things I think when some dillhole cuts me off or insists upon driving 55mph in the left lane when the speed limit is 65mph (usually after cutting me off).  It’s much more likely that blog followers will profile my personality based on my obvious lack of tolerance for others who share the road.

Is anyone really interested in yet another opinion post about the pros and cons of social media?  Are there any people out there with burning questions as to why I signed up for Twitter months ago but have still only composed a handful of tweets?

Without the proper dark/supernatural fiction credentials under my belt, does anyone really care what I thought of last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, or last night’s episode of Supernatural? (I will take a moment to say I’m a fan of both.  And now the moment’s over.)

If any of the above interests you, by all means, let me know. If you would like to read something from me not mentioned above, I’ll take requests. Until then, I will leave you with this:

“Wise (wo)men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” -Plato

Waking Up

It’s been a while.  I have no excuse, but still have the desire to let blog followers know how life in my corner of the Universe has been.

I started a new day job as a technical writer.  I really didn’t like it at first as I wasn’t actually writing a word and, at the time, it didn’t look as though I would be.  Considering that I had been on quite the productive, creative writing roll before starting a new report-here-for-40-hours-a-week-for-money job, I admit that I got more than a little depressed about it.  And for some reason, not getting to write during the day pretty much took the wind out of my sails as far as any writing or blogging I would have decided to do in the evening.  So after my nightly job search was done (because I believed I’d made a horrible mistake in accepting my current job), I put aside the computer and stared dejectedly at the TV; remote in one hand, adult beverage in the other.

Of course, I wasn’t sleeping very well either.  It was the lack of sleep that finally drove me to confront my employers about how in the world they were going to hire a technical writer and not let her write.  I wish I had done this much sooner!  They assured me that I would be writing and possibly even editing soon, and explained why I was not doing so at the time.  Feeling better about everything, I slept like a baby that night (although that probably also had something to do with not sleeping the night before).  A couple of days later, my employers kept their word and I was assigned a real technical writing task.

But even with the problem at hand solved, the pattern of doing nothing with my evenings remained.  If someone had asked me if I was depressed, I’d have said no.  I wasn’t feeling particularly low anymore. In fact, I was feeling something that came close to contentment.  But there was very little difference between depressed me, and what I claimed to be a fully functioning, productive me.

Coming out of the slump felt more like waking up than cheering up. It usually feels this way, whether I “wake up” on my own, or whether I have some metaphorical alarm clock screeching at me.

This time I had the aid of the screeching alarm clock in the form of a submission deadline for a short story contest.  Honestly, part of me expected to go back to sleep after the “final” edits and the submission process were complete.  But I find myself faced with the other stuff I said I was going to accomplish.  I have other submissions to take care of,  a ton of reading to catch up on, a home to clean (because it is–in my opinion–a wreck), not to mention this blog.

Now, if someone could bring me some coffee…

Fear of Success?

So, I’m looking for a new paid gig again.  For the record, I hate being unemployed.  Shocker.  I think the legion of unemployed in this country would absolutely agree with me.  My guess is that most of us would rather be at work than sitting at home job searching and fretting about what’s going to happen when the money runs out.

For me, it goes even further than that.  I don’t do well with nothing to do and beat myself up for not being useful.  It doesn’t matter how many times my husband, my family, or my friends tell me I’m not useless, or how many of my various talents and abilities they point out.  I judge myself harshly and always have, which brings me to the conversation I had last night.

The Universe saw fit to remind me that I hadn’t finished my book yet.  The book is a compilation of my shorter works.  Many of the pieces were done when I decided to do a collection, but there weren’t enough of them to justify an entire book.  So, I decided on including 13 total pieces (because the tales and poems are of a morbid nature, so y’know…13), and I’ve had 11 for the past two years.   In truth, I’ve finished it five or six times over, but then I inevitably decide that I hate one of the stories, or that it doesn’t really fit with the theme, and I kick it out of the compilation.  Like many writers, I judge my work very harshly.  In my mind, it’s better that I tell myself I’m no good than to have some else say it.  Obviously, this isn’t true, but the fear of rejection haunts us all.

However, it has been pointed out that perhaps I don’t have a fear of rejection as much as a fear of success.  My first response to this was, “That’s crazy!  Who doesn’t want to be successful doing something they love?”  But the more I look at it, the more I think this may be a valid observation.

As I was searching through job listings, I bypassed a lot of the writing positions on the premise that “They don’t want me” or “I’m not qualified.”  So what if I’m not qualified?  Shouldn’t I leave that to a hiring manager to tell me?  I bookmarked those job listings and decided to sleep on it.

I directed my attention to the book in progress, and alas, I found another story that I thought I might remove from the project.  I took the file from my folder and made a comment to the husband about why I was removing it.  He wasn’t happy.

He pointed out that I do this all the time, and that he’d like to be able to hold his wife’s book in hands at some point in his near future.  And then he reminded me of that fear of success.

He was right.

I went to bed frustrated, but I woke up with resolve.

Whether it is fear of rejection, or fear of success, it is still fear.  It is still crippling.  It is what will keep me from being more than what I am.

So this morning, I applied to those writing jobs.  I put the story I didn’t like back in my compilation folder and made a commitment to work on it and make it something I DO like and CAN be proud of.  I put the little voice that tells me I’m not good enough in the corner with duct tape over her mouth.  The reality is that I don’t have nothing to do—double negative intended—because I actually have plenty to do. I have a paid gig to land and a book to finish.

I’m not useless.  And while the world doesn’t owe me a thing, the world should be damn happy I’m part of it.  I have a lot to offer.

I’m back

After much thought, I have decided to start paying attention to my blog again.  By “much thought” I mean that as I was sitting at my desk in my office today, truly sipping my coffee for once since I had already burned my tongue twice, I thought, Hmm, a writer should actually be accused of writing something at some point.  Considering myself on indefinite hiatus from the paid blogging in which I’d been dabbling, it took me all of ten seconds to decide to dust off the old WordPress blog. It took 2 minutes of my lunch break to reset my forgotten password, and then it was just a matter of getting through the day and my commute home. Images of myself curled up on the couch with my laptop, my creativity, and a cup of tea kept poking me no matter how hard I tried to concentrate on site analytics.

Okay, so that’s not a lot of thought at all.  What I have been thinking a lot about lately is the fact that I haven’t produced anything.  At least nothing more than a few scribbles on an errant napkin (which I inevitably lose), or a few chicken scratch notes in the ol’ moleskine that don’t mean squat anymore. Seriously, what in the hell did I mean when I scribbled “couple fight, car, end of”?  I have no idea, but the list of Motown songs to add to my iTunes library on the opposite page reminds me that I still don’t have Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” on my iPod.

I can blame procrastination for the state of my playlist, but believe it or not, procrastination is not to blame for my inability to produce fresh, engaging works of written art.

Quite simply, my outlook on life has changed.   Did you know it’s a lot easier to write dark fiction when you’re miserable and every other text, tweet, or status update you post includes an “FML”?  Crawling out of bed every morning might be a herculean feat, but writing a short story about blood, sweat, and misery? Piece of cake.

I’m not unhappy that my life isn’t unhappy. There is a limit to even my complaining, and I really did always hope I’d end up happy.  But where does that leave my writing? I still love dark fiction.  It’s still what I prefer to read. The genre is constantly evolving.  Which monster is hot this week?  Which fairy tale do we want to retell this month? Wait…vampires are out now? You get the picture. Keeping up with reading dark fiction is a bloody good time for me. And so, I feel the need to press on with writing it.

But it’s different now.  I’m sickeningly in love with my husband.  I enjoy my paid gig.  And speaking of paid, my bills are.  I live near the beach…and I just can’t be sad on the beach. The point is that I kind of feel bad for killing off the cute girl in the opening scene now that I know life doesn’t inevitably suck in the end anyway. It still might suck, but it doesn’t have to.

So, it’s time to expand my horizons.  There are some new scribbles in the moleskine that I have to get into a more legible format before I forget what “feathers in the breeze” means.

And, of course, I’m here to blog again.

Why Writing?

I asked myself, “Why did I choose to write?” That is, I almost asked myself that question. I knew the answer mid-sentence and therefore didn’t complete the question. The answer is simple, and probably something I have in common with other writers: I didn’t choose writing. Writing chose me. After all, why would anyone actually choose the rejection, the sleepless nights, the frustration that comes once you’ve rewritten a piece for the hundredth time and still hate it, and the legion of little self-doubt monsters that haunt you for any number of reasons?

Ahh…the sleepless nights! How wonderful it would be to get an idea and decide to deal with it in the morning! That, of course, is not how it happens; and trust me, I’ve tried. The general scenario is this: Inspiration hits me and I promptly look at the clock. For some reason my hours of greatest inspiration fall between 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. Knowing that if I start writing I could be up for hours, and also knowing that I have things to do in the morning, I try my best to roll over and fall asleep (or go back to sleep). But then I hear that little voice in the back of my head that says, “You know you’ll forget by morning.” To combat that voice, I end up going over and over in my head the little gems that must be written down. At that point, I know I have a choice. I can either sit up and take the time to fumble around in my drawer for my notebook and pen and at least write some notes or an outline, or lose the sleep I was so desperately trying to get by lying awake all night thinking about it. In fact, this very blog is being written from notes that I began writing at 2:43 a.m. As for fiction, it’s like my characters poke me in the middle of the night and say, “Seriously! You’ve had me sitting in this same spot for the last week mulling over how to get me moving again, and now you finally know and you’re not going to get up and write it! Yeesh! Some writer you are!” And of course, my character wins.

As if that’s not enough proof that writing is, at very least, something I have to do, my mother recently had the opportunity to show me that writing is something I have always done. I recently moved out of my home state of Pennsylvania. I’d been out of my parents’ house for years, but I had never been more than 20 minutes away, and there I was, at my parents’ house preparing to move 6 hours away. My mother, as many mothers do in such situations, began feeling nostalgic. This led her to pull out her memorabilia box full of things my brother and I had made that she’d saved over the years. Much to my surprise, because I had forgotten about most of this stuff, the box was full of little relics, perfect weapons against the self-doubt monsters. There were napkins…yes napkins…with little poems and story ideas. Also included were notebooks full of things I had written when I was bored, complete with little doodles as illustrations. There was even one poem I wrote for my mother signed “your favorite future author,” or, in my five or six year-old spelling “your faveret futcher author.” Or something like that. The point is that I’d always done it. And if I happened to have an idea and no pencil and paper readily available, paper towels and markers proved perfectly acceptable.

I used to get borderline offended when someone would compliment my writing and suggest that I might have a career in it. But I see now that writing was the only constant through the many phases of my life. When I was into dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, I wrote about what I might discover on a dig. When I wanted to be a veterinarian, I wrote about being a kind and loving veterinarian. When I was certain I wanted to be a famous actress, a phase that lasted so long that my first college major was Theatre Arts, I wrote stories about what my life would be like in Hollywood or on Broadway. Yes, I did attempt to write a play once, but stories were more my thing. Finally, I gave in to writing. I changed my major and magically my schedule became full of writing and literature courses.

The trick now is making a fruitful occupation out of it. Once offended at the suggestion that writing may be my calling, I now lap up those comments like a malnourished kitten faced with a bowl of milk. For the most part, writing has been its own reward. I love the feeling I get when I “finish” a piece. I put “finish” in quotations because a piece is never truly done, but still, there is nothing like that feeling of accomplishment once I’ve written the final line. As someone who writes dark fiction, I live for the moment when I manage to send a shiver down my own spine. It brings a feeling of success and happiness that, while it may be fleeting, is the high point of my day. And that, my friends, is why I write.