Reflections of the Past, Resolutions for the Future

Wow, what a year!

2014 was packed full for me, of both the good and the bad, but thankfully mostly good. My biggest achievement was earning a Bachelor’s degree in English at the University of New Hampshire, and I am extremely proud of myself for accomplishing that. I am so happy that part of my life is over – going to school full time is difficult while working and being a father of two small children. Part of me yearns to go back, though. Not just to earn a Master’s degree, but to sit in a room and talk books and writing with other like-minded people, to share my stories with them and to read theirs, to receive feedback and give my own thoughts and opinions. I miss that sense of community. Perhaps I should join a club…

The rest of the year flew by with the wind. Summer was over before I knew it, Halloween and Thanksgiving came and went, and Christmas was upon us almost before we had the decorations up. Now they are all taken down and today is the last day of 2014. Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is a new year. And with every new year comes the time to reflect on the past and create resolutions for the future.

My goals for this year were only partially met, and I am not upset about it. Not too much, anyway. This year gave me a good bearing on what I can accomplish, and now I can set better goals for next year.

My first goal for this year was to read at least twenty-four books. I thought I would struggle with this one, but I passed it with ease around June or July. My final tally was: 51 books, 3 plays, and 28 short stories and novellas. Of the 51 books, 7 were non-fiction and 6 were collections of shorter works. It was an amazing and inspiring year of reading. I read great books and crappy books, long books and short books, old books and new books. I read books that I had never heard of and books that sat on my t-read list until they were covered in time-dust. I read fantasy and science fiction, horror and mystery and thriller, even some romance. I tried not to limit myself too much. The most important thing is that I learned something from every book. Some books had hidden jewels or inspirational passages, some had influential ideas or masterful architecture, and others taught me what not to do.

Next year, I am going to push myself a little harder. My goal is to read 55 books, 12 plays, and 25 short stories and novellas. I want to dust off a few more that are on the to-read list as well as explore with new authors and genres. I also want to read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series again. I was too young when I read them the first time and want to read them with my more experienced writer’s mind. As for the plays, I started reading Shakespeare this year from the beginning. I am jumping past the Histories for now, but plan to read them in order of when they occurred in history (instead of when he wrote them). Hopefully I can surpass this goal again.

My next goal was for writing, and I did horribly, though I can’t say I’m not proud of what I did accomplish. My goal of 1,000 words a day was crushed into oblivion. I have come to the realization that I will not accomplish this until I can start selling stories and quit my part-time job. I also need a private writing space where I can be alone without interruption, which is also not possible because I need to watch over my hardly-napping two-year old. Sometimes the TV can babysit, but other times she just wants Daddy, and it’s extremely difficult to deny a princess. I also didn’t meet my one short story a month goal. I only wrote 9, but that is still the most I’ve ever done in one year. I can see my writing getting better with each story, though, and that is good enough for me.

This time I am lowering my goal to 500 words per day, or 3,000 per week. I still want to push myself to do more than that whenever I can, but I want to make sue I can set aside time to do at least 500. I still want to do one short story per month, and of course my ultimate priority is to get published. This year will be the year I accomplish that. I had set aside the novel earlier in the year so that I could focus on the short stories, but I have recently starting working on it again and plan to finish it by the end of 2015.

My final goal for this year was to lose some weight. And I did. Not as much as I had hoped but I finally broke free of the 190-195 plateau a little over a month ago. I hit 188 the other day, and now that the big eating holidays are over, I think I can shed a few more. I really want to fit into that pin-striped suit again!

And now is the time when we say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015. I hope your year was as fruitful as mine, and good luck with all your resolutions for next year!

Cheers!

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Progress Report

At the beginning of the year, I told myself I would keep up on this blog–at least once a month, preferably once a week–just to keep myself actively engaged in writing. But then, towards the end of my final semester in college, I took a break to focus more on my schoolwork, most of which I barely managed to complete on time. And when the semester ended, and I was finally finished with school and earned myself a degree, I thought about returning to the blogosphere to maintain that one post a week that I had somehow managed to keep up for the first four months of the year. At the same time, though, I started using all my writing time for fiction, and I decided that was a much better idea. The blog could wait.

And it did. I found it’s still here, just the same as it was before. Imagine that.

Now that summer is almost over, I have taken a few moments to reflect on the past few months, and reviewing my New Years Resolutions, I decided to give a little update. A lot has happened.

My main resolution was to write. My goal was to become published; at least one short story out there for the world to read if they choose. I also wanted to maintain an average of about 1,000 words per day, write at least one short story per month, and work on the novel on the side. Unfortunately, none of that has happened. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working hard. I have accomplished more this year than I have any other year in my past, and I am extremely happy with that. I don’t even think I’ve averaged 500 words a day, but I have completed nine short stories this year, and seven of those have been brought into being since school ended in mid-May. For the most part, I have been following a routine, which is good because I know it’s important. I feel a little burnt out, though, and for the past month I have been writing a lot less. I cut my writing time in half, managing only 100-200 words most days, just so I can spend more time with my kids before my son goes back to school. I feel that is the best decision, even if it hurts my writing. I still make sure I write SOMETHING every day, though, and that I am content with, for now. Next year is a whole new story, especially if I can get published this year. I do feel my writing keeps getting better and better, and that is not just my ego talking. I have learned a great deal by reading and writing a lot, not to mention the advice from other writers.

My reading objective is doing much better. I have been following the #readeverywhere advice, and I have been reading everywhere. I had originally planned to read 25 books this year, thinking that was a lot. It’s not. I’ve already hit 29. Five of those were non-fiction, and another five were collections of short stories. I have also read twelve separate short stories (from magazines or books or whatever). Now that I’ve seen how much I can actually read when I try, I will definitely bump that number up to 50 next year. I am maintaining a list of everything I read, even rating each book and story, and I plan on posting it at the end of the year, instead of writing a review like I had starting doing. That was just too much, and was taking away from my writing time.

My other resolution was to lose a few pounds, and I am happy to say I have succeeded. 12 pounds have been shed, and I see more going away in the future. At least until Thanksgiving and Christmas come around. But I have been more active lately, and have been eating and drinking less. I feel great. That’s the important thing.

So overall, I would say I have succeeded quite a bit so far this year. Though my writing is lacking a bit, I have still accomplished more than ever. It would be unwise for me to complain about that. There’s always room for improvement, though, and that I plan on doing.

My Shelf of Writerly Essentials

061Every writer has at least a few books he keeps handy for when he needs to quickly look up how some detail or phrase was written perfectly, or refer to a guide on formatting or development (plot, character, conflict, whatever), or even just to reread a story, chapter, page, poem, play that influenced him in a particular way. We all have these books, as reading is unarguably a prerequisite to writing, and certain books or authors influence us in a way that we want to recreate (in our words and style) from time to time. Some have a stack on the edge of the desk or shoved in a corner, leaning slightly like the tower of Pisa. Others have an entire bookshelf filled to the brim within arms reach. And then there are the mad genius types who have towering stacks completely surrounding them, pages torn out and stapled to the wall with highlights and pen markings all over, bookshelves filled twice over and spilling out onto the floor, desk cluttered so much the computer or typewriter can hardly be seen, complete with a narrow path leading to the exit in case of emergency. Whatever the case may be, we all have something we keep close so that we may refer back to it from time to time.

The obvious are the dictionary and thesaurus. Those are mandatory tools that every writer should have and use on a daily basis. But there’s other essentials, as well – books, as I already said, that influence us in particular ways that we need to keep thumbing through to find those golden nuggets. Mine is kind of small at the moment, especially since I regretfully have a lot of books in electronic format (those just don’t smell and feel the same). But pictured above is my growing “shelf” of essential reading material (someday they will sit on a real shelf near my desk, instead of on said desk), and I offer an explanation of why they are essential to me:

*Note* These book are only in order of size, so that they look somewhat neat on my desk, and not in order of importance.

The Norton Shakespeare Never mind that this is the Second Edition or that it is based on the Oxford Edition, this is the complete works of Shakespeare – every play, every sonnet, every poem, plus an introduction to each play – which includes a history, what it is based on, and an interpretation of key points – and articles on Shakespeare’s life and how he was influenced by certain events and books in history. I am so happy I took a Shakespeare class during my time in college. Even though the teacher was a little tough, he knew his Shakespeare forwards and backwards, and I learned way more from him than if I had just picked up this book on my own and started reading (which I wouldn’t have, because I had already found nearly all the plays for free through Amazon). That being said, this book has influenced me more than any other, I think. I had always been a fan of Shakespeare, but only limited to his more famous plays, such as Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, etc… There were many that I had never read, and never even heard of. Reading his plays, reading what they were about and what they were based on, reading what he was going through in life when he wrote each one has, influenced me in a way I never would have imagined – they are so expertly written that even though many are based on real events, he was able to completely fictionalize them and make them unique, as if he made the stories up himself. That is what many authors (if not all) strive to accomplish, and I am no different.

The Norton Introduction to Poetry – I am not a poet. I do not wish to be a poet. I enjoy reading and writing poetry from time to time, but I certainly don’t need this book for that. And I’ll be completely honest, I didn’t even buy this book – it was left on a “Free to Take” bookshelf, and I believe it was left there for me to find (no, not by the person that left it, but by whatever or whoever controls fate and luck and karma and et cetera et cetera, if such forces exist). The reason I was compelled to pick this book up is simple: I like to write fantasy. I enjoy creating worlds and realms and civilizations. And to create them, and to make them appear authentic, I like to add the occasional song or poem. I even like to create fictional books. What is a civilization that doesn’t have these forms of entertainment. Just a taste, is all I wish to add, something that enriches and even helps advance the story. And so I plan to scan this book for any tips it might offer to make said songs or poems seem real. Who knows, maybe I will even get a little more serious in writing poetry and publish my own chapbook some day.

The Essential Tales of Chekhov Anton Chekhov is one of those writers you either love or hate. But, honestly, I don’t know how any writer could hate Chekhov. And to be even more honest, I think the only reason people hate him is because there is so much hype surrounding him by writing teachers. I believe writers get sick of hearing about how great he is, and therefore begin to dislike everything about him, including his stories. Well I am not so narrow minded. The Essential Tales of Chekhov are essential for a reason – they show how to develop characters and how to develop short stories. Chekhov could write about anything. He is known for his blunt titles, which tell the reader exactly what the story is about (“A Misfortune,” “Enemies,” “The Kiss,” “The Lady with the Dog”), and for his expert characterization (which he likely excelled at because he had been a doctor for so many years). But besides those, Chekhov could tell a story. I was never bored while reading through this collection. I just kept turning the pages to find out what would happen, and it was never predictable. But besides that, his stories are real. Most of them could happen to anyone, and probably have. My favorite story from this collection is “Kashtanka,” which is told through the point of view of a dog, and even includes characterizations of a goose, a cat, and a pig. This story is amazing, and the actions of the dog are exactly how I percieve them, its thoughts are exactly how I imagine them. If I ever write a story that includes any of these animals, or one similar, I will be sure to refer back to that story. And I will constantly be referring to the whole book to see how a masterful story is crafted.

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers This was a requirement for a poetry class, only because the professor was a stickler for proper formatting (and even following the guidelines in this book was not good enough for her, she wanted perfection! But that being said, she was still one of the better professors I’ve had, and I owe her a lot for all the help she had given me). For almost two years now, I have been waiting to get rid of this book, waiting to finish college and be done with essays and research papers forever. For almost two years, I’ve been saying to myself, “I can’t wait to never have to look inside this damned book again!” I hate, hate, hate research papers and all these meticulous details and procedures that need to be followed. I knew that I would hang on to it just in case, but I would bury it as deep as possible in a box of college textbooks. But as I began typing this post, I realized that I still use it! Do YOU know whether to underline, quote, or italicize books, plays, songs, short stories, or whatever else you reference? I can never remember! Most bloggers probably don’t care, but there is a proper way to format anything that is published. Even if I don’t become a journalist (which I plan to try to get into until I make it as an author), I plan to quote books, songs, and stories in my books, and I know that I had better get the formatting right if I am to be taken seriously. I guess I’ll be hanging on to this book for a while then.

The Best American Short Stories 2013 – I believe this will change every year, as I plan on buying each new addition that comes out. Once I get a proper shelf, I may include each previous edition, but I’m not sure yet. But this is included because it shows me how the best short stories of each year are crafted. And while I work on my novels, I will continue to write short stories. I have not started reading this book yet, but I am sure it will greatly influence me.

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan is such a wonderful, unique writer, I had to include this. She has accomplished stories that I never could have imagined could be accomplished. I have read several of her stories from this book so far, plus a separate story that was published in The New Yorker, and I have been enthralled by everything, but especially by two very very original ideas. First is that story from The New Yorker, “Black Box,” which was written in 2nd person (a feat on its own, if you ask me and many other writers) and in tweet-sized snippets so that the magazine could put her story on Twitter. Yes, each sentence/paragraph/statement was 140 characters or less, and together they told a compelling story about a female spy. It is simply amazing. The other story I was particularly amazed by, “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” – which is included in this book and is also available for free (with audio) on her website – is told in the form of a slide show presentation. How unique is that? And it’s a good story too! These stories really show how diverse of a writer she is, and I will constantly look to her for inspiration.

On Writing – When I found out my biggest influence as a writer, Stephen King, wrote a book about writing, I snatched it up immediately. And then I let it sit on a book shelf for years before I finally delved into it. When I finally came to my senses a couple years ago, I started reading it. Most of the book is more about how King got into writing and how and why he writes, rather than on how to write. But I don’t need to know how to write. I know how to write, I know the basic fundamentals of writing. What I need to know is how famous published authors write, what worked for them and what didn’t, and more importantly, what tools they used in writing to help me fill my own toolbox. It’s not that I wish to copy them, but I want to learn what worked for their success and what they learned from their mistakes, so that I may apply it to my own writing and add it to my own learnings, and that is exactly what King wrote about in this book.

On Becoming a Novelist – This book has been recommended to me by multiple professors. I just added it to my collection, and all I have read so far is the foreword by Raymond Carver. But that foreword could nearly have been written by myself, it is so true to my own life and thoughts and feelings. And if that’s the case, then I know I will find something useful in John Gardner’s guide to writing. I can’t wait to explore it.

Bird by Bird – As the subtitle suggests, this is a book of “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” Like the others, this is not a book on how to become successful as a writer. Success is found individually, and no one can tell exactly how to do it. It is up us to find out on our own, but getting a little help along the way is always a plus. Anne Lamott has helped me significantly, mostly by making me realize that my writing is crap, or as she calls it, a “Shitty First Draft.” I think that is one of the most useful bits of advice any published writer could offer. It is important to realize that our stories are not perfect right away, no matter how much we think they are. And it is important to edit them, let them sit for awhile, then read them over and edit them again before we even consider sending them out for publication. The quicker you send that story out, the quicker it will get rejected. But also, we must not dwell on trying to perfect the story in the first draft. Getting the story on paper, no matter how crappy it is, is important, but it is just as important to go over it with a fine-toothed comb several times before we think it is complete. And even then, it’s probably not. Lamott also offers great advice and experiences on plot and setting and character development, as well as just getting into the write frame of mind. Like many other published authors, she recommends to start short, and that is why I include all the short story collections on this shelf of essentials.

For the Birds

This is not actually the 8th book I’ve read this year (I think it was actually the 10th), but I am falling behind on posting, and I really want to post my review of this brand new book, especially since most of my reviews thus far have been of old and older books. I was able to acquire this book for free before it was even published via Amazon Prime, and I feel I owe it to the author to post a review. I was hoping to get this done before the book was published, but I had a hard time finding opportunities to read in between school work (which involved a lot of reading). I don’t normally concern myself with spoiler warnings (since most of my reviews have been of older books, as I said), but this one has only been published for a short while, so here goes:

***This review may contain a few spoilers!!***

There you have it, so don’t read further if you don’t want to be spoiled. Note: I do not do major spoilers (like the ending or the big secret, etc…), only the small stuff that you probably know about before you even pick up the book.

Bird EaterThe Bird Eater (2014), by up-and-coming author Ania Ahlborn, is an excellently written horror story about a haunted house and the troubled lives of the people involved with it. Aaron Holbrook, the central figure of the book, returns to the house where his family was killed two decades prior in an attempt to restore not only the house, but his life as well, which is left in shambles after the death of his son. Though he is reunited with friends that thought he had died twenty years earlier, Aaron does not receive the kindest of welcomes back to his childhood hometown. There is one person in particular who incessantly torments him, nudging him further and further onto the brink of sanity. After hearing the ghost stories about the old home, Aaron is left to wonder what is real and what is not, but keeps pushing away those closest to him in fear that he will ruin their lives too, or that they will find out about his.

I really enjoyed how this book opens with two huge conflicts – a haunting and a death – which definitely succeeded in hooking me in. Ahlborn includes a lot of chilling dark imagery throughout that propelled me through the book, and really knows how to pack on the suspense, keeping me on the edge of my seat the entire time. She created characters that I wanted to cheer for as well as yell at, as they make numerous unintelligent decisions, reminiscent of old horror stories. Ahlborn also does a great job showing the scenes – utilizing all the senses to show every unique detail of the house, landscape, and characters. I was able seethe events perfectly while reading , though there was some confusion as she packs in a lot of backstory as well. That confusion is cleared as the story develops, though, as I began to put the pieces together. As the book progressed, and especially as it came to a close, I found myself wishing there had been more sections in the points of view of the supporting characters (Cheri and Eric), just to build their characters a little more. They did have some decent development, but I enjoyed being inside their heads in the brief times it occurred, and wished there had been more of it throughout the book.

Ania Ahlborn creates a unique and intriguing story in The Bird Eater, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. That last star could only be filled by adding more character development for the supporting characters.

Reading Like a Writer

I am absolutely horrible at literary analysis. I miss obvious symbols and themes, and I almost never make the connections to political or social problems, especially when they are well disguised. In all of my literature classes at the University of New Hampshire, I hardly get higher than a B. My essays usually fall in the B to B- range. And, though I always try to participate as much as possible in the discussions, I am usually baffled by the questions the teachers pose about these hidden meaning within the books.

But, honestly, I really don’t care about all that (as long as I pass the class!). I don’t read for the symbolism and deep, profound meanings. I don’t read to see an author’s view on political, social, or economical issues. I share Ernest Hemingway’s view on his most famous book, The Old Man and the Sea:

“Then there is the other secret. There isn’t any symbolysm [sic]. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

I’m so happy he said that, and I often wonder if a lot of other classic authors probably had the same opinion of their own books. Many times, there is no evidence that an author meant to have their book interpreted the way they are now (and we can’t go out and ask them now, can we?). Most of those symbolic and theme-based  interpretations come from scholars and symbologists that dedicate their whole lives to read through every word searching for hidden themes and symbols. But I really don’t see the point in that. Why is it so important? Why can’t we just read to be entertained?

That’s why I read. To be entertained. And to be influenced. I read as a writer, not a scholar.

This concept, reading like a writer, was first introduced to me last year by a professor of fiction writing. He expressed my very same views on symbolism, the very same views that Mr. Hemingway expressed above. When the class began, he made it a point to state that we would be reading published short stories, as well as each other’s short stories, in a way unlike any other class. He said that we would be reading to learn the basic concept of fiction writing.  He said that he wanted us to learn how to write fiction by studying the design of the way others write fiction.

He said that literary analysis classes ruin fiction.

And I wholeheartedly agree.

Reading like a writer means studying how these stories work. How they are laid out. How the plot unfolds. How the characters are developed. Instead of studying the symbology of a story, we study its architecture, its characterization. We look at sentence and paragraph structure. We look at what’s being said and what’s being implied. We look at what works to get a story published. Not only is it a great way to improve our writing, but it is a much more enjoyable way to read than trying to figure out why the writer chose certain concepts or images or themes.

My mind has been permanently altered by the concept of reading like a writer. Now, whenever I read, I pay close attention to smaller details, like how the writer described a scene/character or how how she created suspense. I study how terse or how verbose the dialogue is. I study how the story is presented, how time flows, the way flashbacks occur, where the story starts and how it ends and what lies in between. Despite all this studying, I still manage to enjoy the story, much more so than if I am constantly searching for how it secretly portrays the government or society or or some crazy crap like that.

In my writing, I have no desire in tricking people by hiding symbols, themes, or otherwise. If it happens, it is completely unintentional. The way I write stories is the way I intend people to read them. I just want my readers to enjoy the story as I enjoyed writing it. And I will keep on reading like a writer, even after I eventually get published, for I will always be able to improve my craft and challenge myself.

Write for Yourself

A couple weeks ago I submitted a story to my fiction writing class for critique. This is an upper level class, by the way, with two fiction classes as prerequisites, so it is more than just the basic fundamentals of fiction writing. So far, we have been focusing on technique, detail, and the aspects of a story. It has been quite interesting, and the teacher seems to be one of those mad genius types. You know what I mean? He’s got the “poof” hair that sprouts in all directions, looking like he got right to work in the morning instead of combing it, and he speaks more or less in riddles, which I’m sure only the most brilliant writers can understand. Anyway, he’s a really good teacher, and seems to know what he’s talking about. He’s had some good advice anyway!

Anyway, our assignment was to write a 5-page story and the whole class would critique each story during two of our two-and-a-half-hour sessions. I submitted mine for the first session, entitled “The Interview.” It was about a journalist, writing for a supernatural tabloid, who receives an invitation to interview someone with a secret. During this interview, he is told what seems like some cheesy vampire story, but turns out to be a teddy bear come to life and given omnipotence and immortality. Sure, it was a silly story, but everyone seemed to enjoy it, even the teacher.

But he left one comment that disturbed me.

But before I get to that, I should note that our first two assignments prior to this were 2-page non-fiction stories. First, we wrote about an embarrassing or you-wouldn’t-believe-this story about ourselves. Then we interviewed another student and wrote about an interesting or eventful time in his/her life. Though it wasn’t fiction, it was an educational experience, and has helped to improve my writing regardless. Being a college class, most people wrote about a failed relationship, an incident while getting drunk, or a hallucinogenic experience with drugs. Boring if you ask me, but that’s just my opinion. My interviewer wrote an extremely good story about my time on the submarine. He captured more emotion and mood in two pages than I could possibly express in fifty, and it was my story!

So our first two stories being non-fiction, we were finally on to fiction, like the name of the class suggests. My story went well, though there was some confusion about it. But that was the point. My intent was to fool the reader into thinking it was a vampire story, when really it had to do with a living teddy bear. And like I said, the teacher even praised it quite a bit. But, though he wasn’t trying to offend me, he did, a little. On the back of my paper, after all the good stuff, he wrote, “Next time maybe – for experiment – a realistic story – guys on a sub?”

I was astonished. A realistic story? Isn’t this a fiction class? As far as I know, most fiction takes unreal ideas or events and makes them real, just like I tried to do. My story, though it involved a living teddy bear, was certainly realistic. It had real details of a house in the middle of the woods, just like you can find just about anywhere in the world. The main character was a realistic person – a journalist striving for a good story. So it delved into the supernatural…so what? That is what I enjoy.

I’ve always been told to write what I like best, to not write just because that specific genre or style is popular, and that an author that writes what he enjoys most will write a better and more believable story. There’s a million quotes out there by successful authors that say the same. Now this guy is telling me to write something different, something that he wants to hear. I understand that he – and other people – would be interested to read about life on a submarine. But that doesn’t interest me. I did that for eight years, and I don’t feel like reliving it by writing a story about it.

There is a quote I read recently from an English editor and writer named Cyril Connolly (1903-1974), who was a good friend of George Orwell, and it goes: “It is better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” I cannot get over how meaningful that quote is, and it will stick in my mind until the day I die. Kurt Vonnegut, a favorite author of mine, also said something similar to a class he taught in 1965. He said, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I keep that to heart as well.

For me, that ‘one person’ is me. I write for myself, not for what others want. Sure, I will write the occasional story for my child or for my wife if they ask, but they are family, and they deserve it more than anybody. But for the most part, I write what I want to write, and I will continue to do so until I have no more ideas to write about. If I make millions in the process, I will embrace it and be overjoyed that my stories have touched so many. But until then, and even after that, I will continue to do what I am doing. And that teacher may never hear about my time on a sub, unless I decide to write about it for myself. Even then, though, it may remain hidden in the pixellated depths of my computer.

Sleepy and Stupid

Every writer has a certain time of day that works best for them. For most, it is when they feel the most creative. For others, though, it is only when they get the chance. Unfortunately for the latter group, they probably aren’t getting their best writing done. I know because I am a part of that group. I try to write when I feel the most creative, but I always seem to get interrupted. The dog whimpers at my feet, wanting to go out. The baby starts yelling that it is time to wake up or eat or poop or whatever. I suddenly remember that some assignment is due the next day or in a few hours, and that if I don’t start working on it soon, it will not bode well for me. Whatever the case may be, I am yanked violently from my creative depths to deal with the issues at hand, if I am even allowed to descend into those creative depths. So, reluctantly, I write mainly when I get the chance, when those interruptions are tended to, when the baby and dog are both sleeping in separate corners of the house, when the homework is finished and all is quiet around the house.What comes out is mediocre at best, but I’m happy I’m at least getting something written. There’s always time to edit later.

So when is the best time to write? When do those creative juices flow more freely than ever? When is it that we are able to reach deep down into the darkest nether reaches of our mind and pull out the best material? Well, it differs for everyone, obviously, but there does seem to be some general agreement on one certain time, and my fiction writing teacher last semester put it quite nicely in a way I’ll never forget. At the beginning of each class, he would write a quote on the board. For the most part, these quotes had to do with writing. But if they didn’t, it was easy enough to relate them to writing, especially if they involved being creative. One day, the quote had to do with the time in which we are most creative. I wish I could remember the exact quote, because it was a good one, but the teacher  gave us his own version, and that has stuck with me. He said, “The best time to write is when you’re sleepy and stupid.”

When I told my wife that, she said, “Then you should be able to write well at any time!” Haha, she sure is funny! But it’s true, I am tired all the time. And as for the stupidity, well, I wouldn’t say all the time. Just most of the time! Anyway, there have been other, similar quotes, too. It was believed that Ernest Hemingway said “Write drunk, edit sober.” There’s no documentation of him saying that, though. I’ve looked everywhere, and others before me have too. But somebody said it, and it means the same thing: Write when your brain is sleepy (I wouldn’t advise drunk, unless you really want to do a lot of editing sober!). Write when you first wake up in the morning, when you are still groggy from sleep, and have fewer distractions. Write when you are drinking that first cup of coffee in the morning. Write late at night when you should be going to bed instead. That’s when the demons come out–when we aren’t completely ready for it.

There have actually been studies done that somewhat prove that we are most creative first thing in the morning, right after waking up. We are [somewhat] fully rested, maybe have some crazy dreams still lingering around, and our subconscious has probably been thinking all night about what it wants to do after we wake up, like an anxious child on summer vacation. The morning is exactly when I used to write. I would wake up every morning at 5 am (sometimes even earlier!) and write until everyone else started waking up. It was great. I had no distractions, no interruptions, I just sat at my desk and wrote. During those periods of writing in the wee hours of the morning, I not only wrote my best work, but I also wrote the most pages. Honestly, an hour of writing at 5 am got me at least twice as many pages as writing during any other time of day. Lately, though, I just haven’t been able to write that early in the morning. Actually, I haven’t even been able to get myself out of bed that early! But when I do, I just stare at the computer and try to find distractions for myself, instead of keeping them away.

I’ve been trying to get myself back into the habit of waking up early, but it’s been proving a little difficult lately. I’m not sure what the reasoning is, but hopefully I can get back into it. It’s been said that developing a routine will cause your brain to better prepare for it. So I say, why not create a routine of writing when I am most creative. Maybe getting back into that early morning routine will get me out of this slump I’ve been in lately.