Change

There’s nothing better than being finished for the day. Granted, that might look a little different for me. I write early in the mornings and workout at lunch. Right now, these seem to be the major hoops in my life. I work from home and find that my current occupation is compelling enough to keep me interested, so it’s not so much of a chore. Thus, by the time I’ve finished my lunchtime workout, I’m usually feeling pretty good about the rest of the day.

In fact, the second half of my workday tends to feel a little like a downward slope (in a good way). I’m willing to bet it’s because the workout has my endorphins flowing, rejuvenating me, and making me feel like the second half of the day is a bit more comfortable than the first. But knowing that my writing is finished as I walk home from the gym tends to make me feel like a superhero. And if I think I can fit in another writing session later in the evening? That’s even better.

This may be the benefit of being an early riser and explain why I’m conflicted about a change coming to my household—one that could require me to write solely in the evening or at lunch, forcing my workout into another time slot altogether. I’m, of course, resistant because I don’t want to miss out on the neurotransmitter-driven high I’ve been experiencing in the afternoons.

On the other hand, I want to see this kind of challenge or change in my routine as a welcome interruption. (Even if it’s disruptive and requires a bit of adaptation.) It could be similar to altering my workout regimen from dumbbells to bodyweight or vice versa. In other words, it can be beneficial to modify a routine.

Change can bring unexpected benefits. I’m not sure how I’ll feel if I need to start working out at night or consistently writing at that time, but I plan to approach the new situation with a sense of optimism. Because I’m hoping it’ll bring me a feeling comparable to being finished with the day around 1 p.m., except with a unique flavor all its own.

photo: Stephen Hateley

Inspiration

You don’t need inspiration. Being creatively stimulated is… well, it’s necessary. But some people believe they should wait for inspiration before they begin writing.

Inspiration needs to be stoked, prodded, and probed. It should not be your muse. Inspiration should be your therapist. Go to it for answers or, at least, for a sounding board. If you find yourself waiting for inspiration, then stop waiting and begin the search.

Provoke your creativity. Work—that’s right work—at being inspired. Otherwise, you will always be at the mercy of your inspiration. This can’t be because you will sometimes feel like you don’t want to write.

And you have to write.

Inspiration is beside the point. Don’t let it have power over you. A writer should always be able to sit down and put words on the page.

Try thinking of it as breaking a wild horse. Tame your inspiration and bring it under control. Then go galloping bareback through the fields. The point is that inspiration should be something you ride into the sunset. If you let it ride you, you may not go anywhere.


Update:

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. -Stephen King

photo: Alice Donovan Rouse

Murakami

The interplay between mood and tone is what always brings me back to Haruki Murakami. I can see how some might complain that it makes his books too similar. But I don’t see a whole lot of people complaining about his writing.

I admire the fact that the work carries a similar attitude throughout his extensive bibliography. I have to imagine that a body of work that shows consistency and growth would be an author’s dream.

I came to Murakami like most—through Norwegian Wood. Since then, I’ve read just about everything else. I think A Wild Sheep Chase is my second favorite work he’s produced. (That may be, in part, because of what I know about how it was written.)

My favorite book by Haruki Murakami is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I’ve actually only listened to it on audiobook, but I’ve probably heard to it a dozen times because, for a time, I played it repeatedly while jogging.

The book details Murakami’s journey as a marathon runner. But it includes some reflections on his early days as the owner of a jazz bar and an emerging novelist.

Murakami’s first works were pitched as novels, but they were novellas. A Wild Sheep Chase, on the other hand, is novel-length and demonstrates a move in a more mature and developed direction. According to his autobiographical book on running, that novel involved both risk and uncertainty. And, for god’s sake, it gave us the sheep man.

One last thing, if you’re wondering why there’s an image of a cat at the top of this essay, you should read Kafka on the Shore.

photo: Marko Blažević

Flash

Writing flash fiction was one of the ways I trained myself to write a book. I made a few attempts at writing a full-length novel just over ten years ago and failed on multiple occasions.

The problem was I hadn’t fully prepared myself to write a book. First off, I hadn’t created an outline. Secondly, I didn’t know my characters. I just knew that I wanted to write a book, so I dove right in.

I don’t necessarily think this was a mistake. The alternative may have been to continually talk about wanting to write a novel without actually sitting down and doing it. Instead, I envisioned the first scene, had a general idea of where I was going and proceeded to fail miserably.

A couple of years after my first attempts, I encountered flash fiction and sat down to write a novel-length work of microfiction. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the perfect training for writing novels.

I got to the point where I could write about 1,000 words (or one piece of flash) in about an hour. It was an exercise or preparation for what I started to see could be scenes or a portion of a chapter.

The next time I tried to write a novel, the word count came to 90,000 words. The trick was that I wrote it 1,000 words at a time. In this way, I was able to complete a much longer work. That novel wasn’t very good and was full of fatal flaws, but it was a step in the right direction.

In short, writing flash helped me get over a hump. Even if it was only the discipline of sitting down every day to write a flash fiction piece, I learned how to break a larger work into much smaller chunks. My hope is that this gives each chapter an arc that feeds into the larger narrative.

photo: Kristopher Roller

Quitting

I’ve been thinking about quitting lately. I’m not sure if all writers feel this way from time to time or not, but I do know that it’s started to cross my mind with some frequency. The problem is that it may be a pointless thought. Writing is a constant for me.

And, at present, I’m working on a new novel. That’s not exactly “quitting.” At the very least, I want to finish the project I’m working on right now. So, it would probably be a good idea if I rid myself of that thought and approach the notion of giving up with a bit of Zen.

Admittedly, that’s going to be difficult. I’ve not reached the level of success I would like. And I have to wonder if the continued effort is worth it. Does anyone want to read what I write? Are there other things I could pursue that would bring me the success I desire? Or should I just use my spare time to enjoy other hobbies?

This debate has resulted in a bit of a slow down, which may be healthy. I’m writing less. I’m not sure if this is the best solution, but it’s allowing me to approach my work differently.

So, will I quit? Or can I? I can’t say for sure, but I’ve been convinced that I had a book that was worth publishing a couple of times before. I couldn’t find an agent then, and I wrote another one. Either way, I’m committed to finishing this one, even if it’s just for me. I can worry about what to do after that when the time comes.

That’s kind of Zen, isn’t it?

photo: Emily KenCairn

Crichton

Words like “clean” and “concise” come to mind when I think of Michael Crichton’s writing, but I’d go further and say that his prose displays almost surgical-like precision. It makes sense: He was a medical student and the creator of the television show ER.

Jurassic Park was first published when I was twelve years old, but I don’t think I read it until after the movie came out a few years later. I’ve read a few novels that feature dinosaurs since then, and it’s still one of my favorite sci-fi reads.

I’ve read most but not all of Crichton’s work (several copies sit on my bookshelf), and it’s all expertly crafted. And whereas I wouldn’t say there’s anything glamorous about his writing, there doesn’t need to be. Maybe his involvement with Hollywood was the flashy part of his work because his books seem to come from a genuine fascination with science.

Of course, he told stories and created suspense incredibly effectively. He was also known to do a great deal of research. I read that he went to his office and worked each day from 8 to 5 and sometimes longer. I might be making that up, but I like the idea of the life of a writer resembling a day job.

Writing is work.

Like a few of the other writers who’ve inspired me, I tend to go back to them if I put down a book I’m not enjoying. Or when I want to read something familiar. Maybe this comes down to the tone of the works, but I’m not sure. In the end, Michael Chrichton wrote with authority as I hope to.

photo: Aditya Vyas

Social Media

I have mixed feelings when it comes to social media. I’m not interested in most of the tweets or posts that appear on the various platforms. There are exceptions, but for the most part, I think it’s a waste of time, and I find myself perusing social media sites only when I’m too brain dead to do anything else. So, maybe it’s not a total waste of time. It plays the part of a numbing agent.

When it comes down to it, the notion that a writer should create a social media platform before publishing a book seems a little bit absurd. Some people create a social media platform based on a blog, but I’m not particularly interested in any of those. (That may sound hypocritical since this is a blog, but I’m primarily writing this for me. If other people take notice, that’s great, but that’s not necessarily the aim.)

I tend to pay more attention to the social media accounts of individuals who’ve already written books (primarily the ones I’ve read) or of those who have performed in films I’ve seen (mostly the ones I’ve enjoyed). Public figures seem to bring their following to social media most often. The other way around or gaining an audience through social media is rare and somewhat odd, in my opinion.

Regardless, I have some pretty strict rules when it comes to various platforms. In no particular order, they are:

  • To promote quality
  • To post professionally
  • To maintain privacy

Developing these rules took some trial and error, so I understand that many people on social media platforms are merely trying to find their footing.

I should also note that my rules are flexible and may change if and when I gain a following. But they may not. The truth is, I don’t need the public figures I follow to share insights into their personal lives, even if I understand the reason that they do.

photo: George Pagan III