You’re Not Hemingway: Writer Things

Welcome back to your favorite way to start your weekend! (you know it’s true)

Going into this weekend let’s talk about some writer things. I’m not talking about things like pens, paper, writer confetti…

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(Writer Confetti)

Over the years I’ve realized that many people have some ideas of what writers are like. I’m not going to go into all of the different stereotypes, that could take a while. Instead I’m going to focus on the two that kind of go hand-in-hand. These are the, “Coffee House,” and, “Alcoholic,” writers.

You know what I’m talking about. The Coffee House writer is the writer that sits in a public place, usually at a coffee shop or with coffee, and writes. Now I’ve been guilty of this one myself on several occasions, but unlike the stereotype I was actually there to work in a space away from where I lived. The Coffee House writer is more interested in being SEEN writing rather than ACTUALLY writing. You will know them by their screens tilted so that others can see it, constantly roving eyes looking for eye contact, and them jumping at the opportunity to say, “Why yes! I am writing a novel! It’s a space epic about a chimpanzee star pilot falling in love with an alien made of mold whose people are at war! It’s really a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but you’d have to read it and have a degree to get it. LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT!!!” If you see this person, you must shun them! SHUN!!!

The other type is the Alcoholic writer. This is the writer that claims that they are, “unable,” to write without alcohol. As if they have some sort of mystical liver that if you pour alcohol in a great American novel comes out.

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(If you look closely you can see he’s going to spring into a flurry of writing at any moment)

This kind of writer will use alcohol as an excuse to do stupid things all in the name of their, “art.” Really they’re just using writing as an excuse to drink. Shun this person. SHUN THEM!!!

Now at this point you’re probably curious how these two kinds of writer’s came to be. It’s simple, blame this man:

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This is Ernest Hemingway. (seen here typing a few words before he goes and shoots a lion in the face) Hemingway, for those of you who don’t know, was a famous American author who made a name for himself writing about drinking and manliness. He was well known for writing in cafés and drinking enough alcohol to fuel a rocket. To this day many of his works are still seen as some of the greatest American novels ever written and are frequently taught in schools. Now because of this man:

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(Yes, this man)

Many people make a show of imitating his public writing and drinking exploits thinking that it will make them either a better writer or a more authentic one. The worst part? Many of these annoying asshats don’t even realize that they’re imitating him! They just think that’s the, “thing,” you do to be a writer.

So there you go! For those of you who think this is all writers, hopefully you know more and realize these two kinds of writers aren’t to be encouraged. That real writers are the ones busting ass at a keyboard on good days and bad, whether the inspiration is there or not, whether or not anyone sees it. The other kinds? They are to be shunned. Shunnnnnnnnd.

Today is My Birthday!

So in case you missed the title of this blog (and are apparently blind) today is my birthday!

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(Boom Baby!)

That’s right! Today I turn 28 years old. To some that only means that the Earth has gone around the Sun 28 times since I was born. To others it means that I, like a bottle of fine wine or whisky, ONLY GET BETTER WITH AGE!!! The downside is that I have to deal with the fact that it’s been 10 years since I graduated high school…

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So on this auspicious occasion, I thought I’d take some time and instead of look at where I’ve been (mostly drunk with good friends) and look at where I’m going (only sometimes drunk with good friends).

Looking ahead I’ll be married to the world’s most wonderful woman a year from September. This is something I never thought would happen and now that it’s happening I can’t speak to the joy she brings me every day (I can speak to the annoyance I bring her every day though…). A few short years after that the man that the world doesn’t know what to do with one of will start to have children. I’ll call them…my Mini Me!

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(Cue evil laughter)

From there in my personal life, who knows? There really is no limit to the simple love and joy that can be found in the everyday life of a family. It’s honestly the only goal in my life I ever really thought I’d achieve. But now with the boost that I feel each week from all of you reading I think that maybe…just maybe I can reach my other life dream of being a real honest to God published writer.

My Writing Goals are thus:

  1. Finish the first draft of my book by the end of 2017.
  2. Complete editing my book by the end of 2019.
  3. Find an agent and get my book published by the end of 2021.

There you go! By January 1st, 2022 I’ll be 32 years old and if all goes will I’ll be able to walk into a Barns and Nobel and see my book on a shelf. Now you may be asking yourself, “Batman, why will it take Spencer that long to publish his first book?” Simple answer? Editing takes a LOT of time. Many books are long and I have a feeling mine will be too when it’s finished. Editing something like that doesn’t just happen with a twitch of a nose or the bob of a head; it takes years of work and dedication to making it the best it can be. For me this is important because I think I’ll probably only get one shot to impress an agent, and damn it…I want to make it count.

Now let’s get down to business, to defeat….wait wait wait! It’s my birthday! That can wait for now! I’m off to have some fun!

*gets up and walks out of room*

*cricket chirps*

Writer’s Block: Don’t Stop for Fog

Hey You Guyyyyys!!!

Welcome back! Before I begin this week’s topic I wanted to stop for a second and sort of check in with you on my progress with my writing that I mentioned in the first blog post.  In a word? “Awesome” (que explosions) Seriously, it seems that by reaching out to all of you I’ve found the gas pedal to get my writing engine going.

It’s like I asked all of you, “You wanna ring the bell?”

And you responded with a deafening,*Ding Ding*

This week I even ran into what is widely considered the worst thing that can happen to a writer, and no I’m not talking about terrible movie adaptations of good books (I’m looking at you Eragon! I will never forgive you for that pile of shit movie!). I’m talking about writer’s block.  For those of you who have somehow magically never heard of it, writer’s block is when one is writing (go figure) and suddenly the ideas stop. The mental faucet is turned off and the words stop flowing. You stare at the endless expanse of white space and a blinking curser looking for what’s next and even at times pleading for it to just show up on the screen (or page if you’re old school).

So there I was, just finished a chapter I’ve spent about a month working on and looking down at the start of the next, and I had no idea what I was going to write. I knew where I wanted to end up, but couldn’t think of what to type next to get there. And that’s when it hit me, writer’s block is stupid. It’s my fantasy world, my book, and my words. I can put down whatever the hell I want!

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(Insert maniacal laughter)

Just like that my mind kick started again and I was typing away. Writer’s block is only the fear of editing, not a lack of ideas. It’s the lack of willingness to possibly put down bad ideas. If I was driving and suddenly it was foggy so I couldn’t see where I was going and I still had to get to the video store to return a movie by midnight (seriously, if I show up at 4am I should get a pass for effort), I wouldn’t just stop driving and wait for the fog to clear so I could see where I was going. No! I’d crank some 80’s hair band on the radio, bang my head like I’m in Wayne’s World, and pray to God I don’t hit anything!

So I’ve stopped worrying about writer’s block and good ideas, knowing I can work it out later. I’m writing like crazy and I’m super excited about it. Basically, I’ve made up my mind and I ain’t wasting no more time…so until next week readers, here I go again!

Creative Inspiration: The Real Guardians

Alright folks it’s time to take a jump to the left!

So to give all of you something to look forward to, I’m going to dedicate one entry a month to talk about either a book, TV show, or movie that has helped either inspire me creatively or may help to inspire you. I’m uncreatively calling this my, “Creative Inspiration Series” (Irony).

For our first inspiration outing I wanted to do something special. I wanted to take a look at a fun group of heroes that have had a huge impact on me and star in my favorite movie, and with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 just coming into theaters the timing couldn’t be more perfect!

Today we’re talking about The Fifth Element!

5th Element

Now I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Um Spencer, what the hell?” And that’s simple, as much as I loved the first Guardians of the Galaxy and how I’m incredibly excited to see the sequel, for me the real guardians of the galaxy will always be Korbin Dallas and the group of heroes from this movie. I mean seriously! This movie came out in 1997 and is still amazing. Actually the timing couldn’t be more perfect with the movie celebrating its 20 year anniversary this past week.

If you’ve somehow never seen this distilled bit of awesomeness you make me sad. The plot follows Korbin Dallas played by Bruce Willis in his second greatest role (if you have to ask what the first is all I have to say to you is Yippie Kay-Yay Motherfucker!) as he helps a priest, a radio DJ, and the ultimate weapon who is also a supreme being…

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(They really did make her perfect.)

…stop evil itself from destroying the Earth. This movie features great practical special effects, good humor, kickass action, and that something else. That thing that exists in some movies but not others, that we can’t put our fingers on. It’s the thing that makes a good movie great. The same way that before my fiancé taught me how to cook, I would have all the right ingredients, I’d put them together, but it still would taste like I scraped it out of a restaurant dumpster after a week in the sun.

Since I was a kid and first saw this movie I’ve loved it. The way it throws you into an expansive world filled with futuristic technology and culture, yet never hits you over the head with exposition. It never even explains much of what you see in the movie that isn’t directly related to the plot (though it does give some clues here and there if you think and pay attention). It’s this kind of attention to world building that I look to bring into my writing. I want to breathe life into my world and give it that kind authenticity that makes you feel like you could really be there if only you could find the universe’s greatest travel agent. (If only The Doctor had a day job!)

Is this the world’s greatest movie? No. But it’s the only movie I’ve ever watched that I could watch all day every day and never get sick of and that’s got to count for something.

Now you must be thinking to yourself, “Hmmmm, Spencer this all sounds good, but I haven’t seen this movie and I’m busy as hell. Should I really take the time and watch it?” …Yes, yes you really should watch it. To be honest not doing it may give you cancer. I mean I’m not a doctor or anything, but do you really want to risk it?

Besides!

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It’s my favorite!

Perspective: My Different Point of View

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a great week! I want to give another shout out to all the wonderful people out there who are full of support for this blog! *Wipes tears away* You guys are the real MVPs!

So this week I wanted to talk a bit about perspective. And no I’m not about to start lecturing on the difference between first person and third person omniscient point of view in writing. (If you do know the difference or even just what I’m talking about give yourself a glorious Michel Bay style exploding high five!) I’m more talking about how I think writers, or creative types in general, see the world.

Below is an example.

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What you see is just an old red barn like the kind you’d see anywhere in Wisconsin. Pretty, but not much else to it…but is there? When I look at this barn my brain goes into two directions. The first direction starts to describe it. Thinking of the smell of grass around its base, the texture of the red paint flaking off, or the groan the hinges would make if I opened the doors. It’s kind of a reflex I’ve developed to get me thinking how I would describe something in writing. The second direction is way more fun. Sometimes I look at a barn like this and I ask myself, why is there no path to it? Why is this old barn still here? Whose barn is it? Is it a meth lab? Is it a hide out for CIA operatives? IS THERE A SECRET OPENING TO ANOTHER DIMENSION FILLED WITH DRAGONS INSIDE???  You see my point.

A large part of the creative spirit is knowing how to see the world as it is, but also how it could be (and not in a plan for the future kind of way). I read once that Stephen King often gets his ideas from asking questions about everyday things. What if that town was empty? If so, why? Or What if people who went to a hotel never left? The best part is everyone reading this is capable of it. Yes! You! (Not you in the back in the bean bag chair though, you put some pants on and get a job before you start day dreaming!) I’m sure each and every one of you has at some point in your life stared out a car window and pictured someone or something running alongside the car. (If you say you didn’t you are either a liar or I’m very very sorry for you.) The point is everyone has the ability to see the world from a different perspective.

Time for an experiment!

I want you to look at the picture below and think of it first in terms of description (the more boring way) and then in terms of creativeness!

I’ll wait.

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Still waiting.

Waiting…

Done?

Sure?

Ding! Times up!

Did you smell the bread? Could you almost taste the wine? Or? Did you ask who these people are? Why are they having this meal and why are they only on one side of the table? Are they entertaining a new boss? Assassins preparing to kill a mark? Or maybe a couple having a date night that ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time trying to wine and dine an alien overlord in order to convince them not to blow up the Earth? The possible ways of looking at the world is really only limited by you. Since I write fantasy (I hate the term “genre fiction” with a passion!), I always focus on looking past the “everyday,” and try to see the “fantastical.”

So? Did you come up with something good? Did you surprise yourself? More importantly did you have fun, seeing the world as something more?

Now go forth and think like a writer!

Perfection: An Evil Tease

So here I go again! (Cue White Snake)

Before I get into what I want to talk about this week I have to take a second to give an overwhelming thank you to everyone who took the time to not only read my first blog, but also this and (fingers crossed) future ones!

So this week I’ve been doing well in keeping up with my writing schedule. I feel more pressed to write knowing that I have an audience of people to report and be accountable to. I always did well under pressure when I was in school. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I pulled last minute all-nighters to get essays done on time. I’m fairly sure I’m owed a free case of Nos for all the energy drinks I had in college!

With doing well for my writing schedule I decided to do some writer math. I was once told in a class that the average paperback book has roughly 350 words per page assuming you use standard font, size, and margins. I have a rough goal of a 350 page book and as it turns out I’m 1/8th of the way there. Figuring that out there was as much rejoicing as a Monty Python skit and I was back to it. The thing is, as I push ahead I have this nagging drive to go back over where I’ve been. One step forward and three steps back is line dancing, not writing.

The problem is that I think like a lot of new writers, I’m afraid to get messy. I don’t mean finger painting or dirty clothes everywhere messy, I mean the rough around the edges first try messy. I have this constant need to keep going over what I’ve already written and edit it again and again, a drive for making the writing closer to perfect each time. The problem with that of course is that if I’m always editing then I’m never going to push forward enough to finish the rough draft in less than a decade.

I think editing as I go comes from the fact that writing isn’t a visual act. You can’t look at a writer sitting at a computer and say, “Yep, that guy’s almost done. Prepare the novelist confetti!” So since you can’t watch writer’s work, you have to just go off the end result without seeing the endless hours and years of time and energy that went into it. There is just no such thing as perfect the first time in writing. (I’m also pretty sure that applies to just about everything, but since I spent most of my life tripping over my own feet I feel that I’m not a good judge of this.)

This then is the half-baked assbackwards notion of new writers. That editing is a dirty word and that everything must be done perfect the first time. I would like to take a moment here to point out that perfection isn’t real. If it was there would be no such thing as director’s cuts or definitive editions and the reverse is true. If it wasn’t for the pursuit of perfection many great works wouldn’t be ruined by an attempt to better them. (I’m looking at you George Lucas! Get Hayden Christensen the Hell out of my Return of the Jedi!)

So you’re asking yourself, “What’s your point nerd?” And my point is this, that I’m letting go of perfection. It’s advice that I’ve read from many writers and I’m embracing it. I’m storming ahead trying to pump out as much new writing as I can and choosing to leave behind pages that may only be ok or flat out suck. I’ll come back to them later. I’ll edit and make this thing as close to perfect as I can without ruining it. I want to be a good writer in fact, not just as a romantic notion. Considering that many things I’ve tried and not been perfect at right away I’ve given up, I think I’m growing. (Cue adulting confetti!)

Beginnings are Hard: My Journey So Far

Hello!

Hi!

Greetings….

Ummm…

Errr….

Salutations?

Beginnings are hard!

I’ve spent my whole life starting and stopping more projects, hobbies, etc. then I’d care to admit and two constants that I’ve always found are that beginnings are hard and quitting is easy. It’s been a nearly lifelong dream of mine to become a writer and publish novels and maybe even blog about…stuff? But for various reasons nothing ever panned out.

One of my greatest fears in this is that someday I’ll finally cross the threshold from legitimate writer to “That Guy,” the asshat that always brings up their writing with pride but mysteriously never has any writing to show. Even the crazy guy down the street sitting in his underwear and covered in chicken grease in his basement who writes a 2,000 page fantasy epic about toothbrush stealing flying badgers is a far greater writer than “That Guy.” This is because the crazy guy’s book is real and asshat’s is not.

So as I approach my 28th birthday next month I have a new goal in life: Don’t be an asshat. It’s a goal simple in its statement, but a never ending bitch in its execution. With this in mind I’ve decided to ride the line of possibly sounding like an asshat and state that yes, I am working on my first book, but I’m also starting this blog. This blog will not be about what I’m specifically writing about, but about the weekly experience of writing, thoughts on writing tips I’ve read over the years, and possibly other random crap that falls out of my legitimately strange mind.

I’m starting this week on the history of my personal journey of writing to this point and how I’ve become a stone’s throw from becoming an asshat. I will try to update weekly and at some point I will pick a day of the week and stick to it, but for now you’ll have to deal with me figuring things out as I go along. As well this will almost certainly be the longest blog post I do so don’t get to testy if future posts are a bit shorter. Also if you’re still reading this that means you either know me personally (Hi!), or you’ve most likely stumbled upon my blog bored out of your mind with nothing better to do. Either way it’s nice of you to stop by and enjoy the crazy. Thanks!

Like most people my age, I didn’t love books until I was first introduced to Harry Potter. I was in the 5th grade and had always loved dragons, wizards, and magic, but the idea of actually sitting down to read wasn’t going to happen. That was what T.V. was for. But as I sat in class as our teacher would take ten minutes or so a day to read about the adventures of young Harry the idea of reading for fun began to take hold. Who knew that books could be…well fun.

Fast forward then to the 6th grade and Mrs. Winker’s English class. I couldn’t begin to tell you if asked what I learned that year about English or what books we read. Of that entire class one specific thig did stand out in my memory and will be with me my whole life. We were given blank hardcover books and told to write a story into it and illustrate it. I can still remember the crisp whiteness of it like an untouched field of snow in the moonlight. I was to write my first book. I was almost overwhelmed with the possibility. What to write? It couldn’t be any story, not in something as beautiful as a blank hardcover book. Since I was little I’ve always loved stories. If you’ve ever met my family you know that it’s in my blood to tell stories all the time. I eventually wrote a story of a boy fighting an evil monster. Looking back the story was terrible and didn’t make a ton of sense, but it was mine and meant the world to me. When it was graded Mrs. Winker looked at my book and told me that I’d make a great writer someday. I’ve never forgotten her words.

From there it’s the same story I’m sure you’ve read about many times. I started small with short stories and poetry, but never attempted a novel. Lots and lots of reading, but no serious writing. Like many writer’s I’ve met over the years I was in love with the idea of writing a book, but it wasn’t something I felt capable of now. I always had this vision of a future me that would magically be a better writer than I am today. It took me a long time to realize that this is the self-generated lie that all asshats tell themselves.

I was sitting in a small classroom one winter in an old brick building on the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point campus. I was there with a handful of other students hanging on every word of a magnificently bearded man named Patrick Rothfuss. It’s here that I learned what a real writer was and that I need to put down the self-doubt and write. That was over five years ago. Now you may be asking yourself, “Batman (Yes I’m assuming that either Batman reads my blog or you call yourself Batman in your head. If this doesn’t apply to you I recommend becoming one or the other.), why is it that you had this experience but still don’t have a completed book to show for it?” That’s a great question Batman! Simple answer, beginnings are hard.  Complex answer, fear.

So now we’ve hit the hart of it folks. Fear of failure is something that seems to drive just about everyone I’ve met in some way or another. It’s why quitting is easy. I’ve been afraid of writing something that’ll be terrible, but just as much I’ve been terrified that it’ll be good. But things have changed. Two years ago I had an idea for a book that just clawed at my mind. I couldn’t let it go and in my heart I knew that If I didn’t write it that I’d regret it for the rest of my life. It was the true turning point where I had to choose between talking about being a writer or actually being a writer. So I started being a writer.

Two years of on-again off-again work and I’m still not done with my first draft. I spent quite a bit of time building the fantasy world my book will take place in before I started, but I want to finish it. My goal is to complete the rough first draft by the end of this year. That was my goal last year, but this year I’ve changed the game. This year I have you. I’m hoping by sharing my thoughts on writing and keeping you updated where I’m at with things, that I can help keep myself on track and learn to be better.

So that’s where I am. I’m in it for real and for the long haul. If you want to keep reading about it please feel free to come back, otherwise go read a far better blog than what I’ll probably cobble together over here http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/ done by Patrick Rothfuss. You can also read both. Both is good.