Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Art and Craft of Writing

I have been thinking a lot about the art and craft of writing.  I have learned that one does not simply wish to be a writer: either you are, or you are not a writer.  I am a writer, but I am new to the work.  I would like to learn as much as I can about the craft of writing, but most importantly (I think), I must write.  And write and write and write.

One of my favorite bloggers is Kristin Lamb, who writes a lot about the craft of writing.  Today, she wrote a piece about pride affecting the writer to the point where they are no longer teachable.  Proud young writers often ignore advice and expect themselves to coast on their own raw talent.  Yet, most bestsellers still attend workshops, read, and practice and hone their craft as much as they can.

Reading Ms. Lamb’s blog today made me realize that I must read craft books and attend workshops; if not to improve my writing, then to at least prove that I am serious.

I believe in myself, and I believe that I am a writer, but I know that I have to do more than just punch the keyboard to make a bestseller.  I have lots of ideas, and at this point in my writing, I am still married to these ideas.  I have a mental map of where I want my novel to go.  But, if Stephen King and other authors are to believed then I have to let all of that go.  I already know that most of what I have written so far will be thrown away and rewritten in the editing process, so why don’t I just ignore my inner voice that wants me to write my novel a certain way?

Pride.

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Also, newness to the game.  Without a doubt, I have a level of pride to work through, but I think that my main issue right now is being a rookie.  I really do not know what I am doing, but thanks to the other writers, bloggers, and experienced authors who share their wisdom, I am learning.

I think I need to read craft books and attend workshops and seminars to get more ideas about how better to construct my novel.  I also need a mentor before I search for a literary agent (unless I can get both in one person!).

I do read a lot of blogs and books, so I am doing that important step in the process, I am learning that there is so much more to this than I ever imagined.  I pay close attention to advice that makes sense to me, but I am afflicted by that evil curse: pride.

What can I say?  I am human, after all, and I have my flaws.  Some of those flaws will serve me well in my writing.  They will help to form characters—heroes, villains—, and they will help to create conflicts and resolutions.  I think if I were perfect and knew everything there is to know then my novel would be boring.

After all, who wants perfection?

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Free Porn

Here’s one of my favorite bloggers promoting another of my favorite bloggers.  Lady or Not…Here I Come is hysterical and fantastic.  Check her out and then vote for her, please!

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A Songwriter Writes a Novel

I am a songwriter.  I have been writing songs since I got my first guitar at age 5.  My dad played guitar and wrote songs, which inspired me to do the same at a very early age.  He still writes, performs, works with publishing companies, and is shooting for his big break as a musician.  I get all of that from him.

Most of what I have written is crap, because I have written literally thousands of songs in my lifetime.  Sadly, I have thrown away all of my old handwritten and typed lyrics that I collected since my earliest attempts.  I wish I hadn’t, especially since my 12-year old son is now honing his own craft, but in two separate fits of passion, I threw away all of those lyrics. The first time was when I was 13, out of fear that my friends would discover them and make fun of me.  Then decades later, I did it again with everything I had written since then, out of frustration from being what I considered a “failed” artist.  I seriously regret doing that, but it is done.

However, I have written what I consider gold, and I have kept about 100 or so songs.  Of those, I consider roughly 60 to be damned fine pieces of art.  Music is subjective, of course, like any other art form, but I know what I like, even if no one else does.  I am certain that even one of my best friends has no taste for what I write.  Even if I have never been able to snare an audience with my songs, I am at least proud of these few opuses.

I am not a typical songwriter.  As far as I can tell, there are two types of songwriters:  Those who have mastered the craft of writing, and can turn out a song based on some formula that makes them comfortable, and those that wait for the Muse to tell them what to write.  I am of the latter camp.  I couldn’t force a song out of me with a gun to my head.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with my Muse.  I wrote a song about my Muse that my former-wife always believed to be about her.  I still laugh about the first time I played that song to her.

Leave! Go away!  Won’t you please leave me be?  I don’t want you

I’ll miss you when I’m gone, and I’ll beg your return, but I don’t want you now!

I do love writing songs, but I could never shake the idea of being a failed artist, yet still bombarded with inspiration.  The songs kept coming to me—pouring out from me—but then they would just float in the ether and only my wife, my best friends, and I would ever hear them.  A couple years later, I wrote a song about my experiences with trying to find an audience to hear my songs.

I want to be an outcast like everyone else, but I’m too much of a loner to make the scene.

I only have two friends who leave the house, and one of them is tired of hearing me sing.

So that only leaves my wife, and she’s got nowhere else to be, anyway.

I have come to terms about all of this over the years.  I still write songs, and no one has heard the last 15 or so that I have written.  Well, that is not entirely true; I have played a couple Open Mics, and I debuted a couple new tunes then, but still…I am okay with it now.  It is my own gift, and it is for me to cherish alone.

However, what I am doing now is different.  I believe that I have a product that is palatable to a wider audience, and that this requires a very different style of writing.  In order to write my novels, I have to take the first approach to writing; following a formula of some kind that makes me comfortable enough to write on command.  To reach my writing goals, I have to carve out specific time in front of the computer and write specific words that follow a specific story.  I have never done that before.  Even with this blog, I sort of allow a stream of consciousness to guide my fingers along the keyboard.  However, with my novel, I have to select carefully each word I use.  Outside of academia, which I do not consider art in any form, this is a new approach for me.

I know songwriters who write this way.  I could never do it.  The art, or formula, involved in writing pop songs and number one hits has always eluded me.

I am learning, however, and when I sit down to write my novel, I am able to get the right words onto the screen.  I already have a clear vision for the novel that I am writing now, and I have rough outlines for two others.  In this sense, my writing is similar to the way I wrote songs:  I have no clear genre or category in which I label my stories; in fact, they are all very different.

My songs were essentially rock and roll, but some were country-rock, folk-rock, Grunge, alternative rock, pop, Goth…whatever the Muse commanded of me.  My Blog has several different categories: The Novel, cancer musings, music reviews, deep/random thoughts, and whatever else pops into my head at the time.

My novels, so far, are just as random.  I have a fictional biography, a post-apocalyptic survival tale, and a creepy ghost story.  I also have a TV screenplay idea that is different from all of that.

The difference is that I have to focus on the one idea at a time and work on that same idea whether or not I want to, as opposed to songwriting or blogging in which I simply write whatever I feel at the time.

The structure involved in writing fiction is what rattles me the most.  I am a free spirit; a wanderer; a mess.  To work artistically within a structure is a new concept to me.

On the bright side, however, with writing fiction, I do not have to worry about anyone thinking that my writing is about them, or even autobiographical in some way.  True, I put a lot of myself into my songs, and there may be some aspects of my own history in my novel, but the novel is fictional.

I mentioned above that my former-wife thought that one of my songs was about her, and that she took it personally.  That actually happened a lot.  One time, I called her out on it.  I had scribbled a note containing a line or two of lyrics that I thought might work in a song, and she started pouting because it looked like an unflattering depiction of her.  So, I wrote an entire song about that exchange.

Moosen

Written by: Joel C. Marckx

2000/09/18

I’ve got my light Muse and my dark Muse and they’re sitting in my ears

Shouting things they think I really out to say

So sometimes I write of passion and sometimes I write of fear

But I guess that it’s all true anyway

       Don’t they know that I will share these thoughts with you?

       Do they think that it won’t matter if I do?

       Do they think that’s it’s okay ‘coz it all needs to be said anyway?

So sometimes a thought comes to me and I wonder if it’s true

And if it really does pertain to you

Even as I’m writing I wonder what you might be thinking

When you’re reading what you think I think about you.

        Sometimes a thought rolls right off my tongue

       And it seems as if that thought just might belong

       But it doesn’t mean I’m talking about what you and I were talking about last night

 

             It’s fair to say it’s an easy enough mistake

             To think your face shows up on every single page

             And I guess it’s safe to say that you are always on my mind

              Just don’t worry about which Muse is gonna shine

 

If you ask me then I’ll tell you, and I promise to be true

But I guess I always figured that you knew

‘Coz you know who you are and you know all the things you do

It’s just a matter of each other’s points of view

Like when I said “I love her unconditionally, and I see past her own conditions”

You looked as if I ripped your heart out and broke it

But it just sounded like a line from a rock-n-roll song

So I wrote it

       Sometimes a thought rolls right off my tongue

       And it feels as though it really must belong

       But it doesn’t meant I’m writing about what you and I were fighting about last night

 

       It’s fair to say it’s an easy enough mistake

       To think your face shows up on every single page

       I’ve got my light Muse and my dark Muse and they fight for every line

       I wonder whose turn it is and how they’re gonna shine

 

At least I won’t have to do that with my novels!

                       

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Writing Tips From a Master: Mark Twain

Writing Tips From a Master: Mark Twain.

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Writing Setbacks

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you?  Ever have that feeling of falling just as you drift off to sleep, except when you are wide awake and trying to work?  Ever have a day in which you only want to lay on the couch and watch TV?  Ever want to spend an entire day reorganizing your iTunes library?  Have you ever preferred folding laundry to sitting in front of the computer unfolding your passion for writing?

A few days ago, an old friend of mine passed away after a long struggle with cancer.  It was heart-breaking.  I wrote a piece about losing her here, published less than a day before she passed, and I have to say that I am overwhelmed at the response I got from it.  I never thought that article would be shared and read by my Facebook friends, and I certainly never expected Connie’s family to read it.  I only meant to express myself, and that a few folks out here in Bloglandia would give it any notice.

Anyway, even though she passed on Thursday, I have been grieving since about last Sunday.  Until now, I have not written anything since that piece; not my novel, and not any of my random musings.  I am in a slump, so to speak.  I guess that is understandable, given the circumstances, but I want to write.

I am a writer, and I need to write.  I have goals, such as my novels, but I also have other writings that I need to do.  I need to blog, so that I continue the habit of writing, and I need to do certain writing exercises to improve my skills in descriptive writing and dialogue.

Nevertheless, I am distracted right now.  I have to work, and there is a viewing for Connie on Monday that I will attend, not to mention the funeral on Tuesday.  I visited with good friends last night which, although we were not in an ideal setting and I did not get to talk much about what I wanted to talk about, it was very therapeutic to be with them.  I imagine we will see more of each other in the weeks or months to come.

I do Bikram Yoga.  It is part of my health regimen, and I love all of its benefits.  Yesterday, I dedicated my class to Connie as a way to bring higher purpose to my practice, and to get out of my own head for once.  Failure!  The more peace I tried to bring to myself, by-way-of thinking about the peace that Connie feels now, the more muddled I got.  It was not a great class for me.

And so it goes.  I am muddled.  I do not know what to write, and I just do not even want to put much thought into writing.  I mentioned in my last essay that I had never realized that grief was so selfish, but I guess that it is all about the griever, and not the ones who have passed.  Then again, I do not think there are any rules to grieving; there is no wrong way to do it.

Last week or so, my mom sent me this passage written by Anne Lamont:

“Am working slowly, badly, triumphantly, on a new piece. Yesterday I wrote for 90 whole minutes, which might not seem a lot to Joyce Carol Oates, but was to me. I kept my butt on the chair, and sighed a lot, and felt victimized, etc, but stuck with it–by the end, I had four sentences I loved, embedded in 3 pages of overwritten details. But a) the excess passages are place-holders for material that needs to be included, that I can edit down now and improve, and b) there doesn’t seem to be a shortcut to the rich stuff that I was after all along, without the elbow grease and detours.
Sort of like in real life.
And which doesn’t work for me at all. But who asked? It’s called life on life’s terms.”

Some days writing feels like flying through the breeze, effortlessly allowing the wind to send me where it needs me to go.  Other days, it is like the passage above.  I am having one of those days.  I am determined to write something…anything…and I do not give one single holy fuck if it sucks.  I will deal with the suckiness of it all later.

I know that this funk that I am in is a passing phase, and I will get past it and create my future masterpieces, but for today, I will just write because that is what writers do.  Right?

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My Friend is Dying

I am a cancer survivor.  I have written about it here and here, and I plan to write a full essay on how I managed to beat it without chemo and radiation soon, but this particular essay is not really about me.  In a way, I have to talk about my feelings and experiences, because it is all intertwined, but really, this essay is about my friend.

I have known her since we were in fourth-grade, which, by my math, is 35 years now.  My family moved to Fair Oaks from the Oak Park area of South Sacramento in early 1978.  This was about halfway through fourth-grade for me, and I entered a new school as a new student with no friends.  I was able to make friends rather quickly, and I am proud to say that many of us are still friends today.

Well, let me back that up.  Grade school turned into junior high school, and many of those friendships dissipated as new cliques friendships began.  In many cases, we went our separate ways, which is typical in junior high, but some of us remained, at the very least, friendly.  Then, junior high school became high school, and even more cliques friendships emerged, and many (but not all) of the old grade school friends became strangers to each other.

In the high school hierarchy, I was the really weird kid of the lowest castes. I was a band geek, a stoner, a longhaired rocker, and painfully shy and insecure.  It is easy for me to say that the other kids were cruel and that they cast me away, but I am equally responsible, since I made no effort to fit in, or to even mumble an occasional “hello” to anyone.  Sure, I had a few friends, but I think that I was even on the fringe of that little clique of band geeks.

I actually dropped-out of high school one month before graduation.  I felt so alienated from the other kids that I could not bear even one more day there.  Moreover, I had aspirations of being a big rich rock star, so there was that.  When I left high school, I did not look back.  I did not even try to communicate in any way with anyone from my high school, which meant avoiding my old grade school friends.  I literally ducked behind bushes or corners if I saw anyone because I did not want to have anything to do with any of these people.  I believed that they hated me then, and that was something that I did not wish to relive. I had no fond memories of anyone or anything from that time.  I constructed that reality.

Fast forward 20 years, and we had our 20-year reunion in 2006.  A lot of time had passed; a lot of growing, and a lot of healing.  I personally gained a lot of inner wisdom in that time, and I felt no antipathy toward anyone from high school.  I actually wanted to go to the reunion, and when I got there, I found that I was excited to see many people; even the ones that I believed hated me in high school.  I felt that enough time had passed to make none of the old high school angst mean anything.

The most important thing for me was that all of these people had shared experiences with me and that they were a huge part of my childhood, for good or ill.  I did not feel this way in 1986, but by 2006, I thought it was odd that I spent almost every single day of my life with a certain group of individuals, during our most formative years, and then I try hard to forget their existence after high school.  I wanted to know these people again, and share experiences, memories.

This led to a reunion within a reunion.  I, with the help of a few friends, got all of the people who went to our elementary school together for a group photo and chat session, and I found that to be far more rewarding than the actual reunion.

This led to what we call the “Roberts Gang” reunion (named for the school), which was held a few years later at my friend’s house.  We always planned to have them more often, but never have.  Some live too far away, and life gets in the way, etc…

We stay in touch through FaceBook, and some of us meet up occasionally at events and whatnot, and I am glad for the rekindled friendships, however distant they may be.  These people are important to me now, and I hope that we can remain friends forever.

One of our clan, however, is dying.  I do not know the exact details, but it seems as though she will be passing very soon.  Her family is keeping a tight net around her so that she may be at peace, and we get bits of information from time to time.  She could go at any minute, or next week, or it may have happened an hour ago already.

She had breast cancer a few years ago, which went into remission, and then came back about two years ago.  This cancer spread to her lungs, throat, and brain quickly and aggressively.  She tried every single protocol that her doctors recommended, even the experimental ones, and she just got worse and worse.

I tried to help her by sharing my non-invasive protocol of diet and exercise.  I gave her recipes, and even brought her fresh veggies and meals on occasion.  However, my protocol meant a major lifestyle change, and oncologists and western doctors everywhere mocked it.  She was scared, and did whatever her doctors told her that she needed to do to prolong her life.

Note: in these kinds of situations, the doctors never say that they are going to kill the cancer or help the patient to beat it, but only to prolong the inevitable death.  How is that okay with anyone?!?!?

Anyway, I beat my pancreatic cancer with nutrition and exercise and a major lifestyle change.  I did not do the chemo and radiation that my doctor recommended, and I am healthier now than I have ever been.

Which brings me to the emotional aspect of my friend dying; I cannot help but to feel shame and bitterness that she is dying while I am healthier than ever.  Why am I okay and she is dying?  She does not deserve to die so horribly, so why do I deserve to live so healthfully?  She is a good person who has done nothing but work hard and do right for her family.  I also cannot help but be a little angry at her for not really taking my advice seriously, just as I am also deeply saddened by her sickness and loss of life.

I am also ashamed that I could not do more for her.  Our friends have done all sorts of things to help her and her family from buying groceries to paying bills to raising money for funeral costs.  My financial ruin in the past couple years prevented me from doing much for her, and I feel guilty about that.  I want to do more, but I have been so limited in my capacities.

And when she passes, I feel like a link to my childhood will also pass.  Another friend from our elementary school recently passed from a sudden heart attack, and I could not help but feel that loss, as well.  I am not ready to lose another childhood friend, for her sake as well as my own.

I never realized that loss could be so selfish.

She and I were not best friends, but she was a good friend.  She is a kind soul that loved her family and all the people in her life.  She is an important memory—a link to my past—and she is a significant participant in my reconnecting with this past and all our friends.

And of course I never told her any of this, because that is not what I do, so I also feel a little shame that I did not try harder to be a better friend when there was time.  And so, with what time is left, I write this meaningless tribute.

I love you, Connie.  Thank you for being my friend.  Rest well, and be at peace.

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Piss Moan Bitch Gripe Grumble Snark!!!

Well, it looks as though I am not working today, which sucks.  Being a substitute teacher does not pay enough to begin with, and missing a day or two of work within the pay period can be catastrophic for me.  Yesterday, I was able to snag a last minute job to save the day, but I think that window has passed for today.  I let a couple of half-day jobs slide on a gamble that I would find a full-day job instead.  Nope.  Has not happened yet.  Therefore, I am now venting my frustration in the only way a writer knows–by writing of course, silly.

I have been trying to land a second job to supplement my main job, which pays next to nothing.  I have not found that elusive second job, but I have leads.  I hate to get negative (hate is negative, stupid!, and so is calling yourself stupid, dummy!), but I feel like all the “leads” that I find are just dead ends anyway.  I used to be a full-time Certified Massage Therapist, and so I am trying to get in with a Wellness Center, but I have let my licensing and insurances lapse, and I do not have any startup capital to get those things again.  Hell, I cannot even pay rent next month, let alone buy a state license and liability insurance.

So, with my real job paying peanuts and inconsistently giving me work, and no second job that leaves me with two options: Prostitution, or mugging people.  Honestly, I do not think that I could do either of those very well.  I try to let my creative imagination conceive of a way to rob banks or convenience stores, but I cannot do it.  I guess that is why I write fictional biographies and apocalyptic tales of survival and not murder mysteries or tales of intrigue.

I will probably take this opportunity to make lemonade out of this pile of lemons of which the world has pelted me by catching up on chores and errands and, of course, writing.  I have a few blog ideas that I have not had time to write yet.  Moreover, there is always the novel with which to continue.  I also want to practice some writing exercises to improve my technique in character development, dialogue, descriptive writing, and well, everything, really.

There are a lot of writing tips out there in Bloglandia, and I try to read as many as I can.  I believe that I am a writer, as opposed to just wanting to be a writer, and so I work to hone my craft as best I can.  I still use colloquialisms, which I know is a lazy way to express oneself in writing, but I also have a formal rigidness to my writing at times; a hangover from my grad school days.  I appreciate everything that I have been absorbing from all the other writers on this site, especially those that write about their own process of writing.  It is good to not feel so alone out here.

Now, if only I can get paid for this!  The whole reason I write at all is so that I can make a billion dollars and spend the rest of my days getting fat on some tropical island!

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