Glutton for Punishment?

First, a housekeeping note.  I recently added a new page to this blog.  You will find it in the Menu listings above as “My Fiction”.  I will at random moments add bits and pieces of my writings under that topic.

Given the complaining I did (see here and here) about the difficulties of the October Platform Challenge by Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest, one would quite logically assume that with the conclusion of the month-long effort, I would settle down to the relative calm of getting my twice weekly posts for this blog out on time and concentrate on my fiction writing.

Nope!  Not for me.  I had to take on not one, but two new ‘challenges’.  In the innocence of the uninformed, I signed up over at Blogging University for Blogging 101 and Writing 101.  Being a complete ‘newbie’ to this hitherto unknown world of blogging, naturally I’m eager to learn whatever I can about blogging and the intricacies of using WordPress.  Thus, an introductory course from WordPress on how to use the site is a natural first step.

Further, I hope I never get to the place where I think I have nothing to learn about the art and craft of writing.  I have found that I have learned new things revisiting very basic creative writing texts, materials, etc. that I first encountered years ago.  So, if WordPress and Blogging U offer writing classes, I will start with the first one and work my way through the list knowing there will be something for me to learn even (especially?) in an introductory class.

Before continuing on, I need to digress momentarily.  In setting up this blog, I devoted time and thought to the “About”  page and the information presented there as to ‘who I am‘.  It is, admittedly, sketchy, but it says what I want it to say.  You will find essentially the same information wherever on the web you might find me — Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Scribophile, and others — and when my website at JayLeeward.com is finally completed and online, it will reflect the same data, or lack thereof.  This may change in the future, but for now, I am satisfied with my ‘bio’.

Back to Blogging University and my two new ‘challenges’.  You may well guess my dismay when I discovered that Day One at both courses presented essentially the same assignment.  Write a blog post telling the world who you are and why you write.  Further, it became immediately clear that both courses entailed daily, or near daily, blog posts.  Aha!  Small, dark clouds on the immediate horizon.

Above I noted my intention to post twice weekly to this blog — Tuesday and Saturday.  My little digression above deals with my bio.  Gentle reader, my ancestry is as mixed as you can imagine.  I am the stereotypical All-American ‘mongrel’, with bits of this, that, and the other thrown into the ‘melting pot’.  However, one of my grandfathers was born late in the nineteenth century in Wales, and I have some of the stereotypical attributes of that Welsh ancestry.  No, I can’t sing a lick, unlike others from Wales such as Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, or Englebert Humperdinck, nor do I have the sonorous voice and acting skills of a Richard Burton or Anthony Hopkins.  But even a Missouri mule takes a backseat to the stubbornness of a Welshman, and I inherited a full measure of that trait.

Thus, although my classes at Blogging U are calling for daily posts to this blog and a rewrite of my ‘About’ page, I shall inflict neither of those on you.  My posts will continue to be published on Tuesday and Saturday.  My bio will remain (for now, anyway) as currently posted.  However…

To demonstrate that even a Welshman can compromise — just a little! — I am going to take this opportunity and prompt from my classes to explore why I write.  And if a little bit about who I am creeps into the conversation, so be it.

Beginning at the beginning, I am the person who reads the back of the cereal box at breakfast table if no other reading material is available.  I can’t remember when I could not, and did not, read.  And I read everything!  Fiction and non-fiction, textbooks and novels, exciting escape into worlds of imagination and ‘dry as dust’ scholarly tomes.  I have always read anything and everything I could get my hands on.   Again, as far back as I can remember, I marveled particularly at the imagination and creativity of the authors of the fiction I read.  While enjoying their flights of imagination and living vicariously in their created worlds, I also wished I could do the same.  It seemed to me that the most glorious possible occupation was that of the writer.  I also knew that I could never be like those writers.  I did not have the talent, the creativity, the imagination to create new worlds, new characters, new stories.

Fast forward much of a lifetime and I found myself in a position to exit the nine-to-five workday world.  I looked about me at my personal library and gave thanks that now I had unlimited time to read!  It was sheer bliss.  But that long ago wish to be like the writers whose works I so enjoyed persisted and I began to question my lifetime assumption that I could not do what they did.  What if…?

I enrolled at a community college nearby and took an introductory class in creative writing. and then another, and another.  To say I was blown away is a great understatement.  I was stunned, shocked, amazed — and ultimately, hooked!  I was very fortunate in that my first instructor in that initial class was both a skilled teacher and a published fiction author.  It was he who led me to understand that writing is both art and craft.  The craft of writing, like any other craft, is a matter of techniques and tools of the trade.  Whether it be carpentry or macrame, sculpture or accounting, there are certain rules to learn, tricks and techniques to master, and tools one can use to accomplish the task.  Learning these things and practicing them diligently will give one the ability to operate in the craft of one’s choice, whether as a cabinet-maker, sculptor, accountant, or writer.  Please note.  I said, ‘operate‘!  I did not say ‘excel‘.

And this is where the art of writing comes into the equation.  Art, in writing as in music, painting, sculpture, and elsewhere, requires not only practiced techniques, but talent.  Talent is something that so far as I know, cannot be taught nor learned.  Talent is what separates Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or Stephen King from most students in a creative writing class.  It is, or it is not.  And in the field of writing, talent is most often determined for a writer, not by himself, but by his readers.

I realized early on that I did not really worry about the talent part of the equation.  The craft part was sufficient challenge for me.  So I work to perfect my craft — not that I expect to ‘perfect’ my efforts at craft, but rather I strive toward that goal.  Perhaps, even more important than my desire to strive toward learning my craft, I discovered along the way that I was having more fun than I could have possibly imagined.  The more time I devote to learning the skills of this craft, the more fun I have.

There is one downside to all that fun, however.  I have also discovered that ‘fun’ is addicting (see here).  The more ‘fun’ I have, the more I ‘need’ that fun.  Now, at this stage of the game, if I go too long without my writing ‘fun’, I miss it greatly and suffer withdrawal pains.  I really do need to spend time writing, whether it be this blog or my latest fiction.  I feel better when I write.  And I’m just selfish enough to choose to ‘feel better’ as often and as much as I can.

Robert made me do it!

October 2015 is nearly gone.  Today is All Hallow’s Eve, more familiarly known as Halloween, and with the appearance of little munchkins going from door to door collecting ‘Treats’, the month will draw to a close and November will dawn.  Daylight Savings Time ends for most of you — here in Arizona we don’t do the “Spring forward, Fall back” thing.  National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, gets underway for thousands of writers.  No, I won’t be ‘participating’ in the organized festivities, though I do expect to spend a fair amount of time next month — and the months after — on my novel in progress, as well as my flash fiction and short story writing.  Veteran’s Day is November 11th, a day devoted to remembering those who have served, and are serving, in our Armed Forces.  Later in the month, Thanksgiving Day (November 26th) marks a day we set aside to recall the many blessings we enjoy, and give thanks for them.  It also marks the onset of the holiday season in earnest, with ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ marking particular efforts of retailers, both ‘brick and mortar’ and ‘online’, to separate us from our money.

Today’s post, though, is a look back at October.  October 2015 will go down, if not in history, then possibly in infamy, as the month that I chanced across Robert Lee Brewer’s blog “There Are No Rules”.  For those of you not acquainted with Mr. Brewer, he is a Senior Editor at Writer’s Digest.com, and writes a blog there on all things ‘blogging’.  His blog posts for the month of October have been devoted to helping writers who wish to develop a ‘platform’ take the necessary steps to begin that process.  This has been the October Platform Challenge, on which I have previously commented here and here.

The month, and the challenge to develop a writer’s plaform, has been a tremendous learning experience for me.  I am still learning, and will continue to learn for an indefinite future to use the facilities here at WordPress.  I am beginning to develop an online presence in the social media.  You can now find Jay Leeward at Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Goodreads, and Scribophile.  I have my own domain and web site — still undeveloped, but in progress — at JayLeeward.com.  And I am again becoming active at FanStory where I have been established for some time, though I have been inactive for more than a year.

On Day 20 of the Platform Challenge Mr. Brewer directed us to look ourselves up on Google and other search engines.  I did so, part in curiousity and part to set a baseline.  On Google, I got two hits in the first two pages.  DuckDuckGo yielded three hits on the first two pages.  Bing and Yahoo duplicated the results of Google.  I repeated the search today to make a comparison for this post.  Google had six hits on the first two pages, including three of the first four hits on page one.  At DuckDuckGo the first five hits and nine of the first ten listed were references to my sites and posts.  Bing and Yahoo had results much the same.  I didn’t look deeper than this as that first page answered all the questions I had, for now.  In the space of just of couple of weeks of concentrating on developing an online presence I had increased that online footprint by a factor of four, or more.

Equally important to the number of hits on search engines, I have ‘met’ and am becoming acquainted with a community of writers scattered across the globe.  From that community and those writers I have drawn knowledge, support, and inspiration.

However, I think the more important thing I have gotten out of my participation in the October Platform Challenge is the stimulation this endeavor has had on my writing itself.  I have put the finishing touches on a short story and submitted it for publication.  I have written a new piece of flash fiction in the science fiction genre which has introduced me to a character and a universe that intrigues me and leads me to think there is much more for me to explore in developing both the character and the universe.  I have added pages to my primary novel in progress.  In short, the creative juices are flowing again and I have a new enthusiasm for my writing.  Equally important to the enthusiasm is the determination to plant my butt in my chair and spend time writing.

In a previous post to this blog (see here), I listed several criteria I had established for myself necessary to transition from ‘wanna-be writer’ to ‘writer’.  Thanks in part to Mr. Brewer and the October Platform Challenge, as well as to that ‘community’ I spoke of above, I can now very happily and proudly make this statement.  “I AM A WRITER!”

 

Pack Rats vs. Organizational Skills

Today’s post is really an expansion of one of the major lessons learned thus far in the course of the October Platform Challenge.  In my last entry (see here), I listed seven important lessons I’ve learned.  Number two on the list was that I’m not nearly as organized as I once thought I was.  Over the past few days, I have been trying to address some of those organizational deficiencies.  And that gave rise to another revelation.  I am a Pack Rat!  I am constitutionally incapable of of letting go of those things that catch my interest.

My one saving grace in this area is the fact that those things that catch my interest are knowledge, information, that “one new thing every day”.  The house is not cluttered with ‘things’ I have acquired — keepsakes and curios.  My house is cluttered with books.  My office is cluttered with stacks of essays and articles I have printed out.  It is not sufficient for me to bookmark an interesting article.  I have to print it out so as to have words on paper readily at hand.  Nor is the fact that I have essentially the same information already on the shelf sufficient to allow me to pass up a somewhat different take on the same material.  Lying here on my desk in the stack of articles to be filed is “30 Tips for Writing a Book in 30 days”, an eleven page article by Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser.  But wait!  What is that book sitting mere inches away on the shelf above my head?  “First Draft in 30 Days”, by Karen S. Wiesner?

A nineteen page short story by Kristine Kathryn Rusch that I want to read.  A seven page book review from The New Criterion on Donald Stoker’s new book, “Clausewitz: His Life and Work” examining both Clausewitz and his  magnum opus, “On War”.  Three related articles totalling 31 pages from The New Yorker on Mars and current planning for a manned mission to Mars in the near future.  “Why the Federal Goverment Fails” is a 44 page policy paper from The Cato Institute awaiting me.  A four page article from The Washingtn Post on “How Ukraine became Ukraine”, a geo-political analysis and history of this current news hotspot.  A sixty-plus page article/essay/small book on investing and investment vehicles.

This is a very short extract of titles in the pile marked “To be filed”.  There are 3-ring binders, appropriately labeled, to accomodate virtually all of these, lining the top shelf of the hutch on my desk, awaiting each of these bits of knowledge.  And. at some future point, I will reach up and pull down this binder or that one, find the article again, refresh my memory, and it will in some fashion, direct or indirect, become part of something I am writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, blog post, short story or novel.  That, of course, presupposes that I will get this stack of material filed in a somewhat timely fashion.

Thus, I justify my ‘pack rat’ habits.  Why don’t I just bookmark these articles?  I suspect the answer to that question lies in a lifetime habit of reading printed words on paper.  The same words on my computer screen are simply less “comfortable”, and, true or not, I think I learn better from words on paper than on the digital screen.  So, I will continue to be ‘caught’ by an interesting article or blog as I wander through the internet.  I will continue to print out page after page of information and knowledge new to me.  I will continue to struggle to keep the “To Be Filed” stack under six inches at any given moment.

Most of all, I will continue to ‘learn one new thing each day’ and continue enjoying myself immensely, even when the “To Be Filed” stack inches past twelve inches high.

October Platform Challenge, Old Dogs, and New Tricks

The October Platform Challenge at Robert Brewer’s ‘There Are No Rules’ blog at Writer’s Digest has been nearly overwhelming for this particular ‘old dog’.  When first I chanced on Mr. Brewer’s blog announcing the challenge, I said to myself, “Self, you could possibly learn something new here today.”  That stray thought will go down as the understatement of the year for me!

In my very first post to this blog introducing myself to the world, I mentioned it was my nearly lifelong goal to learn at least one new thing each day.  The flood of new things, ‘new tricks’, that was unleashed over the past several weeks of following the Challenge has provided me a ‘one new thing’ to last for a great many days to come.

Somewhere along the line in learning about blogging, I saw one piece of advice that suggested that numbered lists are effective blogging devices.  Herewith, I present my list of seven things I have learned from the Platform Challenge.  Certainly, there are a great many more lessons I have learned, but I think these seven will serve the purpose of illustration I want for today.

1.  It is very humbling to discover how much you DON’T know.

When Mr. Brewer said “Start a writing blog” on day three of the Challenge, my response was “I can do that”.  After all, how hard could it be?  I had been following several blogs for some time and I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t write a few hundred words for my own blog.  Foolish, foolish boy!  I am now on my third book on how to use WordPress and all of that research is just to format the blog page.  It doesn’t begin to address content, editorial calendar, etc.  Why three books?  The first was way too technical for this technologically challenged old dog, the second concentrated on using WordPress software on a self-hosted site, and the third, gratefully, is addressing my many, many questions and uses lots of images to illustrate the text.  I’m really just getting into that one now, so stand by to see some changes in the physical layout as I learn more.   

2.  I’m not nearly as organized as I once thought I was.  

As this learning process continues, I am being inundated with articles I have printed out, scraps of paper on which I have scribbled little notes with ideas for future blogs (and stories I want to write!), and other bits of errata holding precious user names/passwords/etc. for the many new websites that are rapidly becoming my new BFFs.  My to-do list now includes setting aside a couple of hours to go into my browser bookmarks and organize all the new sites.  My bookmark list has grown by at least 20% in the past several weeks and I have been using the same bookmark organizer for over 15 years!

3.  Planning is easy, execution is much more difficult.

This is actually a corollary for the item above.  I am fortunate in having a relatively spacious office, lots of bookcases and shelves (never enough!), a four-drawer and two-drawer filing cabinet, and I buy 3-ring binders by the dozen.  But the stack of material waiting to be filed in those binders and file drawers is approaching 18 inches high.  I console myself with the thought that organizing and filing all that material will give me something to do during the cold winter months.  Yes, we really do have ‘winter’ here in Arizona.  The daytime temperatures drop down into the 60’s and even into the (gasp!) 50’s.  Shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops give way to jeans, long-sleeve shirts, and sneakers.

4.  This ‘old dog’ absorbs new tricks more slowly, but seems to retain more and recall information better.  

     For as far back as I can remember, I have always been a ‘quick study’.  Whether it was memorizing lines of a script or cramming for an exam, I have been able to digest and absorb new material easily and quickly.  A couple of hours with a text before a test would more than compensate for dozing through classes or missing them altogether.  These days it seems that callow youth has vanished into the mists of time.  I absorb new material much more slowly, and often only with repetition.  Visual aids are invaluable — see my comment on the illustrated book on using WordPress in item one above.  The good news in this is that I seem to have better access to new material once I have digested it.  It is much easier for me today to recall not only a bit of information from an article I read six months or a year ago, but where I found that datum and to be able to return the original source — invaluable in properly attributing something I want to steal borrow from someone else.  This, by the way, makes the lack of organizational execution discussed above particularly frustrating when I have to sort through an 18-inch stack of unfiled articles.  

5.  I cherish the printed word on paper.  

This new bit of knowledge is a corollary to item four.  I have discovered that printed words on paper are much easier for me to absorb than words on a computer screen.  I acknowledge this indeed makes me a dinosaur in this age of tablets, digital readers, and smartphones, but holding words on paper in my hands, whether an article printed out from the internet, or a book from my shelves, is far superior to reading the same material on a screen.  I grasp the material easier and quicker, and I retain and recall it better.  I read quite a bit of non-fiction, often footnoted, and nothing is as frustrating as trying to follow footnotes on my Kindle.

6.  Mother was right — I choke when I take too big of a bite.  

Mr. Brewer’s October Platform Challenge was a bigger bite than I can comfortably chew and digest in a single month.  I will still be masticating what I have learned thus far — and there is still more than a week to go — for quite some time to come.  Among the items of advice in the challenge to develop a writer platform was to engage the various social media — Facebook, Google +, and Twitter, among others.  Learning to develop these sites and use them to enhance my online footprint will be nearly as daunting a task as learning to use WordPress and develop this blog.  On day six of the Platform Challenge, Mr. Brewer suggested a time management plan and offered the following excellent advice.  ” A writing platform is a life-long investment in your writing career. It’s not a sprint, so you have to pace yourself. Also, it’s not something that happens overnight (as much as we wish it were), so you can’t wait until you need a platform to start building one. Begin today and build over time–so that it’s there when you need it.”  That part about building a platform is NOT a sprint is particularly applicable to me.

7.   LEARNING NEW THINGS IS FUN!  

I have always enjoyed learning.  In many ways, it is my raison d’etre, my joie de vivre.  Long ago, I set a goal for myself of learning everything there was to know.  “That’s ridiculous!”, you say.  “An impossible task and simply not feasible.”  True enough, I grant you.  However, I learned way back when that you can never hit higher than you aim.  Thus, if you want to achieve high, you must aim high.  I may not learn everything there is to know, but it will not be for lack of aiming high enough — or dreaming big enough.

Something different today…

Today’s post to this blog is somewhat different from what has, to date, been a chronicle of learning to use WordPress and the art of blogging.  There are a couple of reasons why today veers off the path thus far taken.  First, as explained in my last post, a losing battle with the cold/flu/crud demolished my carefully wrought editorial calendar and I’m so far behind I’m beginning to wonder if I shall ever catch up.  Concomitant with this is the fact this is a brand new blog and I don’t have several posts stashed up my sleeve to cover just such circumstances.  Second, it was always a thought lurking in the back of my head that I would occasionally drop a sample of my fiction writing into these posts.

The combination of an editorial calendar in shambles and the nearly overwhelming clamor of my fans — well, Mom counts, doesn’t she? — leads to something different today.  Without further ado, here is a little something I pulled out of the file for today.

Why didn’t someone stop me?

     The face staring back at me out of the mirror shows only too clearly the ravages of my addiction.  Eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot, face gaunt and drawn, the three-day growth of beard stubble, shot through with more white than gray, all give evidence of yet one more binge.  I don’t know how much longer I can continue to abuse myself this way, to say nothing of those who love me in spite of myself, and who must bear the pain of watching me tear myself apart with these ever more frequent binges as I sink deeper into my addiction.

Once, long ago, I could have been stopped – I could not stop myself, but surely someone could have stopped me.  And yet what little honesty is left in me forces me to admit that I was warned.  There were those who tried to tell me that even the least taste could have consequences beyond imagining.  Once you start down that road, you will be helpless.  The obsession for ever more and more of that which will drive you to madness will only grow.

I laughed and said, “Not me!”

The folly of youth, knowing itself to be immortal, feels certain the path followed by others can be avoided.

At first it was just small amounts and it happened infrequently.  See?  I can handle it!  Foolish youth!  But cunningly the need grew, the obsession mounted.  More!  Ever more!  I tried to control the obsession, strictly limiting myself to just a taste, only once in a while.  More!  Ever more!

Now the obsession, the addiction is full-blown and controls me.  I am no longer the master, the connoisseur sipping delicately.  I am the slave, driven by the lash of my addiction, sacrificing everyone and everything to the uncontrollable need for more, and ever more.

My master is calling me, again.  I won’t bother to shave.  I force myself to take a shower.  But my master calls and I go.

Why didn’t someone stop me before I ever sat down to write that first story?  My keyboard waits, and I must write.

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Your comments, positive or negative, will be appreciated.

The “Excellent Adventure” continues…

Let me start with a bit of ‘housekeeping’.  This is not, and likely never will be, a daily blog.  I’m still working on an editorial calendar and am vacillating between weekly or twice weekly posts.  Here in the beginning, I’m posting more often learning the ‘feel’ of writing these posts, and learning how to use WordPress.  While the learning process continues, the posts will be a bit more frequent.  More on that below.

In my first post, I introduced myself as a ‘wanna-be’ writer.  My very first reader gently suggested that someone who writes is a writer, published or not.  My next post both agreed and disagreed with her.

(I know that I should have links in the previous paragraph to the posts referenced.  However, I have not yet figured out how to do that, so I have to hope you are sufficiently curious to scroll down to the posts.)

I ended my last post by saying if I added several thousand words to my novel, or submitted a short story for publication, I would proudly announce “I am a writer!”

“But”, you object, “what about the writing you are doing here on this blog?  Isn’t this ‘writing’?  Doesn’t blogging count as ‘writing’?  Yes, absolutely it does — and no, it doesn’t.

Every writer must define what ‘writing’ means to them.  If you are a poet, writing a poem is ‘writing’.  If you are a novelist, then working on your novel is ‘writing’.  If you write non-fiction, then completing an article on quilting or beekeeping or parenting is ‘writing’.  If you are a blogger, posting a blog is ‘writing’.  Some writers combine two or more of these efforts.  For that writer, posting a blog is equally ‘writing’ as completing a new haiku.  Each of us knows when we are ‘writing’, and when we are avoiding actually planting our behind in our seat and writing.

I write fiction in several genres and every thing from flash fiction to novel length.  For more than a year, I have been avoiding actually writing.  I have re-read almost everything I have written over the past years, often several times.  I have read dozens of books and articles on the craft of writing.  I have talked ad nauseam about writing and my writing in particular.  I have read blogs on writing, publishing, and marketing that which you publish.  And now I have begun a blog.  What I have not done is submit a story to an editor for publication, drafted a new short story, or completed a novel.

In my own defense, beginning this blog is part of a relatively well-planned return to ‘writing’ as I define it for myself.  I am clearing my desk and rearranging my calendar to include scheduled writing times.  With this blog, I am again becoming accustomed to sitting at my keyboard and putting words on the screen, if not paper.  This blog is part of developing that all important “author’s platform” which is crucial to the success of any would-be writer, according to many of the blogs, articles, and books I have been reading when I should have been writing.

OK.  For me, and only for me, this blog is not ‘writing’.  But it is a significant step in my return to actually sitting down and doing what I now realize I need to do — write!   And, it may well become ‘writing’ for me as time passes.  That, however, will only happen after I submit a few short stories and make significant progress on the novels-in-progress on my desk.  For now, this blog is a “warm-up” exercise to my fiction writing.

For you, blogging may well be ‘writing’.  If it is, I commend and congratulate you, assuming that you are actually posting to your blog and not just reading about blogging and talking about it.  If you are writing non-fiction articles on parenting and blogging on a regular basis, I respect and admire your efforts.  If you are working on a novel and blogging routinely, I am seeking to emulate you.

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on what you consider ‘writing’.