With Apologies to Chuck Wendig

Year Two Day 81 Waking up Screaming by Bryan Gosline from flickrOver at terribleminds.com, Chuck Wendig has published another guide to finishing your novel. The latest installment is titled: HOW TO KARATE YOUR NOVEL AND EDIT THAT MOTHERFUCKER HARD: A NO-FOOLIN’ FIX-THAT-SHIT EDITING PLAN TO FINISH THE GODDAMN JOB.

Capitals are original to the author. As you might be able to tell, Mister Wendig and I have slightly different writing styles. I’ve never read any of his work, there are a few of his titles on my to-read pile, but the point of this isn’t to discuss style. He’s found his voice, he’s working that voice, and he’s a terrific advocate of independent authors with one of the largest online databases of how-to articles and helpful tips for authors just starting off. Good for him I say.

No, the point of this post is to provide an alternate stance to the many how-to-write-your-book posts that Mister Wendig has on his site.

First, though, I want mention that there are plenty of things I agree with from Mister Wendig’s overall philosophy. A couple of quotes of his will illustrate this:

– “A finished first draft. That is the brass ring, the crown jewels, the Cup of the Dead Hippie God.”

–  “And that is our goal: to defeat the specter of Nothing.”

Basically what he wants to instill in his readers is that you have to actually write your god-damned book if you want to write your god-damned book. Otherwise you are just someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about a book. And that isn’t quite the same thing. There are a lot of people who sit around thinking about being football players or ballerinas or winning the lottery and, in the end, that does not result in them becoming what they are trying to attain.

This is very sound advice.

But there are plenty of times when I would suggest that you ignore it.

In the end, the goal shouldn’t be to finish books, the goal should be to come into your own as a writer. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s the truth. You have to learn to teach yourself with respect, to acknowledge that you have a voice, to grasp how it is that you tell stories. That’s what writing is all about and doing nothing but ordering yourself to hammer at the keyboard year after year doesn’t allow much room to converse with yourself, to take note of who you are and how far you’ve come.

It’s just your hands on the keyboard and a drill instructor in your brain.

That doesn’t allow much room for growth.

Every so often, it’s good to ask yourself why you’re doing this. Why do you write? What is it that you want to produce? Maybe you want to try something different from what you’ve been forcing yourself to hammer out. Trust me. It happens.

I just mentioned the concept of a mental drill instructor and that brings me to another point I’d like to make. Again, I’ve had plenty of books that were finished with the help of that mental drill instructor. It’s a good tool, but it’s not the only tool. And it has plenty of downside. I’ve spent a lot of time, way too much of my life, beating myself up for not writing enough. I’ve piled on anxiety and stress and self-loathing because I wasn’t meeting my word count. Yes, it helped me to finish some of my earlier books, but I’m not entirely sure it was worth the costs. Especially because, and I can not stress this enough, there are other ways to write. You can take breaks from your word count and not beat yourself up over it. You can sit and type without adrenaline or pressure. You can step away from your book and not instantly consider it a failed effort. That’s allowed.

I honestly find myself wondering these days if my earlier books would have been finished in roughly the same time-frame even without that mental drill instructor. Whether they would have slowly been typed and edited if I hadn’t applied tremendous pressure on myself to finish them, if I had had a little self-respect and let myself be at peace while I was away from them. Part of me thinks that I would have worked my way back to the keyboard at about the same time whenever I took a break, and the books would have come out of me either way, I just would have been less riddled with anxiety.

And that anxiety adds up. It can leave you hating your keyboard, slogging through your books, loathing every step. I mean, if that’s the goal…well maybe that shouldn’t be the goal is all I’m trying to say.

Mister Wendig’s philosophy also seems to overlook the fact that writing will change for you over time. I hinted at this earlier but what writing is, what it means to you, why you do it, and how you do it…that’s all up in the air. It probably doesn’t seem like it now, but life lasts a pretty long time and you won’t write your fifth book the same way you write your first. You’ll acquire new tools, old tools will go blunt, you’ll experience new authors and art that will effect what you’re trying to create. And, most importantly, you’ll continue through your life. You’ll change as a person. And that should come to be reflected in your process. Which means that your process should change as well.

I know a lot of authors who have written some impressive things but continue to flog themselves along on the drill instructor’s path.

I would like them to know that there is more than one way to write.

Maybe take a fresh look at things and see if that isn’t true.

I suppose that’s my over all point. Turn off the drill instructor now and then and take a breath. Please.

Look I’ll put it this way.

Painters are supposed to paint a certain way. They’re supposed to use pencil strokes, or pen strokes, or brush strokes to produce an effect as multiple brush strokes compile. It sounds ludicrous to think that a painter would paint pictures, say, using only one line, that someone might paint a picture by applying pen to paper and not lifting it until their painting was finished.

But that’s painting too. It’s important to recognize that there can be more than one process.

Oh, I know what you’re saying. That’s just silliness, right? I’m making a broad point but it’s pretty facile. Yes, technically drawing one, and only one, line is painting. But no one would ever actually do that. Why would anyone, not to mention an expert, pursue such a method when it’s so obviously not going to create something brilliant or popular or interesting, right?

Right?

picasso one line paintings

Highbrow Pulp

Breezy Stories pin-up by Enoch Bolles by bollesbiggestfan1from FlickrI’ve mentioned Albert Berg (@albert_berg)on this website before. He’s written some of my favorite reviews of Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions, and he won a flash fiction contest I hosted a while back.

He is also the co-host, along with Tony Southcotte (@tsouthcotte), of the Human Echoes Podcast. Their podcast discusses a new horror movie every week. But that’s not really what the podcast is about. The podcast is about the conversations that these two guys have and the wide array, some might say baffling array, of topics they get into and the different viewpoints they both bring to the table.

I’ve definitely become a fan and you should click that link up there and listen to some recent episodes as well.

Anyway, a few weeks ago my name came up in the podcast and Albert was trying to describe my work to Tony. Part of the fun of listening is hearing the buoyant enthusiasm that Albert exudes when discussing books and movies, and it was a thrill to hear that enthusiasm come out because of something I had written.

Then, while trying to sum up my books to Tony, Albert suggested that they might be described as “Highbrow Pulp.”

I joke a lot on here about how hard it is for me to classify what I write into a genre. This is partly because artists are finicky weirdos and we don’t like to be lumped into genres, partly because the genres I do fit into are more or less overrun by soft-core porn,  and partly because I have a book where an undead samurai helps a Roman slave push Isaac Newton to come up with his theory of gravity…and that’s sort of hard to classify.

But the term Highbrow Pulp has stuck with me since hearing it on the HEPodcast, and I think I rather like it.

On the one hand, my literary heroes include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac and Salinger. I don’t know how well I’m doing in following in their footsteps, but there’s a desire in me to write poetic prose, to pay attention to the language, to write scenes where everything is about mood or tone, to have plot lines that are barely sketched in the background, to capture something true about the world and life itself. And in the Matthew and Epp stories I find I’ve written some of my truest and heartfelt passages while taking viewpoints from a wider array of characters than I ever have before.

On the other hand, I’m writing books where an undead samurai in a bad suit fights zombies.

And I’m proud of both of those facts.

I think the definition of what “pulp” writing is will vary a lot from person to person, but for me it has no negative connotations. Oh, I know, there are cheaply produced books filling shelves out there that contain awful writing and trite plots and they have sex scenes shoehorned in, and a lot of people would define those as pulp. Not me, though. I define those as crap.

For me, pulp writing means detectives who like bourbon and dames, it means shoot-outs and plot twists, it means femme fatales and exotic locations.

It means writing that doesn’t take itself too seriously and lets the reader have some freaking fun.

For some people, meaning and fun are never found together.

There’s a mindset out there that I always find annoying that meaningful books must be dry and hard to understand and have nothing take place and be about whichever pop sociology happens to be in the headlines at the moment.

I’ve never understood this way of thinking.

What is it that you think is being captured with writing like that? Because it isn’t life. People smile in life. They laugh. Not all the time, no, but quite often, even in trying times and in horrible situations. Sometimes people are overcome with the bad times and life seems devoid of fun, but then they overcome being overcome.

All of the funerals I’ve been to have had a few smiles at them.

A lot of the worst things I’ve faced have resulted in me resolving to take life a little less seriously and focus on the simpler joys more often.

And those writers I listed earlier as my heroes? They might not write slapstick, but their stories do contain drunken idiots and misunderstood dialogue and jokes and some actions scenes and laughable situations.

They just also contain something deeper.

I don’t know that I aim to write pulp, but with this current set of books I am aiming to fit in as many classic movie monsters as I can. That sounds sort of pulpy.

But I’m also aiming to break your heart if possible, and to make you ponder your life if I can.

I don’t know.

Highbrow pulp.

I’ve heard worse descriptions.

Who Named This Storm Nemo?

I found Nemo by DaugaardDK from FlickrThis past Friday a massive snow storm hit the east coast. The name of this storm was Nemo. I am not the first person to note how ridiculous this name is, nor will I be the last, but come on. Who doesn’t think of a cartoon clownfish when they hear that name? I can’t even count how many photos I saw on Twitter of people shunning their Nemo stuffed animals because they were pissed at the storm.

Norman. There’s a good name for a winter storm. Creepy and subtle and hiding its dead mother in the attic. That’s got winter storm written all over it.

Anyway, I went out first thing Saturday morning with my camera and  my new tripod to try and grab some shots of the snowfall. Ironically the massive amount of snow meant that going into the park wasn’t going to happen, the cuffs of my jeans were frozen solid just by walking down the sidewalk, and most of that had been shoveled. Trekking into the ungroomed park? No.

Plus, this was my first tripod experience so I really was spending a lot of time figuring out what I had to unscrew where to make different things tilt. Ideally with a tripod I can shoot with a nice slow ISO and a high aperture value because I’ll have the stability needed to avoid blur due to the large time such shots will take. This should give me high detail and large depth of field. And, from what I can remember from high-school art class, the highest aperture setting should equal a depth of field of infinity.

Should.

I’m still tinkering.

Here are a few shots from Saturday. Click through for larger views.

Icicles 71st Street after Nemo
Central Park West facing North after Nemo

Central Park West facing south after Nemo

When Did I Write That?

Nothing by Biczzz from FlickrLast week I was out of commission with a fever or a cold or something. That’s why I’m a little confused about when I wrote last week’s post. I remember answering Olga’s questions, and her response was quite amazing in its enthusiasm, but I also know that I was unconscious a lot around that time, so it’s a bit mysterious.

I guess I managed to be both productive and sick. Generally this is not how such events unravel. I’m sort of a wimp when it comes to being sick. I’m one of those people who washes their hands often because I hate germs because germs lead to me getting ill.

Actually, I have the reverse attitude now. When I first started washing my hands after every subway ride I felt a little strange. Now it’s normal for me and I look upon all of you with mild disgust when you don’t wash your hands before eating or after wandering around the city. Don’t you know what’s on those?!

I know people that will worry about what hormones are fed to the chickens that produce the eggs they buy and then cook to a safe temperature, but after riding on a subway they’ll eat without washing their hands.

Humans I tell ya. Humans will go to the gym to use the StairMaster and take the escalator up to the second floor when they get there.

So the book is still amassing words, but this week has been boring due to illness.

Unless butt-ass crazy NyQuil fever-dreams are of interest. And they’re not. To me. To write down.

So I’ll just go back to writing the book and we’ll be more interesting next week.