nope nah nyet

I pride myself on having a strong work ethic. One of those oh my god he’s so boring all he does is work work work-type of work ethics. I write every day, often balancing several projects – all in various stages of development (active fiction WIP, outline, first draft edit, new script, script polish, etc) – at once while brainstorming not only new projects but also new ways to expand the ones I’m already working on (adaptations, comic books, graphic novels, novelizations, amusement parks).

So it should come as no surprise to say that when I sat down the other morning, coffee in hand, and brought up the Word Doc of the Day, my brain said

Nope

Nah

Nyet.

Yeah. Just drew a huge blank. No words. Nothin’. It was like I was looking at some foreign language I could kinda maybe sorta understand but, in the end, made absolutely no sense.

I switched to a different WIP. That sometimes work to get the gears a’going’.

Same thing. Nothing. Not even a glimmer of where I was supposed to go next on the page or what direction the story was supposed to travel now.

Of course, keenly aware of my self-imposed calendar, I started to very quietly have a full-blown – but quiet – panic attack. Started rescheduling, moving projects around, buying myself a day here, a week – maybe – there. Started feeling guilty for letting people down if something didn’t show up on time or, I don’t know, when they expected it to.

And then I did something I rarely do: I shut my laptop. Just closed it. Left the WIP alone, stood up and took a walk. A long one, actually. Enjoyed the, what’s it called again? the sun?, on my face. The breeze.

In short, I played hooky.

But my creativity demanded it. To run yourself ragged on a self-imposed – I use that word a lot because everything I do is dictated by me; I am my own worst boss – treadmill without touching base with your humanity not only stifles your creative voice, it silences it.

So, in truth, my stories, my characters, their narratives, all stood up and stepped forward to shut me up, steal my voice and get me out of the house.

And what happened when I came back?

Nothing. I took the day off. Shocking, isn’t it? 😁

But, hey, sometimes we gotta be daring and break the rules in order to get those words on the page.

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myriad pieces of haphazard puzzles

I’m a relentless optimist. I’m also a no-bones-about-it realist. It’s a nice blend. Keeps me relatively stable and sane in what can be a career of dizzying highs (or so I’ve heard) and abysmal lows (first name basis frequent flier here).

And one of the things I’ve come to understand is you need both to effectively move through what can sometimes be the mystifying, frustrating process of being adapted from fiction to film (or TV).

And, believe me, I’m not slamming the process.

What most don’t realize is that moving a project forward in Hollywood, getting from A to B, is often dependent on a haphazard puzzle of myriad pieces somehow finding a way to snap together. It could take weeks. It could take months. It could take years. It could never happen. Some projects click quickly. Others less so. But the pieces need to come together, they need to fit and, as much as possible, they need to be perfect. And the one constant truth linking those two together, and everything in-between, is that you, as the writer, have zero say in how things inch forward. You just don’t.

Nor should you.

But this is the beauty of being a writer and one of the reasons I love what I do: when the no-bones-about-it realist starts to nag the relentless optimist, chipping away at his sunny disposition with perfectly reasonable doubts, the Writer gets to work.

Because not only am I a relentless optimist, a no-bones-about-it realist and a Writer (with that capital W), I’m also blessed with a creative mind that just…doesn’t…stop. The list of projects I have on my calendar currently stretch into 2020. And that’s not taking into account whatever projects land on my plate driven by other people, production companies, my publisher, anthologies, etc.

The Martuk Series. Eidolon Two. Eidolon Three. Eidolon Four. Eidolon Five. The third Martuk novel. A new project about magic and secret realms and dangerous monsters that lurk in plain sight, spanning different timeframes all at the same time. A potential three-book series centered around Mot from the Martuk books. Continued script adaptations for film, for TV.

So when I start to feel a bit grrrrrrrrrrrrr…I just flip it into work. And as I write, as words land on the page, hopefully stretching into paragraphs and then pages, chapter after chapter finally becoming a book or a short story or a screenplay or whatever, all those haphazard puzzles with their myriad pieces, something I can do nothing about, are putting themselves together. Bit by bit. Piece by piece. Phone call by phone call. Rescheduled meeting by rescheduled meeting. Email by email.

But, and this is important, when I get that email or that text or that phone call or whatever by whoever saying “Hey, let’s talk” it makes all the waiting – and furious writing – worth it. It really does.

Because another constant thread with this business is the courage to take a chance. Yes, get those pieces together and make ’em fit. Do what you can to guarantee as much as possible the largest audience possible. (Talk with me ’cause Lord knows I got ideas) But at the end of the day, you’re still rolling the dice and taking a risk.

It’s just what we do.

What’s my point with this? Maybe nothing. I’m not sure.

All I know is, as a writer, I’m lucky I drive the bus and can turn whatever impatience, curiosity or whatever I feel into work. Work that might, at some point, end up being part of yet another puzzle with pieces needing to be put together.

Which will lead me into writing more.

It really is a gloriously vicious cycle, ain’t it? 😊

we are never 100%

We are never perfect. We are never 100% day-in and day-out our best. The path to our greatest work is riddled with failures, mistakes, bouts of laziness and just plain ol’ bad writing (or whatever it is you do).

It’s important to remember this when you find your tank empty and your creativity strangely silent.

Sometimes, though, it’s wise — and I’m speaking to the writers here — to push through and, at the very least, get words on the page. Even if those words are the worst words you could ever write. At least you’ll be giving your mind and your talent an opportunity to open its eyes, wake, stretch and go “Oh yeah, I need to get back to that.”

Or at least that’s the idea that helped me write this “Do Your Worst” essay in Crystal Lake Publishing’s new Writers on Writing Vol. 1-4 Omnibus.

Check it out. Tons of good advice to be found.

Oh. And me. 😉

A brief glimpse:

writers-on-writing-excerpt

yes I can

I got an interesting email the other day. And although I’ve hemmed and hawed about whether or not to share this, I decided to do so because I suspect others might benefit from my experience.

The note was from someone who claims to be an editor. Someone I know of through social media. Someone who had, on the advice of “high ranking writers” — we have ranks? I had no idea! are there medals? sashes? a dental plan? — decided to take a chance and see if this new guy — me! — is as good as they said he is.

The verdict?

I suck.

And, in their opinion, not only do I suck, but my work was LITERALLY unreadable. (Btw, that was in ALL CAPS in the email, so I REALLY feel the need to be consistent) Like, they couldn’t EVEN — again, ALL CAPS — get four pages in before they threw it across the room.

Now, what’s interesting about this isn’t the criticism — it comes with the job and I’ve heard much worse — it’s the list they kindly offered me.

Yes! A list!

Whoops, forgive me. I meant THE LIST. You know, a gentle reminder of what I can and cannot do as a writer. A little something to help me out — paraphrasing here — before I go back to school and take a ton of seminars and learn how to actually write a book, etc and so on.

So, this list of “Can’ts” included

  • I can’t structure my sentences the way I do
  • I can’t break formatting and ignore punctuation
  • I can’t ever, ever begin a chapter with dialogue
  • I can’t blend past and present in a narrative
  • I can’t ever start a chapter in the middle of action.

It was a very generous list. An exhaustive list. I needed a cookie and a nap after navigating, like a less-ambitious, slightly disinterested version of Marco Polo, this list. A great deal of thought went into this list.

Toward the end of THE LIST I found myself envying their free time.

Of course I responded and thanked them for writing and wished them well. I did not apologize for my work and I did not apologize for the way I write.

Because my answer to that list of Can’ts is

Yes I Can.

Again, the criticism is not the issue. Art is subjective and, hey, everyone has their own opinion. What I do is sometimes unique and it won’t always be to everyone’s liking. And that’s okay! No harm, no foul, right?

I’m just gonna do what I do regardless because it’s who I am.

What is the issue is an industry – which this person had decided to speak for, I guess – that actively bemoans everything sounding the same and the lack of new voices taking risks and then, when someone does find the courage to throw a curve ball, smacks them down because it breaks their rules. Raps them on the knuckles, brands them with the He Can’t Write label and pushes them to the back of the line until they “learn how to do it right.”

Well, even if it slows my ascent, I’ve never really paid attention to the rules. Hell, I can’t imagine a life (which is limiting enough, thank you very much) where I choose to limit MYSELF by quieting my voice by following rules.

Because you know what?

Those who do well, and I mean those who do well enough to break down walls, destroy boundaries and flip the script when it comes to how society see things, don’t do so by following the rules. They know the rules, understand the rules, know the limits and have worked within the limits. They’ve mastered building castles in that sand box and now spend their lives slowly pushing, testing, forcing these rules to stretch and bend and change.

But when they do this they put a target on their backs for all those armed with Lists lying in wait to bury them in an avalanche of Can’ts. And they endure that, all while paving the way to Freedom for everyone else. They go unread and misunderstood and discarded so the next crop can come in to find those earlier boundaries changed. And these new voices then build their castles in a bigger, somehow better sandbox.

Those who, supported by the rules, then decide to break them do this understanding the path they’re agreeing to walk. But do so anyway because their need to create the way THEY want to is stronger than their desire to be the Flavor of the Month.

So, if I write something that’s roundly rejected by Those Who Follow the Rules, that’s fine.

No, really. It is.

Listen, I have a voice, a unique voice, which often results in interesting stories uniquely told. That’s not going to change and if the bending and breaking of those rules disturbs someone’s sensibilities, I’m okay with that.

Because, truth be told, I spend my days surrounded by people telling me No, You Can’t. And, every day, week after week, year after year, my answer has been and will always be

Yes, I Can.

how to change a life

Interesting lesson I learned today: listening is important.

Let me explain.

Every day, come rain or shine, I take a walk through the nearby park. Shake the dust off. Get away from the computer screen and all those words, words, words I’ve been banging out since the sun came up. You know, just get out and clear my head.

And, on these walks, I’m known to take a moment — a small minute, really — to share a Hello or How are you with those somewhat familiar faces I see, come rain or shine, lingering around, lying on the grass, sleeping on the benches.

Now, granted, many (most? all?) of those faces are homeless and battling addiction and/or psychosis. And many, if not all, of them have been forgotten by those they loved because — and I’m guessing here — of the choices they made. Choices usually driven by addiction, psychosis, hopelessness.

So my kind words, my taking that moment to say Hello and ask How are you? and truly, sincerely listen to what they say may be the only kind word or moment of attention they get that day.

But that’s not the lesson I learned.

On my walk today I ran into a familiar face I hadn’t seen in awhile — not unusual for those faces to disappear, by the way – but this once was clean shaven and sober and HAPPY!

So, after exchanging quick pleasantries, he then said “You changed it for me, man. You took the time, said Hello, wanted nothing, nothing, from me and you were cool. And I thought, Well, fuck, if that cool guy is cool with me, maybe there’s hope. And once I realized there could be hope, I don’t know, man, I got my shit together and just changed it, man. I just changed it. So, thank you.”

Of course I deflected his praise. Reminded him that if anyone changed his direction, it was him. And to keep going. Keep making wise choices. Keep building on his success, however small it might feel. But he’d made a good point. A great point, really.

Which is this…

You never know what will change someone’s life. You never know what will be the one thing, the one small seemingly inconsequential thing, that pushes the Pause button long enough for them to stop and think and reconsider their next choice. And then, because of that small break in the cycle, that pause, that breath, move in a different direction.

It can be as easy as listening to their story. Acknowledging their pain. Agreeing that, yeah, it sucks and, shit, wouldn’t it be nice to get a break? It could be something as simple as treating them with respect and kindness and patience no matter how deep their illness or how drunk or high they are or how clearly their psychological wounds are still weeping. Taking that moment to just be there, for just a moment, might be enough to kickstart them to a better place.

Seriously.

Do not underestimate the power of sincerely listening when you ask “How are you?” It could change a life.