Tag Archives: thoughts

Wherein Cereal Makes Me A Better Writer

Image by kasiya @ Flickr

Image by kasiya

I just had a funny thought: “I really want a bowl of cereal.  Surely some Lucky Charms will make me a better writer.”

Mostly, I think my brain is craving cereal.  And yet.

When I was a kid, I held the unshakeable belief that a pair of new shoes made me run faster, jump higher, and altogether much cooler.  As if, during the manufacturing process, they put some kind of mojo in between the layers of leather and rubber.  Or perhaps some fairy godmother or wizard on loan from fantasy epics blessed each pair as they rolled by on the conveyor.  Heck, I don’t even know that I had a reason why it was so.  It just was.  Unquestioned.  Pure, iron-clad, unshakeable kid-logic truth.  And when I laced those suckers up–or tightened up the velcro straps (yeah, I was that cool)–the world knew to watch out.

As we age, we lose the strength of our convictions, invariably replacing ours with those on loan from people who feel they know better than us.  Since when is it unnecessary or uncool to believe in ourselves?  Marketing, too, is driven by this idea: use their product, and we’ll be better/sexier/whatever. And, oftentimes, the marketing and products work.  We feel better/sexier/whatever.  But the magic isn’t in whatever doodad they’ve sold us: the magic is in belief.  And so if we can separate belief from money, and remind ourselves that the latter does not beget or validate the former, then we can recapture some of that kid-logic.  Putting on a lucky shirt, a flattering pair of pants, morning affirmations in front of the mirror, and other daily rituals tap into whatever shreds of our childhood remain.

If we believe something enough, does it become true?

When it comes to things like science and politics, absolutely not (despite what various organizations say).

But in the realm of the internal?  For sure.

Internally, belief is a fuel to create all kinds of realities.  It freezes ambiguous intentions into the solid form of truth and helps you figure out what the heck you want.  In the landscape of the mind, if you believe it, writing enough stories will make you successful, that new haircut does make you look better, five minutes a day spent in reflection does make you a better person, cereal does make me a better writer, and new shoes do make the young version of myself run faster.

Cold Weather

It’s seventy degrees outside now, up from where it dropped last night, possibly the last chilly hurrah before summer latches on to us for good. I had the windows open last night despite the chill–or perhaps because of it.  It’s like free air conditioning, after all.

I love cold weather.  Love it for the way it makes me feel and the things of which it reminds me.  I’ve never been much for the heat.  In fact, I wilt in humidity.  Cue an image of salad greens and ovens or some such.

Cold weather means cozy sweatshirts and pajama pants.  It means blankets, curled up on the couch with movies and hot chocolate, holding coffee mugs with both hands in order to warm them up, soups and stews, sitting outside on the porch in a beam of sunlight to warm up.

Cold weather means fall, when the temperature drops and the leaves begin to turn orange and yellow, and it means cold, wet, rainy, and overcast days, where the leaves and water and dirt mix into a gritty grime that covers sidewalks, crunches under my shoes, and reminds me just how nice it is to stay inside.  On the tail of the first fall weather means October isn’t far away, and that Halloween–my favorite holiday–will be here soon, so it’s time to get a costume ready.

The cold also reminds me of books and stories. Maybe it’s because I write stories, and so many things remind me so, but maybe it’s also because the cold weather keeps us inside, glued to a book or Harry Potter DVDs, and encourages us to retreat deeper into our imaginations to defeat or escape the grey outside.

I’m doing my best to enjoy the cool while it lasts.  Summer will be long and warm, a relentless mix of humidity and misery that won’t let up for months.  But for now, the windows are open, there’s a chill on the breeze, goosebumps on my skin; and it is amazing.

Thankfulness and Expectations

Note: Norton’s Ghost is the Book of the Day over at http://www.kindleboards.com.  I wrote this entry as a little tidbit for the forum and am reposting it here.

I’ve had people ask me if the story of Norton’s Ghost is autobiographical.  I like to think that this means I got something right in the telling of it.

Beyond the usual “there’s a little bit of the writer in every part of the story,” it’s completely fiction.  I’ve never hitchhiked through California, have never experienced homelessness, am thankful to still have my father, and though I did leave school a few times, it wasn’t so that I could go gallivanting around.

At times, I wish it had been.

In a way, the telling of Kyle Dearmond’s story in Norton’s Ghost was a way of doing what I myself couldn’t:  cut loose.  Stop doing things just because it’s supposed to be a good idea to do them.

It’s often said that authors themselves don’t know the ending to their book until it spills out onto the page.  Oh, sure, sometimes we have an idea how we would like it to end, but seldom do our inspirations and characters march lockstep with our idea of what the story should be.

Kyle Dearmond set out to get away from what was expected of him and to find his own way.  I myself felt the pull of the expected as I wrote the story.  “You’re dumb for doing that,” I told him.  “That’s nuts.  Go back to school, get a job, buy a house.”

In all:  “Be like one of us.”

He refused.  In part, he was running from the things he couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with, but I can’t say I blame him for that.  And so I wrote, all the while wondering myself whether he would come out okay in the end.  As the author, my job was to tell the story–not to help the character along to a happy ending.

Today is the day after Thanksgiving.  Most of us are probably still full from yesterday (oh, but those leftover potatoes in the fridge still call to us, yes they do) and we’ve spent time with family and food and reflected on what we’re thankful for.  We sometimes forget these things during the rest of the year, when the roller coaster of life sends us thundering down the slope or rocks us around a hairpin turn.

But in the end, when the time comes, we remember.

For Kyle Dearmond, Norton’s Ghost is a crucible, a stripping away of expectations and an attempt to step off the roller coaster for a while so he can figure out what really matters–and to have the memories and experiences to properly treasure it.

Little does he know that he steps out of one roller coaster and onto another.

Such is the way of stories.

Responsibility Means…

My 365 image from the 27th reminded me of an old teacher that I had.  We were given sentences to write as punishment any time we did something wrong in class.

His default was “Responsibility means following directions,” but he would also adapt it to meet the infraction in question.

But they always began with “Responsibility means…”

There are multiple ways I could go with this.

The whole idea of punishment in schools (now versus then), that people rarely write by hand any longer, that it could be a good exercise for character-building in fiction or the feel-good sort of post that says “Responsibility means being true to yourself” or some such.

But those are all expected.  Boring.  Cliché.

Instead, I’ll just think about old times past and all the teachers who have made me who I am by being wonderful or terrible.  Images flicker by in my head.  Old Italian math and English teachers (one who once went on a rant about profanity in school and how we never respected it and instead reduced it to, “hey, are you gonna eat that f’ing sandwich?” ), a fifth-grade teacher who kept a pet hamster in his classroom, a high school English teacher who was a little crazy but loved my stories.

How Do You Measure Preparation?

I began work today in earnest on codename FUTURE after unearthing it a few days ago and blowing off the dust.

How funny-odd it is to come back to the blank page (or screen).  To a set of jumbled notes and thoughts and things ending in question marks.  To a pile of acquired flotsam that I will endeavor to turn into something that resembles a coherent narrative.

I remember a quote (that I cannot now find online; a fail for google and a fail for my own notes) that went something like:

You don’t learn how to write books.  You just learn how to write the book you’re writing.

The idea is that you learn to write the current WIP, but when it comes time to fire up a new one, you’re back at square one again.

And so far, it’s held true.

So I set about revising notes, asking questions and then dredging my mind for answers, and generally filling in breaks and trying to make connections.  I tried not to worry when I asked, “What does this character want?” and had no answers.  Instead, I just moved on to something else.  Right now all the characters are mere shades that should take form as I move along.

That’s the plan, at least.

I also did a bit of research this morning.

The work I did today got me to thinking: How do you measure preparation?  With an actual Writing Day, I can measure my progress in pages or words: I did x. X is good.  Y is better.  And Z is so awesome that I totally deserve a cookie right now.

But it’s harder to do that with preparation.  I suppose if I was writing a codex or other background works, I could measure the progress in words, but for the rest of this stuff that consists mostly of thinking and jotting and arrows and question marks, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of metrics.  I suppose I could measure in hours spent, but that fails to include daydreaming and coffee and petting the cat.

Which are all necessary parts of the workday.