I had some excellent feedback when I posted my blog about encouraging other people to write — that couldn’t have made me happier. I have this vision about how creative energy works: I see it as this benevolent, evolving energy that transcends physics and travels through unexplored realms of the Universe, sustaining itself on these artistic contributions from everyone who can feel it. There is enough of this energy for all of us and room for you to contribute. When someone tells me that I helped encourage them to pick up a pen and write, that makes me very happy, like I’m helping the creative energy traverse creation.
I wanted to take the opportunity this week to let you know that all creative types experience the same struggles that you are, that you aren’t alone. I want to help you make any realization that you need, or help fashion any tool that will benefit you, as you start on your own creative journey. The creative energy needs you to create — without you, it can’t make its way to the next generation.
In no special order, this is what I struggle with when I write:
Writing female or gender fluid characters – There is a meme floating around the internet about how a male would write a female character and its pretty spot on. Being a male, I don’t know the depth of the female experience; I can ask, but that’s like trying to explain what breathing feels like, doesn’t it? One of my biggest peeves when reading female characters is the overused trope of the attractive female that doesn’t know she’s attractive and doesn’t understand why she’s getting the attention. I don’t write characters like that because they aren’t interesting to me — books in the Millerverse are about flawed characters and how they hope their jagged edges fit with other people’s jagged edges just enough that they can fake being normal.
I struggle with writing female characters, or characters of transitioning males or females, because I’ll never really know what their struggle is like. I struggle with writing those characters because it’s important for me to write authentic stories about authentic people. If you read one of my books and you think I’ve gotten something wrong in that regards, I will appreciate you telling me more than you trying to overlook it.
Seeing potential in my own work – I can’t tell you how many works I’ve started that have started and died with chapter one. Part of me still sees myself as the kid from backwoods Pennsylvania that was held hostage by his own anxiety — I didn’t take creative writing courses and I just hoped to survive the halls of school as opposed to excelling in them. What has helped me with that is reaching out to beta readers, people I know that wouldn’t bullshit me just to be nice. One of my favorite people to have read my work is one of my best friends, Pat. Pat is the kind of guy that doesn’t sugar coat anything, has a black belt in Judo, and is physically imposing. What Pat’s demeanor doesn’t reveal is that Pat is a very encouraging guy, as long as he doesn’t think you are trying to be a dick. Pat has read both of my books and tells me how it is. If Pat can be straight up with me, then nothing I can tell myself can change my mind.
The worry that I’m wasting my time – Stephen King has been a real motivator for me; his story is one of humble beginnings, insisting on being himself, and preaching the gospel of persistence. It’s everything that I need to keep my fingers to the keyboard. Just when I get in a good groove, I think to myself “how many people are writing right now and you think you are going to make it to the Pulitzer Ceremony?” That leads to “you only have so much life time, are you wasting it by doing something that you aren’t going to be missing out on true meaning?” I haven’t had a lot of those ugly thoughts lately, they got a lot less loud after releasing “Broken Promise Records.”
When those thoughts do appear, I will pull out my copy of “On Writing” by Stephen King and remind myself of the lessons of persistence. After that, I look at the reviews on Amazon, from people who cared enough to read the book and shared what they thought. That’s what chases the ugly thoughts away — you will get there too. Be persistent, put yourself out there. If you have stories to tell, then you were meant to tell them, it’s that easy.
Focus – The problem with having Attention Deficit Disorder is that my early works felt like they had to be wall-to-wall action page turning epics. Character development actually felt like a chore. When I was able to calm my thinking down and realize that well developed plots were better for me than Chuck Norris-esque battle cliches, my writing progressed. My stories actually improved because I took the time to think about what the next best aspect of the story would be to advance the plot. Danny Goss dealt with a lot of emotional stuff in “Broken Promise Records,” would have been more fun to write that he broke out the neighbors windows with a screaming guitar solo from the roof? Sure, in the short term. In the long term, the way Danny was written moved the story along better.
Editing your drafts can sometimes be a labor, but it’s necessary. No one, and I do mean no one, has ever nailed it on the first draft. In fact, Sylvester Stallone himself said that the real fun in writing is not producing the first draft, but rewriting for the second one (paraphrasing). Mr. King’s words about persistence help again in this instance.
Stopping – Too much of a good thing, right? When I find myself in a groove, it’s hard to walk away and attend to life. The grass needs mowed? Forget the grass, my main character is about to dodge a train! It’s time for sleep?! But the love triangle is about the collapse on itself! In a perfect world, I would be able to just keep typing until the problem resolved itself or the work was completed. Life is about balance; if I’m focused solely on writing the work, then I might neglect business or marketing duties regarding my writing.
I don’t realize it at the time, but if I keep trucking through the work without taking a moment to breathe, I run the risk of suffocating the work. If I don’t take a moment to consider perspective, my process is in direct danger of falling flat and losing depth and texture. I don’t know if I’m the only writer afflicted by this, but it’s possible.
Not working that I’m writing a book into every conversation I have – Writing is such an immersive activity and it’s so easy to relate every situation you encounter to one that is in your work. There is an appropriate time and place to broach the subject, but hearing about a friend’s grandma’s recipe for barbecue isn’t the best time to mention that my main character had been raised by cannibals with foot fetishes …who also had a great recipe for barbecue! There is a time and place to let my work speak for itself, and its exactly when someone you know or love is reading, and hopefully entertained by it!
With all of my struggles documented, I need to tell you that writing has been a blessing to me. I’ve found that no other of my projects or endeavors has brought me more sincere joy or fulfillment. Nothing worth doing is easy, and nothing your meant to do should be a walk in the park, that friction is where greatness is assembled.
Go out and create — write, paint, draw, sing, play. The creative energy is waiting for you and it needs you.
I’ll see you on your next trip across the Millerverse.