Do You Have A Ritual?

In today’s post we answer another question from a reader. I say ‘we’ because these videos are done by Cate and I, not just me. She puts a lot of time and effort and thought into where we record these videos and how to introduce them. 

Today’s question is from Tara in upstate New York. First, Hey, Tara in upstate New York.

Tara asked, “Do you have a ritual when you finish a book?”

This is something I have never been asked, so thank you for the question, Tara. 


Before you watch the video and get my response, I know a lot of authors who do have a ritual. Some of them smoke cigars—they literally purchase cigars specifically for smoking at the end of a book—some of them have a glass of wine or go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Some folks quietly reflect. This is what I do:

Again, thank you, Tara, for your question. If you have a question you would like me to answer, drop me a line and we’ll answer it. Please, no boxers or briefs questions. 

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

The Obligation of Words (and the Symbolism of Typewriters)

So often I feel like writing is a waste of time for me. I do it every day, sometimes very late at night when I can’t sleep or early in the morning when everyone is still in bed. Most days when I sit to write, it feels like an obligation, like something I am required to do—like homework when I was in school. To who am I obligated? To the readers? To the fictional voices in my head who love my work? To the characters, themselves, who wish to have their stories told? To myself?

Maybe it is none of those things. Maybe I am obligated to the words, or to nothing at all. Still, writing often feels like an obligation for me. And I don’t know why.

392550_412747505422764_855367895_nWith that obligation comes the feeling that I am an ancient typewriter, one that is missing all the vowel keys, and with every word I type, I have to go in and hand write in all the missing A’s, E’s, I’s, O’s, and U’s (and sometimes Y’s—let’s not forget the Y’s). The feeling is the keys are sticking and each time the type bar goes up, it does so slower than it should and it strikes the platen weakly, leaving only a faint gray letter on the paper.

It is during those times that writing can be a struggle. The words don’t come out right. The sentences sound off or awkward or just plain weird. That is when the same word gets used over and over and when an hour can pass with only 32 words having been written—do the math, that is one word for almost every two minutes. Though it is a struggle, I continue to write on. After all, bad writing is better than no writing (because, you know, at least I’m writing).

Yes, that is the obligation speaking. Any writing is better than no writing, even if the words I pen are mere shadows of stories I’ve written in the past.

Still, I don’t know what the obligation is or where it came from or why I feel so strongly about it.

Here is a truth as I know it: If I’m not writing, I feel like I am wasting my time. It is a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation. Again, that obligation to put words to paper or on the screen comes heavily into play. It’s a constant battle of what I should be doing other than writing, and what I should be writing. Here is an example to illustrate things a little better:

I have several books written, but they need to be edited. Editing is not writing. It is part of the process of putting a book out, but it is not the actual act of writing. It needs to be done, but when I am editing, the voices in my head are yelling at me, YOU SHOULD BE WRITING! Unfortunately for me, when the voices start bickering, I can’t cover my ears and walk away. It’s impossible to get away from yourself and what is in your head.

But then when I am writing, some of the other voices (and in many cases, the same ones who bickered at me for not writing) yell, YOU SHOULD BE EDITING THIS STORY! IT’S NOT GOING TO EDIT ITSELF!

AHHHHHHHH!!!!

You see, I can’t win at this, but there is this obligation, this overwhelming feeling that I need to write. And maybe that is the problem. The need to write is so strong, it is almost an obsession. Or maybe it is an obsession.

I’m ripe with things to say. 

The words rot and fall away.

—Blink 182

Stay Together for the Kids

rusty-typewriterThose are powerful lyrics to a powerful song. Those lyrics, quite often, are how I feel when I wake in the morning or before I go to bed. I have all these words spinning around up in my head. They are alive and hungry and waiting for me to send them out through my fingertips. If I don’t write them down they will die and decay and be lost to me forever. It’s like losing thousands of friends a day. Most of them might not be all that close and might just be acquaintances, but some of them … some of them are like extensions of my family, parts of me that I love and cherish and … dammit, I don’t want to lose them all!

At this point it is easy to say, ‘hey, you’re losing it, bro.’ Maybe so. It’s also easy to say, ‘you are your obligation.’ Again, maybe so. Probably so.

I honestly think the obligation is tied to fear. Fear is a horrible feeling. Fear of losing a loved one, a job or getting hurt by someone or killed or whatever. Maybe your fear is of picking up kitty cats. Hey, it could be a real thing. Don’t judge! The fear is something so simple, so easy to see and dismiss, but so real: what if I take a break from writing—a week, two tops—and when I return to it, I won’t be able to write?

Sounds crazy, I know, but I think that is the problem I have when it comes to writing. I have tried to take breaks from time to time. The longest such break in the last couple of years has been four days. At the end of that four days, I had the hardest time sitting down and putting two words together, much less two hundred or two thousand. My fingers itched to put anything on the screen. When that didn’t work, I pulled out a notepad and pen and dated the top of the page (as I always do), but nothing came out. Nothing came out.

I forced myself to write on a story I knew I would never finish, but I still wrote some words—all of about three hundred of them. They sucked. We’re talking being stuck in a sewage drain up to your chest and you just dropped your phone and you need to retrieve it in order to save yourself suckage. It took another three days before I felt really comfortable with the words I wrote. That was after just four days of not writing.

I thought my head would explode from the frustration. Obligation fueled by fear.

But there is another fear that goes with it. It is something I was concerned with when I stopped putting The Brown Bags out in print form: if readers don’t see my words, they lose interest in me. If I don’t market, readers lose interest in me. If I am not constantly out there, readers lose interest in me. It’s just reality. Out of sight, out of mind. Obligation is still there.

Then there is this happy little contradiction: sometimes my mind screams in all of its many voices, WHAT ARE YOU WRITING FOR WHEN NO ONE IS READING YOUR WORDS? 

Okay, I may be able to count on both hands and maybe one of someone else’s hands, how many fans I really have out there, but there are still folks reading my words. It is hard to know who the fans are or if folks are reading your work. I can honestly say that these (non-writer) folks follow my work regularly: Joan Macleod and Mary Cooper and Frank Knox and Greg Crump. I didn’t count my wife in there, but with her and possibly my brother-in-law, Stephen, that puts my straight up, legit fan base at six people. (If you are a straight up, legit fan and I am not aware of this, drop me a note in the comments, just don’t throw a brick at my head. The brick will break and I will not get the hint.)

But what if I never had work published? Would I still feel this way? Would I still feel the obligation to write. I think so, but maybe it would be directed somewhere else. When I was a kid I had a need to constantly play or practice at basketball. As I got older, I began to draw and I had the need to constantly put a pencil to paper. But that was different. I didn’t feel I absolutely had to do those things. I didn’t feel that if I didn’t shoot five hundred free throws in a day I would forget how to do it, or if I didn’t draw a picture every day I would forget how to. I didn’t feel obligated to do it. And when I thought about quitting those things, they didn’t scare me.

With the exception of the last paragraph, I feel a lot of writers—probably far more than will admit—have the same issues. They have that obligation.  They have that need to write, that fear of not only not being able to write, but of failure, driving them to do so every day. They have a desire to be read, to know they are being read, and to know that  what they are writing is reaching people. They stress over writing time and having enough work out there. They stress over editing and marketing and putting themselves out there. Many of them also feel it is a waste of time, and quite a few of those folks quit all together.

Writers rarely reach superstar celebrity status like rock stars or movie stars do. Sure, we have Stephen King and James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, but the majority of writers (and I’m talking a fictional percentage such as 98%) don’t ever reach half of that climb to the top of Mt. Success.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if writers were treated like rock stars when it comes to our fan base? We could release a single (short story) and then another later on, and by George, if you like them, go get the entire collection at your favorite brick and mortar store or online. You could tell your friends how awesome the writer is that you are reading. I find this interesting: we listen to songs over and over, trying to learn all the lyrics (including those pesky background lyrics that are so hard to decipher sometimes) and we try to learn how to sing them and even play them, again, over and over. But when it comes to a story, we read it once and put it down. ‘I know how the story is going to end now.’ Yes, this is true, but don’t we know how the song is going to end, too?

I apologize for going slightly off the beaten path here. The point to that last part is writers don’t often reach very high heights. That can be frustrating, as well.

Musicwriter June 5 2014 031Still, there is obligation. As real or in our heads as it may be, writers, authors, storytellers, struggle with this obligation. Whether it is to the readers or themselves or some other weird issue, it is there. It is immense pressure, especially when the writers don’t know anyone is reading their words, when they feel like a rundown typewriter in a field, the letters of each type bar fading, fading, faded.

I know only a handful of people will read this, and I’m okay with that. But for you handful, this is what you can do: turn your favorite authors into rock stars. Talk about them the way you would your favorite television show or actor/actress or band. Buy their books, but don’t stop there. Actually read them. Still, don’t stop there. Leave a book review on Amazon or on a blog or Goodreads (or all of them). Look them up, contact them and say, ‘hey, you did good.’ Find them on social media and follow them (but not in that stalkerish kind of way). Tell your friends about them with the same enthusiasm you have about Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. And, no, that is not an obligation you have.

Now, to close this longer than usual post. For me, the obligation comes, not only from fear, but from chasing a dream. I’ve been chasing the rabbit down the hole of words for a lot longer than I realized until recently (I started writing in 1993). That’s a long time to see only a tiny bit of that dream become reality. Still, I’m obligated, and that rabbit hole seems to be getting smaller while the obligation seems to be getting larger.

Do you want to know why the typewriter is so beat up now? The typewriter is really symbolic. It is our hearts and our souls and our struggles. It is our doubts and confidence, our dreams and our reality, and they aren’t meant to go through rabbit holes.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

The Warm and Fuzzy

~Ahem~

Let me preface this for my sister [yes, my favorite sister out of three siblings, two of which are boys] before I write this piece: I will do something similar for you. Now, P-Shorty just hold onto your boot straps for a while longer.

~Ahem~

Since that’s out the way, let me continue.

You may have heard by now that I have a three story collection out there on Amazon titled Along the Splintered Path. If you haven’t heard before now, well, now you have. Follow the link above and check it out. The reviews have been really good so far.

[[Side Note: I know that was a shameless plug and here is a shameless request to go along with that shameless plug: if you have read Along the Splintered Path, would you mind leaving a review? People really do read those things before deciding on buying a book. End Side Note]]

Occasionally in life you have a chance to do something nice for someone. Many folks don’t take these opportunities. We live in a world where it’s all about ME and if we can’t get anything out of it, well, then we’re not going to do it.

Let me say this to that mindset: When you do something nice for someone you do get something out of it. You get the satisfaction of helping a person(s) with something they needed and that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. And if feeling that does nothing for you… well, go ahead and stop reading now because nothing I say from here on will interest you.

As I mentioned above, recently a three story collection was published by Dark Continents Publishing in what is their Tales of Darkness and Dismay e-book release. I’ve done a bit of advertising and seeking out websites to review the book, as well as seeking out places to do guest blogs and interviews. Marketing is tough work.

[[Side Note: To you writers out there, if you have any suggestions on where to send requests to, I’m completely open to listening. Just drop me a note. It’s much appreciated. End Side Note]]

A few of my friends and family were not happy with me because I didn’t tell hardly anyone about the book until right before it came out. I did that on purpose and I’ll explain it briefly here: A few times last year things in the works fell through. I had mentioned these things to friends and family and then those things didn’t come to fruition. I’m not really the superstitious type, but I got tired of telling folks, ‘no, it’s not happening now,’ so I kept this one under wraps until it was a done deal. No need to jinx myself, you know?

In the process of telling folks after it came out, I missed a few people. One of them is a lady I have worked with for a while now. She and I had an instant bond when I saw her reading a Stephen King book when I first met her. We talked off and on after that. When I told her I was going to try my hand at writing, she encouraged me.

And encouraged me.

And encouraged me.

Do you get the idea that she maybe encouraged me?

Besides my wife, she is the only other person who truly believed that I could succeed (as much as success can be had) if I worked hard at it.

Occasionally she would read one of my stories or ask if I had anything for her to look at and I would give her the current project.

She has been a constant believer in me and my abilities. Even when I wasn’t so sure.

I passed by her desk recently and we started chatting about King’s 11/22/63. After a couple of minutes my book came up. The lady was excited. Her eyes dazzled—dazzled, I say—and her face lit up.

But, then the shine faded when she said she doesn’t have a Kindle and she doesn’t use a computer at home.

As a writer I want to get to as many readers as I can. But, this was one reader who wouldn’t be purchasing the e-book. I wasn’t disappointed that I wouldn’t be making a sell. I was disappointed that someone who had constantly believed in me and encouraged me wouldn’t be able to get the book.

I went back to my office and an idea formed. I have the PDF version of the story. I have the cover art. Why not make her a book? No, it wouldn’t be perfect bound like the presses but still… it was something in print that she could hold and read in bed if she wanted to.

I had the book printed out along with the cover art. Then I went to a local copy shop and had them bind the book with a clear front (there is a reason for this) and a hard vinyl back. Then I took it back to my office, pulled out a black Sharpie and signed the clear cover with her name, my name and sandwiched in between were the words:

Thank you for always believing…

A couple hours later I went back to see my friend.

“I have something for you.”

She gave me a curious look.

“It’s not much and it’s not an official print copy, but I had this made for you.” I proceeded to hand over a copy of my little collection.

Her face lit up and I swear her eyes got wet. She gave me a big hug and said ‘thank you’ several times. She then said, “I have every story you’ve ever sent me printed out and in a box at home.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. I wanted to keep them for when you get famous. I can say I knew you when.”

There is more to this, but that is the gist of the story. You see, she believed in me, she thought I could do this writing thing. I’m going to be honest, I was never sure I could do it. Granted, I’ve not done much, but even a little success is more than a lot of folks have.

I walked away feeling all warm and fuzzy. I may not have made a sell, but I did keep a long time fan happy, one who always believed in me. And, really, isn’t that what this is all about?