Category Archives: About Writers

Posts on writers and how they inspire.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I originally wrote this post in 2014, but I never posted it. So why am I posting parts of it now, a little over five years later? Because I didn’t do what I said I was going to do, and that, in and of itself, is why I have failed and continue to fail as a writer.

True failure is inaction. Good writing, bad writing, it’s all writing and that takes action; takes courage; that takes faith; and gumption; and effort; and stick-to-it-ness otherwise known as endurance. Failure is not about the verb to try. Failure is: talking about it, and then fucking it off. Failure is giving up on the race before you even leave the house to get to the track.  I failed. I failed myself.

Reading while on break from my waiting tables job.

We are all our own worst critic, but I’m not trying to just beat myself up and take a look in the mirror and say, “Look at you you are a failure!,” And then start crying myself into a deep depression. I’m not into self-flagellation at the moment (I do have my moments). What I’m into is dissecting this illness, and yes to me to constantly choose to fail by not doing is a sickness (my definition), and try to combat it. I dissect it by looking at what I said I would do, but didn’t do. And take it from there. I believe this is called self-reflection.

Let’s Get Started

It is interesting that I wrote this, according to the time stamp, in 2014, because the event took place in 2008. Writing this in 2014 was six years later yet, the narrative is written as if it is in the present. I’m not sure what was going on in my head at the time. Let’s plunge into the tale.

I quit my job to finish my book. What really got me started on this whole, take control of your life-just do it attitude, was a book. I’m sure a series of events in my life, and aging, and all that life stuff had a factor, but what finally solidified it was a book.

This was true. I did quit my job in 2008. It was also true that I had decided that I wanted to hold off looking for a job for two months so that I could finish a book that I had been working on for about 8 years. I remember this decision distinctly. I was working at a software development company as a receptionist. I made decent money but I wasn’t really into the lifestyle of the office worker. I had saved up some money and I was in a position to take a break. I’d never had that opportunity before, so I thought the time is now. Timing is everything.

It was Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. I thought the title was funny so I picked it up. I didn’t expect any miracles or expect anything I didn’t already know, but while reading it I was struck with a now or never kind of thought. I mean Ariel started writing as a teenager and nothing stopped her or anyone else that wanted to be a writer for that matter. So as soon as I finished her book I made my decision. I’m quitting my job and I’m going to be a writer.

This is true. Gore’s book did inspire me to take the jump. She had travelled and her book was about her life traveling. I had traveled and my book was about traveling. Seemed like kismet.

Alright. I say a lot of shit though. So the next steps? I decided not to tell my parents. I’m an adult, I don’t have to tell them anything, but sometimes I have this deep wish that they are going to be supportive towards my ventures even though I know they wont. In their own special unique way they will fill me with fear and doubt. So I dashed the fantasy of a supportive family, and kept my mouth shut.

So, this is where stuff get’s a little sad. I didn’t tell my parents, who were not together and hadn’t been for over 40 years’ at that point. I didn’t tell them for different reasons. My father wouldn’t have called me foolish or stupid exactly, but his disapproval would be along those lines, and at the age I was at the time, I felt tired of his disapproval and I didn’t want to deal with it. My mom, well, that reason was more complex. I grew up raised on welfare and we never had any money. My mom had spiraled back into drug addiction and poverty which led to her eventual disappearance which was because she was homeless for three years. After time she managed to pull some semblance of structure back into her life and she returned to NA and found a home through section 8 housing and life was just tough, but she was coming out of it. She felt secure knowing I had a good, practical, stable job. How could I tell her that her only child was about to quit a good job just to chase a dream? It was immature to not just be honest.

I told my friends, my best friend, and all my acquaintances. All approved. Still, I didn’t really believe it. I could still back out.

I did tell my friends and now, reading this I feel a little embarrassed about it, but wait a moment… I’m over it.

While on a train ride back from visiting my friend in Seattle I shared a seat with a man. I had my laptop out, and I was staring blankly at some words I wrote-AGES ago. He asked me if I was a writer.  “Yes”, I told him, “unpublished.” I added, as an excuse. I was preparing all my disclaimers- but I first told him about my decision to quit my job, and write full time for two months. He pulled out a book from his bag and tapped the cover- “well that’s me”, he said, “I’m a writer and if you have any questions we have three hours together to talk”.

This all really happened.

His name was David Guterson, and I did know who he was. He was indeed a writer. A published writer. His book Snow Falling on Cedars had been made into a movie a few years ago. I had seen the movie, but never read the book. Here on the train, at the moment I had decided to quit my job to be a full time writer, I had a famous writer at my side for three hours, and I had nothing writerly to ask. What I did learn was that he was a nice man who had five kids, and they were all homeschooled. He himself was a teacher, and his wife did the homeschooling.

I still haven’t read read his book. It is in my reading future. I promise myself. Not for him, but for me.

One word of writing advice he gave me was to make observations.

This too is true.

Tell me about that man.” He said nodding his head in the direction of a man that was talking on his cell phone.

“I can only see a part of him,” I had said, “but he is very black. His skin is dark like pure chocolate, and it is smooth and shiny. He works out or he does something physical that he uses his arms. His muscles are defined and big. He is wearing a tight solid black t-shirt and he has a gold watch. He is eating bright red licorice. There is something intriguing about him, about the cadence of his talk. He sounds charming. He is talking to someone, a person he is dating or married to. I have the impression he is a straight man, but I don’t know for certain. The strongest part of him as an image are all the colors; his chocolate skin, which isn’t actually black but a deep dark brown, and the black t-shirt, his gold watch, and the bright red licorice that he isn’t eating but holding like a pointer in his hand.”

This is what David Guterson told me to do. To observe. To watch and to listen, and then find the way to put the images and the thoughts onto the page. 

What’s interesting to me about revisiting this writing from 11 years ago, is that I can’t remember what David Guterson looks like. If I were to look him up or see him on the back of one of his books, I’m sure I’d remember, but just trying to think back to that time, I can’t picture him at all. He was white, average build and height, and maybe dark blonde hair, but I don’t know, I’m just assuming. Who I do remember in vivid detail is that black man on the train. This is crazy to me. I observed that man for a total of 5 to 10 minutes, and although I had noticed him earlier because as I recall he did have something noteworthy about him, it was still a short observation from 11 years ago. I sat on a train next to a famous writer and spoke with him for three hours. I sat side by side with this man talking for three hours, and I can’t remember his face. So, there’s something special about observing for the sake of writing. It emblazons an image and perception onto your mind-as a writer this can not be taken for granted. Its a necessary exercise.

My next day at work I told them I was leaving in September.

Oh boy, do I remember this. My first work free day was September 8th, 2008 and my new writerly self turned on NPR to the news that the financial markets had dropped 20% and it was the start of the market crash of 2008. I was not able to find a job for 6 months and the job I did finally find was a miracle job, but that’s another story. To make a long story less long; It was bad timing.

I’m not being completely honest about being a failure. According to my previous definition of failure I didn’t fail at my initial intension for quitting my job. I did finish my novel during this time. I sent it to two, maybe three places, but after three rejections I put it away. I gave up on the publishing part. So, perhaps this isn’t about the failure to write but the failure to publish. Intention matters. Later, I gave up not only at publishing, but writing too. And, that’s the biggest problem for now.

The last time I wrote on this blog was June 18th 2018. Over a year ago, and I’ve done many extended breaks through my writing life. I think at this point I don’t even want to be a writer in the published sense, but if I can just consistently write daily for at least a year, if I can do that I will be accomplishing so much. Beyond that year, I’ll worry about later, but for now just to be consistent and to take it seriously, truly seriously regardless of publication or notice that would be a huge accomplishment. Hell, I’m self published on this blog, that’s enough; but let’s make this a routine. Daily.

What does this have to do with short stories? This is a workshop. The Short Story workshop and figuring out a way to get back to writing is the part of the workshop. I have started and stopped so many times it’s unbelievable. My intention is to do a timed writing daily, and to start small. In fact I had already started. I started a week and a half ago. I started with a timed 3 minute write, and I’ve written every day slowly building that time. Today was 15 minutes. I included editing this blog post as a part of that 15 minutes. Tomorrow with be 16 minutes. There’s no excuse not to sit down for 16 minutes. What’s 16 minutes? For a writer trying to get back to writing 16 minutes is a life line. Intention matters. Intention really matters.

Considering David Foster Wallace

I have through work, and various other things seemingly unimportant, intermittently been reading essays from David Foster Wallace’s, Consider the Lobster.

I haven’t had the time or created the time to do much of my own writing or creative thinking in the past month, so in order to get through some of the lack of stimulation I have started posting youtube clips I find of poets to my poetry blog, and I thought that David Foster Wallace would be a great clip to add to this blog about short story writing. He was and is an essayist, but I feel that his work is fitting for any type of short writing form. Plus, I just love his work.

I wasn’t introduced to Wallace till well after his unfortunate death, unfortunate because he will never write anything new for us to read, unfortunate because we will never have the chance to hear him reading live or maybe if we were lucky, meet him, take a class from him. Unfortunate because he was unable to sustain the pain inside him, no matter the drugs or the therapy, unfortunate because he left those of us who so desperately wanted and needed him to stay with us.

Thank you to UCtelevision for posting this clip. This is a 28 min clip.

 

Capote is Inspiring

Capote knew by age eleven he was a writer

I read another short story by Truman Capote. House of Flowers, it is in the same book with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You may think I am on a Truman Capote kick, but I’m not, (though why not?) I am slowly reading through the book I have of a few collected stories. What I do have to say is that after two stories, I am absolutely in love with his writing. There are few writers that cause me to stop reading a book just to say out loud, “This is so well written.” I am happy I’m reading his work now, but disappointed that I never studied him or read him earlier. My first ever introduction to Capote was as a bit part in the movie Murder By Death (I saw it when I was little and it cracked me up, not so much now, but I still find it amusing). I knew of him as an icon and a writer, I have seen and in fact own the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but only now have I actually read a story by him. I think of all the years wasted not reading his work! Seriously, he is an incredibly crafted writer.

Awkward segue into talking about myself as the writer:

I’m moving slowly through Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. I was presumptuous when I said her book doesn’t have many exercises. I plan to try them all, but right now, I am back to the earlier ten minute writes that she had  suggested. I wrote ten, ten minute, writes on random subjects. Her instructions were to not read any of them till two weeks had passed. I think it has been two weeks. I will post one everyday till I reach number ten, starting tomorrow (ten minutes can tend to be a lot of writing). My assignment here is to be a gentle judge. Prepare to be impressed. Capote eat your heart out right? Perhaps not, still the motto here is practice makes perfect and write, write, write.

My list subjects or ideas- to refresh the memory:

Japan
polar bears
time
The History of my desk
touch
balance
grandmothers
ghosts
Joan of arc
Appalachian girl
the health mines

This photo was shot by Irving Penn

Pep Talk and Pulp Covers. Plus some Reading.

I am halfway through Truman Capote’s, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I just have to say that I love this story. Love.

I found this cover at this site, and because I couldn’t stop laughing, I am of course going to post my favorites from this particular page, but before I do, let me go on a second about the book.

Was Breakfast at Tiffany’s considered pulp fiction?

I am surprised at how brash it is. As I read it, I find it hard to think that little Truman Capote (pictured with my favorite icon Marilyn Monroe) wrote it.

I base that on no basis what so ever, except, that I live in a time when people feel the need to splash their faces all over their work and write only about themselves. Of course Mr. Capote must be in the pages, and yes his personality was huge, but his persona is not his characters (it was written before he became famous). I guess I find it refreshing to know of a public personality before reading his work, and not being influenced by that personality, because the writing is so good that the author has faded into the back ground, and has left the characters to tell the story. I don’t know if that made sense, perhaps I am reaching.

Speaking of reaching, I didn’t even make the top 25 writers of Glimmertrain’s new writers submission contest. Deep down inside I think, “oh I suck.” In truth this is fading and the true artist in me is finally speaking out and saying, “I don’t suck, they suck.” Not to burn any bridges, but you just have to say those things, you know, because if you allow unknown faces to stop you, you’ll never send anything out again. You are witnessing my self pep talk. I probably wont submit to Glimmertrain again, not as some protest, because I’m sure they would notice and care, but because it is my second submission to them (not a lot I know) and they don’t send any type of response at all so it is hard to determine if they even find my work fitting for their lit journal. I’ve read the journal, and read Writer’s Ask. I had felt my work rang in a somewhat similar tone, but maybe I was wrong. I don’t know. So, I am left to determine, based on two non response rejections, that they don’t like my writing. Which is fine they have plenty of writers to choose from, I am certain they will survive with out my submissions. I just need to find where I fit. Hah! I say it like its out there. Pep talk is over.

Pulp fiction covers are here. And remember Death Likes it Hot.

Still in the Running

As of today, I am still in the “in process” mode for my submission into Glimmertrain. There are two weeks left until the announcement.

I finished the second novella in Elie Wiesel’s trilogy, and tonight, I am beginning, “Day” his final novella (once titled The Accident). I’m returning to short story readings next, beginning with a collection of short stories by Truman Capote. It is amazing to me that I have never read, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I had loved the film, I would have thought I’d have picked up the story by now.

I’m moving slowly through Goldberg’s Wild Mind, mainly because I don’t feel the need to rush. There are not many exercises, it is more an inspiration to write book, but I’m doing another series of ten minute writes. My assignment, is to write a ten minute write, everyday for ten days, but I am not too look at what I have written until the ten days have past. Goldberg’s theory on this is that as writers we need to have some distance from our writing to really free up our thoughts because our critique or monkey mind tends to gab away even as we are writing. This of course can cause you to not fully let go and explore the landscape of your mind. In theory, with time we can sometimes forget that we even wrote a certain piece.

Funny thing is, the piece I am posting today is something I wrote some time ago. I can’t remember when or even what inspired it. I also have no idea what I will end up doing with it in the future.

It has no title as most of my rambled notes, and practices do not have titles.

Heat caused the air to ripple and the sun, like an orange orb, moved across, and swallowed the blue of the sky, in order to pass the time. God is a child playing soldiers with dolls, spinning his globe like a wooden top and he is growing tired of his toys, and wants something more. They are broken.

Life, it’s a simple painting on blue canvas. The heat is still rippling.

Writing for Practice

I haven’t been working on short story writing, so to keep up practice, I have gone back to writing in long hand in my writing journals and doing timed writing. I’m reading Natalie Goldberg’s book on writing, Wild Mind. I had read Writing Down the Bones about a year ago. I enjoyed it. I thought I would give this one a go. I finished, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and now I am reading Night, by Elie Wiesel.

This is my latest from a ten minute writing exercise:

Straight in her head.

A came before B, and 1 came before 2, but did A come before 1 or 2; or did it equal to two or did numbers and letters add up?
It gave her a headache.
She stood on the bright linoleum between the eggs and dairy. She had difficulties keeping things straight in her head.
A came before B, and 1 came before 2, but did A come before 1 or 2 or did it equal up to 2, or did numbers and letters even add up?
It gave her a headache.
Darren had told her what he had wanted her to buy at the store, but he had said, one was more important than the other.
what was it?
Was it the eggs or the butter?
Write it down, he had said, and she did, but she forgot the note.
As usual, Darren would say.
She was getting worse and worse. Soon she would forget her favorite color, her fingernails, her name, her face, the dog she had when she was five and the neighbor man who shot him. She would forget how to walk, how to see, how to listen.
You already don’t know how to listen, Darren had said, like her father, like the neighbor, like the woman in her bed sitting naked a top her husband.
She’ll forget because Darren told her too.
Told her just forget she saw anything.
She was crazy. She was crazy and soon she’d forget that too.
In the darkness, in her forgetful silence, once she falls asleep, she’ll awake and never remember.
Never remember she dropped the eggs and watched as the shell shattered, and the yolk spread yellow like a blood, into the isles.
There was no sound but the tiniest chirp of something never born.

Uh… About the editing part…

I’ve come to that part. I think. The part where the story is finished, as the story goes. I feel a little – um – unsatisfied, dissatisfied with the very last line of the story, so in that respect I think there is still more work, but I feel I’m pretty close to the right last line. But, what I mean about “that part” is that I am at the nitty gritty. Yep, its edit time, its grammar time, and I hate it, because I suck. Suck big apples suck, like choking on the apple, you know like when snow white ate the poison apple from the witch, but later in the story you find out it was just stuck in her throat? Yeah, well that’s me, with grammar. That’s me passed out in the glass case but I aint got no prince to kiss me with some proper punctuation, and them dwarves dropped outta school in like sixth grade so I gotta figure this stuff out on my own. Annnd… I hate it.

I hate it because I can’t see the problems. I think, when I get critiqued and it is punctuation and grammar focused, I get frustrated, defensive and pissed, because I feel embarrassed. I tell myself, grammarians are not really self gratifying snobbish stuck up assholes who get off on making people feel bad about themselves for being stupid; it is just my own insecurities. Yes. Oh. Yes. That makes me feel so much better. It works like a charm every time.

I am like a petulant child being sent to clean my room. It is more agonizing a task than getting my finger nails pulled from my finger tips with tiny pliers. I hate it… and when I say that, “I hate it,” my voice is deep and exasperated rumbling low like a distant storm the kind with thunderheads, and heat spreading over a flat landscape- you know the kind of sound.

I’m reading Rhetorical Grammar by Martha Kolln and it is as dry as a friggin salt lake. My child brain is pouting and whining, “but we’ll never get through it in time we’ll be dead before we get it published! We suck, this is lame!’ My child easily morphs from one immature age to the next like an amoeba, or some cell division.

I have a response for my child though. Yesterday we, (me and all my alter egos) scanned through 442 Literary magazines ( with the help of Poets and Writers) looking for at least one or maybe two where we could send the story. It was a long process, but shortened by the fact that many lit mags don’t take submissions till January, that is their reading time. Then there was an even smaller amount that takes electronic submissions. I’m not against snail mail, but I’m poor and I can’t even afford to print my stuff out right now. Pathetic I know, but I will, I promise. Come January I will print out a bunch and send to whomever takes simultaneous submissions. Another thing I need to consider (or we if I want to stay with the schizo chat) is that I need to read these mags to make sure they would even take my kind of writing. Know your editor, know your audience. Talk about expensive. I mean I wish I could subscribe to every one, but I can’t even pay to print copies of my story. Excuses, excuses. I know, wah!

I have so far read, American Short Fiction, and I think my stuff would work there, but I also think I’m not good enough to get published by them (ouch low self confidence?) and I have read McSweeney’s; ditto on the not get published, also I feel like I’m not cool enough for those mags, like somehow they would figure out that I’m not hip. And I have read The Sun, which is great, but they like non-fiction, maybe one day. So, I decided to go local, start at home right? I picked up a copy of Glimmertrain. They have open submissions in November, giving me a little less than a month to see if I can see what I can’t see that great  know it all grammarians see. Glimmertrain has rejected me once before but I’m submitting once again.

So it is onto reading Rhetorical Grammar. My child is not thrilled, I don’t think my adult is either, but I am determined to be a great writer. Even if no one ever knows!