Do or Do Not.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Reactive

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Originally published October 2, 2005. Last night, I finished writing my first article for the RockBand.com ‘Zine, the section of our site where we pump out content we hope fans of our games will enjoy.  (The article goes live next Tuesday — rest assured I’ll link it like hell once it’s up.)  I’m not going to spoil anything about the article yet, but the process of writing it…man, that process got me thinking.

See, I had fun writing it.  I was writing something which was entirely up my alley and doing so in a tone and voice which come very, very naturally to me.  I’ve spent so much time trying to write things I didn’t especially enjoy writing because those things were The Things Writers Write — I’m mainly talking about fiction here, in all its forms and genres.  But what the last month’s worth of updates on this site and the writing of that article last night have taught me reminded me is that I’m not a fiction writer.  I can do it, and occasionally do it relatively well, and I’ll probably do it again at some point, but…it’s not My Thing.

Writing about pop culture?  Totally My Thing.  Effortless, in that way that the work comes to you easily when you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing — where even the hard work doesn’t really feel like work, you know?

The sad thing is that this isn’t the first time I’ve come to this conclusion.  Presented below is my post from the last time I realized this was true, way back in October 2005 (so excuse, please, the dated pop-culture references).  I’m reposting/updating it here mainly as a waypoint for myself so that hopefully I don’t get so lost again…and also as ammo for you people to use to kick my ass, if necessary.

Man…feeling that buzz of doing My Thing was nice, I gotta say.


I’ve been thinking quite a lot the last few days about the current quote that’s over there in the sidebar right now. For those of you reading this through an RSS feed, or if you’re reading this entry after the quote’s been changed (or you’re reading it three-and-a-half years after the fact — ed.), here it is:

“It’s a reactive thing, like a Geiger counter; you click whenever you come close to whatever you were built to do.” — Stephen King

That’s a valid analogy. When you’re doing whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing, you just know. The puzzle pieces in your head click together perfectly, the picture comes into focus, however you want to say it–you get the buzz, the feeling of the internal compasses of your mind and your heart and your actions all finding true north at the same time.

(Incidentally, I think the same is true of the people in your life. I’ve had plenty of friends that I liked perfectly well but never felt that “buzz” about. I tend to think that those friends who do give me that buzz are the people that are supposed to be in my life for some reason. It’s more than just a matter of getting on well with the buzzworthy people; it feels almost karmic to me when it happens. Sometimes the reason I’m supposed to be around that person is obvious, other times not, but I always make sure to notice when it’s there.) Some people discover very early in life the activities which give them that special sense of This Is Right and True; some never find it at all. Some people get close but never quite make that final adjustment necessary to get it.

That last batch of people, I’m pretty sure, includes me.

See, the thing is…in the same way you just know when you’re doing That Thing You Do, you just know when you’re not, or when you’re not quite. In my case, I know I’m supposed to be writing. I’m getting more and more sure of that the more of it I do.

But what am I supposed to be writing? Ah, there’s the rub.

I have a number of writer friends (any number of whom might be reading this–feel free to pipe in, y’all) for whom this particular problem doesn’t ever seem to have surfaced. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if for many of those people, there never was any decision or exploration necessary; they write what they write because that’s what they write. They write what comes naturally. Or so it seems to me…I’d love to hear some feedback about this particular point.

For me, that process of finding what I have to say, of finding the stories that are mine to tell, has been quite a trial. And that trial’s still not done. I’m getting closer, I think, but even on the novel I’m 15,000 words into, that buzz is still elusive. It’s been there in parts; I’ve lightly detected it in those areas where I started to understand my characters and found myself with vision for where the plot was going. But I’m not really not sure writing YA fiction is My Thing. I’m not giving up, not at all, not on this particular book nor on that category of fiction as a whole, but…

I’ve been getting some strong Geiger counter readings from another writing quarter altogether.

The clicks got louder and louder this week as I read a back-and-forth email conversation between two writers I really enjoy, Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman. For those of you unfamiliar with the names, Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com’s Page 2 section and Klosterman is a columnist for, among other places, Spin. Each of them has different specialties–Simmons primarily writes about sports, Klosterman primarily about music–but both have a wonderful appreciation for and understanding of the broader canvas of pop culture. (At this point, any of you who know me very well at all are probably nodding your heads and can see the source of those Geiger readings.)

I read this conversation between Klosterman and Simmons and I very much had that feeling of “getting it.” It wasn’t just a feeling of “I can do this”…it was a feeling of “I should be doing this.” I don’t mean specifically that I should be either a sports columnist or a music columnist, but I should be part of the cultural conversation. I’m inspired by each of those writers, actually, in the way each one weaves in elements of the greater cultural consciousness into their columns. I know that there’s a great many people who dismiss pop culture out-of-hand as lowbrow or not worthy of serious discussion, but neither Simmons nor Klosterman believes that. And neither do I.

Pop culture is American culture, it’s the commonality that allows us to talk to others with whom we might not share race, creed, class, sexuality or gender. Even if I don’t know your or don’t have a lot in common with you, if I discover that we both have an interest in, say, “Gilmore Girls,” then that’s a talking point, somewhere to begin. It’s a bond. Is it a strong bond? Is that shared interest alone enough to sustain a friendship? Or a community?

Surprisingly, it can be–as just one small example, look at the phenomenon surrounding the “Browncoats” who so loudly supported “Firefly” and now Serenity. That’s a fairly large, strong, devoted community (and regionalized series of sub-communities) made up of a diverse set of people whose only real tie is a love for this particular fictional universe. And it’s enough. They frequently arrange social events to bring their members together, frequently (but not always) involving screenings of “Firefly.”

And again, that’s just one relatively tiny example. Look around–how many times do people gather together just because they have a love for some particular aspect of our culture? How many people get together for Dave Matthews Band concerts? For “Lost” viewing parties? For release parties for the newest Harry Potter book? For standing in line for weeks for the newest Star Wars movie? For performances of “Avenue Q” or “Spamalot” on Broadway? Popular culture by its very definition is our culture, it’s everybody’s culture, and that fact alone makes it worthy of discussion, from the most wretched of reality TV shows to Norah Jones’ albums.

Futhermore (lest we forget that this blog is All The Time All About Me), pop culture is an area where I have something to say. Reading Simmons and Klosterman’s conversation struck that chord within my head and my heart that told me: “These are your people. This should be you.” Will writing about pop culture win me any literary prizes? Nope…but it would make me happy.

So what am I gonna do about it? Oh, hell if I know. But when I do, you will, too. Chances are good that it will either involve this site or Moviegeekz. It looks like I have an awful lot of thinking to do over the next couple of days and weeks about just what my goals are going to be, how I’m going to get there…and about the greater cultural impact of Wedding Crashers.

Written by Allen

June 8th, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Oh, no — NaNo.

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In what was clearly an insane, feverish moment of self-delusional hysteria, I signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month for the first time in three years.  Fifty thousand words of fiction in thirty days, when I rarely write any fiction these days?  Pshaw, no problem at all.

The funny thing (or not so funny thing) is that it’s only been about six weeks since I irrevocably turned my back on writing fiction.  Not so much irrevocable, huh?  I thought I didn’t have any stories in my head or heart worth telling (and truth be told, I’m still not positive on this point), so I told myself (and Terry) that any writing I did was probably going to have to be in the non-fiction/commentary realm, which comes much more easily to me.  (Yes, the implication there is that I’m just lazy.)

Yet here I am, a month later, getting ready for this intensive submersion into words, words, so damn many words.

So my question to myself is:  why?  If writing fiction is something I thought I’d given up on, why subject myself to NaNo?

I’ve had people ask me a couple of times recently about how my writing was going, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I’d essentially given up, that I’d decided writing prose wasn’t my thang.  These friends only meant well, of course, and I certainly don’t get upset with people for asking — though I tend to get upset with myself for not having a good answer for them.  I truly feel bad, like I’m letting people down for not using abilities of mine that they’d like to see me use.

But while that’s a small part of my trying it again, it’s far from the main reason I’m doing so.  I feel like I’m letting myself down with this whole “giving up” thing.  I think I’m never going to be able to live with myself if I don’t give writing more of a shot than I have.  The last few Novembers, I’ve been disappointed in myself for not trying it (even when it didn’t make a lot of logistical sense for me to do it.)  And while I don’t think that participating in NaNoWriMo will be the final word for me on writing vs. not writing, and while I’m sure that the result of whatever I do for NaNo won’t be something I can sell, I think it’s important for me to try it, to get back into the habit of writing, to loosen up some of the constrictions I have in my head.

These, then, are my goals for National Novel Writing Month 2008:

  • Finish at least 50,000 toward one (relatively) cohesive story. Yes, the 50K words are the overall main goal of NaNo, but the only time I’ve actually “won” NaNo by making that goal, I totally (kinda) cheated:  while I did indeed write 50,000 words during the month of November, my story was actually three unrelated stories — all unfinished.  Twenty thousand words in, I realized I was stuck and completely changed stories; ten thousand words later, I realized that what I was doing sucked through and through and was going nowhere, so I changed again.  I think the first and last bits possibly could have been worth the whole 50,000 words if I’d stuck with them, but munging the three together felt like it was totally in violation of the NaNo spirit.  This time:  one story, though I make no guarantees that one story won’t ramble off into some bizarre tangential places…
  • I’m shooting for a minimum of 1,500 words a day. The more 1,500-word-days I accomplish, the fewer 3,000-word days I need to have to make up for slacking.  Fifteen hundred words isn’t really that bad; when I’m rolling, I can knock out that many words in under an hour, especially if I’m turning off such speedbumps as, well, editing.  I’m actually hoping for more like 2,000 per day, but 1,500′s the actual bottom-line goal.
  • Have fun. This one’s actually harder than it sounds for me because I get so wrapped up in my pursuit of perfection.  Trying to get back to that “spirit of NaNo” business, I intend to just go forward and not give a damn about editing or perfection.  I have to keep that “first draft” idea firmly in mind and know that I can revise the hell out of whatever I write after November.  I just want to relax and try to enjoy the process without being so wrapped up in the product.  (This is an ongoing concern for me in many areas of my life.)

You’ll notice over there in the sidebar (if you’re not reading this via RSS) that I’ve already posted one of the nifty NaNo calendars which show my total wordcount and day-by-day progress.  I’m hoping that putting this out there to all of you, and knowing that I have a public display of how well or poorly I’m doing, will help motivate me to finish.  So wish me luck — I hope to have a reasonably completed shitty first draft of a novel in a little over a month!

Written by Allen

October 22nd, 2008 at 8:45 am

Posted in Writing

Tagged with

Operation: Defunkify

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One of my heroes inspires me by taking inspiration from another one of my heroes:

“I think Stephen King said some great things in On Writing — the main bit that I took away from that is the idea that you really have to sit down and do it. Treat it like work, spend a few hours TRYING to write every day. Sometimes it will be good and sometimes it will be bad, but there will be a lot of it. And really, it’s not the creating that’s the hard part, it’s the decision to sit down at your desk and start working.” — Jonathan Coulton, interviewed on CecilVortex.com, April 17, 2007

And another one of my heroes uses a quote from yet another to slam home a similar point:

“Yes, this is a form e-mail. Because I get asked this question a lot: ‘How do I become a comedian?’ The answer is very simple. It’s so simple, that no one can ever accept that it’s the ONLY WAY. But rest assured, the lucky few who understand how simple it is, and go and do this simple thing, ALWAYS succeed: Go onstage a lot. Go onstage as much as you can. Don’t read books on comedy. Don’t take comedy classes. Don’t ask anyone how you should write material, or what they think of your material. Develop on your own. Go onstage. A lot. Every night. If there isn’t an open mike in your town, start one. And then go onstage. A lot. That’s it.” — Patton Oswalt, quoted by Warren Ellis, May 9, 2007

I’ve been bad lately. Pathetic, more like. I admit it. I haven’t had the mental energy to sit down and start working — or more likely I haven’t made the mental energy to do so. Not only have I not written anything here on the blog, I haven’t written anything at all. It’s an ugly, demoralizing circle I’ve found myself in: I’ve been in something of a funk and not writing, and not writing has driven me into even more of a funk.

Well, now it’s time bust that loop and kick off Operation: Defunkify.

It’s time to rediscover exactly what it is I’m wanting to do and refocus my energies in that direction. I know that part of what brings on my funk is losing my way, and even when I was writing before the funk came on, I could feel that way-losing happening. It’s time to do get out the map and do some course correction.

I can’t promise the results will show here on a daily basis, but they might. But if any of you have any additional inspirational bits of wisdom, I’d be all about hearing them. Bring ‘em on.

And wish me luck.

Written by Allen

May 10th, 2007 at 10:01 am

Posted in General,Writing

Proof

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OK, people, here you go. Proof.

What follows is intended to eventually be a comic book script, though it doesn’t have any of the page or panel breakdowns that format would require. (Actually, right now it would be just as easy to adapt the format of what I’ve got here to comics, movies or TV. Beside the point.) It’s not incredibly detailed in terms of descriptions — I stuck mainly with just moving ahead with the dialogue, becuase that’s how the stories tend to unfold in my head. I didn’t want to kill my momentum because I got stuck on some bit of acting or scene description.

And believe me, I know it’s not fantastic, I know there are some places where people’s reactions to what’s going on aren’t quite right. But hey, it’s a very, very early first draft. This scene would take up six to eight pages in the first issue of my massive opus — and since it’s all introduction, it is inherently spoiler-free.

Caveats done. Enjoy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Allen

May 27th, 2006 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Fiction,Writing

Executive Decision

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Brian sits down at his desk, turns toward me and looks me in the eye: “Holt,” he says. “I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

“Oh, geez,” I think, assuming there’s some problem with one of the recent myriad architectural changes we’ve made to the system that’s causing him headaches with the stuff he’s working on. “What’d I do?”

“I’m making an executive decision about your life. I know it’s not really any of my business and not my place to make this decision, but… you’re going to stop writing about writing,” he says. “If you put the effort into actually writing something that you put into writing about writing…”

I cut him off: “Yeah, I know, B., I’ve heard that before. Many times, as a matter of fact. I’ve lost track of how many times Terry’s told me that. And c’mon, I’ve been writing some lately, I’ve wrote one scene the other night and then —”

“Good. So post it.”

“I — I can’t. It’d give too much away — that scene I wrote was way late in the story, it gives away too much of the —”

“Bullshit. Post it.”

“No, seriously, I can’t —”

“Then post some character sketches. Post anything. Show that you’re actually doing something and not just talking about doing something.”

It was at that point that I gave in.

So while I still don’t think I’ll be posting those scenes I wrote the other night — they really and truly give away the big ending and some major plot points — Brian’s executive decision will be enacted. I’ll start trying writing some bits and pieces of stories that I can actually post here. I make no guarantees about their quality just yet, but at least it’ll be proof that I’m gravitating more toward the “Do” than the “Do Not.”

Stay tuned.

Written by Allen

May 26th, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Posted in Inspiration,Writing