Odd Questions About Writing

So, with all the writing I have been doing lately, I am afraid to look at my wordcounts. They are arbitrary anyway and really only serve the purpose to myself that yes, I am writing. No, I’m not screwing around. I try not to be one of these people who go around telling people that they are writers, but only do so to serve the purpose of getting into a party with a bunch of cool kids.

Writers aren’t cool. They might look cool on the outside, but inside they aren’t. They think too much about things, and that isn’t cool. Cool people are dismissive, they know everything already. They don’t need to waste their time putting their thoughts to paper because hey, like, whatever man.

The other day I hit a snag. I was buying Legos with my kid and the girl at the cash register recognized me from the other times I had been there. She reminds me a little of myself at her age. She writes stories and even had a Lego character clipped to her name tag that was from one of her books. She writes Fantasy and told me that a bunch of other writers were in that day building characters for their books. When I told her (reminded, since she’s heard the same thing from me for the last year whenver I go in) that I write too, she asked what I wrote.

I told her I used to write steampunk and fantasy, but recently I was working on a literary piece based on life experiences, she glazed over. I remember that feeling too. I remember when I wrote fantasy that I often felt that my work wasn’t taken seriously. But on the other side of that now, I felt like I had tresspassed. Sorry, but I did my time in the genres. I will probably go back to it eventually. But here, I felt like an interloper. Not that it matters.

I remember being in that place years ago. Most people who consider themselves writers, especially if it is fan fiction or dreams of becoming the next Tolkien or GRRM or Robert Jordan don’t read anything any of their friends writes either. It’s a lot of conversations where you are just listening well enough to know when it’s your turn to talk. But oddly enough, I felt like I no longer had that authenticity because I’m not writing fantasy right now. Listen, I just do what the story tells me to do. Sometimes I don’t have a choice.

I expect to die young because the story will no longer have any need for me and it will finally let me expire. Thanks, story. I’m glad I didn’t sleep right and wrecked my health for years for you.

Anyway, I bring up the word counts because I am writing my guts out lately–even though it isn’t genre fiction–and I had a few questions that keep popping up in my head.

  1. How much do I actually need to tell?
  2. How much sex needs to go into the story before it is less War and Peace and more 50 Shades? I want to stop before it gets to Tropic of Cancer.
  3. If I write about topics that aren’t considered popular opinions in the mainstream, will that ruin my chances of being published?
  4. All these words and paragraphs and chapters…how many will I wind up shaving it down to anyway? Is that why it takes two weeks to read a book that took five years to write?
  5. If I write it well enough to get my car egged if I drive through my home town after it is published, is that a good sign or a bad one? Asking for a friend.
  6. If I sell in mainstream/literary fiction, will I be cast out of the Garden of Genre forever?
  7. If I piss people off with this and become friendless, is it okay if I cry myself to sleep on a pillow stuffed with one hundred dollar bills?

I promise not to think I’m cool if this book is published. I know I’m not cool. I’ve had 45 years of the world’s abuse to remind me of such things.

Hello, Brain. (You bastard).

Last night I was up until 5am. I turned in for bed at around midnight. I thought I was tired. I was tired. I just lay there and turned over and over and over, unable to sleep. I read for a while. I’ve nearly read A Moveable Feast after just about a week, which is saying something for me. I’m a slow, careful reader. At about 3am, I sat up and using the Notes app on my iPhone, I wrote a short chapter, or at least a long scene. About 1700 words. Then I wrote notes for several other scenes. At 4:30, I said to hell with it, took another swig of Jamesons and went back to bed. It had no effect other than a fear that my teeth are going to rot out of my head at this rate.

I think I finally fell asleep at around 5am. I woke up to my 7:45am alarm, telling me to get my son out of bed and ready for online schooling which runs like IngSoc in 1984 with its 8am mandatory meeting and a whole slough of annoying Zoom chats and monitored time on reading an math apps scattered throughout the day. Because, you know, why be flexible with time in an online learning environment?

Dear school, I have some notes…

I went back to sleep and actually had some dreams, but I get woken up by the sound of cereal being poured, or my son talking to his teacher over the Zoom interface, or some asshole mowing his grass at an ungodly hour.

The problem is weird to explain to people and one I haven’t experienced in my life. It used to be that I could write any length of writing and feel satisfied. I would go to bed, feeling accomplished, and sleep like normal people. Only now I write, and then my brain says “Wait, remember this? If you don’t write it down, you’ll forget.” So I write it down. That and the 1,000 other things I need to get down. I feel this almost spiritual connection with the writing now. I am not the creator, but the facilitator, pulling these ideas from whatever source, and putting them into the story. The story needs me to tell it. The story won’t let me sleep until it feels like it has been written.

Sometimes I think when the story is done with me and I have outlived my usefulness, I will just drop over dead. At least I can rest if that is the case.

Dropping off social media has freed up a lot of time. But I can’t help but wonder if my sleeplessness has something to do with interrupting a familiar pattern. My Fear of Missing Out might be affected since I have the urge to open Facebook or Instagram, but really am apathetic as far as what I will see there. Right now I have email, Messenger, and WordPress.

Writing at night is what my brain wants to do. When my son is home, I’m not being interrupted by racket that he makes, having to stop and make meals, or pick up the messes he excels at leaving all over the house. There are not the endless questions and interruptions of a kid who is bored and starved of other human interraction because he is learning online.

When he is gone back to his mom’s, the house is too empty for a few days and I miss the sounds of someone else. There is no middle ground. But late at night, after the assholes in their hotrods stop racing up and down the highway, and there are no garbage trucks, or shitheads bouncing basketballs in the park behind my house, and only the sound of crickets or barking dogs is there to cradle my smoking mind, I can write. In the cool darkness. No landlady poking around with the lawnmowerman looking at trees, no door to door salesmen selling new shingles or extermination services.

Just me and the writing.

Too bad I also enjoy sleeping too.

I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways

A few days ago I decided to swear off social media. This was for a few reasons. Mostly, I watched the Netflix “documentary” The Social Dilemma, in which the creators of social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others explain that these programs were built to be addictive but no consideration was taken as to the long-standing effects of this addiction. How the algorithms used to mine your personal information also channel different kinds of information. According to the show, if you are using social media, you are the product.

I don’t like that.

I think that the creators of social media applications are no better than tobacco companies, quelling any controvery or research that their products are actually killing people. So I dropped off. Fittingly enough, I got a little bit of pushback from my friends who are on Facebook. Things like “You do this about every six months, you’ll be back.” So supportive. I wonder if AA meetings are like this. I know that bars are. That is why it is hard to quit drinking when all your friends are at the bar.

That being said, I have been a full on Facebook/Instagram addict, spending upwards of six hours a day scrolling through my feed, sometimes just staring at the same crap I’ve already looked at, hoping somehow that it will somehow refresh and I’ll either get that dopamine bump for getting a like or a notification, or something new will appear for me to comment on. Life for these last several months has been lonely. As with many of us, these might be our only outlets of social interraction. I think it’s time to get off that bender.

For the last few days, I have had a lot more time to work on my book. Last night, I finished a 10,000 word chapter. Written in around two or three days. It’s hard to determine how quickly I got it done, since it was a hard chapter and I wrote some other scenes. The writing for the last few days was hard, and sometimes it nearly broke me. But I’m pushing on ahead.

Sometimes I get the doubts that there is no reason for doing what I’m doing. Who will actually read it? Who will care? Then I’ll have moments like the other day when I was buying coffee and the barrista asked me what I was working on. When I told her, she said she had a similar experience. Even just the idea of it resonated with her. So, maybe what I’m working on is important. At least it might be important to at least one other person.

No, it’s not Harry Potter, though some have told me I should write something like that and get rich. Which is a myth. I’m not interested in writing stories for children anyway. There is enough of that out there, and God knows I’ve tried my hand at fantasy and nobody cared. This story is writing itself right now and I’m just holding on for dear life.

Without social media, I’ve been reading more too. I re-read Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and recently I started reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” Hemingway really wasn’t a novelist. He was a short story writer and all he did to get that novel length was to string a lot of pointless short stories together. But I have enjoyed the language and the glimpse into 1920s Paris.

I have a first edition copy that I’m working through. The smell of old paper, vanillin, the feel of a hardbound book in your hands. No eReader can compare to it. I’ve decided I dislike eBooks. Everything that I have read on a tiny screen fades quickly from memory. I can’t hold onto it. With a book it is an immersive experience. Much like how I got through college, you participate. You turn the pages, you hear the clock on the wall, you can associate what you are reading with what you are doing at that time. I can pick up some books and turn to a page and know approximately in the story where I have landed. I’ll also remember what was happening around me when I was reading it last. I don’t get that from an eReader.

If I want content, I’ll read an eBook. If I want a reading experience, I’ll read a real book. There is a difference.

Too long didn’t read for this one: I’m learning how to use my time better. Sometimes I get lonely. And I guess I’m still a little old fashioned. I’m still moving forward.