Essay: Time to Stop

Lynn handed me the fortune from her fortune cookie.

“This is for you.”

I took the tiny slip of paper and read aloud, “Don’t be afraid to take that big step.”

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“What do you think that means?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but my lucky numbers are 2, 5, 8, 11, 15 and 54.”

She laughed and let me off the hook. I know that she knows she let me off the hook.

I’ve been teetering on the edge for years, trying to balance my career in IT that paid my bills and supported my family with my alter-ego’s career of being a writer, which took me away from my family. I’ll add that being a writer requires doing shameless self-promotion that I detest doing. It is akin to standing in the middle of a busy supermarket, pulling my pants down and yelling, “Look what I can do!” as I hop around like an epileptic donkey.  If self-promotion was an Apple product, it would be called iHateit.

Once, I tried to leave my body while doing self-promotion. No, really. I actually tried to astral project to anywhere but the place where I was pandering my book to some politely disinterested group. It’s no better selling to the black hole of the internet where no one can hear you scream. For the record, it didn’t work – the astral projection or apparently, the self-promotion.

Lynn knew how I hated it though we never talked about it. I knew she knew, and she knew I knew she knew.

Later that night as we lay in bed together and before we curled up and went to sleep, I decided to answer her question.

“What would be a big step?”

I turned and looked at her.

“I want to stop trying to be a writer.”

I had never used those words together in a sentence before. Just saying it felt fresh and new. Was this what is like when a woman douches? I don’t know, but saying it felt good. I could leave the unclean, messy part about self-promoting behind and just write because I like to write, and if no one reads it, meh. It’d be great if someone did, but it’s not key. I no longer fail if they don’t.

I can be THAT guy – the guy who just writes for fun. For FUN!

Wow.

I was so excited, I leapt from bed and standing there in my underwear, I said more words I have never uttered before: I don’t have to write. I don’t have to blog. I don’t have to self-promote!

I was heady from the sacrilege and heresy of my own words. I had just broken my own taboo rules and it made me giddy.

Don’t get me wrong on this, I love writing. Still, in my attempt to improve and produce and be recognized, I have held my own feet to a very hot fire. It was not uncommon for me to sit down at the keyboard and not allow myself to go to bed until I wrote 500 words. Sometimes it was 1000 words. Sometimes it was to edit 20 pages, or submit work to a reviewer. These were arbitrary and unhealthy practices but I did it to myself to force growth, and I did them after working my real job all day long.

In the process of doing this relentlessly, year after year, I broke something. It was like a spring that had been wound too tight and snapped. I don’t think it is something that will fix itself.

One of my favorite quotes is from the author of Fahrenheit 451 and Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury. He said, “You only fail if you stop writing.”

L64-Bradbury-WP1

It’s a good quote. Really, it distills all the fluff and pretense and puts it in perspective: Keep writing.

I will keep writing and by that measure, I have not failed. I simply have stopped being hardcore and mad about it, and I have stopped because it isn’t getting me anywhere. It might get me to an early grave if I kept at it, dead from a heart attack. I’m ok with giving that a miss for a few more decades.

Until that day, I’ll continue to write, casually.

 

Ed. This is a fictionalized account and may or may not be true, hallucinated or completely fabricated out of thin air. Perhaps it was a fanciful thought of yours. You know how you daydream. We all know how you daydream.

The Mountain–A Board Game Experience for Writers

The Mountain-logo

The 2015 Global Game Jam – an annual event where game designers are presented with theme, and challenged to create a game around that theme in 48 hours.  The game can be a video game or a table top game, and there are awards for different categories. 

This year, the theme was, “What Do We Do Now?”   28,837 people registered to participate in GGJ, for 518 different jam sites in 78 countries.  An impressive 5438 games were produced.

The Mountain won Best Board Game, Jury’s Prize and took 2nd Place – People’s Choice Award, with credit going to: David Chircop – Design, Story, Graphic Design. Yannick Massa – Design,  Johnathan Harrington – Story, Design. Matthew Agius Muscat – Story. Fran Bte – Story. Daniela (iella) Attard – Art, Illustration.

BGG game description: “The Mountain is a board game experience for one player. It explores a pensive man’s descent from a mountain from the moment he reaches the peak. You navigate the mountain while exploring the man’s thoughts as he contemplates about the unknown abyss that lies exactly after his life’s biggest accomplishment.

There are five exit points on the board, one for every element that will affect your journey – frost, sun, wind, sky and horizon. As you try and find the path down, you learn more about yourself through the story cards, divided into five different story lines that affect you as a protagonist.

However, the path down is not immediately obvious. Your movement subdues and stimulates the elements. If three or four elements are acting, you start suffering from ennui; a feeling that perhaps getting to the bottom of the mountain is not that important after all. If all five elements are raging, you will succumb to nature and die.

Traverse through the safest path and take care of yourself. This could be either the most important journey of your life, or your last.”

Mountain-1

The Mountain certainly adheres to the Global Game Jam theme of, “What do we do now?”  Playing as a character who has just peaked in more than one way, he is now dealing with self-doubt and the lack of a goal in his life.  As he treks down the mountain, he is fighting his own depression as well as the elements, and his life is in danger.  This is a theme many writers could sink their literary teeth into, and I have been fascinated with this premise for years.

Mountain-3

The game has an interesting mechanic for movement, using 5 controller cards to determine which spaces can be moved onto in a given turn.  This presents an interesting puzzle, as you must plan ahead to insure you can move on following turns.  If you can not or chose not to move, you must still draw an Ennui card (pronounced än-ˈwē), representing a lack of spirit, enthusiasm or interest.  If you draw too many Ennui cards, the character gives up trying to descend the mountain and dies.  In game terms, that means you lose.

Mountain-4

If you can reach one of the 5 exit points around the map, and you have acquired at least 1 each of the 5 different element cards, you can end the game, leaving the mountain.  At this point, if you have more of the element card that matching the space you exit, you can draw the first ending card from that deck.  Otherwise you draw the second, less favorable ending card.

It’s an interesting exercise, and I played three times, which is far from exhaustive.  It did give me a feel for the game, and put my mind to a depressed story theme, but sometimes that is useful.

Note that this game is not available for sale, but the designers have been kind enough to provide a free print and play version, downloadable here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4B7PH3fGut_dkgyZE82dm1zUU0/view

Be aware that the file has a 4-page game board and 9 pages of cards.  The files are in full color, no B&W option currently available.

There is also a Printerstudio version of the game that can be ordered.  More details in this BGG post: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1319190/printerstudio-decks

 

Mountain-5

Short Essay: Until Then, I Write

Writerandstuff-shadow

 

It seemed innocent enough. A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time. Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories. It was only one a week, at first. Then I was doing it more. I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write. They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously, or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine.

Eventually, they suspected something was not right when I didn’t come home for three hours and when I did, I had no bread but was all amped up on triple-tall cappuccino. The pens and pencils in my pocket were a giveaway, too. I denied being a writer, of course.

“What sort of loser profession is that?” I scoffed. “Yes, I write a little when there is nothing else to do, but I can stop anytime.”

The truth was – it was under my skin. I was driven to scriven. I had the bite to write. I would uncontrollably write poetry. Soon, the flash-fic, poems and short stories were not enough. I started outlining novels.

The outlines grew into acts, and the acts multiplied, with peaks and valleys and so help me – they climaxed. It was out of my control now, and I began doing full-blown novels. I tried to stop. I tried to watch TV with my family, but all I could think about was creating my own stories, not watch someone else’s.

So, that is what I did. Every moment I called my own, I wrote. Or I looked at funny pictures of cats on the internet. But mostly, I wrote. I wrote some of the time, ok? Don’t be a nag about it. More days than not, I wrote.

My family resigned to the truth – I was a writer. Not like I was an addict, but more like I was handicapped. Like something was wrong with me. Something really, really wrong. Still, they loved me and put up with it, though it was taxing.

I found myself barging into the bedroom at 1 AM, shouting to my wife, “Wake up! The second act is complete and I need you to read it all the way through. Help me see what I have missed!”

This never produced the enthusiastic response I expected. Slowly, I learned when to bring up my writing and when not to, and my family adapted as well. For reference, most of the time is not a good time to bring up my writing.

I know, as does my family – there is no cure. I may not be good at it. Maybe I’ll never be more than a hack, independent author, receiving only the most benign acknowledgements or accolades. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I do write and I get the ideas out of head and onto the page.

They say the left brain controls the logical thought processes and the right brain controls the creative processes. When you are a writer, neither side is in control of any processes. It just comes together in a big gumbo of thoughts and emotions.

One day, they may have pill to help people like me. Until then, I write.

© 2015, Mitch Lavender

15 Things a Self-Published Writer Should Consider

I thought this infographic was was worth noting.  Some of this information is outdated and doesn’t consider e-book publishing at all.  Still, it has some sound advice and a picture of a typewriter.  I am a sucker for an old manual typewriter.

You can check more infographics about digital writing and reading, collected at Ebook Friendly.

 

15-facts-about-self-publishing

 

ML

This is Your Brain on Writing. Any Questions?

It seemed innocent enough. A few words on the page; what harm could it do?

A flash-fiction piece here, a poem there – it didn’t take much time. Before long, I stepped up to doing short stories. It was only one a week, at first. Then I was doing it more. I would lie to my family so I could sneak out and write. They thought I was going to the store for bread, but I was at Starbucks with my fingers on the keyboard, typing furiously. Or sitting in the car, scribbling in a Moleskine.

Eventually, they suspected something was not right when I didn’t come home for three hours and when I did, I had no bread but was all amped up on triple-tall cappuccino. The pens and pencils were a giveaway, too. I denied being a writer, of course.

“What sort of loser profession is that?” I scoffed. “Yes, I write a little when there is nothing else to do, but I can stop anytime.”

The truth was – it was under my skin. I was driven to scriven. I had the bite to write. I would uncontrollably write poetry. Soon, the flash-fic, poems and short stories were no longer enough. I started outlining novels.

The outlines grew into acts, and the acts multiplied, with peaks and valleys and so help me – they climaxed. It was out of my control now, and I began doing full-blown novels. I tried to stop. I tried to watch TV with my family, but all I could think about was creating my own stories.

And that is what I did. Every moment I called my own, I wrote. Or I looked at pictures of kittens on Facebook. But mostly, I wrote. I wrote some of the time, ok? Don’t be a nag about it. More days than not, I wrote.

Mind of a writer

My family resigned to the truth – I was a writer. Not like I was an addict, but more like I was handicapped. Like something was wrong with me. Something really, really wrong. Still, they loved me and put up with it, though it was taxing on them.

Barging into the bedroom at 1 AM, shouting to my wife, “Wake up! The second act is complete and I need you to read it all the way through. Help me see what I have missed!”

This never produced the enthusiastic response I expected. Slowly, I learned when to bring up my writing and when not to, and my family adapted as well. For reference, most of the time is not a good time to bring up my writing.

I know, as does my family – there is no cure. I may not be good at it. Maybe I’ll never be more than a hack, independent author, receiving only the most benign acknowledgements. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I do write and I get the ideas out of head and onto the page.

They say the left brain controls the logical thought processes and the right brain controls the creative processes. When you are a writer, neither side is in control of any processes. It just comes together in a big gumbo of thoughts and emotions.

One day, they may have pill to help people like me. Until then, all I can do is write.

© 2014, Mitch Lavender

Ray Bradbury on Love

Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) wrote about many things that make up the human experience. 

In this interview from 1968, Bradbury talks about his writing process with a segue into the topic of love and his personal romance with the written medium.

 

Write only what you love

and love what you write.

The key word is love.

You have to get up in the morning

and write something you love

something to live for. 

– Ray Bradbury

STORIUM–A Game for Writers (no asshatery allowed)

Have you ever participated in one of those ongoing stories on a writer’s forum – the kind where each participant writes a paragraph or so and then the new person comes along and adds the next piece of the story, and so on?  In the early 80’s, I ran a computer BBS called The State of Confusion, where most of the forums where like that, and it attracted fun, creative participants.

Once the story got underway and really had momentum,  it was inevitable that someone would pop in and post that all the characters suddenly decided to slit their wrists and die or something equally derailing, and it would ruin the story.  When you could weed out the asshats, it was a lot of fun.  Still, lack of rules or parameters was challenging for those who didn’t know when to reign it in.

Jump to today and Storium by Protagonist Labs is in development.  Storium is a web-based online game that you play with friends. It works by turning writing into a multiplayer game. With just your computer, tablet, or smartphone, you can choose from a library of imaginary worlds to play in, or build your own. You create your story’s characters and decide what happens to them. You can tell any kind of story with Storium. The only limit is your imagination.

Storium uses familiar game concepts inspired by card games, role-playing games, video games, and more. In each Storium game, one player is the narrator, and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The narrator creates dramatic challenges for the other players to overcome. In doing so, they move the story forward in a new direction. Everyone gets their turn at telling the story.

I’ve been waiting for the STORIUM KICKSTARTER to launch, and once it did, it funded in a day!  Amazing.

The following is reblogged from www.protagonistlabs.com, and it has the details and links so you can get involved in the beta version of the game, today!  I’m MitchLav on the site.  If you join, look me up.

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We’ve just launched our Kickstarter campaign for Storium, the online storytelling game!

What’s Storium?

Storium’s mission hasn’t changed since our original announcement — we are creating an online storytelling medium that plays like a game and lets busy people make storytelling a part of their daily lives.
Since that announcement, though, we’ve done over a year of playtesting that has resulted in major improvements to the game, and we’re more confident than ever that we’re on the right track. If you back us on Kickstarter, you’ll get immediate access to our latest playtest. All our basic functionality is up and running, so you can dive right into play!

What’s the Kickstarter for?

The goal of our campaign is to fund a public launch, so that we can make Storium available to everyone. That means retaining award-winning authors and game designers to build a library of playsets (called “worlds”) for telling stories of different genres and styles. It also means building important features that Storium needs and laying the technological groundwork for future growth.

Our Kickstarter campaign page has all the details!

Who’s working on Storium?

We have an incredibly talented and diverse team of people developing Storium and advising on different elements of its production.

  • Stephen Hood: Co-founder and product lead.
  • Josh Whiting: Co-founder and engineering lead.
  • Will Hindmarch: Lead game designer and head writer.
  • J.C. Hutchins: Advisor and award-winning transmedia storyteller.
  • Mur Lafferty: Advisor, Campbell-winning novelist, and podcaster.
  • Chuck Wendig: Advisor, Campbell-nominated novelist, and Emmy- nominated screenwriter.

Want to Find Out More?

If you’re in the media and would like to talk to one of us about the development of Storium and what we’re trying to accomplish, we’re happy to talk to you! Feel free to contact us at press@storium.com and we’ll set something up.
We’re really excited about the chance to do this, grateful for all the support we’ve received so far, and looking forward to the future.

—Stephen and the entire Storium team

Mo’ new wallpapers in Wallpapers for Writers

I don’t really get in the groove for holidays, but I tried to do some horror-themed wallpapers, anyway.   I’ve added some stuff themed after:
Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and most scary of all (to me, anyway)  William Strunk (of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style).

There is also a wallpaper themed after Dr. Seuss, because you know, he was pretty damned cool.  Not very scary, but quite bizarre.

Enjoy.

WALLPAPERS FOR WRITERS

When Hemingway Died

I wrote this piece in 2011, after visiting the Hemingway Estate in Key West, Florida.  I looked through the bars that had been placed at the top of a stairway, peering into Ernest Hemingway’s writing studio.  As I stood there with a crowd of tourists like myself, I felt very alone.

This piece appeared in Death Zone and Other Stories by Pantoum Press in 2011

If you enjoyed this, please share.

 

HemingwayThe Royal typewriter sat silently on the table, the wooden chair was empty.

He wrote A Farewell to Arms, sitting in that chair, at that typewriter, in this room.

Listening, the room echoed of keys pressed, bars of type smacking the paper through the ink ribbon.

Ding.

Carriage return.

It was hollow and faded; a tape that had played too many times and lost all meaning to those who saw it as a tourist attraction on a double-bill with six-toed cats.

They do not see the history.

They do not feel the soul.

And that is when Hemingway truly died.

 

 

NANOWRIMO 2013–No Thanks

November 1st will be here soon and with it comes another year of NANOWRIMO – the National Novel Writer’s Month, where the goal is to crank out 50,000 words in the 30 days of November.

I did it in 2010 and it nearly killed me, but I met the goal. Lynn had written me off as an absentee husband. Spencer started calling the Xbox ‘Daddy’ and acknowledging me as a guest who lived in the home office. Friends and relatives failed to understand why it was important to me.  Even writer friends who did not participate in Nanowrimo saw it as the arbitrary goal it is and thought it was nuts.

Still, I did it.  Considering that I work 50+ hours a week and still pulled this off is really quite amazing, and for all my effort, sacrifice and time, what did I create?

I wrote an insufferable, meandering first draft titled, Find My Baby. This was intended to be a heartfelt story of a likeable couple, attempting to adopt a two year-old boy from a Ukrainian orphanage, and the obstacles they faced along the way. What I actually created was a steaming pile.

Dark Find my baby cover-4At one point in the story, somewhere around the 40k word mark, I had sewer cannibals storming the hotel in Kiev, seeking to recover the heir to the Russian Cannibal Sewer Kingdom’s throne, who happened to be the newly adopted boy.  Sewer cannibals.

What can I say, I got bored with my own story. Did you see what I admitted?  I GOT BORED WITH MY OWN STORY.  As I typed each word, I knew it was complete crap. I knew, when editing time came, entire chapters would be cut, but I was hell bent for leather on a word count goal and writing instinctually. Quality was not a factor and couldn’t be, if I was to meet the goal.  While it was liberating to just write with abandon, it was also hollow and didn’t feel good.

Writers know what I mean. You know when the words are flowing or when you are forcing it. You know when the words are on the mark or not.  You know if it’s rough but will be good once edited.  This was none of those things. I knew this storyline had taken a tragic turn to failure with each key-strike and I did it anyway. I drove a bus full of characters off of a cliff and into a chasm of certain death for the sole purpose of meeting a word count goal.

When I was done, I had written just over 50,000 words and most of them sucked. I was a winner at finishing a novel I was ashamed of. Yay me.

In 2011, I rewrote this same novel in the 3-Day Novel Contest, and because I had a better outline to follow, it was a better story. It wasn’t publishable by any measure, but it was better, and produced a 39k word second draft.

I then drafted it a third time, and came up with a story that was 30k words long, but was told it needed to place the focus on the tension between the MC and some Russian hackers, with the adoption being the back story.

So I started a rewrite again, now as a geeky cyber-crime thing. It’s like The Net, only loaded with technical references and lacking Sandra Bullocks’ charm. I’m still not happy with it.

Here is what I must do:

I must write the story I want to tell. I must have a big high and a big, big low in a three-act story, and it must be written efficiently – maintaining a healthy cadence.

I have the outline completed. I really do, and it is a good story – not meandering, like the first draft. Not pandering – like the second draft. Not my story anymore – like the third draft. I will finally write it as I want to write it. If a publisher won’t publish it, then I will. Maybe it will be read. Maybe not.

Oh.

As for Nanowrimo this year – I’m blowing it off.   I say, write with abandon or write with trepidation, but write.  There is value in an exercise like Nanowrimo, and some Nanowrimo writers are published.  It’s just not what I need at this point in my journey.  If you are doing Nanowrimo in November, I wish you the very best.  Enjoy the horror of it all.  The horror.

 

NaNoWriMoisajoke