Five Goals

Or: A workaholic’s guide to avoiding going to meetings

 

For Dee Wallace*

I have a working theory: Workaholics Anonymous doesn’t exist because you could never get a workaholic to go to a meeting that wasn’t attached to a budget line or a task in their project management suite. (I use basecamp at my day job and Trello for my sidework.) This conclusion presented itself after more than a decade of hard work and long hours led me to not one, not two, but two and a half full-time jobs inching towards three.

(aside) For those who aren’t regular readers here, we’ll recap: Michael works in corporate marketing for franchise companies, he’s an adjunct professor of English at three schools totaling six sections a semester, and he’s running a fledgling public relations firm.

Oh…and I write books.

I’m not complaining. In fact, I believe pretty much anyone who knows me will tell you that my optimal psychological health, happiness, and stability comes in periods where I lack sufficient downtime to enjoy my drinking time (I heart Martinis) without a keyboard, notebook, or scratch-filled napkin nearby. Right now, in this moment, it occurs to me that I’m burying the lede. (Google that, if you don’t know what it means.) This is a blog about five goals a day, so let’s get to it.

I realized I cannot possibly do everything I have to do — the various tasks that come across my life daily, such as replying to a text message from my daughter or picking up my son’s diploma or setting up the new printer in the office, don’t count as the “things” I have to do. There’s a subtle difference between things and tasks in the world of a workaholic.

A thing is a goal. An accomplishment. Those activities that, at the end of the day, lead to something tangible. Maybe it’s a press release (for the publicist in me), a chapter of a book (for the writer in me), or filing all the pieces I need to file (for the marketer in me). Sometimes, maybe, it’s carving out two hours to go see Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 with the supervillain (for the parent in me).

Goal setting is important, I’ve come to believe, because it pushes me. If I set out in the morning with a list of things that I want to accomplish, then maybe I’ll accomplish them. This morning, I realized I needed to do five things a day to meet goals. At least five things, but sometimes more.

This is my Five Goals plan for today:

Every morning, I want to wake up, and I want to write down five goals for the day. The photo to the left is the page I wrote this morning in a journal about ideas becoming things. The irony about this page is that the journal in which it was written was a gift from one of my employers — and that I’m tasked in all three situations with making ideas become “things.”

So to keep myself on target and make sure that, while I’m bouncing from task to task to task I am able to make those ideas into things, I’ve decided to keep a Five Goals journal. Here are the rules:

Every morning, write down five goals. Make sure to spread them out between personal and professional, that you choose goals of varying difficulty, and that the goals are of differing importance. Then, at the end of the day, mark off the ones you’ve accomplished. If you miss one, don’t panic. Simply record the reason(s) why.

Here’s what I expect to see: there will be just a few reasons why I’m missing goals over and over and over again — and I do so frequently — and I’m betting those reasons are all the same. At the end of a week or so, I’ll be able to both accommodate those reasons better, because I can plan for them, and eliminate any regular “distractions” whose value doesn’t merit repeat goal missing.

I once had dinner with Dee Wallace, who wrote a book called Conscious Creation. Over the course of dinner, I mentioned there are “three me’s” — the writer, the marketing guy, and the teacher. I said, eventually, I expected one of them to win. She said, “Why pick? You can be all three.” Maybe she’s right. And maybe, this will help.

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

Mojo Binders

Or: Fetish and the Art of Writing

I remember reading, where I don’t know, that Hemingway used pencils to write in his notebooks. It must have been in A Moveable Feast, because I remember it was in his own voice, so strong, authoritative, and direct. The comment was almost a throwaway, the kind of detail a writer uses to bridge the space between two competing actions. Yet it stood out, because he described sharpening the pencil with a penknife and jotting a few notes in a Parisienne café.

The humble pencil, two slivers of wood glued around a slender needle of graphite, a little metal cap — it’s called the ferrule — a little tin bridge between the commission of the act and its reversal. You see, I’m one of a rare breed of individuals who, in dark corners of coffee shops and commiserate about  lead viscosity, body weight and heft, and rubber densities. Yes, I’m a pencil worshipper.

My pencil of preference, in fact the only pencil I’ll use, is the Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2.

Absent my trusty Ticonderogas, I default to a pen, sometimes a fountain pen or a ballpoint, and in each instance I have preferred models. I write longhand on AmPad’s Dual-Pad evidence model, because I enjoy the weight of the paper and the way in which it soaks the words in so effortlessly while the tip of the instrument floats across the surface nearly free of friction, providing just enough resistance to make me pause and think about the next word, but not so long as to break my concentration.

I’m hardly the first writer to fetishize the pencil, much less any other of a few hundred other, equally ridiculous aspects of committing words to the page. Poet Nikky Finney uses Blackfeet Indian pencils in her writings, which presents a special challenge as the Blackfeet Indians ceased making pencils in 1992. Yet, devoted is she to those pencils, and who can blame her? How the poet justifies her obsession, too! A YouTube video (below) highlights her love of this particular anachronism, and before you judge any fetishization of a tool offered up by writers, remember this: Nikky Finney won the National Book Award for Poetry–three years after this video was made.

There are other fetishes we writers fall into, at varying degrees over the long process of beginning, working on, and completing any particular book.  Sometime after I begin to fill pages of an AmPad with character sketches, outlines of scenes, or notes about the semiotics of rhythm, and right before I begin the second or third chapter, I go on a hunt for the Mojo Binder. This is the implement in which I will compile those pages of notes, printed Wikipedia entries on some historical figure or obscure arcania of music, and the news stories that inspire me to plod onward. There is nothing outwardly special about the Mojo Binder, and this binder looks (and in fact is) just like any other binder. It might be plucked off the shelf at Staples or rescued from a trash box at the school. I’ve even found a Mojo Binder at Goodwill on occasion.

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Photo Credit: Frances Micklow/The Star Ledger

The act of finding the Mojo Binder takes me on a journey. Once, as I stood in an Office Depot, a helpful clerk circled around three times to find out if I needed help as I stood in front of a 12′-tall display filled with 1 1/2″ binders.

“Are you looking for something?” he asked helpfully.

“Yes, a binder.”

“Well, you’re in the right place,” he said on the first pass. A few minutes later, he circled back again. “Is there something in particular you’re looking for?”

“Yep. I need a particular binder.”

He glanced at the wall and then back at me, wandering off. A couple of minutes later, and now quite concerned, he returned a third time. “Maybe I can help you. What features are you looking for?”

“Couldn’t tell you,” I said. He began, helpfully, attempting to demonstrate the angled rings of one binder and the subtle double-click of another.  This binder had a window on the spine for helpful filing later, and that one has the sheet lifters. There’s even one over here that has specially shaped rings with ribbing to deter paper tearing and pulling.

I eventually bought a binder at a garage sale the next Saturday.

The book that particular implement assisted in producing went on to be the first runner up for a Faulkner Medal. Once “The End” was committed to the final page, the hundreds of sheets of canary paper, the countless magazine ads, and more than a few beer napkins, were removed, unceremoniously shoved into a large manilla envelope, and filed away. The Mojo Binder, its job done, was retired to the pile, ready to be given to some student or other when they need one, sent off to college with my daughter, or left to collect dust in the box in the back of the closet.

I can’t tell you which of the dozen or so binders I still own helped me produce The Patriot Joe Morton, but I know one of them did. That’s the nature of writing, though. It’s not just a craft. It’s a ritual. And in that rite of committing the words to the page, we hope we find something worth reading. Otherwise, we’re wasting binders with Mojo and Blackfeet Indian pencils.

When the heat is a sulter?

Or: On Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and the English Language

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

Why did the broke writer pay $5 for a latte at Starbucks?

How else would everyone get to see him writing his novel?

Sitting in a Starbucks before the mountain of pulp totaling some 350 pages, I’m slogging through the task of entering line edits on Anything But Ordinary, my third novel, which will enter its second edition printing sometime in July. I’m making good progress and am on page 55 when I stumble upon the sentence you see in the image to the left.  And that’s when my ego deflates. I forget in that moment three key facts:

1.) This book was a finalist for a major literary award and that manuscript included the word “sulter”

2.) This book was published and people liked it well enough to read it.

3.) I wrote this sentence in 2002, when I was the ripe ol’ age of 25.

I’m not exaggerating, either, that “..in spite of the sulter, the draw of the sun proves too strong,….” brought me to a hard stop. I know this isn’t a word. I don’t need Microsoft Office’s snarky squiggle to tell me that. And I don’t need my patient, serenely skilled editor’s gentle blue pen to confirm it. Sulter is not a word. Even WordPress’s rudimentary spell check and Apple’s overzealous autocorrect rebel at writing that word. (I’ve changed it back six times in this paragraph. Yet, there it sat, on the next-to-last line of page 54.

Given that I scored well on the vocabulary portion of every standardized test I ever took, that I have an above-average vocabulary, and that I work with words, I began a trek down memory lane. How did I come to write this sentence? I remember where I was when I wrote it: sitting at my writing desk that faced out the front window of 1107 D North Second Street, the apartment I was sharing with my friend, Brandi. I remember what was going on in my head: I wanted to confer to the reader the entirety that is a hot, New Orleans summer, the particular kind of heat that bears down oppressively on the city. And I wanted to do so with a flourish.

Sitting on that desk would have been a ragged copy of Roget’s Thesaurus and a decent Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Surely if I searched for the word, I would have looked for it in the thesaurus or the dictionary? Maybe, I give myself too much credit, I intended to create a new word, since none of the others seemed to fit. Yet, today, at 37 and a dozen years removed, without thought or reference, I immediately replaced “sulter” with “swelter”–which I know is an archaic noun used to describe an oppressive heat.

The word replaced, I cannot kill that embarrassment. Then I begin to wonder if Messrs. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner all felt the same way anytime a typo or poor word choice or grammatical error found their way into print. (And I assure you, a cursory search of the first editions of In Our TimeThe Great Gatsby, and The Sound and the Fury will reveal numerous typos…before even the end of the first chapter in the case of Fitzgerald’s “Gatsby.”) Those guys are of the kind of talent that makes writers stop writing–or to write harder, longer, and better until they reach the level of quality and literary integrity that puts them into that class.

Please for the love of all things holy do not misunderstand me. I’m not comparing myself to those literary titans. Even my titanic ego knows bounds. I’m simply wondering how they reacted to what amounts to little more than poor copy editing.

And then again, here we are, at page 54 and the sulter of a summer sun on a patio in New Orleans. I review the passage again, try to jog my memory. Did I labor over the words of this sentence when I wrote it, or did I just set the paragraph in my mind and toss the words down onto the page, only to glance over them once or twice in galleys? I try not to blush too much at this small embarrassment. Again, I can always blame it on youth and inexperience. Or I can blame it on rushing through a particularly swift patch of writing. At the end, I finally arrive at a realization: what does it matter? It’s there, in print, and will be for as long as the paper of that first edition survives.

–he said, just as he clicked “Publish” on a medium that, if the Internet Archive and/or NSA is to be believed, will live forever in the vast, digital wasteland of the Internet.

Note: There is a single, hardbound copy of the first edition of Anything But Ordinary still listed on Amazon.com. (link). You should buy it and save it as a collector’s item, in case one day I’m famous and it becomes valuable to possess the physical evidence of the time I attempted to create the word “sulter.” If you do, I’ll even sign it for you and initial “sulter” in the margin. – md

Finding inspiration and will power

One of the most frequent questions writers are asked is about their “writing space,” that special place to which they retreat to spend hours upon hours with a keyboard and a stack of blank paper. The question is a tried and true staple of interviewers seeking to get inside the heads of their writer-subjects.

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up in what was little more than a tree house. Dorothy Parker (and several others for that matter), wrote in bed. I’m told from a reliable source that Anne Rice‘s writing space is a room comprising four walls, a floor and the ceiling, all painted primer white. She has her desk and a cup of Sharpies she uses to write on the walls, floor, wherever she can find a blank spot. It’s kind of John Nash, if you ask me, but who am I to judge?

I have my own writing space at home. It’s nothing fancy. A computer monitor, a great IBM Model M keyboard, a trackball, and about a gazillion items that I find either inspirational or distracting. I’ve written some about the setup before, about the pictures overlooking the desk and about my Joe DiMaggio autograph on the wall.

What I haven’t told you much about is the framed picture on the far corner.

The photo resides in a simple black frame that is a little oversized for the print. I’m standing in a room of people with my arm around an older woman. We’re both wearing badges and it’s obvious we’re at a conference of some sort. What isn’t obvious is why she’s on my desk.

She’s not a recognizable face. And, unless you’re an avid reader of things other than James Patterson, she may not be a recognized name. More often than not, I’m asked, “Is this your mother?” (Sorry, Julia.)

She’s not my mother. She’s National Book Award Winner Julia Glass. And she said some of the nicest things about one of my books. (You can read some of what she had to say on the back cover of The Patriot Joe Morton. It was quite lovely, I promise.)

I keep her photo on my desk, though, not for what she said about my book but instead for what she wrote to me when she signed her book.

“Persevere!”

It’s inspiration advice, to be sure. And it’s the only way writers of any calibre or quality are ever going to find success and recognition. But right now, as I stare at this screen and sit in this room, completely unable to write the first coherent word of the next book, it’s about the only thing keeping me strapped in this chair.

Maybe I’ll watch the Olympics or something and try to find some inspiration.

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Villain, thou name is Grammar

I’m not a grammar Nazi. I don’t wander around with a copy of Strunk & White‘s Elements of Style in my satchel, waiting to pounce on the first individual to dangle a modifier or end a sentence with a preposition. (Okay, fine. I do carry a copy of Strunk & White. But I don’t lie in wait to pounce….) And I’ll almost guarantee you that I’ll break more than a few rules of grammar in this post. (Hint: I already have. Twice. Make that three times now.)

But today, I noticed something that bothers me. It makes the little prickles on the back of my neck rise. It is the chronic misuse of the noun “graduate,” specifically in conjunction with the modifier “former.

I’ve seen it in headlines on newspapers across the country, in Facebook posts, and on at least one tee-shirt. While I don’t go as far as my old friend, Sandy Halperin, and insist that the verb “to graduate” be limited to its transitive form, I cannot abide by “former graduate” because it is not only bad writing, but it says the exact opposite of the intended.

So let’s clear this up once and for all.

Graduate is a binary state. Either you are or you are not a graduate. Once you have become a graduate, you cannot be “ungraduated” from your institution, at least not without good cause. The phrase “graduate” needs no modifier to indicate that the individual graduated years ago. If you do wish to indicate the passage of time, you’ll need to use more words. For example: Class of 2012 Graduate Joe Blow.

But if Joe has, in fact, received a diploma from the University of Biteme, he will forever be a graduate of the University of Biteme. The only — and this is the only — way he can ever become a former graduate is for the university to rescind his diploma. This very rarely happens.

What would help headline writers and copyeditors with this needlessly troublesome little word, (which is, after all, a scant three syllables long), would be to modify it appropriately in the other direction. If you wish to describe someone as a “recent” graduate, that is perfectly okay. I even encourage you to do so because it will bring a much needed bit of clarity to the word. “Graduate” is in the past–any time in the past. “Recent graduate” means it happened sometime in the relatively recent past.

A Dab of Luck?

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Elliot Engel, Author “A Dab of Dickens, a Touch of Twain.” (Photo credit: Asheboro Public Library)

(Or: How astrology seems to impact the pattern of literature)

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I do not buy much into the belief that where the stars are when you are born plays a large role in your development as a human being. I’m enough of a hard determinist to refrain from discounting the possibility, but I would think that the ability to measure what must be minute causal affects and their subsequent effects would be next to impossible. Having said that, we proceed.

I’m currently enjoying A Dab of Dickens, A Touch of Twain, a book by renowned lecturer Dr. Elliot Engel, in which the doctor follows the development of English-language literature from Chaucer to Hemingway. In each of the couple dozen biographical sketches, Engel shares pithy insights, wit, and just a dab of what went in to making the literary greats–well…literary greats.

One interesting point he raised is that lasting literary genius generally occurs in clusters of five or six authors who come onto the scene around the same year and exit in their own good time. Specifically, Elliot notes that great literary periods are born in five-to-six-year spans, with the birth dates of the authors clustered inside.

Examples of this phenomenon abound, but perhaps the most well-known cluster today entangles the Modernist greats.  Dos Passos (January, 1896) led the pack. He was followed promptly by Messrs. Fitzgerald (September, 1896), Faulkner (1897), and Hemingway (1899). Steinbeck provided a punctuation mark on the whole thing, being born on a cold February morn in 1902. According to Engel, following this explosion of literary genius, there wasn’t much in the way of lasting writers. And there certainly wasn’t a dearth of them.

That got me to thinking about the cultural relevance of great writers in their own day and how they seem to transcend the time in which they write by finding a universal relevance. And, relevance it is. With the glaring exception of Dos Passos, all of the modernists are well-remembered for both their books, their impact on society of their day, and their lasting value to the study of Literature. And note the capital-L literature, please.

I don’t know what the answer is to this conundrum. It’s hard to forget they were all alive and most of them fighting in World War I. Surely that had a cultural impact on them. But they all also felt what they had to say was important enough to warrant putting it down on paper and then asking people to pay them for the privilege of reading it. Say what you will, and remember, I’m speaking as both a journalist and a multi-published novelist, that takes cajones.

Then again, all of these people knew one another. They were, if not friends, at least colleagues. Maybe the literary atmosphere itself is part of the catalyst? I really don’t know. But looking at the best-selling writers today, I’m terrified of what the future holds for literary studies of the early 21st Century. The other day, I found a well-loved copy of The Notebook tucked in between Moby Dick and Madame Bovary at a local book fair. I’m certain it was either a misfiling on the part of an overworked volunteer or a change of heart from someone who realized they already have a well-loved copy of The Notebook next to their own copy of Moby Dick. Nevertheless, I have had a constant stream of nightmare visions of trudging into a bookstore when I’m seventy and finding the Classics section overrun with Danielle Steele and Nicholas Sparks.

Quinn Fabray is dead (Or at least she should be)

English: Dianna Agron as Quinn Fabray, perform...
Image via Wikipedia

Before I go any farther down this particularly dangerous rabbit hole, please understand that I am a huge Gleek. First among my loves on Glee is Miss Quinn Fabray, portrayed by the ever beautiful Dianna Agron. That being said, I’m a writer, acutely aware of storycraft and always on the lookout for  those times when writers either succeed tremendously or fail miserably.

Right now, Glee creator Ryan Murphy is straddling that fence and it’s five-to-three and picking on which side he’ll land.

Spoiler alert.

Are you still reading? I take this as a sign that you either know what happened or are ready to learn. You have been warned.

Murphy and gang left his rabid fans with a classic cliffhanger. Ripping a page out of the Dallas playbook, the viewers were stunned when, at the very last second of the program, Quinn’s darling VW bug is T-boned by a truck. We don’t know if she is alive or dead. We don’t know how bad the accident was–but it certainly didn’t look good.

Only one thing is certain: Murphy has left us with a binary state worthy of Schrödinger.

Either Quinn is alive, or she is dead. And we won’t know which until we’ve opened the box in mid-April.

I believe that we’ll lose our dear Quinn because that’s where the story dictates we go. As Chekov famously said, if there is a gun on the wall in the first act, it had better go off by the second.

After all, we already had the close call with Karoffsky, who survived to torment and grow another episode or two. Giving audiences two close calls would be cliché. After all, does nothing bad ever happen in Lima, Ohio?

If Quinn is in fact dead, Murphy will have succeeded in doing that which he set out to do: deliver a shocking, attention-grabbing storyline about the dangers of texting while driving. If Quinn is alive, that message will ultimately fall flat.

Then again, it is entirely possible that he will bring Quinn back, but give her a handicap that will rob her of that cheerleading championship she promised Coach Sylvester.

That outcome would be less impacting that her death. It certainly would diminish the power of the “Don’t text while driving!” message. And it would be the worst possible ending to the storyline as it has been introduced. It may even be what Gleeks everywhere want.

That raises the question: is it even possible for a show like Glee to jump the shark?

Flash fiction?

Here’s a question: what would it take to get you to read a five or six paragraph short story every day? The stories wouldn’t be interconnected. They would have only occasionally reoccurring characters and they would appear in your inbox each morning.

Once they were distributed via email, they would be archived.

I’ve been toying with the idea for some time. A mailing list of sorts to distribute a daily story. Nothing moral or anything. (Nothing patently immoral either; so don’t get those…hopes…up.)

Sign up at the Right. “The Whole Story – Daily Fiction Vignettes”.

Papaw’s Typewriter

Papaw’s study is perhaps the most vivid of my childhood memories. Everything about that room — the heavy oak desk, the southeastern window, every surface piled high with papers — has a mystical pull upon the deepest recesses of my mind that walking through Office Depot will frequently turn into a trip back in time.

A glimps in the corner of my eye of that display of neatly ordered packages of Ticonderoga No. 2’s conjures up the quiet Saturday ritual that was Papaw making notes for Sunday’s sermon — surely a masterpiece, which would never get delivered. Inevitably, somewhere between the house on Gerald Street and the church on Hadley, Papaw would turn to Mamaw and say, “The Lord’s spoke to me. I’m not preaching on the commandments.”

They had just been married a few months. She, his third wife, was a quick study. Instead of asking, “What did the Lord say,” she would instead just nod and await the revelation herself, when her husband would step behind the pulpit, grow two feet taller, and chastise whichever of the sinners in the congregation to which the Lord had instructed him to speak. Without notes, without any readily apparent signs of thought, Papaw would open the old Nelson King James Bible, so worn and familiar it would virtually fall open to the verse in question sheerly by the power of his will — or maybe His will. Papaw would remove from his pocket the No. 2 pencil, lay it on the pulpit beside his Bible, and begin to speak.

For many years, Papaw’s backside languished in an old dining room chair, the tissue-thin green cushion tied to the spindles providing the sole respite from the hard, worn oak. When that chair gave out and its bottom split wide, it was replaced for at least some period of time by a folding metal chair borrowed from the church fellowship hall, to which he affixed the same green cushion. One afternoon, he came home with an old office chair. Oak arms, an oak bottom, five coasters. And into the bottom of that chair went the green cushion. If that cushion went to the grave, tucked neatly under his rump in the coffin, I would not be surprised. (Surely someone must have thought to send it along with him!) I often wonder how he would have handled selecting a truly new chair from a store such as Office Depot, with row upon row of comfortable, cushiony heaven.

The paper department of any office supply store leaves its own wake of eddies through my childhood. Those yellow, spiral topped notepads and the erasable pens — surely the pinnacle of modern productivity technologies, ranked right up there with Corrasable Bond typing paper — lived scattered throughout the study. And look, there on the bottom shelf, forgotten and collecting dust, is a box of Wilson Jones ledger paper.

I’m not sure what, exactly, was the source of the aroma of his study. An alchemist’s brew of paper, dust, moisture and the rich, earthy musk of grease and oil. It may have been tracked in from the shop out back, where Papaw spent endless hours rebuilding hydraulic door closures. It may have been the grease he slathered onto the springs and wheels of that chair to prevent it from squeaking late at night. But I like to think it is another culprit, an almost silent, faithful companion of his ministry and my youth.

 

The IBM Model D Typewriter, similar to the one Papaw contended I demolished on several occasions. His was blue and white.

If I close my eyes, I can still hear it humming away from its perch on the homemade wooden table behind the desk. A machine of such immense value that the mere act of an eight-year-old pondering even looking at it was enough to warrant: the IBM Model D typewriter.

That a typewriter has a smell is something that may be surprising to those unfamiliar with the workings of this pre-wordprocessing workhorse of Corporate America. A look at the underbelly of the Model D will give you some idea of the workings. For beneath the twenty-plus pound monster’s sleek exterior lived — no, raged — an army of gears and pullies, levers and knobs, all of which performed vital tasks like moving the carriage a single space, engaging rocker arms to trigger the strike of a letter, and dinging the bell at the end of a line.

To keep all of these parts moving required regular maintenance in the form of a small, clicking can of oil that lived on the window sill above the table, beside the window unit air conditioner. A single drop of oil applied to the right spot would restore pep to a slow carriage return or repair that nagging double spacebar register every third or fourth word.

I sometimes wonder if that Model D is the reason I wanted so badly from such a young age to become a writer. Was inspiration something inate to that typewriter, to the sound of the roller taking in a crisp leaf of paper, of the key clicking and the almost inperceptible moment before the letter struck the page. And there was that hum.

Always, anytime Papaw was in the office, that hum was there. Steady, rhythmic, alive.  And, always, anticipating.

This weekend, I started a quest to find Papaw’s old Model D typewriter. With any luck, it’s still somewhere in the extended family, languishing in a garage or a shed or the floor of a closet. Wish me luck. -md

33 Days

Or: I’m going to kill myself getting this done in time.

I do this to myself every year.

March is a month I should spend celebrating my birthday. (I turn thirty-four at the end of the month.) I should be recovering from the onslaught of allergies that happens every year in late February. I could be preparing for a summer vacation of some sort. But none of those things happen.

Instead, I dump all of my energy into completing whatever book project in which I find myself embroiled, in order to submit it to an annual literary contest. This contest – and the month of March – has made me Ahab. And winning it is my White Whale.

Many of you have never written a book. So it’s kind of a hard process to describe. Instead of trying to find a new way, I’ll let the guys who made a real go at it share their thoughts:

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. – Ernest Hemingway

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwardsRobert Heinlein.

A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down. – Edna St. Vincent Milay

And perhaps my favorite quote, from arguably my least favorite writer –

To be a writer, one must be able to spend long periods of time alone in a room with a stack of blank paper.Stephen King

The long and short of it? Writing is not easy. We do not become writers because we want to sit in a chair and “do nothing” all day. We write because, as Sol Stein puts it, “A writer is someone who cannot not write.”

Consider this, from a friend of mine, Jason Byron Nelson. He’s a painter, a graphic artist — in the truest sense of the title — and an auteur of mixed media presentations. Jason suggests on his Web site, “It is the creative who are closest to God. For only they share the burden of creation.”

Alone. In  a room. With a blank page…and the burden of filling it with words. Not just words, though. Any trained monkey could produce enough words to fill a page. No, these words must invade their reader’s mind, dig into the darkest corners and, from half-remembered snippets of a family trip to the lake long forgotten, build a world inside their mind, a world so real, so complete and so compelling that the reader cannot not return to that world again and again.

So, for the month of March — 33 days, in fact — I’ll be doing just that. And I’ll pop in from time to time to entertain you.

Catch you on the flip-flop.