A few months ago I cleaned up the files in my computer. During the process, I peaked at my files of unfinished novels. There are some books I’ve been writing bit by bit for 5 or more years. I read some of them. They were painful to read.
I normally just leave it at that, but this time I was curious about them. They were good ideas, just executed poorly. How did such great ideas transition into horrible writing?
I flipped through my notes. I made detailed preparations for each project: created settings and characters, did prior research and made scene-by-scene outlines in advance so I wouldn’t get stuck, etc. Yet each and every time I found myself sputtering out of steam after 10,000 words or so. What was the problem?
I was the problem.
Not that I didn’t allocate enough writing time (although that is a symptom of the cause) or that I hit a wall of writer’s block. Looking back on previous work, I realized that at the time I just wasn’t good enough of a writer. My talent level was inadequate to the scope of my ideas.
And my mind somehow knew this. It knew I was not ready to give life to my ideas. My writing brain shut down in order to save myself from myself.
How did this happen? Perhaps I spent too much time and effort chasing mentors, reading every book and blog on how to write I could find, going to conferences believing that if I networked with the right people I’d become a better writer through osmosis.
Studying, networking and learning from experienced writers are important for a writer’s growth. When I was out doing that I forgot the most critical path to writing better. I neglected to write.
Similar to a seldom used muscle, my writing brain was weak and limp. I had sought knowledge but didn’t put it to use. I wasn’t being wise with my gift.
I used to take long writing hiatuses and then jump straight into a lengthy project. I’ll pursue other interests, mostly catching up on streaming TV or playing video games, occasionally some light reading. When I’d take up writing again, my flabby writing muscles couldn’t handle the strain.
I still don’t write everyday. I will write something here and there; snippets of prose here, snatches of poems there. A lot of them will never see the light of day. This keeps me in decent writing shape.
When I began working on The Demonic Dozen, my body and mind were ready for the long haul. I was ready to persevere.
My talent is catching up to my visions of my work. My writing is better for it.
One of the most important changes I’ve made this year is to stop answering “how are you?” with “I’m fine” when I’m not fine, when things aren’t OK. Why should I lie to myself, my family, my friends, even strangers? Besides, it comes off as disingenuous; people can tell that you’re lying, that something is bothering you. This constant dishonesty can also push away people who genuinely care about you.
I said this lie because I didn’t want to talk about what was bothering me at the time. I didn’t want people, especially associates and strangers, to pry into my life. I felt ashamed to be going through a tough time. I’m an adult; I’m supposed to have this life thing all figured out by now.
Wrong. Everyone goes through ups and downs; through rough patches that seem to stretch as far as the horizon. There’s nothing wrong with not being OK, to not have this life thing all figured out once you reach a certain age. You’re growing each day. You’re getting better with negotiating who you are and how you fit into this world.
It’s also OK not to want to discuss it or get into details with everybody who asks. People should respect your privacy.
When I’m not fine and people ask how I’m doing, I’ve begun answering with something like this: “I’m not doing well. It’s personal and I do not want to discuss it at the moment. But I will be fine.” That typically works for family, friends, even associates.
For strangers, I answer with the more vague, “I’m maintaining.” That’s what I do, even when it feels like my world is crumbling around me; I maintain the pieces together, no matter how loosely.
Greetings and salutations!
It's the end of 2016, and time for the "best of" lists to come flying. I'll participate by listing the best books I've read in 2016. This isn't a list of my favorite books that were published this year, but the best books I read in 2016, regardless of the date of original publication.
Without further ado, here's the list (in no particular order).
salt. by Nayyirah Waheed – Short, powerful and thought-provoking. The poems live within you.
Dictionary: 1. See Poems by Sharea Harris – Insightful pieces that analyze life & the world in a unique way.
Black Freak Mosh Heaven by Ron Kipling Williams – Poems that I relate to as an outcast/outsider who ended up finding where I fit.
The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor – Magic and action wrapped in a sci-fi adventure that's pure bliss. Prequel to Who Fears Death, one of my all-time favorite books.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – Innovative magic system using metals that are ingested and a dynamic tragic hero makes brings this book alive. First book in the Mistborn Series.
The Ghosts That Surrounded Them by Timmy Reed – Creative stories that converge into one narrative that speak on the sadness in the characters’ lives.
The Isis Papers by Frances Cress Welsing – Brilliant essays on the root cause of racism.
Killing the Black Body by Dorothy Roberts – Eye-opening book on the structural racism that is embedded in the struggle for women’s reproductive rights.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander – Wonderfully written and put together investigation into mass incarceration as it is used to create an underclass and as slave labor.
Words = Life
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