The Only Three Writing Tips You’ll Ever Need – Courtesy Lou Saban

UmbrellaI have ransacked the internet consuming any and all tips on writing. I have blindly signed up for numerous newsletters that promised the solution to all of my writing issues. I have taken every free webinar about writing, knowing that they are an obvious inducement to enlist for more detailed study guaranteeing my book would be published, and all my worries would be turned into a six-figure income from writing, blogging, speaking, and publishing.

HELPFUL GUIDANCE IS EVERYWHERE – BUT IS IT THE ANSWER?

I cannot tell you categorically that all the information was wrong, unworthy of my time, not based upon any provable theory, because that would be disingenuous. While there were many insightful observations and helpful hints, most of them miss the essential ingredient to writing. Some do mention the issue, but their solution is wide of the mark, because the only solution is far too blunt if you’re trying win friends, and influence people to pay for your services.

Shocking to me, but I began to realize this essential ingredient while perusing some sports columns! Yes, you read that correctly: Sports Columns! The first incident involved a video recording of Sydney Seau’s intended Hall of Fame speech for her Father Junior Seau. Before Seau’s tragic suicide, he asked his daughter to deliver the entry speech should he be voted in to the Hall. The NFL refused to do so, but the Times videoed the speech in her hotel room that day. The second incident involved Lou Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide pre-season camp. Apparently Saban does not use depth charts, and there is much speculation regarding the quarterback candidates in camp.

WRITING TIPS FROM THE WORLD OF SPORTS?

How does this relate to writing?

Answer: In every imaginable way!

Sydney Seau was not tremendously involved in her father’s career. The father she remembered was overwhelmingly driven. He had a passion for everything, and that included her. As relentless as he was on the football field, he was equally as relentless towards everything that mattered away from football – wife, family, neighbors, friends, the community.

Juxtapose that with Saban’s answer to sports writers regarding why he doesn’t keep depth charts. Saban dismissed depth charts because there are only three things he needs to know about any player: 1. What do you really want? 2. What are you willing to do to achieve that goal? 3. And if you meet an challenge, any challenge large or small, how do you handle it?

THE BASICS ARE PRETTY BASIC…

The Writer...
The Writer…

It occurs to me then, any of us aspiring to a successful writing career – and if we measure that success by being published and making money – these three questions are fundamental, basic, bedrock, absolutely necessary for success (This assumes you are writing for something other than yourself – an entirely different paradigm). That means also, that anyone who says you can’t be a writer because you didn’t start reading at age three consuming War and Peace in less than five days, and start writing by the age of five, completing your first failed novel by age nine, are jealous gatekeepers.

The notion that 10,000 hours equals mastery might well be off the mark too.

RodAll that matters is what you want and what you are willing to do to get it. The third leg of this stool is how do you handle adversity.

All the other hints from Heloise are useful window dressing for the productive work of writing, but heart is the only thing that matters. Nothing matters but you and your heart! If you are not willing to do what is necessary, it will not happen. Junior Seau lived that in every aspect of his life; Lou Saban looks for it in his players as a benchmark for their playability.

Personally, I struggle with time. I lament the lack of time to concentrate on my writing without interruption, conflict, or other irritations. I read that if you don’t schedule it, it won’t get done. Sounds very wise and ultimately true. Life does get in the way, and often the demands of life are not frivelous, but legitimate demands upon our concern, attention, care, and interest. I have written detailed schedules of writing only to have them wasted by real life demands. What do I do about those distractions? How do I handle them? Mostly I back off and succumb to those demands entirely; and by entirely, I mean I allow those demands to bury my life. That’s not how Jr. Seau would handle those issues; and I certainly wouldn’t make Saban’s team!

Time for change, wouldn’t you say? For you also?

I look forward to hearing your comments regarding these thoughts: scriptrod@me.com.

 

Chapter Two – Devil’s Gut

[The chapter that follows is number two from my historical novel, Devil’s Gut. Set in North Carolina just after the Second World War, the book traces the struggles, challenges, and dilemmas of two young men trying to escape their personal histories following WWII. Looking to recapture something lost, they find a very different world emerging from within their experiences. Observations are welcome.Umbrella]

My first encounter with Dak was mostly awkward, humorous in some respects, and offered no clue to just how connected Dak and I would become. I am now married to the love of his life. There are no apologies, and I suspect he expected none to be forthcoming. We make choices, and live by those choices.

I boarded a crowded train in Raleigh in ’45, heading south for Pineland. There were only a few seats remaining, and I selected the nearest vacant seat next to an engaging fellow with reddish blond hair. The fellow attempted to write as we rode, his elbow frequently bumped my arm – he was left-handed – and the seats were not all that wide. He apologized repeatedly, and explained that he had to get this letter finished to his girlfriend, and he always found riding on the train to be conducive to his best writing.

“So you take a train ride when you need to write?”

He smiled.

It struck me as odd, but as I learned, Dak was perpetually on the move. I never quite determined if this state of unrest were because he had so much to do, or simply because he was afraid to stop – owing to his state of unrest. I think he felt safer as a moving target.

I looked at him as hard as he looked at me, both of us assuming a narrative for the other that would prove both accurate and inaccurate. I still wore my dress uniform from the mustering out. Dak frequently looked at my stubbed right arm, and at the medals on my chest. The cut of his clothes, bearing, and the unmistakable soft hands told me he was probably one of those college boys, reading and partying while I slogged through severe weather, and carnage. I doubted he ever broke a sweat over anything, excepting for frat-boy promiscuity. The distinctive fraternity boy appearance oozed from his body: unworried, entitled, and completely comfortable.

“Douglas Alan Kean. My friends call me Dak.” A toothy grin spread across his face as he offered his right hand in friendship. I saw his eyes glance down at my missing right hand, causing him to pause.
I reached across with my left and grabbed his before he could succumb to the embarrassing lack of a hand, and pull back.

“Francis Cummings, sir. No middle handle, just Francis Cummings. How do you do?”

“Pleasure to meet you Francis. I’m sorry- I a, -“ and he waved his right hand to cover his loss for words – not something I would come to expect from Douglas Alan Kean.

“Don’t be. Look at all the hardware decorating my chest, and it’s a good excuse for not tying my shoes.”

“You don’t?”

search-1I laughed, and he did too. The naivete was endearing. We continued to talk and discovered we both had the same terminus: Pineland. Dak began to launch into his family history when the train stopped to take on a few passengers. One passenger, of Japanese heritage, came through the foreword door of our car, hauling a large duffle, and ambled back to the one remaining seat.

A loud husky voice barked from the front of the car.

“Keep moving! No Japs allowed in this car.”

The older Japanese man paused, his duffle in mid air, resting on the overhead rack. His eyes blinked in uncertainty.

“Did you hear me, Nip? We blasted the Japs clean off the map-“

Another voice stopped the Burley Voiced passenger in mid phrase.

“The war’s over, mister; don’t show your ignorance!”

The air in the car was immediately sucked out of the cabin. Small beads of sweat broke out on the older man’s forehead as he attempted to balance the duffle on the rack.

The burley voice stood up in the aisle, just as the conductor came through the rear door. The conductor grabbed the duffle and pushed it into the rack.

“Take your seats, please. We’re about to roll.”

“The hell we are! There will be no nasty Japs on this God-Fearing Christian car -“

I looked to Dak. He had been the one who spoke and piped up yet again.

“Let it go, mister. Sit down; and shut up!”

“Who the heck said that?”

The burley voice began walking down the aisle searching out the author of what sounded to him like a hateful response.

“Afraid to stand up and face me? Where are you; you miserable coward?”

Apparently Dak’s bravado had run its course; he sank further into his seat and starred straight ahead.
The Burley Man continued down the aisle searching for his adversary, despite the protests of the Conductor. I looked at Dak, but he never returned my gaze, and just before Burley Man reached our seats, I stood up.

“I said it, mister. Do you have a problem with that?”

“You said that? Naw, I don’t think so, pal. Unless-“

The man stopped and gave me a curious look, and then looked to Dak who did not return his gaze. The rest of the car held its collective breath. Burley reached past me to Dak as I planted my stump in his chest. He stared at the medals and my stumped right arm.

“I don’t expect this crap from a soldier – Airborne at that! Jesus, pal, you of all people should understand what I mean. What gives you the right-“

Impulse can be lightening quick and my left arm did not disappoint.

Without warning, Burley Man wobbled under the effect of my clenched fist and fell over backwards into the aisle.

“What gives me the right?” I bellowed.

I thrust the stub of my right arm in his face.

“This does!”

I turned around to face the older gentleman, telling him he should sit down now. He put his hands together and bowed his head before sitting.

The clicking of the train wheels on tracks, tracked the silence in the car, and Dak’s gaze never crossed the space between our seats. Discomfort in the train car was palpable. More than an hour later he turned to me.

“I never fought in the war. The Army rejected me, twice; so, I’ve been in school.”

“You were right to challenge him, pardner. Honestly, I might not have become involved if you didn’t object.”

I’m not sure what I saw in his eyes: relief, or surprise. My war-tested instincts failed me. That was more than two years ago.

Connections to other humans, even strangers, can be surprising. Dak was a total stranger to me; still, some spark of chemistry assured me immediately this man was likable, honest, and moral. Such projections are both remarkable, and dangerous, if inaccurate. Dak challenged the boorish bullying behavior of a thug, motivated by a higher impulse to defend, or protect. Lacking the physical confidence to backup that impulse, he retreated, backed off. I understood that feeling too. I knew all too well where such feelings begin. It is in this contradiction of honest emotion that my bond was forged.

Funny how those things happen.

Devil’s Gut – Chapter One

[What follows is chapter one of my novel, Devil’s Gut. Please read and I would appreciate any comments about the characters, the writing, or the story as you understand it from this one chapter. Are the characters interesting and compelling for you? Do the characters and story appear to be worth your time?]

 

I married the love of his life, a strange disclosure, admittedly. Therein lies a story of what we owe each other.

The first time I encountered Douglas Kean, Douglas Alan Kean – or Dak as his friends called him – was on a train out of Raleigh, North Carolina, in May of 1945. I had separated from the Army only weeks before and found myself heading back to Pineland for reasons only my subconscious understood. Most men in my platoon bolted for their respective home towns and waiting girlfriends. A few decided to make the Army a career: “Make sure the world remains safe for Democracy!” they boasted. Others, I learned, knocked about home for some time, members of the 52-20 Club, unsure of what they wanted to do, and finding nothing that generated the adrenaline rush of combat, or the camaraderie of the armed forces, they returned to the fold; they returned to where personal alliances or relationships had been the strongest. They returned to where they belonged, or were whole.

I couldn’t stay, even if I wanted. A staff sergeant with one hand is of little value in this man’s Army; and, home, for some reason, was not a choice. I was drawn by some unexplainable need to return to Pineland, North Carolina, instead of home in Plano, Texas.

Relationships, especially the personal kind, haunted me; and, recent military partnerships proved to be painful. I grew up with Robert Brody in Plano, where his fiddle and my guitar seemed connected, not only musically but spiritually. We both enlisted a week after Pearl Harbor, and eventually found ourselves in airborne training at Camp Mackall in North Carolina. Why airborne? At the time, it seemed liked an adventure; and Robert and I were no strangers to adventure. Our roadhouse touring youth attested to that thirst for the unknown.

Brody jumped into the predawn blackness over Normandy, and I followed right behind. I never saw him again. We had created our own rhythmic melody with the clickers issued in England. I spent the next week crawling hedgerows and searching medical tents clicking out the melody. There was no response; no answering rhythm-click coming back. I hooked up with another company, since most of mine was lost or missing. I have no idea how much time elapsed or where I had been; but, Corporal Francis Cummings, or Cowboy as I was labeled, rose to a staff sergeant amid furious battles and an incessant push deeper into France, Northern Europe, and then into Germany. My honorable discharge says I survived.

I firmly believe my survival was the product of no relationships. That might have been somewhat delusional because my eventual role as a platoon leader was simply a mask for another form of relationship: the whole. This necessary distancing enabled me to function: a sleight of hand really, because relationships are unavoidable; they are there if we but look for them.

Can’t deny them, pardner.

What we do with them tells everyone who we are. They are our humanity writ large.

My run as a platoon sergeant ended near the Rhine while dragging a wounded soldier to safety. An enemy round freed him from my grasp, shattering my right hand as I stood in shock, motionless and staring at the shredded remains of my life, and soul. A grenade exploded nearby plunging me into a still deeper darkness. When I woke weeks later, my nose itched. Impulsively, I attempted to scratch it with my right hand.

A gauze wrapped stump was hardly an affective tool. The nose continued to itch unabated. A part of me wanted to laugh; but, my tortured brain numbed whatever physical pain my body was experiencing, also short-circuiting any impulse for levity. Apparently, my little episode did not allow me to see Patton pissing in the Rhine a few days later. I would have laughed at that. Instead, my life is now forever defined by dragging another man to safety and losing my soul.

Maybe that is why I headed for Pineland: for closure.

When Robert Brody and I were shipped out from Mackall, we travelled by troop train north to New York City and finally to a troop ship bound for the European Theater. Trains were a vital form of shipping for both goods and people, connecting towns with tracks that ran directly through the center of a community. The tracks, often two tracks, were a lifeline to the rest of the world. Such was the case with Pineland, where a double set of tracks ran through the center of town. Our train stopped for some unknown reason in the middle of Pineland, only a short time away from Mackall. We sat there for no apparent reason, and some men became restless and impatient. Robert turned to me.

“Cowboy! There’s a drugstore and look at those dolls going in!”

Brody had a nose for women; and, they were stunning. The auburn and red hair immediately caught my eye, and something about the luxuriant flow of the hair as they disappeared into the store triggered a tingling in my mind and body. Brody jumped to his feet.

“Come on Cowboy, let’s get us some Cokes! I ain’t had a Coke… well, since yesterday!”

A red flag waved impatiently before my eyes! But, Brody was halfway out of the car, and somebody needed to pull the kid back before the train left: that would be I, Cowboy.

The pharmacy owner gave us free Cokes and Brody regaled the entire store with our “exploits” in training, and how we were going to win this war in six months! What a performer! He held the bewitched patrons with a magical grip, except for the auburn-red haired young lady who gently tugged at my elbow and suggested we might want to leave, since the train seems to be rolling. She was damn right! I grabbed my story-telling friend and pushed him out the door, Cokes in hand.

I sprinted across the road and up the hill to the tracks as the train gained momentum, and when reaching for the rail my cap blew off. Once I had pulled myself onto the train, I turned to see a lurching Brody struggling to keep up with the train. He was blowing viciously out his mouth attempting to summon from within the necessary speed to catch hold of the train. His mouth was a feverish bellow, almost comical to behold. Holding onto the rail, I hung out and grabbed his extended hand hauling him onto the car. Glancing back, I saw the auburn-red haired young lady as she picked up my cap and extended her arm with my cap, as if to say “Wait-.”

Brody and I stood on the train running board between the cars laughing at how close we had come to missing the train. Would Brody be alive today if we had missed the train? Dismissing the consequences of our adventure, we talked instead about the two girls – as if they were ours.

“Hey, Cowboy! Yours was sporting some set of knockers, a real comfy lover’s pillow.”

“Yours was pretty well proportioned, too, pardner-“

“Yeah boy! Those hips are meant to bear kings. And I’m just the monarch to climb aboard.”

I laughed, enjoying this levity with my childhood friend.

“Actually, I think that refers to birthing kings-“

“Either way, you gotta take’m before you can birth’m, and I’m just the one… What happened to your hat?”

When we arrived in New York, we were mustered out of the train and formed a rank and file array while our officers called roll.

“All present and accounted for, sir,” was the happy result. There was the little matter of my hat. When the Captain walked among our ranks, Brody slipped his hat on my head just as the Captain approached.

“Corporal Brody,” he said. “You are out of uniform.”

“Me, sir?”

“Yes you, Brody. Where is your government issued hat, Corporal?”

“I didn’t realize I was-“

“Sir, it’s on my head.”

The Captain shifted his focus instantly to me.

“It is not, sir. I must have left it on the train, you know. I’ve never seen New York City before-“

I pulled off the hat and held it up for the Captain to see. Inside the head band, printed in large black letters the name “Brody” was clearly visible.

The back and forth went back and forth a little longer before the Captain threatened us both with article 15s. He relented with a smile and some stern comments. Before leaving he privately complimented us for covering for each other.

“You would be wise to remember this, soldier.”

When Robert obviously needed me, and my instincts for danger, I was not there; my clicker’s message lost in the darkness of Normandy. I had failed; my instincts said there would be problems, but I didn’t listen.

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Writer’s Storm

Intransigent is the best description for our world. Regrettably is a most applicable modifier of that word grouping. Heels are dug in, eyes set, jaws are flexing, and language pejorative in tone; and, all instructive of a deeply felt anger for something: that is much of our world. There must be another path other than one which sets us up for conflict beyond the war of words experienced now; for surely, escalation is inevitable. Our world is being returned to tribes of localized domains, or is it more useful to say demons!

Man in stormAt sixty-eight years of age, I do not consider my life winding down, maybe it is just beginning to rev up; and, maybe my real value or purpose may only be coming into focus: later than never. I have spent more than forty years interpreting other people’s stories as a director and teacher of drama. It is time I begin telling my own stories for those things that most inflame my thoughts and passion. We need myth makers, a Joseph Campbell postulation that I have used on students for years, and should now turn back on the teacher. Stories, I believe, can be so more effective in moderating thought, because we experience through story, not just think. The time to think is after the story. The commonality among all of us – our humanity – is uniquely accessible through story, which can bypass current social and political filters, if done well. Sometimes, those cultural/tribal gatekeepers are so strong that penetrating to humanity becomes difficult. We protect ourselves from distracting or challenging thought by not listening, and burrowing deeper into our prejudice. And, the world is full of competing thought. Still, story may be the only way to sneak past those gatekeepers and awaken the basic humanity we share that knows no color, religion, political affiliation, or class distinction.

I once thought that I would reinvent myself after so many years of teaching and producing theater. Reinventing had a nice contemporary sound, flashy, hip, modern, with it, and all the other hype rampant on the internet. I started a blog, the purpose of which was to reinvent myself as a writer. I began writing about writing. If people could make a living helping when they really had no credentials for helping, then why couldn’t or shouldn’t I write? I quickly ran out of topics to write about concerning reinvention. Surviving and blogging were difficult to juggle. There is a lesson in that, however. Commitment is a hurdle many of us fail to clear on many levels, personal, socially, politically, and intra personally. Divorce is the easiest example. People changing jobs every year another. Nothing begins without commitment; but everything ends without it.

The truth of me may be I was never invented in the first place, so reinventing was… cheesy! Kitschy! This may not be a process of reinventing, so much as a process of discovery, understanding, or awareness. I was also skeptical of all these people making money by offering help in the form of coaching or from their published books. Digging deeper seemed to suggest to me they got rich by selling ways to get rich. They were not applying some learned knowledge gained by becoming successful at something else and extrapolating a method. They got rich offering to help people. There was something inauthentic about their methods. Now, let me make a distinction. I am not critical of people helping other people, far from it. These marketeers on the internet were simply jumping on a self-help craze without any real evidence to suggest they were capable of helping. It is one thing to offer support, quite something else to say let me show you how to do this. I didn’t do it previously, I’m doing it now.

imagesMy purpose is to be heard and understood as a voice of reason, moderation, and common sense for the greater good. Our world does not listen. We only understand what we understand, and make little or no effort to widen that knowledge, or embrace a greater breadth of experience. Stories can be an instrument of that purpose since they can become the new myths or guiding beacons for our personal behavior. Myth makers are essential for the mental health of any society. I am beginning to write stories intended to change how we see our world, and how we fail to appreciate the gaps in our understanding, which I believe to be considerable.

To that end, I shall publish at least weekly my current thoughts on my writing, sample chapters, or other relevant information about these topics. If I may use a metaphor, I’m calling these writings A Writer’s Storm. Conflict is the essence of any story, and the story of this journey of mine will surely involve conflict with forces unseen and perhaps only knowable in a limited sense – hence The Writer’s Storm. A storm will cease, at some point, and calm will ensue. I suspect these will be times to enjoy the completion of a project, or the calm may be otherwise known as Writer’s Block!

photog in stormWhat conflicts will I encounter in this storm? First, I’m not trained as a creative writer, and I have not been writing creatively for the past thirty years. I have not read a book a week for the past thirty years either. That’s not to say I don’t read. I have long had the desire to write, not the desire to be thought of as a writer, but the authentic desire to be heard and respected, to matter, to be authentic in my passion. The third challenge or conflict is mastery. A secondary goal, I suppose, might be to prove the sages wrong: I can produce valuable work without having written for thirty years, or reading for over thirty years. Ten thousand hours is theoretically the magic number for mastery, or 417 twenty-four hour days, or twelve-hundred and fifty eight-hour days, or 3.4 years of eight-hour days. That’s a steep climb, but I have been writing regularly for 4-5 years, just not in eight-hour chunks of time.

So, there you have it: the forces conspiring to keep me from my goals: 1. Training 2. Experience 3. Mastery. Fairly formidable challenges, I must admit; but, I suspect they might pale in the face of commitment and determination… otherwise known as “will.” Do I have the “will” to say I will and then do?

UmbrellaI invite you to share in this journey, to follow where my passion leads, and to comment on similar or disparate experiences. They will indeed be appreciated by me, and I expect anyone who happens to be on a similar journey.

 

-Writer’s Storm

Writers and Passion – Fire or Venom?

Recent events provoked me to question my passion, my desire to do what I purport to be necessary, and I wrote about that issue last week. It will not go away!

And shouldn’t.

Last time, I challenged my desire for success in comparison to what others are willing to do, and do in pursuit of their goals. The desire to achieve regardless of obstacles is oxymoronic; of course, it’s necessary. It’s easy to succumb to an obstacle; rationalization is a sneaky devil, one which never attacks when the writer is in full throttle. No, it’s waits for the smallest of openings to begin its subversive magic, multiplying with the veracity of vicious cancer. Recognizing those early openings becomes essential. A word about that later.

WHAT BESTIRS THE HEART?

handsMy son, a professional photographer, spoke to me of a celebrated photographer – I can’t recall the name – and quoted the man as having said: “I’m not that talented, actually. I just work hard.” I’m equally familiar, as you, with that mantra. I’ve heard it voiced since I was a kid.

The better question might be “What stirs my heart?” Can it play to my writing? In what way?

There are several things that stir my blood, elevate my blood pressure, or cause me to pace and begin an internal monologue of fire and venom. One such catalyst is social injustice, the other being sports. This is not to suggest that my family’s well-being or safety does not motivate me; it does. I am addressing my creative life.

Many people might find these two catalysts unusual in their juxtaposition. I don’t. Sports reflect our social world, so it is for me reasonable that these two phenomenons should “trip my trigger.”

THE NEWS JUNKIE

bustI am admittedly a news junkie, either consuming televised news reports, or reading newspaper accounts all the time. I shall also admit another source of news: Facebook. Facebook is a cesspool. Choirs preaching to the choirs with an amazing lack of civility, thought, and logic. I have enough friends and acquaintances on both sides of every issue that I am continually seeing passionate beliefs from both sides. What is instructive in Facebook is the level of venom and stiff-arm tactics from both sides. Nobody engages, all simply lob talking points that are not debatable. They are not debatable because of how they are phrased. If the statements contain an indictment they are not debatable! My take-a-way is that we are short on civil discourse and alarmingly lacking in willingness to engage. It takes great restraint for me to refrain from commenting on Facebook. There are no reasonable discussions to be had with the opposing choir! So, Facebook is actually sobering.

Suffice it to say politics boils my blood, especially when there is something I perceive as a social injustice, stupidity, or a failure to understand history. My book has evolved into a political statement of sorts. But, it is still difficult to write, remain true to the premise, and not make it preachy. This is difficult to do, as well. I’ve never tried to write a sports story…

SPORTS ADDICT

With regard to sports, I love the storylines of sports. Watching the recent Wimbledon finals, the match between Djokovic and Federer was the quintessential distillation of all I mean to discuss today. Both men are passionate in their pursuit of a Wimbledon Championship, both men are talented and playing well. My personal favorite was Federer because it would have been an amazing achievement for a man 34 years of age – old in tennis-speak. People have written Federer off for the past year, but he has roared back with a dance on the court. Federer Turns Back the Clock, read the headlines.

THE FINAL ARBITRATOR

Nobody beats time. Djokovic proved the better player today. Roger won something in a manner of speaking because he made it to the finals of Wimbledon yet again, but was turned back again in the finals by the same opponent of a year ago. I’m a sucker for the sports underdog, or the champion who does it right – ethics again.

Still time is the ultimate arbitrator – alliteration between arbitrator and traitor is too much to pass up. Time betrays us all, and perhaps time wins out over all the dedication, hard work, and passion we can muster.

So, if these things, politics and sports, seem to pull my strings, excite my passion, give rise to energy of action, I should try to utilize those two elements in my writing – simple enough, unless the real wall is time. No matter how much you may want, if there’s no energy to act… you’re screwed!

I mentioned earlier a return to a comment about aware of that creeping disease of rationalization. The one personal method I have used with some success to avoid the insidious encroachment has been meditation. Meditating twice a day, early morning and before going to bed, has helped maintain a healthy frame of mind and enable me to keep the real priorities firmly in the forefront of my mind. I recommend the use of meditation.

BURNISH YOUR HEART

Where time is concerned, I have no other choice but to try and burnish my mind with resolve, ala Djokovic, and try to ignore the fact that his resolve defeated Federer, who probably just ran out of gas… Still we can find some measure of burnishing for the heart when we realize that while Rodger lost the Men’s Singles Championship at the Cathedral of Tennis, he nonetheless played in the finals. So, I may never be a run-a-way NYT Best Seller, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be published and read with respect.

There is something on which to meditate!

Since you have read this far, I shall offer a bonus: The following is a voice recording of yours truly reading one of his short stories. This particular story is a favorite of my son who thinks it cries out for development into something larger. It is my one and only venture into science fiction.

THE SUN ALSO

 

Need (Gumption)

I have recently discovered Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards, and found myself watching two to three episodes at a time before bed. Quite a different approach to TV.

It occurred to me this morning what this series uses as a structural source, and I should not be amazed given Spacey’s history. It’s really quite a fun ride, and the fact it focuses on Washington politics with nodding winks to every social issue in the news, clearly puts it in the same realm as any of William Shakespeare’s tragedies involving kings and power.

At first, Spacey addressing the camera was of-putting and troubling. Some of the earliest camera speeches made him feel too Snidely-Whiplash evil, sneeringly evil for evil’s sake. But in the back of my mind, I liked it. images-2Then, it suddenly hit me, these are stage monologues! The main character speaks to us disarmingly, sometimes confirming his disingenuous actions, and highlighting his unreliability, or his truth. It’s as topical as Hamlet or Macbeth!

Spacey is a talented man of the theater who has worked for the British National Theater and has brought that live theater experience to film, and television. I enjoy and look forward to those monologues now, especially the set up of each, for they are all different!

The Writer...
The Writer…

My second reason for discussing House of Cards has to do with the writer’s plight, a topic of some importance for any unpublished writer – and that would be yours truly. Ideas and experience are never enough. We hear so many self-help writing gurus speak of needing to start at an early age and write continuously about what you know. We also hear or read of the advice that the successful writer must read constantly. One piece of advice many do not offer as loudly as the aforementioned is grammar. Without a fundamentally sound understanding and practice of English grammar, writing will always be a dream, and never a reality- the gatekeepers demand it, and so do you! (how many rambling Facebook posts have you thought interesting only to find the writing disintegrate into babble?) I know also that without a voice one shall have a hard time presenting something different to the potential readers. Voice is a matter between you and yourself, there are no special deals on voice anywhere on the internet or in a bookstore. I understand these other points entirely and agree with most in principle.

imagesHouse of Cards has opened my eyes to yet another oft mentioned but little appreciated skill or talent required for the successful writer, and that is: Need, or  I like the sound of Gumption. It starts in the gut!

You have to want it – writing that is. But, what does that mean exactly? There are a lot of things I really want; I mean, really, really, really want, and I can profess those wants eloquently and at great length. Not all wants are created equal. That became abundantly clear for me while watching Spacey – who is unrelenting in his pursuit of power.

The behind the scenes peak into the world of Washington government and politics reveals a world where wants never sleep. How many scenes are there suggesting that people go for days without sleep because things need to happen. Sure, there are scenes where Frank Underwood delegates work to underlings, who work all night, while he runs off for bed time with Zoe. Still there are plenty of scenes where he works all night, or the President works all night with staff because they need to do so. Work and responsibility demand their continuous work.

weightIf I’m being honest, I must say writing has never demanded that level of attention from me. True for you also? I have friends who like my ideas and thoughts, but I am as yet an unpublished author and quite likely to remain so unless I change my… gumption.

That is not to say my work has not demanded similar commitment from me, to which I enthusiastically responded. I have been paid to do a job and I have responded with a what-ever-it-takes approach to the work. I cannot accuse myself of being lazy, since my work has demonstrated quite the opposite.

Unless you are being paid to write and have that tangible responsibility to motivate your actions, its easy to demur, it’s easy for life to get in the way, it’s easy for the tomorrow’s-another-day sentiment to get a death grip. Tomorrow is not another day, if you have wasted today! Success builds upon success, when you understand failure (experiencing failure is underrated unless you understand failure – Aye, there’s the rub!)

You may have the want to write. The better question is do you have the the right want? Gumption? Going without sleep until your project and work are done is not a recommended health practice. We can learn, however, our level of want. If that want does not approach the inescapable, obsessive, compulsive, drive, or gumption – like the word because it appeals to the gut sound – you will never write professionally. I am now convinced.

Nobody will pay you to write until you prove you can write. Writing is not a job with a training period, or a draw against commission. The time of advances for promising writers has long since evaporated. One must spring full-bodied upon the stage with a stunning entrance and voice. The din of writing wannabes is enormous.

All the other admonitions about a writing career are just as true; but, gumption is the intangible element that can make up for lack of depth in experience, reading, or writing: It’s that 10,000 hours to mastery concept in fine print!

I would appreciate any comments about this post and need or gumption as a primal mover in the writing world…

And on to another installment of House of Cards for inspiration – tireless dedication to a purpose.

Harter here! Enjoy!

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God Is Unassailable

This past week has been an eventful week, not necessarily for me; but, I have witnessed meaningful events and consequences that any would be writer should file away for reference. There are stories in this week.

One such event waimages-6s the Supreme Court decision regarding gay marriage. I am not gay; but, I have spent a significant portion of my life working with associates who were gay. I’m neither a doctor nor psychologist, and cannot therefore lend factual researched underpinning to my ideas on this decades old social hot button. My experience tells me that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, it’s simply how some people are wired. I can also tell you that homosexuality is not contagious, nor are those who’s taste run in that direction predators – anymore than some heterosexuals are predatory.

It is with dismay that I observe the over the top reactions to the SCOTUS decision by the extreme right, and/or Evangelical Christians. The dismay is actually more closely identified as embarrassment, which extends also to the unChristian-like attitude and rhetoric on display.

images-4I simply cannot see Jesus Christ responding to this situation with calls of revolt and disregard for the law of the land, not to mention the near hysterical cry of religious persecution.

Justice Roberts suggested this was a popular decision that had nothing to do with the Constitution. In reality, this has everything to do with the Constitution and human rights. I am chagrined that the same Chief Justice who chose to consider the intent of the Affordable Health Care Law rather than a poorly expressed three word phrase, would then claim that the human rights of the gay population have no standing among human rights expressed in the Constitution. This is giving with one hand and taking with the other! The comments of Justice Scalia have nothing to do with jurisprudence and everything to do with a narrow prejudicial mind, unfit for the highest court in the land. His strict interpretation posture wanted to hang the AHC over three words, yet he chooses to ignore the words “maintain a militia” in article two. Convenience is thy middle name, Justice Scalia.

The writer in me, however, sees a greater danger in this “convenience,” a struggle between fear and intelligence. There are meaningful stories to be told on this issue that can put some human perspective on the issue. Stories instruct by example, not by preaching. I shall file this week’s events.

images-5Mike Huckabee is a Republican Presidential candidate who was nearly apoplectic over the ruling. He claimed it was tyranny, and as such, we are not compelled to accept the ruling or abide by its results: very Presidential. He has alluded to religious persecution over gay-rights and abortion on a multitude of occasions.  It’s simply not true. What is remarkable is a failure to understand the founding principles of this country, and an awareness of just who these founding fathers were as men. Many of them were Deists or atheists. Religious freedom was the motivation, not a Christian nation. They did not want the government telling them how to worship. The re-writing of historic fact is breathtaking.

To my knowledge, there are no Christian churches closed because they refuse to recognize gay marriages or perform them. There are no Christians forced to use birth control, or have an abortion. No one is forcing anyone to marry a person of the same sex. Yet for someone to claim the beliefs of the Christian right are being persecuted because someone believes otherwise, points to the essence of religious freedom and an affirmation that we have separation of church and state. Mike Huckabee’s religious beliefs are not the policies this government.

Holding up God as a defense for a position is an ancient practice. It’s convenient! God is unassailable, and no more justification is necessary. Wrapping oneself in religious certainty eliminates the need for thinking or considering. It is then a short step to demonizing and scapegoating someone or something because you’re exempted from proof, logic, merit, or understanding. If that does not work sufficiently well, then declare yourself persecuted! And that’s where we are today. There is no rational discussion of issues because the participants are all cloaked in rigid moral certainty. They have protective shields that exempt them from consideration, thought, evaluation, or understanding of any idea outside their experience.

I find it hard to accept a belief in a Divine Spirit who would not be encouraged by an intelligent thought process in which we consider and evaluate positions openly. We can only understand what we understand, and the intelligent approach would be to consider what we don’t understand in an effort to find an understanding that leads to intelligent social behavior. This is not happening today. The cloak of God has been hoisted because it’s too hard to meet a multi-cultured world and live responsibly.

God is unassailable. This perspective is dangerous when it shuts down thought processes and discussion. It becomes a rush to judgement.

A Writing Journey Cliche

The Writer...
The Writer…

We speak of stories as a journey, our lives as a journey, the ubiquitous three-act structure is a journey, based upon the Aristotelean beginning -middle-and end, a certain allegory for living. There is certainly a difference between a trip, an expedition, and a pilgrimage, and that difference is one of purpose and need. Joseph Campbell attributed a kind of moral imperative to a journey by labeling it a quest – The Hero’s Quest. In Campbell’s description there is a need and a sense of urgency attached to the journey.

With all this talk of journeys it seems we should consult Map Quest rather than an oracle to help us with our direction. I rather like the phrase a voyage of discovery because while it is obviously a “trip” over time and distance, the purpose or goal is perhaps less specifically defined: “What will I find out there…?”

Quite frankly, I become tone-deaf when I start thinking of journeys and their ubiquitous beginnings, middles, and ends. There is something tired, old, even stifling by applying journey to anything longer than a trip!

maxresdefaultI have recently discovered a different approach, far from mastered, that puts my mind less in this sequential, linear, mode of thinking or imagining, and more like the above mentioned voyage of discovery; or, perhaps, weathering a storm.

The approach is called Dramatica, and it looks at story as a grand argument. Today we are not so much on long journeys as involved in grand arguments and that sums up the story telling for these times. Previously, the trek to the Promised Land was a momentous journey, as was Oliver’s search for love. Marco Polo never debated why he needed to make his historic sojourn; likewise, Chris Colombus! They needed to get from one place to another, literally. Today we are involved with debate and persuasive argument that deals with the challenges of today. We are here, and the issue is how do we stay here; by what means do we stay here and survive.

There is yet one real quest or journey still to make, and that is one beyond our solar system, and perhaps why Sci-Fi has the popularity it enjoys. Aside from outer space, our real issues seem to be one of persuasion, and as such it is a productive model for 21st Century storytelling. We’re not finding new worlds so much as trying to make this one last.

Dramatica provides me with a basic point of attack, a premise for all of my writing. You see, for me to succeed as a writer will require a challenge of all accepted ideas regarding the making of a writer. I have none of the prerequisite building blocks most writing gurus enumerate. I haven’t written a lot. I haven’t read a lot; although, I read a lot of different things for work and education, I don’t read a lot of fiction which is my reason d’etre for writing.

Can I become a writer; (and I’ll be more specific) can I succeed in writing fiction that someone else publishes, not me? This becomes my voyage of discovery, my grand argument, pitting all the characters of life that might suggest I can’t do something because I don’t have the background for that endeavor. It becomes a wrestling match with the idea that 10,000 hours of work is required to master something, anything.

Oh my, now we’re mixing our metaphors with sports!

My competitive instinct says I can, or should…

The debate and its vehicle, Dramatica, will appear on these pages over the coming weeks and months – or however long it takes!