Unfortunately, real life has intervened with a never ending line of commitments and other projects, and a small bout of writers block hasn't helped either. I've been putting in lots of overtime at work (even went in to the office on Saturday and stayed till about 6:00 pm), so financing my buffoonery has been taking the lions share of my time lately.
But I'm here at the computer all day today, so while you may not see the fruits of my labor immediately, trust me, I'm putting the time in. My big project, a book, has got to be started, and while I know I can actually write a pretty good one, it's that second step in the journey of a thousand miles that nobody seems to want to talk about that's holding me up. I have a topic, I have some stories to tell. What I don't have is cohesion and an overall vision. And being a planner, it's tough to start on any project when you're not exactly sure where you're going or quite how you're going to get there. I mean, I have an idea (Cold War propagandists would call it the 'Radiant Future'), but it's still kind of nebulous.
So in the meantime, I went out looking for help. And to borrow a tortured metaphor from my past, I went all-in looking for help. My normal cranky muse (and I say that in the best way possible), Linda Lou, is not around to crack the whip on me every day-- her already-full plate is 1300 miles away and so I'm kind of out here dangling in the breeze. Some folks would say that writing is a lonely endeavor, but if you want to get good at it, you need some feedback and encouragement from people more talented and experienced than you are, otherwise you're just hunkered down in a cabin somewhere vomiting up a 'manifesto' that nobody really cares about.
It's also discouraging to work on something, post it up on the blog, and see it get ignored for days on end. I'm all about the instant gratification, so when I get no comments, my particular demons tell me it's because my work sucks and nobody wants to read it. Taking a year off, losing most of my audience, and not having any Vegas stories has nothing to do with it, I'm sure... So it can be a never-ending downward spiral of procrastination and apathy. But that is over. This book ain't gonna write itself, so even if I have to lock myself in a hotel room for a month and type All work and no play makes Mikey something something over and over again, I'm going to overcome the inertia of sitting around not writing.
So what have I done so far, you ask?
Well, first of all, I joined the Nashville Writers Meetup group. I figured out a long time ago that the path to success is to surround yourself with people better at you in whatever activity you wish to improve upon. You want to be a better musician? Hang around with talented musicians. You want to be a better options trader? Hang around with the experts. You want to be a better writer? Go to where the writers congregate. And yeah, sometimes that means I have to swallow my pride and hang out in trendy coffee-houses populated with hipster-douches in skinny jeans and nerd glasses, but that's where the writers seem to be found.
Of course, I'm over-generalizing there--they can be found at Panera bread, too! In the past month I've been to three or four different meetings, and so far, it's been a totally positive experience, regardless of venue. We've actually met in the conference room at a lawyers office, coffee shops, and a couple of restaurants.
The best part is that not only are there groups for writing in general, but then there are meetups that are more specialized. When I was attending the Henderson Writers Group with Linda Lou a few years ago, my biggest gripe was the never-ending parade of suck that came with listening to an endless barrage of drivel about vampires and dragons. Oh dear god, just kill me now.
Wait. What I meant to say was, hey, if you're into that, bless your heart. Just keep it away from me. Basically, I had to go to these readings, and if I wanted to present anything, I had to listen to everyone else's material too. Now, some of the time, there was some real brilliance to be had--I believe Linda Lou presented her entire first book to the Henderson Writers Group in chunks over the course of a couple of years and had it critiqued and deconstructed. On the other hand, it's hard to offer any kind of constructive feedback when the subject matter is nothing that I'm remotely interested in reading. Then couple that with truly painful storytelling and character development, and well, it's a recipe for me paying my dues at the first meeting and skipping out on future meetings depending on the email I'd get listing that month's presenters.
But here in Nashville, they've got it broken down all kinds of ways. I've been to groups discussing the 'craft' of writing, along with groups whose interests lie in non-fiction and personal essays. My favorite thus far has been the memoirs group, and I've managed to take away some great tips and suggestions from each group, all without having to suffer through another juvenile 'fantasy' reading.
Participation has also introduced me to some truly gifted people, and of course I'm picking their brains and having them look over my stuff, too. I've already met Linda Lou's younger sister--she sat next to me one night in the conference room at the lawyers office. I shared my old Asteroids essay, and she wrote an entertaining piece about her sister's wedding. Hell, she even blogs and does stand-up comedy, too. Chatting with her helps get my brain in the right place.
And last Sunday, while I was sitting in the upper loft of Portland Brew East, being self conscious of being the only person there without a Macbook Air, I met another lady who I'd otherwise have absolutely nothing in common with, but the essay she shared hit me like a ton of bricks. Not wanting to let an opportunity pass, I've already gotten her to agree to let me use it as the foreword for my own project. Yes, it was that good.
In addition to the meetup groups that are helping me along, I've picked up a few other references over the course of the past few months to help me overcome some of my self-imposed hurdles to creativity. I've got books dealing with the nuts and bolts of writing non-fiction, creating a memoir, and telling better stories. I carry them around with me in my backpack wherever I go, and if I'm not out walking around the office park on my lunch hour, I'm reading and trying to learn.
Lastly, I put up a financial investment. Years ago my dad turned me onto something called The Great Courses, and it's basically college-level classes on a myriad of interesting subjects, 24 lectures to a set, all on DVD. He's raved about them for a long time, and somehow their catalog found it's way into my mailbox last month. From there, it found it's way to the shelf above my toilet, so eventually I found myself browsing through it. I couldn't help but be intrigued, and last week I finally coughed up the scratch and ordered four of their courses:
- Analysis and Critique
- Building Great Sentences
- Writing Creative Nonfiction
- Understanding the Fundamentals of Music
I will say, however, I'm not a total neophyte at this. I know I have a small bit of talent for writing, and I'm amazed at how much I've retained from my freshman composition class at Ricks College that I took in January of 1988. I couldn't appreciate it at the time, but I had an amazing teacher. That shiat stuck with me for all these years, and I'm still using it today.
But that's where I'm at. My main priority is writing this book, finally. I know that this blog will suffer because of it, and I may even lose more of my dwindling audience. But hey, stick with me. It'll all pay off in a couple of years.
In the meantime, I'll be busy figuring out how to approach step two.