A Writer’s Horror Story

I watched an excellent documentary this evening.  It was called Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously and it surprised me by telling more about my favorite writer than I already knew. It reminded me of why I want to be a writer. It was a magical collection of serendipitous moments, interviews, and the odd anecdote.

It reminded me that I needed to acquire the Sandman collections and read them from start to finish. It reminded me of the bittersweet story of Terry Pratchett mentoring Neil. We got to see a few clips from an interview with Terry before he passed.

But mostly it reminded me that if you believe strongly enough that you are normal and everyone else is strange, keep doing the things that you love to do in spite of the odds of success, and are incredibly lucky, you can make a career doing the things that you love.

I must admit that my career thus far has been fairly charmed. I have been able to turn my passion for computers and programming into a decent living. I am still having fun doing it. Ah,  you can hear it can’t you? The eminent “But” hanging in the air waiting to be said.

But, one charmed career isn’t enough. I long for the second career as a writer. I am training for it like a runner trains for a marathon. I’ve got my eye out for a good coach but in the mean time I’m putting my butt in the chair every day and writing. The only way to get good at something is to do it a lot.

My photography teacher in college, Chuck Swedlund, told us to buy a hundred foot reel of black and white film and put it in the freezer. That keeps it from going bad as quickly. Then hand load rolls of 35mm film and shoot lots and lots of pictures. The only way to become a great photographer was to practice and the only way to practice was to take lots of pictures.

Neil also reminded me of something that I’ve always known but quickly forget if I don’t constantly remind myself of. Your life is the palate from which you draw the material with which you paint your stories. If you don’t live your life large, do new things, meet new people, you will run out of things to write about.

That is one of my secret fears, running out of things to write about. I haven’t yet and when I’m not feeling the pressure of a deadline I can think of dozens of ideas to write about. But when I’m sitting here, staring at the blank page, trying to will my fingers to move, working on calming my mind so that I can hear that tiny voice that is waiting to tell its story, I have to struggle to stifle the panic that waits just below the surface. “What if I really have run out of things to write?”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Butt in Chair Time

Years ago I attended a Science Fiction convention in Huntsville Alabama. It  was called ConStellation and it had only been around for a couple of years. One of the speakers was the editor of one of the monthly science fiction magazines, I forget which one. I forget his name. I forget a lot lately but that’s a topic for a different blog.

This editor’s talk was about what it was like to be an editor and what it took to be a writer. He used a particular phrase so often it almost became a mantra. He said to be a writer you’ve got to spend time with your butt in the chair writing. Not thinking about writing. Not reading something. Writing. Doing other things is perhaps necessary to inspire what you write but in order to be a writer you have to write and that takes “butt in chair” time.

I have taken that advise to heart. I have scheduled my butt in chair time and I defend it vigorously. My wife sometimes resents the fact that I have time to write but I don’t have time for some of the items on the honey-do list. To be fair, that is a fault not of my writing time but of my neglectful attitude toward the honey-do list. But that too is a topic for a different blog.

I have discovered the importance of having a distraction free place to write. I can’t write with the television on. I’m liable to watch whatever drivel is on instead of writing. I often put headphones on and listen to music to drown out the TV. That is only marginally better. I find I write best when I’m sitting in near silence.

Some times I sit in the silence, waiting for the idea that is going to come forth. I am close to despair. I have got to write my blog so that I can go to bed. And then it happens. The ideas flow out of my head and onto the page. Are they any good? I guess that’s for you to decide. All I can say is that they are coherent. They start at the beginning and proceed to tell a story. That’s really all I ask for.

So, if you want to master something, whether it is writing, or playing a musical instrument, or painting a picture, you’ve got to spend the time doing it. Do it until that spark of creativity flows out of you and becomes the art that you are driven to produce. It will happen when you least expect it. It is liable to startle you when it happens. That is the miracle of creativity. If you court it long enough, it will come.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.