writing, writing tips

A Writer’s Guide to Coronavirus Quarantine Life – Part 2 (The Reckoning)

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Still Inside…

Years ago, I wrote a story about a group of people stranded in a desert town, dying from unseen radiation poisoning, and trying to figure out where they fit into the plan of the world.

It seems strangely relatable now, minus the radiation and mutants.

It’s been roughly six weeks since I wrote my first post about writing while under the Coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and in that time I’ve mostly managed to keep to my routine. There have been slip ups, and low points, but overall I am managing.

I continue to adhere to the exercise regiment each morning when I wake up to early morning silence. I’m also trying to eat plenty of green vegetables and other healthy food, and take in deep breathes of fresh spring air, weather permitting. New England has had a cold, generally raw spring befitting the situation. No Murder Hornets though. Not yet anyway.

What I’ve Learned

  • Creativity is fickle – No matter what kind of routines you adhere to, this bizarre scenario is just mentally & creatively exhausting. With all the new roles roles people have begun taking on as caregivers, teachers, and remote-employees, plus the economic stresses, it all compounds to take a toll. If you’re a writer, go easy on yourself. I beat myself up a bit over an “empty tank” a few weeks ago, but after some conversations with peers realized many creative people are stifled right now. Even my WordPress Reader feed is a bit sparse these days!
  • Creativity is important – Writing is a mental health exercise for many people. Losing the glow of that creative spark can be distressing, even if it is temporary. That’s why I say it is OK to be upset about writer’s block, or whatever creative endeavors fuel you, even if they seem “trivial” compared to what’s happening in the world right now. If it’s important to you and helps you stay sane and healthy, then it is important. Don’t let anyone minimize lack of creativity as insignificant.
  • Creativity comes back – Don’t think that once it is gone it’ll never return. It will. I’ve found that on better days I will get a quick burst of inspiration. Sometimes it gets triggered by the aroma of a new coffee (I have so many flavors to buy and try) or intense sunshine on a clear morning. Whatever it is, I capitalize as much as I can. One week it was a single sentence, another it was 5000 words in a day. I just go with it when it shows up. The only thing that remains consistent is that inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient times, just like it did in the “before times”.

If you’re out there reading this I hope you are safe, well, and making the best of your particular situation. This will all end eventually, and when it does I look forward to drinking coffee in book stores and going to author events again.

-BLD

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Balancing Creation and Consumption

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“You cannot create when you are consuming.”

Pragmatic writing advice if I’ve ever heard it.

It sits at the opposing end of the spectrum from “read widely” and “refuel your creative tank”, which are also widely accepted as good advice for authors.

I’m still deep inside the second rewrite of my dark fantasy novel, and prioritizing it against other creative pursuits. I wrote a post a few months ago about writers having other hobbies, and I still stand by my opinion that two hobbies is the “right number”.

Finding Balance

Further prioritization of  limited time has found me exploring  how to balance pursuits that create versus consume. It has meant letting go of some things that I used to enjoy doing, but honestly can’t justify devoting time and resources to anymore.

Video games were the biggest sacrifice on this list. I used to be an avid gamer, and I still love gaming, but the industry seems to have moved in a direction where the games became huge time sinks. I can’t justify putting 25-60 hours into something that, while it may grant a feeling of accomplishment, doesn’t create any sort of tangible creative product.

25-60 hours is a lot of writing. That is short stories, revised chapters, posted submissions, or even a few rolls of film on a photo shoot or two. These are efforts that create, or at least advance, a body of creative work. It’s why in January I made a “silent resolution” to stop buying new games.

Making Art

It’s a matter of creating your own art versus consuming that of others.

I stopped purchasing games to throw into an ever-growing backlog for the same reason I let go of trying to voraciously speed read through my TBR book pile. I had become obsessed with trying to consume “all the things” and it was stressful and detrimental to my creative process. Anyone who can afford an internet connection is lousy with entertainment choices these days, and there seems to be a strange quasi-guilt emerging with it. Is that FOMO? Is that why Marie Kondo is so popular on Netflix?

Maybe I’m becoming more aware of my own mortality, but the older I get the more I desire to establish an artistic legacy. Adult responsibilities always seem to get in the way of creative time, so it makes those free hours even more precious. However, you can’t be creative all the time. That is a sure-fire recipe for burn out. So it requires balance.

A Process

The balancing of creative output and what I’ll pretentiously call “artistic consumption” is a matter of scheduling, routine, and determination. By creating an intentional routine, I’ve learned that I write far better in the early mornings, when my brain is still energized and fluid with ideas. Once I’m burnt out from the day, I can relax in the evenings with a book out of that TBR pile for a couple hours. It’s a process I’m always refining, and in other odd moments I eek out submissions, the occasional blog post, or a little promotion.

I’m curious what other authors do to balance their creative output versus consumption of media and art. No matter what your process is, I think it’s a good problem to have. The luxury of available means and ability to hone a craft is still a valuable commodity in our fast-paced, modern world.

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Blogs Are Still Relevant in 2019

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While putting in extra time to market the re-release of Detroit 2020, I have been giving a lot of thought to blogging. In particular, blogs versus social media.

While I forcibly had to upgrade to a smartphone from last year’s beloved flip phone, I still refuse to put any social media apps on it, because of all the creativity-stifling reasons outlined here.

I’ve reduced my usage to Twitter alone, via a desktop app. I feel it’s a better way to interact with the service.

But enough about that…

If you’re a writer, or anyone with a serious artistic hobby, I want to convince you that having a blog is still totally relevant in 2019. You might think blogs are falling by the wayside, but I believe they are still a powerful tool for relationship building.

Blogs Are Your Space

Blogs are a place for you to compose complex thoughts, and more nuanced posts on broad topics. They are also a place that you can display or discuss your creative work to an audience. That body of work comes together and creates a much stronger online identity and portfolio of work than the limited profile spaces that social media sites give you. Most of those social profiles give you a spot to place your URL. You should have a blog to put in there. This is especially true if you pay for your own blog hosting and can customize things extensively.

Blogs Promote Long-Form Content

Readers want long form content. Videos, memes, and 280-character posts are generally glorified fluff commentary. To really understand something and have an informed conversation that is more than just noise, you need “long reads”. Blogs are still the best place online for that. No imposed limitations and the ability to use different forms of media to create complex posts. That old saying “content is king” still applies.

Blogs Are Easy

People say things like “I don’t get Twitter.” or “I don’t get Instagram.” Social media platforms all have different little quirks and systems that they use to stand out. Those quirks create a learning curve, and sometimes rules of etiquette. Blogs are so much easier. You just click, read, and then comment if you are inclined. There’s no hashtags or icons or flags to figure out why (and if) you should be pushing them.

Blogs Build Real Audiences

Blogs build relationships. They create “real readership” and and an engaged audience. Most social media entails “liking” a post, and maybe a quick comment or two. It’s essentially saying “Hey, we both enjoy this same thing. Cool.” and not much happens after that. Bloggers can guest post, link to one-another, and re-use or share content in a number of ways with other like-minded people. Plus, similar to email lists, readers/followers are generally much more committed than on social media sites. I know personally that I see familiar faces on this blog commenting and interacting with posts. That’s a rare situation on Twitter, especially once you break the 100 Follower mark.

Blogs Are Future Proof

Social media sites are under increasing scrutiny, and the next new thing is always trying to usurp the current leaders. Blogs are a mature technology, like email, that can be moved to different hosting sites and create a body of work that is persistent and owned by its creator (usually). Plus, outside of occasional ads, blogs aren’t secretly harvesting your personal data just to use them. They are still a more “pure” form of internet communication. Sure, the author may want to sell you something, but they are more up front about it. And often, many bloggers post just for the sake of it with no ulterior motives.

These are just a few of the reasons I believe blogs are still relevant in 2019 and better than social media. If you’re an author or artist reading this and don’t have a blog or a personal website with the ability to make blog posts, I implore you to get one.

 

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On Writing, Smartphones, and “Waking Up”

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Something happened last month that has profoundly affected my creativity.

My smartphone broke.

Yellow jackets get pretty ornery around late summer (they sense their collective impending doom), and as luck would have it, I got stung in the hand while scrolling Twitter. My phone hit the sidewalk and even a fancy $3 case and screen protector couldn’t save it.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything, as it would turn out.

Enter the flip phone.

I’ve contemplated how much I relied on my smartphone for a while now. I used it too much, and research is showing the negative effects of technology overload, especially on creativity. I decided to switch back to a flip phone as an experiment, and the results were almost immediate.

This is what I found:

  • I’m perfectly OK without a smartphone. I have other computers/devices (GPS, laptop, etc) to access maps and information when I need it. It’s freeing to not feel “connected” at all times.
  • I AM BORED AGAIN. I realized just how long it had been since I felt boredom. I was literally programmed to grab my phone to “fill in the spaces”. Now that the flip phone only serves very intentional functions (calls, texts, email) my body and brain are literally retraining themselves to accept true downtime again. Walking around, standing in lines, all those things that prompted smartphone use are filled with contemplative thought and observations.
  • I realize how pervasive smartphones are. I’ve joked that I’m “awake” now, but being more present has allowed me to see just how often other people are on their devices. It is nearly constant. Kind of scary, but this experiment is about me, not about what others are doing.
  • My attention span is slowly returning. Deliberate, focused consumption of books, movies, and television (even a newspaper!) without the risk of distraction has made me realize the strange cognitive dissonance that “two screening” had caused. For the first few days I felt randomly distracted and jittery sitting through an entire movie. That is slowly fading, and I find myself contemplating what I give my attention to more deeply.
  • I have gotten so many more story ideas in these bored moments. Creativity appears to be expanding to fill those gaps.
  • I have more time to write. Those little (and not so little) pockets of free time are spent writing instead of mindlessly scrolling on a screen.

This endeavor is still burgeoning, but so far I’ve seen mostly positives for the trade offs in convenience. Will I ever get a smartphone again? I’m not sure. But for now I’m enjoying a newfound well of creativity, and only paying $20 a month for something that won’t break if it bounces off a sidewalk.

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Writing in Your Books is Good Fun

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image credit: LitReactor.com

If his soul could cast a reflection so brilliant, and so intensely sweet, he might beg God to make such use of him. But that would be too simple. But that would be too childish. The actual sphere is not clear like this, but turbulent, angry. A vast human action is going on. Death watches. So if you have some happiness, conceal it. And when your heart is full, keep your mouth shut also.

It’s Friday, and I’m ripping this incredibly controversial topic straight from the headlines.

It’s a dispute that can destroy relationships, families, and book clubs.

The question at hand?

IS IT OK TO WRITE IN YOUR BOOKS?????

My answer?

YES.

I actually like to look back over highlighted passages that spoke to me, as well as jot little notes in the margins of stories to capture my in-the-moment thoughts on them. I use the “highlight passage” feature on my Kindle regularly.

Plus, when I purchase a used paperback, I actually like finding highlights and notes from the previous owner. In a way it makes me feel like that particular copy is more special and has a bit more to tell than it’s mass-pressed brothers and sisters.

David Cranmer over on LitReactor agrees with me.

Change our minds.