Writers write what they love

The other day in one of the Facebook groups I inhabit, someone asked, “Which one of these stories would you want to read first?” and he went through detailed descriptions of four ideas.

I didn’t even read the descriptions. This was a no-brainer.

Write the one that excites you the most, I said. Don’t worry about whether anyone will read it, not yet. The reader will recognize the passion in your storytelling and glom onto it.

Ray Bradbury said, “Write what you love, and love what you write.” J.K. Rowling tells the story of how editors at publishing house said no one was interested in reading long books about wizards in training at a magical private school. Turns out millions of Harry Potter readers are extremely interested, because they caught the fire in Rowling’s storytelling.

I have had limited success in getting that kind of response, but the first story readers reacted strongly to was, of all things, a short story about a guy appearing in front of a bored city council committee to explain why he won’t cut his lawn and lets wildflowers grow instead. An essay was once written about a song I wrote, about waking up one cold January morning with an itch to write a folk song and the self-doubts I encountered along the way. Those descriptions don’t tell the love I had for the stories, and the love was the connection. Write what you love, and you will love what you write.

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Writers have fun

I would sit cross-legged on my bed, using my copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes as a desk, and write and draw and compose lyrics.

Enamored by Marvel Comics, I wrote and drew the adventures of Greatman, The Fabulous Five, Brink the Atomic Man, Moss Man, and JoBanner — the last a poor guy who turned into a monster that was two legs and a huge head (and I just now 50 years later realized that yes I stole the concept from the Hulk but — “Banner”?! I never noticed my scientist-turned-monster was called JoBANNER?!!).

I would churn out song after song for an imaginary radio station so I would have enough songs for its weekly Top 20 countdown show, attaching them to artists with names like Joe George, The Masons, The Dixons, The Four, Tom Swift and the Swifties, and the psychedelic rock band The Congested Sinus.

Later I would write poems in groups of 12 — because most record albums had 12 songs — and package them into “poetry albums” I would pass around to friends. And I made a comic book to pass around called Captain Zap.

“When I became a man, I gave up childish things” — I kept writing songs for years, even learned how to play guitar, but the comics and poems trickled to a halt, and I became self-conscious about telling people what I was writing, if I was writing. I did go into reporting the news, a career that involved a lot of writing, but writing for pleasure went by the wayside, especially in the quantities of my youth. I kept a lot of that stuff — it’s in boxes around here somewhere — and my memory is a lot of it was not great and a little of it was pretty good, and it was fun making it all, and therein lies the point: It was fun!

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Writers show up every day

I am the poster boy bad example for the first rule of writing: Show up every day.

I have already chronicled the results of my failure to show up every day. All along my goal was to escape “wage slavery” and make a living as a full-time writer, staying at home to pet my dog, write what I chose to write, and enjoy the lovely surroundings not far from the shores of the bay of Green Bay.

I showed up every day at the “wage-slave” job. But I did not show up at my writing desk. Over the years my day job paid the bills, and so it was easy to slack back into a habit of writing what I wanted from time to time, which is no habit at all. The result? Forty-six years of “wage slavery,” lonely dogs, and lovely homes that in winter I saw by day only on weekends. (Thank the Lord for technology that now allows me to work from my home office some of the time.)

Then, as I’ve started to repeat myself in recent days, I resolved to post something on my blog every day. I showed up. Even when I had to do it at 10 p.m. before I went to bed after a ridiculously long day, I showed up. A handful of times I didn’t get it done until before noon, but I got it done. I showed up.

The results weren’t visible day to day. But over those 365 days I completed three books, republished and redistributed another six books I have edited over the years, and got close to halfway through a new novel, all while doing my day job and putting something out on this site every day.

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The Starting Line

To build some consistency into my writing habits, I said to myself in late July 2020, “I bet I could write a blog post every day from August through October. I did the math: 31 days plus 30 plus 31 equals 92. And thus was born my 92-day challenge.

If you search the internet, you will find times when I announced big plans. I will release a Myke Phoenix story every month. I will write a trilogy of novels about a kaiju (big monster in the tradition of Godzilla, if you don’t know the word). I am writing a novel about a girl, an alien, and me. I am starting a mystery series about a detective and his pookha partner, who resembles a 6.5-foot-tall skunk.

I wrote 12 monthly adventures and stopped. The novels are half-written. When I challenged myself to write every day for 92 days, I didn’t want to make a big declaration and stop, again.

So I didn’t announce that I would write every day. I just wrote. And what do you know. I posted every day for 92 days. And then it was 100 and 200 and I grew committed to writing a 365th consecutive blog and calling it a year.

This has been an illustration of one of the lessons they teach you: Don’t declare to the world what you’re doing, just get down to doing it. “I made this” is a more powerful statement than “I’m going to make this.”

Shall I now declare that I will keep blogging every day until I depart this mortal coil? I actually did declare that it has become a daily habit, but as I learned when I started a habit of writing a monthly superhero adventure, habits are easily broken. The road is cluttered with the wreckage of well-intended new habits.

I thought of calling this little piece “The Finish Line” and celebrating a pretty nifty achievement, because yes, I have never blogged every day for 365 straight days before, and that is cool. But the lesson I learned from the lack of a 13th consecutive Myke Phoenix story is to decide what’s coming next before you reach the finish line.

“Good for you!” Steven Pressfield’s mentor said when he finished his first novel. “Start the next one today.”

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” is the brilliant line in the song “Closing Time.” And so, “The Starting Line” and not “The Finish Line.”

What am I starting? I’m not saying; that’s gotten me in trouble before. But I plan to keep sharing every day, so you can see what I make along the way.

Becoming Full

Full made a splash and then stopped selling. Or I tossed it in the water and watched the splash and then stopped talking about it.

The book is really three small collections around themes that are important to me: the human need to create, the freedom and uniqueness of each individual soul, and the encouragement to positive action.

Should I have expanded each collection until I had three separate books? No, I think not, because they are interconnected. Each individual has something to create, to build, to make, and each of us needs to be encouraged to create it, to build it, to make it — so why not combine these thoughts?

Hopefully the book will leave the reader Full and more ready for the building than before she started reading.

(I will be at OtherWorlds Booksellers in Sturgeon Bay on Aug. 7 to sign books or just sit and talk and listen. Please come.)

The moose at the top of the bookshelf

There’s a moose at the top of my bookshelf,
His antlers are touching the ceiling.
He always looks warm with his sweater and scarf
And he sees everything in the room.
He never says a word, just surveys the scene
And reminds me to look to my whimsey.
He doesn’t mind if my poems don’t rhyme
And forgives when my words are too flimsy.
At least I think he doesn’t mind because, as I said,
He doesn’t speak. He just sits up there being cute
While I slog along forgetting he’s there
Until sometimes I look up: I raise my eyes
And see and remember. I think everyone
Needs a moose at the top of their bookshelf.

+ + + + +

“That’s not a sonnet,” Beauregard sniffed.

“It has 14 lines, a certain rhythm,” I offered.

“It’s not consistent, there’s no rhyming pattern,” he insisted.

“Fair enough, I won’t call it a sonnet,” I conceded.

“Thank the stars,” Beauregard exhaled.

“I like it just the same,” I exulted.

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