The 2 imperatives for writing success

Oh, this is just infuriating.

There I was, out in the back yard, and a thought occurred to me. “Oh, that’s an interesting thought, I could write about that,” I said to myself, but when I went back inside all I could remember is that I had had an interesting thought that could have been a blog post or short article of some kind.

Later in the day, out in the front yard, I had another interesting thought. I’m positive that it was a different interesting thought, not the original one, because I said to myself, “Oh right, now I remember what I was thinking this morning, and now I have this thought. Great! Now I’ve got two good ideas to write about.”

You know why I’m infuriated, of course: Once back inside, I forgot both ideas.

When you write, you have two imperatives. The first is that you carry something to write with at all times — pen and notepad, a smartphone, anything. The second is that when a thought occurs to you that may be worth writing down, write it down. 

It’s really that simple. To be a writer, you must write. And to write, you must have something to write with.

Carry implements of writing, and use them. It’s not rocket science. No calculus or other advanced mathematics is required. You just need to be ready to write when you think of something worth writing. 

Somehow, however, when I was out there in the back yard, I was not carrying a pen or a notepad. And mere hours later, having supposedly learned my lesson, I was out there in the front yard without my pen or notepad.

These are not the first two times I have learned this lesson. Time and again, I have lost a thought because I couldn’t write it down right away

I know, I just know, that the next time I invoke the Muse, she will laugh a very non-Musical bellylaugh and, once she catches her breath, she will sputter, “You have got to be fricking kidding me.”

Years from now, if I’m lucky, in the dead of night, the Muse may whisper one or both of those thoughts in my ear again. If she does, and I am not carrying something to write with, I will deserve whatever fate befalls me next.

A few ramblings about time and such

My body rebelled against me the other day. It … well, never mind the details. I had to lie down on the couch at the day job until my head cleared a bit, and I had to fight to stay awake driving home, and once home I peeled off my coat and collapsed into the bed, where I slept and slept and slept until it was time to go back to work. 

This was very disconcerting, of course, because I had things to do and places to go — not to mention writings to write — not to mention, well, all sorts of things I could mention. It’s just so darn inconvenient to get sick.

Fortunately, it appears to have been a 24-hour flu — maybe 36 or 48 hours — because as I type this I am feeling much better, perhaps a little weak but that could just as much be because I haven’t felt much like eating for 24 or 36 or 48 hours and oh my god I’m turning into an old man who talks about his health issues.

Having been born in 1953, the year 2023 has been in the back of my mind for quite some time. When one turns 70, there’s no beating about any bushes anymore, you’re officially elderly, and isn’t that just bizarre? I remember singing songs I’d made up in the back of the 1954 Studebaker to entertain (or irritate?) my brothers. I remember watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and the first episode of some new science fiction show called Star Trek and hearing “Good Vibrations” on the radio and my concept of who The Beach Boys were exploding.

I am 10 years old. I am 19 and falling in love. I am 22 and starting my first full-time job. I am 44 and falling in love again. I am 48, calling a reporter who worked for me and hearing her say expectantly, “Grandpa?” and we giggled because no, sorry, I’m not Grandpa — but does my voice sound grandfatherly now? No, I insist, I am 10 years old. (I was 10 when I discovered Spider-Man and the world changed.)

I remember the first time I thought of a memory and realized it was 50 years ago, and now it’s more than 60. You don’t fully understand how long a half-century is until you’ve lived it and you start comparing what life was like 50 years ago with now. 

They say life goes by in an instant, but nope, it slogs along day by day. Come on, 50 years ago was a very long time, and as much as I loved being in college and all those friends, that was a very long time ago. One year ago is a long time ago. And I’ve been privileged to have almost 70 of these years.

So when your body rebels against you after 69-plus years, you sit up and take notice and maybe worry a little bit. And when you’re feeling much more like yourself 24 or 36 or 48 hours later, you sigh in relief and get on with living. 

It’s almost 2023. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, because I know I’ve said it before: I remember reading Nineteen Eighty-Four and being alarmed but grateful because 1984 was so far in the future. I remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondering whether that far-flung year would really look like that. It never occurred to me what it would be like when people born in 2001 became adults.

Where am I going with this? You know, that’s a question it helps to ask every day. Mostly I’m feeling better, thanks.

The fruits of 2022

Here’s what emerged from my little publishing endeavor during the year that’s coming to an end this week. In order of publication, they are:

Song of the Serial Kisser: A Make Phoenix Adventure (ISBN 9781737349983), by Warren Bluhm. A new edition of the 2013 novelette in traditional paperback size. Published Jan. 6, 2022, it taught me that literally no one wants to buy a 52-page paperback.

The Demi-Gods (ISBN 9781737349976), by James Stephens, #5 in the Roger Mifflin Collection series. Mr. Mifflin, the feisty proprietor of The Haunted Bookshop, said you should try this book “If you need ‘all manner of Irish,’ and a relapse into irresponsible freakishness.” From 1914, one of the most peculiar novels I read this year. It was fun.

The Story of My Heart (ISBN 9781737349990), by Richard Jefferies, Mifflin #6. Of this one, Roger said it should be yours “If your mind needs a whiff of strong air, blue and cleansing, from hilltops and primrose valleys.” This strange philosophical tome has been received with mixed reviews since 1883; read here a kerfuffle from the pages of a London newspaper in which letter writers defend Jefferies’ “pernicious” book. (The Mifflin books all have early reviews and other extras in the back, for your entertainment and enlightenment.)

Echoes of Freedom Past: Reopening, Reclaiming and Restoring Liberty (ISBN 9798986333106), by Warren Bluhm, is the first of two new books in 2022. This is a little book about what used to be, what is, and what could be if we wish to reclaim it. The encouraging bit is that this was the best seller among my 2022 books. The discouraging thing is that I’m still waiting to sell my third-dozenth copy. The bottom line is sometimes you have to put a book out there and wait patiently for it to find its audience.

It’s going to be all right (ISBN 9798986333113), by Warren Bluhm, is the second new book of the year and my second-best seller. Lesson learned: You guys want new books. I’ve taken a note to that effect for 2023. This book has a simple but powerful message: Never mind that the world is scary and raging; if you reach inside to a calm place, you’ll find the most basic of truths: It’s going to be all right. Oh, change is inevitable, and tomorrow will not look like yesterday, but it’s going to be all right. 

Air Monster (ISBN 9798986333120), by Edwin Green, a 1932 “boy’s adventure” about the world’s mightiest dirigible. Since it has been available for less than 10 days, the jury is definitely still out on this one, a fun relic of the days of early aviation. 

I wanted to publish more than six books in 2022, but the good news is that I published six books in 2022, including the 11th and 12th with my name on ’em as author. Check them out; maybe there’s something in there for you.

Planning to plan a planner

Dickens City © Bob Suir | Dreamstime.com

Something about the approach of Jan. 1 makes us set goals and resolutions and make plans and bold proclamations.

I have begun to shift back toward keeping my goals and resolutions to myself, without proclaiming them. There’s something to be said about the idea that revealing one’s plans releases some of the tension that is better released in the direction of finishing the project.

I started my blog writing streak deliberately but without telling the world what I was doing until after I had built up some momentum.

A few days ago I wrote the first two chapters of a five-chapter novelette that I had been mapping in my mind for more years than I can remember. I thought about posting them immediately, but I’ve come to realize that sharing prematurely expends some of the creative energy that is best spent creating.

So do I tell what I’m hoping to accomplish in 2023? Or do I just accomplish it?

Is it more important just to keep writing, and not have a specific quantity in mind — not “I’ll aim to write a short story a week, a novelette every month, a novella every two months, four novels in the space of the year”?

And why am I having these thoughts on Dec. 27? Why didn’t I set goals and resolutions and make plans on June 11, to pick a random date? After all, my blog streak began one Aug. 1, so why does anything besides 2023 have to begin on Jan. 1?

Instead of getting down to planning, maybe the best course is to get down to doing.

I Heard the Bells

It was a lovely Christmas weekend with family and rest and recharging, and as I contemplated going back to work, a sort of melancholy settled over me. 

I found myself thinking of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem that was reworked into a Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Longfellow wrote the poem in 1863 during the U.S. Civil War, and despite its optimistic conclusion, the poem’s penultimate stanza remains the money quote:

“And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

In the final stanza, Longfellow asserts that the living God will see to it that “The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” But almost 160 years after it was written, hate is still strong and still mocks the call for peace.

Sometime between Nov. 1 and Thanksgiving Day, the air becomes filled with the familiar songs of the season, singing joy to the world and tidings of comfort and joy. Come Dec. 26 the songs are all packed away and forgotten, and we go back to the nihilism and back-biting and hate-thy-neighbor norm.

And there’s the reason for my melancholy: I’d so much rather press for peace and good-will on earth, and it’s frustrating to see how much power is wielded by the forces who prefer to see us at each other’s throats.

One of these days it would be lovely to see people rise up and just say “no” to the bottom feeders who spend their days building weapons to kill as many people as possible in one fell swoop, who concoct arguments to convince us that certain people deserve to have those weapons trained against them, and who stand by silently while the hate mongers rage away.

How many “nos” will it take to achieve peace on earth? I say we try and find out.

Our 2016 Christmas Letter

Once upon a time there was a little girl growing up in a small country town in Wisconsin. She had a dad and a mom and a big brother.

On Christmas Eve they would leave milk and cookies out for Santa Claus, and then Dad would pack the kids and the dog into the car and they would go for a ride to buy ice cream cones. Yes, somewhere in chilly Wisconsin was a small town where you could buy an ice cream cone on Christmas Eve.

When they all got home, Mom was waiting upstairs, and downstairs Santa had come and eaten the cookies and drunk the milk and left presents for everyone under the Christmas tree. They spent the rest of the night unwrapping the presents and having a great time as a family.

Meanwhile, some 1,000 miles away, a little boy was growing up in a small town in New Jersey. He had a dad and a mom and a big brother and a little brother.

On Christmas Eve Mom would bake magic bars and cookies, and they’d gather around the living room while Dad read from the book of Luke by candlelight. (The boy always thought Quirinius was a funny name.)

After that they’d eat the goodies and go to bed, knowing that sometime in the night Santa would fill their stockings with more goodies and leave presents under the Christmas tree.

Somehow, 40 years or so later, the little girl and the little boy found each other over the miles and lived happily ever after together in a little blue house in the country with sweet but somewhat insane dogs and cats.

And here we are at another Christmas, wishing you love and peace and a pretty darn terrific new year to come.

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