A Month In

Happy Monday, everyone! We are just days away from February and 2018 has been quite an adventure so far. In addition to spending nearly a whole month in this new year, I have been working on doing some new things with my life. I haven’t broadcast it much, and, although I may make the occasional post, I don’t plan on talking about it all the time, but I’ve been trying to get myself in better shape, mentally, physically, and creatively. It has been great. As far as the whole “sticking with resolutions” hoopla I discussed a couple of posts ago, this is something I’m proud to be sticking with, in every aspect, but I won’t beat myself up over a failed resolution if something happens to pause it – but more on that later.

Obviously we’re not quite a month in, but I thought the title was acceptable. I’ve been thinking for a few days now about what I wanted to talk to you guys about, and I decided that the answer was looking me right in the face everyday – goals. Every morning when we wake up, we usually have some idea or hope of what the day will (or won’t) bring, but how many of us actually set goals? How often do we wake up and say “this will happen today” or “I’m doing this today?” More importantly, if you don’t, why not?

Life is a series of days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. So often we look at it like something that is happening to us that we have little or no control over. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Our lives, as I say quite often, are our own. They are the very essence of us, giving us ample opportunity to reach out and put our own little twist on the world. Some of us will even go so far as to make a long-lasting mark on the world. So why should we be content to just bumble through the day-to-day? It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it really hit me again recently after looking at what I’ve been doing since the year started. Goals are something we can use to help push us to  make our lives better than they currently are. A lot of people look at the process and idea of setting goals and get immensely discouraged. This is typically because all too often we are made to think that goals have to be huge, enormous, new phases of life that can take years to accomplish. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting goals like that, but it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Goals can help us take our lives in our own hands and truly change our current and future situations. An important thing to remember about goals is that they can literally be anything. Do you want to get out of bed earlier? Make it a goal. Do you want to catch up on that sitcom you’ve been missing? Set a goal to watch an episode a day before bed. Do you want to get the next great novel finished before year’s end? Set a daily, weekly or even weekly word goal. Make it happen. There is absolutely nothing that goals can’t help us do if we stop letting the disappointing tropes of mankind get in the way. Our goals don’t have to be things like saving the rainforest or landing a man on Pluto – of course, if those are your goals there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The important thing to keep in mind when setting your goals is to remember that it doesn’t matter how big or small they are. You can plan to land on Pluto, or just plan on cleaning out the junk drawer. Goals are different for everyone, and they mean something different for everyone. Some of the goals that we have can be tied to memories of lost loved ones, potential opportunities, our future, our past, and everything in between. No matter what the goal is, the main thing we have to do in order to be successful is to never give up. Never let anything stop us. A man (or woman) with a goal is a force to be reckoned with as long he or she has the determination to make sure they stick with it. We are all here with a purpose, and we have hopes and dreams for a purpose. Goals can help us fulfill that purpose. God has given us all a destiny, a purpose, and He wants us to succeed. He wants us to live in happiness and be the best versions of us that we can be. So that’s the goal, right?

I hope that you are all setting plenty of goals as you read this. 2018 can be your year if you take the time to make it happen. If you haven’t started setting goals, or if you’re nervous about them, try starting small. For instance, try setting goals for a new routine or schedule, or set a word or project goal for the day or week. Get your end goal in mind and find the most comfortable way to build up to it. I’d love to talk to you about your goals, if you’d like. One of the best ways to make sure you stick with your goals is by finding someone to talk to about it. It’s very helpful to have someone to help keep you accountable. But, of course, there is always the possibility of a failed or postponed goal. Life is unpredictable sometimes, things can get in the way of our goals. That can sometimes be discouraging, but the important thing to remember is that a missed goal doesn’t equal a failure. The only way you ever fail is if you give up. If life gets in the way for a bit, just push through and keep the goal in mind. Whether you want to climb Mount Everest or just drop a few pounds, nothing is impossible if you set a goal and put your mind to it.

If you’ve done it before, how has goal setting worked for you in the past? What have you been able to achieve? Do you have any words of wisdom for those looking to make a difference in their own lives, or in the world as a whole? Feel free to leave me comments or send me a message!

Stand, Sit, Whine

Anyone who sees any kind of mass media news, be it via TV, newspaper or even just Facebook, has seen the latest (although not really new) scandal rocking our nation’s collective conscience. Some athletes have chosen to sit, kneel, or stand and not participate during the National Anthem. How terrible! How can we ever overcome this latest threat to our once-great unified country? Surely this will bring the end of all happiness as we know it. Funny thing the sun’s still shining and we’re still free (for now), though, ain’t it? Since Kaepernick decided he was going to take a knee last year during the National Anthem in support of his desire for equality and unity, the whole country has more or less gone batshit crazy over it. Now, a number of others have chosen to take up this mantle and do the same, with entire professional teams making the choice to stand out of the public eye or drop a knee during the song that we have adopted to show our strength as a nation. Their reasons are similar, for the most part. This country is becoming more divided each day, with massive amounts of people waging active assaults against those they see as ‘different,’ ‘less equal,’ or ‘dangerous’ (read; bullshit excuse for racism). Sensible people want to see that behavior come to an end, and this is how some have chosen to make a difference.

Before I continue here, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can stand, I can sit or I can play hopscotch – because I know it is my right. I’m not calling out the sitters or the kneelers any more than I am calling out the people who stand and shed tears every time they hear the words we all know by heart before first grade. What I am calling out is the ridiculous fight about the whole thing. I understand that many people feel it is their (our?) duty to stand and sing along with the National Anthem, perhaps while they imagine fighter jets circling overhead, fireworks exploding in the background and bald eagles laying eggs filled with freedom all around them. But then again maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, a lot of people find it a point of pride that they are free enough to stand and belt out the tune that has stood the test of time in honoring our country and what it stands for. I get that and I fully respect it. As someone with family who has served in the armed forces and in-laws who both have and continue to serve, I feel that pride and honor as well. I’m insanely happy and grateful to live in this country and I can be the most patriotic individual you’ve ever seen in the most clichéd sense of the term – but along with that comes the knowledge that if I choose not to stand there is not a single thing that can make me.

My great-uncle, my friends, my in-laws have all served this country, fought for this county, had their lives inexplicably changed in service for this country, so that I can have the right and freedom to make the choices I want to make. While seeing the stories about this ridiculous controversy (why does everything have to be a controversy??), one of the things we see quite often is a large amount of people screaming about how generations of soldiers have died in battle so that people could stand while the National Anthem plays. This is often accompanied by the political cartoon that depicts soldiers in fatigues correctly stating they are actually fighting for our right to sit OR stand during the song. But you know, that must be an exaggeration, right? Soldiers who fought for our freedom can’t have been fighting for total freedom, right? They were fighting only for the freedom for us to live and work and worship freely, but there must be a clause in there somewhere saying we have to stand during the anthem. Wrong again.

One of the greatest things about this nation is the freedom we have to live and worship and serve as we please – as long as it is not damaging another’s right to do the same. So explain to me again how someone kneeling during the National Anthem hinders your right to stand and sing and hoop, holler and cry. That’s right. It doesn’t.

What hinders someone’s right to be free is thousands of people shouting about how someone kneeling is wrong. It is free citizens calling for the punishment and even imprisonment of people exercising their rights. It is the president calling those kneelers “sons of bitches” in front of the whole world and calling for their dismissal from their jobs. The only thing hindering anyone’s right here is the injustice being done to the people who are making a stand for unity. The National Anthem is a song of pride and strength, meant to symbolize the power and unity displayed by this country, even in its darkest hours. It is a song that is intended to fuel the strength and honor we as citizens of the United States are able to feel knowing that we live in a free country. There’s that word again. Free. A free country. That’s what we are. That’s one of the things that sets the United States apart from other countries. We are free. I am absolutely free to get up tomorrow morning and put on a T-shirt celebrating my favorite band or author or tourist destination and go to work listening to rock & roll music and, if I feel like it, I can choose to sit and observe while others sing the National Anthem. And, ideally, that would be perfectly acceptable. It hinders no one’s freedom and it harms no one’s right to stand and sing.

The problem comes when we try to force people to do what we want them to do. The more dangerous situation comes in when the government tries to step in and force people to stand, act or react a certain way to the anthem. Freedom means we’re free. If our government is allowed the power to tell us we have to stand and react a certain way to a song being played before a sporting event (or anywhere for that matter), that government is no longer supporting the rights of a free country. It is a totalitarian system that is infringing on the rights of everyone. In a perfect world everyone would be truly equal, would be treated as such, and there wouldn’t be a large faction of people being discriminated against. There wouldn’t be murder and racism dividing our country hundreds of years after we fought a war to help end it. And there wouldn’t HAVE to be people who feel the need to take a knee during our nation’s song in order to fight the injustice running rampant in its borders. But that is not the world we live in, is it?

Innocent people are ridiculed, judged, even murdered for the color of their skin or their place of birth EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are in the 21st century, people. We are all people, we all bleed red, we all deserve freedom and life and rights. Maybe instead of focusing so damn hard on what people are doing when a song plays over a loudspeaker, we should focus more on why they choose to do it. If we want to truly unify and be a country, we have to learn to stop trash-talking people who live, act or believe differently than we do. Then, and only then, will the National Anthem be able to stand for what it was truly intended to stand for. So next someone takes a knee during the song, how about you ask them why they made that choice instead of feeling offended. As much as it pains me to say it this way; snowflakes do melt. The cold weight of injustice doesn’t.

A Nation Torn (Again)

I’ve kept my mouth shut about this – largely because no one has any reason to care what I think, but the rioting in the states is getting stupider by the day. Since Saturday there have been daily riots and destruction, leading to at least one death when a self-proclaimed White Supremacist ran his car through a group of protestors who were marching against racism. Racism. In the 21st Century. Have we not lived long enough on this rock to get how absolutely freaking idiotic that is?

Since Saturday there have been riots of multiple people who are disagreeing about what to do with Confederate era statues. The removal of a couple of these is what sparked the two-sided protestors on Saturday, if you aren’t aware. Supremacists  (read “Nazis) were against the removal of these statues, and protested in very violent fashion, while the counter-protestors gathered in a somewhat less violent manner, only to be ran over by a car. Those vying for the removal of the statues are convinced they are a symbol of racism and discrimination that is somehow damaging their way of life, while those who wish to see them remain where they are are split between Nazis (which I DO NOT agree with) who believe the statues represent racism and that it is deserved, and the sane people who recognize that these statues are a piece of our history that should be preserved at any cost.

As a well-educated 26 year-old with Native American ancestry living near my ancestral land and the start of the Trail of Tears, I definitely get racism. I do. But do you see Native Americans up in arms about things that celebrate the racism against them – which, might I add, is pretty much everything that celebrates the arrival of the white man on this continent? No. Because we have better sense. We understand that if we revolt against the past, it changes nothing. It doesn’t bring back any of the millions of people who were killed in the largest genocide to ever disgrace the face of this planet. It doesn’t mean that the murders and mistreatment and centuries of harmful stereotypes are suddenly gone or repaired. It doesn’t magically make anything better.

What it does do is cause further discord between peoples who have been living together in the world long enough to understand that we are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, red, yellow, purple or orange as a pumpkin – the same blood runs through all our veins. The same creator made us all – no matter what you believe, we literally all come from the same place, whether you believe that it’s dirt shaped by God or space dust from the celestial fart scientists call the Big Bang. So what gives anyone of any color, creed or race the right to think they are superior because of the amount of melanin in their skin or their country of origin? Nothing more than pathetic, pointless ego. It’s nonsense.

This is 2017, not year 17. We know better than this. When science and religion and common sense and every single other sensible and factual thing on the planet can show you that the only differences from you and your black neighbor and her Asian neighbor and his Russian neighbor is the language your ancestors spoke and the food you grew up with (aside from predispositions to certain illnesses, of course – God knows if I don’t get completely medical and scientific here someone will call it out), why do you insist on acting like skin color and nationality matters?

In addition to this consistently pathetic ideology, how can this ridiculous and pointless violent behavior be the answer? It isn’t. Not in any possible sense of the idea. In no way is acting like a primitive moron the answer. It isn’t going to change the past and it sure isn’t going to change the future.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this whole issue to me right now is the fact that those people who are out there protesting these Confederate statues – which in their minds celebrate racism, violence and discrimination – are now doing so with with violence and discrimination. What? Seriously? Seeing people get run down by a car wasn’t enough to make you realize that a violent reaction – from anyone involved – is the exact opposite of what we should be doing? Apparently not, because protestors in North Carolina were filmed tearing down a Confederate statue and then taking turns kicking, punching, spitting on and otherwise desecrating it.

Why? What good does this do? These statues, which in the minds of the protestors represent the bigotry and racism that pulled this country apart for centuries, are actually there to remind us of the time that racial and political strife almost caused us to destroy ourselves completely. They stand there to represent the type of brother-hating behavior that should be avoided for the rest of time. But these neo-Nazis and misinformed spoiled brats are literally using them to do the exact opposite. Rather than looking at them as reminders not to be complete assholes to our fellow man, they are using pieces of stone and metal as an excuse to lash out at those they feel aren’t as good as them.

How will tearing these statues down change the past? It won’t. It is nothing more than an attempt to hide and erase the history that built this country. Again, it’s a terrible history. That’s obvious. But by denying that we as a nation have overcome such harmful ideas, we open ourselves up to falling in the same hole again. By allowing ourselves to become divided because of a bunch of statues, we are weakening the bonds of civility that have kept us together since these statues were erected. If we literally find ourselves killing each other in the streets because we can’t just leave a statue alone, how can we possibly pretend that we are a civilized country the rest of the world should model itself after? How can we possibly pretend that we are worthy of being called a superpower – which, by definition, is a country with dominating power and influence in multiple regions of the world at one time? And if we are still considered a superpower, how can we possibly sleep at night knowing the influence we are spreading is full of hate and ignorance and pointless violence?

I don’t know that my words matter to anyone other than myself, but this has to stop. Leave the statues alone, pick up the pieces, and move on. Open a bible or even a science book. There is ample evidence all around you that we are all the same. We all need food, water, oxygen, human interaction. We all function thanks to our nervous and digestive systems and we must take care of both to make either remain functional. We can reproduce with anyone of any race or nationality. We can interact with most anyone through the most basic of universal symbols – even if it just comes down to pointing at our stomachs to symbolize hunger or thirst. We get it. We. Are. All. The. Same. Frankly, if none of these examples convince you, just look at the blood that has been shed. Streets run red with blood that leaks out of bodies with every color skin imaginable. The bodies lie broken in the gutters, all made of the same things, all torn to shreds because of hatred that means nothing. Just look at the blood and try to understand. Because, if you don’t, blood may soon be all that is left.

Light up the Darkness

A lot of things have happened in the world in the last week, and most of it hasn’t been very good. The hate and intolerance that holds us back as a species is still running rampant in our society, and it is something I don’t often address. I try to stay out of public affairs and generally avoid discussing things of this nature because I have a very strong opinion on the matter. I believe in love and peace. I believe in loving what we love and not having to hide who we are, no matter who we are around. Despite my sometimes near crippling social anxiety when it comes to being in a crowd, I still love making sure I have the opportunity to share my opinions – something which many people, even in the 21st century, are still persecuted for.

The world reacted roughly when acts of terrorism were announced in the last month; bombings, looting, a night club shooting that left 50 people dead just because someone didn’t agree with whom they loved. And the past week has been similar. In case you haven’t caught the news in your part of the world, a young black man was killed earlier this week in the U.S. by police officers in what can be considered nothing short of police brutality. Many people reacted harshly, calling all cops corrupt and racist, allowing the hate that has kept us back for so long continue to rule their lives. That hate led to a sniper opening fire on police in Texas and taking the lives of five officers who put their lives on the line to keep others safe.

While those matters are terrible, something that hasn’t gotten a lot of mass media attention is the fact that there were also two shootings in my part of the country within 24 hours of one another. The first, taking place early Thursday morning, claimed the life of an innocent woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That woman worked for the same newspaper that I work for. She was killed in cold blood while on the way to work, while four others were injured by the same shooter. The next day someone reported being shot by an unknown assailant for an unknown reason. Why? Why have we allowed ourselves to be bogged down by the senseless hate and racism and every other pointless thing that does nothing but cause pain?

I’ve been thinking on this for a bit and I think that one of the biggest problems is that we don’t address it unless we have to. In everyday life, when there hasn’t been an assault, a shooting or an act of terrorism, how often does racism and hate come across your mind? Even if you have a prejudice against someone, be it over race or not, how often do you look at yourself and say “wow, that’s racist/prejudiced?” Not at all. Because unless someone has performed an act that complies with the extreme ideas of racism and hate, we sweep it under the rug. Humans don’t want to live in misery and fear. We want to enjoy life and act as if there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way we live, even if deep within us boils a cauldron of hatred.

Realizing this got me thinking a lot about light and darkness. A bit cliché, but it makes a lot of sense to me. I thought about the difference between happiness, which is light and hatred, which is obviously dark. We look at the world with blinders on more often than not because it is easier to believe everyone is happy and there are no problems with anything than it is to look at the problems and try to find a solution. This leads to things like hate and racism being stored away to be ignored until we are forced, by some tragedy, to address them again. This lead me to thinking of the things that grow in light vs. things that grow in darkness. The concept might sound overly simple when saying it like that, but it does make sense.

If you put a plant in total darkness, does it flourish? No. It might struggle on feebly for some time, but it can’t be healthy because overall, most plants need sun to live. The same goes with love. You can’t shut it away and never use it. It won’t last. It needs exposure, it needs fresh air, it needs to be EXPRESSED.  But hate… you put hate in a dark corner of your soul and pretend it doesn’t exist and it will thrive. It will grow and grow and consume everything until you are full of the hatred that leads to innocent people being gunned down in the street.

So often we want to look at ourselves and say that nothing is wrong with the way we think or feel, that we are fully happy and fully right in our way of life. But do you avoid certain people because of what they look like or what they believe? Racism and prejudice aren’t just about killing someone who is different than you. It often starts just by thinking “that’s different. I don’t care for that.” But that can’t be the case, can it? Just because you instinctively cross the street if you see a black man walking towards you, or you wait for the next elevator because the woman who just got on this one is wearing a hijab, that isn’t racism, is it? Yes. And it’s the denial of that fact that leads to the problems in this world.

We can’t go on acting like it’s OK to bash someone because of how they live. That is not human, guys. You can’t wake up one morning and give change to a homeless man and then go home and talk about how dumb your neighbor is because he buys a new car every year. That’s hate. You can’t say that the person who hung a black man 70 years ago was racist and then call a black man you see on the street a thug because he dresses differently than you. That’s not how life should work. We can not keep acting like being different is wrong. You are not going to find a single person on the face of this planet who likes everything you do in the same way that you do. That would make us all robots.

We have the free will to make out own choices for a reason. God put us all here on this rock and said “Love thy neighbor”. Are you loving your neighbor when you walk down the road and badmouth someone for having darker skin than you? No. Are you loving your neighbor when you drive by a mosque and think about how ridiculous the people inside look as they pray facing Mecca? Absolutely not. It is one thing to recognize that someone is different, but it is another thing entirely to feel they are inferior because of it.

This is an issue, people. It is not something that we need to continue letting go un-discussed. Racism will not go away until we stop hiding it. We are all on this planet together and it is meant for us all to live in peace. We can’t do that if we keep pretending we don’t have a problem. People are going to keep dying if we can’t learn to accept that everyone is different. That’s all it takes. We need to look at the world and say “there are over 7 billion of us here, and not one of us is completely alike. And that is perfectly fine.” Until we learn to do that, innocent lives will continue to be lost and pain will continue to be felt. I will leave you with a quote from one of the best human rights advocates I’ve ever studied; Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley.

“Light up the Darkness.”

That is what we have to do. We have to look at the world and look at ourselves and stop hiding what issues exist. If we have a problem with someone due to race, religion or anything else we have to stop acting as if that is normal and OK. Because it is not. We have to shine a light on those bits of darkness and accept that we have an issue with something. And then we need to find a way to deal with it that does not involve violence. Taking the life of someone we don’t agree with is not a solution. We have to find a way to live together in peace. As much as I hate to say it, in times like these I see a group of leaders like those in “The Giver”, and I think they may have had some good points. They did away with religion and race and even the ability to see color – because mankind couldn’t handle it. Unfortunately with that went the chance for individuality, opinion and emotion. Is that what we want, people? An existence that is literally just that? This world, this life, is precious. For everyone. Not just the people you agree with. We have to learn that before it is too late.

Light up the darkness.

Is It Still Mine?

Sometimes as artists we have a piece that resonates with us so deeply and becomes so precious to us that it takes a very long time to go from start to finish. Now, that’s not to say that this particular piece is going to be any better or worse than any other thing that we produce, but it is just more uniquely “us”, I think. One such instance of this comes from (of course) Stephen King and his work on the Dark Tower series. King got this idea decades ago and just recently published the final piece (at least for now) of the Dark Tower puzzle. The books, a series of 7 with a stand alone follow-up, tell the tale of Roland Deschain and his urgent attempt to right what is wrong with the world by find and fixing the Dark Tower. Each book is deeper and more dense than the last and, with the exception of the stand alone (which I own but haven’t yet read), each one is larger than the last. King has called this series his magnum opus and has actually found a way to weave most of his other pieces into the world of Roland and his Ka-Tet. At the beginning of each book there is a foreword, at the end an afterword, and in almost each one King explains that the world of Roland grows a little more every time he attempts to visit it, the story becoming more complex every time he begins to work on it.

This is what I’m talking about. Speaking from experience, my own magnum opus (Maverip and its prequel/sequels) have gone through more phases than I ever imagined when the idea hit me some 9 years ago. That’s almost a decade of work. Each novel has taken me more or less three years to complete so far (yes, that means I only have two of them fully ready for beta readers), and the ideas keep coming. I can look at the notes I made when the idea first hit me, can actually still remember the experience of the idea flowing through my brain while listening to music in the car riding through the mountains on a warm summer night, and I can see how much the piece has grown and changed without effort.

But what does that mean? Has my idea gone from one thing to another? Have I butchered my own work by adding to it and allowing it to change? As an author, when that big piece comes to you and rides the years in your brain, letting every single day of your life affect the outcome and progression, I can promise you that you will end up asking that question at least once. I have asked it of myself and my work more times than I care to admit. But it’s nonsense. As I’ve talked about countless times before, when a piece that is really alive comes to you, begging to be written, it will often times end up writing itself and using you as a tool. Your ideas will put themselves on paper with little or no effort from you, with the exception of punching the keys or holding the pen and flipping the page. This is when you know that you are meant for the work and that the work is meant for you.

So why should it scare us when the work guides itself in a different direction than we originally saw? The answers may differ from person to person, but in my experience they often come back to one simple and brutal concept; Failure. We are afraid that if we can’t guide the work along exactly as we thought when we first humored the idea then we will never be able to convince someone else to read it. This is crazy. Why should we be afraid of our own abilities? The ideas that come to us in such depth that they allow us to build an entirely new world based on our own concepts are not ones that will fail us. We need to have faith in ourselves, our talents, our abilities and our ideas. Basically, we have to give ourselves artistic freedom if we ever hope to have real and true success in whatever craft we have chosen. Personally I would love to discuss this more in depth with anyone who is willing, so I would like for anyone who has felt this fear or questioned their work in this way to leave a comment or send me an email regarding what inspired the feeling and how you handled it. I hope you’ve all found this useful!

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Sorting the Jumble

Sometimes when you’re an artist you will find yourself seemingly bogged down by more ideas than you know what to do with. When you are a writer this can be both a blessing and a curse. Some authors find themselves putting out two, even three novels a year at times. If you are at all familiar with the publishing process you will know that this is absolutely not an easy feat. Often times when you submit a book to a publisher you’re looking at somewhere between 3 and 6 months before your final product arrives in your hands – and that’s if you aren’t asked to do an extensive amount of editing. Of course, there is the running theory among the fans of some of these authors that there is a safe somewhere housing dozens of completed documents the author finished ages ago that they just toss out and update if they’re stuck on a piece. Regardless of how you look at it, the fact is that someone who can produce that many works with that amount of regularity certainly has a gift.

So how does it work? Some people can go through life and never get a single story idea at all, so how can others produce dozens of books in just a few decades? The simple answer is that such authors and artists have found a way to not only open themselves to new ideas, but to hone in on certain ones and tame their imaginations enough to allow them to focus on the task at hand before diving into another. Personally, this area is one that I could stand to work on a bit if I hope to ever find my works on the shelf of my local bookstore. As I’ve mentioned before, I can get ideas from just about anywhere, and often find myself working on multiple pieces at once, leading me to having more unfinished projects than I care to admit at times. Just in the last couple of weeks I found myself stumbling across I think four new novel ideas and one or two short story ideas, one of which I sort of started in a messy, lazy sort of outline. Before I go any farther here, let me elaborate that I am in no way complaining. I would rather have an excess of ideas than not have enough, but for some it can pose a true problem when trying to figure out how to manage the load.

So what do you do when this happens? There are two (probably more, but I’m only focusing on two) answers to this question, and they can be much more difficult than they sound. The first and preferred method for me is analyzing and looking deep into each idea that is currently on your mind. Look at these pieces, study what you already know about them, figure out what you still need to know about them and think of them all individually. Often, I’ve found, if you look at all of your ideas together and as an individual one will stand out more than the others. You may find that you already know more about this particular piece, or it may even just be that there is more urgency involved with one of them, as if this piece itself is more urgent to be written. Obviously, you take the piece that you know most about or the one that feels the most right and you run with it. If just focusing on the pieces doesn’t help clear the matter up, then you should take the step a  little farther.

If you’re the type of person who does an outline for your pieces, then try outlining them all. If you’re the type who will jot a few plot notes down and then feel ready to dive in, do that. Whichever of these two methods works best for you (and there may well be a post in that topic alone) is the one you should use, of course. Or, for those of you who  haven’t really used either but want to give it a shot, maybe try both if you find yourself in this situation. Once this process is completed for all of your works you may find that your answer has come to you in much the same way it did for those who found the first way helpful. Of course, if this isn’t the case and you still find yourself confused about which work to focus on, then just look through your outlines and/or notes and pick the one that you wrote the most about. That, I’ve often found, is the one that your brain is going to be most comfortable pushing forward with.

Now, for those of you who find that focusing doesn’t clear up the jumble and your outlines and notes are all just about the same length for every potential piece, then my suggestion is that you either take all of the knowledge that you have put on paper and give it a day or so to ‘cook’ and develop into a more solid possibility, or, if that doesn’t sound very appealing to you, then just pick the first idea that came to you (chronologically, or just for this experiment, whichever works for you) and run with it. You’ll often find that if this isn’t the right choice your mind will quickly let you know. Once the piece is settled and has asserted it’s place as the front-runner, you should be able to narrow your scope of ideas and charge into production. Of course, if you’re like me, this probably won’t stop the flow of ideas from coming. Fortunately, the methods I’ve put down here can be used as often as needed and will usually be very helpful.

One thing you may run into, however, is that your answer to the ‘which novel should I write first’ quiz may change every time, which is the issue I’ve run into numerous times. If this happens to you, don’t fight it. Follow your mind and let the story flow as you would any other time, being thankful that you’ve been given such a blessing. Eventually, no matter how many stories are on your to-write list you’ll get  to them all.  Granted, if you’re lucky enough for the ideas to keep coming right up until the day your own final page is written, maybe you have someone you can leave your notes to and they can carry the remaining pieces on in your honor!

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What Writing is to me

I’ve talked a lot about how writing is my passion, my calling, what I love, but I haven’t actually taken a lot of time to explain why this is or what the craft itself means to me. I’ve seen a lot of authors and artists who discuss why they pursue their craft and how it makes a difference to them and I think it’s awesome to read things like that. I hope you all feel the same, and I hope you’ll respond in the comments and tell me a bit about what your craft means to you.

First and foremost I definitely have to reiterate that writing is ingrained in every part of my being and has been for as long as I can remember. I heartily thank my mother for this. From the time I could hold a book she made sure I had as many as I wanted. From reading and consuming everything I could about my favorite topics (typically vampires, the supernatural and the mysterious) came the burning urge to create. For a long time I sought out the best way to do this. My imagination ran rampant nearly 24/7 (a condition that nearly had me basically diagnosed as ADHD or some other such nonsense that is intended to squash individuality and creativity – but that’s another story altogether) and I was seeing stories in everything. I tried my hand at drawing and talking my way through my stories, but it wasn’t until I first put pencil to paper that I felt the true release of writing my words down.

Of course, at first I had no idea how serious and helpful that feeling would be. I jotted down small reproductions of some of my favorite stories, and occasionally attempted to pen a semi-sequel as I’ve explained before, but once that first real original idea flooded into my brain I felt the true release and power of the craft. Many of us who are fans of any sort of art be it painting, music, books or movies have felt what it’s like to be moved to tears while enjoying a piece. Imagine that feeling while you are creating something of your own. I seriously hope some of you have felt that kind of power, that sense of absolute purpose. It is something that I will never forget and will hopefully experience many more times in my life.

So what is writing to me? That’s my topic here, after all. To me writing is that sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and solidity. Whenever I’m having a stressful day or I’m feeling angry or upset in any way I can sit down and put pen to paper and create my own outlet, my own freedom. Granted, sometimes this works better than others, at the very least the act of immersing myself in a world of my creating will take everything else off of my mind. While working on creating that world of my own I can put everything else off or, if I choose, put a similar problem on a character and help them tear it to shreds. That kind of power is, in its own  way, one of the coolest parts of being an artist. You are creating your own world and anything can happen there. You have absolute power while making this world and you can put anything you want into existence. If you want to neutralize all pain and suffering, it only takes a few strokes of a paint brush or a few well organized words. When I place myself in a world that I’ve created I am in complete control and that allows my creative mind to soar to all new heights.

Writing is just as much about that unloading as it is about absolute freedom for me. When writing I can say anything, do anything, BE anything. Whatever I say goes in my own world. If I want to walk on the ceiling and only sleep on the kitchen table, I can create a world where that happens. As I’ve stated, I can look at nearly anything and see a huge story involving it. In life, I can allow my imagination to run rampant and make its own explanation, but at the end of the day water is still wet and fire still burns, but by using my imagination in my writing I can put any situation – possible or impossible – into play with few consequences. Honestly, there aren’t any consequences for this act, but if you’re creating a six headed camel with the legs of a spider and you can’t at least give some explanation for how it came to be, it may well harm your readership if you’re allowing anyone else to read the piece.

Regardless of the situation, writing, to me, is absolute power. It is freedom. It is the one thing I can do and the one place I can go where I can indubitably be me and change the world into exactly what I want it to be. Writing allows me to shed the burdens cast on me by society and allows me to fully embrace my creativity and imagination. It allows me to focus on what I want rather than what is pushed upon me. When entering my own world I am able to use my calling and do what I truly feel I was created to do. And I owe all of it to God and those who have supported me. So many of us have a bit of talent in one craft or another, but because someone maybe told us a particular piece wasn’t one of their favorites we let it crush us and prevent us from continuing on in our passion. I’ve had both sides. I’ve heard people tell me that I’m one of their favorite artists; one of my friends has even repeatedly called me the next Stephen King, a compliment which I certainly don’t deserve but humbly give thanks for. On the other hand I’ve had people tell me they got nothing from my work or that it was over their head, not their style or that they just generally didn’t care for it. Yes, those comments do hurt, but I try to remind myself that it takes all kinds to make the world go around. But, I don’t let them crush my spirit.

I know that I am meant to write. I was put here to use the written word to create as many worlds as possible in my time on the planet and I intend to do just that. So with this post I want to give a very heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me. Obviously I can’t name every single person here, but of those who have made a difference, these people are some of the most influential. First and foremost, I thank God for making me the man I a and giving me the gift that I have and love so much. I also than the person who dealt with my writing before anyone else and told me never to give up on it; my mother (who just happens to have a birthday Sunday; Happy Birthday Mom, and thank you for trying to understand my insanity!). My wife has definitely been my rock for the last three and a half years. She has dealt with my semi-exponential crises of worry and purpose and has told me to just write, even if it is just for me, because it IS what I’m made for and it is who I am. Thank you, Dalena. My friends Josh and Nicole, who have been my audience longer than most anyone else and who have told me they love my work even when I myself hated it; thanks for everything, you two. Finally, three teachers who influenced me even more than I can describe; Jereial Fletcher, Larry Hypes and Gillian Huang-Tiller – you three were great in helping show me more of my true potential and turning me on to writers who could do the same.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I hope my point has definitely come across like I meant for it to. When you ask me what writing is to me, I can give you an explanation that would last days and weeks, but in truth, the answer could also be the most simplistic and vague one possible. What is writing to me? It is everything. It is who I am. It my breath, my life, my blood, my purpose, my calling and my freedom. I would love to hear from you all about what your craft is to you as well. No answer is too long or too short and no answer could ever be wrong. So feel free to jump in on the comments below or message me personally. I hope all have an amazing time searching within yourself to answer the question “what is my craft to me”.

The Gift of Leap Day

It takes roughly 365.2421 days for the earth to make one full cycle around the sun. The traditional Gregorian calendar, based roughly on the Julian calendar, was originally made having only 365 days a year – every year. Those extra six hours might not seem like they are a very big deal, but after ten years of leaving six hours out of our calendar, we would be roughly 60 hours behind the earth’s true location in its path of orbit. So in the 1500’s we listened to the Egyptians and Leap Year was created, adding an extra day to the end of February once every four years so we could more accurately monitor our trip through space. What does this mean for us? Extra time.

For many writers and artists, our craft, our passion is something we do on the side, spending our typical work day in a 9-5 average job in order to pay our bills. By spending our lives in this fashion it is very easy for us to get bogged down in our jobs and in the every day activities therein and allow our passions to fall to the wayside. This is a terrible thing, we know, but what can we do? After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and we’re only one person. If only we had more time…. Well here you go, people!

Once every four years there is 24 extra hours added to the calendar year that  (assuming we can take one day off of the standard 9-5) can be used purely for our craft. I’m aware that doesn’t seem like a lot, but believe me, it can make a huge difference. Let’s assume that in one hour you can write about 2,000 words – and yes, that number definitely varies, but this is just for example’s sake – and on this particular day you can set aside ten hours to write. That gives you somewhere in the ball park of 20,000 words that you didn’t have before. That’s almost the size of a novella. That’s a very sizable short story. Basically, that is one heck of an accomplishment.

Too often we use the excuse of time to prevent us from doing things that make us happy, that might make us successful, that might literally make our very dreams come true. Why? I think Jack Kerouac may have said it best with a quote that, although altered in many different ways says, basically; “Climb that damn mountain. Because in the end nobody is going to remember the time spent mowing the lawn or working in an office.”

If that isn’t a powerful thought, I really don’t know what is. We allow ourselves to do the day in and day out monotonous crap while we’re younger because we want to pretend that we have forever to do something else. We put off so much because we say that we just don’t have the time, don’t have the money or just aren’t ready. So many excuses keep us from achieving our dreams that it’s almost shameful to admit it. The bottom line is that we’re only here for a little while and if we keeping putting everything off until that fabled and ever busier “tomorrow” we may wake up one day and realize that “tomorrow” is never going to come. So make the most of TODAY, after all it only comes once every four years. Even if you put everything off for another four years and decide to make Leap Day your “whatever the hell I want” day, that’s a start, right? So drop it all. Pick up the pen, the paint brush, the clay, put on the boots and the jacket, get on the surfboard – do whatever it is that you feel is going to make you happier and improve your life in even the smallest way. Be it eating a new type of food or discovering a new type of plant because you decided to take a hike in a new part of the forest, you deserve it.

Life is short, people. We need to remember that. If we have a passion, a desire, a talent, we need to embrace it. We deserve to embrace it. Take the time out of life to make yourself happy, no matter how small the task is that will provide that happiness. Even if you decide to literally only take one day every four years to dedicate to yourself, it’s a start. And if you dropped the ball this year, you’ve got four more years to make the plans. Leap Day of 2020 is on a Saturday, so there’s even more reason to make it awesome. Plan out that book and start writing, buy paints and canvas, buy new hiking gear and request a day off of work. Whatever it takes to accomplish the goal, whatever it is. Just stop making excuses and climb that damn mountain before you wake up one day and realize it’s too late.

Letting the World In

I know I said today’s post  was going to be about how our surroundings effect our writing, but I have been hit with something that I think may help more people. I want to talk about the way the world and the way it can support us or tear us down. So many times we see stories of writers who became little more than hermits in order to fully immerse themselves in their work either because they felt the world would taint their ideas or because they felt that any distractions would make their work more fleeting and hard to come by. On the other end of the spectrum there are jokes about those writers who sit in coffee shops with their laptops or their notebooks and welcome the world in. The latter is often imitated with memes and cartoons depicting writers sitting in coffee shops with their laptops open and a sign reading “watch me write my manuscript” propped up beside of a tip jar, obviously insinuating that any author who doesn’t lock themselves in a dungeon is only out for the attention associated with being an author. Personally, I do occasionally find the images funny, but the message behind them can be a bit offensive.

True, there are those individuals out there who walk around basically telling everyone they meet that they are a ‘writer’ who seem to be waiting for some sort of praise for their unexpressed talent. Speaking from the viewpoint of both author and critic; it’s not about how many people you tell you’re a writer, it’s about how many people who tell others how good your work is. That’s the measure of a great writer, to me. Imagine how different things would have been for J.K. Rowling if she had walked around London stopping people on the street and telling them that she was working on a story about a hidden world of magic and turmoil that was centered around a boy who had survived a killing curse. Most people would have laughed her off and given her a minor congratulations, maybe telling her the idea sounded great, and walked away without another thought about the boy who lived. But that’s not what she did. She let her passion guide her (and yes, I understand she didn’t lock herself away to do it, that’s part of my point) and she finished her tale, submitting it to a publisher only after being told by someone else that it was great. She didn’t broadcast her ideas or boast that she had them, she wrote. She didn’t lock herself in a dungeon while doing it, but she didn’t hang a sign around her neck telling everyone she was writing, either.

I talk about passion a lot in these blogs, and I know a lot of you know what I’m talking about. Passion for your work can be one of the powerful things in the world and it can guide you better than anything toward the right place. The image and idea of the starving artist is one that has grown famous over the centuries because it is painfully real. So many times writers and artists alike will let the world in in a way that makes them discouraged or tells them that they have little or no chance of success. Other artists feel the pain of the term because they do the opposite. They lock themselves away, feeling the passion of their work in private and never discuss it with anyone or pursue any outlet to share the work. They have this amazing talent and they get in their own way and prevent the world from seeing it. So what is the point here? The title of the article speaks different things to different people, and therein lies the point. Some people look at the possibility of letting the world in as terrifying and they lock their doors and write in secrecy, while others take it almost as a challenge and they choose to shove the idea of their work down anyone’s throat who will let them. In order to be successful and feel fulfilled and allow the passion of your work to spread to the world you must find the balance between the two. You have to let the world in enough that you aren’t terrified of others reading/seeing your work but you can’t run around waving your pages in the air and screaming I’M A WRITER to anyone who will let you.

For those of us who have dealt with the urge to do both, the comfort zone between the two may come easier than for those who haven’t, naturally, but it’s something that you’ll have to find for yourself. Maybe you have friends and neighbors who don’t mind hearing you talk about being a writer or an artist and would love to sit for hours discussing your accomplishments and ideas. Then again, maybe you have family members who couldn’t possibly care less – or even ones who feel that being an artist is just a cop out and will never allow you to see success. Whatever the situation is, true satisfaction with your talent is going to be very hard to come by if you find yourself living either of these extremes. Some things to keep in mind are that, no matter how good you are, there are going to be people out there who don’t care that you’re an artist. There are going to be people who don’t like your work. And, whether we like to admit it or not, all of us at some point WILL feel the sting of rejection.

It’s how you react to these things that can make the difference in success and failure. Taking dislike to heart is just another way of letting the world in too much, but not listening to constructive criticism (i.e. not adjusting your grammar when someone tells you there is a problem, etc…) is an example of a kind of locking yourself away and not letting the world in at all. As artists we have to be able to walk the fine line of understanding criticism and considering the words being said and taking it too seriously and tearing our work to shreds because there may be a mistake with it. This post really goes hand in hand with the rejection posts of last week, and the message is one we can all take to heart. The world, our surroundings, our friends and families can all be wonderful inspirations. They can make us feel wonderful and encourage us, helping us become one of the best at our particular craft. But if we let too much in, if we allow the negative to take hold and if we don’t keep our composure when seeking publicity the world can lead us to falling lower than ever and leave us in a hole that we have trouble climbing out of.

I hope you all have the right kind of passion and know where to draw the line at letting the world in. If you have any questions about this or any other topic, feel free to comment. Also, if you have any topic ideas you’d like to see me write on feel free to let me know. I’m always open to discussion on just about any topic and I love knowing I’m engaging my readers and, hopefully, helping at least one person with my posts. Fell free to share this post and any other with anyone who may benefit from it. Please subscribe, share and weigh in on the topics that interest you!

Giving In

I do apologize that this post will be going up a day later than I’d prefer – we were plagued by Old Man Winter again here in my neck of the woods and that put me a bit behind. But now I’m whittling away at the topic I talked about last week. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

I’ve mentioned countless times before in my blogs and when speaking about writing that, for a good artist (no matter the medium), you may often find yourself sitting down and producing a work that turns out unlike what you thought it would be. Often times you will sit down with your pen and paper (if you’re old school like myself) or in front of the computer with the spark of an idea and it seems like when you start to let it out the floodgates open and before you know it you’re knee deep in pages and working on a part of the story that you hadn’t even known was going to happen.

This is when you know you’re really meant to do the work you do, and most especially that you’re seriously meant to produce that particular piece, no matter what it is. I included that last part because, as I discussed in depth on Thursday, we may find that occasionally we’ll produce a piece that we aren’t particularly fond of, but those pieces can still be of crucial importance, especially if they are ones that write themselves in this manner. I refer to it as a story that writes itself for the obvious reasons, of course, but some people still feel this is an odd way to put it, so I’ll give a bit of description.

Sometimes when we get an idea for a story or a piece we find ourselves writing it without even having to really think about where things are going or what is happening. If the piece is a long one, like a novel, the process may take quite some time and we may find ourselves unable to think of anything else at times. In a case like this a lot of people find that the second they sit down to work on the piece it takes off like a rocket and they produce immense amounts of work without even trying. You’ll find yourself realizing that you know exactly what should happen, exactly what your characters should say and do and exactly what they are feeling without even considering it. When this happens, in my opinion it is a sign that this work is not only going to be great, but that you were MEANT to do it.

I’ve heard a lot of quotes that more or less say that when you have a story idea you should definitely write it because no one else can do it the way you can. I want to take that even farther by saying that when you have a piece that can virtually write itself while using you as a medium, then that piece is one you are definitely meant to write and it is one that you should put on the forefront of your schedule. When you can feel and hear everything within the story as you’re putting it on paper, almost as if the characters are speaking through you and the whole piece is telling you where it should go, then you have a piece that is writing itself.

Sometimes this feeling is one that will irk people or confuse them, but it really shouldn’t. In my opinion this is the type of work that is the most rewarding because, at the end of the day, you have a piece that worked its way out of you and is now just waiting to be consumed by someone else. These types of works are often very in depth, very active, very alive. And that is perfect. When and if you are able to grab a piece like this from the depths of your brain, you may be a little startled at it, may even be tempted to let it go and throw your line out again and try to hook something different. DON’T.

For a piece to come to the surface and be so developed that you can pull it directly from your subconscious as if the muse herself is whispering it in your ear, that is a real blessing. That piece is absolutely yours and you should embrace it wholeheartedly. Take my advice on this one. The next time you sit down to write and you feel the story running away with you, let it. Let the idea take you to the ends of the Earth and back, and don’t dare let it go. It may be the most rewarding thing you have ever done.

As an addendum to this post, I would like to add that I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog again ( I know, I know) and would love to have feedback on what you all think would work. As of right now I am thinking of calling the page “Writing is Life”, which is the name of a page I currently run. Also, for those writers (or other artists) interested, I would love for you to join said Facebook page “Writing is Life”. If you  have trouble finding it, let me know and I’ll link it in my next blog. If there are any topics you’d like to see me touch on, feel free to let me know in the comments or in a private message. I hope you all were able to relate to this post!