Exciting Announcement

I do apologize, friends and fans, for my absence so far this week, but I have been preparing to make a very exciting announcement. As many of you know I have been working as a library specialist for the last seven or eight months and I absolutely love it, although it doesn’t give me much of an opportunity to exercise and better develop my journalism skills.

I have always been fascinated by journalism, but had no opportunity to actually put my interest to the test until my final year of college, during which time I was made Head News Writer of my college newspaper. This job made me realize just how much I loved being a news writer/reporter and it allowed me to truly branch out and hone my skills as a writer. Upon graduation, I continued to blog and to write, but didn’t have many opportunities for practicing formal journalism – until now.

I am ecstatic to announce that I have been offered a reporter position with the Bristol Herald Courier, one of the most renowned papers in my region and I have graciously accepted. I will tentatively be starting my new job in the next two and half weeks or so and I couldn’t be more excited. I hope all of you will be able to check out my work with this paper. I plan to continue blogging at least once a week (but hopefully twice) while doing this job, but during my training and getting used to the flow of that job, things may get a bit jumpy. I am very excited about the changes coming in the near future and I can’t wait to be able to write stories and share the news of the region with all of the readers of this awesome production! Thank you all for your patience while I adjust to this much anticipated change of pace!

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Awesome Opportunity

I know I have spoken to you all before about the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium, and I think it’s about time to mention it for this year, too. The event takes place on June 10 and 11 this year, and it promises great content and a great experience to all those interested in attending.

The keynote speaker this year is Sharyn McCrumb, an Appalachian writer who has tackled many topics during her career and has made quite a name for herself. The topics being discussed range from graphic novel design and fantasy writing, to the ever practical and useful topics of marketing and nonfiction writing and many things in between. This symposium, now in it’s seventh year, is one of the best writing events in my region and often has visiting writers from all over the country in attendance. We do, of course, typically hold the theme of Appalachian Heritage writing, but that isn’t all we focus on, either.

I have found that this symposium can be very useful and it has actually helped me develop my platform since my first year of attendance in 2012. I have seen a number of people leave the symposium with a lot of knowledge that they didn’t have before attending and have actually felt more encouraged with my own writing after speaking to the writers that attend. One of the most rewarding things about this particular event, in my opinion is that you are given multiple opportunities throughout the two days to have face-to-face and one-on-one interaction with these authors. Unfortunately with symposiums and events like this that isn’t always the case.

Another benefit of this experience is that, rather than being full of themselves and unkind, as some individuals in the spotlight tend to be, these authors are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, often striking up a conversation with you before you even get the chance to start one with them. I have gotten to know most all of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild and most of the regular attendees of the symposium itself and I have to say that one of the reasons I find it so beneficial to keep attending is the level of camaraderie I feel whenever I go. This is a very important thing for an artist, especially one just starting out.

One thing that I also find very interesting about the event is that there is a writing contest (prizes included) that is all inclusive. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to be in attendance to win! So if you find yourself unable to attend the conference, but would like to enter the contest, follow the link at the bottom of this post for more information.

So I want to invite you all to try and attend. I know some of you are quite far from Southwest Virginia, but I assure you it is worth the trip. I will attach a link to the symposium website at the bottom of this post for any interested in learning more about it. Of course, as this is an event with a set schedule and meals included (Ha! I left that part for those of you that stuck it out until the end! The food is very amazing every year, so that is always another benefit), so registration is required so they have a head count and know how much to purchase in terms of supplies, etc. Also, there is normally a gift bag upon entering that includes a folder for the event, at least one notebook and pen, and a copy of SWCC’s Clinch Mountain Review.  There is a book signing event at the end of the first day and more festivities that you’ll just have to attend in order to know about! If there is anyone who has any interest in attending but feels unable to pay for the experience, please contact me. I really hope to meet some of you at this awesome symposium!

https://appheritagewritersym.wordpress.com/

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Unicorns are Real

Yes, I know this statement brings a number of things to mind, and it may be one that some of you are already familiar with, but I wanted to make this title and write  few words on this seemingly silly topic because the message many of will get can be applied to a number of things, including potential success in virtually anything we really set our minds to.

Of course, I could turn this into a rant about how a great many creatures thought to be mythological have since been proven real and use that as an argument for the possibility of the existence of most other cryptids out there, but that’s another topic entirely.

My point for today is this; so many people throughout history have used the legend and the image of the unicorn to be silly and stand for something that is impossible, but the truth of the matter is that nothing is impossible. Granted, the creature being referred to as a unicorn by science was much more akin to a cross between a rhino and a woolly mammoth, as it stood around 6 feet tall and weighed in at approximately 8, 000 pounds. Personally I don’t think that guy is going to be flying through any clouds or running across any rainbows.

But I digress. The reason this information is important is simple; anything is possible. I usually try to coach you guys through a specific issue that can have a crippling effect on some artists, but today I’m just addressing the real basics. You need to have faith. There are so many people who have risen through the adversity that met them to be some of the most treasured and celebrated authors in history. Critics and agents alike have torn some of our favorite authors apart countless times, and they still get right back up and keep putting pen to paper because that’s just what you do. I’ll keep this short and sweet today, guys and just leave you with a simple reminder that I think we could all use sometimes.

Your ideas came to you, so no matter what anybody says you owe it to yourself and to the world to keep at it. People who never thought they would see success are changing the world every day. Keep writing that book and don’t ever give up on your self. Remember, unicorns are real and anything is possible

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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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Preparing for Advancement

In addition to trying to always write helpful and inspiring blog posts for all of the budding artists out there, I occasionally like to let those of you who are fans of my work know a little about what’s going on in that part of my life. 2016 has treated me fairly well so far, allowing me to submit pieces to a number of different venues, some of which I am still eagerly waiting to hear back from. In addition to this, I have begun taking the first steps in preparing Moonlight, my latest novel, to send to an agent.

To be brutally honest that process somewhat terrifies me. In the past it has always made my heart stop when I sent works out, but this feels even more serious. Obviously it is, but I think many of you will know what I mean. I put blood, sweat and tears into this novel, and stayed up much later than I should for I don’t even know how many nights trying to write it, only to have to sort through the last few paragraphs in front of me the next morning to make sure I hadn’t jotted down some inexplicable jumble of nonsense. So far in this process I have been trying to work with beta readers, some of which have been much less helpful than I’d hoped, and have gone through three previous edits. I tell myself that I would love to have a few more opinions, but at the same time I wonder if that’s just me trying to put off the rest of the process.

Either way I really want to make an active attempt to get myself published and get my work out to a larger audience and use the gift that I feel God has given me. I have a feeling this process may be a long and arduous one, but I am more than ready to get it started. I have worked with small journals and publications for almost six years now, taking the route of self publishing when I felt the smaller venues weren’t getting me where I wanted to be. I think I chose this route, for one, out of curiosity, but also largely because there is a part of me that is terrified of allowing someone else the opportunity of breaking my work down and tearing it to shreds. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Centuries later and we are still tearing Shakespeare apart and trying to find his meaning, his purpose, utilizing every tool we have to analyze his voice and his work.

Isn’t that what writing is all about; letting others read it? In addition to trying to get this novel figured out, I am still tweaking on my Maverip series and trying to make sure that it is getting completed and trying to make sure that I haven’t strayed away from my original plan and purpose for the works, which is something that I seriously worry about after having worked on the pieces for 9 years. Again, I know a lot of you will probably know what I mean when I say that. The longer you work on a piece, the longer it takes to get it finished, the more you will worry that the work has altered from what you originally intended and has instead become something very different. This isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but that is a topic for another time.

I will wrap this informative piece up by letting you all in on one of my more exciting accomplishments of recent weeks. I entered a writing competition around the end of December with high hopes. At the time of entry the reveal was set for January 16th. The 16th came, with a notification from the contest runners (the contest was Neoverse, for anyone interested) that the reveal was actually pushed back to February 29th due to the fact that they had actually received several thousand entries, a fact which blew me away. So i waited for another month, as patiently as I could, until February 29th came and went. I checked my email almost hourly that entire day, finally going to bed a little before midnight only to wake up the next morning with some exciting news. Out of several thousand entries the judges had narrowed their possibilities down to 5% of the entries- and I was on that list! I know that might not seem like a big deal to some, but it made my heart absolutely SOAR. So now I am waiting to see if my piece will be picked for a spot in the winner’s circle (which consists of 20 pieces) and will get published online and in print via Neoverse. I’m not sure when that particular announcement will be made, but rest assured, when I know so will all of you!

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Confidence in Your Craft

I’ve touched on this a few times in recent posts, and some of what I have to say is a repeat of previous statements, so I won’t take too much space to say it in today. One thing that artists of every kind need to remember is that confidence is very important to our craft. If you look at ourselves in the mirror every day and think about how terrible you are and how you are never going  to amount to anything then you’re probably sealing your own fate. In the same light it is equally harmful if we look at our work and get the mindset that we are the best there ever was and any one who doesn’t think so is obviously wrong. Going in to speak to a publisher with an attitude like that will pretty much guarantee you’ll get thrown out on your ear.

In reality the attitude that we need to have is that we, and our contribution to the craft, are unique and are the best that we can do. When you get a new story idea and you do your research and see that there aren’t any stories out there that are quite on the same page as your plan, then you should be able to move forward with the confidence that, at the very least, you are progressing on a path the few have been on before. Often realizing that will allow you the exact amount of confidence needed to put your best foot forward and get that work on paper.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most inspirational quotes I’ve ever read says that the reason your story is so important is because it’s YOURS and no one else can tell it like you can. And that absolutely has immense validity. If you ever have doubts about this get someone to do a collaboration with you where one of you writes one section and the other continues it. Go back and forth like that and see just how different the story turns out from what you originally had in mind for it. It’ll blow you away.

Finally, one of the main reasons confidence is so important to artists is because, for many of us, art (whichever the medium) is what we truly feel we were put on this planet to do. When you feel in your soul that you were created for one large purpose the idea of thinking that you are going to fail at that purpose is what often drives some of us to drink or drugs. You can’t let yourself fall into the mindset that your calling is anything less than intentional. We all have been put here for a reason, and I honestly don’t think that reason is to fail. So why think that way? You just have to give it your all and work as hard as you can at whatever it is you are doing. After that, the going gets easier.

Pick yourself up, look at your work and realize that, no it might not be the best book ever written or the best painting to ever hit canvas, but it is absolutely the best that you can do and no matter how hard they tried, chances are that no one else could do it quite like you. Realizing the truth within those facts alone makes you more successful than you were before you started the project. So pick up your tools and get to work, people. We have a whole new world to build, and no one can do it like we can.

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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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Avoiding Negativity and Getting in the Zone

Monday’s post addressed the ways we should handle the limitations others put on our work and how best to adjust our work to fit the pubic opinion (i.e., don’t). Today I will be discussing what to do in regards to negative commentary directed at you, your craft or a piece of your work.

First of all I must make the statement that seems very obvious here. You should always do your absolute best to avoid all negativity in your life and in your craft. I know this isn’t always easy, but it is necessary if you are going to maintain sanity and continue in what you love. I also have to say this, no matter how much it pains me; sooner or later each and every one of us will absolutely have to face the negative comments of someone who doesn’t like or understand our work or our craft. There is no way around that, unfortunately. There are almost 8 billion people on this rock, and whether we like it or not, they aren’t all going to love what we do.

The negative commentary we will have to face can come at us from many different mediums and they all can hit us in a different way. I think one of the most important things I can say here about how to handle getting this feedback is that you should never let it get to you. You will have to develop a very thick skin if you hope to gain success in any public field. No matter what area you go into you will have to deal with people who may not like your particular contributions. Obviously, some of these people will be civilized and willing to have an intellectual discussion with you regarding your work, but there are always going to be those that won’t. No matter how the person giving you negativity or criticism is acting, it is always important for you to keep your head. As someone who has been known to have a bit of a temper at times, particularly when I feel something I’m passionate about is being attacked, I know that isn’t always easy. But it is crucial that you not be seen as irrational in the face of criticism. That, I’m afraid, is something a lot of us are never able to come back from.

The way you are approached has a lot to do with how you handle the situation, as I’ve said, and it is important to note that, no matter what is said to you, you should NEVER engage in an argument, especially on the internet. Being realistic, that will never turn out well. In my own experience you can tell the type of person you are dealing with from their comments and how they handle themselves in their initial attempt at discussion. Obviously if someone comments on a piece of your work and tells you that you are a talent-less hack who should crawl back under a rock and hide for the rest of his life, it would just be best to ignore that person. In regards to the shout out I made on Monday, which helped me realize the topics for this week, I don’t think you should ever apologize for your work. I understand how tempting it may be to drop a quick ‘sorry’ in when you decide to respond to someone who has made negative comments on your work, but the bottom line is that it is YOUR work. You are the one who had the idea, you are the one who developed the piece and brought it into the world, and having the ability and the courage to do that, to me, excuses you from ever needing to apologize for doing so.

Looking at your work in this way can open you to a whole new level of understanding and can make you feel that you instantly have a greater freedom in regards to the craft itself. When receiving feedback that can be construed as negative I think it’s important to look at exactly what the person is saying and how they are saying it. If they are telling you that your work is stupid because pigs can’t actually look up even though there was never even a single mention of a pig in your work, you can probably pretty quickly dismiss that person. However if someone is telling you that they found it hard to relate to your piece about overcoming depression because their best friend couldn’t overcome the problem then you have the opportunity for a candid discussion that can, if handled right, gain you at least one fan and improve the public opinion of your work. Maintaining civility and having a strong, meaningful conversation about your work here can be a great move on your part and may well set a lot of people’s opinion on what type of person you are.

In the event that your negative comments don’t come from someone sitting in front of a computer screen, your interaction is going to be that much more crucial. Face to face encounters with a fan (or someone who doesn’t like us or our work) can make or break the way we are viewed as well. If we are in a public setting and someone comes up to us and says that they absolutely hate our work and they think we made a terrible mistake by being a writer (or artist,  whatever the medium) we have to choose our reaction very carefully. In my opinion the best response to something like that is more or less “I’m sorry you feel that way”. By saying this I think you are showing respect for the person’s opinion while not apologizing for what you and your work stand for. Of course, most of this seems like common knowledge, so I’m sure we all know about how not to react to hecklers (most likely because of how we’ve seen celebrities do it). However, one very important thing I will leave you with is that you also have to learn how to react to positive commentary as well.

Whether it is in person or online when someone gives you or your work a compliment you must be able to hold your head up and thank them. You should never gloat about the success of your work (in either circumstance) and you should always be grateful to have a fan give you a compliment. Granted, this advice probably isn’t necessary since every writer I’ve spoken to still gets chills whenever they’re complimented,  no matter how famous they are. Regardless, the main point of this ranting jumble of topics is that we should always avoid negativity when possible, and whenever it isn’t possible we have to learn to not take it to heart and react in a way that shows we are capable of intellect and respect. After all, the person who wants to publish your next book might be monitoring just how well you react to compliments and criticism and the wrong response may well send them running.

 

Writing Freedom

As I was sitting down to make a post today I realized that my topic had actually been staring me in the face for a few days and had been brewing behind my eyes without me even realizing it. Last week I made a post that exceeded the “word limit” that I was lead to believe should largely be monitored when blogging. Upon realizing how far over that 600-800 rule of thumb I had gone I threw in an apology for those of you who had stuck with me long enough to make it to that point. The next day I was pleased to find a comment from one of my readers (http://heroicallybadwriters.com/ ) who told me that I shouldn’t apologize for the length of the piece because it worked and was a strong post. This really made me feel good and got me thinking in the back of mind about how often we are subjected to standards, rules of thumb and general restrictions and negativity that our work should never be bound by.

A good author can pen a story in as little as two words, should the story only take that many, but the same author can need to use thousands of pages to tell the story the way it deserves (and demands) to be told. Neither of these is more correct than the other and neither of these is necessarily better than the other. Every story is unique and every story has a certain amount of space needed to come through in its full glory. So why do we let negativity in? Negativity, of course can mean more than just listening to those who say a good paragraph only contains 5 sentences or a good story stays under 20, 000 words. It can also be those who directly insult a completed piece of your work. I think what I may do, in order to fully address both of these issues, is make them two separate posts. So today we are discussing the limitations put upon us by others and how it is perfectly acceptable to break them.

How many of you have heard, either on your own or in a class somewhere down the line that stories and letters and any other sort of writing must be kept under strict control lest it break free and lose all meaning? All of us, I’m betting, have heard this in some form or another.  But how much truth does it hold? Admittedly, words of caution like this can be very helpful in the process of training your brain in the art of professional writing (i.e. journalism, technical writing and the like) but when it comes to creative writing they do more harm than good most of the time, in my opinion.

Take, for example, the art of Flash Fiction. Yes, it is a wonderful concept and I’ve written some myself, but let’s look at the ‘rules’ behind it. Flash fiction is typically story that has to be told in under 100 words (or 500, depending on the venue in search of the piece) that must have a solid enough plot to be understood, which sometimes has to follow a certain theme. Like I said, this is a great form of art and a wonderful challenge for some writers and some ideas, but for others it can be devastating. When an idea hits it can be something that may be told in one sentence or it can literally take years of your life to write and come out in such a large hunk that it has to be split into seven books for publication’s sake. Imagine being a beginning writer who is hit with an idea that falls somewhere in the middle of these two examples who  tries to write that idea for a flash fiction contest somewhere. The process of trying to cut down huge, multi-faceted idea like that into a manageable 100 word piece may be enough to send the poor soul right out the door and prevent them from ever writing again.

As another example, let’s look at a magazine that really inspires someone and allows them to come up with an idea that they absolutely adore, but maybe falls just short of their 2,500 word minimum (yes, they do exist). This person may spend hours or days hacking at their story and trying to add enough material to make it reach this limit only to find that the story no longer resembles the masterpiece they originally felt it was.

Both of these examples may seem like they’re easily avoidable, but that’s likely because you’ve been in your craft for a long time. Once these two beginning authors took the time to examine their possibilities, I would hope that they would see there are other avenues for their work and they would move forward, but trust me when I say that isn’t always the case. Obviously, a good portion of the lesson to be learned from those two examples is just as much to do with finding the right place for your work as it is about breaking the limits put on you by others, but the true lesson is that we have to learn the work itself. We have to able to set it free. There will never be a time that our work will set limits for us, so why should we adhere to limits others try to set on it?

Art is about freedom of speech and creativity and allowing our true selves to explore parts of the world that we haven’t before, right? Of course. So if we start a story and immediately try to put chains on it and tell it that it can only do so much, it will never be a piece that fully satisfies us. Of course, looking at grammar rules and standards of language and syntax and everything else is what we, as authors, should do, but if Faulkner had decided to write The Sound and the Fury without using stream of consciousness because it didn’t follow standard rules, where would the book be now? What would it be? Would it have any real standing in the literary community as a record breaking piece that truly allowed us to see into the characters’ point of view? Probably not.

My point here is that while, yes rules for writing and for art can be very helpful and useful, no piece should ever be changed from what it wants to be in order to fit the rules, especially if those rules limit it and change its meaning. When you are taken by a piece and it comes out in its full glory and your final product is something that doesn’t adhere to rules or guidelines made for other pieces, don’t fret. Your work knows what it is doing. Sometimes the guidelines laid down for art are really little more than that. Guidelines. There are guidelines everywhere in life. Obviously some are more important than others, but some – like those involving the arts – can be bent. While it is absolutely crucial to drive on your own side of the road and follow traffic signs, it’s more than acceptable if we read the newspaper out of order or sleep for less than 8 hours a night. Yes, guidelines are important, but as an artist you should NEVER allow someone else’s opinion control your work. Editors and agents will work with you to improve a final piece, yes, but under no circumstances should you be afraid to write a piece the way it needs to be written because you think someone else will judge it in one way or another.

Art is about freedom and power and idealism and more things than I can possibly name here, and in no way should you try to restrict your creative abilities because you think your final product won’t fit into one genre or another. So the next time you are overcome by an idea and you want to let it out, don’t try to put a leash on it so it will fit someone else’s idea of a ‘good’ piece. Don’t put your work under a microscope and change it if that change alters the meaning of the piece itself. Allow your work to run free. Allow it to be what it is meant to be. It will make you much more satisfied in the long run and will allow others to be blown away when taking it in. Because, no matter how much we may doubt it or be told otherwise, there will always be at least one person out there who would love to have our work as it is meant to be see. Why should we deprive them of that?

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.