Tag Archives: writer

My Writing, My Identity

Should I even apologize for neglecting to blog? It’s becoming a bad habit. Sorry, True Believers!

Part of the reason for my absence lately is my increasing busyness. I’ve written often about time management, and while some of my busyness is my own doing, much of it lately has been thrust upon me by outside forces. Most notably, my “day job.” Whenever people quit or are unavailable—as has been happening recently—it invariably throws more responsibility on me because I’m competent, reliable, and available. It’s supposed to be a part-time job, but I’ve been getting full-time hours (which has led me to call it “my part-time full-time job”). This has eaten into my writing time like Pac-Man would an apple.

I’m not happy at my day job.

There, I said it.

I took this job thinking it would be temporary and would allow me time to pursue my true passions. While I’m grateful to have the steady income and enjoy (most of) my co-workers, I feel like I’m not doing what God created me to do. When I have to work long hours and lose writing time, I feel this most potently. I get annoyed when people see me not as a writer, an author, an artist, and/or a creator but as my day job. I don’t care if it’s, unfortunately, where the majority of my time is going. It does not define me. It is not what I want to be doing. If I had my way, I’d be living like most of the great writers, who spend eight hours a day working away on their craft.

As you would expect, I’ve been reflecting on my identity. I think of myself as a writer. That’s what I tell people I do for a living. Yes, I add that I’m working a part-time day job until I can write full-time, but writing is always mentioned first and foremost. That’s why I hate when I have weeks (or months) where the day job consumes more of my time. I start to feel like I’m lying to people. Most of all, I fear complacency will seize me, and I’ll stop writing, resigned to the humdrum of my daily labor.

However, in order to have a healthy identity, I believe, one must have a multifaceted one. I’m not just a writer. I want that to be a bigger part of me (and I do believe it is already a big part), but it isn’t all of my identity. Lisa Edelstein said in the movie Keeping the Faith, “I am many things, no one thing defines me.” (FYI, I found that quotation with a Google search. I’ve not seen the movie). I’m also a Christian, a man, a brother, a son, a conservative, a gamer, and a ballroom dancer, among many others. By having so many smaller identities within my larger one, it prevents me from becoming totally dependent on any one of them for my self-worth. I could, God forbid, be in a car accident tomorrow that damages my hands or my brain, thereby robbing me of the ability to write. It would be devastating, but hopefully once the dust of grief settled, I’d have other things to fall back on to form a new identity.

In the meantime, I’m gonna keep fighting to preserve and protect my writing time!

What facets make up your identity? Are you too dependent on one or two? If you’re a writer, what else are you? How would you cope with losing part of identity?

Writer vs. Storyteller

People often use the words “writer” (or “author”) and “storyteller” interchangeably, but I would argue they aren’t always synonyms.

This goes back to a conversation I had with a schoolmate in college about Stephen King. She made the statement that King wasn’t a great writer, but he was a great storyteller. I knew what she meant instinctively. It required a fairly nuanced definition and understanding of these terms.

To put it simply: a writer is someone who is excellent with the stylings and mechanics of language, whereas a storyteller is someone whose tales can compel and interest audiences.

We’ve all at one point or another read (or seen) stories that excelled at one of these areas at the expense of the other. A book/author may have great “purple prose,” as we in the industry like to call it, but the story itself is boring, trite, and /or cliché. In other words, it’s style at the expense of substance. It’s a common complaint with many modern blockbuster films, which often seem more interested in fancy cinematography and eye-popping special effects than in telling a story.

On the other hand, there’ve also been stories that are irresistible page-turners but are either hampered by writers who lack the talent to tell them well or writers who choose to use cheap tricks in telling them. To put it another way, the stories have great ideas that don’t find full expression because the author is either unable or unwilling to have them reach their full potential. To use a film as an example of the former, I’d site 1986’s Highlander, which had a great world and concepts but was hampered by almost borderline schlocky filmmaking. For the latter, I would cite The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown as an example. It was a fast-paced page-turner, but it relied on things like cheap cliffhangers at the end of chapters (i.e. “He opened the door, and…”) in order to keep people reading.

In order to be a truly great author, one must strive to be both a good writer and a good storyteller. This, admittedly, is a difficult thing to achieve, especially when improving each area requires different exercises. Style and mechanics can be developed through education and practice. Reading books like The Elements of Style and studying other authors’ writing styles can help one become a better writer (just make sure you don’t copy other authors to the point you become a watered down version of them, which will get you nowhere). However, becoming a better storyteller is a bit more difficult. It requires learning how to generate ideas and/or looking for new spins on old concepts. This is the sort of stuff editors are looking for when they hear pitches from authors. Perfect grammar and poetic prose will only get them so far; what truly matters to them is, “What is the story?” This, as my schoolmate hinted at, is probably what propelled Stephen King through most of his career. He has an uncanny ability to dream up compelling concepts, most of which involve making everyday objects terrifying.

In the world of speculative fiction franchises, there are often creators who fit into one category or the other. People like Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and (more infamously) George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, were incredible world-builders and visionaries, but they weren’t the best writers. They needed to surround themselves with other people to help fill in their gaps. It was when they tried to overstep the bounds of their talent that things would go wrong. That, too, is another way to help yourself as an author: have people around you who can help fill in your blind spots. These usually come in the form of beta/alpha readers and fellow writers. It’s also a great way to build community, and God knows writers need as much community as they can get, what with their penchant for working in solitude.

Am I splitting hairs with this? What do you think is the difference between a writer and a storyteller, if any? Which end of this spectrum are you on? What advice would you give about filling in your gaps as a creator?

Hacked and Slashed

Here’s my first proper blog in two weeks. If you’ve been following my Facebook page, I said that my website was shut down by my host because it was hacked. It affected not only me, but Nick Hayden’s website, the Derailed Trains of Thought podcast website, and the Children of the Wells website. To make matters worse, this happened when Nick went on vacation and when he went to a youth conference with his church and when all of our domain names came up for renewal! In other words, I was out a lot of money getting all this crap sorted out—and right before Gen-Con to boot. (Speaking of which, I’m writing this blog from the Hyatt Regency, where I’m staying for Gen-Con).

Thankfully, as you can see, my website is up and running again. We’re all still working out some bugs, but everything seems to be fine. We’re considering moving to a new website host, but no decision has been made yet.

This is the latest in a series of setbacks I’ve been having with my writing career of late. GigaGeek Magazine doesn’t update much anymore, Exaimer.com shut down (all of my content there is gone), and I’ve been inactive so long at IPFW (where I want to get a teaching assistanceship to pay for M.A. in English) that I have to re-apply. Even then, there’s no guarantee I’ll get a T.A. position, and I refuse to take out more student loans. The former will require me to find more clients to freelance for. Honestly, I worked with Giga as a means of building my resume and creating something from the ground up; I wasn’t paid for my content. From now on, I’m not doing that. As a wise (and mad) man once said,

These sorts of things are depressing. I knew the writer’s life would be hard—I was warned of that in college—but I still expected I’d be doing better than this. This will require that I reassess what I’m doing and how I do it. I started the year feeling like God was giving me a positive vision for 2016. Stuff like this has made me question that. But the year is not over. While last year’s Gen-Con was so good, I’m unsure this year’s show will live up to it, I’ve still had decent sales today (the first day). Once I recover from this harrowing but exuberating weekend, I’m going to make new strategies for how to go about my writing. Don’t worry: I’ll still keep publishing books (I have a few forthcoming). However, if there’s one thing I can say for sure will happen before 2017, it’ll be change. That’s been the common theme I’ve gotten from most of my friends when I talk to them about this stuff. I think God is trying to tell me something. Perhaps He ripping the “training wheels” off, so to speak, so I can progress to a new level in my life and career.

I’m confident I can get more work as a writer. After all…

I made this meme myself! :)
I made this meme myself! 🙂

Are Extroverted Writers at a Disadvantage?

I do a Google search for “extroverted writer” and discover that an old TUFW classmate has a book on the subject. Who knew?

I sometimes wonder if my writing is hampered by my own personality. What do I mean by that? The fact that I’m an extrovert.

Traditionally, writers are seen as introverts. It’s not surprising since they have to retreat into their office (or, as I like to call it, the “Fortress of Solitude”) away from people and other distractions so they can pound out their daily word count. Writing is a lonely art and profession. That’s why it seemed best-suited for introverts, who thrive in such an environment. This isn’t to say there are no extroverted writers. Just look at journalists. They’re always out and about looking for material.

But then you have those rare birds like me who are extroverted but also filled with stories to tell. It does have its advantages (I’m a pretty good salesman and enjoy networking), but I can be pulled away from actually writing if offered hang-out time. That’s partly why I had to institute a new plan for how much material I could produce. It doesn’t help that I’ve seemingly become popular lately. This weekend alone I have several friends, my old English/writing professor, and family who want my attention this weekend. In anticipation of this, I’ve been scrambling to get stuff done while also going to my day job, so you can imagine how stressful that can be. Admittedly, most of these deadlines are self-imposed, but they nonetheless hang over me. (I’m particularly disappointed I haven’t made a new “But I Digress…” episode in a month).

To use the old adage, it seems like I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Either I produce new material but miss out on social activities or I socialize to reenergize myself but get nothing done. I can’t quite combine both activities (if you know how, please tell me!). What makes it doubly difficult is, as an extrovert, I’m more easily drawn to being around other people, and by extension taken away from my work. That isn’t to say that I don’t love my work, because I do. I’m a storyteller by nature. But I also know that if I didn’t have the discipline to say, “No,” sometimes—indeed, oftentimes—I’d never get anything written.

Yet as I type those words, I’m reminded that procrastination is a common problem for most writers. I’ve read many articles talking about how writers will often find anything else to do besides writing, how they’ll come up with excuses not to do it. It could even be important things like chores that need done. And as I mentioned above, the majority of writers are introverts, so even they’re guilty of not getting work done. They just have different reasons.

What do you, True Believers? Are extroverted writers at a disadvantage compared to their introverted peers? Do need to take special steps to remain productive in a normally solitary profession? What are those steps? I’d love to hear your ideas!

But I Digress…, Episode 24 – How to Write Speculative Fiction, Part 2: Story Construction

“But I Digress…”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand

Are you an aspiring writer? Love science fiction and fantasy? I give some handy tips on how to write speculative. In part two of my four-part series, I explain story construction conventions, including the MICE story types, and how to handle exposition and literalism. I did have some help from the great author Orson Scott Card, though.

If you’d like to see Part 1, watch it here.

Please subscribe, comment, and share!

Nothing Bad Happens to a Writer

In college, my writing professor shared an interesting quotation with his students (a line I’ve just learned was said by novelist Philip Roth): “Nothing bad happens to a writer. Everything is material.” I didn’t take it too seriously at the time. It just seemed like an extension of the old writer’s mantra, “Write what you know.”

Not long after that, Taylor University Fort Wayne (my alma mater) was visited by Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the then-popular Left Behind books. He gave a special lecture to all the students of the communications department. One thing he said has stuck with me in the decade since. He admitted that he’d had a comparatively “easy” life—and lamented that that meant his “writing well” wasn’t as deep as others’. I was surprised by this, to say the least. Not that I was a huge fan of his writing (I tried reading the first Left Behind book and got bored after two chapters), but it seemed a little strange.

I don’t like getting too personal on this site. I had a blog for that for a long time (not anymore), but I often thought I revealed too much there. I like maintaining a certain level of privacy, especially since I’m in a position to become a public figure.

That being said, I’ve faced the greatest trials of my life since college. I’ve struggled to find work. I’ve lost jobs. I’ve had several painful break-ups. I’ve scraped by on little money. That’s just a few of my tribulations.

Twice I’ve gone to a pastor I’ve known all my life for counseling. I don’t mean I saw him on two occasions—I mean I’ve twice gone to him once a week for several months. During both of those times, he told me the same thing: “I think this is to make you a better writer.” I was frozen in shock. On one hand, I wanted my suffering to end. On the other, I wanted to be a better writer.

If you study an artist’s works enough, you can get to know them. His worldview bleeds through. His thoughts, emotions, and philosophies are the metaphysical raw materials he uses to create the work. People gravitate toward certain artists or works because they can identify with them; they have a kinship with them, just like they would with friends and family.

For example, I identified with Clark Kent from Smallville because for a long time I felt like that show was a superhero version of my life. Clark was raised with old-fashioned values in a small Midwest town; he had trouble talking to the girl he liked; he was betrayed by his best friend (Lex Luthor); and he often suffered for doing the right thing. (I won’t say more for the sake of privacy). I doubt that show would’ve had the potency it did unless the creators had experienced similar things themselves. You can’t fake something like that.

The same is true of my own stories. I often use them to try to make sense of my own life. I fill them with disguised versions of my own questions, longings, and disappointments. Honestly, I often wrestle with God in them. But this usually happens subconsciously. My journal is where I do intentional (and often Hamlet-esque) introspection. Regardless, I don’t think I would’ve written the stories I have if not for my life experience.

These stories aren’t just for me, though. Heck, I wouldn’t even say they’re primarily for me. They’re for you, my readers. Each one is, in a way, an invitation for you to examine your own life and find answers to your questions. I may not always have answers for you, but they can inspire you to take a journey of discovery. You may see a piece of yourself in one of my characters. You may identify with one of my plotlines. However it happens, consider it a service I offer you besides simple entertainment. (And if that’s all you get out of them, then I helped you escape from your problems for a short time).

Who knows, I may save you thousands in therapy bills.

Writing is More Than Writing

Many people think writers spend all their time sitting at their computers typing away, filling page after page with their thoughts, feelings, and stories.

As Lex Luthor once said, “WROOOOOOOONG!”

Anyone can jot down their daily thoughts and activities. That’s what a journal is. I’ve known many people who’ve written short stories or even whole books that remain unpublished. Plenty of “non-writers” participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) every year just to take on the challenge.

No, there is much more to writing. And honestly, I feel like that’s the part that eats up more of my “writing time” than actual writing. Writers have to promote their work, often on their own. They search for literary agents and query them. They research publishers and submit work to them, which requires writing query letters, among other things. Networking is a huge facet of writing, so writers must stay in touch with those they know in the industry, always looking for new opportunities.

In other words, writing isn’t just a craft. It’s a business.

A profitable business.

A needed business.

An annoying business.

While I’m a writer and a shameless self-promoter, I find the business side of writing frustrating. Marketing is difficult in this age of bad economics and constant noise. I’ve run into several walls along the way: 1) (Perceived) Inexperience. 2) Being told my stories aren’t “trendy” enough (I’d rather be a trend-setter). 3) I don’t have an agent. Agents and publishers want material that they think will sell. They want to make money. I have no problem with that. But I think the bad economy has made them less interested in taking risks on something and/or someone new. That’s why, for instance, you saw lots of vampire novels in the young adult section of bookstores and hordes of zombies popping up in the sci-fi section. Those are “hot” now. My stories, though I think they’re good, don’t seem to necessarily fit the trends.

Even if one gets past those walls, new ones crop up. Depending on the size of your publisher, your (perceived) marketability, and the current economy, publishers’ may or may not be able or willing to invest the money in promoting your work. This means you’ll have to do much of it yourself. In this age of the Internet, the possibilities for promotion are nearly endless. But it’s also saturated the world with noise. Ads flare up on every website. Countless authors are starting blogs, going on blog tours, and appearing on podcasts. While many people “live” on the Internet and read webfiction, there’s so much of it out there, it’s overwhelming. If you want to get noticed, you must first have a quality product. The cream will always rise to the top. You must also distinguish yourself from all the other voices shouting in everyone’s ears. Either that or yell louder. Personally, I think the former is more pleasant. But what makes the Internet work to your advantage is word-of-mouth. That’s always sold anything—especially books—better than anything else.

I think I’m rambling a bit now. 😛

All this to say that while I wish I could just write all the time and instantly have it read by millions, that’s not the case. Writing is a craft and a business. If you want to be a writer, you have to deal with both aspects, whether you enjoy everything about them or not.

But as Michael Stackpole said at Gen-Con, “Now is the best time to be a writer.”