Tell the Story

A few weeks ago, we asked the question each of us has probably been asked many times: Why do we write? We had a few people answer both online and offline and the general theme of the responses was simple:  “I write because I can’t not write.”

This was always my answer in the past, too.  But after a few years of basically not writing, at least not writing in the way I always used to write because I “had to”, I’ve started doubting that answer.  I mean, if I’m being honest here, I’ve successfully not written much of anything for quite some time, so clearly I am actually quite capable of not writing.

Yet, I feel like I am – and should continue to be – a writer.

The reason I say this is because I have stories to tell.  A lot of them.  Stories that are unique to me and only able to be told by me.  Sure, I’ve already told a lot of stories, some really good, some less good. But I know I have a lot more in me because they are all trying to come out in one way or another.

I’ve been reflecting on my creative struggles a lot recently. Most of the struggles are due to outside factors such as work, kids and life.  But some of them are definitely simply related to inertia – now that I’m not writing regularly it is easy to continue to not write regularly.  It’s just like going to the gym every day — when you’re in the habit, you just keep going to the gym each day, even if you don’t feel like it.  But if you skip a day, it is much easier to skip the next day, and the next day, and the next.

And so here I sit, worn out from the daily grind but still full of creative energy.  I’m so tired when I sit down to write that I tend to drift off to sleep almost immediately upon beginning to write, my head nodding slowly down, hovering slightly above the laptop keyboard. It’s not that the stories aren’t there for the telling, it’s that they can’t type themselves!

So what is my answer when I’m asked “Why do you write?”  As I mentioned, it always used to be “I write because I can’t not write.”  But now I’ve got a different answer:

“I write because I have stories to tell.”

Is there really a difference in these answers? I suppose in the grand scheme of things there is not much of a difference in them.  The small detail of actually putting words on the page is there, looming larger than life no matter how I might phrase my answer.  But if you parse those two answers carefully, there is a subtle difference.  One makes writing be almost like a chore – something I must do, something that is required.  The other gives a more rational explanation and a more realistic expectation – the writing is about the story being told, not about the writing being done.  I tell stories all the time, wild and whimsical tales of excitement or woe, epic victories and massive defeats, paper bags and plastic bags.  Stories that make my kids roll their eyes at me and stories that make my kids’ friends laugh at how odd I am.  The stories are there and they come out, whether I get them on paper or not.

And so, I am a writer.  I am a writer because I have stories to tell and I tell them.  The next step is to get back into putting them down on the page so that they can be shared outside of the small circle of people who ride back and forth in my car as we go to baseball games or band events.  Maybe then I can get back to the simpler answer of writing because I can’t not write.  But until then I will keep telling my stories and I hope you will keep telling your stories, too.

 

Why do we write?

youshouldwriteabookThe picture above is a real picture of a real fortune I received in a fortune cookie a few days ago.  As with most fortune cookie messages, I just kind of tossed it aside with the other papers on my little table by the couch and didn’t think about it.  Except, I’ve been thinking about it for days now.

“You…should write a book.”

I’ve been told that I should write a book for years. Many times over the years, in fact.  And while I’ve written stories, novels, plays, poems, songs and any number of other things, I’ve not yet produced “a book”. For a while it looked like I was spiraling in on doing just that.  I had several stories published, I was writing regularly (completing stories almost weekly)…I was in the zone as it were.

But then it stopped.

Interestingly, as I’ve thought about my charming way with words” over the past few days, I’ve realized that nearly just as often as I’ve been told I should write a book, I’ve been asked that inevitable question asked of aspiring authors:

Why do you write?

In the past, I always had an answer for this question.  It was simple, really:

I write because I can’t NOT write.

To a large extent, this answer was one of those infallible Truths of my being.  I simply had to write or else I was not me. It was unhealthy to not write.  It was the only way I could clear my head before going to sleep at night and the only way I could get myself going in the mornings.  It was simply what I did when I was not doing anything else and it was what I chose to do whenever I had options.

But now, as I sit here and look at my woeful creative output in recent months, I realize that my answer for “why I write” is no longer so easy.  In fact, it is now very easy for me to NOT write.  The hectic life of being self-employed —  with two busy and active teenagers who still allow me to be part of their lives — means that the decision matrix of what priorities bubble to the top is more complex than it has ever been and unfortunately for my creative side, the time involved with sitting down to put pen to paper causes writing to slide down the priorities scale.  I still do write.  It’s a paragraph here or there, it’s notes on a random napkin or junk mail envelope, it’s stories I recite to myself while I’m mowing the lawn.  The passion for writing isn’t gone, it’s simply sitting there burning quietly like a pilot light in a furnace, waiting for the call to burn brightly.

But this still leaves me with thoughts of whether or not I need for a new answer to the question of “why do I write?”.  I mean, wouldn’t it just be easier to hang up the notebooks and pens and just be a dad or a worker bee or a homeowner with a ton of yard work to do, and not have the added burden of “being a writer“? Sure, maybe it would be easier.  One less thing on the never-ending, never-empty, always-expanding to-do list each day.  But as I’ve thought about it these past few days since a wise slip of paper informed me that I have a charming way with words and should write a book, I realize once again that I have a story to tell — many stories to tell, in fact– and the only way these stories will be told is if *I* write them.  So even though today I may be putting most of my writing on scraps of paper or on the backs of envelopes, even though most of those slips of paper are being stuffed into a “for the future” folder and left on the corner of a desk in the basement, I’m still writing.  And the reason is still the same as it was when I wrote my first stories at 6 years old:  I write because I really can’t NOT write.

How about you? What is your answer to this question and how is that answer being manifested differently (or the same) now as compared to whenever you started writing?  Discuss in the comments here or over on the forums.

Just for Fun: Alternate Calendars

Have you ever invented a new calendar or method of counting time for a story? If so, what was your process for making it understandable in the context of your story? If not, think about the idea and what you would need to do in order to successfully create a new concept of time keeping . Let’s share and discuss these ideas in the comments here or in the forums.

 

 

Improvements and Changes for Today’s Author

Here at Today’s Author we are have been working to build a community of aspiring writers since December of 2012. We’ve accomplished a lot in the first couple of years of working toward this goal and we are constantly seeking new ways to improve what we bring to the community.

That is why we are pleased to unveil today a new feature at Today’s Author: our Discussion Forums! Our goal with these forums is to provide a more open and interactive place to discuss our collective journey with writing. We’ve put some forum categories together to start things off and these will continue to grow and change as the community grows and changes.  I hope everyone in our community will create an account in the forums and that this will enable a new level of interaction and growth within the community. Since we are just getting this started, there may be a few kinks to work out with it, but I hope you will give it a try today!

Secondly, we are looking for a few new contributors to write for Today’s Author. Do you feel you are ready to commit to writing a post or two each month, sharing your techniques, strategies, goals and dreams with respect to writing? If so, please fill out the contact form on the Contact Us page and let us know.  We look forward to hearing from you.

The new Forums are just the first of several exciting things coming to Today’s Author.  In the coming months we hope to be bringing you even more tools to help you in your writing journey. Thanks for being part of our community and remember to just keep writing…

Games to Inspire Creativity

I’m a nerd.  My kids are nerds. My wife is a nerd (that’s a compliment, honey).  What this means is we often get gifts that are intellectually stimulating (along with the occasionally absurd varieties).

Two of the games we have on our shelf tend to spur a lot of creativity in our house.  First, there are Rory’s Story Cubes.  Rory’s Story Cubes are a set of dice that have pictures on them.  You roll the dice and then make up a story based on the pictures that come up.  As far as I know, they have three sets:  Original, Voyages, and Actions.  Each set of dice can be used individually or together to build wild stories that are generated by the random rolls.  It is a pocket-sized game, so it is easy to bring along with you wherever you go.  When you want to make up a quick story, whip out the Cubes, roll them out and start writing!  I find these to be a lot of fun with friends or kids and they can really kick start the creativity if you just want to write something fun or different.

Another game we have received is called You’ve Been Sentenced.  In You’ve Been Sentenced, players select a hand of 10 pentagonal cards from the deck. Each card has various conjugations of a base word.  There are nouns, verbs, adjectives, indefinite articles, proper names — everything you’d need to write complete, grammatically correct sentences.  The goal of the game is to build the longest sentence you can (again, properly formed, grammatically correct).  When a player has achieved what they believe is their best sentence, they set a timer and the other players have until the time runs out to complete their own.  Any player in the game is allowed to argue that your sentence is improper or grammatically incorrect or just doesn’t make sense…then you both defend opinions to the rest of the players (The Jury).  The sentences that result from this are often quite hilarious, on their own, but as you can imagine, the arguments against or in defense of a given sentence are often even more hilarious.  We have had games where in defense of a sentence we’ve spun up entire tales explaining back story and side details about the character(s) within it.  Other times, I have attempted to make each of my sentences (each hand of cards) be part of a single storytelling universe- as you might imagine, this is not easy to do with a random set of words every few minutes.

I’m sure there are many other games out there that can provide similar creative sparks.  I have a box on the table next to me that is called the “Writer’s Toolbox”. In it there are flash cards and popsicle sticks that have words, phrases and ideas written on them. There are also spinners with different words on them.  Selecting a card or stick from the various piles or spinning the word wheel provides different ideas and story arcs.  Similarly, I’ve taken a standard dictionary, closed my eyes, opened to a random page and dropped my finger onto a word… do it a couple times and then use those words to build a story.  (In fact, my wife and I used to do this together… we’d select words, write stories and then compare the results — I told you we’re both nerds…).

In the end, I look at any and all opportunities to find creativity.  Games, prompts and other idea generators are great tools, but ultimately they can just be a means of kick starting the creativity that is already there.  Do you know of any other games similar to these which you use as a means of generating ideas? Share them in the comments!

NOTE:  I am not trying to sell these games, but if you are interested in learning more, I’ve provided links to them on Amazon:

Rory’s Story Cubes

 
You’ve Been Sentenced

Getting Back on the (Writing) Wagon

I’d like to take an unscientific poll here.  I’m curious to know what you do if you haven’t written creatively for a while but want to get back into the groove of it again.  Choose one of the options below to participate in the poll, and leave a comment to discuss these options or any others you might do:

 

What Are You Reading Today?

I always found it interesting that people would say it was important for writers to be readers.  But now that I’m old(er) and wiser, I can see that over the years my writing output went down as my To Be Read pile got higher and dustier. Somewhat this is just because of that nasty, four letter word:  Time.  I don’t have any more time to read than I have to write.

I have done a few beta reads for writers I know, so I haven’t completely stopped reading, but I simply haven’t read enough books solely for pleasure in recent years.  Last year I listened to some books on CD:  “Wherever I Wind Up” by R.A. Dickey, “I Am America (And So Can You!)” by Stephen Colbert and “Heat Wave” by Richard Castle (because, why not?).  I also read the comics page in the newspaper every day, but I don’t think that really counts, does it? But in all seriousness, that’s not enough reading for me to be doing in a year.

Time is an excuse. So I am going to blow the dust off of my To Be Read pile and get started on it.  I have one more book on CD which I’ll start this week:  “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” by David Sedaris.  I know nothing about this book, but I received it as a gift some time ago so I should give it a go.  After that, I’ll have to tackle a real book.  I don’t know if I will go with an old standby like Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series, or start with a book in my To Be Read pile that I have never read, such as Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book”.  I’ll let you know what I decide.

In the meantime, I’d like to know what you are reading and whether you think reading is an important part of writing.  Let me know in the comments.

A Change in Perspective

logs

Logs in my yard

Continuing on from my post last week in which I suggested we should try taking a look around us and just write a scene with whatever pops into view first, I have another simple experiment we can do to try to kick start our creativity for 2015. I have used this strategy a lot, actually, when I want to brainstorm or try to generate new ideas.

The concept is simple:

  1. Find an object in your yard, in the room, in the parking lot, or wherever you might be.  Note what it is.  For example, I’m currently looking at a round slice from a tree that was cut down.
  2. Now, in your mind or on paper, think of this object as we perceive it today and describe it and how it is used, where it came from, what it smells like, tastes like, feels like, etc.
  3. Next… say “What if…” and look at the object from a different angle.  For example, my round slice of tree could be stood on end and now it looks like a wooden wheel.  What if this wooden wheel had been part of an early vehicle? Who rode in that vehicle? What was the ride like? What did the passengers in the vehicle talk about?  Where did this wheel take them?
  4. Repeat step 3.  What if my slice of tree was actually a pedestal from the Town Center and had a history of people standing upon it and delivering famous speeches? What if it was one of many tables at a neutral meeting place where peace treaties, political alliances and other major decisions were negotiated?  What if secret messages were encoded in the rings, like some sort of wooden record?

You can do this with anything.  Take any ordinary object and change your perspective on it.  You can use your camera and take a picture of an object, then pull that picture into photo editing software and change the colors, the backgrounds, the contrast.  Invert the colors or apply a sepia filter to it (or both).  Perhaps rotate it 90 degrees in one direction or another.  When you change the perspective, even just a little bit, the whole object becomes new and different. What new stories will you tell about an old, ordinary thing?

Logs with colors inverted

Logs with colors inverted

Logs with inverted colors and a sepia filter

Logs with inverted colors and a sepia filter

Sometimes You Just Need to Start Writing

busy excuseI have no free time.  I get up at 4:37am every day and I’m running all the way until I collapse into bed sometime after 10pm.  Between the day job, kids’ events, yard work, house work and any other multitude of things, my “free” time is that which I spend at the gym in the morning, running or lifting and making myself miserable for some reason I haven’t yet defined.

What that leaves me with is no time to write.

And that’s okay.  I mean, I have a day job that pays the bills, writing is a hobby at this point because I can’t make that leap to where I’m ready to try to make a living at it.  So I know the world isn’t going to end just because I can’t find an hour to write today.  Not very many people will lose sleep over the fact that I haven’t published a story to my blog in a while. The sun will likely still come up tomorrow morning even though Microsoft Word didn’t get pulled up and typed into for something other than the daily TPS Report at work.

But, as I thought about typing that paragraph releasing myself from the guilt of not writing, it dawned on me that the more I thought about reasons why it was okay for me to not write today…the more reasons I could come up with for not writing today.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy to some extent: my schedule is full, so I can’t write. I can’t write because my schedule is full.  My schedule says I can’t write.  My schedule…. Hmm… I can’t write.

I know I am not the only person suffering through thoughts and schedules like this.  And I also recognize that every day I am finding it easier to just let the “I have no time” excuse wash over me and become my default, go-to excuse for writing, for listening to music, for watching the game on TV…for anything I *like* to do but know I probably shouldn’t do because of all the other things I have to do. Admit it: you know exactly what I’m talking about.

So today, I want to take a stand against this thought pattern.  Today, I want to write. Even if just for a few minutes.  Sometimes, the key to getting a story started is, well, to start it. So my challenge to myself and to you is simple:

Wherever you are right now, be it on a train commuting to work or school, in a cubicle at the office, at a table in your favorite local coffee shop, or on the spot on your living room couch which is shaped perfectly for you and no one else to sit in… wherever you may be, look around you.  Look out the nearest window and then write down what you see. Look at the desk next to you and describe what’s in the mug in the corner. Take note of the person who is sitting alone, who never talks to anyone at all and write about what he or she is thinking about.  Do this and write it down.  Write a paragraph or a page, 50 words or 100 words or 1000 words.  This challenge isn’t about the quantity or even the quality, it is about getting the first words down on the page.

So who’s with me?   What do you see outside your window today?

Two Years

Today marks two years since the first post went live here at Today’s Author. In that time, we’ve built a strong, vibrant community of writers and readers. We’ve shared stories and experiences, ideas and feedback. We’ve grown to a community of thousands!

We have been told that our posts have helped in many ways: breaking through writer’s block, kick-starting a series of stories… even completing a college thesis.  With every post and every writing prompt we publish, we hope we are bringing useful and helpful content and ideas to help each of our community members reach their writing goals.

As we look forward to another exciting and creative 2015, we want to know what types of things you, our community, would like to see in the coming months.  Is there a topic you’d like to see us address? Do you have an idea for an exciting new feature for the site?  We welcome feedback as we continue to build this site and this community. Feel free to leave your ideas here in the comments or use the Contact Us form if you’d prefer.

We are excited to be part of your creative life and are happy to have you with us. Thanks for sharing with us for two years so far and here’s to the next two years and beyond!