Recharging

A couple of months ago I reintroduced myself, after a long sabbatical hiatus vacation holiday break absence.  Since then I’ve been trying to work my way back into some semblance of a writing habit.  Based on the crowd I’m writing to, you all no doubt understand that this is not easy.  That’s OK, I didn’t expect it to be.  I’ve done this before–I’m sure we all have from time to time–so I expect this to be a long-haul kind of life change.

Breaking or creating habits is generally a struggle.  First there’s the struggle just to keep the change in the forefront of your mind.  It’s hard to get in shape if you don’t remember to go to the gym until you’re getting ready for bed.  On this front I’ve been making myself use a bullet journal everyday–even weekends.  And at least 3 times each week (scheduled in my bullet journal) I must do some sort of creative writing.  I make myself do it in a particular journal, even if I intend to use it online.  And this is where the next step has been rearing it’s head.

My creative battery is very nearly dead.

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The occasional companion to Writer’s Block–at least for some of us–is Reader’s Block.  Much of the reason for my writing drought is because I let the rest of life suck up the time I used to set aside for writing.  My reading time was not immune from this same gluttonous beast.  I’m not saying I haven’t been reading over the last few years, but my intake of creative material has nearly dried up. Social media makes it easier than it used to be to keep up with science articles, and I read plenty of programming and technical articles for work, but my busy schedule has proven to be anathema to sitting down with a novel or a decent collection of shorts.

And creating something new is frightfully hard if the creative well is dry.

So while I continue to force myself to write–and so far the only way for me to keep up is to force myself–I’m going to try to focus some energy on recharging my battery.  Decades ago one of the authors that lit the fires of writing and wordplay within me was Terry Pratchett.  And in the last few months I’ve been working to complete my collection of Discworld novels.  So I’ve decided that’s where I’m going to start.

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I’ve recently started rereading The Colour of Magic, and when I finish that I’m moving on to the other 40 novels in the series.  I’m not structuring this too much.  I’ve no plan to read them one immediately after the other–I will mix in other books as my whims dictate.  Nor am I giving myself a deadline.  I’m trying to retrain myself to enjoy and absorb good writing and wild creativity–not hurry through a book that is a chore.

What books recharge your creative batteries?

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Private Thoughts: Diaries and Journals

This is not meant as a scientific poll by any means, but more of a curiosity:  do you keep a diary or journal that is just for you? In this era of social media, it seems sometimes that there is no privacy at all.  We post often and regularly to Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr (or whatever the latest one is – I can’t keep up!). Many of us post regularly to our blogs, sharing our works of art as well as our opinions and thoughts on the world.

But there are a lot of times when I have things that I need to say, but I need to say them to no one at all.  I used to keep a paper diary but that was hard to manage because A) my handwriting is atrocious, B) finding storage for all those notebooks in my tiny, little, crooked house is not easy and C) I would have to take the laptop off my lap in order to put a notebook there…and that’s just not likely to happen.

I used to use my diary as a place to “just write”. Some days it was my deepest, darkest secrets. Some days it was just me waxing poetic about the girl with the beautiful hair who wouldn’t give me the time of day. Some days it was me doodling with a new story idea that magically started to appear on the page as I was waxing poetic about that girl with the beautiful hair.  I used to be diligent about it – 30 minutes, every day, no matter what.  I’d go back days or weeks later and read what I wrote, often being able to pull a neat little short story out of the debris field of my written mind-dump.  While times and life have changed, I’d like to get back to that kind of structure where I write whatever thoughts come to mind without any particular goal or target…though I suspect most of my commentary will be about coffee these days.

Regardless of the potential topics, I’ve tried various online tools to keep my private thoughts and ideas safe and secure, but I’ve never really been happy with them.  Private blogs work okay but end up distracting me anyway as I fiddle with the look and feel (even though it’s just for my eyes only).  I find online notebooks like evernote to be clumsy and hard to use.  I’ve used Microsoft Word documents but they, too, come to a point where I get distracted by fonts and colors and formatting and tables of contents and… you get the picture.

The issue is clearly me more than it is the tools.  I have settled on a private blog for now but I’m curious what methods the Today’s Author community might be using for a modern, comfortable, easy-to-use-and-not-too-distracting journal or diary.  I’d love to hear your methods for letting the private thoughts out while still keeping them private.

I Met You through Your Words

I really didn’t know my maternal grandparents.  I mean, I met them when I was little… like 4 or 5 years old.  But through the agony of broken family politics, I basically never saw or heard from them again once my parents got divorced.

When I re-established contact with my biological mother, around when I was 18 years old or so, my grandparents had already passed away.  I learned this during the first face-to-face interaction I’d had with my mother since I was a young kid.  It was also during this visit that my mother learned I was a writer (she really didn’t know me).  Upon learning this, she went to a box, pulled out an old folder and handed it to me.  I opened it up and found it to be filled with yellowed notebook pages covered in fading pencil marks.

It was my grandmother’s writing notebook.

imageIn these pages, I met my grandmother.  I know, I said in the first paragraph here that I had already met her when I was a toddler but here, in these 50-year old pages, I truly met my grandmother in her own words.  There were short stories, poems, songs, journal pages… a plethora of words and emotions and opinions which I never would have guessed belonged to the white-haired, soft-spoken woman I could call up from the remnants of 5-year-old-Rob’s memory.

I remembered my grandmother as being compassionate when I was injured and bleeding after the latch on the car door broke and I tumbled out of the car, somehow having the strength and wherewithal to grab onto the door handle and hold on so that I wouldn’t end up in the middle of the highway (we didn’t have seatbelts back then)… but I also remembered her as stern and unforgiving if I took an extra cookie or tracked mud into the house.  I remembered her as always deferring to my grandfather’s opinion on things.  But even those memories felt distant to me – almost fictional or fake – because so much time had passed since I’d seen or interacted with her. Basically, I didn’t know her.  I knew of her.  And yet, here in this folder, she was alive, young and vibrant.  She was witty. She was opinionated. She showed off an ironic sense of humor and a passion for life.  For the brief moment I held that folder, I was with her. I asked my mother if this was how she was in real life and the answer was yes – she was funny and dynamic and all the things I was reading.

Then my mother took the folder back and I never saw it again (and now that my mother has passed away, I doubt I ever will).

After having experienced my grandmother’s writing, I took a good look at my own.  How much of “me” was going onto the page when I wrote a story?  If, long in the future, my children’s children were to look through my own fading pages, would they get to meet me or would they just see words on a page?  I realized that while my poetry was pretty good at telling who I was (an angst-y teenaged boy with trust issues and a distinct love of food and advanced math), my prose was pretty bad at it. Sure, if I wrote a piece about monsters and murders and the like, that couldn’t really be who I was since I wasn’t a monster or a murderer… but I should still be able to put a piece of me into the story somewhere, right?

I feel like I became a better writer when I started to include bits of my own personality in the text.  It could be as simple as the now-expected comments about how awesome coffee is. It could be a character who blatantly expresses my own opinions on politics or religion.  It could be a sports team with the same propensity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as my preferred sports teams have.  Maybe I’m fooling myself a bit in thinking that it has added a layer to the writing which was absent before, but I truly believe that my stories are better with a little bit of me be in them. At this point, I don’t even think about it – it just happens naturally.

I never had a chance to know my grandmother, but through her words I was able to meet her and my life is more complete because of it. I’d be curious to know what you think about the subject.  Do you see bits of yourself in your writing?  Do you make an effort to put your opinions and thoughts on the world into the text of your fiction pieces?  Do you feel it is important or helpful to make your fictional worlds have this real-life connection, even if it is slight?

Whatever the answers, just keep writing… because I’d like to be able to get to know you better through your words.