On writing aesthetics & process: happiness is not unendingness

I was challenged by my MFA writing mentor with a writing process and personal aesthetics  prompt: when am I happiest with my writing? And when am I unhappiest about it? Well, since I am going to address this on my blog, I need to make it relatable to you the reader. Otherwise, what’s the point of the blog? Talking to myself is not an option. I just assume keep a diary – I mean journal – under my pillow if that was the case. So, let’s start on a negative note.

I am least happy when I’ve written nothing.

I am the most unhappy when I’ve gone through the motions of the writing process and yielded garbage; the times when a part of a story might emerge that I look back and realize it’s been written somewhere sometime before. A text modeled after a cliché. Or a storyline I hate. Or, most despised of all, one with no ending in sight. I equate that to receiving injections of chlorine bleach under my skin. I’ve never had bleach injections, but I have a good imagination rooted in knowing its chemical properties and how it interacts with various materials.

Stories with no end in sight. The (clichéd) bane of my writing existence.  

This is perhaps my biggest challenge. I have written several almost-stories that don’t end. But they’re supposed to end so they can live the lives of mature stories as they were meant to. Perhaps this is why serial novels are so common, those authors must suffer the same affliction. More than likely capitalism is their driver, which is a good thing. Beats holding a day job while writing at night.

These unfortunate stories sit dormant in my “In Progress” folder on my MacBook waiting for their opportunity to shine. When I open the files and read through, I’ll make changes, write new parts, but they just fight closure. Perhaps that’s the point, they aren’t near completion and I’m being absolutely neurotic over a non-issue. Thing is, I’m not neurotic, I’m obsessive, and that throws a whole new complexity into the mix. It’s that obsessiveness that makes me so specific, so tuned-in to detail when I create. Both to my success and my detriment. Happiness and unhappiness.

Then fear rears its ugly face and taunts me.

In thinking about this issue I realized something, I have a fear of commitment in fiction, which is completely unlike me in the real world. I’m not sure where this comes from. There’s an overwhelming sense of foreboding when I consider allowing a character to die or experience some other incapacitating life-altering event, especially as the means to close a story or a major climax. Unless I despise my protagonist and enjoy the sight of a demon exacting the revenge of the protagonist’s victims – see my story “F is for Furcas: Lies Under Skin” in The Demonologia Biblica. Don’t get me wrong, I will do what’s right for the story, it takes me a while to accept the character’s fate to move forward. This fear of ending a story, however, can cripple the story when not careful, and a source of frustration for me.

I have a challenge to accept. And depending on my mood, I might. This is the root of the matter, I think. Amateur psychologists would have a fun time picking my brain about my creative process as I still haven’t figured it out in my nearly forty years of life. It’s a piece of me, creativity defines me. There is no other light to see me in – like a finance guy or a political guy or a construction guy – and that’s not necessarily by my choice. And I have an impossible time seeing myself in those roles in reality, but that completely changes when it comes to writing.

Bringing this full circle.

This little writing journey today, this blog entry you are reading right now, has been a fun one. The self-discovery and sharing hints of my usually secluded self lighten my brooding artist mood. In real life I tend to be private; in writing life, which is another reality for me, I am more open about myself. It’s this ability to be open that probably makes me happiest in my writing. It encourages confidence in my abilities, it inspires new ideas, new creative methods to add to that mysterious creative process that controls me. And sometimes, it gives me the ability to find my way home, to draw conclusions, to progress a plot line, and to end a story. To resolve my unhappiness with a never-ending story. And that is when I find myself thrilled about my writing, that momentary sense of fulfillment until the next story comes along.

Where do I begin (in writing for business)

A common question for anyone with a concept that merits exploration and writing about: Where do I begin? This was the first thought that came to mind as I prepared to write this blog. The blur of ideas swirling through my brain right were each vying to surface, holding each other down to drown rather than allow any the opportunity to escape unscathed. My ideas were composed of hardened exteriors with spines and claws capable of taking anyone’s fingers off, yet malleable amorphous bodies lay beneath the surfaces waiting to express themselves.

I’m sure everyone experiences this difficulty when they set out to write something, some may call it writer’s block or procrastination, for others it’s seen as a matter of organizing thoughts. Whatever your perspective, they are all essentially different terms for the same thing.

So where do I begin to apply this blog to effective writing that is applicable to any reader who may stumble across this  article? Good thing I kept asking myself this, it’s like I’m working through another cycle of missing motivation – see my previous blog entry on motivation to learn more. And now I’ll step outside of my head.

Grab attention

In business writing, the example I’ll use throughout this exercise, it is important to begin with a succinct message that immediately grabs attention. No different than journalism or fiction, really, though the intended audience of any corporate communication is expecting another doldrum memorandum or speech. You can’t let dull happen. Ever. Let’s use a speech here, don’t ever start a speech with “I’m so glad to be here, my name is _______ and I’m really happy to meet you. My accomplishments include….” Everyone’s heard that intro before, it’s expected and exhausting, the audience is already staring at the light fixtures or shutting their eyes to take a nap. Instead, begin with, “Here’s your solution…..” or “Tomorrow we will begin….”

As tempting as it is, you may want to avoid at all costs beginning a speech with the words “I killed your baby today, she deserved it.” Attention grabbing – absolutely. A few will find the humor, unfortunately, most will not. But think of a similar and relevant statement that will command the attention of even the most apathetic employee. Then carry that heightened moment forward with further supporting details.

In medias res

Then there is beginning in medias res. Unless you are a writer or have been enrolled in a writing program, you are less likely to encounter this term. Thing is, you’ve seen it used in movies, TV dramas, and books of all kinds. SImply explained, it’s beginning the story in the midst of action from the middle of the narrative, an abrupt flash forward if you will, that immediately draws the audience to an upcoming conflict that early part of the story is building up to. I find it a fun literary device as I don’t always like to tell stories in chronological order. Think about how this can apply to preparing a presentation or speech. Open with a teaser that immediately engages the audience, then transition to the beginning of the story you are about to tell. Just don’t lose the momentum that opener initiated.

Begin with the end

There are other aspects to where to begin, such as sorting out your thoughts, like my opening paragraph to this blog entry. Sometimes, those swirling thoughts are so overwhelming and cumbersome that the best place to begin is with the end. What is your intended result? Who are you talking to and why? If you are persuading an audience that a new process will benefit the company by reducing expenses thereby improve their bonuses, start there and follow with supporting information like how this came to be and why it will work, then close with a reiteration of your initial point. SImple, right?

Where this blog entry started and has headed I couldn’t fathom before I began. This idea was one of those soft-bodied cores beneath a spiny exoskeleton when it was first spawned, difficult to approach until I found exactly the right point to access its warm and bountiful interior. I hope that you have come away with something useful in your own writing endeavors, even if some strange visual metaphors to remember this by.

Overcoming A Negative Outlook

I’ve been in a rut lately. Creative writing has not been easy. Blog, fiction, my non-fiction book; the word challenge is an understatement. You might call it writer’s block. I call it work-related stress, grief over losing my beloved grandmother recently, and overall chaos that has pervaded my life lately. Staring at TV shows and zoning out to mindless puzzle games at night has never appealed so much, until it bothered me that time was wasting away on frivolity. Then something happened this week.

A co-worker read my blog entry “The Antithesis of Creativity.” She was floored, in her words; she said she had read it at exactly the right time. She printed it out so her husband could read it that night, I understand he’s going through some tough times too when it comes to employment, as several of my friends are in the same situation. She wanted him to read it to help change his outlook.

This knowledge, that I had this affect on someone with words and thoughts I wrote a few months ago, changed my outlook. Inspiration has returned just in time. My friend and coworker’s words came to me at exactly the right time. I have a busy year of writing ahead of me.

Elusive Focus

What to write? So many ideas, so little time to record them all. They ebb and flow, some stick, others slip back into the ocean. Focus is key, when I can find it. Focus with the ability to filter. I often find my focal point is a puddle of pulsating slime, not very clear, as you could imagine. It slithers as only slime can along a broken concrete and dirt floor, eluding me when I need it most. And when do I need it most? Now.

Here I am, fixated on closing a story for the second time. The first closing opened new doors. Funny how that works. This welcome weight I have hoisted over my shoulders, carrying it on end much like a Scottish games competitor, I am working desperately for the sake of my sanity to bring closure to this story again. Now my focus is a twelve-foot maple tree trunk I need to throw as far as possible. Without damaging anything.

My focus is damaged. It just is. I have no explanation. It reminds me of the astigmatism I used to have in both eyes – I had Lasik. Unfortunately, Lasik doesn’t sharpen conscious thought. It morphs from one form to another without warning, sometimes holding my subconscious hostage as my superego tells it it’s not very nice and should stop that. Yeah, that superego is too gentle, too nice, too outside of my general area of focus. Is that what it is? Attention deficit?

As I sit here tapping out S-O-S in Morse code, for all the wrong trivial reasons, I am crystalizing my ideas, my intent to close the story, or at least current storyline. That more than likely is the thing that is stirring my brain non-stop: the story is not meant to be short. It has become a living entity, and I need to nurture it some more before I drop it off a cliff where it will return to its primordial ooze state of self-being. Or as I like to call it, the slime found on smooth rocks covered in algae and mollusks. What am I writing?

A Semi-Subconscious Self Portrait

Drawing inspiration from the mundane, regular, everyday type of stuff that surrounds us; average, unnoticed, omnipresent. That’s where I find the strange, the scary, the peculiar, the horrific. Much like the carnival sideshows of decades past, showcasing oddities and mysteries, my brain is both spectator and showman when I write. That sounds so esoteric and pompous, I suppose, so ridiculous yet it defines my creative process. I can only be egalitarian to a point, as far as my humble nature allows before I fall victim to self-induced humility and fall into that downward spiral that is routine nature.

Somehow, this rambling makes sense to my subconscious and my ego is enthralled. One day I may learn a thing or two from my subconscious, the distant world where all of my creativity stems from. It’s the well-fertilized part of my being, complete with a robust composting system providing nourishment and enrichment.

Confused? Me too, maybe to a lesser degree. This is my brain in raw action, after all, translated into words that a reader can understand.

Otherwise, if my mind was to get with the program, the doldrums of everyday work and life becomes the routine norm where innovation is scoffed at and free expression is shunned. The thick skin of humility blockades the acceptance of compliments, accolades, and accomplishments. We accept only what we have been taught in school about being nothing more than a number in the system, a little cog in a great machine, the pawn the corporation sees as expendable and thrown into the basement to work next to the boiler room. These things really happen, some figuratively, some literally, others fictional. You get the point. I think.