Writing for the Reader in Me

I have heard countless times since returning to writing and pursuing my MFA degree “write for yourself.” Coming from the profession I have spent my whole career in, the target audience has always been the first influence on work I have created. So the reader, naturally, is someone I want to write for, never mind the fact that I don’t know many of my readers – if there are even many outside of this blog.

Every writer must have experienced the exhilaration of reading their own work after some time has passed at least once. It’s like a whole other person produced it; a deliberate subconscious separation to a completed story that allows the writer to read it for the first time. It’s a beautiful thing.

Since I don’t have a specified audience for fiction in this embryonic stage, I write about subjects that excite and interest me, maybe scare me, and often stuff I want to learn more about. For example, I have never worked in a circus or government office, so a character I create may be campaigning for a local office or a veteran sideshow performer.

Then there is that old adage “write what you know,” which I do fair amount of. Thing is, some of what I know isn’t necessarily based on first-hand experience, some of it is observational and intuitive. I was never a patient in a psychiatric hospital nor have I committed a murder, but pulling from what I know about these subjects based on research and observation, I can place my head in those spaces and become those flawed characters, in the figurative sense. I know how they think and feel, whether they are rational or irrational, what they base their decisions on. They become real live humans in my brain and on the page. This is probably normal for any writer, perhaps all creative-types; I don’t know, I never asked. Whatever the case, it’s part of my writer’s tool box.

So I write for myself now with the intention that other people of similar mind and dysfunction will appreciate it – maybe even love it! It’s working out so far with another short story this year due to publish soon in an anthology about demons.

Tell me about you. I’m always interested in learning how others think about these topics. Do you write or create for yourself or others? Do you become your characters who deviate widely from your real life?

Happy November!

Fighting Creative Fear

In my latest writing ventures, I find myself once again staring down the dead eyes of fear. The polar opposite to creativity when the so-called writer’s block has taken hold. Thing is, it’s not a block, it’s confronting the wide-open unknown. In one aspect, I am playing god with my characters in a fiction piece whose outcomes have been conceived and reconceived several times over while pondering the structure of a nonfiction book. I have confronted fear on numerous occasions, never submitting to it. Yet, I still find myself here.

Some days I wish my life were as simple as coming home from work, turning on the TV, and eventually going to bed. That simplicity would make me crazy. It’s an escapist thought to avoid this inevitable confrontation. Better thought: escape to Disney World for a day or a year. It’s easy to avoid fear, to let it win. And then what – spend a lifetime burying my head and cowering in the corner?

So, what’s the point of me writing this. I’m sure you’re wondering that as I am. To confront fear in the creative sense. To realize, to affirm, to share the lesson that creativity dies when fear fills the void. Embrace the unknown; mold it in your mind’s image. Create your world before bloodless zombies scare it out of you. Hold a pep rally, fall asleep at the bar, enter altered states of dementia; whatever motivates you. Just try not to harm anyone in the process. My point is – as I beat it into my own subconscious – you need to maintain control, kill some zombies, and spend a well-deserved week at Disney because those monstrous writing projects are complete and on their way to publication. Until then, never give in. Let creativity reign.

A Writer’s Exploration: Going There

Now that I have been back to writing fiction consistently for the past year (a nice break from the corporate writing), I realized there is an occasional conflict I face: “going there,” as in, “Oh no! He did not just go there!” It appears during the writing process when I come to the figurative fork in the road, but I typically resolve it without much difficulty. However, some instances throw me into a relentless vicious cycle of decision-making.

In fiction it’s easy for a writer to fall in love with a character, and I don’t mean romance. There are those protagonists and secondary characters that embody special traits to make the story work, whether they are likeable or repulsive. Writers love their creations; they have to. The creations take on lives of their own, living and breathing on our pages. There are those moments of reckoning, however, when a character must meet its demise. It can be a difficult thing to wrap my head around. You would think it would be easy, having no trouble portraying violence, dementia, and gore when a story calls for it. I get attached.

It’s not just ending a character’s life that can hard at times, the same conflict arises in morphing an apparently good character into something evil and despicable. I am battling with myself right now over a particular secondary character my workshop readers have expressed a liking for. Do I maintain her damaged but otherwise good-natured persona, giving her a positive role? Or does an unspeakable malevolence brew in her gut under that sweet exterior? Ultimately, I know the latter choice is the right direction for an already twisted story about a disturbed protagonist.

If I learned anything from reading Stephen King’s “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” recently, it is that the apparent good guys can be bad, and the bad can be good. Many shades of gray define humans, not polar extremes in outlook and behavior. People do what they must in order to survive – good or bad – that’s our nature.

King’s novella also taught me to portray a scene – to show prison violence, in particular – for what it is, in all of it’s gruesome detail and the very real impact it has on human beings. He went there without self-censorship or Hollywood-style heroics, and applied a raw sense of humanity in response to it; the type of humanity that exists in beaten down characters that must be willing to endure the worst atrocities in order to survive. He painted a cruel yet honest portrayal of prison life. That alone made for a compelling story. He took the risk and succeeded.

Today, I am putting an end to that “going there” conflict, driving an icepick through its callous heart. The relentless vicious cycles of decision-making have met their demise.

Ever face this risk-taking conflict? Please share your thoughts, spill your guts – just remember to clean up after yourself.

A Writer’s Exploration: Saving the English Language from Digital Laziness

I doubt any English speaking people today would argue the idea that digital media – namely social media and texting – has given rise to laziness in using the English language. When I’m not out fighting the world on acronyms and jargon – well, not exactly fighting the world – I am a proponent of using our language properly. And no, I don’t mean stuffy prim and proper aristocratic dialogue, which you will not find in my writing, I mean knowing the basic rules of grammar and punctuation.

It’s not hard, really, we learn those rules in elementary school and perfect them throughout our educations and beyond. Yet, in the advent of immediate access to sending and receiving information, there seems to be a culture based around rushing to the point by any means necessary, even if it means sacrificing a period here or a comma there. Before long, whole words are missing while others are severely bastardized. The beautiful language of Dickens, Woolf, and Hemingway is suddenly a pale and decaying reflection of its former self degrading incrementally through every generation of retweets and copy and pasted status updates. Single letters and numerals come to represent words and twenty question marks follow an incomplete sentence because the author really wants you to know that the question is a question, a strong and inquisitive one at that.

I know this single blog post or anything else I say or do will not fix this overnight – or ever. Realistically, it will grow worse before a generational backlash led by future kids thinks good grammar is cool again. Was it ever cool? However, I will walk the talk (another tired cliché) by spreading the [emotion of your choice] of communicating well with others because the words and marks mean what they say and say what they mean. Imagine reading 140 characters and understanding exactly what the author intended with no ambiguity. I see no harm in that.

We have all heard some statement such as how much energy would be saved if everyone would shut off a light bulb an extra hour a day. How many tweets and status updates would be salvaged from the oblivion of apathy if everyone took an extra five seconds to correct their language? We just might begin to truly communicate again.

A Writer’s Exploration: Fleeting Ideas

That worst possible scenario for any creative person struck me this weekend – drawing a blank on ideas about what to write about. I knew I needed to write something about writing, but what? I ignored the news for the past week or so, having no idea of what the latest is on the hot button issues or presidential race. I know there has been a lot of politicization on the unfortunate Martin death in Florida, as evidenced in some posts on Facebook and Twitter I read, which made me feel sick. Why shouldn’t I be surprised, though? Somehow, the conservatives support the shooter, while the liberals support the victim. I really don’t get it. Yet another example backing my life-long independent streak and disdain for partisan politics. Whatever. Moving on now.

Here I am writing about something with no particular purpose in mind. Just letting the words spill from my mind and into my fingers finding their final resting place on the computer screen. I write because I do, I have stories to tell, from what I have been told. With no ideas in mind the language still manages to take form in something comprehensible. That is, if you find the stream of consciousness gibberish comprehensible. I’m not sure I do right now as I fight to stay awake.

But this is how ideas are born, at least for me. Well, this is one of several ways they are born; one I don’t use enough when I am faced with this weekend’s dilemma of fleeting ideas. So, as I write this piece having no ideas, the idea has already taken form – a blog post about having no ideas. How obnoxious can I make this? How poignant and life changing? How mundane. I write because I need to, because it’s my job, my education, my passion. Because I would much rather invest my short time on this planet creating and hopefully enlightening others than passively watch hours of television each night. That would suck the life right out of me; I know so because it has happened.

While the news media pundits debate whatever the current topic is – I seriously don’t know – and reality TV shows continue to take the country by storm, I will sit idly by with an active brain and computer on my lap typing away. That’s what matters to me.