A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 5: The Writing Environment

You get a certain level of comfort writing being in the same room for a while. That’s not to say that certain place is the best place to write, however. Ever since I turned 18, I have had about six or so spaces that I considered to be my exclusive writing space. I made all of them work, even though each of them had certain disadvantages.

I’ve made various spots my writing dens over the years. When I was a kid and had my first desktop computer for college assignments, etc., I decided to use a small rolling desk designed especially for keyboards and desktop stacks. It wasn’t too private, but not too many people went down in the basement, and there were only three people in the house (Me, Mom, and Dad). So, I made that work.

I had that for a few years, and then, when I moved into my own apartment, I fit it into a second room of the two bedroom apartment right after I got married. I have to admit now, after the fact, that I was not doing as much writing as I aspired to do back in those days. It was a lot easier for me to call myself a writer rather than actually write. I’ve talked about that instinct in some previous Writer’s Biography posts.

That was during a 10-year stint in a town called Clinton, where my job had brought my wife and I there. (This would be the last time any job of mine moved us anywhere, and that was likely the best for me and my family, looking back.) We eventually got a nice older house, built in the late 1940’s, which became the first house that my kids ever had.

Although I don’t happen to have any photos of the place readily available, I remember the first house that I owned quite well, and the place that I decided to claim as my writing space. There was a back room to the house that appeared to be a former four seasons room turned into an interior sun room. There was a patio on top of the room that was connected to my son’s room, and he occasionally liked to amuse himself by running out there undressed. (In his defense, he was… four? Five? Something like that.) Sometimes the room leaked by the door when it rained really hard, but I was able to fit a couple of desks in there for both me and my wife’s laptops, and an old couch and television besides. There was a television in there, as well, and I always wondered if the television would be too much of a distraction for me, as it had been in my first basement lair of my youth. (These were more innocent times, before YouTube and YouTube TV meant that I could watch more or less whatever I wanted while I typed on the same screen. It’s not a home theater experience, mind, but that was never something that I was desperate to experience except for watching the biggest scale movies.)

Again, I got some writing done in that cozy, sunlit little room, but not as much as I wanted to. It was at that point, however, that I started to think that I needed to rededicate myself to writing.

This was my workspace and my room between mid-2007 and up until mid-2020 – about 13 years. The first time I entered this house – the biggest house that I had ever lived in up to that point – I found this room up at the top of the staircase and instantly decided, “This is the place.” I picked up the tiny corner desk you see below, filled the place up with bookcases, and called it my home office.

Yes, it really got dusty sometimes, and it got cluttered, for sure. But, it was mine, and a good place to write.

There were some disadvantages to that room. It was easily the warmest room in the house, and the air conditioning register was stuck underneath my futon. At one point I think I had something like four fans in that room to help with the circulation there. The carpet in there wasn’t in the best shape, and it didn’t get much better in the 13 years we spent there. And, I have to admit that I could have done a lot better job picking up the place. It started getting cluttered there with various papers and notes and various debris. There were plenty of little cracks and crevices in that room that didn’t get cleaned, either. (That was a bit of a mess on our final moveout day.

Due to different circumstances, I would often sleep in that room, too. I think that can be problematic for a writing room, because you tend to either overestimate the amount of time you have to write or it becomes immediately easy to procrastinate there. Once we decided to move to the new place, I determined that I didn’t want to have that as my sleeping place as well, so I stuck to that.

So, last year, we moved to my new home in Lucas County, Iowa, in a 100-year-old home that felt nice and cozy compared to the old place. We made some changes to the place to update it and began to settle in.

For a brief time, I had an office space in the spare front room of our new house. It was somewhat similar to what I had before, except for the hardwood flooring. I was able to get most of my bookcases in there, the old desk, and it seemed pretty settled.

My old desk just before I realized it was time for the trash heap. Oh, well.

Of course, as things happen, things in life happen. My wife and I had anticipated that we would be here pretty much by ourselves when we moved here. My son had moved to the Iowa City area for work in the HVAC field, and my daughter decided to study chemical engineering at my old school, the University of Iowa, also in Iowa City. However, COVID-19 eventually meant that my daughter moved for the next several months back in the room we had reserved for her for online learning. Then, due to other circumstances, my son needed to move back in with us and found some HVAC work in our town. However, he would have to take over our only remaining spare bedroom… which happened to be the same room that I had lovingly converted into my office.

Whatever disappointment that I might have felt with the loss of my writing den eventually became counterbalanced with the urges that had been fueling me for the past several months to simplify my life. I had the chance to further simplify it even further, which appealed to me. Thus, I moved forward with my next step.

So, I now present to you, my new writing hideout.

With our children’s two rooms below, the third bedroom, which my wife and I share, is tucked up into the attic of the house. It’s located up at the top of a twisting, narrow staircase that might worry me a bit if I thought we were going to be living here for the next 30 years. At the top of the staircase, there’s a small little landing that has just enough room for two bookcases, a chair, some storage, and my wife’s old-fashioned desk that she once used for her own business and now has generously lent it to me. I’m also glad for the carpeting, since that makes me slightly less nervous that I might sometime fall down the staircase going a little bit to the left.

There are a few disadvantages, of course. All rooms always have them. There’s no door to shut and I can hear any commotion downstairs, but you would be surprised what earbuds can cancel out. It might get a little warm in the upstairs, so I’m looking forward to replacing the window air conditioner we have up here.

But on the other hand, the staircase means that I get few people bothering me when I do write. I’m surprised that I have just enough space to work and not too much to get sloppy. It’s cozy, it’s intimate, and it is mine. And I do write things in here.

When it comes to a writing space, that’s the most important thing in the end.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 7: Letting the past go

I’ve moved four times in just over 20 years. It’s not gotten easier with time. You want to know what it has taught me? Owning stuff is overrated. Even if it is something you have created or treasured.

Yes, I did wind up owning that amount of books. I wound up donating about four boxes worth to Goodwill or the local library. Recently, I’ve had to become very choosy about how many books are in my collection.

It’s a funny situation.

In the summer of 2020, I wound up being the last adult at my house for a couple months. My wife, Laura, had managed to find a great job opportunity in southern Iowa. It was going to be a brave new world for me, who had spent most of my life living in Eastern Iowa, and my wife and two kids, who had lived there for all of their lives.

My wife had actually moved the fall before to our new hometown, installing herself in an efficiency apartment near her work while returning to our home on the weekends and holidays. I’m not sure I really hinted at it that much on this blog at the time, but Summer 2019 – Summer 2020 was one of the weirdest times in my life and my family’s life. I was trying to keep things together – not often perfectly – while working a job that I knew I was going to be leaving at the end of the year. Laura felt like she was missing out on our daughter’s senior year, but she was being too unfair – she had always been part of our kids’ activities and lives, and this was something she was doing for all of us. And, of course, we had COVID happen in the middle of everything and both disrupt my daughter’s senior year, delay my son’s post-high school training, and stop my lame duck year at my school district dead in its tracks.

The biggest change, and the biggest challenge for us, was the house that we had spent the last 12-13 years in. The kids had spent the vast majority of their remembered childhoods in that home. It was the largest home I’ve ever lived in. And we had to clear it out and move whatever we were going to move halfway across the state within a few months.

What we were dealing with after 12-13 years of living in one house with two growing kids. This was our basement circa Spring 2020.

As you can see, there was a lot of stuff to deal with. It included kid junk from several eras of childhood, both my kids’ and my own. It included nick-knacks on top of nick-knacks obtained on a whim for long-forgotten reasons. There was stuff stored behind other stuff and underneath still more stuff that had been long forgotten about by both myself and my wife. There was at least one big pile of newspapers filled with my ramblings about long-forgotten council meetings or interviews with fifth-string candidates in the Iowa Caucuses. Some of it was just short of trash, decorations for holidays that had been made snacks of by the occasional mouse.

All of those things we spent a lifetime collecting and keeping for “when we needed it.” Until the day came when we didn’t need it anymore.

I remembered a specific time when I was faced with a pile of those old newspapers, reminders of a career past when I did my best to let people know about their community even though not everyone read those stories. For a while, they defined who I was.

I sent that entire pile out to the trash hauler. I will tell you that getting rid of that was a massive relief.

There were many nick-knacks that I had kept over the years, items that long lost their meaning. Those went into the hauler, or over to Goodwill. There were so many clothes that I kept just to keep them and they were so far in the back of the closet that they never saw the light of day. I think I remember filling about five or six large black garbage sacks full of clothes and shoes to Goodwill. They got a lot of plus-sized clothes from me, that is for sure.

One thing that I realized:

If you don’t see it and you can’t reach it easily, it’s almost like you don’t own it.

Jason Liegois

There’s very few things that I absolutely had to keep. There are the fiction writings that I’ve generated, off and on, ever since I turned 14. Those are stored in file folders or, nowadays, on external hard drives or flash drives. There are the photos of my family, both hard copies and electronic ones, that we’ve either got up on the walls or stored someplace safe. There are the books that I kept after getting rid of… maybe eight of those boxes of books over the past four years and four of them in that last year alone. If I want a book now, it has to be either high on my list or I go the Amazon Kindle route.

If there is one thing that the move solidified for me, it’s that material things are not the best investment for me. I want to invest in my health and the health of others. I want to spend what excess resources I have on great experiences for me, my wife, and our kids. I want to help them if they need it down the line.

It’s funny, but I’ve been reading (in slow starts and stops) a one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I know a lot of people connect with the humans (naturally) and the elves in that story, but it’s the hobbits that might have made the most connection to me. I can see myself as a version of them, working at a simple job, in a simple hobbit hole in the ground, and spending my time meeting with friends and family over a fire (or maybe watching soccer, lol).

As I get older, I start wanting to simplify things more and more. Leaving some of the things a younger man bought was one of them.

Author’s Note: I debated whether to make this part of the Volume II (my life as a young adult) or the Volume III (my life since I rededicated myself to writing, also known as the present time). By a narrow margin, I decided on titling it in the Volume II section since the things I was getting rid of came from my younger self.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 8: The Old Mississippi

I recently completed my move from Muscatine, Iowa, where I’ve lived for more than 30 of the fortysomething years I’ve lived, to Chariton, Iowa, in south-central Iowa. In many ways, I’m excited about the move – it has been a great professional opportunity for my wife, a good financial move for us, and a good change of pace for me. Being closer to Des Moines might even be helpful for me as far as writing goes – more writers, more people to network with. My wife even has suggested that I start a Chariton or Lucas County writer’s group, but I have to admit that I have no idea how many writers are out there or what type of writing they might do. I’d be open to the idea, however.

It’s going to be the river, however, that I’m going to miss the most.

For more than forty of my years, I have lived a couple miles or so from the Mississippi River. That has been something that I truly treasured. I remembered when I was a little kid, reading something in a National Geographic book about how the Mississippi/Missouri/Ohio river system was the third biggest river system in the world, topped only by the Amazon and the Nile. Heady stuff for a little kid.

I want to describe what this river meant to me, then and now. Doing justice to the subject is a little intimidating, to be honest. I haven’t done much looking at other people’s writings about rivers or the Mississippi in particular.

When I talk about this, I need to be honest. It wasn’t like I was some river rat, hanging out on the shore every weekend or even every month. If I wandered down to the riverfront once every week it was an uncommon occurrence. But the fact that the river was there was reassuring to me. It was a living, breathing river and passageway to me, a place where I could lose myself if I had the chance.

Since I learned that we were going to be moving to South Central Iowa, I’ve been thinking more about my feelings about the Mississippi, some of the ways that I have experienced the river. My old writing group back in Muscatine did a lot of poetry and a lot of writing about our region. I decided to finally try my own hand at poetry, which turned into my current Project C.

So, I’m thinking that maybe a poem might be a good way to maybe get at the way I feel. This is the first time I’ve shown this – be gentle.

NO-MAN’S ISLANDS (A River Story)
2.2019
The thing that The River has over other rivers and streams
is its own land.
Usually, it’s just a dirt road of two-lane blacktop of muddy water
or a four-lane at best.
But The River has its own land, right there tucked in the channel.
Carved and molded and rounded-off by the ever-shifting waters
with no shape but overwhelming mass and motion.
These are the No Man’s Island’s.  
Temporary Sentinels guarding the river for as long as they’re around.
They are for no one for everyone that has a boat
or strong enough swimming stroke.
Some are bare sand, all but ready for a rise in The River
to send it away.
Others are thick jungles, oaks and maples cluttering the interior
and hanging off the banks like a daredevil hanging from a bridge.
They’re perfect for parking your boat,
and getting some sun quota for the day.
You hang out with love behind the trees and bushes
obscuring the view of the jet skiers and party boat passengers and barge crews.
It’s their own little fiefdoms away from the cares and stresses
On Shore.
At least, they are until the snacks and beers in the coolers run out.

I’m planning on trying to do more of that poetry with river themes, as a way of keeping those memories alive with me and keep creative.

There’s no rivers the size of the Mississippi around here. There are some sizable lakes around here, including Lake Rathburn and some others within decent driving range. However, I do have an active railway not a block away from my house. I’m actually living on a highway for the first time in my life, as well.

Maybe its time to try out some train and road poems.

Writing Journal 7.26.2020: Moving my base of operations took a toll on my writing these past two weeks

So, after letting you know what was going on almost a year ago, the move’s finally happened.

I officially transferred the flag, so to speak, to the new home in South Central Iowa about three days ago. It’s all still a new experience to me. I like the new home, even though getting to the master bedroom is a bit of a climb. I do appreciate that it’s smaller and more easily maintainable than the place I lived in for 13 years.

This year is easily going to be the biggest “transition” year of my life for some time. I have one child living and working on his own and the other is preparing to head to college soon (what that will look like is soon to be determined). I am several weeks away from starting a new teaching assignment, though what that will look like is still up in the air, being new to the district and with the current pandemic.

Naturally, with emptying out the old place and cleaning it, and filling the new place and cleaning it, it took a toll on my writing time, especially this past week in the midst of the move. As always, I’ll post the weekly total (in this case, the two-week total) at the end.

Getting your writing environment right is a discussion within itself. I realize now after the fact that I had nailed down my old writing space where I’d spent many a night writing what turned out to be the majority of my written work. Now I am in the process of creating something that will meet my needs. How well I do that and how fast of a process it will take is, again, something yet to be determined.

The good news is that the move has been quite inspirational for me as far as blogging goes. For anyone that just started following this blog, I needed to give a bit of explanation. For as much as my memory can fade or be filled with other items, I never thought that I would be one of those ones who would ever be interested in doing a memoir. To be honest, my own life doesn’t really have the kind of excitement that would attract many readers.

Over the course of this blog, however, I ended up creating a Writer’s Biography of tales, essentially talking about things in my life that had to do with my life and evolution as a writer. In looking back at that collection of stories, however, it appears I have not written a new one in nearly a year. As of right now, this move seems to have inspired no less than three new posts, one for each of the volumes in the collection. (Volume I stories cover topics that had to do with or began during my childhood; Volume II stories cover topics of when I was a young adult, and Volume III stories are about what has happened roughly since I began rededicating myself to writing.)

So, you’ll see that, and likely another link to a video review of the next section of Lord of the Rings that I’ve read. I’m hoping to get all of it down by the time school starts up again.

Also, apparently, I passed the 300-post mark sometime during the past few weeks. Three years and 300 posts, both good numbers.

Anyway, here’s my joke of writing stats for the past two weeks. Enjoy and stay safe.

Week of July 12:
+6,859 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 1 of 7 for 60 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 5 of 7 days.

Week of July 19:
+153 words written.
Days writing: 1 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 0 of 7 days.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 6: My obsession with soccer

Honestly, there’s been more than a few hints that I’m obsessed with soccer/association football/football.

The origins of the obsession come back to me, in fits and spurts. You have to understand, those of you who only remember 21st century America, that if you were ever transported to late 20th century America, you would find much of it to be familiar, yet there would also be some profound differences. For the purposes of keeping on topic, I’m going to only stick to what it was like for those who had an interest in soccer.

By the time I was growing up, soccer already had a century-plus history in the world under the rules and regulations that had been started up in an English pub around the time of the American Civil War. I knew none of this history growing up. I knew soccer was a game where you kicked the ball and used everything but your hands to move it, but that was it. There weren’t any games I could either watch on TV or hear on the radio, and the first match I ever saw live were the YMCA youth games I played in.

I’m sure I probably looked up the encyclopedia article for soccer at some point, but the first proper book I remember reading about soccer was a small one published by the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). I forget its name now, other than it was a little green book that went over the rules and general positions for soccer. (They still had the kids line up in a 2-3-5 (Pyramid) formation 30 years after it was obsolete.

It also talked to me about some of the legends who played soccer – Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, and Shemp Messing and Kyle Rote, Jr. (Americans playing soccer? Impossible). It talked about their exploits in America, in the old North American Soccer League, even though I didn’t know and the book didn’t say that the league was at that moment dying a quiet death.

Pele became my first soccer idol, even though he was retired from playing and I never saw any of his games as a kid. He was just that good, right? I did see him in a World War II movie directed by John Huston called Victory where Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone (what???) were Allied POWs who were challenged to a soccer match by the German National Team in occupied France. Stallone was the goalie and actually looked passable in the role – I learned years later that the former England keeper Gordon Banks had helped coach him. Pele was on the Allied team – they had to make him someone from Trinidad because while Brazil was on the Allied side during WWII, they never sent troops to Europe during the time in history.

Then there was my own limited playing experiences in YMCA soccer. I loved the freeflowing nature of the game, how improvisational you could be with the ball and how you didn’t have to be built a certain way or have a certain look to be successful with it. To be honest, I was a pretty limited player even as a kid – a defensive left back with a good right foot whose main defensive weapon was “get to the ball before the opponents and kick it as hard as I can.” The old English managers would have loved me.

I remember seeing a article in People magazine during the mid to late 80’s, a lifestyle story about Diego Maradona. I was fascinated about him being so small and yet so dominant in soccer, and intrigued about the wild lifestyle the article just hinted at. He became my first soccer antihero.

I vaguely remember there being a World Cup, but I really didn’t get into it until the USA hosted it in 1994. That was the first time I remember the entire tournament being on TV. I specifically remember visiting my then-girlfriend, now-wife, at her mom’s home and randomly turning on the TV to see how the US v. Columbia game was going on. When I saw we were already 2-0, I jumped up shouting and everyone in the house wondered whether I was nuts. I was a fan of the US men’s national team from that moment forward. I guess I was technically a US women’s national team fan from then on, too, but not really until the 1999 Women’s World Cup, when I saw them work their magic.

Ever since then, it’s become easier and easier to feed into my soccer fandom, with better coverage of the game in America and overseas, especially the English Premiere League which I have been addicted to since they began broadcasting those games regularly on American television. It’s been fun to find teams to root for in the different leagues, even ones in Mexico and Germany, among others.

And now, that passion for the sport has bled into my writing world, the Project A that I’ve talked about. I have a great main character from America and it’s been a blast dipping him into the world of soccer, though I think that this character in particular would be interesting no matter what he was doing.

However, I’ve put him in the world of soccer. That’s because, in part, I’m always up for seeing what happens during a good game.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I debated whether this was going to be a Volume I (childhood) entry, a Volume II (young adulthood) entry, or a Volume III (middle age and onwards) entry. I first learned of the sport and played it as a young child, my soccer fandom started as a young adult, and I didn’t complete the main project I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. It was a roll of the dice, but I settled on Volume II because that’s when the obsession really started.

Anyway, I’m publishing this not on the weekend, so I can still call it a midweek post and keep my word to everyone, lol.]

[AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The pic I used for today’s post comes from a photographer I found out about from the blog In Bed With Maradona. If you are massively into football ⚽️ culture, you need to check it out. The photographer’s name’s Jurgen Vantomme and he does some great stuff. This comes courtesy of this collection, and you can check his web site out here.]

 

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 4: On Leaving an Author Behind

There’s always been discussion about whether to separate artists and their behavior in real life from their art. This debate has grown exponentially given the political climate over the past two years, but that is just a reflection of the conflict that has gone on for many years before.

It may be strange that I’m posting this as a Writer’s Biography blog, but I’ve long held to the belief of Stephen King and others that reading other people’s work is nearly as much a part of building a writer as the actual writing process itself. So, something having to do with what I chose to read in the past, present, and future is part of building me as a writer moving forward.

I’ve written before about authors I’ve admired in this series, as well as authors that I’ve fallen out of love with for various reasons. However, I’m finding myself making more decisions regarding what authors I choose to read and what authors I choose not to read.

Basically, more and more new authors are coming out with more and more new stuff. Since I happen to be a newly published author myself, I have made the decision that I want to do what I can with the financial resources that I have to support these types of authors, especially those whose work I admire and/or those who have been a support to me now and in the past.

There are a lot of authors out there to choose from. So, as far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to devote my time to any authors that I think are problematic for whatever real life reason. Some that argue the opposite way would say that to do that would ignore many great works of writing. My counterargument to that is, there are plenty of authors out there who are good people. Why force yourself to make moral judgements when there are plenty of great alternative authors and writing out there? It’s too much work and I don’t want to support people like that financially or with attention if I can help it.

One example of this cropped up with me last week, and one particular author. I’m not going to name the author here, but he’s active in the entertainment industry as well as being an author. I had the chance to read a memoir of his, and I thought it was some great writing about his experiences in the industry. It was definitely one of the better books I read during the past couple of years.

However, I was on social media and I found him making some profoundly unfunny jokes about people, and it was apparent from other posts and information that he’d turned into some sort of right-wing crank. Within a half-hour, that book was no longer in my personal library and I put him out of my head. It was that quick.

I regret that the guy turned out to be someone I couldn’t approve of, but I don’t regret my decision. You may have to work with and live near people whose personal philosophies you disagree with, but there’s no requirement to have to rely on them for entertainment and reading joy. Both reading and writing are my passion, my escape, and my art. I have no problem having what I read reflect my passions and views just the same as my writing does.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: For a while on my blog, I’ve been posting stories about my past that helped build and mold me into the writer and person I am today. You’ll be able to find these (and a couple of other stories) in the Biographies category section of my blog. Here’s a direct link, too.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 3: About that writing journal

There were more than a few things that I had to think about for a while when I wanted to try and become a more consistent writer. One of those things was accountability.

When I went for years, at times, without writing, nobody really asked me why I wasn’t writing. I had told a few people writing interested me, like my parents, my wife, and some others, but there really wasn’t anybody hectoring me to get to writing if I had stopped for a while. Yeah, there were people reminding me to mow the lawn (wife) or play with them for a while (kids), but I realized that if I was going to get back on the writing track, I was going to have to be the self motivator.

A couple years after I started to get back into the swing of things, I began thinking that it would be a good idea to try and record how much I tried to write on a daily basis. I had heard of writers who had posted stuff on places like Reddit’s r/wordcount. I made a couple of half-hearted tries at it for a couple of years, but nothing happened. It was too much of an ask for me at the time, trying to be that dedicated every day.

I started keeping a record of the amount of writing I did every day beginning in 2013. There were many days when all I had to write was “zip” because that was exactly how much I wrote. But, I was no longer regularly going weeks, months, even years between writing. When I had a dry spell, it usually never went longer than about three days. (The most I have ever taken off from writing or revising since starting the journal has been 3-4 weeks. Those times are unusual.)

It immediately began to pay off. When I first started my journal was when I started doing the first draft of the novel that is just beginning pre-publishing now. My writing process has grown exponentially since then. From beginning the rough draft of my current WIP to now heavily into beta reading and revising has just lasted two years.

Whether I will be able to learn anything from past years might be problematic. I have often said to my students that I have yet to come up with the perfect planning system after 20-something years of trying. It’s taken me about five years to refine my writing journal.

For anyone who saw my first journal on this site, you’ll realize that I was just counting the amount of words I was writing for my books. I was not counting blogging toward those totals, even though some of those blogs were just as creative as anything in my novels. Also, I has no idea how to properly gauge the amount of work I was doing on revising. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I finally settled on daily writing/revising goals and have stuck to them.

But, the minute that I thought of creating this blog, I decided I had to publicly hold myself accountable with how much work I did do and how much work I didn’t do. And it’s worked for me. I have no idea if it would work for you, but I know that something can work to motivate you to write if you really want to be a writer.

I’ll be interested to see the new numbers in a few years. It would be great to see the production take off.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 2: On nonfiction writing and abandoned projects

I was going to tell you a story, right? But, I got distracted by explaining some back story. Honestly, though, I probably needed to explain that back story to understand some of it myself. Apparently I’ve been writing a memoir for just over a year and I didn’t realize it.

(OK, that’s it for the hyperlinks. 🙂 EDIT: Sorry, lies. (see below))

I’ve had experience writing nonfiction as a journalist. I think that I’m doing well as a writer of fiction, and I’m a fan of writing book-length works.

However, when faced with the opportunity to write book-length nonfiction, I considered it for a while. At the time, it seemed like a great idea for a book.

In the end, though, I wound up walking away from the project for more than just one reason. Even though that project was not a story I eventually wanted to tell, the story behind that story might be worth a post.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 2: On nonfiction writing and abandoned projects”

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 1: What made me start writing again?

black click pen on spring notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The title of the piece is the big question. I might have alluded to this turning point, at different times during this blog. But I really haven’t described the process behind going from someone who talked more about being a writer than actually someone who wrote. It’s probably about time I talked about that, right?

In the movies – hell, in plenty of novels – there usually is some sort of turning point scene, one moment when the protagonist’s life pivots and moves in a new direction. It is one moment of clarity, after which that person’s life has forever and irrevocably changed.

It wasn’t really like that for me. In looking through old word document files in my “fiction” folder, I see several starts and stops among the last decade. Some of them I talked about before; others fell stillborn after a few months of typing and procrastination. Then there was the anonymous blog I ran for a few months somewhere in the past decade. However, it really didn’t have any focus except as an emotional purge, and I eventually decided that I needed to shut it down to avoid any static in my real life.

But like St. Augustine once prayed during his youth, “Oh, Lord, make me chaste… but not yet.”

I think things started to coalesce in my head right around 2010. That was an interesting year, to be frank. I’m not planning to get into in here, but there was a bit of turmoil and uncertainty in my professional life. For a brief moment, I had a dream of becoming a college writing instructor full-time rather than teaching for a couple thousand per class. I say a dream rather than a goal because I only had a vague idea of what the job involved and how I would achieve it. (After a few years and different circumstances, I’d set that idea aside. An earlier version of me – maybe the guy featured in Volume II of this series – would have been disappointed. Nowadays I barely remember the idea.)

Recently, I had a chance to read through a notebook I was writing in for about three months or so back in 2010. I tried to read all of it, but it was a cursive scribble stream of consciousness. It was lists and lists of various things I was both positively and negatively obsessed with, among other things.

In reading through that notebook, I think I did what we used to call in journalism “burying the lede.” Others, like writing teachers, might call it an implied main idea. What I think I was describing in those entries was being addicted to distraction. Anything I could use to procrastinate from doing anything, thinking about anything, I’d be into.

I’ve discussed those tendencies before. But there was a time in my life that they would dominate me. For several years of my life, it seemed being entertained, being satisfied in whatever way, was more important than anything else that wasn’t my family.

Around 2007-2010, right after I moved back to Muscatine, I really started heavily surfing some backwaters and little-known areas on the Internet. It may have given me a couple of writing ideas, but mostly I was looking for, as I normally did, for a distraction.

Back in those days, I often read the web site Postsecret. It allows people to anonymously send it postcards on which they write their deepest and darkest secrets that they would not tell anyone. Around 2010, I read this postcard on the site:

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For me, that had two effects. First, it gave me hope that it really wasn’t too late to get started (or restarted, whatever you want to classify it as) on my dreams of becoming a writer of novels. I always heard about people like Frank McCourt writing their debut books when they were in their 50’s, 60’s, or beyond.

Secondly, it was a prod in the butt, something that said yeah, if you’re about as old as this guy, why not get started now?

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So, did Liegois actually take the postcard’s advice and Rollins’ advice and move forward?

As I said at the top of the article, nothing that dramatic happened. Someone’s personality and habits – at least, not my own for sure – is not something that can change direction like a fighter aircraft or speedboat. The process more resembles having to maneuver a jumbo jet or mega-tanker a few degrees off course.

Did your life actually change?

Over time, yes.

It was soon after that time that I began to reminisce about some of my days in journalism, what was happening to newspapers in this country, and the weirdness of the time specifically around 2008. Going by my computer file history, I’d have to say that I started to play around with the idea of doing a journalism/political thriller around 2011. By 2013-14, ironically when I was taking one last adventure into journalism, was when I finalized a rough draft.

It was somewhere around 2013 that I began keeping track of the word count that I was getting done on a daily and weekly basis. Although not effective at first, I think that having to keep track of what I am actually writing or revising has helped me be accountable to myself and have goals to work for, even though I rarely have weeks where I meet my daily goals throughout the entire week. (This is probably worth a separate post at some point.)

It took me until 2016 to get another draft of the piece I was now calling The Holy Fool done – I had to do a little bit of cutting to trim it to well under 100,000 words. By 2017 I had revised it into its current form and had begun shopping it around to agents and publishers. I’m now awaiting the publishing process.

Also by 2016, I had worked up the courage/willingness/audacity to write a novel about someone who played a sport I hadn’t played myself since elementary school and located in both a state I hadn’t lived in since I was five and another country I had never visited, much less lived in. However, I was ready for the challenge, and by the next year, I already had a rough draft in the bag for my next project. By this year, I’ve gotten deep into the revising process with it, and I’m liking how my refined techniques have sped the writing process along.

Would I say that I have fully defeated my addiction to distraction and procrastination? Not by any means. I still exhibit those behaviors today, in doses both big and small. However, I’ve just started to get to the point where I’ve been able to manage this addiction to the point where I’ve become a productive writer. And I want to stay that way. I’m not exactly sure how long I have or how many books I have in me, but I want to make that time count.

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(Btw, I take horrible photos so I put them through some weird effects like what you see below. Enjoy if that’s your thing.)

Tuxpi photo editor: https://www.tuxpi.com

Anyway, welcome to the start of the current writing experience. That’s it for now; I’ll write more later.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 5: My time in journalism

Last week, I met with an acquaintance at my house. The guy, Dale, was picking up some old files from me for a writing project that I was dropping and he was passing on to another writer.

As I asked about the writer, I learned that he’d worked at the same newspaper as Dale had years back. That was more than a few years back, “before the buyouts.” And just like that, for a few moments we were swapping stories back and forth – the buyouts that had hollowed out Dale’s former employer, the cuts at the hometown newspaper that I used to work for that left it more of a zombie publication than a living, breathing institution.

I was flashing back to my time as a journalist. I call myself an old retired journalist, even though I’m 20-40 years younger than most of the people who claim that description as their own. In years past, I would have been in my prime as a journalist, with honors aplenty and years left to go in my career. Now I’m retired from the profession, with no foreseeable way to return to it, or any real desire to do so.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 5: My time in journalism”