October 31

Bleeding on the Page

How much of yourself do you put into your writing? As the saying goes, we writers always put a little bit of themselves into everything we write. It may not necessarily be personal bits. It could simply be settings related to places we’ve been, or experiences we’ve had like being in a car accident, or maybe even our interpretation of emotion. We all know what it feels like to be in love, to want something, to experience pain. So yeah, it’s easy enough to say that we put pieces of ourselves into our work.

But some of us put more than these peripheral experiences and feelings into our stories. In fact, there are some of us that put huge hunks of our person in there, all the blood and entrails. Those stories, although made up, still have a basis in reality. Fictional characters based on real people, events on the page playing out like they did in real life, words spoken the same, but we change the names to protect the innocent. Or something like that.

I know I put pieces of myself in my writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s a poem, short story, song lyrics…some tiny piece of my personality or experience slips in. There are times I purposely try to stay out of it, but when I’m finished I often find a line, paragraph, or even a page that relates to something personal.

I’m also guilty of maybe putting too much of myself in my stories. There’s one in particular – complete but unpublished at the moment – that I surprised me. I had the opening scene in my head, worked on the draft for a few months, found the ending I was missing, then polished it up. I felt that finishing the final rewrite was very cathartic. I’m generally pleased and worn out when I finish a story, but this one, well, it felt different. I felt like a weight had been lifted, like I had some sort of psychic release. I wasn’t sure why, but it felt really good.

I then handed it over to my partner for her feedback. When she finished it all I got was a tearful hug. I wasn’t sure why. She told me later that she was proud of me for writing the story, that she could see it was probably difficult for me to write, but that it was good I got it out of my system.

Confused, I went back and reread it, trying to keep an open mind (you know, after working on a story for a while you get too close to it and can’t see it from an unbiased POV). I then realized that the story I had written was basically me fictionalizing a family relationship. Years of anger and frustration spilled all over the pages. I was surprised that I didn’t realize it at first. I thought I was writing about a dysfunctional family relationship. It turned out to be a therapy session.

Of course, the events in the story didn’t actually happen. Especially the ending. But the relationships in the story, the way the characters treated one another, the conflicts and the poorly chosen words, that was all pulled from real life. It was…sobering. I had been carrying this around in my head for many years, and I guess it needed to find a way out so it developed into a work of fiction.

I’m curious how many other writers have had similar experiences. Have you written anything that ended up being almost too personal? If so, how did you react?

For now, I’m not sure if I’ll publish the story. I think it’s a good story and I’ve received positive feedback from a couple of people who read it, but knowing how close to reality it is, I’m just not sure if I’m ready to put it out there. No one would know…no one but me, my partner, and a friend. But still, it’s very personal and I don’t know if I can let that out into the world. Time will tell.

RB

October 30

Holiday Influence

With Halloween in the air, I got to thinking about how much influence holidays have on my writing. There is something in the air when a major holiday comes around. You know, like Christmas and Halloween. Hell, I’ve even been inspired to write by Easter and the Fourth of July. Weird, right?

Which isn’t to say that I can’t write a horror story anytime other than October. But during this month, with all the decorations popping up, seeing the skeletons and ghosts swaying in the tree branches, the glowing jack o’lanterns glowing eerily on the front porches, well, it stimulates my creativity. Sort of like a jolt of caffeine in my system.

I usually start reading something spooky (currently, Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti) and I catch up on some scary movies (example: Oats Studios Volume One, a collection of freaky short films by Neil Blomkamp). All this input gets my mind churning, the creative muscle flexing, and my dreams…well, my dreams are something else. Dark, disturbing, creepy. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve written three new short story drafts in the past two weeks.

It’s not just Halloween. I’ve written a draft inspired by the Day of the Dead. And yes, that’s something different than Halloween. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a Mexican holiday that honors the dead…friends and family that have died. It’s a colorful, upbeat holiday. And there’s mezcal.

A few years ago I was watching a Christmas special on TV (I’m not sure which one, there are far too many) and the portrayal of Santa Clause got me thinking. The character was supposed to be a typical Santa, but something about the actor portraying him was a little…off. Of course me, with my habit of going down dark corridors, started thinking that maybe Santa isn’t who we think he is. So I wrote a story.

I find it interesting that we can be inspired to write a story at any time of year. Doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, rainy or dry, sunny or cloudy. But at certain times of the year the influence is far greater. Sure, the decorations, programming, songs on the radio, it’s all around us and we can’t help but be influenced by it. For someone like me, who enjoys writing weird and dark fiction, October becomes this steroid-filled month of inspiration, influence, and motivation. I like it.

Do you feel like the holidays, or specific holidays, influence your writing?

RB

October 25

Driven

Most artists are driven both to their craft and their projects. It’s what we do. It’s in our blood, our bones, our brains. Of course, some are more driven than others, bordering on obsession. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but I admire people who are consumed by creativity.

One of the writers I’ve always admired, Ray Bradbury, was one of these obsessive types. He has a great book about the craft entitled, “Zen in the Art of Writing.” Like many books on writing, he mingles solid advice and encouragement with autobiographical information. He writes about his beginnings, how he built up his reputation, and his routines. The thing that stuck with me was that he claimed to write one story every week.

Every. Week.

I always thought that was either a slight exaggeration or something just beyond obsession. I mean, I can sometimes complete a draft for a short story in a couple of days, depending on what else is going on in my life at the time. But to literally draft, edit, and finalize a story in seven days…that blows my mind.

I’ve tried to squeeze in some writing when I can. I man, yeah, I feel the need to write all the time, but life often gets in the way. I end up writing for thirty minutes here, maybe an hour later on, and if I’m lucky, I get a couple of free hours on the weekend. But also, if I do complete a draft in a couple of days, I need some time away from it – a couple of days to a couple of weeks – so I can revise with fresh eyes.

Bradbury, it seems, was part machine. I don’t know how else he could work like that, keep up that pace. And it’s not just the writing and revising, it’s the ideas. His mind must have been fluttering around like a hummingbird, pulling ideas together on an assembly line. I know that he was an avid reader, which will keep the mind fertile for spawning ideas, but still, to have that much material in your head, to be constantly trying to keep up with it all, to have the energy and passion to keep pushing yourself. Amazing.

Lately, I’ve been trying to push myself harder. In the past week I’ve completed to original short story drafts and I’m about a third of the way through another. I’m pushing myself to see if I can compete with Bradbury’s output. I doubt I’ll be able to maintain it, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I realize that having that level of output is a hit and miss situation. Not every story is going to be a gem. In fact, statistically, at least half of them are going to suck. That’s okay, though. Even the shitty stories have merit. It’s writing practice. These mistakes can also serve as a sort of idea dump…while the stories themselves didn’t turn out, there may be bits and pieces of them that might work in other stories. Creative recycling. It’s good for the planet.

Does anyone else push themselves like this? I’m curious how it works for you.

RB

October 20

Making Time

Time…there’s never enough of it.

There’s never enough time during the day. We have jobs, obligations, responsibilities. We have to get up, get ready, get to the job. We have to eat, sleep, social activities. We have families, kids, people who depend on us.

Weekends are tied up with chores, other obligations (taking the kids their soccer games, shopping, helping someone move), and time for ourselves (if we can fit it in).

Time passes quickly.

So when do we find time to write, to create, to be artists? That’s the tough part. Finding time. For me, I get up at five o’clock every morning. I get about thirty minutes of writing time. On weekends, I stay up late and still get up at five, which gives me another eight hours – give or take – between Friday and Sunday.

But it’s not enough.

If you’re anything like me, you have more than one project going at any given time. Me? At the moment I’m working on two short story drafts, the second draft of a novel, editing a short story collection I plan to self-publish, and a collection of flash fiction and photography. This doesn’t take into account the books I’m reading, my podcast (writing a script and recording an episode every week), and finally, working a full-time job.

Whew…

I’m not trying to brag or seek sympathy. I’m just acknowledging that not everyone has the opportunity to spend all their time being creative. We squeeze it in when we can, as often as we can, and hope for the best. We don’t have the luxury of spending hours thinking over some trivial plot point or narrative decision. It’s like trench warfare – we’re fighting to get our stories written, to draft and rewrite, despite the odds stacked against us. I envy the writers who have the time, the space, to write and edit without having to look at the clock.

In the end, despite the time limitations, I still do it. I still squeeze in the time to do the things I love. I need to write, so I find the time. I make the time. It ain’t always easy, but I do the best I can. Do I wish I had more time? Hell yes! But since I don’t I try and make the best of the time I do have.

Depending on who you are, writing can be a job, or a hobby, or something you simply DO. I’m one of the latter types. I have to write. It in my DNA, an automated response, a reflex action. It’s who I am.

No, there’s never enough time, but that’s okay. I’ll make do. I hope you will, as well.

RB

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