December 31

Forgotten Stories

I was discussing fantasy books with a coworker the other day and during the conversation I told him about a book I had read years ago that he might like. I couldn’t remember the title, but the premise was there. What I recalled was two college friends who are transported to a sort of medieval England. There was magic and villains and a mingling of Christian tradition and Celtic mythology.

But afterwards, I got to thinking about all the books I’ve read over the years. I figured that I started reading when I was, I don’t know, let’s say six years old. If I read twenty books a year for forty-plus years, that puts my total somewhere around one thousand. Give or take a few dozen. And that’s not counting the stories I read in magazines and online. However, what I really wondered was how many of them do I actually remember.

Of all those books and stories, I feel like most of them are in my head, at least in bits and pieces. I can remember plots, maybe characters, and even the endings of a fair amount of them, but not all. Maybe fifteen? Twenty? And as far as book titles and story titles are concerned, I don’t think I could remember more than a quarter. At least, that’s probably the best I could do if you handed me a pen and a piece of paper and asked me to list everything I’ve ever read.

Think about that for a moment…how many books and stories do you think you’ve read in your lifetime? Some of you have read less, some have read many more, but just consider that estimate. Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? It’s mind boggling.

You know, it’s something to think about from the perspective of a writer. We all want to write great stories that our readers will love and remember. We want someone to read one of our books or short stories without being able to put it down, and when they get to the end they just sit and stare into space as it all sinks in. Maybe there’s an open-mouthed look of amazement on their face, they’re stunned by the eloquence, the narrative voice, the characterization.

Of course, not all of our stories quite hit that mark, but we try.

There are several that have stayed with me, ones that I remember well enough that I could probably recite the majority of the story. These include The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Slaughterhouse Five, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Stand, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I know, the last one is philosophy, but I’ve read it several times over the years so it makes the list.

But what about all the ones I read that I don’t quite remember, or perhaps don’t remember at all? I know it sounds silly, but a part of me feels guilty for not remembering them. I went to a bookstore, I browsed, I picked up a few titles, thumbed through them and read a few random pages to get a feel for the stories, then made a decision, paid and took one of them home. I carried it around with me for a few days or weeks, spent a couple of hours of quality time with it every day. Just the book and me taking a journey together.

At some point I finished the book and set it on the bookshelf or loaned it to a friend. Then time passed and it slipped my mind. Someone might have asked me what books I’d read recently and I’d list off a few, but there would be that one I couldn’t quite remember…

I wonder if it was the story, or just my lack of interest. You know how it is, you buy a book and try really hard to be interested in the story, but for some reason it doesn’t quite grab you. Maybe the plot seems clich√© or the characters are one-dimensional and boring. Maybe the writing style is overly verbose or a little too casual. Whatever the reason, it’s not one you’re going to remember.

I guess it can’t be helped. Taste is subjective. From a writer’s perspective, I have to keep that in mind. Not everyone is going to like what I write. That’s not my fault. There are people who have read my fiction and enjoyed it. There have been others who either didn’t like it or didn’t understand it. That has nothing to do with me.

But there’s still that part of me that looks at my stories like children. I want them to be liked, to be accepted, to hang with the other cool books in the bookstore. I want them to mature gracefully. Truth is, most of my work is going to fade into obscurity. It’s going to happen to most writers. But if we’re lucky there will be one story we write, one book, one poem, that someone somewhere is going to read and it’s going to resonate with them. More than likely we’ll never know that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Stories are going to be forgotten. Mine. Yours. That’s life. But we’re still going to have fun writing them. We’re still going to be proud of them. And we’re going to continue writing them for as long as we can.

RB

December 30

Podcast Update

I had planned to have a new episode of the Prometheus Project recorded and uploaded this morning, but I didn’t count on coming down with the flu. I could still record it, but I don’t think you’d want to hear me coughing and wheezing. Besides, the flu medicine I’m taking makes me a bit loopy and there’s no telling where my mind could wander off to.

Of course, that could be comedy gold.

I’m working to get this bug out of my system and hope to have the new episode published by the weekend. In the meantime, check out the back catalogue.

Here’s hoping that you stay healthy for the remainder of this near and into the next. Talk to you soon…

RB

December 29

Plans for the New Year

I’m not a fan of new year resolutions. In my opinion, why wait for a calendar event to do something positive in your life? It’s like saying, “I’ll start that new project on Monday” or “I’ll stop drinking on Friday.” Why not do it right now? Why wait?

With that said, I’m not against setting goals and deadlines. What’s the difference, you ask? To me, a resolution is something like, “I’ll start working out three days a week starting January 1st.” A goal is, “I’m going to lose twenty pounds next year.” Maybe I’m arguing semantics, but I see a difference between the two. One is setting a start point, where the other is setting an end result. It doesn’t matter when you start or how you get there, as long as you arrive.

My goals for the next year are as follows:

My main goal is to finish editing my novel and get it published. The draft has been tweaked over the past few months, but I’ve been focusing on other projects because I wanted to get some time away from the story. I spent months working on the first draft and I felt like I was no longer seeing the story, just words on a page. Now that I’ve gotten some perspective on the beast, I’m ready to dive back in.

Next, to keep my creativity podcast going and to increase the number of listeners. I’ve developed a small group of listeners, which is fine, but I feel my podcast – which focuses on inspiring and motivating people to explore their creativity – could be reaching a broader audience. It’s a labor of love and, really, it doesn’t matter if I have ten listeners or ten thousand. If I can inspire just one person, then I’m happy.

I’m going to complete and publish a second short-story collection. I was inspired by one of the people I follow on Twitter who posts cool little vignettes. I asked if I could use some as story prompts and she approved…and yes, I’ll be giving her co-author credit and a cut of any profits. I plan to complete ten stories based on her posts.

I’m going to also start publishing some cooking videos on my YouTube channel. Nothing fancy. It’s just that I enjoy cooking and see it as another way to be creative. I plan to share some simple recipes that can feed two or more, some tips, and things that I’ve learned as a self-taught home cook. Back in my bachelor days I learned to cook by necessity. It was far too expensive to eat out all the time, so I started experimenting with cooking simple things on the tiny gas range in my tiny, one-room efficiency apartment. There were more misses than hits, but eventually I began to grasp the fundamentals and upped my cooking game. In fact, I started cooking for some of the women I knew at the time and, well, eventually married one of them. Or it may be more accurate to say she married me. I think it was the chicken and mushrooms in a white wine sauce that sealed the deal.

And in between all that, I’ll continue to post on this blog, make music, write in my journal, draw, take photos, and explore the world of creativity.

Most of all, I want to continue to motivate and inspire other creators. I’m not talking about being a social-media influencer or anything like that. I want to be someone who quietly helps others. I spent many years working in solitude with very little encouragement or support from the people around me, and I hate to think that there are other people out there going through the same thing. I want to change that for them, I want them to feel like they can accomplish anything, can try anything, and that they do so without embarrassment or self-doubt.

I hope you have lofty goals for 2020 and beyond. Remember, don’t be afraid to be creative or to be your true self. Enjoy life, embrace opportunity, and above all, be kind.

RB

December 27

Mining for Ideas

I had a writer recently tell me they had a difficult time coming up with ideas for stories. They complained that they’d sit down at their PC and stare at the blank page on the screen and struggle to think of something interesting to write about. Keep in mind, they’re a fine writer and I’ve enjoyed his stories, but I was surprised by his confession.

I used to feel this way myself. I’d sit for long stretches of time wracking my brain to come up with interesting and plausible story ideas. I’d get so frustrated and felt like I was the only writer in existence that had this problem. But then, one day, I had an epiphany that changed the writing game for me.

What I realized was that ideas are everywhere. My problem was that I wasn’t recognizing them. Every day, everything I saw and read and heard and experienced offered plot points and characters for potential stories. I simply had to learn to actually see them and learn how to adapt them to fiction, specifically, my fiction. Since I write sci-fi, horror, and speculative fiction, my stories aren’t going to necessarily be based in reality. That’s okay, though.

You see, anything can be manipulated into fiction or into another genre. Take some of the Marvel Studios movies as examples. The movie, Captain America: Winter Soldier was basically a political thriller with superheroes. The first Ant Man movie was just a heist picture, with heroes. The first Thor movie was a Shakespearean drama.  With heroes. The first Iron Man movie was about corporate espionage. All Marvel did was take some genre movies and insert super-powered people into them.

Once I came to this realization I found that I was almost overwhelmed by ideas. The trick (if you want to call it that) is to be able to put two different things together. Like, you see an interesting person in a restaurant. Maybe they’re dressed nicely, suit and tie, fedora, nice coat…yet they seem out of place. So you take that person as a character and maybe even the restaurant as a setting, but what do you do with it? Well, maybe this guy is a agent for an alien civilization who is on a reconnaissance mission on Earth and he’s meeting a human who he thinks is going to provide him with some U.S. military secrets. Or maybe he’s actually a demon who’s seeking souls and the manager of the restaurant is a likely candidate. Or maybe he’s on the run with information about a secret government research facility that’s actually turning people into killing machines.

Do you see what I mean? You can create all sorts of interesting story ideas based on one person you saw while eating dinner.

With that in mind, consider all the things you experience in the course of an average day. There are the people you see walking down the sidewalk, or sitting in the cars around you while you’re stopped at a traffic light. What about coworkers? Family members? People in the grocery store? Characters are all around you.

For the settings, well, that’s up to you and the genres you work in. Even then, you can still pull things from your everyday experiences and utilize them to create a story. Was there an argument between coworkers at the office? What about the thirty minutes you spent sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office? You know how that feels, the sick people around you, the smell of disinfectant…can you use that as a setting? What about things you see on the news or an online news site? There are major fires in California…there’s a setting. What can you do with it?

Do you see what I mean? There are ideas everywhere and you can mix and match characters and settings in all sorts of combinations to concoct a story. You just have to open your eyes and your mind, then let your imagination take over.

And there’s the gist – it all comes down to imagination, being able to see the world around you and finding ways to incorporate it into your fiction. It may take time for you to get the hang of it, but don’t get frustrated. Just relax, don’t overthink it, and before you know it you’ll see potential stories everywhere you look.

Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you.

RB

 

 

December 26

Hidden Treasure

If you’re anything like me, you probably have hundreds of story fragments laying around. I have scraps of paper, spiral notebooks, and legal pads stored on bookshelves and milk crates in my home office. I also have far too many sub-folders on my MacBook that contain bits and pieces of ideas, half-finished dialogue, and partial drafts that were filed away for one reason or another. I learned early on that I needed to write down my ideas as soon as possible by whatever means is available.

Some of these scraps date back to my teenage years. And no, smart-asses, they aren’t chiseled in stone or inked on papyrus. But some of those old pages are now yellowing and the ink or pencil marks are beginning to fade a bit. Nothing lasts forever, so I’ve started the processes of getting them scanned so I can not only clear out all the paper, but also to preserve those random one-offs just in case inspiration strikes.

And that’s the thing. As I read over these forgotten thoughts and ideas I’m finding that some of them (not many) are actually good. In fact, a few of them seemed like they could be stitched together to form an interesting story.

I don’t want to know what my partner was thinking when she looked in the room and saw me sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by stacks of dusty paper. She’s wanted me to organize my papers for…well, quite a while now. As a cheap gift to her, I decided to get started this winter. I’m sure she appreciates it. At least I got a “bless you” yelled from the other room every time I sneezed.

To me, however, it felt like I was finding hidden treasure. I saw myself as an archaeologist sitting in an ancient library, forgotten for millennia, and handling delicate scrolls that contained secrets of a lost civilization. I know, it sounds silly, but I had to add some fun to the process. Truth is, I’ve been enjoying myself. Reading things that I wrote years ago was interesting and fascinating. Even though these were scraps of ideas, it showed where my imagination was at the time. I had some really good ideas, but I didn’t know what to do with them.

Now that time has passed, my head is in the right place to reexamine these ideas and see what I can do with them. It also makes me realize that I need to do a better job of organizing my ideas so I don’t have to dig through a bunch of crap to find these nuggets of gold. I’m glad I had the foresight to write all these things down despite the fact that most of it isn’t worth a damn. I mean, I don’t think that any ideas should be immediately discarded. You can have an idea for a story, maybe sketch out a plot or start on a draft, then realize that someone has already written something similar. It happens, but that doesn’t mean the idea was worthless.

For example, back in 1980 there was a horror movie by John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York) called The Fog. Basically, a fog rolls in on a town and things inside the fog kill people. That same year, Stephen King published the novella, The Mist. Guess what? Similar premise…fog rolls into town and things in the fog kill people. Should either Carpenter or King have given up since the premise was already used? Oh, hell no. Both are good slices of horror. The main difference between the two stories is the movie has pirate ghosts and the novella has otherworldly creatures.

The reason I bring this up is because I found a scrap I’d written several years ago that had a premise much like these two stories. I don’t think I had either one of them in mind, but I don’t recall what inspired me to write a two-page opening to the story. When I found it in my scrap pile I thought it had promise…then I remembered The Fog and The Mist and wondered if I should even bother to pursue this premise. Then it occurred to me…why not? My premise, while somewhat similar to what Carpenter and King did, can still be different. Why should I disregard a perfectly good idea? I found a little hidden gem in a pile of rubble. Might as well dust it off and see what I can do with it.

I’m also excited about what other gems I may find if I keep digging. So many forgotten ideas being rediscovered…I feel like the Indiana Jones of lost writing. I just hope there aren’t any booby-traps waiting for me.

RB

 

December 23

Holiday Wishes

December is a month of holidays, some religious, some secular, but all worthwhile. I think that people often get so caught up in the media- and politically-inspired drama that they forget about the reason for this season. That being kindness, forgiveness, and charity.

It doesn’t matter if your Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Rastafarian, Humanist, Agnostic, or an Atheist (or anyone else I forgot here). We can all set aside our differences for a month and just enjoy being alive, being human, and sharing some kindness with our neighbors regardless of who they are, where they come from, or what they look like.

I feel like the world has taken a weird turn and there’s so much more animosity and fear of “the other” than I’ve ever seen. So many people seem to believe that you’re either with them or against them…there’s no longer a middle ground. Just because someone looks different or believes differently, then they are the enemy. Where does that come from? What set us on this course?

What happened to being able to agree to disagree? I know people who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum, but we can still have civilized conversations about policy. But these are people I’ve known for years. We respect each other despite our different political and religious views. We don’t try and convince each other to change our minds. We don’t yell and call each other names. We simply talk.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the norm any longer. Now I talk to someone new that I’ve met and they find out I don’t agree with them on some topic – taxes, health care, whatever – and they immediately hate me. They call me un-American, a fascist, or tell me I’m going to burn in hell. I’ve even been threatened with violence simply because I told a person I voted for a politician they didn’t like.

What the hell is going on in the world? Why is there so much hatred? I don’t understand. I really don’t.

And no, there’s no War on Christmas or any other holiday. Most people generally like Christmas and all the trappings that come with it. The reality is that there are people out there who celebrate something else or believe something else. Just because they don’t say, “Merry Christmas”, doesn’t mean it’s a personal attack on anyone’s beliefs. They simply want the opportunity to be included and accepted just like you and your beliefs are. What’s wrong with that? Again, it’s just another way that politicians and the media have created controversy where none existed.

The thing is, I used to wonder why people seemed to be more charitable, more generous, more friendly during December. Why did they have to wait for one month out of the year to do all these things, to give canned goods to a food bank, or money to an animal shelter? Shouldn’t they be doing this year-round?

Now days, however, I wonder if people can even set aside one month to be kind and generous. At the moment, I don’t think so. Here we are, right in the middle of all the winter religious and non-religious holidays, the ones that promote love for your neighbors and strangers, and yet there’s still so much fear and hatred. I see people being shitty to one another in the grocery store, at the gas station, on the news at night, and it breaks my heart.

For what it’s worth, I hope that you get to spend time with people you love. I learned a long time ago that family isn’t necessarily the people you are related to. Your family are the people who are there for you when you need them, who support and encourage you, and don’t pass judgement on you.

And for anyone who’s alone out there, keep in mind that someone, somewhere, cares about you. You may not realize it, but they’re out there. Don’t give up on finding them.

Whatever you celebrate or believe, I wish you health and happiness. There’s not enough of that in the world at the moment. Let’s see if we can change that.

RB

December 23

Monkey Mind

I recently heard the term “Monkey Mind” while watching a video on mindful meditation. It was a cute animation that described how we can become overwhelmed by all the things in our lives and how all this makes it difficult to concentrate.

I felt a connection to the little animated monkey in the video. The poor guy was bouncing all over the jungle, getting distracted by butterflies, shiny leaves, bird calls. It was a perfect illustration of how I feel sometimes when it comes to my creative projects. I’ll be working on a short story and suddenly an idea for another one pops into my head, so I stop what I’m doing to write some notes for myself on the new idea, and as soon as I finish that a rhythm pops into my head, so I pull out my keyboard and try to capture those sounds…

And around and around I go.

The monkey mind only seems to affect me when it comes to my projects. I don’t get distracted when I’m working in the yard on a sunny afternoon. Doesn’t affect me when I’m installing website patches at the office. It doesn’t affect me when I’m spending time with loved ones. It’s only when I’m being creative.

It got me thinking about the cause and effect and I wonder if I’m doing it to myself. I think the root cause is that I have too many interests. Sure, I’m a writer, so I write. A lot. I have dozens of short story drafts, a novel in progress, working on the paperback and audio versions of my short story collection, and I provide feedback to several other writers. That alone is a full plate.

But then add to that I podcast (mostly) weekly. There’s a couple of hours of drafting an outline, recording several takes, editing, posting…not to mention coming up with topics for each episode. And there’s also my love of music and the bits and pieces of song that I hear in my head and try to recreate and record. Plus, I’m now working on creating short videos. Throw in the time I need for reading all the books on my nightstand, journaling, and making time for my partner and my dogs…I think I know why my brain is constantly battering the inside of my skull.

Do other artists have this problem? Or are they disciplined enough to focus on one project at a time, seeing each one to completion before beginning the next one? For creative types like me, with far too many interests and ideas, how do you handle it all? I’m genuinely curious.

I’ve been working on compartmentalizing my projects, setting aside time on different days to focus on specific things. I’ve also started to cut out almost all of my television time. At the moment I watch just a few shows each week (The Mandalorian, The Graham Norton Show, and Last Week Tonight). There’s so much entertainment available that I want to explore, but at the moment I just don’t have the time.

But will this tame my monkey mind? I have no idea, but I’m hopeful. It’s not like I can hit the little bugger with a tranquilizer dart.

I’m curious if anyone else deals with this, and how they deal with it. Leave a comment below or drop me a line via the contact form. My monkey and I would love to hear from you.

RB

 

December 20

Taboo Subjects in Fiction

I was recently thinking about a book I read a while back called Damage by Josephine Hart. If you aren’t familiar with it, the basic premise is that a British politician has an affair with his daughter-in-law. It’s a dark, twisted tale, impeccably written, with an unreliable narrator. Ms. Hart does a fantastic job of making the protagonist almost sympathetic. I could understand his reasoning – not that I agreed with it or condoned it – but I’m always impressed when a writer can take a vile character and make you understand where they are coming from. Obviously, cheating on your spouse with your daughter-in-law is repulsive in and of itself, but to make it so a reader gets pulled into the story and somewhat sympathizes with these awful characters, well, that’s some damn fine writing.

But that, in turn, got me thinking about taboo subjects in fiction. Probably one of the most famous is how Vladimir Nabokov handled the subject matter in his novel, Lolita. Once again, an unreliable narrator leads the reader down a dark and winding path. I read the novel once several years ago and it still resonates in my head. It was beautifully written, although incredibly hard to read in some parts due to the abusive situation. I appreciate that Nabokov was able to write about such an unpleasant thing in a way that didn’t go into great detail about the abuse, but conveyed enough of it to make me uncomfortable.

I think that novels like Lolita helped to open the door for writers to tackle taboo subjects in their fiction. However, I do want to take a moment to differentiate here between a writer taking on a taboo subject like child abuse in a though-provoking manner and someone who writes about these topics just for the shock value. Sure, some readers like to be shocked and disturbed by abuse and gore and violence just for the thrill of it. But I’m not a fan of that kind of writing. It’s like watching a horror movie that relies on tons of blood and gore for the shock value, without really making an attempt to actually scare the viewer. What’s the point?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with inserting taboo subjects into fiction. One of the things I love about fiction is that it allows us to address uncomfortable things, to educate and learn, to bring dark things into the light. A good example of this would be Catholic priests abusing children. I don’t think anyone would disagree this is a touchy subject, taboo to some, but it’s something that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Fifty years ago no one probably would have gone near a topic like this for a novel. Too controversial. Too much backlash. But in our current society it’s not considered as bad and there have been several novels written with this as the theme or a plot point. Sure, there’s still backlash and people calling for book banning (or burning…welcome to the witch trials), but at least it’s something we can admit is happening.

Of course, writing about taboo subjects can reduce the potential readership. Some people don’t want to read things that make them uncomfortable. I get that. It’s like me not wanting to read about animal abuse. I have a difficult time getting past animals getting hurt or killed in stories. I can accept it and move on if it’s intrinsic to the plot, but it isn’t easy. And if a character hurts purposely hurts an animal…oh, I start hoping they come to a very unpleasant end in the story.

In fact, and this is slightly embarrassing, I read a story man years ago (I can’t remember the title) where a male character beats a dog, but never faces any repercussions from it. After I finished reading the story I was fuming about that…it wasn’t right! I needed justice! So I wrote my own epilogue for the story where a pack of dogs corners this character and proceed to get their revenge. It was therapeutic and satisfying.

With all this said (or written), I wonder if there’s really any topic that can’t be written about, fictionalized and explored. I feel that as long as it’s a well-written story and isn’t going for basic shock value, then I don’t see any reason why anything should be off limits. It’s all in how the material is handled. Sure, writing about abuse (child, animal, spousal, drug/alcohol) may turn off some readers, but that’s going to happen no matter what you’re writing. I mean, if you’re writing Gothic romance, there’s going to be a segment of the population that isn’t interested. Same goes for any genre or topic. The point is to simply tell a good story, and if you have a character or characters who are bad people doing bad things, well, it’s not that different from life.

When it comes down to bare bones, isn’t fiction really just a reflection of reality? It’s possible that fictionalizing difficult topics can help to make them more palatable. What I mean is, there may be a real situation that people ignore because it’s so uncomfortable. But when fictionalized in a novel they better understand and digest it because they’re reading about fictional characters. Removing that roadblock can help to educate and spread understanding.

What do you think? Do you feel there are subjects that are too taboo for fiction?

RB

December 19

What to Read Next?

Sometimes I hate to finish reading a good book because I don’t want the story to end. You know how it is when you get caught up in the narrative, you care about the characters, and while you want to know how the story ends, a part of you just wants it to keep going even after the climax. First World problems, indeed.

But I also hate to finish reading a book because then I have to decide what to read next. I have a stack of books in my “to read” pile next to my bed. And this isn’t including the seemingly endless list of unread titles on my Kindle. So many books, so little time. Yet I hesitate…

I think part of my problem is that I read a wide variety of subjects and genres. My true love is fiction, specifically, science-fiction, but I also read horror, fantasy, mysteries, westerns, autobiographies, biographies, science, history…I enjoy it all. And there’s the sticking point – what am I in the mood for? Do I want to explore the outer reaches of the galaxy, or do I want to go on a quest to overthrow an ancient evil with magic? Do I want to learn more about the life of Albert Einstein, or do I want to learn more about quark discoveries at CERN? The possibilities are endless.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. I mean, why don’t I just read them in the order in which I purchased them? Or by year they were published? Or by author alphabetically? Or by title? Good questions. The problem here is that I’ll then feel locked into a pattern that I’ll get tired of at some point. Then I’m back in the same situation.

What I often find myself doing is simple picking something random from the pile – a desperation selection – then I discover after the first few pages is that I’m really enjoying the story. But until that point I question my decision. Is this REALLY what I want to read? Am I in the mood for this? Then I dive in and all the doubts slip away.

It helps that I tend to read more than one book at a time. Not at the exact same time, obviously, because that would mean I’m a mutant. No, I like to read a fiction book and a non-fiction book concurrently. I’ve found that it gives me more opportunity to decrease the number of titles in my “to read” list. Although I still buy books faster than I can read them. Also, I feel it’s beneficial to me, as a reader, to have one book to entertain me and a second book to educate me. It’s like watching an episode of a scripted program, then following that with watching a documentary. Balance.

The two-book method seems to work for me. At least, it allows me to choose two books to read instead of one. There’s overlap…I usually finish one of them before the other, but that’s okay. And oddly, having to choose two books actually improves the situation. Plus, it gives me more variety.

I’m curious of other readers run into this problem. Is it because I buy books faster than I can read them, so they pile up and I’m overwhelmed by possibilities? Do other readers have this addiction?

I’ve heard that some readers only buy new books once they’ve finished reading the current one. I’m certain that this would help me in my dilemma, but I don’t have that kind of willpower. If I go into a bookstore, I don’t leave without something in hand. Or more than one something. Maybe three or four somethings. I know, I have a problem.

But buying books is a good problem…at least, until the stack next to my bed falls over and crushes me in my sleep. Death by the written word. I guess there are worse ways to go. And if I simply end up trapped under that pile of hardbacks, well, at least I’ll have something to read until the rescue workers arrive to extract me.

RB

 

 

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December 18

Supporting Other Artists

I find it strange when I encounter creative people who see art as a competition. They are the ones who put down other artists, either to their faces to behind their backs, and they love to point out what they perceive as flaws in the work others produce. It’s not constructive criticism they’re offering. No, they aim for the self-esteem, the self-doubt.

Personally, I don’t understand it. From my viewpoint as a writer, I feel there is a limitless audience out there for books, for short stories, for poems. I read all sorts of books from all types of writers. It doesn’t matter if their traditionally published or self-published, if they have written fifty books or if it’s only their first. All I want is a good read, something to make me think or feel, and I want to support my fellow writers.

That’s why I enjoy giving feedback when I can. Lately, I’ve been a beta-reader for a young writer I met on Twitter. Every week he sends me a chapter from one of the books he’s working on and I set aside an hour or so to read it twice, then send him feedback. I point out things I see from both a writer and a reader perspective. Maybe it’s an awkward sentence, or maybe it’s something he could describe with a little more detail. I also point out things that I enjoy in each chapter, like a well written piece of dialogue or a line that perfectly encapsulates an important character trait. I try to give him a balanced report, some encouragement, and maybe help him to polish his writing skills.

I’m not trying to humble-brag here. I’m simply showing that art isn’t a competition. We should be supporting one another, encouraging each other, offering constructive feedback and promoting each others work.

But, unfortunately, there are artists out there who simply don’t get it. Maybe they’re secretly afraid their work doesn’t hold up, or maybe they’ve had a bit of success and feel that if anyone else succeeds it will somehow diminish their own accomplishments. Or maybe they’re just assholes.

I’ve seen it first hand and I’ve been a victim of it in the past. I’ve moved on, though. I’m a firm believer that, if you’re going to critique my work, then you better give me more than “I don’t like it” or “this sucks”. Great, you think my short story sucks…but why? Give me a reason why you think it sucks. Dialogue too stiff? Choppy narrative? Unlikable protagonist? If you can’t tell me why, then your criticism doesn’t mean anything to me. And no, it’s not going to affect my mood or my self-confidence in the slightest.

Over the years I’ve learned that I can’t gauge my skills or my self-worth as an artist by what other people think of my work. If they can give me honest feedback, point out things that I’ve missed or may not have thought about, and help me to improve my story and/or my skills, then I will be grateful and appreciative. But if they are just going to insult my work with no follow-through and try to make me feel like less of a writer, well, I’m not going to waste my time listening.

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have never encountered these people. If so, consider it a good thing. But if you do encounter someone like this, someone who doesn’t support your creativity, who makes you feel bad about your skills, or who tries to break down your self-confidence, then cut that person out of your creative life. They don’t deserve to read your stories, or view your paintings or drawings or photos, or listen to your music.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in life is that it’s too short for you to be wasting time on toxic people. Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, cut them loose. I prefer to be around people who are positive, who offer support and encouragement, who help me to improve myself. I’m not going to waste my limited time on this planet feeling stressed, anxious, or miserable due to some toxic ass who puts me down so they can feel superior. And I’m going to do my best to help other artists. I’m going to offer constructive feedback on their projects (when asked and when time allows). I’m going to encourage them to push the envelop, to try new things, to approach their art from other angles…just because it’s fun to get people to think differently. And I’m going to buy their art and show it to others. Sadly, I can’t do this as often as I’d like to, but I’ll do it when I can.

I hope you’re one of the people who supports others, who mentors and teaches, who offers a hand when someone needs help getting up. We need more people doing this. Helping someone else to succeed won’t hurt you in the least. And besides, it’s a great feeling when someone sincerely appreciates your help.

But be careful…it can be addicting.

RB