February 28

Unnecessary Drama

I’m not a fan of drama. I’m one of those people who like things to remain calm, reasonable, stable. This is one of the reasons I tend to keep to myself in the workplace. Oh, I socialize a bit, but I’ve found that the more people I interact with at work, the more drama I see around me.

It’s interesting to see how some people thrive on it. If there’s not some crisis or imagined slight, they create it. It’s like they feed off it, like it gives them subsistence. Personally, I don’t understand it. Although I admit it’s sort of fun to watch from a safe distance.

I’ve also discovered that the people who are most vocal about not liking drama are usually the ones instigating it. Actually, it reminds me of the people who say things like, “I’m not a racist, but…” Yeah, you are.

Despite my dislike of drama, it can be useful. At least, to a writer. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I tend to draw inspiration from real life, the things that occur around me. I listen in to conversations to pick up on who people speak so I can write better dialogue, and I listen closely when people talk about events in their lives. It’s all fodder for my next work of fiction.

Drama is like that, too. It’s interesting to sit on the sidelines and watch it unfold. I generally don’t get to see the catalyst, but I can watch the ripple effect it has as it moves across the office. It’s like tossing a stone into a still pond and seeing the ripples make their way across the surface.

That’s the important part – seeing the cause and effect, how it migrates. That’s key to including drama in a story. It doesn’t “just happen.” No, there’s usually reasoning behind it. What’s the motivation for the instigation? What’s the end game? What is the instigator trying to do? Simply hurt someone? Drive them away? Or is it more insidious? Are they trying to make someone cry? Kill themselves? Break up a relationship? There’s always a cause and effect.

But then, I sometimes wonder how important drama is to fiction. It’s often the main catalyst to a story, but is it necessary? One of the things I remember hearing from a creative writing professor was that she felt the catalyst for the story should be want. What does the protagonist want? What does every character in the story want? That’s what drives them. They’re searching for something, needing something. Drama should be secondary to this.

When I’m thinking about an idea for a story, mulling it over in my head, one of the first things I do is ask myself, “what does this character want?” From there, the story usually unfolds fairly quickly. In life, we’re driven by want, by need. We need to go to work to earn money because we want to buy a new car. We want to have food in the pantry. We want to have a place to live. Basic want and need is what drives our regular lives, so it should drive our stories as well.

I know I started this piece by saying how I didn’t like drama, but in a way, I do. Drama can be an important part of a story and watching is unfold is like sitting in a classroom. But I don’t add drama to my fiction unless it’s necessary. The character’s needs should always come first.

RB

February 27

Working for a Living

No, I’m not referring to the Huey Lewis song, but now that’s playing in your head, isn’t it?

I sometimes lament the fact that I have to work for a living. I’m sure we all do every now and then. We feel there’s so much more we could be doing. For me, I wouldn’t want to just lay around the house and watch television all day. I’d spend the bulk of my time writing and working on creative projects (big surprise, right?) and the rest outside, either at the beach or gardening in the yard.

But the world doesn’t work that way and we have to do something to earn a living. It’s usually something we aren’t exactly keen to do. No one really wants to pick up trash, mow lawns, prepare food, or work in retail. I’m lucky in that I get to be a webmaster during the day. It’s not writing, but it’s something I enjoy. And I’m also lucky that the guys who work for me are reliable and smart as hell. They make me look good.

Of course, I’ve had my share of crappy jobs. I used to drive a forklift and load beer trucks on the graveyard shift. I also worked in convenience stores, usually the night or graveyard shifts. I’ve worked in restaurants, optical labs, and did landscaping for a while. A lot of manual labor and thankless tasks.

These jobs weren’t fun, but they taught me some interesting skills, allowed me to meets some interesting people, and in the end helped me to better appreciate what I have now.

Looking back, I remember how miserable I was doing some of these things, but I also discovered ideas for stories and characters. So in the end, they paid off by giving me fuel with which to be creative.

When you think about what you’re doing for a living and you aren’t happy with your situation, do what you can to change it. It may take time, but if you work at it you’ll eventually move on and move up. But in the meantime, take in everything around you. Every experience is an opportunity to learn something, to pick up ideas and traits for characters, and to grow as an individual.

No job is going to be perfect, but don’t give up on your dreams. They won’t all come true. And honestly, you shouldn’t achieve all your dreams and desires. If you did, what would you have left to yearn for?

RB

February 26

Encouragement

Being creative ain’t easy. We often work alone for hours, don’t socialize like our normal friends do, and we struggle with indecision and self-confidence. It’s the nature of the beast.

When I was growing up I felt as if I was living in a vacuum. No, I didn’t have dust and Legos swirling around me, but I did feel as if I was alone with my creativity, or more precisely, my need to be creative. I didn’t know anyone else who had the same predilections as me. I read voraciously, I wrote constantly, and I didn’t have anyone to share that with.

Oh, there were a few friends and family members who would read my poems and stories and say they were good, but my endeavors were never considered serious. Everyone seemed to think this was a great hobby for me, but nothing more. Sort of like, “That’s nice. Now, what are you going to do for a living?”

It took many years to build up my confidence to the point where I looked at myself as a professional writer. It’s unfortunate, because I think I could have been further along in my career by now. But we can’t change the past, we can only learn from it. And that’s why I feel it’s important to encourage other artists on their endeavors.

I know that for some of us, creating is serious business. We aren’t doing this because we’re bored or we think we can get more attention on social media. We do it because we need to, we have to. There’s something inside us that drives us to create. I understand that. But the problem is that – at least for some of us – we don’t have the support we need. And without that support, we wallow in indecision and wonder why we even bother to try.

It pains me to think that there are other artists out in the world going through this. It’s difficult. It makes us feel like giving up, tossing in the towel and wandering off to try and do normal things. But please don’t do that. The world needs your art. YOU need your art. Sure, you may not have an audience at the moment, and you may never be rich and famous, but art – your art – is still important. At the very least, it’s important to you.

This is the reason I started my podcast. I want to encourage other artists, maybe even inspire them. I don’t want them to feel as if they’re alone. I’m not expecting to change the world, but I’m hoping that I can change it for at least one person.

If you’re in this predicament, don’t give up, don’t let it get you down or dissuade you from doing what you feel the need to do. You’re welcome to check out my podcast, or maybe find an artist group near you that can provide support and encouragement. Hell, you can even reach out to me if need be. And for what it’s worth, I’m not the only one who is supportive. You can find others like yourself. Lean on each other.

Remember, your art is important. Never forget that.

RB

February 25

A Proud Moment

I’ve been hosting my podcast, The Prometheus Project, for about six months now and I’ve been enjoying it. It’s not the most popular one out there. In fact, I’m fairly certain it’s mostly lost in the shuffle of the other hundreds of thousands of podcasts that are available. But I persevere. I’ve had some nice comments from people on social media, encouragement, and some regular downloads. I’m content with that.

But this past weekend I had a genuinely nice experience. I was at a cocktail party and was talking to a couple I’d met a few times previously when they mentioned they’d been listening to my show. I was flattered, of course, and thanked them for the listen.

What really made my night, however, is when they told me that after listening to the shows, they ended up continuing the discussions between themselves. That was unexpected and wonderful.

The main reason I started The Prometheus Project Podcast was to encourage and inspire people, to make them think about the different aspects of creativity. To have someone tell me that my shows did just that was, well, incredible.

For what it’s worth, we ended up talking about the show on “Passion”. And I couldn’t stop grinning. In fact, my partner and another friend stood to the side and watched, later telling me how proud I looked. I just hope my face didn’t turn red.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this. I know my show is fairly low-key, but knowing that I actually got some people thinking and talking is incredibly motivating for me. It’s nice to know that I’m not yelling into the abyss.

RB

February 24

The Prometheus Project Podcast, Ep 24, is available!

In this episode I talk about sacrifice. We all have to make sacrifices in our lives, and maybe even more so if we’re creative. Join me as I discuss the difficulties in making these decisions. I also offer suggestions on changes you can make – mini sacrifices – that can give you more time to explore your creativity.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, and PodBean. I also post it on my YouTube channel.

If you enjoy the podcast, please feel free to contact me to share your thoughts and ideas. You can reach me through the Contact page.

Additionally, I’d appreciate it if you can leave a review on whatever platform you download it from.

RB

February 22

Lost Idea

I hate it when I lose an idea for a short story. I get mad at myself, chastise myself, but inevitably I’ll do it again at some point.

I’m currently working on compiling my next short story collection. This is going to be some of my more mainstream fiction. I’m omitting the stranger stuff, the horror and science fiction, but there will still be some oddness to some of them. I’m a believer that writers shouldn’t pigeon-hole themselves and should try writing in other genres every now and then.

So I’ve been going through my drafts and unpublished manuscripts to find stories that fit what I have in mind. So far, I’ve found fourteen that will work, but there was one idea, a partial draft I wrote several years ago, that I felt would be a good fit.

And I can’t find it.

I remember the premise and I know I wrote a couple of pages on it trying to get the main narrative outlined, but for the life of me I cannot find it anywhere. I’ve checked all the writing files on my laptop, my cloud storage, old thumb drives…that sucker has apparently turned to dust.

I have no idea what I might have done with it. I’ve looked everywhere I might have saved it. It’s like when a sock goes missing when doing laundry. You know you put it in the washing machine. It’s not stuck to the side or wedged under the agitator. You double-check the dryer and, nope, it’s not in there. So where did it go?

It’s probably hanging out on a beach somewhere with my missing pens and this AWOL story draft.

At least I remember most of it…so it’s back to square one. Time to get back to typing.

RB

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February 21

Exercising and Creativity

Writing is obviously a solitary and stationary endeavor. We sit in front of a computer or a laptop, or maybe just with a pen and pad of paper, and we don’t move for an extended period of time. The only thing that’s moving are our fingers. Low level cardio.

It’s probably safe to say that most writers aren’t in the best of shape. The act of writing isn’t doing much for our physical health. Laying on the sofa or in bed and reading doesn’t do much for us, either.

A few months ago I was noticing that I was out of breath after climbing some stairs at work and realized that I was out of shape. I spend most of my free time sitting and writing, or sitting and recording, or sitting and reading. The thing I was missing was movement.

So I started exercising three days a week. Nothing over the top. Just forty minutes in the mornings. It was tough for the first couple of weeks – oh, I didn’t know muscles could hurt like that – but I’ve stuck with it and now I can jog up six flights without feeling like my heart is going to explode. I’ve found that it’s improved my mood, as well. Probably because I feel better about myself and I have more energy.

But the other thing I noticed is that I feel more creative. I think it goes along with the increased energy. I have more ideas popping into my head, I feel the need to write more, my mind feels more stimulated. It’s interesting to see the difference.

I still sit for hours working on my projects, but now I don’t feel so worn out when I’m finished with a writing session. I used to feel exhausted, worn out, after writing for an hour. Now when I’m done I’m ready to do something else. I’m turning into a creativity machine.

I don’t think artists consider the importance of exercise in their creative lives. We can get so wrapped up in our projects, obsessed even, and we forgot about everything else. I know I’ve been guilty of forgetting to eat when I’m in the zone. I’ve sat for so long in front of my laptop that my legs were all pins and needles when I tried to stand. It happens to us all.

But I feel that artists need to consider adding a little bit of exercise to their lives. It doesn’t have to be much. A walk around the block is good, or maybe following along to some yoga video on YouTube. Even daily stretching can work wonders. A little bit is better than nothing at all.

And no, it won’t be easy at the beginning. There’s a hump you have to get over. That’s usually the first four to six weeks. But if you can do it regularly for that long, it’ll become a habit and you’ll find that you need to do it, your body will crave the exertion. And in the end, I think your brain will crave it, too.

Remember, you don’t have to be a bodybuilder or high-performing athlete. Just do a little something, anything, to get your body moving, to get that heart rate up for a bit, so make the blood circulate a little faster. Your body will appreciate it, as will your mind.

RB

February 20

A Satisfying Ending

What makes the end of a story satisfying for the reader? I’m not talking about what makes a good or bad ending, but one that leaves the reader feeling like it was time well spent.

I’ve heard some people state that they like an ending that ties up all the loose ends in a nice little package and provides closure for the main characters. Preferably, a happy ending. I feel like this type of reader wants something we don’t necessarily get in real life. That’s understandable. Life is so chaotic and random that these readers want to read as an escape. They want to experience a world that makes sense, where the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and love conquers all.

There are others, not many that I’ve met, who prefer ambiguous endings, ones that leave unanswered questions, loose ends, a bit of a mess on the floor. I can understand this, too. These readers are more about the art of the story, the picture it paints, the themes it addresses. They aren’t looking for a run-of-the-mill story. They want art. Cliffhangers. Chaos. The messier the better. It’s still an escape, but going in the other direction.

Then there are readers like me who want some closure with a story, but with enough loose threads that it leave us wanting more. Or better yet, allows us to continue the story in our heads. In other words, I like it when the main story ends, the characters find what they’re looking for, but their lives continue. Maybe there’s a character or two who mostly get what they want but they’re still searching for some missing piece. It leaves things open for sequels or spinoffs, but even if that doesn’t happen, the reader is left wondering what happens later.

For example, two people fall in love in a story and at the end, after the usual misunderstandings and misgivings, they end up together. The main story is done because the two characters got what they wanted – each other. But what if the story ends with them getting together, but they now have to decide where they want to live, or if one of them should take that teaching job in another state.

It’s not a great example, but it shows how there’s still more going on with their lives. They don’t just get together and everything is perfect from that point onward. They have decisions to make that affect both of them. They have their own baggage and issues to deal with.

If I read a fantastic story that sticks with me afterwards, I end up continuing the story in my head. I think about the characters, how the story ended, and what comes after. It’s a habit of mine, for good or ill. But to me that means those stories had satisfying endings. I was happy with how the main story ends, but it left me wanting more. I want to know what happens those characters, what other things did they end up doing that would also make a good story.

Maybe it’s the writer in me. I read for fun, mostly, but while I read I’m also looking at different aspects of the story, how the author wrote the dialogue, or how they foreshadowed some plot point, or how the story dovetails to the ending. And that’s when I wonder if the ending could have been done differently. If it’s too clean cut, I think about how they could have left me wanting more.

What do you think about endings? Do you want everything tied up nice and neat, or do you prefer a few loose bits so you can continue thinking about it later?

RB

 

 

February 19

A Poetry Moment III

I equate poems to paintings. They are short – usually one page – and they form a specific image or feeling in your mind. I think they can also be more difficult to write than prose. The writer has to be very precise with their words, much like a painter with their brush on the canvas. Every brushstroke counts for something, but too much blue here or red over there and the image is ruined.

I’ve always tried to convey a mix of imagery and emotion in my verse. I’m not sure how successful I am, but I try. The thing about writing poetry, at least for me, is that I need to feel the emotion as I write. The imagery comes easily enough, but it’s the emotion that can be difficult to get onto the page.

For this poetry moment, I’m sharing a poem I wrote one day after meditating. I felt so peaceful, my mind was clear, my heart untroubled, and I wanted to capture that feeling on paper.

—–

Transcendental Musings 

I recline on a grassy hilltop and inhale

the sweet scent of cherry blossoms.

A gentle wind stirs the branches and

white petals drift like snow.

I close my eyes as they fall around me,

covering me like a soft sigh,

pushing my body back into the cool earth

as my spirit drifts upward,

slowly,

cautiously,

  into the blue unknown.

A gust of wind comes along to reshuffle my 

house of white blooms.

It catches my spirit and carries it aloft,

higher and higher,

further and further,

until I am once again back where I started

but I am not the same.

I am cleansed,

renewed,

reborn.

Om.

—–

While I think this poem gives the reader an idea of the feeling I had when I wrote this, I’m sure a talented poet could do a better job of capturing that sense of emptiness and fullness that comes from mindful meditation.

If nothing else, I hope I painted a nice picture for you.

RB

 

February 18

Strength from Writing

I know a lot of writers use their craft as a form of therapy, myself included. I explore my dreams, desires, fears, and phobias in my fiction. It’s a safe way to stand on the edge of a cliff and look down into the abyss without having to worry about falling.

I recently read a quote from Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Avengers) that sums it up nicely:

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”

I think that’s one of the wonderful aspects of being a writer…being able to explore all the thing I’m not, that I’m afraid of, and to draw strength from this. I know that I put a bit of myself into every story I write. Sometimes it’s just a fragment, sometimes it’s a hunk, but there’s always something in there. I’ve also used my fiction to work through issues and problems. I found strength in them to make changes in my real life.

For example, I used to be bullied by a family member. Mostly verbal, but there were a few physical altercations. I was never brave enough to stand up for myself. I allowed this to happen over and over again through the years. But one evening I was thinking about the situation, how I felt, all those pent up emotions inside my head that were tormenting me, and an idea for a story developed. I wrote the first draft over the next three hours, a flurry of words and emotions splattering on the page.

When I was finished I remember sitting back in my chair, my fingers and arms tingling from the uninterrupted tapping at the keyboard, and I felt both physically and emotionally spent. But I also felt better. My story was my therapy. My main character said and did the things I was afraid to say and do, but getting it out and having them say it made me feel better. I also felt empowered. I was able to see myself from a different angle. After that, I decided to make a change in my life. A positive change. And I’m happier for it.

I’ve also used my fiction to work through pain. I wrote a story that helped me come to terms with the death of a family member and the death of a friend. The stories were completely fictional, the settings and characters bore not resemblance to reality, but I was able to work through the grief and the confusion by having my protagonist deal with similar emotions. Both stories were difficult to write, but in the end I felt better for having written them.

Writing is an art form, but it’s also so much more. It’s a safe haven, it’s a therapy session, it’s a way to express ourselves, to explore our emotions. In fact, I think that writing – specifically, fiction writing – is the most powerful form of art. I’m not dismissing other art forms, but I don’t think they give the artist quite the same amount of power and depth of emotion. Words can convey things much more thoroughly and precisely than painting or sculpture or dance. The only one that comes close is songwriting, in my opinion.

Words are powerful and we can become better people because of them. Use them to your advantage. I think it’ll help you to be happier and stronger.

RB