September 30

Making it Happen

I’ve been working on my next short story collection and feeling good about it. Since being in lockdown and working remote, the lack of commuting and convenience of being at home has allowed me an extra hour or so every morning to write. And yes, I’ve been taking advantage of it.

I should probably be working on my novel, but sometimes I can’t help myself. I love to write short stories. It’s in my blood, my DNA. Plus, I have so many ideas I doubt I’ll ever catch up with them all.

So far, I’ve completed – from initial to final draft – seven shorts in the course of four months. Not too bad! I have four more in various states of composure. At this rate I may be able to have my next collection published before the end of the year. At least, that’s my goal.

And the stories will be mostly science fiction, with a couple of horror pieces thrown in for good measure. The plots revolve around possession, insidious artificial intelligence, environmental catastrophe, and unnamable things that go bump in the night. And that’s not me tripping over a dog when I try to get a drink of water at one in the morning.

The other thing that’s a bit different from my previous collections is that these stories, or most of them, are much longer than I usually write. I’m talking twelve to fifteen thousand words. It feels good to write longer stories, like I’ve been building up to them with sprints and now I’m running (or writing) several mini marathons. I think it’ll end up helping me when I return to my novel draft. Writing longer form stories is new to me and I think it’s wise for me to build up to it.

I’m excited about these stories. I think it’s some of my best writing and I’m looking forward to sharing them. I’ll be sure to post updates as I get closer to the publication date.

RB

September 28

Hand Cramp!

So I’ve been working – writing – on my trusty little MacBook Air for a few years now. I love the action on the keyboard, the screen is the perfect size, and I’ve been able to write more than thirty stories, and the rough draft of a novel, without any issues. She’s my little workhorse. Her name is Stella.

But back in the day I used to write by hand. Yeah, I know, I’m showing my age, but I was a teenager when the first home computers hit the market and they were well out of my price range. I didn’t mind too much. I was perfectly content to scribble away on a legal pad or in a spiral notebook. I kept a handful of sharpened pencils and notepads next to my bed and spent many late nights writing angsty poetry and bad horror stories.

Recently, I thought it might be fun to jump into the wayback machine and start a story draft the old fashioned way. There’s something to be said for writing by hand. Sure, it’s a bit slower and there’s no spell-check, but it feels organic to me. I used to love to write by hand at night. I’d gone so far as to light a few candles to I could feel like I was Poe or Shakespeare scribbling away in their rooms – minus the quill pen.

But what I didn’t realize is that those particular muscles in my hands haven’t been worked much. Typing uses the hand muscles in a different way and allows more movement. When writing by hand with a pen or pencil, the muscles see less movement and more tension.

The result? Hand cramp.

The sad part is that it only took about thirty minutes of manual writing before my hand was aching. The fingers, the palm, even up into my wrist. It wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences.

Luckily, my partner was sympathetic and massaged it for me. She also gave me a lecture on stretching and warming up. She does Body Pump three times a week, so that makes her more of an expert. I nodded in agreement because, hey, she was massaging my aching hand.

Did I learn my lesson? Definitely. Now when I get the urge to write by hand I’ll spend a good thirty minutes warming up with calisthenics and yoga.

Or maybe I’ll just stick with the keyboard on my laptop. Less chance of permanent injury. Stella will take care of me.

RB

September 25

Possibilities

When it comes to art, I feel that the possibilities are endless. There are so many plots, characters, situations, and scenarios that I can’t imagine a time where artists don’t have something to work with.

However, there is a caveat. At least, in some areas of art. Consider the guitar, for example. There are six strings and twenty frets on a standard guitar. I’m not a math person, but that basically breaks down to something like 10,000 or so ways to play a note. Considering how many guitarists there are and have been, coupled with the number of songs that have been written, it would seem that every combination of notes has been played. Yet we still get new songs written on guitar.

Same with writing. The saying goes that every story that can be told has been told. This means that modern writers have to find new ways to tell their stories. Much like a guitarist has to find a new way to combine notes in order to come up with something unique.

Other art forms, painting for instance, don’t quite have the same limitations. There are so many colors and color variances that I can’t imagine how painters could ever run out of color schemes. Plus, paintings can run the gamut from landscapes and portraits to surrealistic and post-modern experimentations.

Regardless, even areas of art that might seem limited still offer possibilities. I think that’s one of the things that makes art and creativity so endearing to me. No matter what, there’s always another option, another angle, another way to approach your project.

For example, I may feel like I don’t have anything to write about (I do) and feel stuck. Looking out through the window on my back door I can see – right now as I write this – two hummingbirds jockeying for the feeder on my patio. There’s a story, right there. I could anthropomorphize them, give them names and personalities, and make them a pair of angry ex-lovers who happened to run into each other at the neighborhood feeder.

Or maybe I consider the fact one of my dogs is laying on the patio while this oddly cute battle wages overhead. Maybe I could get into her head and write about her surveying her domain and wondering if she needs to break up this lover’s quarrel.

And just now I heard a car horn blaring angrily on the street out front. That could be a guy who’s running late for work and got stuck behind someone who wants to drive the speed limit. And he always gets caught behind the same car every morning regardless of what time he leaves for work. Is it a conspiracy? Bad timing? A prank by a mischievous god or goddess?

Maybe it’s just me, but I love to consider the possibilities all around me everywhere I go. I can find stories in the smallest of events or the most mundane of settings. The secret is to not overthink. Don’t try to concoct some intricate scenario or multi-layered plot. Just take it all in, let you mind relax, and soon you’ll begin to see stories everywhere.

The possibilities are endless.

RB

September 18

Writing Humor isn’t Funny

Okay, personal opinion time. I think that writing humor is incredibly difficult. In fact, it’s far more difficult than writing drama. With drama, the feelings are more universal. Whereas with comedy, well, it’s much more subjective.

What I mean here is that almost everyone responds in a similar fashion to dramatic events. You know, like the loss of a loved one, loss of a pet, a breakup. The same goes for happy events, too. The birth of a baby, a graduation, a marriage proposal…almost everyone feels the emotion and possible tears. It’s universal.

With comedy, however, things get more complicated. Something you find funny isn’t necessarily going to apply to me. Take comedy movies, for example. There are people who love Adam Sandler movies. Me, not so much. I mean, there have been a few funny ones, but for the most part I find his humor to be a bit too juvenile for my tastes. This doesn’t mean that he isn’t funny, just not to me.

Same goes for Larry David and his show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s one of the few shows I watch regularly and enjoy, but I have a few friends that find it too cringe-worthy and don’t like that sort of humor. Which is fine. But it goes to show how varied tastes can be when it comes to humor.

The big question is: Why is humor so subjective? Like I mentioned above, sadness and happiness are generally universal, so what sets comedy apart?

I know there have been studies done on this phenomena, but it’s complicated. Basically, it comes down to being able to accept incongruity. Meaning, one has to be able to accept things that don’t match up. For example, consider the Warner Brothers Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons. When the Coyote (Wile E. Coyote, for those in the know) is hit on the head with an anvil, many people will accept the absurdity of the situation. An anvil hitting him on the head doesn’t kill him, but only raises a ridiculously large lump. And there’s usually a flock of birds circling him, as well. It doesn’t make sense, it’s silly, so we laugh.

However, for someone who can’t disassociate from reality – maybe someone who is offended by any sort of animal cruelty, even cartoon-related – it’s more difficult to see the humor. The incongruity isn’t accepted.

So maybe the answer is that while happiness and sadness are almost always based in reality and are more tangible, humor and comedy are more ethereal and require the ability to suspend disbelief. For some of us, that ability may be limited or isolated to things we aren’t quite so attached to. The animal-rights activist may not find the adventures of Wile E. Coyote to be funny, but they may find the Three Stooges hilarious. Both are physical comedy, but the activist is probably more empathetic to the plight of animals, even cartoon ones, whereas with real people they are able to accept the incongruity.

I think it takes a special talent, a unique gene, in order to write comedy that has a wide appeal. People like Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Whoopi Goldberg, George Carlin…they all can reach those wide audiences. Me, I’m just glad if I can make myself laugh.

And I’ll leave you with this:

Today a man knocked on my door and asked for a small donation towards the local swimming pool. I gave him a glass of water.

RB

September 14

A Fork in the Road

I think that one of the causes of ‘creative block’ can be attributed to decision making. What I mean is, when working on a project we have to make choices. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. Some are minor, like the color of a character’s hair. Others are major and can change the course of the story. And it doesn’t necessarily matter which it is, sometimes even the seemingly harmless decisions can be hard to make.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I always have a couple of stories on my hard drive that I’ve set aside because of being ‘blocked’…or more specifically, I have to make a decision and I’m not sure what to do. I tend to fret about it for a while, write a few thoughts and ideas on the page, then hit ‘save’ and close it out until some point in the future.

But why do I do this? That’s what I’ve been trying to wrap my head around. Is it a deep-seated need to procrastinate? Fear of failure? Inability to commit? All of the above?

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be like this. What I mean is that, regardless of the choice made, I can always go back and try something different. It’s not like what I write has to be permanent. I’m not etching my words in stone or using a permanent marker on a whiteboard. I’m typing in a word processing program. If I decide I made a wrong turn, all I need to do is highlight, delete, and go down another path.

So maybe part of it is fear. Not the scary, shivering type of fear, but more of a fear of doing it wrong. I think it’s normal to feel that way, except for when it prevents me from completing a story. It’s a mind game. I have to remind myself that they are just words, virtual words, and I can change them, delete them, rearrange them, over and over again until I get them right.

This may not necessarily be true for everyone. We all have our own reasons for getting stuck on our creative projects. But the next time you get stuck, think about this. Maybe you’re simply afraid of making a mistake or a wrong decision, and that’s what is keeping you from moving forward.

Just remember, we’re writers and creators. We can build things and we can destroy them. The power is ours, so don’t be afraid to try something different. You can always go back and redo it.

RB

September 7

The Prometheus Project Podcast – A Sense of Wonder

We often take for granted how important it is to have a sense of wonder about the world around us. Not only for our own mental health, but also because it can fuel our creativity. Join me as I talk about regaining our childlike sense of wonder and how we can use it to improve ourselves and our art.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

September 2

Left in Stitches

So, I had a minor procedure on my shoulder recently that left me with eight stitches and a really cool scar. Nothing major. I was in and out of the doctor’s office in less than an hour. But it got me thinking about injuries I’ve had over the years, the bangs and bruises, the breaks and the blood. I’m amazed at how well the body can bounce back and heal from these things. It also makes me wonder about how injuries can change us and how the experiences can be reused.

In most cases, at least for me, the injuries were a result of doing something stupid or not paying attention. For example, I have a scar on my knee from when I was a kid. I was riding my bike on the sidewalk and looking back over my shoulder – instead of stopping to look at whatever it was – and I rode straight into a telephone pole. My knee located a protruding nail on the pole and taught me a valuable lesson: Look where you’re going, dumbass!

As a writer, I tend to use these experiences to help me in my stories, specifically when describing pain, or how it sounds when a bone snaps, or the sensation of being stitched up. I’m not entirely sure how much realism this allows me to add to the stories. Is accuracy here that important to the reader? Is it something they notice?

It reminds me of a story about the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was shooting a scene with Christopher Lee where a character gets stabbed. Jackson wanted the victim to cry out and thrash about, but Lee pulled him aside and said that wasn’t realistic. You see, Lee had worked as a spy during World War II and had personal experience with this situation. Although he didn’t come right out and say how he learned it, but he knew how someone would react when stabbed a certain way. Jackson was impressed and went with Lee’s recommendation for the scene.

Which then brings me back to the old adage of “write what you know”. I know what it feels like to be cut by glass and by knives (both sharp and dull); I’ve stepped on nails and fallen off of roofs; I’ve wiped out on motorcycles far too many times; and I’ve had a few broken bones. And yeah, I’ve learned a few tough lessons. Like, taking my time when carrying heavy items on my shoulder when climbing a ladder. And while bushes will break ones fall, the branches will still puncture skin.

Of course, your life experiences may not be quite as adventurous as mine. Probably because you have more common sense than I do. But I do tend to look back on my past injuries with a sort of fondness. Lessons were learned, experience gained, and now I have a small library of real-life experience to pull from when I write.

When I was laying on the examination table in the doctor’s office while the nurse coaxed the stitches out of my shoulder, I thought about a story I’m working on where my protagonist gets drunk and ends up in a fight. I wondered about what injuries he was going to end up with (I haven’t written the full scene yet) and I tried to concentrate on my experience so I could use it. The soft snipping sound, the slight tugging at the skin as the nurse pulled the fibers out, the way it itched later in the day.

Yeah, that’s definitely going to be used.

But don’t take this as encouragement to hurt yourself just so you can write about it later. My point is that we can use life experience, our personal experience, in our writing.

And be careful on ladders.

RB

August 31

A Trick of Light

I find it interesting how two people can see the same thing but come away with different perspectives on what happened. For example, studies have shown that when investigators interview witnesses to a crime, they often end up with wildly different explanations of the event. And it’s not that the witnesses are purposely trying to cause confusion. It’s all in how they interpreted what they saw.

It’s the same when people watch movies, listen to music, read books. We all get something different from the experience. Our takeaways may be similar or decidedly different, but no two people experience the same things in the same ways. It’s personal taste.

That’s what makes us individuals. If we all reacted and felt the exact same way about the exact same things, well, I think life would be boring. Nothing to discuss, debate, or defend. It would also be the death of creativity and art.

Try this sometime: When there’s something happening, a big event, watch the faces in the crowd. Let your eyes scan across the masses, watch to see how people react. You’ll probably see a lot of similar expressions – shock, awe, fear, surprise, wonder, depending on the event, but you’ll also see outliers. For example, when there’s a wreck during an Indy 500 auto race, you’ll see some people cover their mouths in shock, some will turn away, but there will be others who smile, laugh, maybe even cheer. The variances of human nature.

Or on a smaller scale, I occasionally like to watch a movie with my partner – one that I’ve seen but she hasn’t – so I can watch her face during certain scenes to see how she reacts. Sometimes she does what I expect, but there are occasions where she reacts unexpectedly, laughing when I expect her to cringe, or cry when I thought she’d simply frown. I think it gives me a little more insight into her feelings and how she interprets the world around us.

I’m not saying that any one way is right or wrong. It’s just human nature, who we are, the culmination of our lives up to that point in time. You and I may both look at an abstract painting and I’ll see something wonderful, a display of emotion, while you may simply see paint on a canvas. We are neither right nor wrong. But it will make for some interesting discussion afterwards.

I think of this phenomenon as a trick of light. We both see something, experience something, but depending on how the light hits our eyes, I may see it much differently than you do. When it comes to creativity, we are all going to see the images differently, hear the music differently, interpret the words differently.

We have to keep that in mind when we create something. We may have an intention, but that doesn’t mean the audience will see it the same way. We can’t take offense at that. Once we complete a piece of art – song, story, painting – and release it into the world, well, it’s no longer ours. It belongs to the viewer, the reader, the listener. And how they respond to it depends on things we can’t control.

RB

August 21

Don’t Give Up

Why is it so difficult to keep oneself motivated, but so easy to simply give up?

I think it’s because we’re often wired to take the easier path. I get it. Obstacles can be difficult to overcome. It’s much less trouble to simply say, “the hell with it”, and move on to something else.

Now, it’s one thing to take a break from a creative project when you run into an issue. I’ve been stuck on stories and set them aside for a few days or months, then come back to them later with a fresh set of eyes and new ideas. Nothing wrong with that. But I find it sad when I hear someone say that they’ve run into a problem on their project, they’re frustrated, and they’re giving up on it.

I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve been there myself. It’s not always easy to keep your motivation up. Stubbornness helps, but that’s not in everyone’s nature.

So how do we deal with it? I think it’s a mind game we have to play with ourselves. What I do is distract myself with something else. For example, if I’m stuck on a story or feel I can’t write, then I work on some other creative project. I’ll practice guitar, look through my pantry to find something interesting to cook, maybe pull out my sketch pad and doodle for a bit. I also keep a couple of coloring books and colored pencils in a drawer on my coffee table to use when I feel frustrated.

What I find is that this distracts me from my frustrations. I can focus on coloring between the lines, or getting my finger-picking just right, or finding the right combination of seasoning for a big pot of chili. In the back of my mind I’m still thinking about that frustrating project, but in my conscious mind I’m doing something different, something fun. Plus, I’m still using my creativity.

Sneaky, right?

I used to be the type of person who would give up at the first obstacle. You know, get to some part of a story I was writing, unsure of what to do next, then scrap it. I think that was the result of immaturity and inexperience. I finally learned that I don’t have to completely give up, I can simply move on to another project. And it works. There’s no reason for me to abandon something completely just because I run into a little difficulty.

Of course, it’s not an instant fix. I’ve set aside stories with the intent to return to them in a few days or weeks, but instead they sat for months, even years. But that’s okay. Whatever time it takes for me to get back to it is fine. The story will be told eventually.

It’s perfectly normal to get caught up inside our own heads, to lose perspective on something we’re trying to create. That’s just human nature. But you can work through it, or around it, or simply set it off to the side and come back to it later. The point is to never give up. Ever. Our stories, our thoughts, our ideas, our voices, they all deserve to be heard, read, seen. Don’t forget that.

RB