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FOR WRITERS

DANGEROUS . . . and Late

The 8th North Carolina Infantry shortly after formation in 1861. It was later reorganized and designated the 18th North Carolina Infantry. This was the unit held responsible for shooting Stonewall Jackson in a friendly fire incident prior to the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Art is dangerous.

It is one of the attractions:

When it ceases to be dangerous

You don't want it.

                              Duke Ellington

 

 

Before writing this piece, I read the blog below titled "The Fear of Writing: Revisited"  (1/5/2022) That was nearly seven months ago and here I am pissing and moaning about the same work, The Candle Man. It is, in part, a time travel piece and what I find interesting is that what I predicted as a resolution to the POV's goal back in January I see happening all around me now. The book became unjammed a few weeks ago, and I am nearing completion. And the fear? It has quadrupled.

 

The works of mine that won awards never struck me as award winners during the writing. It is simply not something I think about during the writing. What has struck me many times during the writing of The Candle Man is that this work might be a career ender. It could get me killed. Just a little melodramatic, you think? The old boy is losing it bigtime? Think again.

 

Writing, comedy, and music--Art-- poke fun at, and occasionally gore, sacred cows. That was how it was. Sacred cows apparently do not like to be laughed at and they certainly resent being gored. That is how it has always been. These days, however, the sacred cows have control of traditional publishing, the news media for the most part, current politics, law enforcement, education, with many businesses and other institutions falling in line, cancelling products, firing individuals fingered by a knee-jerk mob, cancelling favorite entertainers, and doing preposterous things in order not to have a few loud individuals give them a mortal label others take as true without question.

 

On a minor level I have experienced this myself. At a science-fiction convention in the Northeast I had attended as a guest at least twenty of the previous twenty-five years I was on a panel during which I shared my belief that there are no "races" among the Human Race. If we go to current science, we all originated in the same place: Africa. For speaking these words, I was labeled a "racist"(?) and disinvited by the convention committee. I used to believe that SF and fantasy fans and professionals were some of the most accepting and tolerant persons in the world. Turns out these days many of them are just as polarizing and agenda driven as any of the cancel culture politicians or news toadies who fill the moments every day with lies, cruelty, and intentional misunderstandings.

 

I recently got into a tangle on Facebook because I refused to refer to a gender neutral individual with a plural pronoun. "Transphobic" was the label. My objection was mathematical not cultural. I am an English language professional. The English language and what I do with it is my toolbox, bread, and low sodium butter. I do not refer to an individual of any stripe as "they" for the same reason I do not refer to a hoard of rioters or a thousand incoming missiles as "him." I have no doubt this individual will get its buddies to threaten my publisher with a boycott unless they dump me and withdraw all of my works. This is one reason why I have my own imprint.

 

But these days the sacred cows have legions of thugs they influence to protest, disrupt, block, badmouth, burn, attempt asassination, and even murder. It is not organized to the point where there is a single leader who hands out the party line and orders the faithful to commit acts. Every so often they get their signals crossed. Feminist and trans gender advocates served their individual causes and wound up with biological men competing against women in sports. I don't know how that one will resolve. Although there is an obvious solution, currently its obviousness is shared by only a few. I do not have a dog in that hunt save that the solution, should it ever be found, is in the hands of those who conduct and put on the various sports affected. If the solution is left to competing mobs hurling semantic blanks at each other, one can only speculate upon what sort of mutant venue would be produced.

 

The Candle Man not only goes after sacred cows, it plans to cut them into steaks and char them with mushrooms, onions, and perthaps a chili or two. Are there consequences for integrity? That is one of the themes in The Candle Man. Spoiler alert: Yes, there are. Is there something that can be done about it? Probably not. Bigots, attention seekers, and the power hungry we will always have with us. Much depends upon how important freedom of artistic expression is to enough of we Humans to become a marketing demograph. Perhaps boredom is the key: Imagine how dull it would be if the world became a place in which there was no dangerous art.

 

I got the Duke Ellington quotation above from Dave Chappelle's speech at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts: "What's In A Name." It is on Netflix right now and is worth watching for anyone in the arts. For those who have been preprogrammed to regard Chappelle as the Devil, put aside your bag of someone else's labels for an hour and listen. You may be surprised. In any event, if you are in the arts you will learn something . . . unless you already know everything.

 

What do I want my story to be? Your characters await your answer.

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The Fear of Writing: Revisited

Words, words, dreaded damned words!

 

It takes many forms and goes by many names. The forms run from the tragic to the comical. Drinking and drug use, with all of their associated drawbacks, such as divorce and death, usually head the list of the tragic forms. The comical forms can be told by the incredible list of excuses for not tickling the keyboard. "I'm thinking" is a frequent one most often used as a reason why one is playing video games or watching TV. "I'm working on (plot, outline, slant, dialog twists, characterization, and the ever popular 'propping up my story arc')." The names are "Writers block," "milking the muse," "doing research," and so on. It all comes down to the fear of writing.

 

For most sufferers, this is actually a fear of writing stuff that others might see. I have known diarists who write reams of stuff every day for themselves but cannot put two words together for publication. A man I knew who was a natural born story teller, and who had some valuable stories to tell, was paralyzed when he tried to write them so that others might see them. And what beginning writer has not trembled in terror at possible editorial rejection?

 

A very famous writer of my acquaintance used to write her novels and then put them in a closet. That way she could get the words on the paper and none of those words were rejected. After half a dozen of these, her newly completed novel practically screamed for publication and she broke down and sent it to an editor. The editor loved it and said, "please send me more." The next morning he had the remainder of her closet collection on his desk.

 

When I began writing, the fear of being judged by the composed words I stuck in front of someone was absolutely defeating. I strained my marriage to the limit with endless pleas of "Waddya think" as I held out a gob of papers in a shaking hand. The trauma of another rejection was sufficient to keep me from writing for weeks on end. It put me in an unproductive writing stance that is familiar to most new writers: Rather than writing the story, I was writing not to get rejected.

 

I eventually got out of my paralysis by making myself sit at my desk until I had 1,000 words on the paper. It mattered not what the words were. They could be my own name written 1,000 times, but before I could leave my desk, that thousand words had to be on the paper. After awhile that thing in me that was afraid to write got the message: We are going to write today. The remaining issue was just how bored did I want to be during the writing. Story ideas started popping up, story lines, characters, setting, plot lines and twists, and I was writing. Once I learned to keep editorial and reader tastes out of my story program, I was writing my own stuff and there was no stopping me.

 

Okay, health, or lack of it, stops me. I have a lot of health issues that I won't go into, but between dealing with doctors, blinding headaches, disabling other pains, more than occasional surgeries, I wind up away from my keyboard and away from my current project days, weeks, and recently months at a time.

 

My current project is a fantasy/science fiction work set in the American Civil War, as well as many other times including the present. It is a very complicated work that will address, through the unfolding of the tale, the biggest issue facing the world today, and no it is not global warming.

 

One of my many issues is severe ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). How it affects my writing is, unless I am at it every day, I lose the threads of my story. I have extensive notes regarding names, battles, character descriptions, and so on. But what happens next and where the story is heading are the threads that have yet to materialize. When I am away from my keyboard for any length of time, those threads fade and tend to get confused before they vanish entirely. After a long enough bout of this, I begin getting this feeling that if I put words on it would look like: "Maybe I don't have it anymore."

 

Of course, this is just one more way of saying "I'm not writing because all good writing is challenging and I am afraid I am not up to the challenge this time."

 

So. Start at the beginning, again.

Pick up the threads, again.

And continue firm in the knowledge that I know how to write, I know what interests me, and I know how, after many rewrites, how to bring what interests me to life.

 

That is 802 words, so with less than 200 more, I can leave my desk.

 

 

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DA NIGHT BEFORE XMAS

A Message For Our Times

 

It's da night before Xmas, and on da cell block ,

Da lights was shut down, da screws checkin' da locks.

Bernie 'n' me, shut up high on third tier,

Da same as we been for t'ree friggin' years.

Da rest a da cons was passed out in dere racks

Blasted out on pruno, smack, oxy, 'n' blacks.

And Bernie wit' his ear plugs, in da top bunk

An' me down below gettin' into a funk,

When from da air vent dere arose such a grumble,

I pulled out my shank and got ready to rumble.

Away to da bars I put dem to my back,

An' I yell at Bernie, "Hey, unass the rack!"

He pulled out his earplugs den stood next to me,

Den said, "Dis can't take too long, 'cause I gotta pee."

When, what to my wondering eyes should behold,

Da damn grill fell off an' black smoke come outta da hole.

Da smoke didn't smell much like fire or gas

An' da bull didn't notice da smoke when he passed.

Da smoke made a column, Bernie climbed up da wall

Den the smoke got real solid and started to crawl.

I was goin' to shout to rack open da gate

When da smoke said to me, "Louie, it's getting late."

 

 jail-01.jpg

 

 I thought goin' to Hell was just an old fraud,

To scare guys like me from becomin outlaws,

But here was Old Nick, all smoky and black

To take Louie out, an' he ain't comin' back.

Den da smoke it turned red, and me, like a jerk,

Said, "In Hell ya tink a guy like me can find work?"

Da column of red shaped itself into a man,

A red suit, white beard, but he was slender and tan.

"Dere's not much work in Hell," he said wit a smile,

"The place is full up, the way it's been for awhile.

"As for work for you both, I need you right now,

"I'm way behind schedule," and he wrinkled his brow.

"With fires and riots, thugs looking for fights,

"Lots of folks now won't even put up their lights.

"I can't leave kids' presents out there on the porch,

"What doesn't get stolen will be put to the torch.

"Chimneys are few, houses sealed up all tight

"Computer alarms and patrol cops all night.

"Everyone has guns and are itchin' to shoot

"Dere's no time to place presents, only to scoot.

"Most times I can't get in, da sky's full of ack ack,

"I've armored the sleigh but I can't shoot them back,

"They came at me with clubs once and left me for dead,

"As near as I can tell it's cause my hat was too red.

"I've robots for reindeer, an elf who's a rookie,

"And now my physician says I can't eat da cookies.

"Louie, I must tell you, if I can't pick up some speed,

"Millions will miss gettin' da presents dey need."

 

santa-beat.jpg

 

"Santa," I tells him, "You're in one big bind,

"But Bernie 'n' me, we got six left on a nine,

"We could help speed tings up and keep youse from harm,

"Bernie he does the locks and I do alarms."

Santa only needed us to work Xmas eve,

And he got us some papers so we could both leave.

Well, we got brand new suits, green wit white little frills,

Den Bernie makes a crack about bringin' his pills.

"Tink about dis," I said leanin up 'gainst his rack,

"All da stuff we done stole, now we can put it all back."

So, wit his two new helpers, Santa picked up his speed

All da kiddies and peoples'll get what dey need.

And when we screw it up, trip, or break the wrong beam

The thugs and attack dogs come for Santa's new team,

You'll hear the sleigh's speakers as to its safety we make, say,

"Merry Christmas to all, and lighten up for Christ's sake!"

 

—Merry Xmas from Barry Longyear

 

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BEST JOB I EVER HAD

If there is a better way to spend five days than as toastmaster at a ConAdian Worldcon, I cannot think of what it might be.  From the invitation to be toastmaster rendered by Con Chair John Mansfield all the way through to the round of applause Regina and I received from our fellow passengers as we boarded our flight back home, it was entertaining, fulfilling, funny, moving, important, silly, esteem building, and but one moment of worth crushing horror.

 

 

First, The Horror

Toward the end of the opening ceremony, which went exceedingly well, came the moment when I was to introduce the major cheeses who, after running a successful bid, were putting on ConAdian 1994. After the opening ceremony ended on a successful note—I thought—the con chair, John Mansfield, approached and informed me that I had neglected to introduce one of the rather central members of the con staff: Namely himself.

 

In panic I looked at my script, his name was in there. Somehow caught up in the moment I must have skipped that line. Certain apologies fall short next to the events that bring the need for apologies into being. Failing to introduce the fellow who busted his butt to bring a Worldcon into being in the City of Winnipeg at that self same Worldcon was just such an event, and that was only the first day of the con.  I immediately projected that this was going to a horrible, five-day, gut-grinding guilt pageant with me the principal non-Canadian object of scorn. It turned out to be anything but.

 

 

The Interview

The next item on my agenda that day was to be interviewed in front of a live audience, and apparently the person scheduled to interview me was a no-show. John Mansfield filled in for the missing interviewer, he graciously avoided covering my error in his questioning, and between us and the questions from the audience we had a lot of laughs.

 

The big question from the audience, of course, was why wasn't a Canadian serving as toastmaster at ConAdian? The fellow who asked the question gave the impression that the con committee had somehow let down Canadian fandom by allowing a non-Canadian to serve in such a prominent position. It wasn't my question to answer, which was good because "I'm a really nice guy" didn't seem sufficient.

 

John explained that I had been an early supporter of Winnipeg's Worldcon bid, he knew me, I knew a good many of the names and faces in fandom and among writers and artists, and I had served as GOH at the con he had organized years before in New Brunswick. I suppose the most important thing that came out of that interview was that world-wide sf & fantasy fandom is very much a family of round pegs in a world of square and super-square holes. Slinging about nationalistic and other divisive labels did not seem a promising benefit to a community whose only requirement for membership was an interest in or love of the literature, art, and music of the fantastic. I was a member and Regina and I were made very much at home in Winnipeg and at ConAdian.

 

 

Hugo Awards

Working with the staff responsible for the Hugo Award Ceremony, in both design and production, was such a pleasure. I proposed modeling the ceremony after the 1980 ceremony at Noreascon II, presided over by Toastmaster Robert Silverberg, in which I received a Hugo for Best Novella ("Enemy Mine") and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was a wonderful experience.

 

During rehearsal, I skipped over my pre-ceremony warm up. It was something of a comedy event and I hate letting the cat out of the bag before it has its kittens. The staff took direction well, and it was easy for me to modify what I was going to do according to the needs of the staff and video taping crew.

 

In the warm up I covered a much neglected literary area of science fiction and fantasy, the editorial rejection. It was an omission I intended to correct through the presentation of the No Award for the best editorial rejection slip or letter. Using that as a means, I yanked on quite a few editorial chains.  Each laugh was a treasure, and after the ceremony, as a reward, author Joe Haldeman gave me a very big hug. It was a special treat for me that one of the award presenters at the ceremony was Robert Silverberg.

 

 

Moments

So many great moments, meeting and hanging out with old friends, getting to discuss a few of my works with fans in the con suite, seeing fans costumed as clowns and circus performers from my Momus stories at the special event for guests of honor, meeting writer GOH Anne McCaffrey, finally getting to meet one of my favorite illustrators, artist GOH George Barr. The panels I was on were terrific, and the City of Winnipeg was beautiful. The two restaurants at which Regina and I ate were superb.

 

Most important to me were the fans I met who shared their thoughts, dreams, and special costume treats with me. One woman showed me a coat the outside of which was covered with pieces of CDs creating a multi-colored reflective lightshow wherever she went. Another was collecting autographs on her coat that she would later embroider in bright colors. She collected mine, as well. Long talks – late talks with new writers, fans, a lot of not-so-new writers, and dropping into bed late at night wishing I had youth and energy sufficient to keep at it all night and every night.

 

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, after the con when Regina and I boarded the plane for our flight home, as soon as we entered the passenger cabin, all the passengers gave us a big round of applause. Except for the glitch at the beginning, we had done well. I remember saying to Regina, "I don't think we can ever equal the time we had here unless they have another ConAdian." It felt very good, but that was not the most touching moment for me at ConAdian 1994.

 

Early one morning, while Regina was back in our room getting dressed, I went down to the convention center cafeteria to get some coffee for us. My head was filled with greetings and scribbling a few autographs on the way to the cafeteria, in addition to the things I was supposed to do that day. As I got into line to pay for the coffee, a young man came up behind me, took the two big cups of coffee from me, and said, "Here, let me pay for these." I looked at him in surprise. I'd never seen him before.

 

He told me that he had seen the panel I had been on the day before. In the process of answering a question (I forget what the panel's subject was) I gather I illustrated my point by revealing that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I don't often remember specific questions nor my responses in any sort of forum. Among my issues, I am severely ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), which means I never have to watch reruns; Every movie is a new release. Although I didn't remember exactly what I said, the man told me that his wife was a writer and she had been one of my fellow panelists. She was also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and this had been a secret that had been crushing her for years and during their entire marriage. Nevertheless, from my bit of sharing she understood, finally, that she was not alone with this problem. She had plenty of company, it wasn't her fault, and it was possible to get to the other side. Although such abuse leaves scars, one can recover sufficiently to live a life of creativity and joy. After paying for the coffee, the young man gave me a hug, handed me the two cups of coffee, and that was the last I ever saw of him.

 

I was rather stunned by this. Childhood sexual abuse, incest, and rape leave terrible mental scars on children that, unless treated, lurk forever sucking much of the joy out of life. It is hard for the survivor. I believe it is even harder for those who love the survivor. It is terrible to stand by helplessly as a loved one goes through this nightmarish pain. The young man had seen some hope in his wife's eyes after that panel. She told him why, and for the first time in months he heard her laugh. He thanked me, and, yeah, I had to go find a quiet corner away from everyone and have a rather solid weepy moment of my own as I got together with my past and my new relationship with a Higher Power and sent a prayer off for this young man and his wife in their struggles.

 

In interviews and online I am sometimes asked what my favorite convention was. I am asked this most often by those who believe they know the answer. Such folks assume my favorite con was Noreascon II in Boston at which I won those awards. They are sometimes puzzled when I tell them they are dead wrong. Now, pardon me while I gush: I have been going to cons and worldcons since 1978, and although there have been many cons I have enjoyed, ConAdian 1994 stands far above the others in my memory for sheer joy, interest, ideas, importance, fellowship, friendship, love, and inspiration.

 

I borrowed the title "Best Job I Ever Had" from the war movie, Fury. In that movie, the soldiers often use that expression cynically. For me, it is a term of precision. I use it to describe the best job I ever had. I hope I live long enough to see and possibly attend ConAdian II.

 

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Readings: Saint Mary Blue

●So, no one knows for certain when the all-clear will sound. Hence, beginning Thursday, March 16th, 2020 at 12 Noon EDST (GMT-4) I will begin reading a chapter a day every noon from my recovery novel Saint Mary Blue (Internet willing and the creek don't rise). SMB is a story of very early recovery filled with laughs, tears, warnings, and hope.

●The Zoom reading meeting code is 292-024-0794. At the end of each chapter reading there will be some time for questions and comments. Hope to see you there.
●12:00 noon (-4 GMT) beginning April 16th, Zoom 292-024-0794. Pass it on.

 

For writers, I am often asked what the point is in doing readings. Publicity is the publisher and the marketing type's business, right? That is true, and if your only reason for doing readings is publicity, this is not for you.

 

Writing is about communication. For me the main avenue of communication is between me and myself. However, there are those out there, my tribe, readers who either like my stuff or are willing to see what I've come up with communicating with whom is fun, entertaining, sometimes poignant, and serves at times to powder this shameful little remaining need for validation I have.

 

That is why, back when we had science fiction conventions, I loved doing readings. Once the Covid-19 all-clear sounds, I expect we will have science fiction conventions again. Until then, it will be readings through Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.

 

Writing is a performance art, which means waiting a long time for the applause---sometimes forever. With readings the author gets live reactions from readers, and when they laugh and cry in the right spots, it is important feedback on several levels. The writer gets to see first hand what works and what doesn't work, but most important to me is finding the readers who get and stay on my particular wavelength.

 

Writing is a very lonely occupation. It is good to have company once in awhile.

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I Have to Stay at Home, I Have All this Free Time, So What's the Holdup Now?

It couldn't be any better for struggling writers. Covid-19 and you are supposed to stay home. Can't go to work, and many are being paid just the same. On top of that will be the stimulous pop if the state governments can manage to get out of their own way. Now we can really get some writing done, right? . . . right?

 

And now comes that moment of discovery. It wasn't your spouse or your parent urging you to get a real job, it wasn't the neighbor's dog barking, it wasn't that medical condition, the kids raising hell, nor was it all those people out there who really needed your help to raise awareness of whatever. What is keeping the words from getting written now?

 

It is called "fear." Most persons know what this word means both as noun and verb. If you don't know, look it up. Some folks attempt to deal with this paralyzing emotion through acronyms: FEAR: False Events Appearing Real, or, FEAR: Fuck Everything And Run! For writers and those wanting to write, it presents itself as word-jam, sometimes referred to as "writer's block." Sometimes it takes the form of wooden, totally expressionless writing. In all of its forms it is the writer standing four-square in his or her own way. To avoid facing that truth we point to a thousand different irritants and inconveniences that are the "reasons" the words aren't getting written.

 

Fear plugs up the creative process, and there are billions of excuses for your fear, and some proven ways out of it. Robert A. Heinlein's famous cure for writer's block was to (1) pick a word, any word, and put it on the paper (or screen, nowadays); (2) pick another word that makes sense placed next to the first word; (3) pick a third word that makes sense when placed after the first two words; (4) repeat as necessary.

 

The point is to tell your little blockage that, whatever it does or wants to do, the words are going to get written nonetheless. When I began writing, I got through this blockage by assigning myself 1000 words per day. I had to get that many words on paper before I could quit, even if all I wrote was my own name, or "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." After awhile, I got bored writing nothing and began writing something.

 

The biggest fears jamming up my words were (1) Am I wasting my time? (2) What will please readers (reviewers, editors)? How can I avoid making any mistakes? You will note that none of these fears have anything to do with story telling. I have a new set of questions now. (1) Is this a character I want to know? (2) Is that character in a place I want to go? (3) Will becoming this character and bringing it through its trials and victories be sufficient reward for writing this story? If I get three "yeses," there is never a word jam.

 

Find a character you want to follow, climb into your character and its setting, live the story, and scribble down your diary notes along the way. That is the thrill and the joy of fiction writing. If all it is to you is a way to get approval and put beans on the table, you may as well be jammed or get into academic writing. They're pretty much the same thing. See, in academic writing, you show what you know. In fiction writing, you show what you feel and what you think. In academic writing you display the facts and suppositions you have collected. In fiction writing you display who and what you are. That is what makes it so scary, and what makes it such fun.

 

Thanks to the Covid-19 bug, you have the time. All you need is a character who can drag you bodily into his, her, or its story. Go write.

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White Page Worries

So I was stuck. Writing is hard work. I had a project I wanted to do, but I had already gotten a few wags of disapproval from my agent and a publisher. The fear? Is this project going to be worth my time and effort? What if it will be nothing more than a waste of time?

 

Time and effort toward what end? Success? So what is my measure of success? Money? Fame? Publication? Crowds applauding and yelling, "Yaaay, Barry!"? I had all that in the bad old days, and I call them "the bad old days" because I was dying and leaning more and more toward welcoming death. I had to change my method of writing, my means of writing, my reasons for writing, as well as my measure of success.  It worked great for many years.

 

This morning, though, the old fear came over me. "Is this project worth my time?"

 

I consulted the runes and was told once again that creation is its own reward. My job is to create the stories that move me, unattached to outcomes. That means publication, nice reviews, sales, awards are all irrelevant. Is this a story I want to create? Yes. Will the living and writing of this story be sufficient reward for writing this story? Yes. Then, the only thing left for me is to get on with it. It's good to refresh one's motivation every so often.

 

Have a good writing day.

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GETTING IN THE GROOVE

I was watching a documentary on Amazon Prime on the life and career of jazz pianist Bill Evans titled Bill Evans Time Remembered. I recommend both the documentary and the music of Bill Evans to those who appreciate magnificent jazz. Through the course of the recording describing how his music evolved entwined with the events of his life, as did many musicians and composers of the era (and now), Bill Evans got into drugs.

 

Vocalist Jon Hendricks, in Time Remembered, said, "(Bill) wanted to be able to deal with the work, but not the pain. Heroin is particularly well-suited to that."

 

Jon Hendricks's characterization of the lure of mood altering drugs to creative individuals is spot on. Tired? Have doubts? Can't seem to get a break? Comparing yourself to the success of others? The piece you're working on means reaching in deep, way beyond your soul, into dark and foreign worlds, guilt-drenched, horrific, and painful? Walking around in a constant state of loss, deprivation, loneliness, and depression?

 

Then a drug comes along, pill, powder, or potion, and it seems to make everything look, seem, and feel better. And, no, it is not simply an attraction suffered by creative men and women. Take a self-conscious school kid walking those halls, frightened by bullies, intimidated by school work, perhaps a teacher or two whose life plans hadn't worked out the way they had envisioned and takes out the frustration and bitterness on his or her students. Kids, as do all humans, register this as pain. So lots of kids get into drugs; Lots of teachers do, too, as well as doctors, nurses, those in business, professional athletes, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, millwrights, the homeless, convicts, politicians, and those in the military.

 

The title of this article is "Getting In The Groove." There is a measure of fear, fatigue, frustration, and guilt associated with every occupation, non-occupation, activity, and endeavor on this planet. Most often these things present themselves as necessary pain—a vital part of the groove. Writers like to talk about, "First, open a vein." Athletes tell you, "No pain no gain." If you work or play in an area you enjoy, the meaning and benefits often outweigh this pain. Often it does not.

Things aren't going super, the job doesn't fit well, things a little rocky at home, and those guys doing weed or a few lines on breaks or after practice every day have a message for you:

Hey, this stuff is legal.

 

Try it; It's not really addictive.

Oh, there are ways of getting around piss tests.

It'll loosen you up and ease those aches and pains.

Your life didn't turn out the way you wanted; smoke this and you won't give a shit.

 

In my own experiences being a novelist and short-story writer, then drug addict, to kill the pain, drugs kill feelings: the fun feelings as well as the bad. Eventually even that stops working and all one is left with is a horrible life with horrible feelings and chasing down and using more and more drugs in hopes of preventing the feelings from getting even worse. The wreckage you leave along the way simply adds to the level of addiction's special kind of pain.

 

Stories are about people. People are about feelings. To write about people in your stories, you need to employ each character's feelings as well as your own. Your feelings modified by your imagination is what brings your characters alive—is what makes them believable story characters. If you have numbed your feelings until you cannot feel anything but indifference, depression, bitterness, and rage, all you can invest your characters with are borrowed feelings, that is, descriptions of feelings borrowed from other writings, movies, remembered emotional experiences of the past, likely none of them fitting exactly the character you are writing on in that particular story moment. Afterward there is the dilemma of whether to teach your feelings of being a fraud how to swim, snort, or shoot.

For those who already use drugs to "relax" or "expand one's thinking" while working or during breaks, to "deal with the work and not the pain," there is a lot of help out there once you have worked your way through your denial sufficiently to recognize that you have a problem: Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, drug rehabilitation, counseling, detox units, and so on. Addiction is a prison with hundreds of escape routes. But as has been said, "The first step in escaping from a prison is to accept that one is in a prison."

 

Did I write some stuff that was great when I was using? Yeah, I think so. Could that stuff have been better without impaired feelings? That little ghost of a question follows me around wherever I go. I know since I got clean I have written stuff I think towers way above my previous work. That's just me, I know. But I am for whom I am writing.

 

For those of you who are experimenting or thinking of experimenting, the experiments have already been done. Science has proven that using addicts make terrible decisions about their work, themselves, their relationships, and their feelings.

 

Oh, you may not be an addict? Here is something to think about. If there was a new food product on the market with a one-in-six chance of ravaging you with a crippling horrific fatal disease that would also affect and possibly destroy each and everyone you love, would you try it?

It's a yes or no question. If you answer "yes," there is a game you might wish to try called Russian Roulette.  It is faster than addiction, but causes much less collateral damage, and is infinitely less painful.

 

PS: Yeah, Dufus. Alcohol is a drug.

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About Comments

Recently I've been getting comments posted to this page that are not written in plain text English. They appear to be some of the incomprehensible gobbledygook one gets when opening a text document or image using the incorrect program. The Authors Guild Sitebuilder program requires that I accept a comment before it can be published. If I cannot understand your comment, I have not and will not approve it. Plain Text English, please.

Some of the problems might be attempting to paste in commercial or political ads incompatible with the AG Sitebuilder program. Doesn't work. I don't take ads in any event (except for my own stuff, curiously). I may put in a link for someone else's stuff if I find it valuable. but that has nothing to do with the For Writers page. If you have a comment regarding a particular article, have at it. If your comments have to do with advertising reading services, don't post them here. Such services cannot tell you what your art is supposed to be. Early on, when I was searching for some assurance that I was not wasting my time, I sent a piece to a reading service. The response I got back was that I should quit writing and take training in driving a truck. A word to the wise.  Read More 
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On Reading Manuscripts

(In response to a new writer's inquiry)

I'm gratified that my writing has helped fill your day. About reading manuscripts, the only thing I could tell you is whether it works for me or doesn't, and stuff that doesn't work for me is published and wins awards every year.

There are plenty of teachers and authors willing to pass judgment on new writers' manuscripts, thinking themselves capable of deciding good and bad. All I do is tell new writers (1) produce art; (2) look at the art thus produced and decide if it is the art you intended. If it is, congratulations. If it isn't (3) rewrite until it becomes the art you intended or surpasses that. Whether editors or readers like it are business matters which do not concern me.

I'm the only reader I'm trying to please with my writing, which means I produce my art but renders me a terrible judge of what your art should be to you. Do you like your own stuff? When you read it are there passages that make you want to skip ahead? Do you have any doubts about it? Once you put it in such shape that you love your own stuff, then send it to someone who backs up his or her judgment with either check or rejection. If it's a rejection, all that means is that particular editor isn't into your art and go try the next editor. If no one likes it, give it a read and see if you still like it. If you still like it, welcome to the Van Gogh Be-Bop School of Art-Before-Its-Time of which I am a charter member.

But keep doing your own art no matter what, for therein lies creative fulfillment. If you want to write for money, fame, or approval see what the editor is buying, go forth and do likewise. Or you can write insurance or perhaps code. As with painters (artists), composers, and musicians, a great many writers and poets are fulfilled by making their own art. Very few make a living at it.

So, what is doing your own art? I've gone at length on this subject in The Write Stuff, but I was recently watching the Ken Burns series on the history of jazz. In that series I ran across the advice Will Marion Cook gave to the young Duke Ellington: "First, find the logical way. When you find it avoid it and let yourself break through and guide you. Don't try to be anybody but yourself."
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