Is writing a real job?

Writing is a real job!

Just a little validation for everyone. If you’re like me, then you’ve heard, “Writing isn’t a real job.” something like two hundred and forty-three times in your life. On a certain level, it’s true. Writing is not often a financially stable way to move through life. However, that isn’t what I mean by writing is a real job.

Without disparaging anyone, or their works, writing demands time. It demands patience. I don’t say this in a way that’s meant to sound gatekeeping. In fact, I think everyone can and should write! Everyone has a unique voice, their own perspective, and it can be used to create a compelling story. But there are people who have a good idea, sit down to write (as they last did in college or high school) and are surprised when they can’t. Why?

Because writing is a real job.

Can you expect someone with no construction experience to build stairs? Someone who has never sailed to sail? Other analogies and comparisons? No, right? So why do you expect anyone, yourself included, to be able to bang out a full novel from an idea without having practiced writing?

I’d be dumbfounded. Impressed, but dumbfounded. And it’s that expectation that kills the excitement in so many beginning writers. We’ve all read books, how hard would it be to emulate one?

Very.

Why?

You guessed it. Because writing is a job.

Taking this concept a step further, it’s up to you to treat it like a job. Put in time. Read everything you can get your hands on. Re-write a book you’ve just read. Read some more. And write. Write when you can. Write for an hour a day or a thousand words a day. Write when you don’t want to. And most importantly, write when you aren’t inspired.

If you wait to be inspired before writing, then you’ll never learn the necessary tools to become a writer. Your ideas and inspiration wasted.

If you can treat writing like a job, sit down and stare at a blank sheet of paper for an hour, write even when nothing comes to you, then your ideas and inspiration will flow from your fingertips.

How to return to writing after a break

Taking a break from writing is easy. Returning to writing afterwards is difficult. Like anything else that requires commitment, patience, and dedication, stepping away from writing can feel like sliding down some unseen totem pole (or up, since the best are at the bottom?).

How do you get back into it?

Easy.

Give yourself a break. A different kind of break.

If it’s only been a few weeks, or even a few months since you’ve started writing, you might not have forgotten much, if anything. But if it’s been months? Or even years? Then writing can seem like an impossible battle.

To start, you need to drop any judgement. Of course you’re writing will be rusty. THings will come across as wooden and lifeless. Scenes will lack the shine they previously had. Dialogue will seem like it’s been lifted straight from a 90’s sitcom. At least, this is how it’s been for me. The first thing I do is release all judgement. Sometimes I actually have to tell myself, out loud, there will be no judgement. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I angrily delete entire pages, sometimes I rework a line over and over again before realizing it won’t fit. And sometimes it’s just laziness. I can’t think, can’t create, can’t put myself in my character’s shoes, so I just toss in something like, “And so the character leaves the store empty-handed, awkwardly waving at the cashier, hoping he isn’t accused of theft on his way out.” because it’s what happened to me earlier that day.

Think of an old car on a winter’s day, maybe a Ford Taurus from the late 90’s, and it doesn’t just start up. You have to wake up, go outside, start it up, go back inside to get dressed, throw on a pot of coffee, drink the coffee, use the bathroom, grab a jacket, then go back outside to where the trusty yet ancient Taurus is almost warm enough to drive. That’s how writing can be. Sometimes you just need to throw something down on a page and come back. Then add something else. Then another few words. Then maybe you go for a walk, maybe a drive, then you come back. I always find doing chores as a great way to turn my mind off to the writing. I find when it’s off, I think of new ideas and new ways to form sentences. When I have a new idea, I go rushing back to the computer, broom in hand.

Lastly, stress. Call me weak. Call me a no-good millennial. Or soft. Call me whatever the hell you want, but I find it nearly impossible to be creative while stressed. On a certain level, it’s physical. (Stop rolling your eyes, Dad.) Stress, on a physical level, is your body invoking the fight-or-flight response. And this is good. In most cases, it’s great. It gets stuff done. But it’s also destructive. Veins and arteries are literally shred by adrenaline passing through, the heart starts to fail, or skip beats. And when the body is stressed, it starts saying things like, “Digestion? You kidding? We don’t have energy for that. We don’t have energy to think, to sleep, to eat or digest, to breathe, and especially not to be creative. We need to move, and keep moving, and why are you stopping? I said move!” Whether we like it or not, we somehow came to the point in which we praise stress. Brag about it.

You got five hours of sleep? Bro, I got four.

You’re working a double today? Nah man, I’m hitting seventeen hours today. Making that money, know what I mean?

I once listened to a Q&A from an author talking about a book she had published, I think it was her fourth. In it, someone asked her about the work life and writing life balance.

The author told this person that when working on her first book she had a day job, two kids to raise on her own, and barely any time to write. And when she did write, it came out poorly. It was a giant, endless circle. Some time later, the man she had been seeing offered to cover the bills and rent for a bit if she wanted to focus on writing. So she did. She was able to finish her first novel in three months. Her second in less than a year. She chalked it up to being stress-free. Stress-free from everything.

I know it’s not possible to find a situation like that. But if you can find a way to remove stress, it will help immensely as you return to writing.

Using Movement or Conflict instead of a Plot

Even if you’ve never written a single word, at some point in your life someone has told you how important a plot is to a story. If you have nothing else, you need a plot.

For architect writers, the writer that meticulously plots out the story down to the very intricate detail, creating a plot is easy. It’s the first brick in a towering foundation.

For myself, maybe it’s because I can’t plot out a story for the life of me, maybe it’s because I’m a discovery writer, someone who likes to just sit down and write, I don’t have very good plots. In fact, I often forget about plots until it’s too late.

By and large, there are seven plots.

  • Overcoming the Monster/Enemy
  • Rags to Riches
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Voyage and Return
  • Rebirth
  • The Quest

Some writers will layer a very thin plot over what is essentially a character story. Others will use wooden, 2D characters to create a compelling and colorful plot.

In a short story, my main focus of writing, I’ve found the plot can be substituted by either movement or conflict.

Both of these can be physical or metaphorical, depending on the story you’re writing. Moving from point A to point B. Getting in a fight. Spiritually learning and bettering oneself. Emotional inner turmoil.

Because there often isn’t enough time or space to create an entire plot, simply using movement or conflict can work to your advantage. Maybe you can’t create an entire plot about overcoming the enemy, but a simple fistfight could replace that. A quest might not fit into a short story, but a story about running to the grocery store and someone or something encountered along the way could replicate it.

While writing short stories, I am always looking for ways to cut down on writing without sacrificing story, and these are two of the ways I’ve found.

 

 

Why it’s important to remove the ‘fluff’ writing

As an editor, I often tell my clients to add more to their story. Most of it are the “how” and “why”s of a story.

“How did they get from Point A to Point B?”

“Why did they go into that room without any reason?”

“Why are they spending hundreds of dollars in this scene when in the last scene they lamented having money troubles. Did they come into money? Are they bad with what little money they have? Were these two parts written at different times and need to be justified with each other?”

On the converse side of this is having too much information. There are a number of ways this can spell disaster in a story.

First, false leads. By providing too much information to your reader you are creating the expectation that the information will be important later. Your reader will now spend time trying to figure out how that information plays into the story, and they’ll feel the information was misleading if it doesn’t matter in the end (in the sense that the extra/unnecessary information you provided doesn’t change the story if it’s ultimately removed.

Second, fatigue. Writing, and by relation, reading, is a fine balance of growing more tired and countering that with excitement from the book. Having too much fluff in a book or story that isn’t pertinent to the story creates fatigue in the reader but doesn’t offer excitement as a cure.

Third, and last, it might give the impression of bad writing. Saying, writing, too much comes across as not knowing where to end the sentence or the story.

It’s far easier in a short story than a novel to remove unnecessary writing, things that change the story in no way whatsoever. In a novel, some writing that seems unnecessary on first glance can actually have color and flavor in it that builds the characters. It’s hard to know without having an editor or beta reader to look over your work and provide feedback.

Lost in Thought

James stared out the car window, drawing shapes on the condensation collecting inside.

“Doin’ okay there, sport?” his father, in the driver’s seat next to him, asked. He liked to call James “sport” or “pal.” Even “kiddo.” It didn’t matter that James was twenty-seven and had lived alone for the better part of ten years.

“Yeah, Dad. Doing okay,” James said, hovering between sarcasm and honesty.

“Wanna talk about it?” his dad offered.

James focused on the fish he was drawing, adding squiggles for water and sharp angles for scales.

“Yeah. No. Not now, at least.”

His father nodded, understanding. Flicking the directional downwards, James’s father made a right turn. A horn blared from behind their car.

“Where are we going?” James looked up from his window masterpiece.

“Remember when you and I would go out for the afternoon and run by Checkers on the way home? And your mom never found out because I wouldn’t let us leave until you finished everything? Hah! She would’ve been pissed to see a milkshake cup in the trash.” His father smiled a half-smile. 

“And you want to go again now?” James questioned him.

“Yes,” his father answered, pulling into and parking in an empty parking lot.

James opened his door and stood up, stretching. Looking at the sky, he squinted. It always seemed to rain on the day funerals were held. Never a tree-snapping thunderstorm, but a dreary pitter-patter of rain.

They walked up to the order window and stood in the bright white light of the food display board.

“Number seven with a vanilla milkshake?” James’s father asked, smiling slightly as if it were an old joke. 

“C’mon Dad, you know I’m vegan now.”

“That’s right.” His dad turned to the order window and waited patiently for a server to come. He didn’t wait long.

“Welcome to Checkers, what do you want?” The lady asked, after opening the window.

“One number seven with a chocolate milkshake,” James’s father ordered.

“One number seven with a chocolate milkshake. Will that be all?” the lady asked.

James’s father looked to James, and James waved away his chance to order. 

“That’ll be all, then.” James’s father handed over his card. After a few beats, she handed it back with a receipt. 

“Your food will be out shortly,” she said, and closed the window.

James and his father stood in silence under the awning, watching as cars did their stop-and-go dance through the drive-thru. 

Finally, the window opened and a young man with acne pushed the food towards them, closing the window without a word. 

“Should we sit out here?” James’s father asked.

“It’s raining,” James pointed out.

“They have umbrellas,” his father responded.

“And this is an eight-hundred dollar jacket.” James flicked his lapels.

His father shrugged and stood there with his white paper food bag getting increasingly more transparent. 

James shook his head and walked back to the car with his father in tow.

Once they were situated comfortably inside, James’s father opened his paper bag and reached down, pulling out a fry.

“Are you going to eat here? In the parking lot?” James questioned him, despite the fact he was cleary eating in the parking lot.

“We don’t get to talk anymore, kiddo. I think we should talk,” his father replied, ignoring James’s question. 

“Fine. What do you want to talk about?” James asked.

“Am I wrong in thinking that we used to be close?” James’s father asked.

James paused, then sighed. “No, Dad. Before I moved out, we were close.”

“Then what happened between us? Because for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it was,” James’s father asked, putting the bag of food on the dashboard. 

“Can I ask you a question?” James changed the topic.

“Sure, pal.”

“When did you stop loving my mom?”

James’s father looked at James with a face that bordered the line between shock and curiosity. “What makes you say I stopped loving her?”

“Dad?” James asked.

“Yeah?”

“Can you not treat me like a child? Believe it or not, I did grow up somewhere between turning fifteen and turning twenty-five.”

“Fair enough, James. You want this to be a man-to-man talk?”

“No. I want it to be a father-to-son talk.”

James’s father turned away, nodding a few times. “I have never stopped loving your mother. However, you’re right in a way. We were no longer in love with each other.”

“How?” James asked. “People don’t just fall out of love.”

“Don’t they? People fall in love pretty easily. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes or the cost of a drink. Sometimes it’s a more drawn-out affair. But in the end, falling in love usually happens suddenly, and without any warning.”

“So you just fell out of love with Mom?”

James’s father rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We were moving in different directions. It sounds like such a joke, doesn’t it?” James’s father smiled at James but James didn’t return the gesture. There were tears in James’s eyes.

“It happened years ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” James asked.

“You were stressed enough,” James’s father answered simply.

“And you guys didn’t get a divorce? Go your separate ways, or whatever?”

“We couldn’t. We just found out she was sick.”

“And now she’s dead. Is that why you didn’t cry at the funeral? Because you’re finally free?”

“Is that what you think?” James’s father snapped. “You think I’m happy that I just buried your mother?”

“Well, you don’t seem too beaten up at the fact.” James tried to lash out but he started to realize he just took a step in the wrong direction.

“How old are you, James? Twenty-seven?” his father asked, all traces of patience gone. “What do you know of the world? Do you know the last time I heard from you before I called you a week ago telling you that your mother died? A year ago. You called me to ask for money, money that your mother needed.”

“Then why even give it to me?” James interrupted. “If Mom needed it so badly, why would you lend me the money?”

“Your mother wanted me to. She believed in what you were doing, even if I didn’t.”

“And now you blame me for it?”

“Jesus Christ! Do you ever listen? I have never once blamed you for asking for money. And after everything your mother did for you, you didn’t even visit. Not once that I can remember.”

“I know you don’t, Dad.” James sounded defeated.

“So where were you when she would spit and swear because she knew her sentences didn’t make sense? Where were you to help her bathe, and to dress her?” James’s father spat out every word. “And where were you when she forgot where she was? Or who I was?” he whispered. “Where were you?” 

“I’m sorry, Dad,” James said.

“Me too, James. Me too.” James’s father took a deep breath. “You know, she was looking for you at the end. She asked for her little Jamison. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. She thought you were in the kitchen. Or the living room. That you just stepped out. At the end, I think she knew. I think she knew you were gone.”

James’s father opened the car door and walked over to the trashcan, without bothering to hunch over to protect himself from the rain. With a contemptuous toss, he threw away his number seven (minus one fry) and chocolate milkshake. 

James sat in the car, wiping away the fish and water. They would go back to their home in Mastic Beach, and James would go upstairs to bed. And when he woke up, his father would be at the kitchen table crying over his youngest son who didn’t live there anymore. And James would tell him, “I live upstairs Dad. I moved back in two years ago to take care of you and mom.”

And when the day after tomorrow came, he would repeat it all over again.

Artists critiquing artists

As an artist, or writer, specifically, I’ve been critiqued. I’ve been critiqued when I ask for it, but more often, when I don’t ask for it. (Which isn’t to say, don’t give unsolicited critique, just keep doing you, but try not to critique unfinished work unless asked.)

Creating anything, whether it be a painting, a book, song, dance performance, anything, is always a difficult undertaking. It’s fraught with questioning self-confidence, attempts at giving up, and the imposing question of ‘will it be good enough?’ There are someone people who seem to be able to create art and never feel the negative effects of showing it to people, but I highly suspect these people are hiding something.

When a piece of work is finally finished, and shown to the world, the inevitable comments demeaning the work start almost immediately. It’s strange, because these comments tend to come from people who don’t create. They aren’t writers, they aren’t singers, or dancers, actors, musicians, etc. They haven’t made themselves vulnerable, showing the entire world what only existed inside their head. It’s one thing to be insulted, and I think we’ve all been insulted at some point or another, but it’s another thing to have something you create be insulted. Hell, look at parents. Try insulting their kid in front of the parent, see how smashingly that goes.

So it’s often confusing, or downright perplexing, when an artist demeans another artist’s works.

You are one of them! You know how it feels to create something. You know the amount of pressure you’re under when making something The amount of times you change, edit, and alter something so more people will like it, or fewer people will be offended. What are you doing, insulting other artists?

This happened to me the other day. I had a few questions about the particulars of advertising my book (keywords, audience, etc.), and instead I get a comments about the cover or the synopsis.

On one hand, they are technically about advertising. Fine. Technically correct is the best kind of correct, and all that. But I find it fascinating when the comments are closer to “Worst cover I’ve seen,” than “I like XYZ, but your cover throws me a little bit. Have you considered taking another look at it?”

Critiquing should be constructive. The good with the bad. Reinforcing what decisions you thought were good, and highlighting the ones you found questionable.

I understand there’s a culture of “The worst thing you can tell someone is ‘good job’ because they’ll never work for anything greater,” but I find that to be a bit of a cop out. I think the people who take that ‘good job’ and keep pushing are worthy artists. This isn’t to say there’s nothing helpful about the vindictive energy you get when someone rips apart the beautiful thing you created, I just think you should become an artist if you want to. Not to prove someone else wrong. Because then you define your entire life by someone else’s, and forget to live for yourself.

Lost in Thought (A Short Story)

James stared out the car window, drawing shapes on the condensation collecting inside.

“Doin’ okay there, sport?” His father, in the driver’s seat next to him, asked. He liked to call James “sport” or “pal.” Even “kiddo.” It didn’t matter that James was twenty-seven and had lived alone for the better part of ten years.

“Yeah, Dad. Doing okay.” James said, somewhere between sarcasm and honesty. Even he couldn’t decide how he felt.

“Wanna talk about it?” His dad offered.

James focused on the fish he was drawing, adding squiggles for water and sharp angles for scales.

“Yeah. No. Not now, at least.”

His father nodded, understanding. Flicking the directional downwards, James’s father made a right turn. A horn blared from behind their car.

“Where are we going?” James looked up from his window masterpiece.

“Remember when you and I would go out for the afternoon and run by Cheekies on the way home? And your mom never found out because I wouldn’t let us leave until you finished everything? Hah! She would have been pissed to see a milkshake cup in the trash.” His father smiled a half-smile.

“And you want to go again now?” James questioned him.

“Yes.” His father answered, pulling into an empty parking lot.

James opened his door and stood up, stretching. Looking at the sky, he squinted. It always seemed to rain on the day funerals were held. Never a tree-snapping thunderstorm, but a dreary pitter-patter of rain.

They walked up to the order window and stood in the bright white light of the food display board.

“Number seven with a vanilla milkshake?” James’s father asked, smiling slightly as if it were an old joke.

“C’mon Dad, you know I’m vegan now.”

“Your choice.” His dad turned to the order window and waited patiently for a server to come. He didn’t wait long.

“Welcome to Cheekies, what do you want?” The lady asked, after opening the window.

“One number seven with a chocolate milkshake.” James’s father ordered.

“One number seven with a chocolate milkshake. Will that be all?” The lady asked.

James’s father looked to James, and James waved away his chance to order.

“That’ll be all, then.” James’s father handed over his card. After a few beats, she handed it back with a receipt.

“Your food will be out shortly.” She said, and closed the window.

James and his father stood in silence under the awning, watching as cars did their stop-and-go dance through the drive-thru.

Finally, the window opened and a young man with acne pushed the food towards them, and closed the window again without a word.

“Should we sit out here?” James’s father asked.

“Dad, it’s raining.” James said.

“They have umbrellas.” His father responded.

“And this is a two-thousand dollar jacket.” James held his lapels.

His father shrugged and stood there with his white food bag getting increasingly more transparent.

James shook his head and walked back to the car with his father in tow.

Once they were situated comfortably, James’s father opened his paper bag and reached down, pulling out a fry.

“Are you going to eat here? In the parking lot?” James questioned him, despite the fact he was obviously eating in the parking lot.

“We don’t get to talk anymore, kiddo. I think we should talk.” His father replied, ignoring James’s question.

“Fine. What do you want to talk about?” James snapped.

“Am I wrong in thinking we used to be friends?” James’s father asked,

James paused, then responded. “No, Dad. We used to be close.”

“Then what happened to us? Because for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it was.” James’s father asked, putting the bag of food on the dashboard.

“Can I ask you a question?” James countered.

“Sure, pal.”

“When did you stop loving my mom?”

James’s father looked at James in something bordering on shock and curiosity. “What makes you say I stopped loving her?”

“Dad?” James asked.

“Yeah?”

“Can you not treat me like a child? Believe it or not, I did grow up somewhere between turning fifteen and turning twenty-five.”

“Fair enough, James. You want this to be a man-to-man talk?”

“No. I want it to be a father-to-son talk.”

James’s father turned away, nodding a few times. “I have never stopped loving your mother. However, you’re right in a way. We were no longer in love with each other.”
“How?” James asked. “People don’t just fall out of love.”

“Don’t they? People fall in love pretty easily. Sometimes it only takes a few minutes or the cost of a drink. Sometimes it’s a more drawn out affair. But in the end, falling in love usually happens quickly.”

“So you just fell out of love with Mom?”

James’s father rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We were moving in different directions. It sounds like such a joke, doesn’t it?” James’s father smiled at James but James didn’t return the gesture. There were tears in James’s eyes.

“It happened four years ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” James asked.

“You were stressed enough.” James’s father answered simply.

“And you guys didn’t get a divorce? Go your separate ways, or whatever?”

“We couldn’t. We just found out she was sick.”

“And now she’s dead. Is that why you didn’t cry at the funeral? Because you’re finally free?”

“Is that what you think?” James’s father snapped. “You think I’m happy that I just buried your mother?”

“Well you don’t seem too beaten up at the fact.” James tried to lash out but he started to realize he just took a step in the wrong direction. He let his anger dictate his words.

“How old are you, James? Twenty-seven?” His father asked, all traces of friendship gone. “What do you know of the world? Do you know the last time I heard from you before I called you a week ago telling you your mother died? A year ago. You called me to ask for money, money that your mother needed.”

“Then why even give it to me?” James interrupted. “If Mom needed it so badly, why would you lend me the money?”

“Your mother wanted me to. She believed in what you were doing, even if I didn’t.”

“And now you blame me for it?”

“Jesus Christ! Do you ever listen? I have never once blamed you for asking for money. And after everything your mother did for you, you didn’t even visit. Not once that I can remember.”

“I know you don’t, Dad.” James sounded defeated.

“So where were you when she would spit and swear because she knew her sentences didn’t make sense? Where were you to help her bathe, and to dress her?” James’s father spit out every word. “And where were you when she forgot who you were? Or where and when she was?” He whispered. “Where were you?”

“I’m sorry, Dad.” James said.

“Me too, James. Me too. You know, she was looking for you at the end. She asked for her little Jamison. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. She thought you were in the kitchen. Or the living room. That you just stepped out. At the end, I think she knew. I think she knew you were gone.”

“I get it! You don’t think I’m a good son. You have made that perfectly clear, so clear in fact, that you were ready to step out of our lives if Mom hadn’t gotten sick.”

“When did you get so self-centered and ignorant?” James’s father erupted.

“Is that what you think I am?” James asked. “An egotistical prick that cares only about himself?”

“You haven’t shown me you aren’t. Maybe it’s because you’re young, or maybe you’ve lived away for too long, but you’ve become a poor excuse for a son. I hope that by the time you’re my age, you’ll have some more respect for those who have given you everything they didn’t have.” James’s father opened the car door and walked to the trashcan, without bothering to hunch over to protect himself from the rain. With a contemptuous toss, he threw away his number seven (minus one fry) and chocolate milkshake.

James sat in the car, wiping away the fish and water. They would go back to their home in Mastic Beach, and James would go upstairs to bed. And when he woke up, his father would be at the kitchen table crying over his youngest son who didn’t live there anymore. And James would tell him, “I live upstairs Dad. I moved back in two years ago to take care of you and mom.”

And when the day after tomorrow came, he would repeat it all over again.