Opening a Vein

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit at a typewriter and open a vein.” – Red Smith

Writing can be difficult, especially knowing what to write.  I’ve been reading several blogs lately about ideas and the constant influx of them when you don’t need them, their apparent extinction when you do, and writing prompts to get them going.  After all, to steal a concept from Red Smith, we are going to be spilling our life out onto the blank page for all to see.

Everyone has seen the daily writing prompts that give you a vague scenario with which to run.  I’ve never been a fan of those.  To me, it feels like I am writing a story for someone else, rather than for me.  I’ll use one in a pinch, but I don’t feel those stories have been as successful for me.

I prefer using words to spark my writing, single words or phrases taken out of context.  My method is a variation of Ray Bradbury’s technique.  My understanding is that Ray Bradbury would sometimes have nothing but a title.  He would then sit down and write about that title as fast as he could, after all, he was writing on a coin-operated typewriter.  One of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories “There Will Come Soft Rains” actually comes from a poem by Sara Teasdale of the same title.  The poem itself was a definite inspiration for Bradbury, as both deal with a post-apocalyptic setting.

What I normally do is pick up a book of poetry and flip to a random page.  My favorites for this are Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, and others of that sort.  Pick someone who has a similar feeling of story to the ones you want to write.  I use these because my work tends to be a little bit dark sometimes, as was theirs.  From that random page, I pick a word or phrase that strikes me.  I’ll know when I see it.

As I wrote this, I found a random Plath poem.  “On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover.”  Sounds promising.

Here are two pupils
whose moons of black
transform to cripples
all who look:

Right away, “moons of black” strikes me.  There has been a lot of mythology based on lunar cycles.  There are definite possibilities there.  Werewolf stories are a bit cliche, so you might think past that first thought, but ancient cultures hold a lot of rich information, as well as man’s inherent fear of the dark.  The appearance of stars moons and planets has been an obsession of mankind’s throughout history.

each lovely lady
who peers inside
take on the body
of a toad.

Within these mirrors
the world inverts:
the fond admirer’s
burning darts

“Within these mirrors” sounds great  Mirrors are a mysterious thing.  You look at them, and they look right back at you.  Mirrors could be used literally, or as a metaphor.  It opens a lot of possibilities about other realms, other words, what a person sees about themselves when they look into a mirror, and who knows what your reflection is doing when you are AREN’T looking at it.  Haven’t you ever felt that if you could just look quickly enough, you would catch that person in the mirror NOT mimicking your every move?

turn back to injure
the thrusting hand
and inflame to danger
the scarlet wound.

I sought my image
in the scorching glass,
for what fire could damage
a witch’s face?

So I stared in that furnace
where beauties char
but found radiant Venus
reflected there.

 Three strike me out of this last grouping.  “the scarlet wound,” “what fire could damage,” and “where beauties char.”  The scarlet wound brings up images of Hawthorne, but if  you look past it, out of context and think of what the color scarlet makes you feel, and how many different types of wounds there really are, you can probably get a nice short story out of it.

The other two deal with another inherent fear of humanity.  We rely on fire for our survival, but we have never learned to control it.  It’s like a wandering spirit.  We can try to contain it, but we still end up burning our houses down.  It goes where it is going to go, despite our persistent urgings to the contrary.  There are several metaphorical meanings of fire, as well as Hell itself.  There are bound to be ideas in there.

My next step would be to type those words at the top of the page.  I’ll develop a small, vague premise.  For example: A person at the end of their life reflects on their past sins and the unknown fate of their soul.  I am getting that from “What Fire Could Damage” and “Where Beauties Char.”

If you are saying that isn’t a very complex idea, you are right.  I’m a seat of the pants writer.  I have no idea what this story will be about, who will be in it, or how it will end.  That is the beauty of it.

I won’t know till I ask the character.  Is the person is young, old, male, female…alien?  What has this person done?  There are lots of levels of sin.  What is this person dying of?  Is the person ultimately saved, or condemned to the fires they feared?  Do they die, or do they live?  It will depend on who I find.

I could write that story four or five times and have them be totally different.You could get four or five premises out of the same quote by making different interpretations, and I latched on to five phrases in the poem.  This one poem could provide me with a dozen possible stories.  The key for me is looking at the phrases out of context and determining what they mean to me.

Best of all, these are my veins, not another person’s.  I am just using Plath’s words to help me find them.  (My suicide analogy paired with a poem from Plath, who committed suicide, was not intentional and not meant to offend anyone.)

Go get a book off your shelf and find yourself a story.  Poems are best for me because poets have to carefully choose every word.  If you don’t have poetry books, you can find entire poems online.

If it works for you, you’ll have another tool in your writer’s toolbox to fight writer’s block.  Good luck and keep writing.

Mirrors to Remind Ourselves

There is a quote in the movie Memento.  “We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are.”  I thought of that movie in relation to writing, just recently.

I was shocked to realize that I did not have a copy of any of my writing from my college creative writing courses on my laptop.  In a panic, I checked my USB drives.  No luck.  I’d erased all of them at one point or another for large files needed for work.  My desktop computer had recently decided it’s motherboard was of no use to it anymore, and in turn, was no use to me.

In a last ditch effort, I headed to the garage.  There, beneath the piles of corrugated cardboard boxes from Amazon that I always mean to recycle was my old laptop, which I had always meant to erase.

That laptop has a sort of sentimentality to me.  A majority of my writing has been done on that device.  Up until a year ago, it had been my faithful companion since 2002.  The case is worn, dark tarnished spots mark the perfect outline of where my palms rested on the keyboard.  There were keys missing, an unfortunate side effect of letting my son near it as a curious two year old.  The case was heavy, which what its only redeeming quality, since technology had rendered it nearly as useless as a paperweight.

But, booting it up…slowly…waiting…until…finally, there they where, copies of my work.  Not everything I had written, but a large chunk of it.  Catastrophe diverted.

I was shocked to find, going through the file names, that I didn’t remember writing many of them.  I could even tell you the premise of half of the stories.  I found myself thinking of Hemingway, whose wife Hadley lost all a suitcase full of his unpublished fiction.  Hemingway had been devastated, and blamed her for the loss.  I now understood how he felt.

I am not Hemingway, not even close, and I had no one to blame but my own carelessness, but opening one of the stories and reading a few paragraphs, I quickly realized that I could never have reproduced them.

I am a different person and a different writer.  I was Leonard from Memento, looking in the mirror at the words I had written, trying to remember what had made me put them there in the first place, trying to decode what they meant to me and why they had been important.  I have never been one for photo albums, I have never understood them.  I know where I have been and who I have met.  But looking at the writing was to remember who I had been.  They are the mirror I need to remember who I am.

We all need our metaphorical mirrors, whether they are photos, trophies, writing, collections, or simply fond memories.  We have to know where we have been if we are ever going to figure out where we are going.

I am looking forward to re-writing a few of the stories.  I have no doubt the re-writes will be drastically different than the first drafts, as there is a drastically different writer looking at them.  Still, it should be fun to look back on the young man I once was and see what the man I am today thinks of him.

Hopefully, they get along.

Lost Files by Peter Hoey

Writing:  Finished two short stories, re-writing two others.

Recently Read:  Strunk and White’s Elements of Style

Started Reading:  Vs. Reality by Blake Northcott

Recently Seen:  Super, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The Rage of One Man

The rage of one man is nothing to fear.  It is generally pointless, aimless, and like a flash fire burning hot for moments, before burning itself out.  It is a smoldering cigarette, extinguished by mere chance, or the proper placement of a boot.

But sometimes, that smoldering cigarette catches fire to nearby grass or leaves, it spreads and spreads till you see entire California towns evacuated due to raging wildfires.  The same way, rage can spread from one man, to another, to another, and another.  The rage of two men can be dangerous, but is directed in a single direction.  The rage of many, like a wildfire, will consume everything around it.

Today, London is consumed by rage.  The heat has become so widespread, that few could probably tell you from where the initial spark came.  The problem with civil unrest, is that it’s victims are not the government, nor the authorities, nor any of the people who were in any way responsible for the unrest.  The victims are people, just like those whose rage has consumed them, just like the people who are now victimizing the innocent, just because they can.

Civil unrest made us what we are as a nation.  It is a great and powerful thing.  It molded us into the single most powerful democracy on the face of the Earth, but it has lost its way.  Not just in the U.S., but in London, as well.

I have been in a position to see a few riots, and to witness their aftermath.  What was once a means of expressing displeasure has become a means of causing senseless destruction and committing senseless thefts.  From the recent riots in Canada, sparked by the simple losing of a sport, to the current riots in London, which were at least partially sparked by a police shooting, as well as slashes in government spending.

I will make no judgements of who is right and wrong in those issues.  I was not there for the shooting, and I am not an economist.  Where I will make judgement is of the people who have used this unrest for the sake of looting stores and burning businesses to the ground.  Did the owner of a family business that had existed for generations pull the trigger than gunned down a man.  Of course not.  But they burned his business to the ground.  Did the manager of an electronics store slash government spending.  Not at all, yet it is his storefront that has been destroyed and his stock that has been stolen.

The riots will come to an end.  All rage, no matter how severe, eventually burns out, but the victims will still have been victimized.  Meanwhile, people who would never throw a brick through a storefront or steal high-priced sneakers on their own are in stores, taking whatever they can carry.  And tomorrow, when the riots are over, when they can no longer hide behind the name of social unrest, they will be simple thieves, minor criminals.

If by some chance, one reads this blog someday, on a laptop stolen in the name of some person they cared nothing about, or some budget cuts they really didn’t know about in the first place, I ask that person to look hard at themselves, then click to another page, because I don’t want you being part of my world, even the little piece that is this blog.

Rage, I will always understand, even if I don’t agree.  Parasitic scum, however, will never have my sympathy.

From Associated Press

 

Writing: 3000 words on a short story, re-writing past longer short for submission

Currently reading:  What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, Strunk and White’s Essential Guide to Style, Burning Chrome by William Gibson, On Writing Horror by The Horror Writer’s Association

Recently finished: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline.

Recently saw:  Middle Men

It all begins with a single word.

This is the beginning of my new blog, and hopefully a new commitment to my writing life.  Too often, I push aside my writing life.  It’s easy to do.  I push it aside to make money in my day job.  I push it aside out of guilt for not spending time with my family.  I push it aside out of nervousness and apprehension.  What if I don’t make it?  What if no one reads and no one cares?  Or even worse, what if they do?

There are so many reasons not to write, yet, it is all I think about, all I desire.  When you write, hours go by like minutes, words flow that you never knew you had.  You experience that bliss that comes from total release within that electric gray matter floating around in your skull.  I love the feeling of writing above nearly anything else, and it is time I embrace that more fully.

I don’t need to be Stephen King.  I don’t need millions of dollars.  All I need is one person, one individual soul to tell me that my work meant something to them, or barring that, just that they enjoyed reading it.  I miss that feeling.  The feeling of seeing your words in print, published by someone else, enjoyed by any who find it.

Thus, this blog, is hopefully the beginnings of a more complete site.    My plan is to post occasional short stories I have written, track my daily progress, and generally express any other thoughts as they come up.  I also generally read a few books at once, so I’ll keep tabs on that, as well.

Like everything, it all begins with a single word, which grows into a sentence, a paragraph, a thought.  Thoughts can entertain, change a life, or change the world.  But it always begins with a single word.

I don’t ask for the ability to change the world.  Just to write that first word and see what happens.

writing today: 950 words on a short story

reading:  Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, Burning Chrome by William Gibson, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline, On Writing Horror by the Horror Writer’s Association.

recently read:  Write Good or Die by Various Writers, Stupid American History by Leland Gregory, Highland Martial Culture by Chistopher Scott Thompson

films recently seen:  Captain America, Horrible Bosses