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What Makes You Think You’re a Writer?

Nathan Richmond over at Scrawlings of a Mad Man has been mulling the question “what qualities make a writer or do writers possess?” and has been wishing to Hulk-smash said writers for the various evasive non-answers he’s received along the lines of a writer being someone who writes X amount daily or sets a schedule and sticks with it or similar. I commented maybe he needed the rephrase the question, then I went back and re-read the question above that he had posted on my Facebook page and realized that A) what I suggested he rephrase the question to was really the same thing he was asking in the first place and B) I haven’t been paying much attention to posts I’ve read lately (and then replying to).

Oops.

Not a quality that an editor (nor an audience) wants in a writer.

I still contend that a major quality/trait/whathaveyou for any writer is that daily grind,[1] in addition to a need to put words on paper whether it be telling stories or having an intriguing (or humorous) way of interpreting topics. For me it was another means of getting images out of my head.

When I was younger, I carried around a sketch pad and pencils and could usually be found doodling something (if I wasn’t reading), and most of the time I would have a story surrounding the events depicted in the drawing. During junior high, a buddy of mine showed me a collection of stories he’d been writing based on some artwork of his. I’d written a couple of things for class a few years earlier but never thought about putting the back-stories for my drawings to paper. I started doing so and realized I enjoyed it. Images in mind evolved into scenes then short stories and chapters then to novels. By the time I finished high school my tendency to draw had lapsed, and I seldom put brush to canvas anymore.[2] I was bound to the written word. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the craft of writing. I took writing courses in college. And I spent at least two or three hours a day, five days a week at the keyboard (or writing in a notebook) just getting those images out of my head.

I have an on-again/off-again relationship with writing. I’ll go for months where I write nearly every day followed by months where I don’t even want to look at the keyboard or a notebook and pen.[3] If you haven’t figured out by looking at the last time I posted here, I’m currently in the latter state of mind. I’ve spent most of my free time reading, watching TV, or playing video games, and the odd thing is I have not had the nagging sensation that I need to sit at the keyboard.

Burn out/malaise creeping from my gaming into my writing (and voice-over work)?

Maybe.[4]

So what qualities make a writer?

The need to write and having a dedication to the craft.

Things like inquisitiveness and knowledge and interest in people are necessary support for the writer (because the writer has to develop ideas), but that need to write is key.[5]

So, what makes you think you’re a writer?

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1. Or weekly as the case may be. Just the act of putting words on paper (or pounding them into electronic form) with regularity does the same for writers that standing at the baseline tossing a yellow ball in the air and whacking it over a net at least once (or twice or three times) a week does for tennis players. It’s that repetition that says, “I’m taking my skill seriously.”

2. I took up painting during high school, which lasted just long enough for me to discover lead miniatures, which became the only thing I painted afterward—aside from an occasional piece of tabletop terrain. I have doodled seldom since college though of late I’ve considered drawing again.

3. Take it from experience, if you write longhand, do so with pen, and if you’re left-handed, make sure it has quick drying ink. When I moved from my parents’ house, I tossed several boxes of notebooks illegibly filled with smeared graphite. Several years’ worth of notes from various classes, ideas for stories, stories themselves were trashed.

4. Though I have met occasionally with a group at my local game store for board games, and I keep reading new roleplay game systems (or struggling through them anyway—most just bore me after two or three pages).

5. Just as the need to X (or passion, to use the term supplied by Bob Mayer) is the key for any who strive to excel in their chosen field whether it be driving really fast in an oval, smashing yellow balls over a net, twisting and tumbling across a 4-inch wide padded beam, or whathaveyou.

Sushi!

I started eating sushi somewhat regularly about five years ago. Golden China, a local Chinese buffet/hibachi restaurant, serves sushi alongside their other fare. I’d typically get a plate of veggies and chicken to be grilled and while that was cooking, I’d grab a sampling of the sushi. It was acceptable. Not that I’m any kind of expert where the prepping of raw fish is concerned, but A) the sushi never appeared dried out and B) I never felt ill afterward, so I guess it was prepared correctly. Of course, I made sure to get sushi right around noon, when it was first prepared.

Unfortunately, Golden China lost the use of their hibachi awhile back (and their buffet was never a high-point for me) so I haven’t returned in some time. However, I’d started looking for other places in the Moore area to satisfy my cravings for raw fish, and I ran across a couple of places: Sushi Hayashi at 104th and South Penn (in OKC) and Go-Go Sushi just north of South 19th Street (in Moore) on the I-35 Service Road. The former has been around for a few years and is worth visiting every once in awhile (the prices are rather steep). The food I’ve tried has been good and the place is a relaxing, usually quiet place to enjoy my meal.

The latter seems yearly to be awarded OKC Gazette’s Best in Asian Dining (or at least receives nominations every year) and while I find the prices more affordable—with the inclusion of a lunch-item-only bento box with your choice of a couple of different sushi rolls (from a very short list), house salad, miso soup, rice, and tempura vegetables (which I haven’t developed a taste for anywhere)—the atmosphere is more akin to McDonald’s, a noisy, chaotic, get-in-eat-your-food-and-then-get-out kind of experience. Go-Go Sushi does offer hibachi items as well, but I don’t recall if they are on the lunch menu.

Then about a year or so ago, Volcano Sushi opened. It, too, is located on the I-35 Service Road in Moore, just south of South 19th Street (about a mile or so south of Go-Go Sushi). It’s a small, quiet place. The menu is fairly dense and while the majority of items are of the sushi variety, it has hibachi items also, and I noticed some of those are included on the lunch menu.

I usually visit sushi restaurants alone. None of my friends like eating raw fish,1 and though my wife and son have at least broken down and tried sushi at least once, neither of them cared for the experience. I seem to recall both grabbing (and draining) glasses of Dr Pepper shortly thereafter. But back over the summer, I had a craving for sushi and, since the kids were with me, I had to figure out what to do for their lunch. I remembered the hibachi items on Volcano Sushi’s menu and suggested we go there. After a bit of grumbling from the kids, they agreed and, after ordering the hibachi chicken lunch special, my son decided the place was worth a second visit.

Alas, the second time around wasn’t a good experience for them: the chicken was overcooked and the lo mein was over-saturated with soy sauce. They haven’t asked for a repeat visit.

But last week my wife and I were trying to figure out where to eat lunch, and I had a craving for sushi. So, of course, I suggested Volcano Sushi and after she wrinkled her nose at the thought, relented. Naturally, she avoided the sushi but did order a bento chicken dish along with the shrimp tempura, which she enjoyed.

And today, when we went out for lunch, she was the one suggesting Volcano Sushi.

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1. Except you, Nathan, but you don’t live here, so in this case, you don’t count.

Too Much TV

A couple of weeks ago as I sat down to catch up on various TV shows I missed during the last few months, I realized I watch entirely too much TV, boob tube, idiot box, whatever you wish to call it.

I’d written awhile back about Too Many Books* but it wasn’t until I noticed I was behind four or five weeks’ worth of Revolution that I started thinking maybe I should drop something from my watch list. Not that the list is all that long—just three or four hours on Monday, two or three on Tuesday, two more on Wednesday, about four on Thursday, and the same number on Friday. Well, there are a couple of hours’ worth typically on Sunday as well, but who’s counting, right?

Wait. At minimum, I’m looking at nearly twenty hours of TV every week.

And I get on to my kids if they watch more than an hour or so each day.**

Hey, kids, do what your parents say, not what they do.

At one time I could count on programming sticking with the fall through late spring routine with summer repeats, and I would spend time outside for four or five months. Then along came USA Network with their summer line (and Monk). I was hooked and started video taping episodes.*** I think that station single-handedly beat out of me my typical avoidance of the TV during the summer. Oh, that and the summer heat keeping me indoors over the last few years. I used to love being outside in 90-degree weather, garbed in heavy period clothing, stomping around on stage, spouting Shakespeare, and drinking iced tea.

Now, anytime the temperature rises above 80, I’m heading indoors, and still drinking iced tea.

Lately though I’ve been spending more time watching TV (and still reading) than much else. Writing? Nope, well, aside from the occasional post here. Voice-over? Uh-uh, not while the kids are out of school. They do OK to be quiet while I make one recording. Anything longer than thirty minutes and they can’t hold the noise in. Painting those miniatures I received awhile back? Nope, at least not until I get the area around the painting table cleared so I can reach my paints. Drawing? What’s that? Oh, yeah, I used to do that years ago before I went to college. I still have the stuff around here somewhere to do that . . . .

Now, Bob Meyer in Write It Forward: From Writer to Successful Author indicates he watches TV against all conventional writerly advice, but my guess is that he sits with pen and paper in hand and analyzes what he’s watching, making notes on scenes that work, scenes that don’t work, interesting character ideas, and so forth. I used to do that. OK, I still sit with a pad of paper and pen at my side. Unfortunately, I too often get caught up in the spycraft of Burn Notice or laughing at some quip made by Hank Lawson that I forget to actually write anything. Oh, well.

Recently I received a newsletter from Johnn Four of Gamer-Lifestyle, a game writer course/support group that I’ve been following off-and-on for awhile. I’d noticed there’d been little activity there this last year, and in his newsletter, Johnn Four mentioned he’d been hit with a case of burnout—no gaming, no writing, little else besides watching TV and reading “weird books.” Hmmm, I dropped from gaming with my group about a month ago. I’d decided I just wasn’t having fun playing games at this time. I still read game rules, still ponder tweaks for game systems, but just haven’t gotten back into gaming.**** Maybe the GM Slump is a full-blown case of burnout?

The TV schedule hasn’t let up this summer either. USA Network’s summer line-up is in full swing again (with the new addition of Graceland, which my wife dislikes but I find amusing) and SyFy (I much prefer when it was SciFi—the new logo is goofy) has added Sinbad, a one-season only British import***** which reminds a lot of the old Hercules: Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, shows I think my kids would likely enjoy.

Aside from a few bouts of homeowner angst and painting the outside of the house or doing a bit of yard work, about all I’ve done the last couple of months (aside from shuttle the kids to-and-from various summer activities) is read.

And watch too much TV.

******

*And I still have a never-ending stack of books that I am working my way through. Some that were on the list then have been finished and others have taken their place. Some still sit near the bottom of the stack(s) scattered throughout the house.

**They usually don’t watch TV during the week and reserve most of that time during the weekend, often switching on the TV and watching one show, then half-watching the next while playing a game, or drawing, or doing something else.

***Yes. And I still have a functioning VCR along with a small stack of movies on tape. I’m slowly tracking down DVD replacements.

****Well, that’s not true. My kids and I played a game of Novus Mundi over Father’s Day weekend then later that week, my son and I played Okko: Legend of the Asagiri, both of which were enjoyable.

*****The production company canceled it after one season for some reason. Too bad. The family and I enjoy this show because it is family friendly.

Falling Down, Again

Well, since the last time I wrote about biking again, I’ve managed to work myself up to 15 minute bike rides around the neighborhood. My legs are still sore the next day, but less so than they had a few weeks back, and I’ve noticed that they tend to feel sorer* on days I skip riding. Last week, the kids were out of school for fall break and I neglected to bike (or walk, for that matter) for several days because we were busy with other things, and by Saturday, my thighs were complaining about the lack of strenuous exercise. Now we did wind up at the park that day so I could walk a few laps and felt much better afterward.**

My wife has swiped the bike. It tends to be her daily routine after getting home from work: grab the helmet, ask our son if he wants to ride, then hit the streets for half an hour before coming back to eat dinner. Fortunately, we haven’t both wanted to ride at the same time.

I’ve only been riding a couple days a week and only in the neighborhood, but I’ve realized that 1) going uphill is much more difficult when you forget to downshift into first gear, 2) buying a handlebar mirror so I don’t have to crane my head over my shoulder every time I need to turn is a must the next time I’m around a sporting goods shop, along with 3) needing a seat cushion for the bike. The seat provided is downright painful after a few minutes (well, one minute) of riding.

Aside from that, I’m enjoying the rides. Have I lost any more weight? Not much, a whole five pounds since I started the intervals of riding/walking/jogging, but even though I should look toward losing some thirty to forty pounds (according to government/medical health statistics, and so forth) to reach my “ideal” weight for my height and age, if I can just pull ten to fifteen pounds (and keep them off), I’ll be satisfied for awhile, at least.***

We’ll see how I’m looking at the whole biking thing after a few more months of it.

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*More sore? Mordor? OK, enough with the Hobbit jokes. But some words, even when written correctly, just sound odd when read aloud.

**Even more odd is how the body reacts toward things it gets used to then suddenly goes without—not just drugs, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, but also exercise. Get in the habit of pushing your body several days a week, then stop, and the body will complain about it. The human body is definitely an interesting machine.

***Thinking of “pulling weight” made me wonder a few weeks back how much the yo-yo dieting encouraged of kids in sports affects their inability to keep weight under control later in life. I know that for years in junior high wrestling I was told to drop weight so I could wrestle at the next weight class down. My meals consisted primarily of a ground beef patty and bowl of cottage cheese during the days leading up to a tournament. By the end of junior high, I hated hamburger and cottage cheese. Although I can eat burgers now, the sight of cottage cheese still makes my stomach churn.

Tag. You Are NOT It

If you hadn’t noticed, I posted a few more demos to my voiceover page at Voices.com and, while I was pecking away at the keyboard,* I realized that tagging gives me a headache.

The concept of tags makes sense. Like keywords they are guides to find your way through the morass that is the typical blog, website, PDF, whathaveyou. The problem I have is figuring out what tags to use. Now, on this site, I’ve used tags that seem to make sense based on the topic of the post or key elements in the post. They make sense to me, but whether they make sense to anyone else is, well, anyone else’s guess.**

And that’s the crux of my problem, I suppose, knowing what tags to use that make sense unilaterally. For this blog, I’m not too flummoxed: I know fiction when I write it; I know games when I write about those. Besides, if I ever get too brain-scrambled during the day and have no clue what tag to use here, I can always look up the most commonly used tags (topics) on WordPress here.

However, that doesn’t help me when I post a voiceover demo. Sure, Voices.com has a list of tags to associate with demos, but I have a hard time describing my own voice. Heck, self-description of any type makes me want to hightail it into the woods. So when it comes time to choose those keywords for a demo, I might as well close my eyes and lay a finger on the screen. Whatever I land on is the tag of the day.

For instance, what does a Generation X sound like? A Generation Y? How about the Guy (or Girl) Next Door? To be honest, I listed Guy Next Door as one of my vocal attributes but I couldn’t tell you what that guy is supposed to sound like. I’ve had “guys next door” who vocally reminded me of a nest of hornets . . . or a chainsaw. I’ve also known “guys next door” who had voices that were smooth as silk and could make a phone book sound good. So, what’s a guy next door sound like to you?

Anyway, here’s a partial list of tags used.***

Amusing          Animated          Announcer          Antagonistic

Attitude           Attractive          Authoritative        Believable

Biting              Booming           Calming              Caring

Classy              Coach               Concerned           Confessional

Confident         Conversational   Deadpan             Deep

Educational      Executive          Explosive             Father

Friendly           Funny               Generation X       Generation Y

Genuine          Gravelly             Guy Next Door    Happy

Hard Sell         High Energy       Humorous           Husky

Imaging          Informative        Interviewer          Knowledgeable

Mature            Motivational       Movie Trailer       Narrator

Natural           Newscaster         Political               Pompous

Professional     Raspy                 Royal                 Sarcastic

Serious            Sincere               Smooth               Softspoken

Soothing         Sophisticated       Storyteller            Strong

Superhero       Sweet                 Thoughtful           Tough

Upbeat            Urban                Warm


If you have the time, give a listen to some of my vocal demos and let me know what you think my voice sounds like. I’d appreciate the assistance.

__________________

*No, I still haven’t gotten the hang of typing and not looking at the keys. I’m still in the practice-every-few-days mode of “Learning to Type the Right Way.”

**If the tags used here don’t make sense, please let me know. Since I would like to improve the blog, any feedback is much appreciated. Thanks.

***I eliminated such things as African American and Girl Next Door since they were pretty obviously not in my vocal range. This despite years of repeating the line, “Luke, I am your father” and just never quite getting the same quality as James Earl Jones.

Further note. The above set of columns look horrible. Not sure what I’m missing in WordPress that might allow proper alignment of columns.

Dino-Computer Smash!

You know it’s time for a new computer when you turn the thing on and it grumbles about needing another few minutes of shut-eye.

You glare at it a bit. Stomp around the office, waving your arms, making caveman noises. Hoping to scare it into activity.

It just whines at you. A loud, cacophonous, shrieking pterodactyl-like noise as it starts up and whirs to some semblance of life. It takes ages to reach a point where you can sit down to start typing, doing anything even remotely productive, and all the while it continues with the whining.

Either it’s a noisy dinosaur or a two-year-old having a temper tantrum.

My computer is a Gateway 2000. A veritable dinosaur in the modern age. It’s one of those things that I kept thinking I’d upgrade years ago. Take it apart, install new memory, give the insides a quick blast with a can of compressed air.

Then I tried opening the darned thing.

I don’t know about current Gateway cases, but the ones they used in the 2000 series are a pain to pry open. I tried numerous times and couldn’t do it. And I’ve worked with computers for years, upgraded a few, rebuilt one from scratch (which I gave to my mother as a gift one year). I looked up how-to write-ups and videos on opening this style case. No good. I even resorted to the old stick-your-tongue-out-the-corner-of-your-mouth-while-prying trick. Still, a no-go. Almost came to my playing caveman with it. You know, hoist it overhead and drop it from a towering height. (OK, maybe all of six feet with my arms above my head, maybe a bit higher if a stand on a chair.) This one just wouldn’t budge. Finally threw in the towel and got back to writing.

Wound up downloading a virus or Trojan or whatever (never figured out what exactly had happened) a few years back that blew through all my security and took it to a computer tech who runs a shop nearby. He looked at it and said, “Oh, that series. Not good. Too bad I don’t charge by the hour.” Then he brightened and added, “Wait! I do charge by the hour!” A day later, it was finished. He offered to replace the memory but didn’t have what I needed in stock. It would be sometime the next week before he’d get it in. Since I had a project due in the next few days, I took the computer and told him I was interested in the memory upgrade and would bring it back. The next week (and for three weeks afterward) no response from phone calls or e-mail, so I decided he really didn’t want my business.

So my computer continues to limp along.

When I’m on the ‘net and run across a site that is loaded with video (which means quite a few of them) or just loaded with images (pretty much all of them anymore), my computer cries, grinds to a halt, and sits there while it tries to rearrange everything in memory to download images. I could turn off the graphics in my browser and that would likely speed things up somewhat, but that also means having to turn it back on when my wife or the kids get on the computer to catch up with friends on Facebook or play the latest version of Bloon’s Tower Defense.

But this is the reason you will not see images on my blog. My computer can’t handle the truth. Errr, no, that’s not right.

My computer can’t handle images. Not too well, at least. One or two on a page, and it’s fine. Three to five, and it starts having conniption fits. More than ten and it seizes, clutching its throat and gasping for air, complaining of the vapors or some such. I just sit and count to ten—well, thirty, OK, OK, all right already, fifty—before I do something stupid like tossing the computer out the window.

I know you’re probably saying, “Darin! Just replace the computer! They’re cheap nowadays.” And you are correct. They are fairly inexpensive. But every time I even think about purchasing a new computer, something else around the house dies on us, prompting replacement cost elsewhere. Dishwasher replacement? Check. Twelve-year-old-mattress replacement? Check. New water heater replaced? Check. Ad nauseum.

But it is time to take out the dinosaur.

Maybe this weekend I’ll tell the wife, “Honey, I’m going to buy a new computer.”

To which she’ll reply, “Great. I’ll buy new shoes.”

Meandering Through the Muddle

I’ve been working on a novel lately. Well, by lately, I mean something going on 3 years now. I started the thing when I was taking the novel writing course with Long Ridge Writers Group,* plowed through writing the required first 3 chapters along with summary and letter of inquiry, and received positive feedback and encouragement from the instructor of the course. I kept chugging along and hit chapter 10 or 11 or so and came to a dead stop.

That was about a year ago.

I hit the “muddle” as I call it, that point in writing where you have no idea where you’re going and you look at your summary, but it doesn’t really give you any clues, either.  The muddle, I am familiar with. I’ve encountered it on, oh, I’ve lost track of the number of novels since I started writing waaaay back in junior high.

I wrote a novelette at the time, actually a trilogy, centered on a group of characters fighting an evil empire in a galaxy far, far away. The original Star Wars had come out a year and half or so earlier and it influenced much of what I did (as it did others of my generation), and I discovered I really enjoyed writing. I wrote short stories through high school and college, won a few awards, received praise from instructors and friends, but floundered my way into the muddle of every single novel I started at that time.

I’d get bored with loss of traction, find some other idea that seemed more likable, and jump ship to work on it until eventually, always, I’d hit the muddle again. Rinse and repeat.**

I took numerous courses in writing and have a bookcase loaded with books on the subject. If there’s a book out there on the topic of writing fiction, I’ve probably read it. If not, I’ve likely skimmed it at the bookstore and decided it contains enough similarity to books I already own that there’s no need of purchasing it.

Yet I continue finding myself in the muddle.

In one of the writing courses I took with him, Mike McQuay always said, “If you find yourself at a slow point in the story, have your protagonist open the door to face a man with a gun.” It was a paraphrase of a Raymond Chandler line***, but the point is, if things are slow, introduce conflict. Numerous books on writing repeat the same information; in fact, it’s the focus of Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham, which I was so recently reminded of while perusing the posts on Kristen Lamb’s Blog, specifically her post on The Anatomy of Conflict.

Scene = Goal (of character) + Conflict (as character runs into someone/something that doesn’t want the protagonist to reach his goal) + Disaster (failure of said character reaching his goal).

This continual development of disaster after disaster (followed by the sequel, as Hickham calls it, wherein the character reacts emotionally to the previous scene, thinks it over, makes a decision, then sets a course of action) drives the story forward and hopefully pulls your reader along with it.

Thing is, whenever I run a role-playing game session, I always do this**** and when I write I think I always do this, but  the other day when I looked back through the first few chapters of the current novel I asked (as my son would put it), “Where the beep is the conflict?” (And, yes, he does say “beep” on those occasions he doesn’t say “tartar sauce” or some other Spongebob epithet.)

So back to the basics for me.

Start with the first scene (which I think does work for the current draft) and take it scene-by-scene establishing the point-of-view characters’ goal, find the conflict, and ramp things up. We’ll see how things go from here.

How do you work your way through the “muddle”?

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* I’d taken the original Long Ridge Writers course just to force myself to write everyday to hit a deadline and to reinforce what I knew about writing. I enjoyed it enough to take the novel writing course a year or two later.

** I did finish another novel in college, but somehow the move between parents’ house and apartment ate and digested the manuscript. I’ve tried numerous times to rewrite it and given up each time as a lost cause.

***“In writing a novel, when in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns” is the actual quote, according to Goodreads.

****Well, I say that, but the last campaign I ran–even though my players loved it–seems now as though I’d done little more than railroad them through the whole thing.

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