Know Why
This post is also under "Blog." Go that that section to leave a comment, please.)
For much of my life, I've chosen the path of least resistance. I scrutinized systems and identified key dots I could connect to quickly finish a task or gain competency. That helps explain why more than one professor told me I was a "coaster." Unfortunately, I didn't take it as the pejorative it was meant to be but rather avoided the subject because coasting was a way to minimize study time. In certain cases, I greatly regret that choice because I got less out of certain subjects and professors than I would've otherwise.
Since my college days, I've changed a lot. I understand  things of great value are rarely attained easily. Something truly precious often requires total commitment and great sacrifice. As Christ said in Matthew 13:45-6, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it."
It's not merely incidental that Christ also said the kingdom of heaven is within. ("Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." - Luke 17:21) To write something worthwhile, we must have something that is worthy of saying.
Writing as a way of earning wages is definitely not the path of least resistance. Sure, some authors secure enormous contracts. But, like rock stars, they are the bejeweled among starving throngs. If you're looking to make money, go get an MBA like I did. Just don't go into teaching like I did. But understand no amount of money will satiate you if acquiring money is your aim.
No odds compare to the indefatigable will fueled by irrepressible passion. Just consider Earth. Sure, you can read all sort of articles claiming a ridiculous number of Earth-like planets based on junk science and math. But those claims are mostly based on loose orbital observations and largely ignore the sixty-plus known conditions that must be present for life to exist. Most conditions are likely to occur ten percent of the time. Some of them, however, occur much less frequently. Not all conditions are mutually exclusive. One condition might lend itself to the increased likelihood of another, etc. There is some overlapping. However, even if a quintillion planets the size of Earth were present in the universe they would still face the same incredible odds. Consider this: if condition One has a ten percent chance of success and condition Two also has a ten percent chance of success and they are mutually exclusive, the odds that both will exist are one percent (or 1/100 or one in 100) because 0.1 multiplied by 0.1 is 0.01. Getting a result of heads thirty-seven times while flipping a quarter forty-nine times does not increase the odds that the fiftieth will be tails. Each flip is mutually exclusive, independent of each flip that has come before it and will come after it.
As the old axiom says, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The person with untoward motives can twist numbers by removing variables, constraints, coefficients, etc. As a person who got frustrated because he couldn't intuitively connect the mechanics of a statistical modeling analytics package like SPSS but was enthralled once he saw the possibilities, I can attest to how easily numbers can be manipulated. However, as an ardent spiritual seeker with a eerily developed sixth sense, I can also promise you the gains are not worth the eventual effect. Deleterious impacts are often the most dangerous because they go unnoticed until they are at our throats, demonstrating their strength in the worst way possible.
Write if you must, but do so at great peril. You will sit (or you could ostensibly stand) for long periods. You will find yourself alone and misunderstood. You might even misunderstand yourself. But if that itch is within you, scratch it heartily. Whatever you do, don't do it half-heartedly. The itch will never go away and the distraction won't be worth your time.
Now you must ask yourself why you write. If you must write, we share a burden and I wish you the best. If you think writing is an easy path to great riches, I hope you'll reconsider for your own sake. Sure, some hacks get lucky and sometimes luck shines on the undeserving. There's probably a good reason for that which I can’t comprehend. After all, God chose the foolish to shame the wise and chose the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). If you're determined to be a serious writer, you'll make the sacrifices and probably receive a divine sign like I did. A person with a dream can float in the clouds for a while before falling. A person with a dream stemming from an unassailable vision driven by a indefatigable will may discover those clouds are merely launching pads for a cosmos that defies even the wildest imagination. Best wishes and I hope we unite—it not here, then in the cosmos (John 17:20-23).


Pansters v. Plotters
(and other rumbles in the jungle)

There's so much writing advice out there. A person can easily get confused. Let's start by contrasting the basic philosophies of Pansters and Plotters. Stephen King is perhaps the ultimate "Pantser," or someone who writes from the seat of his pants. You can also say he follows an extremely extemporaneous process.

Sorry about the adverb, Mr. King, but it seemed necessary in that case… If you've heard or read a bit of his advice you might know he wrote, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." Of course, that quote does not preclude the use of all adverbs. It rather implies that the misuse of adverbs can ruin an otherwise good writer, or something to that effect. In particular, the use of adverbs to describe dialogue is detracting. If you haven't read any of Mr. King's writing advice, please finish this post and do so. His book On Writing should be read by all serious writers.

Stephen King is such a Panster that he doesn't even keep a writer's notebook for ideas and such. He has said it's a good way to make sure bad ideas keep on living. He claims to use a story idea only if it sticks with him. He's talked about hearing a grisly news story and wondering what the perpetrator was thinking or how it might have been different had a certain element(s) been changed. If the idea persists, he uses it.

One might presume that an organic or extemporaneous process is optimal since it has worked so well for Mr. King. But we need look no further than his friend John Irving to see a radically different process. Irving has a habit of writing the last line of his novels before the first. King says that's like eating dessert before the meal or devouring all the frosting to be left with only cake. He admires Irving's work but doesn't understand how he keeps going when he already has told the story before he writes. In other words, it sounds like a tedious process.

Those of you who are familiar with Irving's characters, however, understand they are highly developed. Owen Meany and Garp in particular are complex characters that have drawn praise from some  impressive sources. Some readers criticize Irving's novels as rambling, and in some cases don't even finish the book. That's a shame. Irving often tells many stories within the big story. Sometimes he'll throw in scenes that seem disconnected but later prove central to the story. Both writers are victims of their own success to a certain degree. Both are gifted storytellers. King is a vastly underrated writer who manages to maintain an admirable sense of self-deprecation.

One of my favorite writers, John Updike, would probably be criticized even more acutely today for his purple prose. He could write about anything, and had indeed said he would've written about anything if that was necessary. Not everyone loves his ability to expansively describe something in a ethereal manner. Likewise, not everyone shares his tendency to write in the morning. I certainly don't—although I sometimes end sessions in the morning twilight—and I definitely don't feel the way he does about the night: "In the morning light one can write breezily, without the slight acceleration of one’s pulse, about what one cannot contemplate in the dark without turning in panic to God."

For me, inspiration's energy is less fettered in the still of the night. The buzz of traffic and bustle of commerce is replaced by a cascade of starlight harmonizing with the hum of the universe. The Spirit of Truth can be heard clearly when everything else is silent.

But that's my perspective. You'll also find writers who drink when they write and writers who drink unless they are writing. You'll find people you claim index cards are a must. Others will tell you character interviews and eight-point story arcs should be complete before you start your novel. Some will insist on an outline. Lots of successful novelists indicate that every novel proceeds differently. I'm intuitive as opposed to sensory on the Myers-Briggs. My whole profile is EN(T/F)P: Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking AND Feeling (a tie every time), Perceptive. Does that even matter? We'll answer that at the end. Although I'm a typically a Panster, my experiences have gone something like the following.

Pansters v. Plotters... the bloody rumble in my head that sometimes forces me to seek the structure of a character interview when words are elusive and at other times leaves words scrawled up, down and sideways like hieroglyphics or hallucinogenic graffiti following erratic arrows against the ordered lines of dog-eared pages. There are times my fingers cannot keep pace with the script.

After a particularly lengthy block, that frenetic scripting recently happened for my second novel, which I'm releasing as a series on The book started with a bang. Two chapters flowed forth like Niagara's purest. But then I got stuck. It didn't help that I physically felt lousy. I was also questioning my decision to shift focus. I had been working on a different "second" novel, Tumbleweeds, which is—like my first novel—a literary novel. After spending some time on Channillo I decided Lightning Strikes Twice, a "paranormal" or "supernatural" novel, seemed like a better fit. So on top of feeling crummy, I was also questioning my decision—which was really unwise. Once I committed to Lightning Strikes Twice I should've never looked over my shoulder. But even the most successful writers have talked about feeling lost at some point. High expectations tend to create pressure, but high pressure creates diamonds. It's okay to feel the panic of believing you might never write anything coherent again. It happens to even the greatest.

My first novel was a Pants job. I don't think I had any notion at all of writing a novel. It seemed overwhelming. I was struggling at the time just to understand the mechanics of short stories. I still struggle sometimes. But I distinctly remember looking at the moon one night when it was particularly bright. It must have been a Supermoon, or a perigee-syzygy. In another words, it was probably at its perihelion (or closest point, when it is up to thirty percent brighter than at its aphelion, or farthest point). I remember thinking about the neon of the city and the dark bottoms of rural farm land and the smells on the breezes of highest mountaintops. Everywhere this magnificent neon moon was there for people to see in all these different places. I wondered if people I knew and had known where looking at it and what they might be imaging. I remembered Mike "Moon Man" Shannon broadcasting a Cardinals game saying that he wished everybody back in St. Louis could see the gorgeous moon. Of course, wonderful Mr. Shannon—who everybody loves, even the opposition, for good reason—is a bit fond of his Bud. At least one teammate, though, says he got that moniker from looking at the moon and telling people there would be a man up there soon when many people still thought it might be an impossible task. Regardless, all theses ideas about the love, loss, discovery, and altered perceptions came together against the backdrop of a baseball stadium about a half-mile down the road. That led to places visited after games and trips I took and they were all weaved in between life-altering relationships that forced the protagonist to explore profound issues. Eventually I had a large framework, not apropos of a short story but a novel.

After coming home from my job, I worked on the novel at least thirty minutes everyday even though I was often exhausted. That's not much, but there were days I worked longer and I adhered to a schedule—which was an accomplishment for me. After a year or so, I had more than forty thousand words written. Following a series of traumatic events in my own life, I put that novel down. I even stopped reading serious lit. Working a night shift had allowed me lots of time to read, which is a must for serious writers. (As Stephen King says, if you don't have time to read you don't have time to write.) I'd been making significant progress toward reading all the novels that had won a major award. But writing and even serious reading became too hard. They became too hard for eight long years.

When I finally started writing again, I still had no intentions of revisiting the novel—which was titled Neon. But through a series of coincidences I stumbled across the novel and was pleasantly surprised, especially since some of my earlier short stories were awful. It still required significant revision, but I was able to finish it before a particular deadline—ten years after I started it. It's still not published, but it garnered some great feedback. One really important lesson I learned from the process I went through is that novelists seeking representation need to have significant publishing credits. I had co-authored a textbook, written some other things and published some poems years earlier, but I had published no fiction. Entering every contest is probably not the best approach because there are often thousands of wonderful entries competing for a single spot in a highly subjective process. I also learned some publications might not publish your short story until they've rejected a few of your other pieces first. But more on that later.

I mentioned Tumbleweeds. It started a bit like Neon, which eventually became Beyond the Blue—for a number of reasons. One scene triggered the idea for a story I thought would be short. But that story grew and grew and grew until it became Tumbleweeds. Then it stalled. After finishing a different story that became a novella, I realized that novella just wasn't the story I expected it to be on its own because it was meant to be a part of Tumbleweeds. Yet even before I finished Beyond the Blue, I was working on a nonfiction book. It's about two-thirds finished. Maybe I’ll resume it in eight years.

However long it takes you to write your novel or short story, the key is knowing yourself. It also doesn't hurt to try new approaches. I'm indebted to the work of K.M. Weiland. Her detailed approach to writing almost seems void of joy, yet when I was blocked during the writing of Lightning Strikes Twice, I used a modified version of her character interview. (I've also benefited from reading her blog.) While doing that character interview, I realized I needed to do some more research, etc. Eventually all of the information must have flowed into a spring of inspiration because I sat and scripted like a madman until the story had told itself. I'll take inspiration however it comes but eventually (keeping writing and editing separate) I'll also go back and read everything with a critical eye, looking for essential components like foreshadowing of supernatural feats, etc.. Happy writing!