Tag Archives: personal growth

My Writing Apprenticeship at Pan Historia

I earned my writing chops at Pan Historia.  Day in and day out, for more than ten years, I have logged in to my alternate self.  In the halcyon early days I am quite sure that I was averaging probably a thousand words a day easy, some days more, some days less.  The stories were numerous and varied.  I like a lot of different genres, and sometimes I found that what I liked to read was different from what I like to write.

I wrote historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt, the American West, and sometimes Rome.  I wrote science fiction, particularly beloved was the now sadly lost in time and space, “Forever is Far Too Long” (please forgive me if I slaughtered the title).  Forever was the brain child of one of my closest friends, a writer of amazing imagination and craft.  It was a real challenge not only to occupy a world created by her, but to occupy a character created by her.  I hope I rose to the occasion.  I know I surely learned a great deal.  I feel like it was a sort of apprenticeship.  I also wrote noir detective fiction with a fun bunch in our grand “Marlowe Detective Agency“.  That was an idea of brilliance, if I say so myself.  When I look at the way that people’s attention spans have shortened, even in the last ten years, it’s probably impossible to do now, but basically each episode was a complete mystery.  One person wrote the detective, and it was the detective’s job to actually solve the mystery the other writers crafted for him. Later on I moved to horror. I have never been a big fan of horror movies, but I have always enjoyed horror fiction from Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King.  I found great joy in crafting tales of dripping ickiness to disturb and creep out my readers.  I discovered I have something of an ability in creating villains that people love to hate.

For a long time I was so involved in my exploration of the American West through the eyes of Wyatt Earp and his brothers that I had great, and rather grandiose, plans for writing a fictional autobiography of his long life that was going to be so historically precise, and so magically astute as to his psychic and emotional landscape that it was going to be the final word on the subject.  The desire to take what I had learned from my near daily collaborative and role-play writing to a novel has always seemed to be a natural progression to me.  But for a long time I couldn’t get started. It seemed like I had this great idea, enough passion for the project, and yet I continued to divert myself with the small episodic posts in the collaborative environment.  The good was that I was writing everyday; the bad was that I wasn’t moving forward on my long term goal.

Finally I realized it was the project itself that was bogging me down.  My scheme was too research laden, too definitive, and too constrained by my own expectations and the structure of history.  My character, Wyatt Earp, couldn’t breathe. I simply knew too much about him, and yet too little at the same time.  My version of Wyatt Earp, the one I have now been writing for ten years, is not the same as the historical.  He’s grown into a very complex, and intelligent man, with a gift for the gab – which the real Earp never had.  I realized that I didn’t have to finish this project just because I had decided on it years before. In fact, after finally writing a version of the shootout at the OK Corral for my collaborative version on Pan, I realized that I had already written volumes on the man, and that my legacy to him was there – on the boards.

I was free to pick a different project.  Now I’m fifteen chapters and over 30,000 words into that novel, and I feel great about it.  My writing is solid (but there is always room for improvement!).  My ability to structure the novel and plot it has been aided by ten years of collaborative writing, but I’m missing the collaborative element.  With that in mind I am considering a coauthor, someone that has worked with me on this story as it existed on Pan Historia.  I’m hoping that another set of eyes will rectify the mistakes, point out the inconsistencies, and increase the liveliness.  What better way to build upon the many positive foundations that Pan Historia has provided me with?

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Spinning Out of Control

Spinning out of ControlLife has a way of getting in the way of art.  It sometimes seems to me that either you make your life all about art, and to hell with the rest, or you valiantly struggle through your life, crossing all your t’s and dotting all your i’s, and you never get a sodding bit of art done at all.  And then there is all the drama and chaos.  I’m feeling hemmed in right now.  I, me personally, am fine.  But between the time I spend trying to live a sane sustainable life, and the shit storm that is constantly battering the glass walls of my personal bubble, I’m finding it harder and harder to be creative.

And it’s like this shit storm just keeps getting bigger and bigger, picking up debris in its wake and spreading it across the face of my world.  You know when you buy a new car (new to you) and say it’s a Volkswagen Beetle or whatever (you pick) and suddenly you just see them everywhere on the road – or it’s because you’re playing Punch Buggy, but the point is that they go from being invisible to almost all you can see?  Is that what this storm of disaster is all about? Or is the world really going to hell faster and faster, like the spin cycle on a washing machine?

I don’t honestly know.  For me things are very much the same as they have always been: slightly better maybe, but with slightly less time.  I’m trading time for comfort.  But that’s just me.  Everyone else and everywhere else seems to be blowing apart at the seams, or at least in need of a few denim patches.  Oh yeah, and that time thing, it’s a bitch.  It brings me back to the first thought.  I spend more time working, more time fretting about things I cannot change in the lives of people who seem bent on destruction, and less time doing the things I really love: making stuff.

For me, making stuff is a huge area.  It’s writing, it’s creating Pan Historia, it’s painting, it’s learning new skills, it’s books, and museums, and pulling in inspiration from all around me to turn it into moments of insight and art.  But when life starts to feel like a buzz saw, saw dust flying until it chokes, and your eyes start to blink and tear up, where is the time to be found for the creativity?

My reaction?

Take a nap. Play a mindless game.  Lose myself in some meaningless movie made for TV.

Waste the precious moments even as I scream about losing the time: it was so hard to find, and as I get older it is an ever vanishing resource.


Jerk that Pistol: Firing into the New Year

I was talking with someone the other day about New Year’s resolutions.  The person I was talking to was negative in response – citing their unwillingness to succumb to peer pressure to state unattainable goals.  I made some kind of blithe return that I didn’t necessarily believe in ‘resolutions’ as such, but I did try and set myself some goals.  Here is one right now:  I resolve not to talk out of my ass so much.  The concept of resolutions and making goals are so similar as to be totally interchangeable.

 

Having stated I would make no resolutions (but would have goals, insert eye roll here) I immediately started making resolutions.  This got me curious.  Where does this tradition of New Year’s resolutions come from?  A quick google around the internet revealed that it goes back to Roman times, and involves making promises of good deeds to the Roman god Janus.  Janus is the one with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward.  Ok, I can totally get behind a Roman tradition.  Romans kick ass (please don’t tell my Egyptian characters how much I love Romans).  Of course for hundreds of years New Year’s resolutions were quite attainable: I will a pile of gold to the poor, I will return the chariot I stole from my neighbor, I will marry the girl I knocked up, etc.

 

Somehow, over the years, the resolution came to be some personal goal of self-improvement.  Which is, apparently, the reason that fewer and fewer New Year’s resolutions actually get followed through on, with most people giving up after just a couple months.  Giving a charitable donation is a very achievable goal; becoming a better person is not.  Just think of all the people determining right this minute that they will lose weight, write every day, be nicer to the people they despise, or exercise more?  Are you going to be one of them?

 

I resolve to write a novel this year.  I already started it.  I have the books I need for research.  I’m not going to tell you how many hours a day I plan to write, or any other writerly self-improvement resolutions that I will probably break before I get a week or two into the New Year.  I am simply going to set myself an achievable goal: I will finish my book.

 

There.  Done.

 

What about you?


Let’s Get Playful

I started this blog post earlier today. If I had finished it would have read very differently. I would have talked about being ‘present in the moment’ and my observations of human behavior and how we have all, mostly, lost touch with the present in our fast-paced, constantly evolving, sound-byte, multi-tasking world where everyone is rushing to ‘get ahead’: literally and figuratively. It was a dry post, and I didn’t get far with it; a couple of paragraphs and then I started boring even myself. This is never a good sign. If you can’t get your own interest as the writer of the piece than what are you readers going to do? Stop reading that’s what.

End of sentence. Full stop.

So I came to the end of a sentence and I took off for greener pastures, which in my case, today, was writing some fiction at www.panhistoria.com. I really love to write collaborative fiction. Lately it’s been incredibly hard to find the time to do it. In fact my whole movement towards going slow and being present in the moment has really just revolved around one thing: I don’t find the time to be playful and write like I used to. Problem is that I didn’t realize this until about thirty minutes ago.

My community site, Pan Historia, is all about being playful. Collaborative fiction has few lofty ideals. It’s not striving for acclaim and publication beyond the publication of being online where people can share and read, or the acclaim of your friends and co-writers. It’s the writers version of reentering childhood where make believe is the order of the day, and playing dress up is all you have to think about.

For me, of course, as site owner and developer, Pan has developed into a much more serious business – in fact – a business. I have been letting that get in my way. My life is just more busy than it was a few years ago. That’s a fact that won’t go away. I have a relationship to maintain (an enjoyable distraction!), I have a full time job because during these tough economic times I can’t get away with less, and I live in beautiful part of the world that demands I enjoy time outdoors. These are not bad things, and yet I have been letting them freak me out because it has become harder and harder to juggle the different areas of my life and make them all work together.

It’s time to stop battling it. It’s time to take my own advice: go slow, breathe, cook my own food, write for pleasure, and be present in the moment. I don’t have to spend every moment doing something productive. I don’t have to be a marketing DIY pundit. I don’t even have to write in this blog if I don’t want to. I have many blessings in my life, but I need to pay attention to them, remember the job, and be playful. I’ll simply get more done that way – without even trying. Because I’m not working: I’m playing.


The Slow Progress Report

The Tortoise and the HareI resolved to slow down on January 31st. We’re well into March and I’m still no master of the art of taking it slow and easy. The tortoise would still run the race and I’m still a bit like that hare: rush, rush, rush, crash. The road to the finish line is paved with good intentions, but we don’t always come in first. That said I can definitely state that it’s not a waste of time to slow down. I think today I’ll try not to gulp my lunch so that I send burning cheese down my shirt front and burn the roof of my mouth. Easier said than done considering my lunch, today, will fall on a ten minute break. Not burning my mouth or incurring another dry cleaning bill to get the oil stains out of my shirt are both positive results – if I can swing them – of slowing down.

In what ways do you believe you could see some results if you slowed your own life down? If you took the time to prepare your own food from good ingredients you might not only see a result in increased health but perhaps increased pleasure and satisfaction? Maybe taking meals with your family instead of eating in front of the computer or TV might increase the value of your loved ones in your life. Don’t let time run away from you. You might have a paper to write, an exam to study for, or just trying to fit all the stuff you want to do between the times you have to punch the time clock, but think how much more energized you’ll approach those tasks if you had some good relaxation or pleasure between?

I got a good night’s sleep, but I didn’t sleep in. I got up early. I drank coffee. I didn’t rush into my tasks. I allowed my brain to catch up with me, and then I wrote this morning. Man, that felt good. It wasn’t a marathon writing session, but it was a productive one. Then I made a nice breakfast that a hobbit would be proud of (it involved mushrooms). It so energized me that… oh look, I’m writing a blog post even and it’s not even 9:30 a.m. I still have time to take a nice hot shower and dress for the job. Of course it helps that I start late today. Tomorrow it’s just going to be: up, coffee, fire up the brain, breakfast, shower, dress, drive – but I’ll take my time and be ready to start on the job with all synapses firing. Taking it slow doesn’t necessarily mean not doing stuff. We all still have to do our things. Life is not something that will wait for you, or rather not too long. But taking your time, getting in your relaxation, and focusing more should lead to greater productivity and creativity rather than less.

Avoid that heart attack. Take your time.


Bombs Bursting in Air

I suffer from multi-taskitis and project-overload. No matter how I try to trim down on activities and interests and procrastination it seems I keep on piling them on my head until I’m in danger of drowning. When that happens I find myself stuck on mindless distractions (anyone that is a FaceBook friend of mine will know exactly what I mean) to turn off the anxiety or napping, but of course both of these end up giving me twice as much anxiety in the long run because I become more self-critical of myself for wasting valuable time. I feel like I’m on that proverbial treadmill at the gym, going nowhere fast.

Another symptom of my over-involvement and the impossibility of focusing on one task at a time is the increasing tendency towards losing the thread, brain stutters, and memory lapses. When I sit down to work I make repeated resolutions that this day I will start to focus my energies, cut out my time-wasting activities, and structure my day. I never follow through. The miracle remains: I still get shit done.

I’m like a poor mule beaten about the back to keep on pulling in the traces, but the whip hand? That’s my own. I beat myself black and blue every day just to get through the day and get something accomplished of the long list of projects I have set myself due to the incredible firing of my brain. Basically I get ideas. It never stops. Day in day out, night time too, I’m getting ideas. I find almost everything interesting. Inspiration sparks me where ever I go, from the slow times when I actually walk somewhere and have time to smell the gardenias, to the crazy overload times where my fingers are racing across a keyboard to get the ideas down somewhere before they vanish in the ether.

Of course the key to all of this is two-fold: make a plan and stick to it; and pick less projects. Maybe even schedule projects to be consecutive instead of all at once? How to reject great ideas though? It seems such a shame to consign interesting little tidbits to a murky “might never get around to this one” file.

Hey, I know. I could gain 32 hours a week if I quit my job.


Counting Towards Completion

Old Pan Historia logoAs of this morning I’m 14,460 words, 28 pages, and 6 chapters into writing my first novel. I also have 1,667 words of saved cuts.

What’s with the numbers I hear you ask? It’s not about cranking it out there, but about the writing, man. Alright, that’s not what you’re asking – that’s what I’m asking myself. I have often criticized the whole NaNoWriMo phenomena as a way of pushing output over quality. I think I understand better, now, why it’s a good idea to overcome writer’s block by short circuiting the whole anal retentive “it must be perfect” self-editorializing funk. Still my new obsession with numbers is not about writing 50,000 words in a single month. I am editing as I go along, and I started this particular resolution back on November 8, 2009.

I have long known that I needed something to push myself out of my own personal procrastination cycle when it came to writing my novel. I have written of my process here a couple of times in past blogs. Then in November I had the idea to start a writing group at my community web site, Pan Historia, which I dubbed Write Together. The purpose of the group, in all honesty, was twofold. One obvious reason was I felt that maybe a writing group of my peers where I was expected to show results would be a great way to give me a kick in the pants I needed. My other goal was to show that Pan Historia was not just a site where people fooled around and wrote purely for fun (though those are perfectly good and acceptable reasons to be there!) but also was a great hot house of creativity that could be a positive way for serious writers to have fun and improve their writing while doing it.

To prove that I needed to make myself a good example of it. It wasn’t enough for me to know that there were a few published writers on the site, and a few people that had taken their writing to the next level after sharpening their tools at Pan. I needed to be one of those people I talk about. So here I am to tell you that I am 14,460 words farther along on my goal than I was on November 8, 2009, and that feels damn good. The counting is a game that helps me to keep my eye on the ball, and my feet on the trail. It’s not about quantity, but the act of moving forward and having something I can measure to let me know I’m getting somewhere.

What game do you play to keep yourself on track with your writing goals?