Stories are a Timeless, Magical Gift

The inspiration I’m given to write does not belong to me. It comes from the same source that created me, you, and everyone you love. It comes from Being itself. I’ve always had qualms about selling the fruits of that inspiration. It’s taken years of contemplation, waffling, and facing fear – yes, fear. Fear that by giving away my stories I will be seen as lacking dedication to the literary craft. Fear that making my stories free will somehow hurt other writers who want and need to make money from their art. Fear that even if the stories are free, no one will read them.

 

I don’t want to be a best seller. Writing isn’t about self-aggrandizement. It is pure gift, and gifts by their definition are outside of commerce. After years of contemplation, I finally realized that the “price” of free says nothing about the purity of my intent when I write. I can give you a gift, and still be dedicated to my craft. My only goal is to keep learning to be a better writer. I’d love for you to join me on the journey.

I’m sorry if you are a writer who feels this hurts you. I respect the effort you put into your creations. I pay for your books – happily. If you are a writer who is following the same path I am, and I read your story, I will click your Donate button. The nature of the gift demands reciprocity. Money (sadly) is still the easiest way to make the return, and to show appreciation.

If no one reads my stories, even free, that is not mine to carry or change. Words move those they are meant to move, and it is not within my control to decide how many people or who or even when my words reach them. That said, empirical evidence on Wattpad and Smashwords indicates people are reading my free offerings. I am working to get price-matching to trickle into Amazon, but even though that hasn’t happened yet, I feel a great soul-contentment to have every one of my published works available for free – as a gift – on Smashwords.

You can find links to free downloads for all of my books on my publishing website: http://www.oddskybooks.com

As always,

-aniko

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Flipped Bit

Sometimes, I flip a bit.

This is what we say at my day job when our software doesn’t behave as expected. “It flipped a bit!” In the past year, I’ve flipped almost every bit I have – and came close to a full crash. There are so many details I want to share, but what I want to share encroaches on the privacy of others. In some cases, it would be hurtful. I considered starting an anonymous blog, but then I realized that if I have to do something in secrecy, I shouldn’t be doing it at all. What I can give you are moments, images.

A look of pure hatred from a person I wanted nothing more for than happiness and light. The choice of betrayal or jail. Sobbing in the bathroom at work when I received news that made me feel like my DNA was unraveling. The thought of stepping in front of a city bus. There was also the dry air in Las Cruces, the dust rising like ghosts down the long road on a Sunday morning. Funerals. Too many losses, one so sudden and shocking. A year spent with people desperate to save their own lives, only to end up realizing I was the one who needed to be saved.

I am the person that those things happened to, but I am not the same.

I’m better now. Stronger. Whole. I have become a prayerful person, awakened to an unending source of love. When I am walking the path meant for me, joy and kindness are what I bring. Truth is what I speak, even when it is uncomfortable. I understand that this life is an opportunity to give with complete abandon of self.

I am a happy woman, quick to laugh. I love to write. I love to read. I love to be helpful to my co-workers, to care for my husband, and to walk the dogs given into my custody. I even love Twitter, and the conversations I have with friends I may never hug because we are time zones and continents apart. I’m finding my way back to the joy. I’m planning a return to classes at the Writer’s Studio (NYC-based, but I take the online class), and would love to work and, someday, be admitted to the master class. I want to be the best writer I can be. I want to be able to move from my particular pains and into sharing the universal hope and promise. I know there are bad days (bad years!), but without all of that bad, I would never have reached the spiritual deficit I needed to experience before I could be open to another way of being. The intense experiences of 2014/early 2015 taught me that it is true: blessed are the poor in spirit.

 

As ever,

-aniko


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Prolific Publishing for Success and Money: Or What I Learned By Trying

Had I Found the Blueprint for Success?

Last year, I read every book on writing and marketing that I could find. I subscribed to a handful of webinars, ‘attended’ email training sessions, and became a rabid devotee of any author with great branding and a promise of how I could succeed in publishing. Even though most of what I heard was not new to me, I felt like I had discovered a blueprint to success. All I had to do was publish prolifically, be helpful, and give away samples of my writing. Although the adjective “prolific” made me a little nervous, I decided to give the approach a try.

The journey hasn’t been all s’mores and champagne for me.

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via  123RF Stock Photo

Attribution http://www.123rf.com/profile_bowie15 via 123RF Stock Photo

Initial Doubts Blasted by One Strong Outlier

I felt the first doubts about the method when I tried reading several works produced in the paradigm I was eager to emulate. It struck me that while some of these authors are doing well for themselves from a monetary standpoint, and were often quite the social media darlings, I didn’t feel their writing was good. The stories were competent in the way that food at a national restaurant chain is predictable: it won’t make you sick, but it won’t inspire you, either.

There are outliers, of course, and not everyone who publishes abundantly writes formulaic books. My friend Hunter Shea is very prolific, and offhand I can think of at least three new books he released in fairly quick succession (THE MONTUAK MONSTER, ISLAND OF THE FORBIDDEN, and HELL HOLE). Hunter’s work is consistently high-quality and fun to read, but for each one of his books that I enjoyed, there were at least two by other prolific authors that fell flat and ended up on my “didn’t finish” pile.

Despite my doubts, and with Hunter as a positive example, I remained determined to try publishing frequently. I started by drawing up a five year writing plan. In it, I scheduled myself to produce four new works a year. Each publication would have a free introductory “hook,” and at least one of the four publications would be novella-length or longer. I’d churn out works like my name was Krispy Kreme and the stories were 2AM hot donuts! Such was the plan, in any case.

What Happened When I Tried

I did manage two releases in six months (MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS), but I discovered that having an excellent editor means I’m called on my authorial laziness, plot sloppiness, and continuity misfires. To be blunt: I do a lot of rewriting during edits. Getting MIXED MEDIA and SPILLWAYS right was a time consuming process, but I stayed on schedule – barely. At this point, I should reveal that both of those works were already drafted and “just” needed editing.

Long term, my personal slush pile couldn’t be my only source of material. I needed to be able to produce new works at a rate commensurate with my publication goals. To this end, I decided that I would experiment with writing a new work in a compressed timeframe. I blasted out the rough draft in a few weeks, which is amazing given that the only time I have to write is my hour-long bus ride to work. It wasn’t any worse of a first draft than most, but it was also not dazzling. I employed no challenging points of view, nor did I craft within a non-standard form. When the overarching goal was to publish at a frenetic pace, literary merit felt like a “nice to have” rather than an imperative. Under those conditions, my writing devolved to chain restaurant quality. I won’t publish a work that isn’t my best, and I’ve spent multiple editorial cycles improving the story. It is finally worthy of my readers, but getting it that way meant I missed my publication deadline for this piece by two months. So much for writing a “fast” story!

It was an interesting experiment. I think that if I were a full-time writer, I could have better luck with making quicker production turnaround, but my boundary conditions are decidedly not those of a full-time writer. For now, I’m done with attempting a frenetic publishing pace. I can’t honor my literary calling when the focus is on growing my shelf space rather than on the joy of creation.

Author Fatigue is One Thing, But What About Readers?

In a blog post Ania Ahlborn points out another possible downside of rapid-fire publication: reader fatigue. I can’t think of anything more fatiguing than reading masses of sub-par novels… well, other than writing masses of sub-par novels! I love that authors I enjoy have multiple books, but sometimes a year or more will pass between when I read those works. This, for me, is even true with series. There are so many voices to experience, and because my reading time is just as scant as my writing time, I’m apt to drift between genres and temporarily abandon even my favorite author.

Conclusion

I’m glad I tried the approach of fast publishing. I am pleased with the works I produced last year. SPILLWAYS, in particular, contains my best writing, with stories that challenged me as a writer. It is also my least read work – so far. I think that is partly because I am waiting to do a strategic campaign to advertise it, but it might also be a symptom of reader fatigue. If you are curious, you can read MOON SICK, the first story in the collection for free. All you need to do is sign up for my author newsletter at http://www.oddskybooks.com/odd-literati. After you subscribe, you’ll receive a follow-up email with a link to download the story in the format of your choice.


What about you? Have you tried writing at a multi-book per year pace? Do you read everything by your favorite prolific authors as soon as the books hit Amazon’s Whispernet (or the newstands)?

Revision: Wanna See How the Sausage Is Made?

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

Cover Design based on DIY Book Covers Fiction Template #17

I love the freedom of the first draft. The only thing I love more is revising the ever-living bleep out of the first draft. Today, I’d like to share the revision the first paragraph of my surreal short story, MIXED MEDIA. Originally titled REPRODUCTION, I wrote the first draft in 2008. The first draft is full of gory detail, bombast, and sins against English. I’ve chosen three examples of the first paragraph to illustrate my revision process. Now, let’s make some sausage!

Here is an exerpt from June 12, 2008:

My name is Mario Santa Maria.  On Tuesday I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black.  In the bright foyer of the visiting exhibit, natural light fell upon black canvas after black canvas, making the uniform paint gleam and reflect dark rectangles on the honey-golden floor freshly buffed.  I read the names of the works:  “Surreal Forest,”  “Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street),” “Submissive Ocean.”  Each canvas was a straight hung, edge-on-edge perfect patch of night set flush to the walls, and none of them more colorful than a square or rectangle of deep-space pitch.   The brochure describing the exhibit extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, and how each painting (various media) had captured the essence of light and life.  I chuffed a bit under my breath.  What a statement, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilistic representation on modern life or modern Nature!  It was, I decided, a gutsy if artless venture.

I warned you about the bombast and the sins, no? This paragraph is an Ouroboros, choking on  its own tail. I’ve gone beyond overboard with adjectives. The floor is not just “freshly buffed,” but also “honey-golden.” The paintings aren’t just on the wall, they are “straight hung,” “set flush,” and (ouch, this hurts!) “edge-on-edge perfect patch of night.” I think we all get it that paintings in a museum are hung in an orderly fashion upon the walls. Almost none of that description was necessary, and I may as well take a stick and poke it in the reader’s eyes: “You! Know what? Paintings hang on walls!” I used the word “chuffed,” because Steven King used it in a book; which book, I no longer recall. It’s a fine word, but overbearing and pompous in this paragraph. This paragraph is a “gutsy if artless venture!”

It was also the pinnacle of my ability at the time that I wrote in in 2008. I’d been writing three years, and for the equivalent of a literary toddler, it isn’t bad. Another thing that’s not bad is that I knew I wasn’t ready to publish, and I put the story aside,  took several writing workshops, studied, wrote tons more, completed my first and second novels, and then (then!) came back to revise.

Here is an excerpt from May 5, 2014:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, I walked into a museum where all of the paintings were black. I walked the perimeter, pausing to read the names of the works: Surreal Forest, Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street), Submissive Ocean. Each canvas was a straight hung, perfect patch of night set flush to the walls. The exhibit placard extolled the sensuous representation of Nature, how the paintings captured the modern essence of life. It was gutsy, if artless, to fill an entire gallery with such a nihilism.

This is better. I cut entire swathes of needless description from the paragraph. I kept the first sentence and maintain that simple phrase was always the exact right opening for the story. I replaced the awkward double-quotes around painting names with uber-swank italics. I got rid of “chuffed.” I’ll have you know I actually, sadly struggled with that decision. “Chuffed” is a good word, not oft used. I wanted to bring it back. Or get it started, like a party. I cut it, though, and that was the right decision. Writing is funny, because as a writer, you fall in love with the strange bits you are pretty sure no one else will ever love. You really believe those bloated phrases like “straight hung, perfect patch of night” are simply misunderstood, and if people had sense (SENSE!) they would know what was good for them and LOVE it. Luckily, I have an editor. Her name is Jacinda Little. She doesn’t let me get away with atrocities against my readers. I sent her the version from May 5 for her to edit. I think you’ll agree that with her input, the opening paragraph turns into something that doesn’t make you want to gouge out your own eyes.

Here’s the final revision to the opening paragraph, from June 1, 2014, nearly four years after the first draft was penned:

My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, all of the paintings at Vos Museum were black. The works in the visiting gallery had names like Surreal Forest, Submissive Ocean, and Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street). Their placards extolled the sensuous representation of Nature. The nihilism was gutsy, and I wondered why there hadn’t been a bigger media splash.

Ahhh, isn’t that better? There are specific details to ground you in the scene, both the painting names and the name of the museum. I no longer try and painfully describe that paintings hang on walls (!). I also finally tell you why the fact that this is gusty matters to Mario or to you, the reader: no one else has noticed or mentioned that there is an exhibit of paintings that are just black canvases. It immediately gives you the interesting fact that Mario alone is remarking upon this particular phenomenon. I’ve also clued you in that Mario is in the museum on a day when most grown-ups are working, and possibly you wonder what’s up with that, which would be great, because a reader with a question is a reader who keeps reading to find the answer. Perhaps I could have come up with shorter names for the paintings. I think they’re clever, and Jacinda didn’t object, so they stay. I hope we can agree that the removal of “chuffed” improves this paragraph.

May your sausage making be guided by an excellent editor!

xoxo,

-aniko


 

About MIXED MEDIA:

Story Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?

You can read MIXED MEDIA for free (PDF), or purchase it on Amazon (5.0 out of 5 stars). If you enjoy the story, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

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Reading Feeds the Writer

I finished reading an amazing book. It was one of those reads, the sort that embeds in your psyche and leaves you changed. The narrative techniques employed were startling, surreal, and just exactly what I needed to read.

You see, I was stuck.

Editing, that is. I had a story that was true to itself, but flat. It didn’t resonate the way it should. This story touched only the word-receptors in my brain, but gave nothing to the mythology-receptors in my psyche or the truth-receptors in my soul. In short: it didn’t move me.  The story deserved better. My readers deserved better. But what to do? The answer, as always, is to pause. Read someone else’s work. Partake of the fruits of a writer I admire. I never know what I’ll read that will help me lift a lifeless story, but I have faith that I will find what I need. And I did! Shirley Jackson’s HANGSAMAN.

You can read my review on Google+. Here’s an excerpt:

HANGSAMAN is a bizarre, nightmare trance. I came up from reading it feeling deeply affected, infected. The prose warped my mind. I found myself thinking like the narrator reporting Natalie’s musings; it was disturbing. HANGSAMAN is not a book for anyone on the brink of a mental breakdown. It is a dangerous beast. It will swallow you whole. It is frightfully unique, and one of the most masterful novels I’ve experienced.

HANGSAMAN gave me the answer to my problem with my story. I needed to change my narrative voice! I’m attempting (bumbling) to use a few of the techniques I identified in HANGSAMAN. This approach, to identifying and then practicing with different techniques, is the most valuable writing lesson I absorbed out of all of my writing seminars, workshops, and classes. I owe thanks to the Writers Studio in NYC for that – it has changed my writing for the better. The trick, of course, is to practice until I find my own way of employing the technique; my goal is not to be a pastiche of other writers. This is one of the more advanced narrative personas I’ve ever tried to employ. I’ve spent nine years honing my craft, and you know what? I’ve grown! I can aspire to (bumble at!) using Jackson’s techniques. The writer I was in 2005 couldn’t even have attempted this, and probably couldn’t have identified the technique, although surely I would have felt the tingle of rightness in HANGSAMAN. Reading feeds me as a writer, and practicing my craft allows me to feed you, my readers. My lifeless story is being revived. I look forward to sharing it with you later this year.

Now, though, I have a big announcement about a different story!

Announcement!

MIXED MEDIA, my surreal short story, goes live on JULY 17th!! It will be free to read as a PDF from my blog – always! If you want the convenience of Kindle Whispernet delivery, it’ll cost you .99 cents. Please support me by reading, sharing and reviewing!

DIY Book Covers, Fiction Template #17

A Surreal Short Story, with a Cover You Helped Design!


The Blurb

Mario Santa Maria is an artist who has lost his dreams – literally. Insomnia, unemployment, and a failing relationship are his lot. Things are going badly, and then things get strange. On a visit to the Vos Modern Art Museum, Mario discovers he has the ability to intercept the communication between art and a viewer. MIXED MEDIA is a surreal tale of masterpieces, Delphic sugar cubes, and the promise of new perspectives.

What’s hidden by what we see?


Schedule of Launch Events

JULY 17: Launch day!!! I guest post on Mari Biella’s blog to announce the official release.
JULY 17: Brighter than a Technicolor Dream, a post on my blog about the influence of O’Keefe, Rothko, and Ashley.

JULY 24Groovy Escher, a post about the influence of M.C. Escher, a surreal painter after my own heart!

JULY 31: Wisdom Tooth in the Belly of a Worm, a post describing why I chose to include THE SCREAM, by Edvard Munch.

AUG 7: We Always Want to See What is Hidden, a post examining the HUGE impact René Magritte’s work had on MIXED MEDIA.

AUG 14: A Sort of Sex/Wine Triumph, a post about the Melendez painting (with those feminine figs!)

AUG 21: Want to see how sausage is made? This is a post about revision. I show you how the first paragraph changed throughout my editing process.

AUG 28: Author Reading, a video of me reading the opening scenes of MIXED MEDIA.

xoxo,

-aniko

 

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The MONTAUK MONSTER Is Here!

Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea

I’ve been a fan of Hunter Shea’s writing since the publication of his first novel, FOREST of SHADOWS. When Hunter asked me if I would like to help him promote his thriller, THE MONTAUK MONSTER,  I was ecstatic! Imagine being able to ask one of your favorite authors a question. Now imagine him answering – on your blog, no less! Well, that’s what’s happening for me here today.

Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea’s Official Website: http://huntershea.com/

Hunter Shea’s Twitter Handle: @HunterShea1

MONTAUK MONSTER on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/SheasMontaukMonaster

My Question:

Have you ever had a book that just felt stuck, or a time when you thought it might be “easier” to not be a writer?

(Okay, I really posed this question in about ten different ways in one breathless paragraph. I’ve abbreviated my intense fangirling it so you can get to the good stuff: Hunter’s answer!)

Hunter’s Answer:

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Not in the sense that you see in movies or read about where the world famous author just can’t come up with the next great novel. To me, writer’s block is a fancy way of saying a writer is either afraid (of rejection, success, criticism), tired or just plain lazy. By nature, writers have overactive imaginations. Truth be told, there isn’t enough time in a writer’s life to type out the ideas that float through our brains in a given month.

That in no way means writing is easy and consistent. It’s hard work, and sometimes, getting from start to end is a long, long slog. That spark of excitement you had at chapter one will most definitely begin to fizzle around chapter ten. Sooner or later, no matter how smoothly you think things are going, you’re going to get snagged by the mid-book-blues.

What happens during the mid-book-blues? For me, this is when the story takes on a life of its own, shaping itself into something I hadn’t quite anticipated. It’s at this moment when I realize I have written myself into some tight corners. It’s also usually when I start to lose faith in the entire endeavor.

Reading over the past several days’ work, I’m often known to mutter, “Oh Jeez, this is crap. What the hell was I thinking? Why on earth would anyone want to read this?” Confidence waning, I look ahead, knowing I have another 45,000 words to go. Are you kidding me? That’s 45,000 words to add to something that I’m dead sure is utterly worthless. I could be watching the Mets lose in extra innings, out with the kids at Starbucks or teaching my cat to stop peeing in our bathtub.

Since the publication of my first book, Forest of Shadows, back in 2011, I’ve written 7 novels. That’s seven times I’ve doubted myself and wanted to throw in the towel or tear my idea down and start anew. As nice as starting from scratch might seem, I have deadlines that don’t allow for a massive re-start.

So what do I do? I remind myself to stick with the instincts that got me started writing in the first place. Somehow, they were sharp enough to get me multiple book deals. The worst thing I can do is stop writing and allow myself time to lament. Lament is like Miracle-Gro for doubt. If you let doubt take root, the book is done, and quite possibly, your writing aspirations along with it.

Sometimes, I’ll head to the classics for inspiration, re-reading The Sun Also Rises or I Am Legend (a book every horror writer should hold near and dear). Great writing makes me want to write. And if you read great writing, your own writing will improve.

Rewards help too. It could be as simple as, “If you get through this chapter, you can sit back with a cold beer.” Or, “Finish the next 5,000 words and you can binge watch Orange is the New Black with the better half.” Just remind yourself that you are a writer, and writers write, which implies finishing what you started.

When I started writing The Montauk Monster last year, I was supercharged. This was my first chance to write a thriller that would be out in paperback all over the country. I plowed through the first 20,000 words like it was nothing. Then, my father passed away. The family was devastated. I kept at the manuscript but my heart wasn’t in it. I suddenly didn’t think my crazy idea could get me to the finish line. Worse, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get there.

I thought of my father and how proud he was that I had become a writer. The man was the biggest reader I ever met and I always secretly believed he wanted to be a writer – and would have been a hell of an author. That lit the fire under my ass and infused belief in what I was trying to create. I attacked that manuscript with the same ferocity as the maniacal creatures I had conjured. I almost didn’t want it to end.

Every book will come with its own struggles. It’s up to you, the writer, to find the strength to plow through them.

My Reaction:

This amazing writer is a human being! He has a cat! He has a bathtub and watches television and likes one of my favorite books (THE SUN ALSO RISES). Hes’s also written an astounding SEVEN (7!!!) novels in less than five years. That is a lofty achievement, made all the more impressive given that Hunter endured – and overcame – the virulent doubt that plagues writers. Here, though, here’s what really speaks to me:  Hunter completed MONTAUK MONSTER despite suffering an intensely personal loss. He didn’t give up, didn’t break under the weight of his grief or the resurgence of doubt. Instead, Hunter found the strength to finish his book. When I read MONTAUK MONSTER, it will be in honor of Hunter’s father, a reader who raised an amazing writer!

xoxo,

-aniko

Publisher’s Weekly Praises MONTAUK MONSTER!

Publisher’s Weekly named THE MONTAUK MONSTER one of the best summer books of 2014! Not only that, they gave it an awesome review. Here’s a snippet:

The urban mythologies of the Montauk Monster and the government labs on Plum Island unite to cause staggering levels of mayhem when mutant animals with toxic blood descend on a Long Island town. This wholly enthralling hulk of a summer beach read is redolent of sunscreen and nostalgia, recalling mass market horror tales of yore by John Saul, Dean Koontz, and Peter Benchley. — PW

 

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Excuses are killing your joy.

Do you see through your own poor excuses?

Copyright 72soul via 123RF.com

I am an authority on the excuses a writer can use to avoid writing. Time constraints make for easy excuses. Obligations to family or job provide a slew of excuses. Exercise is another perfectly “legitimate” excuse. Lack of space, lack of quiet, and lack of inspiration look like valid excuses. These are top-self rationalizations masquerading as true limitations or honorable obligations. They are lies I told myself. Excuses killed my creative joy. Are they killing yours?

Creating is scary. It is terrifying to bring something out of nothing. There is the anxiety of creative blocks, the specter of failure, the gut-wrenching realization that someone is going to hate your work. If you are persistent in honing your craft, if you share your art with others, you will experience all of these fears and more. The excuses act as a salve, a protective layer for the raw psyche. Excuses appear to give you a way out of the misery. There might even be brief moments where you believe your own justifications. At such times the panacea is perfected. Sometime between 3 AM and insomnia, you know the hollowness of your own weak rationalizations. Your horror is a night sweat soaking the sheets. A shower rinses your body clean, but the truth cannot be rinsed out of your mind. You are aware of your faulty reasoning and avoidance; you are hiding from your art. If you’re the sort of excuse-maker I was, it is at this point the despair arises. Problems loom. There is no time, there is no space! In some sense, you are right, because excuses are like cactii or goldfish, and will grow to the maximum extent of their enclosure. Your excuses might fill a house, invisible as carbon monoxide. They’re certainly cramping your soul.

Have you filled your time with pursuits unrelated to your art? Are television, drinking, and drama with your consorts supplanting your creativity? What about those intellectual all-nighters, on a balcony with your smokes? Oh, and if you say it’s the day job that’s stifling you, I’ve heard that one before, too. I used to bemoan that while I could cut out marathon sessions of DEXTER, I couldn’t cut out the day job. I remember feeling like work was an insurmountable block to my writing, and I resented the job. Never mind the fact that it’s the job that gave me the financial security to have a place to live, food to eat, and access to health care so that I could even begin to think about writing. I was not living in gratitude. I wasn’t even really living. Still, my “damn job” excuse was an excellent false justification; not many saw through it. I did, though, and now I know blaming a standard, forty-hour job is a cop-out. Maybe for you it’s not so much the time that’s an issue, it’s a lack of space, or the noisiness of your space. Maybe you have children, roommates, an apartment in NYC where your bed is your table is your ironing board. I have to call BS on that excuse, too. Imprisoned authors have managed to write novels. If a drunkard interred in a Nazi insane asylum can create, then you can certainly find some space. Sculpting and painting present more difficulty in this respect than writing, but writers, you have coffee shops, writer’s rooms, libraries… need I go on? Stop using excuses to barricade yourself away from the terror and uncertainty of TRYING. You are not here to generate excuses. You are here to generate art.

I’m  reading Annie Dillard’s THE WRITING LIFE. The cover blurb from the New York Times Book Review states that THE WRITING LIFE is “full of joys.” That blurb makes me wonder if I’ve read the book wrong. Joy isn’t the dominant theme I find in Annie’s discussion of writing. She honestly dissects the despair and impossibility of writing your true vision. She shows the disassociation of living in a world that exists only in your mind, and at first only in pieces. She doesn’t sugarcoat the sheer terror and difficulty of the endeavor, but neither does she countenance excuse. Annie discusses the interesting occurrence of people who want to be “poets” because they are in love with the idea of being a poet, not because they love poetry. In one vignette, Annie relays a conversation where a seeker after the writing life is told she can be a writer if she “loves sentences.” Annie goes on to extrapolate that there is joy in creating if you go one sentence at a time. Now, finally, there is joy in THE WRITING LIFE, but only when the writing is begun, and only when all of the other “stuff” (the excuses, the self-seeking) are abandoned. The difference between those who only want the title of “poet” and those who love sentences is that the latter will suffer more. Creating is the kind of suffering that brings freedom and joy, but only if you give yourself fully to it. That means you have to stop making excuses to avoid the hard work of doing your art.

I invite my Muse by setting aside time in my day for my writing. Monday through Friday, that amounts to two and a half hours. It is not a lot of time, but I make it count. I do not wait to be inspired: I sit at my desk and I write. I do not seek the perfect writing nook: I write standing up on the commuter train on the way to my day job. My commitment to writing is sacrosanct. It is not optional. In 99 of 100 days, any excuse I give to skip writing would be a lie, a willful rejection of who I am meant to be. There are days, though, dark days where I cannot write. I am human, and I’ve missed writing sessions due to illness, or the death of a loved one. I accept that I cannot control, plan, or prevent either of those circumstances. Neither do I use them as an excuse to continue to avoid my writing desk. I recover from illness, I go back to writing. I mourn, I go back to writing. It is how I am meant to live. This is only one aspect to my writing life; I have an entire code for how I do what I do, and how I avoid the pitfalls that life invariably throws at me. I’m calling it Bring Your Joy: A Code for Creatives. I’m still finalizing a PDF you can read, print, and share, but I hope it is helpful to you.

Xoxo,

-aniko

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