Scene From a Waiting Room

Two of my favorite hobbies have always been people watching and eavesdropping, long before I declared myself a writer and could claim such behavior as “research.” In fact, if I watch people long enough I’ll usually give them names, and sometimes even backstories.

For instance: I have a neighbor I named Jim, who I decided works for the water department and recently went through a nasty divorce, after he caught his ex-wife cheating on him with a 19 year old from the Geek Squad. Of course, I have no way of knowing if any of that is true (although it certainly could be), but that’s what I came up with one day, when I saw him standing outside his apartment angrily smoking a cigarette.

So, it is with great delight that I share one of the best conversations I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening in on. This was Friday morning.

A crowded waiting room, full of mostly miserable people. The morning is stormy on and off; many in the cramped sitting area still have rain drying on their clothes. Across from me sit two people appearing not to have much in common: One a young black man, mid-twenties. He’s clean shaven, short hair, wearing beige cargo-style pants and a gray hoodie. He’s holding a hardcover book with a library barcode across the cover. Specifically, it’s The Widow by Fiona Barton. I decide he looks like a Kevin.

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A book that, I find out later, is a New York Times bestseller and came out just five months ago, which leaves me feeling a little embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of it.

The other, a fifty-ish white guy who looks like he’s seen better days. His hair is greasy and slicked back. He has a bushy mustache, his cheeks look like salt-and-pepper colored coarse grit sandpaper. Grease stains and paint spot his jeans up and down the legs. He’s quite tan, with pronounced crow’s feet and deep wrinkles in his forehead. Despite being  rather small, I decide he worked construction when he was young and verile, and wonder if he works now. Possibly a house painter, I think, judging from the paint. I name him Larry.

Kevin initiates the conversation, which for some reason surprises me. It starts, as most conversations between strangers seem to, with the weather. Larry replies amicably, and they exchange observations about the rain that had fallen and what that means in regard to the heat and humidity once the sun eventually comes out (spoiler alert: miserable). Before long, however, it becomes clear that Kevin has a bit of a one track mind.

“I’m reading this book, The Widow, have you heard of it?”

Larry says he hasn’t.

“It’s pretty good so far, I like it. What do you like to read, fiction or non-fiction?”

Larry mumbles something I can’t make out, then says non-fiction. I wonder if his answer is an attempt to politely indicate to Kevin that this is not a subject to which he can easily contribute.

“Oh yeah, non-fiction?” Kevin says. “I don’t like non-fiction too much. I love fiction, though. What’s your favorite book?”

Larry again mumbles something incomprehensible, perhaps as a stalling tactic. I wonder if he has a favorite book. He finally comes up with an answer, which I don’t hear, that apparently is about space travel. Kevin shows interest and asks him a follow up question about science fiction, and Larry remarks how incredible it is that things that seemed futuristic in books when he was a kid are becoming reality.

Kevin nods, then moves on to describing the plot of The Widow, which he likens to Gone Girl, but without all the big plot twists. It’s clear from the look on his face that Larry is not familiar with Gillian Flynn’s bestselling book or David Fincher’s film adaptation.

Larry seems clearly uncomfortable with the topic at hand and manages to turn the conversation back to the weather, saying he rode his bike in the rain to get there. Kevin says he used to ride his bike a lot but turned to running instead. I wonder for a moment if Kevin realizes that for him biking was recreational exercise while for Larry it’s apparently his primary mode of transportation.

There’s a slight look of relief in Larry’s eyes, though, perhaps because he thinks there might be a chance of turning the conversation back to a subject (bikes or weather) he can more easily speak to. There’s a beat of silence, then Kevin asks another question. The relief leaves Larry’s eyes as quickly as it had arrived.

“So, which do you like better, ebooks or printed books?”

At this point I smile, stifling a laugh.

Larry replies with something about “real books.”

Kevin agrees, stating that in his opinion, while ebooks provide a convenience that is unmatched, there is nothing quite like the feel of a printed book in your hands (an opinion I happen to share). He then gushes about the smell of books, and how, above all else, it is that smell which makes printed books superior.

Not long after this (perhaps due to Larry’s increasing lack of response) Kevin finally relents some. He steers the conversation away from books and reading, telling Larry a little about himself. He says that he works full time in the evening and goes to school full time during the day. He’s just gotten his Bachelor’s Degree and is now pursuing his Master’s, with hopes of going on to get a PhD. (I desperately wish I could’ve heard what he does for a living and his field of study at school–for once these are two items I’d rather not make up.) He says he goes to school, goes to work, then with what little free time he has–I’m assuming somewhere around 1 or 2am–he enjoys some form of entertainment, typically a movie or (big surprise) reading. The conversation dwindles, then Kevin’s number is called. He bids Larry good day and walks off. I feel a little tinge of sadness as he goes.

It wasn’t a long encounter, definitely less than ten minutes even with awkward pauses sprinkled in, but it had a pretty big effect on me. I can’t remember the last time I saw an adult–male or female, black or white–show that much enthusiasm for books and reading. It almost thawed the cold, black stone in my chest that passes for a heart (almost). It wasn’t just that he had such passion, it was that he unabashedly shared that passion with a perfect stranger, in the form of Larry. That’s awesome. I wondered if after Larry left his appointment he might think about his conversation with Kevin and ride his bike over to the library to look for a book to check out. I wonder if he’d like The Martian.

Surely there’s something to take away from this encounter, right? There must be.

I guess it’s this: Don’t be afraid to share your passion with people, whatever it is. Don’t worry about what other people are going to think about the stuff you like. Don’t stop yourself in the middle of what you’re saying and apologize, or say “I know, it’s dumb.” It’s not dumb. Who knows, you might make an impact on the person you’re talking to, or the introverted weirdo who appears to be staring with serial killer intensity at his phone but is actually listening to everything you say. Either way, don’t be shy about it. Let your freak flag fly–spread that passion around, and liberally. Be a Kevin.

 

Don’t call it a comeback! No, seriously—don’t.

Ah, December. The temperature plummets, people stop complaining about Christmas decorations being out too early and start complaining about Christmas music being played too often. It’s a special time, and it feels like the time is right to return to my friends here in the blogosphere (Blogtopia? Blogopolis?). Yeah baby, I’m back!

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So, what can I tell you about my vacation from blogging? Well, I stayed true to my word and wrote like a freakin’ bandit. I mentioned before I went away about the opening of the vomit hatch; said hatch has stayed open and the vomit speweth forth like a geyser (you’re welcome for the visual).

I can’t call the (sorry to say) as-yet-untitled novel I was working on completely finished yet, but it’s close—I’d say 85-90%. Mostly just some minor tweaks here and there, quintuple checking for typos and punctuation errors, and then I think we’re cooking with gas. I put it aside while I figure out a solution to my printing dilemma—i.e., I can’t print right now—and to get some much needed feedback from eyes other than the ones in my head, and then I think I’m popping the cork on some champagne and celebrating the completion of my first novel. With any luck, it will be finished (and titled!) by spring.

In the meantime, as I said the vomit hatch couldn’t be closed if I tried, so I let it flow. I had started a novel that I had to stop to do some research (a wiser man may have done the research before starting the novel, but I digress), and decided to dig back in. Instead of picking up where I left off, I decided to start over with a complete rewrite and currently stand at 21k words. I’m anxious to tell you about how I’ve kept up my incredible (for me) word count, but not now. Next time.

I’m still having a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to what to do with the blog. Between how much I’m writing and my work schedule I’m not watching as much TV (enjoying Gotham, on the fence about this season of American Horror Story), and movies only here and there (finally saw World War Z—liked it but it seemed a tad anti-climactic).

I’m still reading steadily, but I don’t really have much interest in littering the blog with book reviews of every single book I read. I may still post the occasional review for any book that really rocks my world, but otherwise I’m thinking of posting little micro-reviews on Goodreads, so if you utilize that particular facet of social media and haven’t done so already, friend me on the double, buster!

(On a side note, no review, but I just finished 11/22/63 and thought it was pretty superb. I would point to this book for people who don’t like Stephen King and suggest they maybe give it a shot; it’s something special.)

And what else is new? The website, for starters. I don’t know how apparent it is on mobile devices, but I gave the site a much-needed facelift and reorganized the menus. Also, most exciting of all, I added a few of my stories! I became increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I’m a fiction writer and had none of my fiction available to read, so I did something about that. There’s now a drop down menu with some of my flash fiction for you to peruse at your leisure, so if you haven’t read ’em before (two were on the blog previously, the others are the ones I got published this year—the rights reverted from the magazines back to me, so I put them on here), give ’em a look.

That’s about it for now—just sort of an awkward wave hello (after all, awkward is what I do best) to let you guys know I’m back in the saddle. It’s really good to be back. So, how have you all been?

I’ve Been to a Magical Land, Full of Free Books for Every Man, Woman, and Child—They Call It a “Library”

When I was in Junior High/High School, the library was nothing more than the place that housed the encyclopedias and whatever else I might need to complete a research paper or other such project. I never appreciated the library for what it was—never saw its full potential. It didn’t help that the local branch, while a mere 2-3 minute drive from my house (also known as walking distance to the non-lazy), was old and run down, with a small selection of books. The library became less and less important as time went on, to the point that I thought they were all but obsolete.

After moving to the Midwest I never thought about the library once, until I started blogging. Among the blogs I started following was Eleventh Stack, run by the fine people at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (they don’t just blog about ‘library stuff’—it’s all things movies and music as well as books). Seeing one of their recent posts lit the light bulb over my head—Hey, yeah, libraries…remember those? I wonder if there are any still around. I looked up my local branch (which, while not walking distance is still very close) and decided to take a trip down to get my library card and have a look around.

I was less than impressed. It was much as I remembered the libraries I’d been to in the desert: small, old, and with a limited selection. After some thought, though,  I decided to try again. My reasoning being that while my local branch was small, I do live in the largest city in my state, and surely the main branch would have more to offer. I located the central branch and went to check it out.

Well now, this is better.

Well, now. This is better.

The building was impressively large from the outside and my hopes began to rise. I walked through the automatic doors into the atrium and my expectations were blown out of the water. The library is three stories in all, with a ground floor, upstairs, and basement level. I realize how silly this sounds, but I was kind of amazed by how vast the library was. Having only been in my small-town desert libraries years before and the local branch recently, this was incredible.

The bottom floor houses administrative offices and a Genealogy department, which I only poked my head in for a look around but did not actually enter. Another time. The top floor is dedicated to the arts and multimedia—CD’s, DVD’s, and books about art/artists, music/musicians, etc. I did a little more exploring here, and on my next trip I will definitely cover every square inch. This visit however, was dedicated (naturally) to fiction.

The landing between the ground floor and top floor.

Looking down from he landing between the ground floor and top floor.

To be honest, for as large as the library is I expected there to be more fiction, but seeing as how this is the biggest library I’ve ever been to maybe my expectations were unrealistic. There was still a very large amount, split between general fiction, mystery, fantasy/sci-fi, and western. Now that I think about it, I didn’t see a section for romance—do most libraries have a romance section? It would seem like they should. Anyway, I perused the shelves and found books by just about every author I could think of except for Chuck Wendig and Jack Ketchum, who I suppose are a little more under the radar. Aside from Stephen King, every author I did find had books I wasn’t familiar with, so I look forward to reading more obscure work from some of my favorites.

From the far wall, looking toward the top floor.

From the far wall, looking toward the top floor.

After some walking back and forth and careful deliberation, I picked a book from an author I knew and another I’d been wanting to read for quite a while. And you know what? As silly as it sounds, I like having a due date—it gives me a deadline. I know I can renew them or simply pay the minuscule late fees, but if I finish these two books by May 16th I’m going to feel like a freakin’ winner.

I’m leaving out the rest of the ground floor, with its technology center (computers with internet access), plus its massive non-fiction area and the references and periodicals, which I stuck my nose in briefly, and what I believe may be the area where you can get the most bang for your buck, audiobooks (seriously, why are audiobooks so expensive?). They had a fair selection, but I didn’t spend much time looking as most of my audio listening is digital nowadays other than in the car, and I’m not currently planning any cross-country road trips. Again, another time.

So tell me, do you guys take advantage of your local libraries? Leave me a comment and let me know. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing some reading—I’m on a deadline here.

EDIT: I’ve come to find out that I’m publishing this post two days after the end of National Library Week, so as usual my timing is impeccable. As a tribute to libraries in general, here’s a picture of the Kansas City Public Library, which has the coolest parking garage ever.

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The BOJ Quarterly Book Report: Spring Edition

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more. I set a goal for myself of at least 12 books this year; I thought that was attainable without stretching myself too thin. So far I’m right on pace with my book-a-month goal—in fact, I seem to be picking up a little steam as time goes on, maybe building my reading muscle back up(?), so I might even exceed it. Time will tell.

I toyed with the notion of writing reviews for each book on GoodReads as I read them, but so far I’ve yet to pull the trigger on that (and BTW, if any of you are on GoodReads feel free to look me up and send a friend request—I don’t do much except rate books as I finish them, but lord knows you can’t have too many friends on social media, right?). Then I thought about a recap of all the books I’ve read at the end of the year, but then I thought I wouldn’t even want to write anything that long, why would anyone want to read it? So I came up with a new plan, to do a few at a time; quarterly seemed to make the most sense, at least for the time being. I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with this format, but for now I’m just going to go with it. The star ratings are what I gave them in GoodReads.

 

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NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)

I’d been wanting to read some of Hill’s work for a while, and when Amazon had a sale on the e-book I couldn’t resist.

Victoria “Vic” McQueen is a fairly normal little girl. Until, that is, she jumps on her trusty bicycle. With it, she has the ability to ride onto a rickety old bridge (that was actually demolished years earlier) and use it to transport her to different places, helping her “find” things—and people—that are lost.

Someone who shares a similar gift is Charlie Manx, a vampiric old man who gets powers from children. He abducts kids and takes them to “Christmasland,” a surreal land from which there is no escape for the now soulless children. Vic encounters Manx as a child and manages to escape his clutches, upon which he is locked away until he seemingly dies. But with a little help Manx is let loose upon the world with revenge on his mind, and his eyes set on Vic’s son.

Thoughts as a reader: A great, original idea that’s a little anti-climactic. Despite it’s length, there are leaps in time from Vic’s childhood to adulthood where a little more detail might have been nice. Still, a really good book.

Thoughts as a writer: I really liked Manx; he reminded me almost of a modern-day Freddy Krueger, in that he was terrifying but had a twisted sense of humor. He also had a very distinct way of speaking—I found it a little distracting at first, but it grew on me by the end. Most of the characters were well fleshed out, except for Vic’s son Wayne.

4 stars

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Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (2012)

If you’re a writer, you most likely already know of Chuck Wendig. If you’re not, you’ll probably know about him soon enough. Author of god knows how many books and the Picasso of profanity, Wendig’s website, terribleminds.com, is a wealth of knowledge no writer should do without. It was high time I read something other than his blog, and Blackbirds, being the first in a series, seemed the obvious choice.

Miriam Black has the unique ability to be able to see how and when you’re going to die. All she needs is the briefest of contact—a handshake, the brush of an elbow in passing, anything—and she can see how and when you’ll meet your demise. She uses said gift to get by in a less than scrupulous manner, when she meets a man who knows her secret and blackmails her into going deeper, trying to get more and more, and a trucker who, through one of her visions, she can see will die in thirty days, calling her name. She is drawn into a world of criminal heathens who don’t care if she lives or dies, and must rely on her wit to make it out alive and try to save her new trucker friend.

Thoughts as a reader: A short, fast-paced, and original story. It was a lot of fun to read and I have the sequel ready to go for the near future.

Thoughts as a writer: Wendig isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel here, but he clearly knows of which he speaks on his website. His writing crackles with energy and the story is tight. There were some cut-away chapters of Miriam being interviewed that seemed almost like filler to get the story to novel length, but other than that, no complaints.

3 stars

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Bag of Bones by Stephen King (1999)

I didn’t realize until after I finished this book just how well-liked it is. With someone who puts out as many books as King does, he has quite a variety of fans: there are the ones who still think of him as a horror author and don’t like anything else; those who don’t like the horror but enjoy the more literary works; and the sci-fi/fantasy crowd that love his Dark Tower books. As I read reviews on GoodReads, it seemed that this is considered one of his best “literary” books. And while not horror, it is spooky and does have some truly horrific goings on.

Mike Noonan is a successful writer who lives in Maine (hmm…sounds familiar) when his wife dies suddenly of a brain aneurism. It takes Mike a long time to start picking up the pieces and try to move on with his life—he does so by deciding to spend the summer at the lake house he and his wife had as a vacation home in a small town. Once there, a chance encounter introduces Mike to Mattie Devore, a young widower, and her daughter Kyra. Mattie is fighting for custody of Kyra against her father-in-law, a mega-rich old man who rules the town and can buy pretty much anyone/anything he wants, and is used to getting his way.

Thoughts as a reader: I thought it was really slow off the mark, taking a good 60-70 pages before anything happened (besides the death of Mike’s wife, which happens right off the bat). Once Mike gets to the lake house it does pick up and get more interesting, and there are some neat developments. It’s a good book, and I can see why some people (who don’t care for his horror novels) might hail it as one of his best. I wouldn’t quite go that far, as I’m not one of his “horror only” fans, but I do like a bit more in the scare department. Some of the scares here, especially toward the end, seemed a little hokey to me.

Thoughts as a writer: Is this book ever the lesson of Chekov’s Gun—the idea that something introduced in a story must come into play later on. If memory serves correctly, there is literally nothing in the story that doesn’t mean something and help resolve things toward the conclusion. I really enjoyed/appreciated that aspect of the book.

And while those first 60 pages or so seemed slow story-wise, as a writer they were very interesting, as he detailed what life was like as a famous author—the pressures put on him by his agent and publisher; the marketing strategy as to when they would release his books; how that can all get derailed by another famous author releasing a book out of their normal schedule (damn you, Mary Higgins Clark!); and, perhaps most interestingly, how when he was on a hot streak he wrote book after book and stashed them away, so that when he was crippled by writer’s block after the death of his wife he was still able to produce books on schedule for four more years. I assume most of that is pretty much true, which just goes to show once you “make it” you still have plenty of pressure on you to perform.

3 stars

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Freaky Deaky by Elmore Leonard (1988)

One of the coolest things about having a pretty good sized library of books is that you can go through them and find books you either forgot you had or don’t even remember acquiring. The latter was what happened with Bag of Bones—I still have no idea where that book came from—and the former is what happened here. A few years ago my wife bought me about 8 or 10 Leonard paperbacks (always the good wife, love you honey!) and I thought I’d read them all until I moved some books around and saw there were two or three I’d forgotten about. Despite the horrendous-looking cover seen above, I picked this one.

The story starts with a bang, literally, as we meet Detective Chris Mankowski, who as the story begins is leaving the Firearms and Explosives division  for a job in Sex Crimes. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Robin, a former radical/activist in the sixties, and Skip, her old flame and partner in crime who took his talent for making things go boom and got a job in Hollywood as a stuntman and explosives coordinator. Robin convinces Skip that the time they spent in jail in the sixties was thanks to two brothers: Mark and Woody Ricks, who since the hippy days have inherited a boatload of money and are now filthy rich. Robin has a plan to get some payback (and payment) from the Ricks brothers and needs Skip’s help to see it through. As with most Elmore Leonard stories, things don’t go according to plan.

Thoughts as a reader: Classic Elmore Leonard. Aside from Greta Wyatt, the woman Chris meets when she comes into the Sex Crimes unit to file a report on Woody, every major character has an angle and is looking to score. Robin and Skip’s plan changes almost right away before starting to unravel completely, but it never feels contrived or forced. For these (mostly dimwitted) characters, everything that happens seems perfectly plausible. King will always be my favorite writer, but Mr. Leonard’s books give me a certain satisfaction when I finish them that not all of King’s books do.

Thoughts as a writer: Good god, where to start? The dialogue. The characters talk in a natural way, which I’ve realized is hard to pull off. It’s really difficult to have a character talk like a normal human being without it sounding forced or corny. He really is the master. Also, his advice to writers about leaving out the parts that readers would skip? This is a good example of that. It’s a pretty short book, but the story is tight—there’s no need for any more. One final note, I really have to give the man credit—I don’t know how many other writers could pull off having a character named Juicy Mouth.

4 stars

As you can probably tell, I’ve been staying well within my comfort zone as far as author and subject matter go. I’d like to expand my horizons, so to speak, but I’m not really sure which way to turn. So, as corny as this sounds, have you read any good books lately?

On Reading Bad Books To Become A Better Writer

I don’t know what happened to me.

I used to be able to devour books like a hungry, gasoline-fed fire. It wasn’t unheard of to finish a book in a matter of days, and never more than a month. But now, I can barely finish a book in a month if I’m lucky.

I know a lot of things keep me from reading as fast as I used to—TV is probably chief among them, as well as the fact that I seem to have a much shorter attention span than I did before, thanks in no small part to the Rise of the Devices, where I feel this idiotic need to constantly check my email and Facebook and Twitter. I used to be able to read for an hour or two straight with no problems. Now I read a few pages then start feeling distractions pulling at the corners of my brain. My ability to focus while reading has seemingly gone by the wayside.

As I’ve been working on strengthening my writing, I’ve put in a lot of work and I think that hard work is starting to pay off. Even though I still have a long way to go, I’m feeling a certain confidence in my writing that I didn’t have before and I think it shows. The thing is, for all the writing, editing, and studying I’ve done to improve, there’s one piece of advice I haven’t taken, and it’s always bothered me.

That advice is (paraphrasing): Read as much as you possibly can, even books you don’t like or that aren’t very good. You can learn just as much if not more from a bad book than you can from a good one.

Really?

I mean, it makes sense on a certain level. I suppose that carries over to other arenas as well, not just writing. But the thought of spending my valuable time reading a book I don’t like or isn’t very good seems, well…crazy.

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Now that’s not to say I won’t finish a book I don’t like by an author I do like. I’m about 50 pages into Bag of Bones by Stephen King, and even though I’m still waiting for something actually happen, I’ll be patient and I’m sure I’ll finish the book even if it doesn’t pick up. But reading a mediocre-to-bad book by an author I don’t even like?

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 Reading a book is something I try to enjoy. I say try because unless what I’m reading has me absolutely engrossed, I’m still a little distracted, looking at word choice or use of punctuation, and not enjoying the book like I feel I should. I’m reading more like a writer than a reader. If I was trying to read a bad book I’d probably never finish it because I couldn’t keep myself interested. It is worth noting, however, that of the very small amount I read of one of the Twilight books, Stephanie Meyer managed to make sure I never use any form of the word incredulous.

One thing I have been doing, though, is slowly dipping my toe into the pool of online critique groups. I mentioned my Reddit ‘No Sleep’ experiment before, and that was fun, but you don’t get any actual feedback there. I did some more exploring and found the subreddit Shut Up and Write, which is a point-based peer critique system. As you review and critique the work of others you earn points that you cash in when you submit your own work for review.

So I guess I’m still improving my writing by reading stuff that isn’t necessarily top of the line, it’s just that instead of going ‘Ugh, this sucks,’ and chucking a book in the trash I’m giving some hopefully useful and constructive feedback that helps the other writer. It feels much more productive than reading a poorly written book.

Hopefully then end result is pretty much the same, because I really don’t want to read bad books. I really, really don’t, but I will if it’s that valuable to my writing. But you tell me—do you finish every book you start, even the crappy ones? What do you take away from them?

My Writing Resolutions for 2014

2014

Lose weight. Quit smoking. Exercise more. Stop drinking. It’s that time again, when people use the new year as a chance to wipe the slate clean and hit the reset button. Stop their bad habits and start over fresh January 1st with a new beginning. They share many of the same resolutions; some manage to keep theirs for good, while others may last a few months. Some will only last a week or two before saying ‘screw it’ and falling back to their old ways.

As the year comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on my writing—what I’ve accomplished, what I still want to accomplish, and how I can go about getting there. Hence, my writing resolutions for the coming year. I’m curious if any of you other writers out there share some of these same resolutions the way ‘normal’ people share theirs.

I will devote time to writing every day.

As writers, the phrase “Write every day” is engrained in us like the literary Pledge of Allegiance. Lately, though, I think that piece of advice is part baloney. I’m not necessarily saying someone should actively choose not to write, but I don’t believe forcing yourself to put words on paper (or on a screen) is always the most beneficial thing you can do.

Instead, what I’ve begun doing is setting aside time to write every day. If I use that time to write, that’s awesome. But sometimes, there’s just nothing in the tank. Chalk it up to a long day at work, too little sleep, or simply a bad mood/depression, sometimes writers don’t want to write. That’s different than you’re garden variety procrastination; I’m talking about just plain not having the desire to write anything. I think that as long as it isn’t happening regularly, it’s okay to not write once in a while.

What I do believe in is putting the time aside to write. If you don’t feel like writing one day, don’t, but do something at least related to writing. Maybe read a book. Read some blogs, or work on your own blog. Write somebody an email. Even if you don’t write a single word, it’s still time devoted to writing and thinking about writing. Sometimes that can be just as productive (if not more) than forcing yourself to crap out a couple hundred words of something you don’t like.*

*this is merely one random guy’s opinion, feel free to disagree. Many do.

I will learn to use Scrivener and Evernote to their full potential.

As a novice writer and blogger (which, arguably, I still am), last year I read a lot of articles and blog posts about what tools writers use to capture their thoughts and ideas, and what they use to actually get them written down. I dutifully got Scrivener and, more recently, Evernote, and now I just need to learn how to make the most of them.

I’ve jotted down a few notes on my phone when I was out and about on Evernote, but I still don’t really know what else there is to do with it. Same goes for Scrivener: I’ve used it and am using it currently, but only in its most basic capacity. I need to take the time to watch the tutorials and fumble around in my clumsy old man fashion until I can really see what that program can do. At this point it seems like it will be something I mainly use in the editing stage as I do a lot of my principal writing away from home. I initially used Google Drive to write while away, but due to some inexplicable problems with it at work I’ve begun using Zoho. It gets the job done, but I do like Drive better.

I will read more.

I read seven books this year; not exactly what you’d call a staggering amount. But now, as the rough drafts pile up and editing becomes a bigger and bigger part of my day, the time to read has seemed to shrink to a sliver. I started a book two or three weeks ago and I’m still just 30 pages in. There is so much I want to read—old books I either haven’t read or want to re-read, fellow bloggers’ books, new authors making their debut—and the list goes on.

What I need to do is crack open a book every time I find myself wanting to play a new game, or if a TV show is on that I’m not totally invested in. Because I know what happens: once I get far enough into a book, I’m in for the long haul. Once I’m invested in the story I become determined to finish the thing so I can see how it all turns out.  My goal is at least 12 books in 2014—still not setting the world on fire, but a small improvement from this year.

I will study the craft.

This year I read Stephen King’s wonderful On Writing (which I didn’t count as one of the seven), as well as the essays by Chuck PalahniukCraig Clevenger and everyone else at Lit Reactor. Together, those helped me make a giant leap in the quality of my writing. There’s nothing quite like reading something that details poor writing, only to find examples of said poor writing throughout your work.

But that’s not enough.

I still haven’t picked up what is considered by many to be the gold standard, the holy grail of writers everywhere, Strunk and White‘s The Elements of Style, and I haven’t gone back through every aspiring writer’s hero Chuck Wendig’s website for his tips on writing. Reading what I did this past year helped, but I’m not done learning. A writer is never done learning, we all know that. I’m going to study up and make my writing goddamn bulletproof.

I will be published.

God, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If only it were. I had seven short stories that I submitted to publishers this year, and as of this writing have amassed 11 rejections. That doesn’t shake me all that bad, honestly. Rejection is part of the game. No, what bothers me is my lack of diligence.

What happens is I’ll submit a story, receive the rejection, then do nothing for awhile. I don’t just automatically move on to the next publisher and submit again, like I should. Some stories have only been submitted once, while one story has been submitted and rejected four times. This year I’m going to be more businesslike in handling my submissions, and by god I’m going to be published.

That sounds so dramatic. What happens if I’m sitting here in late December of 2014 and still haven’t been published? Honestly, I don’t think that’s very likely but if that were to happen I’d have no one but myself to blame for not being persistent and sending out submissions regularly. A couple of the early stories I wrote may lack some of the polish of more recent ones, but I truly believe my work now is good enough to be printed somewhere, and somewhere out there is a publisher who thinks so, too.

So, there you have it. My writing resolutions for 2014. Hopefully I keep them all, or at least make a valiant effort. I look forward to reading all your blogs in the coming year, so keep ’em coming. Now, tell me, do you have any resolutions for your writing? Any of yours on my list above?

Thanks to everyone who follows and reads the blog. This has turned out to be more fun and fulfilling than I ever could have imagined. Putting out a new blog post is always the highlight of my week. Here’s wishing you all a healthy, happy, and prosperous new year.

I Never Would’ve Guessed One of the Hardest Things About Writing Could Be Coming Up with a Good Title

Book

I’ve become convinced that the title of one of my novellas (the one I’m currently trying to get published) is no good. In fact, I’m on the verge of saying it downright sucks.

Originally, I thought it was a clever little title. It’s actually one of the last lines in the book, and I thought that was smart. What I began to realize was that it was only a clever title if you’ve read the book. It wasn’t a title that made you want to read the book.

I was having my doubts about it, then I reached my tipping point: I wrote a query letter to a small, independent publisher, and found myself purposely not wanting to disclose the title. I felt like after reading the brief synopsis describing the book, the title just didn’t work.

So, now what? Being so new to the whole publishing thing, I’d never put that much thought into titles before. I would just slap a title on a story and move on. Luckily, Novella #2 has a working title that I think will stay, and I managed to stumble upon a good title for the novel I’m working on, so I just have this one that’s posing a problem.

Do I just think and think until a title comes to me out of thin air? Is there a book title version of the Wu Tang Name Generator? By the way, if anyone’s curious, according to the site my rap name would be Phantom Criminal. As cool as that sounds, it wouldn’t really make sense for the title of my book.

I’d love to hear any other writers’ ideas; what do you do when you’re stuck for a title? And any non-writers out there, what titles caught your eye and made you want to pick up a book you knew nothing about? Please let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, I’ll be brainstorming while I fill out the forms to legally change my name to Jobee, The Phantom Criminal.

wigger