On writing

I’m a creative person. Well, I used to be. At this point in my life, much of that has been crushed out of me, much like my spirit. Yes, the world has done its damnedest to crush my spirit and creativity into cold, dark, lifeless, nonexistent husks. But somewhere, deep down, that urge to create still flickers.

That, ultimately, is the reason I started this blog. I wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember. But over the years I’ve written less and less, and I needed something to get me back into writing. I’ve wanted, specifically, to be a fiction writer, so maybe a blog isn’t the best way to go about it, but I need something to help me get back into the practice.

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My older brother is a creative type, too. Back in the day he used to write, but over the years he’s gravitated to film making. I can see the appeal in this; I love movies and would love to make them. However, two factors prevent me from any more than the very, very rare attempt (aside from random, unplanned silliness, but more on that below.)

First, I am a pretty hardcore introvert. This is why writing appeals to me. I can do it on my own, safely cocooned in my bedroom, in front of my computer.

The other is that many instances of disappointment have left me with, shall we say, trust issues. Movies generally require the talents of multiple people for an extended period of time, and I am at a point in my life where I don’t know anyone who is consistently available and trustworthy. Hell, I’m not trustworthy, in that sense. My brother seems to have found a team of passionate, talented people to work with him on his movies, but had to go through much disappointment, drama, and heartbreak to find them. Between my trust issues and my introversion, I just wouldn’t be able to handle that.

But back to writing. When we were young, my brother used to write stories. Back then I also wanted to write, to create, but was still young enough to not really be able to come up with ideas of my own. At that point “writing,” for me, generally involved stealing one of my brother’s story ideas and running with it.

Example: he once wrote a story about someone being shrunk down and sent inside a pinball machine to battle some sort of monsters which were causing technical problems inside the machine. I then stole this idea and turn it into, as I recall, an epic trilogy that somehow culminated in a battle on the edge of an active volcano. The evil, villainous mastermind was defeated by a fall into the lava. This happened outside of the actual pinball machine. I don’t remember how the characters ended up there.

And so it went. I would hop onto the family computer, the one with a 20 megabyte hard drive and a 16-color CGA monitor, type out some silly, largely stolen story on a two-color word processor program, and print it out on the horrible, horrible dot matrix printer, generally to be punched by a three-hole punch and jammed in a binder.

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When I was in grade school – second grade, I believe, but possibly third – we had an assignment to write a spooky story for Halloween. At that tender young age I was already a horror fan. Back then it was strictly limited to the old Universal monster movies from the 30s and 40s, and probably the occasional horror-themed Disney cartoon, but I loved it, and within a few years I would be checking Stephen King books out of the library and learning a wide variety of words and deeds that no one that young should probably know. So I attacked the assignment with gusto, armed as I was with the love for both writing and horror.

The story I wrote ended up being very, very long (by grade-school standards), filling many pages of a notebook. As best as I can recall, it was the story of two friends making their way into a haunted house and running through a gauntlet of monsters as they sought… some goal. They were rescuing a third friend, as far as I can remember, one who was trapped in the haunted house’s attic.

As far as I can recall, the teacher loved it. Unfortunately, the assignment didn’t end there. No, the notebook copy was only a first draft. Once finished, we had to copy it onto some Halloween-themed paper (it was ghost-shaped) to share with the class. After we had finished copying it, we would be able to spend the remainder of the allotted time in the  computer lab, playing games on the school’s mighty Apple IIe computers.

Well, nothing was gonna stand between me and precious, precious Oregon Trail time, so in what was my first (and, to this day, most vicious) experience with self-editing, I hacked the story down by at least 2/3, copied what was left onto the ghost paper as quickly as possible, and boogied on over to the computers.

I think my teacher was disappointed by the massive editing. I think I was, too. But I probably made a super-witty gravestone in Oregon Trail, so I guess it all balances out.

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When I was in high school I was at peak shyness and introversion. My freshman year I was completely friendless and miserable. The rest of the time, I had four good friends, including one who is, to this day, my closest friend, and another with whom I recently reconnected.

I don’t remember the exact impetus, but I started writing stories where the main characters were thinly-veiled versions of my and my friends (so thinly-veiled that their names were just our names, spelled backwards). The stories were outlandish and silly, but I enjoyed writing them, and they seemed to enjoy reading them.

We also got into writing chain-stories, in which someone would write a paragraph or two, then hand it off to another person to write another short section, and so on. Those, as I recall, got very outlandish, very quickly.

We found another creative outlet in making totally spontaneous movies with my parents’ giant, shoulder-mounted VHS camcorder. I had recently become heavily obsessed with Jackie Chan movies, so we made a trilogy of ‘kung fu’ movies – no editing, no special effects, no script, everything pretty much made up on the spot whenever we decided to do some filming, with whoever happened to be available at the time. We feigned the bad English dubbing by having the cameraman speak the lines while the person on-screen would flap his mouth like a lunatic.

It was every bit as glorious and terrible as it sounds.

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Once when I was in high school, or maybe a year or two later, after my first time dropping out of college, my dad took me aside for one of his Serious Grown-up Talks. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

“I want to be a writer,” I responded.

“Okay, but what do you really want to do?”

I was at a loss. Writing was the only thing I’d ever really wanted to do. But the brutal, cutting, instant dismissal of my lifelong dream had a powerful effect, intended or not. That was when I started losing faith in my dream, and when my life truly started to go adrift.

To this day I still have no idea what I want to be. I still want to write, but at least now I’m aware that the chances of becoming successful and financially stable as a writer and only a writer are not, statistically, very likely.

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A few years later I decided to just go ahead and write a book. At that point I still enjoyed the silly stories I’d written in high school, so I decided to take them as a template and expand and rework them into a single, coherent, book-length story.

This, I should add, was back about 8 or 10 years ago, when ebooks and Print On Demand self-publishing platforms were first coming into their own. So I wrote my book, made the POD paperback available for physical purchase, and also uploaded the ebook version to the early Amazon Kindle shop and a few other ebook stores which were around at the time.

It didn’t sell well.

I was able to talk a few people into leaving positive reviews for the book, but the few genuine reviews received from actual strangers ranged from one star to “I’d give it zero stars but you have to at least give one.” I sent out a copy or two to a mail-based reading circle (mail it to someone, they read it and mail it on to someone else to read) and the responses I received from that were, well, politely dismissive.

I began to loathe the book after a year or two of self-advertising and poor reviews. I started to hate the idea of writing.

To be clear: I don’t consider myself a ‘good’ writer. I don’t consider myself a True Artist who writes Meaningful Things, nor do I desire to be one. I write purely for entertainment purposes. To me, Art and Entertainment are two separate but equally important things (which, true, can absolutely be combined, and combined well, by talented people) and I knew my strengths are purely on the Entertainment side of things. And while I lean, as a person, toward weirdness and eccentricity, I still figured that what I wrote would find an audience of like-minded weirdos who would be entertained by my intentionally absurd, often ridiculous stories.

I was wrong.

So that was my second intensely disheartening experience.

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And then there was work. In one of my early retail jobs there was, for a time, an employee communication notebook. I don’t remember the exact purpose or reason for its existence but employees were encouraged to write things in it. It was probably meant for legitimate work-related things but I sometimes spent long, boring weekday evenings scribbling long, random, rambling nonsense into that thing.

But I eventually left retail for a Real Adult Job in a soul-crushing but well-paying office environment. This environment did not encourage creativity. I was chewed out, on several occasions, for showing personality when writing emails. They did not want anything but the most mindless of corporate drones. But I sat there, year after year, allowing them to grind the creativity and personality out of me because damn it, the money was pretty good and the work was fairly easy.

I can’t complain too much; after all, it did allow me to buy a small, comfortable house for myself and even build enough of a savings to survive for almost a year now since being laid off. But in that year I’ve had all kinds of free time and have written nothing.

For years I’ve written very little. I’ve started a few books that were never finished. I’ve had ideas for various anthology books, where I would write a bunch of short stories that either shared genre or theme, or else had some sort of through-line of overarching story or reoccurring characters. Those never got off the ground. While the desire to be creative was still there, I had lost the actual creative drive, or spark, or whatever.

Which brings me back to this blog. I want to write more. I want to get creative and silly and over-the-top again. But I am just so goddamn out of the habit of writing that I just need practice and motivation again.

And so here we are.

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