Monday, May 18, 2015

In Pursuit of Less

Leaving the relative stability and "known" of the business world to pursue the "unknown" of a writing career brought with it a chance to review my priorities, and while working on my writing skills, I've found that many of the "rules” for writing apply just as well to life itself. Most notably for me personally: simplicity. 


Simplicity in prose, simplicity in life.


I’m not looking to be an extreme minimalist, but there is a lot of great advice in the philosophy that I believe we could all use. I've spent too much time chasing the American Dream, but I now realize it doesn't always coincide with my dream. I don’t need all that stuff: big house, new car, corner office. It’s not for me.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
-William Morris

For me, I strive to put the most effort into the things that matter most to me. I hope to leave the commercialized American Dream behind. Leaving the pursuit of stuff behind has given me the time and energy to devote to what matters. My family, faith, and friends have all moved to the top of the list where they should have been all along.

With this mindset, I try to own only things that add value or beauty to my life. It means I have fewer things, but it also means I have to devote less time to their upkeep, and that gives me more energy for my family and as an author. It also helps me set the example for my children that you should do something you enjoy for a living, not just work for money.

In life’s simplicity, I hope to find its meaning.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Journey To Writing

When I was a kid, I loved to write, but I never considered making a career of it. At the time, the only writer I knew much about was Stephen King. He was (and is) a rock star of an author, and so I thought becoming a writer was akin to winning the lottery, the same odds I saw for becoming an actual rock star or a movie star. What I didn't know was that hard work and determination could trump talent, at least to some extent, and if I maintained those two things I could actually pull it off. Instead, I chose to pursue a "real" job.

I'm only now learning what a mistake that was.

Still, I wouldn't change it for the world. I scored a wonderful wife and kids out of the deal, and had some great experiences that have probably prepared me for finally taking a shot at a writing career. But man, it would have been nice to get right into this back in my twenties! Instead, I stopped writing for the better part of fifteen years, trying out other careers and getting caught up in a string of other hobbies that never held my interest for more than a few months.

I have been writing again as a hobby for a few years now, picking up on the childhood love as I floated aimlessly through the business world and was searching for a way to fill the creative void it left. I had earned a business degree while in the military, so after leaving that career behind, the corporate world seemed like the natural move when I needed a job, but it was never the right fit. I sat there all day, no matter how productive I was or wasn't, and never got any satisfaction from my work. As soon as I got the opportunity, I walked away from business and took on the role of stay-home dad to an infant and an eight-year-old. This job is admittedly a ton more work, but much more satisfying that anything else I've ever done.

But stay-at-home-dad isn't a life-long career. So I've always kept an eye to the future and what I'd be doing when both kids were in school and on past that. I wanted something fun, something creative, but I still had that idea that the odds would be forever stacked against me. I kept writing, and kept daydreaming about the future.

The more I wrote, and the more I followed inspiring authors like Hugh Howey, Chuck Wendig, and Michael J. Sullivan, the more I began to consider the possibilities. Maybe I could turn this into a career. I toyed with the idea for a while, attended a conference, and even started telling people I was a writer sometimes. For the most part, it felt good, felt natural, like this was the career I should have chosen from the start. There was always something nagging at me, though. For the most part, I wasn't actually writing anything. Sure, I had written some short stories. I even submitted them (and have the rejections to prove it).  But I knew that to be a professional, I had to crack down on my lack of productivity. But with such a busy family life, where could I find the time?

I didn't find the time.

I made it.

I looked at my average schedule and I saw all the time I was wasting. When I got a good handle on how I actually used my time, I found out there  was time to write already in there. Even more, I saw how much time I wasted after the kids went to bed (I was too tired by that time to write, so I usually spent those hours watching television). Instead of accepting that as the status quo, I started going to sleep earlier and getting up at 4:00, well before the rest of the family and buying myself two hours of uninterrupted writing time every morning. That was the real game changer.

Now, I get up and write, and because I feel good for doing it, I've found myself more productive and available to my family. For me, writing is part of taking care of myself, which makes it easier to take care of my family. Also, I don't feel like such an impostor when I call myself a writer because I'm doing the work.

Writers write, and I'm writing. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where I Write

Where the magic happens, or rather, where the "long, hard work that hopefully ends up looking like magic" happens.

Stephen King says your writing space only needs one thing: "A door you are willing to shut."

My space doesn't actually have that, yet, but maybe someday. Maybe I'll even have one of these someday. For now, we just don't have the extra room in the house. I do, however, have a very supportive family and a very comfortable writing setup, so I can't complain.

We have a room in our house that I've staked a partial claim to as an office, though my daughter often spends more time on my computer there than I do. It's the picture you see above, where I have my computer set up on one side, and a nice, cleared area on the other for when I'm writing out first drafts by hand. The window looks out over the front yard which gives me a nice, peaceful view of the outdoors.

I have a handful of inspirational toys scattered about the desk: a 10th Doctor Sonic Screwdriver, a small Lego Millennium Falcon, a fun little wind up toy, and just outside of the shot is a plush Darth Vader holding a rose that my daughter gave me last Valentine's Day. There is also a bobble head of Michael Scott, a gift from my wife back when I worked as an office manager. I also have a stack of to-read books and stacks of notebooks and note cards.

It's a great setup that really suits my needs. I could use a more comfortable chair one of these days, but I generally don't sit there for long enough periods of time for it to matter. The reason for that is the proximity to my daughter's room, and if you've read my post on making the time to write, you might be able to guess the reason. When I'm writing at 4:00 am, the squeaks of the chair and click-clicking of the keyboard on editing days tend to wake her up.

So, here is a look at my alternate writing space:

The dining table, currently set up for a bit of editing (and tractor racing, apparently!)

Our dining table is the farthest point in the house from the bedrooms, so in the early hours I tend to work here. Setting up with notebook and pen is easy of course, and when I'm on the laptop, my Scrivener documents sync through the cloud, so it works out fine and I can get to anything I need to keep moving forward on the writing.

That's the key, really: moving forward, making progress.

Having a nice place to write is, well, nice, but sometimes you have to keep working no matter where you end up. Someday I may have a proper office space with a door to close to the world, but for now I sit where I can find room and just write.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Sunset from Minute Maid Park. Beautiful.
Every time Jamie Todd Rubin talks about baseball, I get nostalgic for all the games I attended as a kid. For quite a while, I seemed to go to at least a few games every season, then we made a few moves and I never had quite the same opportunities to make it to the games. Living in Houston, though, offers the opportunity to catch games at a very beautiful Minute Maid Park.

The Astros are rebuilding, which is obvious on the scoreboard, but they have a great group of young guys that keep things exciting even in a big loss with diving catches and big home runs. They lost to the Oakland Athletics (coincidentally, the team I watched most as a kid), but they made some great plays along the way. It's easy to see the talent these young players have. Hopefully they can build something great together.

This was also my daughter's first game, and even though I told her ahead of time that she could play games on my phone if she got bored, she never once asked for it. She watched the whole game, cheered on our home team, and took part in all the many traditions of America's national pastime. She didn't want Cracker Jacks (I did, though!) but she did get the ice cream in a tiny baseball helmet, so she got a nice souvenir to take home.

I had already planned to get to at least one more game before the season is over and was very glad to hear that she wanted to go again, too. I loved going to the ballpark when I was her age and it was great to be able to share the experience.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Rejection

As I've grown as a writer, I've been glad to see a few personalized rejections mixed in with the form letters. I talked about a recent rejection email that was particularly inspiring for me a few days ago, and since then I've been thinking about all of the rejections I've received since deciding to give writing an honest effort. It's something we all struggle through as writers, so I thought I'd share a bit of my story.

I received my first rejection a couple years ago from a pro-level magazine. It was soon after I had finished my first short story, and I chose this particular magazine for their award winning status and their quick response time–I was/am impatient at times. I submitted my story, and waited.

I checked the status daily–they have a counter where you can see your place in the reading queue. When I noticed the number was down to twenty, I started checking every few minutes. I knew it wouldn’t be long and I would have my first published story!

Of course, that’s not how it happened.

Few writers get that first publishing credit right away. I was rejected, and it stung. 

Instead of dwelling on it, though, I turned right around and submitted the story to another magazine. Rather than looking at the rejection as a failure, I chose to look at it as a stepping stone, as my induction into the world of the “real” writers. 

I looked at the rejection and knew I was in the good company of Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Ray Bradbury, and all the other greats that have walked the same rejection-paved streets before me. 

I also know how to win in the long run: keep writing.

The way you deal with the rejections is what will define your career. If you can’t face them down, you can’t make a career of writing, plain and simple. They are the test of your love for the craft. They are the walls that block your way and you have a choice: you can let the walls stop you or you can plow right through them. 

It’s your decision to make.

As for me, I'll be writing. And each publication will be that much sweeter for the work I put in.