Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why?


Fellow wordsmith Diane Carlisle (of Are We There Yet?) recently asked and answered the question that every writer gets eventually: for the love of God, why? Why hole yourself up in solitude for hours on end, staring at a computer screen? Why subject yourself to the harsh criticism that often comes with artful endeavor? Why toil away at a piece of yourself that may never even see the light of day?

Why write?

This question has a certain personal significance, because I've asked it of myself many times, often layered beneath tones of doubt and uncertainty. It's honestly taken me years to be able to answer it with any conviction or substance. In fact, because of that, I've decided that the best way for me to convey the answer to this question would be to invent a time machine. I see no other way.

So, I tracked down some of the best scientific minds of our time, to see who might be willing to help me in this. I first approached Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, my favorite astrophysicist, but he was not impressed with my gumption.



I next sought the assistance of a childhood hero of mine, Bill Nye, but he was too preoccupied to lend any help.



Feeling dejected, I almost gave up. But then, like a bolt of lightning, I came upon someone who was willing to listen.



So with the help of Doc Brown, I went back in time to the years 1997, 2001, and 2005 to conduct interviews with my past selves on the subject of writing. The results are transcribed as follows:

J.W. Alden: Thanks for agreeing to do this, Me. I really appreciate it.


Twelve-Year-Old Me: No problem!
Sixteen-Year-Old Me: Whatever.
Twenty-Year-Old Me: You're paying me for this, right?


JWA: This interview is going to be about your favorite hobby.


12yoJW: Video games! Oh, writing. 
16yoJW: Guitar? Oh, writing. Yeah, my lyrics are pretty deep, man.
20yoJW: Video games? Oh yeah, writing.

JWA: How often would you say you write?


12yoJW: I don't know. Whenever I feel like it!
16yoJW: Well, what is writing, you know? Like, when you're daydreaming about stuff, is that writing? When you're humming in the shower, is that writing? Think about it, man.
20yoJW: Sundays and Mondays, mostly. I'm too tired the rest of the week. This overnight job is killing me.


JWA: What do you write about?


12yoJW: Monsters and ghosts and stuff. Zombies.
16yoJW: Let me show you this song I wrote, bro. It's about the eternal discontentment of living in an illusory happenstance of chaotic nothingness. The last part has dragons in it.
20yoJW: Post-Apocalyptic Science Fantasy with genetically modified super humans fighting aliens. And each other.


JWA: What are you going to be doing when you're my age? 


12yoJW: I'll probably be an astronaut, a rock star, or a professional wrestler. Oh, and I bet I'll have a bunch of swords!
16yoJW: I'm an artist, man. I don't need to sell out for some record deal, you know? I'll get by. Whatever happens, happens.
20yoJW: I have no idea. I just got promoted to Chief Forklift Operator, so that's something. I'm thinking about taking a Jiu-Jitsu class.


JWA: Okay guys, here's the big one. Why do you write?


12yoJW: Because, it's fun!
16yoJW: I've just got to let this darkness inside me out before it consumes me, bro. You wouldn't understand.
20yoJW: That's a damn good question. I don't really know. 

Now you see why it took me so long to find an answer. The truth is I've never really known what I wanted to do with my life. My passions and aspirations depended largely on which bump in the road you happened to catch me on.

But despite the various phases I went through, writing has always been there for me in some capacity. It's helped keep me sane during difficult times in my life. It's been an outlet, a foundation of solace that I could always turn to. Through every other silly dream, every failed aspiration, every rough patch, it's never abandoned me and I've never abandoned it. I didn’t always recognize that. I thought it was a hobby. It never even occurred to me back then that it might be my calling. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I realized how much it really means to me.

Around the same time that I came to this realization, I also began to recognize that I'd become pretty decent at it over the years. The more I've worked at it, the better I've become. I'm still learning new things every day, but my confidence as a writer is higher than it's ever been. I'm not a hobbyist anymore. This is what I want to do for a living.

So why do I do this? Why do I write? Because, I have to. It's what I do, what I'm meant for. It's always been that way. I just didn't see it until now.

I write because I'm a writer.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fly Little Birdie



This weekend I put the finishing touches on a science fiction story I've been working on for quite a while, plus a fresh coat of polish on an older fantasy tale that was racking up R's before I pulled it out of my submission pool. So, two more little birds have been released to the wind. Hopefully they'll fly back with good news around their ankles.



It's quite a feeling to hit that "send" button, knowing someone is going to read your story and judge whether or not it's worthy of their publication. I tend not to get bummed about rejections, but my nerves still tingle when typing up a cover letter. In even the silliest stories, a great deal of myself goes onto the page. Capping off the writing process by sending it out to a stranger for appraisal is like carefully undressing in the living room and then yanking the shades open.

Tomorrow, I'll likely finalize the story from my "THE END" blog and set it free as well, which will make four stories out in the wild. I'm aware that's not a particularly large number; I have some writer friends who have over a hundred stories making the rounds. That seems like an impossibly high benchmark from where I sit now, but I only just began working on shorts at the end of last year. Before then I'd been spending all my time on novels.

After I fell in love with short stories, I temporarily trunked the novel I'd been working on last year (which I was beginning to have doubts about anyway -- more on that in an upcoming entry). I've now refocused and readjusted my Master Plan of Writeritude®. Originally, 2012 was to be The Year of the Agent. Now it's (hopefully) become The Year of the Whole Bunch of Short Sales. I don't have a specific goal for the number of stories I'd like to sell this year, but at the very least, I hope to sell to enough pro markets to qualify for SFWA membership. That will be a big item to cross off the Plan.

Originally, I was going to use this post to test the waters a little on entries about Mixed Martial Arts. MMA is pretty much the only sport I follow religiously (outside of a few major boxing/kickboxing cards a year and the odd jiu-jitsu tournament) and there was a big UFC card last night that I figured I'd write about. But as good as the card was I just found myself preoccupied with writing, so this is what came out. That is, of course, a good thing.

The day will come when this blog devolves into chat about less productive things, however. For instance, I've been enamored with the PC game Star Wars: The Old Republic. Expect rants.

Until then, it's back to the pigeon coop.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

THE END



Don't worry. I'm not throwing the towel in already. I just wanted to write those two words down next to each other, because they're one of the most satiating pairs of words in the English language.

I just finished the second draft of my latest story, which means I'm very close to sending it out into the cruel, cruel world to see if it's grown a pair of legs to stand on. This particular story wasn't quite the battle I've had with a few others, partly because it's on the shorter side. In fact, as far as the writing process goes, this may be my favorite story to date. It was smooth sailing all the way through, and one of the only times a story has come out close to perfect on the first draft. It's pretty much ready to go, but I always force myself to walk away from a story for a while when I think it's done. After it stews for a few days, I'll come back with a fresh mind for one final run through. It's an invigorating feeling to know that the finish line for a project is in sight, for good or bad. Whether it's destined for publication or the garbage heap, at least it will be DONE.

In this case, the two magic words were particularly satisfying to write because I knew I had a solid ending. Leaving a story with a strong finish is like walking away from a meal with a great taste in your mouth, for both the writer and the reader. At the beginning of a story--whether it's a novel, a short, or flash fiction--you're entering into an unspoken agreement with the reader. The first line on the page makes a promise that every subsequent word must strive to fulfill. If THE END comes along and you've left the reader unsated, that promise has been broken. This doesn't mean you need to wrap things up under a neat little bow. I love endings that leave room for mulling and interpretation. "Leave them wanting more," is a fine maxim to work under, as long as it's for the right reasons.

Of course, THE END doesn't really mean it's the end. It just means on to the next story. Laurels, how do they work?


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

To elaborate...

I'm J.W. Alden. I write stories.

What can you expect to see here? I don't really know. I've had blogs in the past that failed to hold my (or anyone else's) attention, and I'd like to think this one will be different. In the past, I think I tried a little too hard. I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed some kind of rigorous theme to stick to. They all floundered away into neglect.

Still, among the various writing communities I spend time with, I've never heard anyone say that running a blog is a bad idea. On the contrary, many will tell you it's practically a necessity, especially those on the publishing side of things. So I'm giving it another try. This time though, I'm just going to write. I'm not going to restrict myself to one topic. I'm not going to convince myself that no one cares about what's floating around in my noggin.

What that means is you're likely to see a semi-wide range of ramblings. Writing will probably be my chief subject, just because that's what most of my day-to-day revolves around. You might even see a story or two. But I'm also a nerd, so expect nerdry. Expect posts about video games, movies, books, music. I'm also a martial arts/combat sports fan, so expect to read about UFC events and K-1 fights. I know, I know. You probably hate at least one of those things. I can sympathize. I hate scrolling past GRRM's football posts. But I don't know what to tell you. I'm not writing for you anymore. I'm writing for me.

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Just kidding, please love me.

Okay, Okay, Okay

I'm blogging now. You can stop poking at me, little voice.

Here we go.