Posts in Category: Writing

Writing Lull? What Writing Lull?

Hi there. It's me, Liam. You might remember me from such times as that one Summer Blog Challenge, or the times that I've done other blog things. I'm looking around here, and it's hard to make anything out through all the dust. I mean, that picture in the corner, it's all faded from the sunlight, and dang if that 20 to 40 blog challenge didn't make a huge mess and just refuse to clean up after itself.

I wonder what anyone who cares to keep up with this blog thinks when I go away for a long time between posts. I mean, I'm reasonably active on other social media platforms, primarily facebook and twitter, so I doubt there's any concern after my health. But I wonder if you think I'm not writing.

Because I am writing. I write all the time. Just that a lot of the things that I write are not suitable for the blog. But I hit a milestone last night in some of the writing that is not for the blog, and I thought I'd bring it up, because it's something that I'm proud of.

Last year, despite professional upheaval, I decided to try something epic. I was going to try to write a 50000 word book in a month. By hand. I figured it was a new way to look at writing a novel, would let me let my thoughts outpace my writing, and hopefully come to something that was more readable than the novel that I'd successfully completed the year before. The novel I completed the year before is only notable in that it exists. It will not likely ever be edited or cleaned up, because it is stupid.

Anyway, as I should have anticipated, work and life got in the way of my lofty goal and I did not complete my hand-written novel in 30 days. It was too bad, too, because through two weeks, I was keeping up. But work just demanded too much.

Instead of 30 days, the novel took 362 days to complete, hand-written, every single word. And I think I like what I have. It's raw, no joke there, but it is a story that is remarkably less stupid than the one the year before, and if it isn't as cool as the one from two years before, it has the distinction of being finished. four days before NaNoWriMo is scheduled to start again.

I don't think I'm going to hand-write my book again this year. It's tricky, what with word-counts and time, and then the added time of eventually typing out the book into a computer if I want to ever actually do anything with it beyond putting it on a shelf to stare at.

Still, I wouldn't trade the last year of writing this book for anything. It's been an experience I won't forget, and if I do, there's a physical reminder of it. No, not the book, the indentation I have permanently scored into my middle finger from my pen.

Anyway, this isn't where I'm going to recommit myself to writing. I'm still writing, and I've been writing. But there are a few things I want to share with you before I jump back into the NaNo insanity. Thoughts about Luke Cage, thoughts about Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. You know, things.

They might not make it up here, especially if I don't get them written in time, but I am thinking of them, and chances are, I'm writing about them too, even if they don't end up here.

On Writing

Well, if that title doesn’t dissipate the cloak of humility I usually try to wear, I can’t imagine anything else would either. Now that it’s out of the way, I can get to what I want to say.

I’ve meant to be a better writer than I am. I’ve meant to be more consistent in my writing effort, and more conscious of the effort I am putting out, in order to be a writer with greater skill. I’ve wanted to fill my blog with poignant pieces, both about social issues and about personal things; about writing and programming, as well as the occasional piece of fiction.

I haven’t done any of this.

In fiction writing, I got off to a great start with my current project, sprinting out of the gate for last year’s NaNoWriMo. I’ve stalled out a half-dozen times, changed directions more than once, and I’m at the point where the story feels stupid, unnecessary, and not worth my time.

I feel like I've been spinning my wheels and struggling uphill with writing, and the worst part is, I feel like I haven't gotten any better. It's very discouraging.

I'm sure that this would be a super-appropriate place to pledge renewed commitment to improving and inspire myself to new heights of productivity and quality.

2015 Houston Texans, Week 1: Kansas City

Week 1 with a new quarterback. Is there anything more hopeful than a team going into the season with a quarterback who earned his way into the lineup with an open competition? Never mind that he barely won the competition over the guy now holding the clipboard. Never mind how the guy actually performed when he played for the Browns. No. forget that. Mute the uncertain voice down to a buzz. At least for now. This is the coach's guy! Let's go! Game 1!

[Note: I'm kinda finding my way on this game writeup stuff. This one is going to be a bit more wordy than I intended, but there it is. --l]

The first drive had a couple of concerning pieces for Houston on defense. Nothing major, but Jonathan Joseph looked like what he was: a player who hadn't played at all in the preseason. Still, as the Chiefs got to near midfield, Jared Crick made a couple of plays and Whitney Mercilus made another, and the Texans got the ball inside the ten yard line.

One play. One play on offense was all the Texans got as Hoyer channeled his inner Matt Schaub.

Quite often, I can figure out a quarterback's decision-making process, what leads him to the thing he does. In honesty, I'm probably wrong, but I can at least make a guess with some level of confidence. I bet, if you were able to remove the identities from the game tape, Brian Hoyer would look at that video and be completely unable to tell you what that guy was thinking. He made some sort of blind fade-away pass straight to a Chiefs' player, and the Texans' drive was over.

The Chiefs didn't turn their noses up at this gift, and within a couple of plays, it was 7-0 Chiefs.

The Texans didn't make much of their next drive, but at least they didn't turn it over. Unfortunately, the improved field position didn't make much of a difference, and the Chiefs scored on that drive too, thanks to a wide open Travis Kelce.

The Texans made something of themselves on the following drive, when they put it in the end-zone, but Randy Bullock, clubhouse-leader of the "Why exactly is he still on teh team?" competition coming into the season, missed on the now-longer extra point.

On a drive that verified that Kelce is a beast, and that they were totally justified in paying Jeremy Maclin, the Texans managed to hold the Chiefs to a field goal.

Hoyer had some really non-stellar drives, one with head-scratching throws and a punt that led to another KC field goal, and then a fumble by Hoyer which was followed up by a one-play drive into the end-zone. The team traded three-and-outs then Houston got a field goal on their last drive before the halftime whistle. Remember when it used to be the halftime gun? Neither do I, but I do remember when they used that as a joke on a Goofy cartoon, so I suppose it must have been at some point.


Houston received the ball to start the second half, and some questionable hands on the part of the receivers led to a three-and-out. The defense was up to the task, though, forcing a punt as well.

3-and-outs and punts dominated the second half as both teams struggled to score. Eventually, it looked like O'Brian had enough of the futility on an intentional grounding call, since he went Full-Kubiak and called a draw play on third and a mile.

Strong defense got the Texans the ball back with something like 7 minutes left, and down by 18. Suspicions about O'Brian's patience with Hoyer were confirmed when the enigmatic Ryan Mallett took the reins. I will let my notes from the game tell the story of the following drive:

Mallett. Zip! Zip! Good throws with 5 minutes left, down by 18... TD! 2PT!

Exciting. And just enough time left so the argument could be made it wasn't garbage-time.

The defense stopped the Chiefs again, and Mallett drove them into scoring range again. A couple of WTF throws, though, meant they had to settle for a field goal. No biggie, since they needed two scores anyway. Except the kicker was Randy "weak year for kickers" Bullock, and the field goal was 47 yards. Still, the ball made it through the uprights, providing a little bit of drama with a doinker off the inside of the left upright. Within 7 points! One score! Not enough time, though, and no timeouts. So, the game ended on an anticlimactic note, with the Chiefs taking a knee or two and running the clock out.

FINAL: Kansas City 27, Houston 20.

There really isn't anything to pin on the defense in this game. There was the one drive where Kansas City scored on a play where Kelce was running wide open, but that was about it. They really clamped it down in the second half, completely shutting out the other team.

I won't say that Hoyer was complete garbage. He showed some flashes. Mallett looked like the man against a defense that was trying to hold onto a lead. Maybe I'm damning him with faint praise, but that was a lot more than Hoyer whose flashes were not nearly enough to balance out HANDING THE OTHER TEAM 14 POINTS. You're supposed to be the SMART quarterback, the one who manages the game and doesn't do stupid things. If you use your brain, for Christ's sake, maybe sneak a quick score in there somewhere, and the defense gives you this game.

2015 Texans after Week 1: 0-1

Up next: have fun trying to stop Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

2015 Houston Texans – Preseason

Through the magic of the internet, and thanks to the NFL, I have the ability to watch every game from last season right now. So, what am I doing with this newfound ability? Am I tracking the championship season of the Denver Broncos in Peyton Manning's last season? Am I looking at has, of late, been my second-favourite team, the Arizona Cardinals, and their nigh-unprecedented success? Or maybe scouting division rivals, to see what they might bring to bear against my beloved Texans this year?


Instead, I'm getting ready for the upcoming season by looking at the Texans and how they did last year, the turmoil-filled season that saw yet another injury for Arian Foster, and a revolving door at quarterback between Ryan Mallett and Bryan Hoyer. Also, which saw the mid-season ouster of oft-underwhelming but never impressive kicker Randy Bullock.

You might ask yourself why I would subject myself to such a regimen. After all, there are more things to life than football, which will likely consume a large portion of my attention once the regular season comes around. Well, the thing is, I want to write posts about the Texans this year, and I figured this would be a chance to practice. Alongside this is the knowledge that I've been less than enthusiastic for football the last couple of seasons. Kubiak's dismal campaign coupled with the regime change, as well as other stuff going on in my life meant that I didn't have much stake. Well, I want that to change. So here we are, with the regular season looming, and I don't feel like I know my team as well as I'd like.

I plan on doing a write-up of the Texans game each week, and over the next couple of weeks or so, I'm going to watch the 2015 season, from the first game, a humiliating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, to the last game, a... um... a humiliating loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. And you get to follow along.

Starting with my next post.

For now, I want to talk about the 2015 preseason, which was under a microscope for the Texans, the roster last year, and where it felt like we were heading into the regular season. Keep in mind, I'm going off a memory from a year ago, relying on a brain that has since celebrated its 40th birthday. So, take it with a grain of salt.

Hard Knocks

I didn't watch Hard Knocks last year. I don't subscribe to HBO, and I honestly wasn't concerned about it. But what I did get was an awful lot of hearsay from the announcers on the pre-season games, which were all available on the NFL Network. Who was funny on-camera, who was on the bubble, who was absolutely killing it in practice. These are things that I would have done horrible, bloody murder to know back in my pre-family-man days. As it was, life was happening pretty thick right around the time of the pre-season and Hard Knocks, so while I managed a job loss, a job search, and a new job, not to mention the dismantling of my main floor, the Texans went about the business of getting ready for the season.


Some of the players that stood out were obvious: DeAndre Hopkins, Kareem Jackson, the rookie corner Kevin Johnson. But there were some new guys. Obviously, getting gravity-hog Vince Wilfork was a big deal, and he impressed in camp at the same time as being a hilarious guy. But there was also Charles James. He was amusing. He was old-school, able to play defensive back and carry the football. I don't know why, but somewhere along the way, they let him go. Just released him. Spoiler alert, they eventually brought him back, but I'm still not sure why they got rid of him in the first place.

Open Competition

At quarterback, it felt like everyone was gone. EVERYONE. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Case Keenum. T.J. Yates. Pretty much the only one left was Tom Savage, who played in the preseason, but wasn't a factor in competition. Ok, ok... Ryan Mallett was also a holdover from the season before, but it never felt like that since he was hurt in 2014 and wasn't very much a factor.

He was one of the two quarterbacks in competition in training camp, however. He and Brian Hoyer who the Texans brought in as a free agent. Mallett had all the physical gifts, but Hoyer was supposedly the steadying influence, the guy who went about his work with a more professional attitude. In the end, in a much replayed and chewed over, and stewed over, and over-analyzed clip from HBO, Coach O'Brien let the quarterbacks know that Hoyer was his guy. Kind of. He said he wouldn't have a hair trigger, but that he wouldn't hesitate to go to Mallett if Hoyer wasn't up to the job. It was the most marshmallow decision I've ever heard, and it is very prescient over the rest of the season.

Impending Season

So, with the roster boasting a three-headed ... I won't call it a monster, maybe a three-headed muppet at running back, tight ends without a clear number one, and quarterbacks whose jobs were safe until they weren't, the Texans closed up training camp and got ready for the regular season.

Next post: Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs sees OB's words come to bite him in the butt.

You Can Have Your Party Too

I've got something to say to all the people out there who keep saying that All Lives Matter and Straight Pride and White Power or white-specialist interest groups are not allowed to happen. You know, all you people who are physically threatening the diligent members of a hard-bitten downtrodden majority. If you've ever passed a law that has made it illegal fora straight white mail to profess his love of a straight, white woman or her love of him, if you've ever even tried to physically bar someone from a rally that says, "Hey, everyone's important!" then this message is purely for you: STOP IT. Stop passing those laws that restrict the movements and assembly rights of the majority. They just want to live their life in peace.

But seriously, folks: If you are seriously chapped that there is no Straight Pride Parade and Festival (tm), no All Lives Matter rally in your area, no event to celebrate any silly thing that comes into your head, rather than cynically and disingenuously trying to take the air out of someone else's sails, I'm going to tell you something. The reason those things don't exist isn't because you're being repressed. It's because nobody has created those things. Nobody has thought it important enough to assert our human right to be white, or our human right to be heterosexual. You haven't created those things. You have that right. Look it up! Gay pride wasn't something that just started itself. Black Lives Matter wasn't some natural phenomenon. People did work to make those things happen. Courageous people who faced real danger to stand up for what they believe in.

What you call "not being allowed" or "repression" for your coveted cause isn't that. It's societal pressure. Society's moved on from what you espouse, it rejects your backlash against inclusion, and for once you're left in -- that's right -- the minority. Your fear of speaking out doesn't come from fear of physical danger, but from a niggling suspicion that you might just e wrong, and from the very real knowledge that you're being judged for your words and your actions, as we all ore. If everyone were so easily silenced by the disapproval of others, probably we wouldn't be where we are now.

So go ahead. Float your white supremacy balloons. Walk proudly down the street, unabashedly holding the hand of your heterosexual life partner. Play some Pat Boone or some other unthreatening and unchallenging music. No one's going to stop you. The jeering might get quite loud, though, so you'll probably want some hearing protection.

Long Road Back – intro

Something went wrong. Horribly wrong. Life-altering and not for the better. It was all very public and very publicized. If you lived in the area at that time, you’ve probably heard about me and my family. The search parties even got some national coverage, though that didn’t help. My wife and daughter are still missing. It’s been long enough, though, that the investigation isn’t open anymore, and the file has been relegated to the bottom of someone’s drawer.

Basically, they’re not going to spend any more time on the investigation unless some big new evidence is introduced. Even then, it would have to be some pretty strong evidence.

I got a long look from the police, from the media. I don’t blame any of them for that. A woman goes missing, you look to the husband. You look hard, even past the time when he looks to be in the clear. No, I don’t blame the police or the papers for doing their jobs. But I could have done without the public or their Johnny Sleuth act. More than once I was stopped on the street and confronted with what the person was sure was a damning piece of evidence or a supposed hole in my story. The only problem with that was the story they were countering was hearsay and not part of my alibi, and as for the evidence, it obviously wasn’t damning, or it wasn’t real, because I had nothing to do with the disappearance of my daughter or my wife.

I cooperated with the police, even though my heart really wasn’t in it. I coordinated search parties even though I knew there wasn’t anything they could do. A guy has to be realistic in situations like this or he risks going insane. And it wasn’t the despondency of the depressed or the resignation that of course this would happen to me. It was a knowledge, a fact-based certainty that Deb and Ella weren’t coming back. They were gone for good and there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing anybody could do about it.

I didn’t have them declared legally dead, because I knew they weren’t dead, not in any normal sense of the word, and I didn’t move on with my life -- get remarried or start a new family. I’m not really sure why on that score, beyond maybe a feeling that I didn’t deserve it. Well, that and the hope that fools reach for -- the hope that while there’s life -- a life of a sort, anyway -- there’s hope.

Yes, hope for the hopeless. Hours of research into how I could... I don’t know... make something happen and bring them back, which always turned up the same goddamned dead ends.

Lucid dreams where I would be reunited with them only to have my isolation, my loneliness, my depression shoved into my face like the dream was the taunt of a bully who knew that there was no way I could touch him, tha there was nothing I could ever do to turn these desperate dreams into reality.

And so, my life continued even as it stood still, hovering over that one event, that one period in my life, waiting for some impossible resolution before the scene could change. A pause, pregnant with the hopes of an enrapt audience, one year, two, five, seven, and still I continued, in my job, in my desperate research, knowing it was hopeless.

Until I met the man who told me I could be reunited with my wife and daughter and told me how it might be accomplished. tHis peddler of hope, this snake oil salesman, who would be my salvation, my retribution, but at what cost?

I’m leaping ahead. Let me start at the beginning.

Page 2

Wherein the protagonist offers to fist-fight the narrator for the rest of his fries

Because fries, you see, are the economy that drives the majority of this story, it is important that you know that John, upon waking, had none of the fries in his possession any longer. In the parlance of the time, John was flat busted broke.

Fortunately for him, though unfortunate for this humble voice in the darkness, on the previous page, John had acquired the Fourth Wall Buster, pulling it off of the corpse of the troll that he'd wrestled to the ground. In desperation, and in hopes of recovering some of his currency, John set off the Fourth Wall Buster and broke through the front panel of the scene.

"What was that?" he asked, staring at yours truly. "Why are you repeating what I say in a fake voice then describing - Cut it out!"

"I am the narrator, the humble thespian provided to guide the reader through this story."

"You have fries. I'd totally fight you for those," he offered, squinting menacingly at the narrator's continued antics. In an effort to stave off the impending pugilism, the narrator extended a fry-encumbered hand toward the protagonist. John took the proffered container of fried goods and returned to his scene, resetting the Fourth Wall Buster and setting the story, once more, upon its correct path.

As the rift sealed, John winced at the narrator's next words:

"Page 3, wherein the protagonist faces certain d-"

Panicked Room

I had no ideas when I sat down at the computer tonight. I wanted to write something quick. I finally settled on something like a mystery. Obviously, this wants to be expanded into something bigger, maybe a conspiracy or something, but I think I'm pretty happy leaving it where it is. It could be polished up, edited, if that word makes you feel better about the process, but I'm not married to the story at all. It's more of an exercise than anything else.

I'd appreciate feedback,


Consciousness came to him, crashing over him like a wave of frigid water. It left behind the gifts of a blinding light and a dull ache behind his right eye. The walls around him were bright white, the same as the ceiling, and he was having a hard time telling just how far away they were.

With a groan, he rolled to his side. Focusing was its own special hell, but it was a focus of the involuntary sort, like when something startles you and suddenly it’s all you can think about. The woman lying, faced away from him, did startle him. She was clothed. He was not, he noticed all of a sudden, and his attention to the girl broke apart.

As he spun his head around, looking for something to wear, it occurred to him that he might be under observation. He could not remember the night before, assuming it was morning -- Why did people do that, anyway, assume that when they woke up it was morning? Habit, surely.

Behind him, out of reach, but not by far, were a pair of pants and a shirt. He struggled over to them, groaning at every lurching movement he had to make. Something was out in his back -- not a rare condition for him, but one that he steadfastly tried to avoid. He made it over to the clothes and struggled into them. No underwear. But he’d gone commando before. He’d done a lot of ill-advised stuff before. Obviously. You didn’t end up in a blinding white room with some girl, short any clothing, by watching the news and turning in early.

Dressed, he finally felt confident enough to go wake up the girl. He didn’t remember agreeing to anything like this, and he was sure that if he were asleep in a place like this, he’d want the only other person in the room to wake him up before they go-go. Maybe when there was only one left, the probes came out.

Shuddering, he crossed the room. It was a little easier now. Maybe the vertebra hadn’t slipped and it was just stiffness. He wasn’t young anymore, though he’d fight the label of "old" for a couple more years. He bent over and touched the girl on the shoulder. Nothing. He shook her. Nothing again. They really had done a number on her. He rolled her over to face him, and froze. Her eyes were wide open.

Dead. She’s dead.

There was no other way she could be lying like this, right? He racked his brain, but nothing came to mind. Not anything he’d googled or wikipedia’d. There was nothing like that.


Was it a door slamming? Or was it the large clack of power being cut? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. He couldn’t remember signing up for anything like this. He hadn’t signed up for it. Simple as that. If someone were coming, slamming doors, or worse, shutting off the lights as they approached, it was time to get the fuck out of here.

But not by himself.

Bending over, he grabbed the girl. Despite the sharp pain in his back, she was not heavy. In fact, she might be a child. He hadn’t paid much attention to anything other than the fact she was dead, but the more he thought about it, maybe twelve, maybe thirteen.


He hunted for something that looked like a door. Frantic minutes. He eventually had set down the girl and run his hands over the walls, trying to find something different. Finally, he found it. A slightly raised panel in the wall. He should have seen it before, it was just the


panic in him that had kept him from seeing it. He tried prying at it with his fingers, but they were too thick to do the job. So he looked around the room for something. He started in his pockets. Then he gingerly searched the girl. Nothing. Finally, he scoured the floor, and found a slender metal strip that would have been lying under the girl. He grabbed it, and as he ran toward the door, two more slams echoed through the ... what? The room? The building? All he knew was he had to get out of this room. He shoved the piece of metal into the crease of the door and pried. The door opened inward. Sighing in relief, he turned back to grab the girl and left the room, her inert body draped over his shoulder like a sack.



I have nothing to give.

I have nothing to give you.

I have nothing to give you but my love.

I have nothing to give you but my love and devotion.

I have nothing to give you but my love, devotion, and my attention.

I have nothing to give you but my love, devotion, attention, and time.

I have nothing to give you but love, devotion, attention, time, and my heart so true.

I have nothing to give you but love, devotion, attention, time, my heart so true, and my future.

I have nothing to give you but love, devotion, attention, time, my heart so true, my future, and the fruits of my labour.

I give you my love, my devotion, my attention, my time, my heart so true, my future, and all the fruits of my labour.

I have nothing left to give.

Whattya mean, what have I done for you lately?

Real Writers

Have you ever wanted something so bad, like SO BAD, but you just couldn't figure out how to get started? I mean, like if they just had a tutorial or something, but even that's not working, and you just want into the club so hard? I've been there.

Barrier to Entry

I wanted to make simple little games for the longest time. I wanted to be able to sit at a code editor and type code, then run it and have a game there. I was never interested in the visual game makers like RPG Maker or Sphere or any of those. I mean, they were neat, but I wanted it to be like the olden days, just me and lines and lines of code ending in a spectacular graphical extravaganza. But I couldn't figure it out. I couldn't get past my own insecurities and I spent years wishing I could make games that way but never really did much to figure it out beyond trying tutorials online that I couldn't make work.

I will say that thanks to Robb, I got over that hurdle and worked on the spectacular remake of Astrosmash with James. I sat at a code editor and created a game. Granted, it was a lot of work, but I was happy to do that work.

I know I'm not stupid, and I know I have programming skills, but there was just a barrier to entry, a hurdle in my own mind that I couldn't surmount.

I've wanted to be a writer for as long as I've wanted to make video games. Maybe longer. For a long time, I wanted to make writing my career. I had ideas -- good ones, though they may have just been reimaginings of The Wheel of Time and The Maltese Falcon -- and I wanted to get them out there and get my name out there as a serious writer. But I didn't know how to do that.

Casual Brilliance as Motivation Murder

The problem with looking at published books as a way to write books is a thorny one, in my opinion. You see something that someone has slaved over, spent years improving their craft to be able to create, and you look at sentences like, "The man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed."

It's a simple sentence, and it has words that anyone could understand, that practically everyone has used, and it's completely confounding that someone could rearrange those words to convey something so meaningful and lasting.

Even worse is when you read a book like Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk, and it's filled to the brim with brilliance: time travel, a smart story, and lines that just seem to leap off the page. These are problematic stories to read as a writer because you get something like that and then you write something like, "It was too much to hope that the man behind Korta had kept his knife in its sheath." and you think, 'Hey, that's good.' But then you realize that you spent ten minutes thinking of that one sentence, and there are something like 3000 more sentences like that in order to finish NaNoWriMo and you sure as hell don't have 30000 minutes to make word count for November because you've still got work, and there are kids to put to bed, and don't forget that staying married is kind of important. So you push on, using sentences that get written, but don't sparkle the same as that first line. Then you get, maybe, 500 or 600 sentences down, and you realize that you forgot the point of the story, or maybe you decide you want a different kind of story out of this. What then? Well, you could continue to work on this story, which isn't nearly as sparkling as the first sentence, let alone how it shone when it was just a thing in your brain. Or you could abandon this one, like you had so many others, but you were really liking a couple of the characters, so maybe you could just throw this bit into a different kind of story? But that's stupid, so you abandon the whole stupid thing because every successive sentence you write gets further and further away from the quality of that first one and Neil Gaiman is so brilliant and he probably got Fortunately, the Milk in one shot -- just scribbled the whole thing down in one go -- and I can't even decide what I want my story to be and why can't I just be a real writer?


I mean, feel free to argue with me all you want, but that's been my struggle in my quest to be a "real" writer. The stuff that comes out in stores is so much better than I could ever aspire to. Even the stuff that gets universally scoffed at, that's got a quality to it that I don't have. How couldn't it? Not only has it been completed, but it's also been published. There must be some secret.

Nothing Casual about Casual Brilliance

But there isn't a secret. The more time I spend scribbling words for my magic-book-revenge-story, I approach the conclusion that it's exactly this: writing is hard. Those breezy sentences that you read on the page, all that effortless art that Patrick Rothfuss rolls up into the Kingkiller Chronicles, yeah, there's a reason the third book has been five years in the making.

I've come to understand that the more effortless the story seems, the harder the writer had to work to make it that way.

As a person who's trying to become a writer, when you don't see the sweat that goes into revision, editing, and planning on another's story, you get to think that it must just be that you're not any good, or you are missing some vital attribute that other writers have.

And there's a certain truth to that. Published writers, whether they acknowledge it or not, have been through a lot to get where they are, and they've learned skills, which you have not yet learned. They've spent countless hours at the computer, at the notepad, and at the typewriter or tape recorder, working their asses off to hone skills that probably don't get enough press.

How To Be a Writer

[Disclaimer -- I am not a professional writer. It has, off and on, been an aspiration of mine to make a living writing stories, but the idea of doing it as my sole occupation right now is not anywhere near realistic. That said, I have paid attention to the things that other people, people who are smarter than me, and people who make their living as writers, have said, and these are the skills I think that people who are regularly published have learned. --L]

1 Write

I mean obvos, right? If you don't write, you're not a writer. Period. I nibble at the edges and there are months that go by without me writing anything. If I don't write, I'm not a writer. So I try to do better. Some people say to write everyday. And that's a good idea. Not always entirely doable, but a good idea. Definitely, it's easier to get on a roll and stay on it if you're writing every day.

2 Revise, edit, and rewrite

This is probably the second-hardest for me. I would love a good resource for how to properly edit stories. I suck at it. But I have permission from the man upstairs to suck, so there it is.

3 Accept criticism

I'm not saying that you should roll over and fix problems you don't think are there. I'm also not saying that you should meekly accept ad hominem attacks on yourself as valid criticism. I mean you should learn to separate the criticism that is going to make your story better from the shit that's going to kill your motivation or make you feel worse about yourself. I know there are resources out there on what kind of critiques you should accept from beta readers and critique circles. Those would be good resources for you too, if you're going to be beta-reading or critique-circling others' stories.

4 Critical reading

This one is my weakest point, I'd say. Which is saying a lot, considering what I've said about Writing and Editing. But what they say you need to do is be able to break down a story to its component parts and analyze what works for you and what doesn't. Basically learn to steal thematically and structurally, so you can make the story you're writing work for you. Also, if you read something that doesn't work, you learn what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes. My problem is that I get caught up in a story and two hours pass, and I know what's happening in the story, but I don't know how the author did it.

5 Writing

I know. Stupid Liam. It's there twice. But it's important. It's the most important. As my friend Rob Vogt says, you have to sharpen the saw. Write lots of stuff. You don't have to write a novel. You can write blog posts. They get you creating sentences out of words and help with your organizing-brain. This one's been a good one for me. I wrote myself into a corner, so I outlined what I wanted to say, and it's actually mostly coherent now. You can write poems. You can write short stories. You can write diary entries that nobody will ever read. You can look up writing prompts or writing exercises online, and you'll have more stuff than you can fit into a year right at your fingertips. There's lots of writing books that have exercises too.

But anyway, just write.

Motivation and Self-Worth and the Value of External Validation

A little while ago, Neil Gaiman posted on Twitter, "...If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion."

This raised a twit-storm and hurt a lot of people's feelings. I was unaffected, but I could see why people were upset about it. Needing to go to Clarion sounds like a barrier to entry, which is something that people could use as a demotivator and a reason to listen to the inner monologue of "I'm not a real writer." Real writers who have been published for years and years could take it as a slam. People who do not have the means to go to the Clarion workshop could see it as an example of a rich white guy exerting his rich white guy privilege and lording it over other people. And they did. Gaiman brushed the commentary aside with his usual charm, and explained that it was mild hyperbole. Considering in the next breath he mentioned that he'd never been there as a student, alongside all the stuff he's written about writing that he actually meant, this was the right reaction. Anyway, for most people, the pitchforks have been put away and life, such as it is on Twitter, continues. But it made me think.

How much self-worth and motivation do I get from external validation? How much would someone saying "If you don't [insert some criterion that I don't possess here], you're not a real writer," impact my ability to continue writing? Especially if it was something I couldn't do, and it was a writer I really respected, like Neil himself?

I have given this a lot of thought and the answer I came up with was, "Not a whole lot." I know I'm not a great writer. Probably, if I don't keep working at it, from more than just a "piling up pages and pages of rough draft" standpoint, I won't ever be. But I'm not going to let someone else put roadblocks in front of me when I put enough there myself, and when I have a good idea of what it would take to be a "real" writer.


Write. Read. Get better. Don't let anyone tell you you're not a writer if you're writing. I guess that's the tl;dr of this entire thing.

Switch to our mobile site