A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder

message-in-a-bottle-633134

I have no doubt that my story will end in very much the same manner as it began, with a secret. And as I stand at the crossroads, caught at the precise moment where a lifetime of secrets left untold should either be revealed or die forever, I stare at the younger man, eyes full of dreams that have not yet been crushed ‘neath the heel of reality, and find it difficult to believe that I was once him.” — Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys, The Very Fabric of Time Itself

I was riding the Staten Island Ferry today and it was one of those rare occasions when I wasn’t plugged into my iPod. I had just finished listening to an episode of The Afternoon Drama (a daily BBC radio play series) and as I was letting the weight of the story settle in, I overheard a conversation between a couple. They were talking about the five messages they would include in a letter if they were able to have it delivered to their younger selves.

This, of course, got me thinking about my own letter and how difficult a process it would be to write. The younger me, we’ll call him Li’l Madd for the sake of this post, was a card-carrying member of The Bronx Chapter of the International Skeptics Society who wouldn’t have believed

  1. the letter came from the future, and more importantly,
  2. that his future self had written it.

Also, I’m sure if I flat out told him of the obstacles he would face, that information would be redacted by some faceless wage slave at the Temporal Post Office, so the message would have to be as succinct as possible. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t in love with the notion of sending five messages because that seemed a bit much to me. No one follows all five pieces of advice they receive. Humans just aren’t built that way. I’d either have to settle on offering Li’l Madd three pieces of advice, hoping that at least one of them stuck, or offer one simple, yet key, bit of advice with a unifying thread. Most likely I’d go with the second option.

The next problem is offering the exact piece of advice Li’l Madd would listen to. That’s a toughie, that one. Yup. Yessiree, Bob. Sigh. I guess it would all have to fall under the category of Try Harder, as in:

Love fiercely and try harder not to break hearts. Befriend the friendless and try harder not to burn bridges. Laugh more and try harder not to take life too seriously. Follow your bliss and try harder to stave off the darkness. Turn off the TV and try harder to think deeply. Take your time but try harder to avoid procrastination. Dream bigger and try harder to stop worrying about dreams not coming true. And stay away from Jane Hester. Sure, she’s pretty to look at but she’s nothing but trouble and It. Will. Not. End. Well.

I’m sure that last bit will get redacted, but here’s hoping!

Author’s Note: While Jane Hester most certainly exists, Jane Hester’s name is not Jane Hester. I wouldn’t out anyone like that, not even Jane Hester. But if you ran into Jane Hester in the real world, you’d know exactly who she was, without even checking her scalp for the Mark of the Beast.

Advertisements

Passage Through the Graveyard of Earthworms

dead-worms

My monotony needed twisting yesterday, so I went for a stroll, sans iPod. You know, breathe in a bit of city fresh air, clear some cobwebs, that sort of deal.

There I was walking down the street, mind-sifting through character conversations and scene settings when I looked down at the pavement and realized that I was traipsing through what looked like the aftermath of the Great Worm War of 2017. The sidewalk was a battlefield littered with the corpses of thousands of earthworms that coated an entire city block.

Logically I knew how this could have happened. I knew they came to the surface either during the heavy rains–but it’s been dry weather for the past week–or to pair off and mate only to get caught on things that are hard for them to crawl across, like sidewalks and subsequently fry on the surface from sun rays–but that normally occurs during spring.

So, what then? Had there actually been a battle? Warring clans pitched against one another over territorial disputes? Factions in conflict over the claiming of a throne? Families locked in a deadly dispute over an unholy union?

Or was it a warning?

As I stood there, staring at their dried remains, curled into runic shapes, I wondered if they had been somehow gifted with a vision of the approaching apocalypse and had sacrificed themselves in an effort to warn us in the only language they knew. The last Germanic language spoken to them by man before the two species went their separate ways.

In that moment I felt like Indiana Jones in the passageway to the Grail chamber, trying to decipher the worm cadavers’ possible portents of doom, only without the aid of a diary or Sean Connery whispering something about, “Only the penitent man will pass.” or like John Nash without an ounce of the mental code breaking ability.

And I stood there. Longer than I’m comfortable admitting. Frustrated by the limits of my linguistics. Finally, I forced myself to move on, but not before making a promise:

No more outdoor strolls without my iPod.

Rise of the Fallen 722nd

space-teriyaki048_900

Outside of the odd hashtag game on Twitter (including #SlapDashSat, the one hosted by yours truly) I usually don’t actively participate in writing prompts. Not that I have a snobbish attitude toward them, anything that gets the creative juices flowing and entices you to write is okay in my book, I’ve simply never encountered a suggested prompt sentence, paragraph or picture that inspired me. Until I stumbled upon the Noriyoshi Orai gem shown above.

Blindsided by an idea, I began scribbling notes of a futuristic war set in the past with the intention of re-imaging it as a zugzwang story using a fairy tale twist. Why a fairy tale? Because the old ones are replete with heavy messages, drenched in misfortunes of the world, and yet faith, perseverance, and sometimes sheer luck, can turn the tide in overcoming life’s trials. I wanted to present it as an old story, told in archaic language, laced with a subtle message still relevant to the modern world.

If you ever want to hear your muse laugh, tell her your lofty goals for a story before you’ve written it.

“Rise of the Fallen 722nd” began life as a story examining patriotism, loyalty, and the enduring human spirit in the face of the ultimate no-win scenario. The outline wasn’t difficult to put on paper. The story itself? That’s a different matter altogether. It went through the draft mill four times, each revision drastically different from the one before. Only one patch of dialogue survived from the original piece.

Futuristic war? Check. Set in the past? Check. Zugzwang? Double check. Fairy tale twist? Not so much. The fairy tale elements weakened the integrity of the overall structure and sadly had to be put down like Old Yeller. Still, it’s been fun (and frustrating) to write. And I’m not done with it. They say fifth time’s the charm, right?

Wish me luck.

©2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

The Island of Misfit Posts #2: No Enemy But Time

Like its predecessor, Discouraged by Discouragement, this pesky fella here is another one of those posts that didn’t quite turn out as expected and ended up on the cutting room floor (though a part of its sentiment made its way into You’re Where You Are). Caught somewhere between my musings of growing older while still struggling with the craft and my intent of advising impatient writers to slow down, the post started taking the shape of something neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring:

“Do you think, I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable!” — Julius Caesar

When you reach a certain age, you become acutely aware of time, how much you’ve squandered on things you swore were important at the moment, and how little you still have left in your account. Whenever I get the time brain bug, I’m always brought back to the line from Delmore Schwartz’s poem, Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day (quoted in that horrendous film Star Trek: Generations), “Time is the fire in which we burn.” I love that line. It resonates within me.

But I digress.

Many aspiring authors feel the pressures of time, either believing because of their age that they’ve gotten a late start in the writing process and need to play catch up, or simply haven’t got the proper time to devote to a writing regime, so they attempt to bang out herculean writing tasks without bothering to first learn the rules. They assume because they’ve taken on board the advice to write everyday that their skill set automatically improves and mistakes auto-correct themselves. They read, as instructed, but fail to apply storytelling rules–plotting, story goals, scenes and sequences, the purpose of characters, effective use of dialogue–to their own work.

That’s not to say their writing is bad, it simply lacks a consistent quality. A beautiful bit of prose or a dynamic character can easily get lost in the quagmire of weak grammar, poor pacing, and a meandering plot. Recognizing it can sometimes be hard to turn an objective eye on your own writing, here are a few questions to ask yourself, to see if you need to go back to writers boot camp:

1. Do you tell a story?

I assume you’re familiar with the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This applies to your writing as well, especially when you’re concentrating on your piece at the word choice and sentence structure level. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and get a big picture view of what you’re attempting to do, what it is you’re really trying to write about. The answer isn’t always as clear cut as you’d imagine.

2. Is your writing concise?

This one’s a toughie, because it calls on you to chuck out everything you learned in school about the proper way to write an essay. Well, this ain’t about writing essays, bub (or bubette, no gender discrimination here) and the rules of pacing language are different in fiction. The first rule you need to learn is: Never use a long sentence when a short one does the same job.

3. Are you addicted to adjectives and adverbs?

Adjectives and adverbs are among the more hotly debated issues in the writing community, and while opinions vary, the common rule of thumb is less is more. It can be hard to spot over usage while writing so when you’re done with your piece, look for chains–a string of adjective and adverb two or greater–and whittle it down until you’re left with one or two essential ones. Also worth bearing in mind, when you feel the need to modify a noun or a verb, make sure they need to be modified. If they do, select the best word to convey your meaning.

4. Are you familiar with the word “subtle?”

Your audience is smarter than you realize. There’s no need for you to spell everything out in exacting detail. And, believe it or not, some folks actually enjoy interpreting things for themselves.

5. Should you be shifting viewpoints?

Hopping from one character’s head to another without causing audience confusion requires a certain level of skill, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be doing it (and if I told you not to, you’d rush out and do it anyway) but why not baby step your way towards it? Work on mastering the one character viewpoint first.

6. Do you show too much?

Yes, the standard rule is “show, don’t tell” but you don’t need to show everything. When in doubt, refer to Elmore Leonard’s rule,”Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

7. Do you create apathetic characters?

You’re an artist, your work is all about the truth, even in fiction. I get it. I’ve been there. But creating a realistic character based on your current bout of apathy, depression, or (heaven forbid) suicidal thoughts, often doesn’t make for good reading. Your characters must have wants and needs to push the plot forward. Audiences have no need to read stories where the characters have no desire to live or accomplish something.

8. Is your antagonist one dimensional?

Villains that are evil for evil’s sake are boring. Flesh them out with wants and needs like you would your main character. And remember, every villain is a hero in their own mind.

9. Does your dialogue matter?

Yes, leaving white on the page is a good thing as no one like slogging through dense blocks of description, but are you breaking up paragraphs with bits of meaningless chatter? Dialogue should be used as a communication between characters that evokes reaction. One characters says something that another character reacts to, which sparks a reaction, and so on, until the scene concludes. If you have no idea what your character has to say, then you don’t know your character well enough.

10. Can you write an ending?

Some people excel at writing beginnings, and that all they’re good at. Each chapter is a new beginning, with no middle to be found and as for an ending? I’m sure you can work out the answer to that. Other people get off to a slow start in the beginning, come into their own in the middle and peter out at the finish line. Let’s face it, endings are tough. Not only must you keep it clear and simple while you deliver on the promise of the premise (without being didactic), but you have to tie up all your story’s loose ends, and if you’re planning to surprise your audience, it shouldn’t be with an inappropriate twist, added for shock value. Keep in mind that writing the words “The End” doesn’t finish a story if it has no resolution.

In truth, I couldn’t finish it because I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind at the time. Although it might not be visible in the post, that damned time brain bug kept nagging at me, not with words, but with a feeling – the feeling of being left behind in the race for achievement. Before you say a word, I know better. In fact, one of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from the now famous commencement speech, Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

“The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

But we’re human, aren’t we? And sometimes knowing a truth doesn’t prevent you from feeling the exact opposite.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

We Live and Breathe the Power of Words

I watched the trailer for the documentary “Salinger” on YouTube without meaning to. It was one of those ad-thingies that pop up before the content you actually want to watch. Normally I click SKIP AD, but this time I’m glad I didn’t. The doc professes to be “An unprecedented look inside the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye.” and while I’m not the hugest fan of documentaries (a good deal of them are padded waaay too much to meet feature length requirements, in my opinion) I’ll probably give this one a go when it hits a theater near me.

But I digress…

The reason I brought this trailer up was because it spoke to me on the power words have to manipulate our emotions, provide the motivation to become better people and do great things, and sadly, sometimes to take us by the hand and lead us down darker paths.

You can never truly predict how someone will interpret your work, as words offer unique triggers in each of your readers’ minds. Ideas, concepts, situations, memories, actions, circumstances, feelings and thoughts vary as they flow from the subconscious mind to the corresponding emotional responses of the subject at hand.

I’d like to take a moment of your precious time and acknowledge the labors of wordsmiths by having them share their opinions on the power written words have over us all:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” ― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“We live and breathe words. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone. They could be honest with me, and I with them. Reading your words, what you wrote, how you were lonely sometimes and afraid, but always brave; the way you saw the world, its colors and textures and sounds, I felt–I felt the way you thought, hoped, felt, dreamt. I felt I was dreaming and thinking and feeling with you. I dreamed what you dreamed, wanted what you wanted–and then I realized that truly I just wanted you.” ― Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Prince

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.” ― Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” ― Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” ― Emily Dickinson, Selected Letters

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Wilson Watts

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” ― Philip K. Dick, VALIS

“Words… They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” ― Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing: A Play

“It doesn’t matter if you and everyone else in the room are thinking it. You don’t say the words. Words are weapons. They blast big bloody holes in the world. And words are bricks. Say something out loud and it starts turning solid. Say it loud enough and it becomes a wall you can’t get through.” ― Richard Kadrey, Kill the Dead

“To see evil and call it good, mocks God. Worse, it makes goodness meaningless. A word without meaning is an abomination, for when the word passes beyond understanding the very thing the word stands for passes out of the world and cannot be recalled.” ― Stephen R. Lawhead, Arthur

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Island of Misfit Posts #1: Discouraged by Discouragement

When I sit down to write these posts, I never know what they’ll be about beforehand. It’s a first-thought-that-hits-me-stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Sometimes they’re on point, other times they meander a bit, but as stated in the About This Blog section, the posts are less about me attempting to appear clever or knowledgeable (what are the odds, really?), and more about getting myself into a proper writing frame of mind with a warm up exercise. Mental calisthenics, if you will.

As you might imagine, it doesn’t always go to plan. Case in point: the post below. Inspired in part by Susannah Breslin’s Forbes article, Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer, and Martin Levin’s, You Suck And So Does Your Writing–which is more about petty squabbles between notable literary figures (how I would have combined the two ideas is anyone’s guess)–it was meant to be a discouragement piece, you know, separating the wheat from the chaff, and all that, that started out like this:

Of All the Things You Could Do With Your Life, Why On Earth Would You Purposely Choose To Be A Writer?

Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question, but one you should be prepared to ask yourself and answer before undertaking writing in any fashion as a serious profession. Among the more common reasons I’ve come across in my travels are:

1. No commuting and every day is Pajama Friday!

I can’t fault your logic here because commuting is generally a nightmare and what’s better than tooling around your house in a onesie all day long like an agoraphobic superhero? Sadly, it isn’t a good enough reason to want to be a writer, especially since there other telecommuting positions that offer more stability and better chances at becoming a career.

2. What better way is there to make a ton of dough and roll around in my piles of cash?

Well, you could try your hand at playing the lottery or betting the ponies, for starters. Rich writers are the exception to the rule. The majority of people who claim writing as a profession, work their mental fingers to the bone, producing material for years before they even get a glimpse at recognition, let alone a healthy paycheck. Instead of rolling in piles of cash, you’ll most likely be rolling up your coins, praying your landlord accepts pennies for rent.

3. Nothing better than being my own boss with flexible hours!

Flexible hours? Been writing long? Writing is a huge commitment that commandeers your entire life with absolutely no guarantee of any sort of financial gain. As stated earlier, there are other work-from-home opportunities that are far more secure and come equipped with a steady payday. And being your own boss isn’t the sipping Mai Tais under a beach umbrella fantasy you imagine it to be. First off, there’s no one to delegate all the donkey work to, and your brain doesn’t simply punch out when the working day has ended. Writing–and the guilt of not writing–never leaves you in peace until the article/book/screenplay/project has been completed.

4. It would be amazing to see my best-selling book in a bookstore/my script turned into a blockbuster feature film/win the Pulitzer Prize for my groundbreaking article series.

Who wouldn’t want any of those things? While we’re daydreaming, I’d also like to be an astronaut so that I can save the planet from extraterrestrial threats, be the smartest man in any room I’m in so that I can solve all the world’s problems and become Earth President, and build a safe-box time machine–that protects me from any sort of injury–equipped with a high end movie camera in order to jump back and forth in time to make the ultimate series of historical documentaries.

Now that my feet have touched terra firma and I’m once again grounded in reality, I can tell you that while it’s great to dream big, fame is one of the worst reasons to choose writing as a profession.

But the post wasn’t really working for me because I could feel myself getting snarkier as the piece went on, which wasn’t my intent going in. So, I decided to step off my soapbox and kill the post. And there it sat in my trash for days, forgotten like Charlie-In-The-Box, Dolly, Spotted Elephant, and King Moonracer. But it miraculously survived deletion during my numerous trash emptying sessions. This had to be a sign. What sign, I hadn’t the faintest, but I decided to attempt recycling it into a less judgmental, more positive message:

Writers are born critics who will criticize any and everything that crosses their paths, especially fellow writers. They will issue their assessments and commentary with the righteousness of having had their opinions validated by the Mount Horeb burning bush. These are the writers who cut open veins and bleed for the love of the craft, whose skulls ring with haunting voices that cannot be silenced until exorcized onto the page, who believe in their heart of hearts that the only words that deserve to be written are the truths that need to be told.

I can’t lie, sometimes I feel the same way.

But I’m not as bothered by it anymore because I know first hand that the writing process has it’s own way of weeding out the fly-by-night scribblers, posers and pretenders with the obstacles it scatters on the long and winding path to a completed project. Whether your driving force is money, fame. to impress a person/people, burning need, or love of the artform, you will still experience your fair share of procrastination, anxiety, writers block, time crunches, lack of motivation, fear of rejection, judgment of peers, and impatience of selling a piece.

If you can repeatedly bash your head into these walls, get up, dust yourself off and continue to write, who am I to question your motives? That, my friends, is the best I can do fer ya, today.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

My Mad Fat Brain Bug: A Story Box Full of Regret

The damnedest thing can place a bug in your brain. Rod Serling is the source of one of mine.

It happened while I was deep within my Twilight Zone infatuation phase, in the prehistoric information days before civilian access to the internet, when I devoured every Serling-related book, article or fanzine I could lay my grubby little mitts on. In one of the pieces, I read how Rod’s widow, Carol, found a number of scripts and stories amongst her late husband’s possessions that were unproduced at the time.

And thus the bug found a home in my grey matter.

I pictured Rod in the final moments before he shuffled off this mortal coil, his gaze sliding across the room until it fell on the closet door, eyes filled with that unique brand of sadness only known to writers. Carol would remember that stare and later be drawn to the closet by a mysterious force that urged her to dig out a box buried deep beneath the material remnants of Rod’s life, shed like so much old skin. A box filled with his regrets, the stories that remained untold, that never found a proper home.

You don’t have to say it, I know that’s all rubbish. Simply me fictionally placing myself in the position of a man I never met. If Rod had any regrets at all, I certainly wasn’t privy to them. But that doesn’t make my brain bug any less real.

You see, I have a box–well, it started off as a file folder and grew into a box–filled with stories in various stages of development. Ideas written on scraps of paper, composition notebooks loaded with concepts and outlines, and completed stories that only exist in paper form–written pre-computer on an Underwood typewriter, circa 1950–as I haven’t gotten down to the laborious task of transferring them to my computer.

I don’t discuss my box much and I only brought it up to respond to an email I recently received (copied and answered here with permission):

I want to write a blog but I’m scared of being exposed and having people judge or attack me because of my opinions and I don’t think I have the writing skills to get my point across in the right way. What gives you the courage to write?

Guess what? Self-doubt and anxiety regarding humiliation and criticism is all part of the process and grist for the mill, so welcome to the club. What separates writers from non-writers is that instead of running away from that fear, we invite it in for wine and cheese. Befriend the beast that frightens you most because there’s a story just waiting to be revealed in that encounter.

It’s true that honest writing takes courage, as does sharing your writing with people who may not be kind in their opinion of it, but you also have to realize that it’s not your job to make people like your writing. Some people will flat out hate it because of your views (see: The Opinions Expressed) or your writing style, and because they may not know any better, can possibly hate you because of it. Hopefully, it’ll be the minority. Accept it as an unavoidable truth and move on.

As for the question, “What gives [me] the courage to write?” Everyone has their own reason for writing, and fear of acceptance isn’t high on my list. Sure, it’d be great if the unwashed masses loved my work, but the simple truth is all writing has its audience, whether infinite or infinitesimal, and if you never put your writing out there, there’s no chance in hell of your audience ever finding it.

The real reason I write is because of the aforementioned box. I just don’t want to be lying on my deathbed–hopefully many, many, many years from now–and staring at that damned box full of unwritten stories. I no doubt will have my fair share of regrets in my final days, but I’m determined not to have that box be one of them.

And since we’re on the topic of regrets, I recently read a book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse who cited the most common lamentations as being:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

So, while I can’t offer you reasons why you should write, I can tell you that most of the regrets listed above factor heavily in my need to write.

In closing, someone once wrote, “writing is like getting into a small boat with a wonky paddle and busted compass and setting out on rough waters in search of unknown lands.

Paddle forth and be regret-freely writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Author’s note: Since I’m never at a loss for ideas, I don’t dip into my story box as much as I’d like to, though I occasionally slip one or two of them into or in between current projects. The story idea folder on my computer… that’s a whole different story.

What’s Your Shark?

This is an oldie but a goodie. A blog post I wrote many years ago, about the patterns I have noticed in screenwriters. – See more at: http://www.justeffing.com/2013/06/27/patterns-in-screenwriters/#.Uc3DXPxljGI.twitter
51989793_SHark_224346c
This is an oldie but a goodie. A blog post I wrote many years ago, about finding the thing that challenges you. You’re probably familiar with the story, Sharks and Fish–it’s been doing online rounds since the days when I relied on AOL, my gas-powered PC, hand-cranked monitor and an ultra-fast 14.4k modem to gain access to the interwebz. For those of you who haven’t tripped over it yet:

Sharks and Fish

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the waters close to Japan haven’t held a great deal of fish for decades. So they built bigger fishing boats and traveled farther out to sea but the farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish weren’t fresh and people didn’t like the taste.

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats to allow the vessels to go farther and stay longer. However, people could taste the difference and didn’t care for frozen fish, which brought down the price.

Then the fishing companies installed fish tanks, but once placed in the tanks, after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese public could still taste the difference.

Apparently, because the fish didn’t move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing companies pondered over the dilemma until they stumbled onto the solution:

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, but now they add a small shark to each tank. Sure, the shark eats a few fish, but most of the fish arrive in a very lively state. The fish are challenged.

My personal belief is that writers should be in a constant state of fear when writing. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries. I’ve already discussed tackling that seemingly unconquerable writing task, that ambitious bit of scribbling that you either feel you lack the confidence, skill or proper desire to finish, in an earlier post (see: It Ain’t Impossible Once Somebody Gets It Done).

If it isn’t already, writing needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt narrative feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger themes and alien points of view. To shake hands with new intimidating characters. To paint the world in unique hues of poetry. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to yourself as a writer.

But it isn’t as simple as all that, is it? I mean, we’re not talking about the same brand of fear that adrenaline junkies face when they undertake risky physical activities. A writer’s fear is an abject terror laced with insecurity, inadequacy, doubt, the sinking feeling that we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, and the risk of exposing too much of our core selves.

These are also the things that fuel our excuses.

To be clear, challenging yourself in writing is more than simply writing everyday, especially if you aren’t inspired by what you’re writing, as the end result could wind up being flavorless, tired and dull. Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class in each write and rewrite, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just written something better than you believed yourself capable of.

What’s your shark? Only you can answer that. The one thing I do know is a writer’s fear is the only cycle of fear that is absotively posolutely worth repeating.

Writing for a living – no matter what you write – is a struggle. Whether you’re a freelance copywriter, a contracted novelist, or a self-publishing author, there’s countless distractions between you and your deadlines and professional goals. In order to stay on track to develop your skills, grow your business, and meet your deadlines, you need to challenge yourself to making the most of your time writing.

Challenge yourself to set a timer

The late copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz worked within the confines of a timer set to 33 minutes and 33 seconds. In that time, he would concentrate fully on his writing, giving himself over to the project at hand with a few exceptions detailed in this great Copyblogger article.

  1. He could drink coffee
  2. He could stare out the window, or at the wall
  3. He could sit and do absolutely nothing for 33.33 minutes
  4. He could write the ad
  5. He could not leave the chair for any reason
  6. He could not do anything else

At the end of time, he’d take a break and let his creative juices recharge. The practice not only gave him structure for producing great content, it pushed him to complete projects faster. As your timer ticks down, you ignite a competitive spirit within yourself to finish what you’re doing before the timer goes off.

This is, of course, not necessarily the most novel idea in writing. Sprints and timers have long been the go-to solution for increased productivity. However, settling into a routine and resolving to work this hard every day is difficult for us – especially in the time of constant connectivity and social media. Which brings me to my next point…

Challenge yourself to a routine that you actually stick to

When your impending deadline is your only structure, you’ll find that your routine often flounders until you find yourself furiously working to hit your word count in the days (or hours) before your project is due. If you’re anything like me, you tell yourself during each of these mad-dash midnight struggles, “It’ll be different next time. I’ll use my time more wisely.” And then I don’t. It’s the weight loss New Year’s Resolution of the writing world… and it’s just as impossible to stick to.

But, if you’re going to thrive as a writer, you need to establish a solid routine for your work week. Sit down with the calendar of your choice and realistically address your schedule and routine. Set office hours and put them in your calendar. Take these hours into consideration when you’re making appointments and planning lunch dates. Then, start each week and each day by taking a look at what your goals and deadlines are and assessing how to make them fit within your established routine.

The first few weeks are hard, but – once you’ve settled in – you’ll find that you’re meeting your deadlines with less stress.

Challenge yourself to take time off

When you’re freelancing, it’s easy to never take a day off. Even on your weekends (even if your “weekend” isn’t Saturday and Sunday), you’ll check email or try to get a little writing in, but you need to stop that. Time off is essential to sustain creative output. Setting aside time for your family, yourself, and your friends is an investment in your career as a writer.

Find activities that replenish you and do them. Whether it’s a bottle of wine and a good book, time at the gym, dinner with your family, or a massage, putting value on self-care means that you’ll be ready for the challenges of being a writer.

– See more at: http://style-matters.com/blog/challenge-yourself-to-be-a-better-writer.html#sthash.lWcLoEzR.dpuf

Sally forth fearfully and be writeful.

The Opinions Expressed Do Not Necessarily Reflect blah-blah-blah…

The internet is filled with writers who either write for attention, because they’re bored, to fit in, to crack wise, to ruin people’s day, to shamelessly hawk their wares, to make connections, to share experiences, etc. These are generally people who write because they can. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m not addressing those writers today.

I’d like to take a moment to turn the spotlight on the people who write because they have to. People with voices that won’t be silenced. Those invisible few who write to be seen. To whom candid writing is a necessity in order to make their message more relatable, significant, profound, and enduring.

I have a friend, well, that’s a bit of a stretch—that term is so inappropriately applied these days—more like an online acquaintance that I’m on friendly terms with (at present), whom I admire, even though I don’t always agree with their views or the appropriateness and timing in which they’re injected into a conversation.* But I respect the hell out of the person because they aren’t afraid of not being liked.

Different from finding your voice–I’ll address that in a future post–not being afraid to express an honest, unfavorable opinion for fear of losing fans or raising the ire of the audience is not only an admirable trait but also a fundamental step toward becoming a better writer.

It’s essential to develop the ability to say something important without getting hung up on the word important. There are those who put forward the challenge to only write what’s missing in the world. It’s a nice sentiment but the knowledge of what’s missing from the world is already out there and has probably, with all due respect, been written by someone more intelligent and eloquent than yourself. What’s missing from the world is the people’s willingness to put worldwide love, caring, peace and understanding into action, despite your personal views or belief system. There is obviously nothing wrong with writing about this… just as there’s nothing wrong with writing about what feels important to you.

So, what separates the “because I can” and “because I must” writers? The musters have generally identified and clarified their unique worldview. The keyword in the sentence is unique. Every writer has a worldview, even if they aren’t consciously aware of it, often adopted from one particular media source or a friend or relative. That’s a great starting point, but to be an authentic writer you need to know what you believe. What are your values? What do you stand for? How do you interpret life? Be aware that as you grow, your worldview will shift and your writing will become more candid.

Musters also strive to be clear and accurate in their writing as their goal is to reveal the truth.  They tend to be selective with words because they appreciate the potential words have to create images that make their audience feel something profound and enduring.

In summary, write candidly, speak your mind. Say something important. If someone isn’t going to like you because of your opinion, let them dislike the real you. Better that than currying favor with folks who only like you for who you pretend to be, in my far-from-humble opinion.

But what do I know? I just write a blog.

Sally forth and be writeful.

*If we have an online relationship and you think this post is about you, you’re not vain at all, in fact, you’re probably right. Doesn’t mean I don’t have mad love for ya, kiddo.