Being Human

13 Feb

No talent there . . . or is there?

“Mom, how come Uncle Mike drinks so much?”

She looked at me for the longest time, probably deciding on how much a twelve-year old needed to know.  Skeletons, it seems, are usually retrieved from the closet one bone at a time.

“It’s because of the war, Bill.  Uncle Mike drinks too much because of the things he saw in World War 2.”

The initials PTSD were not spoken back in 1960.  Words like “shell-shocked” were more common, an ineffectual way to describe someone who has seen more than he was prepared to see . . . more than any human should ever see.

Uncle Mike eventually sobered up and lived the last twenty years of his life sober, the father of fifteen kids, a new car salesman in Torrance, California.  He had a great sense of humor, Uncle Mike did, and he was a gentle soul . . . I remember that clearly . . . and I also remember that years and years after that war ended, on occasion, Uncle Mike would hear a car backfire, or hear the loud clang of a garbage can lid, and he would get this blank look on his face, and just like that he was back in the countryside of France in full gear, wondering when a bullet with his name on it would finally relieve him of his fear.

I mention all this because I find human beings fascinating, each and every one of them, complex beings with the capacity to amaze, and as a writer I would be ignoring one of the great resources we all have at our disposal every day . . . our fellow travelers on this planet.

I think about Uncle Mike from time to time.  I wonder how many people asked that same question about me:  “Mom, how come Bill drinks so much?”  And the answer, really, is as complex and as simple as this:  Because I am, because we all are, human!

Have a great week of writing!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Advertisements

Construction, Baseball, and The Point

6 Feb

I learned what few carpentry skills I have by observation.

I literally stopped by a construction site (several as a matter of fact) and watched as a house was built from the ground up.

Foundation . . . framing . . . electrical and plumbing . . . walls and roof . . . finish work . . . finished product.

That’s how it’s done in construction.  You don’t begin with the finish work.   You don’t put a roof on without framing.  You don’t frame without a strong foundation.  You follow the order as it is listed above, and when you are done you have a solid building which will stand for years.

And that, too, is how it is done in the Arts!

A story with a similar message . . .

When I was about ten, I saw an advertisement for a Willie Mays baseball glove.  It was made of the finest leather, great product I’m sure, and the ad promised that you could play like Willie Mays with that glove.  So I waited for my dad to come home from work, and I told him I absolutely had to have a Willie Mays glove because it was going to make me a great baseball player.

No, Dad said, it’s not the glove that makes a great baseball player . . . it’s the player’s dedication and hard-work, plus some God-given talent.  The glove has nothing at all to do with it, he said.  Learn to play the game properly, practice hard, and then keep practicing.  If you do that, he said, it won’t make any difference what glove you have on your hand.  He told me when he was a kid, some pro ballplayers were barnstorming through the Midwest during the Great Depression, and several of them didn’t even have gloves, and they fielded balls like the pros they were.

Here’s the point . . .

Well, I have faith that you are smart enough to figure out the point.

Right?

Anyone remember an animated short movie by Harry Nielsen called “The Point” from mid-Eighties?

Anyway, have a great week!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Making Necessary Choices

30 Jan

The rain continues to fall.

Like a cow pissing on a flat rock.

Lovely image that, don’t you think?

You can thank my grandfather for that one.

I love similes.  They are like a secret lover on a lonely night.

I just did another one.  Isn’t this fun?

That was all very random.  Now on to the regularly scheduled program.

I dropped two customers last week from my freelance writing business.  One was consistently slow in paying. The other wanted me to set up a newsletter app for her, learn how to work that app, and then write the newsletter for her.  I explained I’m a writer, not a downloader, and I thanked her for her business.

It’s all about making choices when you are in business for yourself.  I don’t want the hassle of chasing down money owed to me, and I don’t want the headaches associated with learning new applications.  So I eliminated them both from my life.

Pretty simple, really!

I was talking to another gentleman last week about my rates.  He thought my rates were too high. I told him to have a good life.  My time is worth more than he believes it is, so our business relationship lasted all of five minutes.

Pretty simple, really!

Someone else wanted me to read ten of his articles and give him feedback/advice.  I told him no. I’m too busy to do that for free.  He was offended.  Too bad!  Good friends I will probably do that for; people who only know me as a name on the internet no, not a chance.

Pretty simple,really!

I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I thought I would share.

Have a great week!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Writing and Carpentry

23 Jan

I knew nothing about carpentry when I attempted to build my first shed.

It looked like it.

I’ve improved dramatically over the years.

One thing I’ve learned is to make it easy on myself.  Lumber comes in standard lengths.  2x4s come in 8, 10, 12, 14 lengths….and longer….the point being, almost all 2x4s used in building a house or a shed are either eight feet or ten feet in length.  Carpenters plan on this fact . . . the 2x4s are cheaper and they are standard length, meaning no cutting is necessary, and since time is money they are cheaper in that respect as well.

So I now only build structures which utilize those standard lengths. It’s just easier to do so.

The same is true in the construction business.  Ninety-nine out of every one-hundred homes are built using those two standard lengths of 2x4s.  It’s cheaper to do it that way and it is easier.

The one out of one-hundred which does not use standard lengths is considered to be a custom house, and the final sales price on that house is higher and so, too, is the craftsmanship.

There is a lesson about writing in this discussion about carpentry, believe it or not!

If you write novels or articles, do you want your product to be part of that 99 out of 100, or do you want it to be the remaining one which has gone the extra mile of craftsmanship?  Just about anyone with any “game” at all can write a novel.  String 70,000 words together, with some semblance of cohesion, and you have a novel.

But do you have a quality novel?

It’s just something to think about as you go about your writing day.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Hibernation

16 Jan

Hibernation:  to become inactive or dormant.

That’s not terribly accurate in describing my writing journey so far this winter.  I am quite active with customers. I probably have more work than I want to have, truth be told.  But my creative pursuits regarding novels are in hibernation and it is a fascinating process for me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

I started my newest “Shadow” novel, “The Magician’s Shadow,” about two months ago.  I breezed through the first 22,000 words and then called a halt to the proceedings.  I did not call a halt because of a brain freeze, or the so-called writer’s block, but simply because I was at the point where my muse had to decide on the direction of the story.  It’s always like that when I write a novel.  When I start out I have a general outline of the story in my brain, but the specifics and quite often the ending are unknown.

So I call a halt to the proceedings and allow my muse the freedom to do her thing . . . which she is, thank you very much.  I haven’t written a word in that novel for three weeks now, but as I go about my daily activities, little snippets of the story will come to me.  Yesterday a major future scene came to me while I was out walking the dog.  I wasn’t thinking about the book at all, but there it was, delivered to me on a silver platter, with love from my muse.

And so it shall be. When my muse is finished she’ll let me know, and at that point I’ll continue writing the novel.

I always feel my explanation of the writing process should come with a warning label . . .  don’t try this at home . . . because it really is a random process which is impossible to teach to others.

My best words of advice . . . trust in the process!

In the meantime, I’ve finished another coloring book, which will be published soon, and I continue to pick up new customers for my freelance business.  More money is always appreciated!

So there you go! Don’t sweat it.  Let the story come to you.  In the meantime, be productive.

Thus sayeth the old man!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Reciprocation

9 Jan

Reciprocation . . . five syllables . . . a word which has importance for anyone in this writing business . . . hell, for anyone in life.

Let me tell you a story.

We moved into our new home on 18th Street in Tacoma, Washington when I was five years old. My parents were seven years removed from Charles City, Iowa, a small farming town where seemingly everyone knew everyone else.  There wasn’t much privacy in Charles City, but there also wasn’t much isolation either.  If you needed help, help arrived in that town.  Building a shed was a neighborhood occurrence back then . . . it’s just the way things were.

So when my parents moved us into this new neighborhood, my dad did what he was accustomed to doing: he helped neighbors with their chores.  He would shovel walks for Mr. and Mrs. Conrad next door when it snowed.  He would help load trash onto trailers when a neighbor was cleaning out a garage.  It’s just the way my dad was wired.  He didn’t mind doing it.  Mom was the same.  Someone sick?  She was there at their door with a freshly-cooked meal, offering to run to the store if they needed anything.

So after about a year, dad decided to build a cement retaining wall separating our back yard with the empty lot next door.  It was a big undertaking, one which would easily take him a couple months of hard labor after he got home each day from work.

The Saturday arrived when he was going to start this project.  He got his tools together, ran to the hardware store to pick up things he would need, and came home to a group of ten neighbors who were waiting for him. They had come to help. They all had their tools, they were all dressed in work clothes, and a one-man job became an eleven-man job that morning and every evening until the job was completed eight days later.

That’s just the way things were back then.

And that’s what I’ve noticed, for the most part, in the writing community.  Reciprocation . .. friends helping friend . . . friends sharing the work of others . . . friends commenting on articles and blogs . . . reciprocation, only five syllables but a ton of importance.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

 

The Totality of Marketing for Writers

2 Jan

I have a news flash for you:  everything you do is a part of marketing your product.

Including your product!

I don’t care if you write novels, blog for a living, or submit articles to magazines . . . everything you do is a part of your marketing program.

My wife Bev and I play this little game while watching television.  We rate commercials.  It’s nothing too complicated . . . the rating system spectrum is something like “that sucked” to “totally tubular, man!”

There was one commercial that really stood out. I think it was for Volkswagen, and it happened a couple months ago.  Some family took a cross-country road trip with grandpa’s ashes, and it was a series of memories of love ending with them on a cliff side tossing the ashes into the sea . . . and it was powerful, so powerful, in fact, that I have remembered it for quite awhile.

It was powerful and effective because it played to our emotions.  We have all experienced the loss of a loved one.  It was something we could all relate to, and I think that is the point many writers completely ignore . . . their work, their notifications, their blogs, and their marketing materials, all should be something we, the buying public, can relate to and want to experience more of.

Give me a reason to read your blog.  What is there about your blog that is unique?  What does your blog give me that I didn’t have before?

Give me a reason to read your novel. What is there about your novel that hasn’t been done, ad nauseum, a million times before?

Give me a reason to get excited about your product.  I am bombarded by between 4000 and 10,000 ads per day, so why should I pay any attention to your product?

Be brutally honest in answering those questions. The answers you get just might make a difference in your sales one day.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

The Yin and Yang Of Us All

26 Dec

My dad and his parents

My parents were racists.

I don’t know of any way to sugarcoat that fact.

They were, without a doubt, products of their upbringing and the atmosphere in which they lived, but that’s like saying they were only Level Four Racists as opposed to Level Five, the really bad racists.

The weird thing is, I didn’t really notice it until I made it to college.  I was simply unaware of their racism as I blithely frolicked my way through adolescence.  But once in the hallowed halls of higher education, this being in the late 60’s, it became painfully obvious, all too quickly, that my parents were lilly-white to the bone, lower-income Irish mutts who looked down upon anyone else of “color.”

It seems odd to say this, but that’s just the way things were back then.

I’ve written often of the admiration I had for my father.  He was the most influential person in my life, and much of who I am today is because of who he was and how he raised me . . . much of who I am, but not all of who I am, and it is essential to realize that fact.

It’s complicated!

We are complicated!

And I always try to remember that fact when I’m writing and creating characters.

People are complicated!

We are not one-dimensional creatures.  There is some good in all of us.  There is some bad in all of us.  The Yin and Yang of the human spectrum, in each of us, a constant struggle, which will win the final battle, no holds barred, may the best quality win.

It would be easy for me to condemn my parents for their racism, but if I do that I’d better be prepared to take a long look in the mirror at myself.

I also try to remember that when I’m writing and creating characters.

We humans have depth.

A good writer understands that.

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Connecting

19 Dec

Really connecting

I received an email from a woman in England the other day.  She had reached out to me several months ago about her daughter, an alcoholic, but I hadn’t heard from her since that initial discussion.  Originally she just wanted to “converse” with someone who understood addiction. I don’t think she was looking for any answers.  She just needed to be heard by someone who understood what she was feeling.

Anyway, I heard from her again.  Her daughter died.  She needed to tell me, and she also wanted to thank me for the comfort I had given her, in that initial email, and in my articles about alcoholism.

I am humbled!

What we do, as writers, matters.

Never doubt that fact.

And what we do as human beings matters.

Never doubt that fact.

It is so easy to lose sight of that point.  We lock ourselves away in a spare bedroom, office, or writing studio, and we pour out the words, one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand and more, day after day, week after week, in some cases reclusive by choice, no other human contact, and then we publish and we start all over again . . . but our words, published, go out there to the seven billion, and for some our words mean a great deal, a human contact, an understanding, a touch of empathy when most needed . . .

Really connecting

And that is, in my opinion, a miracle!

I now have a friend for life, that mother in England, suffering from a terrible loss, all because my words reached her at exactly the moment she needed them . . . one person touching another . . .

A miracle!

Do not mistake . . . this is not about me or how great I am or any of that other nonsense.  This is about the importance of caring, and the importance our words can have.  Two human beings making meaningful contact and connection . . .

Tears

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

Making It Through The Holidays

5 Dec

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray . . . “

Well our leaves are gone, not brown, and the sky is definitely gray, and most likely will be until April.

Sigh!

Holidays are tough for me.  They have been since my teen years.  I suspect I’m not alone in that statement.  I don’t know what the classic dysfunctional family looks like exactly, but I suspect quite a few of us can give particulars which add up to the whole, and I’m sure my dis-ease during the holidays traces back to family.

To overcome this malaise and semi-depression, in the past, I’ve consumed copious amounts of alcohol. That is no longer an option for me, not for the past eleven years, so to compensate I either get real grumpy or I attempt to act like nothing at all is wrong, everything is wonderful, and by God we are going to have the greatest Christmas ever, with presents and decorations and forced gaiety.

It has only been in the past couple years that I’ve come to realize it’s okay to be depressed and out-of-sorts.  I don’t have to act like I’m enjoying Christmas if I don’t want to.  It’s not my responsibility to make sure everyone else around me is happy.  I can just be me.  I can own my feelings, deal with them the best I can, and keep marking off the days on the calendar until normalcy returns. And thank the gods I have a partner like Bev who allows that and totally understands that.

And I always have writing!

For me, writing is therapeutic.  Writing allows me to escape.  Writing gives me a release of the frustrations and sadness and yes, anger.  Writing is now my drug of choice and I will forever be grateful for it.

So this year I’m not going to kick myself in the butt for not putting lights up outside; I’m not going to feel bad about not buying more gifts for people;  and I’m not going to fake laughter or feign joy if it’s missing.

I’m just going to be me . . .

And write!

Happy Holidays to you all!

Bill

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”