Brand New Day – Week 15 – You Don’t Look Back

I was sitting at an old friend’s house. She (let’s call her Claire), like a lot of other friends, moved abroad last year, but she stopped by for the holidays to see family and friends.

So I was glad to get an invite from her; not to be dramatic, but via a bunch of different events, I lost nearly all of my social ties last year. I’m glad that very few of them were seriously bad breaks, but it’s still hard to have your entire social network disappear in the course of a few months. In a way, it’s easier to deal with someone who up and stops calling. Or someone who suddenly decides that they don’t want to hear from you anymore—at least at those times, you can be sure (if it’s true) that they’re the assholes in the situation. Having your best friends all move abroad though? Seeing a lot of them get engaged and move out of the state? Having some move across the country? Or into a new job that demands all of their time? And all at the same time while you try to break ground on an endeavor that requires you to be completely alone nearly all of the time? Somehow, it’s worse. You can text, you can meet them online, but that’s it.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. So, I’m sitting there, and I’m glad to be there. But it’s a surreal experience. Claire’s little sister is there, who had been a little kid the last time I’d seen her. But she was a teen now, complete with Uggs and a smart phone she never put down.

To boot, another of Claire’s friends was there. I introduced myself to her and Claire jumped in with, “Don’t you guys know each other?”

And then I realized we did. We’d met…

Back in 2002? Downstairs, in Claire’s basement, where we and other friends at the time were playing D&D. This friend (let’s call her… Megan?) came over for some reason, and for a reason that I didn’t understand at the time, Claire invited her in to watch us play D&D. Now, adding fuel to the obvious, raging awkwardness of the moment, Megan was (and still is) extremely attractive. So much so that my reaction at the time was to stop talking. No, people, I was not, in any way, a lady’s man. These days, I definitely get by, but I’d still be extremely uncomfortable starting a conversation with a beautiful woman who walks in during a D&D session. I’d like to think most people would be, because, hey, aside from being caught murdering someone, I’m not sure there’s less of a turnoff than being behind a 3.5 Player’s Handbook and a pile of dice when a woman first meets you.

But, hey, whatever, I thought. That was ages ago, and rightly so, because it was.

And that’s just the thing. It was ages ago. Everything is now.

More than any other time in my life, the past few months have been the most extreme hard reset I’ve ever experienced.

  • I’d say 80% of my best friends moved far enough away that I couldn’t just hop on a train and see them.
  • Of the remaining 20%, I’ve only been able to stay in touch with about 15% (that’s the thing about having exes you’re still attracted to as friends [especially at a time when you’re always depressed about being alone and every else has moved on]).
  • I lost my job because Borders went out of business. So not only did I lose all of the acquaintances and social interaction that came with that job, I lost a stable source of income I could’ve used to have new social interactions.
  • And every single chance at romance that I thought I had quietly went away.

So all that’s left me with are the occasional hangouts with the extremely amazing 15% of my close friends who are still left (I can’t thank you guys enough), and… me.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Having this time alone has allowed me to take a serious, honest look at myself and my life—to change things that needed to change and figure out what I wanted from everything. And I’ve done so well enough that when Megan eventually brought up her engagement at Claire’s house, I smiled and congratulated her (perhaps moreso because a younger, shittier version of myself would’ve been jealous about it).

But it’s the only reward in a sea of silence and temperance. I had dinner with Claire, Megan, her mother and sister, and I smiled and listened to them talk about their lives, grateful that there weren’t questions about my own, aware the whole time that I’d be leaving soon to ride a bus back home—a trip I hadn’t made in years. Aware the entire time that everyone else was moving on and I wasn’t. Trying to reap confidence from the thought of the book, how well it was going, how I was still on schedule.

I gave Claire a goodbye huge around 9 PM. She had to get up early to catch a plane back to Florida. I don’t remember the exact farewell I gave her, but I remember walking away.

Away from the memory of the summer job where I’d met Claire. Of parties we’d gone to and experiences we’d shared as buddies with her other friends. Of my other friends, completely unrelated, and the days when I’d always had a set hangout day with them. Of old jobs and old acquaintances who were simply gone now. Of hands I would never hold again and the almost unfamiliar curve of long gone lips.

I didn’t look back. Because you don’t look back at things you know won’t ever return. You just walk on and try your best. Keep on the unfamiliar trail, no matter how difficult it is, and hope that you find something worthwhile at its end.

Brand New Day – Week 13 – Things Unsaid

Last night, I decided to delete a chapter and a new character from the book.

Don’t freak out! Doing this hasn’t set me back at all. To the contrary, getting rid of an entire chapter and a new character who wasn’t exactly helping is incredibly healthy. Particularly for a first time writer who intends to submit to agents with strict guidelines for manuscript length; part of the reason I’m rewriting War of Exiles in the first place is that the original version was over 100 pages too long.

That wasn’t the entire problem though; it was too long and there were so many unnecessary plot points that I didn’t know what to delete and what to leave in. It was like looking at a tower of bricks loosely stacked on a tangle of wooden chairs and being told that you had to pull out half the bricks and chairs without bringing down the tower. In contrast, deleting Chapter 4 when I’m only up to Chapter 7? Getting rid of Ozi entirely? Saving him for a short story? Completely worth it.

In retrospect, the inability to make this kind of cut is what left me with a 461 page, bricks-and-chairs-golem of a first novel. And to me, it’s one of the things that separates an amateur from a writer who really wants to improve—the ability to be your own worst critic. You can sit back and judge everything else until your face turns blue (which most amateur writers do all the time anyway), but until you can do the same thing with your own work, you’re just wasting your own time.

And this is true for every kind and level of writing; after being a college tutor for nigh on seven years, I can tell you that the major flaw of students is a very common inability to pass judgment on their own work or deal with it from others. The amount of times I’ve had students get impatient with me because they didn’t want to acknowledge a grammatical error as a mistake is absolutely uncanny.

But really, nearly everyone is guilty of this crime. No one wants to accept criticism, particularly because half of the writers out there, who all seem like worthy readers, are usually waiting to shit on your work so they can feel better about themselves; I’ve actually had a trusted writer chuckle as he dismissed a short sample—of my outline. I remember sending it to him and thinking, “Do I even need to add ‘it’s an outline and I’m sending it to you because I need real, constructive criticism, or else why the hell would I send it in the first place; this isn’t to show off at all—I need help, not a snap and a headroll?’ No. He’s a good writer. He’s actually going to help, not take this tiniest opportunity to be a shithead.”

Lesson learned? All writers are readers, but not all writers are good editors. And, also, some writers are such amateurs that they’re absolutely in love with passing judgment because it makes them feel special. More important lesson learned? I’ve been that asshole reader. And, to the person whose manuscript I read, I’m sorry you had to deal with me being a total amateur.

Getting back on topic though, an inability to proofread and copy edit is only the basest facet of the amateur writer’s folly. A more mature form is the inability to trim; despite what many people think, the important difference between “we will have been there ten times” and “we’ve gone ten times” isn’t the subtle nuance of tense that imparts a delicate nugget of specific meaning. No, the important difference here is that “we will have been there ten times” wastes the reader’s time and bores the crap out of them. In my experience, there has almost never been a time where a flowery phrase couldn’t be reworded and trimmed into something far more engaging.

Take something like, “Then, he pivoted to his left, took out his well-sharpened dagger, and lifted it up as he struck!” With something like this, the writer felt it was necessary to give you a lot of extra details. The subject didn’t just pivot, he “pivoted to his left”. His dagger was “well-sharpened”. He “lifted it” as he struck. Fine, but none of those details are necessary. Look at how much more engaging this simple edit is: “He pivoted, drew his dagger, and struck!” There’s no filler to dull down the intensity and slow the action. And all of that nonessential information should be provided by other means anyway; we should know from this character’s personality that his dagger is well-sharpened. We should know that he’s a skilled fighter who would know which way to pivot—and really, in a basic, human way can infer that he pivots in one direction anyway and it really shouldn’t matter which way he chooses regardless. It shouldn’t matter how he lifts his dagger either, for that matter. But sometimes, people fall in love with the very particular scenes and actions they have in mind. And the inability to let go of that, to make scenes simpler and more engaging—the inability to embrace the things unsaid—is the heart of the amateurs’ inability to edit themselves.

And somewhere further down the line, there’s the inability to remove whole chapters, characters, and their plot lines.

Now, am I saying I’m the most epic writer of all time? No. I’m just saying that I’m incredibly glad I cut out Chapter 4 and Ozi. I know I’ve got a long way to go to being an author, but I think I’m getting there.

Brand New Day – Week 9 – When the Night Comes

When I was young, I used to get upset when the night came. A better word would probably be “afraid,” but that implies that I was just scared of the dark (which I was, but it isn’t that simple). I used to be afraid that the day was ending and I didn’t do enough with it. It’s a weird thing for a kid to be afraid of and eventually, I did get over that whole thing.

But I felt it again the other day. In the same way a Summer wind can smell just like a friend’s old house in Ohio, or the way sunset on a hot day with a large fan in the window can inexplicably remind me of playing the original Resident Evil with my brother, sunset the other day brought the fear right back.

It was definitely diluted; the original feeling was really a childhood fear of death, which is super morbid and not where I was. The new and improved version of the fear was just time-based; I looked away from Skyrim, saw that the sun was going down and realized I’d only been awake for an hour. Sure, I would be up until the sun came back for a while allowing me more than enough time to get things done, but would I?

Suddenly, I realized all of the things I’d missed lately: parties I couldn’t make it to, hang-outs that I canceled, outings I kept putting off; all things that work on a normal schedule I’d managed to completely invert for myself by playing Skyrim until 6 or 7 AM—sometimes later.

And all of it, the staying home, the backwards sleep schedule, was part of a self-sustaining funk that resulted directly from the major writer’s block that hit me late last month. I’d been incredibly optimistic about completing the outline and possibly first draft for my book in six months. But then chapter 6 came and… well, I didn’t discover what writer’s block is like because I’ve definitely had it before, but I did get a refresher course without pesky things like work and hanging out to bring the instant gratification.

But seeing that I was losing the sun a few days ago made everything simple. The fear came back—a small worry at the back of my mind—and suddenly I felt guilty. Because I was letting young Louis down. I was letting myself fail—letting myself be defeated. Even after getting over the block, I was letting the funk beat me; time was passing and I’d been so lax with everything, from working out to writing. I remember looking back to Skyrim and realizing I’d already written a review for it; I didn’t need to keep playing it. Especially when there were a ton of other things I did need to start doing. For starters…

Step 1 – Sleep and wake up like a human being, not a mole man. 

Step 2 – Finally stop being afraid that your final take on chapter 6 is terrible, give it a once over, and move to chapter 7. 

Step 3 – Start working out again. 

Step 4 – Start writing down every story idea you have and working on short stories like you were supposed to so you can have something to fall back on in case writer’s block happens again. √

Step 5 – Finally update your own blog… 

Brand New Day – Week 1

Last week, on Wednesday, the 14th, I worked my last day at Borders. The rest of that week and the weekend that followed disappeared in a bunch of Borders closing parties (and the hang-overs that followed).

Yesterday, Monday, the 19th, was a brand new day. In short, it was the beginning of my gamble to finish rewriting my first fantasy novel, The War of Exiles, within the next six months. And it began with a few wake up texts from Ronin at Hot Mop Films, asking me what time I’d be in. And, no, it wasn’t that I’d forgotten—I just thought we’d discussed the projects they wanted to recruit me for enough through email (and I also didn’t expect to sleep in ’til 11a.m. [memories of waking up at 4 o’ clock in the morning for Borders shifts that started at 6 are already so distant]).

This, in all honesty, was not how I expected the first day of the rest of my professional life to start, but there are worse ways. The meeting got me up, got me working, and (probably more importantly than I’d like to imagine) got me outside. It was still a little annoying though—not because I’m not excited to work with Hot Mop again, but because I was planning to roll out of bed and get right to work on chapter four of WoE. But now the entire day’s flow was thrown off; I’d get home and someone would be on Xbox Live, or there’d be something to work on for Infinite Ammo. There’d be no time to—

Wait. No. To hell with that.

When I got home, I ate dinner, opened the outline for WoE, and worked from 7p.m. to 5a.m. (allowing for the short breaks that often plague writing [which I hope to siphon out in the next few weeks because, seriously, ten hours?]). Not the amount of work I was expecting, but the amount I had to do because I could (there were at least five more times when that same voice came back with things like, ‘Well, you don’t need to write this character’s bio right now. Leave it for tomorrow! You’ve been at it for like, 8 hours!’ and ‘You don’t need to figure out this cultural detail right now. There’s always tomorrow,’ but each time I fought down the arguments and just didn’t stop]).

Today is Tuesday, the 2oth. And a brand new day.

It started with a wake up text from Chaos Mechanica, asking what stories were ready to post on Infinite Ammo. I spent an hour or two editing two of them and making and assigning images to both. Now, I’m moving on to writing ideas and drafts for Hot Mop.

And I’m also doing “alpha bullets” for chapter five of WoE.

Because the outline for chapter four is finished.

And now, completely unlike Louis from last week, I know I can get it all done by tonight.

Because now, every day is just another, oddly busier work day than I ever knew at Borders. And I’m absolutely loving every second.