Thursday, May 31, 2012

Was That An Urge I Just Felt?

"You said that sometimes you get the urge to write & other times you don't. How about a post about the things that inspire you to write? What gives you that urge?"
Kathy Wiechman

I'm going to try and answer this question today, because I totally, completely and utterly have no urge to write.

Ok, so I just sat and read the opening sentence to myself about fifty-three times, not the quote from Kathy, but my first sentence. It took exactly eleven minutes for me to move on to what I'm typing now and I'm still at a loss for words, that's Cliche`isn't it? "At a loss for words," and we as writers should avoid the use of cliche`. I'm leaving it in here though because it gives a teeny insight into whats going on in my thought process. If I write the words and ideas that are dawdling around in my head eventually I should hit on a theme, or so I'm told (another bloody cliche`, or is it?)

So now it's been about twenty minutes since I started and I'm still searching for inspiration, I looked in the fridge to see if maybe my muse was hiding in there, but all I found was a hard boiled egg and some jack cheese bread. So, after brushing crumbs from my keyboard I think I'm ready to get down to business, hmm maybe I should title this post "The Art of Cliche`."

Seriously why is it that the urge to write isn't something that I can just will to be there? because if that was the case then this blog wouldn't be subtitled "Struggling writer." it may instead read "Successful Writer, Converter of Urges."

I do get urges to write, obviously, sometimes they come after I read a great book, and they actually even come after reading a mediocre book, although these days I really don't have the patience for a mediocre book, so if it doesn't grab me in the first few paragraphs I typically just give up on it. Reading for me should be fun and inspiring. In fact I think I get more urges to write after I've deposited said bad book on the overloaded bookshelf or on Patty's bedside table (looking for another opinion in case I was just not in the mood for "The life and times of the Dung Beetle," what made me buy it in the first place? IT WAS ON SALE!) Sure, the urge struck me, but being the recipient of an urge doesn't necessarily make the jump to words on paper, it mostly translates to characters teasing me with images, and lines and tongues sticking out at me,  and then me rambling on talking out loud to the cheeky buggers who was just sticking their tongue out at me and then my dogs barking at me because they're confused as to why I'm alone talking to myself in the living room while Patty is engrossed by how Dung Beetle's manage to move huge balls of dung.

Occasionally I will however go to my desk or dining room table and start writing, it generally takes a lot of brain compartmentalization because now I want to write about the guy sticking his tongue out when I should in fact be re-writing the latest edit to "Stitches," so mostly what I end up doing is opening a new document and entering a few lines about that character...
You know who I mean right?
Yes, that one,
Nope I'm not going to write it out again, it's already in here twice and isn't that another rule? The fight then wears on a few minutes longer as I save the few lines ( About four hundred and twenty-seven... Dya like how I answered that question about how many one line pages of documents I have saved in my prompt file before you even asked? There's that writer again, answering unasked questions,) then I'll open up a couple of projects I'm working on, although "Stitches," always gets opened, and I'll scan them before deciding if I have the urge to write on one or the other. Sometimes I'll keep two or three open and work on them simaltaneously, similtaneously, simmaltan... at the same time.

That's one type of writing urge I get, another invariably comes often just as I'm laying down in bed, got the covers pulled up to my chin, flipped the pillow over for the cold side and kicked the cat off the foot of the bed.    You know how it is right? Your mind is still closing out the English bloke on T.V. selling that stuff for $19.99 with the bonus gift, you're closing your eye's one at a time trying to figure out where that pinpoint of light is making it's way through the blinds, subconsciously stroking the cat that snuck back on the bed, when BANG! the writing urge hits me, Now I know why that character should talk with a lisp, and why her red hair is important to the story, and why when she sticks her tongue out that way it really does matter, (You thought it was a guy didn't you? silly, if it was a guy I'd have punched him the nose wouldn't I?) so I lay there and say to myself "Get up and peck away at the keys, this really needs to get on paper," and just then the Ambien kicks in and I drift away into deep sleep and miss that precious opportunity, but nevertheless it was an urge, an unfulfilled urge. Maybe I should stop taking Ambien, but then all the insignificant stuff from the day creeps in and dislodges the creative side of my brain.

Without a doubt the strongest urge to write comes from being in the company of other writers, and for me when I combine that with Boyds Mills in upstate Pennsylvania, the urge is no longer a wish and a prayer it's a full on assault. I wish I could replicate what happens when I get into that rustic little cabin back there or when I sit in the old living room of the farmhouse (I'm still reserving judgement on the Barn,) with other aspiring and successful writers.
So, I think setting has a huge impact on urges, I'm not alone in that regard, I know writers would sit naked in an icy brook if it meant the urge to write could be acted upon. We kept that in mind when we laid out my writing cave, but as comfortable as it was it still didn't conjure up the Urge Monster, I couldn't quite figure it out, I love my desk, my chair is beyond comfortable, the view is stunning and inspiring, I'm surrounded by my collection of old, smelly, page worn books in the bookcase that I looked for, for literally years, I sat and stared at the screen of the laptop and all I could think of is "Why does that bloody cat always get on my side of the bed?" One day I figured out the problem... My chair and desk were not situated in the correct manner, I simply needed to turn it more toward the staircase and less toward the view. It worked to certain extent, at least now when I sit down here I am able to at least think about writing a little easier. 

I started this blog as a catalyst to help find the urge and so far a week into it I think it's working, I feel somewhat of a responsibility to write a little something a few times a week and so for now I'll try and summon up the Urge to Write in Spite of Myself.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Partner Sacrifices (no, I don't mean Mayan style!)

I did get a couple of really good suggestions for my next blog post, but I decided to shelf them in honor of Memorial Day.

To say thank you to all the Veterans is an absolute must do that has become automatic, that's not to say it isn't heartfelt, because for certain it is, I especially think of my dad who served in the Irish army, and Patty's dad who served in the USMC during WWII and I am now and always will be eternally grateful for their service. Today though, I wanted to take a bit of a side trip and look at a somewhat unforgotten brigade, the partners of men and women who have to endure long periods without their significant other at their beck and call. Not just armed forces people but everyday parents and children, husband and wives, siblings, fiance's, friends, or what other else partnership you have.

It's a given that military separation during wartime is like no other and those people deserve special  support and consideration, I'd like to write, though about everyday life separation, and how it impacts ordinary lives.

Patty and I will be married for twenty-two years this year and we have shared an awful lot of separation during that time. Mostly our apart time (once I actually became a legal citizen)  involved me driving big rigs around the country making twenty-one cents for every mile I drove with freight on the trailer, and exactly zero cents when I was running deadhead or re-positioning the rig for it's next load. Given the enormous amount of money I was making (OUCH! That was Patty smacking me in the back of my head)

I did my best to,

A: keep the wheels rolling,
B: Keep the wheels rolling with freight on the trailer and
C: Keep Patty happy by "getting through the house."

Unfortunately that wasn't always the case, in fact come to think of it that was rarely the case! Inevitably what ended up happening was;
  • Her handing me my first days food (She made the best foil wrapped ham and cheese rolls that I would warm up in my heater chest and eat for breakfast somewhere in Arizona,)  
  • Me kissing Patty goodbye,
  • Her yelling, "Be safe and call (Pre i-anything,)"
  • Me yelling, "See you in a coupla days." 
  • Her yelling, "Stay away from the truckstops."
  • Me driving down to the yard and heading our for what was supposed to be a three day run, already knowing that it was going to be more like three weeks. 
The only real benefit for me being a truck driver was that I had a job that; if I ran my ass off would  provide a semi decent paycheck, if I could keep freight on the truck, run illegal hours, and stay away from the house.
I completely and utterly hated it, and here's why. My first experience as a trucker in the States went something along these lines.
I had just secured my C.D.L. (Commercial Drivers License) on the Friday prior to Memorial Day so I called every driver job opening looking for work. I found a long haul carrier close to the house and after a road test they hired me at about 10am.
  • Me: "Wow, I actually got the job, it's gunna be a great weekend."
  • Them: "Go grab your gear and we'll see you back here in 30 minutes."
  • Me: "Huh?"
  • Them: "We've got a load for you."
  • Me: "What about the long weekend?"
  • Them: "Welcome to trucking Aussie."
I drove home with extremely mixed feelings,
"I got the job, I wonder what I'm driving?         How do I tell Patty I wont make the BBQ?"
"I got the job, I wonder where I'm heading?      How do I tell Patty I wont make the BBQ?"
"I got the job, I wonder how long I'll be away? How do I tell Patty I wont make the BBQ?"

I made it home and it went something like this,

"Patty I got the job, can you help me pack, isn't this amazing?" My voice at fever pitch
"That's great hun, but why do you need to pack?" Her voice straining with disappointment
"Oh, I already have a run, isn't that great?" My voice kicking up the excitement
 "You're leaving today?" Her voice cracking
 "Yea Baby aint it great?" My voice full of contrived excitement.

 And so started the cycle of disappointment and compromise between Patty and I.

I got packed and went back to the Yard, where the dispatcher assigned me my truck. He told me to go check gear out for the trailers (set of doubles) and that I'd be picking up road marking paint for the state of Nevada in down town L.A.
"You can run it up there tonight and be back by mid afternoon, easy first run for you." and so began the cycle of lies between my dispatcher and me.
I wasn't looking forward to navigating to a pretty shady area of downtown Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend driving a big rig to pick up a hazardous materials load and the get out of the city before the big getaway traffic surge.  It went something like this.

  • 11:30am Sat in traffic heading to L.A. 
  • 1:30pm sat in the paint supply yard once I got there, 
  • 5:45pm loaded and out their gate, 
  • 6:50 took wrong freeway and ended up in Hollywood Hills in a no truck zone with a load of HAZMAT on a set of double trailers, 
  • 7:25pm found my way accidentally to the 14 Fwy heading toward Nevada (the back way,) 
  • 8:30pm truck broke down pulling a hill just outside L.A. ----- 
  • 12:10am made it back to the yard after using bailing wire duct tape and a drinking straw to fix the truck --- 
  • 2:10am "She's ready to go, make sure you're in Pahrump by 9."
  • 7:10am, Pahrump NV. unchained and ready to unload and head home,
  • 9:45am "Head over to Phoenix and pick up a load of roofing insulation, be in Seattle Monday by 5 the receiver has an emergency and they need the material, oh that, yea sorry plans change every now and then."
  • 10:10am "I know babe isn't it great I'm getting more miles?' "So when will you be home?" "Oh, I'd say by late Tuesday night." "We'll be safe love you."
  • 5:15pm Monday "Yea Sorry bout this but head down to Seneca Saw Mills in Eugene and pick up a load of lumber going to Fort Worth, TX."
You kinda see where this ended up right? earning twenty cents a mile I made nearly $1400.00 my first week which didn't give me much "home time," I got to speak to Patty maybe 3 or 4 times during the week by the end of the second week I'd earned about $3,000.00 total and the phone calls went up to about 5 or 6 times a week, but they lasted about 2 minutes per call and usually ended up with one or the other of us venting our frustrations at not being home, every call though did have consistency, Patty would hang up in tears.

I drove for that company for about a year and made some pretty good money, but one day after driving from Valencia, CA to Spokane, WA to Boise, Id then back to Los Angeles without a phone call home and over the space of four days and literally falling out of the cab of the tanker truck I was driving when I finally did get back to the home yard... I quit driving. They gave me a job in dispatch, and life at home returned to normal. The strain on the relationship during that time was almost unbearable, and I'm quite sure that if we hadn't both stayed true to our commitment and vows when we wed, to "Always work on our marriage," it wouldn't have lasted beyond the first month of me on the road. Weird how we both agreed that I needed to get work, and that since I knew trucking that was an automatic, and we both knew for the most part what we were getting into when I took the job, and we both counted the hours, minutes, seconds to when we'd get to speak on the phone and yet when the opportunity presented itself more often than not we were so disappointed that we weren't together that we almost went out of our way to sabotage the call, because at times like these when you love someone with all your heart and soul it became so much easier to be angry than to be happy.

I know from my situation, Sooooooo far removed from those of military partners a little of what they are going through and they, as much as the Service men and women need to be thanked for the sacrifices they make on a daily basis.

As much as I wanted to sit out with Patty who is sunning on our deck right now I decided that the time was right to Write in Spite of Myself.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What should my next post be?

I need your help. I would like to post a new blog about three times a week, but I want to write about stuff that you want to read about, so what should I write next?

Leave me a comment and we'll go from there, I love the idea of writing on demand so it should be interesting!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Time to Write

When isn't it time to write?

I know very successful writers that spend hours a day, every day writing. They don't always write to move their current project forward, but they write and that is admirable, and that is enviable, and that is the sign of a person committed to their craft, or profession and they write good stuff even when they're writing junk.

I know I can write good stuff, and I can write junk stuff that's not even close to good. I've actually written stuff that I'm proud of, I even finished a novel and have three more well on their way, so why is it so hard to be consistent?

I love to write, seriously, honestly, I love writing, but it's getting harder and harder to sit down in front of the keyboard and transfer thought to meaningful words on a page. Now I sound like I'm whining, right? I'm really not I'm just frustrated, I want to find the key that unlocks the secret to being a writer.

It's not merely having the time, I have more than enough of that. It's certainly not the money, since writers (unless your name ends in King or Rowling) would never dare to figure out their per hour earnings. It's not simply having a story inside you, my brain is body slamming me with stories desperately trying to escape. Maybe it just comes down to persistence and the ability to plow through and hit the keys, but if that was the case every man and his dog would be knocking out books, Yea I know Spencer Quinn and his dog do!

There is more to it that just wanting to be a writer, you need at minimum, a great work ethic, I'm great with a pick and shovel or an eighteen speed gearbox, not so good at transferring copious amounts of words onto paper... Strike One

You must have a passion, and I don't think passion is a learned quality, I look around at other writers I know and they have more passion than a Tango on Steroids, Sadly I'm more a Slow Waltz, with a Foxtrot rearing it's quickstep occasionally... Strike Two 

You must have a command of Grammar, (unless you have an editor that wears blinders) I don't know the difference between a comma splice (apparently I use that a lot!) and a run on sentence or is that, sentance? ... Strike Three

So, you're saying to yourself, three strikes you're OUT... ahhhh but I'm not, I should be according to your rules, but I'm not. "Why aren't you out?" I can hear you saying, because I'm not, and because this is my blog and because 

I want to be a writer because, I love to see the look of wonder on the persons face who has never been to the Australian outback.
I want to be a writer because, I love to see the look of fascination on a persons face that actually grew up in a functioning family.
I want to be a writer because, I love to see a tear form in the eye of someone who has no idea who I am and yet they get to feel my heart.
I want to be a writer because, I love to see a smile cross the face of someone who has never shot Christmas decorations off a Christmas Tree inside their home.
I want to be a writer because, I love to tell stories, so every now and then I'll get a spurt of energy and an inspiration and I'll write in spite of myself.