Writing Becomes a Habit

I was walking to work this past Monday and I was thinking about what I would do once I got in to the office. I would get some coffee, check my Twitter feed, my Kindle Direct stats, the stats for this blog. Then, I would check the news before settling down to work.

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And then suddenly it occurred to me, how natural it all was. I did the same thing every week, sometimes every day at work: Checked all the stats, just to see how the writing was going.

And I realized writing had become a habit. I can’t imagine my previous life when I just went to work, not thinking about writing. Maybe toying with an idea in my head, but never writing it down. Let alone writing first drafts, editing stuff. I looked at all the other people on the subway and I felt like I had a leg up on them, that I knew something they didn’t. A secret. I may be pretty locked into an office job, but I have a nice little side gig, where I can create and be and do as I like. A whole little world without bosses or coworkers to tell me what to do. It always makes me feel proud and a little sorry for everyone else.

Sometimes, I want to grab those people on the subway by the shoulders, shake them up. Tell them they don’t have to go the same route. That they’re free, too. They can do whatever they want, if only they had the courage and a little time. But I don’t.

So, I’ll take this opportunity to tell  you. Sit down. Do it. Write it, draw it, create it. Make it happen. Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission, or time or the opportunity. Don’t stall forever, waiting for the perfect idea or the perfect day or perfect mood. Especially if you’re a writer. We can all publish now if we like. In all likelihood, the biggest thing stopping you is yourself. I know, I’ve been there.

And there is one more thing before I go, on the subject of habits. I did a little Wikipedia research (horrible, I know). But I came away with this little tidbit about habits.

In fact, habit formation is a slow process. Lally et al. (2010) found the average time for participants to reach the asymptote of automaticity [doing things automatically] was 66 days with a range of 18–254 days.

That sounds about right to me. The point is: don’t expect your writing (or artistic) routine to become habit overnight. Give it time. At least 3 months. Soon, it will be natural and you won’t even notice it.

Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioral patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways. But the good news is that it is possible to form new habits through repetition.

After awhile, your Life-before-Writing will just fade away and you will laugh when you think back on those days before you started writing. I for one, can’t imagine going back now. It’s just part of what I do every week, who I am.

Until next time.

Keep reading, keep writing,

DJ

[PS The Tetris graphic is a reference to the Tetris effect. After a time, Tetris players start seeing Tetris in their dreams, the side of their field of vision, everywhere they go. It’s quite similar to someone who starts writing. It keeps coming up everywhere.]

Novella Set for June Launch

I’m proud to announce that my new novella, “The Man Who Ran from God,” will launch June 22 in the Amazon Kindle store.

As we approach the launch date, I will be sharing more details about the novella. I’ll post the book cover art, selections from the piece itself and selections from earlier drafts. But today, I just want to share the basics. I will answer these in FAQ style.

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When will the novella be released?
June 22.

Where will it launch?
Only on the Amazon Kindle store. I wanted to take advantage of their free giveaways via their KDP program. After 3 months on Kindle, I’ll reassess.

How much will it cost?
99 cents in U.S. dollars, like the rest of my works.

Will there be any giveaways?
Yes. I’m planning a BIG giveaway for the first weekend, June 22 and 23.

What is it about?
It is a retelling, in historical fiction style, of the story of Jonah from the Bible. My teaser for the book sums it up:

In a dream, the voice of God commands Jonah to go to Nineveh. Instead, he books passage to the other end of the world. A storm and a hungry whale are the least of his worries as Jonah has to confront deluded fishermen, befuddled peasants and crooked priests. At the end of it all, Jonah must face the hardest decision of his life: stand and preach to the fervently pagan crowds in Nineveh’s main square or flee back to his home in Judea.

Is this a religious work? The result of some sort of religious experience?
No. My attempt here was not to write a religious work, but an accurate piece of historical fiction. I didn’t want to write something that aligned with any organized religion, but that sought to unravel the historical Jonah from the figure presented in the Bible.

What inspired you to write this?
I had been toying with the idea of writing something about Jonah for a long time. The Old Testament prophets are intriguing to me because they are revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Jewish Joseph, Moses and Abraham somehow remain unifying figures despite the differences between these faiths and all three are mentioned in both the Christian New Testament and the Muslim Koran.

But for me, there was always something special about the “minor” prophet Jonah. The whale segment of the story is famously known and, not surprisingly, surfaces in American literature in Moby Dick where one old whaler doubts the story. I wanted to learn more about the source of the story and one day read the Biblical account. When I did, I realized that the whale is actually a small part of the story. The real driving question is whether Jonah will do God’s will or not.

Jonah is very cantankerous. When God asks him to go to Nineveh, he heads for Tarshish at the opposite end of the Mediterranean. And Jonah’s always getting angry (the word “angry” is used at least twice in the Biblical story). The best instance is in the Biblical account at Jonah 4:9.

But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’

‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

I loved that.

After I finished the story, I realized that most people had no idea who Jonah was and that the real story was quite different from the one I had been told as a kid. I started playing with the idea of writing something. I read the Book of Kings (where Jonah also appears) for background. And then I saw a video on YouTube and it all came together.

 

Eminem goes through a rough patch.

That was it. To me, Eminem was a sort of modern day Jonah (wow, did I just write that?). He was talking about the same thing Jonah talked about, but using a vernacular he understood. At some point, Jonah (like Eminem) came to a realization that he needed to change, he reached a point where the right thing to do became clear. He just had to have the guts to do it, to follow his inner voice. And Jonah, just like Eminem, was angry…pissed off at an unjust world.

After I saw that video, I sat down and just started writing. Eventually, it became a novella of 20,000 words.

Can I get an advance copy of the novella for review on my blog?
Yes. If you have a blog where you regularly review books, I will review your site and if I feel we are a fit, I will gladly send along a copy of the manuscript (in Word format) for review. See “Contact” above for my email.


In a continuing sub-series, I’m mentioning each time viewers from a new country visit the blog. This week, the blog had its first visitors from:

– Lebanon.
– Malaysia.
– The Bahamas.

Welcome to the blog, Everyone!

The Craft: Rules for Writing, Rule #1: Get Black on White

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

Well, here it is, my first rule for writing. (I will be posting new rules at the original post, “Rules for Writing.”). It’s, by far, the most important rule.

There’s good news and bad news about this rule. First the good news: it’s the simplest rule. The bad news is that it’s also the hardest rule to follow.

Before the reveal, I want to tell the story behind it. It’s apocryphal, as far as I can tell. I can’t remember where I first heard it, but I never forgot it. In a quick search on Wikiquote, I wasn’t able to track it to the man credited with it: Guy de Maupassant.

The story goes that there was a young French writer, back in the 1800s, who wanted to learn the secret of writing. He was especially intrigued by Maupassant’s short stories and felt they were a pinnacle of the craft of writing. So this young writer left his home in a  small village in the south of France and went all the way to Paris, to track down the famous writer and learn his secret.

Finally, one day the writer found Maupassant in a busy Parisian café. He made clear his need to become a famous writer and asked Maupassant how it was that he wrote such well-crafted stories. Not wanting to quickly and easily reveal such a secret, Maupassant asked the writer to come back the next week and that he would answer his question then. He promised to reveal the single most important rule he knew for writing great fiction. But he warned the young writer that he might not like the answer. The young writer wasn’t deterred, he had not come all the way to turn back now, he wanted to know the magic formula Maupassant used to construct such perfect stories.

So, the day came. Maupassant graciously met up with the young, unknown writer, ready to enlighten him. I imagine their talk going something like this:

YOUNG WRITER: So, what is it? What’s the secret to great writing, Guy?

MAUPASSANT: Well, I don’t think you’ll like the answer.

YOUNG WRITER: I don’t care. I want to know. I need to know.

MAUPASSANT: Ok, then.

YOUNG WRITER [eagerly]: Well?

MAUPASSANT: Get black on white.

YOUNG WRITER [incredulously]: What?

MAUPASSANT: Get black on white. Put pen to blank page. Write. Again and again. Don’t stop…Get black on white.

YOUNG WRITER [in an insulted tone]: That’s it!?

MAUPASSANT: I knew you wouldn’t like it.

YOUNG WRITER [outraged]: It’s infantile! Obvious!

MAUPASSANT: But it works. Just try it.

By  now, you’re probably feeling as cheated as I did when I heard the story. But you know what? Guy’s right.

Take Chekhov as an example. I’ve read his early stuff, his middle stuff, his late stuff. In all, he wrote 588 stories! 588! Do you think his stories improved as time went by? “Joy” is downright bad, “The Student” is  good and “The Steppe” is epic.

If you do nothing else, if you follow no other writing rule, get black on white day-after-day, month-after-month, year-after-year. It’s as hard, and as simple, as that. That is why it’s rule Number #1.

1. Get Black on White.

[I will continue the Writing rules in later posts categorized under “The Craft,” so  stay tuned.]

The Craft: Rules for Writing

[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]

[SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the Chekhov story, “Lady with the Lap Dog.” ]

I’ve been hesitating on writing this post for a while. I think two things were holding me back.

What Would Ray Say?

First, I guess I didn’t want to give away the farm. All that hard work, writing, thinking, finally coming up with these rules…And then just letting them go out into the world. But part of the idea of this blog is to share and make other writers out there better.

There was something else, something bigger, gnawing at me.

I think it’s just that it’s awfully damn pretentious for a writer who has only self-published two pieces to offer anyone rules for writing. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, sure. But me? Come on!

So, I thought I might post these as “Writing Suggestions” or “Ideas that Worked for Me,” but that would have been lame and possibly even more pretentious. And they are my rules for writing in the sense that they work for me. So in the end, I’ve decided to share them under the original title. Let me explain.

Posting these rules and writing this blog has been a great learning process for me. It’s forced me to think about what makes my writing good and where it falls short. In posting these “rules” I hope to clarify my own thinking and learn more about the writing process myself. I might even add some new rules as we go. Along the way, I hope you readers and writers also find them useful.

So, here’s what I’m going to do.

Today, I’m posting rules 1 through 5. I will expand the list in this post over time, so you may want to bookmark this page. Each new “Rule for Writing” will link to a new post where I discuss that rule at length. I will start with a post next week on Rule 1.


My top writing rules are:

1. Get Black on White.

2. NO CRITIC.

3. The Elvis Principle.

4. Dedicated Time.

5. Stick to What Works.

More rules to be POSTED HERE.


I want to end this post with one BIG exception: Rules are made for breaking. As Prince said: “Make the rules and break them all cause you are the best.”

Prince makes it hard to find his videos. But look for “Cream” and you’ll see what I meant to link to.

But seriously, sometimes this can be used to great effect. Take the biggest writing rule of all time: “Show, Don’t Tell.” It’s a great, simple rule, though everybody seems to have a different interpretation of what it means. And whether it’s the right thing to do in the first place. But here’s an example of a great writer, Chekhov, in one of his best stories, suddenly “telling” it all instead of “showing.” It comes at the end of “Lady with the Dog.”

He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth—such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his ‘lower race,’ his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities—all that was open.

It’s had a sublime effect on me when I first read it and it comes at just the right moment. But it’s all “tell.” Every last bit of it. It seems that, in art, all rules are made for breaking.

That being said, if you’re just starting out, stick to the rules.


In a continuing sub-series, I’m mentioning each time viewers from a new country visit the blog. This week we have:

– Serbia.

Welcome to the blog!

Water from the Wells of Home

Why do you do what you do? What motivates you? And why do you keep doing it?

For me life gets down to a few simple motivations. 

I work because I want to get a paycheck. I show up and they give me a check that I can use to pay the rent, buy some groceries, pay the bills and buy a book every now and then. I also happen to like the job and my coworkers, so I count myself lucky. But those are luxuries, I would still have to work if those things weren’t true.

I pay my taxes because I don’t want to deal with the “botheration” of not doing so.

I write because…Well, why do I write?

That question came up big time this week. I got two rejections: one of my historical novella and another of my horror short story. That makes me 0/9 for my submittals, if you’re counting.

That same day, I got an email from my friend and fellow-writer, D—, of birdhouse fame. The email had the beginning of a story:

It was early Sunday morning when I felt he bullets pass through the fabric of my open jacket. The only thing that saved me was the faint glint of light reflected off of my would-be assassin’s rifle mounted scope when I ignited my Zippo.

The story continued for about 200 words and ended with:

I dove off of the balcony…

I thought, “What the F*ck is this sh*t?”

D— ended his email with a request:

run with it for a couple of paragraphs and see what you can come up with.

Now, mind you, this is the same day I got a rejection for the novella. I was in no mood to write anything. I kept ruminating on the rejection and opening the email. After a few hours, I said, “F*ck it” and banged out another 400 words to his story, ending it at a high point:

By the time the bolted lock on the safe house clicked open, I had pretty much worked out how it would all go down. Now all that was left was to put my plan into action…

And I sent it back to D—.

It’s craptastic writing, yeah. But you know what? I really liked it. I mean I enjoyed the process of writing it. And I loved collaborating with a fellow writer, which I had never done before.

Suddenly, the clouds of self-doubt scattered. I realized why I do this writing thing: because I like it. Because, deep-down, there is nothing else I could do that would substitute for it. Because it makes me feel satisfied in a deep way when I put pen to paper or fingers to type pad. And I like to think I’m not too bad at it.

So, to answer my original question: Why do I write?

I write because I have to. I write because without it, my life just wouldn’t make sense.

So, I want to end with a promise, two promises, in fact. Remembering my friend Epictetus, I promise you guys two things I can deliver:

  1. I’m going to keep writing fiction and publishing it myself, even if no one (no traditional publishers) ever agrees to publish it.
  2. I’m going to  keep updating this blog to give you as much insight into the writing process as I can.

I hope you’ll continue to join me on the journey.

,Darius


I promised to track views from new countries to the blog. This week, the blog got its first viewers from:

– Poland.

– India.

Welcome, New Readers!  Along with D—, you’re keeping me motivated and focused.


The title of this post is from a Johnny Cash album. My fellow writers, friends and fans are “The Water from the Wells of Home.” They keep me going when things get rough out there.

Here’s the Man in Black himself doing one of my favorite songs, “Home of the Blues.”

Home of the Blues