Vacation Time

Hey Everybody, it’s summer and I’m trying to take it easy. With family vacation, more vacation coming, writing, working and house work…I don’t have much to time to blog. So, just stopping by to say “Hey!”Beach

My latest vacation was intense. It involved deep-sea fishing (with a side  of crabbing), beer festivals (bourbon-aged beer…mmmm) and dredging a lake which, as a co-worker pointed out, all sounds like “manly stuff.” I guess it was, I guess it was…

Anyway, I’m back home now and researching (which means reading), writing and thinking about my next fiction piece. I’ve got to focus on that for now and I will be back next time with something a bit more involved for you to chew on.

In the meantime, get out there and enjoy life—it’s way too short! August is a great time to mix it up and have some fun. Who knows? We might even run into one another.

See you soon,

Darius

Changing the Name of This Blog

Phew! So many things going on right now. Anyway, as you know this blog just passed its fifth anniversary. And there are a lot of great things to look back upon and celebrate. But now, it’s time to look forward…And  that begins with changing the name of this blog.

Name-Change-pic

Right now, the official title of this blog (with tagline) is:

A Writer Begins by Darius Jones

A new writer shares his triumphs and trials.

Not bad, but definitely outdated. I started this blog because I had just self-published something on Amazon Kindle. In these past five years, as I recounted last time, I have seen a number of my stories published in magazines. I have written more stories, a novella and a play. If you count by time or stories completed, I hardly could be considered a “beginner” at this point. So, it’s time for a change of that title. I’ve thought about it quite a bit and after a good amount of deliberation, this is the new title of this blog:

Inside the Writer’s Mind

One Writer’s Take on the Craft of Writing

I may change this at any time, of course, but it seems good for now. It all really comes from an earlier post where I wrote this:

I promise to keep posting and keep getting you inside the head of this fiction writer.

“…Inside the head of this fiction writer…” That’s what this blog is really all about, isn’t it? Take today, for example. I was walking here, to the café, to write. And all the while I was thinking about this post…AND…about how to plot a novel…AND…about how you have to know and love something to write well about it. And the whole idea is to take that internal monologue out of the brain (scoop, scoop) and—Pfffwat!!—fling it onto the page. Getting you guys into my mind through sharing my thoughts via the written word, the art of writing itself. So, there it is: the new title of this blog.

That’s any evergreen topic and one that won’t change. Kinda feels like coming home. I can’t wait to share those ideas about plotting a novel with you—and many other topics—but that’s coming down the road…Maybe next time in fact…Until then…

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

Thank You

Everybody,

Looks like 2017 is going to be a good year here on the blog. Already the blog has surpassed the readership total (visitors) for 2016. And in only 6 months. So, thank you to everybody that keeps coming back for more…and to our new visitors. I promise to keep posting and keep getting you inside the head of this fiction writer.

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More Soon,

Darius

Where to Gather Stories: Weddings

Gone are the days of Jan Potocki, when one could simply pull up to a roadside inn on a stormy autumn evening, dismount and spend the night eating, drinking and exchanging stories with your fellow travelers. I think that’s one aspect of pre-modern life I would have enjoyed immensely. A world of no phones, no TV and no radio. A world in which the only way to relieve your boredom would be your own thoughts, reading books and your fellow humans. Uighyur Storyteller

In such a world, a budding writer—or anyone for that matter—could go undercover and listen for the next great story. It’s something that Potocki likely did. I imagine him stopping at inns throughout Spain to just listen to stories from locals and fellow travelers alike. I imagine him filing them away for later use, embellishing and tweaking them. And finally putting them down on paper.

Nowadays, it’s much harder to connect with people in your travels and everyday life. Even if others aren’t checking their phones or just staying in to watch TV, there are these subtle cultural taboos about bothering other people or even striking up a conversation in many public spaces. There are exceptions to this rule…Some obvious ones come to mind: bars and some cafes for example. But I think there are other obvious places for you to go undercover and gather up some great stories.

Today, I want to share one of these non-obvious Taverns of the Mind: the wedding. I’ve been to two weddings so far this year and I have one more to go, so they’re top of mind.

Weddings seem to have those key ingredients you look for in an atmosphere conducive to good storytelling, places where people feel free to open up a bit and share. These venues seem to have these things in common:

  • People are forced to spend time together (without the intermediary of media and devices).
  • Those people are not likely to meet one another again (or not likely to meet one another for a very long time).
  • Cheap alcoholic beverages are plentiful and at hand.

Weddings, somewhat surprisingly, check all three of these boxes. You won’t likely see most of these people again and there is usually a good amount of time between toasts and other activities to kill. Of course, many of these stories can be reminisces about the bride and groom, sure. And hey, I know they’re what you came to see. But there is also just catching up with people and hearing some of the experiences they’ve had.

Why, just in these past two weddings I have heard tales…And I mean real tales told to me by other humans IN THE FLESH…about bus travel in Central America, the latest scams in Marrakesh, fishing bodies out of the Hudson river (they become full of eels quite quickly, apparently), breaking into safes to retrieve wedding rings you placed there—I could go on and on. These stories vary in length and quality, just like those in any fiction magazine. But they are from real people in professions and walks of life very different from my own. I always find something in them to tuck away, remember and let stew in my subconscious for a bit. If done right, a wedding (like many other venues) is a top place to shut up, listen and start gathering story ideas. All you need to do is go undercover and listen.

Something, my fellow storytellers, to remember next time you get a wedding invite in the mail.

See you next time,

DJ

How to Write in a World of Distraction

Distracted from distraction by distraction…” –T.S. Eliot

Feeling a bit distracted lately?sIIwU

No?

Really?

Lucky you. I admire your self-discipline. What with the constant news, smart phones, websites and more and more media choices, the human beings of this world are being distracted half to death. It’s also shortening attention spans, among other things, but I’m not here to talk about the larger ramifications of this trend. Instead, I’m here to share a bit about how I tune those voices out when it gets time to write.

Here is what I do every weekend when I go to write and I need all those voices to STOP:

Head to a Public Place
It doesn’t matter if it’s a café, library or rented cube farm. Get to a public place where the cultural expectation is that people are coming there to work. And  then settle in and get going…

Why go out to write? First off: peer pressure. If it’s a place where everybody is expected to do mental work you’ll feel the pressure to do the same. It’s one of the situations where you can use peer pressure, the desire to conform, to your benefit. (It’s on the page where you need to stand out and go your own way!)

Second, home has all those distractions, doesn’t it? Internet, TV, books, reading the mail, doing that project, mowing the lawn. Well, if you’re at a café, you can’t do any of that stuff…But there are other things which can distract, which brings us to.

Put Your Phone on Airplane Mode
I always bring my phone with me to write. But as soon as I get to the café, I put it in flight mode. I understand if all of you out there can’t do this (families, kids, etc.), but I highly recommend it. There is NOTHING that ruins a great writing groove like a call from a friend you haven’t heard from in awhile, or someone trying to sell you something. Believe me, because it’s happened to this writer. And once that groove is gone, you ain’t  getting it back, at least not that day.

At first flight mode silence was difficult for my close friends to accept, but now they know this is what I’m doing on Sundays and they anticipate it. The few times I have accidentally left the phone on during my writing sessions, I have not gotten calls. People have adjusted and learned to work around it—and I’m very, very grateful for that.

Kill the Wi-Fi on Your PC
Most cafes these days offer Wi-Fi which is great—unless it’s a distraction. I usually have the Internet handy as I write in case I need to do some research. I have also found it useful to read a little news before I dive into writing to loosen up the brain. But it can also become a distraction. When I find myself reading too much and writing too little, I press the F2 key and turn off the Wi-Fi. Suddenly, all the distractions are gone.

Any I’m sitting there in a world without cell phones, the Internet or  TV. There’s nothing to distract me…almost.

Put in Your Headphones
It’s only other people or the ambient, piped-in music that will distract me at this point. Usually, the music is ok, but some days there are people (or their children) who dial up the volume a bit. Or, like last week, there was that woman with the high-pitched, squeaky voice. In that case, I bring out my final, secret weapon: ear buds.

I plug in my headphones, access my music library (or Pandora, if I still have Wi-Fi) and crank up the tunes. It has to be something I’ve heard many times or which doesn’t have English lyrics (Brazilian pop and instrumentals work) and I’m back in business. Bring the screaming kids, I don’t care! Just as long as they don’t knock over my coffee, cause then, it’s on!


Now, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get down to the writing. There have been writing sessions in my past where I just stared at blank screen for four or five hours and didn’t produce a thing. But that’s very, very rare for me now—I haven’t done that in over 10 years. I think I just naturally grew out of that and will eventually force myself to write/edit even if I’m feeling out of it. Usually I write between 800-2,000 words per day, with any day over 1,000 words usually considered “good.”

So what’s my point? Even in this world—the modern world of smart phones, 24-hours news cycles and all sorts of content engineered to hook you—you can still turn it all off, quiet your mind and settle down to do hard, mental work. You just have to have the will, time and energy to do it. I hope those tips above will help you have a productive writing day next time you sit down to write.

See you next time,

DJ

Giving a Little Comics Help

Well…Life is always giving us opportunities: to learn, to live, to make new friends, join new adventures. But we have to make sure we’re receptive to these new adventures. So that when the right opportunity presents itself we’re ready and can say, “Yes, let’s go!”

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So, my good friend D—, the Renaissance Man from the Upper Midwest—was talking to me last month. About getting more time, in his case, more time for his art. And art for him lately is tending toward the graphic: sketches, drawing, that sort of thing. This specific project is a comics/graphic novel. It’s a good fusion for him: he’s got experience writing too. So he can put that together with his latest, the graphic stuff, and tell stories in a new and exciting way. And the story line is all realist stuff too, so it’s not exactly normal comics fare.

Well, I offered to do some editing/proofing for him. It’s been lots of fun already, although he’s only a few pages in. I’ve already learned a few important things like: try to get your edits back to him as soon as possible before he “inks” the actual panels. That should have been obvious, but I hadn’t really thought about it.

And again, the bottom line is that it’s just plain fun. I’m getting to see someone create a story graphically, page by page. It’s a nice little mini-adventure and I’m glad I signed up for it. As a writer, you’ve got to look out for new opportunities, new chances to stretch yourself, have new experiences and just plain learn. And as they say, “Know what you write” or something like that???? So, I try to be open to new opportunities to learn and take them when I can. I hope you do too, even if you’re not writer.

Something to think about next time somebody talks about doing something crazy and different. See if you can worm your way into their project/adventure. Who knows? It might even give you something to write about a little further down the road…

The Final Achievement: Simplicity

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” – Chopin

So let me riff, jam, groove, improvise on this theme today. Simplicity. What is it? How does one achieve it? Hawkins

Funny. Seems no one is aiming at simplicity these days. They seem to be aiming at money or success or something else. But simplicity? Who seems to be aiming for that? I can’t say many are, even me. But I like to think I try to follow this thought of  Chopin’s some of the time and Thoreau’s even plainer injunction to “simplify, simplify.” Not least, I hope I put some simplicity into my writing, but it’s tough. So surprisingly tough. But this week, I got a good reminder about doing just that.

I was over on the Guardian’s book section and I read a review of Paula Hawkins’ new book, Into the Water. It wasn’t exactly a glowing review. Now, it’s funny thing…I used to read book reviews from a different point of view, let’s call it a reader’s point of view. Then, I started writing and I started to read reviews from a writer’s point of view. So, I read the review and I empathized with (pitied?) Hawkins. I mean, here she is writing book after book, going through financial travails, not meeting with a huge amount of success and BAM!!! It happens. Her book becomes a bestseller!! And what a bestseller: it gets turned into a successful movie!

And all is well, until you have to sit down in front of that blank page. With everyone out there expecting you to do the same thing. Again. Whether you really want to, or can, is irrelevant. Everybody expects it.

I can’t say I know what happened, but I think I got a hint of it here (from the review):

It’s a set-up that is redolent with possibility. But that promising start fails to deliver, and the main reason is structural. The story of Into the Water is carried by 11 narrative voices. To differentiate 11 separate voices within a single story is a fiendishly difficult thing. And these characters are so similar in tone and register – even when some are in first person and others in third – that they are almost impossible to tell apart, which ends up being both monotonous and confusing.

I’m theorizing here, but I wonder if when it came time for Hawkins to sit down and write, she knew she had to go big, really big, in her next piece. So, she went all in on complexity. She tried to weave 11 (11!) voices into a coherent plot. And perhaps it was too much, I don’t know. (I have to admit I haven’t read her book).

The point is, I’ve been there. Of course, except, you know, for having the mega-bestseller that gets turned into a huge movie…Minor point, really! But I’ve felt the compulsion to keep adding stuff into my pieces: More plot lines, more characters, more voices. More scenes, thoughts and ideas. And sometimes, that’s not the point. Sometimes, it’s better to keep the plot to ONE PLOT LINE, to strip out voices, pair down characters and KEEP IT SIMPLE. There’s always this temptation to write convoluted plots with twists…Or to write in a heavy style that is super distinctive. But what happened to simplicity? To telling a simple story well without the overwrought stage dressing? And can I, as a writer, avoid those temptations? Give people a slice of life, yes, but get to the heart of a character and tell that one, simple story that changed their life.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

That’s something I’m going to be telling myself as I take up the pen this week. Maybe you should too???

Good Luck,

DJ

Nothing Much to Say

Just a-writing along and thinking of Juan Rulfo selling tires. I don’t have much to say right now, just reading, thinking, writing. And then getting up and doing it all over again. eric-hoffer-learners-journal-keeper

Loving all things Elvis lately, (especially Last Train to Memphis, what a book!) and reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer. Thinking a lot about Hoffer’s link between “frustration” and fanaticism. And how they can become an explosive mixture, able to transform societies in positive and negative ways…The book seems more relevant than it has been in some time.  You should read it.

Sometimes, I have things to talk about on the blog, sometimes I don’t. I like to put who I am into my writing, and by that I mean my fiction writing. And if anything is left, it makes it into the blog. But here’s the deal: I don’t have much left after fiction writing right now. I could become a blowhard and write some fluff here, but I won’t do it. So, having nothing much else to say right now: I’ll keep quite this time and save it for the fiction writing this weekend and my next blog post.

Until then, I will be writing more fiction and submitting more of my pieces. See you all down the road and remember:

Keep Reading, Keep Writing,

Darius

No Reading Fiction While Working!

Here’s something I picked up while reading a quick, great interview with Paul Auster, the American writer. It seems Auster will NOT read fiction when he’s writing fiction:0115-BKS-ByTheBook-blog_Auster

What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid when writing?

No fiction while working on a novel — only after I’m done and before I’ve started something new — but poetry, history and biographies are acceptable, along with books to help me research various things related to the book I’m writing…

Now, you all know I’m always looking for ways to lift my writing game. I’ve thought this way for a long time. I’ve always been reticent to read other folks’ stuff while writing my own stuff in the fear that it might subconsciously affect my writing style. And sometimes the style of a writer is so strong—think Poe or Cormac McCarthy—that you can’t imagine it not affecting your writing. (That McCarthy—what a  style, too!)

So, going forward, I’m going to follow Auster’s advice on this one: no more reading fiction while I’m on a writing project. I’m going to save that for the time between projects. The only exception of course, which would be rare, would be for reading fiction as research for my piece. That will be exceptionally rare. And, as Auster notes, history, biography, non-fiction are still OK.

Bam, another small tweak to my writing process and a good one. I’d be curious to know if any of you writers out there have recently tweaked your writing process to help you focus/perform better. Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below. Thanks! 

See you next time,

DJ

Did Hemingway “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”?

It’s no secret writers—especially American writers—like their drink. In fact, one of my earliest memories from English class in high school was one of my teHemingway drinkingachers telling us: Never become a writer because as an American, you could win the Nobel, yes, but you’d more likely end up dead before your time or at least, a hopeless alcoholic. I was skeptical at first, but I started to do some research starting with some of the American writers who won the Nobel. And turns out, my English teacher was right. Here’s a list of 15 writers (not all  American) who were alcoholics and many  of whom died before their time. In the end, it’s all quite sad and tragic. Especially, somehow, the loss of Fitzgerald who died at 44.

But somehow in my mind, the Writer-Drinker Prize goes to Hemingway, although he was a teetotaler compared to Fitzgerald. Just pick up a work—any work by Hemingway—and read a few pages. Among many other things, you’ll soon be encountering wine, beer, spirits, aperitifs, tonics and beverages that you have never even heard of. (Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that many 20s/30s drinks are no longer are popular.) But it’s also clear he knocked back more than a few. Which all leads us to the supposed Hemingway quote on writing:

“Write drunk, edit sober.”

So, what do the scientists say? Well, I found some scientists in a lab who are willing to help us decipher…Actually, no…but I did find a blog post of dubious scientific worth which takes up the issue. According to it, there may be some benefit from a micro-dose (1-2 drinks) of alcohol.

Alcohol has been shown to depress certain response in the brain resulting in unusual connections/associations being formed… Alcohol boosts your imagination and inner consciousness.

When I had first heard about this, I was dubious. So, what did I do? That’s right! I tested it!

Now, this was not scientifically studied by yours truly. And I used myself as the test subject which violates all sorts of rules, I’m sure. As well as making it statistically questionable. Anyway, after a drink or two, (which kind of breaks the premise anyway), I wrote one day. Just, you know, to see what would happen. I wrote about 1,000 words and put the results away for a couple of weeks. And what did I find when I pulled it up???

It was junk. Almost immediately, I saw it was auto-trunkable, un-publishable, irredeemable prose. So, I ascertained, at least for my biochemistry, “writing drunk” was a horrible idea. Thank God for that.

What about coffee or tea though? Caffeine? A stimulant, not a depressant? The world’s most widely-consumed psychoactive drug? Well, our article has something to say about that.

Caffeine provides us with more working memory …Coffee also helps  you ignore distractions…

Turns out, I have also tested this. It’s true. But my experience with caffeine/coffee has been much different. On days I drink coffee I feel I write and edit better. I also feel it helps in pre-writing, drawing connections between ideas that had not been synthesized before and creating new directions in existing ideas. I find when I don’t drink coffee the writing doesn’t comes as easy and I’m not quite as optimally sharp as I should be.

So, if I had to rewrite Hemingway’s dictum it would be:

“Forget drinking. Write caffeinated, edit more caffeinated.”

Of course, the correct dose is a big question here, but it’s safe to say you don’t want to overdo the caffeine. You want to write, you don’t want to feel like you need to climb the walls. And there’s the related question of combining your caffeine with your chocolate (tryptophan). But that’s a blog post for another time.


So…what about the man himself? Did Hemingway actually ever say this, let alone do it? For starters, I can find NO evidence Hemingway actually did say this. It’s not on Hemingway’s Wikiquote page. In actual fact, it seems that it’s a quote from Peter De Vries from his book Reuben, Reuben. It seems in that passage in De Vries’ book, it’s a quote from the main character—an alcoholic poet—who has condescended to give an interview to a New York journalist about his “working habits.”

In other words, there is NO evidence Hemingway ever said the phrase. In fact, from what little evidence I could find, he only drank AFTER he finished writing for the day. Now, there’s no doubt he liked a good drink, but it seems he only indulged on his down time. Here’s the first quote.

When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?”

Which seems to indicate he would start drinking AFTER he worked “hard all day.” Then, there’s this from the great, great Paris Review interview of Hemingway.

So I got dressed and walked to Fornos, the old bullfighters’ café, and drank coffee and then came back and wrote “Ten Indians.” This made me very sad and I drank some brandy and went to sleep. I’d forgotten to eat and one of the waiters brought me up some bacalao and a small steak and fried potatoes and a bottle of Valdepeñas.

And then, the there’s this rather long-winded story about how the owner of the pension and the waiter try to get him to write although he’s been drinking. Hemingway doesn’t budge.

The woman who ran the pension was always worried that I did not eat enough and she had sent the waiter. I remember sitting up in bed and eating, and drinking the Valdepeñas. The waiter said he would bring up another bottle. He said the Señora wanted to know if I was going to write all night. I said no, I thought I would lay off for a while. Why don’t you try to write just one more, the waiter asked. I’m only supposed to write one, I said. Nonsense, he said. You could write six. I’ll try tomorrow, I said. Try it tonight, he said. What do you think the old woman sent the food up for?

I’m tired, I told him. Nonsense, he said (the word was not nonsense). You tired after three miserable little stories. Translate me one.

Leave me alone, I said. How am I going to write it if you don’t leave me alone? So I sat up in bed and drank the Valdepeñas and thought what a hell of a writer I was if the first story was as good as I’d hoped.

So, I really doubt that Hemingway ever “wrote drunk” though there is an awful good chance he wrote hungover at least some of the time. And there you have it.

,DJ