Category: Writing (page 2 of 3)

Clarion, Wayward Will Part 4: The Moon’s Turned Black

I didn’t think I’d write any more about my Clarion writing workshop experience ten years ago, but since today is the exact anniversary of a moment I actually learned something, I’d like to commemorate it by passing it on.

By this time in 2006, the six-week workshop was winding down to its last days and I’d handed in my final story for critique. After weeks of trying to write carefully plotted science fiction stories that ended up quivering on the page like botched abortions, I’d reached my inevitable “fuck this” moment.

We all have a “fuck this” threshold, right? Where you realize there’s no hope of doing something the way everybody wants so you just fling something out, like throwing your tennis racket into the stands? That’s where I was.

For my last story, I returned to being funny and mean with “The Moon’s Turned Black,” about a genetically-resurrected Algonquin Round Table quipping through the apocalypse in our moment of greatest need. I’d written it as something of a gift for Aimee after a couple of conversations about Dorothy Parker.

(That’s lesson one, by the way: write to amuse someone specific instead of a faceless multitude.)

So we all sat down in our circle of couches and chairs as the summer thunderstorms rolled in for the early afternoon, and for some reason, that’s what I remember most about it: how dark it seemed in the room. A good dark, though — a cozy dark.

It was darker than this.

It was darker than this.

(Lesson two? Find your comfort in the things you love wherever you find them.)

Each person offered their critiques and I was stunned at how positive they were, if not glowing. One person said not to change a word. Aimee said she felt like it was written just for her, which it was. Someone asked who the fuck Dorothy Parker was, but I let that go. Kelly and Holly, our instructors, seemed to enjoy the story and had great suggestions for it that excited me for revisions.

(Lesson three? Don’t do anything someone suggests to your story unless it excites you with a feeling of recognition.)

It was a big moment that I desperately needed. I was pretty sure that I’d be going home as one of those people who leave Clarion to never write again, having realized they don’t have and can’t get what it takes, but the general approbation for that story hinted that maybe there was something in me after all.

(Lesson four? Don’t give a shit about whether you are or aren’t a “writer.” Do you like doing it? Do you enjoy entertaining people? Then who gives a fuck what they — or, for that matter, you — call you.)

So I went home to find out what that something was, sitting down for many sessions with a journal in the library to figure out what I had to work with and what I didn’t. I call this the “Fix It or Fuck It” list, where I decide whether it’s worth improving what I didn’t do well (character, description) or working around it (plot).

(Lesson five? Nobody teaches you writing. You decide what to practice and improve by looking honestly at your own work and making adjustments.)

I’m not sure how much of the weird inter-social aspects of our particular Clarion helped or hindered me, though I met some wonderful friends and a life partner there (no, Steve, not you: Aimee). And I’m not sure if I needed the full six weeks away from my normal life to boil me down to my essentials.

What I needed was a calibration of my expectations of how much talent I had and how much I had yet to learn, and I doubt I’d have gotten that any other way.

(Lesson six? Some fiascoes are necessary, if you only know how to use them.)

[If you’re curious, I’ve posted “The Moon’s Turned Black” on the site for your bemusement.]

The Most Important Writing Advice You’ll Get Today

Here’s the most important writing advice I can give:

Stop making a big deal out of writing.

“Making a big deal” includes (but is no way limited to) the following:

  • Finding the perfect desk, pen, writing software, or coffee shop to work.
  • Writing random things just to feel like you’re still a writer.
  • Hunting down your mental blocks, hang-ups, neuroses, and terrible personal history to free the creative soul within.
  • Worrying at all about “inspiration” or “the muse” being present or absent.
  • Worrying at all if you’re working hard enough (compared to other writers, compared to other professions, compared to other people’s impressions).
  • Worrying at all about “finding your voice,” which is really just a retrospective conglomeration of all the voices you’ve chosen to tell your stories over many years.
  • Worrying at all if you’re ready. You aren’t.
  • Elaborately outlining or preparing your world or characters.
  • Joining the right “professional” associations to “network.”
  • Gazing with longing at becoming part of a writing “community.”
  • Searching for ways to make writing easier or less messy.
  • Searching for the perfect writing book, class, workshop, website, mentor, or…uh…blog post that has the secret.

What’s funny is that we know all of this already. We’re looking for ways to simultaneously simplify writing to make it easier and complicate writing to make it more magical.

Take the summer off from thinking about capital-W Writing and think instead about the thing(s) you’re writing. When a story exists to make you a writer, I can guarantee it will suck. When you exist to make a story, it changes a lot.

 

Hey! A New Interview with Me on the Outer Dark Podcast!

I’m not sure why people are interviewing me all of a sudden, but maybe I’m like the Paul Lynde of horror, the kind of show biz trooper always available when someone needs a center square.

Anyway, Scott Nicolay very graciously and insightfully interviewed me for the award-winning Outer Dark podcast, and it’s available for your enjoyment now!

Why Yes, I’ll Be at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts Next Week!

Once a year, desperate genre writers and academics come to the Orlando Airport Marriott for the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), seeking any reason to escape the bleak forlorn skies of their home states.

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This year, I have a reading  on Thursday afternoon at 4:30pm in the Magnolia Room. I’ll have new content, likely related to serial killers!

 

Second Interview on Elucidate with Goliath Flores!

If you liked my first interview with Goliath Flores on his Elucidate podcast, you’ll love the second when we get into writing, teaching, Game of Thrones, and why the Internet sucks!

Interview on Elucidate with Goliath Flores

Before we go any further, let’s all acknowledge that GOLIATH FLORES is an awesome name. Giant flowers!

Goliath, who happens to be my neighbor, hosts a great podcast about the arts here in Jacksonville called Elucidate. I came onto the show the other day to chat about politics, creativity, politics, and mass societal delusion. You know, the usual.

 

Eight Reasons I’m Not Going to Teach Creative Writing Anymore…and One I Might

As this semester comes to a close, I think I’ve come to a decision about my teaching career, and I think that decision is that it’s basically over.

1. I’m skeptical that writing is learned effectively in a typical classroom setting.

Writing is learned by epiphany: you try different things and see which ones feel right. Sometimes that’s accelerated by placing yourself in the path of possible epiphany, writing a lot and reading a lot and also perhaps through classes or writing books. But in my too-large classes with students of vastly different abilities and interest levels, it’s almost impossible to do anything but present the broadest (one size fits none) principles.

2. The only classes I can teach as an adjunct are the very basic ones that serve as general English credit, so 80% of my students have no interest in writing, certainly not getting better at it.

And I have no idea what to do with them. Try to reinforce the basics of grammar and punctuation that they never learned? Encourage them to be more creative, though they don’t give a shit? Focus on the 20% who are interested in writing instead? I never know.

3. I’m not giving my students what they need, which is mostly time.

Adjuncting is my part-time job pursued in the evenings after eight hours at my regular one, and what the students need most is hours of individual mentorship in everything from where commas go to how to send stories off for submission. I do the best I can with manuscript comments, but the best success I’ve had has been during casual one-on-one conversations with individual students: “What’s up with you and semicolons?” I simply don’t have the time to do that with a full time job in addition to teaching.

4. I don’t like reading people’s unfinished manuscripts.

Basically my students need to be told one of two things: “Keep doing this” and “Stop doing that.” The problem is that they hand in work that is way too close to composition so I’m telling them things they’d probably fix themselves in a rewrite. I never feel like I’m saying enough of the right things at the right time.

5. I don’t need the money as much as the other adjuncts.

Adjuncts are paid for shit, and many of the ones at my university work multiple teaching gigs all over town. Every time I teach a class for my credit card money, that’s one less that some poor bastard living off this shit will get.

6. There are standards and rigidity and accountability coming.

To their credit, my English department is trying to establish a baseline of actual repeatable results for the students, but all I want to do is say weird funny things about writing until someone accidentally learns something. It’s only a matter of time before calling myself “the Hannibal Lecter” of the English department or saying Halloween is Satan’s birthday results in a complaint and a long awkward talk.

7. It upsets me that students don’t leave my class cheering or weeping with the inspiration to write.

Hideous confession time: I am far more motivated by entertaining people than teaching them (mostly because the results of the former are way clearer than the latter).

8. Yes, it saps time and energy from writing.

Though I did manage to rewrite a novel this year with some better time management, my day job suffered a little and the writing could have gone better.

One reason I might teach again:

If I get an opportunity to teach/mentor a smaller group of motivated students in the way I want — “Hey, let’s hang out and write and read what we’ve got and talk about it” — I’d jump at it.

You learn writing by doing it a lot, trying new things, being honest with yourself about the results, and getting firm feedback from someone experienced that you trust. If I could help that, it might be worth it…to me and to the students.

Appearance: Necronomicon 2015, Grand Hyatt Tampa, October 9 – 11

I consider Necronomicon to be my home convention, one I’ve been attending since I was thirteen years old, and I’m always nostalgically pleased to be a guest!

This year’s event is once again at the Grand Hyatt Tampa from October 9th to the 11th.

I’m serving on these panels:

  • Friday, 4pm: How can SF Writers Keep Ahead of the Future?
  • Friday, 6pm: The Perils of Premature Publishing
  • Friday, 9pm: Making It Scary
  • Saturday, 11am: Crossing Genres
  • Saturday, 12pm: How RPG-ers Morphed Into Writers

I hope I’ll see you there!

A Pitch Session!

Some exciting things have been happening with my writing.

My collection of weird stories In Search Of and Others and my impeccable track record of selling only barely speculative stories to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine caught the attention of some pretty heavy hitters in Hollywood, and long story short, I had a pitch meeting.

At Marvel Studios.

Here’s what I gave them, more or less verbatim.

The film opens with the camera focused at ground level on a lonely stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, and a vintage convertible sports car zooms over our heads. The license plate says STARK, and now we’re following Tony Stark and Bruce Banner on their way…somewhere. We don’t know where yet because all we see is two guys in civilian clothes eating Funyons and drinking soda on a road trip.

Yeah, they have adventures: they stop at the Longaberger factory and the world’s biggest ball of twine, they help a battered wife escape from her husband at a truck stop, they get a flat tire, they accidentally ingest mescaline, they get into a fist fight at a biker bar somewhere in Texas. And between it all they talk, and we find out slowly that Nick Fury has died poignantly of cancer or something, and they both feel guilty for not being there when he died.

Hey, you’re the continuity guys. If Nick Fury isn’t really dead, that’s your thing. He’s dead for this movie, that’s the point.

As the trials and annoyances of the road press upon them, they argue more and more until Magneto destroys their car and strands them in the desert, unlikely to make it on time. They argue, they weep, they hug, and working together with a new emotional understanding, they do get to the funeral with, I don’t know, Black Widow’s help or something.

It was hard to gauge their response, but they gave me a great goody bag and some old fart greeted me with “Excelsior!”, so maybe those are good signs.

I’ll keep you posted!

Appearing at Oasis 27

You COULD spend this weekend in Orlando shouldering your way through crowds of reeking tourists and their spoiled children, or you could spend it coming to see me speak on these panels at Oasis 27 at the International Palms Resort on International Drive:

Saturday, May 2nd

  • 5pm: The State of Horror
  • 9pm: Tales of the Supernatural

There are, apparently, other things going on like readings, signings, and other non-Will-related discussions, but if you want to avoid the crowds, come see anything involving me!

 

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