Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: November 2020

Eye of the Beholder

You never know how something is going to be received. This is a dilemma every artist has to grapple with at some point. You make something that works for you, but that doesn’t mean its going to work for others.

One of the pitfalls of realizing this is that it can make you think about changing your art to fit what you hope might be more acceptable. This isn’t always bad, but it bears some serious thought.

Do the changes make the piece better or do they dilute it? Maybe what’s objectionable is part of your voice – and your voice is all you’ve got. It’s what separates you from everyone else.

This is one of the tricky things about writing. At least in the beginning, it seems like until a piece is published, editing is never done. Changing content is absolutely part of editing, so why not change it to be easier to take.

Tread carefully.

No Mask? Think Again

It’s her ninth straight month of Covid duty. “My unit is 16 beds. Rarely do we have an open one,” she said. “And when we do have an open bed, it’s usually because somebody has passed away.”

Many of her I.C.U. patients are young, in their 40s or 50s. “They’re looking at us and saying things like, ‘Don’t let me die’ and ‘I guess I should have worn that mask,’” she said.

Sometimes she cries on her way home, where she lives alone with her two dogs. Her 79-year-old mother resides just a couple of houses away.

They have not hugged since March.

“I keep telling everybody the minute I can safely hug you again, get ready,” she said. “Because I’m never letting go.”

– Katherine J. Wu, “COVID Combat Fatigue,” The New York Times

No Quit

There’s something to be said for tenacity.

You want something done and it’s not working out? Try another approach, and if that one doesn’t work, keep going until it does.

I’m good at this – like a thoughtful pit bull, I’ll just keep hammering away until I get the goddamn thing done.

It’s not always pretty, but it is effective.

Stress and Adversity

These things keep us sharp, they give us our edge. The last thing you want is for life to be easy, ‘cuz that makes you soft.

We think stress is bad, but it’s not.

Every time you overcome some obstacle or persevere through hardship, you become stronger and more formidable.

Remember that the next time things start to go south.

New Shooter Coming Out

It’s a great honor and joy to teach someone at the beginning of their journey in a very difficult but rewarding profession.

I forgot how good it felt.

It was a good day.

Oh Boy

This is getting hard. Very involved with writing – not so much here.

Maybe this has outlived its usefulness? Hmmm…

Worth Remembering

“If there is nothing to grab the reader in the first page, it’s probably getting a “no” vote. Thems just the breaks. This is part of why writing teachers harp on the importance of the first page, first paragraph, and first line. That may be all that’s read.”

– Lincoln Michel

It took me awhile to get this – I always assumed the story started where it needed to, and that setting up the characters and narrative evolved at its own pace, as long as it was interesting and well-written.

But I get it – if you’re a slush reader, something needs to grab you quickly or else it goes in the rejection pile.

Duly noted.

Alarm Fatigue

One alarm shouts Emergency!
Attention must be paid
A dozen other alarms join in
And begin to form music
Making a comfortable ambient bed
That says Welcome home

Here’s Your Fucking Trigger Warning

“I would urge writers that if something doesn’t work, it’s not because it’s gone too far – it’s because it needs to be dialed up even farther.

There is an authority in doing the thing that is completely above and beyond wrong.

So if a line is not quite working, maybe it needs to be more extreme instead of less extreme.”

– Chuck Palahniuk

When to Call it Done

In music, the first takes are usually the best – warts and all. It’s a hard concept to grasp if you’re an artist, if only because you want your creation to be perfect. But here’s the thing: Nothing is ever perfect, and it would probably be boring if it was.

Musicians are notorious for never finishing anything, because they’re constantly tinkering and polishing – until the thing is no longer alive, it’s dead. You polished the life out of it.

Does that mean you ship something with mistakes?

If you’ve captured the idea you were trying to get across, yes it does.

If mistakes worked for Bob Dylan and Miles Davis, then they’ll work for you. Caveat: In Dylan and Miles’s case, they were masters at conveying their art in a way that connected deeply with the listener. Few of us are this gifted, but you’ll certainly never get there if you can’t finish anything.

Does this axiom apply to other art forms as well?

It’s an idea worth exploring.

Adapt or Die

  1. Wake up every day with the intent to create something & be of service to others.
  2. Strive to learn something new and improve.
  3. Be prepared to adapt when life throws up obstacles thwarting your plans.

Numbers 1 & 2 are necessary for growth and being useful to society.

But number 3 is the most important – it’s the ultimate tool for survival.

Adapt or be left behind.

Good Advice

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.”

– Neil Gaiman

Well, That Was Timely

Yesterday, even in the throes of some serious self-doubt, I still submitted a short-story for publication. It was designed to evoke horror, something I hadn’t attempted before. So I knew this one would be tough to find a home for.

Prior to this, none of the stories I wrote were designed to fit into a particular genre – I was just having fun expressing myself. For those who aren’t writers, constant rejection is a big part of the game (if you are trying to get published), and yesterday, for the first time, I was wrestling with the idea that my stuff might be too dark and hard-hitting to find a home.

Not twelve hours after submitting, it was accepted for publication. To say it pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable would be a gross understatement.

There are some important lessons to be learned here – I need to think about this more to fully grasp the implications. But I’ve often said that life will tell you what your next move is, you just have to pay attention and listen.

The timing here seems important.

Disturbing Self-Revelations

I’ve written quite a few posts about how writing is an act of self-discovery, a way of peering into your mind, of interpreting the world around you.

Well, I now have 13 short stories under my belt, and I’m beginning to see a pattern. One of the things I’m discovering is that I have a penchant for writing material that is disturbing to others. A recent rejection acknowledged the story was “a good concept, well-told,” but was deemed “too brutal” for publication.

That wasn’t my intention, I just thought it was a good story. But re-reading it, I kind of get it, although it didn’t seem that way to me when I wrote it. I knew it was intense, but I didn’t think it would be that hard on the reader.

On reflection, I realized similar themes run through several other pieces. These are stories I understood might be difficult for some readers. The problem is, the “difficult” parts aren’t gratuitus or put there to shock. They’re the foundation that powers the whole story.

To me, art should have no limits. Everything is on the table, available for exploration. But the reality is that most people aren’t going to have the stomach for graphic depictions of things THAT HAPPEN ALL THE TIME IN REAL LIFE.

Sorry for the caps; but it’s a big point. Can we not tell stories about the disturbing things humans do? That seems weak, doesn’t it? On the other hand, if it’s too unpleasant, why would anyone read it?

I like extreme juxtapositions – people triumphing over trauma, for example. But the triumphing part has no meaning if you don’t talk about the trauma too.

Am I discovering that my voice is unpublishable? That’s probably an overstatement, but it seems clear there’s a limited audience.

Ultimately, the artist has to be true to their vision, whatever that might be. I’m still figuring out how to best express my ideas without alienating people who might find it meaningful.

Where are my boundaries? Or is this the wrong question?

Maybe the right question is: Should there be any boundaries at all?

Election Day

Full disclosure: I am not politically involved; moreover, I am disgusted and disheartened by the state of Washington today. Our government has not become dysfunctional – it doesn’t function at all, except as a machine of corruption.

And yet…

I have voted in every presidential election since registering in 1975. As a citizen, I feel it’s my duty, whether I like any of the candidates or not. Sometimes decisions must be made on the assessment of which is the lesser of two evils. It’s just how life is, and if you don’t understand that, you need to grow up.

It’s none of my business who you vote for – just vote.

You can’t partake in the (rapidly vanishing) advantages of being an American without expending this most basic effort to participate in the process.

I fully get why you may not want to, but put on your big-boy pants and just do it.

Then you can go back home and fully disengage for another four years.