Radio Blackout

All three of my watchers have now officially informed me that my post is late. And in every major form of communication too. Online, in-person, and over the phone. For the record, I actually started writing this blog post last Tuesday during my lunch break, but have had to dump it since then. Because I hate to trash content even when it’s useless, here’s the outdated start:

I can always tell when it’s been awhile between updates; my IT Guy feels morally obligated to comment on the last post. The Sister, unfortunately, never feels such qualms, so while the radio blackout on her end is ongoing I officially have no idea if her subscription to my email update list is working, or if she just thinks I haven’t written anything in half a month.

Waste not, want not.

Admittedly, my work ethic has taken a big hit since I’ve moved. This may have something to do with constant access to the internet. YouTube has become the soul-sucking friend in my social group, the one you hate to introduce to your parents because you know they’re going to pull you over to the side later and gently point out that he might be a bad influence. Every Sunday night I make plans to try out a new writing schedule (with the purpose of generating some real stories for the story folder), and every following Friday I tell myself I’ll have a chance to try again next week. I remain optimistic, if nothing else.

Also, I was prepared to announce a short hiatus for the rest of the month while I try out a new writing schedule for the fifth time, but I actually prepared Thanksgiving content a couple months ago — if you can believe it — which means I can take off the rest of the month without looking like I’m taking off the rest of the month. I’m actually for-real working on a project (that mostly doesn’t involve writing), so once I’m back I should have something to say about it. For now it’s just easier to pretend I’m not up to anything. That way, if I don’t make my self-imposed deadline, I get to remain privately unsuccessful.

Finally, for all the folks clamoring and teeming to buy copies of my books as Christmas presents, I’m considering running a sale on my books through the month of December. I’ll officially announce closer to the 1st. At the very least it will not be a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal, but only because I know myself well enough to realize that I will never do anything business-related during the holidays.

A process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane

Writing came to me by osmosis, at first.

I never felt as though I had to learn it, same as I never felt I had to learn how to read. Reading was sitting in church with the bulletin in my hand, sure that I understood the indecipherable black print on the page because I knew exactly what was coming next. I’d heard the services so often I’d mouth the pastor’s part along with my father, sitting in my mother’s lap as she pointed at each line. I may not have known how to read, but I knew exactly what was written. It struck me as only natural that I would one day break the barrier between the two.

To learn to read was something I assumed I was already doing, and writing was a closely related family member.  The two seemed to me inseparable partners – once you were familiar with one, you were inextricably familiar with the other. No one ever told me I was going to have to learn. Reading was a fact of life, like green grass, Church on Sundays, and dusting the dining room chairs on Saturday morning. Like my brother and sister before me, it would quite obviously come to me of its own accord. Kindergarten rolled around and I filled out dotted-line worksheet after worksheet, vaguely aware that I should try to learn the letters I was tracing.

By the end of the year, I didn’t know my alphabet.

The week before 1st grade started I panicked. Years later my parents explained in some amusement their exasperation at my kindergarten teacher for dropping the little remark oh-by-the-way-Andrea-still-doesn’t-know-her-alphabet at the very last parent-teacher conference of the year. They spent the summer catching me up on the lessons I’d apparently ignored. Some of that must have finally sunk in the few days before “real school” (as I thought of all-day school), and I was suddenly certainly and terribly afraid that I would never learn how to write. It was the first and last time Mom and Dad ever bought me a present for the new school year. The small stuffed animal soothed me into sleep that night before 1st grade started, and it only seems remarkable to me now how parents seem to intrinsically know how to read their children.

By 3pm, I was no longer afraid – having discovered that my teacher did not expect me to figure out how to read or write after one day in her class.

As soon as I learned how to string a sentence together, I wrote a short story simply titled “Andrea book,” with a picture of a cat on a mat crayoned across the front.  Once opened, the book revealed the situation: cat and dog. dog is soft. dog slid. cat is ill. dog is sad. cat is glad. It was the first and least cohesive tale in the series of unrelated books I wrote and illustrated over the year.

But just like that, writing had revealed itself to me: a magical vehicle, a creature that can tell the stories in my head. Writing leads to reading, and reading is a window into adventure; into another’s heart and mind; into the kind of fantasies we dream about as children and quietly let go into adulthood. I will never save the world. I will likely never save someone’s life. The dangers I face will be both more dull and more heartbreaking – sickness, dementia, the petty arguments that can drive a wedge into what you had once thought was a rock-strong relationship, loneliness, the fear that your dreams (as little as they may seem) will never be realized. Reading is for the impossible. This is where I slay dragons.

Looking back, my parents were probably relieved when I brought “Andrea book” to them and showed them that the soft dog slid.

And Andrea? Well, once the cat got over her illness and the dog cheered up, Andrea was glad.

Don’t ever admit to anyone that your story is based on a dream

I don’t believe in prophetic dreams. Actually, let me amend that: I believe in prophetic dreams in the same way I believe in ghosts – because the Bible tells me so. As a basic tenet of my faith I believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as well as in the inerrancy of Scripture. Any Old Testament stories about a King having a dream and one of God’s prophets interpreting that dream must be true.

However, I’d be a good deal more suspicious if someone walked up to me today and told me they had a dream that came true. While I won’t say it’s impossible, it’s really not worth judging; everything I need to know has already been written down for my benefit. I suspect the days of prophetic dreams have passed away.

That said, I can understand why people are sometimes inclined to attach special meaning to dreams. From what I can tell – by both experience and some very vague reading into the subject – dreams are a way for your brain to sort through all the things on your mind. Worried about your sick mother? Mother dies in your dream. Mother then dies in real life, because that’s how life in a fallen world goes. Prophecy, kids.

My mind sorts things a little differently. In my last year of high school I finally started to realize that if I was going to write a book, I’d better start planning it. My ideas from those days turned out to be weak, lame, or just stolen from other sources (so I’ll never write them), but it did get me into the habit of constantly thinking in terms of story arcs and character. A couple years down the road and my dreams start to become strangely coherent – clearly following a plot. The ones worth remembering are from when I’m just on the edge of wakefulness, so I’m guessing I have some sort of control over what’s happening. Also, as soon as I lose the thread of the story (almost always on a plot twist) I wake up, dying to know what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, the reason I woke up is almost certainly because I didn’t know.

Still, if I really like the story my mind has been working on in my sleep, I’ll write it down while it’s still vivid. None of these dreams will ever show up in my writing as-is (dream logic is still way too fluid to work in a story bound by reality; I don’t think anyone would stand for the main character changing from a nameless man to an old high school friend and finally to me without warning or explanation), but someday I might use the bits and pieces that really struck me.

That said, here is a dream I jotted down during college. My roommate was taking a film class and decided to do her final project on zombie movies, which pretty well explains everything about this bit of creepiness.

They were starting to get smarter.  We were out in the desert, houses dotted in a small clump on barren land, Mom and Dad were there.  I don’t know what happened to [Your Local Friendly IT Guy] or [The Sister].*

The neighbors were taken.  Became them.  I knew before he revealed his face, that something was wrong.  He was dead.  It never stops the shock of it.

His wife and daughter made it into the house.  I don’t know how.  They’re not supposed to be able to get in.  They were able to talk, and they followed me in.  I was with the old woman who knows too much.  They spoke to the old woman, walked around the house, looking and touching things like they didn’t recognize them.  But they knew where everything was.  It had been their house.

They spoke of things that didn’t make sense, but had that on the edge feeling that they should.  They unplugged everything—hate lights.

Someone’s name was Maria.

The mother looked back at the door, saw the light-up cactus ornament on the back of it.  She said We’re tied in—smarter, but still don’t understand.  Their tempers are volatile.  She told me to go turn off the light upstairs, anger growing and bubbling and seething just under her skin, but I didn’t want to leave the old woman.  The old woman looked at me and I knew she wanted me to go.  I think she wanted to hear the creatures talk.

I was on the stairs when I turned to look back.  The daughter was closing the door on me, her face turned away and I knew, knew, that they were getting rid of me so that they could kill the old woman.  Let themselves go, destroy her, and I suddenly knew they were afraid of killing me on accident in the process.  And I knew the only way to save the old woman was to stay.  Because they weren’t willing to risk it.

I aimed a kick at the daughter’s head, missed, but forced my way back into the room.  The old woman was already pushing Maria out the door, of course already knew what I’d realized, and I followed back into the kitchen as they disappeared into the night.  I turned, and looked at the old woman: “They want me for something.”

“Oh honey,” she said.  “They’re planning something big for you.”

*names changed to protect the relatively innocent

I’d say I have a good excuse, but…

I don’t have any particular excuse for disappearing for a week, though I do have a few defenses I’d like to try: coming down with a cold! Headache every day this week! Discovered that Orson Scott Card wrote an intriguing series about fake gods! Bioshock!

In truth, I haven’t been working on my own writing as diligently as I should this week. Stuck on my own thinking (again) for how to start this one blasted novel that has been haunting me for years, I let myself get sucked into a few good books. But I’d like to think the break has done me good. There’s nothing like stepping into someone else’s world for awhile, and seeing how they build it. And to discover all the ways in which I would have built it differently.

One of the reasons I know I can never give up writing is because it’s such an incessant force in my head. I’ve threatened myself with it over the years (“If I’m not a successful author by age [fill in the blank], then I’ll quit and get a real job.”) but the older I get the more it sticks in me. I rewrite almost anything with a story in it (and I do mean anything – books, sure, but also TV shows, movies, and video game storylines) parsing out what disappointed me or what piece of information I would have exploited differently. This is not to say that the stories I rewrite in my head weren’t good – only that it’s a part of myself I can’t quiet; sometimes because I don’t want to, but mostly because I can’t. I enjoy it too much. And in enjoying the way I think, the more I like to own it.

Here’s the thing: some people write by instinct. One of my favorite short story authors, Ray Bradbury, would wake up every morning with a couple of words tumbling around in his head, and then would write by filling in the space around these words. “May I die before my voices,” is how he put it once.

I do not. I write by a strict adherence to analytically methodical planning, rooted deeply in a genetic predilection for obsessive compulsive behavior. I spend years on ideas, hours on the pros and cons between two synonyms and how they subtly change the feel of a single sentence, and I use words like “analytically,” “methodical,” and “genetic predilection.” My notebooks run thousands of words longer than my actual completed works, and I write things like “frick, get on with it” in the margins of the pages. Somedays I hate the little voice in my head that tells me to go back and make it perfect this time, but most days I am inordinately pleased with myself and how I make my neuroses work for me.

The point is, you must always work with yourself. Perfectionism does get in my way – as evidenced by the novel five years in the planning, whose first chapter I can somehow not get past (I’m up to fifteen versions, at last count) – but it also makes me a better writer. I will never stop being who I am, and while it’s always possible to change habits, I don’t want to hate the attributes that make my writing my own. Just so long as they don’t stop me.

A Nickel’s Worth of Free Advice

I have very strong opinions about books on writing. As far as I’m concerned they’re a great way to feel like you’re writing without actually writing. I am keenly aware of the many ways one can get out of writing and still feel like they’re working on it, and this is one of the best.

Here’s the thing: I love storytelling. I love coming up with ideas. I love lying awake at night, an hour after going to bed, while I work through plotholes in my head and connect seemingly random scenes about people that no one else has ever thought of. That, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having written something. But the act of writing itself is frustrating. It’s arduous when it doesn’t go right, slow even when it does, because what really gets me is how time-consuming the process is. I’ve spent most of my adult life making clerical jobs interesting by figuring out how efficiently I can get my work done, but there’s no real way to cut corners when putting 50,000 words down on paper. Unfortunately, it turns out that the only way to have written something is to actually write. And yes, I’m projecting, but reading a book on writing is a great way to keep on procrastinating nearly guilt-free.

That said, have a steaming pile of hypocrisy: I have always wanted to write a blog series on writing tips. And because I’m putting off writing the first chapter in a novel I’ve been planning for five years, I’m going to finally do it. Not all at once but in pieces, as bits of unsolicited advice strike me.

My first tip on writing is the easiest and the hardest: just write. Sit down and do it. You want to write a book? The only thing stopping you is you. (That and probably a tendency towards perfectionism; here’s a great article on how to deal with that.) No one will write your story for you. I’m sorry, but that’s how it is. How do I know? Well, because I’m insane and I once googled my own book idea, just to see if someone had already written it for me. I was…disappointed, to say the least. A little relieved, but mostly disappointed that someone hadn’t beaten me to it.

My second show-stopping piece of advice for improving your writing is this: read. You’d think it would be to write, but that comes in as a faraway second. The absolute best way for you to improve your writing is to read. There are benefits to reading both good and bad writing, though I ultimately recommend a range of styles, just to keep yourself from falling into someone else’s specific habits.

(Actually, I’d make a strong case that even watching movies and TV shows helps. While the medium is different, the strength of good programming is still in the writing. Though it uses camera angles, facial expressions, body language, and the like to evoke feelings, you have nothing to build on if you don’t start your foundation on a decent script. You can pick up on natural sounding dialogue, how to tell a story around visual cues – even book writers build their stories around pictures; a thousand words and all that – and, if you’re watching a Marvel movie, things like how to balance five thousand characters in a scene without shafting any of them.)

My style of reading happens to be intense: I analyze. Deeply and thoroughly because it’s in my nature. I’m borderline obsessive compulsive (this is not anyone’s professional opinion, just an anecdotal one: when I was young – preschool age, maybe, or possibly Elementary – I’d squeeze my eyes shut as hard as I could every time I blinked because it felt wrong not to do it the same way every time, when I was in middle school I compulsively washed my hands – how I stopped is a story for another time – and I still fold straw wrappers into neat little squares because the sight of one crumpled up in a wad on the table makes my hands feel dirty), so when I read a story or watch a movie, I first pick out what I loved and hated, then I figure out why I loved or hated it, and then I spend hours (off and on, over the course of weeks, months, and occasionally years, depending on how strongly the story hit me) picking apart how the writing pulled – or didn’t – pull it off. I love to do it. Absolutely and completely, though I never really realized how not fun that sounds until I explained it. Ah well. My thoughts are never quiet, but they make good company.

If you don’t like to dismantle a story into a pile of critically analyzed plot points over the course of years, don’t worry, let alone force yourself: a lot of what you pick up from writing happens subconsciously. For example, my grammar is excellent. It always has been. I’ve had the highest grade in my English class since Elementary school, and yet I can’t tell you a single grammar rule off the top of my head. I never could. The fact is I did so much reading when I was younger that I could look at a sentence and tell you immediately whether it sounded wrong. When I wrote a sentence, I just wrote it so that it sounded right. I was correct 99.something% of the time, and because American public schools aren’t into classical education anymore – which typically lay the groundwork for learning through rote memorization of facts and rules – none of my teachers ever figured out that I didn’t have the first clue as to why.

This is the other reason I hate books on writing: their advice usually comes across as do or die. That point is you learn differently – and you’ll write differently – based on your personality and your likes and dislikes. You’ll find your own voice without meaning to. People write what they want to hear. They can’t help themselves.

So my writing tips work for me. I have no idea if they’ll work for anyone else. Many, many writers – many of the creative types – work by feeling and intuition. I work by demanding that the process explain itself me, as clearly and succinctly as possible, without stuttering or apology.

Good night, I have just now realized that I even like thinking about writing more than writing. I need to go have my head shrunk.

We Can’t Come up with Cohesive Titles or Story Summaries

I’ve always felt that the sign of a bad writer is the inability to come up with a sentence describing their own writing. If you’re into fanfiction at all (which I’m totally not *coughcoughcoughcoughexceptthatIwasandsometimesstillamcoughcough*), one of the many signs that tell you not to click on a story is this, written in place of a summary: “I SUCK AT SUMMARIES THIS IS MY FIRST STORY PLS READ ITS GR8T!!!”

And then I post a new story on this website (“We are Amazing“) and I summarize it on my story page with, “The things a dog knows are exactly what they are.”


This is, first and foremost, an actual short story, clocking in at 810 words. I’m terrible at short stories because I have so much bull to throw, as I’ve stated before. This story was actually the result of an assignment near the end of my University days. My professor told us we had to write contrary to our usual style, which means this story is written in first person, using more simple sentences than I’ve ever tried to write in my life. My sentences usually look more like this:

Mrs. Bauermann’s obituary would later say that she had been a pillar of the community, an officer in her neighborhood association and the kind of person who volunteered countless hours at the nearby school, but when the students at the nearby school in question first heard about the old bat’s sudden demise, it was from an article on page two of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, under the headline “Local Woman Dies on Roof.” She’d been found about the time the sun started to crest over the gables, hour’s cold with her back to the attic window and her heels in the rain gutter.

73 words, kids, since “Post-Dispatch” counts as one. Also, I realize there are actually two sentences posted here (the second sentence is only, count ’em only, 30 words), but since the second sentence is the cream of the description I put it in anyways.

An additional note about point of view: I hate first-person. Loathe it. Loathe the fact that everyone and their mother writes in first person now. Somehow two of my favorite novels (“Ella Enchanted” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”) are written in first-person, but this is because of the dastardly nature of first-person. First-person masquerades as the easiest point of view to write. I understand why: it forces writers to stay true to a voice. There is absolutely no opportunity to write scene-killing over-drama like “his eyes narrowed at her from across the room as he cackled to himself.” The main character either has to have seen the eyes narrow herself or she has to have someone tell her about it – either way it’s more-thrilling, not to mention natural, writing.

Unfortunately, easy though it may seem, first-person is actually the hardest point of view to master. Why? Because nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks things like “I walked across the room to pick up the coffee pot.” You just do it. Instead you have to have your character think around actions, things like “the coffee looked gross but I decided to drink some anyways.” The only way describing your step-by-step actions sounds natural is if you’re telling the story to an audience, in which case the rules change again and it sounds normal to do so. On a similar note, you cannot naturally say things like “I answered him with anger in my voice” – you’re going to have to imply the anger. “I snapped at him” or “‘Shut your trap,’ I answered.” Unless, of course, your main character is exceptionally self-aware or is purposefully putting anger in their voice to make a point. Then go for it. It all comes down to characterization – first-person is not an excuse for sloppy writing. And yet it so often is.

I’ll get off my soap-box now. I’m not particularly pleased with “We Are Amazing” for all the reasons I just listed above. One of these days I’ll write and post a story that hits all my own right buttons.

The first. Hopefully of many.

My first (and thus only) poem on this website can be found here. Originally I intended to add both poems and stories to the site as posts, but after several days of hair-tearing frustration, I gave up trying to make the pages and categories on WordPress do things they didn’t want to. Since I’m not willing to learn code, adding them as static pages will have to do. It’s a clunky way to set up a website (and won’t allow comments under the actual writing itself, so if you have anything to say it’ll have to go here), but there you go.

This is the one and only poem I have ever untitled. I always feel obligated to title the things I write – a carryover from elementary school, I think, when putting a title at the top and “the end” on the bottom meant I was done – but this one…well, this one fits. The other option was to call it “The Poem That Only Starts to Scratch the Surface of My Love Affair with Notebooks,” but that was nearly as long as the poem itself. I went with the shorter version.