Writing: Work or Play?

There’s a delicate balance to be found when pursuing a career in writing novels. We write because we are passionate, because we have a story to tell, and ideas to express. We write to inspire, to create wonder, to spread happiness. In a lot of ways, we write for us. We write to be expressed, to share, and to find a purpose, and those can all be beautiful things. I think many writers feel that surge of emotions and hope when they begin a project, those excited jitters, those feelings powered by the thoughts of what this novel can become.

But we also have to keep reality in mind.

And the reality is, if you’re really serious about it, writing is a job.

They say when you’re working doing something you love you’re never actually working a day in your life. There is some merit to this but I don’t think it’s completely true. Authors who make a living from writing LOVE what they do, but I think it’s a stretch to say they love every moment of it. I think it’s a stretch to say that sometimes sitting down and editing paragraph after paragraph isn’t tedious and draining. The author doesn’t do this because they love editing (well, maybe some weirdos do) but because they realize they have to make their work the best thing it can possibly be before it’s shipped out.

There’s commitment involved in this. A regimented process. It is hard work.

Now, some writers have writing schedules. They block out time of when to write so they sit down and work on their projects regularly. It is very much a work schedule. I am not this way, but I do make sure to constantly be thinking about my projects and finding time often to do work on my books. If the inspiration isn’t there maybe I’ll just edit what I have done instead of write, but the point is I’m making sure to go back and do SOMETHING with the work as often as I can. I don’t want to make writing a complete chore (as Palahniuk says, you don’t go sitting on the toilet if you don’t have to take a shit) but I also realize that if I am not disciplined and somewhat structured, the project may never get done or may never be as good as it could be. Every writer has their own method and balance, and it is key to find yours.

So is writing work or play?

Ideally the answer is both. We should be happy and inspired when making our works. The prospect of getting farther should excite us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sometimes force ourselves to sit down and look at the work when the mood isn’t ideal. That doesn’t mean if the spark isn’t there for three weeks we don’t look at the work in progress at all. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. You have to be involved, and in a world filled with deadlines and demands, it’s incredibly valuable building skills now. Get used to sitting your butt down and just writing. Get used to drawing creativity out of you when it doesn’t strike on your own. It’s possible. I’ve sat down thinking the last thing I wanted to do on that day was write and then pure brilliance came out.

There’s value to spontaneity, but there’s also value to structure.

Think about your projects. What you are writing and why, what you intend to do and why, and try to find your best balance. We have to work hard to produce truly magnificent works, and that is a beautiful thing. We will always be growing as a writer, and in that vein I think we should challenge ourselves to improve our craft and habits at every opportunity. I love writing, and I love how much I’ve evolved as an author, and I’m so overjoyed just thinking about how much better I can become and how much further I can go.

Love what you do, just make sure you actually go out and do it.

Peace

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Writing: Work or Play?

Normal?

“Normal?” Laura asks, not averting her eyes from the road. “And just what is normal? Is normal the type of life where you’re constantly insecure of your body? Of who you are in a relationship with? Of how your house looks in comparison to the neighbor’s? Of what kind of job you have or what type of car you drive? Of what other people think of your children? Are these normal concerns? Because to me these sound like neurotic concerns, obsessive fixations on the most insignificant of details, the most desperate attempts to be validated by the outside world. Normal sounds like every fucked up person agreeing on what it’s okay to be fucked up about rather than striving for a little change. That’s it, you know what normal is? The enemy of progress, the bane of innovation, the cancer to the human spirit. You show me normal you show me mediocrity, you show me genius and you show me someone who dared to defy the standard. Normal is the blanket we think has been keeping us safe, but that’s actually been smothering us all while.”

Normal?

A “Romantic” Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, Terminal, about a nurse’s aide who takes control of his own life by murdering patients. I’ll be sure to update you on the state of Murderers Anonymous (being shopped by my agent) as info comes in! Pardon the rough state of the writing, it’s still in it’s early drafts, but I like the feel to this scene:

“Sartre said the fear we get when we look over a ledge or stand atop something tall is not the fear of falling,” Laura says, “But the fear that we’re going to jump.”

We’re standing on the stone railing of the bridge, looking down into the dark scar of a river below. The water shimmers only slightly, casting the occasional faint twinkle through the abyss below.

“The fear that we won’t be able to stop it?” I ask. My body rocks back and forth.

Laura nods. “The fear that our anguish will take over and we’ll do what we secretly want to.”

The Delaware River lurks below. We’d driven nearly a half hour to get to this remote bridge on a state route in the middle of nowhere. It crossed the river, linking New York and Pennsylvania, but with no nearby towns or buildings, there wasn’t a car or person in sight. It was just us and the night.

And the drop.

I estimate it’s about eighty feet.

“What are we doing here?” I ask as if I don’t already know.

Laura smiles. “We’re jumping, silly.”

Falling into a body of water from a height of 150 feet has an approximately a 98% mortality rate. While falling from lesser heights increases the chances of survival, there are still a multitude of variables to consider when evaluating whether or not a fall will be deadly. Angle of entry to the water, possible loss of consciousness, swimming ability, and the body’s penchant to go into a state of shock are among the factors that can contribute to death. If one hits the water at a poor angle for example (see: belly flop) the high rate of speed the body is traveling (see: high way speed limits) will result in the an incredible amount of force taken by the body as it hits the water (see: concrete wall), resulting in broken limbs, ruptured organs, or a loss of consciousness, all hindering the ability to swim and thus resulting in death.

And this is all considering the water is deep enough to accommodate you; you might just splash right through it to the rocky bottom, breaking yourself into pieces (see: splat).

“This is a unique first date,” I muse. A cold draft of wind ruffles my hair, and I consider the temperature factor as well. It’s about fifty-five degrees out, with the water possibly near freezing. There was a chance that could get us as well (see: hypothermia).

Laura turns to me, her eyes showing the same fleeting twinkle as the dark water below. “Isn’t it just? This is what life is about.”

“Do tell,” I say.

Laura takes a deep breath before telling me that the only thing that gives life value is death.

“Without death, nothing is sacred. Nothing in life has value because we’ll never lose it. There’s no clock, no pressing reason to have moments or experiences. No reason to make memories with loved ones. Life breeds complacency.”

She goes on to tell me about how infinite life would be a curse, not life at all.

“If we have enough time to do everything, we’ll never do anything,” she says. “There’s no impetus, nor is there a sense of wonder. You live long enough you see everything.”

She goes on to explain how death is a blessing, the state of non-being that shows us how fortunate we are to have, that encourages us to appreciate and grow while we can.

“Deadlines are the bastion of human progress. They are what drives the engine of humanity. And every death we experience is a lesson,” she stresses. “We learn lessons from people’s lives and apply them to our own. Without a beginning and end there are no lessons, no reasons, no true joy, no true accomplishments. Death is what makes life beautiful; it’s what makes life worth living.”

“It’s the shared experience that makes us one with all of humanity,” I say.

She smiles. “Yes. Death allows us to be defined and known. It allows us to live individual lives. This is why I do this.”

“You try to kill yourself?”

Laura shakes her head. She explains she does this every few months as a reminder she is alive. She finds a bridge overlooking a body of water, stands over it, and jumps. She seeks out heights that are not likely to kill her and water with depths that will accomplish the same.

“But there are no guarantees,” she stresses. “It has to have a chance of killing you or it isn’t authentic.”

“What does it do for you?”

She smiles, but for the first time it seems truly authentic. “When you’re falling you have the time to appreciate what you have, even if it isn’t much at all. When you’re facing death, when your body’s instincts think it’s coming, you realize the wonders and joys you’ve had in life. As you’re falling time slows down, your entire life plays before your eyes, and you have a moment of reflection, of appreciation. You get to experience yourself.”

“To put yourself into perspective,” I say.

She nods. “You let go of that sense of control all of us so desperately fight for and let the laws of gravity dictate your actions. It’s liberation. You feel so small but so wonderful, and suddenly, that life you lived, it all seems okay.”

I stare down. “It’s one of those things I won’t get until I try it, isn’t it?”

Laura nods. She reaches over and takes my hand. I squeeze it, and feel warm inside.

“Have you almost died before?” I ask.

She nods. “The best part is scrambling out of the water, trying to keep your wits about you.”

“I might die,” I say.

She nods. “That’s what makes you feel alive. Are you scared?”

“Contemplative, maybe, scared, no,” I respond. In an odd way, the glowing moon combined with the gentle sloshing of the river below and the song of crickets, made the scene romantic. It was the type of date that could figuratively (and literally) take my breath away.

“If you’re living life afraid, you’re not living life at all,” Laura says as she moves her foot forward and takes the plunge.

Hands still locked together, she takes me with her.

A “Romantic” Excerpt

On Extreme Writing

I write the types of novels that make people cringe. They are the types of novels that smack you in the face to wake you up or get a point across. There’s graphic violence, sex, and detailed description of perversion. I write the type of stuff that couldn’t make it into the movies. Sometimes that makes it difficult presenting my work to others. I’m a pretty positive, happy go lucky guy in my every day life, yet my novels are dark, saturated with what some believe is filth. I’ve had people wonder how a guy like me could even write that stuff.

Well, here’s how…

I believe that the best stories make us uncomfortable in some way (this doesn’t have to be grossing out or shock value) and that these stories show us aspects to society or reality we haven’t previously considered. The best stories live on in our minds and hearts and we grow along with the characters. We use the content to develop our own life lessons that will stick with us. Now, stories can do this in many different ways. The reason I have extreme events and characters in my stories is not for its own sake…it’s to convey points. It’s to wake people up to how others see the world and do. To what behaviors and perspectives really exist in our society. To what goes on around you every day without your knowledge. You might not like it, it might make you uncomfortable…

But you’ll learn something.

I find that this form is also good for satire. When you shock people with your characters and actions, they pay attention. They can more easily see the critiques on social contrivance or other’s behaviors. The protagonist with a warped viewpoint can challenge the reader and get across valuable messages.

So when I write a character who has lived through violent sexual abuse, and I describe aspects of it, I don’t do that for it’s own sake. When I write a scene with a grisly murder and provide details, it is not because I love gore. It is to open eyes, to catch attention, and make you think about some of the larger messages.

My mother read Murderers Anonymous (my novel currently on submission to the Big 5 publishers) which is filled with sex, violence, and foul language (I believe there’s 185 occurrences of the word fuck in some form, of course I hit control F to find out). I warned her about the content, I hoped she wouldn’t think her son was a perverted maniac. She told me, “I’ve been around the block. I’ve read and seen things.” Still, I was wary. How could a mother read a book her son wrote containing multiple graphic, detailed sex scenes?

She loved the book, and she loved the devices I used to get my point across. She saw the artistic value in them and didn’t think I was a weirdo. Maybe my worries were unfounded, but sometimes I still have people a little weirded out when I describe to them the type of books I write. But you know…

When most of them give the books a shot, they love them.

Keep reading, keep writing

On Extreme Writing

The Rejections Keep Rolling, but So Do I

I love hearing what people think of my work, even if they pass on it. Rejections build character, and I still keep the faith. My agent and I are chugging along strong. These are what rejections from Big 5 editors look like.

Dear Adrienne,
Thank you for your patience and for sending me MURDERERS ANONYMOUS. This has a fun premise. A high bar has been set for psychotic prose, but Allen certainly makes the grade on many occasions. And I think he has a good sense of what his readers will appreciate most—a supple sense of depravity and comedy. But despite enjoying much of what I read, I don’t think I’d have luck enough with this at (company name redacted). There might have been one or two narrative devices too many—definitions, direct address—, in addition to the challenge of bringing around reader’s to a murderer, that kept me from feeling bullish. I am sorry not to feel differently but very much appreciate the chance I had to consider a submission of yours. I hope you’ll keep me in mind.
Dear Adrienne,
Thank you so much for sending me Murderer’s Anonymous.  I was very excited to read it, as this type of book is completely up my alley!   I loved the gore and the grit that the author puts on the page, and I was absolutely floored by the twist at the end—I did not expect (character name redacted) to be the killer!  Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with the work overall as much as I hoped I would, particularly with the narrator’s voice.  I enjoyed the definitions, the tutorials on how to hack up a body, the breaking of the fourth wall, but overall, I do not believe that this particular narrator is for me, and so regretfully, I must pass.  Please keep me in mind for future projects, I sincerely hope we can work together on something twisted in the future
The Rejections Keep Rolling, but So Do I

Murderers Anonymous Chapter 1

Hello! This is the first chapter of my novel, Murderers Anonymous, which was picked up by my agent Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary in November. It’s currently on submission to editors at imprints of the Big 5 Publishing houses. I hope you enjoy the sample!

1

You don’t want to read about me.

Seriously, I’m not worth your time.

You’re still reading? Are you one of those types who has to leave a handprint on the wall because you don’t trust the wet paint sign? Or is it just a rebellious streak? Have you been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder?

Approximately 26% of Americans over the age of eighteen suffer from at least one diagnosable cognitive disorder. Spend some time researching your personality quirks on the internet and you’ll come up with a myriad of disastrous issues. Are you obsessive compulsive? Bulimic? Maybe you have ADHD? Social anxiety issues? Ergophobia? List some things about yourself – don’t worry you won’t be alone! We can give you a nice little label, some pills, and most importantly an excuse for all of your shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not discounting disorders entirely. We are all legitimately fucked up. Maybe I’m just saying the titles, categories, and treatments are misnomers. Maybe I’m saying narrowing the scope of what’s wrong down to one “condition” only serves to give us the illusion of control.

Or maybe I’m not.

Are you seriously still reading?

I knew a guy once; let’s call him Billy, who went off to Iraq fresh out of high school. Billy was pretty fucked up before he went to Iraq, a borderline alcoholic with penchant for fighting anyone who looked at him the wrong way. Billy had issues, but these combined with his miserably low high school GPA made him a perfect candidate to become one of Uncle Sam’s boys.

Three weeks into deployment an RPG struck Billy’s Humvee. He probably would have become meat pudding if it hadn’t been for his best friend in the unit, a poor son of a bitch named Joe Murphy, who happened to be standing between Billy and the Humvee when the grenade struck.

“So she lifts up the burka and she’s packing a dong!” Kind of sad, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you wish your last words were more flattering, and not the punch line to a joke about a goat-herder’s unfortunate run in with a transsexual Sunni?

I don’t know; who am I to judge?

What was left of Joe coated Billy. I’m talking searing hot flesh melting into his skin, gore forcing its way into his mouth, and eviscerated organs clinging to his body like parts of some grotesque ensemble.

I remember the party his family threw for him when he returned. I attended not because I was particularly fond of Billy; I just wanted to feel a sense of belonging. You know, the type of feeling that you get when tell someone you donated to charity, or ran a 5k to support cancer research.

You just do it so everyone thinks you’re a good person.

Everyone includes you.

Halfway through the evening, someone popped a balloon and Billy shit himself, put his hands over his ears, screamed at the top of his lungs, and ran until he tripped and fell face first into his welcome back cake, destroying it as he fell to the floor, face coated in vanilla frosting and pants soaked through with feces.

Approximately 7.7 million Americans over the age of eighteen suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, typically resulting from an injury or severe psychological shock. Symptoms include loss of sleep, constant vivid recall of the traumatic experience, inappropriate emotional outbursts, psychological regression, and a dulled response to the outside world.

The last I heard, Billy was addicted to pain killers, had a constant twitch, was unemployed and blowing dudes for pills in an alley in Tacoma, Washington. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.

Does it matter? He’s fucked up, you’re fucked up, I’m fucked up.

And you’re still reading.

I knew a kid once, an imaginative, bright little boy who had the misfortune of being born into a low income family. Maybe his creativity came from his mother, a failed artist turned pot dealer who was more concerned with completing high school level pieces of art than she ever was with taking care of a son. Or maybe it was from his father, who so inventively named the belt he beat his son with “Mr. Slack” for reasons unknown.

“You’ve been a bad, bad boy!” Mr. Slack would say in a voice eerily similar to that of Mickey Mouse. “Mr. Slack is comin’ for ya!”

But honestly, the boy probably got his creative and unique perspective from watching his parents fuck. His first memories of this were from when he was four or five, but he thought that the experiences went further back than that. His parents had the odd habit of stripping down and boning right in front of him, literally dropping whatever they were doing to go at it.

“Oh let him watch! He’ll learn early!” his obese father cackled as he thrust his stubby cock into the eagerly awaiting mouth of his wife. The boy was startled by how his mother stared directly into his eyes the entire time, as if she was taunting him.

Or enticing him.

Maybe his parents caused his social anxiety and sexual dysfunction issues, but these were exacerbated by wasting four years of his life dating a stuck-up, cold-blooded cunt who left him during his most trying time.

I fucking hate you, Kelly.

I love you, Kelly.

You don’t want to read about that boy. It will only make you a worse person. The baggage he’s carrying, well it’s just too much. Why don’t you go buy one of those commercial novels? You know, one of those feel good stories with the predictable arc where, despite the central conflict and the tension that arises with the love interest, the main character learns a valuable lesson, all misunderstandings are cleared up, the conflict is resolved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is your final warning.

No?

Maybe you’re just as fucked up as I am.

Murderers Anonymous Chapter 1

You Were Always Too Beautiful To Be Burdened By My Love

Makes less sense out of context, but here’s a blurb from an old project, Gentleman’s Game. My agent thinks it might be a good follow up after Murderers Anonymous. Still going through editing, so apologies for how raw the writing is.

Aiden stood before her, hand resting on the door frame, looking he’d come out of a war zone. His mouth was a busted mess, blood dripping down his chin and staining his shirt. Bruises and scratches littered his face, while his eyes were tired, drained and listless.

“I’m sorry,” he said. When he opened his mouth Sarah saw the state of his teeth, chipped and broken. His gums were a sickly dark purple.

“We have to get you to-” Sarah began, stepping forward, when Aiden intercepted her.

“Shh,” he said, stepping forward, putting his arms around her, and kissing her for the first time. He tilted his head and moved in quickly, his busted lips meeting her own. His body trembled from the pain of the motion and contact but he kissed Sarah with a passion, and despite the feel and taste of blood, for a split second, Sarah kissed him back.

Aiden broke the kiss, pulling away from her. Sarah stood, stunned, Aiden’s blood now smeared on her face. He wiped a drop of it away with his thumb before tapping it to her cheek, leaving a print. His eyes were more full of sorrow than when she’d met him on her swing set all those years ago.

“You were always too beautiful to be burdened by my love,” Aiden said before turning and walking back to his car.

Sarah tried to speak but no words came out. She tried to follow but her legs were frozen in place. Sarah had felt a chill run through her when he kissed her, not a chill of stimulation or excitement, but a chill to the bone, no, the soul. Part of her knew she wasn’t ready to handle the truth of whatever Aiden had gone through.

So she let him go. Sarah let Aiden walk back to his car and drive off without protest, standing at her doorstep, dumbfounded, for another ten minutes until the police arrived.

You Were Always Too Beautiful To Be Burdened By My Love