Word Work and Humility

One thing that I am noticing about this Creativity Journal is that it is helping me to follow through on small projects. I said yesterday that I would finish the Word Work review today, and I did. Part of the point of making this a public journal is to push me to finish the work that I start, so it seems to be working in that respect. I also updated a couple of these journals; I was a few days behind. Lately, I’ve been taking notes about what I want to cover in the journal entries so I can update them when I get time. As I’ve said before, it’s not completely live, but it is accurate by day.

This journal is also getting me more web traffic. Thanks to those of you who are visiting; I hope the journal is doing more than just giving people a glimpse into the not-so-disciplined life of an aspiring writer. I hope it is also introducing people to new writers and music that they have not encountered before.

A glance through my website statistics shows a few interesting things. First, it drives home the point that I am doing people (and the Carvin musical instrument company) a serious injustice by not completing my Carvin Bolt Kit review. More people are driven to my site when searching on Carvin related terms than any other combination.

The most intriguing thing that I saw in the stats, though, was a search engine referral. Someone found my website by typing the exact phrase “people who brag about their intelligence” into a search engine. I choose to take this incident as a reminder of the importance of humility.

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Forward and Backward

I learned today that Dr. Robert L. Forward passed on over the weekend. I have read a few of Dr. Forward’s books, and enjoyed Dragon’s Egg very much as a young man. I wrote a brief review of Starquake for this website years ago, and in reading it over, I wish I had said more positive things about the novel. It is a good novel, but my review is nit-picky, and concentrates primarily on a disdain for some of the name choices rather than on the true strengths and weaknesses of the novel. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned a bit about critiquing since then, but I would have to go back and re-read the novel to give it a fair critique

I still stand by my assertion in the review that Dragon’s Egg is a better book, and that I’m not sure Starquake really needed to be written. The premise was covered nicely in the first book, and the Starquake story seemed, to me, to be superfluous.

All that aside, I will miss the gravitational waves generated by Dr. Forward in the realm of hard science fiction. My story “Half-Lives of Quiet Desperation” is inspired partially by the ideas Dr. Forward presented in Dragon’s Egg, and though I don’t have the science background that he did, I know the importance of research in making a hard science fiction story ring true. I hope I can attain some level of his skill in presenting my own hard SF work.

At lunch today, I wrote part of my review of Word Work, by Bruce Holland Rogers on my handheld computer. At home I transferred and finished the review and was polishing it up when I decided to check my e-mail. Outlook locked up (Outlock? Hmmm …) and my computer displayed the dreaded BSOD. (I’m gathering more and more reasons to leave Windows 98 behind and move to Windows 2000 Professional.) I had not saved the review, and I had already erased it from my handheld and synchronized after copying it to the desktop computer. “Crap” is the appropriate term here, but, being an aspiring writer, I chose a stronger word when I realized what had happened.

I will rewrite the review tomorrow.

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Jammin’ With Jim

I got to play music with my good friend Jim for the first time in a couple of years today. I showed him my finished Carvin Bolt Kit and my Fender Cyber-Twin, then we BSed for a while. Eventually, we sat down with our acoustic guitars and played for a couple of hours. It was refreshing to play acoustic with him, and we slipped back into some of our old tunes with no problems. He also taught me the chords to Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” which I had always wanted to learn, but never tried. I taught him “Ode to Billy Joe,” since I’ve been working on it for the Tem class on Thursday.

I also got an e-mail from another friend, Bill, who had written a powerful short-short that he wanted me to read. I won’t give away the story, but I was impressed with it. I hope he can find a home for it somewhere.

I had intended to write a review of Word Work tonight and write some more on “Chesterfield Gray,” but somehow a chunk of time vaporized between dinner and bedtime; it’s now after 11:00 PM and I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning. I’m going to listen to my body and sleep.

Right after I read Trey Barker’s Veil of the Soul. Honest.

Oh, the Broncos beat the 49ers to go 2-0 on the season. Good start, gentlemen! (No, that’s not where my chunk of time went. I sacrificed watching the Broncos game to spend time with Jim. I told you he was a good friend.)

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Thinking About Writing

I didn’t write today. I did do a helluva lot of thinking about writing, but I didn’t write. The thinking started in the shower this morning. Unconsciously using techniques from Bruce Holland RogersWord Work, I imagined myself reading poetry to an enthusiastic crowd at an open mic. I imagined which poems I would read, how I would read them, and how they were received by the audience. When I left the shower, I was wide awake and bounding with enthusiasm for writing, which I couldn’t do because I had to go to work. Grrr ….

After work, I stopped by Old Possum’s Book Store and spoke with Jeff, the owner, for a while. We discussed writing groups, manuscript submission, writing and publishing conventions, and how different authors (particularly Ed Bryant) can be so inspirational and encouraging to us fledgling writers. Rogers discusses this in Word Work, as well, and it’s interesting to note that he also lists Ed Bryant as one of his primary mentors. The man is certainly the hub of SF and horror writing in the Denver area; I don’t know how he finds the energy to do it, but I’m thankful that he does. I wish he had a website so I could direct some traffic his way, but the closest I can get is the Wormhole Books website. Go there. Buy books. Now.

I did finish Word Work today, and I will post a review tomorrow if I can get it done. It’s a great book, and I hope I can use it to sustain the commitment I must make to my writing. When I finished it, I felt a pang of sadness; a miniature post-partum depression, if I can get away with saying that. Or maybe it was more like the feeling young adults get when their parents say, “Okay, you have to move out now. You need to support yourself.” It’s kind of a rejection, but at the same time, it’s an affirmation of belief in their ability to survive and learn about the world.

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Stories Everywhere

Story ideas are everywhere. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you his idea service.

Today, as I was leaving the grocery store, I pulled up next to a nice black car at the stoplight. The driver was a young blonde woman, her hair pulled back in a professional-style ponytail. It was about 6:00 PM, and she looked as if she had just gotten off work. She was very pretty, and her face was scrunched in worry. That, in itself, is enough to spark a story. What would make a young, successful businesswoman worry so? What is happening in her life?

As she waited for the light, she got a small box out of one of the grocery bags and opened it. She pulled a sheet of paper out of the box and unfolded it. The sheet had a pink border; it was instructions for a home pregnancy test. She was still waiting at the stoplight when I drove into the intersection.

You can’t tell me there’s not a story there. I guarantee it’s a very important story for the young lady. I couldn’t see if she had a ring on her left hand; depending on whether she did or didn’t, the story could go in vastly different directions.

On another occasion, I was walking with my wife in downtown Denver one frigid night. We were on our way to an Eric Johnson concert at the Ogden Theatre. As we walked, a couple about a block in front of us stopped short, dropped their bags, and faced each other, yelling. We slowed, not sure what was going to happen or if we would have room to get by. They sparred verbally, and then the man suddenly picked up his shopping bag, turned, and walked briskly up the street, away from us. The woman stood still. She called after him a couple of times, but he didn’t turn around or stop. She started crying. Gathering her things, she began to shuffle up the street in the direction he had gone, still sobbing in the cold air.

I have no idea what they were arguing about, or whether it was right for him to strand her on Colfax Avenue on a winter night. Perhaps he had some justification, or perhaps he was just a jerk. But the scene could translate almost directly into a story or even a movie script. I’ve often thought it would be a good exercise to write that scene from different perspectives: one that paints the man’s actions in a positive light, one that paints his actions in a negative light, and one that explains what’s happened in a way that neither person looks like the villain.

Observation is really all it takes to come up with the spark for a story. The writer doesn’t have to record the events perfectly for an idea to start burning; in fact, it might keep the idea from growing if the writer sticks too closely to the details. Stories that are based in reality may sometimes benefit from tension-inducing details that were not in the inspirational scene.

Tonight, I played Morrowind for the first time in weeks. I didn’t get very far; in fact, I stopped playing it in favor of reading Word Work. I should be able to finish the book at lunch tomorrow.

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