Gone But Not Forgotten

OldBooksAlmost everything that I wrote more than fifteen years ago no longer exists.  The box containing my old notebooks and any school assignments I’d deemed worth saving disappeared during a cross country move.  The world is probably a better place because of this.

A few things do survive—certain papers or stories that for one reason or another were transcribed to computer and managed to survive the steady upgrade of computers over the years.  When I read these few survivors I cringe.

It’s not that my writing was bad, it was just….  It was unpolished, adjective-heavy, repetitive, sparse on meaningful description, and plot laden.  It was young.

But—and this is important—it was full of ideas, and it was full of excitement.

As an adult, I’m better at taking a random idea—i.e., a writing prompt—and with time and patience working that into something useful.  I’m better at revising a raw rough draft and molding it into something polished.  But what I’m missing now, what those early books were full of, were ideas that sprung completely from my own head—ideas that I was passionate about developing.

Sure, some of those ideas have hung around.  The ones I spent more time trying to tame were repeated enough that they are at least partially committed to memory.  But when I think back to the ideas I lost, I find myself wishing that I was able to revisit some of the crazier ideas with the honed skills I have now.

Do you still have the stories, notebooks or ideas you came up with in your past?  How far back?  Do you find them helpful, or do they just make you cringe?

I’d love to hear your answers in the comments—or pop over to the Today’s Author Forum and talk about it with other writers.

Rory’s Story Cubes

RWP_26Like many of you, in various English classes through Junior and Senior High I had to keep a journal. For the first 5 minutes of class we each pulled out a cheap spiral notebook and wrote about…whatever. I’m sure the intent, when the assignment was first conceived, was a bit more focused than it was by the time I made my way into the classes. If the intent was to have us write about anything profound, or to make progress toward some useful writing, it was lost on me–especially the years where English was the first or second class of the day.

No, my journals were often filled with musings (feel free to read that as whining) about how difficult it was to come up with something to write about in 5 minutes. My forced creativity occasionally led to my journal being filled with disconnected sentences, and wishes that I had enough time to focus on a fun topic. Nearly every time a teacher graded these I got unfocused comments that were about as close to a teacher calling a student a smartass as they could get away with.

As I’ve gotten older, and continued writing for another 30 years, the process of coming up with something to write about hasn’t gotten any easier. I guess I’ve just always had a problem with unfocused inspiration. Give me a pen and a blank page and my mind starts ticking through possibilities–but instead of whittling them down to a select few, the topics multiply and multiply again until my writing paralysis starts to look like fear, rather than overload.

I didn’t understand this all back then. In fact it took me a long time before I saw the pattern–as soon as a teacher told me what to write, I was off on a tear. Whether they gave me a narrow focus (an essay on a narrow topic) or a broad suggestion (write about aliens), the paralysis was over.

This still holds true for me. When I need to write a story I feel so overwhelmed with all the potential stories I could write that I have trouble settling on one in time to get something on paper. But when someone says, “Write a story using one of these characters as your protagonist,” or “use this song as inspiration for your sci-fi story,” I can pick few key points and I’m off.

Now, a little not-so-secret about me is that I like games. I spent years playing tabletop role-playing games, and even now my friends and I play quite a few party and strategy games. So, make something a game–and more importantly, tie in a set of custom dice–and you’ve got my attention.

4751141_origSo when I came across these boxes in my local game store it wasn’t a difficult decision to fork over $7 to try it out.

The concept here is not difficult. There are nine 6-sided dice, each side with a simple picture. You roll the dice and try to incorporate the nine pictures into something coherent. That’s if you play by the rules. But anyone who’s ever played Dungeons & Dragons–or even Risk–knows that everyone makes up their own rules.

To me nine pictures seems fine for a game, but I’m not trying to see if I can link all the images; I’m just using them as a kickstart. So now, when the blank page has been mocking me for a few minutes I don’t hesitate to whip out my special dicebag, pick 2 – 5 dice at random, and see what comes up.

This little writing tool is no cure-all. It doesn’t help me schedule time to write, it doesn’t help when my subconscious or ego gets in the way. But, when I’m ready to write, and can’t come up with anything, it’s amazingly useful.

And it’s kind of fun, too.

My Focus for 2014

focusMy creative writing goal for last year was to review and regroup. I spent the year going through old notes, unfinished stories, snipets, ideas, and a lot of junk. The idea was to judge what was worth keeping and what could be permanently forgotten. Then I took all that and organized it so that I can get to it again.

And I did a pretty good job. I’m left with one story that is unfinished that I still feel is worth finishing, and a good-sized database full of characters, scenes, dialogue, and thoughts that I can both find and use, when I need them.

But all that was prelude to a different goal. Now that all that is out of the way, this year I’m going to focus on redeveloping the habit of writing. Being creative is hard. Especially if you don’t use it everyday. And I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing.

There are many excuses I could give for this, and some legitimate reasons, too. But there’s no point in spelling them out, because even if you have real reasons you’re not writing, if you have the time and energy to list them, they’ve become excuses.

So what are my goals?

  1. I will write everyday. It might be a blog post, or a journal entry. Maybe personal correspondence. And just maybe a little bit on a story.
  2. I won’t schedule any exceptions to #1, but I will allow myself 1 failure/week without guilt.
  3. Since I’m rebuilding a habit, I’m going to start small. January 1-January 15, 5 minutes/day minimum…January 16-January 31, 10 minutes/day minimum…and so on. So by the Ides of March my minimum will be 30 minutes per day.
  4. I will learn not to stop when I’m on a roll.

And to give myself the threat of consequence…if I don’t contribute, SIGNIFICANTLY, to this blog in 2014, I’m deleting it.

You may notice that these goals do not include writing X stories, or anything to that effect. In fact I do have a project, that I’ll be working on this year–Rob Diaz and I, will be compiling and editing a collection of short stories. But right now we’re in the early stages and haven’t developed a deadline. Keep an eye out for news.