I’d forgotten all about Stephen King’s earliest writing efforts, his self mimeographed stories sold to classmates in grammar school. The idea of making a work for my fellow students occurred to me, I made a comics featuring my friends and our enemies, but the idea of charging never did.
To his day there seems to be a weird block in my mind about making money writing. It’s not a case of imposter syndrome exactly, lots of people approach me for work, so I know I have talent. At least enough to be a good copywriter.
Copywriting is really more process oriented than writing stories and the results are measurable. Did the thing sell better after the words I wrote were attached to it? Great.
Even though it’s the main goal for me, getting paid to write things I make up seems like borderline scamming. You can get paid to do something you’d do anyway? People do, so why not me?
My wife works hard and likes to relax listening to comedy. I love this about her, but I can’t read when people are talking. She refuses to wear headphones, the best solution, so I wear mine.
Most of the time I just listen to white noise. I like the engine sounds of WW2 bomber planes and science fiction ships like The Enterprise and The Galactica. They’re quite soothing and do a solid job of muffling whatever is coming out of Mrs. Lott’s computer speakers.
Lately I’ve been pairing classical music and movie soundtracks with my reading. Sometimes you can pick a movie with similar themes to what you’re reading and it makes for an enjoyable experience.
I just finished reading a book about whaling titled Heart of a Samurai. I wanted something adventurous and nautical so I chose The Master and Commander soundtrack. It worked well for the most part, but since the book has no sea batttles in it (at least with other ships), the more dramatic sections of the score don’t quite work as well. The Mozart violin concertos are ideal, though. I’ve really gotten quite a taste for his stuff lately.
After I finished the whaling book I started re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing again. He’s so much a part of weird Americana I wanted something peculiar, kind of 1950s rock and roll, and upbeat, but in a queer way. So I picked some surf rock compilation of David Bowie covers. It might not be the combo for you, but damned if it isn’t the right selection for me.
I’ve read this book several time since it came out. I even remember reading the original columns from The New York Times. Each time I find that I’m doing more and more of the things King recommends. I’m not sure if it’s progress or just me copying. It seems to be working.
Usually I re-read this book with The Artist’s Way at the same time. I don’t know if I’ll do that this time. I’ve gotten the lessons down and I never find myself stuck. However, I do procrastinate. Which is why I gave myself a month off writing if I wanted to (I didn’t, but I am parking self promotion for now).
On March 16th it’s a page a day of writing about goblins until I’m done. After that, the self promotion machine is back on, turned up to eleven.
About every fourth book I read is something that’s well reviewed, but not something I’d normally be interested in. I pick authors with very different backgrounds than mine. I’m almost always delighted by these books. Though there are always exceptions.
I thought The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz was going to be great, but it was totally flat. I could tell you the plot, however, the characters were so dull I can’t even recall their names. Maybe something was lost in translation.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell looked like it was going to be too adolescent for my tastes. I was amazed to find it so thoughtful, the young lovers are well crafted and believable.
When is was young, I would fully immerse myself in a single author at a time. Now I move from subject to subject. I was on a WW2 kick for a while, now I’m traveling through some young adult books. I did read two Neil Gaiman books in a row recently. There are a few books of how I haven’t read and I think I’ll be hitting them up soon.
I wish I could read as quickly as Johnny 5 did in Short Circuit. Every book I read feels like food and its nourishing my brain, making me a better writer, a better thinker. A better person.
One of my favorite things to do is start a book in the morning and finish it my evening. I usually only get to do that when Mrs. Lott is occupied with work and doesn’t have a list of bullshit chores to do. I swear to god the moment I’m rich I’m done with cooking and cleaning. I hate both activities with the passion of a spoiled child.
Anyway. Hopefully I can finish the book I’m reading today, The Heart of the Samurai by Margi Preus. After that I’m either going to pick up Stephen King’s On Writing again or read Bruce Springteen’s bio.
I’ve ordered about 50 books in the last month. I’m kind of obsessed right now.
Milo Y. made an appearance last night on Bill Maher’s show. As is the modern way, everyone is either way too happy or way too angry about it.
It was a mediocre performance for Milo and the panel mobilized weak rebuttals to lazy trolling. It seems all this noise leads nowhere except the applause or jeers of the divided masses, who ultimately only show up to be entertained.
Maher said to Milo, “You remind me of a young, gay, alive, Christopher Hitchens.” I see how a casual viewer might have that impression, but it absolutely surprises me that Maher would have it. Hitchens was on another level.
Hitchens’ main goal was not to shock. He never opened with hostility or rudeness. Sure, if given even the slightest opening, he would eviscerate an opponent (poor Mose Def!) but it was never the endgame. Hitchens’ career was not based on clicks and YouTube views. It is impossible to underestimate the influence of the click economy on modern political discourse.
However, Hitchens’ legacy is not immune. His most ascerbic assaults are collected in videos and dubbed “hitchslaps.” Even someone like myself, who loved Hitchens when he spoke about literature best of all, can spend hours watching him dismantle charlatans like Al Sharpton and Deeppockets Chopra. I guess I’m just as bad as everyone else.
I wish we could see more actual debate and less insulting. Who knows? Maybe Milo will evolve. Maybe we will.
After a year of writing online everyday, I’ve found the habit hard to kick. So I’m going to just jot a few things down from time to time. Jots can become epics if you aren’t careful, though.
This is just a place to collect thoughts and inspiration about writing now. Fingers crossed, maybe I can make the big bucks like Maria Popova. What a life she has.
Anyway, the picture above is from Neil Gaiman’s essay book, The View from the Cheap Seats. It was the title of a talk he gave about creativity to a class graduating college. It’s inspiring and should be read by anyone trying to make a go of the freelance life.
There’s one bit in particular I quite enjoyed because I’m a member of the scribbling proletariat. And it’s this three part system on how to get more work:
1. Do great work you are proud of.
2. Be easy to work with.
3. Turn things in on time.
Gaiman suggests you can get by with two out of three and work. You have to do all three to be great. It’s taken me years of chasing this triplet to get where I am now, which is at the first step of good work and a decent career.
Last night my wife surprised me with a dinner with friends at my favorite place to eat in Oakland, Clove & Hoof. It’s a rare treat to see everyone all at once and even rarer to have eaten at my favorite Louisiana and California restaraunts in a single week.
You may have noticed I’m still writing on this blog. I know I said I was done, but I just did three pages of writing in a notebook and still felt like posting. I don’t think I’m going to repost anything on Facebook, but I might just keep writing short posts like these.
I’m going to keep the talk to food and books. And maybe if something to crazy happens to ignore, I’ll write about that.
Life is a carousel. It goes around and around and you find yourself at the same places over and over again. The only thing that changes is sometimes your horse has risen and sometimes it has lowered. Most people just sit there and let the circumnavigation happen until the ride ends.
I’ve always wanted that carousel ride to be like the one that opens Lost Boys. I hoped to live like those vampires, walking against traffic and living free. I wanted to be outside the safe pattern of bobbing horses going nowhere. I wanted to be thrown off the ride.
Being a writer is the only way I know to make that happen.
I’ve written this post a thousand times in my head. Sometimes it’s long and full of meaning. Other times I simply write “So long and thanks for all the fish.” Now, I honestly don’t know what to say. I want to say it a thousand ways. I want to say this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and that it was honestly not that hard. Both things have been true.
Jesus, this is going to ramble.
I began writing a draft of this final post on a porch swing at my Aunt’s house. It’s a place with a lot of memories and I hoped it would bestow this last day with some meaning and magic. The porch is where I last saw my Uncle Frank. He gave me a blue plastic rosary which had been his since he was very young and then told me to go live. He died a few weeks later. I followed his advice and lived.
I made a lot of changes and decided to take life, as they say, by the balls. I moved to San Francisco on a whim. Changed everything about how I looked (it all wore off quickly and I was back to my black t-shirts and Converse quickly). I had plenty of adventures. Through all of it I kept journals. All I ever wanted to be was a writer. I lived the way I did because I wanted to have stories to tell.
Lately I’ve been flipping through those old journals. They are very inconsistent. When I was miserable and lonely, I wrote epics. There are dozens of pages about how much I hated bartending. When times were good, I could barely be bothered to write anything. The first few months of dating my wife are almost entirely undocumented. Months and sometimes years would pass where I wrote nothing at all. This is the worst thing you can do if you aspire to be a writer. If you want to make it happen, there is only one way: you must write every single day. If you want to be good, you must read every single day as well.
You have to capture the good times and the bad. And you have to write even when you don’t feel like it. Many people make the mistake of waiting for inspiration to strike. It doesn’t. It taps gently on your window and if you aren’t up late waiting for it, you won’t capture it. My favorite writers and musicians still speak of the Muses. These goddesses whisper beautiful things into your ears. You must ready yourself for them.
You must write every day.
When I started this year out, I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I thought I’d eventually write something inflammatory enough to go viral and then I’d make that my living. Quickly I realized that was a bad idea. The best case scenario for that kind of career is ending up as one of those angry fake news talking heads. I tried it out and people liked it, especially during the election. Those posts were by far the most widely read. But I realized how toxic it is to always be on the hunt for something to be angry about.
So what I decided to do is train myself to have the endurance and drive to write something actually good. Writing this blog revived my desire to be an author and killed the idea that I wanted to be a popular internet writer offering my hot-take on whatever shallow thing was happening.
So now I’m going to try and write a book.
The book I will write will be as good as I can make it, which I hope is very good. The writing is not at all like what you’ve read here, fiction is different, but you’ll definitely be able to tell I wrote it.
I’m writing it for myself, but also for kids who are like I was: quiet, hardworking, into mischief. The working title is The Goblin Chef. It’s kind of Kitchen Confidential meets Harry Potter meets Indiana Jones. Stephen King says all you have to do is write one page a day and you’ll have a book in a year. Writing this blog gave me the strength to do it. I begin March 16th and plan to be done with the first draft (it’s about 150 pages) by the end of the year.
In magick, they say it’s all about intention. My intention for this and all my future writing is to be able to work from anywhere, without an office, so I can live in Oakland and New Orleans. I want to, as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman do, to make all my living from my imagination. I want to write fun things from coffee shops and libraries and cover my mortgage. Hopefully my wife will be proud of me.
I think it’s possible. Anything is possible when you’re consistent.