Celebrating 500 posts: Why and how I write

My writing process can best be described as vomiting on the screen and sifting through it in search of an editable morsel.  The morsel is then preserved as I throw up again and repeat the process.  Many morsels do not make it, some do as the process repeats itself into something resembling a final product.  Call it evolution in action.  The why of it all is a harder question to answer…

This is the 500th post to this blog in barely two years, for a total of slightly under a million words.  My net earnings: $13.56.  I have also written, directed, produced, and acted in three feature films and several shorts.  I have three unproduced screenplays sitting on my Google Drive right now.  My latest feature, Masterpieces, something of an old school slasher film, was my first to have a real distributor.  It is available on DVD, Amazon, Tubi, and other places.  I am listed on IMDB, have been in several film festivals, and even been nominated for some minor awards.  My net earnings: Around $75.  I have written two novels and am hard at work on the third, which being a fantasy novel should count as a third and fourth in terms of length.  One is published on Amazon, earning me under $10.  I do not write this to complain.  I am fortunate enough to have more earning power than most at my day job and a wife who is supportive of the free time to pursue my writing and other artistic endeavors, even acting in my little movies.  There are many who toil harder for less and I am clearly one of the luckier people on this planet.  At the same time, it does prompt an obvious question:  Why, exactly, have I invested thousands upon thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars in an endeavor that has a return so negative any accountant not tripping on magic mushrooms would immediately shut it down and probably burn it to the ground?  To be sure, I have never been much of a self-promoter or networker.  For the record, I still cannot get my own wife to share even one of these posts, much less read most of them.  It is possible that there is an alternative reality version of me that has capitalized on this effort and generated a reasonable return, but the first blog I launched well over a decade ago, The Mushroom Mag, had two facts about me.  The first was that I loved Hawaiian shirts and sandals; still do.  The second was that I would be discovered long after I’m dead.  This, however, only makes the question more pertinent:  Why invest all this time and energy knowing how few people will read or see my work?

Of course, this is not an easy question to answer, nor is there one specific reason.  There is no doubt that I enjoy the act of writing and creating itself.  Some play games on the computer or in real life.  Some garden or have another hobby.   I write, but that alone cannot explain it.  Writing and filmmaking are arduous processes.  There is the moment of inspiration followed by the rapid flow of words on the screen or the rare day of shooting that goes wonderfully, completely with outcomes better than you expected, but that is just the beginning.  Most even middling works require extensive editing and rewriting, a careful examination and ruthless culling of what you have wrought.  There are sections of my forthcoming fantasy novel that I have reviewed hundreds of times, tweaking a little here and a little there on each pass, at times rewriting entire pages or scrapping them altogether.  This process will likely continue for the next 4-5 years before I am finished.  Even these posts are edited in full at least twice, in addition to the editing I do while writing.  Astute readers will likely suggest they should be edited a few additional times given that typos and grammar mistakes continue to creep their way in, but still I soldier on, producing content of varying quality on a near daily basis.  Why?  I can only say that I have been either blessed or cursed with an overactive mind and a close-too photographic memory.  Not necessarily good or bad, simply one that will not turn off short of sleep, alcohol, or other substances.  Generally speaking, I do not have anxieties, fears, or many strong emotions most of the time, but I do have a near endless supply of thoughts, careening around, sometimes at cross purposes and rarely with any focus.  As I type this, I have two other articles open that I am skipping between, plus work given that I have a real job that many would consider rather demanding.

The end result of these thoughts bouncing around an otherwise empty mind is something of a compulsion.  An idea, a scene, an image, a sentence, a fragment of a sentence, even a few nonsensical words strung together, no matter what it is, it has to get out one way or another.  This is not to suggest any overarching vision at work.  My writing process can best be described as vomiting on the screen and sifting through it in search of an editable morsel.  The morsel is then preserved as I throw up again and repeat the process.  Many morsels do not make it, some do as the process repeats itself into something resembling a final product.  Call it evolution in action:  Only the strongest thoughts survive, coupled with a strong reliance on undo, insert, copy, and paste for I could never write without a computer.  In fact, I have no idea how anyone really did it with a quill.  My pages would look like redacted reports from the Department of Justice.  Fiction and non-fiction writing is obviously different in many ways, though I try to have most conform to Brian Boyd’s insightful principle in On the Origin of Stories.  The writer’s first goal is to ensure it’s entertaining enough to capture the reader’s interest. 

Most of these 500 posts have begun with a simple statement that might be true or untrue, or a point I think worth considering, and then built up from there.  Sometimes these ideas are inspired by a breaking news story, the announcement of some new scientific or archeological research, the launch of a new product, or a book I am reading, even a concert or other show I recently attended.  Almost none of it is planned, though sometimes I will have a few topics kicking around or I will believe an upcoming event is likely to inspire a post.  Otherwise, most are pretty much whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, and the thing of it is:  Even before I started turning these random thoughts into “formal” posts, I was going through the arguments and conclusions in my mind anyway, perhaps not nearly in as long a form and without any of the research.  To be sure, there are limitations to the topics I am able to cover, or more accurately the extent to which I can cover them.  Shortly after starting this blog, a progressive friend of mine asked why I was writing so many political posts, rather than focusing on science or history where we are much more likely to agree.  The answer is simple:  First, in politics, something is always going on.  Second, whatever is happening, minor or major, can usually be framed pretty easily in terms of either conservative or progressive principles.  The articles write themselves, practically.  History, science, literature, and similar subjects require a lot more thought and research, nor are they constantly changing.  In an ideal world, had I all the time in that world to write, I would prefer to focus more on these topics, but unfortunately compromises are necessary when you face competing priorities.

My fiction writing begins in a similar place, either a general idea for a story, an opening scene, and interesting character, or a few elements I think would be interesting once combined, and then I just start writing.  I believe Stanley Kubrick once said that the best way to develop a movie is to come up with eight or nine great scenes, but he is a master. I’m lucky if I start with two or three. Beyond that, I maintain no outlines, notes, or anything of the sort, even though I know I likely should.  Full disclosure:  For my fantasy novel, I started with every intention of keeping good notes, a timeline, maps, and the reams of other supporting materials required for such a venture.  I did make an attempt, and have some rather outdated documents in the cloud and somewhere stashed around the house in a notebook, but haven’t touched them in years. This may well come back to bite me in the ass when I’m finally finished with the first draft and have to line up events spanning more than a year, dozens of characters, and two continents, but somehow I’ve convinced myself that I have the almost 600 pages of details well enough sorted in my head, at least for now.  Never underestimate a human’s ability to self-rationalize. At the same time, I do not recommend anyone else write like this.  Many rightly insist on having a complete outline and key characters and plot points in advance, but I have never been successful that way though I have tried once upon a time.  The problem was:  I ended up editing the outline over and over again and not getting anywhere productive.  For me, I need to be doing something, working at it when I might be better off smashing my head into the screen, but doing my best to think about it nonetheless.  Execute the plan, work the problem, however you want to define it. Sometimes, in those glorious moments too few and far between, the words come out faster than my fingers can keep up and the immediate needs of the story perfectly dictate what happens next.  You think to yourself: This is why I write. I’ve got this. There is a pleasing sense that you are finding the way forward along with the characters, discovering what comes next the same as your protagonist, or at least that’s what I tell myself as I know of no other way to do it.  If nothing else, the end of a story is a puzzle to be solved, a game of chess to be played with yourself. The perfect ending is out there, you just need to find it.

In the meantime, I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet.  “I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.”  That’s me behind a computer screen, toiling away past the point of madness and hoping I’m not going down a road to nowhere. Finally, I would be remiss not to thank my readers.  What can I say about that fine lot?  There’s no doubt that you are a select, intelligent, graceful group to have kept with me across these 500 sometimes meandering, grammatically incorrect, and incredibly one-sided, opinionated posts, many of which are on topics I am not truly qualified to consider. Anyhow, thank you for reading and here’s to the next 500, 1000, and more.  As my original tagline read:  In the age of bullshit, one man can shovel more than anyone else.  It should be clear to anyone that reads this by now:  I am that man, I can shovel shit with the best of them, and I plan to continue doing precisely that whether anyone reads it or not.

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