Saturday, January 31, 2015

Writer's High, AKA Writing Beast Mode

For a few years, I was an avid runner. I like to think of myself as still a runner, though my left knee tends to disagree. So for now I'm a runner who walks. I used to subscribe to running magazines and still follow running blogs, websites and such. One of the things that's discussed a lot in the running community is the so-called "runner's high." A phenomenon in which the runner experiences euphoria at some point in a long run. I've never experienced it and am half convinced it has something to do with a lack of oxygen to the brain.

A phenomenon I don't recall ever having been discussed in the writing community (and I'm privy to so much discussion in the writing community) is that of the writer's high. I'd never even thought of the possibility until yesterday. It was every teacher's dream--a Friday snow day. So I did what I like to do when I have a bonus free day, which is take my laptop to my local Panera Bread, drink about eleventy billion cups of coffee (alas, decaf since I was hoping to sleep sometime in the next week) and get some writing done.

So there I was, earbuds in place, instrumental music playing, and my rough draft in front of me. I was at a pivotal spot--the climax of the first major crisis. This was the one where Harry and Dee's relationship hangs in the balance. A thoughtless thing is done; a hurtful thing is said, setting off a chain of potentially disastrous events. That was the plan for the day. So I started writing. It was a little before 2pm.

Four and a half hours (and I know this only because the clock on my laptop said so--I was genuinely shocked to look outside and see that it was dark and had to look at the clock twice because it didn't seem real) and more than 4000 words later, the chapter--the longest chapter I've ever written-- was complete. I know it's going to need lots of editing and proofreading, but it's mostly there.

The point, though, is that I experienced something I didn't know was possible. I had a writer's high. I was so zoned in on the writing that I seriously think that Kate Upton could have sat down beside me in the buff and I might not have noticed. Time went by, people passed all around me, and coffee went in (and then back out) by the gallon, and I paid it all no attention. I was so completely immersed in this event I was writing down that it was all that mattered. I say writing down because it almost felt more like I was taking dictation than I was making this stuff up myself. Like I was the conduit for the story more than the creator of it.

When I was finished, I felt kind of punch drunk. I ordered dinner, ate it, went to the bathroom, packed up, and went to the car still feeling the remnants of elation and in a nearly trancelike state. I started coming out of it as I pulled out of the parking lot and realized I hadn't looked for oncoming traffic. I'm happy to report there was none. You may have figured that out since I'm writing this blog entry.

But this brings up an important and frightening question. How many writers have experienced what I did and have tragically not lived to tell the story because they stepped in front of a bus or driven around a barrier and gotten obliterated by an oncoming train? We may never know. But it's probably some. Possibly even more.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I'm a Teacher--I Can Write Anywhere

Something's been going on this week that I've been looking forward to since before Christmas break. And, by the way, the fact that I, an adult, still use the term Christmas break should tip you off that I'm a teacher. But anyway, I was contacted late in the fall about having a student teacher for the first half of this semester. I enjoy having student teachers for several reasons, some of them noble and others purely selfish. The noble ones include getting to have a positive influence on a new teacher and exposing my students to a different approach and point of view. The selfish ones include the fact that, for several weeks, the bulk of the teaching and grading duties fall to someone else. Yes, I supervise her and give her input, but that's a lot less labor intensive than making my own lesson plans, carrying them out myself, and grading the results. 

For me, though, the big self-serving outcome of having a student teacher is the sheer volume of writing time afforded me right square in the middle of the day. For several weeks, I no longer have to squirrel away time early in the morning or late in the evening to wedge in a few hundred words. No, I can have my coffee, read the news, browse Facebook, check my email, and linger over a leisurely breakfast before work because on the days when Beth, my student teacher, is responsible for all the classes, I can write. Thursday was the first day she had every period and I got almost 1800 words written. Yesterday, the number was lower, but only because I did some editing and revising before I started on a new chapter. 

And one of the cool unexpected benefits of being a teacher who's a writer is that I've learned that I can write anywhere and under nearly any circumstances, many that would be so distracting that a person without my superpower (that of being able to concentrate on fifteen things at the same time--every teacher develops it or becomes something else quickly) would find simply untenable. Yesterday, after I sat in on a couple of classes to verify she was comfortable with the lesson, I went away and wrote in a quieter place, but Thursday, I was at my desk all day as she taught. I even participated, at her request, in the activity. And, as I said, I wrote almost 1800 words. Yesterday, I edited that scene and found that, aside from needing a few minor tweaks and word changes, it was pretty strong stuff. 

So I found another reason to be thankful for being a teacher. It's not only made me a better writer--it's given me confidence that, should the need ever arise, I could knock off a solid chapter in the middle of a hurricane. 

Before I sign off for another week, I want to remind you that I'll be at the Parkersburg and Wood County Library today from 2pm to 3pm, selling and signing copies of my debut novel, Harsh Prey. If you live nearby, come by and say hello. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Sun is Shining!

Before I talk about my main topic, I want to mention that, as I sit in the living room looking out the window, I see a bright blue sky. The temperature promises to rise above 50 today. That means all evidence of last week's snow storm will soon be melting away, leaving what I would once have thought was depressingly brown bare ground, but I find myself somewhat surprised by just how much joy it now brings me. As I get older, sunny days mean more and more.

And now for our feature presentation...

I just got my beloved Mustang, Ellie, back from the garage, where she finally got a new top. I'd had the back window taped in for the better part of a year. While the tape kept the window from falling all the way out, it was not as effective as I would have liked in being waterproof. And when I went and picked her up, I was really shocked by how dull and lifeless the original top had gotten. The new top made the whole car look new. I almost felt like she ran a little better afterward, like she was as excited about her restoration as I was.

You may be wondering what this has to do with a blog about writing. Well, pretty much everything. How did I save up enough money to pay for it? Frankly, it was partly by living rent-free with my parents for the last few months. But rent-free doesn't mean expense free. I still have a house payment; I just don't happen to live in the house I'm paying for. The  main reason is that, though I'm not yet making enough money to quit my day job, I am ecstatic that I'm doing more than just breaking even as a writer. The income is only slightly more than the outgo, but it's more. And that's something for which to be deeply thankful.

I read something on Pinterest recently that I liked. For reasons I can't explain, I didn't bother to pin it, so I can't quote it directly, but it essentially said that people don't want to hear writers complain about how hard writing is and that, unless we are writing about how we escaped from a prison camp or a gulag or something, we should be thankful and stop bellyaching. It really hit me. I may not be on any bestseller lists. Heck, I'm barely on a selling list. But I am doing something that I love, and that's not insignificant. Sure it's hard sometimes, but the hard is, in many ways, what makes it so great. Being able to do it despite how hard it is, is something to celebrate.

There are few times in my life when I have felt a greater sense of joy and accomplishment than the day I sold my first book. In fact, I'd say there have been a grand total of three up until then in my entire life of 51 years so far: when I found out I became a National Board Certified Teacher, when I was the recipient of the Milken National Educator Award, and when I got my master's degree. All of those times were for my day job. The exaltation of becoming a published author was a whole different feeling, though. I've been a teacher for a long time, long enough to become confident that I'm pretty good at it. I've hoped to be a writer for an even longer time, but only recently has that come to fruition, and while I have definitely not been doing it long enough to be convinced I'm good at it (I may never get to that point), when that first book sold, the possibility of becoming an actual professional writer went from pipe dream to actual possibility.

Who could complain about that? Well, I guess I could--but who wants to hear that?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Upcoming Book Signing

This week's entry is going to be a quickie. I just wanted to let everyone who hasn't heard through other channels that I have a book signing coming up in a couple weeks. I'll be at the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library on Emerson Avenue on Saturday, January 24 from 2:00 to 3:00PM. There will be books for sale and I'll sign books for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing. There will be a drawing for a gift card, so come by even if you already have a signed copy!

Special thanks to Brian Raitz, the director of the library, for arranging this opportunity for me. It's exciting to know that someone in his position has such a commitment to promoting local authors. It means a lot.

I see events like these as an important way to get my name and face out to a wider audience. So far, the vast majority of my sales have gone to people I know and, to a lesser degree, people they know. If I want to succeed as a writer, I need to go beyond that. So, while I'm excited to see friends and family there, the people I hope to reach with this signing are people who don't know me but that are interested in my genre. That's the key to growing sales.

Here's a link to the event on Facebook: Book Signing

Comment here or on Facebook if you have questions. And let me ask a favor of those of you who've read and enjoyed Harsh Prey. Another great aid to book sales is positive reviews. If you would consider writing a review for me, at Amazon or Goodreads, I would be deeply grateful.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

And Why Do We Fall?

People who know me in the meat world know that I'm a nerd. I wear it proudly. I grew up idolizing Superman. I remember the giddiness I felt when it was announced that Superman: The Movie, starring the late (really, really) great Christopher Reeve was being made. And the glee has continued through the eleventy billion times I've seen it through the years. The same can be said for nearly every superhero or fantasy epic movie that's come out through the years.

Why am I such a fan? There are lots of reasons, but the main one is the concept of good triumphing over evil. The concept of people, albeit super people, standing against seemingly insurmountable odds and despite the fact that they are often mistrusted and even despised by the very people they're risking their lives to protect, and defeating the enemy. As a Christian, I think there are lots of moral lessons to be learned from this modern mythology.

As I said, Supes was, is, and always will be my hero. But second by the narrowest of margins is Batman. He is, in many ways, the dark yin to Superman's bright yang. Driven by vengeance, he's always running along that razor's edge between heroism and bat-crap (pardon the pun) crazy. Batman Begins is definitely my favorite Batman movie. I don't care what anybody says--Katie Holmes was quite wonderful as Rachel Dawes. I'm not into this gravitas garbage when it comes to comic book movies. She was beautiful and I believed her in the part.

But I digress. Why did I love this movie so much? First, it was just plain fun. The humor was subtle and not over the top, a la Adam West and Tim Burton. Second, Morgan Freeman, as always, proved himself to be able to bring life to every part he plays. Lucius Fox was by far my favorite character in all of the Dark Knight movies.

But more than anything, I loved one of the main messages of the movie, which is revealed in the very beginning and then reiterated at the end. Early in the film we see a flashback to when Bruce falls down a well and is terrorized by bats, thus setting in motion his eventual choice to take on the bat persona. But his beloved father comes to the rescue and, as he carries him into the house to bind his wounds, he reminds Bruce of this important lesson:

Many years later, when all seems hopeless, Bruce's father figure, Alfred, reminds Bruce of this lesson again:

What a powerful teaching. It reminded me that sometimes we need to fall in small ways in order to be prepared to fall and rise again in episodes of greater pitch and moment. Every time we encounter hardship, we can remind ourselves that all that's come before has prepared us to stand up to that affliction and, in turn, this crisis will make us ready when something even more dire comes along.

Fun? Yes. But anyone who thinks superhero movies are nothing more than mindless entertainment just aren't paying attention. I'm a better person because of them. And they make me want to continue to strive to be a better person. That has to be a good thing.

Maybe even a super thing.