How I Write

This post originally appeared on the Salt in Wounds Patreon.

I thought you all might like some information about how I work. My (normal) process is as follows:

1. Brainstorm in Workflowy

 

First step, I utilize workflowy for all my brainstorming/project organizing. Workflowy is amazing and free; basically it’s infinitely nested and utterly searchable lists available on any device you happen to be utilizing. This is where I quickly jot off notes, outline, brainstorm, and just play with ideasIf you’re curious about workflowy (and I use it for lots more besides Salt in Wounds) you can sign up for a free account here (and if you use my code, we both get extra useage).

2. 1st Draft Longhand Notebook

From here, after organizing/vomiting out my thoughts via workflowy, I proceed to write a longhand version in one of my project specific genre composition books. I enjoy the physical act of writing longhand cursive (even though my penmanship is atrocious), especially with a fountain pen. It’s also nice because it’s free of distractions, can be done anywhere, and is the best way I’ve found to get out of my own way and just write. If you’re curious about fountain pens, these disposable ones from Pilot are what first got me hooked.

3. Transcribe into Google Docs

After finishing a draft in notebook, I’ll then type that up into google docs so I have access on whatever PC I happen to be using (I use a laptop for my dayjob, a chromebook for idle browsing, and share a workhorse desktop PC with my wife). It’s amazing how many errors and little tweaks I catch at this stage; writing a longhand first draft and being forced to take this step really helps me polish.

4. Additional draft Google Docs

From here, I try and crank out another draft in google docs.

5. Copy In Nonformatted Version into Word, Publisher, or whatever Blogging Software

Sometimes, bizarre formatting artifacts are transferred in from whatever word processor  (this was a much bigger issue when I was transferring and divvying up the old Tribality Salt in Wounds posts) so now I’m paranoid about weird typographical issues that make things look funky. In order to ensure this doesn’t happen, I first copy/paste the text into notepad before copying and pasting into blogger. At this point I do another draft specifically for spelling and grammatical errors (avoiding -if at all possible- editing for content).

6. Typoographical Edits

I recently read and paid for the freely available (and highly recommend) web book Practical Typography http://practicaltypography.com/ which is all about the artistry of Typeset language. It’s been a huge help in changing my approach to publishing and presenting my work as a professional. Anyway, at this point in the process I specifically produce a draft in blogger that’s focused on producing the most pleasing typographical presentation of my words I can manage. (By the way, while I recommend reading all of it, just taking a moment to review Practical Typography’s ‘Typography in Ten Minutes’ section will probably greatly improve your ability to present what you write.)

7. Promotion/Selling

From here, I promote or attempt to sell the work. I actually want to build as large an audience as possible (and make money), so getting my work in front of people (and then encouraging those people to comment, share, and otherwise join the conversation) is as much a part of the process as writing in the first place.

And that’s how I get from idea to a space where you can read it.

 

On 4 Weeks of Sharing

For the last few weeks, I’ve been sharing pieces I wrote as part of a ‘30 Days of Sharing’ project I did, wherein I wrote and published longer pieces on facebook. I cut a few because I didn’t want them to be public, lightly edited the ones I did publish; but this was basically a republishing of what I shared privately with my friends on social media. What follows is the last piece about the project.

On the most basic level, I feel relief. Producing these on the schedule I’ve been doing has been tough and -with some of these more than others- emotionally wrenching. At their best, I felt like I learned more about myself by producing these, grew closer to friends along odd, unexpected slants and in ways that Continue reading

On Writing

I have been writing consistently, and submitting pieces for publication, and working to get better for fourteen years. I’ve tried to quit once or twice; wished I could quit more times than I can count but I never could. I do my best to keep putting out better, truer work. And as an added challenge, since I’m going to be doing this anyway, I work to get paid for this behavior.

Sitting in my inbox today was a contract for a bit of game writing; a little fish to help feed my family. I was organizing my archive the other day, and I realized that -not counting reprints- I’ve sold Continue reading

On Using Up My Life to Make Art

Whatever happened to me in my life, happened to me as a writer of plays. I’d fall in love, or fall in lust. And at the height of my passion, I would think, “So this is how it feels,” and I would tie it up in pretty words. I watched my life as if it were happening to someone else.

This quote was written by Neil Gaiman, as dialogue for the character of William Shakespeare in the Sandman.

Art making is odd and strange and confusing and aggravating and extraordinarily personal. But in writing there’s an invitation to create critical distance between yourself and your experience by looking at what’s happening to you through a lens of the art you’re going to make out of it. And I’m wary of this particular undertow.

As a precaution, I try to apply this artistic lens only to my memories, only mine experience after it’s passed. But even so, a sense of ‘ahhh, this is interesting… how could I best describe it via prose?’ can seep into my every day, my every interaction. And in order to dissect, understand, or rearrange a moment in your mind you first have to kill it.

I’m not sure if this instinct for looking at experience from outside the experience is an occupational hazard of art making or bias that leads to more art making, but I do know they’re correlated.

I’ve never been much a of a picture taker because:

  1. I have an amazing photographer wife so I feel like it’s easier to be lazy and to (rightly) assume that awesome pictures will be produced without me having to do anything and
  2. Because I’m not fond of that moment where you step out of whatever is happening & raise a glass or lcd display over your eye to produce a reproduction and then maybe check that reproduction, try again if it’s not what you wanted.

It’s so simple for my attempt at the reproduction of the thing to have more weight than the thing itself, the moment. There is a dance to stepping into and out of the moment, and people who do it well (like Lauren) make it seem seamless, ensure that it serves them. But I’m not so skilled so I avoid creating the necessary distance to frame and set the cast of the moment in pixels.

I try to make sure I live a life for itself and not just to look good on instagram (although who doesn’t want to appear like they’re having a blast?). But I get away with this in large part because nobody sees me jotting notes and testing clever phrases in my head.

At it’s worst, there can be a sense that I need to do certain things, live certain experiences just for the art I’ll make out of it. I remember being so angry when someone suggested how great having a daughter would be for my writing; angry because my life (and most certainly my daughter’s life) isn’t for my writing but also angry because it I knew that what they said was true. With these recent essays, so many of the ones I’m most proud of started with the creative sparks that came off of experiencing something new or significant. And a life lived typing away at the office, submitting proposals to publishers and the like isn’t conducive to such moments. So maybe I need to go do _; just so I’ll have something to write about again.

But that isn’t why I do the things I do, that isn’t why I live my life.

Except there’s a part of me that’s constantly watching, and weighing; scheming about what I can make out of all this.

It’s a balancing act, learning how much and how to sacrifice to my writing. It would take everything, if I let it. But I think figuring out the boundaries, figuring out what is and isn’t for the art I make will be a process that continues for the rest of my life. Because I sure don’t have this figured out today.

On Using Social Media

 

I am a sucker for compliments and praise.

As a corollary, when people aren’t actively telling me I’m doing a good job, that I am a good John (let alone critiquing or criticizing me) I have a bad habit of imagining that they’re unhappy with me and that I’m failing in some way. I consciously set myself against these biases; as a practice try to cultivate a healthy disinterest in other people’s opinions about me and my life. Even so, using social media can be difficult; as I imagine it’s difficult for a lot of people.

I struggle not to get hung up on ‘likes’ and I generally fail.

A thousand likes usually means less to me than a single moment of Continue reading