Using Instagram to Break Out of Writer’s Block

I haven’t been doing much writing lately. Who am I kidding, I haven’t written but a few pages here and there since the end of last year. I could easily say life’s gotten in the way, but the honest truth is I just haven’t felt inspired. And what is the writing life if you’re not inspired?

Inspiration, breaking yourself out of a self-imposed writer’s block, can come from some most unusual sources. Take social media for example. I’m not talking about websites like Writer’s Digest or any other writer’s magazine, chock full of well-intentioned but obvious advice – “A writer writes!” – that often times can leave a writer more discouraged than inspired. I’m talking about leveraging Instagram.

Instagram? You mean that app where people like Miley Cyrus and millions of others post selfies, or pics of their cats? Yeah, that app. I’m on Instagram, and I’m just as guilty of a few selfies as you are. But in between the selfies and cat pics are writers and poets posting snippets of their work. I’ve found these writers, thanks to Christina Hart, aka Daily Rants with the Bitch Next Door, and some of the writing I’ve been reading has been nothing short of profound and daring.

So I decided to take the plunge into the Instagram writer’s community pool and post some of my work:

Call it micro-fiction, or even poetry, but it’s me flexing my writing muscles again. You can’t cycle up a mountain without getting on the bike and hitting a few short roads first, no?

Question for you, dear reader: do you use other social media sites to motivate or inspire you or your writing? Share your results below!

In Praise of Late Bloomers

For those of us who are in our 40s and are constantly reminded that creativity is best suited and served for by those younger than us (see Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 List), here’s a reminder that just because you’re 45 and you still haven’t published that novel (or, worse yet, finished it) doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

In Praise of Late Bloomers

The history of literature is rife with so-called “late bloomers,” writers who had the desire and the inklination to write, but never had a major work published until they turned 40 or later. Charles Bukowski didn’t publish his first novel, “Post Office,” until he was 51. Toni Morrison was nearly 40 when her first novel was published. You get the idea.

We tend to romanticize this notion that youth is a requirement for producing major works of art, and while that may be the case in, say, music or visual art, it doesn’t lend itself that well to literature. Sure, you can write a great novel when you’re 25. But you can also write a masterpiece when you’re 50.

For more inspiration, there’s Bloom, “…for writers and artists of all ages and stages, for anyone who believes that the artistic journey is, and should be, as particular and unique as each one of us; that there is no prescribed beeline to literary achievement.”

I, for one, need to be reminded of this every day, and remember that it will never be too late for me to achieve what I want to achieve as a writer.

“Man of Clay” by CL Bledsoe – Virtual Book Tour

Banner

 

Today is the last day of CL Bledsoe’s virtual book tour celebrating Man of Clay, a novel with elements of magical realism and a dash of steampunk. This funny, engaging story redefines what Southern Literature is capable of being. Man of Clay can be pre-ordered today!

 

I was raised by storytellers who recreated the drab, flat Arkansas Delta world as a place of legend. The smallest events could take on mythic status. Years ago, a farmhand worked for my father. He was a somewhat shiftless young guy, a nephew of someone who my father hired as a favor. One day, he was backing a truck full of soybeans, meaning to turn it around, though he’d been warned just to back it out. As he eased the truck back, he kept repeating, “Doin’ good, doin’ good,” until he backed it into a ditch and turned the truck over, dumping the harvest out. Forevermore, he became Doin’ Good, and the tales of his exploits were legendary.

 

Doin’ Good was a minor character, though, compared to the legend of my father, whose exploits could fill up a novel by themselves. From the time he learned a brother-in-law was a jogger, challenged him to a footrace in rubber boots, and won, to the practical jokes he and my uncles used to play on each other, my father was a larger-than-life character who imbued my childhood with a kind of magic. When he wasn’t acting out tall tales, he was telling them, from jokes he made up to stories passed down for generations.

 

When I wrote Man of Clay, I was inspired by these kinds of stories. I looked to the folk tales collected by Vance Randolph, Zora Neale Hurston, and others, as well as stories my father told me. One story trope, especially, stood out: the Big John stories. Big John is a trickster character, with origins traced back to the Anansi the Trickster stories that were brought over by African slaves. The spider, Anansi, became Big John, a slave who matched wits with Master, and almost always won, though often at great cost. (These stories further morphed into the more palatable Brer Rabbit stories). I thought it was important that I stay true to the spirit of the Big John stories, but that I make up my own for the book to pay homage.

 

Book Cover

 

In Man of Clay, Big John appears as a symbol of hope for the slaves. Some of his stories are fairly whimsical—like the one where Master’s wife tries to seduce Big John, and he escapes by climbing a ladder up to the moon—and some are much darker, like the one about the time Big John dressed his daughters up like sons to hide them from Master. When Master discovers the subterfuge, he murders the girls, but not before being forever humiliated.

 

The great power of these tales is their tragedy. These aren’t Disney stories with happy endings; they are brutal, sardonic stories in which the only real gain is often a simple revelation of humanity, which might come at the cost of the lives of those Big John cared for most; instead of a Prince Charming or a golden castle, Big John simply wanted to be treated respectfully and recognized as a human being.

 

CL Bledsoe is the author of four poetry collections, one short story collection, and five novels, including the Necro-Files series. His stories, poems, essays, plays, and reviews have been published in hundreds of literary journals, including Cimarron Review, Barrow Street, New York Quarterly, Gargoyle, Nimrod, Arkansas Review, Pank, Potomac Review, and many others. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize thirteen times, Best of the Net four times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the year by Story South’s Million Writers Award. Bledsoe currently lives in Alexandria, VA, with his daughter.

Author Photo

As NaNoWriMo Approaches, A Decision…

Around this time, many of you, myself included, would begin gearing themselves up for the exhilarating marathon known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Thirty days, 50,000 words. I myself have participated in it three times, having successfully completed it in 2012. It’s a blast, let me tell you. There’s no greater rush than that final week, the words simply flying out from you, and you’re not editing yourself as you’re going along. Just let it come out of you, and the rest will follow. It’s an incredible high, and, believe me, I know highs.

Right before the November 1st kickoff, we NaNers (the term I use for NaNoWriMo participants; the proper term is “NaNoWriMos”) will prepare ourselves, if we are the preparing type. We have a precise idea of what our new work is going to be about. We’ve begun outlining the story, fleshed out characters, consulted our trusted books on the writing craft. We’ll even put together our NaNoWriMo Survival Kit – lots of caffeine and snacks will be involved.

So how am I preparing for NaNoWriMo 2014?

I’m not.

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year.

Nope. Not happening.

While I do have some life events that will likely prevent me from dedicating as much time as I’d need to give NaNoWriMo the attention it deserves (I start a new full-time job in two weeks, and my wife may be having surgery in mid-November), the honest truth is that I simply don’t feel like taking part this year. I’m in a self-diagnosed writing funk lately, and NaNoWriMo isn’t going to spur me out of it, either. I haven’t written much of anything lately, and what I’ve written doesn’t interest me. I’ve taken a short break from writing just to recharge and rethink some strategies. Taking part in NaNoWriMo isn’t a strategy that I want to be a part of right now, since my head and my heart just aren’t in it.

I will, however, cheer my fellow NaNoWriMo survivors on. If you’re embarking on this annual marathon, know that I’m thinking of you, and I know you’ve got what it takes to reach the finish line. But remember, ultimately it’s about the challenge, not the finished product. If you can’t finish, don’t beat yourself up over it.

If you’re thinking about doing this, for the first time, NaNoWriMo is a great exercise in the art of sticking to a deadline. While 30 days and 50,000 words won’t produce genius, it will produce that ass-in-seat mentality you need to be an effective writer…says the writer who’s taking a sabbatical from writing.

Ignore me.

Anyway…more from me later, from the writing front, soon.

(Reblog) Should I Get an MFA? 27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

The age-old question that’s asked every year: should a writer get an MFA, or should they not get an MFA?

27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

Lots of food for thought from many writers who give their perspectives from both sides.

For those of you who’ve either gotten your MFAs, or are in the process of completing your MFA degrees, what’s your take? Worth the time and investment? Inquiring minds want to know.

All Aboard the Blog Train!

Not one, not two, but three writers have asked me to hop on the blog train. I was invited by Rebecca Douglass, the wonderful talent behind The Ninja Librarian, Kat Glover, who blogs over at Your Mama’s All Write, and Victoria Sawyer, who runs the terrific Angst blog, to take part in a blog train. The way the blog train works is pretty simple: the blogger that “rode the train” the week before writes a post answering three questions, and at the end of the blog, features three of their favorite bloggers. The featured bloggers keep the train a-rollin’ by doing the same a week later.

All three blogs are favorites of mine, and I enjoy reading their work and their takes on the everyday things that make you smile and gnash your teeth. If you’re not familiar with any of these blogs, it’s high time you got yourself familiar with them right now.

It’s my pleasure to take a ride on the blog train. ALL ABOARD!

Here now…The Questions!

1. What are you working on now?

Several things, actually. This blog, for example; I’m taking part in the Daily Post’s Writing 101 monthly writing prompt blog, posting a blog a day based upon their writing prompts. This has been a fun writing exercise for me in that it helps me flex my writing muscles and keep them moving. Nothing like muscle memorization to help you along, don’t you think? I also have several other blog posts I’m writing for the month – my weekly Friday List blog, an upcoming primer on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and definitely the random blog on what’s on my mind at the moment.

The work-in-progress that’s currently keeping me occupied is a full-length “upmarket fiction” (i.e. – a hybrid literary/commercial fiction work) novel about a suicidal woman who embarks on a road trip across 1990’s America with a fictional character. It’s pleasantly insane, which is why it’s kept my interest: there are always more layers of crazy to unpeel, and I’m having fun doing that.

I also have several pieces of short fiction that I’m polishing up and submitting either for competition or just to answer an open call for submissions.

Finally, I’m collaborating with fellow writers on judging entries for an anthology, and I’ve volunteered to copy edit another anthology.

 

2. How does your work differ from others of the genre?

My work differs not so much from others of the genre, but from other writers I’ve met so far. I don’t like the “genre” label because it implies limitations, so I much prefer to work without any preconceived confines. I do like the idea of “upmarket fiction,” which takes the best of both the literary and commercial fiction worlds, neither of which I have a preference for, but both whom feature very strong writing.

 

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because, honestly, no one else is writing this. I write what I want to read, simple as that.

 

4. How does your writing process work?

I wish I had an actual process, you know, where I wake up in the morning, fix myself a pot of coffee, sharpen about 10 pencils, and get to writing. But I have a demanding job that takes up more than 40 hours per week, and I’m a husband and a parent. So when I write, I often have to use pockets of time throughout the day and simply make the best of it. When work wasn’t as demanding, I had more time in the day to write.

The thing is, I’m constantly plotting, jotting notes down, keeping the fires going. So that’s a process, right?

 

Now, for the other three that are coming along for the ride…

1. Tracy Cembor and I share something in common: she too finds the time to write, whether it’s a few scribbles or a thousand words, while balancing the demands of a full-time job AND being a parent. She shares her insights, her triumphs and her setbacks, all with a great attitude, over at her blog site. She’s well-worth the discovery, people!

2. M.L. Swift is a riot. His “About” page is exactly the way an About Page should be written. He’s funny and incisive and extremely generous. I’ve been a big fan of his blog and have enjoyed bantering with him on all kinds of topics over the past couple of years.

3. Bud Smith…well, shit, if you don’t know him or his writing, it’s your loss, pal. Seriously. Your. Loss.

 

 

How I Learned to Stop Procrastinating and Fall in Love With My Work-in-Progress Again

Yesterday, I rediscovered what it was like to get lost inside a work-in-progress again, and feel excited by the prospect of it all.

All the interruptions in life meant several things that were near and dear to me were sacrificed. One of those being my work-in-progress. The truth is I could have made the time, but the more distance I gave the WIP, the easier it became to ignore it, and that’s simply a cardinal sin a writer shouldn’t commit. Whatever excuses I made – and there were plenty, and all we’re legit reasons – there was likely nothing that would have prevented me from taking even fifteen minutes to jot down some notes or flesh out a character or sketch a scene.

Regardless…

For some reason, I have no idea why, I was thinking about baseball, and I had remembered this one elderly man who worked the security desk at the building I worked in when I was a Pfizer employee from ’94 to ’00. In addition to working the security desk, he had a unique second job: he worked for the New York Yankees, as the greeter at George Steinbrenner’s private suite at Yankee Stadium. Pete was his name, and he was constantly yapping about his beloved Yankees (a source of annoyance for this long-time Mets fan: OH SHUT UP), and sometimes he was WAY OFF about his opinions. For example, right before the ’96 season got started:

“Not sure what Mr. Steinbrenner’s soon’ hirin’ Joe Torre. He couldn’t win anywhere. He might be fired by the All-Star break!”

Torre won nearly 1500 games and 4 World Series.

Also, same conversation:

“This new shortstop’s not all that good, Jeter. He’ll end up in the minors not too long.”

OOPS. When Derek Jeter retires at the end of the 2014 season, he’ll be the Yankees’ all-time leader in hits, runs scored, and games played, and perhaps the most beloved Yankee since Mickey Mantle.

Just goes to show we can’t always be right.

When I thought about Pete, I thought about some of the blowhards, both men and women, that I’d worked with. There was some background I felt that was essential that was missing so far from my WIP, namely my protagonist’s professional life. What she did for a living was as important as who she works with. I thought these past experiences of mine would make for good details to plug in, and see where the story leads me. I was eager to do some plugging and revisit my WIP.

But being that yesterday was Memorial Day, with swimming pools and gas grills galore, my day was going to get monopolized by all things Memorial Day. My daughter was itching up get to the pool. I was itching to get some writing.

Compromise: I took my daughter to the pool, and while she splish-splashed with her friends, I wrote 5 pages longhand in my notebook, lounging on a deck chair. 907 words in two hours’ time, just letting the words flow while the sun was beating down on me. I didn’t stop to edit, I didn’t make notes about what I wanted to write. I just wrote. What took place kinda reminded me of this picture I once saw of Hunter S. Thompson, before he became the legendary gonzo journalist:

(I swear, I was doing the same exact thing: notepad, beer, shorts, bare feet. Maybe there is something to writing in the sunshine, huh?)

I’m setting some time aside tonight – after this blog gets posted – to capitalize on the momentum I’ve suddenly picked up, now that I’ve rekindled my love affair with my work-in-progress. More importantly, it’s essential to me that regardless of the amount of time I set aside each day, whether it’s fifteen minutes or a few hours, those are the moments I should most take advantage of. There’s a work-in-progress that’s been neglected for too long, and it’s time I give it the full attention it truly deserves.

This should be fun.

Why Befriending Writers Should Bring Out the Competitor in You (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

Author’s Note: Another first Wednesday of the month, another post for The Insecure
Writer’s Support Group
. Be sure to check out the many other writers participating in this blog hop. Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for leading the IWSG.

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

 

Like me, many of you are no doubt friends with authors. Some of those friendships are mere acquaintances, perhaps, others closer than that. It seems obvious, of course, to be a writer and have friends that are also writers. I mean, why not surround yourself with those who understand why it is you delve deep into your prose, obsessing over the rhythms and cadence of every sentence?

I am inspired by my writer friends. They too have embraced the self-publishing wave, opting to become their own imprint. From their footsteps, I was inspired to take my own leap into the self-publishing world. Many of my writer friends helped me along the way, and continue to do so.

But I confess to being envious. Envious of the plaudits they’ve received, and the attention they’ve garnered elsewhere. However, I am not a man who wallows in jealousy. It’s a stupid, pointless emotion that gets you nowhere. If I’m envious, it only fuels my competitive streak. So when a friend gets a great review on Goodreads, I am excited for them, but there’s a part of me that says, “C’mon, Gus, you can do better!”

That I can do better doesn’t mean I want to one-up my writer friends in the my-book-got-better-reviews-than-yours, or, “Hey, look, my short story got picked up by Glimmer Train, and yours didn’t, NYEAH NYEAH NYEAH NYEAH!!!” It means I have to work harder, and write better. That competitive streak has fueled me to crank out more than 10 short stories in the past couple of months, as well as plug forward with my work-in-progress.

My point is we should draw inspiration from our fellow writers, because we share the same trials and tribulations, as well as the triumphs. And it doesn’t hurt being competitive with one another, as long as that competitive nature fuels your creativity, not your jealousy.

The Best Response to Bad Criticism (Insecure Writers’ Support Group)

Author’s Note: Another first Wednesday of the month, another post for The Insecure
Writer’s Support Group
. Be sure to check out the many other writers participating in this blog hop. Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for leading the IWSG.

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

As writers, as artists, as creators, we put our work out there for public consumption. Whether it’s one person who reads it, or thousands (we hope!) who read your new short story published at New Millenium Writings (okay, I’ll stop dreaming now…), you’re putting your work out there, for people to enjoy, to digest, to appreciate.

Some people will not like your work. And will not hesitate to tell the rest of the Internet that your writing sucks.

I got some bad reviews for my blog collection, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run: Seven Years of Rants, Raves, Dirty Jokes and Bad Ideas From a Small But Loud Corner of the Blogosphere. I knew my brand of humor essay wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I went ahead with self-publishing my collection nonetheless. It’s one thing to win the praise of friends and family, it’s another to win the praise of complete strangers. Still, getting some bad reviews stung, especially when the reviews seemed so far off the mark. One reviewer criticized me for my “stories” having no form, no plot, and bad characters.

You have to resist the temptation to lash back at your critics. I mean, screw ’em, what do they know, right?

That’s exactly what Josh Homme, he of Queens of the Stone Age, said in an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast recently.

(Yeah, here I go again quoting sources of inspiration from unlikely sources of inspiration. See: Bourdain, Anthony)

When asked about the creative process, Homme pointed out that no matter what he does, he’s never going to be able to please everyone, and anyone who aspires to please everyone is running a fool’s errand. To take that one step further, he addressed some of the criticism he’s received in the past:

I work and I work until I’m 100% satisfied that what I’ve done is the best work I’ve done, and once I’m done with that, there’s nothing I can do to control whether people like it or not. If they like it or love it, that’s great. If not, then the CD makes for a nice drink coaster.”

What Josh Homme said can also be applied to writing. Write to the very best of your abilities, exceed them, even. Write knowing that the short story or novel or poem you’ve written has been written to meet your high standards (that is, assuming you have high standards, and you’re not one of those waterheads who thinks it’s perfectly fine to just write something you’ve just pulled out of your ass as a first draft and throw it up there, without a single edit, on self-publishing platforms like CreateSpace or SmashWords…), and no one but you will know what you’ve undertaken to create what you’ve created.

Yes, we all want our work to be appreciated, but, face it, that’s not going to happen. Just like we’re going to get rejected by agents and publishers, we’re also going to get rejected by reviewers. So be it. You wrote the best book you could write. If a book reviewer doesn’t like your novel and posts a review somewhere, that’s their right. But that reviewer isn’t going to take away from you what makes you a writer. Their bad review doesn’t make you a bad writer. Far from it. You wrote the best you could, and you’re probably writing something even better as we speak. Keep at it.

And just like that person who disliked the new Queens of the Stone Age album – and, really, who is that idiot? …Like Clockwork is amazing – has been encouraged to turn that CD into a nice new drink coaster, I invite that person who gave my book a bad review to make some nice artwork out of my book. Or donate the book to a friend or to their local public library.