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the horror

The Horror

I recently watched three horror movies on Netflix. Two weeks back-to-back, I hosted out-of-town guests who were, like me, horror fans. Hungry to watch fright flicks together, we combed the Netflix catalog for lesser known films we hadn’t seen.

I was less than impressed with what we found.

One of the films had an interesting premise that was, unfortunately, thoroughly mishandled. One was good until it forced an unnecessary and unlikely plot twist that pretty much unraveled the whole thing. And the last was a hodge-podge of scary imagery with no coherent story at all.

With each film, I felt fear rising. Not the kind the makers of the movies intended. Rather, a fear that good horror is becoming increasingly rare.

As with any marketable concept, there are plenty of people out there interested in making money or making a name for themselves. There are precious few invested in the craft. You could say the same thing about literally any genre, and all of them have immeasurable value.

Horror is one of my favorite modes of fiction. When I see it bastardized for a quick buck by the lazy or the thoughtless, it pains me.

Of course, there’s little you can do to make horror writers/directors take their stories seriously.

But what you can do is take your own stories seriously. No matter what kind of fiction you write, always remember that you’re contributing to something far greater than yourself. Something that extends beyond your own tales.

Make your stories matter. Make them something you’re proud to contribute. Even if you never intend to publish, tell stories worth telling. 

To shoot for less is…well, frightening. And not in a good way.

with fury

Self Doubt

Working through the editing process of my first book feels a bit like therapy at times. Let me give you a prime example.

My publisher likes my manuscript. She better. She’s publishing it. However, she’s been candid with me about a couple of flaws in it. Like me, she wants to make it as good as possible before we release that bad boy to the general public.

One of those flaws is this. She told me early on that there are times in the book when I explain myself too much. Instead of just saying, “[insert opinion] is true,” I prattle on for pages defending my point of view.

“It’s like you don’t know what a badass you are,” she told me. “You don’t have to do that. Just say it. Say it with confidence.”

Therein lies the rub.

Like so many writers, I have things I want to say, but I also wrestle with self-doubt. However, as the wise Sylvia Plath (and my brilliant publisher) pointed out, self-doubt will kill an otherwise good book. It doesn’t matter if it’s fact or fiction. Leave the reader feeling like you finish every sentence with a question mark and you’ve undermined yourself.

Maybe, like me, you don’t want to come off as an arrogant asshole. I get that. It doesn’t matter.

When you write, bring it. Bring it with fury.

Yes, I know that sounds like a line from a coming of age movie about cheerleading. Whatever. They’re still words to live by.

There’s no place in writing for an apologetic approach. If you have a story to tell, fucking tell it. Leave the apologies to those who doubted you had that kind of courage in you.

hang in there

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If you made New Year’s resolutions, right about now you may be second guessing them. Here’s a little dose of encouragement.

Whether your goals are related to writing, working out, diet, or anything else, it takes a while to form a habit. Longer than you probably think. On average, about 66 days. You’re on day five. So, yeah, it may suck right now. Whatever you’re trying to change probably feels weird and foreign. It will take a while for it to feel normal, but if it’s important to you, don’t bail just because it’s no fun right now.

Hang in there, baby.

Stick to it. Don’t give up. You can do it.

judgy mc judgerson

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I’m have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. I make them more often than not, but I understand why some people argue against them. Most people don’t keep them. And really, it’s not all that healthy to limit your periods of personal assessment, goal setting, and intentional growth to once a year. But there are people who pull off resolutions, and I never want to discourage others from setting goals.

So, yeah. Mixed feelings. I’ll tell you want I don’t have mixed feeling about, though. Condescending judgment.

If you don’t want to make resolutions, that’s fine. If you want to preach to all your friends about the futility of resolutions, that’s fine, too. I mean, I’m likely to tune you out or leave the room, but it won’t offend me that you (1) have an opinion and (2) feel the need to share it, even aggressively. But if someone shares their resolutions with you, no matter what your stance on resolutions in general, do not knock the wind out of their sails.

Be nice. Wish them luck. Tell them they can do it. Save the sermon for someone else.

It’s simple, really. If you feel tempted to take pleasure in raining on someone else’s parade, it may be time to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. That’s mean. Don’t do it.

You don’t have to agree with others to support them.

And if you’re a writer, I encourage you to consider setting a few goals of your own. Nothing crazy lofty. Steer clear of the unattainable. But you might seize the collective momentum of all the resolution-makers and commit to reading more, or a doable but consistent writing schedule, or even just personal journaling.

No, you don’t have to wait for New Year’s to make those kinds of promises to yourself, but here we are. Don’t avoid growth just to be contrary. Go ahead and jump on the band wagon. We’ve got plenty of room.

Whatever your plans for 2016, I wish you and your family the very best. Happy new year, everyone.

late

Never Too Late 2

I’m late. My goal is to post something about the writing process (or life–thin line) every Tuesday. Granted, I’ve only missed my self-imposed deadline by 90 minutes, but I still kind of hate that.

I’m not going to whine about it, though. Not any more, at least. Instead, I’m inclined to make a point. I’ve said this before, but it really can’t be said enough. When it comes to writing or any other life goal you have, it’s never too late. I know how trite and cliché that sounds, but it’s absolutely true. If you’re still breathing, you can still write.

Plenty of people, myself included, have spent wasted hours, days, and even years droning on about how we should be writing and how we almost certainly could have already been published if only we’d actually taken to the task. But for all that passionate lament, pen never quite makes it to paper.

Look, if you want to write, write. If you feel your life would be fuller, happier, more satisfying, or more in line with your ideals if you did something you’re not currently doing, stop crying about it and start doing it. Consider this your kick in the ass. As The Avett Brothers sang, “Decide what to be, and go be it.”

It’s that simple.

imagination games

On WritingLast week I rambled on about my love for Halloween, as well as the value of an unleashed imagination. It reminded me of something.

When I was in college, a friend and I had this game we liked to play. We’d sit on the back porch and think of movie titles and then try to come up with synonymous equivalents that were unrecognizable. One of our very best was this: “Concerning the Events of the Last Thermal Season, I Am Aware“. And, of course, the sequel: “Concerning the Events of the Last Thermal Season, I Remain in a State of Awareness“. (Follow the links if you’re coming up blank.)

The game was simple enough, but it provided us with hours of entertainment. Not only that, but it pushed my mind to keep a strong connection to that part of me that gets off on word play. It was the writer in me having a bit of trivial fun, and let me tell you, that’s not to be understated.

Like any art, it’s easy for writers to lose touch with what first drew us to our craft. Most likely, it wasn’t the desire to compose the next great American novel. Not in the beginning. No, when we first fell in love with fiction, we fell in love as readers. Really, we were just having fun. Some story caught us by the imagination and took us for a ride. We liked it so much that we not only wanted another turn, we wanted to create wild rides of our own, as well. We wanted to give to others what had been given to us.

Unfortunately, the nature of writing can be such that we turn inward. Writing is a solo task for the most part. As a result, sometimes we forget to maintain our connection with our first fiction love–the fun.

Don’t do that.

I strongly encourage serious writers to be serious about enjoying fiction. Not just because it will make you a better writer (it will), but because it will make the entire process far more fulfilling.

Your imagination isn’t a workhorse. You’re not plowing a metaphorical field. No, the goal is something more along the lines of a magical nighttime flight on the wings of some mystical creature, soaring through the air, dodging trees and skyscrapers, feeling the wind in your face as you hold on for dear life, elated and terrified at the same time. I don’t think there’s any way to tap into that kind of excitement if you’re not having a good time. I just don’t think it can be done.

So play word games. Rename movies in your mind. Take up crosswords. Download one of the 734 puzzle apps based on language. And read. Read for pleasure, and do it often.

If you can’t have fun writing, don’t do it. It’s not worth it if it’s just a chore. But if you can have fun while producing fiction, everything about your life will be better for it.

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