I’m a writer because I refuse to grow up. I haven’t let go of the mindset of the little boy who sits in the playroom, conducting dramatic battles or undertaking epic journeys with his toys. I’m still the child in the playground, hiding from the spy lurking behind the tree or turning the swing into a griffin carrying me through the sky.
I still build and play with LEGO when I can find the time. I am what we fanatics call an AFOL, or an Adult Fan of LEGO. It’s like writing with plastic.
I think every writer started similarly: playing with toys, using plastic to write stories their youthful literacy (or lack thereof) was not quite ready to write with words. Some of my best ideas came from playing with LEGO. Many of my favorite characters were born of plastic. Leo Westmacott and Pattrick Clayton—protagonists of The Second Death—were no exceptions. Over time, they were joined (and perfected) by Rachel Slaytor.
Here we a photograph of a LEGO Westmacott and a Plastic Clayton. But I wouldn’t dare make a pun out of Rachel’s name, even if I could think of one.
And as an extra treat for any LEGO enthusiasts out there, enjoy these pictures for a closer look at the wheelchair and its construction:
Sometimes I sit down to write just for the fun of it, just to unwind . . . at times like that, things like this are often the result.
Pulling the Rabbit Out of the Hat
“Harvey, Maggie’s stuck again!”I groaned and trudged out into the hall and into my sister’s room.
“How did it happen this time?”
“Well, I hid her food in there so she couldn’t get at it, but when I wasn’t looking—”
I sighed. “I’ll go get the scissors.”
I galloped into the hall, through the living room, into the kitchen, and fumbled through a drawer. Scissors, scissors . . . why are the scissors always missing? I mean, seriously, is it so hard for someone to put the scissors back? Would it kill them? Is it against their religion? Would it go against everything they stand for, everything they are, and their very purpose in life? And how much time have I wasted moaning and complaining and cursing the names and auspices of whoever was ever guilty of misplacing a scissors, when I could have spent my time more constructively actually looking for the scissors? Is it so hard to hunt down a pair of scissors? Am I so lazy I just can’t look around a bit? It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to get into the head of a family member and try to figure out where they left the scissors, I mean seriously—
“Harvey! What’s taking you so long?
“I can’t find the darn scissors!”
“The scissors are in your room! Don’t you remember? You were using them this morning to cut something out of the newspaper.”
I galloped shamefacedly back to my room, snatched up the scissors, took them to my sister’s room and had her hold Maggie’s rear while I carefully cut through the fabric of the hat until the rabbit was free.
I sighed. “No problem.”
The voice of my other sister echoed through the house. “Harvey!”
“The cat’s out of the bag again!”
I’ll never get back to my desk to write.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.
1. F. Scott Fitzgerald. I still haven’t gotten around to The Great Gatsby, but This Side of Paradise was very personally significant for me, probably (as I believe I’ve said before) more than any book I’ve ever read before.
2. Kate DiCamillo. The Tale of Despereaux was the first and only book I’ve read by DiCamillo. I’ll tell you, I want to read more. I’m really grateful to my sister for introducing me to the book. You didn’t hear it from me, but there might be a couple more DiCamillo titles under the tree for her this Christmas.
3. Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden was beautiful, striking, uplifting . . . and yet so simple, so soothing. The kind of book you can really just curl up with and relax.
4. Henry David Thoreau. Inspiring. What else can, or need, I say?
5. Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Luna Benamor . . . beautiful, sweet, heartbreaking.
6. Tolkien. I finally gave The Hobbit a chance. After that I felt like an idiot for giving it up after only the first chapter a few years ago.
7. Kirn Hans. I know that there are some books, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Hans’s Behind My Mask, that I fall back on repeatedly for these lists, but when I really like a book, I really like a book, and my favorites tend to qualify for a lot of different top tens, and I have to be honest, right? I was initially hesitant to give Kirn Hans’s “teenaged fiction” novel a try, but I decided not to judge it by its cover—you could say I looked behind the mask, and like the characters in the book I was rewarded for it.
8. Basil King. I want to read his fiction too, but so far I’ve only read The Conquest of Fear, which is the most encouraging book I have ever read on the subject. Like King I believe that fear is a central and inherent aspect of our lives and minds, and his views have not only inspired by enlightened me.
9. Hermann Hesse. Siddhartha was entertaining and infinitely thought-provoking. As you can see, I’ve read a lot of deeply inspiring books this year.
10. Johann Von Goethe. Epic poems or lyrical plays or whatever this technically qualifies as are not usually my thing, but I really enjoyed the story of Faust—I thought it was, get this, inspirational (see what I did there? I got creative and changed the suffix).
What are we teaching our children?
Parents tell their children to watch their language, to tell the truth, to be kind to others, to be polite, that’s what we’re telling our children, and these are perfectly fine things.
But then parents turn around and swear, lie, gossip behind their friends’ backs, and boss their children around without saying “please” or “thank you.”
What are we really teaching our children? That as soon as they’re adults they will no longer have to behave? That as soon as they get away from their parents, and their parents can’t punish them anymore, they can do anything they please?
What happened to a world where parents taught their children that they must always behave, because there is an eternal Father who will always be there to love, watch, and yes, punish?
Parents aren’t the only guilty ones. I’m just as guilty of this hypocrisy and so are you.
Every day of our lives, we want a better world. We want improvement. I have to believe that there’s an inherent good in human nature, because everyone has some sort of understanding of right and wrong.
Even the child who stole a cookie when his mother wasn’t looking, will realize he’s been wronged when his brother takes the cookie from him. He just never stopped to think about the fact that he’d just wronged someone else. If there’s an inherent good, there’s also an inherent selfishness in human nature, and none of us look far enough past it 100% of the time, to see the ways we’re wronging others.
We know when we’ve been wronged. It’s instinctive. But sometimes it can be hard to realize that we’re wronging others.
One of the ways we wrong them is by convicting them of a crime we’re guilty of ourselves. We all want good, we all people to be better people, and we all want the world to be a better place: but we don’t often stop to think, Well, maybe I could be better, too.
We’re all guilty of this: we’re all ready to pick out the faults in others. Now, I believe that’s a good thing: we want them to improve, and so we help them to improve. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But it is wrong when someone does the same to us – picks out our flaws and tells us our mistakes – and we’re not willing to listen. Of course you can’t please everyone, and of course some will pick out “flaws” just out of selfish spite, whether the flaws are real or not, so you do have to be careful; but you also have to be open-minded and willing to improve.
Life is a crusade to make the world a better place. Each of us are born with a quest, and that quest is to improve the world, in whatever particular way we were designed to best improve it.
So where do we start?
It’s no use starting a “make our town beautiful” campaign if your own house is an eyesore. You get me?
We’re all imperfect, and there’s not much one imperfect person can do to help another imperfect person. But that doesn’t mean we should buy any of this “perfectly imperfect” garbage. We should still be trying to help others; and the best way to help is by example. If we’re guilty of the same sin, we have to be honest about it. Improvement has no room for hypocrites. Sometimes two sinners can help each other improve, and two wrongs can make a right after all . . . but first you have to meet halfway.
The world will not bend itself to your will. But if you bend to the will of the world first, the world will become more flexible.
Something every story needs is a hero. Heroes are made through conflict. It is their courage in facing up and dealing with conflict that makes them heroes. And something every hero needs is a cause worth fighting for. If there is a quintessence of what writing is all about, I would say that’s what it is. Literature’s purpose is to fill the world with heroes.
Today I’m writing in honor of a type of hero you find outside fiction. They don’t slay dragons, they don’t fight windmills, they don’t fall down rabbit holes or melt rings of power or fight killer jungle animals, at least not usually–their job is less glamorous, less glorious, and much harder.
I’m talking about the soldier. I’m talking about the men and women who serve their country, to keep people like you and me safe, and to preserve their way of life and their freedom. And that’s a cause worth fighting for.
They’re the people who realize freedom is not free. It comes at a price. It costs something: it costs lives, and limbs. It costs war, work, courage, and so much more, so many things that every day our military is out there giving.
Ninety-five years ago, Germany and the Allies of the first World War signed an armistice, putting an end to the conflict. The casualty was over 37,500,000. A year later, the world observed Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day and Poppy Day in other countries) in memory of the soldiers who had fought and died for their cause. This day has been a commemoration of war veterans, alive and dead, ever since.
Only an approximate 100,000 of that 37 million were American. It’s estimated that in the course of U.S. history, the lives of over 1,300,000 men and women in service have been lost to war; more than 1,500,000 have been wounded. That’s nearly 3,000,000 human beings who suffered the cost of war so that we our country can continue to enjoy its freedom. You wouldn’t be sitting comfortably at your computer or thumbing your iPhone right now if it wasn’t for them.
That doesn’t even come near to the unimaginable number of men and women who have served our country’s military in the last 236 years of our nationhood. But the definite knowledge that over three million people have sacrificed so much for our way of life is enough.
Think about all the men and women who have given their lives for their country, whether it’s this country or another. Think about all the people who lost friends, parents, children, siblings, to war. Think about all those heroes.
“Are we there yet?”
“Life is a journey, my dear. If you waste your time asking if you’re there yet, you’ve already missed your destination.”
“Right. I should keep my eyes open along the way.”
“That would be easier if I wasn’t blindfolded.”
“You’re completely missing the point.”
She sighed. She’d reluctantly agreed to the blindfold again. I liked to save the venues of our courting engagements as a surprise for the last moment. And it gave us both a fresh perspective on the term “blind date.”
“Where are we going?” she asked pleadingly.
“To a place . . . where stories of the past lie dormant.”
I sensed her stiffen in the passenger seat. “You’re not taking me to another graveyard?”
“Only in a manner of speaking.”
“No human skeletons?”
“Well, anything’s possible, I can’t be–sure–that . . .” The look on her face, or half of it, withered me, warning that I would soon be a skeleton if I wasn’t careful. “No human skeletons,” I promised.
“We’re here,” I announced before she could say anything else. I turned off the road and hopped the gravel verge. Grass rustled beneath the wheels.
“Here here, where we are, right now.”
“Can I take off–”
As I put the van into park a shudder of excitement passed through my frame. This was the moment when I always felt like a detective about to name the killer. I took no less pride in arranging original social activities than did the sleuth in crime-solving, as if it took just as much genius. Definitely no less madness.
My feet fell on the plush carpet of grass, and gazing out across the meadow, speckled with flowers and painted gold by the sunlight, I felt a twinge of apprehension. I could only hope she would see the same interest I saw in it.
I helped her out of the car and led her by the hand. Putting our backs to the meadow I led her toward a line of trees at its edge.
“Well,” she said hesitantly, “it feels nice enough so far. Grass is promis–wait, what’s this?” She gave an experimental stomp.
“Leaf mold. We’re going under some trees, be careful. Here, this way . . . watch out for that–sorry! are you okay? Don’t take the leaves out of your hair, they look nice–stop, branch! Here, I’ll hold my arm in front of your head, keep going–careful of that root there–a little farther, there you go.”
I led her out from under the trees and admired the sight opening up before us. I was still convinced it was perfect. For once I doubted I could convince her.
I watched her head tilt and her forehead crease as she asked, “Why do I hear cars?”
In a theatrical timbre I announced, “Lady and gentlegal, you may remove your blindfold!”
Her face immediately became flinty. Apparently she wasn’t dazzled by the canal below, or the fungal green sludge within it, or the refuse of civilization lying in the mud, or the road across the ditch. She watched a pancaked can, awakened by the passing of a pair of cars, skittered along the asphalt and tumbled over the grass and down into the ditch.
“This is it?”
“This–is it,” I answered, grinning sheepishly.
“Uh-huh. Which way’s the car?”
“Aww, come on! Give me a chance to explain!” I begged. “Please, my sweet?”
She sat cross-legged in the grass and folded her arms, saying, “You have five minutes.”
I alighted beside her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and took in the canal with a gesture. “There’s no better analogy of society than this cesspool right here. There’s the slime and the trash and the muck, and through it all the green grasses trying to grow and live a healthy life in an unhealthy world. You can see how some of them have grown out of the shadows and into the sunlight, while some of them have died and degenerated into so much more mold.”
“How romantic,” she observed sagely.
“It is, but I’ll get to that. Now look at it literally. Where can you find a more outspoken proof of society’s selfish unconcern for anything but itself? And if people aren’t thinking only of themselves, they’re thinking only of humankind. Whatever our particular, narrow-minded outlook is, that’s all we see and all we care about, even if it’s at the expense of sludge-filled canals and forlorn paper plates.”
“I thought you were into finding the beauty in everything?”
“It is beautiful, and I’m getting to that. My point is, it’s important to expand our perspective and broaden our ideas, and free ourselves from the chains of our own prejudices and bigotry. A lot of people consider Christians narrow-minded and self-righteous, and why? Because historically, as a group, we are. God’s law is to love others, but even most Christians are too biased to be truly loving. Knowing God doesn’t make us automatically better than anyone else. It’s what we do with that knowledge that matters.”
It was a sure sign I had said something right when I began to win her over; and I could tell I had in the loosening of her tense muscles and the unfolding of her arms.
“Take this canal,” I went on. “Open your eyes to what it really is. It’s a microcosm and a legend. Each piece of trash is a story.”
She pleated her arms again. “Oh, give me a break.”
“No, but listen to me! You’re seeing the refuse of a society, the symbols of what a human life rejected somewhere along the road. It’s like the actors are gone but we still have the props. A plastic knife means animosities and spites; a broken bottle means desperations and indulgences; an old lipstick casing could mean old romances and lost loves. Everywhere I see tragedies, stories of things lost, like innocence and happiness and idealism. Each piece of trash is the story of someone engrossed by the pettiness of civilization, the lusts of everyday materialism, and the selfishness of society. And they’ve all suffered for it, you can see that.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You can count on it that no happy person would litter. It would be illogical.”
I could tell she agreed, that or she thought I was too far beyond reason to bother arguing. Either way she said, “People are illogical.”
“No, people are irrational. Never illogical.”
“Your time’s up.”
“Give me one more moment. Please? This is the best part.”
“Go ahead,” she said obligingly enough. I could tell any reluctance was bluff; she was like a reader who couldn’t close the book until she’d found out how it ended.
“I see nothing hopeless in all this tragedy and degeneracy. It’s a promise. A promise that there’s something better; because if there wasn’t, what’s the point? It’s a promise that we can make it better. And that promise is fulfilled by the very fact that this scene is already made beautiful by your presence.”
“And that’s it?”
I screwed my eyes up in thought. “That’s it.”
“Which way’s the car?”
“You don’t think it’s beautiful?”
“No,” she said flatly. “But . . . it can be, if we clean it up a bit.”
“Perish the thought! You’re not dressed for it.”
“I will be if you’ll lead me back to the car and we get out the waders, and the raincoats, the gloves, the garbage bags, and all the other stuff you brought for it. Did you seriously think I didn’t notice it in the back? Come on,” she said, unfolding her legs, “let’s get to work.”
Impressed into silence, I caught her by the hand as she tried to get up and did the only thing I could think of: I kissed her then and there, in front of God and a lot of cars roaring by behind me. A passing driver honked and wolf-whistled so loudly we jumped, and the combined forces of energy caused us to lose our balance. We slipped and tumbled head-over-heels into the besludged ditch.
Writing is not a science. Writing is an art. If you want to learn to write, there’s only one way to do it.
You have to write.
That’s not something anyone can teach you to do. It’s something you learn to do yourself, by writing. You can bury yourself in a pile of books and learn everything there is to learn on the science of writing, or you can relax and let your own creativity flow.
You can flout every rule and still be great or you can follow every rule and still be rotten. This is creative writing. Where’s the creativity if you’re just doing what someone else told you to do?
There’s a writer inside of you. Your hands are itching to write. Get them off the covers of a book and onto a sheet of paper. Let your inner writer out.
Are you one of those people who have had dreams of writing but always figured you didn’t have the talent or the time?
Would you like to learn to write, right now? Give me fifteen minutes, or even just five.
Put away those writing workshop applications and those how-to books.
The only way to learn to write is to put the goldarn pencil to paper and write. This is creative writing. You won’t find creativity sitting in class or reading someone else’s book. You’ll find creativity by sitting down at a keyboard and being creative.
I’ve made the mistake of reading how-to books. I’ve made the mistake of expecting other people to teach me how to write. Do you want to know what I learned from them?
They taught me that they have nothing to teach me. That is the most important lesson, and just about the only lesson, anyone can teach anyone else about writing.
You have to teach yourself. How do you do that? Sit down right now and write something. Start with this:
Feel good? Don’t stop now; keep going. Pretty soon you’ll realize that you’re writing.
Now here’s a neat trick. Wanna know what real writers do to improve their writing?
Fiction and nonfiction, novels and magazines, advertisements and street signs. Just read. Exercise those mental muscles that feed on words. Bodybuilders get stronger by exercising and eating right. Writing is great, but if you’re not feeding your mind on words, you won’t build much muscle.
Even how-to books have their place here. They can’t teach you to write—but they can give you ideas.
Go read. Broaden your horizons. You’ll be amazed by the places inspiration will hit you from.
This is where it comes down to separating the wheat from the chaff. This is the one uncontestable law, outright law, of writing. If you do not obey this commandment, you will not succeed in writing.
That’s what makes good writers great writers. That’s what turns ordinary people into artists. Passion.
Without passion, your writing will be flat. Without passion, you won’t find creativity. Without passion, you won’t be able to dedicate yourself.
Because writing is tough, it’s true. It takes hard work and dedication; two things that come from the root of all writing, passion.
Do you love writing? Do you really love writing so much that you couldn’t live without it?
That shouldn’t be hard to answer, if you’re passionate. Are you?
Good. That’s what I thought.
Now do yourself a favor and go write something. “Once upon a time adujiahfuehg . . .”
Making plans and keeping ahead of the game is always good, but I find that plans don’t always work out. I’m sure you’re with me. Sometimes you run out of steam and fall behind. It happens to us all.
Especially if you’re just starting out as a blogger, you might be struggling as well as straggling. Here’s what works for me when I have distractions and time limitations wrapped around me like a boa constrictor, a creature who tends to make writing difficult.
Step 1. Headline. Always start here. The headline is your diving board; the way you jump off effects the way you hit the water. It’s your prompt, your promise to your reader, and it should be the capsulation of all the thought you’re about to put into your blog post.
Step 2. Outline. This helps so much. Don’t dive in with your eyes close. Pause, take a few moments to visualize. I know you’re impatient to jump in, I’m the same way, but you have to pause, take a deep breath, and make a plan. Spit your ideas out on paper like a politician spits out promises. Now gather those ideas, line them up neatly, and you have yourself an outline. This is your biggest time-saving technique.
Step 3. Write. Ready? Take one more breath, now jump. Now that you’re in the air, every second counts. Each movement has to be fluid as you go from form to form. Start writing and don’t stop. Don’t look back, but focus on each and every move as you make it, then move on to the next. Just remember you’re a writer, not a diver, and if you get stuck, you can move on and come back later.
Step 4. Revise. For me, this mostly means going over the draft for spelling mistakes, grammatical issues, awkward wording, etc. Sometimes I’ll find a better way to explain a thought, or new ideas will hit me and I’ll fold them in. I also try to trim down a bit on excess wordiness. But that’s about it, and revision should be a very short part of the process.
Step 5. Emphasize. When my blog post is ready, all I need to do now is go over and make a few highlights. I’ve written the post, read it over, and I am at the highest point of understanding what I just wrote. This is when my thoughts are best collected, and for me this is the best time to end on a high note. I add one more paragraph, usually just a short sentence, to the end, capturing the theme of the post in a compact, pithy capsulation that will stick with my reader.
And voila! Get that post on the internet then sit back, relax, take a breather. It is done.
Here are a few more tips that will help you along the way and speed up the process even more:
Tip 1. Quality over quantity. Always, always, always. Most bloggers will tell you to let yourself go wild in the first draft, but what if you’re a perfectionist like me, and you can’t bring yourself to do that? Then you don’t! You’re a writer, and no real writer lets anyone else tell them how to write. I find if I really focus myself, I can produce quality and quantity at the same time, and when revision comes around it’s just a fine-tuning.
Tip 2. Channel your emotion. You’re a writer, so you’ll probably understand that you are highly influenced by your emotions. Call it the artistic temperament, it’s the strength that gives power to our writing. Why should blogging be any different? If I’m stressed about getting a blog post written as fast as possible, it makes me tense. Some would say, Relax! I say, Are they crazy? This tension is your power. Don’t let it frustrate you, let it impassion you. It’ll lend you an extra boost of strength, and it will always show in your words.
Tip 3. Keep it simple. When it comes to blogging, less is more. Keep it short. If you’re really trying to squeeze out a blog post as fast as possible, make sure your topic isn’t too complex. When it’s a complicated topic, be concise. Outline, organize your thoughts, and focus on your topic. Above all else, focus.
You’ll do more than write a great blog post, you’ll write it quickly. Depending on the length and depth of your post, the whole process should take around half an hour, sometimes a little less, maybe a little more.
The important thing to remember is that you’re a writer. A blog is just another form of storytelling. Focus your thoughts, focus your emotions, focus: it’s what you always do.
“A warty troll with a top hat and a bird on its nose!”
She sat up and put her face over mine, eyebrow raised.
“Now that’s the most beautiful cloud I’ve seen yet,” I said.
I leaned up and kissed her. She laughed around my lips.
As we lay down again in the grass, she said, “That one looks like a man and woman hugging.”
“Funny how suggestible the mind is. What we see in a cloud usually has something to do with what we’re actively thinking.”
“I’d like to know,” she retorted, “what was making you think of warty trolls.”
“Looking in the mirror this morning.”
She slapped a hand against my chest. I grinned.
“Beauty and the beast, love, beauty and the beast.”
“I love watching clouds with you,” she whispered, shifting closer.
“They’re beautiful. It’s a shame how quickly they change shape or fade.”
“I guess everything fades, sooner or later.”
My hand sought hers and held it tightly.
The later, I thought, the better . . .
~ * ~
“A crying troll.”
Laughter gurgled from her throat, broken by a cough.
“I’m sorry it’s not a better view,” I whispered. “At least hospitals have nice big, wide windows.”
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
I ran a finger along her cheek. “Yes, it is. . . .”
“As long as you’re with me to watch them, the clouds are always beautiful.”
“Even—“ She broke off with a cough. “Even after they fade.”
Another cough shook her. She closed her eyes.
I held her hand to my lips. “They’ll be even prettier when I know you’re among them . . .”