Tag Archives: 2c I

ASK JASON ANYTHING: Floor Open for New Questions

It’s a writer’s job to know a little bit about everything, and to thoroughly research anything he doesn’t know. ASK JASON ANYTHING is your opportunity to challenge Jason with a question of any kind, whether it’s scientific or religious, financial or social, political, historical. It can be something you already know, or something you’re genuinely curious to learn. You can ask trivia or knowledge or advice, and every Thursday, Jason will do his best to answer. (Read more atwww.jasonrpeters.com.)

For the first time in any number of weeks, I don’t have any questions in the queue for “Ask Jason Anything.” So I just want to take a brief opportunity this week to…

  1. Thank everyone for the interest and support this column has received so far
  2. Thank my submitters for offering tough, challenging questions
  3. Advertise that I once again have an open floor for new questions

If there’s something you want to know, or you want to challenge my ability to research and respond intelligently to your area of expertise, now is the time — bring it on!

It Matters

Occasionally, one of you will send me a nice note. Or stop me at work. Or send an email. Or comment on facebook.

And occasionally, it will be something complimentary, like I wrote an article you found good, thought-provoking, or compelling. Or that I wrote a product review which made you actually want to read the book I reviewed.

You should know…these comments matter. A great deal. They fuel the fire. They keep me motivated and engaged and active on this site and in my writing career.

Now, I would very much like to believe that even without them, I would trudge onward. That unappreciated in my time, I would nevertheless press forward with heroic resolve.

But honestly, I don’t know. Because every so often, just when I’m wondering if anybody reads this crap, one of you comes along, seemingly out of nowhere, and compliments an article that I haven’t even thought much about in a few days.

So thank you. You have no idea what this means to me. Instead of trudging along in darkness, my way is lighted by better friends than I deserve. Never worry that if I make it big, I would ever “forget the little people”. There are no little people.

30%

Having cleared no less than 15,000 words, FRAGILE GODS is now 30% complete (by wordcount). This is roughly in line with my plot so far also, so I consider it pretty accurate.

To this I just have to add, “Wow, that was easy.” I’ve been hemming and hawing about writing more since September (when I hit the 25% mark), and here in just a couple of days I’ve breezed through another 2,500 words. And these weren’t just scenes I happened to throw together, either; while I think they need more polish, I like the new scenes.

So what happened before?

I’ll tell you, because I suspected it and later confirmed it:

I had written a scene that I hated. Now, at first, I didn’t know I hated the scene. I secretly hated it. (Yes, secret from myself.) Like everything I write, at first, I thought “wow, that’s really cool”. (Else why write it?) But the scene was garbage. It felt like teenage fantasy with cheesy special effects and overdone character emotions and contrived relationships.

And so I hated it. And because I hated the scene, I hated the book, and I hated the project, and I hated writing, and so I didn’t write.

I finally deleted the scene. Now, my mother has preached the perils of word processing to me for many years, and it troubles her that at a single keystroke, I could destroy months of work. True, I might not like the text, but what if I change my mind later? What if I decide the deleted portion was better? What then?

So now when I “delete” large swaths of text, I don’t actually delete them. I cut them and paste them into a text dump document; my own literary landfill where if necessary, I can dig them out again later.

But I have never had to, because invariably, whatever I wrote afterward was better than what preceded. It might still have problems, but it has always been better than the original I threw out, to the point that when I’ve lost a newer draft or markup and have to re-edit, and then later find the other markup, I’ve made the same changes.

The shocking and useful lesson with my terrible scene, though, was that cutting it didn’t fix my motivation. I still hated the book. It wasn’t until I’d replaced the scene, in my mind, in my plot, with something I thought worked better, that I began to enjoy the project again.

The difference between Writing and Writering

MotivationNew Year’s Day, I mentioned I wanted to be “a writer”. My father-in-law corrected me:

“You are.”

That’s right; I am. I write regularly in pursuit of publication; I’m not merely journaling, blogging, or setting idle words to print in hope that “someday” I might come into my craft.

I write intently and deliberately and with passion.

So I corrected myself:

“I want ‘writer’ to be my day job.”

This is a goal I’ve had virtually all my life. But WHY?

The answer is because I enjoy writing. And if you do what you love, you never ‘work’ a day in your life…right?

Only here’s the problem. Sometimes writing feels like work. Sometimes instead of feeling excited about a project, I dread returning to it.

In other words, sometimes I don’t enjoy writing.

…so why do it?

If the purpose of becoming a writer is to something I enjoy, and I cease enjoying this particular activity, what’s the sense of doing it, at least in the short term?

It’s hard to say.

Which makes it hard to write.

But I’ve noticed something here at the turn of the new year. I try not to make “resolutions” but I do try to make general improvements…then again, I do this year round. But January 1 is usually a time where I say to myself, “Write more.” (Duh.)

But it isn’t the New Year that’s motivated me to begin writing again this year. It’s not the thought of prestige or financial security or even just doing something I like.

No.

It’s the books I got for Christmas. One of each kind:

  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Short Story collection

And I’m thoroughly enjoying all three. And each line, page, or chapter I enjoy makes me want to offer that same enjoyment in turn to others. It makes me want to write, whether I’m ever published or “successful”. Just for the challenge of doing it, the same way I enjoy playing video games or eating. The activity itself becomes satisfying again.

I’m reminded that I used to read hours every day, every night before bed, every morning at breakfast, every single break at work. And reading is what greased the wheels to make me want to write.

The problem is this:

I can’t find that many  good books.

My dry spell writing towards the final months of 2009 directly correlates to a dry spell reading. I had tried the latest recommended authors and books and found them lacking, and become further unwilling to take up any new volume with each that dissatisfied me.

And I’ve reread everything in my personal library half a dozen times or more already, including some of the ones I don’t even like that much.

So this I beg you, fellow reader:

If you know a good author, recommend him/her to me in a hurry. Buy a book for me and put it in my hands — I’ll pay you cash on the spot for it if I have faith in your judgment. Because I never knew it before, but good books are fuel for my fire. Without them, I go up in smoke.

Playing to an empty auditorium

Busy?The single most energizing thing for me as a writer is having my work read. You can tell me it sucks or you can tell me it blew your mind; either way, I feel connected with you. Either way, I have motivation to sit down and fix the problems you presented (even if I’m cussing the day you were born), or try to deliver more of what you liked.

I don’t particularly mind not having my work read, except that it’s hard to stay focused and motivated for sustained periods. I am jealous of writers who blog about the latest fixes their editors discussed, whereas I’m finding my way mostly in the dark. But if I see a friend or coworker who hasn’t read my work, I don’t think, HEY! What a jerk, why haven’t you read my story yet?

I don’t get angry or frustrated about that; it really doesn’t affect me. Some people don’t read, some don’t read fantasy/sci fi, and some are just waiting for me to hit it big. That’s fine.

I do get frustrated when people ask for my work and then don’t read it, either for days, or weeks, or months at a time. I know intellectually it’s not personal. I’m told that it isn’t related to the quality of the writing.

But the most common excuse simply isn’t plausible: “I don’t have time.”

Unless you’re in a high pressure civil service field like firefighting or law enforcement, are getting married (or divorced) imminently, or have had some other life-altering change, I seriously doubt that you “don’t have time”.

I’m a bit of a workaholic myself…I’ll stay late and come in early. Even at home, I engage in any number of not-quite-play projects like learning guitar, making videos, designing websites, and of course writing. But I’ll be the first to admit I sat on my ass playing video games or watching tv a significant portion of the weekend.

I can recall just four times in my life I “didn’t have time”.

  1. In high school, there was a period I taught Sunday School, was in two choirs, held a part time job, was in band and in a play, attended chess club, and sundry other church and after-school activities. Even then, I still had time to read and write things between activities, even if I wasn’t home often.
  2. In Army Basic Training, we started with 15 minutes of free time (if we were well-behaved and lucky). Even then, you could stay up reading/writing after lights out, provided you used the red lens on your flashlight (the red glow would not wake people whereas the white would).
  3. Summers in college, there were a few conferences I worked round-the-clock, literally awakened by my pager, worked all day, and the last thing I did before bed was work-related, grabbing showers and meals whenever I could meanwhile. These usually lasted two or three days to a week.
  4. Certain parts of the shift rotation in law enforcement left very little time for doing much more than sleeping and going back to work. This happened every two weeks for three/four days each.

These were the times I was at my absolute busiest in my whole life, doing nothing but working, eating, and sleeping. Even then, I still had time to read scripture or fiction or letters, or any manuscripts a friend might hand me.

Even if I hand you fifty pages of text, it likely wouldn’t take you more than ten minutes to finish it all…less than a smoke break, or the time during commercials of a 30-minute sitcom, etc. Most of the portions I submit are significantly smaller.

Let’s be honest…it’s not that you ‘don’t have time’, which as you can see is one of the flimsiest excuses ever invented, it’s that you chose not to. What you do with your time is your own decision. But why offer to read my work if you aren’t going to? That just leaves me craving feedback that never materializes.

If you ask me to do something and I haven’t done it, it isn’t because I don’t have time. It’s because I goofed off instead.

It must be the fault of the driver right in front of me.

traffic-jamThis post is dedicated to the kindly gentleman driving behind me last night in a white chevy pickup truck down I-40 Westbound. It is abundantly evident that the best part of you dribbled forgotten down the curve of your mother’s thigh until it was smeared away the next morning.

Traffic had backed up as many as 6 miles on I-40 at an average speed of no more than a two miles per hour. The white chevy pickup was behind me in the far left lane…directly in front of me was a chain-smoking cop with the admirable patience not to flip on his bluelights and take to the shoulder.

Now it just so happens that when I’m in a traffic jam, I don’t prefer to hump the arse of the car preceding me, or follow it like some terrified little girl clinging to her mother’s skirts. I would venture to say this is doubly true when the vehicle in question is government issue.

The genius behind me, however, had the brilliant notion of honking at me every time I allowed more than half a car length between myself and my former brother-in-blue. When I checked my rearview mirror, the chevy driver further punctuated his impatience with a series of “get on with it” gestures, urging me to inch forward until I was again bumper to bumper with the cruiser. Before long, he was making the sign for “crazy” and giving me the finger. I must compliment him not only on his common sense, but brilliant negotiating skills. Insulting people is clearly the best method for bringing someone around to your point of view.

Let me provide you with a dollar’s worth of free advice, because that’s just the kind of guy I am: When your average speed is two miles per hour, it makes no difference whatsoever whether you follow the car in front of you immediately every inch, applying your breaks every two-point-five seconds, or stopping completely for fifteen minutes while a half mile opens before you, and then closing the half-mile in the next few seconds.

To further illustrate my point, let me educate you, Chevy driver. Had you slammed into me at full speed and therefore forced me to plow into the officer’s vehicle, I could be held liable for not following at a safer distance. If you’re in bumper to bumper traffic, and a car behind you pushes you into the car ahead, it’s your fault for not leaving a bigger gap. Write that down, folks.

Whenever I did close the gap, I gave my friend pickup driver a thumb’s up and a huge grin. Terrific! We moved ahead four whole inches! Thank GOD I hurried to close the gap, or who knows what tragedy might have befallen us? We might have had to wait the exact same amount of time!

It was two hours of virtually standstill traffic until we discovered the source of the congestion: An 18-car pileup AND an additional 15-car pileup involving a tractor-trailer — twenty-eight total vehicles involved. Emergency personnel had closed off three lanes and routed the fourth lane off the highway and back on for one exit.

The accident was reported on the radio this morning. The cause? Drivers following each other too closely.

Go figure.