Category Archives: writing

The highest praise of my career to date

The Internet is a strange place. The Wandering Bus urban legend I wrote in 2011 has apparently taken root online and begun the creeping, Catholic saint-like process of transforming into a real urban legend.

I probably should have guessed, since that post is regularly one of the top-performing posts on my blog (“top-performing” be very relative). But thank you to Philebrity for hearing about this story, being intrigued, doing some sleuthing, and letting me know.

Even better, thank you for calling me a “writer/comic/communications manager” with “an almost Haruki Murakami-esque modern fabulist style.” THANK YOU. SOMEBODY gets it. That’s all I’ve ever been going for. Should I ever have need of a dust jacket, that’s going on there no matter how inappropriate.

When I wrote for The Onion, I had the voyeuristic experience of reading the comment section on the GOOMF videos. This is a stronger feeling, perhaps because unlike The Onion, my name is on this one. Or was – it’s been stripped out. So now it feels like someone else is retelling your campfire story, and you’re sitting around the fire keeping quiet.

The comment section on which I'm lurking (although I did Like it). Click to read.

The comment section on which I’m lurking (although I did Like it).

Claiming your writing credits are important, but I’m not going to lay claim to this anywhere. If you come across this blog post and want to debunk the legend, go for it. But frankly, I’d be pretty proud of helping germinate an urban legend of a wandering SEPTA bus picking up lost souls in need of destination-less departures.

UPDATE: I was feeling all benevolent ‘n shit about my donation to our cultural medium until I actually followed the links in the Philebrity article. Turns out there’s a Tumblr I’ve never heard of but apparently a lot of other people have. By my standards (see above about relative top performance) 4,900 anythings is a lot. Damn. Now I know how Kris Straub feels about content attribution.

If I had a pair of eyeballs for all of those notes

If I had a pair of eyeballs for all of those notes, I’d be arrested SUPER fast and questioned insistently.

I Did National Novel Writing Month and All I Got Was This Meaningful Experience

This November was my second attempt at National Novel Writing Month. The gist is to write 50,000 words in November. I tried it last year and wrote about 23,000 words (~500 words = 1 page), which felt like an accomplishment. And it was. Then I let that writing sit fallow for the whole year while life preoccupied me in other ways. This year I decided to try it again, for three main reasons:

  • I wish I wrote more than I do, and this is a discrete, external motivational structure in which to do so.
  • I’ve been kicking around for years a website or program idea to help people like me write novels. Fully participating in NaNoWriMo seemed like good research.
  • I think about discipline and focus a lot, and what those mean in our overstimulated digital age. It seemed impossible to write 50,000 words in a month without learning something about those two things.

My plan of attack involved waking up at 6:15 and writing for 60-90 minutes before work, and then some longer writing sessions on weekends. I arrived on Saturday, November 30th having written about 39,000 words. So I sat down at 10 AM and, with some breaks for food and a shower, stared at my laptop screen for ten hours. At a little after 8 PM, shortly before friends were due over to play board games, I checked my word count for the 800th time that day and saw it read 50,124. I felt like a literary John Henry, although instead of dying I just got a little drunk, a little loopy, and lost badly at 7 Wonders and The Great Dalmuti.

If you had to pick one line that represented an "oh fuck" moment, which line would that be? Take your time, now...

If you had to pick one line that represented an “oh fuck” moment, which line would that be? Take your time, now…

What follows are some reflections on how this month went for me. I’m writing with half an eye towards an audience, but unlike most of what is on this blog, this is not an entirely outward-facing piece of writing. Forewarned. That said, I think my experience is valuable to anyone who aspires to write, who is curious about NaNoWriMo, or who is interested (as I am) in peeking under the hood of others’ passions and projects.

One – Discipline and the enervation of day jobs
I typically maintain a reticent attitude about my writing. I will express to friends and acquaintances a generalized interest in creative writing, but aside from what I’ve written for The Onion and other websites, I don’t go out of my way to talk about it. Which upon reflection seems strange, considering that I am a firm believer in the principle that telling someone you will do something makes you far more likely to do it.

This November I did not share my progress on Facebook (mostly because of my feelings about Facebook). But what I did do was tell my friends that I was getting up before work to write. And I was surprised at how much that seemed to impress them, more so than my saying my goal was 50,000 words, or I wrote for X hours on Saturday. And their respect in turn encouraged me to keep doing it.

I think this was the case for two reasons. First, the “artist fitting creation into the cracks around his day job” is a well-known and admirable narrative. Second, I think we (read: people like me) respond positively to displays of discipline, especially when they fly in the face of the narrative of “I work a lot and am therefore tired when I’m not at work.” The actual project is immaterial. Going to the gym before work, or visiting one’s sick grandmother before work, or even going to the grocery store before work. Each shows that we can do more if we want to and we need not give in to the indulgent weariness (typically compounded by drinking) which our day jobs propagate, a weariness that in turn gives us cover for bailing on events or projects and just going home to watch TV. (Note: some people have legit exhausting jobs. I am not one of them.)

Two – A reminder of the power of the book
I spent a good deal of time in November reading “The Gone Away World” by Nick Harkaway. I read it nearly every day, sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes for 90. I read it because it was supremely entertaining (if not always successful in what it set out to accomplish), and because I have joined a book club and deadlines, people. The book is 500 pages, and I read it in less than 3 weeks. I haven’t read a book that fast in years, and I was utterly absorbed.

Which was fan-fucking-tastic. I had forgotten how your imagination can absorb a good novel and the seep it back out during your walking-around time, like those bulbs that slowly water your houseplants, only for your mind. I can’t believe I forgot this feeling, either. Which brought me back to the genesis of my desire to write in the first place: reading books as a child which made me want to do that too, to have done that, and to make others feel the way Jack London, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Mark Twain made me feel.

So reading enthusiastically in parallel with NaNoWriMo was a great move. And surprise surprise, it affirms one of the near-universal bits of advice writers give to wanna-be writers: read, my chickadees! Read loud and hard. (Incidentally, I worried that I would read “The Gone Away World” for writerly tips on how to structure a novel, and not be able to enjoy it as an un-agenda’d reader. Turns out I could do both.)

Three – Inspirational quotes from basketball players

Patrick Ewing, writing coach

Patrick Ewing is my novel’s power animal

Two quotes that frequently came to mind during the month. I don’t know who said them, but I’ve heard them attributed to very tall basketball players:

  • “Being a professional means doing what you love to do even on the days you don’t feel like doing it.” ~Patrick Ewing(?!?!)
  • “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” ~Kevin Durant (and a thousand other people, I’m sure)

Four – Discovering all that writerly advise on my own
I seek out authors whom I admire talking about their craft and process. I want role models and schematics for this mysterious and lonesome art. As I moved through November, I was surprised by how many pieces of their advice I discovered on my own:

  • Thinking about when to write diminishes your writing. I discovered that planning and sticking to a schedule for when I would write left more mental energy for the writing. Spending lots of time thinking about how or when I’ll fit in my writing feels like writing, but isn’t. And it takes mental bandwidth that could be spent writing.
  • Find the time of day that works for you and write then. I discovered that writing in the morning, after breakfast and with a cup of coffee, was my best time. At the end of the day, too much flotsam had piled up in my brain. Learning this feels like I now know something important about myself I didn’t know in October.
  • Writing is infinitely easier if you make it a habit. It’s like running – it takes weeks to get into shape, and days to fall out of shape. But running while in shape is way more pleasant than running while out of shape.
  • One of the joys of writing is discovering things you did not plan. Countless times doing improv comedy, I’ve discovered something in a scene neither I nor my scene partner planned or foresaw. “Oh, you’re my dog AND my doctor!?!? *blackout*” But that had never happened to me in writing until this month, when a relationship between two characters, and a big plot point, and some other details just came out unexpectedly as I wrote. I believe that happened because I was writing often enough for my brain to become accustomed to thinking in that way, which allowed for these discoveries. It was one of the highlights of the month.
  • Thinking like a writer out in the world is a thing. And it doesn’t mean wearing jackets with elbow patches or attending FanFicCon. Spending so much time in that headspace, I discovered that I was framing experiences in terms of their application to writing. Moments I encountered in life began to pop with narrative potential. The only other time my brain has worked this way was when I first started writing for The Onion, and I tried to condense everything I experienced into a pithy headline. “You’re waiting for an elevator. How is this funny? This is funny. Elevators are funny. Maybe…Area Man Thinks Elevator Is Lazy. No. Area Man Suspects Elevator Hates Him. Perfect!” That was an exhausting time – this was far more enjoyable.

Five – The power of company
The person I talk with about writing more than anyone is my friend Kat. We became friends over our mutual interest in creative writing, and I learned about NaNoWriMo last year from her. She was a source of motivation this month, and I owe her my gratitude.

Like any cult member worth his tinfoil fedora, I in turn tried to get my friends involved. Four of my friends signed up on the NaNoWriMo website, but only one really went for it. However, he really went for it. Tim is one of the few friends from high school with whom I’m still in good contact. (Despite not living anywhere near each other, we have drifted on similar winds during our formative twenties, such that we still have much in common and friendship comes easily. It’s pretty cool.) He’s also not above some good-natured competition, and seeing his word count rise like lava on my heels kept me going. He finished several hours before I did on that final Saturday, and the way our digital correspondence shifted in the last few days from “Fuck you and your impressive word count” to “C’mon buddy, power through” was both reflexive and terrific.

There’s nothing that a little good-natured smack talk won’t improve.

So.
Lastly, the most resonant lesson from this month is the grave knowledge that I can do this, because I did it. And now there’s no going back to life pre-lesson-learned. I can write 25 pages in a day. So why can’t I write I write 200 in three months? “You’ve always wanted to write a novel, and now you have proof you can do it.” *Cue Inception noiseI have the discipline to do something hard, if I want to do it and put myself in a position to succeed (and I have the discipline to put myself in a position to succeed. Look – recursive self-discipline!).

George Saunders Characters Are Sending Me Spam

My work just received this message via Facebook, from someone we don’t know:

Hi there, what a beautiful Tuesday, don’t you agree. My name is Kevin Delabahan/ a truly happy father of 4! I have owned our Balance Bike store for over 6 years now and love every second of running this business. Helping our toddlers to ride a pedal bike without the tears and fears is a great feeling to not just myself but to us as parents. My company BalanceBikeSales.com is exposing our first GIVEAWAY ever to help introduce our concept bike to parents. Would it be possible to help our company introduce our bikes to your followers with our first ever GIVEAWAY by posting this contest opportunity to your followers/group. Here is what we have been implementing to our posts in which you can copy and paste.
Thank you kindly for your consideration, Kevin 916-479-4866

I’m sharing this because I realized that bad marketing copy is starting to remind me of main characters from George Saunders short stories. That’s no knock on George Saunders, either.

Don DeLillo on the doctor-patient relationship

I’m nearing the end of White Noise by Don DeLillo.  An excellent, sharp, funny book impressive for the strange comic tone it maintains throughout.  I’m impelled to offer the following short excerpt, a conversation between the main character and his doctor.  The book takes place, presumably, in the 1980s and the main character has been visiting his doctor with growing frequency:

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undercutting jokes

I recently read a newspaper article which quoted a baseball player making a joke.  The journalist wrote it as such: “‘[the joke],’ he quipped.”  This made me realize something: any quoted bit of humor, no matter how witty or hilarious, can be nullified by calling it a quip.

Example bit of humor: “My girlfriend looks a little like Charlize Theron…and a lot like Patrick Ewing.”  ~Zach Galifianakis

Now watch:

“My girlfriend looks a little like Charlize Theron…and a lot like Patrick Ewing,” Galifianakis quipped.

See?  Less funny.

Philly Urban Legends: The Wandering Bus

There is a bus in Philadelphia which SEPTA does not talk about.  It is not listed on the website.  It has neither schedule nor route.  It drives the city in a pattern known only to its driver, and perhaps not even to him.  Its electronic reader board never displays a number, only “SEPTA.”  People who know it call it the Zero, the Random Bus, the Wandering Bus, or just The Bus.  It is not a bus for people who know where they want to go.  It is a bus for departures.

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A treatise on crappy genre writing wherein we posit the existence of millions of dollars to be made off of these people, if only we knew how to lower our standards

This is a very long and rambling post about fantasy/sci fi literature and how most of it is terrible.  I’m hiding it after a jump so as not to make the front page of my blog really long, and to hide all the cool points I’m losing for posting this.  Still, if you have thoughts on the matter, I’d love to have a discussion about it.  I’m out of college, I can’t take comp lit classes anymore, so to the Internet I turn.

On to the musings