Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Freestyle Living

This post is going to be somewhat informal and your writing may not even directly benefit from it. Still, something is telling me it belongs here; so here it goes.

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, because I recently picked up some music gear. If you've been following this blog for awhile, you'll know I'm a musician in addition to being a writer. So I've been following that muse lately.

In addition, I've celebrated a wedding anniversary, spent some night holding my daughter while she has this really bad throat infection, been in a car accident that nearly totaled my car, and just taken a look at life. And that's what brings me to the heart of today's post.

This Halloween, my wife and I are trying to figure out where to take our daughter trick-or-treating. Last year, on this same date, we were homeless.

As our apartment lease expired in September, we made the decision that, if we were seriously going to move from the metro-Detroit area to somewhere in Michigan's upper peninsula or northern lower peninsula, we couldn't renew the lease. We could've paid month-to-month, but we would still be living in a comfortable environment, reducing our drive to move north.

So we moved all of our stuff into a storage unit, and moved into the Extended Stay in Madison Heights, Michigan. We hit job boards and classifieds hard every night. I drove our minivan back and forth to my job at a Fortune 500 company...with our essential belongings in the back.

We spent all of last October and most of November (essentially) homeless. I wasn't jobless, so that helped, but we rolled the dice and decided that we were going to make it work if we had to. We took our little girl trick-or-treating in our old Rochester Hills neighborhood, drove by our old digs - where someone else was living - and then drove back to the Extended Stay.

At the end of November, I was offered a position with an amazing internet marketing firm. I've never been so happy with a job, either. I can honestly say that I believe completely in the abilities of every single one of my co-workers. I've lived in 4 places since last year at this time, all of them beautiful places along the shores of Lake Michigan. Right now, the Lake Michigan shoreline is about 50 yards out my back door. And my daughter will grow up in a much more beautiful place than I did.

Was it easy? No. Not always.

But I'm soooo much happier now. And I've got new stories I can tell.

So, the moral? Take a chance. Do something that seems a little crazy. Throw caution to the wind. (Insert cliche here). If you win, everybody loves a happy ending. If you lose, people enjoy a story of perseverance even more.

Until next time, go switch up your routine. And listen to my latest masterpiece while your at it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tagging Creativity

It's been said on this blog before that creativity is often a matter of seeing the same things as everyone else, but seeing them differently. It's also been said that necessity is the mother of invention. (Or was that Frank Zappa?) Either way, both of those concepts bring us to today's post on Tagging Creativity.

While written communication is a great tool, it has never really been able to replace face-to-face communication and the non-verbal cues that go with speaking to another person directly. Well, it used to be that way anyway.

Tagging Creativity uses traditional html tags to add additional information to written communications.

Let's look at some examples:
<fingers crossed>Could you give me a ride home after work?</fingers crossed>

<sarcasm>If I do, it will only continue to encourage your pain-in-the-assitude.</sarcasm>

(Yes, you can make up words, too.)

Here's another:
<genuine inquisitiveness>Have you read Geoff's book, Tapping Creativity, yet?</genuine inquisitiveness>

<with guilty regret>Not yet. Is it any good?</with guilty regret>

<barely containing pants-wetting enthusiasm>It's fantastic. There are so many good ideas in there!</barely containing pants-wetting enthusiasm>

<wringing hands>I think that should be my next purchase.</wringing hands>

No need to go on all day. You're a smart cookie; you get the idea. So take it and run. Use it wherever you want to spice up your writing.

Just remember that when your friends ask you where you learned it, send 'em my way.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

That's the Spirit

For as long as humans have been able to contemplate their own existence, there has been a religious movement to explain our existence, social expectations, afterlife, and path to redemption. Hundreds of religions and mythologies exist today, each different (by varying degrees) from the other. One thing they all have in common, however, is their dedication to helping us navigate through this earthly day-to-day and all of the uniquely human trials and tribulations that go with it.

I was introduced to the works of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell right around the time I was taking a course on world religion. Between the two, I became enthralled (and a little overwhelmed) by the differences, and moreover, the similarities of cultural mythologies. I dove into religious texts. I re-read The Bible, The Koran, The Upanishads, The Dhammapadda, the Tao Te Ching, the Book of Mormon, the Teachings of Confucius and any other text I could find. Never once, however, did I think to keep a log of my reading.

Since that time, I’ve gone back and started re-reading all of the sacred books again; only this time, I’m reading more slowly and taking notes. As I read parables, I write down summaries and try to apply the lessons of parables to my own life. I take the verses from Eastern texts and “translate” them into a contemporary, and sometimes more detailed form, and apply them to my life.

I slowly find some answers, and not from just one source. While this practice may be considered by some as heretical—or at the very least “misguided”—it helps me make it through hard times, find the beauty in all things, be thankful for what I have, and be more forgiving of others. Of all the extended exercises I practice, none of the other helps me on a personal level so much as this one. Some of the thoughts that surface in my journal make it into stories, but more often than not, they help me keep my mind clear of the daily clutter so I can focus my writing. Be it humor, drama, or editorial in nature, the trivial seems to fall out of the work leaving the real issues to be addressed.

I’m currently in the process of writing a novel involving three separate plotlines that revolve around these central questions:

  • What is the nature of love?
  • What circumstance could make one person hurt another in the name of love?
  • Can love ultimately heal all wounds?

The story itself is not what I’d call romantic. It involves dissolving marriages, a character who is not able to have children and wants nothing more that to do just that, and a dying man taking a trip back through his life and reliving his most precious memories while his daughter sits by his deathbed trying to inwardly reconcile her relationship with her father over something that happened years ago.

The work stems directly from my own contemplation of the above-mentioned questions in relation to the accepted notions of love as presented to society by our sacred texts. Without the background reading, I doubt the project would ever have gotten started.

For you to start, I recommend working outside of The Bible at first. Many of us in the Western world are familiar with The Bible and may already have preconceived notions that influence our readings. Try something smaller with shorter passages like the Tao Te Ching. Most passages are anywhere from four to twenty lines long. This makes them small enough to digest and work with, but you’ll see that small on content can be very big on meaning.

Start with one passage a day and focus on that passage. Move on to another one when you are ready. Don’t feel like you need to do one every day. Remember life’s a journey, not a destination. Feel free to make a few stop along the way and enjoy the view; your writing will be stronger because of it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mood Music

It's October and Halloween is near. While we normally associate holiday music with the end of December, Halloween certainly brings its own brand of spooktacular sounds. Collectively, these jingles, songs, and sound effects create a distinct mood during this time of year. As a writer, that makes a difference.

If you have been following this blog for any period of time, you know I'm also a musician and I put a lot of stock in the power of music to influence our writing. To that end, I suggest an album called This House Has No Light. It's my debut CD as my alter ego scarecrow. As a soundtrack disc, it is written with story telling in mind. It's a darker CD, perfect for this time of year.

Here is the first single: The Hustle.

For other articles on music and writing, check out: Hyper Balladeers and Write Like the Beatles.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Monkeying Around with Juxtaposition

You've got a story that needs some spicing up. Perhaps you've started with a great idea, then it lost its way. Perhaps you've got a great character, but you don't have situations for her. Plot pitfalls like this happen all the time.

For instance, your character could've had enough at work and told her boss to shove it in a scene that has working women all over shouting, "You go girl!" We're talking about a real glory quit. She heads home to face a future that is very different from the one she woke up to. You, however, have no idea what that is yet.

As she turns the key to her apartment and steps inside, though, she finds this:

That's juxtaposition, baby!

The last thing she expects is a giant silverback gorilla bashing the skins to a Phil Collins song. That's interesting. Why? Because we, as writers, will want to know what happens next. And so will your readers.

Characters are defined by how they react to situations. Readers go through these vicarious experiences with characters. When you use juxtaposition to introduce unlikely elements to a story - be they new characters, new events, or new whatevers - you have the chance to hook readers and let your character grow.

And sometimes, you might even stumble into a story that is more interesting than the one you started with.