Don’t Listen To The Negativity

As you finish writing projects, you’re going to hear a lot of negativity. Even in the most exciting moments, when a draft is out to editors for example, or when there’s interest from film producers, people are going to talk to you about their concerns. They’re going to ask a “serious question.” You’re going to get rejected, or face delays, or told what doesn’t work.

But don’t listen to any of this. Don’t focus on the negative.

I always make a goal of one in ten. If one in ten editors loves something, that’s great. Or as my agent – Adriann Ranta at Foundry – always says, “We only need one.” And it’s important to remember that goal.

Because in the gate-keeper moments, it’ll feel like most of what you face is negativity, sometimes even from friends or family. But remember that your fans, your readers, the average people out there, they love your work. They think you’re a good storyteller, or an interesting poet, or an engaging essayist, or whatever.

Also, you can only control what you can control. You can’t worry about other people’s concerns. You can’t worry about other people’s strong opinions. You can’t worry about what bothers people who aren’t making art.

You simply have to create your best work. Draft, revise, edit, and produce.

Then move on to the next thing.

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Junk In And Junk Out

As a teacher and writer, I’m constantly thinking about the trap of social media, how much time it takes, the emotional trade off, and how little I learn, all of this balanced by the relationships I make online (which I do value). So is it worth it?

I also think a lot about how much we consume in our culture – entertainment-wise – rather than create, the scales not being balanced in the least. I worry about each time I zone out watching a screen for more than a few minutes. If I want to create, and to create quality work, I have to consume less and create more. And when I do consume, it has to be high-quality art (great books, poetry, lyrical rappers, paintings, sculpture, essays, etc.).

But that’s me – how I would say it. Here’s someone else’s voice…

Quoting Benjamin P. Hardy (from Medium):

“Invest At Least 80% Of Your “Off” Time Into Learning

Most people are consumers rather than creators.

They are at work to get their paycheck, not to make a difference.

When left to their own devices, most people consume their time as well. It is only by investing your time that you get a return on that time.

Nearly every second spent on social media is consumed time. You can’t have that time back. Rather than making your future better, it actually made your future worse. Just like eating bad food, every consumed moment leaves you worse off. Every invested moment leaves you better off.

Entertainment is all well and good. But only when that entertainment is an investment in your relationships or yourself. You’ll know if it was an investment if that entertainment continues to yield returns over and over in your future. That may include positive memories, transformational learning, or deepened relationships.

Even still, life isn’t purely about being entertained. Education and learning is also key. And although both are essential, education will provide far greater returns in your future.

The world’s most successful people are intense learners. They are hard readers. They know that what they know determines how well they see the world. They know that what they know determines the quality of relationships they can have and the quality of work they can do.

If you are constantly consuming junk media, how can you possibly expect to create high value work? Your input directly translates to your output. Garbage in, garbage out.”

Pretty good, right? Blunt and to the point, but accurate.

On the topic of high-quality art, here are three novels I’ve read this year that were incredible:

1. Zadie Smith’s NW (Note: the structure of this book is so mind-blowing, it could never be made into a movie.)

2. James Welch’s Fools Crow (US and native history collide with fiction – I’ve thought about the perspective in this book every day for two months, since I finished it).

3. Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night (I don’t know if I’ve ever read protagonists as real as the ones in this book).

Trying to Write Dystopia – Pacing Issues

This is the story of struggle, of trying hard but not always succeeding. The following selection is from my current novel draft, a book about a teenage girl who stays behind in her neighborhood after a natural disaster – The Cascadia Earthquake – destroys and floods her city.

Cielo is narrating this section which I just cut. She’s questioning fate. And while I like the idea, the pacing of this whole passage seems wrong:

I thought a lot about both of those books after I read them. I thought about my life, about living in this garage. I wondered if this life was fated for me, and what was fated for my future. And sometimes I wondered if there was a destiny for my mother, if her coming to this country was all part of some larger plan to land me in this particular location for a particular reason.

Now I look at the wreckage all around me, the upside down car in front of the Blue House, the black Mercedes CLA with its door splayed open as it sits on its roof, waiting for rain, for rust, for the coming of fall.

That’s maybe the strangest thing about the wreckage. I’m so used to seeing broken things fixed. There have never been any shabby houses in this neighborhood. Every house is nice, and people call repair men immediately. These men pull up in tool vans. They smooth problems over. Fix windstorm-damaged roofs the next day. Reattach loose mufflers. Replace fence-slats. And nothing is left to overgrow. Yard-maintenance workers manicure front gardens and walks each Monday and Tuesday, use leaf-blowers to scour the corners, edgers and trimmers to straighten the seams.

But now.

This is the world of natural decay. My freshmen science teacher taught us that there is a law in physics that everything breaks down, everything tends toward decay. He said, “Entropy always increases.” He also said that there are two types of entropy, “thermal” and “configurational.” And I watch for both now. I sit on the roof of my garage and imagine the heat of the sun as something visible. Blue and yellow streaks of light and heat radiating down. At the same time, I imagine the fast-forward decaying of the houses all around me.

In my mind, there’s a movie of the house next door falling apart. I watch the wood turn to rot, the nails loosen in the wood, gutters falling off, siding and roof shingles easing, then sliding from the outline of the house. Then the lean of the frame increasing, the angles changing at every corner, wood warping, the twang of boards springing loose, springing free of their moorings to other boards or framing. Piece of the house crumbling, then the outer walls swaying one final time in a gust of wind and the motion increasing until there’s one final sigh of the house as it collapses.

During the quake, none of these houses on the block fell flat. It doesn’t look like a town after a tornado. But none of the houses are unscathed either. They’re all standing at strange angles now, like fun rooms at a carnival, as if I’m looking at the entire world through a set of curved mirrors, as if the world has forgotten the logic of right angles.

Struggling With The Work In Progress

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Once you’ve published a few novels, you start to feel like you know how to do things, like you have a style, like you can repeat the process. But it’s the same struggle every time:

My first draft is always terrible.

By draft two, I realize that I might be in the wrong genre.

By draft three, I realize that I need to cut at least 100 pages that don’t work anymore. Those 100 pages don’t have a single, salvageable paragraph.

Then by draft four, and I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. I usually send that draft to my agent, and she tells me everything that’s wrong with it. She often says, “I’m not really sure what you’re trying to do with this novel…”

With my current work in progress, I guess I’m struggling most with my rhythm, with pace. After Too Shattered For Mending, I got a lot of praise for my short chapters, for how those short chapters pushed the reader forward. I thought I’d found something style-wise. But now – with my current novel – my short chapters aren’t working. I’m going back through the draft and running chapters together, moving chapters around, combining short chapters that lack significant action/content.

I can’t figure out what I was trying to do with my last draft. I keep saying, “Does this book even matter?”

“Should I keep working on it?”

Fiction Writing – Cut Material, Failure

As a novelist, I have entire books of slashed material (as well as entire failed books).

This morning, I cut a series of postcards from my current novel-in-progress. These notes are from my narrator’s best friend from childhood, Tomás, after the two of them had a falling out.

A little background on the writing process: I asked my friend Ben Temple (who was a captain in the army during peacetime) to give me specific details and stories to make Tomás’ postcards more realistic. But they didn’t fit the narrative arc anymore, so here they are.

14 POSTCARDS FROM TOMÁS BEFORE HE WAS DEPLOYED

  • You dont even know how to say sorry after a thing like that. Just get up and walk away and say to yourself dont ever fuckin make that mistake again. Ever. So Im feeling like that but also Im here just thinking about being in a war and hoping to become a hero, a brave soldier that at least everyone could respect for that thing, am I right, Cabron? I imagined a sniper rifle in my hand, obstacle to obstacle or house to house. NVGs on my head at night, destroying the enemy, but apparently were gonna stay here in the USA and train…plus clean shit all the time.

 

  • Everythings still the same here Klay. We got something called “sequestration” sometimes…I guess? My CO yelled in my face, “Do you like sequestration?!!” and I had no fuckin idea what that was, but the way he said it, his tone, I just yelled back, “Sir, no, sir!!!” and he smiled. So I guess he likes me?

 

  • Heard ISIS was training in Pakistan now. Knew we had a battalion just over the border in the Aff desert. We all watched CNN in the briefing room like we were about to go to war. But then we didnt go. We waited another week on base like it was peacetime and there wasnt even an enemy we needed to destroy. Thats the army sometimes: too much time to think. I still feel bad about everything with you. It was once, I promise. Only once. And that shit is NEVER happening again. Write me back when you can.

 

  • Peacetime means PMCS pretty much everyday: Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services. Boring fuckin daily. Example: Checking the fire extinguisher in each vehicle. But we got bored after a while and just checked the boxes without actually checking the items. Got me and this kid Teague in trouble. Were warming up our LMTV when the fire extinguisher (which we had NOT inspected in a while) went off. Covered us both in white foam. Captain laughed his ass off, then assigned us latrines for a week. Only latrines. I dont know how many we cleaned, but it was morning til night!

 

  • Every day.  But at least that reminds me of high school workouts. Its a infantry unit, so difficult compared to other parts of the branch I guess, but nothing like high school wrestling, and I wrestled varsity for three years. Braceros Fuertes! State finals senior year. Wish I could go back and win that match. Wish I could go back in time and do a few things different. Thanks for the letter the other day. It meant a lot to me.

 

  • Ugly fuckin’ Guerra in the desert over there. You seen any footage? We watch a shit ton here on base. The marines keep getting deployed, but not us, at least not yet. Were just sitting here on our asses in Washington State, fuckin ready to go, twiddling our thumbs. Its like were in full-on peace-time, and the mantra of the peace-time U.S. Army infantry soldier is this:

“Somebody – anybody – start a war now.”

 

  • Cleaning (always something to clean: the motor-pool, barracks, grounds, equipment…). Cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. I wanted to make one of those boxing champion of the world warm-up robes, all red silk, have it say “LIMPIADOR” in big yellow letters on the back just put that shit on in the morning and wear it to work, cuz – apparently – Im a fuckin janitor.

 

  • This is how it is: An infantry unit in peacetime or not yet on deployment “goes to the field” for about 10 days every 3 months.  Really just El Campo. The woods there. Most common thing heard after field training in the Northwest: “We were in the field last month for 10 days.  Wettest fuckin FTX Ive ever been on too.  Were still rotating the tents through the motorpool… setting them up and drying them out until the end of the world.” Dios guarde mi.

 

  • I know you said its okay now and you and Olivia are talking again and hanging out, and Im happy about that but Im still so fuckin sorry about everything. You and me have been friends since when we were little and thats all that really matters to me now. That shit is the real stuff. Also Im bored as fuck here and I appreciated your letter. I liked your description of the country out northeast. I could picture it all. Made me miss Sisters, not the town really, just the high desert.

 

  • Cuate, theres this shit called STAFF DUTY: a soldier, a sergeant, and an officer, at the Battalion Head Quarters every night.  The solider is awake by the phone all night long.  The officer and NCO find some quiet corner of HQ to hangout in and then sleep.   If an emergency occurs, those 3 use the alert roster to wakeup the Battalion and get everyone moving.  Classic convo: “Want to go out with us tonight? Pitchers?”  “I cant. I have Staff Duty.”  People just watch regular movies during staff duty…if theyre smart.

 

  • Shit got a little more interesting this week: We had a platoonlevel live-fire training this week: M4’s, M249’s, & M203 simulators plus a vehicle mounted 50-cal all firing together. Went like this: the OIC rotates (let’s say there are 12 platoons in the Battalion) through his range over a 5 day period.  Got to snipe 6 people, two on one day, plus we did an ambush that worked. Then I slept in my own bed like I hadnt just been out. Youd have liked this week.

 

  • This is MESSED UP: I was locked down for 4 days before thanksgiving. We all were. People missing flights. Chingalo. And it was after a weeklong FTX…were in Battalion buildings… no clean clothes, no personal items except the ones we had with us on FTX.  Felt like those days when were cutting weight for a tournament except all of us eating in the chow hall. All for one pair of stolen NVGs! 800 fuckin soldiers locked down for that!  I wanted to track down the brigade commander and tell him to Chupame los huevos but he finally blinked on the night before thanksgiving. Said he would let us go but we all had to be back in 48 hours, and just as we were leaving post, the NVGs showed up MYSTERIOUSLY on the hood of a Humvee. Fuck whoever did that.

 

  • December: Private Wilson got busted for watching porn on the DOD computer during his staff duty assignment.

Then Private Jeurgenson.

Then Private Wonokoswki.

Then Private Childer.

Common article 15s from the UCMJ. Every single one of them.

Radioman Thompson said, “Why don’t they just watch Top Gun or some shit?”

And I said, “Somebody, anybody, start a war now.”

 

  • Looks like were finally gonna get deployed. Felt like I was dying…or becoming a professional cleaning lady.

Also, Im glad you and Olivia are back together. That seems good.

I guess Ill catch you on the other side. Im off to the Aff desert!!!