Why Creative Writing Is Like Playing In An Empty Baseball Stadium!

During and following the recent Baltimore riots, Camden Yard, home of the Orioles, hosted several major league games, where no fans were allowed to attend
During and following the recent Baltimore riots, Camden Yard, home of the Orioles, hosted several major league games, where no fans were allowed to attend

The Event

The recent death of Freddie Gray of Baltimore sparked a series of events that evolved into something more than just an expression of civil disobedience concerning police brutality. The end result was more like a series of protests, where some of the events turned into riots, requiring a police and national guard presence. I know that the whole situation sounds bad, but I do recall as a high school student in the very same city, we received an unscheduled school holiday, when Martin Luther King was assassinated and parts of the city were embroiled in major rioting and looting. And in those days the issues were probably more elevated and intense than recent events, yet despite the seemingly uncontrolled venting of rage, change did come to the city. Even with the recent events in Baltimore, there does seem to be a pathway available to address some of the public issues.

A Bizarre Picture

However, one of the most striking (and surreal) images of the recent riots was the pictures of the Orioles baseball games, where no fans were allowed to attend because of the possibility of disruptive outbursts directly related to what was going on in the streets of Baltimore. When I first saw the pictures of the empty stadium on the news, my thoughts did not go to the street protests, but to the baseball players, who were continuing their professional game, even though no one was present in the sports arena. And it was here that I saw a situation that I could relate to…….more than any picture that emerged from the Baltimore conflict.

scene of players emerging from cornfield in the Field of Dreams movie
scene of players emerging from cornfield in the Field of Dreams movie

Later On

Currently, the games have resumed at Camden Yards and legal charges have been brought against six city police officers in regards to the death of the one person who was in police custody. I have no idea how relations between the city police and the city minorities will evolve, but I do believe that the baseball season in this city will return to normal, if it hasn’t already.

The Analogy or Why Writing Can Be Like Playing In An Empty Stadium

For those writers in the audience, especially those that are just starting out, they may often find themselves in a situation, where the only people aware of their creative activities are those, who are also in the game. This is quite normal for anybody, trying to pursue a writing career or for someone participating in any of the other arts. Perhaps, the most important point here, is that this should not affect how one plays the game. For I’m sure that on those cool days of late April and early May, when not a soul was ateending the game in person, the participants were still playing just as hard and using their athletic skills to the best of their ability. In other words the presence of an audience doesn’t matter, all that much.

Writing Really Is a Field of Dreams

Further contemplation upon this subject leads to the appreciation of one of my favorite baseball movies of all times, Field of Dreams. Not only does this film feature a wild-eyed dreamer, who wants an audience for his game, but also there is this savvy older writer, who understands the game all too well. Maybe one of the most memorial images in the movie is when Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones are watching a major league contest, while discussing the issues of the day. In other words, they know how to be part of the audience, though the their goals might be much bigger. And here is what I am trying to say, and that is as a writer (or artist) you cannot be too concerned with your audience……just concentrate on your skills as a player. That’s all you can do….the rest is up to fate.

Yankee Stadium on a busy day
Yankee Stadium on a busy day

 

 

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The Zen of Short Scripts

The Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, NM is reminiscent of buildings used in the sets of western movies, image from wikipedia
The Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, NM is reminiscent of buildings used in the sets of western movies, image from wikipedia

Writing Features

I began writing scripts for feature length film not because I thought that it would be a good idea, but because someone else thought I had a great story for a movie. Unfortunately (or fortunately) whatever the case may be, my friend just happened to be an agent for screenplays and TV pilots. As luck would have it, he was not very successful at negotiating sales, even though he had one of his own scripts optioned and turned into a pilot. Nonetheless, I finished my first script and seeing how relatively straightforward the process was, I went ahead and put together two more. Presently, these screenplays sit in a drawer. Here’s what I learned in the process.

Some things To Consider

Will your screenplay be economical to shoot. That means no fancy special effects, no foreign locations, and the fewer scenes you have the better off you will be if and when a Hollywood executive gets to take a real look at the script. Also a smaller cast might be an advantage also. Does anyone remember The Blair Witch Project? Your concept does not have to be that bare bones, but still the remarkable and unpredictable success of this film should be noted.

Why Make A Short Film

Overall, there are many reasons why you might want to make a short film. First of all it’s cheaper. That kind of goes without saying, for making a five minute short will be a lot easier on the old budget that a feature length. On a similar note a short film does not take a lot of time to edit and involves a smaller cast and production crew. Furthermore, the short will give the director and writer more artistic freedom, so that they might undertake riskier work. Also of note, is the improving market for short films, especially with the advent of such online markets as Vevo and Youtube. And finally, if you short takes off, it could still get previewed at a high-profile film festival or even receive an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film.

The Short Film Script

Now comes the challenge of actually sitting down and writing the short script. When you do you might want to keep some of these ideas in mind. Don’t forget that a short film is usually really short, less than ten minutes with the 2 to 5 minute range being very popular, especially if are planning to put your finished product up online. Just think of a short film as the equivalent of flash fiction….that is small bite of reality that might go over well in our contemporary world of digital communications and the 30-second sound bite. And just because your little episode is short, remember that it must tell a story. This means a beginning, middle and good ending.

Old school method of using a camcorder to make a film
Old school method of using a camcorder to make a film, from wikipedia

 

 

Some Minor Distractions That Might Actually Help Your Writing

Aloha Tahiti, from wikipedia, photo by Silvia-pco
Aloha Tahiti, from wikipedia, photo by Silvia-pco

 

Writing can be a time-consuming and exhausting endeavor, especially if haven’t quite found your muse. Several years ago I found myself in a temporary situation, where my main source of income came from writing content for an American company with a large internet presence. I was touring Canada on my ten-speed bicycle, so money-making options were limited. This forced me to write much more than I really wanted to. And so to keep up with my travel expenses (like food and bicycle repairs) I had to really crank out the words. This was grueling mental work that gave me reason to thoroughly enjoy every spare minute that I could. On the plus side, I got to take in some of Quebec’s finest scenery, while cruising the province’s back roads.

 

Walking in your neighborhood can be very refreshing to your mental processes
Walking in your neighborhood can be very refreshing to your mental processes

Ten Distractions That Might Aid Your Writing

1. Walking – As far as  Iam concerned nothing comes close to walking in recharging the brain cells.  Walking is like meditation, for it’s the time when everything gels. Do this whenever you run into a mental roadblock and chances are that when you finally get back to your W.I.P., the writing will run smooth again.

2. Going to the Movies – For me, going to the movies means sitting in a darkened theater and watching the moving images flicker on a big screen. Watching a movie on a TV or computer screen just ain’t the same. To make things more interesting you can choose an entertaining film that was made from a bestselling book. In this regard,s there are quite a few fine examples from which to select.

3. A Roller Coaster Ride – Don’t travel too far to participate in this adrenaline-producing thrill, but if there is an amusement park nearby, this might be just the right ticket. A ride on a roller coaster is kind of like rebooting your brain; it helps get rid of all superfluous thoughts.

4. Washing the Dishes  – Just getting your house or apartment cleaner or in better working condition, just might wear off on your writing process.

5. Reading – Reading is one of those amazing activities that will strengthen your writing skills, while keeping you entertained. Just sit back, read and watch the wonderful process of osmosis fill your brain with writing tips.

6. Bike Riding – Bike riding combines the meditative benefits of walking with a more vigorous workout activity This alone will stimulate your cardiovascular system. This kind of exercise is needed from time to time just to counterbalance the comatose nature of sitting in the same spot for hours on end.

7. Playing with the Kids – No one can be a better reminder that you are getting to obsessed with your own creative endeavors than your own kids. This is especially true if they are toddlers or young children.

8. Swimming – This is kind of a corollary to #6, whereabouts finding a good exercise regiment might benefit your health; and thus help energize your mental process. Maybe you can ride your bike to the swimming pool, unless of course you are one of those lucky souls, who has one in his or her back yard.

9. Eating Out – Don’t forget to feed your stomach. By going out to eat you may avoid #4, but the stimulation of enjoying a flavorful meal with the company of others, probably outweighs this.

10. Happy Hour – Take a page from Hemingway and go visit a popular watering hole for a few hours in the late afternoon or early evening. You never know who you might run into or what inspirations might fall your way. Just make sure you are finished writing for the day and don’t continue your bar presence to all hours of the night…..for historically, drinking has been the downfall of many a talented author.

Great getaways are seldom conducive to great writing
Great getaways are seldom conducive to great writing

 

In Conclusion

Don’t get carried away with your writing breaks, these ideas weren’t meant as permanent diversions, but merely short breaks to be taken in order to refresh your brain cells. A vacation to Tahiti may be fine and dandy, but in the long run it’s an expensive writing alternative that keeps you away from your work for way too long. Then again if you win the Pulitzer Prize for your Chick-lit novel, a trip to the South Seas may be just the right ticket.

 

The beach is a great place to relax, from Wikipedia, photo by Maria
The local beach is a great place to read and relax, from Wikipedia, photo by Maria

 

 

Canadian Short Story Writer Wins Nobel Prize for Literature

IDL TIFF file
Sombero Galaxy in Infrared Light, hubble space photo from http://www.ispace.com

The News Story

Today, October 10, 2013 it was announced that Alice Munro has received the Nobel Prize for Literature. For those of you who are not familiar with the writer, she is a Canadian woman, especially known for her collections of short stories. Alice was born in southwestern Ontario and still resides in the country, thus making her the first Canadian writer to receive the prestigious reward. Her short story collections are readily available in any bookstore, so acquiring some of her works is not very difficult.

AliceMunro
Recent photo of Alice Munro

What This Means for the Short Story Revival

First of all, let me clearly state the Ms. Munro has been writing short stories, all throughout her literary career and to my knowledge has not written any novels. This in itself shows true dedication to the craft, for until very recently the popularity of the short story was on the wane with a few brave souls predicting the ultimate demise of the genre. However, most recently, the short story seems to making a comeback. This recent phenomena seems linked to the rising success of ebooks, which now can be downloaded onto various and sundry electronic devices, such as cell phones and laptop computers.

Nonetheless, all this shoptalk on short stories seems mute, as the author has been writing short stories for many years and her success appears to be unrelated to current literary trends. Though it is plausible that the selection committee may have been slightly influenced by current book buying trends.

Appreciation Guide for Newbies

If you are a reader at all like me, you are well probably well aware of Alice Munro’s books, but for some reason never purchased or read one of her short stories. Fortunately, with the recent turn of events avid followers of her work have responded to her latest success by posting advice on which story to read first. Here is one such article posted over at Book Riot. Another such article can be found here.

Who’s Using Kindle’s KDP Select?

DutchMasters-adjusted

What Is KDP ?

KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. In a nutshell any ebook that is formatted for electronic publication and then published on Kindle e-readers through Amazon is part of  Kindle Direct Publishing. To be part of KDP your little e-book can be available on other venues (i.e. Nook, Smashwords, Apple, Sony etc.)…..but there has to be uniform pricing. Many authors have opted for this route in the brave new world of Indie publishing, especially those with a high online profile and a good marketing plan.

Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouched
The Mona Lisa, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci

How About KDP Select?

In addition to the basic Kindle publishing platform, Amazon now has a special option for self-pubbed writers that offers 90 days of exclusivity on the Kindle. To participate in this relatively recent program, the author has to remove the e-book from all competing markets and only have the electronic item available on Kindles. After the 90 days is up, the author has the option of renewing the Select program for another 90 days. In exchange Amazon makes the title available to its Amazon Prime members. Membership in Amazon Prime must fork out 80 bucks a year, but in exchange, they receive access in the form of free downloads at any time to any title published on the KDP Select program. In return the author receives a fee directly from Amazon that comes out of a separate fund. I know this may seem hokey, but so far in 2013, each Amazon Prime download (or borrow as Amazon calls them) is worth about 2 dollars US. In other words, a popular writer with a 1,000 borrows would receive approximately $2,000 for those downloads.

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Is It Working?

Though there seems to be some skepticism about the long term future of this arrangement, many authors seem to be content with the KDP Select program so far. Some of the advantages of this program appear to be its ease of entry,Amazon’ts prompt tracking of online sales and the possibility of high volume sales for popular authors. As a result Kindle millionaires is a new buzzword for those who have been following the rise of e-book Indie authors.

It should also be noted that Amazon has some pricing guidelines for those who participate in KDP Select. Also they allow the author to choose 5 days of free promotion during each 90 day period. These free promos are available to anyone with a Kindle E-reader or compatible computer program, and not just  those who signed up for Amazon Prime. On these chosen days prospective readers can download the ebook for free. This results in a large number of downloads on the free days. These free downloads may or may not  result in sales after the free period has ended. The main drawback for the free promotion days is that the situation creates a large body of e-readers who expect every electronic title to be free……. More about this later.

The Tree Book Ain’t Dead Yet

Redwood_National_Park,_fog_in_the_forest
Redwood trees in fog, Redwood NP, from Wikipedia, photo by Michael Schweppe

Is This A Golden Age For Writers?

Just recently, Stephen Marche, in his Thousand Words About Our Culture column for Esquire, raised this exact question. To back up his assertion, he put forth numerous graphs and figures, showing that adult readership and book sales are up. Some of the facts are quite convincing; such as increase in both hardcover and ebook sales. For the first half of 2012, adult hardcover sales rose over 8 %, while ebook sales jumped by a whopping 34 %. Also on the increase are the percentage of adult Americans who read literature and the average number of books (of any kind) that are read by individual readers. This is definitely encouraging news.

480px-BarackObamaportrait
Barrack Obama portrait in front of the Capitol building, from Wikipedia, photo source U.S. Senate

A Writer In the White House

Now serving in his second term as U.S. President is Barrack Obama from Illinois, a successful politician, who helped further his political career by writing two widely read books, Dreams From My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006). Though most presidents, now publish after they leave office, it is less common to find presidents that used the written word to enhance their political career. John Kennedy and Richard Nixon are two past presidents, who have made it to the White House aided by a successful book publication.

A Good Time To Be A Successful Writer?

Maybe what Stephen Marche should have said is that it is a great time to be a successful writer. Breaking in is still difficult, and perhaps complicated by the huge number of competing writers, all trying for a slice of that same pie that is not nearly big enough to accommodate all those who wish to enjoy some of the sweet rewards.

A Silver Lining For Marginal Writers

One positive development for the struggling  writer is the ebook market, which seems to lend itself admirably to the unknown wordsmith. The ebook does not guarantee success for the upcoming writer, it just levels the playing field a little bit. It still takes a lot of skill and perseverance and perhaps a little luck to breakthrough.

Why I Am Skipping NaNoWriMo This Year

the tadpole galaxy
Arp 188 and the Tadpole’s Tail;
Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA

First Attempt

I first attempted to complete a NaNoWriMO manuscript back in 2008. I came close to making the 50,000 word minimum set forth by the non-profit organization, as being an “official” novel, but ultimately, I fell short by 5,000 words. Besides making me very tired, the international coordinated event did inspire me onward and upwards as a writer. The most profound result was a collection of a half dozen or so short stories that I expanded into a full-length novel; which according to most industry professionals ranges from 65,000 to over a 100,000 words. In the real world 50,000 word novels are rare, though definitely not non-existent.

So by spring of 2009 I had my first completed novel. Without delay I went about the exciting task of trying to hook an agent for the completed manuscript. The result was disappointing to say the least, but still, I had completed the task to the point where I had a finished manuscript that could be shown to prospective readers and buyers. I was even successful in obtaining one reading by an insider in the publishing industry, who gave me lots of good feedback, but no sales.

Flooding The Market

Namowrimo has been amazingly successful. After a modest beginning in July 1999 with only 21 writers, the annual writing event has seen a steady increase in participants. Last year (2011) saw approximately a quarter million perspective novelists up from 200,000 in 2010. Of those 250,000, just over 36,000 were declared winners, which means they were able to put together 50,000 coherent words in a period of 720 hours. No wonder it is becoming more and more common for literary agents to close their doors during the month of December. The submission rate from unpublished Namowrimo authors must be astronomical.

This Year

This year I am rewriting the novel that I began in 2009. It has been sitting in a drawer (actually stored on a hard drive is closer to the truth) since then and I figure it is well nigh time to bite the bullet and get a respectable first draft completed. I just started the project yesterday and have yet to reach even a thousand words. Even so,  I feel very good about spending this November and beyond in the rewriting mode.

The Red Spider Planetary Nebula
The Red Spider Planetary Nebula
by Carlos Milovic, Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA