Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Write for YOU

Writing. Heh, it’s a weird thing, it is. No different than anything else though, I guess. Just as with other endeavors, once someone gets involved in it they want to be “good” and want to know what it takes to be “good” and why some people are “good” but they are not. Well, let me tell you something: In the long run, it isn’t about being good or bad, it’s about you, and small improvements along the way.

I’m a chess player, as many of you know, and once you get the basic rules and strategies down, you have to lose a lot of games to better players. I mean a *lot* of them. Eventually you ask yourself why you are being beat all the time, and analyze your games to find out your own personal bad habits. Why should writing be any different? If you read someone’s work and they blow you away, analyze it a little to see what really grabs you about it, and then try and apply that to your own musings. Step by step is the key, here. Nobody becomes Stephen King overnight simply because they’ve decided they want to write. It doesn’t work like that.

Rather, through a series of small improvements (and practice, ladies and gentleman – lots and lots of practice!) we get better overall. Write for you, and write things you enjoy. If you write with other people in mind you are going to fall short of the mark, almost every time. Write prose and poetry that *you* enjoy, and always put emotion into it. You can’t get a drink from a dry lakebed, know what I mean? Wet it up at tad.

Just remember, nobody wrote a masterpiece best-seller as their first novel. And if they did, they didn’t write that novel a month after they decided they wanted to put pen to paper. It takes time, so be willing to pack a suitcase and stay in a few motels along the way, so to speak.

If you don’t like your own work, it’s likely nobody else will, either. Read a lot, write a lot, then read some more. I believe those to be very important elements to keeping our muse alive and kicking, and ever improving. Write and write until your own stuff puts a smile on your face. Only then are you ready to be competitive and branch out into the world of publishing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Are you having fun yet?

Do you have enough fun? Do you have very little fun? Do you even remember what fun is? I make sure that I enjoy myself, and I do that a lot. I have a plethora of hobbies and activities that I engage in, and I believe they help to keep my sanity intact. Even if it helps a little bit, a good time is well worth the cash and effort now and again.

If I’m not playing chess or reading or writing, you can find me deep in the woods camping with my Jeep. I play drums in a rock band, I rebuild BMX bikes, I weld, I shoot a pretty decent pool game, I listen to music, and I love to drink beer and BS with the guys around a great campfire. These are just some of the things I do to break up the monotony at times, and many of them are cheaper than you would think.

The girlfriend and I can put together and entire three-day camping trip for about a hundred dollars, and it’s a great getaway. Even though gas is pretty expensive at the moment, it doesn’t usually break the bank to head down to the beach or into Los Angeles for the day so that we can see the sites. We have even been audience members on the Dr. Phil show some three times, totally for free. Of course, we usually stay down there the night before, but there is a cool old hotel that charges $50 a night and provides Wi-Fi. Can’t beat that with a bat!

If you enjoy reading, head to the local Book Exchange or thrift store and pick up a few novels for a couple dollars. I love books, and the older the better. The smell of the pages is half the fun of reading for me. Or maybe head to the local Redbox and get a few movies for one dollar apiece. That isn’t very much. Then you can pick up some Twizzlers and Milk Duds and have a regular movie night. That is hours of entertainment for less than ten bucks.

You would be surprised at how many local things that you haven’t seen which are completely free. When’s the last time you visited a museum? Been a while for me too, and there are several around. It’s one of those things we keep meaning to do but don’t get around to. We will. I know we will because we are all about cheap and free fun.

Shooting a pool game and bowling aren’t what they used to be, and you can really spend a few bucks in an evening, but they are *fun*. Theme and amusement parks can definitely hurt the ole wallet, but they are also fun. Heck, even a trip to the local coffee shop can put you back some duckets, but a lot of the time it really is better than sitting at home, moping.

Get out there and have some fun soon. You deserve it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Traffic Observations: Going Slow in the Fast Lane

I got rid of my worker bee job a couple of years ago and now earn my income from home – something that you’d have to pry from my cold, dead hands. I love it. I can set my own hours, I can work as little or as much as I want and essentially, the sky’s the limit. Also, I don’t have to drive with the worker bees on the freeway anymore. Let’s delve deeper into this, so we can understand just what I mean.

Yesterday, we had to drive into Newport Beach for a medical appointment. It made me real thankful that I don’t have to drive daily. We got there okay but we weren’t about to make the 1.5-hour trek home in rush-hour traffic, and so we caught dinner and a flick down there. Worked like a charm, for the most part.

While it was never really “stop and go” on the way home, I constantly encountered geniuses in the far left lane, also known as the fast lane, going well below the posted speed limit. Technically, there *is* no “fast lane,” and so they are probably doing nothing legally wrong. If you have ever driven on a CA freeway, however, you know that driving 60 mph in the far left lane is a no-no. It’s highly irritating for other drivers at best, and lethal at worst.

There is nothing more aggravating than to be gliding along at a reasonable 75 mph, only to hit the brakes and slow down to 60 mph because some idiot in the fast lane thinks they are driving a pace car. Oh man, gets me fired up every single time. And I’m not a fast driver – no accidents and never a speeding ticket. Not one. I get on the freeway to go places, though, not dilly dally.

There is something called the “flow of traffic,” which local police recognize readily. If everyone on the damn freeway is averaging 80 mph, it is not advisable to get into the far left lane and go 55 mph because you think that’s what should be done. You’ll cause more accidents than you prevent that way, trust me. I can’t tell you how many marked, black-and-white police cars I’ve past at well over the posted speed limit. They aren’t looking for a guy going 80 in a 75 zone in the fast lane; they are looking for the guy going 95 in a 75 and weaving in and out of traffic. That guy is going to kill people, plain and simple.

So anyway, I’m sliding along at 75 mph and I see a box, usually a mini van, ambling along in the same lane at a turtle’s pace. I literally cannot see anyone in front of that driver for two miles. So, I have to get out of the fast lane and pass the missing link on the right, something I really hate to do. But what else? On a ten-minute trip down the freeway into town, I can cope with going 60 mph. However, when I’m two hours from home, dropping from 75 mph to 60 mph can cause me to be on the road for another half-hour or more, and that just isn’t acceptable. Not when it’s completely preventable.

My question is this: Why in the world would *anyone* consider creeping along in the far left lane? Don’t they see that there is NO-body in front of them, and consider moving over to the middle lane, where 60 mph is just dandy? These people baffle me, and I suppose they always will. Even more baffling is that no matter who I talk to, they complain about moron drivers on the freeway, as well. What are the chances that *all* of my friends, family, and colleagues are the ones who drive really well? Not high.

I’m sure that those drivers who choose to go well below the posted speed limit in a socially accepted fast lane aren’t going to read this blog, because they probably can’t read. But it’s a rant blog, after all, and I figured I may as well tell you fine readers about it. That’s all for now but remember, don’t be the idiot who holds up traffic and makes people’s blood pressure rise unnecessarily. If you want to drive at a slower speed that’s more comfortable to you, please pick another lane. The far left one is for those of us who want to move.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Do you like guns?

Ah, yes, the venerable gun. What I have found in life is that most people either love them or hate them, and very, very few feel completely and totally indifferent about them. Personal experience, opinion, education (or the lack thereof), experience, and a whole lot of other factors come into play when deciding if you like guns or not.

Those of you who know me on any level probably know that I’m a gun enthusiast, and have quite a few in my collection at home. I believe that as long as it’s our right to own one, we should all have them. I’m not a zealot, by any means, but I feel strongly that guns in the hands of capable citizens is not a bad thing. Guns in the hands of *criminals* and idiots, however, is, but why should they get the upper hand? If someone breaks into my house one night, I’m ready, and that’s the end of it.

Many of the folks I talk to about guns who have decided they do not like them have never actually fired one. That’s understandable. I don’t like skydiving, and the whole entire idea of it seems nothing short of insane to me. However, I have never done it, and so I really have no basis for that opinion other than sheer logic and the occasional tragedy that happens and makes the headlines. Guns are pretty much the same way.

Some people feel that outlawing weapons completely is the way to go, but I strongly disagree with that idea. Heroin is also outlawed and completely illegal, and look how well that works. No, as long as someone wants a gun, he or she will find one. So, if people are walking around on our streets, armed and potentially dangerous, I see no reason why I shouldn’t have the right to respond in kind.

I won’t bore you with a lot of statistics and other garble, but instead, I’ll try to highlight some of the positives of owning guns. As long as they are stored in a safe, responsible manner, they are no more scary than having a paper weight in the house.

1. If you have a gun in your home, you at least have options. Admittedly, the chances might be pretty low that an intruder will show up in your bedroom at three in the morning but if one does, you’ll end up a victim for sure if you don’t have a gun ready. The beautiful thing is that you probably won’t even have to use it, either. Simply announcing that you have a gun is sometimes enough. If it isn’t, the clack-clack of the shotgun or the unmistakable sound of the slide on a pistol may just do the trick. Those are scary.
2. Educating yourself and others around you on the proper ways to handle and fire a weapon greatly reduces the risk of “something going wrong.” Yes, guns can be horrible in the wrong hands, but as long as you and yours know what you are doing, there isn’t much risk involved. Surely no more than say, driving 5,000 pounds of steel at sixty miles per hour.
3. Squeezing the trigger at the range every now and again is a great way to get rid of stress. There is just something about the entire process of shooting, from loading the gun to aiming the gun to hearing the *boom* when it goes off and feeling the recoil before taking aim again that really does something for the soul. It really is cool.

So, what is your take on guns? Are you someone who wishes that not another single one was ever manufactured, and that all the current ones would be melted down and made into something nice like Hondas? Are you someone who has always had a fascination with them but have never actually gone shooting? Or, are you more like me and feel that guns serve very noteworthy functions in our lives in that they are great for both recreation and protection? One of the cool things about guns is that no matter who you talk to, someone always has an opinion on them or a story about them. What’s yours?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Writer's Block

Have you ever experienced this phenomenon? If you pen much, and especially if you do it for a living, the answer is most likely yes. But, what *is* it? I think most of our preconceived notions of writer’s block are just wrong. Normally, it isn’t the lack of *any* ideas that plagues us, it’s the lack of *good* ideas. We think that if we cannot come up with something epic, and immediately, that we cannot write anything, and that simply isn’t true.

I have experienced times when I was stumped on something to write about, both in fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes, depending on what’s going on in your life, or even just that day, it may be best to simply walk away, as we so often do. If we are feeling ill, or hungry, or really tired or really stressed-out, our creative juices may not be at full capacity anyhow. But many times, our muse can be revived from its slumber simply by writing. I know it sounds funny, but it actually works.

Open a blank document, and just start typing. Tell a story, any story. Get something in your head, and run with it. The inspiration could be a number, it could be a letter, it could be a movie you’ve seen recently, it could be a pet, it could be a clock. Literally anything works. And don’t worry about jotting down publish-worthy material, because you probably won’t, and that isn’t the idea anyhow. The idea is to keep our thinkers limber. Any athlete knows that he can’t ignore training and expect to be competitive at the big event. Writers, too, need to work out very regularly.

If you blog, write one every day when you have a spare fifteen minutes. I know time is valuable and hard to come by, but days where a spare fifteen minutes actually isn’t available are rare. It’s okay to skip a day here and there, but don’t let that become habit. You know what they say about idle hands...

If you write fiction or poetry, set a word count for each day and try really hard to meet it. Mine is 500 words per day, and often times I go way over that, which makes me feel good. What I end up with is likely a folder full of garbage tales, but they are *my* garbage, and I feel that with every story I pen I improve. Small improvements are much more important that large leaps, trust me. Keep writing, keep learning – those are the only cures for writer’s block. Of *course* you have writer’s block if you don’t write. People who run every day are far less likely to pull a muscle, ya know? We have to stay on the ball, or our muse becomes cloudy and tired.

So, instead of staring at the intimidating blank white page in front of you, get your hands on the keys and type words. See where they go. I’ll bet you will be surprised at what you can accomplish, simply by making yourself do it. In the end, you’ll find it’s actually far easier to trod through the mire and force words onto the page than to tell yourself it isn’t a good day for writing and play Facebook games instead. Try it. You’ll like it.