Please visit patreon.com/austinrich to support the work I do!
I fell down on the job, so to speak, with my goal of writing at least 1000 words a day, as I didn’t get a chance to sit down and write at all the last two days.
Or, rather, I did, but in different ways. On Saturday I wrote about 100 words in Social media posts, as I was busy most of the day working on another project that I only just completed this morning. Then, on Sunday, I was busy working on a couple other things, and while I did actually end up writing about 1300 words yesterday, it was actually for “work,” and not extra. (I actually wrote some bits for a video, which will be seen soon enough.)
I find it interesting that in two days I still managed to write 1400-ish words anyway, mostly though Social Media and a handful of other projects that require a little writing to go with them. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; even if you aren’t trying to write, you often end up writing anyway, regardless of your real intention. This is largely a function of our modern lives. Texting and e-mail are very easy and very useful, and can communicate more nuance than in a quick exchange. And, it allows you to gather your thoughts visually, and sort them into different paragraphs, depending on their relative connections to each other.
I certainly blew it today, as the days I have been the most successful in writing at all are days that I write in the morning, and that seems significant. I can already tell I won’t write as much today as I did yesterday. But I was also doing a number of other, non-writing things. There’s only so many hours in the day.
Still, over the last week, I’ve written almost 7000 words, and that’s not a terrible average, even if today sort of throws that out of wack again. I suspect that even professionals have days where they can’t really get much done, and I shouldn’t focus too much on what I haven’t done, but instead on what I have finished.
Plus: I think I need a new metric, because what if I spend a day editing video? That’s certainly creative work, that I am doing to scratch a different part of my brain. But, if that’s the case, how much video editing is equal to 1000 words? How much of a song is equal to 1000 words? How many photographs, or ideas for comic strips, are equal to 1000 words?
What is the equivalent form of a “writing sprint” in other creative forms? Can they even be compared?
I first heard about NANOWRIMO in 2004, and in 2005 I decided that I was going to compete. While I didn’t do it every year, it wasn’t until 2015 that I actually completed the expressed goal of writing 50,000 words toward one story in 30 days. Let’s process that for a moment. 10 years. Usually, when I fail at something for 10 years, I just stop trying entirely. I guess that’s what Writing does to you; you become an addict, constantly looking for the next rush.
It is true that I have always loved writing personally, and that I usually opt to do that if I can. But NANOWRIMO is a bigger challenge than writing a ‘zine, and much more demanding than knocking out a short story on the weekends, when there’s not much else going on and there’s no deadline. For all of those wannabe writers who love to talk about the craft and how they are in love with the written word, there is something about having to produce that much material in that short a period of time, that really forces you to work close to the metal. There are no do-overs. On December 1st, you do a total word count, and hope that you got there with all that blubber you added at the last second.
In 2015, I had a number of factors working for me, and I started very strong with my novel, with the very-high expectation of writing 2000 words a day. This worked great at first, but between technical challenges, a computer crash, and majorly loosing steam half-way through, I missed several days, where I couldn’t write a single word. I caught up quickly, and when I limped across the finish line with a few days left to spare, I just quit completely, and didn’t write anything those last few days, in spite of trying. While I technically finished, I felt a little lame about the way I finished, especially since I did this publicly; not only were chunks of the book being serialized on this very blog, but I was allowing people to read the Google Doc where the story lived at any time, and published that link all over. (It might even still be available, buried somewhere in the avalanche of other stuff that’s online.) Anyway, there was something about the public nature of the project last year that really made me feel bad about the way it ended. I should have finished a little more gracefully, but so it goes.
I approached the process of writing a story like this very differently last year, too. In the past, I would start at word one on page one, and would try to build the story from there. It was sort of painstaking, as a friend of mine used to say, the “Ice Skating” approach to writing. (Get it right in the first pass, and that’s it.) If you don’t know what the next word is, well, you wait until you do. And you hope that inspiration will guide you. For my 2015 attempt, unlike all previous efforts at writing, I spent the first couple of days assembling a detailed outline. All of these outline words counted toward the total 50,000, and as the month progressed, I would highlight a couple of words from the outline, and flesh it out into the scene that was described.
On the whole, it worked, and it allowed me to do something that I’d never done before: write something out-of-sequence. Humorously enough, I almost never did. Usually, I would look at the outline and work on the next section. When I got stuck, I went back a couple of times to flesh out spots that seemed weak in hindsight. But I rarely went forward. I just had no idea how to do that.
For 2016, I more or less forgot that NANOWRIMO was coming, and really only decided to do it at the last minute. There are a number of personal factors that informed this, but when it looked like I had time on November 1st, and an idea occurred to me, I ran with it.
Like last time, I decided to start with an outline. Like last time, I set a goal of 2000 words a day. And like last year – and in previous years – I ran with a detective story, too.
But, when it came to the actual writing and day-to-day aspect of it, this year felt very different. There was a sort of confidence up front that I didn’t remember from last year. Having completed it before, it now seemed manageable. Like I’ve heard many people say about honing any skill, once they achieve something once, they know it is possible. Doing it again is just a formality. So even on days when I didn’t hit my goal, or even didn’t write anything, it never felt desperate. I’d already had the worst happen to me: complete computer crash in the middle of a novel. And in the end, we recovered. It wasn’t even mildly awful. If that’s the worst that can happen, then what did I have to fear this year?
Another first for me this time was that I wrote things well out of order. This was quite practical at first; sometimes, I just didn’t know how to flesh out a scene, and it made sense to write some bantering dialog. For a good part of the beginning, I wrote a ton of backstory, so I would have some reference material to inform the main plot. It wasn’t until I’d spent almost five or six days on the backstory that key plot points started to come together in my mind. Writing out of order also helped me realize that there were huge sections of my outline that were unnecessary when I reviewed everything, and now sections of the story have these weird dead-end sections that sort of go nowhere, because I realized that set-up was no longer necessary.
In fact, when I review the results of this year’s efforts, it is largely unreadable on December 1st, and this is very different from previous attempts. I will not be serializing this anytime soon, and I’m not sharing the link, either. But, there is a the seed of a story in there, somewhere. I could imagine, given a long enough timeline, that I could whip this into shape. But for now, the idea of returning to this monstrosity just seems inhumane. It is a huge, sprawling, messy and largely nonsensical detective yarn, and even by that standard, would be hard to enjoy, offers little closure, and is not a good example of what I can at my best.
To make matters worse, I actually got a writing gig in November of this year, which meant that I had to crank our three non-fiction stories during the bulk of NANOWRIMO. Not only did I have to put the brakes on my “novel” to do my newly-acquired job, but it sort of took over a lot of my brain-space, too. You don’t realize how many processes are working in the background to come up with words, that it is only when you need to split that time across two project that you realize how exhausting that process is. You are just wiped out. In this respect, and in this respect alone, I cheated; the work I had to write for this new job was added to the total word count for November writing. While I did come up with an in-story reason for this, and I don’t feel guilty in the slightest for doing it, I do feel like I need to mention this caveat. I absolutely wrote a ton in November. But not all of it was strictly for this novel. (But, you never know, considering one of the characters is a journalist / zine writer, it fits, right?)
Another difference this year was location; I wrote this novel in a number of places throughout the month. It’s sort of hard not to, what with the holidays and etc. But technology makes stuff like this so incredibly easy, and by using a Google Doc, I never lost a word, no matter where I was writing. However, this didn’t prevent me from experiencing writer’s block. When I was not in my two primary writing environments – the office or my home – it was so much more difficult to put my butt in the chair and start churning out words, that there were many days I wrote nothing. Never had the environmental factor become so apparent to me, and now I had evidence to back it up. I write better in my natural environments.
Because I missed a lot of days this year, even my 2000 words a day goal couldn’t cover for the days I wrote nothing. This led to something I had never done before, and turned out to the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done while writing: churning out 4000 words a day, or more, in order to catch up near the end. On no less than six occasions I wrote well over 2000 words, and three of those were in the 4000+ range. (One day was nearly 7000 words, even.) Those six days were… terrible. There’s just no way to sugar coat it. Not only did the words get worse as the day progressed, but those were tiring days. To my knowledge, I’ve never written that much in one day before, and to think that I did it this year still seems insane. I should know better. While I finished the projected goal by the end of the month, there were a few days where I felt physically exhausted, just from coming up with words.
On the whole, I had a great time this year, because I feel like I learned a lot of practical lessons about writing that, while perhaps obvious, are things I need to continue to keep in mind to continue this journey of becoming a writer. Never have I felt that there was so much to learn, and at the same time, never have I felt I have made such progress. While I’ve tried to condense this into a handful of tips to close out this reflection, I should preface this by saying that it has taken me 20 years of writing and 10 years of failing at NANOWRIMO to make these realizations about myself. While useful to me now, please don’t assume this is across-the-board advice that will work for everyone. Just a few observations about how I work when I’m writing.
Hopefully, this will help you find what works for you.
10 Writing Tips Learned From NANOWRIMO 2016
1.) It’s About Words; Nothing More. There is a time for making every sentence unique, making every simile perfect, and having continuity between the entire body of work. This is not that time. Just write. A lot. Let the words flow. Let your sentences be clunky. Let it all out. Much later, you can fix anything you don’t like. But for now, just get words down. Lots and lots of words.
2.) Set Very High Goals. To beat NANOWRIMO, you need to write at least 1667 words a day. Write 2000 a day. If you can, write even more. Over-shooting the goal early, when you’re just getting started and you’re excited, can save you when you have trouble later, and you need a cushion – for whatever reason. If you can write for a week straight hitting that higher goal, you’ll have plenty of wiggle room when Thanksgiving hits and you are too full to write.
3.) You Are Over-Thinking It. Usually, anyway. All of the best moments of my story are unplanned, and all the parts I want to save in future revisions are the things that I just threw in suddenly, without thinking about it. When I would agonize over something, it would get worse and worse, and the more I would work on it to get it “just right,” the more time I wasted not-writing, because I was “thinking.” You will have plenty of time to think about the story when it is done, and you can revise the hell out of it later. But right now, stop thinking. Start writing.
4.) Stop Being Precious. This is something we could all work on. In the end, this writing is not important. There is nothing special or unique about your ability to sit down and write for hours a day, except that it speaks to your privilege, in that you are able to do that. It isn’t true that you write better in one take, or when drunk, or whatever it is that you think makes you a better writer. What makes you a better writer is to write, a lot, and to take it as read that you will be revising it all in the future. What you write isn’t a perfect snowflake the first try. This is just a mess of words that could be something in the future, if you let it. But it can’t be anything if you aren’t able to just sit down and start writing. Stop making excuses. If you are a writer, then, by all means, write.
5.) Location, Location, Location. It has been said by people more well spoken than I, so I will merely repeat: it is worth it to spend some time creating an environment you want to write in BEFORE you have to start writing. My office and home are perfectly established places, where I can work and feel good about it. Unless you thrive in places that are unfamiliar to you, I suggest making sure you have a few places ready that are comfortable, inviting, and induce as much positive energy as you can muster. You will need it.
6.) Start Early, Work Late. If you can, start writing in the morning. Write as much as you can, and keep adding to that number as the day progresses. If you can, write as late into the day as you can. Every minute you are not writing are words that you can’t get back, so the sooner you start, the sooner you will get done.
7.) Track Your Numbers As You Go. Spend some time creating a document where you can track your progress, so you can see how much you have written, and how much more you have to go. I found that using a Spreadsheet offers the largest number of ways you can manipulate your data, and you can fine-tune it to give you exactly the kind of information you are looking for. Obviously you want the grand total, but I like being able to look at the work finished each day, and how much I have to write each remaining day to hit the goal. I recommend learning the key commands that offer your total word count, so you don’t have to use menus or look it up each time. Seeing your progress in real time can help motivate you to stay on top of your goals, and keep working when you are running out of steam.
8.) Learn To Accept Failure Early, And Often. There will be days when you just don’t write well. There will be days you don’t hit the goal. You might not even finish at the end of the month. Or, you might, but your story will be crap. Going into NANOWRIMO is ultimately an experience in coping with failure, because even if you finish, the story you have written will not be the breakthrough success that will make you a star. Most likely, you spent a lot of time on something that you will not be compensated for, in any way. That is fine. Like accepting criticism, or having to accept what you can’t do, writing is not always something you will succeed at, even if you are good. Learn to sit with that. Find a way to feel okay with it, and move on. You will need to if you want to hit 50,000.
9.) Take Breaks. It seems strange, but when you are in the zone, and you are writing well, the last thing you want to do is take a break. But after even an hour, writing can wear you out, and if you are hungry, or distracted, or tired, it will be harder and harder to write. Take as many breaks as you need, go for a walk, or whatever. You will find even a few minutes away will not only help you feel like you can write longer, but will often give you new ideas that don’t come to you while you are actively writing. Breaks are like the rest in a musical performance; learn to value them as much as the parts where you are writing at full steam.
10.) Get Ready For Post-Novel Depression. This sounds silly, but I absolutely get depressed when I finish a project. Nothing dramatic or even dangerous, but completing something is almost like giving birth. Afterward, you feel like you’ve lost something. And you have, in a way; a huge story has been created from words you put down. All of that is out of your head, and while it can be relieving to get things out, it can also make you feel a little empty, in a way. Fortunately, NANOWRIMO ends with the holiday season in full swing, and hopefully there’s enough going on to help give you some focus and purpose as you cope. (Or, conversely, this is the most depressing time of the year for you, and you might need some help staying upbeat as you enter it.) Either way, get ready for it. This is just a sign that you need to recharge your creative batteries, and do some non-writing things for a while. You’ve put in a lot of work in a short period of time. If you want to be able to do it again someday, you’ll need to give yourself the recovery necessary to get back to full strength. In the meantime, I suggest picking a new TV Show, letting yourself gain a few pounds, and re-doubling your efforts to spend time with friends (or, if you aren’t depressed by the holidays, with your family). Not only is it the right time of year for it, but you’ll find recovery is so much better with people you care about.
Most likely this interest stems from the well known (and well loved) Chuck Jones cartoon, Duck Amuck, where it becomes very clear as the cartoon progresses (spoilers for people who haven’t seen a cartoon from 1953) that Daffy is being tortured by the artist illustrating his cartoon. The antagonistic relationship continues until the very end, where it is finally revealed that the cartoonist is none other than… (spoilers for the spoilers)… Bugs Bunny himself. (An almost Lost-ian ending, if I ever saw one.)
This cartoon was so unlike anything else I had seen as a child that I couldn’t believe it, and I tried to imagine some huge force outside of me that was dictating the world in which I lived, changing it on me randomly. (As a child raised by what you could ostensibly call atheist parents, I had no idea that most people were living in a world where this was true for them.) And while Chuck Jones might have introduced me to this world, when I sat down to study the animated oeuvre every Saturday, I started to realize that there were other guys who tackled similar subjects, but in other ways.
Bob Clampett‘s Porky In Wackyland is a tour de force of animated spectacle, with plenty of moments where the characters are just crazy enough to address the audience (a schtick he would deploy as needed in many of his cartoons). Tex Avery was also very good at throwing in gags that revealed the cartoon was being played in a theater where characters from the audience would stand up to offer advice or help. Avery loved to break other aspects of the fourth wall whenever he could, and used these gags as much as any other. As an avid cartoon fan, there were no other shows that did anything like this, and part of the genius of the Warner Bros. animated world was that, unlike Disney or other production companies, there was a manic insanity that was shared by the creators and the audience that you did not get from, say, a Pluto cartoon. (As cute and inoffensive as they might have been.)
Over the years I have come to realize that the golden era of Looney Tunes & Merrie Melodies were head and shoulder’s above the competition, and Happy Harmonies, Color Rhapsodies and even Disney’s own Silly Symphony’s could compete with the overall form of the Warner Bros. work. The insanity and the brilliance of their shorts so completely synthesized “cartoon” as a visual format, and their sense of satire and caricature was leaps and bounds above the others. And I largely point to their sense of metatext – of being able to jarringly draw attention to the artifice of the work at hand – that made them far superior. They made jokes with tongue planted and cemented into cheek, and they felt that their own medium not only set them apart, but could be exploited to take audiences into places that other animation studios just couldn’t be bothered to visit.
It isn’t that I believed a child of the ’80’s could have been the first person to consider the meta-textual qualities of the media around him, and certainly I would have been a fool to consider that this kind of interplay didn’t exist in other mediums, either. But I was shocked when I would mention that it was these moments that I longed for, it was the instant Yosemite Sam turned to me and made a comment that took us both out of the story for a second, that I thought were the funniest moments. I didn’t have a name for it then, and most of my friends and family seemed to thing those scenes were usually boring. (This is like when you meet people who don’t like Holodeck episodes of Star Trek: TNG, or who found the mythology episodes of X-Files to be boring.)
The underlying idea that the artist and the audience could wink at each other and share a joke or a moment between only the two of them was very clearly a powerful tool, considering how much it affected me as a kid. Seeing the edges and peering through the reality that seeped through was always my favorite part of anything I saw around me, and it began to be the way in which I would look at TV and film, too. But I also noticed how it did not seem to have the same kind of effect of other. When most people were confronted with a meta-joke, they frown and shake their head. It just isn’t for them, no matter how funny the joke might be.
When I discovered comics as a teen, I was immediately attracted to the “funnier” and more comedy-inflected writing styles that was big business in the late ’80’s. DC was having a field day with style, largely influenced by Keith Giffen and his series, Ambush Bug. A lead character that is aware he is in the DC Universe, and plays with dead (or forgotten) bits of continuity that blew my mind as a 13 years old kid, (who, at the time, hadn’t been lucky enough to find Steve Gerber‘s work yet, who Giffen seems influenced by). Again, I seemed to be in the minority, but I would scan the racks at comics stores, looking for something that scratched that itch at a time when most comics had gotten very dark and “serious.” This led me to finding Giffen’s run on Justice League, which is not only one of the funniest comics produced in the late ’80’s / early ’90’s, but to this day stands as a source for much of my sense of humor, if not references and jokes that no one else around me seems to get.
And then, there was The Blasters. Where do you even begin with trying to tell that backstory? In the late ’80’s, Giffen had been given a number of books to work on as one of DC’s rising stars, and with his Justice League book a hit, he was allowed to expand his influence to a number of titles. This also led to him getting to write 1989’s annual all-company cross-over Invasion! Giffen used this end product as a way to cause his various Sci-Fi / outer space story lines hinted at in Omega Men, Justice League International, and Legion of Super-Heroes to converge in this company-wide event. DC’s goal (like it is for any event like this) was to launch some new titles, shake up some old titles, clean house elsewhere in the universe, and move some of the action that is usually contained entirely on Earth into outer space, thus opening up the DC Universe so that the word “universe” was actually on point these days. This was Giffen’s attempt to not only ape Marvel’s Cosmic titles that were doing very well over there (with stuff like Guardians of The Galaxy and Silver Surfer selling like gangbusters), but to try and do a modern version of Kirby’s Fourth World books from the ’70’s.
It also helped that in the old Justice League comics, there was a tendency to have to fight off an alien menace every other issue, and the one thing that “dark” and “modern” comics of the late ’80’s had been lacking was a good alien invasion. And with any good war story, you needed a band of mercenaries. To this end, Giffen organized a group of new and old characters to work as the catalyst for the Invasion! storyline. This group was loosely known as The Blasters for an actually terrifying reason (their powers all emerged when aliens lined them up and fired upon them, scaring the team senseless and causing their metagenes to activate).
In the wake of the Invasion! series, DC took chances on several new titles, one of which was a one-shot featuring this new team, to see if it might be a book they could add to their publishing roster. Being a Giffen property not only meant that the book had to be funny, but helmed by someone who got Giffen’s take on comics. He not only picked the team to write and draw it (Peter David and James Fry), but set the tone for the book with the comedy and meta-text that followed his particular interests. It also so happened that Peter and James like to produce the same kind of stuff, too.
Since almost none of you have even heard of this title, I’ll spoil everything now and save you the trouble of Lycos-ing or tracking down this story: there has been only one Blasters comic book published since 1989, a special release in the Spring of that year (that was panned by critics and very quickly forgotten). The story, typical of Peter David’s writing, is a mish-mash of Sci-Fi references (largely from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy… yes, vogons appear in this comic), and meta-textual references and gags where the captions for the book are destroyed and flown through by various space ships. (The lead character, Snapper Carr – have fun with that particular comics k-hole – finds out what to do next in the story by glancing at the panels that are ahead of him.) If I haven’t done a good enough job of describing what The Blasters is like to read, just imagine something that was written for nerds, and narrow the focus so incredibly that within their own ranks, only a small sub-set will find it up their alley. No matter how much I raved, and no matter who I loaned that book to, it always came back, largely unread, with a comment like, “I tried, but it just isn’t my thing.”
I have often wondered why I heard this phrase so often when I tried to get at my interest in this subject. “It just isn’t my thing.” It seemed like such a ripe area for reflection and narrative complexity to my young mind, and yet it was the element in every story I read that others seemed to skip over. The thing I learned from Warner Bros. cartoons growing up is that, unlike most schlock that is played straight and is absolutely saccharine with predicability and well-worn stories – ahem, Disney, coff coff – you can often get bigger reactions from something if it is unlike everything else around it. Even at a young age, television brought home the idea that there are basically two kinds of stories, and they are each the reverse side of the other. (Summarizing Jorge Borges, one is “A stranger came to town,” and the other, “Someone went off on a long journey.”) Repetition absolutely bred familiarity with me, and the welcome intrusion of characters and references that pointed to the artificiality of this repetition became the attractive element that I looked for in art and culture.
Let me pause my own story a brief moment to say a few words about Spaceballs, a film that spent many years on my list of favorite movies, and my very favorite by Mel Brooks (until I became more familiar with his other work as a teen and twenty-something years later). While all of his films use metatext as a platform to layer joke after joke (see, for instance, the last third of Blazing Saddles), Spaceballs was very close to home for me. I loved sci-fi (and Star Wars, of course), I loved comedy, and they had packaged both with a huge swath of self-awareness that I had not seen in a film before. This movie had my sense of humor written all over it, so much so that there is a sort of chicken-or-the-egg quality regarding which came first. If you had to distill an aspect of that film that moved me, pulled me aside and said, “kid, this is for you,” then I would have to point to Rick Moranis turning to the camera asking if, “Everybody got that?” It went so directly to the core of my being as a kid that it still works on me, even as an adult, and I am sure I quote this movie accidentally without realizing I am. It is possible, if one were so inclined, to make a Bowfinger-style recreation of Spaceballs without my knowledge, provided you followed me around long enough and waited for the appropriate scenes to play out.
As I got older and discovered a love of writing, my stories became full of characters that were my own in-narrative proxys. (A Grant Morrison kind of move before I even knew who he was. In fact, reading The Invisibles was painful for me only because periodically I would yell out, “That was my idea!” a problem that would recur when I started watching Lost.) As my big literary influence in those days were comics, and to another degree the DC Heroes Roleplaying Game that I’d gotten for Christmas one year, most of my early writing is littered with a thinly-veiled versions of myself in some sort of elaborate conceit or costume that made me into a superhero. I am fortunate enough that most of this material is still in either a hand-written form, or on typing paper (predating my first computer), and therefore I can’t share these stories with you as easily. (You’re welcome.) Suffice it to say, my Hitchcockian cameos in my own text began very early, and has continued ever since.
My first foray into my own fiction began with a story I wrote in High School, and was serialized in my zine A.C.R.O.N.Y.M., which was made and distributed between 1994 and 1995. In issue #2, the first installment of naaaaaahhhhghahahhk!!!!!!!! (oR, tHE rEALLY wEIRD sTORY tHAT i cAN’T rEMEMBER wHAT tHE tITLE iS) sees print, and I wish I could say nicer things about it considering I know the author fairly well. I made the decision to typeset the entire thing in what I called the “fIREHOSE” format, which made the story largely unreadable to most people save for myself and those with the highest constitutions when it comes to textual form.
The idea itself was fairly bland: I had written the story my neighbors appeared in, but they find out, get worried, and I have to stop them from learning more, and eventually give up and crumple the story, destroying their universe. Corny, yes, but it illustrates where my mind was in High School. Super heroes appear in this story, and I fight them, even. Most of the writing groups I would attend in the early days had people hashing out their fantasy novels, creating cryptic and impenetrable poetry, or just wanted to turn their journals into creative prose so we could all experience their pain. I was looking to do something that was sort of in-between all of these things, and would read stories like naaaaaahhhhghahahhk!!!!!!!! to puzzled audiences who didn’t know what to think.
When I settled into Eugene properly after High School, and started to immerse myself in the ’90s culture that surrounded us, I became the center of my own writing again. Between 1996 and 2005, I wrote a ‘zine called I’d Buy That For A Dollar. While this occasionally contained fiction, the bulk of it was an outlet for my incredibly solipsistic and emo ponderings, where I made my best efforts to made sense of life as a lonely young man. While I will cop to have written it all – even the awful bits – with hindsight it is not only unseemly at times, but as my friend Cheryl once said to me, “this is a little too revealing.”
I don’t regret it, because it was so much a part of my psyche at the time that I needed to get that out of my head, even if it wasn’t exactly helping. When I read it back, I don’t know if I feel the same way about the events this person was writing about, even though I am sure we are the same person. Of course, it is easy to say that when almost 20 years separates the earliest issues from now, but I think I let my own misery drive my creative impulses a little too much then, and with hindsight, I wish I had let other motivations steer me toward other material.
But even this reflectiveness was being shaped and molded by metatext. My roommate at the time, a tall linguist we called Sierra, introduced me to Flann O’Brien, an author who plays with the boundaries between literature and reality for fun and sport, in both his novels and his newspaper columns (which blur the line between journalism and fiction). Discovering Fight Club and Charlie Kaufman movies at this time did me no end of good when it came to plumbing the depths of this well. The Princess Bride was an obsession that started harmlessly enough when I saw it, but led to multiple re-readings and viewings where the genius therein was full revealed. And, let’s no forget re-reading Endgame over and over, which eventually led to a nice and comfortable interest in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a film that not only rewards with multiple viewings, but might be the funniest thing that has ever been written.
While I’d Buy That For A Dollar was far from metatext in intent, it became an ongoing story about my own life, and one that I recognized less and less as the years went on and I started changing and evolving, personally. Having been steeped in this world of reality and fiction blurring, my reality now read like fiction to me, not because the events hadn’t happened, but the lens through which I was seeing those same events was filtering for something entirely different. Already, even in offering context for this interest of mine, I have to relate to my own life and past through the narrative text I wrote, a breadcrumb trail that offers clues as to what was happening when, and where I have been, but in a form that seemed strange and unfamiliar to the adult I had become. Around 2005-ish this kind of personal writing migrated entirely to this blog – the one you’re reading now. I had been a character in this printed story that now seemed foreign and made up, and if my own life was going to sound that way anyway, then I should probably become comfortable with just making things up from the start in the first place.
It isn’t that my life changed or that things shifted dramatically in 2005. I was going to college, yes, and outside of radio and writing fiction, my only other interest at the time was girls. But something more subtle was going on that only made sense to me years later. The “me” that I had been writing about for my whole life was gone. I was an adult, interested in different things, talking about life in a different way, and looking for something that I could get excited about that wasn’t informed by my childhood. In many ways, I had become a Sci-Fi trope, where I was living in the body of someone else, a body that carried memories of someone that seemed familiar to me, but also seemed unrelated to the life that I was living now. The 30 year old I found myself being then was not only confused by the life I had led before, but it felt like a life I would have lived differently, had I known how most of it would turn out.
It was around 2005 that I started writing fiction again, much more of it than I had before. Short stories, yes, and very inspired by Borges and Calvino and Brautigan and Flann O’Brien, and some other material I’d absorbed through being on a college campus and having access to the larger world of ideas. And yet, in nearly all of these I insisted in making myself a character in the narrative, a gimmick that my influences were all very good at, true. But for me it seemed motivated by a different impulse. Since I had written the truth and it felt like fiction, inserting myself into fiction felt like a new way and defining truth for myself. Why did I see this other life as someone else’s, when it was clearly my own? Perhaps, if I wrote about another version of it enough, I could crack some of these puzzles that no amount of booze or girls or writing about it seemed to allow me to do.
Most of my work since 2005 has been centered around amplifying the idea that I could live comfortably within the stories that I write. And, to be fair, these fictions have been quite enjoyable to try on and waltz around within. I made a 2008 collection of these stories, Naked Trees Point To The North Star, and to this day, it remains the best collection of my written work that I have been able to get in print, and has re-defined who I was, both to myself and to the people who read it. The idea had been gestating since those earliest days at PSU: DIY publications and ‘zines are the perfect form to create experimental pieces of prose, and I envisioned that Naked Trees would look and feel like a ‘zine, would have a personal / journal-like quality at times, but the entirety of the package was a work of fiction, written and made by a version of myself that is almost, but not at all remotely, like the me that had been writing previously.
The reaction to this was, of course, mixed. Meta is just not for everyone, and while I felt that these stories really got at the heart of struggles that I was going through, I had a hard time talking about the work with anyone else, without resorting to the worst quality in every writer, making the statement, “So, did you ‘get it’?” While it remains the best written work I have produced in any format to date, and I have come to terms with how, in spite of my best efforts, it is more journalistic than fictional, in that it marked a serious shift in my own view of the universe. It was clear that once I imbued my text with any amount of reality from my world, the reality itself seemed further and further from the truth. After publishing that collection all I had left of my former live was this written collection and half-trusted memories to guide me. Something was about to give.
It isn’t that I decided to make my life reflect these vague and perplexing Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes to add some spice or flavor to my own experiences. In observing my own interactions with the world – and the interactions of others – it is clear to me that you cannot capture the complexity of this existence, and the strangeness of the mundane, in anything but fantastic language and conceptual thinking. Is it possible to illustrate these kinds of experiences if you haven’t been through them yourself? You’re sharing some wine with some friends, and you’re quickly gobbling every snack you can, because of the night ahead of you.
Gathering everything you can imagine needing, you trundle en mass, passing fellow travelers and enemies, until you arrive at the bar. There is music and magic and libido and peacocking and every manner of horror and excitement on display, charging you, filling you with magic until you are casting conversational spells in every direction. You are filled with an experience you can barely explain, as your friends are performing and watching and drinking and fucking and exploring all manner of joy and pain in one dramatic and perplexing night. And, exhausted, wasted, with a kiss on your cheek and a song in your heart, you perform your last few tricks, produce a cigarette from somewhere, and zig zag through the alleys, to find yourself at home, the next day, perplexed and confused, but itching to do it all over again.
Is that not some sort of fantasy, full of the kind of strangeness and confusion that the best fiction fills us with as we turn pages? At what point does our own life contain a kind of importance that we choose to add it to the cannon, so we can romp through uncharted waters side-by-side with Odysseus? Are we all content to wallow in the banality of brushing our teeth and making lunch?
Three things happened in 2010 that had a huge effect on me. First, I finished college, a banality that I had put off for too long, and was only causing me to spin my tires and was getting in the way of my next phase in life. I moved in with a friend of mine (second thing), and when all of that was said and done, I had an experience that is difficult to explain, which I attempted to document in 2013’s acronyminc.blogpress.new.
Essentially, I lost 10 years of my life, and in processing that event, realized that not only was I living in a future that made little sense to me, but that the memories I did have were absolutely those of someone else I no longer connected with. It wasn’t exactly a sudden experience, and it didn’t come on over-night. But the span of time between the Millennium turning over and my own academic leveling-up had become dreamlike, and waking up on the other side of it created a world for me that was now actually full of technology and behavior that was ten years ahead of who I felt I was. Without intending to, the world around me began to fully resemble something straight out of my own fiction, and now I was the character who was just enough aware to question what kind of Duck Amok world of which I was now a part.
The best part about living within your own fiction is that, on the whole, things tend to work out okay. In spite of being a temporal mess, covered in magic and confusion, I managed to meet someone who has become so central to my own life, and we have found a place we can call our own. My efforts to capture this reality I’ve been inhabiting and communicate it to others has become a steady routine, a rhythm that I can count on to keep me focused and aware of what may lie ahead. And you get to enjoy these efforts, too, which is no small thing, I imagine. And usually, the hardships we face are handled together, so that neither of us has to take on too much of the burden this world presents us with.
But this doesn’t ease the strangeness we encounter every day. We look at TV, and it barely resembles the things we remember knowing. These computers in our pockets are straight out of a novel I read as a kid, and the social changes our world has gone through not only seem unreal, but were absolutely unobtainable when I was a child. (Open homosexuality? Gluten free restaurants? Reality TV Politics? Legal weed?)
For better or for worse, this world reads as more fictional than anything I can have come up with, at any time in my life, and for that alone I will continue to define the borders of this made-up universe, flesh out the parts that I can see and understand, and hope that when I hand it over to you, trembling, nervous, that the things I see are like what John Nada’s sunglasses reveal, that, hopefully, you can look at it, take it for what it is, and remember that this can’t be any crazier than the religious world most everyone else lives in, too.
The only difference is: I know I made this one up, and I’m absolutely willing to admit it.
In the spirit of newness and change, I’ve decided that it is time to shake up the presentation here on the blog. There are have been a number of ways this interface has taken shape over the years, and when I first started making websites and posting material to the Inter-Web-A-Tron in the ’90’s, I had a number of ideas about what I wanted to post. The frequency of those posts, and the presentation of them has changed dramatically since then, but I’ve done my best to hit upon themes that I’ve always felt strongly about. Often those themes involve art and girls, but that’s true of almost every person who has ever been attracted to either.
The most recent incarnation of this blog – and within that, the most recent reboot of it last year – has been an excellent place to post things that are in-progress, or half-formed, as a means of chewing over ideas that I know I want to see go further. When I first launched a proper blog, just after moving to Portland in 2000-ish (which I’m trying to unearth for the anthropological exercise of it all), my first thought was that the Inter-Web made it possible to have more immediate discourse, or at least, more immediate than the letters I was getting from ‘zines. I still stand by that idea, and I post to the web largely with the notion that all of this is a draft, that it might be revised and re-written before it finds a final home. Text, as any writer knows, is always a living document, and even after they are printed, there is an urge to revise.
The idea to go to five days a week was, of course, fairly bold. That’s a lot of writing, especially if I don’t want most of it to be filler, and especially considering the unforgiving environment that a large part of the web has become. Fortunately for me, I have gone largely un-harassed during my tenure as a denizen of this electronic republic, which either means that I am so uncontroversial as to be worth little regard, or that the offensive things I have said have been met with an eerie kind of agreement by the public at large. It would be ridiculous for me to assume that I have enough notoriety to warrant an enemy or two, but having been online since the ’90’s, I’m shocked that I haven’t found some truly horrible examples of humanity who have wanted to fuck with me for the fun of it.
The idea to have one day a week dedicated to video posts seemed like a cheat that could easily be forgiven, so long as the videos were actually good. (And I’ve been largely successful in that area, I believe.) Giving over another day a week to index cards was certainly a bit of a gamble, as I hadn’t really seen that being done anywhere else, and I wasn’t sure if it was even something people liked. It was a new way of approaching writing, and seemed like something that could be a huge flop if not done right. But like Twitter, the restriction is actually a nice way to force yourself to try new things, and hitting the right length to perfectly fill an index card is a bit of an artform. I’m glad that I’ve gotten some positive responses on them, because I’ve come to really enjoy making them.
(I would like to make a small digression here, and mention that I entirely owe my interest in index cards – and the idea to use it as a springboard for my own writing – was at the suggestion and inspiration offered by Merlin Mann on his show Back To Work. I sort of used index cards in College, to keep track of assignments, but never used them as a way to stimulate writing, or as a means of capture. But Merlin’s observation of the index card as ultimately disposable was something that really stuck with me. Often, we are too precious about our own writing, and we treat each new notebook as a place where treasured and important ideas will live. But there is a need for a place to put ideas that just need to get out, and might not really need to live beyond that. Incorporating index cards into the way that I collect ideas and focus my own writing has been a huge breakthrough for me, and I owe that to Merlin and his suggestions on that program. He does a wide range of other work – including a fair amount of comedy that is priceless – and I recommend checking him out if you are remotely interested in writing, art, comedy, and enjoying life.)
Having accounted for two of the five days each week, I was confident that I could continue to post three new written items every week, and have them not be a rip off. But for some reason, I structured the week in a way where Monday led with a video & Friday closed with an index card, and the good stuff was in the middle. While that idea wasn’t bad, a lot of people pointed out that Fridays are low-traffic for all sites, and Monday is always the strongest. When I started looking at user engagement with our site’s built in tracking tools, this confirmed that observation. Monday was our biggest day, and it had the least to offer readers, every week.
So, we’re going to move the videos to Fridays. This makes more sense to me. You’re only putting in a half-day on Fridays anyway, you already ducked out early with the guys in the other quad for a “lunch” around ten, and you’re just killing time until your boss leaves so you can get out of there. So a video is closer to the amount of time you have at your disposal, and we get it. To accommodate this, we’re sliding everything up a day, putting our index cards out on Thursdays now.
We’re going to try this for a bit and see where it goes. Again, I’m not entirely sure if it’ll stay like this, but if history has taught me anything, it’s that we can change the way we structure this site at least four more times this year and it still will not account for the total number of changes that I will not be able to predict coming. So, we’ll try it this way for a while.
And we’ll see what happens. I invite your feedback, please.
In an effort to keep track of the history of this endeavor, I’ve been making an effort to locate and assemble a resource where I can better track down the work I’ve done over the years. I’ve been creating media for over 20 years, and it wasn’t until I put that number in a sentence I actually used in public that it occurred to me that there is little-to-no record of some things I spent the largest amount of time working on.
To that end, I have put together this Resume that documents my output since the first ‘zine was assembled in 1993. Imagine this post coming with a late-’90’s Under Construction .gif, but the ultimate goal is to account for every ‘zine, broadcast, video, performance, and related detritus that have been put together in that time. A good portion of these are available in some form or another, and at the very least, documented. Broadcasts are available as .mp3s, while publications can be read as .pdfs. Both formats are available for download or through your browser for free.
Inevitably, there are holes in the timeline. Not only do we have to contend with the failings of technology, memory, and capturing devices, anyone who has attempted to archive anything laments the incomplete information we have of the early years, or some legendary jam session where no one pushed record. Still, this is more complete than I ever imagined it could be a month or so ago, and I am comfortable with the losses for the sheer abundance of things that still persist into the present day.
Ironically, this entire project has led to the slow-down of nearly every creative outlet that I usually participate in. As usual, there are always trade offs. This seems to be a pattern for me, and when I run out of juice, I just stop cold. As I spend some time doing some serious soul searching and documentation, this is not only rejuvenating my desire to develop something new, but is recharging the ideas that I never managed to pursue before. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes, and when there are fruits of the labor are worth admiring, you can be sure I’ll make mention of it.
The current project is to document I’d Buy That For A Dollar!, a ‘zine I produced from 1996 – 2005. Up until this project, I had given up on finding any kind of evidence of their creation, and had assumed they were just lost forever. However, I found a box had been in storage for years, and it contained some back-issues. To that end I began the project of digging around in all the old files I used to make these publications, and slowly I’ve been able to piece together most of them.
At the beginning of this year, I was having a hard time seeing the xeroxed forrest for the recycle bin. It’s funny how an old liquor box full of paper can help you re-think the last 20 years. I transformed from being a middle-aged detective trying to make sense of the clues in front of me, to a person with a past, one that was documented, where I was always working on a new case, always pushing forward.
You can watch my progress backward on this site as I put all of these together, and hopefully I can announce something new soon instead of digital relics then.
This is an open call for artists who are interested in contributing a piece of their audio work to an upcoming digital compilation that is being assembled through this humble blog. Now that our radio arm has a much more secure digital outpost over at BlasphuphmusRadio.com, we want to finally fulfill a dream of ours since the mid-’90’s: to release music by artists that we love. However, technology has always prevented us from pursuing this dream fully. Now that digital distribution has created a world where we can easily overcome the hurdles we encountered in those days, I want to take advantage of this new world in an effort of creating something I think will be quite fun. But I need your help to do it.
The Compilation will accompany a new ‘zine that will be coming out in the near future. It is tentatively titled, “Lost In The Supermarket.” The ‘zine will be roughly 30 pages, and will come with a digital access code that you can only get with a copy of the ‘zine. This access code will allow readers to enjoy a companion compilation, featuring artists that contribute their audio creations. The first print run will be 100 copies. I may do a second printing if there is demand.
This is as much an experiment as it is an opportunity to finally put my spin on a music compilation. I would love to include your work as part of this project.
Please contact me at email@example.com if you have any questions.
Confirmed Artists Thusfar:
The Dead Air Fresheners
Toggy & The Hogwyldes
The Primitive Idols
(Formerly) The Knives & Plates & Forks & Spoons
Delusions of Parasitosis
Muscle Beach ‘n’ Friend(s)
I spent a good part of the morning reviewing much of the material I’ve written for the internet over the last several years. In the mid 90’s, when I was still connecting to the web via dial-up, I had made a few websites that contained original writing, but like ‘zines themselves, languished away unseen. In the year 2000 I tried this again, having transplanted myself to Portland, and having an interest in HTML. But is was sometime in 2002 that I really started keeping a blog, for real. I remember the reason, too: that I could use the format to produce more writing on a near-daily basis, so I could stay limber, and possibly produce material that I could edit and use in a ‘zine. Naively, I was still thinking that blogging wouldn’t take, that I would run with it for a while, and then give up.
And yes, that would happen. Quite often. Long breaks between posts, followed by re-committing myself to a highly formal daily process. I would use new interfaces, skip between doing the code myself and using some service. I would fluctuate between highly personal and extremely formal, searching for a tone that was mine. In looking at the posts I’d assembled, I noticed that writing for the web – like writing ‘zines – has a unique form that must be refined over time. The more blogs you read, the more you begin to find what works and what doesn’t.
Of course, you would also have to convince yourself that you have some kind of audience, too. In looking at previous iterations of this blog, I find it interesting that I assume I have a large number of readers that follow the blog closely. Compensation? Most certainly, but also a sort of confidence, too, perhaps. The idealism of youth. I’m sure you can say that there is a difference between that which is written under immediate public scrutiny vs. that which is written over time, left to ferment and develop at its own pace. Perhaps, more than anything, I was able to convince myself that I did have readers, so I could try writing in that affected kind of way. In a way, I just like to pretend.
Over time, like most blogs and bloggers, a lot of my content contained an incredible amount of personal content, both specific and symbolic, in efforts to purge and vent about things that most people never asked about. While I do not deny that those elements have been a huge part of this thing over time, with hindsight I have moved those items to a journal, where they are not in danger of being seen by anyone by me. The best history is re-written after the fact anyway.
There are some entries that I really liked. There were others I didn’t. There were times where I wished I had done x, then it turned out that I did do x, just not until after I’d done y first. There were other times where I realized I left out the best part, and other times where I was so afraid to elaborate, that I would just include only the best part. I could usually tell the times that I was doing all (or some) of this on purpose, but it was those magical entry where I no longer could tell why I had written it, because it actually just worked well on its own, those are the ones I like the best.
Anyway, we’ve streamlined things, reduced and improved, and added a little flair when possible. The tags keep related items together, but the whole things ebbs and flows based on my own particular whims. We’ll see how long I can keep this one up.
Three weeks, maybe?
According to the historical record, I officially began blogging on the 18 May 2003.
From a post marked 19 May 2003:
“Yesterday I started keeping a BLOG on this site. My intent is to use it as a forum to write short ideas out or to keep brief writing ideas in circulation somewhere, as a resource for me to come back to for future, longer pieces to use elsewhere. This is, essentially, how I keep a journal, and while I can’t promise that it’ll be interesting from week to week, I can promise that it’ll give you some insight into how ideas for my ‘zine come to pass. This will probably be a little more personal than the stuff currently on this site, while at the same time be a lot rougher around the edges. That’s because it’s all in a raw format. If any BLOG entries end up being recycled in another piece of writing, I’ll remove them and put a link to the new piece (or, a reference of some kind to where it buggered off to).”
And that’s how it all began.