Writing – The Work of Writing


The life of a writer sounds pretty cushy. Get up when you want, stare thoughtfully into the distance, and then swiftly write profound words that tough the heart and move the soul.

If only.

There’s an old adage that says there are two things you never want to watch being made – sausage and legislation. Both processes are long, dull, messy, and filled with compromises. I’d add writing to that list as well. There’s very little pretty about it.

Writing is work

Hard work.

That’s hardly an original revelation. It’s been said and written by authors for decades. But there is this persistent belief that writing is easy and a writer’s life a vacation.

Even just writing a post like this has its challenges. Unseen by you, there was a fifteen minute pause between the words “vacation” and “Even”. I questioned the topic (it’s been done before, what do I have to offer that’s new?), there was distraction (where I’m writing suddenly got noisy and I wondered what was going on, then I thought of a different project I’m working on). Now I’m semi-committed to writing this again. (Or am I? Just started staring off into space again).

I guess what I really want to say is not “pity us, we who slave away the anvils of words. See our suffering!” as much as I want the average reader to appreciate, if only for a moment, the hard work that has gone into the words you read.

It’s the work of translating the ideas, images, and voices of the story in your head to paper or screen. Then the long and sometimes painful process of editing. Hating what you wrote, polishing, repairing, “killing your darlings”, throwing entire plotlines, characters, and chapters out and starting again. Frustration, elation, anger and disappointment. Ending a day positive you wrote garbage and waking up to discover that some of it is not bad. Ending a day sure that you’ve nailed it, only to discover that it’s all, every last word of it, irretrievable sewage. Deciding to declare it finished even when you’re sure it could be better. But you have to stop. Waiting to hear what your beta readers think, what your editor thinks, what the public thinks.

All as you begin something new or return to something old.

To begin it all again.

Think of us, for just a moment, and then enjoy the product of that work.




Short Stories – The Suicide Club

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

The Suicide Club by Robert Louis Stevenson (1878) – Three short stories that make up a longer narrative.  Originally published individually in London Magazine, they were later collected and put into book form.

Keep Calm and Focus on the Short StoriesSome may consider this entry a bit of a cheat for the year of the short story, but you’ll just have to deal with it.  About two years ago, I fell in love with Robert Louis Stevenson.  While I knew “Treasure Island” and “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” (not a type, that is the name the author gave the story) from the movies, I had never read any of his books.  Once I did, I was hooked.  Stevenson writes with all the storytelling clarity I could ever hope to find.  His stories are quick and clever and never, ever drag.  Plus, in reading the original stories, I see how much has been left at the side of the creative road by the movies.  As wonderful as the stories are on the big screen, they are so much better on the page.

So I was quite excited to come across a short story collection from him.  These are murder mysteries center on two adventure-seeking gentlment, Prince Florizel of Bohemia and Colonel Geraldine.

The stories are:

  • “The Story of The Young Man With The Cream Tarts” – The two receive a curious invitation to a party, one with a dark and sinister foundation.  They will confront the Suicide Club and its death-dealing founder.
  • “The Story of the Physician and the Saratoga Trunk” – This time a young man returns to his hotel to discover a body in his bed.  The Suicide Club is back, and Florizel and Geraldine fight to save an innocent man.
  • “The Adventure of the Hansom Cab” – The final installment begins with a young former lieutenant being whisked off to a private party.  Guests are dismissed one by one till only a handful are left.  They will join in a final confrontation with the leader of the Suicide Club.

It’s fun and has all the tension you want from a good murder mystery.  Stevenson weaves another wonderful story.  The Prince’s name kept nagging at me.  I thought perhaps it was a reference to the Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia”, but the Stevenson story predates it by more than a decade  Turns out Prince Lforizel of Bohemia is a character in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”.  This Victorian era version is the much more dashing and adventurous of the two

Another great collection of short stories to add to your list!

Writing – Audiobooks

It has always been my intention to put out “Shorts” as an audiobook. Given my background in spoken communication (theatre, radio, teaching, and preaching), it seems an obvious next step. The question has always been “how” as much as “when”. I’m in the process of learning the how even as I speak.

I’m lucky to have a veteran audiobook narrator close at hand. K Orion Fray is a wonderful author (check out “Son of the Revolution” in both e-book and paperback) and has been doing audiobooks for several years. So, I turn to Rion with all my noob questions.

As it turns out, that’s been a lot of questions!

The actual physical setup and process of recording is easy. I’ve used a home studio for years now and have it set up to work beautifully. So, with Rion’s help, I am moving forward as a narrator.

Just not on my book.

The plan had been to do mine first. Make all the mistakes on my own book then do someone else’s. Before I could get started, an offer came in to do a different book. Since the goal is to do this as part of my routine (and maybe make a few bucks at it), I didn’t see any way to refuse.

So, am I making all my mistakes on this book? Yes. I’m also being hyper-vigilant to make sure what goes through to the author is as perfect as I can make it. He seems happy so far!  Once we’re a little closer to releasing the book, and with his permission, I will share the title and a link.

I have not always been a fan of audiobooks. Having people read to me lost its allure years ago. First, because I read faster than folks read aloud. So, I’m constantly wanting them to hurry up! Second, (here comes the ego) I’m a better public reader than most people. Given my training and career, I should be. So, I hate listening to bad reading.

A few years ago, I had to make long drives several times a year as part of my job. Driving along the NY/PA border is beautiful but there’s not much interesting radio out there. So, I borrowed a book on disc from the Prendergast Library. What a perfect way to pass hours of time on the road! The miles just rolled away and gave me a reason to look forward to those hours on the highway. On one trip I pulled into my driveway with 15 minutes left! I sat in the driveway ‘til I heard the end of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” I was hooked.

Conventional wisdom says an author should never voice their own books. If you check back under my ego items, you’ll find why I’m planning to ignore that dictum.



Writing – Six Word Story

I came across an interesting challenge a couple months ago.

It said every writer should try working in six different writing forms.  The idea was that we should challenge ourselves.

To stretch creatively by stepping outside of our usual forms.

If memory serves it showed up in a forum that focused mostly on long-form writing, which would explain the choices.  They are:

  • Poetry
  • Six Word Story
  • Flash Fiction (50-1k words)
  • Short Story
  • News Article
  • Opinion Piece

I’m always up for a creative challenge, so let’s give it a try.

This month I tried the Six Word Story.  The classic of this style is usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway (although it is virtually certain that he did not write it), which runs “For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn”.  You can fill in all kinds of stories about that.

So here’s my attempt (with an Afterword!)

She is getting on a plane.

In the course of some Uber driving, I was thinking about this challenge.  A passenger told a story about having to get from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh before a special someone flew away.  He claims to have made the drive at 110+ mph in around 3 1/2 hours.  I’ll leave that to the imagination.

But his story popped this one into my head.  And yes, the first thing I thought of was “Love Actually”.

As before, you are invited to play along.  Either here in the comments on your own somewhere.


Writing – The Process


When I read posts from beginning writers, I see a lot of wishful thinking. Some of them seem to believe that there is a magical formula to writing. If they just had the right software or whatever then they would have what they need to be the next “Big Thing”. In whatever form that takes for them. All they need is the magic formula and everything would be fine.

And it’s just not true.

Every writer I have ever heard describe their “process” describes something different. Some can only write it longhand. Others use typewriters, still others are using computers. Fancy, writing-specific software, basic word processing, or pen and paper. Daytime, nighttime, overnight, or just in spare moments. Churchill wrote in bed; one author wrote in the nude with instructions to his servants not to return his clothes until he had reached his daily page count. There are even folks who dictate the story and let someone else transcribe it! There is no “magic” process. There’s just what works for you.

The most important part in finding your process is to write regularly. It may be daily or weekly or every other Thursday. A writer needs to commit to the work. And it is work. The best results tend to come from workers who commit to getting it done.

My process works for me. Some parts of it may work for you as well. Feel free to borrow any part that works.

I try to write daily. My best work tends to come in the evening. After supper ‘til about 9 pm has been my “golden time”. Sometimes just an hour a day. There are lots of other things chewing up my schedule and I’m not in a position to write full time. If I find time during the day, I will write then, too. But I’m best when I write every day. Even if it’s only a paragraph.

For prose (short stories, blog content, and novels), I prefer computers. (For the record, I’m writing this post by hand. I had some time and an idea – but my hand is cramping!) I’ve tried several different pieces of software. They all have advantages and disadvantages. At the moment, I’m using Scrivener. I like the flexibility, and that it’s set up for the kind of writing I do. It’s working very well at the moment.

There is one time that I prefer to write longhand. When I feel the call to write poetry, I cannot do it on the computer. The technology feels like it is choking the poetry. My favorite pen (the Uniball Vision) and a notebook are the tools for that process. Poetry doesn’t work on a schedule the way prose does. It happens when it happens.



Short Stories – Male of the Species

This post is part of a year-long series about short stories.  Read about my “Year of the Short Story” HERE.

Male of the Species by Alex Mindt (2007) – This book was recommended to me by my daughter, who is a wonderful writer and has a wide range of reading.  I will admit to kind of dragging my feet on this one. If all the recommendations were as good as this one I’d break this habit in a minute.

Alex Mindt is a gifted writer working in what many people believe is the hardest writing category there is – the short story.  This collection focuses on relationships with our fathers.  In eleven stories he takes to an astounding cross-section of humanity.    They criss cross our nation and our experience of family.

As I prepared to write this I thought about which was my favorite, which spoke to me most deeply.  As I reviewed the stories I realized I couldn’t choose any one, or even a couple.  Each story is a jewel, infinite in wonder.  For the purposes of the review, I have picked out several that stayed with me the longest.  But you could include any story on that list.

These characters have richness and depth.  The stories are simple but filled with complex emotion.  This is a book that you can read again and again and again.

  • Keep Calm and Focus on the Short Stories
    • Sabor a Mí
    • Reception
    • Ruby
    • An Artist at Work
    • Male of the Species
    • King of America
    • Stories of the Hunt
    • Free Spirits
    • The Gypsy
    • Immigration
    • Karrooo

My favorites here are:

  • King of America – Vietnamese immigrants trying to find their vision of the American Dream
  • Male of the Species – A small town teacher who is willing to do what he believes is right no matter what
  •  An Artist at Work – The story of a son who is a complete puzzle to his father
  • Karroo – A daughter trying to find her way back to a father with dementia

Don’t wait as long as I did to read this collection!

Writing – Works In Progress

WIP.  You’ll find this commonly used on writer’s forums and other online gathering places.  It means “Works in Progress”.  For many of us (I never say “all” because the universe of writing practice is very diverse), ideas don’t come in single file, patiently waiting to be created.  The ideas crowd in, demanding attention right this instant.  Too often if I don’t pay enough attention, they will storm off in a huff.  There are more than a few instances of me remembering that I had a really great idea for a story, but had no idea what it was.  So you have to pay attention.

This also means that you end up working on more than one idea at a time. Don’t know if that comes as a surprise to anyone outside the writing world. The path from idea to finished product is filled with side tracks through other lands and stories.

A quick scan through some online groups reveals that many/most of us seem to have more than one project going on.

So, what’s on my plate right now? Technically, I have three novels underway. None of them are getting the attention they deserve. Their titles, at the moment, are:

  • Today is Odd (originally “Catching Fire and Flying Through the Air”. Still undecided on this.) – a story based on my time as a substitute teacher. Think “Up the Down Staircase”.
  • Two Guys, One Dies – a murder mystery in parallel. Draws on my careers in both radio and youth ministry.  Two tracks to the story, in each one a different guy dies and the other one investigates.  This idea developed because I had two great ideas and couldn’t decide between them.  So I didn’t.  This is extremely complicated storytelling.
  • The Hidden Race – a thriller (I think) that centers on a secret society that is quietly directing much of the world. Think Dan Brown.

Those are the “big” projects. There are usually a short story or two in some stage of development. Plus all these blog posts. (I write regularly on two blogs, The View From The Phlipside and this one.) I need to average about three posts a week to stay on track, sometimes four. Plus three radio programs a week, that are then turned into a weekly podcast.

Finding the balance between the more immediate projects (blogs and radio) and the long term is tough. I want to create quality work for all of them, my emotional investment is much deeper on the long-term projects. So, I just keep working away.

Are you writing?  How many WIP do you have going?  Tell me in the comments!