This is going to be a pat-me-on-the-back post because I accomplished a goal and I’d like to tell you about it. It’s going to be self-serving, but I hope you get something out of reading it.
Over the past 30 days, I have read 5 books and written 45,000 words. I’m not necessarily proud of the number of words because it’s an arbitrary number; I’m proud of myself because I stuck to the same routine for 30 days. Some days my head would race with excuses. I was able to ignore them and accomplish this goal and I’m proud of that. I did the work.
Every day, I read about 50 pages and wrote 1500 words. I got the idea from one of the books I was reading, On Writing by Stephen King. That’s his memoir/writing instruction manual. In the book, he says that he writes about 2000 words a day, seven days a week. He suggests that beginners start by writing 1000 words a day, six days a week. I decided I would split the difference, seven days a week. While I’m not a beginner, I’m about a football field worth of pages behind Stephen King. Basically his advice to interested writers is: in order to get better at writing, one must read and write. Well, duh, you’d say, but I wasn’t doing that. In the past, I would write something every now and then and never read anything. I certainly didn’t write every day. King argues in On Writing that the reading is as important as the writing, and I see what he means after 30 days.
Before the past 30 days, I read a total of “1,” one, book last year. The ten years before that, I read “0,” zero, that’s none, books. Not one. I used to say that the iPhone had ruined my habit of reading. That was me blaming a piece of technology instead of taking responsibility for my decisions and effort. I bought a few books in those ten years, swore I would read them and never cracked a page. Alright, I f-ed up.
The five books I read are: On Writing by Stephen King, Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis, The Early Stories of Truman Capote, Make Something Up, Stories you can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk and The Firm by John Grisham. The King book is required reading for anyone interested in pursuing something creative. It inspired me because he wrote about writing Carrie in the laundry nook of a doublewide trailer that he shared with his wife. He was dead broke and working a teaching job he didn’t enjoy and he still found time to write. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on time and the past and I look back there and I don’t like what I see. But I’m also learning that worrying about the past is a waste of time because you can’t change it. All I can do is today. Stephen King wrote Carrie in a trailer home. I’ve written 45,000 words in 30 days. Great. Now, reset the meter to zero and start again.
Bret Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho and since I have seen the movie, I wanted to read something by him I knew nothing about. I picked Less Than Zero because it was there, next to American Psycho. I learned later that it is the first book he published and he wrote it in college. I don’t know if I’d recommend it, it’s pretty dated even in its shock value, but I enjoyed it. His ability to show you scenes is impressive; reading it was like watching a movie.
I picked the Truman Capote book on a whim in Barnes and Noble. A lot of the stories aren’t polished masterpieces because he wrote them as a juvenile. I liked the book because it showcases a master trying to find his voice. Capote is an interesting case because he basically quit writing at the end of his life. He replaced working with drugs and alcohol and it eventually killed him. A good lesson, I thought.
Chuck Palahniuk is famous because he wrote the book Fight Club. I heard him on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast and thought he was interesting. I found some of his stories to be intriguing and inspirational and I found some to be annoying and clawing to read. He deals in the grotesque, boiling humanity down to the gristle. If you like or want to write short stories, I highly recommend his work.
I picked The Firm by John Grisham because I had just seen The Innocent Man on Netflix which he produced and was based on his book by the same name. Grisham is an author that you can’t help but hear about because his work is everywhere. I looked it up, he has 225 million books in print. The Firm is an unbelievable novel. I learned that he had trouble publishing the first book he wrote and he decided to try one more time before he quit writing for good. That’s when he wrote The Firm.
The point of all this is, I was looking for inspiration and education, so I started at the top. King, Grisham and Capote could buy Rhode Island with their royalties. The other two, Palahniuk and Ellis are examples of very different styles. They gave me some courage to try different things; to not worry about what is “good” or “marketable” and do your best to tell the story you want to tell; that is the job. The point is the work, not the success.
The Work! Exactly. I have a post-it note in on my desk that says, “Do the Work.” It seems simple, but it isn’t. About four days into this task, I was looking at something I wrote, it was 1,350 words and I couldn’t write anymore. I was counting the words in the notes I wrote before starting the work, trying to get to 1,500. But, for that piece, 1,350 was enough. The fact it was 150 words short of the daily goal was ok as long as I had done the work.
I’m going to list the titles of the things I wrote over the last 30 days. Some will have links because they appear in this blog but most won’t because they are all far from done.
Charleston on the Forth of July
Chubby the Whale
Jehovah Shunned Me
The Confederate Dunces
Woody Cleans up the County
Short Short Stories
Life in Costco
Maru and the One Truth
The Cheap Seats
The Time I Sneezed
I also wrote 30 “Thought pages.” I began this habit in November and I think it is the most important thing I’ve done creatively since. The “Thought Pages” led me here. It’s where I learned to just write and worry about what it was later. If you come to the page with the intention to write a joke, then you spend all your energy trying to write a joke instead of just writing. The thought page idea came from a comedian, Joey Diaz, who was talking about his day. He talked about how, before he did anything else, he wrote a “Thought page,” like a brain dump. It can be anything. The goal is to get stuff out of your head and onto the page. I would suggest this habit to anyone, regardless of what you want to accomplish with it.
Again, this post is self-serving. A written “attaboy” to me. What the hell do I do now? I have all this material. Some of it, hopefully, you will see finished somewhere. But some of it, is nonsense. Charleston on the Forth of July is 6000 words of nonsense. I was trying to tell a story and I never got there. I like the characters in it and I think some of the dialogue is good, but it’s basically 6000 words of practice. Which is ok.
I think what I’m going to do now is to keep going. 45,000 words is about 90 pages, single spaced, 12-pt font. And the books equal about 1500 pages of reading. That’s a lot. Well done to me, but I’m not finished. Editing and rewriting continue to be struggles for me. I always thought I was a good editor of my work, but I learned that you have to divorce yourself emotionally from something you write before you edit. Stick it in a drawer and forget it for a month. Then, go back and figure out another piece of the puzzle. That’s more advice from Stephen King, by the way. That’s what makes On Writing so good, and so crucial. It’s a book about how he did it, and he did it pretty well.
Tomorrow, I must wake up and I must read something and write 1500 words. I’m going to quit counting like there is a finish line. I set out to do this for 30 days and then I planned to asses where I was. That’s this. I’m proud to say I made it the 30 days and I’m proud of what I’ve written and read. I am. But tomorrow is another day. If I’m lucky enough to make it there, I must do the work. That’s it.
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