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It has been a bit since I’ve written, but I’m back. Writers stop writing to live.  Then we come back…

In September, I visited our local closing Borders bookstore one last time.  The parking lot was completely full, everyone from our town and many others from smaller adjoining towns coming in to get a last whiff of that bookstore smell that many of us have lodged into our sense memories.  The line extended halfway to the back of the store.  Though things appeared somewhat chaotic with books stacked in unusual places, and customers ignoring the idea of personal space as we all tried to find our favorite authors, the energy was pretty calm.  Some wandered the book aisles carrying stacks of books, and others just wandered with looks in their eyes as if to say “Is this it?”  I certainly asked myself that question, not really wanting to leave.  I circled the store many times over as if I were doing laps, my mind reconciling the idea of bookstore closure.  I purposefully pulled books from authors I had never heard of, excited to delve into work of the obscure writer.  (I’ll post those titles later).  Yes, as I’ve said, as a writer, a bookstore is a holy place for me.

I spoke to an elder woman who carried a hefty bag of books that she had just purchased.  She burst into a monologue of how disappointed she was knowing that she could no longer walk to the bookstore to browse the shelves and pick up a new book when the mood hit her.  Our town is a bike friendly, walking friendly town.  Biking or walking to get our needs, to go to school, go to work, eat out, or pick up a book is an intrinsic part of our towns’ culture.  I reminded her that we still have a couple of very tiny but still surviving small used bookstores we can patronize, but yes, Borders was the hub. 

When I got home with my books, I studied them one by one as I pulled them out of the bag.  By habit, I scraped the price tag off of the first book, and then I caught myself.  This will be the last time I’ve ever purchased a book from this store.  I took the Borders price tag and stuck it back over the barcode.  And then I thought of the day when I have grandchildren and they’ll ask me “What’s a bookstore?”  And even beyond that, what’s a book?   As of recent, Borders became the Halloween Costume Shop. 



The Novelist

The novelist, unlike the poet or short story writer, has the endurance of a marathon runner [or a cyclist]…John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist

When I was a kid writing, the only thing that had an ending was a journal entry. Any short story I tried to write kept wanting to take another breath on a new page. I’d get frustrated because of lack of skill to take that extra breath, so the story or would be novel, would go unfinished.  As an adult, my screenplays read more like novels. My film professor suggested for me to “write the novel first, then shoot the film, capitalize on both.”  In the MFA program, I tried to extend my repertoire and write shorter pieces. I tried poetry. I tried stream of consciousness. The short story still alludes me.  I had to finally take a deep breath, let out a huge sigh, and accept the fact that I’m a novelist.  That is where I shine and feel most at home. And it makes sense when I look at the rest of my life.

When I look for parking, I take my time, always nailing the close spot. I take the scenic route home that has less traffic. I prefer to travel by train.  While in college, I joined the cycling team. It was my first time cycling, let alone on a collegiate team. I had to choose between short distance speed race training or long distance endurance rides.  I felt like I was intentionally demanding my heart to stop by going full throttle in zero to ten seconds on the short distance speed rides, so I went for the longer rides. In the beginning, I’d watch my teammates speed away from our starting point, me trekking along slowly for the first hour or so on long, windy country roads, always the last to get back.  A couple of months later, after about 45 minutes into the ride, cycling slow and steady, I began to gradually gain speed as I entered ‘the zone’. I found myself catching up and passing the panting hot shot riders who had left me in their dust cloud (what a thrill that was the first time I passed them leaving my own trail—see ya!). 

Endurance, patience, and fidelity are pre-existing qualities that a novelist possesses. The late author of the fantastic novel Grendel, John Gardner speaks to the psychological and mental dynamic that great novelists seem to already possess internally in his book On Becoming A Novelist. According to Gardner, the choice to write novels is not so much an inclination toward ego-centered ambition, but moreso a right fit. After reading Gardner’s summation on what makes a novelist tick, and looking at my own inner psychological & biological rhythm, I was relieved to find that it wasn’t just masochism that drove me to see a story through, no matter if its 200 pages or 400.

Self-assurance is also a ritual the novelist must embrace. Writing a novel can be an exhilarating task, but also long suffering as I watch my writing friends crank out and publish short stories & poems expeditiously. While they begin to accumulate accolades for their writing, it can at times make me feel like I’m riding at the end of the pack while I’m in the throes of a 300 page novel.  This is when I have to gather my inner resources and assure myself that a great novel requires the time, skill, care, and steadiness that I put into it. And eventually, a great novel is the reward.

Writing Rules that Work for Me…


Some of the writing rules I live by:

There’s no such thing as no. Keep going until I get my ‘yes’.
If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.
Don’t workshop any part of your novel until the novel is finished.
Time to write, leave the house..
Have a social life.
You can’t do it alone.

There’s no such thing as no. Keep going until I get my ‘yes’.
-It is my belief that if you’re driven and passionate to do something, you will have your day. Visualize it, feel it, work hard for it, own it, and you will achieve it. If one person says no, there is someone that will say yes. I don’t stop until I get my ‘yes’. There are so many stories I could tell when there was something that seemed absolutely impossible to get, but I didn’t give up, and I got what I wanted. Steadfastness can produce magic, the elixir of life.

If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.
-Give the writing a break. I don’t believe in ‘writer’s block’. Everything needs to breathe. I’m not gonna die if I miss a day of writing. If its not there, its not there. I trust I will make the deadline.

Don’t workshop any part of your novel (or poetry or short story) until its finished.
-A painter doesn’t need the committee while in progress on a work, so why writers do I haven’t quite understood. I’ve seen too many writers workshop their story right into a black hole i.e. handing over what they started with only for the original magic to get sucked away to never return. You begin to write your story based on every comment rather than fidelity to your own voice.

Time to write, leave the house.
-Writing at home all of the time can lead to getting no writing done at all. The distraction of home can lead my mind to drift at times on everything I need to do in the house, the fact that I need a bigger house, the black lint ball on the rug that reminds me the vacuum cleaner is broken and where can I get a good cheap vacuum cleaner? Then I get up from my desk to pick up the black lint ball only to find myself 10 minutes later on my hands and knees in another room picking up lint balls, and discovering that sock that I couldn’t find on my way to work out earlier that morning.  And of course that leads me to pairing it with the other sock at the bottom of the laundry basket, and oh, I have to do this laundry, which I can do while I’m writing this next chapter that I haven’t started, but I don’t have enough quarters, and when I realize that, I look up at the television only to see that the episode of Deadliest Catch that I missed is coming on, and its the new season…
Thus, I’ve chosen a few gems in town where I go to do most of my writing. Each place has comfortable seating, an outlet to plug in my laptop, soft background music in case I forget my headphones, and a sandwich if I need one when I get hungry. One place has no wifi so that I am not tempted to go on the internet and watch clips of Deadliest Catch. I am forced to get the work done without the temptation of watching a hot sea captain catch Alaskan blue crab. An alternate writing atmosphere breaks up the monotony so that the cold, dark rainy days when I don’t want to go out makes staying home a cozy writing event & not a lazy, distracted grind.

I can’t do this alone.
-I do not espouse to the Virginia Woolfe school of writing. Depression & struggle are sometimes partners in living a creative life, but they don’t have to be permanent visitors. I realize I need to be fed by others along the way. I make it a point to meet other artists, musicians, writers. The presence of others, as well as having a little bit of a social life outside of writing, stimulates the endorphins, and adds energy to my writing.

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