Tag Archives: creative writing

Blank pages waiting to be written on

a blank notebook page

A blank piece of paper is an empty canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings.

Every time I go to a Dollar Tree or a Big Lots or somewhere like that, I have to buy a spiral-bound notebook. It’s a compulsion.

It’s even gotten to where I have to avoid the school supplies aisle in the supermarket. I always end up with a Spiderman or Hello Kitty notebook in my cart, and then I have a hard time making eye contact with the cashier during checkout.

I’d probably feel less embarrassed buying Preparation H.

And heaven forbid I spot an Office Depot or a Staples along the highway. That’d be like an alcoholic stumbling onto a Budweiser warehouse. If I do see an office-supply store, I have to swerve the car Steve McQueen-style and speed down a side street.

I feel like Mel Gibson in that movie Conspiracy Theory, where he’s programmed to buy endless copies of Catcher in the Rye.

Maybe I was once a CIA operative whose memory was erased, and instead of having covert-ops skills, I was a voracious note-taker. If they made a movie about me, it would be Tom Cruise (or Will Ferrell; whoever’s available) dropping into the dense jungles of some war-torn foreign country. Flexing his gargantuan biceps, he’d flip open his tattered journal and start scribbling furiously with a leaky pen. (I can tell you from personal experience, it’s a pain getting ink smeared on your gargantuan biceps.)

I threw out a bunch of notebooks the other day, because it was clear I didn’t really need them. Each one was half-filled with half-baked ideas, blog posts that went nowhere, and stories I started but didn’t really want to finish.

That’s not to say they were a waste, though. After all, a rose that blossoms and wilts prematurely is prettier than a rose that never blooms at all. I’d rather scrawl down an idea and throw it away later than to have it flicker through my mind and never have a record of it. I’ve lost a lot of great ideas that way. (Well, I’d like to think they were great, but I might be biased.)

I like to buy notebooks because I love to write. All those blank pages are a canvas just waiting to be filled with a writer’s wonderful prose.

When I see a blank notebook, I’m not seeing the book itself. Rather, I’m seeing all of its imaginative potential. A blank notebook can be a novel, a compilation of essays, a collection of ideas. You can doodle in it, jot down an observation on the fly, record a snippet of a conversation you overheard on the bus.

A notebook isn’t just a stack of blank, lined paper. It’s a potential tapestry of unfettered human thought.

In his introduction to The Gunslinger, the first book in his Dark Tower series, Stephen King wrote how the whole novel came about because of yellow paper. He worked in a college library with his future wife, Tabitha, and they each got a package of colored paper.

To him, that ream of paper was a blank canvas just waiting to be filled with imaginative musings. He took it home, put a sheet in the typewriter, and dashed out the first sentence to what would become not only a novel, but a best-selling series.

I feel the same way about blank paper, which is why I love notebooks. They make me want to create – to write.

It may sound weird, but the mere sight of a blank notebook excites me. My imagination starts going in several different directions, and I start daydreaming about how I could fill all those pages with chapters of the Great American Novel. (Or fart jokes; whichever leaps to mind first.)

To me, a notebook is a blank canvas. And I think all of us have our own version of a blank canvas – something we do that brings joy to others and enriches our everyday existence.

For a gardener, a planter of topsoil is a blank canvas.

For a decorator, an empty room is a blank canvas.

For a landscaper, a patch of weeds is a blank canvas.

For a painter, a blank canvas is … well, a blank canvas.

We all have our own version of a blank canvas. What’s yours? 

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Going the distance – albeit with short bursts of speed

man jogging down path

Because priorities.

I’m more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.

Actually, let me clarify. When it comes to track, my preferred position is spectator.

But if you were to drag me back in time to high school, re-enroll me in my sophomore year, and force me to fulfill my physical-education requirement by taking a semester of track (you heartless time-traveling bastard, you) —  then yes, I’d be more of a sprinter than a long-distance runner.

My dad’s the same way. We work best with short bursts of energy, and not prolonged periods of continual exertion.

Case in point: I can’t write every day.

I’ve tried, but it’s a goal I’ve struggled to keep … sort of like my New Year’s resolution to jog each evening. (Come to find out, binge-watching Top Chef at night puts a damper on my daily exercise regimen.)

I know writing every day would be good for me. And it’s something I’d like to do. After all, the most successful writers are the ones that train themselves to make writing a habit. They treat it like a job.

Although I suppose I treat writing like a job, too – only it’s one that involves a shovel, a pile of cow dung, and knee-high wading boots.

That is to say, it’s not only an unenjoyable job – it’s often downright excruciating.

Part of that is my penchant for perfection. Rewriting and editing are important parts of the process, but it’s easy to wring the heart from a piece through rigorous revision. That’s a problem I know all too well.

There’s a vein of creativity that runs through the mind, and my best work emerges when I can tap into it and transcribe the thoughts that stream effortlessly through my fingertips.

On the other hand, striving for technical precision suffocates the life from my writing, leaving me with a series of grammatically accurate sentences that collectively lack a soul.

Another issue I have is writer’s block. There are so many days when I sit down to write and nothing’s there. It feels like I’m wearing concrete boots and slogging through a mental cavern of thick cobwebs. (Unfortunately, today is one of those days.)

Other days, I’ll feel clear-headed and energetic, and I’ll dash out two or three blog posts in one sitting.

It’s weird, but apparently, it’s how I work.

I still try to write every day, but if nothing’s there, I’m not too hard on myself.

I also remind myself to have fun. If I’m not enjoying what I’m writing, then likely no one else will enjoy reading it.

I also remind myself that perfection is an illusion, and striving for it will suck the life from my writing. When it comes to creativity, good enough is truly good enough.

So if you see me on the track, just know I won’t be running the mile full-steam. I’ll dash forward, walk for a while, then dash forward until I run out of oomph.

Again, it’s how I work.

And maybe that’s OK. Because whether I’m sprinting or walking, I’m still going the distance. I’ll get to the finish line eventually.

It’s just that it’ll be on my own terms — and, apparently, in my own sweet time.

An essay of epic proportions

man standing alone in barren desert

Funny thing, but I enjoy writing more when I don’t take it so seriously. Who would have thought?

I sat down to write a blog post the other day, and this overwhelming sense of exhaustion draped over me.

The idea of piecing together a coherent essay – complete with a gripping lede, a compelling thesis, and a succinct conclusion to tie it all up – seemed daunting and not worth the strain. I was tired from a full day of work, and I couldn’t summon the strength to compose a compelling journalistic masterpiece.

I sighed and rested my head in my hands.

Why do I even keep a blog? I thought to myself. It’s all work and no play. It’s not fun anymore.

And right on cue, as if to reaffirm a lesson I already knew, a scene from the 1996 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus started playing in my mind.

In the film, Richard Dreyfuss stars as a high-school music teacher. It’s not his dream job — he’d much rather be at home, working on his own compositions — but throughout the movie he enriches the lives of generations of students by instilling in them a love for music.

There’s a part where a girl is staying after class to practice the clarinet, but she keeps hitting a sour note. She gets frustrated and wants to give up.

So Dreyfuss puts a record on the turntable. It’s “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen. He tells the girl that even though the music is simple and really not that good technically, he loves it.

He loves it, he says, because music is supposed to be fun. It’s not supposed to be torture and drudgery and endless hours of frustration. It’s supposed to be enjoyable.

And he’s right. The music that touches people comes from the heart. It may not be technically precise, but it’s got soul – and soul is what resonates. It reaches people on a deeper level and evokes all sorts of emotions.

Essentially, Dreyfuss was telling the girl to lighten up. By treating her practice sessions as excruciating struggles toward perfection, she was forgetting why she wanted to play music in the first place. Her determination to be perfect was draining all the joy from what should have been a pleasurable pastime.

No one decides to become a musician – or, for that matter, a writer – with the hope that the challenges will be agonizing and impossible to overcome.

They decide to do it because they want to express themselves – and because they derive enjoyment from pursuing their craft.

And that was my issue. Like the girl in the movie, I was treating my hobby as if it were strenuous toil. There was no fun in it anymore because I was taking it too seriously.

In my unyielding determination to succeed, I had forgotten why I started blogging in the first place.

I realized, too, that blog posts aren’t high-school essays. They don’t have to have an outline, or a thesis, body, and conclusion. There’s no strict headmistress looking over my shoulder, ready to rap my knuckles with a ruler if I split an infinitive or misplace a modifier.

Blog posts can be whatever we want. There’s no structure required.  Mental wanderings are perfectly acceptable, if that’s your thing. You don’t have to write an essay of epic proportions.

Like music, writing should be fun. Fun writing flows from the fingertips, while strict writing requires endless tinkering and unwavering deliberation.

So like the girl in the movie, I’m going to try to loosen up and enjoy myself. After all, I’m here to have fun.

And just as technical precision doesn’t infuse a piece with heart, a single sour note doesn’t deprive it of its soul.

Toilet stall poetry

toilet stall with graffitiHave you ever used a public restroom,
Been seated inside a stall?
And have you noticed the words of wisdom,
That are scrawled across the wall?

Curses and verses and wisecracks.
Hints and tips not taught in school.
Insightful quotes by anonymous authors.
Sketches of women in the nude.

If you must answer the call of nature,
There’s no better way to spend your time.
Than to perch yourself upon a toilet,
And to read these rhyming lines.

Collectively, they’re a mural of knowledge.
A canvas of dazzling wisdom.
A monument of philosophy and convictions.
Art you can find only within a restroom.

As you’re taking care of business,
You admire this artistic masterpiece.
And you wonder how many have added to it,
As they sat here on this seat.

All of the many virtuosos,
Who contributed to this monument.
Are the ones responsible for its beauty,
And for all the graffiti written on it.

You think about your unheard voice,
Just before you flush.
And how those who have nothing to say,
Are the ones who say too much.

But in the restroom, things are different,
Where a wise man can say his piece.
In only one or two insightful verses,
Advice that’s always free.

So you clutch your trusty pen,
And find an empty space.
To write what’s on your mind,
In your very own sacred place.

And so with one conclusive scribble,
You admire what you’ve composed.
It fits in so nicely with this mural,
Made up on drawings, poems, and prose.

So you flush and leave with satisfaction,
Because you are now a bathroom poet.
You’ve had the ability to create artistic beauty,
And yet you didn’t even know it.

And so every poem and quote,
And even the sketches that are obscene.
Will remain as art for many centuries,
Or until the janitor wipes them clean.

The top 60 Tweets of a pretentious English student 

young man studying on laptop in college campus library

Yeah, I went to school with people like this…

Even graduate students studying ecocentric literature can be social-media superstars!

Bio: I express my artistry through emotional meditations and lowercase letters. My heart is pure; my poetry, self-published.

1. If there’s a sock on the door, don’t come in. I’m busy reading Vonnegut.

2. If my beret doesn’t give away my artistic tendencies, then I’m sure the Apple logo on my laptop will.

3. A sublime exhalation of youthful exuberance, in a premature outpouring of passion. (But give me 10 minutes, and I’ll try again.)

4. I’m not arrogant. I just don’t need to take writing advice from the dude who wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”

5. Yeah, well, how many literary-fiction journals have *you* been featured in, buddy?

6. Is that a Bukowski in your book bag, or are you just happy to see me?

7. Personally, I find the em-dash more progressive than the semicolon.

8. How endearing. I went through my own period of rugged Hemingway terseness back in 201.

9. We haven’t truly lived until we’ve written in the first-person-plural.

10. I’ll trade you three gently used issues of Glimmer Train for your annotated copy of “Burning Down the House.”

11. I’m not in it for the monetary compensation; I’m in it to bare my soul through the written word. (Besides, Mom pays my tuition.)

12. My tattered journal contains the scribblings of my soul. Plus, my Econ notes from yesterday’s class.

13. She left my emotional core stinging from the lash of rejection. (It also stings when I pee.)

14. I see you consistently get “it’s” and “its” confused. You need a bib to catch all the drool?

15. [Literary flirting] “So, you want to get coffee sometime? We could discuss whether Truman Capote wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.” Keep reading…

Using social media to get more blog followers 

social media meme

The good news is that by harnessing the power of social media, you can drive more traffic to your blog. (The bad news is that you apparently have to engage with other people. I thought technology was supposed to make our lives easier?)

I wanted to get more followers on my blog, so I called my old friend, Sally the Social Media Guru.

“I want to get more followers on my blog,” I told her.

“Oh, good,” she said. “That’s my speciality. Are you looking for active reader engagement?”

“I just want a bunch of followers,” I said.

“But are you looking for quality readership over quantity? Are you tailoring your content to target a specific demographic — one that demonstrates brand loyalty through repeated visits?”

“I really just want a bunch of followers,” I said. “Like, thousands or millions.”

“What’s your goal in building your audience? Are you looking to monetize your content?”

“If that means getting more followers, then yeah.” Keep reading…

If you want all those cool home features, you’ll have to pay extra

fancy kitchen

Whoever said “the best things in life are free” clearly didn’t know how much all these home upgrades cost.

I wanted to go house-hunting, so I called my old friend, Rhonda the Realtor.

“I want to look at houses,” I told her.

“Are you serious about buying?” she asked. “Because the last time you called, you had no intention of buying. The only reason you wanted to look at homes was because you had spent an entire weekend watching House Hunters on iTunes.”

I didn’t say anything.

Rhonda sighed. “You’ve been watching House Hunters again, haven’t you?”

“Not necessarily,” I said. “I’m seriously in the market for a home this time.”

“Buying a house isn’t as easy as they make it look on TV,” Rhonda said. “It’s not just touring houses and sneering at outdated fixtures. You have to get pre-approved, and then there’s the home inspection, renovations, unexpected problems. They don’t show those parts on TV.”

“Sometimes they show the renovations,” I said. “In fact, there’s a spinoff called House Hunters Renovation where they find a house and renovate it in forty-five minutes. It’s fantastic!”

“Isn’t there another Realtor you can call?” Rhonda asked. “Or am I the only one you know?” Keep reading…

Not every man is an expert on cars

car engine

Whenever my manliness is in doubt, I do what any real man would do: fake it.

I drove my car behind the oil-change shop and pulled up to the bay door. A young mechanic wearing greasy coveralls approached my window.

“Good afternoon, sir,” he said. “Just an oil change today?”

“Please,” I said. “I normally would do it myself, but I’ve been so busy at my six-figure job that I just haven’t had time.”

“Of course, sir,” the mechanic said, wiping his hands on a rag. “Would you turn off the engine and pop the hood for me?”

“Certainly.” I shut off the engine, then fumbled around the steering column. Staring the mechanic in the eye without blinking, I yanked up the handle next to the gear shift.

“Um, sir,” the mechanic said. “I think you just set the parking brake.”

I looked down. “Oh. Well, of course I did. That’s what I meant to do. I turned off the engine, so it’s only natural that I set the parking brake.”

“I see, sir.”

“I always set the parking brake. Don’t try to act like I don’t know how to park a car.”

“Of course, sir.” The young man looked at me.

I looked back. “Yes?”

“Could you please pop the hood for me, sir? And then exit the vehicle?”

“That’s exactly what I was going to do. Just give me a second, will you?” I reached under the dashboard, feeling around.

“The handle is at the very left, sir,” the mechanic said, pointing. “I can see it from here.” Keep reading…