Posted: February 3, 2021 Filed under: Commentary, Creativity, Mental Health, Opinion, Self-Help, Words to Live By, Writing, Writing Life | Tags: Mental Health, Mental Illness, Words to Live By, Writing Life, Writing to be Read
The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
Losing My Mind (in Real Life)
At three-thirty in the morning, I’m screaming at demons. There’s something inside me, something over which I have very little control, and it’s been at my throat for months. Somehow I’ve convinced myself the voice in my head belongs to a friend from graduate school, that she’s speaking to me telepathically over a great distance. She’s crueler than the person I remember, always mocking and deceiving me, but I don’t do the simple mental math. The voice tells me all sorts of things, and this is the first time I’ve ever been crazy, so I don’t necessarily understand I’m not supposed to listen.
Though I sleep dismally, I call her the very next morning. The real person I mean. I say crazy things, most of which I don’t remember now. A few days later, something even worse happens. An incident with the car in our driveway. My wife, she gets hurt. The voice told me she was trying to kill me, and I believed every word, so I attempted to flee the house and she ended up with six fractured ribs. God, some days are made in Hell. If I close my eyes, even five years later, it’s an easy vision to conjure, and it lays me low every time. This happened, it was real, and I was crazy, crazy, crazy, an animal, a lunatic, someone completely undeserving of justice or fairness or something simple and clean like compassion.
I made a mess of my life, ended up in jail, in court, on a psychiatric ward, and I have had to cope with a version of myself from that time I cannot excuse, someone vulgar and unhinged, someone barely hanging on. I won’t go into details that are still too painful to write in blunt, unadulterated language. The pressures of life had gotten to me, an unexpected barrage of one thing after another, as life is known to dish out. Unexpected health issues, loss of a job, unable to pay the mortgage. No, I’d never heard voices before, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthy of forgiveness. My loved ones keep telling me I should finally let go, be kind to myself on this front, realize people make mistakes, that these things can and do happen and that none of it makes me a bad or dangerous person. I find it difficult to believe what they say. Scratch that, I find it impossible. It’s a miracle no one was killed.
Many prominent creative voices throughout history have commented on the clear and seemingly causal link between mental illness and creative genius, but not every dork with a science fiction and fantasy fetish and a couple of short story sales goes full tilt into lunacy. It’s not in my nature to describe myself in lofty terms. It’s not in my nature to think of myself very fondly at all, and that’s perhaps where dark things like this take root. Whatever creative abilities I’ve been granted and have spent years honing seem to have come at a cost. I knew I had depression at a very young age, but schizophrenia, I didn’t even know what that was.
It’s like this: you can’t trust your thoughts, your senses, your worldly experience. You will hear voices and smell phantom aromas and see things that aren’t there. You’ll think delusional thoughts every once in a while, strange ruminations and lines of logic that make perfect sense at the time they occur. If you’re lucky, medication will help, and counseling will teach you skills you can lean on that boil down to keeping it real, keeping it present, leaning on others if you’re having a truly difficult time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school.
There were nights I was so terrified I couldn’t imagine surviving till morning. These voices, they torture you in all sorts of creative and intimate ways. They make fun of you in the toilet, in the shower, when you’re dressing in the morning. They con you into driving recklessly in city traffic, convince you your counseling appointment has been canceled, and that in fact, you don’t really need counseling anyway. At some point, the ruse couldn’t sustain, and I finally realized I wasn’t speaking with my friend. Sensibly, tardy as usual, I asked to whom or what I was in fact speaking, in my head, in the room, just out of sight.
It said it wanted to be called Dave. Just Dave. And the more my wife and I used the name as shorthand, the more it seemed appropriate. Dave, like some faceless person who could be anyone or anything at any time. Dave, a personality that might be normal or might be abnormal, just depended on the day. And now when I write, even a simple essay like this one, I feel as though Dave is guiding my fingers over my laptop keyboard.
I can feel him looking out my eyes sometimes. He wiggles my toes and fidgets when I’m barely paying attention. He’s in me, he is me, yet they say he’s not the conscious, aware me. If my id expresses itself thusly, what the hell is wrong with me? Is it any wonder the book I wrote about that insane, scary time depicts Dave as a full-stop demon? Not a biproduct of janky biochemistry or a brain or emotional disorder, but rather something separate and inhuman? Took me two years to write that book. I still can’t stand to read a single word of it.
I wasn’t myself. It must be a constant reminder, or the truth is the person I am today, the person I’ve always believed myself to be, he’s a lie. And this is something I can’t accept. You must take action when your own wounding wounds others. It’s a teaching moment, a failing you can catch like a falling aspen leaf. It was a shot across the bow, an opportunity to reorient myself, look at my life and everything I’ve created and done not as the end-all-be-all, but as a small component of who I am in full. Each and every time Dave speaks to me, I can silently rebuke or ignore him and remind myself what real humility and humanity look like.
They look like the patients at the psych hospital who’d just survived suicide attempts and psychotic episodes. How gentle and caring they seemed. Not like me, strapped to a hospital bed, screaming my head off, trying to cut my wrists in a pretty useless fashion, thinking the Velcro ties would do the trick. Humility and humanity look like the caregivers—yes, even the guards at the county jail—who could’ve condemned me but instead took pity on me, tried to protect and treat me.
Even five years later, I awake sometimes from nightmares. He’s always there, but thankfully, so am I. Watchful, careful, repentant. Honestly, not at all interested in returning to that place ever again. I could’ve lost so much. It all could’ve ended so much worse. My blessings, I do my best to count them, but I know I could do far more. Recovery is a long process, or at least it can be, and it’s a bumpier ride than most people give it credit for being. But I have to go through it. It’s an imperative. Being better to people, hoping one day to learn to be better to myself. Leave the creative stuff aside. In fact, leave everything aside that is surface-level and cheap. Maybe it’s what I came here to do. Maybe it’s what we all came here to do.
If you or anyone you know is suffering severe mental health issues right now, I urge you to seek help. Especially in the middle of this pandemic, it’s a huge issue for many, and we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and our family to treat it with respect. There’s hope, there’s survival, and there is recovery. I’m proof of that. We all deserve to be the best versions of ourselves. All of us. I pray and hope for the best life has to offer, and I pray and hope the same for you as well. Safety, happiness, generosity, and love. Sanity most of all, my friends. Until next month.
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!
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Posted: January 20, 2020 Filed under: Chatting with the Pros, Interview, Memoir, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Writing, Writing Workshops | Tags: Chatting with the Pros, Diana Raab, Memoir, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Writing, Writing to be Read
My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is someone who focuses on helping fellow authors to find and harness their positive inner energies and let them shine through, both in their writing and in their lives. She has written memoirs, poetry, written and/or compiled writing resource books, and she offers workshops focused on healing and transformation through memoir writing. Her works have won numerous awards, including Best Book Award, Feathered Quill Book Award, Mom’s Choice Award, Eric Hoffer Award, and Allbooks Review Editor’s Choice Award. Please help me welcome creative nonfiction author, Diana Raab, PhD.
Kaye: You have a PhD in Psychology with a research focus on the healing and transformative powers of memoir writing. Can you explain briefly what those powers are?
Diana: My research examined how pivotal experiences encouraged individuals to write memoirs as a way to transform, grow, and become empowered. I interviewed esteemed writers about the role writing their memoirs had in their lives. Poet Kim Stafford said that writing his memoir transformed him, in that it helped him come to a new understanding about his brother’s suicide. Another writer said that the writing experience relieved him from the pain of his past. And another writer who lost a son said that writing helped her look at life in a much larger context and also helped to keep her son “alive.” Writer Maxine Kingston said that she was transformed by penning her memoir because she was finally able to tell the stories from her past, which for a long time had been a secret. Thus, in most cases, the writers were liberated from the demons of their pasts.
Kaye: How can writing facilitate transformation and empowerment?
Diana: Transformation is a dramatic change in one’s physical or psychological well-being. It’s about becoming more aware of and facing our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Writing down our feelings can lead to self-realization and a sense of empowerment, because we’re moving our feelings from inside of us and onto the page; and like therapy, it can help us work through our challenges. Writing can also be transformative because it helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves. With that understanding comes deeper reflection, and consequently a more profound sense of harmony.
Kaye: What is your biggest challenge of being a writer?
Diana: That’s a great question. In my earlier years, while raising children, my biggest challenge was carving out the time to write. These days, I would say that my biggest challenge as a writer is finding inspiration.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Diana: When I was younger, I used to love writing in the wee hours of the night, but now that I’m older, my preference is to write early in the morning. That’s when my mind and thought processes are most clear. I like writing just after my morning meditation, as sometimes thoughts emerge during this time that can move me into a highly creative and inspirational zone.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Diana: I love being with my adult children (ages 36, 34, and 30) and playing with my grandchildren; and I love hiking and going for beach walks. I meditate every day, and like most writers, I love to read. I also love cooking, especially soups and desserts. I love doing needlepoint, a craft I learned from my maternal grandmother, Regina, who committed suicide when I was ten. She was my caretaker, and this was a huge loss for me. Her story is the basis of my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal.
Kaye: How does memoir writing differ from other writing forms? Don’t most forms of writing “unleash the true voice of the inner self”?
Diana: I don’t believe that most forms of writing “unleash the true voice of the inner self.” It might start out that way when writing fiction, but soon the imagination comes into play. Memoir writing is a first-person account chronicling a slice of life, not an entire life. It is a subjective recollection from one’s own perspective. Typically, there is a theme or thread running through a memoir. What sets a memoir apart from other forms of nonfiction is that it weaves the story as it happened, but also includes reflection. It’s much more than a journalistic telling. Compelling memoirs definitely unleash the true inner self.
Kaye: Tell me about your writing workshops. What can I expect to come away with if I take a workshop with you?
Diana: What you will come away with will depend on the nature of the particular workshop. Each one is different, depending on its focus. I usually revise my workshop format accordingly. For example, I’ve taught high-risk youth, bereaved adults, hospice workers, and those battling with drug addiction. My regular workshops are related to memoir writing, where participants of different writing levels come together to work on their personal stories.
I limit these groups to ten individuals so that I can offer individualized coaching. Participants learn by hearing my comments about their memoirs, and we also discuss published memoirs. They’re grateful to hear about all the tidbits of information I’ve gathered during my 40-year writing career. I stress the idea that writing is a process, and like any other process, patience is necessary. Those who take my workshops say that they leave them feeling very inspired to continue their memoir-writing journeys.
Kaye: What lessons do you want readers to walk away with from reading Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life?
Diana: There are many lessons within those pages, as I weave my story into a how-to book on personal writing. I want readers to understand the transformative powers of memoir writing and be aware that writing is a journey. I stress the idea of truly enjoying that journey and not becoming focused on the destination. People have called Writing for Bliss “instructive, inspiring, healing, and a blueprint for writing for healing and transforming your life.”
Kaye: You put together a book project that was quite innovative with Writers and Their Notebooks. I thought it was a really cool idea, and apparently others did too, since it became a Best Books award finalist with USA Book News. In fact, I’d bet there is an abundance of valuable information for aspiring authors. What inspired you to compile an anthology of author essays about the value of an author’s notebook?
Diana: As I mention in the Preface, “As artists have sketchbooks, writers have notebooks.” My inspiration for creating this anthology originated from my own experience and the joy that journaling has brought into my own life. For more than five decades, journaling had helped ground and center me. My passion began with my mother giving me a Kahlil Gibran journal when I was ten to help me cope with my grandmother’s suicide.
This book is a celebration of well-published writers who use their notebooks to inspire, record, and document anything and everything that nurtures or sparks their creative energy. Many of the essays in the collection are confessional in nature. This year celebrates the book’s tenth anniversary. The project is even more meaningful for me now, as many of the writers in the anthology have passed away, such as Sue Grafton and Michael Steinberg.
Kaye: Another valuable anthology which you put together is Writers on the Edge, a collection of 22 authors being brutally honest about their own battles with addiction. Was it difficult to get so many authors to open up?
Diana: Great question. Addiction is defined as the obsession and compulsion to self-destruct. Author James Brown and I co-compiled this anthology because of our passion for the subject. We contacted writers who we thought would be interested in writing about their journaling practices. We were honored when Jerry Stahl agreed to write the foreword. A number of authors said that they didn’t know if they could write so intimately and honestly, but they did. Some had never written nonfiction before, so it was a huge challenge for them, but in the end, they felt a huge sense of satisfaction. As we said in the preface, “These battles are not fought alone, and perhaps these stories will also provide insight and hope to all those and their loved ones struggling with some form of addiction and its inevitable consequences.”
Kaye: You’ve written two memoirs yourself. Why did you choose to share with others your inner thoughts and feelings during a difficult time in your own life, with Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey?
Diana: After my first cancer diagnosis in 2001, I decided, as a gift to myself, to enroll in graduate school for my MFA in writing. My two memoirs were a part of my creative thesis. In actuality, I had no intention of writing a memoir about my cancer journey. I was the type of person who believed that I got breast cancer, had a mastectomy and reconstruction, was healed, and that it was over and I’d be okay. I didn’t want my cancer diagnoses to define me.
During my recovery, I did a lot of journaling, but with no intention to publish a book on the subject. Five years later, to my surprise, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable form of bone marrow cancer. Supposedly, it’s not connected to breast cancer. I was devastated, but the silver lining was being told that I had smoldering myeloma and wouldn’t yet need treatment, just regular blood work.
My friends and colleagues encouraged me to write about my cancer journey because they thought it would help others. To make the book a little different and more universal, I decided to create a self-help memoir where I provided journaling opportunities for readers to share their own cancer journeys.
Kaye: You won the Mom’s choice award for your first memoir was Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. What kind of revelations does it contain?
Diana: During the writing process, I learned a lot about my grandmother. I began writing the book about the time of my first cancer diagnosis. I wanted to study my grandmother’s life to see if she’d committed suicide in 1964 because of cancer, but that wasn’t the case. I learned that at the time of her death, she was very depressed, and her doctor had given her a prescription for Valium, which she eventually overdosed on. By studying my grandmother’s life, I learned that she held on to the demons of her past, such as being orphaned during World War I and marrying an abusive man. All this inner turmoil eventually got to her, so she took her own life.
Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Diana: I don’t want to think about it. I love writing, whether it’s journaling; or writing poems, articles, letters, or blogs. It’s where I find my peace.
Kaye: What is next for Diana Raab? What can your readers and authors look forward to in the future?
Diana: Last year I turned 65 and felt that there was a huge shift in my vision. While I’ve always practiced mindfulness, I find that I’ve been living more in the moment. Also, in recent years, I’ve lost a number of loved ones, which is another reminder to enjoy the present. Thinking a little farther ahead, I hope to give more workshops and maybe create some short inspirational books. I’m currently working on my fifth book of poetry. I also have an unfinished novel that has been sitting in my drawer. Maybe one day I’ll be inspired to get back into it, or perhaps I’ll become inspired to write a children’s book for my grandchildren. Time will tell!
I want to extend my thanks to Diana Raab for joining us today and sharing with us. I have to agree with her philosophies, as I’ve experienced the healing powers of writing in my own life. I believe many of us have. If you’d like more information about Diana, her books, projects and events at her website: dianaraab.com.
You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2020, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.
Posted: January 6, 2020 Filed under: Blog Content, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Writing, Writing to be Read | Tags: Creative Nonfiction, essays, How To, Memoir, Self-Help, True Story, Writing to be Read
Nonfiction is the stuff texts books are made of, the straight-out boring stuff that puts you to sleep, right? Not necessarily. Texts books don’t have to be boring. Nonfiction that is written creatively can capture the reader’s interest or immerse them into true life stories. From memoir, to self-help and how-to books, and yes, even text books can be highly entertaining.
True life circumstances and facts determine the story in nonfiction, yet nonfiction authors are faced with the same challenges as fiction authors to bring the characters and setting to life in the readers mind, or portray the information they wish to relate in a manner which readers can relate to. Both fiction and nonfiction authors strive to grab readers attention, now, in this digital age more so than ever before. But there are differences, as well.
To start off 2020, we’re going to delve into creative nonfiction in January. We have a pretty good sampling on the different forms that creative nonfiction might take. My author guest on “Chatting with the Pros” is bestselling author and memoirist, Diana Raab, who believes in the healing powers of writing. I will also be interviewing an author team, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, who wrote Wild West Ghosts, one of the most informative and entertaining how-to books I’ve read. I will also be reviewing a true crime book, Missing: Murder Suspected, by Austin Stone, edited by his son Ed after his father’s passing, and a book on writing, On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin Shoemaker. I do hope you will join us and help get Writing to be Read off to a good start for the year ahead.
For additional samplings of creative nonfiction see the following interviews and reviews:
“Chatting with the Pros: Interview with Nonfiction Author Mark Shaw”
“Interview with author Mark Shaw”
“Interview with author B.Lynn Goodwin”
Review: How I Sold 80,000 Books: Book Marketing for Authors by Alinka Rowkowski
“Interview with multi-genre author Brenda Mohammed”
“Interview with nature author Susan J. Tweit”
Review: How to Become a Published Author, by Mark Shaw
Review: The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman
Review: Stress: How Stress Affects Your Life and How to Manage It, by Dr. Christine Rose
Review: Hack Your Reader’s Brain, by Jeff Gerke
Review: Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Review: Hollywood Game Plan, by Caro;e Kirschner
Review: Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy
Review: The Road Has Eyes, by Art Rosch
Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, by Mark Shaw
Review: Denial of Justice, by Mark Shaw
Review: Courage in the Face of Evil, by Mark Shaw
Review: Letters of May, edited by Julie Alcin
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Posted: December 4, 2019 Filed under: Inspirational, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Opinion, Self-Help, Writing | Tags: Christmas, Holidays, Jeff's Pep Talk, Writer's blues, Writing to be Read
I’ll Be (Writing) for Christmas
Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
The holiday season brings a lot with it. Presents, pie, turkey, presents. I like presents, always have. Not just receiving them, though when I was a kid, that was the absolute pinnacle. I also like to give, which is why in this month’s Pep Talk, I’m giving the gift of solace, a little thing called the holiday writer’s blues, or as you might know it in the common tongue, loneliness.
It creeps up on us when we least expect it. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving. Like a perfect trifecta of sadness and stress, unbidden yet punctual, the same time every year, and it can be a bummer for people who don’t have anyone special in their lives. Most fortunately, and thank God this is the case, I’ve never had to be alone for the holidays. I’ve got a very loving family, a loving wife, but even so, there have been occasions when I’ve had to do the one thing I don’t want to do when everyone else is decking the halls, drinking eggnog, and crushing into department stores to return those awful socks.
Writing is both a noun and a verb, and so, it turns out, is the word writer. If you consider yourself a writer in the subjective sense, you are perhaps the thing not doing the thing, potential energy instead of energy realized. In the active sense, though, you’re a writer who is, you know, as energized as a red-nosed reindeer. Regularly, it is to be hoped. If you follow the Pep Talk, you’re familiar with my attitude toward cutting yourself a break and taking time away from the craft whenever you need it. I hate seeing writers burn out, and I’ve seen it a lot.
If for the holidays you find you have to put the laptop down and decompress after a long year of hard work, I say go for it, no shame necessary. In fact, if a writer feels the need to take months or even years off, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. We practice a unique and distinguished artform, one which engages the intellect as well as the emotional center. Sometimes you need to feed your creative engine rather than letting it burn, and burn, and burn. If you can do that comfortably, while at the same time allowing yourself the freedom to recognize your desire to write is safe and sound right where you left it, then to my mind you really have the best of both worlds, because you’re the writer who writes, but only when your mind and emotions are strong, fresh, and ready enough to make it possible.
But sometimes we’ve got to work on Christmas, right? Or on any other holiday. If there’s one thing young writers learn pretty quickly, it’s that solitude is essential to the craft. But it can in fact get lonesome. Especially during a time of year traditionally reserved for friends and loved ones. So how do we work when all we really want to do is socialize and rest? How do we keep those words flowing, locked up in our writing spaces with the door closed, about as merry as a stocking full of coal?
It comes down to this: ambition is costly, and sometimes, we must choose our dreams over our immediate desires. Again, if you’re seriously in need of a break, I say take one. In any other case, though, it’s for the best if you can produce every day, or damn near every day. This season is meant to be about love and a deeper kind of appreciation. So appreciate yourself properly. Follow your dreams whenever you can, as steadfast and as boldly as you can, because to do the opposite cultivates regret. I hate regret. It’s like opening a big box with a big bow only to find novelty gas relief pills inside. I did that to my brother one Christmas, by the way. He laughed. Sort of.
The most basic thing to provide yourself, not just in the month of December, but throughout the whole year, is a daily word count limit. Now, it may seem prudent to make that limit high. A lot of writers like to do a bare minimum 2,000 words per day. That’s a great habit to get into if you can manage it, but in the long run, depending on your proclivity for exhaustion, it might turn into a liability. For the holiday season, at least, I’d recommend dropping your daily word count goal to something more manageable.
For instance, in my general daily habit, I’ve started writing a scant 430 words per day. That’s nothing, a half-hour commitment at most. But at that pace, I can lay down just over 3,000 words per week, which works out to almost 157,000 words per year. Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a pretty good sum total. In other words, you could literally write two whole standard-length novels in a year if you write for just a half an hour every single day.
Now in terms of the holidays, an easy half-hour commitment allows you to enjoy the festivities and skip the Quasimodo act. Sanctuary! Sanctuary! You could even fit in some revisions or edits between that first football game and the precise hour and minute your uncle starts snoring on the couch. The other good news with such a low word count goal is that it’s common to overshoot the target, which means in a year’s time, you’ll have written far beyond that 157,000 word benchmark. If it suits your needs, just pull back a little. You can still be productive, be the writer doing the writing, the thing doing the thing, without behaving like a hermit.
I can offer another piece of advice here, ironically the exact opposite of what I’ve told you thus far. I know, that tricksy Bowles and his tricksy ways. Yet this might help you deal with unavoidable loneliness directly. I’m not the first guy to suggest it, and I sort of wish it weren’t the case, but it’s possible the only way to combat the holiday blues is to work even harder than you normally do.
Now I wouldn’t recommend this for someone with a lot of family obligations, but look, workaholism is a thing because it actually can be effective on some basic emotional level. To paraphrase the Christian aphorism, idle hands (occasionally) do the work of loneliness. Sometimes it does no good to stay stuck in your head. Maybe try expressing yourself and your feelings on the page. Pour that pent-up stuff into whatever you’re working on, and don’t be afraid to get real about it. As Ernest Hemingway said, writing isn’t hard. What you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed. Now, I’m not suggesting you bleed all over your nice, brand-new, Santa’s workshop custom Dell notebook, but look, people choose to soothe themselves in a lot of ways, some of which are pretty unhealthy. Writing a whole bunch? It’s not the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Loneliness sucks. So if you’re doing it to yourself by working too hard, or conversely, if you don’t have a choice about it because at this point in your life, you really do feel alone, adjusting your regular work routine may be the ticket to feeling a bit more jolly this season. Don’t overdo it. That’s all I ask. Look after yourself first and foremost. I really do mean that. And don’t forget that nice shiny sense of pride and fulfillment. This is a high calling, after all. Maybe not as high as buying Jeff Bowles some presents, but you know, pretty high.
By the way, that’s:
1234 Nowhere Street
Care of the Grinch living on top of the mountain
All right, everyone. Thanks for reading, and Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Now for some John Lennon! War is over, if you want it. The war within yourself, that is. Cheers!
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Posted: February 25, 2019 Filed under: Biographies, Biography, Books, Commentary, Creative Nonfiction, His Name Was Michael, Memoir, Nature writing, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Travel, Writing, Writing to be Read | Tags: Biography, Creative Nonfiction, Diaries, How-to books, Journalism, Memoir, Nature Guides, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Travel Books, Travel Memoir, Writing to be Read
Our monthly theme for February on Writing to be Read was, you guessed it – nonfiction. So, what tipped you off? Was it the great interview I did with nature author Susan J. Tweit? Or maybe the nonfiction revues of How to become a Published Author and Letters of May? Or perhaps it was the “Chatting with the Pros” interview of nonfiction author Mark Shaw? Whatever it was that gave it away, I’m here to tell you that these few posts on nonfiction don’t even scratch the surface of what the genre of nonfiction encompasses.
There are many subgenres of nonfiction, just as there are many subgenres under each of the genres of fiction. When someone asks what type of book your fiction novel is, we are quick to catetgorize it as a paranormal mystery, a historical romance, or a science fiction thriller. For some reason, we don’t seem to think about nonfiction the same way we do fiction and when someone asks what type of book your memoir is, or your travel diary, or your self-help book, we tend to lump it in with all the rest in nonfiction. Why this is, I don’t know, but I find that it is the case, time and time again.
The fact is, not all nonfiction books are alike and there are many categories or subgenres that fall within the nonfiction realm. Mark Shaw writes biographies and creative nonfiction tales that are very different from the memoirs, illustrated travel books and nature guides of Susan J. Tweit. Other types of nonfiction that are hard to define are books like Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd’s Wild West Ghosts, which chronicles their ghost hunting experiences and offers advice on how you can be a ghost hunter too. Or Hollywood Game Plan by Carole Kirshner, which is a how-to guide for anyone wanting to break into the screenwriting world. These books are all nonfiction, but they are all very different types of books.
According to wikipedia the genres of nonfiction are biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, commentaries, creative nonfiction, critiques, essays, owners manuals, journalism, personal narratives, reference books, self-help books, speeches, and text books. I would add to that spiritual texts, encyclopedias, documentaries, how-to books, cookbooks, diaries and anthologies such as the one found in Letters of May, which is a collection of writings and artwork illustrating the world of those afflicted with mental illness. I’m sure there are others, but as you can see the list is quite extensive.
Nonfiction books may or may not be aimed to entertain, but the primary purpose, no matter the type of nonfiction book, is to inform. This may account for the fact that my reviews of nonfiction books receive more views in general, than most of my fiction reviews. A fact that I found to be surprising when I uncovered it while looking over the data for this blog. My theory is that readers turn more quickly to books they may find useful than they do to those with entertainment as their sole purpose.
My reasons for interest in nonfiction and all it’s many forms stems from preparation for my journey to write my own memoir, telling the story of my son’s death and my life without him, His Name Was Michael. My bi-monthly blog series which will chronicle that writing process, “The Making of a Memoir“, came out with the first segment in February, too. It was a good month for it to come out, as it also fits in with the nonfiction theme. I hope you’ll join us again next month, when the theme will be science fiction and fantasy.
Be sure to join me next month when we will explore science fiction and fantasy, with guest author Kevin J. Anderson on “Chatting with the Pros” on March 18th, as well as a review of his Selected Stories: Science Fiction Volume 2, and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal.
Update: In Friday’s post I talked about the changes coming for Writing to be Read. One more change that I just recieved confirmation of, and I’m pleased to announce: Art Rosch will also be posting one movie review a month, on the forth Friday of the month, in “Art’s Visual Media Review”.
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Posted: June 2, 2017 Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Self-Help | Tags: Dr.Christine Rose, Nonfiction, Self-Help, Stress, Stress Management, Writing to be Read
Stress: How Stress Affects Your Life and How to Manage It, by Dr. Christine Rose, provides useful information which could be life changing if utilized. The book provides a basic overview of stress and its effects on the human body, and several methods of dealing with stress.It covers the different aspects of stress well. It tells readers what stress is, how our bodies respond to stress and why they respond that way, and what the effects of stress on the body are, as well as how it might be controls to make us happier and healthier readers.
Dr. Rose neither talks over, nor talks down to, her readers, but uses layman’s terms that are easy to both read and understand. The suggested methods of managing stress are not new, but they are practical and effective. I give Stress: How Stress Affects Your Life and How to Manage It four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
Posted: March 29, 2017 Filed under: Articles, God Complex, Opinion, Pep Talk, Publishing, Self-Help
Writer’s Block vs. The God Complex
by Jeff Bowles
Traditionally, I’ve never been a fan of taking breaks from my writing. I’ve advocated others not break from theirs either, telling myself and the entire writing world to keep pushing no matter what the circumstances. I’m having to alter that perception somewhat. You see, life can and does get in the way at times, and I don’t think there’s any use denying it. Staying driven and defiant in the face of adversity is all well and good. But what about personal tragedy, financial setbacks, lingering doubts, bouts of depression?
In my life as a writer I’ve received well over 600 rejection slips. Trust me, I’ve counted them recently. That’s never been enough to put the nail in the coffin of my work ethic, but somehow when it comes to my life in disarray, a hard fight is just about the only kind I know. Sometimes existence is smooth and sometimes it’s bumpy, and after all, that which you leave behind is paramount. So working your butt off no matter what, creating stories, filling your hard drive with new material, it’s got to be a saving grace of some sort, hasn’t it?
Only I’m not a machine, and neither are you. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Here on Writing to be Read, we hand out a lot of pro tips and offer words of wisdom for writers just starting out. I’d like to give you your concept of the morning: forgiveness. As in self-forgiveness, the only kind no one ever wants to grant. It’s so very easy to pretend your problems don’t exist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter, and when life catches up to us, there can be a letdown in creativity.
Writing is a hard business to pursue day in and day out. Rather than being purely creative, it’s startlingly cerebral, which means those lovely brains of ours need to be in tip top shape if we’re going to create brilliant prose (which is always the goal, right?). The mind gets tired sometimes. What’s more, it’s far easier to produce another story when a deadline or paycheck is in play. But how do we put up with the work load when all guarantees of future success are null and void?
The answer is passion, I suppose, and a healthy dose of resolve. Discipline will get you to the finish line with startling regularity, but everyone gets burned-out sometimes, right? I would submit that what most people refer to as burnout is more attributable to depression. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t ignore what your mind and body are screaming at you to acknowledge.
How do we refresh ourselves when we’re not in the mood to write? Creatively speaking—and this is just an example from my own experience—it’s always a good idea to have some kind of hobby or art project on the side. For instance, let’s say that 120,000 novel is really starting to drag you down ‘round about the 90,000 word mark. Why not go outside with a camera and begin a fun photography project? Or maybe pick up some paints and toss them at a canvas? Reading is also good, the kinds of stories you’ve always enjoyed most. Take a breather if you have to, though if I were you I’d narrow your daily word limits rather than abandoning your manuscript completely.
To be perfectly fair, I have never been great at refreshing myself in the middle of a long-haul project. The one thing that usually seems to work is finding escape in my words. Instead of viewing my writing as a crucible, I try to envision it as a form of therapy that allows me to escape my troubles and heal that which is damaged or broken. I don’t think this is easy for everyone to do, because the longer you’re at this thing, and the more life is stressing you out, the harder it is to view your writing in a positive light.
I know there will be plenty of writers out there who do not share my experience. After all, talent and depression don’t always go hand in hand, nor do they need to. But sometimes people go through bad months, bad years, and unless I miss my guess, during those times even the most productive writers find the work difficult. On social media the other day, a fellow author asserted writer’s block is just an excuse. I actually agree with the sentiment, though not by his same reasoning.
You see, calling a slump writer’s block allows us to focus on the results of our output rather than the cause. It’s like 17th century Salem assaulted by tragic events, blaming the whole thing on witchcraft. Writer’s block is a nothing phrase, a catch-all that doesn’t describe anything pertinent. Does it exist? Certainly, but not as an end itself. To me, writer’s block is and always will be a symptom of some form of depressed thinking.
When writers slow down, it’s important to consider life circumstances. Maybe the bills aren’t getting paid. Or perhaps there’s too much to do at the office. We humans are extraordinarily skilled at ignoring our troubles. Remember, everyone has bad days, months, years. It does no good to pretend we don’t. In fact, it only serves to make our writing woes that much harder to overcome.
Are you a writer who’s having trouble maintaining a steady workflow? Don’t get angry and do not criticize yourself. Call it writer’s block if you have to, but realize there’s a genuine cause that you can in fact address. Do a little soul searching, reacquaint yourself with your situation and get honest about what’s causing you difficulty. You understand best how talented you are. You are irreplaceable as a voice and as an individual, so get introspective and really try to parse out this downturn.
Consider a little self-nurturing. It’s not a sin to pause your work. It’s just not. Besides which, many of us consider writing a calling and a passion, no matter how successful or productive we are. You’ve come this far. If we can purge the negativity and bad emotion, the self-destructive tendencies and malaise, writer’s block is no longer such an issue. I’d rather work in a mind space free from all that crap. Wouldn’t you?
Most of the time writing is a damn thankless job. Let’s all be honest about that. It isolates us even at the best of times, so why’s it so hard to believe we sometimes need a little mental and emotional care? Be kind to yourself and respect your ability to produce. If you’re not feeling this right now, no worries, take a breather and work on yourself a bit. Until next time, everybody!
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces: Short Stories — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Bowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=14794534940