Mind Fields – My Pandemic Peace

Mind Fields

I am a janitor. I have worked at the same medium sized commercial property for thirty years. It is a job made in heaven! The pay is good, and I set my own hours. I never see my boss. We exchange emails and a check arrives monthly. The pandemic has done little to change my lifestyle. Properties tend to fall apart without the basic services supplied by cleaners and contractors. I work part time as a janitor and the other part time I stay home and practice the piano and write. My janitorial work includes maintaining two public restrooms. This requires a maximum of personal protection gear. Mask and gloves combined with frequent washing are keeping me (I hope) safe from infection. 

My spouse is disabled and spends most of her day in bed. I care for her and keep supplies flowing. She suffers from COPD and Rheumatoid Arthritis. My life is not much different from the time before Covid-19. I go out less and I buy at least a week’s supplies so that I don’t have to return to the store and its dangers of exposure. Judging by the basket loads being checked out by my fellow shoppers, we are feeling much the same.

The adaptations to Covid-19 quickly normalize. I see my therapist via Skype or Doxy.me.com.  I would rather see her in person, but seeing her on my computer screen offers a strange and intangible compensation. I can only call it “looseness”, i.e. I am more likely to say something awkward, which, as you may know, is the good stuff when it comes to psychotherapy.  I must speak the uncomfortable truth. In this way, Covid has presented a weird therapeutic gain.

I communicate via computer and attend my weekly Senior Peer Counseling groups via Zoom.  I don’t have to drive! No gasoline, no oil changes, no flat tires. No traffic! I acknowledge the vast suffering that attends this pandemic. I can’t allow my compassion to be blunted by my relative comfort. The plain truth is that Covid-19 has made my life easier.

I have been a Certified Senior Peer Counselor for three years. This effort offers support to those who are over 55 years of age. I now see my clients via all means possible, be they phone, computer, tablet, holograph, astral projection, quantum entanglement, ubiquitous electron transfer, psychic channeling or yelling out the window. Somehow, the process seems to be effective.

A couple of times a week I make my way up and down Highway 101. It’s a fifty mile round trip and sometimes the highways are virtually deserted. It’s kinda spooky! So far, my personal pandemic has been more of a windfall.

I’m 73 years old. Officially, that makes me a senior citizen. I’m active, creative, mobile, flexible, and in good health. If I tell you that this is due to my excellent personal hygiene, I would be gaslighting you with a heavy frosting of irony. I’ve been addicted to heroin, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and other bad behaviors. I am a paradox. I have faithfully practiced yoga since the age of eighteen. There have been times when I would inject myself with a speedball, smoke several cigarettes and do a sequence of yoga postures within the same hour. I’m not like that anymore. I’ve worn out my addictions through a steady incremental process, aided by psychotherapy. There was no sudden cure, no breakthrough, just years of steady work. I AM, at last, closer to where I want to be. All I have to do is avoid suddenly dropping dead. 

Count to three. I haven’t dropped dead. This means that I have a responsibility to continue writing. My mentor, the incredible KL Booth, urges me to supply essays, poems, and other material to the ongoing work of the web platform Writing To Be Read. This site is a forum for writers and provides essential exposure for those of us who don’t have the proper connections to achieve big time literary fame. 

There is truth to the maxim that “You have to know someone.” There was a time when I did indeed know someone. I knew the fiction editor at Playboy Magazine. Her name was Vicki Chung. I got to know her through a series of flukes that led to my winning Playboy’s award for Best Story Of The Year. After winning that award, I was invited to Playboy’s 25th anniversary banquet in New York City, all expenses paid. A room at the Waldorf was booked for me. The banquet guest list was loaded with influential writers, editors, agents and publishers. I had gone to Nirvana. They had a wall-sized poster illustration of my award winning short story. I was courted by everyone. I returned from New York City with my pockets full of business cards. “Call me when your manuscript is ready.” They all said that. 

A few months later there was a plane crash near Chicago’s Ohare airport. Most of Playboy Magazine’s literary staff was on that plane. My friend Vicki was gone. My connections were gone.

Later that year my manuscript was stolen. It was the only copy because I was making corrections. At the time I was devastated, but I now know that it was a shit novel, that it was juvenile, pretentious and hopeless. The thief saved me from gruesome embarrassment.

Pandemic? Are we in a pandemic? I think it’s more like a correction, the way the theft of my manuscript was a correction. That sounds cold, but nature doesn’t consider the will of individuals as it operates our planet. Nature does what is best for itself. Covid-19 may be nature’s response to massive overpopulation and utterly depraved management of this stately orb. 

That’s my theory, anyway.

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Feral Tenderness

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv

Arthur’s books include The Road Has Eyes, The Gods of the Gift, and Confessions of an Honest Man. His lifetime collection of poetry and photography, Feral Tenderness, is soon to be released by WordCrafter Press.

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Words to Live By – Losing My Mind (in Real Life)

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

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!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – A Matter of Time

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

I’d like to tell you there’s a magic bullet for the writer’s life, that one tip or trick or another will make you successful, skilled, well-known, or whatever else you’re looking for on your individual journey. If that were the case, we’d all be bestsellers and poet laureates, and yet somewhat mystifyingly so…

Why do some people strike out while others hit it big? Why does it seem like so many have to struggle more, or fail more, or publish less? I wish I knew. Then again, I wish it weren’t such a big deal. After all, personal dreams are a wonderful thing, but they don’t often hold up against cold hard reality. That the two sometimes become the same thing is an obvious miracle, but let’s not belabor the point. If you were here for mysticism instead of writing advice, I’d tell you to buy a good quartz crystal and an all-seeing eye pendant. The trick this month, the tip I’m offering, is simply to say that in most scenarios you’ll encounter in your creative career, patience will be a virtue. Because time is always the overriding factor. Always. And time can be a fickle thing.

Sometimes it looks like the long wait from a submission to an acceptance. Or even a rejection to a rewrite. It can also appear as years of struggle to produce a single wonderful piece of writing. If you’ve ever read an advice column that promised the moon, you know how disappointing and damaging unrealistic expectations can be. No matter what your goals are, sometimes accomplishment boils down to luck. That’s simply the nature of the beast. And luck doesn’t often spread evenly, as I’m sure you’ve discovered in your own life.

Then again, sometimes it’s all about the hard work, the sleepless nights. There are very, very few overnight sensations. I’ve seen individual writing dreams come true, up close and personal, and it only ever seems to occur after years and years of battling it out in the trenches. You can look at it in terms of struggle and strife, or you can adopt a more holistic point of view. What I’m suggesting here today is that the prime factor of your eventual success is a matter of time. That’s all.

Time.

Because no amount of talent, drive, dedication, or luck will ever disqualify or surmount one very important point: you have to get from here to there, from A to B. I think it’s important to have goals, especially when you’re just starting out, but you may realize at some point you don’t have as much control of the universe as you thought you did.

There will be periods of droughts and downpours, of veritable writing gluts and creative starvation. And what can you do about it? If you make enough professional allies and friends, you’ll most likely notice that some of them succeed more readily than others. Most people don’t have such fragile egos they can’t stand to see contemporaries and comrades doing better than them. Then again, we writers can be a sensitive and touchy bunch, and truly, it can hurt to watch other people get the things we want. I guess the real question is how much pleasure can we derive from work that doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere. Placing no focus whatsoever on its perceived relative quality. How much do we enjoy doing what we do?

Because I urge you to enjoy it more. Perhaps easier said than done, but there’s great pleasure to be found in the moment-to-moment, the day-to-day. I want you to write like only you can write because only you can write that way. Make sense? I want to hear your individual voice, and I want you to recognize it deserves to be heard.

Time can be your friend as easily as it can be your enemy. I suppose what I’d really like to do is walk up to the next struggling, frustrated writer I see and tap them on the head, ask her or him what the big deal is. Don’t you know your success is only a matter of time? Because that’s the truth, isn’t it? Don’t worry so much about what will or won’t happen. Worry about this scene you’re writing, that sentence you’re tweaking. In other words, focus on what you can control and disregard the rest. Don’t sweat it, because honestly, what’s there to sweat?

The simplicity of my message might offend this writer, because how can I say their success is a matter of time when nothing good or great has happened for them yet? How can I be so casual about the fact they haven’t proved themselves? Writers love to prove themselves. I might direct them to the precepts of Quantum Law, which stipulate that while there is only one you in the here and now, the future holds limitless possibilities for who you’ll become and what you’ll do next. Playing with pretty big odds, actually. Forces quite beyond your ken. Keep your nose to the grindstone, work when you can work, play when it feels right to play, and try to develop a little bit of trust, a little faith in the process and in your ability to do what’s right for you, to be at the right place when and only when it’s the right time.

Cliché and sound advice seem like the same thing sometimes, so don’t fret when I indulge in a certain truism: it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Fact is fact, my friends. It’s all just a matter of time. I’ll see you next month in Craft and Practice.


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!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Words to Live By – Creativity, Mourning, and the Year 2021

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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.

Creativity, Mourning, and the Year 2021

2020 was a rough year for all of us. To varying degrees, it was tense, stressful, tragic, contentious, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, dangerous. I had been hoping the new year would bring better tidings, but my 2021 thus far has been a doozy as well.

On January 2nd, one of my poor kitties passed away. It was very sudden, very sad. He was only two years old, and a sweeter animal you’ve never met. Then, just a couple days later, my father called to tell me a relative had died from complications related to Coronavirus and a recent injury. Needless to say, it feels like tragedy and sadness are still everywhere I look.

I’m not a pessimist or a cynic, and I almost always believe the future can be better. This month’s Words to Live By is about creative struggle. What do you do as a writer or a musician, an artist or photographer, when it seems like you’re surrounded by tragedy? How do you stay productive when you’re feeling down or scared or just plain fed up with life? Should you stay productive at all, or is it more appropriate to take some time for yourself?

As I’ve mentioned in other articles, my method of writing fiction is minimalist. I only write 400 words per day, and I typically don’t do it every day of the year. It’s low-commitment, and it keeps me on the ball over the weeks and months it takes to generate a new novel. Having a low workload has been enormously helpful over the past few days. By the same token, there’s been a lot of grief in my household, and I don’t mind admitting that having some kind of daily work process—any kind of process—has helped get my mind off things when it’s all become just a bit too much.

I’m also a musician, an independent singer songwriter, and I’ve got an entertainment channel on YouTube. This is a solution some people choose, work through the pain. It isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it can even develop into something we modern people have termed workaholism. And let’s be honest, there are times in life working through the pain isn’t an option. I’m a creator, and if I’m not creating, I tend to struggle. But we all know how grief goes. Yes, sometimes it can be a good idea to distract yourself, stay busy, keep your chin up, but then again, when we deny our own turbulent emotions too long, they can fester and become something much, much worse.

If you’re going through tough times at the moment, or if you’re just a bit shell-shocked from the surprises and pitfalls of 2020, you may want to take extra care of yourself and the people closest to you. Yes, most of us have become very good at looking after the health of our bodies, but what about the health of our hearts and minds?

About five years ago, my life was in shambles. Mental health issues, stress, and exhaustion got the better of me. At that time, I was forced to place all my creative drives and impulses on the backburner. Things were so chaotic for a while, I couldn’t possibly have written a single word, and the thought of picking up a guitar only filled me with dread. It was appropriate for me to quit at that time. Just up and quit. And what’s more, I wasn’t sure I’d ever pick any of it up again. I should’ve known I could trust myself to do what was right for me. In general, I should’ve known it was better to trust, to have faith, and to give myself the time and space I needed to recover. No guilt, just allow and help myself get well again.

Sometimes when we feel like giving up, it isn’t because we’re weak or because we lack longevity. Sometimes it’s because we do in fact have the right to give up. At least for a while. I’m here to tell you, when the deluge of life begins, and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping, it’s incredibly important to lay down what you need to lay down, take with you only what you require, and face the storm with all the confidence you can muster. The real question is whether or not you can recognize, as I failed to, that the work of life resides in the heart, in the soul, and that patience and self-compassion are incredibly important, crucial in fact.

Having modified my schedule some time ago has been beneficial. I can weather fiercer storms, but I’m always conscious of the fact that I don’t have to do it if it gets too challenging. I won’t work myself to the bone just because I think I have to, not anymore. I miss my dear relative, and truth be told, I miss my poor kitty. I suppose, like many of you, I’m also grieving the world as I once knew it.

Nothing lasts forever. All things pass away in time. That’s especially true of people, places, and eras. Like I said, I’m not a pessimist or a cynic. I believe the future can and will be better. If you’re experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, I urge you to consider your own needs. You may feel better working through it. Then again, you may not. Look at yourself, your strengths, and while you’re at it, look at your weaknesses in equal measure. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. I believe you’ll know what to do; as with most everything else we encounter, it’s all a matter of instinct and timing.

There’s no use denying it: sometimes life can be hard. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone, suffer in silence, suffer instead of choosing to do what’s right for you and for the people you care about most. Take care of yourselves out there, everybody. I’ll talk to you again next month in Words to Live By.


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!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Should You Write Every Day?

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

The cure for common burnout?

I’m not a long-haul writer. I’ve tried to live by the adage a writer should write every day, and to be perfectly frank, there are monasteries in the world that live by less draconian standards. My best writing gets done when I work in spurts, crank out a project of one kind or another, take a break of weeks or even months, and then get back at it feeling refreshed.

By traditional standards, this is a pretty lazy and dysfunctional way to go about it. These things were determined long ago by the writing powers that be, and as far as they were ever concerned, it’s a bad idea to rest on your laurels when you could be mass-communicating incredible beauty and truth.

Milage varies on that last point, of course. Because after all, how can we communicate much of anything when we’re dog tired and in need of a rest?

If you’re like me, keeping up with a daily, monthly, yearly word count is hard work. For sure, being a writer is hard work anyway, so if we can make our jobs easier, even just a little bit, I think we owe it to ourselves to do so. But be warned, the advice which follows is not for the faint of heart. If the idea of going long-term without putting any words down sends you into an apoplectic fit, maybe stick to the way you’ve always done things.

I do, however, think you’ll find my method of working allows for much more personal freedom than the long-standing tradition of writing till you drop. Yes, you may get less done in a year. That is a distinct possibility. But do you want to know something funny? When polled, most writers who also work a typical nine-to-five job say they wish they had more time, and that if they did have more time, they’d produce far more writing.

But what if some of those writers are wrong? What if, somewhat counter-intuitively, more free time on our hands doesn’t always equal a higher rate of production? The thing about being an author of any kind is that it requires incredible creative and intellectual energy to pull off on a regular basis. Yes, taking breaks might damage your output. Then again, it may just boost it. You may also find that the quality of your writing improves the more slack you cut yourself.

I’m big on cutting writers slack. I think it’s incredibly important, and in my experience, most of us are simply too hard on ourselves. That’s really why my writing habits have developed this way. By nature, I’m hard on myself, which means if I don’t take breaks every now and then, I’m liable to tear myself down instead of fostering a mental attitude that helps me build myself up.

Now, the first thing to realize is that taking a break from your writing means your skills will not atrophy so much as cool down a little. Writing is not unlike riding a bike. You never forget how to do it. But let’s say you take a five-month hiatus, simply because you’re feeling worn out or you’ve got more important things going on in your life—happens all the time. After that five months, you might return to the craft a bit dismayed at your apparent lack of talent. Whatever you’re working on needs to be rewritten from page one, and it’s all because you took the lazy advice of that awful Bowles guy.

One key thing, of course, is that I never said to quit entirely. If you know you’ll be taking a siesta, if you can schedule that in for yourself, why not also schedule in some light exercises so you don’t feel like a total louse?

For instance, I write for this blog three times a month even when I’m not writing a book. Producing content for the internet is a great way to keep your skills in tip-top shape. You could also work on a short (and I do mean short) story or two, or in the very least, engage in some weekly finger exercises. It doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t miss the point. Rest, recuperation. This is the point.

Conversely, and this is always a good idea, you could increase your reading load. The worst kept secret of the craft is that reading a lot tends to make us better writers. And the good news is it doesn’t really matter what we read. The basic engagement of our minds in this way seems to keep our intellectual and communicative abilities primed. Reading’s good for you. It keeps the stupid at bay (it is to be hoped). Honestly, you should be doing it anyway, and if you’re not…

Another piece of advice I can offer is to decrease your writing load rather than to cut it off altogether. For a little while at least, try transforming your 2,000 word-per-day average into something more like 500 words-per-day. That’s not a bad count-up when averaged out over an entire year. If you could write a scant 500 words per day, you’d end up cranking out about 15,000 words in a month. That’s the equivalent of a novel or two in a year, and the best thing about it is that 500 words per day means you’re only writing for about an hour or so, half an hour if you’re quick. That doesn’t sound too daunting, does it? If you’re feeling burned out, this might be just what the doctor ordered.

And the truth of it is people do get burned out, fed up, exhausted, and all sorts of other tired-sounding descriptors that equal one thing: you’re a human being, not a machine. If you’re struggling with your work right now, if you’re having issues with confidence or anxiety or anything of the sort, try slowing down. Trust me on this, don’t even fret, your desire to write will return in all its power and glory, and then you’ll be ready to crank out another masterpiece.

You’ve got a masterpiece or two lurking inside you, right? That’s what I thought. Happy writing, everyone. Or perhaps I should wish you a happy vacation. I’ll be back with more Craft and Practice 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!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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The Cost of Writing

A Writer’s Life

Many of you authors out there are like me. You know what it feels like to feel an idea wiggling its way to the surface of your brain and popping up its head when you’re right in the middle of cooking dinner or in the middle of a project, or you’re two hundred miles from nowhere on a camping trip. You know what it’s like to feel that need to drop everything and run to put words on the page, or screen, as the case may be. You may know what it’s like to be on a roll, in the middle of a vital scene for your book, and have to stop and set it aside, because you have an important engagement to attend and you can’t show up looking like you haven’t slept for days, even if it is true.

Let’s face it. Writers write because they have a innate need to express themselves. We didn’t ask for it, but it is there. We didn’t choose it, although we have chosen not to ignore it in our younger days, when ignoring it was still an option. Writers need to write as much as they need to eat, sleep or breathe. (Probably more than we need to sleep, since writing often takes the place of sleep on many nights.) This needs stems from our creativity deep within us and is as much a part of our inner mental beings as water is to our physical beings.

When I was getting my M.F.A., I had an instructor who was a binge writer. When she was done with the prewriting and was ready to write her story, she would shut herself in her office and not emerge until it was done, be it days, or even weeks before she had the first draft of the story out. She said that her family members all knew better to disturb her when the door was closed, and she wouldn’t come out, except maybe to tend to urgent bodily functions. That was her writing process, and it was effective, because she was publishing and selling her books. But there was a cost. She was on her second marraige because her first husband hadn’t put up with her crazed writing frenzies, and frankly, I was amazed that her current husband and family did.

That’s one of the prices that we pay for following our innate urges and releasing our creativity. Human relationships often suffer. I know there have been times when I have gotten up in the middle of a family get-together, and pulled out my laptop to start typing away because an idea struck me, or I suddenly realized what really happens in a scene I’ve been working on. My family members may have thought I was being extremely rude, and I guess I was, but they didn’t understand about the idea or thought that was nudging away at me to get it down NOW. Those ideas are fleeting, and if I don’t get them down when I have them, they may abandon me and not be there later.

I never go anywhere without my laptop. It goes on camping trips and vacations, even to the laundry mat or out to dinner. I write while traveling in the car, even though I know it makes me car-sick. At a memoir workshop I took a few years back, we were asked to read aloud something that we had written. Everyone else came with sheets of paper in hand, printed out with what they intended to read. When my turn came, I paused to make sure the correct work was on the screen with an explanation that “My life is in my laptop.” That brought a few laughs from my fellow workshoppers, but you know, there is a lot of truth in those words.

Writing is my world. I am passionate about it. And I’ve missed more than a few outings with friends and family, jeopardized my day job by writing late into the night when I had to work the next day, let my grades suffer to get the words just right, and missed out on countless hours of sleep just to empty what’s in my head out onto the page. Writing is a wonderful outlet for creativity and self-expression, but as all good things usually do, it comes with a price. I’ve paid that price time and again, and never thought that it wasn’t worth the cost. So, how much are you willing to pay to be a writer?

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Words to Live By: The Kid in the Machine

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

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.

The Kid in the Machine

When I was a kid, science fiction was everything to me. Partially because my family instilled a deep love of the classics (you know, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, basically anything with the word Star in it), I watched movies and read comic books, collected toys and built model spaceships. At some point I decided I’d like to tell my own sci-fi stories, and at a relatively young age, I began writing my first novel. I didn’t finish it, of course, didn’t even get past page twenty, but you know, intergalactic star port descriptions are real tricky.

Even now, I still love a good space opera. I never stopped being a fan, never stopped dreaming of distant galaxies and intergalactic wars. In fact, my appreciation for all things speculative and nerdy only deepened, especially once it became clear sports and girls were out, but Lord of the Rings marathons were in. I love that epic fantasy stuff, that twisted horror, that magical realism and those far flung futures, and don’t tell anyone I went to high school with, but I’d rather read a good comic than indulge in any kind of respectable adult activity. Bill paying, for instance. Never did get the hang of that one.

That’s me, I suppose, but I know for a fact on some level it’s you, too. In many ways, the things we’re fans of help define us. I know you’re still a dorky kid on the inside. I bet the inner you still wears braces and drinks juice from a box. What really does it for you? What gets you excited as a fan? Classical literature? Hard-boiled detective stories? The biggest mistake I see many established authors make as they transition from nobody to “somebody” status is that they stop being fans. It’s almost like the red curtain to the whole show gets ripped away from them, and they’re left staring into the cold, mechanical under-croft of the modern storytelling machine. Jaded, I think is the word. You must make me a promise, guys. If you ever get to that place, have yourself a good movie marathon or read a book series that has always been your favorite. A storyteller who no longer likes stories? Criminal.

Ancient sages and modern neuroscientists agree, our personalities are not exactly what we think they are. More of a patchwork, really, a cobble of external influences, internal pressures, beliefs, both valid and invalid, mixed with a healthy dose of daily psychological wear and tear and deeply recessed emotional ideation we’ve tried hard to suppress or which has simply faded into our subconscious minds during the natural course of things. In some lesser known systems of mysticism (since we’re clearly on the subject), our conscious minds are more or less counterfeit anyway, are in fact the byproducts of heretofore unseen spiritual forces that influence our thoughts, our actions, even what kinds of truths we cling to, as essential and impressively ordered as they seem. In concrete terms, you are a body, you are a mind, but you are so much more. You’re the hidden watcher, the presence behind the eyes, the witness and willing participant of the little dramas and tragicomedies happening all around you. If you’re a storyteller, you exist in even stranger terms, because you’re both the creator and the created, and the work you produce is not really yours, but rather is divinely inspired and orchestrated to flow through you.

I mean, all well and good, right? Philosophy and practicality are poor bedfellows. Because while you’re sitting in your cramped home office in the dead of night, staring with hollow eyes at your ten-year-old computer monitor—you know, the one with the cracked screen you can’t afford to repair because you chose to be a “divinely inspired” writer—the work is never as easy as you’d like it to be. I gotta tell you, for people who literally conjure something from nothing on a regular basis, writers can be a grumpy and sour bunch. Sometimes all the passion and love and internal lexiconic fandom in the universe isn’t enough to kill that 2:00 AM headache you acquired from yet another impossible deadline. Life is life, reality is staggeringly persistent, and even the most grounded and stable amongst us can have epic bare-knuckle freak-outs. That’s an industry term, by the way.

See the source image

To wit, I recently stumbled across a long and uncharacteristically honest social media thread that got my wheels turning. I’m Facebook friends with a lot of people in the writing business, and though I don’t personally know the vast majority of them, I’ve always felt a certain kinship with like minded individuals who’ve chosen paths very similar to my own. The original post asked the question, Have you ever quit writing long-term? Did you regret it? Now people in our culture are often inclined to save face and amass a front when it comes to their careers. Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the way we make money says more about us than our emotional or mental states, our long-term habits and behavioral matrices, or even our unerring innate natures, who we were before we became. After all, nobody asked you when you were five years old, Who is the essential you? They asked, What do you want to be? Like, can’t I just be the kid with a juice box who likes Saturday morning cartoons? No, teacher says, you’re an astronaut, Cindy. Next!

The responses to that Facebook post surprised me. I expected a lot of business about I’m a writer this, it’s what I do that, and there were some comments to that effect, but by and large, most respondents had to admit that if they hadn’t actually quit, they’d sure thought about it once or twice. One older gentleman actually said he gave up his very lucrative writing career years before and hadn’t looked back since. Good riddance, that was the gist. Now why would that be? Is this the norm? Isn’t writing supposed to be a joyful act?

It is, purely so, but only when a person is free to pursue it without constant worry and stress. That thing about writers tending to become alcoholics? It’s a tad overblown, but it has a ring of truth. And that gentleman, he wasn’t the only one to chime in with similar enthusiasm. Now I am not what you’d call a seasoned professional, not really. I’ve published, I’ve faltered and thought I’d quit (several times, actually), and I’ve gotten back on the horse, back to the business at hand. Not because I had deadlines. There was no external pressure for me. Because I had something to say, new experiences I wanted to share, truths I wanted to communicate. And you know what gave me the courage to do it?

Star Wars. Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica. I hadn’t written in several years, long enough I found I was ready to be a fan again instead of a base, lowly, underdog creator. And being a fan, just like when I was eight years old, I found once more the desire to tell my own stories. I don’t begrudge a professional who is sick to death of the business and wants out for good. Truth be told, I’ve never been in that position. But I am intimately familiar with the love of these things, the passion, the unabashed joy. I’ve stoked those fires within myself my whole life, and I can’t imagine a day at least some part of me won’t thrill whenever I see Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Sure, it’s nerdy as hell, but it’s home, it’s the place I do my dreaming.

My advice to those who want out before they’ve said everything they want to say: go home. Go and be the dreamer awhile. Maybe even a long while. Dreams can manifest as surely as dawn follows dusk, Spock follows Kirk, Jimmy Olsen is Superman’s best pal. If you as a very impressive, very professional adult can’t touch base with the kid in the machine, apart from having my pity, you have my condolences. Rest in Peace, the guy or gal you really are. Consider the possibility the world is the lie, and that you were always the truth. Drive and the creative impulse are not inexhaustible. This is very true. It’s also true they can be recharged and brought back to tip-top fighting shape as certainly as Green Lantern charges his power ring.

Plus, you don’t have to lug around an alien lantern and swear an oath every time you do it. Unless you’re into cosplay, and in that case, why waste time reading some dumb article? You’re clearly needed elsewhere, space cop. Hi, my name is Jeff Bowles. I’m old enough for beer, but today of all days, I’d like a juice box, please.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in 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, Nashville 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, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

GB Cover

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!



Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.