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 don’t live by more 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!


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


Music as Inspiration or Copyright violation?

Using Lyrics in Your Fiction

2020 saw the birth of the book I’m currently working on, and it was all inspired by music. In fact, the female lead character, Amaryllis is based on the music of Taylor Momsen and The Pretty Reckless. So, I had this great idea to set the tone and offer a glimpse into the thoughts of the pov character for each chapter with a snippet of lyrics; lyrics from The Pretty Reckless for Amaryllis, and lyrics from various artists for the male lead, LeRoy. It’s a time-travel story, titled The Outlaw & the Rock Star. The only catch is, an author has to be careful not to infringe on the copyright when using lyrics in her fiction.

Copyright, whether in the literary arena or the music industry, is serious business. Artists and writers protect that which they have created, as they should. As a writer, I can’t imagine the outrage I would feel, were I to learn someone else had infringed on my copyright. My words are my creation. They came from me. No one else on the planet can write them in just the way I wrote them, unless they steal them. And, let’s face it folks, theft is what copyright infringement is. So, I get why writers and artist want to protect their creations. I want my work to be protected, too.

According to Matt Knight on in “Using Lyrics in Fiction” (5 January 2019) on Sidebar Saturdays, obtaining copyright permission for song lyrics involves a ton of research into who actually holds the copyright, and then contacting them to request permission to use specific lyrics in your fiction, and pay the requested fee to obtain copyright permission. It can be both expensive and time consuming.

Knight offers a few ways around obtaining copyright permission, including only using the song title, since titles cannot be copyrighted, or using a small enough portion of the lyrics so that you can claim fair use, or choosing different lyrics from the Public Domain realm. Since this one of my characters is based on the music from one specific band, using Public Domain lyrics doesn’t seem to be an option. Since the lyrics are going to be used to set the tone of the story, using only titles wouldn’t really work. I really feel the story would loose a lot if I don’t include the lyrics, although I might be able to trim some of them a little.

So, I’m left looking at researching each individual song and contacting each copyright holder to gain permission to use their lyrics in my work, which seems like a lot of work. In the case of The Pretty Reckless, I will need copyright permission for multiple songs, so it may be an up hill battle, and it could get very expensive.

I can do the research and strive to obtain all the copyright permissions that are needed. I can’t say I’m looking forward to that part, or that I think it will be easy, but nothing good ever is. I’ve only written about six chapters, but my heart is already invested in these characters and their story. This is going to be more of a project than I realized when I concieved of the idea for this book. Here’s hoping this venture doesn’t cost more than I can afford.


Winter Wonderland My Eye!

Winter Wonderland

Yesterday in Colorado an unseasonably cold winter storm hit us. We went from temperatures in the seventies and eighties to near zero temperatures almost overnight, and at 8,500 feet, we got at least eighteen inches of snow to go with it. Not that I didn’t know it was coming. I pay close attention to the weather in these parts, but knowing a storm is coming and the reality of its impact are two different things. Oh, I made all of my winter preparations, making sure all the yard and garden tools were picked up and put away, digging up my Gladiola corms and storing them for winter, taking down all the hummingbird feeders and cleaning them for storage, too.

I told myself that the approaching storm was a good thing. We need the moisture and the snowfall will surely help get all the wildfires that have been raging across the state under control. I envisioned all the writing I would be able to get done now that there was no more yard work to becon to me and no sun to entice me outdoors. I saw myself staring out the window at a pristine wonderland while soaking up the warmth of the pot belly parlor stove, tapping away at the keys on my laptop as the word count on the book I recently started soared.

But this morning, reality hit when I found I couldn’t step off the porch without shoveling a path through a foot and a half of snow. So, I pulled out my winter coat, gloves and snowboots and bundled up and out I went, shoveling paths to all areas to which I need access.

The Juncos were struggling, perching in the rafters of my front porch to get out of the snow, and I swear, I could see them shiver. Although I’m sure birds have some kind of inner sense that tell them when bad weather is headed their way, they could not have predicted these cold temperatures at the end of October, and they seemed to be at a loss as to what to do. So, a path to my shed to get bird seed was in order, and then one was needed so I could get to the bird feeder to fill it, so my little feathered friends wouldn’t have to tough the freezing tempertures on empty stomachs.

I had to be able to get to the coal bin, so I could keep heat in the house, so a path was needed from the house to there, and another to the generator to keep the electricity on. My neighbor offered to plow my driveway, which is a great help, but I needed a path to the gates and an area cleared so I could open them so he could get his ATV in.

Now, here it is, afternoon and I stopped for lunch, but that is a lot of digging. I still have to dig a vehicle out, so I can at least get out in case of emergency and clear off my back deck. I’m working on this blog post, which should have been posted this morning, and I haven’t typed one word on the new book. The yard work may be over, but shoveling has taken its place. Winter wonderland my eye!


Words to Live By – The Big Chill

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 Big Chill

I’ve always tended to believe there’s a time for action and a time for inaction. For instance, as a writer, I very rarely get away with working the whole year round. I realize it’s something of a controversial position to take, but I don’t like constant effort and much prefer writing in bursts. Perhaps I’ll work on the rough draft of a new book from Christmas to Groundhog’s Day, polish it up till early summer, and if I feel like releasing it myself, do that sometime in July. That’s usually how it goes. This year is bound to be different, though.

I don’t have to tell you, but 2020’s been something of a seminal time, both famously and infamously so. Even if it weren’t for the pandemic, we as a collective have dealt with politics, racism, the inherent corruption, or if you like, the non-corruption of the system designed to protect and serve us, and it’s still only early October. But yes, on top of it all, we do have a global pandemic to worry about. As Bob Dylan once famously sang, the times, they are a’changing. And not too nicely, either.

I’m aware I should be working harder on prepping my next major writing project. I’m aiming for the stars on this one. I’ve got enough details planned out in my head I could start outlining any day. But I haven’t yet. I’m choosing not to. Why is that? Because there are times for action and inaction.

Known by another name, inaction is simply observation. I feel the need as a storyteller to be the witness for a while. We all play the witness. In fact, it could be considered one of the chief characteristics of being alive. We watch the times, the places, the faces that come circulating through our daily experiences. And when something big like 2020 comes along, we are helpless but to stop everything and pay attention.

Maybe you’ve never paid this much attention before. Maybe you’ve never had the time. I’ve got news for you, 2021 isn’t likely to go any smoother. I’d like the opportunity to soak up the lopsided feeling of this year, like a beautiful but flawed piece of Italian bread marinating in extra virgin olive oil and herbs. Sure, leave that bread in its bath too long and it’ll come out a mushy mess. But it does deserve to marinate, doesn’t it? For the sake of fine cuisine?

Okay, maybe that’s an odd image. I’m more of a cheap peperoni pizza guy, anyway. The point is, if the world is changing, I’m no doubt changing right along with it. And if I’m changing—as a person, as a creative individual, a writer, and an entrepreneur—then surely the work I’m capable of producing is changing, too. Which means I can wait to tell that next story. The Germans have a lovely little phrase, one which has always fascinated me: zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Things aren’t how they were five years ago. Heck, I’m not even sure last year was anything like 2020. And if you think for a minute you know how the world’s going to shake out from all this, I’m here to tell you you’re dead wrong. Maybe that’s why I’m choosing observation right now. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Of course, there will be some who don’t feel like anything’s changed at all. There will be others still who, in the face of great change, make the choice to dig in, refortify, and to be more or less aggressive versions of the people they’ve always been.  No yielding or bending. Go on and write your old-school hardcore science fiction the way you’ve always written it. Financially speaking, who can say what a smart approach looks like anymore? If I knew that … well, let’s just say I don’t know. Still, from a creative standpoint, I know there are some fellow authors out there who must see the clear opportunity for growth.

I’ve watched so many lives change in the last seven months. I’ve seen it all year long in my social media threads, too. This couple is breaking up after twenty years together. This son is finally moving out and this daughter is abandoning a job she never wanted in the first place. Change is all around us, and I’d wager that if you stopped for just a moment, cleared your head, quit thinking for a second or two, you’d feel profound change within yourself as well.

So here’s what I’m advocating for writers this month. Unless you’re already in the middle of a project, don’t even think about starting something new. Give it to till the end of the year, or longer if you’d like. Witness the world for a while, in whatever fashion seems best to you. Yes, you could watch global events on TV every morning. There’s certainly enough of them to go around. By the same token, you could watch ripples of water on a natural pool, the silent fall of red and golden leaves while sitting on a comfy park bench, the smile on your son’s or daughter’s face when he or she discovers just how big and perennially full of opportunity the world is.

As for me, I’ll be plotting that next big book, but only in my head, at least for the time being. It’s a personal story, no heavy-handed global events to speak of. Yet something tells me, the Jeff Bowles who’d start drafting that book in December will be a totally different guy than the Jeff Bowles who’d begin now, next week, or even next month. This is a clear opportunity to, if you don’t mind the aggressive self-talk, shut up and listen for a while, and boy oh boy, gleefully shall I do so.

Stop and smell the roses, fellow writer people. Or maybe I should say, choose to linger a while and watch the roses develop. The world isn’t all that interested in selling you flowers at the moment anyway. Gather ye petals while ye may, know what I mean? And then spend the big fat stack of them in the Spring, when the world is lush, your creative mind is firing on all cylinders, and fingers crossed and knock on wood or whatever other inert mass you’ve got lying around—there will be no such thing as elections and diseases, diseases and elections.

And if you must think about revolution, revolutionize yourself first. Everything decent will flow from there. That’s all for this month. Have a good one, everybody.


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.


Butt in Chair, Write the Damn Book

Writer at Work

Some of the best advice I ever received on writing a novel length work came from one of my M.F.A. instructors, Russell Davis. He said, “Ass in chair, write the damn book”. And you know, he was right. If you don’t sit your butt in that chair and start writing every chance that you get, chances are that novel will end up unfinished, sitting on a shelf, collecting dust rather than on an Amazon bestseller list. No the only way to complete a novel is to just sit down and write.

Lately though, finding time to put my butt in the chair and keep it there has been a real challenge. All the strategies I had used successfully to create productive writing have fallen to the wayside since Covid came along and turned our worlds upside down and inside out. WtbR team member Robbie Cheadle made a good point when she said that lockdowns and quarentines have blurred the lines between work and personal lives. With many people working from home, the boundaries between work and personal time may not be as distinct as they were before. There is no commute on which to transition from work to home life, or vice versa.

That is kind of what happened with me. Although I’m back to the grind of commuting now, when I was staying at home, I threw everything I had into my writing. My personal life and relaxation were laid to the wayside. Then, when I went back to work, I was overwhelmed with work, school and all of the many projects I had started working on while at home.

Although my butt was in the chair, I found it difficult to focus on any one project and to prioritize which project I should be working on. My school work fell behind. Life circumstances changes that required more of my tijme and attention. My regularly scheduled blog posts weren’t getting written; I struggled to finish my short paranormal western story for the Spirits of the West anthology; and the book I had planned to write this year was just plain not happening. It doesn’t do a bit of good to place your butt in the chair, if all you do while there is stare at a blank screen.

So, I pulled back and prioritized all the different things that I needed to get accomplished. I regrouped, so to speak. Even though I am very close to earning a degree in marketing, I decided it would have to wait and I withdrew from my schooling. I went camping to give myself some ‘me’ time, and rediscovered the Colorado mountains that I’ve always loved, and my passion for writing, and found myself once more sitting down in front of my laptop and writing with purpose.

It was amazing, but once I started writing for the right reasons, because I wanted to write, not out of obligation, I was able to focus and the words fell onto the page. It just goes to show you that staying home and away from people doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to pump out the best writing that you ever have. Beside sitting your butt in the chair, focus is another necessary element.

Spirits of the West

In addition to getting this blog back on track, and doing a bit of restructuring on it, I finished the story for the Spirits of the West anthology, “Don’t Eat the Pickled Eggs”, and I’m currently working through the kinks in the publishing process, as well as working on my next novel length work, The Outlaw and the Rock Star. It is a time-travel western inspired by the music of The Pretty Reckless, and I have three and a half chapters so far. This is where my priorities lie and these projects are what I intend to focus on. Writing is where my heart is, and I feel like I’m back in the saddle again. Ass in chair, focus, and write the damn book.

______________________________________________________________________________

Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress. If you found this content helpful or entertaining, please share.


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Comma or not to Comma

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.

To Comma or not to Comma

Basic rules of grammar and punctuation aside, I find that many writers, regardless of experience or education, have a hard time with commas. Oh sure, most people breeze right through them, place them wherever they figure they ought to go. It can’t be that hard. Readers know better than to pick apart our comma usage. Aside from periods, commas are the most common punctuation mark we make. If anything, semicolons are a lot scarier, right? I mean, how the heck do we even use semicolons?

Here’s how.

A semi-colon, in its most common usage, is properly deployed between two completely independent yet related clauses. Commas, on the other hand, have a wide variety of applications. Connecting ideas, creating lists, separating dialogue and dialogue tags, and let’s not forget the old Oxford comma, which confuses and infuriates people left, right, and sideways.

Don’t worry. This isn’t going to be a boring post dedicated to the rules of the English language. The truth of the matter is that schools and writing programs all over the world place more emphasis on basic mechanics than they do on style. And why is that? Because style is more or less unteachable, and in developing our unique voices as writers, we often learn to break the rules as soon as the authorities that be teach them to us.

For instance, check out this classic line from Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

We’ve got all the makings of a terrible run-on sentence here, haven’t we? How’d he get away with it? If the grammar authorities were in charge, he wouldn’t have. Grammarly tells me it’s okay Dickens wrote his classic introduction to A Tale of Two Cities in such a manner because Dickens often used rambling language to satirize long-winded speakers of his time. I think that’s nonsense. Dickens wrote like this because it was his style. And no one was going to criticize him because he was Charles Dickens. Will anyone criticize you for similar crimes, real or imagined? Maybe it’s time to find out.

If you’re planning on being an indie writer, or if you already are one, recognize you have potentially earned yourself a bit more freedom in this playing field. You can toss out commas till the cows come home, and no one will bother you about it. Well, maybe sometimes they will. If, however, you’d like to publish via a more traditional route, get ready for some intense editing, because your comma usage doth rain like flash storms on the Serengeti.

Are you a stickler for form? Or do believe rules are meant to be broken? I have to admit, I’m kind of on the fence on this one myself. I do hate to see a misused comma, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that the written word is our ultimate tool for communication, and that for it to remain relevant in today’s fevered world, it needs to reach people on an individualized level. That means there’s room for all types of writing, all styles, as many variations as there are working writers in the world. I’m thinking more of a glorious rainbow than a unified, boring color-scape in which no piece of writing stands above another.

In a now famous interview with Oprah, author Cormac McCarthy took to task the basic institution, tradition, and prescription of punctuation.

“I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it,” McCarthy said. “I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.”

And how do we feel about that? Surely, our teachers and professors would’ve torn our earliest writings to shreds for ignoring quotation marks, colons, semicolons, dashes. You’re going to find a hundred articles on how to use this and not to use that. Very few so-called authorities will council you to write in a broken and unusual manner like your favorite poet does.

Regardless of where you come down, you have to admit a certain disconnect between what we teach our kids about writing and the actual job done by actual writers. Thanks to the invention of online communication, we’ve raised a generation of kids who struggle with grammar and punctuation anyway. I envision a future in which writing is a terribly fluid, wonderfully flawed thing. Is it better to know the rules before you break them? Yes, I think so. But I also believe the game should never be played exclusively by people who know the rules. That’s elitism, a facet of our creative nature that ruins more great work than it helps.

Writing in the modern world is not meant for the few. Thank God for that. Anyone with the desire now has the ability, more or less. Your voice deserves to be heard as much as mine. If I didn’t believe in that, I also wouldn’t believe in things like Democracy, term limits for our elected officials, and a world free enough it hasn’t outlawed pizza yet.

Let us pray the grammar police are never put in charge of pizza.

Keep your chin up, keep studying those rules, especially if you’re new to writing or publishing. But if you find your writing is flawed, know you’re in terrific company. How about that intro to a Tale of Two Cities, huh? Better than a warm glass of milk and a comfy blankey.


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 – Creative Legacy

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.

Creative Legacy

Last week’s passing of actor Chadwick Boseman has put some things into perspective for me, both as a human being and as a creative individual. I loved his portrayal as Black Panther. I’m a huge comics fan, and he was a true joy to watch onscreen. So much nobility and strength, a perfect turn as one of Marvel’s key heroes. As a fan, I’m affected. It’s sad to see someone so young and full of life go. It’s also my birthday today. I’m turning thirty-six. Of course, by most standards I’m still a young man, but Mr. Boseman was only seven years older than me.

His legacy is secured. He didn’t have to fight for it, and he chose to work the last few years of his life, perhaps knowing all along he wouldn’t make it. He chose work. That says a lot about him. I have to ask myself, would I do the same? Would I instead lounge around and take it easy? Would I tour the world, make the most of my remaining time? Or would I sink into despair and miss the fact I could be living instead of just dying?

See the source image

Chadwick Boseman

I’m not big on legacy. There was a time I was obsessed with it, and in a way it came down to the death of things no one ever really expects not to be there for them. My wife and I can’t have children of our own, and back when this fact was slowly dawning on us, oh, ten years ago, I threw myself into my writing, not only because work helps anesthetize pain, but because I was desperate to leave something behind, because I recognized sons and daughters were not in the cards for us. The work yielded some positive results, but I learned career concerns weren’t really the answer for me either. I’ve seen very proud parents who, in consideration of their whole lives, only seem to find meaning in being the best mom or dad they can be. To be honest, it seems like a very radiant and pure existence to me.

And you can’t outrun that kind of pain. You can’t out-type it either. I thought telling stories was the best way to escape a world over which I sometimes felt I had no control. I feel differently now. I’ve changed quite a bit in those intervening ten years. For one thing, I found spirituality, a facet of life I now know was always missing for me. I believe in some form of hereafter, and I recognize that all we make and do and believe in this life are nothing but sandcastles, yielding to the tides no matter how strong we think we’ve built them. What in truth does it matter what I think I’m leaving behind? Even if I left this world as a bestseller, an inspiration to millions, creator of characters and worlds beloved all over the world, how long you figure my name would last? A hundred years? Maybe? Only to disappear beneath that tide regardless. Nowadays I do the work because I like to do it. I try to keep all other expectations to a minimum, because doing otherwise seems crazy and self-sabotaging to me.

What do you think your legacy will be? Career related? Maybe you’ll leave behind strong family ties. I have to admit, with the virus, the protests, Mr. Boseman’s death, everything else going on in the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of life. One thing is for sure, legacy can be a burden for future generations. Or it can be a boon. If you’re of a mind to leave behind a strong body of creative work—writing for instance—I feel inclined to prod and gently remind you it is generally a good idea to be a humanitarian, in however humble a fashion you must be one. Writers can be an ornery bunch, irascible and impatient even at the best of times. We aren’t often wealthy, and maybe that’s got something to do with it. If in this regard you find you aren’t giving people a fair shake, remember life is short, and the truth of your existence depends in part on your ability to share your heart honestly with others.

Everyone we’ve ever met, loved, hated. That’s our legacy. How we treated people, how we acted, when we failed to act, or when we failed to remain still. It’s not just what we made, it’s what we took, the holes we left, the valleys we filled. The puzzle pieces we helped lock into place. I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of a world without me in it. How about you? I’m not ill. I’m not dying. But I will die someday, and everything I could’ve been will become everything I was.

The sages say the trick to life is to learn to die before death, to pass away from the need for anything in this world before this world passes away from you. I like the symmetry of this. I don’t know how attainable it is for regular people. I also don’t know what the end will be like. I suppose none of us does. I have so much more I plan to do. I want to write, meet more people, cause a ruckus, as it were. I’ve got lots more birthdays to go, and I haven’t written a single masterpiece yet, not one.

So what do you guys think about legacy, creative or otherwise? Given the current state of the world, are you seeing things differently, too? Sound off in the comments section, and tune back in next month for another 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 – Story Synthesis: The Ultimate Tool in the Toolkit

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 Ultimate Tool in the Toolkit

Remember when you were a kid and you had to lie to your parents? Maybe you trashed the house while they were away, dented the passenger-side door of their new car, or perhaps you can go back even farther with me and you remember drawing with crayons on the wall or stealing the last cookie from the cookie jar.

Whatever you did, I’ll bet you had to tell one heck of a story to get out of trouble. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t. Odds are, if you told a real whopper, they grounded you for a week. Too many details, or maybe too few. Too many working components you couldn’t keep track of, or maybe you introduced logic gaps and they picked the damn thing apart on you, literary-critic-style. The key all along would’ve been balance, believability mixed with a healthy dose of surprise. And boy were they surprised. What lovely colors you added to their wall.

As storytellers, we often do something similar, draw all over the walls and then spin an incredible yarn about it. Although, if you feel the need to call us liars, remember that the preferred technical term is “professional liars”. Story synthesis relies on your reasoning skills, ability to drive a narrative in fun and creative ways, and your talent for convincing your readers everything happened just like you said.

Story synthesis applies to every level of the storytelling process, from brainstorming and outlining to drafting and revisions. It applies to character histories, plot details, scene details, dialogue choices, and you must believe me when I tell you this, if you can’t synthesize spare parts on the fly in an organic, natural, and logical manner, you’ll leave your readers cold, and no one wants cold readers, now do they? In very real terms, story synthesis is the most important tool in the toolkit, one not every author has developed to its full potential.

It’s a bit of a magic act, a spell you’ve got to cast on yourself. It happens while you’re writing, which of course means it must be at least somewhat subliminal and unconscious. What we’re really talking about here, though, is completion and resonance. Do all the different parts of your story add up? Do they make sense in context? Does anything come out of left field? Or conversely, is your story just too milk toast?

Story synthesis isn’t hard as such, because your brain synthesizes concepts from disparate elements all day long anyway. It does, however, require a bit of practice to do well, especially if you’re writing a long-form story, like a novel. Much as a spider would, your job as an author is to take all the loose threads you’ve spun and collect them together into a coherent web. This is why it’s usually a bad idea to abandon a project and then pick it up again later. Those threads might be lost on you. The process by which you were synthesizing the narrative died an untimely death, and now you can’t pick your way through and reassemble it, at least not in the same manner.

Story emerges from character, unless you’re outlining too heavily, in which case story emerges from, well, an outline. What’s the difference? In one scenario, it appears to the reader that your characters are making their own choices. In the other, it’s clear you’ve rigged the deck, and that the whole experience is artificial. In my experience, people who rely too heavily on outlines doubt their ability to synthesize story in a natural way. Either that or they think outlining will save them time and effort. As Stephen King once said, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.”

At any one moment in the process, ask yourself what your characters want and how, reasonably so, they can go about getting it. The rest will flow from that, though not effortlessly, so don’t get it twisted. Maybe you’ve written yourself into a corner. A common enough situation. And though you’ve had a general plan all along, something ended up rushed and malformed. You may need to go off the rails to land back on your feet. So to speak. I say blow the whole thing to pieces. Do something to really shake yourself loose. You’ve got to navigate your own twisting waterways with grace, or put another way, all those balls you’ve tossed into the air? They’d better be in your hands and not on the floor by the end of your routine.

Don’t be afraid. Some of the best writing you’ll ever produce will be wholly unexpected. Be the trapeze artist, the reed in the wind. Be willing to exert a little nonchalant flexibility when you feel most worried all your herculean efforts have gone up in smoke. The synthesis of your tale into something readable and engaging begins when you relinquish a little control and trust your creativity and rational mind. Because really, it requires both.

Synthesis in this context applies most especially to story climaxes, the worst of the worst, the hardest to pull off. Sure, beginnings are tricky, and middles are a tough nut to crack, but the endings, oh, the endings. I’d like you to imagine a pot of boiling stew. Now imagine your readers watched you cook this amazing stew from start to finish. They watched you cut up the veggies and meat, saw you season everything and stand at the stove for hours, stirring and tweaking. They’re even aware you’ve been taste testing, which is important because it means they trust that you at least find the flavor remarkable.

But let’s say that stew wasn’t synthesized properly. Maybe you were working off a recipe and failed to notice it needed certain improvements, or maybe it just came to you and you rushed the chopping and cutting. Potato pieces the size of peas. Celery stocks that may as well be whole. If dinner doesn’t go well, it hardly matters what you think you did or how well you think you did it. I mean just look. You left a whole pile of carrots sitting on the cutting board. Why didn’t you throw those in? And that beef broth you only used half of? It probably explains why your stew tastes like wet cardboard.

You see? Good story synthesis means combining all of your disparate and seemingly unconnected ingredients together creatively, confidently, logically. In fact, if you do find yourself in no man’s land over a piece of fiction, get excited, because it means you’ve got the opportunity to pull off something truly magical. As you’re writing, keep track of everything you still have to pay off. You know what a payoff is, right? If someone mentions a mountain in Chapter One and we never see its summit, not even by Chapter Forty, that’s not a good payoff. You might even keep a list running so you miss not a single opportunity to pull one more good thread together.

Like the man said, “Not all who wander are lost.” I urge you to get lost in your writing this month. Check and see that this particular superpower is performing at peak levels. And remember, good story synthesis isn’t about shock and awe, not necessarily. It’s about balance, inevitability, structural harmony. Plus tons of shock and awe. You wouldn’t want people to get bored, now would you? I’ll be back in September with more Craft and Practice. Good hunting, everybody.


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


Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Writing for Catharsis

Craft and Practice

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

Writing for Catharsis

Writing is a hard enough gig without the existence of one persistent, unceasing fact: things change, nothing lasts, and all things pass away. You could make a decent mantra out of that, couldn’t you? I mean it’s true enough I don’t even really have to repeat it. I will though. Several times, in fact, because I’d like to impress upon you the urgency of a world in desperate need of good, personal, dare I say it, emotional storytellers.

This month’s Craft and Practice will be a little different. We’re going to talk about our feelings. Wait! Don’t click off! You can’t run from them any more than I can. Things change, nothing lasts, all things pass away. And if you and your incredible writing superpowers are needed anywhere in the world, it’s quite possible they’re needed at home most of all.

You see, people can recognize the transience of life without too much effort, but they’re either too locked into their own experiential tangents to do anything about it, or they simply keep their stories to themselves. Writers don’t have that luxury, and nor should we be afforded it. It’s our job to comment, profile, report, extol, condemn, codify, decode. If not for everyone living today and for a hundred generations beyond, then at least for ourselves, right here and now. What does this all boil down to? We can write about all the crazy stuff that happens to us and call it catharsis. Neat, huh?

I recently released a novel called Love/Madness/Demon. It deals, in part, with a psychotic episode I experienced four or five years ago. Now at that time I didn’t know or understand what was happening to me. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, I urge you seek qualified help, because once I was able to do so, once a true diagnosis came my way, things slowly began to turn around for me. But I knew as I started recovering that what I’d gone through—what I’d put my loved ones through—it constituted serious traumatic territory, and I also knew that it might make me feel better to write about it someday.

It did. That’s the long and short of it. Moreover, spending sufficient time with my story as a finished manuscript tended to help even more. I had to tread, retread, and re-retread the same ground again and again. The worst moments of the ordeal tended to lose their hold on me. Now writing as catharsis implies you’ve repressed or buried something. Some people haven’t done anything of the sort, though I’d wager that to one degree or another, the vast majority of us have. This is life, after all, the greatest bare-knuckled, knock-down cage match of them all. If you’ve taken a few lumps in recent years, you aren’t alone.

I think it’s best to approach cathartic writing from a place of complete honesty. What are you doing it for otherwise? And realistically, you’ve got endless literary modes available to you. I chose fiction because it’s what I’m most comfortable with, but maybe you prefer poetry or nonfiction.

Nonfiction may be the best way to approach the craft for the sake of healing because you can just write the truth as it seemed to you. Now, you may have to wrestle with legalities, ditto with fiction, but I tend to believe most of the advice given to writers about these things are of the overblown, cover-one’s-own-ass variety. Can you write about things that really happened to you? Of course you can. Who says you can’t? What you can’t do is drag someone’s name through the mud in the process, but I’ve got a good feeling about you. You’re not interested in hurting others with your writing. You’re a paragon of humility and moral excellence. I mean, I can just tell by looking at you. What a punim.

I hurt after my psychotic break. A lot of people around me did. Because I was delusional, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me, I lashed out frequently and did things it’s taken me a lot of time to try and get over.

But your experience with cathartic writing will be wholly different. I hope and pray you haven’t got any major traumas in your direct experience. But if you have, and if you’re lucky enough to have been given an aptitude for the written word, I highly suggest putting your emotional self on the line and trying to do a little self-evaluation and self-nurturing. Even if you intend on never letting another soul read it, the initial intimacy and privacy of the act are paramount. I’d never suggest a person try to write their pain away rather than seek the help of a licensed professional, but I’ve found that a good therapy program lines up very well with cathartic writing. In fact, there were times in my recovery I didn’t have the ability to engage in counseling, so the writing of Love/Madness/Demon was even more crucial to me.

I feel better now. I don’t feel perfect. In fact, I still have a lot of bad days. But it was worth it to me to at least try to alleviate some of the pressures of everything I’d gone through. Maybe you can do the same for yourself. I hope you can. Things change, nothing lasts, all things pass away. It’s sort of a very painful time for many people out there. Writing about what ails us? There are worse ways to cope.


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 Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress


Jeff’s Pep Talk: Blast From My Past

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Blast From My Past

I originally wrote a version of this entirely too plucky Pep Talk just over eight years ago. I was twenty-seven then, and life until that point had treated me pretty good. That’s right, before I was writing monthly inspiration blog posts I was still keenly interested in, well, inspiring writers to do our thing. I offer this as a gift today. Eight years is a long time, long enough for the planet Venus to enter, exit, and then reenter retrograde.

And as Venus is the planet of love, I thought I’d share a proto-Pep-Talk that is very near and dear to my heart. Just goes to show you that no matter how far you think you’ve come, there’s always room to grow and many, many miles to go.

Let this serve as inspiration for you, especially if you’ve been feeling down about the world and your place in it. Keep working, keep your head down, but for gosh sakes, be a humanitarian to yourself while you’re at it. That’s the main message Jeff’s Pep Talk was always meant to impart. If you can’t be kind and compassionate to yourself when it comes to your work, how the hell are you ever going to be kind and compassionate when it comes to the rest of life?

Hope you enjoy this blast from my past. Twenty-seven years old. Yeesh. We were never that young. 🙂

2/13/2012

What? Me? Positive?

Firstly, an admission: I’m a terrible writer. Honestly, I am. I happen to have it on very good authority. Right now, right here in my office, even as I write this very essay, there’s a little man sitting in the corner, sucking down a Coca-Cola Classic, fiddling with his long, stringy hair, shouting de-motivators, anti-enthusiastics, and the highest-quality bizarro pep talks I have ever heard in my life. He tells me things like, “Boring!” and, “It’s been done to death!” and my personal favorite, “Nobody in this world will ever care!” He’s so good at his job that he’s even earned his own nameplate and the privilege of not having to sit on either of my shoulders.

I’m 27 years old. When I was 17, he didn’t even exist.

There’s a very simple reason for that, you know. When I was 17 it hadn’t even occurred to me to give writing a shot. Oh, sure, I’d begun and bailed on a novel or two. Once, I even made it a whole 90 pages, a feat that had each of my friends nodding and intoning, “cool,” before laying back into one another on my PlayStation. You know what I was when I was 17? First of all, I was a high school dropout. Didn’t even make it through freshman year. I hold two degrees of higher learning at the moment, but hell, even Scarecrow got one of those, and he didn’t even have a brain. Second of all, and infinitely more important, when I was 17 years old I was a future rockstar. Frontman? Check. Guitarist? Double-check. Writer of every song in my band’s repertoire? Oh yeah, and you just knew the Benjamins would start rolling in at any moment.

I was good at it, too. Honestly, I was. That’s really kind of the point here. Music came naturally to me. Okay, so maybe I didn’t come into this world kicking and screaming and nailing my do-re-mis, but put a Beatles songbook in my hand and a brand-new nylon-string guitar and just watch me put “Let it Be” through its paces. A band, a breakup, another band, another breakup; four albums recorded in my Mom’s basement; high school gigs and coffee house gigs and bar after bar after bar after bar after bar after…where was I? Oh, yes.

“Carrie?” I said to my then-girlfriend and now-wife. “I don’t think I want to be a musician anymore.”

Oh really? How come?

Does it really matter? I was going to be a writer, damn it. That’s it, and that’s all. Makes sense, right? If you can’t be a rockstar, what, then, might you be? Easy. A millionaire bestselling novelist, at the feet of which the Stephen Kings and Anne Rices and J. K. Rowlings of this world but kneel and tremble.

Step 1: Decide to become a writer.

Step 2: Write first short story.

Step 3: Am I a millionaire bestseller yet?

No? Not yet? Okay, I’ll just go wait over there. I and the little man in the corner have pushed story after story into this world via the agonizing and miraculously miraculous miracle of brain-birth. And guess what, the brain-birth for each of them? More agonizingly agonizing than miraculously miraculous. I tell you what, man, it’s downright painful. Writing? Man, writing is for the dogs. Remember when you learned your first guitar chord? Remember how accomplished you felt? Now do you remember your first story and that first critique you ever got?

“I had three problems with this story. The beginning, the middle, and the end.”

Remember how your voice used to have all the girls quivering out there in audience land? Quivering? Really? Okay, maybe more like mildly interested. Still, when was the last time your readers were even slightly or infinitesimally interested? Readers? What readers? You’ve got readers now? Where the hell did you get readers? Mom! The little man in the corner got readers and I didn’t!

Before I even joined the party, those in the know told me that rejection is the name of the game. Man, they weren’t kidding. That first rejection hurts like hell. So does the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the…when exactly does it stop hurting?

Just keep your head down. Just keep working, keep honing, keep sharpening, keep getting better and better, keep…keep…aw, hell, just keep forgetting what rejection feels like, keep forgetting there are a million others better than you’ll ever be, keep forgetting you’re not even as good as you want to be.

Yet…

So what keeps you writing? Why not just give up already? Oh, believe me, I’ve tried. Several times, seriously, studiously, not-joking-this-time. But you know what? Something always kept me going. Kind words? Ha! I wish. Publication? Okay, now you’re just making me sad. No, if I had to boil it down to one word, one, single, all-encompassing, all-revealing, all-enlightening, end-all-be-all explanation of why it is I keep doing what I’m doing, it would be this, my friends…

…………………

“What,” says the little man between swigs of his Coke, “that’s it? Ellipses? You’re going to end with ellipses? Oh, real original, Hemmingway. How about a nice ‘happily ever after,’ or a ‘the end…or is it?’ or you know what, how about a big fat–”

To be continued…


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 Pep Talk segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.