The best laid plans of mice and men are drowned in summer wine

When I set out on this weekend Friday, I had no plans. It was glorious – a weekend without commitments, without obligations, even without errands. Maybe a few chores – a body needs to bathe and wear clean clothes, after all – but nothing too demanding or distracting.


First it was the middle daughter. We’ve been working on her driving (she wants to get her license in a few months when she turns 18), and she came to me with a bold plan: what if we went driving Saturday, practiced some things, and oh by the way, go see Suicide Squad while we’re over at the mall practicing?

Coy, clever, and of course, it worked. The movie, by the way, was a bit violent, a bit gruesome, and yet we both really enjoyed it. A lot. Also, it made a great PSA for wearing a mask.

Meanwhile, our youngest has been going to an arcade with a friend and their family just up the road in Vancouver. I’m sure you can see where this is going, and if not, I’ll go ahead and spill the beans – me, my three kids, and the friend all drove up to Vancouver Sunday afternoon.

Why am I such a pushover? Because this is the last summer it’s guaranteed to be all three kids are home. Our oldest is heading off to college in a month. That middle daughter? Entering her senior year of High School in a few weeks. And the youngest? A freshman. Time is catching up with us and I’m trying to drink as much of the last of the summer wine as I can before this next, scary phase of our lives has a chance to start.

Breaking my blockers

Recently, I’ve been working on breaking out of some old, bad habits – the perpetual “the problem is the tool, not the tool wielder” that seems to have become a rabid infestation in my brain the last few years.

When I started writing, I had a marble notebook. That was all. But even then, I yearned for the freedom and mobility that some upgrade would give me. First it was a Palm Pilot (“To be able to just carry that around!”), then it was a keyboard attachment for my PalmPro (“To use on the VRE during my commute!”), then it was a laptop. Every time I reached my goal, there was always something just out of my reach that would elevate me further.

It is now twenty years later, there are still tools I see that “would make it so much easier to create!” – MS Surface, a newer iPad with mechanical keyboard, etc. – but the truth is, none of that matters.

The only tool I need to write is the one I’ve had all along, the one residing in that chunk of grey matter between my ears. I realize how cliché that sounds, but that’s actually what makes it true.

The other big blocker is that I expect too much of myself when writing. When I sit down to write, I always found it helpful to have goals. “This will be XX pages long” or “I need to write XXXX words a day.” Doing that, though, forced me to stretch or manipulate stories because I felt like they needed to meet a certain criteria for length.

I had, in other words, forgotten the most basic tenant of writing good fiction:

A story should be no longer or shorter than it needs to be to tell its tale.

Someone smart at some point

It makes writing a struggle, I won’t lie, but it’s also somewhat freeing. I’m not trying to “write to market” (What market? What sales?) If my stories never find a home that’s ok – it’s about the writing and telling, not the selling and publishing.

And so I have found myself sitting down every morning for the last week, pulling up an old but trusty writing app and putting down some words. Some days less than a hundred; some days this week, over a thousand. I know where this story is going; I don’t know how long it is yet, or how long it will be, or what the “right” length for it is. I’ll know that when it’s done being written.

Struggling with being creative

Do not despair, your RSS reader has not lied to you. This is indeed a new blog post. I’m making this post more for me than you, but strap in and enjoy the ride.

My confession: for the last two years, I’ve really struggled to be creative, i.e., write. It certainly started with the loss of my parents, and although I didn’t realize it, it was prolonged by the pandemic. I hesitate to call it writer’s block (or creative block?), but the evidence is plain to see here in the blog. The more productive I’m being in my creative work, the more often I blog. The fact that the last 12 months has seen barely a half dozen posts says it all.

The scenario: I sit down to write. A few words come to me. Maybe even a paragraph. On a rare occasion, a few pages. And then everything in my brain shuts down, usually for days at a time. When I return, I find I just can’t get behind what I wrote before.

For a while, I thought the problem was outlining. I’ve always written the story as I went, letting it flow and evolve. But maybe not knowing what all of the major points were going to be in advance was hindering me. So I tried to outline, or at least tried to try. That, too, failed.

And so I stew. Almost every day finds me making a note in my journal about how another day has passed without me writing.

I also find myself being more and more fickle in what I write about, and it is 100% a reflection of whatever it is I am reading. Continuing my read through of Malazan or A Song of Ice and Fire? Fantasy is where my brain is at. Reading King or the latest from Hendrix or Stephen Graham Jones? Horror, of course! Being influenced makes sense, but for some reason my brain has gone one step further and tied whatever is captivating me in my down time as the fodder for what I must be writing about.

And then finally, there’s a failure to escape my past mountain of writing. I have, over time, written the better part of 300k+ in a half dozen interconnected and largely unfinished novels. It is exceedingly difficult to ignore that mountain, try as I might. Especially when I’m at my low point creatively and could really use a boost – what’s better than a story I’m familiar with and that is mostly finished? Never mind the reasons I abandoned those projects originally, surely this time will be different. I will even begin work saying that this time, this time I will write from scratch and use my past efforts as an outline. Or a hint. Or, as time passes, maybe I can just copy this one passage…page…chapter. And sure enough, I am bogged down again and reminded why this regurgitation fails every time.

So where does that leave me? I honestly don’t know. I admit I’ve been in a slump for a few years now. I concede that there are a lot of factors, a few of them outside my control.

I also know that I still want to write. I still want to create, to share new worlds and new adventures with people. I just need to find my way through that brick wall I’ve erected.

So watch this space, because it is a direct corollary that the more you see blog posts, the more successful I’ve been at doing something creative.