inspiration

Fuck You, Write

A green thermos full of ideas...no, it's just coffee...

A green thermos full of ideas...no, it's just coffee...

By Dustin Hockensmith

Every day I’m losing the fight between who I am and who I wish I were.

The idealist in me thinks I should have no problem pursuing every story idea in my head. I’m also going to be the perfect parent, a loving and caring husband, a workout warrior at the peak of my physical fitness, the kind of guy who finds fame and makes a lasting impact on the world.

The reality is, I’m beaten down and just trying to last another day. I’m distracted and unhealthy. At home, I’m thinking about work. At work, I’m missing my wife and daughter. It’s a never-ending cycle of grand expectations and failures that sets a tone of helplessness in my life.

Too many projects, not enough time, and my writing has suffered tremendously. It’s a strange and challenging reality to know that my passion, my dream job, is now attached to dollars and expectations. Writing is something I would do (and am doing right now) for free, but the game keeps changing and it’s up to me to evolve.

The day-to-day grind feels like the scene in "Goodfellas," when the restaurant owner signs his life away to Paulie and finds out that there’s a cost for his protection. I’ve got a bigger audience than I ever imagined, close to seven million readers in 2014, but anything I accomplish today means far less than what I do tomorrow.

Got a lot going on at home?

Fuck you, write.

Out of ideas?

Fuck you, write.

Feeling like an uninspired blob?

Fuck you, write.

The hamster wheel is going to keep spinning, whether I’m on it or not. If motivation escapes me, my only choice is to try harder to find it.

Welcome to life in modern journalism, where the pace moves quickly and the pressures keep mounting. The model for future success remains elusive as print media dies, but the core strategy, it seems, is to produce more content with a constantly shrinking workforce.

My company, Advance Digital, made waves in the publishing world by slashing newspaper production to three days a week and investing more resources into digital content. Poof! The narrow mindset and often-outdated ideas that go into putting out a newspaper were no longer holding our newsroom staff back.

From a creative standpoint, the sky is the limit, which is insanely cool. A shift in ideals created a job for me that never existed before, and I’ve been able to shape it into whatever the hell I want, no questions asked.

I start work every single day with a blank canvas, which is a huge positive most days. But sometimes, when mired in a days-long slump, that blank canvas is a burden. Creative energy is the key to everything, and as every good writer knows, sometimes you just ain’t got it.

So what’s a writer to do when he’s running on empty? The closest thing I’ve found to a solution is to caffeine up and hope that a rapid heart rate and “artificial” energy are enough to overcome the sinking feeling that everything you write is crap. That’s just not a good place to be.

The caffeine offers hope, if only in my own head. It used to be cigarettes and weed in my younger writing days, a checkered past that included a strong start down a road toward alcoholism. But damn it, living hard also creates experiences and perspective that the righteous will simply never understand.

I’m not saying you should go out and get hooked on drugs. But if you do, just take good notes and file them under “Gold.”

I left a cozy job that paid well for a life of uncertainty that maybe, just maybe, included a chance to pursue a passion I never knew I had. I thought blogging was my future—that a career in print media was a perfect Plan B…in 2007…inarguably the worst time in the history of journalism to be starting on the ground floor.

As I kicked old habits, namely the constant weed funk that in no way helped my writing career, I found new ones. I drink coffee out of a thermos now, an ugly green monstrosity that gives a faint illusion that I’m not a delicate, white-collared pussy. I actively avoid communicating with others. I eat as much in one sitting as a Rwandan villager eats in a lifetime.

I am who I am, and I love what I do. When it’s hard to keep those things in perspective, I'm learning that maybe it’s better to take a breather than try to throw more work at the same, tired problem.

But when all else fails, when that option doesn’t exist, crush four pots of black coffee and tell the outside world, “Fuck you, I’m writing.”

Dustin Hockensmith is a sports reporter for PennLive.com and a radio host for the Keystone Sports Network. Follow him on Twitter @dhockensmith.

For more essays, check out our full archive

In the Presence of Old Friends: How Nostalgia Can Fuel Your Writing

Brothers in arms forever.

Brothers in arms forever.

By Daniel Ford

It was 2 a.m.

I had a cup of coffee in my hand, a black pug on my lap, and an episode of “The West Wing” was playing on a big screen television. I was flanked on both sides by my best friends from college, Derek and future Writer’s Bone contributor Stevo. Several years have passed since we last lived under the same roof (never mind how many!), but for a couple of hours, it seemed like no time had passed at all. We caught up using the only tools that matter: biting sarcasm, inappropriate inquisition, and nonsensical musings.

The three of us started out living in a much smaller apartment not too far from one of the main entrances of St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. Those were lean years for all of us. Stevo and I would deposit our meager checks from the jobs we worked off campus at the Bank of America on Jamaica Ave. and then proceed to spend it all at the IHOP right down the street. It was a guaranteed night of gluttony, rent check be damned.

Learning how to be a man and hone your craft at the same time is never easy. Throw in student debt, everyday bills, and New York City, and it’s damn near impossible. Which is why it was so much fun. It was a puzzle I constantly had to solve knowing that I was missing several pieces. There’s a rawness I knew I possessed, but I wasn't quite savvy enough of a human being to polish it fully. In my case, it took a lot of time, horrible life decisions, and these two friends.

Stevo and I as college freshmen.

Stevo and I as college freshmen.

Since I use several antidotes from our time together in my novel (which is coming soon, I promise), I can’t rundown my favorite moments that helped shape me as a writer. However, it was more their general presences that fueled my creativity. The easiest thing you can do as a writer is surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. Be in that room and acknowledge that those around you know more than you do. I’m not saying that I didn’t have a good fastball, I did, I just knew that these two men were, at times, operating at a higher level than I could have imagined at that point in my life. There were days that I would bring up a topic just to see how they were going to debate each side and how much fir would fly before our landlord came up to check to make sure we were all still alive. Tempers always cooled down. We never went to bed angry. We loved each other too much to stay mad for too long. While maybe we had trouble completely conceding our individual points, we would often reluctantly agree with where the other person was coming from.

I like to think their sarcasm, wit, and intelligence became hardwired into my own being. Thanks to our coffee addiction, I was awake at all hours and wrote a significant amount. A lot of it was crap. I didn’t know what I was doing yet. But I knew what I wanted to do. And I knew how I wanted it to sound. A little out of control. A little brash. A little bold. A little hurtful like a joke that maybe went too far until you thought about how brilliantly it was formed. My dialogue (which is still a work in process) wouldn’t be as strong as it is without those midnight conversations, Double J’s runs, and scotch and cigars in the driveway.

The last time we were all in the same place was Memorial Day barbeque a couple of years ago. There was a large scrum of people there, but there were moments when it was just the three of us. It was like a jazz band getting together after a long absence. We warmed up a bit, and then we were trading riffs back and forth with ease. Stevo’s brother critiquing Derek’s entire event was an added bonus.

It would take a year and our friend Kelly getting married to reunite the trio. Thanks to a pile of traffic on the Cross Island Expressway, Stephanie Schaefer and I were almost late to the ceremony. We didn’t know anyone else in the crowd. I fired off texts trying to find Derek and Stevo. I looked toward the front row and saw the back of two heads that looked familiar. Sure enough, there they were. They instantly made fun of me for tardiness and my Prius rental (Derek would later admonish me for not introducing Stephanie to the bride fast enough).

Derek and I at a St. John's Baseball event a couple of years ago.

Derek and I at a St. John's Baseball event a couple of years ago.

“You’re not really going to have coffee right now are you?” Stephanie asked as I tucked her in for the night in Derek’s spare bedroom.

“We’re just going to chat like a couple of old wives,” I replied, not really answering the question.

Derek had a full cup of coffee waiting for me when I returned to the living room. It was strong. I drank it. Like the old days, I feel asleep right away despite consuming that fistful of caffeine (the hours of driving in a downpour earlier that day may have counteracted the coffee). There was only one thing left to do in the morning. A visit to our favorite diner in Long Island, N.Y.: Thomas’ Ham and Eggery.

The owner was taking orders at the counter, like always, and didn’t know who Stevo and I were without our much more heralded brother in arms (who, just like old times, had to work). I ordered my standard ham and cheese omelet, which comes in a skillet at this particular establishment, and yet another strong cup of black coffee.

It didn’t take long for Stevo and I to launch into a conversation about television shows, movies, and comic books (much to Stephanie’s chagrin). Plans were made to interview him soon about Godzilla (look forward to that) and meet up again in Boston in the near future.

Stevo and I in front of our favorite N.Y. diner.

Stevo and I in front of our favorite N.Y. diner.

With my belly full of nostalgia, home fries, and cholesterol, I began the drive home over the Throgsneck Bridge (the same bridge my father had traveled to bring me to St. John’s and New York City more than a decade ago). I was awash in old memories and ready to embrace renewed creativity. My mind was working a little sharper, and the ideas I had been hammering away at looked a little more plausible.

For the last two weeks, Writer’s Bone contributors and some of our favorite authors have provided essential tips for how to get your creative mojo back. I waited to weigh in until my muse settled back in for an extended stay. Here’s my advice:

Talk to old friends. Call them up. Go visit. Have a meal at a diner. Drink a lot of coffee and make fun of each other until tears roll down your eyes. Debate important issues. Disagree on everything except for the mutual respect you have for each other. Reminisce about how foolish you were back in the day. Recall the events and moments that got you to where you are now. And then, to tweak author Scott Cheshire’s advice, write like hell.

Works every time.

Keep writing, everyone.

For more essays, check out our full archive

How I Went From A Self-Conscious Writer to A Conscious Writer

By Sean Tuohy

I have major difficulties reading and writing. Words get tangled together in an unholy mess on the page when I read. When I write there are several dozen spelling errors and grammar mistakes(In the first draft of these piece there several dozen mistakes that needed to be corrected). Sometimes I see so many red underlined words on my computer screen that I'm scared my Spell Check is going to be so overworked it will give up.

Despite all this, I am still a writer and storyteller. The only difference between myself and most other writers that populate the landscape is I have to work a hell of a lot harder than the next writer to create something that reads smoothly. To put it in the simplest terms my brain is wired differently than everyone else's. I don't take in knowledge and sort it in my mind the same way as other people.

As a kid, this made me very self-conscious. I was different from everyone else, I was a freak, I had "issues." While my fellow classmates stayed in class and read books with the teacher and talked about what they just read, I was pulled out of the classroom and put in a "special classroom" with a "special teacher" and read easier books that were several levels below my grade level.

I was lucky enough to attend school in one of the best public school systems in the country during my early years. Once I was in middle school I began catching up with my classmates, and started reading for myself. I also discovered a love for movies. I would watch the same movie over and over and over again until the tape broke (VHSs were still very much a thing back then), but I also would have the closed captions on so I could read along with the actors speaking. This helped me improve my reading and spelling. After that, I found my love for spy thrillers and hard boiled detective novels, which I ate up, not realizing how these pulpy books were improving my reading and writing skills.

I still very much felt like a freak. Although I began writing, screenplays and short stories, pumping them out like crazy, I never let anyone read them for fear they would see the God-awful spelling mistakes and look at me as if I was a moron. So I kept writing in private and sometimes I would share something with a friend of mine or a close family member. The writing stayed private, it stayed close to me.

As we've mentioned several times on the website and podcast, that is the worst thing in the world to do as a writer. You will never grow as a writer if you never allow people to read your work. You won't know your strengths and weaknesses unless someone tells you. Whatever you write you should have another pair of eyes looking at it. To do this you need to believe in yourself and your work. Believe that what you are doing is good enough for people to read, believe that you have the skills to write a compelling story, and believe in yourself as a writer and you will succeed.

I lacked that completely. I had no trust in myself, my writing, or my skills because of my "issue." This started to change once I wrote a 20-page script about two best friends sitting around talking about movies, girls, and sex. It was a Kevin Smith rip off, but I believed in it. I knew it was funny and I knew people, my friends, would like it if they read it. Guess what? They did read it and they did find it funny. Somehow, I found the courage to share the script. The first few moments of them reading were the most stressful moments in my teenage life. In my mind, I pictured people reading the script and laughing at how badly it was written and me running off crying. Well, that didn't happen. They read the script and laughed because they found the subject matter funny and it was well written. I can remember being in math class and this kid named Robert howling with laughter as he read it. It felt great to have people read my work and really enjoy it. I’m sure people noticed the mistakes, but it didn't take away from the script. To them it was still good despite the mistakes.

We all have something that holds us back from going after our dreams, some force that hinders us from obtaining the greatness we all want. For me, it was my "issues" with reading and writing, but I've learned to let them go. I still have a lot of problems reading and writing, but it no longer holds me back or makes me feel freakish. To be honest, it makes me feel special. I embrace my weirdly wired brain because it allows me to see things that other people don't get to see, write things no one else has written before, and allows me to be me. Find what holds you back from becoming that amazing writer or whatever you want to be and embrace it. Embrace your fear and faults. Embrace who you are and you will succeed. 

A final word on this topic:

For more essays, check out our full archive

5 Ways You Can Become A Better Writer in the Second Half of 2014

By Daniel Ford

I know some sun and surf left over from the Fourth of July weekend might be clinging to your Monday work outfit, but it’s time to get back to work.

The muse rests for no writer.

I came up with five tips that you can use to improve your writing during the second half of 2014. Feel free to suggest your own in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Alone

Being alone sucks doesn’t it? Consider these quotes from writers about loneliness:

“Writing is a lonely job. Even if a writer socializes regularly, when he gets down to the real business of his life, it is he and his type writer or word processor. No one else is or can be involved in the matter.”—Isaac Asimov
“The writing profession is reeking with this loneliness. All our lives we spend in discoursing with ourselves…The loneliest people in the world we writers are. Except that, while we are conversing and laughing with ourselves, we manage to shed our loneliness…to scatter it as we go along.”—H. L. Mencken
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”—Ernest Hemingway

Gah. Who would choose such a life?

Well, you did. I did. All writers have.

There’s nothing wrong with being alone. I’m a social writer—one who needs constant stimulation from music, conversation, or noise to get my thoughts down on paper. However, there comes a point where I need to tune all of that out to get down to the actual business of writing. It’s not an easy place to get to because the loneliness of it is so crushing.

But goddamn, it’s worth it.

There’s no need to be afraid of it. You know what happens after you’re alone? You’re not. You’ve got a finished product that you can ask someone about. And you become one with the world again.

“BIC”

I’m adopting a method of writing I learned from author Jeff Shaara during our podcast interview. It's the “Butt in Chair” method, which complements “don’t be afraid to be alone” nicely.

Get in the chair! Duct tape your can to the seat if you need to!

The best part is you can put your chair anywhere. The beach, a cabin in the woods, a park, a roof deck overlooking the city, a five-star hotel, or any other place your muse likes to frequent. There’s no reason to be uncomfortable while you’re lighting your mind on fire.

Longhand Is Your Friend

Writers come up with a ton of excuses not to write. It’s so easy not to write you don’t have your butt in a chair or you don’t have your perfect alone time.

“I’m not near my computer” is something I hear often. Who cares? God invented paper and it’s worked well for pretty much every writer before this generation of computer addicts. Carry around a notebook for when the muse strikes you when you least expect it. You can write notes or write a full story in longhand. Having to type it out later will only strengthen your prose.

Plus, that blinking cursor on the screen can be a bitch. It’s almost like having someone scream at you while you’re writing. If Hemingway had to use a computer, he would have blown his brains out a lot sooner than he did. It’s actually cliché now to say, “I stared at the computer screen looking at the flashing cursor willing myself to write something.”

Longhand writing requires more thought and effort, which is never a bad thing when you’re writing. You want all of your senses and mechanics involved. Besides, you’ll have beautiful pages to fondly look back on when you’re strangling pigeons in a Parisian park à la Hemingway.

Read Your Own Material

You’d be surprised how many writers don’t like editing their own stuff.

I am not one of them. I like to re-read and have others read my material. Your work needs to see a little bit of the world after you’ve been alone with it, labored over it, and churned it over in your mind again and again.

Don’t be worried that it might be crap. It likely is. But that’s okay too. Louis CK said in an interview once that you learn a hell of a lot more from failure than you do from success. He’s right. You find out what kind of writer you are when you overcome bad material. You figure out how to shape your dialogue better, which characters you should stick with, and what settings work better than others. You can’t discover any of that by putting your Word doc in your computer’s trash bin or stuffing your pages under a pillow.

Read, despair, learn, re-write. Repeat.

Have Fun

Writing doesn’t have to be drudgery. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Rebecca Cantrell, one of our earliest interviews and one of our biggest supporters, said it best:

“If writing isn’t fun, why do it? I have lots of fun writing and so do most other writers I know. It doesn’t have to be about suffering.”

Being creative is a gift. Don’t waste it being miserable.

Go write. Always.

For more essays, check out our full archive

From Europe With Love: 12 Snapshots of Spain to Spark Your Creativity

Franco-Españolas Winery in Logroño (a favorite of    Ernest Hemingway   )

Franco-Españolas Winery in Logroño (a favorite of Ernest Hemingway)

By Stephanie Schaefer

Writers often feel restless and for justifiable reasons: deadlines, writer’s block, and a lack of creativity stemming from their day-to-day routine. Solving these problems typically requires a change of scenery—moving to a different room in your home, going outside, or, if you’re lucky, flying to a distant continent.

Writing isn’t known for being the highest paid industry, but they say that “traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” That’s as good excuse as any to book a ticket abroad, right?

Here are 11 more snapshots from my recent trip to Spain to save for a rainy day or creativity drought:

1. Overlooking the vineyards in Laguardia (not to be confused with the New York airport of the same name)

2. Colorful alley in Laguardia

3. Picturesque ocean view of the Basque Country coast (San Sebastian)

4. San Sebastian at sunset

5. Those who live in Crystal Palaces should not throw stones, they should just admire the view (Palacio de Cristal in Madrid)

6. Snapshot of a Flamenco dancer in Madrid

7. There’s no raining on this Madrid parade—just plenty of sunshine and bright attire!

8. The Buen Retiro Park (translation: "Park of the Pleasant Retreat") on a beautiful spring day

9. How could I not take a picture of the vast literature on the streets of Madrid for Writer’s Bone?

10. How many novels does a writer have to sell in order to live in this castle-like abode overlooking the park?

11. Corner of the Plaza Mayor filled with cafés and culture

For more essays, check out our full archive