Writers Block

writers block

All week long, I’ve been thinking about a topic to write about. The way this normally works, assuming I don’t have a burst of inspiration and post twice in the same week, is I start musing about potential topics on Monday, commit to an idea by Wednesday or Thursday, and start writing so I can release the post by no later than the end of the week. Sometimes the process is easy. When this occurs, a thought will either pop in my head out of nowhere, or I will read a post from one of the blogs I follow that generates a lead I can work from.

During the rare weeks where I have a lot of ideas to choose from, I will take the topics I passed on and save them in an “idea” folder. It is not uncommon to have a week where I don’t have a lead or any inspiration, so it is convenient to have this well to draw from.

So far, this process has served me well because I have never been lacking for a subject, until now. This week, I am hopefully stuck, and am experiencing the dreaded writer’s block.

Oh, I had a topic that I actually started with a paragraph or two, but the words are flowing as easy as refrigerated honey, and I do not want to continue on that path.

I really admire prolific writers. First of all, the actual task of getting something down is not as easy at it looks, and to do it several days a week or, in the case of novelists who churn out a book every year or two, it takes a lot of creativity, enthusiasm and discipline. It also requires a lot of time, which is not readily available when you are also working full-time.

So here I am, sitting at the keyboard with a screen and a mind that are both blank, and I hear the proverbial clock ticking that whispers “Uh, Steve….you need to bang something out.”

Everyone’s writing process is different. What I typically do, once I decide on a topic, is to stop thinking and start typing. I don’t care how well the words sound or how well the draft is written. Quite frankly, the first draft is usually something that would make my English professors cringe. But that doesn’t matter because once the words are down I’ll let them sit for twenty four hours, and look at them the next day with a fresh pair of eyes. This allows me to take the written lump of clay I deposited the previous day and mold it into something worth reading.

Sometimes, the first draft is easy and very little editing is required the following day. Sometimes it is painful and the next day results in what amounts to a complete re-write. Most of the time the reality is somewhere in the middle, where the initial thoughts are there but require a little thinking, and the next day’s editing is moderate.

But all of this is irrelevant if you don’t have a subject matter, and that is my current status. I could take the easy way out, skip a week, and wait for the inspiration to come, but I’ve committed to posting something every week. So I am forced to think outside the box, which is not a particular strength. The result? To write about that fact that I have nothing to write about.

Obviously, this is not my job. I don’t draw any income from this nor do I have bosses demanding something to publish. Yet I still feel the pressure to produce, so I can only imagine what it must feel like if you have a publisher or editor breathing down your neck. How can you not admire or respect professional writers and columnists who not only have to answer to a production schedule, but are also expected to churn something out that is relevant and captivating?

The hard thing about writers block, at least for me, is that the more you try to break through, the harder it is to come up with something. It’s like eating soup with a fork, or herding cats. The longer I try to force the issue, the more stuck and frustrated I become. At the present moment, I feel like banging my head against something hard or gouging out my eyeballs.

It has not been uncommon for me to start writing about something, but lose my mojo, leave it unfinished, and save it in the idea folder I previously mentioned. Unfortunately, there currently aren’t many options to choose from in that repository, I’m not feeling any love for the few things that are there, and no epiphany is on the horizon to change that. For the first time, I am about as stuck as a person can be, don’t have the luxury of time to figure it out, and am therefore not going to fight it anymore.

If I am in the same boat next week, I may have to write after I have taken a dose of MMJ to see if any inspiration follows. I’ve done this once before, but it was intentional. You see, I already had an idea that lent itself to doing that.

So, for the sake of following my own production schedule, this is my first, and hopefully only, Seinfeld-like post about nothing.

Meanwhile, thoughts and prayers to everyone in the Florida panhandle area that have to pick up from Hurricane Michael. The pictures from the Panama City area look terrible, and, if I’m not mistaken, that is where Alex lives.

Hey girl, I hope you and yours are safe and sound, and that your house is still intact. Let us know soon, please.

 

Why Do I Blog?

blogging

I’ve been asked that question of number of times, and today’s response is much different than the one you would have heard when I started a little over a year ago. Back then, I didn’t have a clue about how this was going to work, and to say I was enthusiastic about the endeavor would be a stretch. You see, blogging was never a goal or ambition of mine, but there I was, sending up my first post on August 17, 2017.

It would be exaggerating to say blogging was forced upon me, but the truth is blogging turned out to be the lesser of several evils I had to choose from. I had finished the manuscript of a novel I wanted to get published, was fortunate enough to be signed by an agent, and thought my work was done. Little did I know.

When my agent made it clear that I needed a social media presence, my heart sank because I abhorred social media. Although I had a Facebook page I had started years earlier, I rarely looked at or posted on it, and had less than fifty FB friends. Ditto for LinkedIn. Both of those platforms needed to become much more robust, so this was one of my must-do’s in terms of social media. There were several other recommendations to choose from to generate an on-line following, and blogging was the least onerous.

After all, I like to write, and posting something once a week didn’t sound overwhelming, but the blog’s general theme, and what I was going to write about, was the great unknown.  Given I suffer from MS, had been aggressively treating it for a decade, and the subject is a subplot in the novel I wrote, I decided my blog would focus on that. My mission was to have it serve as a resource for people new to the disease or their families and loved ones. Perhaps my perspective would help my targeted audience, or at least make them feel like there weren’t alone in their struggle.

So I dove head first into the deep end of the pool with an open mind but few expectations, and have published eighty-three posts since. What has been an eye-opening surprise isn’t the fact that this has turned out to be more enjoyable than I anticipated, but the reason for it.

What I never bargained for is the community of bloggers I’ve encountered, and the friendships that have evolved from it. While I have only met three of them in person, most of the people I have engaged with are creative, talented, honest, brave, down-to-earth, opinionated, funny and totally unpretentious.

What also amazed me is how talented these folks are. Many of these authors, like myself, are not “professional” writers, but whether it be pose or poetry, their writing is phenomenal. Any one of them could easily craft a manuscript worth reading if they put their minds to it. My only regret is that the demands on my time from having a full time job, in addition to my writing, does not allow me to read more of what I know is out there.

Having to post something every week has made be a better writer, I think. After all, doesn’t practice make perfect? The only downside is that it consumes more of my time than I anticipated, which takes time away from novel number two, which has sat dormant for several months. I’ve rationalized this development by telling myself I will resume it earnest once novel one gets published, but I sometimes wonder.

My mission to provide information and a personal perspective about MS and living with a disability has not changed, but along the way I have broadened the scope of my subject matter so I don’t pigeonhole myself as a one-trick pony.  What started as a reluctant chore has turned into a labor of love in addition to introducing me to this wonderful community from which I have carved a niche of friends.

Along the way, my attitude had changed from “why do I have to blog?”, and “how long am I going to have to do this?” to “why would I want to stop?”

This is the reason I continue to blog. What’s yours?

Web Site Launch

web site construction

Back in March, I lamented about the process of trying to get published.  One of the unexpected tasks on a checklist of odious chores I needed to complete to get the process going in earnest was to create my own web site. Keep in mind that I am technically illiterate and didn’t have a clue about web site construction.

Well, I am happy to announce that finally, more than three months after beginning the construction process, and with a lot of help from Josh Lavallee of Mod MDCL, the web site is completed and ready for prime time.

Please take a few minutes to visit the site: stevemarkesich.com and let me know what you think. I would be interested in knowing what you don’t like or what is cumbersome than your unadulterated praise, although that’s welcome too.

I’d also like to thank Grace and Susan for generously donating their time to read the novel and offer their thoughts, which you can find on the site. I won’t tell you however where on the site you can find their reviews. I’d rather have you work to locate them, which means you will have had to look at all the tabs and do some navigation. I hope to add a few more in the ensuing weeks from some faithful followers.

Now that the site is built, query letters to prospective publishers are supposed to go out next month. Wish me luck!

 

“How did you come up with the idea for that story?”

idea

I wonder if I’m doing this right.  I often thought of this as I  wrote my first novel, wondering if my process was similar to other authors or if I was in an orbit of my own.

Jeremy Mac (no relation to Billy) is among the Facebook friends I quickly accumulated. He was one of the first who agreed to read my manuscript and offer a quote I could eventually take to prospective publishers.  We hit it off from the start and frequently stay in touch via Messenger.

Requesting a published author to review a manuscript is a big ask. Most of them have other jobs in addition family obligations and their writing obsession.  Jeremy didn’t hesitate, but he did ask if I would read his book Embracing the Darkness, and offer a review on Amazon. How could I say no?

Honestly though, I was skeptical when I saw the book’s cover because his genre is not among my favorites. Jeremy was so gracious with his time and generous in his praise of my work. What would I write if I didn’t like it, or thought it was just okay?  These concerns fortunately never came to fruition because good writing is good writing, and in this case, it literally reminded me that you should never judge a book by its cover. Other than one scene that made me cringe, I genuinely enjoyed the story.

Jeremy’s most recent work Shadowmancer, is a riveting read. It’s intoxicating, creepy, and has a unique supernatural hook that I have never seen before. I think it is going to enjoy a lot of success.

Jeremy’s creative process is different from mine, which I think proves two things. The first is that each author’s approach is unique and is neither right nor wrong, but what suits them best.

The second is what I’ve always suspected. Authors are very interesting and colorful characters.

Thanks for sharing your story Jeremy.

“How did you come up with the idea for that story?”

Oh how I do love this question, even if I don’t have an answer for it, because when asked, often with glowing enthusiasm, that alone tells me that my story genuinely excited or wowed or horrified or turned on the inquisitive reader only in a way that mystifies the mind. For me, as a writer, no question (or hell, no amount of praise for that matter) is better.

However, I do not begin writing– a book, a novella, a short story, a poem– expecting for the work to be received that way, or simply thoroughly enjoyed, by others. No. Such thoughts don’t even exist until the work is somewhat of a half-ass clean draft.

I write, first and foremost, for myself. Because once an idea for a story pops into my head, it begins to tickle and entice, nearly to the point of seduction. It can be likened to a little writing minx stirring inside my head. Sometimes she whispers, “Come on. Breathe into me…” followed by a feathery touch of allurement. Other times, if I put her off long enough, she’ll stamp her foot and yell, “Hey! Get to it!”

So I begin to put down a few words, and then those words take shape, form colors, characters and atmosphere. It starts to play out like a movie on the theater screen of my mind and before I know it, a new world is created.

Words don’t always come easy, though. All too often they will stall or stop completely, as if the little minx stops the reel of film rolling inside my head.

“Oh you little bitch,” I’ll growl at her. “Bring me all this way just to slam me against a brick wall. Grrr!”

But I push and fight, chipping away at that hated wall, eventually clawing my way through it to the final finish.

And then edits begin.

An entirely whole other beast.

Ugh!

But, how did I really come up with the idea for that story?

Concerning my first two books, the answer is simple. Pleasure Spiked With Pain and Frozen Faces @ 4:20, both written years ago, are loosely based off of my younger, careless life, so the near facts were nothing to recall. And as far as the fictionalized areas went, which are in fact the greater portion of the books, well…a good amount of the words were inspired/influenced by a lifted head.

For those of you who are not in the know, I’ll not go in depth on cannabis’s potential to unlock doors of the imagination, unleashing fresh new worlds you never knew existed. Just be assured that cannabis does, or, at the very least, has the potential to do so. It’s an excellent antidote for that hated Writer’s Block as well. It’ll torpedo right through a brick wall.

As far as the rest of my work goes, which are all a good distance from the contemporary genre that my first two novels are under and were not written under the influence of cannabis thank you very much (Little sigh. Ok, maybe a teeny tiny bit here and there. Eye roll.), the answers are not so simple. Sometimes what sparks an idea may be something I saw on TV or a song I heard or something that happened throughout the day. An article I read. A conversation I had. A dream…

Oh the dreams. Such gifts that can be easily wasted if you do not possess the discipline to write them down the moment you wake, when the dream is fresh and still nearly pulsing with life, because, woe you make the mistake of putting it off or, even worse, going back to sleep. I’ve regrettably done both and found time after disappointing time that the dream fades to the point of a hazy memory, only to recall later, if you’re lucky, a slight idea of what it had been about. For several years now I’ve slept with pen and paper at my bedside. No matter what time it is, no matter how tired I am, when I wake from a dream alight with potential for a cool story, or perhaps just a scene within a story, I’ll snatch up that pen and paper and will not stop writing until I have even the most insignificantly minute detail jotted down.

And then there are the ideas that have always been there, those that have dwelled within, or even haunted me, ever since I can remember, their origins long forgotten but, over time, ever evolving until finally it comes to a point when I must pen them to life.

Embracing The Darkness, an erotic hardcore horror released last December, was such a story, lurking inside, haunting, likely due to my growing up watching all the great 80’s horror flicks. I love horror, especially the hardcore fare, but I’d always been very reluctant to write it, and quite honestly it is due to the fact of how hardcore I thought I might get , and that frightened me. It may seem ridiculous, but what really gave me pause was fearing what people might think. Like, “Oh this guy is a real fucking sicko.” But after much encouragement from others, I gave it a go. Turns out, it’s one of the best things I’ve done. It was quickly snatched up by a publisher and has gotten rave reviews. Not to mention I’ve been asked numerous times, “How did you come up with the idea for that story?”

Big grin.

But my newest work probably tops them all.

Shadowmancer is a supernatural erotica about someone whose shadow is an entity of itself, an entity that thrives off of the sexual energy of others. My readers know just how erotic I can be, but this one licks the icing clean off the cake.

The idea was born from the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman. I was about fifteen years old when I first saw the movie but I’ve watched it a few more times over the years. There’s a scene when Dracula enters a candlelit room, and his shadow continues to stretch across the wall, reaching for an unsuspecting Keanu Reeves. This eerie image, both horrifying and erotic, branded itself in my mind. Ever since then I’ve quietly played with the idea of such a shadow, one that not only acts as a direct extension of its host, but sentient as well. I let that supernatural fantasy incubate up until a few years ago and then– no doubt spurred by my little minx– I decided to try to breathe some life into it. So far, according to my ARC (Author Review Copy/Approved Readers Copy) readers, Shadowmancer is being well received. A good number of them have already asked me that one question I love so much, and some of them haven’t even finished reading it!

All because of the seed of an idea that was planted so long ago, before I had even begun to entertain the thought of being a writer. Before I understood the creative power of an idea.

Ideas, for me, are created from dreams, through observation, losing myself to the wonder of my surroundings, observing what is there and breaking it down and piecing things back together to suit myself, my imagining.

My world.

And, of course, to appease my little minx.

I cannot close without first saying that this is a great blog! Great writing! I am a fan of it, and I am honored that Steve asked me to be a part of it. Thanks buddy!

Advice from Tom … Get it Checked

Steve invited me on the show to talk a bit about health. I don’t really know anything about health. But my wife owns a stethoscope and I found a mask under the bathroom sink. Let’s get started. Tom. On Health.

Steve and I discovered each other, recently, through a mutual blogger. As these things go, he and I were impressed with each other’s content, each other’s body of work. I dug into his stuff about the same time as he dug into mine. I admire his writing style. Descriptive, informative, never dry. I love the way he subtly discovers his own path back to balance when he feels off course. I can relate to that. A good example was in November, when recent posts of his own prompted him to get back to the upside of down things in “Sunshine and Rainbows.” No matter what life throws at us, we have a choice on how we react. Life threw MS at Steve, but it never beat him down. Not once. In fact, just two days ago he plowed the snow. Really? Steve, we do have limits. Someday you’ll learn yours. Maybe. 😁

Last week, out of the blue, Steve asked if I’d be interested in doing a guest blog for his site. I love to write, and have always sought balance in the number of posts I do in a week on my own site, so I said “sure!” Of course, Steve founded his site as a means to share his journey with MS with “candor, humor, and brutal honesty,” so I said “you know I don’t have MS, right?”

In fact, I have had only two light brushes with the world of MS. A few years ago, when I signed up to Facebook, I reconnected with all my old high school/church group friends. One of them, a little sister to a close pal, whom I helped recruit into the group, had been diagnosed some years earlier. On Facebook, she would tell peripheral stories of days with it – of transfusions and immobility – but I never knew the depth of her ordeal. I only know it never seemed to break her kind and giving spirit.

The only other encounter I’ve had with MS was when President Bartlett revealed his struggle with it to the nation. I was aghast. He was the only president I ever really liked.

Steve said, “of course, I know that. Doesn’t matter, Tom. Be Tom. Do what you do.

“But keep it to the matter of health, if you can, in some way. That is the central theme.”

That created a challenge for me. As I’ve stated recently on my own site, I’ve visited the doctor twice (for checkups) in the last decade. And then back in high school, 30 years ago. Except for the occasional walk-in clinic visit to make sure rib or back pain wasn’t too serious, or to get something prescription-strength for a bad cold, I just don’t have any health-related experiences of my own. That’s a blessing, I realize, so not a complaint. Nonetheless I have opinions. I’m bigly in favor universal healthcare, the kind we see in what I call the “better countries” around the world. I also want to believe in the science of longevity, the likes of which Ray Kurzweil speaks about. I want to live forever, as impossible as that will be.

If invited back for subsequent visits maybe I’ll talk about those things.

But it hit me yesterday, while in the shower (don’t all breakthroughs come from there?), that I had a health-related story from last year, and maybe a lesson to teach. It isn’t about me. It’s about a friend. A co-worker. We lost him in 2017.

He didn’t die. I should point that out right away. But we haven’t seen him since the week after Memorial Day. And it was for the smallest of reasons. Well, it started small, but it damn near killed him, and it certainly changed him. We fear forever.

I’m in appliance sales, and this man was our delivery chief. Just as amicable a guy as you could imagine. And incredibly competent. I don’t believe he missed a day of work in 7 years. Strong, both physically and emotionally. Smart. Funny as hell.

The last day I saw him was the second day of a toothache. Not a normal toothache, but the kind of toothache that swells one entire side of your face. I never saw a toothache do that. For the second day in a row I warned him that he had to get that tooth looked at, or it could be really, really bad. He worked through.

The next day was my day off. The others at my workplace said he showed up, more swollen than the day before, and was sent home. “See a doctor, or don’t come back,” the boss told him. He saw a doctor. The doctor told him he’d never seen a tooth condition, swelling, or infection that bad. They gave him medicine, told him not to return to work right away, and wanted to see him again after the weekend.

Over the weekend, he nearly died.

Someone found him in his living room, looking like he’d already passed. They broke in through a bathroom window to get to him, because he hadn’t answered his calls. His face was so swollen he was unrecognizable.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the doctors induced coma and put him through 6 surgeries to go after the infection. He spent weeks in the hospital. The last I heard they were still waiting for the infection to go down enough to go after the tooth, and that was a further few weeks after his release.

I’ve tried to call him. We’ve spoken to his mother, whom we all know at work. She tells us that she passes along our thoughts and prayers to him, but no, he doesn’t want to see anybody right now. We ask that he stops by sometime, to see us. She says that he says he will. Sometime.

I have mutual friends who have run into him, about town, so I know he gets out. I know he’s recovered (or is recovering) physically. They all tell me the same thing: “he’s not the same person we knew.”

He doesn’t want to interact. To talk. To quip jokes as he does. As he did. His mother says that he suffers from a form of PTSD from the experience. Depression. Anxiety. Nightmares and stuff. It broke him.

I did some reading up on PTSD after that and learned that 80% of all sufferers are only afflicted for a short time. I’m hoping this is one of those 8 out of 10 situations. I hope my friend returns someday.

I told you earlier that I’ve only seen a doctor twice in ten years. The last time was last week. I have a clean bill of health, so far, but there are still blood tests to run, and that colon thing to do this summer when I turn 50. Who knows. I may yet be a man of perfect health. But this thing, with my friend, was a reminder, and I’ve learned a lesson.

He’s a good dozen years younger than me. He never had to go to doctors. He was smiling and happy and ready for whatever life threw his way. And then a bad tooth upended his world.

It can happen in an instant, we all know that. But when it’s happening over time, when there is something that we can do about it, our body will tell us. His body told him about his pain for months, and he ignored it. My body said nothing for decades so I’ve ignored it. But I will ignore it no more. Annual checkups. Taking heed of the pains. Exercise. Cutting back on the red meat. Less beer.

I’ll do most of those. 😉

But I beseech you, out there, do the same. Don’t let it go. Get it checked. The smallest thing can be the biggest thing. Don’t be afraid to know. The worst thing that can happen is you can find out you have something. If you do, you’ll find a way to deal with it. Steve has. He found out he had something. He’s learned to live with it. Learn from his example.

Our lives may change. Our lives will change as we get older. Guaranteed. But when we know what ails us we can have more control over that change. If we don’t, that change can upend us. Sometimes, when we are upended, we never come back.

So, that’s my health-related story. I want to thank Steve for letting me tell it. For inviting me on. I hope I’ve entertained a tad, educated a bit, and didn’t make a fool of Tom. I hope to be invited back.

Honestly, I haven’t even attacked the pharmaceutical companies yet. 😎

Think Getting Published is Easy?

publishing

I’ve written a novel. The main character has MS (big surprise), but that’s only a subplot to the story, which is about self-discovery, perseverance, family, friendship, love and redemption.

I never intended to be an author, and how I came to write this is a long story in itself, but I enjoyed the process, had the assistance of an editor along the way, and I think the end product is pretty good. Most of the people who have read it certainly think so. Who knows? Maybe this can become a second career if working regular hours in an office  becomes impossible. A guy can dream, can’t he?

But I have to get one little detail out of the way, which is getting the damn thing published, and I don’t mean self-publishing. When I finally got the manuscript finished after so many edits and revisions I lost count (at least twenty of them), I figured the hard part was over. Little did I know.

I assumed all that needed to be done was to send the manuscript out to hundreds of publishers, who would see how brilliantly I write, and fall all over themselves trying to sign me. My literary agent, who has been in the business forever and whom I trust, quickly disabused me of that idea. In today’s competitive environment, you need more than talent. You need a social media presence.

Oh shit!

Just hearing the term “social media” makes me cringe, primarily because I never believed in it, didn’t have time for it, and didn’t want to be bothered with it. E-mail and texting was more than enough for me. Unfortunately, social media numbers are necessary because the assumption is you have a built-in network to market the book to. So whether I liked it or not, I had to jump on the bandwagon. And until a few days ago, I thought I did.

The laundry list of things I needed to accomplish when this odious chore was first presented made my sphincter pucker. I needed to max out the number of friends allowed on Facebook, which is 5,000. At the time I had less than 100. This took me the better part of three months to accomplish.

But that wasn’t enough. More was required, the list of options long, and starting a blog was the least objectionable of the choices. That, dear followers, is how this blog got started. Not that I have any regrets. I enjoy doing this and have met some fun and interesting people along the way.

I also needed at least five endorsements from published authors, which took as long as it did to achieve 5,000 friends.

Those three accomplishments got me to the point where I could sit down with my agent and hopefully move forward on the publishing front. That meeting occurred on Wednesday, and the good news is that we are going to actually start the process. YAY! 

The not so good news is getting started means I also have to create a web site (ka-ching!), and get my Linkedin presence more robust than Facebook. By the way, Linkedin does not have a follower limit, so I presume I’m looking at having to get in the 10,000 range. I currently have 103. And while all that is going on, I need to get started with Instagram.

In addition to this, a marketing plan that can be sent to publishers along with the manuscript needs to be developed, which demonstrates how wonderfully connected I am, shows all the writing groups I am affiliated with, and lists more endorsements than I currently have. That presumably will occur once the web-site, Linkedin and Instagram are in full gear, along with Facebook. Getting the blog numbers up would also be helpful.

I walked out of that meeting with mixed feelings. I was happy that we are going to actually move forward with this, but all the other stuff? It’s completely foreign to me. I think I will become enthusiastic and have fun once I get into it, but right now it feels like I’m sitting in the dentist’s office waiting for a root canal.

I know my agent is right, because once it does (hopefully) get published, the foundation to market, sell and get the word out will be in place, and the news hopefully spreads like a virus.

Still, all of this for a freaking book? If I’m going to go invest all this time, money and aggravation to get the platform up and going, it sure as hell means I’m going to have to write more stories. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Wish me luck.