writing

Middle Schoolers Can Write! Seriously, People!

What’s up, my people?

Sorry, was that too out-of-the-gate?

Here, tell you what, I’ll call you folks from now on. Just folks. I promise.

All right, so, guys, I gotta tell you about this sweet class I got going at college. Yes, as you might have been able to divulge from the title, it does involve middle schoolers and stories. Good to practice those reading skills whenever you can.

Further information:

I am scheduled to teach a single sixth grade class, with a partner, for a whole hour. We’re required to construct a lesson plan, and, you know, all the other blah-de-bloo. It is to be presented on November 1st, the day after Halloween.

Lucky us…

Kids, hey, we need you to pay attention! Oh my God, I think–

No…

They’re psyched out on crap loads of candy! Run for cover! 

Well, barring any unforeseen candy psychoses, I think we’ll be all right…for a little while.

Anyways, back to the point of the post, which is sixth graders writing stories.

Personally, I’m in love with the concept, but maybe that’s just ’cause I’m a writer. I dunno.

Some of the more memorable bits of these students’ writings were:

  1. A story beginning with “It was a dark and snowy night.”
    • Golly, what a classic!
    • And they changed stormy to snowy.
  2. A story about Santa crashing through a kid’s bedroom wall, and not apologizing.
    • Christmas Genius at its best, my friends.
  3. A story about a witch going to the grocery store.
    • I mean…hey, a hag’s gotta eat.
    • Props for creativity.
  4. Not a story, but one student telling me all about how he loved playing Dungeons and Dragons with his uncle.
    • He was also quite polite and shook my hand; told me he was making his own board game with his best friend.

That is just the beginning–kidding, that’s actually the end.

Those four things are the only events that took place in the hour and a half I spent at this middle school. Other than that, I sat on the ground and stared at a wall and talked to myself about how Kraft Mac and Cheese is a disgusting choice of food.

Wait, you guys aren’t actually that gullible, right?

Right?

‘Cause I was totally lying about the Kraft Mac and Cheese.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

The Horrible Writing Experience Of Third Grade

If any of you are writers, or people looking to be writers, have any of you, after a certain amount of time, heard that old phrase: “Gee, you should really think of joining a writing group!”

Do you any of you barf a little in your mouth? ‘Cause I do.

I see writing as a personal game, like playing a match of Uno by yourself–and, yes, I realize that analogy sucks, but it’s the best I could come up with, so there. You sit at a desk, or lie on a couch, all alone while doing the craft, anyways, so why would you need other sitting experts to feed you their opinions on the matter?

Now, before you accuse me of having not attended any writing groups whatsoever, let me tell ya, I have. I will also tell you, it was not that fun; granted, my first experience of being in a group was when I was a third grader in Montana, but…

Yeah. Montana. The Big Sky State; although, personally, I don’t see the difference between their sky and the rest of the friggin’ sky. I don’t know, maybe the gravity’s a little off there. I was eight years old, for crying out loud; I wasn’t that observant.

I attended an elementary school right beside my mom’s resident home…where she worked–she didn’t live there. It was a nice school where I made a lot of friends; however, when I wasn’t making great friends, I was reading books and writing short, short stories. These things were a page and a half, two, if I had a brilliant idea.

‘Course, I got into trouble more than a few times with the teacher, since, apparently, I should have been working on the assignment instead of writing about this kid named Jim, who traveled to the Bermuda Triangle and blew it up.

Yeah, good going there, Jim.

My friends, on the other hand, thought the stories were spectacular, and the ones sitting at the same table as me asked if they could help write the stories. Yes, folks, I had my first collaborative writing session in the third grade. Cheers for me.

The months passed while we were writing these stories, and get this: a total of three students, including me, got to be working on stories together. Jim gained the friends, John, and Jean, I think, because, I guess, my friends felt they had to name their characters  “J” somethings, too. Again, I don’t why. I was eight years old, people.

In November, maybe, our teacher called our class together to inform us of a visiting author to the school. This author was going to teach a writing course for an hour, and he was going to do it for a select amount of students from each class.

In our class’s case, it was three students.

So, the big day arrived, at last. The author was scheduled for that afternoon, and our teacher had yet to choose her special students.

The tension was thick as she paced around the classroom, hand on her chin in that I’m-an-adult-and-I’m-thinking manner, and she ended up picking me–I was genuinely surprised at this–a couple of my collaborative writing friends, and another guy who occasionally wrote sci-fi detective stories, which, I believe, he only wrote to get picked.

I remember, after I was chosen, this one rude girl in the class said, “He’s only getting to go because he writes stories.”

Well, I mean, duh. Did you think I was gonna get picked if I had spent the year working on a bust of the Wright Brothers?

When the time came, the lot of us filed down to the library to see this writer dude; by the way, he was a children’s author–and, so, on getting there, I sat down in the furthest seat from this humming projector screen and watched the other kids find their seats and pull out their handy-dandy notebooks.

Then the writer dude entered.

I can’t remember all of it too clearly, but I know he had a satchel of papers and more papers that he set on the desk; and then he told us how excited he was to see us–yeah, sure, dude, excited to see a bunch of spaced-out third graders.

I was prepared to learn the most helpful writing tips in the world, had my pen ready and everything; and the first thing this writer dude did was to tell us to draw a picture. He didn’t say a word about punctuation, or showing and not telling, but a picture.

I sketched my favorite character at the time, a little dude with a Jack-O-Lantern for a head who I called Super Mask, then I prepared myself, again, for writing advice.

Once more, Writer Dude told us to draw a picture.

For christ’s sake, man, I hadn’t come down there to sketch comic book characters! I had come down there to learn how to perfect my craft–and these funny drawings were not cutting it.

The course ended, thankfully, and I left with two thoughts: one, how pointless that had been; and, two, I wondered what kind of stories were coming out of the girl who had sketched mutated unicorns.

There’s an idea.

So, that one writing course in third grade, in a way, formed my future perceptions of groups, in general. You can call that generalizing, or just plain stupid; but I like to call it thinking smart.

And here at Thoughts of A Southpaw, that is what we do.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

Carpe Diem.

Holy Crap, no one actually told me college was going to be this difficult. I just finished my first week, and already I am stressed out of my young, adult mind–wait, young and adult?

First off, boy, some of these classes are friggin’ long–I mean, five hours long. That’s a long time. A good thing, though, is that some of the professors can lecture so fluently time goes by in a flash. They can start on a conversation at the beginning of class and finish the class on the same topic.

Okay, maybe not the exact same topic…

I’ve made some friends already, which is a constant struggle in college; in that respect, lunch has gone smooth every day since then–but I’ve also been taking some time to venture out into the campus and reflect on life.

You know what I figured out?

All of the freshman entering college are in my position. I’m not talking the exact same position; however, each person is lost and isolated and confused as to what the hell they’re supposed to do after that one class.

We are lost souls, swimming in a fishbowl of our own loneliness. It’s sad when I put it that way, and maybe it’s sad for me to think of it as such; but when you gotta be honest, you gotta be honest.

I’m not avidly searching for people to hang out with–well, maybe a little–because I sorta got a bunch of friends from high school with whom I can connect. It’s just…it’s hard, you know? Stepping into the shoes of an adult for the first time… There’s a need for responsibility, a need to act, everywhere I turn; add on top of that a load of homework and studying and social pressures–it makes me feel like a ticking time bomb.

But, then, I remember. I remember how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to receive this great gift that is education. I tell myself to buck up, get my shit together. Life is hard, but it’s only gonna get harder; and if I have dreams to follow, then I had better go chasing after them as if it was the last day on Earth.

Carpe Diem. Translated from Latin, it means Seize the Day. That’s my catchphrase this year.

Armed with the ambition of wanting to be a writer, to tell stories that change how stories themselves work, I’m going to recite those two words every morning of every day.

When I wake up, the moment I open my eyes–Carpe Diem.

When I sit down to write on a story–Carpe Diem.

As I climb the staircase of knowledge at a university where hard work, and perseverance, will make me capable of achieving my dreams, my goals in life–Carpe Diem. 

It’s the truth as I believe it.

It’s the truth as I say it.

It is whatever I want it to mean, and more.

Why?

I have the ability to do so. I have the freedom to do so.

I’m not just going to sit here and write all of this crap down and do nothing with it.

No, these words are to be acted upon, as all words should be; and they will hold within themselves the truths that I have set forth in this blog post. This is a declaration of action, not inaction. It is a route by which I will travel these long and troublesome years, because I know I can do whatever I want to do–whatever I dream I can do, if I only suffer through the pain and come back out on top at the end.

Life is fair to us if we strive to make it so; otherwise, the chances can be less to none.

I say: Make Your Life, The Life of All Lives.

And never regret it.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Sticking To Your Guns

So, I got into Film a few days back. You know, Film. Movies. Screenplays. Trailers. Special FX, which I used to think was an acronym for an alternate Fox TV channel. I had a desire to make a movie, to film some weird crap, and other random stuff.

Then I stepped right back out.

One thing I have always known I wanted to be is a writer. A legit pen-smith–hey, it’s the best I could come up with. The writing thing is my life; tis’ my breath, and a bunch of different Shakespearean linguistics.

We have film, and we have writing.

I could devote time to teaching myself the art of making films and directing movies, or I could continue to devote my time to pursing a career in writing, one of which I am heading towards as fast as possible. There is a decision, then–what is the answer?

Now, before all of you start shouting at the top of your lungs to tell me your viewpoints, your varied and seasoned perspectives, look at the decisions you have made in your life thus far:

Are each of them making you happy?

Are you good at what you have decided to do?

If your life were to be just that, and only that, would you be satisfied–at least for the first three days?

Writing makes me happy. It is my dream to never want to retire because I am doing what I love to do, so long as I keep up the hard work and strive to be the best, in my eyes. Plus, I’d be satisfied for the first four days before I went looking for people to watch and listen to.

Hint-Hint: We’re writers. It’s what we do.

Not much of that would be true for film, and; in thinking about it from an outsider’s point of view, why shouldn’t I want to stick to what I’m good at in the first place and become a professional in it?

I’m sure there’s tons of people out there who have followed their dreams and followed their talents, cause’ why not? We’re supposed to be better at certain things and worse at certain things. If we were one way or the other, we probably wouldn’t be human; at best, we wouldn’t be from this planet…at all.

Imagine tons of aliens walking past you everyday. The guy at the water cooler today, the one who made the burbling noises right when the cooler was doing so? Yeah, definitely a spacer.

Oh, and the guy who stole your donut off your desk this morning.

Never mind, actually, he’s just of the species Asshole.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Photo Credit: Boris Vallejo

Novels Are Tough

Well, I finally finished writing it. It’s simple now, right? All I have to do is send in the manuscript to a publishing company, say, “read my shit,” and it’ll be accomplished, right?

Riiiiighhhht?

God, talking to you guys is like talking to a brick wall. Seriously, do you need some water? Are your throats parched? Worst. Audience. Ever.

I was saying–look at that, you threw me off track. Novels are not an easy task, and I learned that the hard way, having written two in almost under a year. Young amateur like me, I thought, “boy, oh, boy, I can’t wait to get these ideas down on paper!” And it’s not a bad idea, just a lot of time to work on one book over another.

It’s like a coin flip: you have to decide which one you want to complete first, usually that is the one with more promise–the one with a story that makes you sob whenever you read a particular scene. Hard choices, I tell ya, not one of them is easier; however, it is so worth it.

Novels fulfill you in some crazy writing way, as if Buddha and Gandhi had a brain child, and it was the nirvana that comes from scrawling all those thoughts down on paper, or laptop, or tissue/napkin–hey, it happens. You put so much of yourself into the darn thing, once you’ve finished it, a piece of your heart has broken off and is left in the book forever…or, until you rewrite it, again and again and again and–

Actually, I never get it when people are always complaining about how many rewrites they have to complete. Average Joe says he has to do seven rewrites. How in the holy hell is that possible? Then Average Joe’s cousin, Simple Bob, talks about his eleven rewrites! Oh Lord, get me an oxygen mask–I’m running out of air because I’m screaming my lungs out!

I could not stand it if I had to rewrites over the number three, maybe that’s just me–and yes, it probably is just me. Please excuse my out-of-this-world perspective; it’s only a little  strange, like me, in general.

But I’ll let you all get back to your reading and writing and eating and shi–whoah, let’s not go there, shall we? Getting a tad tipsy, aren’t we? Been drinking too much off the water fountain?

How about we get that book published, then you can go crazy.

Unless I already am crazy…

Think daily,

A Southpaw

This Time I Confused C.J Box

A week ago–don’t ask me why I didn’t inform you guys earlier–I met a writer named C.J Box, an interesting dude. Have no idea if any of you have heard of Mr. Box, let alone read his books. Honestly, until then, I had not read one either, so…joke’s on me. Ha ha. Funny.

I was invited to an award luncheon by my local library. The primary reason: I got third place in a mystery story contest. Fun stuff. Anyway, got there, met some folks–isn’t that awkward table talk just the best?–and ate a tasty salad, a tasty chicken, with tasty potatoes and green beans; and, oh, don’t let me forget the delicious chocolate something that looked like a cake, yet tasted like a fondue. I got full pretty fast–but, I am a runner, so…

The luncheon was created around two artists receiving awards, one of those being C.J Box, and the other a kind, local artist by the name of Charles Rockey, who is also a spectacular person, and I love his views on what art should be. It was a meeting of the minds, in other words.

So, get this, I show up to the thing, thinking, “okay, not the only teenager here–won’t be that awkward;” and, lo and behold, there is nothing but a mass of middle-aged men and women putting their fancy fur coats on the coat rack and fawning over the stack of C.J Box books. Then there’s me, a bearded teen in an enormous leather jacket, with a book in one pocket, and two bouncy balls in the other. I smiled at people. Those same people smiled back–some rolled their eyes after smiling, but that’s not the point.

For the most part, I stood around, humming to myself, until the doors opened and we were allowed to go take our seats in the ballroom. A bunch of kids and a few adults sat beside me, and we talked. Thankfully, the awkwardness died out around minute fifteen of companionship. All of the kids were writers who had placed in the contest, but I cannot tell you how the adults got there. I never did ask.

Rockey ended up being sick, unable to show himself, but he made sure a two dimensional bust of himself was present. His daughter shared his words, and they were quite touching; for, to have that feeling of sensing great artistry is hard to come across sometimes. By the way, his book of drawings and stories–a work of fifteen years–was selling for 250 dollars.

Us writers had a chance to talk to C.J Box before he spoke his piece, so, me being me, I went up ready to ask him a question. After we took a picture, he shook my hand and said, “Now, did you have something you wanted to ask me?”

I said, “Are you a plotter or a pantser?”

He squinted a moment, opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it, and said, “A plotter or a   what?”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a pantser is someone who uses no plans to write stories, but goes with the flow, as they like to politely say. I have confessed to being one myself, since I hate planning out stories.

He told me he outlined every aspect of his story; and, inside, I was wondering how someone could pull that off without getting bored of the story. I spend around four to five months on a novel, and that is without planning. How on Earth can a person plan as long as it takes to plan, then actually write the thing down, and add in a few rewrites afterwards?

Now, I know some of you are shaking your heads at my close-mindedness, but you gotta remember that I’m a teenager, and it is hard to come by these things adults call brains sometimes. I mean, do we have to get a surgeon in here? Feeling empty!

Mr. Box had some great advice in his talk, so I told him after the luncheon had ended and  he was signing my book at his tiny table. I think I was the second to last person in the line. See, I had been smart and waited for all the other guests to get their books signed in the beginning–how’s that teenage brain working now, huh? He said the expected good luck and all that jazz, but he had one more tidbit I thought was hilarious.

Want to know it? Do you really?

Get ready for 25 years of hell.

And I thought, “Buddy, I’m already going through it.”

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

 

 

 

Oh, Boy, Another Writing Rejection

This has to be, what, the thirteenth or fourteenth time I have been rejected by a short story magazine? Just so you know, I keep count–there’s this stack of rejection sticky notes hanging on my cork board, stuck to it by a thumbtack. They’re accumulating, so, in a way,  I suppose that’s a good thing, getting my stories out there and what not, even if they don’t make it.

I got this batch of short stories, at least seven of those puppies, waiting on special opportunities to free themselves and go out to those great readers that I will have someday. You see, there is no way I’m giving up. I’m gonna shoot off stories until I get published, damn it! And you can take that to the bank, or the publishing company…or wherever you stow your own stories, be it in a crate or a refrigerator.

Fun Fact: Tom Wolfe wrote on top of a refrigerator. Yeah, try that one on for size, you chair lovers.

Rejection is not so bad to me, most of the time. I view my failures as stepping stones, telling myself, “okay, buddy, you didn’t get in this time, but what can you do next time to make sure you receive a personal rejection instead of a form rejection?”

Oh, don’t you just get sick of those? It starts off all kind, “Thank you for submitting, such-and-such to our splendid magazine,” then comes the hammer to the gut, “but we do not think it exactly fits our tastes,” as if, instead of being publishers, they pursued a life of culinary critique. Ah, yes, hand me the fried lobster, would you, dear writer? In the end, they sometimes give you a little compliment, wish you luck, the sort of stuff that makes  you want to nod your head while gorging on a Klondike Bar, not me personally, but, hey, whatever works.

I persevere, however. I fight the good fight and write once more into the night. Ah-ha, it did rhyme! I then search the darkest corners of the Internet for magazines accepting stories and blast ’em off, like Buzz Lightyear blasted Toy Story to the top of the Box Office. You go, Buzz! Be a friggin’ incredible Space Ranger! I’m gonna stay here and write some more stories.

Just can’t wait until I get done with these two novels, then we’ll see how hard it is to get published. Oh, you betcha, it’ll be a trial–several trials, in actuality–but I am ready to kick it old school and get my stuff out there!

Whoo! Whoo-hoo! Writing rocks, dudes! Cowabunga!

Ah, crap, I think I stepped too far into the surfer lingo, ’cause all of a sudden I’m in the ocean. Well, the laptop’s sinking now, so…I guess…wait…I think…I’m…breaking up…the connection…seems…to be…going on…the fritz…

Later…dudes…and…dudettes…

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Brain Vomit: Creating and Editing Stories

There comes to me to be two great parts of writing. The Creating and the Editing.

Creating is fun because–well, why is it fun? Is it that we’re bringing to life these splendid, and sometimes not so splendid, characters who, in a way, are foggy representations of ourselves and those around us? Is it that we can meet people without even leaving our office? They are real, really! Or is it that we have a drive–an insatiable hunger–to produce   stories to change the world and spread global peace and cure the hunger epidemic and hand out Nobel Prizes like Hershey chocolate bars?

I think that applies to all but the latter.

I can create for who knows how long. One novel took me nearly six months to complete–and that was the first draft, currently it is in its second draft. My other novel took me four months; and, truth be told, it was harder to write. So, it depends. A single short story may take you a month. A single novel may take you five years, make it six if you want to beat Tolstoy and Hugo.

Then–[lightning sounds and a hissing cat]

IT IS TIME FOR…

EDITING!

Yes, scream, scream and bang your heads against the wall! The dreaded editing monster has returned to wreak havoc on your precious little writing brains and hands–and, worst of all, your time!

But I don’t have an hour and a half to spare! 

Wipe up those tears, crybaby, and make it ten minutes a day! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Side note: I was having fun just inserting those laughs, had to force myself to stop.

Editing was a hated task of mine…when I was fourteen. I’d finish a story, usually between fifteen or twenty pages; read it to my family, who sometimes fell asleep during those times; and stuff it inside a binder or send it off to a publishing company.

Random House, here I come! What? A piece of shit? Excuse me? 

Now, quite obviously, I have seen the error of my ways and am editing constantly. Seriously, dude, it’s an eight hour grind, totally not tubular or radical at all. I finish a short story and start the editing process the night after. For me, the whole set of writing and editing one of those takes near to nine days; some of you may be different, and that is A-okay.

What works for you, works for you.

Yeah. I can feel the inspiration surging through us. Go Writers. Blow the trumpets.

You can be a Creator or an Editor, or you can be both. But those guys are nerds, am I right? Eh? Anyone want to laugh? Who honestly edits and creates? It’s too much of a chore. Everybody knows the surefire way to becoming an excellent writer is by watching crap loads of television, pouring grape juice on your manuscripts, and shouting at your computer because it won’t invent the story of the century at your command.

Sure, I know that club. It’s called Dead End.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw

Note: We made it to eighty posts! Let them eat cake! Thank you for staying with me so long!

And I don’t really have cake. That was a joke. Sorry.

Brain Vomit: My First Story

I’m gonna tell you a little story.

Hear that, folks? Get your cookies and milk ready–snuggle up under a comforter.

This is a story about me. I know…what an arrogant asshole.

You all, if you are writers–but, hey, all of us here are, right?–remember the first story you ever wrote. It was exciting and bold and, maybe, just a little bit, stinking bad. You probably have it stowed somewhere in your room or a cabinet and look over it from time to time.

Mine is a single page. Scribbled writing–only I can really read it. And an original title.

Jim and the Haunted House.

At eight, you see, I was competing against those pulp fiction writers…it was challenging.

I wrote Jim and the Haunted House in my third grade classroom–must have had some time on my hands and decided to use it in an excellent way, wish I could give my younger self a high-five. I thought it was sliced bread. This was Dickens’ David Copperfield; King’s The Shining; Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In the coming years writers would battle against me on the New York Times Bestseller List. I was gonna be–famous! a writing rockstar! a–

A kid in third grade who wrote his first short story.

I let people read it; they told me they liked it–thought it was scary. So I wrote another one.

Jim and Area 51. 

Okay, the title could have been improved; but, come on, I was eight–I was just figuring out that boogers weren’t food. The story; however, was…mediocre, same as the last one. The same people read it, said the same things–and so–

Yes, I wrote another one. And another one. And another one.

I was crazy endurance writer, penning a short three page story every week–or day, in some cases–and I was eating up the compliments… and all of you are seeing me as a pompous little git with a hairstyle like Richie Rich, aren’t you? That’s fine. I loved the feelings I had.

And all those days spent scribbling in a four subject spiral notebook, adding to be continued after the end, it never went through my mind that I could make something of it–that I could be good at it. Back then I wrote fan fiction. Now?

I think that is why we always remember our first story. It is an artifact of our selves–those struggling and eager selves, who, at one time or another, thought, hey, this is what I want to do. And we keep at it, the fervent humans that we are; we push the boundaries of our skills and become excellent.

That is why we write, really, to improve–to make one better effort at the game we have been playing since the moment we decided to start. And I say, game on.

Think daily,

A Southpaw