Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Creative Process

For as long as I can remember, let’s say about seventy years, I’ve been curious about the whole creative process. At some point in my youth I became aware of the fact that someone, somewhere, somehow had written those wonderful pop songs that accompanied me on my paper route each morning and afternoon. Somebody peered into my soul and understood what I was feeling even if I didn’t know how they did it at the time.

How did they do that? Where did their inspiration come from? What motivated them to sit down and come up with all those wonderful lyrics, ideas, scenes, melodies, storylines and emotionally charged feelings that I was experiencing?

Me and the Gang -Photo Courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

It was a reflective period for me. At some subconscious level I was acquiring, accumulating, assessing and actuating bits and pieces of storylines that would all come bubbling up to the surface as I got older. Those thoughts began to morph into crudely-sketched comic books, scribbles of poetry, eight millimeter films and short stories all born and nurtured throughout  my younger years.

A career in television and video services became the clay that formed my writing foundation. Then at age thirty-something I wrote my first two novels. Fast-forward forty more years and a real career in writing slowly took shape.

Many folks my age proudly see themselves as seniors and they do so without apology. They’re getting older, past their prime but still keeping busy. It’s that golden period in their lives when they don’t have to fight 9-5 traffic, satisfy a grumpy boss and be so prim and proper all the time. Frankly, I’m too busy to notice or care about such trivial matters. I’m happily sailing my new career on the River De Nial and loving every minute of it. Yet it hasn’t come without some cautionary comments.

The question that has arisen is when is too much too much? Many of us were raised in an environment where we were told to focus and concentrate on one thing at a time. To get one task finished before starting a second one. We were told to pay attention to our parents, our teachers, our coaches and any other authoritarian figure in our lives. Do as they say, not as they (necessarily) do themselves.

As a writer, I’ve been cautioned not to be too scattered and to focus on one genre at a time. The idea is to build up a collection of stories that define me as a certain type of writer. Westerns, for example, might be my storyline of choice.

I’ve written four westerns thus far. I have a fifth treatment in the wings that is a civil war drama. There seems to be an audience for my western stories in Great Britain and Australia. I’m told that both India and Japan also have a small hard-core group of western readers.

So should I try to best Zane Grey or Louie L’Amour? More to my liking, do I want to be the next Will Henry or Clay Fisher or Larry McMurty? One of my newer novels is called ‘Follow the Cobbler.’ It’s a suspense thriller that was a lot of fun to write. I’d like to write more stories in that genre. Yet if I remain just a western writer, I can’t do that. And that is not who I am.

As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I have trouble concentrating on any one subject for any length of time. Call it attention deficit, unfocused or scattered, I just can’t hold my attention on anything for an extended period of time. The solution for me is multi-pronged approach that works on any number of different subjects for varying periods of time. And it works for me.

Here is a list of current projects of mine in various stages of development.
1.      Sending out press releases for my new YA novel ‘Chasing Ophelia.’
2.      Refining and fine-tuning my new play ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure.’
3.      Promoting my new play ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure’ for a December performance.
4.      Working on a second draft of my new play ‘PTV.’
5.      Trying to find a venue to perform my new play ‘The Last Sentinel.’
6.      Beginning to write one of two new novels: ‘Presidio Adieu’ or ‘The Trades.’
7.      Scheduling more writing workshops.
8.      Continuing to write my weekly blogs (usually with 3-5 in the cue at any one time.)
9.      Marketing myself as author and playwright.
10.  Marketing my plays and novels.

Since 2007 I‘ve focused (in bits and pieces) on multiple areas of writing and completed:

400 plus blogs
10 self-published novels
1 self-published investment guide
6 plays; three of which have been produced thus far
4 screenplays
Over 50 treatments in various stages of completion.

There is a rational for my seemingly scattered, shotgun approach to writing. Turns out it is the best way I can capture those fleeting moments of inspiration that seem to creep into my brain on a daily basis. It’s like mixing up a wild, scattered batch of ingredients and turning out a mildly entertaining piece of something after hours in the oven of my mind.

Writing a weekly blog has improved my writing. It had to. I work on the same pieces day after day until a deadline is reached and I have to post them on BlogSpot for publication later on.

My writing has covered a number of different genres. I let my interest carry me in many different directions and formats. My solution to eventually complete my work is to prioritize what to do,  pace myself and make sure every day is spent on writing.

Oh, and have a life at the same time. I’ve already won this game of life. Whether I write another word or not I am ahead of the game.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Standing Outside of Myself

The cliché wrapped up as a question goes something like this:

How do you see yourself?

How do others see you?

How are you in reality?

Often times our version of reality doesn’t compute with other people’s reality about us. So goes the game of life. I thought I knew but they knew better. Or so they thought. Self-reflection isn’t a bad thing if it can be done with a solid grasp of past failures and accomplishments. Satisfaction with ‘today’ can open up the world of ‘before’ with all of its nooks and cranny’s and past stumbles revealed.

Along with being born Catholic comes a certain amount of Catholic guilt and fear of the sin of pride. My classmates and I were taught early on that feeling good about one self, if not a mortal sin, was certainly venal in nature. The idea was to think only of others, to the detriment of ourselves. ‘Sacrifice now’ we were told so we could reap our benefits in heaven. It was an ancient line handed down from the priests, nuns, teachers, parents and other figures of authority. Being German Catholic with rural ancestry certainly didn’t diminish but only enhanced that message to us young-ins.

Being raised in a single parent household, ours was not your typical home environment when the norm usually centered on the classic nuclear family. As a Catholic youngster the standard path to eternal life for me was being an altar boy in grade school, 12 years of Catholic education, Sunday services every Sunday and unquestioning allegiance to the Bishop and Rome.

Self-reflection was usually considered a bad thing. A kind of masturbation of the mind. Feeling good about oneself was the worst kind of sin, that of pride.

So when I began blogging several years ago I found myself reflecting back on my life as it stacked up to that point. Without the encroaching cloak of adult authority leaning over my shoulder I was able to look back, not in anger, but with curiosity at a life well lived thus far.

It was only recently that I realized there were two curriculum tracks at Cretin High School. Seriously, I was that clueless! There was the college bound track with its challenging academic courses and then the other track for those less inclined or qualified. Somehow, I was able to muddle through high school without guidance or help from anyone.

Getting into St. Thomas College proved I could succeed academically despite my grades in high school. A brief stint at the University of Minnesota proved I couldn’t succeed in that large factory of learning.

So now at 75 with many miles traveled and some accomplishments under my belt, I can step outside of myself and look back at my life… and not feel guilty in the process. My academic career was less than Steller but it worked for me. It gave me the insight and passion to believe that it was paramount that my kids and grandkids steel themselves with a solid educational background in order to succeed in this new ever-changing world.

They say maturity is wasted on youth. That’s probably true but I won’t apologize for my sometimes foolish, boorish, immature behavior growing up. I was young and stupid and yet somehow survived those lean, mean, not so innocent years without hurting anyone in the process.

A part of me wants to apologize to past girlfriends for any awkward situations I created between us. I realize now how very immature I was at the time. The intent was there. The manner taken could have been better. I guess I was searching. I’m not sure for what.

It’s a shame I’ve lost touch with so many old friends. Back then it was just the passage of time and other interests that drew us apart. Life moved on but I lost something very precious without even knowing it at the time. Luckily, some of them are still around if only by e-mail or the occasional coffee chat.

On another level, I’m grateful for the casual acquaintances with whom I’ve only spent slivers of time over time. Circumstances brought us together for a while and then pulled us apart as our lives moved on in different directions. But the moments and memories are still there etched in my brain.

Many curtains have opened for me at this later stage in my life. And before (sorry for the pun) my final curtain call, I want to look back once again on a life well lived with all of its hits and misses and reflect with a smile on how lucky I have been.