This weekend changed my life

You have to grasp the important things in life while they’re within reach. Wait a moment, and they move away forever.

One of the thousands of attendees at RadCon in Pasco, Wash., this weekend, I didn’t go with the goal of having my creative ideas energized or even to meet other writers. Truth be told, I didn’t approach it with much in my mind other than attending the Region Five summit. But meeting with amazing writers, like Ksenia Anske and Laurel Anne Hill, among many others, stoked a much-neglected creative fire.

I remember writing with friends in high school, coming up with a script to Ghostbusters 3. It was zany, had a plot that not even the most attentive on earth could follow, and could be filmed with an approximate budget of $2.50. We only needed to buy those gigantic Campfire marshmallows at the store. While it has no chance of ever seeing the light of day, it was some of the most fun I’ve had while writing a story.



Coffee vs tea – the writer’s perspective


Every morning across America, war erupts on the granite/stone/laminate landscape of the kitchen counter. A war of epic proportions, waged over the centuries without any hope for resolution. The players are bitter enemies, strained after decades of losses and having faced the daily grinds of war. Trouble brews constantly, offering little solace from a situation that could easily boil over if left unattended.

It’s the battle between tea leaves and coffee beans.

On one hand, tea offers subtle flavor complexity and has a history that goes back almost to the dawn of man. It’s a staple across the world, and is great at any time of the day. Coffee packs a substantial punch in the morning and serves as fuel for the working man. There’s truth behind the slogan “America runs on Dunkin.”


As mentioned above, the subtle flavor differences in tea are astounding. They’re wildly different depending on the type of tea you buy, how it was stored and how you make it. Of course, its source of origin is chief among those.

Unlike its potent opponent, tea has less of a caffeine kick, allowing it to be used at night. With tea, there’s less of a chance you’ll be up into the wee hours of the morning with insomnia. While it lacks a hefty amount of caffeine, various tea blends have been used as health tonics for centuries. Green tea with a bit of lemon and honey is still a staple home remedy to soothe a bad throat, among other issues. It also does less color damage to your teeth in comparison to coffee or even black tea.

(Alton Brown has a perfect brewing method for those looking to begin their loose leaf tea devotion. And yes, using loose leaf tea makes a world of a difference compared to using bagged tea.)


This potent brown liquid downed by billions across the planet fuels us in the morning, fuels us in the mid-morning and even during the afternoon pick-me-up for some. Like tea, it’s picky in how the drink is brewed and varies depending on the method. And like tea as well, its flavor varies on the type of coffee purchased, as well as its roasting origins. Whether taken straight or with some sort of additive (milk, sugar or syrup), coffee has a wide array of flavors in its arsenal.

Unfortunately, due to its high caffeine content, many can’t drink it past the early afternoon. And, the decaffeination process, if not executed properly, can harm the drink’s flavor.

Coffee is more popular than tea in America, in most places, dating back to the Boston Tea Party. I’m not saying drinking coffee is more American, but it goes to show how a great beverage can have staying power when it’s coupled with a cultural mindset.

And my winner is…

Coffee, by an incredibly small margin. Either way you slice it, tea and coffee are the liquid foundation for most writers, and I’m hardly an exception.

Both have kept me hydrated and warm as I continue to write. Seeing “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” in January was a big part of my decision to pursue creating a novel. While it wasn’t a great box office hit, the movie’s pacing and character development really hit home. While other movies tried to be grand and offer some sort of soliloquy and heavy-handed dialogue, “Jack Ryan” was just a fun, fast-paced thrill ride.

In closing, thanks to Stoakes Books for his Liebster Award nomination. One of his questions served as the impetus to write on this topic.

5 items on my desk

Workspaces provide a glimpse into what matters to someone. Photos, letters, funny little placards and various other items all play a part in someone’s personality. I’ve had my fair share of funny pictures (Vote for Ron Swanson) and inspirational quotes (Sense of Urgency) and blanket statements (This is a snake-free environment. Please keep it that way.) in workspaces throughout my career… here’s a glimpse at what’s currently on my desk.

– Backup and portable hard drives 

Working with photos and video means my computer’s hard drive tends to disappear fairly quickly. So, there are a couple of spare hard drives nearby to help back up and add a bit of padding to my files. Never go without a backup, a computer crash is just around the corner!

– Wacom tablet

I’m hardly a great artist when drawing by hand. It’s hard to mess up a stick figure, but somehow I do just that. With the tablet, however, I’m able to touch up photos and use Photoshop with more precision. When working with different brushes, it’s an invaluable tool. And, since it’s a pen, it makes me believe I can actually draw something.

– A thank you card from last year

I have a bad habit of keeping cards. Christmas, birthday, a creepy newspaper reader note slid under the office door and thank you cards are all boxed away. A select few, however, do remain out on display. One thank you card from last October has been on my desk for a few months now. It’s the simple things that keep you grounded and encouraged amidst the chaos of life.

– Flashlight

Because random noises at night are creepy.

– Coffee mug

There are times I have too much blood in my coffeestream. A cup of coffee usually fixes that. I’m a big fan of Spokane’s local roasters, Thomas Hammer in particular. Their breakfast blend is perfectly balanced in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. It’s by far my favorite wake-up tool in the morning.

Are word counts killing your writing?

Word counts have both benefits and drawbacks, sometimes occurring simultaneously. After reading a post on Victoria-writes, it really struck me that I haven’t written with a proper word count in the past three or four years.
For some, having a set word cap sets a goal in place. Providing a proper finish line allows writers to focus on reaching the end point.
The biggest drawback for word limits, I think, is the potential for the content to suffer.
On one hand, the writer may need to cut back on key elements of a story just to make it fit a specific word limit in order to please a publisher. In a sense, that forces writers to be creative and cut down on some of the descriptive details that may otherwise bog down a story. Trimming the fat and making your piece flow smoothly is much better than overwhelming the reader with the description of an ornate wooden staircase that isn’t seen later in the manuscript.
Conversely, setting a word count can kill a story that isn’t meant to go on for 100,000 words (or whatever the word count is). Sure, it can be argued that, once again, it spurs creativity as the writer is then forced to whip up some extra details for the manuscript. In some cases, the additional material could provide background to a character, explaining their motives and what drives them in the story.
Over the past three or four years, I’ve written news articles that had a minimum requirement of 500 words. It was generally accepted that you’d go over that level, as there’s almost always something more to say. But, excepting about once every two weeks, there weren’t any set word limits. It was freeing to have the ability to shape a story, or news report, in a way that could best benefit customers.
In the end, I don’t think there’s a straight answer to the question of whether word counts are helpful or detrimental. Like everything else in life, having moderation in writing is a good thing. Also, there’s the old adage that comes to mind: “Leave them wanting more.” If writers overstay their welcome on the page, it’s ultimately doing more harm than good.
So what’s something to take away from this? Have a general word count in mind when starting to write. That helps with pacing, tone and the story itself. Instead of searching for the right timing along the way, having a general idea of when certain actions happen helps all of the plot elements fall right into place.
How do you approach word counts, if at all? Have they been beneficial for you?

My own case study: building a storyline

I wasn’t expecting writing inspiration to come from watching “The World’s End” last night, but to my great surprise, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg went through their process for writing the movie.
As I mentioned last week, I struggle when it comes to nailing down a storyline. I’ll frequently get decent ideas only to see them crumble in a heap of disappointment and frustration after trying to give characters a purpose for their existence.
Back to the movie. Wright and Pegg showcased numerous pages of their development process, from the basic one-line idea behind “The World’s End” to a complicated set of paragraphs and a fully realized 105-minute movie. They were struggling to creat the same thing I wanted: a solid, entertaining storyline that takes people on a journey through characters’ lives.
So, this afternoon I set out to attack a short story in a similar fashion to their scriptwriting process. Start with a simple concept and develop the storyline from there, branching out to describe the setting, motivations for the main character, Marty (Monica Woods’ “The Pocket Muse” was a great help to get the ball rolling). My morning today was spent getting Marty’s background in line and giving him reasons to exist in the world I create for him.
Before I begin putting the story on the page, I’m describing the important parts of the story: a new store in town, Marty, and the town itself. From there, I’ll give a 40,000-foot description, breaking down the plot into acts and summarizing the big events in each section. Each next step down, like Wright and Pegg, will add more to the story, factoring in the little elements that can turn a small idea into one that’s manageable and interesting.
Sure, my concerns about turning this simple idea into a fully-developed story are still there. But it won’t progress into the next stage by taking up space inside my head.
The roadmap of our writing lives is often full of detours and delays of our own creation. “Will this sell?” “Why would anyone want to read this?” “I don’t know enough about that subject, so I can’t write it.” “This idea about elves and spaceships isn’t mainstream enough.”
Instead of worrying about whether something will sell, just write. Think a story isn’t good enough to turn into a novel? Just write and see.
This week, I’m blocking out 40 consecutive minutes in front of the keyboard every day. It’s a start, but actually taking the time to hammer out an idea will get things rolling, even if it’s not the direction you initially wanted.

Running into the hurdles of writing

One of the most difficult parts about writing, for me, is storyline.
I’ll get a concept going, albeit a small one, and try to form it into something coherent. Sometimes that works, most of the time the idea ends up in a folder in the corner of my closet, buried underneath plastic bags of clothes I haven’t touched for years. On the rare occasion that it actually works, I’ll be at the keyboard for hours at a time, hammering out the details and making characters and situations follow the melody of that storyline.
A storyline is really quite easily compared to a song, one where the rhythm is persistent and purposeful with every action the characters are made to take.
The challenge of making a coherent storyline is the reason why I stuck to writing short stories for a while. (That is, when I actually made the effort to write them.) For years, I let my professional writing intrude on the personal writing. Instead of creating stories about a young man discovering the true story behind a box of items willed to him by his grandfather, I focused on making sure my newspaper article was properly structured.
Instead of writing that spinoff to “The Office”, I stuck to ensuring I didn’t have more than three or four sentences in the paragraph of a news article.
And, instead of bolstering my creative writing, I made excuses and told myself “I’ve done enough writing this week. There just isn’t any left in the tank.”
You see, writing isn’t easy, and I’m not trying to boost my ego or make further excuses here. For some, crafting a story with various subplots and making everything flow smoothly in line with the storyline’s drum beat is easy. For others, writing a 20-plus word lead and filling in the rest of the details in an article just over 500 words is easy.
For myself? I can write a traditional news article simply enough. It’s merely churning out a simplistic storyline and tossing some quotes in to balance the article’s objectivity.
But ask me to create a world from the chaos of my imagination and turn it into a coherent work? That’s not easy. Add in the challenge of making it marketable to a mass audience, and that’s a pretty tall order.
That is precisely why I’ve strayed from creative writing over the last few years. It isn’t due to a lack of ideas or a lack of ability. Creating a cohesive plot that works for several hundred pages is enough of a challenge on its own, and one that I haven’t ever successfully accomplished.
I would, however, like to add that to the ever-growing list of goals for this year.
A couple of good friends have already published their own novels. It’s time I join their ranks.

2014 goal – Write Less by Writing More

My priorities have changed this year.
Lately, I’ve been encouraged from numerous sources to write more. In a way, writing has always been my passion, but I never really took notice of it until college.
Sure, I wrote silly stories about a chicken plant exploding with feathers flying everywhere, Star Trek fan fiction, the ever-elusive third Ghostbusters movie and plenty of other silly pieces throughout my younger years. I think I even still have a few of those saved somewhere among my numerous files back home.
It was only when I needed to finalize my reason for going to college that I realized how much fun there was in writing, and that I wanted to make it a career. With a stroke of the key, I could create a brand new world, start friendships, pit enemies against each other and listen to the melody of a storyline as it progressed through the page. My priorities changed along the way, and I began pursuing a career in journalism, focusing on a different style of writing.
But, since 2008 or 2009, writing has taken a backseat to photography and design.
I love photography and how it can capture a story in one frame, or a set of them. A family’s grief at the loss of a loved one, celebrating a birthday, or even just a visit to the local mini golf company all factor in to a great story.
That brings me back to the promptings to tell my story this year.
In all honesty, I’m not sure what part of my life is worth putting down on the page. I’ve had great things happen, no doubt, and some terrible experiences along the way. But I’m not a military veteran, I wasn’t a college graduate at the age of 16, nor do I consider myself remotely influential in people’s lives. Then again, that’s the beauty of storytelling. Even the most mundane, repetitive things in life can show someone’s personality through the actions they take each day.
So what SEO-oriented statement can best define my goals in 2014? It’s simple: “Write Less by Writing More”.
Be purposeful with words and actions in life. We’re given an opportunity to leave a legacy each day that we spend on this planet. It’s time we make the most of it.