Tag Archives: block

An Unexpected Kickstart

A friend of mine is working on a game project that looks quite fun, but was suspended in need of some writing. I, meanwhile, was suspended in my own dead space, colliding with blocks and depression left and right, till there was nothing left to say or do except to stare the cursor blinking on and off in a white screen. Regardless, hearing him talk about his needs made me – impulsively – offer my services.

We talked about what he wanted, I threw out some ideas I had based on his description of the kind of game and world he wanted to create, and offered suggestions on altering the antagonist’s motivation, create more of a meta-plot to bind together the various groups he was describing, and an overarching narrative rather than distinct stories. He agreed to give me a shot, and I began to pound out words.

The writing had to be very structured due to the nature of the project – there were eleven settings that had to be outlined, within about 450 words each. Each outline was broken down into four segment – a brief overview of an area and then three spots of interest within them. I created more structure by organizing the three spots into a friendly area, the area of the enemy’s strength, and an adventuring node.

I also went through the various geographies and assigned each some kind of setting flavor – whether Arthurian, Arabian, French Military, Medieval, Germanic Fairy Tales – you get the idea. In the end, this didn’t help me very much, as the themes were more muted, but it was a good starting point and it put the right visuals in my mind. To organize this in space, I sketched out a very rough, circular map that helped me arrange things a bit better.

The first draft was laborious, and then my son was born. I took some time off from the project, while I handed it in for notes. When I got back to it a week later, I had some feedback to work off of. The second draft was much cleaner, I revised considerably, and rewrote a few sections entirely.

I tend to overwrite and my word-bloat grows quickly. Here, I was arrested by the structure. Further, the project wasn’t mine – there was no ego involved here, I was writing to please someone else. These factors played a considerable part in allowing me to write quickly and efficiently, and while the writing went a week or two past the deadline, what I turned in was pretty good. It even got me a second project from him, which I’m working on now – taking the various characters and settings and combining them together to form story devices for the players to hook into for their own games.

Even better, the writing finally got me through the years long block I’ve been struggling with, and for the first time in ages, I’m thinking of new ideas. Last week, I finished the first draft of a story, with some nine thousand words that needs to be pared down by a thousand or two words, and right after I finished that first draft, I began another, entirely new story with the opening paragraphs of a third also thrown out during lunch this week.

And I have this contract writing to thank for this renewed energy. Finishing things is such a motivation and inspiration, that it doesn’t matter what it is that you finish – it could be anything, even contract writing. I don’t mean to diminish the writing I did for this game – it’s good, and I enjoyed it, but it’s still not my personal writing, so there’s always a separation there.

I can’t wait to see where this current burst of inspiration takes me.

Family Expanding

Back in March, I wrote about the imminent spawning of my second child.

Well, he arrived back on the tenth of July. My world has turned a bit backward and upside-down since then, in a good sense for the most part. We called him Nadim. He’s a quiet kid, with dark hair, a small, curiously inquisitive face, a beak-like mouth that lacks any teeth, and blue-gray eyes like my grandfather, who died while my son was still incubating. His eyes dart around like manic fish in a milky ocean, afraid of an uncertain world full of weird colors and abruptly changing sceneries, where the only security comes from the voice he heard when he first grew ears. No matter where my wife goes, when she speaks, he turns toward her immediately.

His hands are small enough that when he wraps it around my finger, it only covers half the digit and his toothless mouth is always working, as if he’s trying to express the state of his being without language or sound. His lips shiver every so often, no matter the temperature, and when I holds his limbs together in a knot and then let go, they open wide, the hands ready to grasp at something that might save him from falling. A futile, but sweet gift of evolution, for the baby has no strength to hold itself up. His neck is so weak that his head wobbles, like a bobble-headed doll.

My older son has gone through a few phases and arrived at last to the station of acceptance, despite being initially charmed by his brother. On first meeting, he held the infant in his lap and sang him a song, creating a moment that filled me with such complex emotions, I felt ready to burst as if I couldn’t contain all the feelings. Things have become more prosaic since. We retain our late-night rituals. In a sign of the ever-marching pace of time, he achieved his own milestone, starting Pre-K yesterday. Things change, things move on. The seed plated so recently is already a sapling, the plant you were watering has turned into a shrub.

I think my greatest regret is that my grandmother died before she could meet either of my kids. Much like my younger son who was incubating as my grandfather died, so did she take her last breath while my first son grew in his mother’s womb. I took so much pleasure from introducing my first son to my grandfather, that I – greedily, I know – wish I had been able to introduce both of them to the people who were my surrogate parents.

Regret doesn’t even buy you a cup of coffee, I know. But that doesn’t keep it from knocking on your door, crashing on your couch, putting its dirty feet on the table and drinking that brew you’d been saving for a special night.


In the dusty aftermath of those initial nights after the baby was born, I found myself wandering Manhattan streets at midnight after leaving the hospital in a hazy overemotional state that demanded some room to breathe. Since then, time has started to contract and become so much more valuable. Green moments are hard to come by, everything is laden with importance and moments become heavy, demanding recognition. They pile up until there’s not enough space on the table to lay them all out, and dissect them, as one wants to, in the contracted frames that this urgent time demands Pressure adds up, becoming unbearable enough that it makes me lash out.

I leave Rorschach patterns in my wake, walking towards something old and new at once. I excavate them for words, and then cobble them into stories. Down in the word-mines, where I continue to toil, there is some light at last. Someone has turned on the generator, it makes the Canary sing, adding some cheer to the gloom. If I find a suitable gem for polishing, maybe I can make my way back out, for a little while.

I should now be back to my regular schedule of irregularly posting whatever comes to mind.

Nudge the Needle

It’s difficult, starting from zero.

You’re fighting to get the needle to budge, even a little, and that’s the hardest thing of all. Starting from rest – even physics says so. You’re guided by something, maybe an image, or an idea that won’t leave you alone, so you have to get it moving somehow. But the needle is buried at zero, the engine sputters and coughs – that hum of power is long gone – the angle of the hill is too steep, and any number of other circumstantial things will stand up in the way of words.

Or that’s how it feels every time I sit down to write anymore.

Gathering momentum on a moving project is easy, it’s like the thing supplies its own ambition and motivation. The words come faster than I can write – which has its own problems, but I’d rather a torrent of useless words that need hours of editing and pruning, than this labor intensive grind to get the thing moving in the first place.

You start to doubt yourself, every sentence comes under scrutiny, cause and effect swap places, time frame changes, beginnings are re-written a dozen times, and the supporting cast changes names, appearance, number and beliefs like coats in the spring. On, off. On, off.

That’s probably the biggest hurdle in the way of my writing, that start from zero every time I work on a new story. And maybe that’s why all I want to do lately, is work on long projects, that will take me months if not years to do. Meaty, chunky books that I can get lost in for ages, a good 120 thousand word deep pool to dive into, and hide from the light.

But what good is a book, for a writer who hasn’t been published in four years? All the success from the past squandered in years of depression and so we find ourselves starting from zero, over and over. Every time it gets more difficult to get moving. The answer seems obvious, of course, even if it isn’t easy to implement.

Don’t turn the engine off. Let it idle, just a little, every day. Keep the insides lubricated and moving, and slowly, the engine will heal. That hum will come back. For now, if you have to get off and push the damned thing up the hill every day just to be able to ride back down and pop the clutch, and try to get the engine to start, well, sweat it out.

Just turning the key and hearing the engine chug isn’t doing any good. Finish the first one. The others will follow. They must. Because failure isn’t tenable. For now, I’m with all the other writers down here, in the purgatory of mud and muck, hunting for gems in the dusk and gloom.

I wish you luck, if you’re down here with me.

Finishing Things

Anyone can come up with ideas, a few will even try to execute it, but the difference between an idea and a complete work is a vast gulf of effort and pain. Crossing that gulf is what separates the writers from those who can’t. Or don’t. Or won’t.

Or that has been my case, anyway. For years, I struggled with this idea of identity, whether or not I was a writer, for years, I wanted someone to tap my shoulder with a pencil and say, “Yes, now you’re a writer.” When I got stories into magazines, it wasn’t enough. When I had a play in a theater, it wasn’t enough. When I won a singular award from among thousands of stories, it wasn’t enough. And when I told this to someone, they blinked and shook their head. “You’ve arrived,” they said. “This is it.” But I didn’t believe it.

And now, it has been years in this malaise, struggling to self-identify as a writer and being unable to do so. Toying with ideas, making notes, creating elaborate outlines for books that don’t get written. Jotting a sentence or two every few days for ideas that would be brilliant if they were stretched out into stories, but it doesn’t happen. And now, I’m not a writer, I’m someone who thinks about writing, who wants to write, who dreams about it, but does anything but fucking write.


It gives me great pleasure to know that a small anthology I put together with a friend of mine is finished, and is under review with Amazon, and in a few short hours, I will be able to share a link to it. I’m done waiting for other people to tell me that I’m a writer.

If I’m the boss, then I demand a story from me every month, on the dot. Get to work.

Old Things Make New

A long time, in a lifetime far-far away (or maybe just 10 years ago, a few neighborhoods away) I wrote a book.

It was a good book, if messy, broken, flawed and confused. I sent it to a few agents but the overwhelming silence buried my enthusiasm for the book, as much as I loved it, and I set it to one side. Since then, I have written. Plays, short-stories, scripts and other things that have all received some small measure of success. But then came the drought.

Three years ago, all confidence evaporated, all ideas seemed gray and every word I wrote was like ash in my mouth.

But all things end, and so did this drought, and when I recovered, it was with two minds. The one was the young man who wrote a book a long time ago, eager to see his work find an audience. Another was an older man with different interests and skills and outlooks eager to work on new material. There was no way to reconcile the differences, it was bi-polar. The old book became an anchor to the past, an albatross of failure that threw a long shadow over the future.

So, I came to a solution, after some counseling with my wife – I would fix the old story as much as necessary in a short amount of time, and then I would move on. Good or bad, fail or succeed, I would move on. Two months, I said, to change anything, fix anything, and on May 1 I opened the file, cracked my fingers, and I worked on the opening chapter.

And then woke up the next morning, and I worked on it again. And then again. And again.

There is a level of anxiety about beginnings that is perhaps unique to my own process, wherein the beginning guides the rest of the material. It has to be strong, it has to be compelling, it has to be the sort of thing that sketches out a universe that I am interested in quickly, and while that’s easy to do in a short-story with its focused scope of attention and time, I find it difficult to do in a book. The scale is too large, too many themes and textures and undertones, and I always feel like I’m missing something.

Somewhere around the fourth revision, I decided, that maybe I should just write the first chapter like any other chapter. Forget the text book definitions of first line, first paragraph, first page – just write it like chapter 27 instead. And so I did.

I’m so far behind schedule now, that I’ll have to made a mad dash to catch up. But at least I’m past the first turn.