The Solitary Writer

by Vargus Pike

Occasionally when I hear someone say that writing is a lonely business, this picture forms in my head of a writer in some distant white field with a flock of words. Shepherding them into patterns while they keep the wolves of self-doubt at bay. Or I imagine the writer stranded in a desert isle with plenty of food and water but without pen or paper as they struggle to commit to memory the story they must tell to native publishers to appease them and survive. A lonely business indeed.

But is it lonely for everyone?

True when I write I spend much of my time sitting by myself in a room, but am I lonely? A continual barrage of characters seems to constantly leak from my psyche like so many ants. They crawl around my head searching for release until they find their way to my fingers and emerge onto the pages. There is the old fishmonger – his third leg his cane. Each step he takes in his shop a labor, a struggle to survive as he puts his fish out in the morning and then throws them away in the evening unsold because no one ever comes into the store. The mother bereft; her children stolen by a reclusive neighbor who plans to sell them to a rich childless woman in a compound in Idaho, until his truck breaks down near a wildlife refuge in Oregon and things go horribly awry. Wrong place, wrong time. The couple in love who travel down the coast collecting memories in a bag on their honeymoon, then on their fiftieth wedding anniversary in the Kansas nursing home, they live they open the bag and are magically transported into their past. Their attendants find them dead in their room the next morning with water in their lungs, sun burnt, hand in hand – their slippers filled with sand. Writing may be solitary but for me lonely never.

The scary thing is I have absolutely no Idea where the ideas come from. Lacking a better explanation the Greeks placed the blame firmly in the hands of the 9 Muses, Daughters of Zeus. Lacking a better explanation I tend to agree with them and why not? Stranger things happen in the minds of writers and leak out onto the page every day. So the next time you feel lonely while writing a horror story alone in a dimly lit rented cabin in the middle of nowhere and you hear a floorboard creek behind you relax. Chances are it is one of the Muses looking over your shoulder helping you flesh out the story.

Overcoming Writers Block

We’ve all experienced that panicky moment when we stare at a blank page and freeze, our normally overly imaginative brains suddenly going silent. Or worse – we open up an existing story only to find prose flowing more like cold molasses on a winter day than the usual gush of words flying so quickly that fingers can’t keep up. Your muse has deserted you to go on an extended vacation, leaving you without an ounce of creativity.

So what can you do to overcome this paralyzing sensation? Here are a few tips to get the creative juices flowing again:

Change your environment – If you normally write from your computer in your office, try getting away to a coffee house or bar. If you are used to writing indoors, try your hand at writing in a park. Trade a noisy environment for a quiet one – or vice versus.

Create a schedule for yourself – Sometimes the best way to get the juices going is to make writing a habit. Set a regular time to focus on writing – and stick to it. Experts say it takes 21 days to form a habit. Make yours writing.

Make use of writing prompts – There are tons of resources to find short prompts to inspire the muse within you. These can be great tools to get your creative juices kick-started again. I’ve taken what came out of past writing prompts and incorporated it into current works in progress.

Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket – If you find yourself out of steam and unable to work on your next Great American Novel, switch it up and work on something else. Write a personal essay, blog post or short story. I normally keep a couple of manuscripts or strong story ideas tucked away to use during dry spells.

Take a walk – It’s long been said that exercise can break through writers’ blocks, and recent research now backs this up. Scientists have found that people who exercise regularly actually do think more creatively. Adding a regular exercise regime to your day can do wonders for your writing – including strengthening that imagination.

Join a critique group – Critique groups, like the ones put on by 9 Bridges, are a great opportunity to get around writers. Often, simply by being around writers and listening to other work being read, you can get the creative juices going again. Check your local groups – 9 Bridges welcomes all writers, whether they are in a place to read material or not.

Read a book – I know it may seem a little counterproductive to spend time reading when you should be writing, but the best writers are also avid readers. Ask any prolific author and they will tell you that they devour books.

And above all, the number one thing you must do is…

Keep writing – Don’t worry if it’s good or bad, happy or sad, or even within your chosen genre. Sometimes the muse has a will of her own and will take you down trails you never considered. Just let the words flow and take you where they will.

Why My First Book Was a Memoir

BW-author-profile-masked-02-copyby Larry Dunlap

I’m always surprised when one of the very first questions I am asked is why I chose to write a memoir for my first attempt as an author. It’s not that it’s a bad question, it’s that I had little choice, as it turned out. While it is my first book, I’ve been a writer for a long time, and a voracious reader since early childhood. I earned my bones as a pencil-for-hire technical writer starting at Transamerica, Countrywide, and Hallmark through the mid-Nineties but I’d been writing everything from business plans to training programs to technical specifications well before then. But always, on my own time, I was reading every kind of fiction and creative non-fiction.

When I finally found time to write as an author, which I had previously attempted two or three times over the years, there was a decision to make. What to write. I had three options. The first seemed obvious, I’d been deeply involved in the computer game business designing and overseeing the development of my own graphic multiplayer online strategy game. While the game was a critical success, these kinds of projects are expensive, and I fell a farthing or so short of what was needed. However, over the several decades I’d been subconsciously mapping out the details of the game, I’d developed a back story. It was a complex trilogy, though, which seemed like a daunting place to start. My second choice was a novel about a young off-the-grid, dishonorably discharged, veteran with a sordid past, living illegally on an abandoned boat in a rundown marina in southern California, reluctantly working as an off-the-books private investigator to survive. I got pretty invested in this guy, and thought I’d like to take on authors like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. Ha ha, sure. But then there was this real life story about a turning point in my life with a rock band in the mid-Sixties. The story almost told itself, and it seemed to demand telling, but I wondered if anyone would really care about some guys from the Midwest who almost made that climb to the top of the music biz.

The final decision came from two conversations. The first was with one of my band brothers, Dave. There are four of us, the four Midwestern musketeers so to speak, who are still in contact 50 years after our adventure began. Whenever we get together, sooner or later we always turn to reminiscences of the odyssey we took. While Dave and I were talking, he mentioned that the other two had told him they felt they could only converse with one, or more, of the four of us about those experiences because no one in their real lives could relate to what they’d done and where they’d been. That seemed incredibly unfair.

The second conversation was with my earliest best friend in high school, who’d introduced me to science fiction and board games. When I’d left Indianapolis for parts West, we lost contact with each other. But, serendipitously, I discovered him again when I was home visiting family and bandmates. When I mentioned I was considering writing about what happened in my life after I left Indy, and would he be interested in reading that, he said he’d always considered my experiences a “cautionary tale” he used to warn his children of what can happen when you wander off the beaten track as I had.

I totally got that. I’d lived in Indiana, it is an insular place. Often hard for people there to relate to things far away on either coasts. But when I considered it later, I realized that many of the adventures I’ve enjoyed reading generally had a cautionary tale at the root of them. I hadn’t thought of it that way before—so maybe it wasn’t such a bad book idea after all.

I began the process of getting things organized to write in early 2010, putting together calendars both in paper and spreadsheets, gathering photos, researching all the locations, music industry magazines, contracts, recording, people we met, and those who represented us–over several months of research. Though memoir, differing from biography and/or history, is a matter of opinion—what the memoirist remembers—I still wanted use all the dates, times, and facts I could find as milestones to weave my memory through.

The next big step was figuring out where to start. I had no problem with the ending. It was dramatic and obvious. It was where to begin. Despite all the crazy and interesting, almost unbelievable things, that had happened to us, who was going to care about reading a history of my band, no matter how I described and related these events I’d written in my calendars. It was well into the following year before I realized that if I wanted anyone to be interested in this book, I was going to have to write it through my own lens, how I experienced it. I would have to be the personal narrator. I struggled. I wrote about grade school, high school, discovering an obsession with singing, followed closely by an obsession with basketball, overshadowed by the mystery of girls. And then I tossed it all out.

I discovered memoir, in the sense that I hadn’t really understood what memoir was before then. I read other memoirs, mostly hated them, especially the music and band books, until I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, and “Candy Girl, A Year in the Life of a Unlikely Stripper” by Diablo Cody, and a novel that felt so much like memoir that I thought it counted, “The Descendants” by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and I got it. It wasn’t about history, it was about emotion, it was about what the things that happened to you meant, not getting dates, times and dialog exactly right. And that left the largest stumbling block. I was going to have to dig into myself. It took the next four years to write about the six years of the memoir (with look-ins to events back into the Fifties), and examine personal life back then and how things affected me in the story and even to some extent, to the present. Before this, I’d never considered myself a person who spent much time looking backward but now it was liking pulling myself out of a fugue state after each writing session.

Each draft vastly improved my creative writing skills, bringing more and better descriptions of the band’s experiences, but also found me digging into things about my own experiences I hadn’t considered sharing with anyone. It was becoming more and more obvious, I’d have to be willing to strip emotionally naked to uncover the real story. And since it was about my band, appropriately named Stark Naked and the Car Thieves, perhaps that made sense.

I finally found my beginning at one of the lowest points of my young life at 24. My marriage to my high school dream girl, who’d rescued me from the pain of being a high school teenager, borne our two beautiful young sons, and whom I loved beyond reason, was in trouble. The vocal group, that sang A Capella Fifties rock tunes, and had given me something to dedicate myself to as a teenager; that had recorded a record in a homemade studio that inexplicably out-charted the Beatles on Chicago’s big rocker, WLS, for a few of weeks in January 1964, was scattering to the winds. The winds of change had begun to howl and while they slammed some doors, others were being blown open. So while this isn’t quite where my personal story started, this is where NIGHT PEOPLE, Book 1 of Things We Lost in the Night, A Memoir of Love and Music in the 60s with Stark Naked and the Car Thieves begins.

 

9 Bridges Launches New Chapter

authorPasadena, CA. – March 31, 2015 – 9 Bridges announced today that it has opened a chapter in Pasadena, California. The new chapter connects writers from Arcadia to North Hollywood and beyond. It includes critique groups, but will also support other events, such as workshops, discussion groups, write-ins, local conferences, author readings and book signings.

The chapter is headed up by long-time La Canada-Flintridge resident, Rora Melendy, who has spent many years volunteering in local schools, community programs, and managing projects that focus on the arts and literacy. Elizabyth Harrington, Executive Director of 9 Bridges states, “We are excited to have Rora join us. She is a warm, supportive leader who understands how to help creative people achieve their dreams. The Pasadena chapter of 9 Bridges is extremely
lucky to have her.”

Rora is excited about the new chapter. “Creating space for literary artists of all types has always been one of my passions,” she explained. “This opportunity allows me to give something back to the community I love.”

Membership to the not-for-profit 9 Bridges is free and more information about the Pasadena chapter can be found on the chapter’s Meetup page (http://www.meetup.com/9BridgesPasadena/ ). Meetings will begin in mid-April. Members are also encouraged to join the 9 Bridges Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/9BridgesWriters/), a public group that joins all of the chapters together into one community.

About 9 Bridges Writers Guild: 9 Bridges is dedicated to supporting writers in all stages of their journey to pursue their craft. In addition to providing peer review and support in the form of critique groups, 9 Bridges gives writers access to a wide community through workshops, events, online forums and the promotion of events that are interesting and benefit its members. A large part of the organization’s success is through its flexibility – 9 Bridges can quickly adapt to fill a writer’s needs, whether they are just starting out or have published a dozen best sellers.

 

Contact:

Rora Melendy
9 Bridges Writers Guild
rora.melendy@9bridges.org

A Community for Writers

Writer. The word conjures up images of an infinitely wise, Yoda-like being that churns out amazingly complex things called “books” or even more profound creations called “poetry” while drinking a lot of red wine, listening to exotic music and surrounded by six-toed cats. However, while anyone who uses any type of written communication is by definition a writer, most people hesitate to embrace that title. There seems to be this strange perception that there exists a mythical being called a “writer” – and that the rest of us could never achieve that lofty position. The truth of the matter is that we’re all writers – simply because we all write.”
— Elizabyth Harrington

9 Bridges is dedicated to supporting writers in all stages of their journey in the pursuit of their craft. In addition to providing peer review and support in the form of critique groups, 9 Bridges offers writers access to a wide community through workshops, events, online forums and the promotion of events that are of interest and benefit to our members. 9 Bridges is dedicated to flexibility – through community connections we can quickly adapt to fill a writer’s needs, whether they are just starting out or have published a dozen best sellers.

Our meetings are open to everyone, and offer opportunities for writers from many diverse communities to come together for the purpose of improving their craft. Our members include seniors and youth, the homeless, college students, teachers, developmentally and intellectually disabled people, published authors, hobbyists, members of the LGBTQ community, and everything in-between. What they all have in common is a love and desire to write. Our critique format encourages writers not only to have a voice, but to listen to each other as well.

Beyond a Critique Group…

by Elizabyth Harrington

Recently I was asked by a new member of our Portland chapter to explain how a critique group can have so many members and still be of value to writers. The asker’s opinion was that a group of this size was too large to be an effective critique platform.

I replied that unlike most writers groups that consist of a critique group and nothing else, 9 Bridges gives writers a platform to connect and share. In addition to the standard critique groups (Portland has four separate groups meeting weekly), our community offers write-ins, workshops, social events, and promotes other events that members might find interesting (like writers conferences, book signings, workshops and presentations). We are also building a repository of information and resources that will soon be available on our website. Finally, writers develop contacts and relationships through our organization, some of which turn into long and lasting friendships.

I could almost hear the “aha moment” happen over the phone. Then came the excited reply: “You mean it’s an entire community of writers!”

EXACTLY.

While 9 Bridges may have had humble beginnings as a chapter of the Coffee House Writers Group, it quickly evolved to something much more dynamic and exciting: a community of like-minded people with members throughout the country.

Our workshop series came out of discussions on craft and the business of writing during critique meetings. In response to requests for some kind of community interaction between meetings, we created a Facebook community so writers from different critique groups could connect. And, as people moved around, we started new chapters and extended our community reach across state lines.

As our membership base grew, we attracted the attention of other organizations, many of which extended invitations to their events or offered special discounts to our members.Suddenly we realized we were no longer simply a single critique group; we had evolved into a community that shared information, events and experiences with one another. Our tiny family had become a large village.

The best thing about a community is that it is always evolving and changing. Every new chapter – every new member – has something new to teach us. Over the years I’ve been involved with this community, I’ve been fortunate enough to watch it expand and evolve. I am looking forward to many more years watching our humble group become a movement.

Keep Writing!

Elizabyth Harrington
Executive Director