Bare List on the Death of Literature

The debate of the future of literature has raged for generations with academics and critics alike claiming novels to be a dying art form. “Thought provoking prose steeped in imagery and symbolism are dead” claim these elite voices from high horses. We are a “receiver” culture these days. We only want to be entertained and produce algorithmic tomes that are easily read and digested over a lunch hour and leave us as quickly as our club sandwich.

I call bullshit. Literature is not dead, in fact, I will claim here and now that literature will never die. I know this because I know and believe in the writer. Giving life to a novel is giving a piece of yourself to the world. It is a grind and the biggest pay off for most of us is that our words can directly benefit another human being. There are far easier ways to make a lot more money than producing a novel. Has it been done? Are there authors churning out cookie-cutter work to turn a profit? Sure, but they are the exception, not the rule. The majority of us wouldn’t toil away, forsaking better reason and judgement to create something for the world to scrutinize for only a paycheck. We do it because we have stories to tell, lives we hope to change, world’s we want to bring to life. We do it because literature affects us as readers and we want the chance to have the same affect on others.

So, why do these naysayers claim our art dead? A lot of reasons, first and foremost being fear. The world is changing, we consume content in ways we never have before and there’s boundless possibilities for how we will consume it in the future. Some older generations speculate that our “entitled” youth will lose patience for sitting down and reading a book. That they will not want to think hard because in the age of Google, you don’t have to. I know this is wrong because I have children. The one old enough to read keeps his nose buried in books most of his waking hours. He’s read a huge chunk of the “classics” and a large selection of the modern masterpieces, and he’s not alone. The vast majority of his young compatriots share his love of reading. It’s not a “dorky” or “nerdy” thing to do as it was when I was young, it’s a center of their conversation.

Enthusiasm can be cited as another reason for the death call of literature. Thomas Wolfe proclaimed that “New Journalism” would replace novels, meanwhile his fellow Merry Prankster, Ken Kesey, wrote some of the greatest literary works of the 20th century. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion (possibly my favorite novel of all time) were both published amid speculation that literature was dead (1962 and 1964). Did Wolfe believe that Kesey and Thompson were creating mindless dribble that would put the death nail into the novel? No, he believed that the escapades he was embarking on would change the literary world to an extent that novels as we knew them would cease to exist. He had right to be excited. What Wolfe, Thompson, Kesey, and others did was amazing and they have inspired generations of authors and journalists. Their combined works changed the landscape of literature, hell, society, but it didn’t replace literature. It added to it.

Plain old generational snobbery is another factor that keeps the debate alive. The older we get, the more we judge the youth living in our present. Nostalgia and experience dull our senses to accepting new and different ways of doing things. We lose understanding of how Harry Potter could evoke the same emotion as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the same across arts, really. Older generations long for the simpler comedies of I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show to today’s Modern Family and New Girl. Does that mean that the sitcom is dead? No. It means that they have changed, evolved. I’m of what I like to call “The Nick at Nite Generation” so I will watch and laugh at any and all of those, but older generations will cling to the first as hard as some younger may cling to the second. It doesn’t make any entity inherently better than the other, but quality is in the eye of the beholder.

Also, and finally, some people are just pretentious little shits who like to claim that all work today is crap because it makes them feel smarter than everyone. These guys are just jerks.

Great works of literature can be entertaining. In fact, it’s best if they are because then they can reach and affect more people. Books are not pain. They are not elitist works meant only to be enjoyed by the academically gifted. They are powerful mechanisms of change. Thought provoking prose and enduring symbolism can be found in many great works of our time. Lives have been changed by thousands of books that have been published this century.

Literature is not dead because writers/readers won’t let it die. If you’re working on the next great masterpiece in literary fiction, keep working. Don’t be dissuade by the condescending voice of the few, write to reach the many that need your words.

Bare List on Writing Through the Struggle

I’ve started this blog 17 different times because I cannot find the words to accurately express the heartbreak today has wreaked on my psyche. While it’s not the most devastating of days I’ve ever survived, it’s been a struggle. Not in the “oh hell it’s Monday” way but in the “oh hell, how am I possibly going to handle my life” way. Between scheduling meetings, working, and hauling the kids to school, I’ve had to make time to have a long and emotional conversation about blending families and holidays. Literally, I found myself in tears three times before 9 a.m.

By the time I sat down at my computer to write, I felt defeated. I was robbed of my inspiration and my anxiety made it hard to even sit still. I was at a pinnacle moment of my Nano novel, a piece that’s been nagging at my peripheral for months, begging for attention and demanding to be heard. I am so excited about this work and this scene is crucial. I looked at the words from last night on the screen and felt like there was no way I could do the story justice today. I wasn’t good enough. Everything I could say today would be worthless anyway and I have so much going on. Did I even have a right to be writing? Thanksgiving is upon us, it’s a short work week and clients want to check-in before they depart for the holidays. My family’s scheduling was a nightmare, I have checks to various charities waiting to be written. The kids have activities. The family calendar hanging to my right hasn’t been updated since SEPTEMBER. There’s laundry to do, decorations to put up, the list goes on. Why should I even be writing?  I’m failing at everything else, why not just fail at writing, too? I mean, I’m going to anyway. I don’t have what it takes to live up to this moment. Not now.

I thought about it. I thought about packing it up and letting today go. “You’ll have time later. You’ll feel better later,” I tried to lie to myself, but I knew neither was true. I’m not going to get any less busy, at least not anytime soon. So, I took a deep breath and I wrote. I struggled through the words, tears leaking from my eyes at the emotional torment of the early day as well as my story. I wrote until I had to stop for an emotional phone call and then I wrote again as soon as the business was handled. I wrote as the word count slowly ticked up-50, 100, 150. I wrote as I fought to piece together the scene the way I knew it deserved to be done. I wrote though I cried, I wrote though I doubted myself, and then…I wrote because I was in the scene.

Without realizing it, my writing switched from pain to purpose. The words came easily and as my stomach ached with hunger, I realized that I had written without pause, without thought of anything outside of myself or the story for almost two hours. Almost 2,500 words had escaped my fingers and I had only fought for maybe 500 of them. It’s not the most I’ve ever gotten through in a sitting. I’ve certainly seen more impressive counts from a host of fellow writers and Nanoers, but it was a count I didn’t believe I could reach when I sat down. It was an achievement my evil inner critic had berated me into thinking was unfathomable.

I share this with you, not because of the pride I feel, but because I know that we all have that doubt. Life throws a lot at us, more than we can ever hope to manage, and it’s so easy to start listening to our fears, depression, and anxiety. Writing can so often be the easiest thing to neglect when those negative thoughts invade our brains because we believe that there has to be this perfect mix of inspiration and desire to do our stories justice. I’m here to tell you, that is untrue. I wrote today, despite the fact I didn’t want to. Despite the fact I felt like I had nothing to offer, I gave myself over to my work because I know that the long term pride I will experience completing this outweighed the short term pit of yuck that I was experiencing. Bonus: I feel better. Maybe I am failing at everything else, but at least I won at writing, and that’s a start. It’s forward motion.

So, friends. Today, or any day, that you’re struggling, I hope you remember that you can write through it. Though it seems impossible, just get to the computer, grab a pen and paper, whatever. Just start writing. Just keep writing. I promise, it will get better.

P.S. I’m not actually failing at everything, my inner voice is just a real f*ckhead sometimes.

Have you been in the struggle? I will grab a drink a settle in to struggle with you.

Bare List on Being a Writer

Despite public opinion, being a writer is not sitting in a hip cafe swilling lattes as the words flow from your fingertips, though there is a lot of coffee involved. It’s not sleeping late and working an hour a day as the money rolls in by the bucket load with little to no effort on your part. It’s not lazy or frilly.

Being a writer is pounding away at your computer at three a.m. when the rest of the house sleeps because that’s when inspiration strikes. It’s laboring away, fueled by caffeine and desire to get in those final words before you’ve got to get the kids to karate. Being a writer is working through lunch because the hunger pangs issuing from your stomach cannot drown out the inspiration screaming in your brain. Burning the toast because you’re lost in thought on your current story arc, scrambling to get the kids tucked into bed because you don’t want to miss a minute with them, but you can’t miss this deadline. Sitting with your computer on your lap trying to tune out the television in the background because you want to be able to sit with your significant other, but you also have to get these words on the page. Being a writer is about writing and revising so many times you could recite your novel by heart. It’s about knowing that you can never revise it enough to be perfect and learning to accept that, no matter how much you hate it, because perfection is the enemy of publishing. Being a writer is finding the courage to call it complete and take the chance on someone else loving it as much as you do.

Being a writer is querying, over and over again until your fingertips bleed and being met with rejection almost every time. Sometimes that means being a writer is starting again, rearranging and reediting so many times there can’t possibly be anything else to change, but then finding more you can do anyway, and even that will be rejected by someone. Being a writer is about having the grit to get up from all those rejections, because somewhere deep inside you, you know that this is what you are meant to do and if you just keep writing, you just keep querying, one day you will get past that hurdle and it will all be worth it.

And when that day comes, when your book is finally accepted, then being a writer is about making deadlines. Signing deals, missing dinners because you’ve got a big meeting, building your social media presence so that you can talk to the community of people with whom you want to share your work, yourself. Being a writer is about wondering how you can possibly get all of this done and realizing you can’t and watching the laundry pile up in the corner because you are not Mary Sue and something’s gotta give sometimes. Being a writer is about praying til your knees bleed that the creation you’ve poured yourself into, sacrificed yourself for, will be accepted and hopefully even loved by at least a few souls who wanted, needed your work.

When all of that is done, when you’ve found your people and you’ve given everything you have to this precious work of art, being a writer is about letting it go, giving it to the world and starting all over again with the next work, because now that you’ve tasted the pain, lived through the torment and come out the other side, you have no choice but to do it again. Because being a writer is giving yourself to the agony of writing to be able to experience the joy of having written.

Being a writer is grind. Being a writer is a grueling commitment. Being a writer is work. So, when your friends roll their eyes, when society scorns you for their beliefs of what it means to be a writer, you don’t listen. In fact, you tell them to eff off, because being a writer means occasionally having to tell people that they don’t have a damn clue.

Not sure you can tell them? Let them read about it in your next book because you’re too busy grinding to talk to them anyway.

Bare List on Writing When the World is on Fire

There’s been a lot of media coverage regarding the struggle of creatives to write in our time. The linked article call’s it “Trump’s Present”, but I’ve seen it referred to as many things and it’s effecting both sides of the political line. I’ll be the first to admit, we’re in trying times. Social and political divisiveness avalanche our social streams, North Korea is testing bombs every other week, mass shootings, hurricanes. Fear is high, satisfaction is low, and we still don’t know who sits the Iron Throne. Those horrors, and more threats than I even have time to mention, have been cited as stifling the voices of once exuberant writers, and I have to tell you, THAT more than anything else we may be facing saddens my soul.

I understand, I know, that times of chaos and dissension can make it difficult for the seeds of creativity to flower into inspiration and action. I know it’s hard to envision a future when you can barely see tomorrow, but we as writers, as people, as society cannot allow for the dark shadow of despair to block out our light. It is during these times, when the world is divided, when the future is undefined, that literature is needed the most. It is during these times that everyone’s story must be represented. Readers, ourselves included, are looking for hope, purpose, inspiration. More than that, we’re looking for connection, to open a book and find a character who understands us. Who gets us. Who will provide a reprieve from the pain we may be feeling.

“But I’m not trying to write a political manifesto. I’m not famous enough for my voice to count. I don’t have an inspirational tale to show people how to cope.” Your brain may lie to you with these excuses and barbs to keep you from putting pen to paper (or more aptly fingers to keyboard) but none of these things matter. It’s fine that you’re not going to write the next politically charged viral sensation. In fact, it’s awesome. We’ve got enough of them. Scroll through your Facebook feed or Twitter wall right now and I’ll place money that you’ve got a good dozen political rants. We’re covered there. You’re not famous? That’s great. We need new voices. We need more people willing to put themselves out there to give people something to believe in, and really all they need to believe in to feel even an inkling better is a good story. A good character.

You don’t have to write the hero’s tale to be the hero. With such great epic glories of literature flooding our history, it’s easy to forget that sometimes all that is needed to bring people together is a simple story. It doesn’t have to be Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. You don’t have to write a New York Times Best Seller for people to cherish your work. For a small book club to bond over it and coffee. For a lonely high schooler to find solace in the friendship of your characters. For a beat down population to find representation.

People don’t have to come away with a life-changing revelation for your work to be meaningful. They just have to come away changed, however mildly. Maybe you gave them a friend, maybe you gave them a glimpse into another person’s experience they would never encounter in the real world, maybe you just gave them a place to escape to when this one got to be too much. All of it is meaningful. All of it is necessary.

There is a reason that great pain spawns great art. Many may point to the need for change, to the voices inspired to create a new and better tomorrow, but it’s more than that. These times, the times we’ve seen before and we’ll surely see again, create great art because in our soul we know the world needs it. We know that we might not reach the masses, but we can reach one person and that makes all the difference.

So, keep writing. Even if you’re uninspired, keep writing. Even if you can’t see how your one story can make a difference, write it anyway. No matter what it is, no matter what genre or tone you ascribe to, just write it, because right now, people deserve your bare list of words.

Bare List on Blankness

As the icy rain poured down over the back porch I took a deep swig of my dark roast coffee, it’s steam warming my face against the chill of the early morning and thought “This is a day God made for writing.” I opened my latest project full of quiet excitement for what this scenic day would bring. Those words that raced from my fingers days ago, that sparked awe and admiration as I pondered them in the dreary morning hour, now lay lifeless on the page. Where do they want to go? How can they have paved a path so clearly and now I can’t sense their direction?

Call it what you will: writer’s block, creative impasse, brain strike. It’s all blankness. An inability to coerce the story you know needs to be told to come to life on the pages in front of you. Everyone who’s picked up a pen or sat down at a desk knows the pain, the panic of reaching inside yourself and coming up blank. It’s a harrowing experience to have all of the right materials and none of the words, but what can I do?

I can write. I can force my fingers across the keyboard pounding out ideas I have no intention on keeping until I stumble across something that clicks. I can trust that the movement of my fingers will eventually rattle awake my sleeping brain and my creative mind will swoop in and takeover where my fingers have failed me, and so I do.

I write in the hopes that today will be more than it seems right now. I write trusting that I can do this, no matter how dire the situation may seem. Does it work? Not always. There are days I struggle for hours only to destroy everything because I never found my way, but there are days that I persist long enough that something beautiful happens. There are days I see myself over the struggle and on those days I am more proud of myself, my stamina than on any day when the words flow easily and effortlessly. It is for those days I write. Because I have to. Because whatever well-meaning outsiders may tell you, you will not tear down that blockade by forgetting about it. You will not break through that wall by trying to pretend it does not exist. No, the only way to keep writing is to start writing.

For those reasons, today I write. Though my mind is blank and my inspiration is lacking, today I write, and so should you.

Bare List on Release

Expectation, judgement, fear, social norms, doubt, shamers, haters, trolls, perfection. They are the confines through which this world can become a prison. We are constantly bombarded by unrealistic and unattainable expectations of what our lives are supposed to look like to the point that our own minds become our worst enemy. Society tells us we must have money, we must have the title, we must have the status or we are not successful. We are not productive. So we work and we slave away trying to find meaning in whatever job affords us the liberty of not getting “the look” when we tell someone what we do to make ends meet. Then, when we’ve gotten there. When we’ve found fulfillment and an acceptable salary, society stares down its nose again and asks us “At what cost? When were you with your friends? When did you last see your parents? Have you traveled the world? These are the things that truly matter.” So we change direction again and steer into the path of love, family, and adventure and we report our findings and happiness and society, unmoved and unaffected, looks us in the eye with it’s judgmental stare and calls us lazy.

So then, we chase the impossible dream of work-life balance and report back to the powers that be that we spend exactly 40 hours per week working and the rest is spent on us, with family, with our friends. Cooking meals, having adventures, pursuing hobbies that we once loved but now honestly barely have the energy to enjoy. To this society says “But when did you workout? You have to do that thirty minutes a day you know. And what meals are you cooking? Are they healthy/delicious/responsibly sourced/gluten, gmo, meat, dairy, and egg free? Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much? Are you having children? You have to but you won’t raise them right. You must practice self-care but when you do it you’re selfish. You must be involved with politics but you’re almost certainly on the wrong side. You have to give back through charitable work but the charity you’re donating your hard earned time and money to probably sucks. And despite all the duplicity and negativity you slave away anyway trying to be the best and most valuable member of society you can possibly be and you tell society, you tell yourself, that even though you’re only sleeping three hours every other night, you’ve done it all…to which society replies “you must get a full eight hours of sleep every night to truly be healthy.”

Then, you snap. Because you realize finally with bleeding knuckles and bags under you eyes (which how dare you, by the way, look tired?) that you cannot keep up. That no matter how much you do, how much of yourself you give, it will never be enough and there in that moment, that release…that’s where it all gets better. When you release yourself of the judgment of Internet trolls, fake friends, and well-meaning though utterly soul-crushing family members. You release yourself of the fear of not doing what you love because if you have to do it why can’t you love it? You release yourself of that little voice in the back of your mind that parrots all the societal/social/personal judgement you’ve accumulated over a life time and you just say “screw it” and live you’re you because society is going to hate it either way and it’s too much damn work to try to please it.

There’s no reason to wait. Don’t get to the end of your rope before you cut yourself free because there’s no reason to be hanging on when soaring is so exhilarating. And when that little voice voice tells you that you don’t have wings, that maybe you’ll grow them tomorrow but today you’re stuck right here in a prison of expectation’s making, you tell that voice that flying is just falling with style and let go.

via Daily Prompt: Release