Happy National Writing Day!

Happy National Writing Day, according to the dark cabal of Twitter Hashtags!

Writing is both my favorite and least favorite activity. It’s saved my life multiple times and inspired countless suicidal thoughts. I’ve devoted most of my life to perfecting this craft. Someday I’d like to be paid for it.

I decided to be a writer in second grade. My motives weren’t based on any deep artistic inclination. It was 1997, and I heard somewhere that JK Rowling had more money than the Queen of England. More money than the Queen of England felt like a good starting paycheck, so I started writing.

Then I kept writing.

And kept writing.

And kept writing which brings us to today. I have significantly less money than the Queen of England. I’ve made peace with not being J.K Rowling. I’m still writing and, somewhere along the lines, I found artistic inclination. The revelation that I would keep writing no matter what else happened surprised me, but it’s true. Even if I never make another dime, I will keep writing.

Please don’t misinterpret the previous statement. I still want to be paid. Artistic inclination is a poor substitute for food, rent, and healthcare.

So how do you keep writing? That question is not rhetorical. I love hearing about everyone’s process. I love specific advice to ignore or embrace. A process is a method and conditions creators use to create. They evolve and change over time. If you don’t think you have a process, you probably have many. I have at least two, depending on what I need to accomplish.

My day starts at 6:30. My phone alarm goes off at 6:30. I turn it off and go back to bed. If I remember to charge my phone in the kitchen, I have to physically rise to turn it off. Then I can feed my cat. If I fell asleep with my phone by my bed, I turn it off without getting up, and Sherbert bites my feet. I recommend getting an alarm clock that bites you.

By 7 or 7:30, I am awake enough to make coffee. Then I go back to bed, or I get dressed. After I am dressed, I take my medication, or I go back to bed. My bed may as well be a magnet. Eventually, I go to my job if I don’t go back to bed.

I pay the bills with pet sitting. Dogs and cats don’t require a lot of mental focus. If I don’t have any extra duties, I go home after about an hour. When the job is over, the work begins.

First, I clear my mind by cleaning the apartment for a half hour. I clean the same four areas every day: my desk, my bed, the cat box, and the dishes from the night before. These tasks don’t always take thirty minutes, but I always find something else to do. Focusing on menial labor allows me to free my mind of distraction before I write. Finishing these tasks gives me a feeling of accomplishment that creativity seldom affords.

After I finish cleaning, I write. My daily minimum is 250 words, though I usually write more. When I was younger, I could write thousands of words in one sitting. However, those sittings were few and far between. Now I focus on consistency rather than breaking records.

I usually have three to five projects going on at once. I write essays for this blog, prose for publication, scripts to be performed, and new comedic material. I try not to write on any given subject for more than a half hour at a time. After forty-five minutes, I become sluggish. I get into my own head about editing or originality or money or any number of distractions. When that happens, I close my computer and do something else. When I’ve done something else for thirty minutes, I return to writing, and the cycle starts again.

Something else encompasses the entire rest of the universe. On bad days, I fall into the vortex of the internet and lose hours of creative time. To avoid that sticky spider web, I go off screen.  I count creative activities, like writing longhand, drawing or painting, and reading books for research or inspiration as time spent working. Exercise, eating, cleaning, playing with my cat, or taking a nap are necessary for my physical and mental health. Physical and mental health is required for writing.

Incorporating health into my creative routine is the hardest lesson to learn. Yes, I can ignore my aching back, grumbling stomach and drooping eyes to finish a project on time, but it’s not sustainable. We have a vision of the starving artist, squinting in candlelight with blisters on his fingers, breath visible in his thatched hovel. Reject it. Suffering can lead to art, but life will provide plenty without your input. You do not have to sacrifice health and comfort for creativity. I write much better with my anti-depressants, sugar loaded coffee, and my cat at my feet at the desk I love than I would in a cardboard box with only a bottle of cheap whiskey and negative self-talk for company. Life is necessary for art. Make caring for your body and mind a part of your routine, regardless of your creative inclinations.

I can keep the write/something else cycle up for most of the morning. Once I accomplish my word count, I am free to seek out other diversions. I may pick up some extra jobs, go to the library and research, or socialize. I seek out new opportunities and complete the mundane tasks of promotion and budgeting. I keep writing. Writing is fun. It can frustrate or depress at times, but most of it is fun. I couldn’t have kept writing for so long if it wasn’t mostly fun. My process keeps the work fun for longer and helps me navigate everything else.

Enjoy your work, your creativity, and your life. Find your own process.

If you enjoyed reading about my writing process, you should check out Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, a book detailing the creative process of such figures as Georgia O’Keefe, Leo Tolstoy, and dozens more. Also, How Do You Write, a fantastic podcast where author Rachael Herron interviews other authors about their process has become a part of my process! I listen to the show while I clean in the morning!

New Journal Day!

Journals

“Keep a diary and someday it’ll keep you.” Mae West, Every Day’s A Holiday, 1937

I’ve been keeping a journal since the second grade. Before anyone gets impressed, journaling was required by every teacher between second and eighth grade. We were meant to jot down a few thoughts at the beginning of the day or class period, primarily to practice our writing. Fortunately, I was convinced from an early age that I was a very important historical figure and so saved nearly every piece of paper with so much as a signature. I have my barely legible second and seventh grade journals, filled with angst and spelling errors, in my Hollywood apartment. My high school and college journals, slightly more legible with less angst and more pornographic sketches, remain tucked away in my parents’ home. They are the only things I’ve forbidden my mother from throwing away.

A journal allows the writer to know themselves. Because I viewed my journals as historical documents, I tried to be as honest about my emotions as possible. There are so few places in the world you can be 100% honest, which is taxing but probably for the best. In the days of teachers checking my progress, that honesty got me in trouble but I’m so glad it did. Not just because the fallout was recorded in that same journal but because now, I know what made me angry 16 years ago. I know what I was reading and watching, what I was writing, what gave me joy, the people I loved and the people I loathed. I can open up a page, read a date and say “I’ve been dealing with this for years and here is what I’ve learned and how I changed.”

In addition to keeping record of the past, journaling allows me to work through the present, the thoughts and feelings that I barely understand myself. In November of 2017, I started tracking my activity, along with how meaningful and pleasurable I found said activity.  By keeping up with this, I learned what activities made me happy, what activities caused me stress and what triggered my Depression. Depression lies. It tells me that I am useless, lazy and I am incapable of happiness. Thanks to my journals, I have empirical evidence of the opposite. I can use this evidence to combat the symptoms of mental illness and react before my triggers consume me.

With so many benefits reaped, is it any wonder that I have very specific journal tastes? In the early days, I used any notebook that crossed my path, usually with the stipulation that it should be green. In my tweens, I liked smaller options that I could carry in my pocket, in case of sudden feelings. Now I prefer large sketch books. Lined paper is no good for doodling and, if I’m honest, my handwriting does not lend itself to rigidity. Ideally, my journals are black hard covers, though in 2016 I bought a purple one on sale. Obviously, the more pages the better. I intend to start ordering my preferred brand in bulk, as the most recent experience was way too stressful. I called ahead to two separate stores to see if they had what I wanted. The second claimed to have multiple in stock, but I had to wait half an hour in store while they checked the back, only to discover an error in their system. I ended up purchasing a soft cover sketch book but it’s more important to have a journal than the perfect journal.

If you currently journal, keep at it. If you don’t, why not? A few words a day, a few words a week are all that’s required to make a difference. Extend yourself beyond your own mind and get to know yourself through the page.

sherbert journal
Please enjoy this gratuitous picture of my cat, Orange Sherbert.

The Very Horny Caterpillar

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There’s a new story on the writing page!

Well, not quite a new story. It’s a parody, defined by the sorcerers at Wikipedia as a work created to imitate, make fun of, or comment on an original work. The original work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, follows a newly hatched caterpillar filled with a powerful hunger. He consumes various foodstuffs until he gains the bulk necessary to become a beautiful butterfly. It’s a classic, beloved by millions.

My version is just like that except the caterpillar craves… something else.

Best of all, The Very Horny Caterpillar is a collaborative work. My best friend and roommate, Joaquin Martinez provided the illustrations. They make what began as a silly, slightly stoned conversation among friends into an actual work of art.

I’m so happy to share The Very Horny Caterpillar with you!

Preparation in Pockets

Head over to  Writing to read the story in full!

In 2009, I wrote a short story about an awkward conversation on a subway. I submitted it to a small scholarship contest, placed fourth and won $200 and a trip to a Writers’ Conference in Oregon. It was the first money I ever made with my writing.

Preparation in Pockets is the adult version of that story. In 2009, it was only a thousand words: the maximum allowed in the contest. I’ve added about 600 words, given our protagonist more of a backbone, and ended on a note of… not hope, but determination. I value determination more than hope. Hope allows for an attempt but determination gets things done.

Other News: I’ll be performing in Laugh Riot Grrrl Fest, June 4-11, at The Tao Comedy Studio in LA! I hope to see you there!

Denver Folks! Look for my work in the upcoming issue of Fanny & Flo’s Femme Gazette at the Denver Zine Library!

Thanks and enjoy the story!