Beginning An Ambitious New Writing Project

Usually, when I write I either start with a little piece of dialogue I’ve thought up, a character, or a scene and I go from there. I rarely ever plot or make notes for the story. Even rarer does the story come to me all at once.

I think I’ve grown tired of this writing style. I go to edit some of my earlier stuff and I see that even though the stories themselves aren’t entirely crap, there’s not a lot of intelligence behind them. I see crime stories featuring police detectives whose cases practically solve themselves (as they often do in the real world, but where’s the fun in that?). I see science fiction stories set in the future with technology we do not have yet but very few implications. They all feel like they are stories without souls.

My problem is is that while I do read, I’m not reading enough. When I do read, it’s usually science fiction or articles about writing. Nothing wrong with that, and I sure as hell am not going to stop, but I don’t think online articles and blog posts and today’s sci fi has enough of that special something that can help a stubborn, cold, technical person like me add that soul into my writing. I have to expand my horizons and be a little more intellectual.

I decided to begin the planning stages for a new story. Whether it ends up being a novel, novelette, novella, or short story remains to be seen. I have no characters figured out yet, no name for the story, no working title, or anything else except a setting. The only clue I’m going to give is that it is going to be a genre-mashup, including a genre I have never before worked in. To prepare, I’ve cracked open a book that’s been languishing on my shelf unread for almost a year now. I’m going to read and do the usual scholarly stuff of highlighting, marking pages, taking notes, and whatever else I feel the need to do to it.

This project will be the most ambitious thing I have ever attempted. I’m excited but I am nervous. I have decided that the only way I am actually going to become a true writer is to knock down my personal boundaries and go out of my way to write something challenging. Fewer hours playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and more time spent building up my personal library again.

Time to get started…

Weekly Writing Update, Week Ending August 9, 2020

Something new I’m trying, at the beginning of each week, most likely a Monday, I’m going to be giving a small recap of what I accomplished writing-wise the week before. This is mostly for my benefit, as a sort of journal of my exploits and also as a way of holding myself accountable. It would be fun down the road to look back at these posts and see what was going on.

Warning: These are going to be totally informal. Forgive me for any grammatical errors or sentence fragments.

The first and most important update from last week was that I restarted this blog! I did not post at all during the weekend due to a lack of subject matter. I am going to have to start paying attention to the news and start reading a whole lot more so that I don’t run the risk of losing interest in blogging again.

I wrote an average of 1,000 words every day. At the end of the week I had completed one full-length science fiction story and immediately got the inspiration for a much shorter story, which was written in ten minutes. Two stories in one week after many months of writing nothing. SCORE!

Active on Twitter again, taking advantage of the #WritingCommunity posts. Making some new friends. Also have been a little active on the Fiction Writing page on Facebook. Lots of motivation and cool people on there.

Goals for the following week: keep it all going. No word count goals, no set number of blog entries, just taking every day as it comes but making sure that writing and blogging get done. This is only my second “official” week back at writing. No need to go for the hundred-pound dumbbells while I’m not used to the two-pounders yet…

Things I Have Taught Myself About The Writing Process

I love writing. It’s not just telling stories or getting my ideas down on paper that appeals to me so much. Rather, it’s the fact that writing is a process, a sort of continual evolution of creativity that is not the same for anyone else. As a kid I remember Mister Rogers reminding those of us who were watching him all the time that there was no one else like us in the entire world and that there would never be anyone like us again. I’ve noticed that about the writing process. Multiple times a day I go on Twitter where I am acquainted with all sorts of aspiring indie writers (and the occasional pro) who are quick to offer their own two-cents about writing and what is right and wrong when it comes to composing. Instead of talking about all that unsanctioned advice, I want to talk about some of the things I have learned all by myself just by opening Microsoft Word and writing!

LESSON ONE: Writing is more than a word count. Like many authors, when I write I tend to focus more on how many words I manage to crank out each session than the number of pages. While I have read several different estimates as to what a single, double-spaced page on Word will equate to on various mass-market book pages, I still to this day cannot picture what three pages of my writing from my computer would look like if I transferred it from screen to page. In interviews I’ve watched or articles I’ve read from some of my favorite authors, I notice that they focus on words, of that, and never on pages. Harlan Ellison encouraged new writers to sit down on their ass and do no more than 1,000 words a day. Isaac Asimov wrote a bare minimum of 4,000 words a day, a feat that an English professor of mine once told me would be impossible for most writers. Stephen King chose 2,000 words as a good daily goal.

The problem with all the starts and stops I’ve had over the course of a decade or more of writing is that I have not completely figured out a goal that works for me. When I can off of my latest months-long drought I pushed myself to 2,000 words a day, reaching it (including a couple of days where I reached 4,000 words) but it took me most of the day and it burned me out. I stared the second week off with a smaller goal of 1,000 words. I began a new story yesterday and comfortably wrote 700 words before choosing to follow Harlan’s advice and quit while I was hot. Picked it up this morning and have 400 words down easy.

That is when it hit me that while it probably is best to shoot for a goal, you can’t force yourself to go any faster than you can. In a race you can’t force yourself to run faster than your body allows or it will mean bad things for you. If all you can manage one day is 700 words, be proud of what you accomplished, go away and come back next time and have at it.

Which leads to the second lesson I learned from writing…

LESSON TWO: WRITING IS A MARATHON Actually, I shouldn’t say marathon. Writing is a workout. You write because you have ideas in your brain that you want to get out on paper. The brain, surprise surprise, is a muscle. What do you do to muscles? You work them out. You tire them out and occasionally even tear them. Then, you recuperate and feed them protein and they not only recover but grow. That’s essentially the exact same thing that’s writing is and I learned that because of the word count goals I talked about before.

You do not start off as a weight trainer by lifting the biggest and heaviest weights in the gym. You do not start with long sets and a bunch of reps. Instead, you start with smaller weights that you can actually lift without injuring yourself and you can take it easy at first. Overtime those weights will become lighter and lighter and you have to increase weights and add in another set or some more reps in order to continue to make gains. With writing, I made the mistake of trying to go for the hundred-pound word count when my muscles could really only handle a fifteen-pound word goal. Isaac Asimov I am not. As many stories and blog entries as I have floating through my brain, psychically and mentally I am not prepared yet to go for 4,000 words a day. The environment around me does not permit it, either. I write either sitting up in bed at night when what I really want to do is play video games or I’m sitting in the living room where everybody and their mother is coming in and out making noise and distracting me and I have my eight-month old little girl I constantly have to pay attention to. I have no desk and I have no office where I can have any sort of privacy or peace and quiet. So instead of 4,000 words or even 2,000 words as a returning-beginner, 1,000 words is what I can easily and readily accomplish at this point in my writing journey. Some days I can push myself past that breaking point and I can write a few more words, but I’m careful not to allow myself to burn out or I am in danger of going months and months again without a single word being written, and that just cannot happen anymore. The best advice, and this was seconded by an email from one of my favorite authors that I posed this question to afterward, is that you sit down, write, find a length you can easily accomplish and stick to that until it’s so easy and you’re ready to go further.

Weightlifting, people.

LESSON THREE: IF YOU WRITE, YOU ARE A WRITER Some people are convinced that you need to be published or be making money from your writing in order to consider yourself a writer. Up until very recently when I returned to the blank page and reactivated my Twitter account and blog and all that stuff, I felt the same way. I considered myself an aspiring writer even though I am already a published author who has actually made money from the art of writing. Not much, but more than countless others have. My lifelong sense of self-doubt caused me to not have much faith in myself at all, and it extended to my writing.

Like so many amateurs, I had decided that until the time came when people outside of my immediate circle knew who I was as a writer I would not consider myself one.

The more I write, though, and the more I blog I find out just how wrong I am and just how wrong other people are. Technically, and truthfully, the only qualification needed to be a writer is to put words down on paper. To write. If you can do that, you’re a writer. You can be an aspiring bestselling writer or an aspiring published writer, but those both sound tacky and have a degree of arrogance attached to them, so it is probably best to stick with “writer.” There is no “aspiring” necessary. My daughter Kenway IS an aspiring writer because she is at the age where she can’t even hold her bottle by herself, let alone a writing instrument. Lots of goo-goos and gah-gahs but no actual words yet. SHE is an actual aspiring writer. Those of us who can write and do write are not.

Which brings me to the final lesson of the day and the one that I find personally to be the most important one of all…

MOST IMPORTANT LESSON OF ALL: HAVE CONFIDENCE IN YOUR WRITING! You should have confidence in everything that you do, but if for some reason you can’t and can only limit yourself to being confident in one particular area…you should probably find something else other than writing. You might have a better life that way.

But if you insist on only being confident in your writing…

You will find that the more confident you are in yourself and your ability to write the bette your rough drafts are going to appear when you go back and read them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lacked confidence and would go back and re-read something that I wrote and would be disgusted at what I was reading. Never mind that it was a hastily-written zero draft and that I wrote with no regard to spelling, grammar, or any other important writing conventions. That wasn’t the point, the point was to get the thing out of my head and onto paper so it could be revised later. Instead of going into the draft with an editorial mindset, though, I would allow my lack of self esteem get the best of me and I would despair away from writing, thinking myself to be not very good. It pains me often to think about where I would be in my writing today if I hadn’t let such nonsense force me to quit writing for long periods of time. The lack of confidence has kept me a beginner since the fifth grade.

Confidence is key. Confidence is sexy. Confidence is what is going to get that story or book of yours written even if there is some kind of lingering doubt deep down telling you that it won’t be. Write the story as best you can and be proud of it. That literally is all you can do. For everything else, there are professional editors. Sure, they might cost you a few pennies but they will kick the shit out of you until your doubt goes away. Or, more likely, they will help you find the diamonds in the rough.

I seriously could write post after post about all the advice, useful and not-so-useful, that I’ve found online pointed at new writers, but at the end of the day I found that the best advice has come from what I have learned myself as I struggle to get the buttload of stories out of my head and onto the screen. Do I still seek out famous authors and see what they’ve had to say? Hell yes! They know what it takes to be successful. At the same time, though, they know what works for themselves. It is up to me, with or without their guidance, to find out what works and what doesn’t work for myself.

Now, then. Back to my story!

Writing Away…Again

Holy crap, two back to back days of blog posting! That hasn’t happened in…forever!

It is something I have written about many times, on the blog and other places, but my biggest struggle when it comes to my writing is my commitment. I can go brief bouts of cranking out thousands of words a day to months or in some cases years of not writing anything. Recently, I have begun to suspect that it may be because of undiagnosed ADD. I have adopted some coping strategies until I can get into a doctor and get an referral for a psychiatrist, and so far I seem to be doing much better focusing and staying committed than I have in my life.

Last week I chose to end my latest writing drought and start writing again. I currently have four stories I’m working on, of which two are a priority for me to finish. Hysterically, both are, as they always seem to be, crime stories. I have one science fiction mystery I plan on working on next and a science fantasy novelette that really kept screwing me up, but if I am to abide by the laws put in place by the late Robert Heinlein, it will eventually be finished. Always finish what you start, he demanded.

That first week I insisted on cranking out 2,000 words a day. Twice, mostly because our internet was down and I couldn’t play my video games, I made it to 4,000 words in a single day. By the end of the week I was completely burned out and struggled to even get a hundred words out.

It is that sort of burn out and difficulty that has caused me to give up in the pst and end a good streak of writing. Childish, I know, but I would always quit or promise that I would start again the next day or at the beginning of the week but it never happened. Hence, the long stretch without any writing being done.

This time, this didn’t happen. I decided on Sunday that instead of allowing myself to get depressed over how hard writing got, I decided to be proud that I write 150 words. I joined some Facebook writing pages and talked about my struggle and Tweeted a few extra times on Twitter to keep myself motivated to start the next day fresh and without any regrets. The amount of support I received was astonishing.

Some people tell me I place an undo importance on word count and goals and that I should just write for the love of it and not even count how much work I get done. That is a topic for a different discussion, but I have adopted parts of that argument into my writing mindset this week. Instead of 2,000 words I decided on 1,000 at a minimum, meaning that if I manage to write more (and each day I have) then great! I created a new private eye character with a brother based largely off of myself and I’ve loved working on two of their stories. I got caught up in the first one so I simply started on a second and now they are both going extremely well. I’m excited to see the finished products.

On another and more familiar note, I started this blog up again yesterday. I decided not to make any more false promise blog posts about how I never intend to stop the blog again and how I plan on posting X amount of times per week. It was easier for me to just log back in to WordPress, download the app again, and get to work. I quickly remembered how much I love blogging.

So, yeah. Life is too short to be a quitter. Hopefully I never have to deal with myself like that again.

Keep Your Parenting Beliefs To Yourself (Especially When You’re Not a Parent!)

Hi CrapPile readers! Been another long while, hasn’t it?!

I am a parent. My daughter, Kenway, is eight months old. Her mother and I are (currently) engaged to be married and raise her together as a team, which ideally is the way it should be done. We are always on the same page when it comes to the baby. Sometimes, we ask for and receive advice from others about what we should be doing with her, but for the most part we are learning as we go, making mistakes and finding success every day.

So far, she is not worse for wear. She is hitting and exceeding every milestone and already has that fiery personality and attitude redheads are known for. We could not have been blessed with a greater kid.

But as I said, mistakes have been made. Personally, my latest boo-boo came yesterday when I decided to respond to a meme a family member posted on Facebook about things that are never ok to do to your child. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the first point it tried to make was that it was never ok for a parent to invade their child’s privacy and look through their phones, backpacks, or bedrooms. While I agreed completely with everything else, this first point was one I could not throw my money behind. Briefly and politely, I expressed my dissenting opinion and moved on.

Before I continue, it may help to give a little background about my own upbringing to show where my parenting philosophy stemsMy parents are both military and I was, to put it mildly, a troublemaker. My dad probably can come up with a more colorful—and accurate—term for how I was but that is beside the point. I was a little terror and so they had to adjust their parenting style accordingly. I turned out alright! Again, Dad might give a completely different opinion but…

Anyways, neither myself or my two brothers ever gave them a reason to have to look through our things. Even if we had, they had every right to. My parents subscribe to the “my house, my rules” attitude. Also, they are both army veterans so the concepts of respect and responsibility were driven into us hard growing up. If we messed up, we had to own up to it and face the consequences. Did we ever own up to it? Probably not, but none of us ever felt entitled or abused. Our parents commanded respect and taught by example, and before Kenway was born I told Alexis that I wanted us to try and bring Kenway up the same way. She agreed with me and that is the way we still intend to parent once the goo-goo, gah-gah learning to crawl stage is over.

I should have known better. I should have known from years of passionate debating on Facebook that there was no chance in Hell that I could just post an opinion, walk away, and expect that to be the end of it. I was immediately responded to by an acquaintance who told me that not only was I wrong, but that every therapist on the planet would disagree with me. Invading my kid’s personal space, I was told, does more to destroy the trust a kid has for their parents than anything. Again, I disagreed and moved on, but this only led to me going to bed that night and waking up to a slew of similar messages from other distant relatives of my fiancé and their friends. I briefly tried to defend myself but as with every experience I’ve had arguing with liberals it resorted to one of them hinting that what I wanted to do was abusive and that my child was in for a traumatic childhood. Furthermore, I myself was pretty much called a child for refusing to take a “simple suggestion”.

I should point out that NONE of the people involved in this argument, besides myself, are parents. In fact, a lot of them are not even 21 years old yet. All but one still live with their parents. By what right do they have to 1) give me parenting advice, and 2) tell me that what I’m doing and what I believe is wrong? What credentials do they have? What experience do they have?

Most important of all, what right do they have to tell me how to raise my child?

The answer to all of the above is a very simple one: none whatsoever. I could care less if every single one of them had been world-renown experts in the fields of child development and psychology. It would not phase me in the slightest. No one, not even a relative, has the right to judge you on how you choose to raise your child or tell you that you’re doing anything wrong. Of course there are exceptions, but far as I’m concerned, everybody who is not me (or Alexis, since we are on the same page) is wrong and I am right. That’s one of the few times you have a right to be pompous is when it comes to being a parents. At the end of the day, you know your kids better than anyone and as a result you know what to do to ensure that they learn what they need to learn and get done why needs to be done. You are the expert, more so than any high-priced, holistic therapist can in a half hour appointment.

Becoming a parent changes you. Whoever you were before the baby is born dies and you immediately are reborn into someone new. Until you experience that joy and that euphoria for yourself and actually feel the change within you, you will never know what it feels like to be a parent. You no longer live for yourself as one human being but you live for the tiny one, as well. In my case I’m fortunate and I can live for my fiancé, as well. The responsibility is overwhelming, but in the best possible ways. It is unique and it truly feels like I am part of an elite club of human beings.

For young people who are barely out of their teens with little to no worldly perspective or experience to try telling me stuff that they truly don’t know anything about is insulting. You can read every parenting book out there or babysit your entire life but that does not make you a parent. Being a kid to parents does not make you an expert in parenting. There is a lot that goes on behind closed doors that kids don’t need to know about and will never know about. Every journey as a parent is unique just as every child is unique. At the end of the day, no one can be trusted to give you the advice you need but yourself. Others might offer valuable guidance but no one can parent for you and should never attempt to get in your way. No one is more qualified than you.

Even though it was entirely unnecessary, I was emotionally a bit rattled by the prissy name calling that I asked my future mother-in-law and her husband for their input and was told by both of them that I was in the right and that they were in the wrong. I did not ask for acceptance or condemnation for those who thought they were doing me a favor by interfering in my life and calling me a child abuser in all but name. Still, it is nice to know that the label is not one that everybody agrees with.

There are reasons we parent the way we parent. People need to understand this. I guarantee you that everybody has their own issues they need to focus on instead of trying to change the way others parent their own kids. Especially if you are not a parent yourself.

I am the father and I’ll do what I want to, thanks.

A Willpower Moment

I thought I failed today.

I started the day off on a really great track. I made myself a smoothie for breakfast, I had a banana a little while later to keep me going for a bit, and then for lunch I made my first-ever balsamic dressing from scratch. That, along with a salad of kale and mushrooms with a couple of tablespoons of goat cheese for added points, was lunch. Since I am intermittent to fasting and skipping dinner, I thought this clean slate of meals made for an amazing Sunday.

Then came family pictures. My fiancé and I went out to a park to have our daughter’s six-month photos taken, and all of a sudden in the middle of the shoot my body starts going haywire. Dizzy, lightheaded, shaking, and I could not stand still to save my life. Nausea soon followed, and I spent most of the forty minute ride back feeling like I was going to be sick.

In desperation, I had my fiancé’s stepdad, who was driving us, stop at a drive-thru so I could get something to hopefully help my blood sugar levels. I ordered a single cheeseburger and small coke, which would only bring me a point or two into my weeklies. At that point, however, despite calculating it into the app I didn’t care if it used up all of my points for a week. I needed it in my belly and I didn’t care about anything else. When they handed us the bag I dug out my burger and could not get the wrapper off fast enough.

Long story short, though, I couldn’t do it. Yes, I needed the calories and I did end up eating about half of the burger and drinking half of the drink, but I began having flashbacks that made me stop and think about some things. In years past, it would be moments like these where my entire set of goals began to fall apart and crumble. This would be the point where I gave up and resorted back to old habits and began eating and feeling like garbage every single day because that’s what I was used to. That was what was easy for me. I don’t know what changed to make me stop myself tonight, but I did. Consuming half of that fast food meal kept me within my SmartPoints number for the day, and I’m ending the night with points to spare. Granted, I am a little disappointed that I did not fat tonight like I wanted to, but the important thing is that I stayed true to Weight Watchers and have now gone SEVEN WHOLE DAYS on the program and doing it right. The old John Siebelink never came close to something like this. He would try, and try many times, but he would always let the excuses get the better of him.

Tonight just goes to show what you can do when you are truly committed.

What Five Days of Not Failing Feels Like

I dedicated myself 150% to Weight Watchers this past Monday. I weighed 240 pounds on the dot.

After five days of tracking points and intermittent fasting, I am now down to 230.4 pounds! That’s 9.6 pounds in less than a full week!

I have more energy, I am more motivated, and I feel better than I have in a very, very long time. I have also found that it’s easier for me to wake up in the morning. I’m still a little tired (I am naturally a night owl) but I’m not groggy and I don’t feel like crap.

If you knew the old me before this week, you’d know that when it comes to commitments I am the world’s worst. When I first signed up for WW I failed miserably the first day. I was actually telling my fiancé that it wasn’t the best fit for me and was signing in to cancel my subscription.

Before I did that, I weighed myself. 240 pounds. I was officially the heaviest I have ever been in my entire life. I had been letting my body waste away and ordering out so much that the weight continued to pile on. I sank into a severe depression and hated my life hardcore. The next day, this past Monday, I decided on a healthy breakfast. On a whim, not thinking I would let the day, I logged my points. The breakfast did not cost as many points as I thought it would. Later on I had a fairly crappy lunch of burgers, Doritos, and Pepsi but because of the breakfast even that accurately logged only made me dive into a couple of my weekly spare points. I already knew that I would not be having dinner so all of a sudden Day 1 was a success. My meals the rest of the week were far healthier, each day without dinner per my intermittent fasting, and here I am today ready to start the new week (my weigh-ins are Saturday mornings) off on a great note!

It is the hardest thing, to break life-long bad habits. I’ve tried for years and years and years and have failed every single time. When I turned 30 at the end of January I promised significant change, and here it is middle of the year and I’m finally trying to start keeping that promise.

Here is to my first full week of Weight Watchers!

A Note of Appreciation


I know that George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a group of white cops. I’m not blind to the fact that this sort of thing has been happening—or at least has been reported—more and more and more in recent years. The police officers of today are not looking good in the eyes of the community or the news. Many parts of the country are on fire as we speak because of the actions of criminal cops across this country.

That being said, I acknowledge that the crimes were committed by a tiny rogue percentage of police officers. The vast majority of law enforcement officials are good, hardworking, dedicated men and women who are all probably as outraged and disgusted at the actions of their former comrades as the rest of us who don’t wear badges.

While it is extremely easy to vilify the whole group and denounce everyone in uniform as racist or pigs, this is both irresponsible and offensive in so many ways. Law enforcement is a job like any other. Every business and career field out there has its share of bad apples. Every retailer has its cashiers or managers who try sneaking merchandise out of the store or dipping their greedy fingers into the tills when they think no one is looking. Doctors and pharmacists are always writing bogus prescriptions for a little extra change or accepting kickbacks. The occasional restaurant chef spits into the food. Do a quick Google search and you will find many more examples from all walks of life. None of these examples mean that every doctor, cashier, or cook is evil. These crimes have been committed by a few select few. Those are the ones who deserve punishment, if not vilification. If we are to target entire groups then we might as well denounce every single human being on Earth because statistically speaking all of us at one time or another have belonged to an industry of some sort or another. The majority of people have committed a crime or two over the course of their lives. That doesn’t make us all bad people. It makes us human.

It is an important thing to remember. Police do not have an easy job. They work rough hours. They aren’t paid all that well. They are almost always the first on scene of the most gruesome displays of human depravity known to man. Every murder, rape, fire, car crash, domestic assault, bar fight, and riot always has police there right away. I can’t tell you how many officers I’ve talked to have told me of the various horror stories that still keep them up at night.

On top of that, they go to work every day not knowing if they will be coming home or not. Living a life shift by shift is not a good way to live. I remember my stint in the Marine Corps. Drill instructors and sergeants were always telling us stories of their close encounters with death. The same goes for the police.

I want to take this moment to say thank you to all the law enforcement in this country. You have my upmost gratitude and undying appreciation and respect. You are heroes to me and Americans everywhere, even if they don’t currently see it. Keep up the good work and know that you are appreciated.

That is all.