Monthly Archives: November 2013

Making an Impact

Because my wife is awesome, she often does little things that make my day as awesome as she is. One of those things popped up today.

I have been a fan of the band Bon Jovi for as long as I have had any real awareness of music. The first compact disc I ever bought with my own money was “Keep the Faith”, and Bon Jovi songs have had a fairly significant place throughout the soundtrack of my life. Because of my wife’s awesomeness, she saw and recorded an interview with Jon Bon Jovi, which I finished watching moments ago. (Yes, I am aware that it is currently Friday night, and I am at home watching interviews recorded off the Oprah Winfrey Network, but it’s been a long week and all that is beside the point.)

In the interview, Jon Bon Jovi said many things that affected me. He spoke about how the four forms of artistic medium (Books, Films, Art – as in paintings – and Music) are all interconnected. He talked about how you can succeed at anything if you work at it hard enough. He made the point that if your art came from a true place within you then it would ring true and would make an impact with your audience. The most important thing, above all others, was making that impact.

As I discussed in my last blog post, I have been feeling very frustrated with many things lately. After another week of dwelling in the dungeon – and a particularly disgusting incident where a prisoner asked for food, then promptly used it to plug their toilet while they pooped on the floor and gave us the finger (I have no idea what it is about jail that makes people want to manipulate their own feces) – work has not been my favourite thing. 

The main thing sapping my motivation at work, I realized after listening to Mr Bon Jovi talk about his own life, is that I am having no impact. While working in the dungeon I am nothing more than a way-station to a group of people who are singularly pissed off with life. I have very little opportunity to have any meaningful dialogue with any of the prisoners, partially because my time is very much at a premium, but mostly because they are already dissatisfied with the actions of the police in general (see: they have been arrested and are in jail where they adamantly do not want to be), and have no interest in talking to me at all; unless they want to ask for an extra blanket or call me a “fucking goof”. While confined to my subterranean realm, I do not get to investigate crimes or have any interaction with “normal” people. I am only the Gaoler, and my primary function is to keep people from running off into the night.

I have had no satisfaction in my writing life, either. Despite figuring out what it was about my current project that wasn’t working, that was making it ring false, I have had no further progress on it. In fact, I haven’t so much as opened the document on my computer, let alone put any words down.

I think, after having an epiphany while staring at the televised image of a rock star whose music has seen me through twenty years of my life, that the problem with my story is very much a question of impact. I am not affected by it. Despite my declaration otherwise, I am not particularly compelled by it. The idea is good. The plot is sound. The character has the potential to be interesting. But the story is not speaking to me. It does not ring true in my ears. It is not tearing at the inside of my head, trying desperately to get out.

It is only sitting, and waiting. And this I cannot abide.

Stories, whether they are told through words on a page or the lyrics of a song, are all about impact. And that impact has to be for the storyteller as well as the reader/listener. If you don’t believe in the story you’re telling, then no one else is going to believe in it either. If you are not compelled to tell the story, then how can you expect anyone else to be compelled to hear it.

I have a very serious job of work ahead of me, I think. I either have to figure out a way for this story to have impact, both for me and my audience, or I have to get busy on a story that does the trick.

Another thing Jon Bon Jovi said during his interview was that it was better to have tried and failed than to sit around wondering if you might have made it. As a writer, if you are sitting around doing nothing, that isn’t even a failure, it is a waste. It is a waste of your time, your talent and your craft.

It is time for me to get out of a state of waste. There is a long road ahead, and at the end there might be failure, but any road with a story is a good one.

As always, thanks for reading.

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Singing Off Key In A Cell Of My Own Creation

My attitude has sucked, recently, and I have made absolutely no forward movement on the project I’ve been trying to work on. And no matter how hard I tried to jab my accusatory pointing finger in a convenient direction, I’ve found it rigidly glaring back at me.

I’ve had a couple really good excuses, although looking at them in the light of day they’ve grown pretty thin. I’ve recently been assigned to supervise the detachment cell block for my watch (only for a month, thank the gods), so I spend twelve hours a day dealing with very angry people who don’t want to be in jail and do extremely ridiculous things with the ample free time they have on their hands while staring at the walls of their cells (I won’t go into too many details, but just think of the words “Poop Murals”). While this posting has afforded me the opportunity to refer to myself as “The Dungeon Master”, it is no fun showing up to work in the dark and dwelling in an artificially lit tomb while listening to the drunken man in cell E4 belt out what I can only guess is a liquor altered rendition of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, and then emerge from my cave to find it is once more dark.

I also signed up for NaNoWriMo, which has so far been a horrific failure. We’re half way through the month and I’ve written a grand total of about 3000 words. I’m thinking it highly unlikely that I’m going to meet the 50,000 word goal, and this fact irks me to no end. I had some pretty ambitious goals set for myself for the next year, most of which hinged on me getting the majority of the first draft of this new project done this month.

The problem, in a general sense, is the words are not flowing. I’ve had more than one writing session where I glare morosely at the screen of the computer I just bought, staring at the mocking little bastard of a cursor blinking merrily away while I think of absolutely nothing to put down on the page. Then, if I do manage to come up with something that resembles a sentence, I looks so stupid when it appears on the screen that I delete it in a huff and then go and see what’s happening on Twitter.

In short, my story sucks, and I hate it.

In my fury of hating my story, thinking I was a failure, convincing myself that I would never write anything that anyone ever wanted to read ever again, ever, I got out my blaming finger and began jabbing it enthusiastically at all the outside influences that might be remotely blamed for my lack of progress: the pressure of NaNoWriMo, the move to the cell block that I was “volun-told” to take on, the drunk attempting to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the tune of “Jingle Bells”.

But, much as an angry man who smashes his head into the steel door of his cell, thinking he’s going to teach me a lesson, I found myself sitting on my ass, trying to catch the blinking spots before my eyes, and I realized that I had no one to blame but myself.

At the end of my last night shift this morning, I climbed from my cave and finally got a bit of a look at the sky. I got to breathe a little fresh air, and the slurred, mangled tunes of Twisted Sister finally faded behind me. Then, as though I’d been set free of a cell constructed only by my own foolishness, I saw the world clearly for a moment.

Like my new, vocally challenged friend in the cell block, I was singing the wrong tune and it was no one’s fault but my own.

As I drove home, I thought about the story I’m working on, and realized that I’ve been going about it all wrong. In my rush to try and get some words down, I was thinking more of what I wanted my story to end up as, and not how I was going to get there. I had tired to force my character into a role he was not able to fulfill, I had tried to make my writing too wordy and had lost my individual voice, and I had been so worried over my word count that I had forgotten to enjoy the story and make it for me and not for someone else. I was belting out a horrible song, off key, and no one was going to like it.

In re-examining the portion of the story that I’ve completed, I see that most of it is crap and will have to be heavily rewritten, if not deleted entirely. So, while I am very mildly sad that the hours I’ve put in have been mostly useless, I am very happy that I will be able to move forward with a firm plan in place, a character that I can get behind, and I story I want to read (which means I have to write it first).

We all have the ability to lock ourselves into our own personal little cell, where all we can hear is the ridiculousness of our own terrible, drunken, misguided voices bouncing back to our ears. But we all have the ability to set ourselves free; we just have to stop our caterwauling long enough to find the door.

As always, thanks for reading.



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