The Writer’s Traffic Circle

The blogging portion of this website perfectly illustrates the title concept of this post.

We all know how the driving circle works. (Hopefully, so nobody gets hurt out there.) When clear, one enters the circle, and drives around it, until reaching the road they need, at which point they exit and continue on their way.

There is nothing to prevent someone from remaining in the circle indefinitely, however. One could, without any physical impediment continue driving legally in a circle for as long as one could. Just ask Clark Griswold from the European Vacation movie.

Doing so would be pointless in real life, despite being worth a chuckle in a movie. But in the writing world, it’s no laughing matter.

Discipline is of course vital to completing any writing project. The work won’t write itself. But life happens, and sometimes we lose the time, the energy, the motivation to write. We should allow ourselves that on occasion.

Yet at some point as we navigate that creative roundabout we must determine why we haven’t exited and continued working. Are we truly unable to write, or are we simply unwilling to write today, this week, this month?

Several things can keep a writer in that traffic circle with poor Clark. A big one for me is readership, especially when it comes to this blog. The cold truth is, few people read this. A few do, and I always appreciate that, but by the metric of a “successful” blog, I do not now, nor have I ever had one. It is what it is.

With a large readership eagerly awaiting my next post, I would, I confess probably post more often. Reaching people who become inspired or educated by my content would represent one of the exits from the circle of not-writing. Without that following, it’s easy to just ease past the road, ease past the next, and be lulled into passivity by a nice circular road trip. Round and round I go.

The metaphor works with any writing. Novels, poetry, essays. It’s easier to write when someone’s reading.

There are other less-than-legit reasons I might stop writing for a while, to be sure. But whichever one we’re talking about, I have to be willing to take the exit into writing at some point. Any of the exits. Because even if the road I wanted is closed, I cannot stay in the circle forever. I can’t wait for the perfect opportunity. I have to “make left” and get the hell out of my own way eventually, and get to some kind of writing.

This blog has been one causality of letting myself get trapped in that circle of doing nothing as I wait for the road full of eager readers.

Yet here I am again. For now. Just as I have gotten off of the circle for a bit and posted my thoughts here today, I hope that you will drive away from whatever manageable obstacles you have that are keeping you in the traffic circle. At least for today.

We’ve all seen Big Ben enough for a while, haven’t we?

A Solstice Story.

A story from a few years ago. Happy Solstice. —Ty

On the night of the Solstice, the longest, darkest night of all the year, Brodny, son of Branko turned around once more to view his village in the distance.

The festival bonfire in the village commons was still visible, though no bigger than a candle’s flicker now. He listened for the music of pipes and strings and drums, but heard only the whipping winds now, the sounds of revelry at last beyond the power of his ears.

Even this tiny candle of light would soon vanish from his sight, for he was about to enter the woods. Then, he knew, for much of his journey, the torch in his hand would be his only light. The trade path to the next village, used by many including himself during the day was almost always avoided during the night, the time of the spirits.

The flat plain had for half an hour allowed him to turn and see the fire of his village’s celebrations, to hear the muffled strains of the music and allow him to feel in a way still home. Still safe. The woods would afford no such comfort, he knew.

“The chemist and medicine man have toiled to produce this special torch,” the chief elder of the village had told him earlier in the evening. “It shall burn long enough for you to reach the fire light of our brother village, if you tarry not, and the gods be with you.”

And would the gods be with him? As his journey was an act of mercy, fellowship and kindness, the elders assured him the gods would smile on his undertaking.

Brodny had volunteered to take the mistletoe and other greenery to the neighboring village beyond the woods. Word had come to his village that the powerful, magical plant had been stolen or somehow lost before the neighboring village’s solstice festivities, and the elders of his own village agreed to send some from their own stock.

Gathering and preparation of the plant, however, had lasted far into the day; they were not prepared until just before nightfall. His word having been given, however, and not wanting their brother village susceptible to bad luck for having no greenery for Solstice, Brodny insisted he proceed with his journey. (Though his wife, who liked not the night, had begged him to stay home.)

So now, Brodny, son of Branko turned to the woods, adjusted the thatched pack of mistletoe on his back, raised his torch, pulled his fur tighter around him in the increasing cold, and moved forward.

Bells of various sizes adorned his oak walking staff. Tinkling peals rang out with his every step into the frigid night. Sometimes the heavy wind, though softened by the trees around him, blew the bells about also.

The torch in his hand, lifted high over his head and in front of him, illuminated at most twice a man’s arm span in any direction. The outmost edges of the torchlight’s undulating circle appeared to be black feathers on an otherwise unseen large bird, trying to gently sweep the light into surrounding darkness. Failing this, the weakest light at the edges of his torch’s power threw rock and trunk, fallen leaf and dirt alike into a nether world of shadow and dying yellow colors.

The episodic “pitting” noise of snowflakes falling gently on endless unseen surfaces accompanied his bells and footsteps.

A chill took him after some time, and he paused to remove the goat bladder filled with mulled wine from around his neck. Though he had persevered without the drink up until that point, he could no longer do so. Torch held high, he drank a heavy drought, restoring right away some warmth to his bones and heartiness to his resolve.

The tinkle of bells from with the woods reached his ear. His staff being still, he knew the noise came not from there. He thrust his torch into nearby pockets of the night, trying to locate what made the sound. This yielded him nothing. The song of these other bells grew in volume, sometimes above him, then behind him, and then far ahead of him.

“Spare me some wine,” spoke a dry voice like twigs and rocks sliding together. At once, from the outer limits of the torch light emerged an old woman, as though birthed by the evening.

She wore long rags and the boots of a man. Disheveled hung below her waist, though whether it was gray or white Brodny could not distinguish. The fire light masked it in a hue of orange.

She carried no torch of her own.

Around her neck, indeed across her chest, the large halter of a horse or ox, decked in bells far greater in number than his walking staff.

The torch shone back at him from the shining black pupils of her eyes. She reached a twisted, palsied hand in his direction. “Spare me some wine, traveler,” she said. “For the cold and wind are bitter tonight.”

“I have a great journey before me,” Brodny said. “To the neighboring village. I require the fortification.”

“I journey to the gorge, near three times the length of your travels, and I am but an old woman now. I shall freeze. Rely on your youth and strength, and spare me your wine.” She reached her hand into his torch light.

Brodny looked down at the bladder, running his hand along it. He then observed his torch.

“Very well,” he said. He removed the bladder from his shoulder and placed it into the skeletal hand. “Travel in good health. But truly I must not tarry. May you reach your destination. Good Solstice to you.”

The old woman replied in kind, but in a language rarely spoken in that day in areas so far north. Her bells rang out into the night, growing more faint behind him as he made his way down the path toward the brother village. He was glad to have taken such a heavy draught before relinquishing  the wine.

On he walked. Several times, as the snow fell faster around him, he reached for the wine he no longer carried. He and his bells, and torch, and the mistletoe on his back pressed forward with all the more vigor after each time he made this mistake.

More than once, upon hearing unsavory sounds that may or may not have been the increasing wind through the trees, or a distant animal, Brodny shook his staff of bells with rigorous abandon. This kept him confident, until, when he reached the deepest bend in the path, a glow from above him caught his attention through the corner of his eye.

He looked up, and saw  a flame in the trees the size and intensity of his own torch. These flames dove from the tree tops down a few feet and vanished, like a large spark from a bonfire. Nearly as soon as this flame vanished did another materialize, this time nearer to the ground, some distance in front of him. Brody shook his staff in the air. The second ball of flame melted as silently into nothingness as did the first. However, also like the first, another soft irregular sphere of orange appeared right away. Now it was the height of a man’s shoulder, off into the woods to the left. This one came toward Brodny.

He dared not step off of the beaten both, even as the ball of flame drew closer to him. Just in front of him it burned out whatever magical fuel that fed it, and it to passed out of sight before reaching him, only to give way to another such orb just above him, which in its turn passed away, leaving room for another, and yet another, each time the replacement arriving sooner and sooner after the extinguishment of its predecessor. Within moments not one, but several bursts of flame arrived upon the passing of another, all moving gradually closer to each other from all over the surrounding woods.

Brodny was dizzy with fear and wonder. The pace with which portions of the woods were lit and then unlit only to be lit again by these orbs produced flashed unlike anything he’d seen.

At length all of the balls of fire coalesced into one form, several paces in front of him. The form of a man, yet faceless, and constituted entirely of flame that rippled and licked the air, yet set nothing else aflame. Even the now heavy snow seemed unaffected by its proximity to the fire-being. 

Realizing his shaking of the bells was fruitless, Brodny stopped. His insides, however, continued involuntarily to quake. 

“Brodny, son of Branko,” said the figure, but without the aid of a mouth. It spoke in a powerful but sleepy whisper. “Spare me your staff of bells.”

Brodny looked at the staff, and its now silent bells. “If it please you,” he said to the figure, “Would you have me unprotected from the night and its spirits?”

“I too am a citizen of the night, Brody, son of Branko,” said the figure, “I travel far and wide and yet am not impervious to the dangers. Yon magic plant on your back protects you, surely. I have none, nay not even a sprig. Let me not travel further without protection into this night of spirits. Spare me your staff, I say.”

Though every word the creature whispered made him drowsier and long for his cot, Brodny knew what vulnerable state he would be in without the bells of the elders. Yet what greater danger could there be but to refuse a spirit its request in the middle of the night? And if this were a good spirit?

Brodny acquiesced. 

“Lay it down upon the path,” said the fire-being. Brodny did so, and stepped away from it. The figure leaped first into the air, and came falling down on top of the staff, which rattled and rung flatly, but did not burn for the flames. In the same moment, the figure grabbed the staff and leaped so high into the night sky that Brodny, looking upward, saw but for a moment no more than an orange comet that streaked into the heavens and burned out, to be seen no more.

He couldn’t allow his dread and awe to halt his progress. Already the torch burned dimmer than it should have been at that part in his travels, and he had still some distance to go. He expelled one heavy sigh into the air, and by the time the steam floated away, Brodny was moving again.

By now the snow came down in in a steady stream of thick flakes, the ground already covered enough to crunch under his boots as he moved down the path. He quickened his pace now, hoping to make up for lost time.

The black chill of the snowy night froze him, and he would reach still for his missing bladder of wine. So too would he move to shake the bells on the missing staff when confronted by a strange noise in the deepness of the forest. Still, for some time nothing impeded him further, and once he heard the rush of the river ahead of him in the distance, he felt he would be on safe ground again soon, free of obstacles.

The river was not treacherous. Nonetheless it moved swiftly over several pointed rocks on which more than one traveler had injured himself before the bridge had been constructed of stout wood and stone. Once across the bridge, he had just under a mile until the brother village…even less distance until the glow of their own solstice bonfire would greet him in the distance.

When he stepped onto the first plank of the bridge, the winter wind, already formidable for most of his journey, grew to a paralyzing gust, into which he bowed to keep his balance and to protect his eyes from the icy air. The bridge itself shimmied underneath his feet.

With labored steps Brodny reached the middle of the bridge. Tucked within the whistle of the gale, a voice spoke as from the bottom of a well, “Brodny, son of Branko.”

He turned, seeking the one who called to him. As he did so, the wind blasted with such force as to rip the torch from his hand. He watched its small amount of light arc into the air, and dive straight into the river, wherein it went out with a splash.

Brodny heard no more voices, though he stopped himself from cursing the wind, fearful that the obvious spirit that had deprived him of his remaining light was still nearby. In any case, he was far more concerned with the whipping wind, the stinging snow flakes and the now total darkness in which he found himself. No torch drove him forward in haste now, but rather a need to seek refuge from this night, and safely find fire again.

Blind as he was, he took to his knees and knocked on the bridge. The wet snow seeped into his pants at the knees and ankles and stung at his knuckles, but he continued, altering his path slightly at intervals so as to determine the length of the bridge without tumbling over himself into the frigid swirl that howled beneath him.

At last he thumped his fist not against a plank, but into solid dirt, and then again and then once more. The opposite bank! 

Certain that he crawled forward enough to get to his feet away from the bridge, Brodny stood. Through the snow, his eyes having adjusted somewhat to the dark by now, he could just make out the hill ahead of him, beyond which the brother village ought to be visible. The woods, he knew, thinned here, and to continue to climb the hill, even off of the path would lead him in the right direction.

Several times on his climb up the hill, Brodny slipped on and then into the snow, each time more and more of it soaking his feet, his hair, his clothing. Each time he stood, oriented himself in the dark, gathered strength and pressed onward through the wintry onslaught. When at last he reached the top of the hill, exhausted, put off by the dark, and chilled to his bones, he squinted though the snow at flat ground, and in the distance the candle sized flicker that was the bonfire of the brother village.

He had some ways to go, he knew. But with a beacon now to guide him and encourage him onward toward warmth and safety and light, his resolve strengthened. He adjusted the thatched pack of mistletoe boughs on his back and took his first step toward the end of his journey.

“Brodny, son of Branko, hear me.”

A soft glow seeped into the accumulated snow in front of him. It was such that instead of white, the snow appeared almost as blue gemstone, or pure river ice. This blue illuminated his surroundings.

A bulge formed in the silver-colored puddle of light. This bulge grew to a mound, and the mound grew to a heap, and the heap silently shaped, molded and smoothed itself into a tall human form, faceless, as the fire-creature had been. “Stay, Brodny son of Branko,” said the snow-being, in voice like an ordinary man speaking as in conversation. “Stay, and give to me your mistletoe.”

Brodny reached his hand around to his back and felt some of the greenery. “I cannot. It is not mine to give.”

The creature took a large step toward him. Chunks of snow rolled off of its body and into the snow on the ground. It would then reverse course and roll back up onto the body, being absorbed by same. This process repeated several times.

“Yours is not to argue,” said the snow-being, “Do you think I don’t know you freely gave away your wine, and your staff and your torch? Yon mistletoe is powerful, and of greater significance by far than your other objects.” The snow-being stretched an arm toward Brodny, and what would pass as a fingerless hand unfolded before him. “Give me thy mistletoe, for its powers are not for you.”

Brodny did not argue that his torch had been taken from him by the wind a spirit that commanded. Instead he replied, “Those objects were my own, for me to freely give as I chose. This mistletoe is for yon village, for the solstice celebration, and for protection. It is not mine to bestow, forgive me.”

Brodny took a step. The snow-being slid sideways on the snow to block his path. “Incur not my wrath. Your obedience to the inhabitants of the woods has heretofore kept you safe. If you will not give me your mistletoe, I will take it.”

He thought of his young wife, his aged parents, his village, and all the things to which he would bid farewell tonight, without them ever understanding. Cold, wet, very tired and frightened, Brodny son of Branko said to the snow-being, “I will not give, nor will you take.” Brodny took another step away.

At this, the snow-being growled softly. Chunks of snow from the ground previously at rest collected themselves into balls that rolled their way toward the snow-being. They buried themselves into its form, and the creature swelled to a larger, thicker form. 

“Then,” said the snow-being, “Know pain that only insolence can bring.”

Brodny stepped once more, and the snow-being slid in front of him. With both of its thickening arms, it reached for Brodny’s head and squeezed it.

Every inch of skin, every tendon, muscle, bone and organ within Brodny now knew the cold of every block of ice and every flake of snow from every winter since the dawn of time. A chill so all encompassing to his very being that he lacked enough warmth and power to even scream through the agony.

Sheets of snow and ice and mist passed over his eyes, drying them in polar air. Wintry gusts blew without abatement into his ears, all but drowning out even his thoughts.

“Release the mistletoe, Brodny son of Branko.”

The voice was now a hiss that came from everywhere. Brodny, unable to move any muscle in his body so much as a hair width could not speak an answer. But through his agony and the power that now enveloped him, from his heart he made a resounding, unmitigated, unequivocal answer to the being.

“Never.”

And now Brodny fell away. Through a darkness deeper than the woods through which he had tread, he tumbled-insensible to where he was, but aware of a release from the petrifying cold.

He no longer fell, having slammed into something. The sound of a woman’s voice. His eyes opened to stars in the blackness above him. Cold again, but not as before. His vision blurred.

A figure in rags and cascading, unkempt hair looked down upon him as she poured something onto his face. Onto his mouth. Into his mouth. Mulled wine, its spiced warmth cascading down his throat into his body.

Nearby a large fire moved toward him. Then away. Then toward him again, and at last expanding, reaching into the sky, shaking with vigor. The sound of bells.

And Brodny slept.

And he woke, on a cot. In a hut. He looked about. It was not his own. Someone sat nearby, near a hearth fire.

Instead of the speech he had intended, Brodny coughed.

“Slowly,” said the companion nearby. A man. The man drew near, holding a torch. A familiar man to Brodny. Not one of his elders. But yes, one of the elders of the brother village. “Stay under the furs, you must thaw from the bitterness of the night.”

“How did I get here?” Brodny asked. He was too weak to sit up, and instead faced the nearby hearth fire that burned brightly in the hut.

“We heard your bells,” said the elder. “And when you didn’t come, we sent a scout who found you lying in the snow, in deep slumber. You were brought here and revived. Your staff and wine bladder are safe. As is the mistletoe, which we have hung all throughout the village as we celebrate this solstice, thanks to your efforts and your village’s generosity. The gods be praised.”

And from that time, Brodny, son of Branko was better known in many villages as “Brodny the Faithful” and “Brodny the Selfless.”

He spoke to no one of his journey.

Poetry Launch

As of this morning, my latest book, a short collection of experimental poems, is available for download for a dollar. You’ll find links for purchase in the “my books” page of this website.

This collection began life as a brief experiment, and evolved into a full collection.

In it, I compose “black out poetry.” This simple method has been around for ages. In short, one takes a pre-existing work, and by way of removing certain words, (blacking out, as with an actual marker sometimes) and leaving others, an entirely new work is created.

I’d seen this done before, but hadn’t tried it myself until I came across a video online of someone doing so. I was determined to try my hand at it.

I purchased a religious screed from the bargain bin, and had at it. Originally, the book itself was to be adorned with artwork of my own creation, thus being its own unique entity. But as this proved more complex and time consuming that I planned, my mind drifted toward the idea of “blacking out” several other works and putting the results into an anthology of sorts. Lodestone Crossing is the fruit of that idea.

The rules were simple, but nonetheless a challenge. In the first poem, I would not only require the words to remain in the original order, but the punctuation as well. If I wanted the poem to ask a question, I had to “wait” for a question mark to come up in the text. I’m proud of that result, but opted to let go of the requirements for punctuation for the subsequent poems. I still added no words, and I fashioned my stanzas out of words that remained in the same order they appeared in the book. Punctuations on said words could be anything I wished, however.

This method not only produced a different kind of poetry than I am used to, but forced me to take a more nuanced view of language, metaphor, and composition. If I never try this again, it was worth it this time just for the new perspectives.

That being said, I am proud of the work itself, and hope you will spend a buck to see what I’ve come up with.

Lie Your Way to a First Draft

You’ve gotten to a point in your WIP’s first draft that requires a leap. A change. A 180. The correction of a plot hole, perhaps. The point is, somehow things have unfolded in a manner you were not expecting, and as a result you need to adapt the piece to this new trajectory.

You can start over from the beginning, and try to incorporate this new truth into the piece. A huge commitment, especially if you are already halfway through. But if it works, it works.

A less drastic option is to make a list of all the aspects of your story up until that point that will have to be changed in order to fix your continuity. Address each dissonance one at a time, see how that would change other things, fix those, and so on until the surprise development is fully assimilated into your work. Then you can continue with the rest of the draft.

There is no right or wrong to this situation, but I’d like to propose an alternative approach that for my money is most effective and less stressful. Ready?

Lie to yourself.

More specifically, pretend the problem is solved as of right now. You don’t know how the narrative gets from the start to your current point, you just say that it has, and you continue writing your draft. If a character that died in chapter five has to have survived after all in order for your plot to evolve, guess what? The character survived. That three page death scene you concocted during a bout of insomnia is null and void. Every world in your draft from here on out will be written with the assumption that by some unknown manner, (possibly magic?) that death never happened.

So again, lie to yourself about.

What purpose does this serve? It keeps you focused on your primary task at this point: finishing your first draft.

And that is all it is, a first draft. We all know that first drafts are shit for everyone. That doesn’t just mean the writing is bland or that you use too many adverbs. It means that the goal of a first draft is to produce the lump of clay from which you will eventually shape your novel. But you can’t shape it before you draft it, just like you can’t actually produce that vase before the clay is even on the wheel.

Of course you will, in revisions have to revisit the change in trajectory. That hole will have to be filled in one fashion or the other. Like a credit card, you are in essence buying now, and paying later. But unlike a credit card, there is no deadline, no penalty. Allow yourself the satisfaction of finishing the draft while under the (temporary) delusion that the roadblock has not only been removed, but never existed. Then when you go back for revisions, you will have spent quite a deal more time in your fictional world, and likely will find a solution easier to come up with than if you stressed about fixing the problem before daring to move forward with the draft.

It can be a challenging strategy for some. We are hardwired to move in a linear direction, from home to destination. If there is an obstacle, we want to take care of it before we move on in the easiest Point A-to-Point B manner.

But we are creating. Engaging our imagination, and hopefully those of other people some day. The rules of locomotion don’t apply here.

In the end, the answer almost always comes, if we continue working at it. You do yourself a solid as an author to have faith in that, even as you move on in your story. One of the few times that “lying” to yourself is advantageous.

No Big Deal Syndrome

Do you find yourself unable to break the inertia of not writing in your work-in-progress? Several times a week or month do you sit down in front of said piece, type perhaps a word or two, and then retreat from so much as even looking at it for weeks on end, despite wanting to get to it? Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or even your personal journals seem like judgmental strangers, and you can barely bring yourself to work on them.

It’s more than mere procrastination, from which we all suffer. And of course you have already ruled out underlying medical and mental conditions and illnesses.

You know it isn’t writer’s block, because you suffer no void of ideas and concepts to explore. In fact, the unpleasant mindset of which I speak can only coincide with a fairly well-defined project—a well-defined project you simply cannot bring yourself to visit, even though you are clearly not lazy.

Could it be that confidence hobgoblin that that often follows artists about, the so-called Imposter Syndrome? After all, that toxic mindset does indeed present as a persistent belief that one is not as talented or worthy of accolades as others may say. This may certainly slow down our daily word count.

Yet you do feel, most of the time, that you are in fact an artist, and as such have every right to create art. You feel like an impostor when you succeed at times, but in the privacy of your own thoughts you find your self-worth as a creator is in tact for the long haul.

Still, a constraint, as invisible as it is pervasive fetters you and makes even a well-planned writing session as daunting as swimming a rough ocean.

To coin a phrase, I ask you if perhaps you are suffering from No Big Deal Syndrome.

Aside from what I mentioned above, symptoms can include a pervasive lack of willingness to invest time or energy into your story—a procrastination of sorts, brought on by a latent feeling of inequality to the task of writing your particular piece.

I admit, it sounds similar to Impostor Syndrome at first pass. Yet instead of feeling you do not deserve success, what you are actually struggling with in No Big Deal Syndrome is the belief that your story, poem, article, is by its nature not significant enough to justify all of the time you need to set aside for it.

This doesn’t refer to accumulating awards and accolades for a piece. Right or wrong there are at least perimeters and requirements that must be met for most of the specific awards out there. If we are not writing something that conforms to those expectations, we aren’t likely to expect out work has a chance in running that gauntlet.

No, it’s the pieces we write for ourselves at first, or for smaller, less defined readership. Or the things we write about because we simply “have to” get them written. Words that when they first come to us won’t let us sleep until we jot them down.

It could even be the idea of writing a little bit of anything each day that stymies us with NBD Syndrome. After all, if our writing, our ideas, our concept isn’t significant to us, if it becomes, “no big deal,” we are going to have a difficult time mustering from within us the proper investment required to bring it to bare.

There are only two ways to combat MGD Syndrome. The incredible thing is, both “cures” are polar opposites.

First, consider that it is a big deal, whatever it is. It’s a big deal because the vast majority of people never bother to create. It’s a big deal because its yours. (Not because it is 100% original in every aspect, which is impossible.) It’s a big deal to be an artist, and artist create stuff. It’s a big deal because…it is a big deal.

To the contrary, you might ironically get past the numbing effects of NBD Syndrome by concluding that “big deals” are in and of themselves “no big deal.”  Why does something have to be a big deal, anyway? Artists tend to yoke themselves, or allow the world to yoke them with the idea of being a big deal, and creating a big deal. If you can’t buy into your own artistic significance, buy into the fact that you don’t need to be significant in the first place.