Author: Clayton Kroh

My Writer’s Voice, Lost

I have realized that I’m trying to find my voice, my writer’s voice. I used to have one that worked, but…I lost it. I went through a really, really difficult life event—or cascade of events that piled up on each other with me crushed at the bottom of it—nine years ago, and I’m just beginning to understand that, beyond it breaking me, it changed me.

The trauma turned me into someone a little—maybe even a lot—different from who I was. And the problems I’m having with writing currently I think stem partly from me trying to live as a person I’m just not anymore; I’m following the instruction manual, but it’s out-of-date.

It’s as if I’m a .docx file trying to be loaded up into Word 97. There’s a lot of new metadata attached to this new file of me that the old system and software I’m trying to run it on simply can’t interpret or render effectively.

So, I feel like I have nothing to say anymore. I’m struggling with themes, and just generally keep returning to the question, “what’s the point?” And I think it’s because I’ve lost my writer’s voice. I’m trying to speak in someone else’s voice, a dead-and-gone me that sounds familiar but is just an echo reverberating off the walls of old habits and memories of myself as I once was. And that makes everything that comes out feels inauthentic.

I have to go through the whole process again that I went through when I first started writing, when I developed my Voice the first time. I have to start over.

I have to start over, all over, to find my Voice and my point again.

Uuuuuuggghhhh.

Story on Flash Fiction Online This Month

My story “The Yankee at the Sitting-Up” has been published on Flash Fiction Online this month!

Volunteering as a First Reader and Writers Weekend 2.0

I’m volunteering some time as a first reader for a couple of small publications. The first is Shotgun! Strange Stories, which I was a first reader for on the current issue, and the other is DeadLights, for which I’ll be a first reader next.

“First reader” is a nicer way of saying I read the slush pile looking for those hidden gems I can pass along for a second read. I don’t read everything that comes in since I’m just volunteering and don’t have unlimited time, just a few every week or so.

It’s enough to give me a little boost of energy to write my own work, which I need. I’m having what I guess they call an existential crisis, layered on top of a midlife crisis, and all that’s layered on top of a powdery core of ennui. It’s tough shaking it off; I need more writing people around me to talk to and go have coffee with. I don’t get that much out in rural Washington state.

But, on a positive note, some writer friends of mine from Seattle are coming into town this weekend for a Writers Weekend 2.0. We spend the weekend immersed in writing at my house. This is the second time we’re doing this; the first time was during NaNoWriMo, and we used the weekend to do sprints, talk shop, and generally give encouragement to one another. So, this one will bring some much needed energy to enliven my flagging focus.

Writing Nopes: Simplistic Does NOT Mean Simple

Please stop using “simplistic” when you want to say something is simple but are trying to sound like you’re smart, because what you’re actually doing is making yourself look stupid.

Simplistic is pejorative; when you describe something as simplistic, you’re criticizing it as being oversimplified to a fault. It does not mean something is well-designed, clean, uncluttered, easy to use, efficient or in any way positive.

An example of the wrong use of “simplistic” is clear in this review of a waffle maker by Consumer Reports:

The incorrect use of "simplistic" in a Consumer Reports review.

The incorrect use of “simplistic” in a Consumer Reports review.

So, the translation of CR’s bottom line is that this waffle maker is “a highly affordable, poorly designed and superficial model with great results.” Obviously this is not the intended meaning, because it even goes on to describe it as a “quality waffle maker.”

It is the writer and the copyeditor that are not quality here.

If you’re want to be positive, the word you’re looking for is just good ole “simple.” Use it, and quit trying to sound clever.

Sold a Story to FFO

I got good news the other day: Flash Fiction Online bought my story “The Yankee at the Sitting-Up.” I don’t know yet when it will appear.

I’ve been having a tough time getting my writing side back online, so this is a big boost to that effort. It’s a reprint, so it’s not the kind of boost I really need—I need to complete and sell a new story. But this is still critical in helping me, especially after this week.

This week I wrote almost nothing, and I have no good excuse for it at all. I’ll check it up to it just being a bad week. Now the weekend starts, so I’ll make it a better weekend. My plan was to finish a draft of a short story this week, so I’m going to try and close the deficit by completing it this weekend.

If I write anything this weekend, it’ll be a victory. Gotta keep hammering this granite block in my head, keep making progress, however minor at this stage.

Writing Nopes: The Smell of Death

emoji_poop“The smell of death.”

No. Just, no. Stop using this cliche. It’s utterly devoid of narrative value—in fact, it has negative value; it deducts from your story, and it trashes your credibility as a writer.

What does death smell like? Like rotting meat? Say that. Like infection? Putrescence? Describe it using a specific we can imagine. Maybe it smells sickly sweet or cloying? Or could it be acrid? Like sulfur? Poisonous? “Like death” can mean a bazillion different things, but at the same time means absolutely nothing.

But when it appears in your writing it smells like one thing: Shitty writing.

Never use this cliche. Ever. EVER.

My Back Reminds Me to Be Better

Today I had two new ideas. Well, maybe one and a half; the half was remembering an idea I had a while ago that I liked, foolishly didn’t write down, and completely forgot.

The other idea I’ll be writing up maybe tomorrow and some this week if all goes well. I can ill afford to offend my recalcitrant muse, to whom I’ve recently extended a cordial invitation to return and make fertile once more the fallow fields of my creative mind.

Though, in all honesty, it looks more like me prostrate before her, begging through my tears and snot for her to flush out my constipated mind with her enema-like presence. Because that’s how I envision my writing life right now, a case of glaciated mental constipation.

I have had slow improvement over this half-month of NaNoWriMo. I gave up the idea of writing a novel during the month, opting instead to take any words that come to me and put them down without keeping to just the novel. I’m hopping around between it, plus some bits and pieces of another novel and a short story or two.

That slow improvement came to an awful halt on Tuesday. While at the gym taking part in a group training class called Special Forces, I did a deadlift and knew immediately I had fucked up.

A Short History of My Back

You see, eight years ago I hurt my back very badly at the gym, causing a bulging disk between my L4 and L5 lower back spine thingies. At the time, I was in incredible shape. I would do 50 minutes of indoor bike spin class in the morning, and then do as much as two hours of hardcore weightlifting.

This is what you do when at 38 your seven year relationship suddenly ends; you turn yourself into bait while you still have a few years left.

After I hurt my back, all my hard work began collapsing. I couldn’t workout like I used to—not even close—I couldn’t snowboard anymore, and I was in constant pain, 24/7/365. Sometimes I could barely walk it hurt so badly. The fixes didn’t fix much it seemed at the time (including a twice-performed procedure where they drive a very long needle into my spine and inject some sort of steroid). I had resigned myself to living in pain for the rest of my life.

And then about a year ago, the pain went away, mostly because I got a new mattress, and that’s a story for another day. The pain had been slowly poisoning me as a person, making me bitter, short-tempered, and antisocial. But the relief I felt…I can’t even begin to tell you. What a reprieve!

And Then I Fucked It Up Again

…Or so I afraid. I left Special Forces when I felt the sickening the pinch in my back, and for the next few days it got progressively more painful, until I could barely get out of bed.

But today, mercifully, the pain has abated for the most part. It’s not perfect, but I am confident it will get back to where I was last week, pain-free and able to function again.

So, for much of this week I haven’t done much writing. A little bit, but not anywhere near what I’d planned. But that’s ok, because I’m not walking with my hips canted out to one side in a tortured S shape because of pain.

This was a reminder for me to appreciate where I am and the state of my life. I have nothing to complain about, really, and when I inevitably do it anyway, I just need to remember that pain and the horrible notion that I could have had that pain forever—so quit your bitching and write something while you can.

 

Can You Kill Your Creativity?

You know the saying, “use it or lose it?” I worry that applies to a person’s creativity. I worry it applies to me.

I went through a long period of not writing—at least not writing my own stories, producing work original to me. I wrote for companies, everything from web content to newsletters to promotional articles to press releases. And some of it was creative work, like stories. But the creative stuff was always using some property the company owned, and it was a bit like paid fanfic. I enjoyed the work, enjoyed making a living on it all, and numbed the nagging twitch in the back of my writer-brain by telling myself, “Hey, it’s still all writing.”

But, it’s not the same. Eventually, I numbed that twitch right into a coma, not realizing that the twitch was my own creativity. And when it went under finally and didn’t twitch anymore, I ignored the silence. “I’m still writing. It’s all going to be ok. Still writing….” But that writing was now starting to suffer. Even while numbed my creativity had been desperately gasping through the mannequin prose of press releases and promo copy, making it a little better than it deserved to be, but when it couldn’t get enough air to keep it conscious any longer, it began dying.

Saying my creativity went into a coma is me avoiding a horrible truth, because the reality is that it wasn’t just sleeping in a coma—it was dying. And the parts that died I was never going to get back.

So, here I am in NaNoWriMo, resuscitating that part of me, frantically forcing in the oxygen of attention I foolishly deprived it of for so, so long, hoping it’ll wake up and be like it used to be, back when it vibrated with ideas and exchanged those for the exercise of my attention.

I know it won’t be like it used to be, but I think there’s enough left to build on, to build up something that’ll be different. Maybe it’ll be almost as good as it might have been, had I not tried to suffocate it with neglect.

Total NaNoWriMo words right now: 9,375.

Beginning with Day 3 of NaNoWriMo

What better place to start than the third day of something? I started NaNoWriMo on time, November 1, but I only just decided to start keeping a blog about it today. This decision came primarily because I missed doing any writing on Day 2, so I’m way behind already. I’m looking for this post writing to be a gentle slide back into the real writing work when it feels like that work is going to be really gummy—like today.

This site is not set up yet even; it’s just using an uncustomized template for the moment. It grates to see it, but I’ll stomach it for now. In the past, this would have been a writing distraction, something I’d divert to working on instead of writing, somehow rationalizing that the empty website’s design was more important that writing. You can always do the writing later, right?

You can tell yourself that for a long, long time. I’ve been telling myself I’ll do the writing later for twenty years now, and it finally has to stop.

Here’s me stopping it.

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