Choosing to Die


Brittany

I just learned several days ago about the young woman in Oregon, Brittany Maynard, who has chosen to end her life on November 1st of this year. If you don’t know the story, you can read the rest of this piece or go to her web site.

Her story started with headaches, minor at first, and then stronger and stronger until they were unbearable. Who knows how many times she went to see a doctor. Think about it, every time you go to a new doctor, you just want him/her to tell you that the previous six doctors didn’t know what they were talking about – you’re gonna be fine.

But it’s not, at least not according to the seventh doctor. Maybe an eighth?

Brittany’s condition was one of those rare beasts which asked the medical professionals to reach into the dusty section of their bookshelves, and thereafter figure out how to tell the family the unpleasant news.

“You have cancer – one of the worst.”

And then…

“Six months at best.”

From a social standpoint, can it get worse? Sure. She’s 29, and she just recently got married.

The short and sweet of it is that Brittany thought about it and thought about it, and in the end decided she didn’t want to put her family through that. With the support of her family and friends, she came to her own decision, that she would end her life on November 1st this year.

In understanding Brittany’s story, I look again at the silly notion that some countries have suicide is illegal, or at least any attempt at suicide is illegal. Why? I don’t get it. Okay, don’t kill anyone else; yeah, I get that. Every person life is their own and no other person has any other right to take the life of another. Got it.

But what’s the deal with making it illegal for someone to take her/his own life? What do you care? I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but if someone wants to go, there’s no one, family or otherwise, who has any right to tell them that they’re not allowed. Their life is their own.

I find myself in admiration of those who see their road ending prematurely and choose to ride it out to the end, simply because its their road to walk and no one else’s. They don’t want to switch paths; they don’t want to ride on someone else’s path; and they don’t want to spend the time trying to go against the Universe and make a completely new path – one the Universe never intended them to have in the first place. There is a great deal of admiration I have for these people. Aside from Brittany’s tale, how many of these types of people have you heard about? It’s not all that often that we get to hear of people who take full responsibility of their lives at all costs.

The reason I say this is because the goal for most in our society is live a long life. We often forget that along with the ‘long’ bit we want to live a healthy live. It’s not so much important to live long as it is to live well. But that’s beside the point. The thing is, in her video she talks about what she’s doing to enjoy life before she passes.

She talks about what it is like going through this. Her parents talk about it, how hard it is to deal with it, and amid all of it, there is a constant return to how much pain there is involved. But the pain mostly comes from her parents (her mom). Brittany herself seems to be at peace with it all, which seems natural in a sense. It’s sort of the kind of strength one would expect her to show considering her state.

She has talked about what she has decided her final resting place to be, where she will pass, who will be there, the music that will be playing. It’s almost romantic in its finality.

We wonder, when we hear stories like this, what it must be like for the family, her husband, certainly, to whom she has been married for a year now. What is it like for them, those who will be around her when she passes, being there with her, to hold her hand and watch her transition from the world of the living into whatever comes after that.

It’s weird even for me, to write this about her here and now. I’ve never spoken with this girl, never heard of her, and if she weren’t terminally ill, I probably wouldn’t think twice about her. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, of course, but just seems like it’s the truth. But here I am writing this about her now, and I feel somehow connected to her. Not that we understand each other, but that there is a wavelength, a thread, somewhere in the picture, the picture that none of us have been able to make out in our human history. I feel connected to her in that I’m connected to all of us, as we all are connected to one another, and I am saddened by the forthcoming loss of a piece of my spirit. John Donne said it so poignantly in his poem No Man is An Island.

                        If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,

                                                                        …

                      Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind,

I write this in celebration of Brittany Maynard. You inspire me and I have a great deal of admiration for you. Thank you for another reminder of how beautiful and precious life is. May blessings and love sing you into eternity.

 

 

Shut up and Write


Again, a message from Chuck

-LP

SHUT UP AND WRITE (OR: “I REALLY WANT TO

BE A WRITER, BUT…”)

Yes.

You.

*waggles accusing finger*

Shut up and write.

No, no, I know. You just wrote me an email and in this email — like in so many other emails by so many other ‘aspiring’ writers — you informed me that you really want to be a writer, but. No, it doesn’t matter what follows after the but. Something about time. Or family. Or fear. Or lack of knowledge. Or lack of practice. Or bees. Or facebees. Or how your hands were gnawed off by winged, mutated piranha leaving you with those lumpy fish-chewed stumps.

I don’t care.

I’m writing.

You’re not.

End of story.

Shut up.

Shut up shut up shut up.

And write.

Sure, yeah, some days it is fucking hard. Some days it feels like performing rectal surgery on a cantankerous bridge troll. Some days writing is running blindfolded through a maze made of pricker bushes. Writing is an act of creation, and creation is hard. It’s volcanic. Tumultuous. These creative atoms smash together clumsily, violently, destructively. You give something to get something with writing.

But also, it’s not that fucking hard.

C’mon, son. Really? Really? I mean, nobody’s asking you to send a man to Mars. You’re not tasked with desalinating an ocean or training a komodo dragon to cure ebola. Shit, I’m not even asking you to mop up some kid’s puke or wait tables at a five-star restaurant. Or a three-star. Or a fucking Hardee’s off the turnpike.

I’m saying, sludge yourself into the ass receptacle and peck keyboard keys like a hungry chicken until it makes words. Tap tap tap. Click click click. Or pick up one of the tools used by ourdistant ancestors — it is a tube filled with the liquid black souls of all the animals we’ve made extinct — and use this “pen” as a scribe would to etch scribbly heretical word-shapes onto dead tree pulp.

In other words: shut up and write.

Don’t talk about writing. Stop reading about writing. Don’t even come here. This place will be here later. When you’ve done the work. This blog isn’t meant to be your distraction — a warm pool in which to wade so you never have to swim out to the big bad scary ocean. It’s not here so you can feel productive and seem like a writer. Fuck that. No no no no no. You go write. Then you come back here. You gotta start first. Everything else is just masturbation. It’s fuck or walktime, hondo.

Shut up and write.

I really want to be a writer, but…

But.

But what?

But nothing.

It’s on you. You wanna be a writer?

Easy! Write.

Ta-da! Zing! Bing! Bang! Boom.

The writer writes. The writer writes! THE WRITER WRITES.

Hell with aspiring.

To aspire is to expire.

But it’s scaaaaary, you say. Sure, sure, yes, it can be. That sacrificial component can be terrifying. It feels like exposing yourself — some kind of intellectual, creative nudity, like running through somebody else’s mind, naked. Stripped bare. To the skin. Maybe to the bone. What might you say? What might you reveal? Who are you? Who will read you?

I know! I do! And I still don’t jolly well fucking care! Shut up! It’s not like I’m shaking a box of wasps at you. The act of writing isn’t a bedroom closet stuffed full of eyeless clowns — the stink of greasepaint, the honking noses. We can slap whatever metaphors we want on the act: writing feels like jumping out of a plane, oh my oh my, and while that metaphor holds water, it still isn’t actually you jumping out of a plane, is it?

Nobody’s jumping out at you.

No sharks or animated scarecrows with pointy knives.

Write.

Write now, right now.

Shut up.

What’s that? You don’t have time?

Well, who fucking does? Everybody thinks writing is some happy horseshit anyway, and life does not automagically provide you with an allotment of hours in which to creatively dick around, so — welcome to the club. We’re all snatching minutes from the mouth of the beast.

Oh, oh, you’re afraid of rejection. Of course you are. I am too. I hate rejection. Who wants that? Who wants to be told no, this isn’t right, this isn’t good, this isn’t all there. But rejection is how you know you’re doing the work. Rejection means you’re putting words to paper and you’re throwing them out there for all the world to see. Rejection is your battle scars: proof of your fight in the arena. Nobody wants to fall down and go boom but falling down and going boom is how you learn not to fall next time. Or at least fall differently.

Or, is it that nobody respects that you wanna be a writer? Yeah, get used to that. You’d get more respect as a juggler hired out for children’s birthday parties. Who cares? Get shut of it. You’re not doing this for the glory. If this is just some fantasy, pinch off that artery right now. The fantasy of writing isn’t that glamorous, trust me. (If I turned on my webcam, you’d flinch and ask yourself, WHAT KIND OF MONSTER IS THAT HUNCHED OVER IN THE SICKLY GLOW OF A COMPUTER MONITOR OH MY GOD IT’S LIKE A FURRY BAG OF TRASH CAME ALIVE AND DECIDED TO BLOG — JESUS, GOD, THE EYES ARE HAUNTING, THE MOUTH IS HANGING OPEN, I CAN IMAGINE THE SMELL OF DEATH AND COFFEE.)

I want to be a writer, but.

Stop.

Stop there.

And start writing.

You’re either writing, or you’re not. Stop obsessing over all the things that come later. Fuck publishing, marketing, audience, writing advice, writing blogs, tweets, reviews, book covers. This is a pure, untainted time between you and the manuscript. This is unfucked snow. So go, fuck that snow up. Write! Write. Create! Tell stories. Put it down. Carve something out of nothing — you’re given a wide and briny sea of pure imagination, so draw upon it.

I can do nothing for you if you’re not writing.

I can’t make you write.

I can’t puppet your indolent, inactive hands.

I can yell and kick and flail and flounce.

But all this is on you.

Shut up and write. Right now. Literally. Leave this page, go and open a notebook or a word processing program or grab a Sharpie and turn the pale flesh of your left arm skyward and start writing. Write 100 words, bare fucking minimum. No, I don’t care what, though it’s probably better if you aim for something, if you have a purpose in mind — but even if you don’t? Who cares. Pluck those words out of the dark like catching fireflies — fling them into your jar and admire their glow. And then, if you can manage it, write 100 more. And 100 more after that. As many as you can write today and then some. Push! Bite the belt. Swig the whiskey. Grit your teeth so hard you can feel the enamel crack. You’re not lifting a car off somebody.

Point your fingers downward and fling words into reality.

HACK IT OUT.

Then: stop and be proud.

Crush doubt beneath your boot-heel because you’re doing it. You’re writing.

Cackle. Go ahead: cackle. Like a supervillain.

I SAID CACKLE, GODDAMNIT.

And then tomorrow?

Do the same thing.

Don’t tweet about writing. Don’t read this blog. Don’t opine about writing or give writing advice or worry about who will publish your book or oh god will you self-publish or will you find an agent and how will you weather all that rejection and will your book cover just be some girl in leather pants with half-a-buttock turned toward the reader no — stop, quit that shit, stomp that roach, cut those thoughts and those actions right off at the knees.

Tomorrow, write more words until you can write words no more.

Then the next day.

Then the day after that.

Until you’ve finished something. Until you’ve completed the first pass. It’ll be an ugly baby, probably. It’ll be some squalling thing full of slugs and grease, moaning in the mulch. That’s okay. No mad scientist creates the perfect monster on the first go-round.

You’re doing it.

And once you do it long enough, you can say that you did it.

Shut up.

SHUT UP.

Shuuuuuut uuuuuuup.

Halt den mund.

Užsičiaupti!

¡cállate!

And write.

Then you can email me.

Then we can talk.

Writing a novel…iffn’ you’re interested n’all.


Chuck Wendig is one of my heroes. Number 10 is my favorite.

lp

—-

25 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING A NOVEL

I figured, okay, I just finished the first draft of a new novel. Just got a book deal for another one. Got DOUBLE DEAD coming out in November. Maybe a list of “25 Things” to do with writing a novel. Specifically. The other lists apply, of course — plot, character, storytelling — but this one about the mechanical act of smacking your face again and again into the meaty thighs of a novel. Only problem: I had a list that went well-beyond 25 things. So, I had to trim and trim and trim, and this is the list I came up with. It’s incomplete, of course. They all are. So, if you’re so inclined: get into the comments, add your own.

Previous iterations of the “25 Things” series:

25 Things Every Writer Should Know

25 Things You Should Know About Storytelling

25 Things You Should Know About Character

25 Things You Should Know About Plot

1. YOUR FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT GOAL IS TO FINISH THE SHIT THAT YOU STARTED

Let’s get this out of the way right now: if you start a fucking novel, then plan to fucking finish that fucking novel. Your hard drive is not a novel burial ground. It’s like building your own Frankenstein monster — robbing a grave, stealing a brain, chopping up the body — and then giving up before you let lightning tickle that sonofabitch to life. The true author finishes what he begins. That’s what separates you from the dead-beats, from the talkers, from the dilettantes. Don’t let dead metaphysical weight slow you down.

2. THAT MEANS MOMENTUM IS KEY

Say it five times fast: momentum-momentum-momentum-momentum-momentum. Actually, don’t say it five times fast. I just tried and burst a blood vessel on the inside of my sinuses. The point remains: writing a novel is about gaining steam, about acceleration, about momentum. You lose it every time you stop to revise a scene in the middle, to look up a word, to ponder or change the plot. It’s like a long road-trip: don’t stop for hitchhikers, don’t stop to piss, don’t stop for a Arby’s Big Beef and Cheddar. Just drive. Leave notes in your draft. Highlight empty spaces. Fill text with XXX and know you’ll come back later.

3. THE FIRST DRAFT IS THE BEACH-STORMING DRAFT

It’s you and hundreds of other soldier-penmonkeys clawing their way up the enemy beach of the People’s Republic Of Novelsvainya. Most of those other poor sots are going to take a stitching of bullets to the chest and neck and drop dead in the sand, flopping around like a fish, their bowels evacuating. Your only goal is to get up that beach. Crawl through mud, blood, sand, shit, corpses. It doesn’t matter if you get up that beach all pretty-like. Or in record time. Nobody cares how your hair looks. Your first draft can and should look like a fucking warzone. That’s okay. Don’t sweat it, because you survived. Put differently, that first draft of yours has permission to suck. Go forth and care not.

4. BE LIKE THE DOG WHO CLOAKS HIMSELF IN STINK

Find joy and liberation in writing a first draft without caring, without giving one whittled whit. It’s like pouring paint on the floor or taking a sledgehammer to some kitchen counters. Get messy. Let it all hang out. Suck wantonly and without regard to others. Let that free you. Have fun. Don’t give a rat’s roasted rectum. You’ll think that all you’re doing is upending a garbage can on the page, but later, trust in the fact you’ll find pearls secreted away in the heaps of trash and piles of junk.

5. THE FIRST DRAFT IS BORN IN THE LABORATORY

Take risks on that first draft. Veer left. Drive the story over a cliff. Try new things. Play with language. Kill an important character. Now’s the time to experiment, to go moonbat apeshit all over this story. You’ll pull back on it in subsequent drafts. You’ll have to clean up your mess: all the beer bottles, bong water, blood and broken glass. But some of it will stay. And the stuff that does will feel priceless.

6. WRITING IS REWRITING IS REWRITING IS REWRITING IS

Said before but bears repeating: writing is when you make the words, editing is when you make them not shitty. The novel is born on that first go-around but you gotta let that little bastard grow up. Do this through rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting. As many times as it takes till it stands up and dances on its own.

7. YOU HAVE AS MANY CHANCES AT-BAT AS YOU SO CHOOSE –

A Marine sniper doesn’t get infinite shots at his target. A batter only gets three strikes. A knife-thrower only has to fuck up once before he’s got a body to hide. The novelist has it easy. You can keep rewriting. Adding. Fixing. Changing. Endlessly anon until you’re satisfied.

8. — BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE

Seriously, you have to stop sometime. You whip mashed potatoes too long they get gluey. Comes a time when you need to stop fucking with a novel the same way you stop tonguing a chipped tooth. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Write till it’s good, not till it’s perfect. Because you don’t know shit about perfect. Aim squarely for a B+, and then it’s time to let others have a shot in getting the novel to that A/A+ range.

9. KNOW WHEN TO BRING IN THE MOTHERFUCKING A-TEAM

You’re not Lone Wolf. You are not Ronin-Ninja-Without-Clan. A novel is a team effort. You need readers. One or several editors. Potentially an agent. True story: writers are often the worst judges of their own work. You spend so long in the trenches, it’s all a hazy, gauzy blur: a swarm of flies. It’s like being on acid. Sometimes you need a trip buddy. Someone to tell you, this is real, this is illusion. “The pink unicorn is just a hallucination. But the dead body in the middle of the floor, dude, that’s real, WE GOTTA FUCKING GO.”

10. ESCAPE THE GRAVITY OF THE HATE SPIRAL

Every 10,000 words is a new peak or valley on this crazy-ass roller coaster ride. You loved the novel last week. This week you want to punch its teeth down its throat. That’s normal. Write through it. The hate spiral will kill you in if you let it. It’s one of the reasons we abandon novels. It’s also nonsense. Sometimes your best work is your worst, your worst is your best. Everything is ass-end up. Fuck worry. Just write.

11. QFT

The other day on Twitter, the author J. Robert King said something that rang true: “No balanced person writes a novel.” You sit down at the desk, shackle your mind to the project, wade into an imaginary swamp with made-up people. For days. Weeks. Sometimes even years. That’s fucking batty.

12. GOTTA ABANDON YOUR BABY? BUTCHER HIM FOR SPARE PARTS

Don’t abandon your novel. Don’t do it. Don’t make me kick you in the nuts. There. I did it. I kicked your nuts. Taste that? In your mouth? Them’s your nuts. Still. Sometimes it’s going to happen. Hopefully not often, but it does: a novel just isn’t working. Fine. Fine. But don’t let it go without a fight. Chop it apart. Break it into its constituent parts. You put work into that. Take what works and apply it elsewhere. Build another robot using parts you stole from yourself. Eat your body to sustain your body.

13. YOU CAN WRITE A NOVEL PRETTY FUCKING FAST

It’s hard but not impossible to write, say, 5,000 words a day. A novel is roughly 80k. At 5k/day, you can finish a novel in about 16 days. Just know that it won’t be good. Not yet. Can’t write and rewrite that fast.

14. FOR FUCK’S SAKE, SAY SOMETHING

A reader is going to spend those 80,000 words with you. Hours of his life, given to you. Make them count. Say something about anything. Have your novel mean something to you so it can mean something to them. Bring your guts and brains and passion and heart and for the sake of sweet Sid and Marty Krofft, a message to the table. Don’t just write. Write about something. Do more than entertain. You’re not a dancing monkey. You’re a storyteller, motherfucker. Embrace that responsibility.

15. THE SHAPE OF THE PAGE MATTERS

A novel page shouldn’t look like a giant wall of text. Nor should it look like an e.e. cummings poem. The shape of the page matters. Balance. Equal parts emptiness and text. Void meets substance.

16. A NOVEL BY THE NUMBERS

The ideal novel is 48% action, 48% dialogue, and 4% exposition and description. I just made that up. Probably totally inaccurate. Possibly I might could maybe sorta be drunk right now. Drunk on words, or on Tito’s VodkaYou decide. Point is, a novel gets bogged by boggy bullshit like heavy description and blathering exposition. A novel is best when it lives in the moment, when its primary mode of communication is action and dialogue linking arms and dancing all over the reader’s face.

17. I JUST LIED TO YOU BACK THERE, AND FOR THAT, I’M SORRY

Dialogue is action. It’s not separate from it. It is it. Action is doing something. Dialogue is talking, and talking is doing something. Even better when dialogue manifests while characters do shit: drive a car, execute some baddies, make an omelette, build a sinister dancing robot whose mad mechanical choromania will reduce the world to cinders. Characters don’t just stand in one place in space and talk. They’re not puppets in community theater. Find language with movement and motion.

18. DESCRIPTION IS ABOUT SIGNAL TO NOISE

Description is best when subtle. Too much description is static. Paint in short strokes. A pinch of spice here. A delicate garnish there. Description is not a hammer with which to bludgeon the mooing herd. Pick one, two, or three details and stop there. I’ve heard this said about large breasts and we’ll reiterate it here for description: anything more than a mouthful is a waste.

19. THE READER IS YOUR MULE

Up to you whether the reader is a mule carrying your prospector gear up a canyon path or a mule carrying doody-balloons of hard drugs in his butt-pocket; the point remains the same. The reader wants to work. The reader doesn’t know this, of course, so don’t tell him. SHHH. But the reader wants to fill in the details. He wants to be invested in the novel and to make his own decisions and reach his own conclusions. You don’t need to write everything. You can leave pieces (of plot, description, dialogue) out. The reader will get in the game. His imagination matters as much as yours. Make that fucker dance for his dinner.

20. TOO MANY DICKS ON THE DANCE FLOOR

A novel can have too many characters. It’s not a set number or anything. The number of characters you can have is limited by your ability to make them fully-realized, wholly-inhabited people. If you don’t have the time or the room to give them a soul, to lend them wants and needs and fears and foibles, then fuck it, chop their heads off and wipe their blood from the page.

21. GENRE MATTERS, EXCEPT WHEN IT DOESN’T

A good story is a good story, and that translates to novels: a good book is a good book. You write the novel you gotta write regardless of genre. But eventually you have to think about it. Agents, publishers, bookstores, Amazon — they care about genre. Your book has to fit somewhere. The secret is, it doesn’t have to be a perfect fit. Close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades and hobo handjobs. Maybe not that last one.

22. BEWARE THE SAGGY MUSHY MIDDLE

The beginning’s easy because it’s like — BOOM, some shit just happened. The ending’s easy because — POW, all the shit that happened just lead to this. The middle is where it gets all gooshy, like wet bread or a sloppy pile of viscera. Combat this in a few ways. First, new beginnings and early endings — the peaks and valleys of narrative. Second, keep the pressure on the story and, by proxy, yourself. Third, treat the second act like it’s two or three acts in and of itsownself.

23. LIKE I SAID: IMAGINE A LONG-ASS ROAD TRIP

Variation. In scene. In character. In mood. In setting. In everything. A novel can’t just be one thing. Mix it up. It’s like a long car ride. Take an eight-hour trip down a bland mega-highway and you pretty much want to suck on the tailpipe. Take an eight-hour trip through scenic mountains and pretty burgs and ghost towns, you no longer want to eat gravel and die. Put differently: don’t be boring. If the story buys a house and gets a job in Dullsville, you need to burn Dullsville to the ground and push the story down the road a ways.

24. NO ONE WAY THROUGH THE LABYRINTHINE MIRE

Plotter. Pantser. Five-k a day. Two-k a day. In sequence or out. Nobody writes a novel the same way, all the way down to which font folks like. Individual novels have their own unique demands. You write it however it needs to be written. Nobody can tell you how. Only that it needs to get done. We each cut our own way through the dark forest. In the deepest shadows, look for your voice. Your voice is what will get you through.

25. WRITING A NOVEL IS EASY, BUT WRITING A PUBLISHABLE NOVEL IS HARD

Writing a novel isn’t hard. You throw words on a page, one atop another, until you’ve got a teetering Jenga tower of around 80,000 of the damn things. Same way that building a chair isn’t hard: I can duct tape a bunch of beer cans and chopsticks together and make a chair. It won’t look pretty. And it’s an insurance liability. (“I’m suing you because I smell like beer, I have cuts on my legs and I’ve got two chopsticks up my ass, perforating my colonic wall.”) But writing a good novel, an original novel that’s all your own and nobody else’s, well, there’s the rub, innit? The way you do it is you tell the story like you want to tell it. You learn to write well and write clearly and put a pint of blood on every page until you’ve got nothing left but spit and eye boogers. Learn your craft. Learn your voice. Write it until it’s done, then write it again.