Writing Journal 5.1.2021: Starts and stops

Hi, everyone. Hope you like the new look for the site. (I decided on Penscratch 2). It’s starting to grow on me. Seems basic. But, anyway.

I was shocked that the third week of April turned out to be not as horrific with writing than I expected. Not great, but at least not horrible. I am seeing a drop-off on the weekends, and I’m going to experiment and see if I can get that losing streak to stop. I’ll report on the results later.

There’s more to think about, more to plan, but that might be in the future. One of these days, I am going to have to do a blog (trying to think how I am going to couch this) about the mental strain that teaching puts on people. K-12 teaching is, indeed, unlike any other profession in that regard. I won’t say that the start of my teaching career was the reason I took a hiatus from writing (it had started well before that), but it might have been a factor in it lasting as long as it did.

Anyway, since I am writing this ahead of time, you might see some more posts here this past week. Some of the topics that I’ve been mulling recently include whether I’ve been writing a halfway type of memoir here on this site and whether I should try and set up a podcast. Feel free to let me know what you think.

So, here are the stats from last week. Better than the previous week, but not stellar. All of you all keep safe.

Writing statistics for the week ending April 24, 2021:
+4,022 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 5 of 7 days.

A Writer’s Biography, Author’s Note: Is this beginning to turn into something… bigger?

[PHOTO NOTE: The featured pic is a 1913 picture by Oscar Grossheim of downtown Muscatine, Iowa, courtesy of the Musser Public Library’s collection. Since this is about my past, I decided to add an old photo of my hometown. It sort of fits, even though I didn’t move there for another 60 years or so after that was taken.]

It’s a bit freaky to me that it was almost four years ago since I wrote this blog entry. At the time, I wasn’t thinking too much about it. I was just thinking of the basic idea that I had to write about writing and my relationship to it over the years. In that post, I was talking about when I was a young kid first getting into the written word and starting to ponder the idea that I might be able to tell the type of stories I had been reading about.

Well, a couple of posts about the type of stuff I read as a kid turned into a few. They were coming hot and heavy for a while, but then continued, in dribs and drabs, throughout the lifespan of this blog. I finally put out a couple more of those posts after a seven-month hiatus. That prompted to me to wonder – how many of those have I actually written?

Well, I went ahead and looked at all of the posts I’ve now written under this Writer’s Biography title, and did some counting… and I have twenty different posts. With this post, that number is now twenty-one.

Those are about twenty different posts of me talking about myself and my life as a writing. Of those posts, 8 of them I have labeled as Volume I (covering my time as a kid and adolescent). Another 7 posts I’ve labeled Volume II (covering my time as a young adult). Finally, there were 5 posts labeled Volume III (covering things that have happened as I began to write again in middle age after an extended series of hiatuses). All of those stories were centered around either my writing or the influences of my writing (what I read). So, I didn’t think too much about it… until now. And now, there’s this story that you are reading now, when I finally sit down for a moment and contemplate what’s been happening.

To look back and see that I had been doing that much writing about myself… that was a bit of a surprise.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I’m not sure, but I think that this is, without any particular initial intent, becoming something more than just a few blog posts. I think I’ve somehow wound up with something that is approaching… a memoir.

There are more than a few old pieces of fiction and some of the columns I wrote for newspapers that would indulge my youthful, quixotic dreams of being a famous newspaper columnist that wind up being at least semi-autobiographical. I remember reading Charles Yeager and Miles Davis’ autobiography and was impressed by their stories. I loved Andre Agassi’s Open and thought it was brilliant, but I totally understood he needed a co-author to make it work. And, it was a great job that they did.

But me trying to write an autobiography? Why?

First, it’s not like I have that interesting of a life to talk about. I was an only child in eastern Iowa who read a lot of books, watched a lot of television, and played a lot of video games. I got into sci-fi geek culture, or as much as I could find out about it in the pre-Internet Midwest. I got married, had a couple kids, kicked around a few newspapers and got into teaching. I never did wind up getting arrested or had any major tragedies happen to me. It’s been a relatively quiet life.

And secondly, I always thought you had to remember a lot about your past. There’s not too many memories, or fully formed memories, of when I was a kid, at least not enough to fill an entire book. Likely, they wouldn’t be enough to fill in one of those self-published books of memoirs you see in local bookstores or fairs. I really related to how David Carr of the New York Times, when he wrote a memoir of his time as an addict, he wound up interviewing people in his life because he didn’t think that he could be relied on for the accuracy of his recollections.

It turns out, however, that I might have more to talk about than just a few stories. The series is turning into something of its own creature, something that is happening in spite of itself. I’m honestly not sure about whether I’d ever consider turning it into an actual book, or where it might lead.

I do know I still have more than a few of those types of stories to tell, however. So keep checking in – you’ll never know what I might remember next.

Writing Journal 4.24.2021: Short week, short bit of writing

I’m keeping this journal short, and I’m feeling OK about that because I’ve finally started writing some other non-writing journal posts in recent weeks. There will be at least a couple more to come, maybe not substantial ones, but ones focused on some of my recent new subjects. One of them might actually involve the concept of me speaking… more on that later.

As for the previous week’s writing… not much to write about. I might have just made my minimum quota this week, but not by much. However, I’m hoping this week’s numbers will be more prolific. I also am giving myself more permission to write about a wider variety of things and not worry about not getting certain projects done in a given amount of time.

That’s it for now. Writer’s keep writing and everyone keep safe.

Statistics for the week ending 4.17.2021:
+3,093 words written.
Days writing: 4 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 1 of 7 for 30 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 3 of 7 days.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 5: The Writing Environment

You get a certain level of comfort writing being in the same room for a while. That’s not to say that certain place is the best place to write, however. Ever since I turned 18, I have had about six or so spaces that I considered to be my exclusive writing space. I made all of them work, even though each of them had certain disadvantages.

I’ve made various spots my writing dens over the years. When I was a kid and had my first desktop computer for college assignments, etc., I decided to use a small rolling desk designed especially for keyboards and desktop stacks. It wasn’t too private, but not too many people went down in the basement, and there were only three people in the house (Me, Mom, and Dad). So, I made that work.

I had that for a few years, and then, when I moved into my own apartment, I fit it into a second room of the two bedroom apartment right after I got married. I have to admit now, after the fact, that I was not doing as much writing as I aspired to do back in those days. It was a lot easier for me to call myself a writer rather than actually write. I’ve talked about that instinct in some previous Writer’s Biography posts.

That was during a 10-year stint in a town called Clinton, where my job had brought my wife and I there. (This would be the last time any job of mine moved us anywhere, and that was likely the best for me and my family, looking back.) We eventually got a nice older house, built in the late 1940’s, which became the first house that my kids ever had.

Although I don’t happen to have any photos of the place readily available, I remember the first house that I owned quite well, and the place that I decided to claim as my writing space. There was a back room to the house that appeared to be a former four seasons room turned into an interior sun room. There was a patio on top of the room that was connected to my son’s room, and he occasionally liked to amuse himself by running out there undressed. (In his defense, he was… four? Five? Something like that.) Sometimes the room leaked by the door when it rained really hard, but I was able to fit a couple of desks in there for both me and my wife’s laptops, and an old couch and television besides. There was a television in there, as well, and I always wondered if the television would be too much of a distraction for me, as it had been in my first basement lair of my youth. (These were more innocent times, before YouTube and YouTube TV meant that I could watch more or less whatever I wanted while I typed on the same screen. It’s not a home theater experience, mind, but that was never something that I was desperate to experience except for watching the biggest scale movies.)

Again, I got some writing done in that cozy, sunlit little room, but not as much as I wanted to. It was at that point, however, that I started to think that I needed to rededicate myself to writing.

This was my workspace and my room between mid-2007 and up until mid-2020 – about 13 years. The first time I entered this house – the biggest house that I had ever lived in up to that point – I found this room up at the top of the staircase and instantly decided, “This is the place.” I picked up the tiny corner desk you see below, filled the place up with bookcases, and called it my home office.

Yes, it really got dusty sometimes, and it got cluttered, for sure. But, it was mine, and a good place to write.

There were some disadvantages to that room. It was easily the warmest room in the house, and the air conditioning register was stuck underneath my futon. At one point I think I had something like four fans in that room to help with the circulation there. The carpet in there wasn’t in the best shape, and it didn’t get much better in the 13 years we spent there. And, I have to admit that I could have done a lot better job picking up the place. It started getting cluttered there with various papers and notes and various debris. There were plenty of little cracks and crevices in that room that didn’t get cleaned, either. (That was a bit of a mess on our final moveout day.

Due to different circumstances, I would often sleep in that room, too. I think that can be problematic for a writing room, because you tend to either overestimate the amount of time you have to write or it becomes immediately easy to procrastinate there. Once we decided to move to the new place, I determined that I didn’t want to have that as my sleeping place as well, so I stuck to that.

So, last year, we moved to my new home in Lucas County, Iowa, in a 100-year-old home that felt nice and cozy compared to the old place. We made some changes to the place to update it and began to settle in.

For a brief time, I had an office space in the spare front room of our new house. It was somewhat similar to what I had before, except for the hardwood flooring. I was able to get most of my bookcases in there, the old desk, and it seemed pretty settled.

My old desk just before I realized it was time for the trash heap. Oh, well.

Of course, as things happen, things in life happen. My wife and I had anticipated that we would be here pretty much by ourselves when we moved here. My son had moved to the Iowa City area for work in the HVAC field, and my daughter decided to study chemical engineering at my old school, the University of Iowa, also in Iowa City. However, COVID-19 eventually meant that my daughter moved for the next several months back in the room we had reserved for her for online learning. Then, due to other circumstances, my son needed to move back in with us and found some HVAC work in our town. However, he would have to take over our only remaining spare bedroom… which happened to be the same room that I had lovingly converted into my office.

Whatever disappointment that I might have felt with the loss of my writing den eventually became counterbalanced with the urges that had been fueling me for the past several months to simplify my life. I had the chance to further simplify it even further, which appealed to me. Thus, I moved forward with my next step.

So, I now present to you, my new writing hideout.

With our children’s two rooms below, the third bedroom, which my wife and I share, is tucked up into the attic of the house. It’s located up at the top of a twisting, narrow staircase that might worry me a bit if I thought we were going to be living here for the next 30 years. At the top of the staircase, there’s a small little landing that has just enough room for two bookcases, a chair, some storage, and my wife’s old-fashioned desk that she once used for her own business and now has generously lent it to me. I’m also glad for the carpeting, since that makes me slightly less nervous that I might sometime fall down the staircase going a little bit to the left.

There are a few disadvantages, of course. All rooms always have them. There’s no door to shut and I can hear any commotion downstairs, but you would be surprised what earbuds can cancel out. It might get a little warm in the upstairs, so I’m looking forward to replacing the window air conditioner we have up here.

But on the other hand, the staircase means that I get few people bothering me when I do write. I’m surprised that I have just enough space to work and not too much to get sloppy. It’s cozy, it’s intimate, and it is mine. And I do write things in here.

When it comes to a writing space, that’s the most important thing in the end.

Writing Journal 4.17.2021: April rumbling on… and I’m beginning to look ahead and consider things

Sorry with the vagueness; I’m trying to keep things brief.

Even though it has absolutely nothing to do with writing as such, I have an urge when this whole school year to talk about how teaching during a school year really turns your brain into mush. You don’t feel like you can concentrate about anything except teaching and school stuff.

Another day, then.

This post worked out pretty well – remember when I was writing about stuff other than my weekly output?

Speaking of weekly output, I likely need to update you on how convoluted this fanfiction thing has become for me. Like, actually list where I’m writing this stuff at. Maybe one of the next posts.

This really feels short. Well, my brain power is somewhere else tonight. Even when it’s tough, you have to press on. You can always take care of it with the revisions, right?

So, here’s last week’s haul. Not much to speak of, although my production is slightly above average… actually, I could easily do better. Apparently there’s a writer’s group around Des Moines that is a minimum of 2,500 words per month. Well, at least I can clear that low bar. Anyway, here it is.

Keep safe, everyone.

Week ending on April 10, 2021:
+3,866 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 5 of 7 days.

Writing Journal 4.10.2021: Not a bad finish to March, but not the best

Not much to talk about, so I won’t talk much.

This fanfiction stuff is beginning to get a little more involved than I expected. I think at some point, I’m going to have to post a link to where I’ve been putting this stuff. I think there is still a little bit of bias against writers who do fan fiction. There still seems to be the perception that fan fiction is of inherently lower quality than that of conventionally published fiction, sometimes just because people do it for free. (I absolutely am not ever planning on monetizing that work.)

Right now I’m debating whether to do it now or wait until it’s a little more complete. Any ideas on what any of you would wish? I’ll think about it.

Other than that… not much to talk about. The teaching grind continues. There has never really been anything I’ve ever experienced in the workplace that has put pressure on me mentally. I’ll talk about it a little bit… after the year is over. (I promise to keep the cryptic comments to a minimum.

As for the previous week – it went better than the week before and was comparable to two weeks prior. I still want to write more consistently than I am doing on a regular basis, but I hope that I’m reaching for that this year.

Anyway, here are the stats, and I’ll leave it at that for now. I am trying to write some non-journal stuff for the blog, too. More on that later. For some of the new people who started following me, check out some of my earlier posts: they’re not bad. Good to see you, anyway.

Week of April 4, 2021 Statistics:
+5,264 words written.
Days writing: 5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 4 of 7 days.

Writing Journal 4.3.2021: Steady but not as productive

As for excuses, I don’t have much. Although I have written a wider variety of things the previous week… but that’s not the sort of thing that shows up on the stat charts, does it? But it’s just like soccer – some of the more important things you can’t break down into just stats.

I’ve been thinking a little about things I might do to revive this blog… not that it’s horrible, but it might use some spring cleaning, some refurbishing, restarting some past ideas… but that is to come later, and in a different post. Set that aside.

When you teach full-time, right around the end of March is when your brain starts to misfire after about six months worth of revving it up to the red line. Yeah, I’ll use that excuse.

Stats from last week are below. (Side note: I need to do more planning and revising on some projects when I get a chance.) Hoping for a better week, this week of my birthday… we’ll have to see how that pans out. All you writers keep writing, and everyone stay safe.

Writing statistics for the week ending on 3.27.2021:

+2,938 words written.
Days writing: 6 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for 0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 4 of 7 days.

Writing Journal 3.27.2021: I did better this week… sort of. A vacation is a vacation.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE 3/28/2021, 12:38 p.m. Central Time: I have no idea why this published Sunday rather than Saturday like I had intended. Must have pushed the wrong electronic button. Carry on.]

PHOTO NOTE: This was what popped up when I did a Pexels image search for “spring break.” You’re welcome.

Hi, everyone.

As with the past few journals, I’m keeping this one short. However, I do feel gratified that my plan to put out these journals seems to be working out. Reporting on the previous week’s work the Saturday after that week rather than the very next day (Sunday) seems to have taken more than a little bit of the deadline pressure off.

The previous week’s writings went… not bad. There was a bit more production from me, but not consistently – spring break and all that. I’m rather looking forward to the summer break… after 50 or so more days of school from now until early June.

There’s a little more than just that behind things… but I’ll let that sit for a while. As usual, I want to try and keep this totally focused on writing… although, as you have seen before, it crosses into the personal more than a few times.

My mental moods often play a role into my productivity. I am always in a better mood if I am productive, to some degree, with my writing. If I manage to get my quota done for the day, I always feel like I accomplished something. I tend to be more productive when I am in a positive frame of mind. When I’m in a negative mind-set, however, especially if I’m feeling depressed or hopeless about something, there are some of those times that I feel like I don’t want to write anything. I think that’s a shame, because if I can be productive, that can cheer me up. I will have to think about how I can do that more to help in those situations, but they are not common and becoming less so.

Speaking of mental moods – we just celebrated my daughter’s birthday on March 21. It’s bizarre that I never knew her for the first nearly thirty years of my life and now that she has turned 19, I can’t picture life without her. I may be a softie, but I have been happy to have her at home this spring as she continues to attend U of Iowa virtually due to the pandemic. I’m going to have a birthday soon, but that’s just another thing to me. 🙂

What could I do to try and make things a challenge this week? How about… I actually try and work on some non-journal blogs when I have the time? Am I going to promise you that I’ll get one of them done? No, but I’m going to see if I can’t work on that blog post maybe… three times this week? (I’ll try and report my success or lack of it as soon as I can. EDIT: Mission accomplished.)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Given the change in my format and schedule for releasing these journals, I am now dating them on the Saturday of the week it covers. Previously, the dates were on the Sunday of the previous week.

Week of 3.20.2021:
+5,858 words written.
Days writing:  5 of 7.
Days revising/planning: 0 of 7 for  0 total minutes.
Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of planning/revisions): 4 of 7 days.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 7: Letting the past go

I’ve moved four times in just over 20 years. It’s not gotten easier with time. You want to know what it has taught me? Owning stuff is overrated. Even if it is something you have created or treasured.

Yes, I did wind up owning that amount of books. I wound up donating about four boxes worth to Goodwill or the local library. Recently, I’ve had to become very choosy about how many books are in my collection.

It’s a funny situation.

In the summer of 2020, I wound up being the last adult at my house for a couple months. My wife, Laura, had managed to find a great job opportunity in southern Iowa. It was going to be a brave new world for me, who had spent most of my life living in Eastern Iowa, and my wife and two kids, who had lived there for all of their lives.

My wife had actually moved the fall before to our new hometown, installing herself in an efficiency apartment near her work while returning to our home on the weekends and holidays. I’m not sure I really hinted at it that much on this blog at the time, but Summer 2019 – Summer 2020 was one of the weirdest times in my life and my family’s life. I was trying to keep things together – not often perfectly – while working a job that I knew I was going to be leaving at the end of the year. Laura felt like she was missing out on our daughter’s senior year, but she was being too unfair – she had always been part of our kids’ activities and lives, and this was something she was doing for all of us. And, of course, we had COVID happen in the middle of everything and both disrupt my daughter’s senior year, delay my son’s post-high school training, and stop my lame duck year at my school district dead in its tracks.

The biggest change, and the biggest challenge for us, was the house that we had spent the last 12-13 years in. The kids had spent the vast majority of their remembered childhoods in that home. It was the largest home I’ve ever lived in. And we had to clear it out and move whatever we were going to move halfway across the state within a few months.

What we were dealing with after 12-13 years of living in one house with two growing kids. This was our basement circa Spring 2020.

As you can see, there was a lot of stuff to deal with. It included kid junk from several eras of childhood, both my kids’ and my own. It included nick-knacks on top of nick-knacks obtained on a whim for long-forgotten reasons. There was stuff stored behind other stuff and underneath still more stuff that had been long forgotten about by both myself and my wife. There was at least one big pile of newspapers filled with my ramblings about long-forgotten council meetings or interviews with fifth-string candidates in the Iowa Caucuses. Some of it was just short of trash, decorations for holidays that had been made snacks of by the occasional mouse.

All of those things we spent a lifetime collecting and keeping for “when we needed it.” Until the day came when we didn’t need it anymore.

I remembered a specific time when I was faced with a pile of those old newspapers, reminders of a career past when I did my best to let people know about their community even though not everyone read those stories. For a while, they defined who I was.

I sent that entire pile out to the trash hauler. I will tell you that getting rid of that was a massive relief.

There were many nick-knacks that I had kept over the years, items that long lost their meaning. Those went into the hauler, or over to Goodwill. There were so many clothes that I kept just to keep them and they were so far in the back of the closet that they never saw the light of day. I think I remember filling about five or six large black garbage sacks full of clothes and shoes to Goodwill. They got a lot of plus-sized clothes from me, that is for sure.

One thing that I realized:

If you don’t see it and you can’t reach it easily, it’s almost like you don’t own it.

Jason Liegois

There’s very few things that I absolutely had to keep. There are the fiction writings that I’ve generated, off and on, ever since I turned 14. Those are stored in file folders or, nowadays, on external hard drives or flash drives. There are the photos of my family, both hard copies and electronic ones, that we’ve either got up on the walls or stored someplace safe. There are the books that I kept after getting rid of… maybe eight of those boxes of books over the past four years and four of them in that last year alone. If I want a book now, it has to be either high on my list or I go the Amazon Kindle route.

If there is one thing that the move solidified for me, it’s that material things are not the best investment for me. I want to invest in my health and the health of others. I want to spend what excess resources I have on great experiences for me, my wife, and our kids. I want to help them if they need it down the line.

It’s funny, but I’ve been reading (in slow starts and stops) a one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I know a lot of people connect with the humans (naturally) and the elves in that story, but it’s the hobbits that might have made the most connection to me. I can see myself as a version of them, working at a simple job, in a simple hobbit hole in the ground, and spending my time meeting with friends and family over a fire (or maybe watching soccer, lol).

As I get older, I start wanting to simplify things more and more. Leaving some of the things a younger man bought was one of them.

Author’s Note: I debated whether to make this part of the Volume II (my life as a young adult) or the Volume III (my life since I rededicated myself to writing, also known as the present time). By a narrow margin, I decided on titling it in the Volume II section since the things I was getting rid of came from my younger self.