A Year of Writing in Review

What writer doesn’t look back at the end of a year and to give oneself a writing grade?

Well, actually, I don’t hold a lot of stock in goals hit or missed because time lines are flexible and life happens. But it’s still fun to take stock in what transpired in the year of writing. Here are some of my highlights.

Play writing:

Watched my play “The Birth of Technicolor” in Brooklyn! It was awesome.

My play “The Last Bastion” won me the 2018 Greywood Arts Writing Residency in Ireland and I spent a blissful week in a charming old English house finishing off two full-length plays and other miscellaneous writings.

Short plays – I hit my stride again in short play writing, finishing off a complete new show entitled “Crazy Love” in the spring and then in the fall I cranked out four new additional short plays which will be part of a show of mine called “Stories, Vol. 1.”

On top of this, I produced three shows – “For All Generations” in Jan 2018, the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in April 2018 and the experimental piece “How to Build a Dictator” in December 2018.

Novel writing:

Summer saw the release of book 2 of the Forgotten Child Trilogy called “The African Connection.”

Summer also saw me writing frantically to finish book 3 – which I did – entitled “A Parting in the Sky.”  This explosive piece will end the trilogy and will be released within the first few months of 2019. Very excited about it!

Planning stages and early writing for my mysterious novel #9. I will say it is an alternate history related to the 1960s. It’s going to get wild!

Short Story:

I published a new Christmas story “Jolly Old St. Hick.”

I’m also formulating my book on baseball. I promised myself I would. It may be a collection of short stories or a more unified piece. More to come.

Yes, it’s been a busy and fruitful year. Here’s hoping more productivity in 2019! I’ll give you my writing prognosis for the year soon!

I appreciate your support.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Please Make this the Last Christmas for the song “Last Christmas”

I was riding in a taxi in Athens, Greece on Thanksgiving day. The driver was listening to the radio and on came a the song “Last Christmas” by Wham!  Of course, I had heard this song many times in the past, but it really stuck out to me that day, sitting in a taxi, being surrounded by the song’s words, realizing that it was the first Christmas song I heard this year.

I quickly came to one adamant conclusion: this is a terrible song.

There are many great Christmas songs – hundreds of them  both secular and sacred – and this is not one of them. If Santa ever got in a habit of wrapping his gifts of coal in song lyrics, I would highly offer this as a worthy companion to coal.

“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart, and the very next day, you gave it away. This year, to save me some tears, I’ll give it to someone special.”

Really? Please, save me some tears and stop playing this song.

What struck me in the taxi in Athens was the fact that this song was going to be prominently heard on the airwaves of that station and thousands more around the world for the next six weeks. The radio station was willingly lowering the standard of their content in playing this inferior song.

Just because someone writes a Christmas song doesn’t mean that it’s a good one. It was released in 1986. It should have been retired in 1987. But no. It was covered by Taylor Swift 20 years later and Ariana Grand six years after that. It’s like a song which has cast a spell on people in the industry and it has created a holiday monster which chews into playlists and keeping you from hearing superior songs.

This is probably why I don’t like suggested playlists because too many people without taste select the songs.

What would I suggest instead? Well, try the Christmas album by little-known artist David Ian, for starters. It’s terrific, and it will put you in the holiday mood, something “Last Christmas” has never done for me.

So please, let’s make this the last Christmas for “Last Christmas.”

__________________________________

PS: Shoot! I just found out that there is a Christmas movie coming out in 2019 called “Last Christmas” and it’s inspired by the song.

We are doomed!

If It’s a Fad, It’s Not a Lifestyle

A few years back I was getting a check-up at the doctor’s office. Weight-wise, I was not where I wanted to be at that particular moment, and she spoke the truth to me: “You have to do the hard work.” In other words, you aren’t going to lose weight without making the right choices, without being disciplined, without making sacrifices.  No-one can do it for you!

Boy, we hate to think that the things we want require hard work. Let me win the lottery! Surely an agent will discover my talent! World, please. Notice how awesome I am. Make it easy for me!

Ah, no.

You want to get into a top-flight college? Hard work.

You want to write a novel? Hard work.

You want to be a movie star? Hard work.

You want to lose weight? Hard work.

But here’s the difference between something being a fad and being a lifestyle. We all put hard work into particular things at certain times in our lives. I remember a particular diet I was on in 2005. I put in the hard work. I achieved the success I wanted. Then I stopped putting in the hard work. You can imagine the results. My fad faded. And my waistline, well, … yeah.

Same with writing. How many people are enthusiastic to write their first novel? They work and work and possibly even get it done, but when instant world-wide fame isn’t bestowed on them, they move on and never write again.

Hard work is needed. But sustained hard work, over years, without giving up, even in the face of little success or many unpleasant bumps in the road — in other words GRIT – is the only way that your hard work season becomes your hard work lifestyle.

I wasn’t ready to listen to that doctor about a decade ago. But more recently, her words are sinking in.

In 2002, when I started my first great novel, I wasn’t ready to make a lifestyle change and become a writer. I put in a minimal amount of hard work and abandoned it. It took another ten years before I was ready to put in the hard work of being an author for the long haul.

You aren’t going to reach your goals overnight. Or in a month. Or maybe not in a year. But much is achievable with a steady hand on the plow, ignoring the criticism, pushing back the doubts, and keeping your eyes straight ahead on what’s important to you.

Only you can do the hard work.

Are you ready for it?

Making Peace with Increments

Successful discipline in any field is the art of making peace with increments.  Whether writing a novel, losing weight, learning guitar, studying for a master’s, or driving in a traffic jam heading home on a Friday afternoon, if you can come to terms with where you are at, you’re on the right track to success.

Humans are famously impatient. We like results. Like yesterday. How many diets go awry because tangible progress has slowed or because discouragement sets in thinking how much further the journey is?

How many stalled novels have bit the dustpan of obscurity over the years because 4000 words seems much too far away from 50,000 words?

But if we can make peace with increments, rejoice in the small, be happy in the seemingly insignificant, EVENTUALLY, your goal will be reached.

Guitar. I’m not a musician, but I love music and I have always loved writing lyrics and thinking up melodies to match.  About fifteen years ago, I watched a friend learn guitar. I was intrigued. I asked him what he did. He said he practiced for thirty minutes everyday for six months. At the end of those six months, while he wasn’t Eddie Van Halen, he was capable of playing chords fluently and even joined the worship band at his church. I was impressed, so I said to myself that I would try it. I got a basic guitar book, a guitar, and  cleared aside 30 minutes a day, and I started playing. It was painful, figuratively on my ears and literally on my fingertips. But as the daily thirty minutes went by, my fingers started to develop callouses and my chords started to develop some attributes of musicology. Six months later, he was right. I could play the guitar. I plateaued at that point because I achieved what I wanted. I wanted to play enough guitar to help me write songs. Success. And I owe it all to increments.

Novels. I’ve said this before. I was a failed novelist who never wrote a novel. I always wanted to write one, and about seventeen years ago I finally started. I wrote three pages, destroyed it all, cried inside, and abandoned all hope of ever writing a novel. About ten years later, through my renewed interest in writing prompted by a new pursuit in drama, I tried again. I wrote little by little. I tried to enjoy the process. I tried to understand the long-haul mentality. I enjoyed where I was in the process.  I counted every word every day. Literally. And before I knew it, I had written a 61,000 word novel.  Then I tried to write another. Now I’ve written eight, and I’m still at the early point in my journey.

Whatever you are trying to accomplish, don’t get stuck lamenting how far away the finish line is.  But DO focus on two things:

  1. The daily increments. Have you done what you can today in your journey? If you can say ‘yes’ to that, then be proud of yourself.
  2. Look back at progress. Look where the increments of the last two weeks have taken you. The last month. The last two months. Remind yourself of where you came from and let it reaffirm that you are on the right track.

I write this for myself, because I’m on other journeys as I write. Perhaps I’ll share another time. But I hope this can be a small reminder to those on a journey of accomplishment that if you make peace in the increments, you will find your way.

A Student of Mine is a Columnist at Arab News

I have a student. His name is Sami. He’s a go-getter.

Last year, he was a stabilizing force on my theatre tech team.

This year, he is my improv partner, as he pops into my room during break and we do these quite creative improv sessions which are funny and enjoyable.

He signed on to be the producer/manager of my upcoming black box experimental piece.

He is an actor who will be in my future productions. No doubt.

He’s the type of kid you love to pick on simply because you love having him around.

Oh, and this eighteen-year-old is also a columnist at Arab News.

Yeah, pretty cool stuff. A couple weeks ago, he sent me an article he was writing and I gave him a few pointers. He goes off and sends it to Arab News who sent him a contract to be one of their opinion columnists.

How awesome is that?

His first piece “Sheltering Children from the Real World Only prepares them for Failure” was just published.

Check out this ARAB NEWS LINK to read it for himself.

Congrats, Sami. Well done!

Now get my show ready!

Even Writers Need a Day Off

I have a three day weekend from my day job. This typically means that I’m burning the midnight oil with all types of writing projects, trying to take advantage of the extra time to concentrate on plot twists and dialogue and all the other important things in life.

But today, no.

I don’t know why. It’s been the most non-productive writing day of my life.

I can’t even process what I actually did today. Now it’s 6:38 in the evening and what have I accomplished?

I took a walk this morning. Music attached to my ears. It was nice.

I ironed my shirts. Something I rarely do. What’s going on here?

I cooked some lunch.

I transferred music from the cloud onto my phone.

I spent too much time scrolling through my Facebook feed.

I took out the trash.

I didn’t have one writing thought today. No creativity whatsoever. It was just one plain old nothing.

And you know what? I think I needed it.

We all need down time, and perhaps, writers need it more than most. The brain that is typically swimming in a thousand directions doesn’t mind sitting as a toad staring mindless into a stream, focused more on the skimmer on the surface than the indigo blue overhead.

A little mindless me time might just be what I need to get back at it tomorrow.

So whatever you do in life, take a day, at some point, and do nothing.

Then be ready to get at it tomorrow.

(Now would you look at this. I just wrote a blog post about doing nothing on the day I did nothing. So does that mean I actually did something? Hmmm.)

Choose a Mindset: Growth or Stagnation

Half full. Half empty.

Pessimistic. Optimistic.

Toxic. Encouraging.

Complaining. Uplifting.

Wallow in pity. Wash, forget, and start anew.

Where do you fall of the scale of daily ups and downs in this life?

Whether a situation is best described as half full or half empty actually doesn’t change the situation in the slightest way. It is what it is. It’s what we choose to do about that half-empty or half-full cup which will determine if our life is on the trajectory of growth or stagnation.

Think of a trying situation in your life. Will you be toxic about it, spreading rumors and causing discord? Or will you be the encouraging voice in the room, spreading hope, constructive ideas, and solutions?

Will you wallow in self-pity because “this shouldn’t be like that” or “things should be done differently” or will you put aside the messy, dirty stains you picked up along the way today and wash, rinse, forget, and re-boot anew tomorrow?

We make choices every day which will not only affect our demeanor and the demeanor of those around us but will ultimately affect the trajectory of our life.

Whether it’s dealing with the ups and downs of being a writer, a situation with a difficult child, or a difficult work environment, we make our own stars in a lot of ways.

What’s your trying situation that you will need to navigate in the near future?

Mine revolves around a quickly approaching school year with a new campus that’s not quite ready, new teacher apartments that are not quite ready, piles of boxes and furniture in our old apartment ready to be moved but nowhere to move them to. Unanswered questions about where I will be teaching, how my dramas will be affected if our new theatre isn’t built on time, etc… It’s a stressful time for a lot of people around here, so how am I going to react and respond?

Here’s a few reminders to myself: The situation is as it is. There’s no changing the past. Complaining in the present isn’t going to better the situation. Participating in gossip or destructive conversations about “how things should have been done” also won’t change anything. Negativity accomplishes nothing, but it can hold back progress.

Our school has some unique challenges in the weeks ahead. But challenges are opportunities for growth. The important thing to remember about growth, however, is that it doesn’t come easy. Growth takes time, hard work, stubbornness, resiliency, and grit. A growth mindset builds into others. It seeks solutions to improve situations. It’s a learner’s mindset, because to grow we must change. Change our attitude. Change our talk. Change our behavior.

But if you don’t choose growth in whatever situation you are currently facing, what are you choosing?

One of the antonyms of growth is stagnation. Stagnation doesn’t take any time. It requires no hard work. It comes easy. There’s no need to bounce back from adversity and you’ll need to stick with nothing in order to achieve stagnation.

So what will it be? Growth or stagnation?