The First Draft Blues

Ahem. Cue harmonica music. 

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WAH WAH, wah wah. 

I wrote myself a novel,

I made myself a book. 

Four months and seventeen days,

is how long it took. 

I slaved in the mornings, 

I beat my brow at night.

When the manuscript was finished,

I thought it turned out alright. 

But then I read the first chapter,

I don’t know what to do. 

It’s the worst thing I’ve ever read,

I’VE GOT THE FIRST DRAFT BLUES!!!!

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First drafts can really suck. When you finish the months long marathon you’ve been running, maintaining the same emotions and themes and thought process the whole time in order to write cohesively and concisely, you have this brief moment of accomplishment to enjoy. 

Emphasis on brief

Because the second you turn around and read the first chapter, you remember why it’s called a first draft. A rough draft. And let me tell you, they’re always rough. They get less rough as you complete more literary marathons, but each and every one requires a lot of editing. 

The draft I just finished? So much editing. All the editing. And what bums me out the most, what really hits me with the first draft blues, is that I take my time when penning everything down so that my first draft is already somewhat edited and reformed. I’ve already gone from timelines, notes, and rough drafts written by hand to finally typing it up. And it’s still a discombobulated mess. 

But…

Every few pages…

Every couple of paragraphs…

I read something that makes me know the editing is worth it. I read a sentence that is gold. I get to a scene that is played out perfectly. I find a description of something that’s clever and makes me laugh. Which is good! There are parts of the story that I like, hidden in the tangled mess of words that came from me vomiting up my ideas onto paper. That’s good! That gives me encouragement to work and edit the darn thing, because I know it’s worth it. Because if I can get the whole to match the quality of the best individual parts, then I’ve got a pretty damn good book. 

And yet…

WAH WAH, wah wah.

I made it past the first chapter,

and on to chapter two.

It’s so much worse than the first one,

I’VE GOT THE FIRST DRAFT BLUES, YEAH!!

 

Risky Writing

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Professionally writing is a risky business. 

Professionally writing novels is a risky business. Creating a massive, 70,000 word literary journey is a serious undertaking. It requires a lot of sacrifice and no small amount of risk. You first sacrifice time and energy, basically all of both, for a undetermined period. Some authors take a few months to complete their first draft, some take many months, and some even stray into years. While writing you must keep your work close to you, for losing momentum can be deadly to your manuscript and you need the fictional world and characters fresh in your mind. While writing you must hold onto the same emotions that are captured within your book, day in and day out. While writing you must actually work in order to finish the draft, showing up everyday, even when you’re sick or tired or randy, and writing.  

And after all of that–let’s be kind and say you finished in just three months–you’ve only finished the FIRST DRAFT! And the first draft always sucks! You have another four months ahead of you before just the first chapter is presentable. Maybe about four to six more months from there before you have an acceptable draft. Not a good draft, mind you, not a successful draft as far as publishers are concerned, but an acceptable one. And keep in mind, that’s if you’re putting in at least two hours of writing/editing each and every day. No off days for you. 

All that sacrifice. All that work. Is it worth it? Well, that’s where the risk comes in. What if, after all of that, you produce something that the market is already saturated with? What if no one buys it? What if you end up sitting on it for years? What if the few people who have read it don’t like it? What if you experience rejection unlike anything you’ve ever felt before? What if, after all of that, you really produced something poor and unwanted?

That risk, you see, is what separates professional writers from amateur ones. Professional writers make the sacrifice and take the risk, amateur ones don’t. It’s essentially that simple. Are you willing to sacrifice all your free time, months or maybe even years of your life? Are you willing to risk all of that time and energy with the possibility that it could all be for nothing? 

If you say yes, then you might be a writer. And if you are, God help you. God help us all. 

You see, I have been making choices in my writing career that were avoiding risk, that were looking to make the smallest sacrifice possible, and then I was wondering why I felt unfulfilled and stagnant. I was making choices out of fear, afraid of risking too much for too little. Afraid of making large scale sacrifices for an abstraction of the future. 

But no longer. 

Professionally writing is a risky business. When you understand that, you can prepare yourself for the long haul and fill up your tool box with all you’ll need to succeed. 

So take those chances with your writing. Make those big sacrifices. You won’t make it professionally any other way. 

The Craft/Skill/Art of Writing Well

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The craft of writing well is a fickle and elusive skill that can always be improved upon, which means even the most masterful writer stands to learn a thing a two. The craft or art or skill of writing well is such that, even after decades of honing it to a fine and deadly edge, it can still be honed further, made even more deadly. It is almost predictable how, just when you think you’ve finally earned some skill with words, you are brutally and humbly reminded of just how much more there is to learn. 

Imagine with me that you live in a small town, Wordville, USA, and you just discovered your new favorite restaurant. The Flavor Flinger is a hole in the wall restaurant you’ve absolutely fallen in love with. It’s open, bright, full of other locals, has a nice bar, and always provides great food. You spend every Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday there for the next two years, with little exception. Yes, it’s THAT good. And the people are wonderfully friendly there, staff included. 

Then, one odd Monday night, you take a seat at the bar next to an older gentleman.

The bartender greets you both. “Great to see a couple of locals in here. Warms me heart, it does. You two belong here. What can I get’cha?”

The old timer turns, looks at you, and says, “You’re a local, huh?”

Proudly, you say, “Yes, I am. Been coming here three times a week for two years now. I know the owner, I know the waiter, and I know the cooks. I know what’s fresh, what’s reheated, what’s expensive, what’s the best. I love it here. I know this place as well as anyone.”

“Wonderful, wonderful,” the old man says. Then he leans in and asks, “So, what do you think of the basement?”

“The… what?” 

“The basement? You must know about it. The door’s right over there.”

But you don’t need to look because in that moment everything makes perfect sense. The odd rumblings and shouts you hear occasionally from the floor make sense. The door that waiters disappear behind sometimes makes sense. The extra food being cooked in the kitchens makes sense. 

After feeling like a complete fool, you devote the next year of your life just to the basement of The Flavor Flinger. You learn their exclusive menu, you learn the tricks of each billiard table, you learn where the remotes are for all the TVs, you learn the best times to go and the worst times to go. 

When a year is up you decide to head upstairs for a change, and you find the old timer from before sitting at the bar by himself. Your eyes met and you head over to take the empty seat next to him.

“Thanks for telling me about it,” you say as you sit down. “I’ve learned the whole basement now; the dartboards, the billiards, the karaoke machine. I’ve got it all. This whole dang restaurant now.”

The old man nods. “Impressive. You’ve put your time in. But, I haven’t heard you mention the third floor cafe yet. What do you think about it?”

Your eyes sting as you blink rapidly. “The what?”

“The third floor cafe. It’s right above the second floor dining hall.”

“THE WHAT?!”

Two floors, two years of your life. You spend the next two years only visiting the upper floors of The Flavor Flinger, which you should’ve known existed the entire time. There are reflective windows, which you always assumed were merely for decoration, lining the walls above the restaurant’s first floor. The stairs in the back of the restaurant led up to more than just the attic, it seems. 

After two years you enter The Flavor Flinger’s main floor on a mission: where is the old man? You find him, as ever, sitting at the bar. His hair is quickly disappearing now and there’re more wrinkles, but it’s the same old timer. This time you don’t take the seat next to him, you grab him by the shoulders, spin him around, and look straight into his eyes. 

“Tell me,” you say with the wisdom of defeat and experience. “Tell me all the other places I don’t know about.”

“Well now, let’s see,” the old man says. He counts off on his fingers, “You know the main floor.”

“Obviously.”

“You know the basement.”

“Yep.”

“You know the second floor dining hall.”

“Sure do.”

“And the third floor cafe.”

“Indeed.”

“And the deck out back.”

“And the… the what?”

“And the patios.”

“Patios? Plural?”

“And the rooftop tiki bar.”

“Excuse me?”

“And the kid’s playground.”

“Where?!”

Ten years. You spend the next ten years learning all about the places you never knew of, which were right under your nose the whole time. You learn everything this time, not a single corner or suspicious looking locker goes beneath your attention.

You are now much older and much wiser than when you first entered The Flavor Flinger. After ten years, you decide it’s time to finally enjoy the main floor again. You find a familiar face behind the bar. The bartender looks older as well, but he’s still smiling. You take a seat and he pours you a drink. 

“Where’s the old timer?” you ask. 

“Oh, he passed away. In his sleep I heard. A few years ago now.”

“That’s too bad,” you say, and you mean it. “It would’ve been nice to discuss this place properly.”

Before you can raise your glass to your lips, the diner door bangs open. A bright-eyed, young woman enters the restaurant like she owns it, sauntering past the tables towards the bar, nodding and high-fiving people as she goes. She sidles up to the bar and takes the empty seat next to you. 

“Ah,” the barkeep says with his patented smile, “it always warms me heart to see a pair of locals sitting at the bar. What can I get’cha?”

You turn to the young woman and give her a critical eye. “You’re a local?”

“Damn straight,” she says. You can tell she’s proud. “Been coming here four times a week for a little over a year now. I know the cooks, the waiters, the owner and his wife. I know this place like the back of my hand.”

Slowly a smile grows across your face. “Is that so?” You lean in a little closer. “Well, you must tell me, what your thoughts about the basement?”

“The… what?”

 

The Flavor Flinger may not be the best analogy for writing well out there, but it works for me. Just when you think you’ve put your time in and you’ve got some knowledge, you’re embarrassed and shown otherwise. Of course, this doesn’t apply to poor writing. You don’t need much to pull that off. 

Endeavor to write well now and always and you will find limitless uses for the skill/art/craft. 

Let’s Talk About Spiders

You know, I haven’t posted here in a while. And while I would normally write something to bring readers up to speed as to what’s been happening throughout my absence, I’m not going to do that this time.

This time we’re going to talk about spiders.

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What’s that? You want to know why?

Because I hate spiders, that’s why. And by hate I mean I loathe them with all my being. I detest them with every living organism that makes up what I perceive to be me. I hate spiders.

You see, if you believe that Hell is a real, physical place with tangible gates somewhere on this earth, then I want you to know that if those gates ever open to unleash their horrors upon this world, spiders are one of the many terrors that would crawl forth from the fiery depths to conquer us all. Indeed, that is actually how spiders first came to be here, along with snakes, wasps, mosquitoes, bats, and most ducks.

Spiders have adapted in ways unlike any other predator to instill primal fear across the many niches of the animal kingdom. They clearly don’t need all those legs; the could make due perfectly fine with four, like most animals, but nooo, the want to freak us all out with those articulated, disjointed monstrosities. Oh, did I mention they have eight of them? And because of those legs, Spiders have the highest speed to body size ratio of any animal ever. They can pass through your bedroom (and nightmares) in the blink of an eye, so quickly you wouldn’t register it.

They’ve also adapted to see all, day or night, thanks to their eight independently operating eyeballs, which, again, are far more than a spider actually needs. They could make do with four, or two like the rest of the planet, but instead they have eight, each one equipped to stare into your soul and touch the darkest, most fearful places of you. They have pads on their feet that allow them to walk silently, not just on their webs, BUT ANYWHERE, resulting in spiders being the masters of stealth, more so than ninjas and the boogeyman combined. Also, most of them are poisonous, not just if they bite you–which is bad–but sometimes the spider’s very blood is poisonous as well, so you end up regretting that you ever killed one in the first place. Except that you should never regret killing a spider. Never.

It’s not as if you can simply move to another part of the world and avoid spiders altogether, like you could do with bears or sharks or mockingbirds. These little devils are everywhere; all over the world, in every country, in every state, in every province. They love hiding in dark places, like your shoes or dresser or basement or garage or under your bed. And they only pounce when you’re alone, when you least expect it, because they know when you’re at your most vulnerable. They always know.

Excuse my French, but… Fuck spiders. Seriously, fuck spiders. We don’t really need these demonic, bird-eating, hell-spawns on our planet, do we? Could we maybe have open season on spiders where we go around killing some of these monsters? I know, the ecosystem and natural food chain is important and blah blah blah. But, type “Australia + Spider” into Google, read the articles, look at the pictures, and tell me we shouldn’t kill some of these bastards.

 

Darksaber

We’re taking it back to 1995 with this week, folks. Another forgotten classic of the Star Wars EU that outshines anything from the new canon, this In My Opinion review is about Darksaber, by Kevin J Anderson.

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Darksaber is part of the Jedi Academy Trilogy, a New York Times Bestselling series written by the ridiculously prolific Kevin J Anderson. This novel reads like a standalone, but also does a good job carrying a larger story through it all. This novel came at a time when Star Wars fans were still shunned from the majority of society, long before any whispers of Episode I began. Which is why it’s so special. It comes from a time when Star Wars was shaped, not by George Lucas, but by the writers who were playing in his universe. Writers like Timothy Zahn, Aaron Alliston, and Kevin J Anderson were the gods of the Star Wars universe then, and their words were what fans stayed up night after night reading and rereading. Therefore, when this novel was written it had a lot weighing on it. It needed to be a good read. 

The good news is, it most certainly is a good read. It gives off the same feelings, preserves the same values, and totes the same feel-good humor the original trilogy of Star Wars movies had. Kevin J Anderson does not disappoint. But then again, look at him. How can he disappoint?

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Just look at that glorious, word-weaving bastard. God bless him.

PLOT: There’s a lot going on here plot-wise, but the premise is so good it’s hard to forget any of it. Druga the Hutt, a crimelord who’s stepped into the vacancy left by Jabba, is finally putting his considerable wealth and greed to work. First, he gets his hands on the Death Star plans. Then he gets his hands on the engineer who built the Death Star. Next, he builds a Death Star. But not a gaudy, moon-sized thing. All Durga wants is the laser, the most powerful super-laser in the galaxy, so he can hold entire planets hostage for ransom. Meanwhile, the de-facto leader of the Empire is marshaling her troops for an attack on the infantile Republic. There are even more plots, actually, each weaving into each other to tell a masterful tale. Each scene unfolds as its own story. 

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Durga, the slimiest, low-lifeiest Hutt of ’em all.

 

SETTING: Anderson, a learned scholar of sci-fi, really flexed his creative and imaginative muscles in this novel. Anything that was inconsequential to the main plot he seemed to take liberties with in order to make the story a unique sci-fi experience. Aspects of space-yachts and interplanetary casino gaming that have never been seen before popped up for the first time in this novel, thanks to good ol’ Anderson. He still manages to capture the essence of each familiar planet and setting from the movies, making readers squeal with delight when they find themselves in memorable places. But I love Anderson’s ability to bring in new elements of sci-fi never before seen to a long running sci-fi series, keeping it fresh and new. 

CHARACTERS: So, so, so, so good. The old favorites are always close at hand; Luke, Leia, Han and the rest. But the new characters are who really take the stage. There is a character in this novel whom I will never forget. I truly wish Disney and the story group at Star Wars decided to make this novel into a movie, or at least this character. His name is Bevel Lemelisk, and he’s the engineer who designed and oversaw construction of both Death Stars. But Bevel didn’t create the moons of doom by choice. You see, when he first disobeyed the Emperor, the Emperor killed him. Had him eaten alive by beetles, actually. But just before Bevel’s last breath, the Emperor transferred Bevel’s consciousness into a clone. A clone who happened to be watching its original self die. Once Bevel was safe in his new body, the Emperor would give him an order, and if Bevel didn’t obey, he would be killed and cloned again. And again. And again. And again, until he finally did obey. 

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Daaaaaaaaaamn!

How crazy is that? Bevel is one of the most unique characters I’ve ever read, because he’s died at least twenty times. His mind, his memories, his inner monologues… are so interesting. 

VERDICT: If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re a Star Wars fan. So, if you’re a Star Wars fan you should totally read this book. If you’re not a Star Wars fan but want to know what damn good sci-fi writing is, read this book. If you’re a hater, don’t read this book. If you have no imagination, don’t read this book. In my opinion this book should’ve been made into a movie long ago. If Disney is focused on making Star Wars profitable, this right here is how you do it. 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

This week I’ll be talking about a more light-hearted novel intended for a younger audience. But don’t let that alone turn you away from this mysterious and oddly enrapturing tale. This week I’m discussing Randal Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

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Now, unless you haven’t ventured into a book store or movie theater in years, you’ve probably already heard of this story before. It received a lot of attention when first published, is part of a larger series now, and has a movie adapted from it (which sucks!). But perhaps you’re wondering what all the hub-bub is about for a book with a levitating girl on the cover, yes? Allow me to whet your appetite. 

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Our protagonist is a 15–soon to be 16–year old boy who lives in Englewood, Florida. He’s grown up with parents, a best friend, aunts and uncles, but his favorite person of all is his grandfather. His grandfather tells stories about when he was younger, the odd boarding house he stayed in, and the war he fought in, all with pictures to back it up. But after Jacob’s grandfather dies, rather violently, Jacob is thrust into a past that is also his future but certainly not the present. He’s thrown into a not-so-typical YA adventure plot that takes him all over the world, and all through time. 

PLOT: The overarching plot of this story is almost painfully obvious. By the end of the 2nd chapter I was already calling what the end would be, what the next twist was, who the ultimate antagonist was, etc. The main parts of the story are so obviously foreshadowed, they’re telegraphed. It’s hard NOT to anticipate what will happen next. At least for the main story. But each character’s development, how they interacted, and where some of them ended up I couldn’t predict. Bottom line: this feels like one of the first times Randal Riggs wrote out a full novel and plotted it. The hallmarks, the pacing, the markers signalling the next phase of the plot; they’re all too new, as if Riggs doesn’t have much experience with them. But one of the coolest features of this book are the photos. Riggs searched high a low for all kinds of creepy photos to use for his book, and he did an excellent job. Even if you don’t read it, flip through the book sometime. The photos alone will intrigue you.

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CHARACTERS: These characters were quite good. Each was encapsulated in their own personalities and traits. Their dialogue was, for the most part, very natural. Their interactions with each other felt authentic and not forced, again, for the most part. The antagonists were good, as well. They weren’t full blown evil, which is what I was hoping for, but they had believable motivations and strengths. I also enjoyed each character’s story. While there is the larger, general story of the novel that links all events together, each character seemed to have their own purpose/story to tell within the larger story. And they did so brilliantly. 

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SETTING: I give the settings and their descriptions a thumbs up. Though at times I noticed another feature of a first time author: over description. One thing newer writers tend to do, and I’ve done this myself A LOT, is to over describe their settings. As the author, they have the mental image of what they want the reader to see in their mind. When they write, they try to describe that mental image as much as possible, clarifying as many things as they can. They want the reader’s mental image to reflect their mental image in perfection, so they explain every minute detail about a place, boring the reader and taking up 3 whole pages. The sign of an experienced, well-published author is that they can sum up a setting’s description, wholly and completely, in a few sentences, if not one sentence. It’s certainly not easy, but it makes your writing stand apart. 

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MISCELLANEOUS: Before I drop my verdict I wanted to highlight two other aspects of this writing: Style and adaptation. The writing style of this novel was, and I can’t stress this enough, fantastic. Yes, the content and story had negatives, but there was something about Riggs’ style of writing that captured me. I read this book in less than a week, and not because I was invested in the story. When looking at this book you would not be wrong in assuming it’s for young adults. But the vocabulary, sentence structure, and inner monologues were definitely not for young adults. I was, and still am, very impressed with the writing style. Now, adaptation, which deals strictly with the movie. The movie for this novel is a horrible, no good, awful excuse at adaptation. Yes, Eva Green (Miss Peregrine’s actress) is an incredibly attractive actress (and I mean, incredibly attractive).

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And yes, Samuel Jackson (the antagonist) is always a crowd favorite.

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Heck, even Dame Judy Dench is in this movie! But even with those A-list actors the movie is a steaming pile of donkey dung. Please remember: avoid movie at all costs. AVOID

VERDICT: You read all of my criteria? You stuck around all the way to the end of the review? Good. Then you already know what I’m going to say. In my opinion, you should read this novel. It’s not going to take you long, the combination of exciting action and good writing will help you finish it in no time. You’re on your own if you wish to explore the rest of the series, though. But we should all be able to agree that this first novel, at least, is a fantastic read. 

Sharp Ends

Turn away now if you’re squeamish, read a different article if you have a weak stomach. For this In My Opinion review I’ll be talking about another gruesome, dark creation of Joe Abercrombie, Sharp Ends

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Joe Abercombie sprang onto the dark fantasy scene with his First Law Trilogy, which was so widely received that it turned into the First Law Series. That series, which capped at 6 books, was so voraciously accepted by fans that he’s now extending the series and has written this delightful anthology to accommodate his readers. In the beginning of this book he thanks fellow authors for pushing (and paying) him to create more tales within his universe.

Abercrombie uses these short stories to fill in the gaps his epic novels may have missed. They flesh out some aspects of the world that have not been visited before, and they answer some of the fan’s burning questions. Some stories follow beloved characters that readers have grown to know and love, others introduce new characters who are world-changers in their own respective corners, and still others are one time protagonists, here for one mere story and never spoken of again. A large portion of this book relied on nostalgia factor, so if you’ve not read any other part of this series before, I wouldn’t recommend it to you.

PLOT: For the most part each short story follows a different perspective in a different part of the world. The reader jumps around a lot. But there are a few characters who continually pop up and who actually tell a loose story. I was quite impressed by how Abercrombie was able to tell such pregnant, thoughtful stories in so few pages. In some stories he would stay in one character’s POV the entire time, others he’d be jumping around from solider to soldier to witness to victim. l was more impressed by the diversity than anything else. This anthology takes you to twice as many places as any of Abercrombie’s novels.

SETTING: One thing I noticed in a few of the stories was that Abercrombie relies on his nostalgia factor for setting descriptions more than anything else. Since he’s already taken readers on adventures to these places before, he doesn’t describe them as fully as he would in his novels, and I found myself having to refer back to memory rather than description in some places. Still, the new places that he introduces for the first time in this anthology he does a great job, as always, of summing them up in succinct, all-encompassing and often humorous descriptions for the reader. He shows us lots of new places in the north, the east, and at the edges of the world.

CHARACTERS: Solid. Strong. By that I don’t mean that every character was a strong character, but that Abercrombie’s telling of them was strong and captivating. He brings the reader fully into a new character’s mind in a matter of sentences, not paragraphs, and certainly not pages like many other authors. In a few, quick sentences he can encapsulate all a character is and offer that up to the reader, who is then drawn even deeper into the story. Yes, he did use some characters previously known to the readers like a trump card, showcasing his brand. Nostalgia factor again. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get excited when they showed up on the scene. And besides, after creating such unforgettable character I think he has the right to throw them around exactly as he did. 

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VERDICT: This is a great read. Joe Abercrombie, as always, delivers fantastic stories with even more fantastic characters and doesn’t lack for much. This is just another example of his already impressive skills. Yes, his writing style took me a bit to get used to in the beginning, but now I accept it and and it’s quick prose and enjoy its uniqueness. However, in my opinion you shouldn’t read this if you’ve not read anything else from the First Law Series. You’ll still enjoy lots of the stories, the majority of them even, but you’ll miss out on so many significant aspects of themes and character inspiration. You like dark fantasy that’s witty, real and leaves you always, always wanting more? Than read the first book of the First Law Trilogy, then come back to this. In my opinion

Star Wars: Soldier for the Empire

The Star Wars EU is so large, it’s almost unending. To me and my fellow story lovers, that’s not a bad thing. The EU contains some of the best characters available in Star Wars. Period. And it just so happens that one of those characters is featured in today’s In My Opinion Review.

Ladies, gentlemen, Rodians, I present to you Star Wars: Solider for the Empire by William Dietz.

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The First Law Trilogy

It’s been a while since I posted any In My Opinion Reviews, and I blame that solely on this trilogy. I’ve been working my way through all three thick books of this series over the past few months, bit by bit, and now that it’s finally over (sort of) I can tell you how good it is. In My Opinion, that is.

And now I present to you Joe Abercrombie’s gory, dark fantasy, The First Law Trilogy.

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Life As A Writer

The other day I went to a local restaurant where the people know me as a regular. As I paid for my meal the cashier asked me, “Hey, so what do you do for a living anyway?” And instead of proudly proclaiming, “I, sir, am I writer! A wordsmith, a stringer of sentences, a paragon of paragraphs!” I sort of blanked. I chuckled to myself and eventually told the person, “I am actually a writer.” As if I couldn’t believe it myself.

You know you're a writer when... - Writers Write Creative Blog: Continue reading “Life As A Writer”