Guest Post – Writing Without Fear

Ashley Holzmann is a horror author by trade and a generally cool person overall. The irony of a horror author writing a post on writing without fear isn’t lost on me, but he makes some excellent points and it’s always great to hear someone tell you to not be afraid of your writing. There are some links at the bottom of the post if you want to find out more about Ash, but without further ado, I’d like to turn the stage over to the amazing Ashley Holzmann.

Hello, my name is Ashley and I will be your guest blogger this evening.

This post is for the writers out there, but will also hopefully interest the readers and other creators alike.

Why is that? Because some of the biggest hindrances to creativity are the self-imposed fears we carry with us.

I’m normally a horror writer, though I dabble in various genres, and I’m going to be putting on my writer hat to tackle this from what I believe to be some interesting perspectives. My goal is to discuss the fears that hold creators back and methods to get beyond those fears.

Creation For The Sake Of Creation

The pure artist, as can be found discussed in great detail in Leo Tolstoy’s What Is Art?, would state that the purer forms of art and creation are performed for the sake of the creation itself.

On some level, they are performed for the sake of the creator, but the more any single creator decides to push their art into the world and display it for others, the less pure it becomes.

I struggle with the purity of this idea.

On many levels, I love the romanticism of it.

The unfortunate counter argument is that it’s terribly convenient to have such an opinion of art for art’s sake, but what of us who were not the creators of War and Peace?

Tolstoy formed many of his important ideas and wrote many of his important essays concerning art after he was already an established personality. This is unfair of me, I know, as the argument is supposed to be separated from the man making the argument, but it’s hard to. Purists are not often in a position of vulnerability

Purists are often not in a position of vulnerability.

What of the artist who is only able to work on their art once a month because of the costs associated with it or the time constraints?

While art may very well be more pure when done for the sake of the creation of it, I would argue that a free artist is one who has enough support to function as an average member of society and concentrate wholly on their creations.

This, too, adds complications to the argument. As famous artists such as Michelangelo were given such freedoms, but were also constrained by the Medici family who paid his bills growing up, and then his commissions throughout his life often being from churches.

Who knows how great Michelangelo’s art could have been if he was given the financial freedom, but also the political and creative freedom to experience his art simply for the sake of it—allowing his mind and hands to take the work where it would go.

Tumbling around these arguments, I find myself settling into a middle ground as an artist, myself.

I create for the sake of creating. Most of my drawings are shared only briefly with family, and sometimes never. My writing is shared as widely as I can get it to be shared, though, and I am actively pursuing that lifestyle.

Maybe it is selfish of me to desire to make enough money off of my creative work to finance my lifestyle and allow me the freedom to leave my day job.

But if the result is more art, then is the world a lesser place?

The interesting aspect of modern times is the self-financed artist. Self-publishing for books, websites like Fiverr that allow for creative people to directly be sourced: the freedoms given to creative people are amazing these days. I sometimes wonder how modern platforms would inform Tolstoy’s opinions, if at all.

All of this brings be back to the title of this section: creation for the sake of creation.

Any artist must start somewhere, and in practicing the craft there will be many works that are never shared. That honing of skill is important, but also something I would argue is so important that it must always be returned to. While I personally believe that artists should strive for freedom in order to actively pursue their art as a career, I also recognize that some art should be kept to ourselves.

That art is both pure, but also important because it teaches us to discern between what we place of ourselves into the world and what we place of ourselves only in those closest to us. Because, at its core, most art is in some way a reflection of ourselves.

Because, at its core, most art is in some way a reflection of ourselves.

When You Are Afraid, Your Art Suffers

The freedom to create anything is not often give to artists. This is not always the choice of an artist, either. I already referenced one of the Renaissance masters. While the great awakening of artistic value occurred during that period, most of the people financing those efforts were the elite. It was not easy to be completely free and still tailor one’s work to the holder of the money purse.

These days we are in may ways more free, but if we are pursuing careers in creation we still have to play to an audience somewhere. This holds back a lot of creators, who feel like they must create to appease the people.

Stroll to the local movie theater and you’ll be given plenty of examples of the fear of creators. Held by by either themselves or by the financiers in order to appeal to as many people with wallets as possible. Being a creator isn’t an easy experience.

Being a creator isn’t an easy experience.

I would argue, however, that it is the artists who fall for this fear that create the lesser versions of the art they hold within them. And while it is financially safer to sometimes tackle the easy victory, the mass market appeal, many artists may surprise themselves when they take the risk to be themselves.

There is a happy medium between the artist who pursues their art in order to achieve financial stability and the artist who wishes to have the funding to be free to express themselves.

The Lack Of Fear

The irony of the fearful artist is that the un-fearful artist is often the one who stampedes through the cliche and lands themselves in the record books.

Every actor who has taken a performance and turned it up to eleven is hailed for their bravery. It is not easy to go through a fight scene completely naked like Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises. Or Michael Fassbender in Shame.

Stanley Kurbrick defined most of his career by his lack of fear. He often took so many risks with his work that a large part of his filmmaking experience was ensuring that he had the financing and creating his amazing work on as low a budget as possible. He found a way, though, and he stuck to his artistic guns and remained as pure as he could.

Lolita is another excellent example of a lack of fear. Like Catcher in the Rye, both star a likable, yet unlikeable, unreliable narrator tackling subjects that the writers themselves have stated are not pure to them as creators, but they had a vision and executed it masterfully.

When you work without fear, you are able to work in that middle ground between the extreme of the hermit creator and the opposing side of the sellout.

Pure Art Creation

We can all identify beautiful art. Many of us agree on certain aesthetics, but we will also disagree on many things as well. That’s understandable. What matters when it comes to any form of creation is for the creator to express themselves fully. If an artist is unafraid, then this is the next step they must take: being true to themselves.

This often means that artists true to themselves are exposing some of their inner-most demons to the world. They are allowing themselves to be vulnerable in front of the masses. This is almost always difficult. Crying in front of thousands of people is something that takes training.

Writing about secret childhood experiences can bring back horrible hurtful memories. Exposing one’s character flaws leaves us open to criticism that we may not be fully emotionally prepared for.

Exposing one’s character flaws leaves us open to criticism that we may not be fully emotionally prepared for.

Let Go

The reason we do allow ourselves the freedom of pure expression is because while we do expose ourselves to the voices of critics, we also expose ourselves to inclusion and acceptance.

I’ve often told myself that my friends and family will never read my work. This is not true, but the thought of showing my stuff only to strangers has a freeing quality to the creation.

Another simple tactic to use is to create things you would only want yourself to see. Then leave those things for a time. Come back to them. Refine them. Then either force yourself to release it out into the world, or have a trusted friend or loved one do it for you.

Tell yourself that you have not created such a work. Or use a pseudonym to hide your true identity. Create the double life that is necessary to spread your work. Justify your work to yourself any way that you can.

It is not easy to be true to one’s self, but the more often you are, the more often you open yourself up to surprising revelations. More people may fall in love with your work than you think. More opportunities may open the door for you as an artist because you are known to not have fear.

More people may fall in love with your work than you think.

You may also be surprised to find out that many artists will also look up to you. They may reach out to ask how you were able to be so honest or brave with your work. You may be surprised to find that being true to yourself opens yourself to just as much awe as it does to judgement.

It has been my experience in both creating and in enjoying art that the awe of admiration is more often gifted toward artists than judgement.

-Ashley Franz Holzmann

About The Author

Visit asforclass.com for more from Ashley.

His new book is available on Amazon. Get your copy here.

Ashley Franz Holzmann bio:

A Boy Named Sue, named Ashley, who goes by Ash around his friends. Ashley grew up overseas on Air Force bases. He once bought a 70s VW bus so he could drive it across the country. He married his first love—they were long distance for seven years. He reads poetry constantly; believes experiences define a life, and pursuing art is the purpose behind his existence. Ashley kept all of his Legos growing up and plays with them with his three kids. He’s in the Army. He likes big dogs.

Visit asforclass.com to learn more about Ashley, or to sign up for his mailing list to receive an exclusive and free novella.

His mailing list is also the best way to learn about upcoming projects, exclusive deals, and opportunities for free advanced versions of his work.

You can find out more about Ashley at his various social media sites. Drop by and say hello. Or howdy, if that’s more your speed.

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As a side note, if you’re ever interested in doing a guest post, drop me an email and we’ll figure it out all out. Questions or comments for Ashley? Drop ’em in the comments section.

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Nonplussed

American English is, of course, descended from original British English (English English?). That language, in turn, was descended from a whole host of other languages and pinned together in a patchwork quilt of defeated and absorbed peoples. For such a mish-mash language it really shouldn’t surprise me that the English spoken in the U.K. is different in some ways from the English spoken here in the colonies.

Even various regions of the United States have dialectical differences between them. For instance, in some places you might get a hero, in others a hoagie. In other places, like here for instance, you might just hungry thinking about sandwiches. Whether you order a soda, a pop, or a coke (not necessarily Coke, Pepsi will work, too), you’re still getting some bubbly stuff with far too much sweet, sweet sugar in it.

Food words I get. It makes sense that different parts of the country – and the world – have different types of food and different names for those foods. I live in New Mexico, so we’ve got a huge catalog of cultural food to draw from, but even some of those foods are different depending on where in the state you are. For instance, Gorditas are a completely different experience in Las Cruces from what you get in the northern parts of the state. The Gorditas you get from Taco Bell are even further from what everyone else makes.

But other words have also drifted from the mother tongue over the years. The one that really took me by surprise was “nonplussed.” I wrote a short story last month and had some friends from the other side of the pond beta read it and give me notes and one of the notes I got highlighted “nonplussed.” In the notes, she’d written, “Is that the right word. He’s perplexed?” My first thought was she must have misread it, but upon looking up the definition I found she was right.

Mostly.

In U.K. English, nonplussed means “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” In informal U.S. English (the only kind I speak, see also: Bad English), nonplussed means “not disconcerted or unperturbed.”

Most of the time, when you’re dealing with regionalisms the meaning can be sussed out pretty easily. A book written in the U.K. will refer to boots and bonnets instead of hood and trunks. Someone from northern New Mexico reading about Gorditas might have a different vision in their head than someone from southern New Mexico, but it’s all food. Except the Gorditas from Taco Bell; I’m not sure those qualify as food. But when you come across a word that has a drastic enough difference in meaning even though it’s the same word in both languages, it can rock your world and completely change the intent of the sentence.

What gorditas might look like

By the way, this is the sentence I’m referring to.

“The good doctor looked completely nonplussed, like he knew he’d already gotten away with whatever crazy plan he’d concocted.”

So, if we accept the casual North American meaning of nonplussed, the sentence makes a lot more sense than using the U.K. English definition. Otherwise, the good doctor looked confused, even though he’d already won.

That was one of those notes you want to frame and hang on your wall just to remind you that words can, and often do, have drastically different meanings depending on where the reader is. It saved me some potential embarrassment if the story ever winds up in the U.K. In the end, I changed nonplussed to unconcerned and kept my fingers crossed.

They say good writing is supposed to excise regionalisms and, for the most part, I agree with that. Like all rules in writing, that one can be broken to add flavor and texture to a story. But sometimes regionalisms sneak up on you and you won’t even know they’re there until someone from the outside points and asks, “What’s up with this word, dog?” That’s why it pays to have friends from other countries.

Got any good regionalisms that snuck up on you?

Closing In

Now that Greetings From Sunny Aluna is closing in on 90,000 words (with probably another 10k to go), it’s probably time to start talking about it. You know, ramping up interest in a book that’s not even done yet in the hope that when it finally drops it won’t land with a dull thud.

I’ve been doing more research about how to do a better job of pitching the story and learning about the quick hooks that will lure people into a false sense of security. No, wait. Excitement. A real sense of excitement. Even now, when someone asks me to summarize the Henchmen series, I’m usually at a loss and wind up changing the subject. As a result, the people that have taken the time to read it usually enjoy it, but it’s the getting people there part that’s still the problem.

What excitement might look like

Of course, there are three major components that can generate interest in a book: The cover, the blurb, and the first page. If any of those blow, you’re well and truly boned. That’s for people looking at the book, though. They have to actually see it in front of them before any of that matters. What about the times where you’re on an elevator or talking to people you work with? There has to be a way to summarize the plot to a point that it covers the gist of the story without being overly onerous. One line. That’s really all you get before people put their eyes on screensaver. And guess what, the blurb is far too long and formal to talk about while you’re at a restaurant.

Blurbs are important, don’t get me wrong, but they’re not what we’re after here. Information on writing blurbs can be found anywhere. Hell, I’ve written a post on writing blurbs. Everyone who’s ever written a blurb has likely written a blog post on writing blurbs. What we want is a blurb for a blurb.

Loglines work on that kind of level. They’re hooks designed to generate interest. They don’t tell the whole story, they don’t even really reveal much about the plot. The general gist of a logline is it’s a quick and dirty sales tactic, the kind of thing you can tell someone when you’re in an elevator without resorting to half-assed declarations about thematic unity or your book being a tale of redemption. If you want a good examination of loglines, go check out Sean Carlin’s post on loglines. He does a marvelous job of explaining how to distill an entire story into a compact statement that can be delivered at the drop of a hat.

That’s the kind of thing you need when someone asks what your book is about. No one is going to listen to a rambling discussion of how a super villain’s henchmen work with her to topple the United States government because they’re really pissed off about random things and, oh yeah, there’s this girl that they pick up and her father was into some shady things and that leads the henchmen to a place they never even knew existed. And everything goes all gooey-kablooey with invisible people and guns and stuff. Oh, and it also has bondage sushi in. Like totally right in the beginning, too.

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Zoidberg can be a real jackass.

How about: While celebrating their latest robbery, a group of villains bent on destroying the United States stumbles across a terrible secret that the government will do anything to keep hidden.

Or

In the New Mexico desert, a group of villains searches for the ultimate weapon – a weapon the US government will do anything to keep hidden.

Admittedly, not my best work, but both convey the general gist of Henchmen pretty well. And, yes, it does have bondage sushi in it, but only for a short while. While Albuquerque may not be by-the-books desert (I think we get too much rain to be true desert), most everyone thinks of New Mexico as a whole as being desert so who am I to disagree. I don’t work in the tourism department, I just live here.

So, now that I’ve prattled on a bit, it’s time to get to the meat of this post: notably drumming up some interest in the forthcoming (sometime late this summer) Greetings From Sunny Aluna. To do that, I’m going to try my hand at the two immediate challenges of getting someone to read something: the cover and my new friend, the logline.

The Cover:

GreetingsFromSunnyAlunaR2A3

The Logline:

In a world of magic and martial arts, four people with different reasons dodge gangs and violent cops to find and eliminate a mysterious crime lord known only as The Beast before he can kill more innocent people.

I think it still needs work.

Drop me a note in the comments about what works, what doesn’t work, and any other thing you feel like chatting about. I like chatting.

Little Things

My old Kenpo instructor (now retired) used to say, “Kata is how the system expresses itself.” It was one of those little things he’d say that made perfect sense at the time as long as you didn’t think too hard about it. Later, I’d wake up at 3am or 4am or whenever the dog decided to go out, and I’d think, “Wait. What?”

Of course, after pondering for a bit, I’d come to almost the exact same conclusion that I had when I first heard it. Full circle.

Now, for those of you scratching your heads wonder what the heck a kata is, it’s a pre-programmed set of movements that’s common in the martial arts. Some systems live and die by them, others use them sparingly, still others eschew them entirely. Think of kata as a way of chaining strikes and blocks together and you’ll get the general gist.

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One of these people understands movement, the other does not

His intention was to point out that kata is a way to display the ebb and flow of the system. It’s not carved in stone, it’s not the end all be all of movement, but it allows us to take the bits and pieces of Kenpo and see how they can fit together. Each kata has a kind of theme with it, be it retreat, dealing with grabs, dealing with pushes, dealing with punches, or kicking people when they’re on the ground. And each of those kata are built up using techniques and transitions. In a way, kata is how the system expresses itself, by pulling the basics into techniques and then finally putting the techniques together into a coherent piece of expression. Ideally, in the final analysis of kata, they become moving meditation.

Since kata are built on techniques which, in turn, are built on basics, one could say a kata is a large system comprised of little things. They may look fancy, but at their heart kata are nothing more than a lot of things like steps, blocks, kicks, and punches all performed in a particular sequence. Which would imply each of those little things has to be done correctly to get the whole sequence to come out right.

gunkata
Otherwise someone gets shot.

This may seem like an esoteric thing, limited only to arcane aspects of the martial arts, but it’s really not. Every large system is built on little things, be it a book or a program or even just painting your bathroom.

Little things matter. In the writing world, it’s the small details that make the story come to life. Maybe a character’s penchant for peanut butter shakes or cheap beer doesn’t drive the plot, but it can say a lot about the character. That character, in turn, helps move the plot forward.

I’m not saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is wrong, I’m saying pay attention to those little details and treat those details with as much care you can. The end result, be it a kata, a program, or a book will be all that much richer for the attention.

chainsawkata
Even your chainsaw kata will look better.

Your Good Friend, The One Star Review

If you’re working on a book, I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to get negative feedback. It can range from critiques about the plot or the editing or the characters or any number of things. The first negative review stings. After all, you’ve just poured how many countless hours of blood, sweat, and bourbon into a story, stayed awake far longer than you should have, and worked yourself into a frothy frenzy worrying about things and now some jerk is going to come along and say he or she doesn’t like it?

How dare they?

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The Ultimate Warrior is enraged by that!

While it’s tempting to go full Trump and Tweet your outrage to the world, that’s not really a recommended strategy for dealing with negative reviews or feedback. Sure, it’s easy for me to sit on my high horse and pontificate about how you should feel when someone impugns your hard work, but step back for a moment and think about it before you do anything rash.

For starters, it’s a given that not everyone is going to like your work. People are different and not everyone likes the same things. Ergo, ipso facto, dominus pizza, there are going to be people who just don’t like what you’re writing just because they don’t like that style or genre. For instance, I’m not big on erotica or books about sports. Let alone sports erotica.

It’s kind of been my experience that negative reviews fall into two categories; the “this book is so bad it gave me cancer” category and the “this is what I didn’t like and why I didn’t like it category.”

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Zoidberg: Worst. critic. ever.

Trust me on this: ignore the reviews from the first category. There’s nothing you can do to change those. Nod, smile, and move on.

The second category, however, can be a gold mine. If someone takes the time to write a review and tells you why they didn’t like your book (other than it sucked), that’s the time to listen. You may not agree with everything they say, but they’re looking at your work with different eyes and may be seeing things you’re not. At the very least, take their comments to heart and try to look at your story through their eyes.

Because in the end, you may have written the story, but the readers get to experience it. That makes it their story.

And never, ever, reply to negative comments. Especially when Zoidberg makes them (fun fact: my computer’s network name is zoidberg. Why? Because I already had Fry, Bender, and Calculon). I have only responded to criticism once and that was to agree with someone who said there was a lot of head-hopping going on. There was and he was right and the fact that it was noticeable means I did it wrong. Even after I wrote a post on how bad of idea it is to head hop.

Sigh. I never learn.

Got any bad reviews you’d like to share?

 

Writing Experience

Back when I was a young lad growing up in Farmington, NM, I read a lot of books. It was a way of escaping a system that rewarded jocks for being jock assholes and didn’t care for creativity. I wasn’t a jock, although I did go out for basketball in the 6th grade (didn’t get to play in the one game we won) and track & field in High School (okay at shot put, miserable at discus). Personally, I didn’t care too much for either. I guess I’m not much of a team sports guy.

This was when Stephen King was doing his meteoric rise to, well, where he is now. I didn’t read a whole lot of horror – I was mostly into SciFi – but, of course I read King’s early works just like everyone else. It was required reading in the 80s, just like it was expected that you listened to Oingo Boingo. He did some pretty clever horror stories back in the day. Christine, Pet Sematary, Misery, It. He also did a great co-authoring work with Peter Straub called The Talisman which was pretty awesome.

I could usually be found with my nose in a book, listening to Iron Maiden or any number of 80s heavy metal bands and doing my best to avoid the multitude of bullies and assholes that thrived in an environment where athletic prowess was valued more than anything else. I also worked on the yearbook and that probably didn’t help my social standing.

Quick funny story for you: Our senior year yearbook has a strange aberration on the cover. If you look on the back there’s a piece of the wall that’s a different color from the rest. The reason that’s there is because it’s covering an anarchy symbol. We put the anarchy symbol on the cover because we thought it was cool. The school brass nearly had a heart attack over it and ordered it covered. I still think we should have kept it intact.

anarchy
ANARCHY!

Now, what’s funny is at this time, a lot of people thought Stephen King was a hack. Nowadays, he’s considered one of the greats, but in the early 80s, he didn’t have such high regard. Nevertheless, he sold books like a mad motherfucker and everyone was reading him no matter what the critics had to say.

King was making money and doing what he loved. While all the critics were going to sleep in their one-room flophouses and fighting cockroaches the size of Panzer tanks, Stephen King was sleeping on a huge pile of money, surrounded by many beautiful ladies.

He kept going and he kept doing things his way and now very few people consider him a hack. And he’s not the only one, either. Science Fiction as a genre was long considered the repository for people who couldn’t write good stories. Bradbury, Williamson, Heinlein, Asimov, and many others were looked down upon, not because of what they were writing, but because of their genres.

In Kenpo, we line up in class according to rank. During one of my first classes my teacher made an interesting point. “The difference,” he said, “between being at the front of the class and the back of the class is simply a matter of time.” If you stuck with it, you got better. It was that simple.

Writing seems to be no different in that respect. Keep practicing and you’ll get better. At least I like to think I’ve gotten better at it.

Of course, I’m still working at that “world thinks he’s a hack” level of popularity, but perhaps it will come in time. If it does, and I still get a bunch of reviews calling me a hack, hell, that’s a bunch of people that read that book and cared enough to leave a comment. I’m cool with that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if you’re struggling with something – anything, really – keep at it if you love it. Keep trying to make it better, keep trying new things, keep trying in general. There was a time when even Stephen King was an unknown tacking rejection notices to his wall.

140 Characters of Madness

words

Twitter, in addition to being the US President’s defacto choice of late-night communication, is rife with all manner of interesting information. Once you scrape past the people that all repost the exact same click-bait news stories (5 reasons why this post is awesome, you’ll never believe number 3!) and ass-random posts about how terrible the last Ghostbusters movie was, you’ll find a vibrant writing community.

I’m sure this is probably true of everything from programming to HR, but it’s the writers I tend to look to. In particular, I’ve started playing some of the Twitter writing games. There are scads of them out there, but I only follow a few of them because I like to at least attempt to do them justice.

Writing on Twitter isn’t always about getting the snappiest line together – although, choose a good one – it’s more about seeing what other people are writing. Each day I take a bit of time to find a few lines from whatever I’m writing and post it. Of course, lots of other people are doing the same thing, so it gives me a chance to see how other writers are putting things together. Think of it as an amuse-bouche for words.

Anyway, if you’d like to join up, it’s as simple as posting something with the appropriate hashtag and reading what others are doing. Beyond that, there aren’t any requirements. Other than don’t be a dick, but that kind of goes without saying.

Don’t expect a lot of feedback, but do expect to find some interesting new writers and see what they’re up to. Here’s my daily routine:

Sunday

Monday

  • #MuseMon – Theme-based and hosted by Claribel Ortega.
  • #MartialMonday – Theme-based, usually revolves around fights. Hosted by Ellis Logan

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

  • #FictFri – Optional themed, hosted by Gracie Mae DeLunac
  • #FriDare – Usually themed, often involves captioning pictures or similar. This one is pretty fun. Hosted by Mica Scotti Kole

Saturday

Go forth and check these out; there are good times ahead and you’re likely to meet someone interesting. To play, all you have to do is either write something up or pull something from your work in progress, tweet it, and make sure to add the appropriate hashtag for the day. Then, kick back and see what everyone else has written. It’s great fun and it exposes you to writers you might not have come across before.

Got any other games you like? Leave ’em in the comments!