Tag Archives: on writing

Keeping My Memoir out of My Fiction

Question for writers: do you ever have trouble keeping yourself out of your stories? I do.

Head in a book

Keeping my Memoir out of my Fiction

Whenever I’m writing escapist fantasy, something happens that urges me to bring it back down to earth. My journal makes a compelling argument for its inclusion. My story relocates itself from a foreign land. It’s time frame travels back to the present. Memoir entries sneak into the margins. Mistaking them for notes, I find my private affairs on the page.

Overcome with a compulsion to method write, I draw from life experience. At the expense of the mystery, each line is a composite of my personality. Hoping no one has got my number, I hand my readers all the variables they’d need to do the math. Unrolling secret parchments, I leave them out for the uninitiated to see. Putting my shame up on a pedestal, I invite art authorities to criticize it.

I try to catch myself doing this. I try to spot the lines plagiarized from the other side of my mind, but they’re spaced out. It’s hard to drag the bottom of the text for corpses, the skeletons that once resided in my closet. It’s such a slow process, it’s no wonder my subconscious keeps getting away with it.

Exercising eminent domain, my internal city planner rezones my mental map. Putting my deepest fears in the town square, it gives the bad idea I’m trying to cast out of my mind the key to the city. Polluting my thoughts, it changes the skyline. Soon my enchanted kingdom resembles the streets I always walk down. The population resembles the people I see every day. Reality bleeds into my imagination. Now my dreamworld is no longer mine.

Real people show up for character auditions. Their dress code shows up in my descriptions. Personal ticks preface dialogue that I can’t help but quote verbatim. Sometimes I find myself wondering if I’m a writer or a stenographer.

I try to obscure their identities with accessories. They cast them off as inauthentic. No amount of armor can lock down their limps. No amount of flashy jewelry can bury their body language. No veil can mask their micro expressions. Glasses with plastic noses and mustaches will not spare me from paying likeness rights. The players want to be recognized on the page. I’m afraid that’s the only way I can get them out of my headspace.

The disclaimer will read: all characters appearing in this work are out there among you, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely intentional. Names have been changed to protect the obvious.

May the class action lawsuit commence.

Face into Book

I’m a closed book until you read my writing. My drawbridge goes down, and I’m open to interpretation. There’s no artistic alibi, no neutral nuance, no subtle subtext to hide behind. All my deeper meanings float to the surface. All my subliminal messages go up in lights. All of my dramatic disguises get outed to the public.

Every quotation mark says something.
Every ellipsis is evidence.
Every full stop is a footprint.
Brail breadcrumbs will take you right up to my residence.

There are too many parallels to the path I walk. Too many telltale signs buried between the lines. Too many plot devices for you to reverse engineer. Too many transparent notions making my agenda clear. You know that I know, that you know, what I want you to know.

Into the Book

Casting myself as the lead is such a rookie mistake. It’s bush league. It’s a noob cheat. Making myself the main character is so first year author, so vanity press, so screenwriting 101, but here I go again.

It happens so gradually that I don’t catch myself doing it. I’m tailoring the hero’s garments to fit me better. I’m relocating them to a climate that resembles my own back yard. I’m limiting their knowledge base to something I can pull out of my own ass. Forgetting what color their irises are, I hit my own with the old eye-dropper tool. Forgetting how they style their hair, I give them the grown up Bart Simpson look that I always wear.

Suddenly my female lead has undergone a sex change. Now all the parts for women have been underwritten. Their nuance gets rounded off, and a set of troupes come to fill the spaces in. My once progressive premise shifts, it’s now part of the problem. My ego demands screen time, and all my great ideas for solving conflicts with words fall by the way side. The violence just keeps finding it’s way back into the script. I keep seeing myself making a fist. I need someplace to put it.

Before long, I’m looking back at myself from the text, in this paper mirror, wondering how the hell I even got there.

The hero speaks in catchphrases I never got the opportunity to use. They lift lines from tell-off speeches I’d never be brave enough to give. Their words strike a balance between cold and charming, with a whit so quick you’d never see it coming. They’re not me, they’re how I’d like to be. Even when they’re down and out, they do it elegantly.

It’s obvious why Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler wrote the way they did. Their detective avatars could be the men they never were. They needed a place to feel secure.

There’s no mystery why this happens. Feeling weak, we writers long for self empowerment. When we feel emasculated, we tell a male power fantasy. When we’re lonely, we fill our dry spells with wish fulfillment. We escape to a parallel universe with a more agreeable set of circumstances. One that’s full of manic pixie dream girls, femme fatales, and sometimes even genuine companionship.

Book Face 2

Someone get this blog entry out of my horror story. Get this coming of age piece out of my sci-fi fantasy. Get this cautionary tale out of my dark comedy. Curb the autobiography. Set the diary at the dumpster. My life story hasn’t been lived in enough to fit in with this furniture.

I don’t want to talk about my circumstances. That’s why I tried to write this story in the past tense. I don’t belong in this universe. That’s why I wrote it in third person omniscient, but the story keeps shifting to try and deal me in.

Here I go breaking my hero’s routine with a break up, flashing back to the moment of impact, as a cheap ploy for sympathy. Underdog established, check. Alright, let’s milk this bit. Now my novella is haunted by the Ghosts of Moments Past. Not sure if I should hire an editor or an exorcist to fix it.

This is not the story I want to be armed with when I’m running the introvert gauntlet of social networking events. It will leave me in limbo at the punchbowl. There are too many personal details, too many big reveals. This pitch would make a cramped elevator feel a little too intimate. It weighs heavy on the tongue, because there’s too much information in it.

There are ballad titles in my chapter headers,
torch songs in place of description,
verses cutting through the prose.
You could practically sing my fiction.

Sad bastard lyrics show up in speeches,
blues structure creeps into the timing,
and no matter how hard I try,
I just can’t stop it all from rhyming.

Okay, so really, we’re going to do this? We’re going to let a character whine about watching a sunset alone, and everyone is cool with that? We’re going to commit to words that we bootleg movies because we have no one to go to the theater with? You don’t think anyone’s going to pick up on who’s really saying this? If all of our characters save seats for their imaginary friends, pretty soon our readers are going to pick up on exactly what is happening.

Now I’m talking to myself and making a record of it.

Of course I'm getting sucked into Stephen King's Doctor Sleep
Of course I’m getting sucked into Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

I want to use lies to tell the truth, but the truth wills out. A few grains of it become a silo, and there’s nothing left to omit. I can’t distort it, stretch it, or be economical with it. A half truth is a whole lie, and my internal reader knows the difference. Jonesing for authenticity, my reader knows when something has been cut with bullshit, when a pack of lies has gotten into the mix, when an expression has lost its purity, it knows to squeeze the rest out of me. So I over share to feed its appetite. It keeps me honest with its refined tastes.

This compulsive honesty comes at the expense of a clever premise. Naked emotion costs me the storytelling possibilities that come from outside of my own skin. It narrows the appeal down to those who speak the same language of regret. Where a strong plot could carry a reader, I leave it up to a character’s voice to do the heavy lifting. Where a strong conflict would keep the pages turning, the honesty demands that I pause to dwell on how I’m feeling.

I refuse to accept that a fall from grace is a part of the process, that I have to hit a slump to produce a hit, that a downward spiral is a good point of reference. I have too much truth to draw from. My palette is overflowing with it. Quite frankly, I don’t even want it.

I need to learn to lie to myself more effectively. To vent about things that have never happened to me. To smuggle adventure into my tales of woe. To trick myself into writing fabrications with a twinge of authenticity.

When there’s something in my life to dwell on, it has a way of trying to star in everything. It bursts onto the set when it’s not even in the sequence. I can try to hide it in the shadows, but it keeps sliding into the spotlight, stealing the scene every chance it gets. This thought I can’t push out of my mind, is a diva that refuses to go back into their trailer. It wants to keep shooting until we get it right. It wants its story to be known, even if it’s not the one I wanted to tell.

If I could only smother it in makeup. If I could only give it some direction. If I could only fire it without slowing down the entire production.

I Know You

Sometimes it takes someone else’s words to let you know that you’re not alone. Sometimes someone else’s art speaks for us. Henry Rollins’s poem I Know You spoke for me.

Yes, that's a bit of packing foam in my microphone, and no, I still can't get it out.
Yes, that’s a bit of packing foam in my microphone, and no, I still can’t get it out.
You can't do a cover of Henry Rollin's I Know You, and Trent Reznor's A Warm Place without combing the fonts from Black Flag and Nine Inch Nail's logos.
You can’t do a cover of Henry Rollin’s I Know You, and Trent Reznor’s A Warm Place without combining the fonts from the Black Flag and Nine Inch Nail’s logos.

(If SoundCloud is still down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)
(Download the vocals only version here)

Have you ever read something and felt like the writer knew you, like they got under your skin and spilled your guts, like they cut to the heart of the matter and found out what made you tick? Have you ever felt apart from the world until a song lyric revealed the connections that bound you to it? Your situation was pegged in the length of a verse by that one perfect line that hit the nail on the head. Something that put your allusive emotions into perspective.

Have you ever watched a movie and saw yourself on screen? You blinked and suddenly you were the protagonist. You heard a love lorn line of dialogue and proclaimed, “I just said that today!” Has a dated romantic comedy had you searching your living room for microphones? Has a line from a screenwriter’s pen found its way into your breakup talk?

Has a stand-up comedian made a punch line of your secret quirk? Has a clever cat got your tongue and started saying things with it? Your thoughts streamed down their teleprompter. They outed you to the world. Did it surprise you to see the audience laugh with the comedian, as if they knew exactly what they were talking about? Did it feel like some of their approval rubbed off on you?

Has an artist that died before your time, peered across time and space, to plagiarize the thoughts from your head? These knowing Nostradamuses, saw your breakdown coming. They stepped on your grave. You felt it in your bones. They knew you before you were even there to be known.

They found a way to put into words the thoughts you believed would go unspoken, unmarked by your nearest and dearest. How you’d lived to find someone with the emotional capacity to share them. Here a stranger has seen you for what you are. They’ve shown you a truth about yourself, and it’s devastating.

Don’t think that this connection is less meaningful, because it didn’t happen face to face. If Stephen King has taught me anything, it’s that writing is telepathy. It doesn’t matter if the author was alive, if their work has been translated, remixed, or covered. Moving into your mind, their thoughts have taken up mental real estate. They’ve cast you as the hero in their story.

You learned that your most private peculiarity, was actually universal. You were stricken with a profound relief. Thank you dear author, dear singer, dear comedian. Thank you for letting us know that we’re not in this alone, that I am not alone. Thank you for making yourself seem vulnerable so that I might feel a little bit stronger. Thank you for quite possibly saving my life.

Black und White

I’ve never experienced this phenomena more profoundly as I did the first time I heard Henry Rollins read his poem I Know You. My composure melted away in an instant. I collapsed onto my cramped twin bed. True to his word, Rollins knew me very well. I was sobbing by the end of the first read through. Locking myself in my room, I listened to it for an hour straight, staring at the ceiling, seeing into something bigger than myself. This was over a decade ago, a time when I needed to hear it. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one who operated the way I did, and Henry told me.

He didn’t stutter. He didn’t ramble, nor did he get lost in abstraction. Where I’d felt scatterbrained, he was collected. He preached with steadfast certainty. He’d broken a code and he was showing his data. With a cool composure, he spoke to the screaming silence of isolation. He brought calm to a conversation about rage. While so many growling vocalists brought brute force to their mic stands, he applied just the right amount of gentle pressure.

He wasn’t hiding behind euphemisms like “mental illness.” While psychologists argued about the map, Rollins told us about the terrain. He told it like it was.

He armed me with the language to communicate my inner workings, and instilled in me a strong desire to do just that. He got me thinking about deciphering myself for the benefit of others. He’d given me purpose.

Half Smile

It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t find the right word for it. Following my roommates out for drinks, a strange pull beckoned me home before bar close. I had every intention of riding the night out with them. I wanted to meet people, to make connections, but my enthusiasm worked on a bell curve. I came out with a pocket full of high fives, only to find my fingers go limp in the middle of handshakes. I spent my quick wit on the pilling introductions, only to watch my jokes fall flat by the time the conversation got light. I was the one who brought the lull to the table.

I got low, but “depression” was the wrong word for it. It was too broad.

My James Bond composure came with a time limit. The moment the clock struck midnight I reverted back to Woody Allen. My charm turned into a pumpkin. The larger the crowd, the more I’d turtle up. Shifting the conversation, girls joined us in the booth. The more competitive the tone, the less I participated. The more overt my room mates’ intentions, the more subtle mine became.

A polarizing fear had come over me, but “social anxiety” wasn’t the right term for it. I could be social. In my element, in my sweet spot, I could hold my audience’s attention. I could read ten poems a night without so much as blushing. The stage was my domain, yet small talk always seemed like Everest.

Watching the screens mounted on the bar, I found myself paying more attention to commercials than I ever thought I would. Convincing my friends I had a prostate condition, I took more than my fair share of bathroom breaks.

Sure my breath quickened, but calling these episodes “panic attacks” would be a tad too dramatic.

Giving up on waving down bartenders, I paced what little space I could, guarding my precious shoulders from being rubbed. After all, I wore my heart on my sleeve.

Pop psychology would have you wondering where I fit on the social disorder spectrum, where I fell on the Myers Briggs, or where to categorize me in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. You could try to dissect me with all those “blunt little tools,” but you wouldn’t come away with anything of substance.

While giggles turned to cackles, my voice became a whisper. I waited until the group hit a critical mass, until I was sure that I was lost in the crowd. Then I disappeared, Batman giving Commissioner Gordon the slip. Off to fight crime from the confines of my bedroom.

The word “INTROVERT” hung beneath my face like a caption, I just didn’t want to accept it. At the time, I took introversion to mean shy, meek, and fragile. If you only looked at half of the data, you’d say that I embodied all of those traits, but if you watched me lead a counter demonstration against one of America’s most notorious hate groups you’d draw a different conclusion. If you listened to me speak at a writers’ workshop, you might mistake me for an alpha male. Drop me into an argument where I can speak with authority and you’ll hear Sherlock Holmes bubble up from my mouth.

It turned out the right word had been there the entire time, I just thought it meant something else. Introversion had less to do with how weak I felt, and more to do with what types of interactions I valued. While others needed a group to blossom, I excelled at the one on one, bringing things out of people others couldn’t see. While extroverts were the life of the party, I was the king of empathy. While others saw their emotions as splotches in an impressionist painting, I could translate mine into words.

The best part of these revelations was that they defused so much of the hate I’d been carrying. Extroverts were not the enemy. After a lifetime of jealousy, I realized that I possessed qualities that they might envy, that they might even need. Rather than flee them, I sought them out. As Sarah Silverman put it, “I’m looking for a Yin for my Yang, not a Yang for my Yang.”

Turns out, there might not be anything wrong with me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the hole in your heart is an optical illusion. It disappears the moment you change perspective.

His superpowers include: empathy, self awareness, and candor.
His superpowers include: empathy, self awareness, and candor.
If you consider yourself an introvert, and you've come to view that as something to be ashamed of, you need to read this book.
If you consider yourself an introvert, and you’ve come to view that as something to be ashamed of, you need to read this book.

After reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts, I found myself drawn back to Rollins’s poem.

I see Henry Rollins as a role model for introverts. He’s one of the good ones. The man wears his solitude like a superhero. He walks the earth, searching for himself, like Caine from Kung Fu, or The Incredible Hulk moving from town to town, challenging authority, saving villagers. He’s a poet, an author, a musician, an actor, a stand-up comedian, and a role model. He’s an international man of mystery, getting in his van, rocking off faces, stopping crime, and giving Ted talks.

Grateful for everything he shares about himself, I have an endearing affection for this man. It takes a lot to be a positive example of vulnerability. Along with George Carlin, Rollins’s candor is something I’ve tried to adapt into my own literary voice.

This all started the night I’d discovered I Know You. I had to capture that feeling of identification. I had to share it. I had to let people in on the secret, that we’re in this together, and there’s a community out there for anyone who wants it.

Lens Shot

Rollins’s speech resonated with me all the more, because someone had paired it with A Warm Place my favorite song (at the time) by Nine Inch Nails. A Warm Place has always been my go to instrumental for self reflection. If you’re making a meditation playlist, this song is mandatory (feel free to download my instrumental version to add to that list too, it’s also great for yoga, and other intimate encounters). It hypnotizes with its descending and ascending melodies, both sombre and tranquil, bitter and sweet.

When I decided to cover Rollins’s poem, I realized that I had to cover A Warm Place as well. I’ve always wanted to hear the song with grinding distortion, and heavy beats made from footfalls and whip cracks, so I added those elements to my version.

It’s not enough for me to just throw up a link to Rollins’s original recording, I had to pay homage to it. I had to read it myself. After all, along with Nicole Blackman and Saul Williams, Rollins inspired me to get into spoken word in the first place. Turns out, this is one of the most popular pieces for poets to read live. They’re Rollins’s words, but we all want to inhabit them. It’s his monologue, but we all want to star in it.

A Warm Place Logo

(If SoundCloud is still down, download the track)

As I mentioned, the idea to combine I Know You and A Warm Place wasn’t mine. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a recording of the poem without the Nine inch Nails song tacked on. I’m not sure who came up with the idea to combine these recordings, but they’re two great tastes that go great together. Although, I always felt jostled when A Warm Place started looping half way through Rollins’s reading, then abruptly faded after he’d finished. I wanted the recordings to fit together seamlessly, so I notated my version to do just that.

I got it in my head to transcribe the song myself, to put together my own minimal interpretation, a distorted melody, made fragile by heavy tremolo and thunderclaps. Not that I could hold a candle to Rollins’s deep rich voice, but I loved his piece so much I had to give it a go. This is a cover of a remix of a poem. I can’t think of a deeper niche than that, but it’s the universal themes that make it so endearing.

Over the last year, I’ve done over five hours of audio recording (if you include my audio book Terms and Conditions). This seven minute piece is by far my favorite. Please share and enjoy.

You can read Henry Rollins’s poem in its entirety by hitting “Continue Reading.” Continue reading I Know You

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 6

This is the sixth collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Mercy Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 6

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 5


This is the fifth collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Menacing Grin Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 5

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 4


This is the fourth collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Your Holiday Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 4

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 3


This is the third collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Backups Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 3

#YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 2

TITLE IMAGE 2This is the second collection of my best Tweets under the hashtag #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen. Click here to catch up on the first part. These were inspired by @KMWeiland. Her blog is an excellent resource for writers looking to become authors.

These come at the special request of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). Be sure to thank her if you get some amusement out of these.

Conflict Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen Part 2


TITLE IMAGEYou know you’re a writer when you realize that you have some form of psychic ability. Your words are telepathic messages. You can communicate with people you will never meet, in places you will never go, in eras you will never live. You can get inside their heads, make them see what you want. You can evoke emotions and plant ideas. You can change minds.

You know you’re a writer when you realize that daydreaming is the purest form of lucid dreaming. That reality is subjective, that it’s within your means to change it, to doctor the record after the fact.


You know you’re a writer when you go from dabbling with an outline, to compulsively refining a novel. You know you’re a writer when you steal away like a drug lord with a second cellphone, like a spouse concealing graphic sexts, or a politician trying to dodge a blackmail scandal.

Inspiration strikes and you have to answer the call. If you’re on the clock, duck into the bathroom, hide behind the coat racks, or crawl beneath your desk. You’ve got to jot something down before it evaporates. That clever phrase won’t last long on ice. You’ve got reach for your notepad, type on your phone, or scrawl the words across your arm.

HR might call that time theft but that’s their corporate culture. You’re the counterculture.
You’ve got a secret life to attend to.

You know you’re writer when you realize that your thoughts have value. That there ought to be a record of them. That immortality is an attainable goal to a scant few that are bold enough to go for it.


The first time I saw the #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen hashtag was in a post by @KMWeiland. She writes advice for writers working to becoming authors on her website. She deserves the credit for introducing it to me.

On Twitter #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen has been my goto hashtag. It’s a quick way to spark my creativity on a fifteen minute break. It’s a springboard for conversation. It gets me thinking about my process. Sure it’s riff on Jeff Foxworthy, but it’s come to mean something important to me. I’d like to see more writers using it.

Giving credit where credit is due, this post is the brain child of Jessica West (@Wes1Jess on Twitter). I’d been posting these for over a year. She suggested that I post a collection. This is the first part. Continue reading #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen

Ridicule is a Bad Investment (Audio Blog)

(Download the instrumental version here)

If you’re going to invest your time writing, find a better subject than ridicule. The marketplace of ideas is saturated with it. It’s trading at its peak. Sell sell sell. You don’t want to be caught mocking someone when the market shifts. You’ll just seem like a jerk.

I know that cruelty can make your voice seem more authoritative, but the world doesn’t need another dictator. Trust me, I know that ranting can seem like a safe guard against receiving ridicule yourself. It takes a thick skin to take it on the chin.

This audio blog, this rant, is my critique on baseless criticism. As a written entry, it’s one of my most popular pieces, this time I brought a bass-line with me for backup.

Mental Illness as a Plot Device and Other Bad Ideas

IMG_8316 copy
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

My forehead throbbed. It felt like it had taken on weight, like I’d played a Klingon on an episode of Star Trek and fell asleep with the prosthetics on. My teeth had gone out of alignment. My bite was crooked. My jaw had shift to the left. It wouldn’t go back. It had locked itself into place.

My eyes wouldn’t focus. The lenses refused to align. The depth of field shift from the railings in the foreground to the light in the background. The bulb was too bright, especially when my vision split it into two. The room spun.

I tried to look down, but my head refused to take the command. My neck had gone stiff. I was in a robot’s stranglehold. Its metal fingers ran from my chin to my collar. Its claws dug deep into my deltoids. It pinched my nerves. The pain wrapped around my back. It pressed my shoulders against a harsh cold surface.

The room smelt of chlorine, of summers spent at the YMCA. I expected to see water reflected on the ceiling. I couldn’t help but wonder, what kind of pool kept the temperature this low?

Goose bumps ran down my arms. My feet recoiled beneath a blanket that was too short and too thin to do any good. A breeze ran up my thighs. It occurred to me that I wasn’t wearing any pants.

I raised my hands. My palms were scraped. My knuckles were black.

There was a bracelet where my watch should have been. Something like a sundial jut out from my inner elbow. It cast a shadow that seemed confused about its light source. Its silhouette shift back and forth. It pulsed with the throbbing in my forehead.

My mind had all the pieces it needed to put the setting together, but it couldn’t. Continue reading Mental Illness as a Plot Device and Other Bad Ideas