Uh-oh!  I think I did a bad thing!

Last week I had a $230 gift certificate for Best Buy. Currently, there was nothing of a pressing need electronically for my household. So I asked my wife, Rochell, if there was anything we needed around the house, but she said no. So I cursed the powers that be under my breath because I knew what lurked on the surface of my desire; wanting me to want it. I decided to swallow my pride and suck it up and bent to its will; I put on my big boy pants and went and bought myself an XBox One S! The top of the line in Microsoft gaming console goodness! Its white sleekness and slim design looks stunning.

Now I know some of you out there are saying, “Yeahhhh, that’s awesome! When can I come over and play?” I don’t know. I’m currently not entertaining gentlemen video game callers. But what you all should be saying to me is, “Zeke, nooooooo! Why would you do that?”

What’s the problem? Well, video games and writing are a dangerous mix. Dare I say an impossible mix, unless you are someone who writes about video games. It so happens I do not. When I play video games, I do not write. When I write, I do not play video games. Why? Because video games distract me from my creativity. Sure video games are fun and great at helping you problem-solve, but they sap you of your imagination, creativity and time. Part of my writing journey is finding and allocating more time to write. And what did I go and do? Why jeopardize my writing time by purchasing the beautifully alabaster-hued XBox One S of course.

The XBox One S came bundled with the game Battlefield 1, a highly advanced and entertaining simulation of World War I. BTW, World War I is my favorite war. Yes, I have a favorite war. And yes, “favorite war” is a thing. Don’t judge.

I bought the XBox One S on a Wednesday and resisted its siren call to un-box it. So it sat unplayed until the following Monday. Now that’s what I call willpower! To be honest, I tried hooking it up on Saturday night but the HDMI port on my cable box got damaged and I had to wait. Hey, I still consider that abstaining. On Monday evening, I fired the system up and began playing Battlefield 1 after downloading it.

The game looks stunning. It’s frenetic and realistic and frightening at times. World War I was hundreds of times more frightening, I’m sure, but this game will have you on the edge of your seat. If you decide to play the campaign missions, you grow attached to your playable characters who happen to be named after real-life participants of The Great War. After playing the tutorial as a member of the Harlem Hellfighters, you then play a grueling campaign as a British tank driver. I began playing at around 8pm and didn’t stop until 3am! The time simply flew by and that is the danger I mentioned earlier.

For those who follow this blog, you already know that I am currently revising a novella. If I sit down and revise with no distractions, I’ve been able to get through a chapter in two hours. In the time I spent on Battlefield 1, I could have revised 3 1/2 chapters! That’s not good. How do I deal with this dilemma of my own creation?

Well first acknowledge the problem: video games distract me from writing. Second, understand that video game distraction is nothing more than our old friend Mr. Resistance in disguise. He keeps coming back. He always comes back. Be ready for him. For now as a stop gap solution, I must allot time for playing just as I have allotted time for writing. And the twain must never meet. The time needs to be strictly enforced. Also, and this should go without saying but I will, writing must come first. My mother always said, “Business before pleasure.” Writing must be my business. To hammer the point home, The Good Book tells us, “Pay unto Caesar what is owed Caesar. But pay unto God what is owed God.” Video games are Caesar. They are mere materials of worldly pleasure that act on us externally. Meanwhile, writing effects us on an internal level because writing is art and art comes from God.


What’s the Story, Morning Glory!


I’ve begun to write in the morning when I wake up. Well more like revise in the morning, but you get the idea.

I was listening to an episode of Jeff Goins’ podcast. His guest, Hal Elrod, promoting his book, The Miracle Morning, talked of the benefits of writing and being creative in the morning. In order to do that you have to get up. No hitting the snooze bar! When the alarm goes off, get your ass up! Elrod also suggested that you should have a glass of water next to the alarm clock because having a drink of water when you wake up is more effective at waking you up than coffee.

The best way to not snooze-bar it is to put your alarm clock on the other side of your bedroom away from your bed. This way you will have to physically get out of bed to turn it off. Back in the day, I used to do this. It was helpful for a while, but eventually I developed an immunity towards my alarm clock buzz and stopped hearing it altogether. Once I was in such a deep sleep, my alarm had been buzzing for two hours! Hopefully that doesn’t happen this time around.

So far I’ve been successful. I’ve woken up early five days straight, got out of bed and did about 45 minutes of revision each time. That’s a good start, I’d say. Maybe I should make a 21 day challenge of it and make it a habit. It’s all about living that writer’s life baby!

Now the challenge is to carry this over to the weekends and days I have off. This past Saturday I read and critiqued my fellow writing group member’s work when I got up. But Sunday I didn’t do a darned thing and slept in late. I did finish reading The War of Art, though (I swear I will do a post on this book soon.) But I’m off from work all this week and I haven’t gotten up early to write. I’ve written a bit during my time off, enough to revise two chapters of my novella, but I had time to do more. I still have two more chapters to go in this round of revision. At the same time, I can’t beat myself up for not using my time wisely. Move on and do better and take victory in the fact that I was able to get up early and write last week.


Reading With Purpose


I’m am currently mired in the revision process for the science fiction story I’ve been working on since August. The good thing is that I’m on my second draft and I’ve completed revising three chapters. Unfortunately, I have five more chapters to go! I can get her done. I must.

Also I seem to have stalled in my quest to find outlets to submit my fantasy story to. Not sure why. Who am I fooling? I know why! Resistance. I am experiencing the resistance that Steven Pressfield wrote about in his book The War of Art, which I’m currently reading (more on this book in a future post). My Gotham Writers’ Workshop instructor bade us read this book and I have finally cracked it open. So far so good. The main takeaway: Resistance is the enemy of creativity and personal progress and it must be defeated whenever and wherever it rears it’s ugly head.

So in the meantime, while I marshal my forces in my never ending struggle against Resistance, I try to read with purpose. Previously, I wrote about the Gotham Writers’ Workshop courses. Once I started taking classes, I purchased their short story collection Fiction Gallery. This collection is full of great stories written by some of the great authors of short fiction. The purpose: to help you the writer be a better reader. By better reader I mean to become better at reading with purpose. That purpose is to understand technique, theme, character and mood; then be mindful of how the authors used these effectively so that you may use these more effectively in your own writing. After finishing some of these stories, I wrote down a synopsis, what I thought was the theme, and the writing style (i.e.- POV, tense).

The stories in Fiction Gallery are split into six distinct categories: Starting Out, Longings, Those We Know, The Job, Strangeness, and Sunset. The authors within each category are a diverse set of masters from different time periods brought together to give you a fine cross-section of successful short story technique.

Starting Out is composed of stories that focus on child protagonists. A few standouts in my opinion: Anton Chekhov’sA Trifle From Life.” A short tale of a young boy who learns the hard truth that adults are not always honest and will throw little kids under the bus if need be. ZZ Packer’s Brownies deals with a young group of African-American Brownie troopers learning to not judge a book by its cover and to not always assume the worst.

The section on Longings contains stories that deal with characters who long for true love. Sometimes that longing leads them down the most interesting and detrimental paths. There’s “Labors of the Heart” by Claire Davis, where an overweight man falls for a woman who has given up on men. Talk about a challenge. Lou MatthewsCrazy Life” is about a teen Latina who stands by her gang-banging man, even though she knows she shouldn’t. I really enjoyed T.C. Boyle‘sAfter The Plague“. Who said relationship turmoil would end during the Apocalypse?

The category, Those We Know, has stories about people who learn that the people they thought they knew best aren’t really known at all. Dorothy Parker’sHere We Are deals with a couple on their honeymoon already suffering from marital strife. For A Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story by Anthony Doerr starts off with two young sisters as teens; one, tall and popular destined for notoriety, while the other sister is short, drab who sinks into the shadows. Their paths, of course, diverge only to reconnect for a reunion that’s more like a confrontation. My favorite in this category is Hannah Tinti’s Home Sweet Home.” Two suburban homes are effected by a double murder. As we follow the detective’s investigation, we learn about a chain of events and the relationships of the occupants of the two homes. We learn the identity of the killer, but the relationships of the characters are way more interesting.

The next category is The Job. The tales in this section deals with characters dealing with their occupations both positively and negatively. Daniel Orozco’s Orientation is a satire about a new employee being shown around their new place of work. John O’Farrell’s Walking Into The Wind is about a man trying to gain respect for his most hated of professions. Edwidge Danticat’s Night Women deals with a woman trying to shield her child from her chosen line of work. Ethan Canin gives us The Palace Thief. A story about a Roman classics teacher at an exclusive boys’ school who’s mission to teach morality and ethics to the future captains of industry seems to fall on deaf ears, forcing him to question his life’s work.

Strangeness is next. This section has stories in which characters’ normal lives diverge into the Strange. Jose Luis BorgesThe Book of Sand deals with a book buyer solicited by a bible seller with a strange book that should probably go unread. In Charles Baxter’s The Next Building I Bomb deals with a protagonist who finds a scrap of paper with a bomb threat written on it. Is the threat real or is the protagonist’s imagination running away from him? In The Secrets of Bats by Jess Row, the strangeness of an American teaching in a Hong Kong school is surpassed by a quiet student’s ability to echo-locate and why. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Third and Final Continent is the story of a Bengali man who comes to America to work in a university while adjusting to life in a new land. If that isn’t enough he lives in the home of an eccentric 103 year-old woman and is an arranged newlywed.

The final category in the book is called Sunset. In this section, the stories deal with aging and going past one’s prime. John Cheever’sThe Swimmer is about a man who decides to swim his way home through all of the swimming pools in his upscale neighborhood. He may be trying to prove he still has his great swimming skills, but in actuality he may be trying to avoid the fact that he’s old and his life is in shambles. Kate Chopin’s The Story of an Hour is a classic that deals with a woman who received bad news about her husband. But instead of grieving about the tragedy, she oddly finds freedom in it. Thom Jones’ I Want to Live is about a woman battling cancer. No punches are pulled. The disease’s progression is shown warts and all. The last story in the book is Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by the great Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s an early science fiction tale of an old scientist who gathers a group of his aged friends for a drink of an elixir made from the Fountain of Youth. With the prospect of becoming young, will the test subjects use their newfound youth to redeem their past selves?

These themes are a good cross-section of great short story ideas. Coupled with interviews of some of the authors at the back of the book, Gotham Writers’ Workshop Fiction Gallery is a great source for reading with purpose and understanding some of the authors’ process and their views on writing. You don’t have to be a student of Gotham to get the book.

So remember whenever you’re reading, try to read with purpose. Be mindful of theme and style. And when you’re done with reading a story, take a breath, sit with it for awhile then write down what you think is the story’s synopsis. What are you waiting for?