Empty Pages – Why I Became a Writer (Episode 2)
This podcast follows my journey from first draft to published novel and beyond. This episode talks about why I decided to become a writer.
If you’re a return listener, welcome back, if this is your first time, welcome! I hope you find the information in these episodes to be useful.
This is Episode 2, giving some background information on who I am, and why I decided to finally become a writer. In episode 1, I talked about the first book I wrote, back in high school. If you wish to know about this first attempt, feel free to go listen to that episode, as I won’t be talking about it beyond a mention or two.
Growing up, I used to move around a lot and it became hard to make new friends because of this. As such, I found myself drawn to activities that didn’t need friends to engage in, such as reading, writing, and drawing. Having grown up in an abusive household, these same activities would allow me an escape from the horror that was my real life. As a child, I took to reading pretty quickly. I taught myself to read – with help from my mother – before I ever attended kindergarten. One of the first non-children’s books I read around that time was “JAWS” by Peter Benchley, albeit with some difficulty because it was obviously not written with kids in mind.
On occasion, I would write short stories, but for awhile, I tended towards doing art more than writing. There used to be ads for a place called Art Instruction Schools. You called a toll free number and were sent a free art test that was actually pretty basic. I remember you had to draw a cartoon turtle, and a house showing you could draw with perspective, among other things. You then sent in the test and they would send a letter back saying whether you had the skills to be able to enroll. I remember getting a letter saying I was accepted, but due to being poor, couldn’t afford the price. I have no idea if it was a scam or not, but I remember being pretty happy with that letter.
The shift from drawing to writing more wouldn’t occur until I reached high school. High school would see two major events that would shape me as a writer: the first was actually writing a book, and the second would be that I would eventually discover the pencil and paper roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons.
With the book I wrote, that was the result of taking Typing classes for easy A’s, and because I quickly got bored with typing the stupid stuff we were supposed to type and hand in for a grade. These were things like invoices, professional letters, and the like. In these typing classes, you weren’t graded on what you typed, but rather how many typed pages you handed in and how accurate they were. So after a few weeks of typing these boring ass assignments, I said screw it and just started writing a story. I didn’t start with the intention of writing a book, I just wanted to turn in as many pages as possible for the A and not be bored while doing it. It turned into a book by accident, and got me the two easiest A’s I’ve ever gotten, as I completed it over the course of two typing classes.
With Dungeons and Dragons, I started off just playing a character I rolled up. I would eventually also help with doing the Dungeon Master side of things, and this game really took a hold of my imagination. I think a lot of writers start off writing stories about their roleplaying characters or doing what is called fan fiction. Though I was a huge Star Wars fan growing up, it never occurred to me to write stories set in that universe. But with Dungeons and Dragons, I would begin first by retelling the stories we forged in our roleplaying sessions, and then branch out into telling stand alone stories featuring those characters.
Eventually I would graduate and join the military. While in the military, I tried to continue my writing, but that stopped when someone discovered it and I overheard them making fun of it. I wouldn’t attempt to write another story until shortly after I was discharged, but by then, it felt as if I had lost any ability or talent I had. When I went to college, I took a short story writing course that would serve to end my attempts to write for good. Or so I thought. I won’t go into any details about this class, I’ll talk about it in the next episode, because I feel it will dovetail nicely with another topic I wish to discuss, so we’ll put a pin in this one and continue on. Let’s just say it was not a positive experience.
Despite these setbacks, the urge to write never really left me. I spent many years stuck in the same self defeating loop. First I would get the urge to write. I would then start writing. Then, I would give up, because I never felt I was any good, and because I would remember the mocking tone of those in military who got a hold of that story, and I would remember what happened in my story writing class in college. You see, instead of recognizing those things for what they were, I had internalized it and believed it to be reality. And that’s not counting the relationships I was in where my significant others would tell me it was a worthless endeavor, that it wasn’t going to make any money and pay the bills, no one was going to read them anyway so why bother, and that writing was taking time away from them.
In the meantime, I would tell stories to people as they came to me, instead of writing them down. Nearly all the people who have heard me tell stories, whether it was based on something I had experienced, talking about a movie I had seen, or just riffing on something from the news or tabloids, all told me that I was an amazing story teller, and that I should write stories. Each time, I said no, I wasn’t any good and I would continue living a life that did not contain any written stories.
Eventually, I reached a point in my life where I was single, I had removed all the toxic people from my life, and for the first time in a lifetime, I found myself surrounded by people who were genuinely supportive. I had gone to therapy and learned a lot, though nothing specifically related to writing. And one day, I had an epiphany: I had nothing holding me back from actually sitting down and writing! And so, I sat down and wrote the first draft of the current novel I’m working on, though that was far from easy, as I had to overcome some obstacles, that I’ll go into in another episode, because I have a feeling that those obstacles are not unique to me, and I want to give them room to breathe and be discussed.
As for now, this brings this episode to a close. If any of this resonates with you, know that you are not alone. Please feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter account, or Instagram account, and let me know your story, what is keeping you from writing, or if you’ve managed to get past that, how you managed to do it. By sharing, hopefully we can help and inspire each other.
In the meantime, Stay classy, and keep writing those stories!
If you’re a return listener, welcome back, if this is your first time, welcome! I hope you find the information in these episodes to be useful. Also, if you are enjoying these, please leave a review and share with others.
This is episode 6, where I talk about my writing set up. just a quick disclaimer, I am not getting paid to plug any of the products that get mentioned, these are just the products I personally have discovered to work the best for me. If you find something that works better for you, rock on! Live your best life! So in case you are wondering what a writing set up is, it’s basically the workspace and tools you utilize to write your stories. This can range from something as simple as, say, a notebook and pen at the kitchen table, to an elaborate library complete with cozy fireplace and picture window looking out on some idyllic scenery while banging your story out on an iPad. Whatever set up you decide on, the most important factor, at least in my opinion, is whatever is going to set you up for success and not get in the way of your creativity.
For example, I don’t typically use a notepad and pen or pencil, simply because I can’t write as fast as I think. I used to think that all good writers wrote their stories by hand and only once it was done, did they type them out. I don’t know if that is actually true. It could be, back in the day, it was probably easier and cheaper than messing up on a typewriter and having to start the page from scratch. All I know is that my hand would end up cramping up while trying to keep up with what my brain was telling me. To get a good visual for what I mean, imagine that I’m writing Star Wars: A New Hope. My hand would be writing the cantina scene with the aliens, but my brain would already be at the part where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were rescuing Princess Leia from the detention level on the Death Star. It was extremely frustrating because it would often times derail what I was writing and my pages would often become a mess of hand writing that had become almost illegible and several things scratched out. I eventually switched to a system where I would write until I couldn’t keep up, then grab a new piece of paper and begin writing where my brain was, but that just ended up resulting in a mess that I couldn’t figure out how to put together. This would eventually become moot when I stopped writing for several years.
Fast forward to when I started getting serious about writing again. I had no problem getting ideas, and I would jot these ideas down on any piece of paper I could find, and these I would carry around in my pocket. It got so bad that at one point, I found myself with my wallet in one pocket, and a stack of papers just as thick as that wallet in another. During this time, I had resumed trying to write by hand only to run into the same situation as before. The final straw came when I left this stack of papers home one day, only to come back to find out that my ex-wife had thrown them away, because in her words, “it was garbage and I didn’t need it”. Thankfully she had just thrown it away and I was able to retrieve it. This event would lead me to think of a way to solve this so that it didn’t happen again.
Now before I get into my set up, I will say that I am not claiming that my way is in any way original. I’m sure that there are numerous writers out there that either have the exact same set up, or something similar. I will also say that I don’t think my way is the right way or the only way, it’s just one way. What I want for you is to think about your own situation and figure out a solution that works best for you. Now then, on to my set up.
My basic set up consists of using the app Evernote for keeping my ideas in one handy place, a laptop that I can type on that allows me to type as fast as my brain goes, and Scrivener, a word processing app that was built from the ground up with writer’s in mind.
The first step was to figure out some way of being able to keep my notes in one place, that couldn’t get lost, and couldn’t get thrown away. I’m horrible at remembering some things, so if I had not been able to get my stack of notes back, I would have lost so many ideas. As well, having a stack of papers is not necessarily a good idea, because if my ex hadn’t thrown them away, it’s entirely possible that I might lose some simply taking the stack out of my pocket. Then there is the wear and tear itself as paper is folded, unfolded, folded again, etc. At this point in time, I was used to carrying a smartphone, and I used apps for several other things in my life. It was here that I turned to. The thinking was that my phone was not likely to be lost, stolen, or thrown away, and so keeping notes there would be a safe bet. After doing some research and downloading and playing with several different apps, I settled on Evernote.
Evernote allows me to access my notes from my phone, as well as one more device (under the free version). This I found to be excellent, because it turned out that Evernote had a desktop version that was compatible with Windows that I could link together (they also have it for Mac as well, though I don’t use any Apple products aside from an iPad and the iPod Classic). This meant that I could be out and about, get an idea and put it in Evernote, or work on an outline and even write, and I would be able to access it on my laptop when I got home. The free version also has limited amount of storage, but since everything I’m storing is text, I have never even come near the limit. You can store more than just text, including pdfs and pictures, but I’ve just never needed to use this feature.
The next piece is the laptop. I don’t really think I have to go too far into this, because it’s a laptop, enough said. The most I’ve ever paid for a laptop has been a little over $500, but that’s because when I get a new laptop, it needs to be good enough to last for at least four or five years before I need to upgrade. If you figure that I spend $500 and it lasts for five years, the math works out to $100 per year, and that’s a good return on investment in my opinion. Now you don’t need to spend that amount. You can find deals for pretty decent computers for less if you’re patient, or buy around holiday sales. I personally find that this amount works for me, and I’m usually able to get pretty good mileage with laptops in this range.
That said, with the laptop, I’m able to keep up with what was is in my brain when I’m writing. I used to be a huge PC gamer, and as such, I used to have a really good gaming PC that I would also try to use to write. I say try because, unfortunately, I had the bad habit of deciding to take a 30 minute break to play a game only to find that a few hours had gone by and I had wasted time that could have been spent writing. It was this bad habit that made me decide to get a laptop that couldn’t play the kind of games I was into at the time. This and I wanted to be able to go anywhere and write. At one point I had the “romantic” notion of sitting in a coffee shop writing the Great American Novel while sipping on a latte or whatever it is that hipster writers drink. The problem was that I had, and have, no desire to write the Great American Novel, I’m a basic coffee and creamer kind of guy, and coffee shops suck for getting any kind of writing done.
Finally, the software that I would use to write my stories. To be honest, I gave so little thought to this very crucial piece. I had already been using Microsoft Word for several years for everything from my resume to business reports, among other things. Since it worked so well for everything else, I figured it would work well for writing. At its most basic, Word will get the job done. For a short story, I found no problems with using it, although aside from my novel in high school, and the first draft I completed last year in December, I never actually finished anything I started to write, and neither of those were done in Word. Before I continue, I don’t want to bad mouth Word. Some of you use it and enjoy it, and it works for you, and that’s great. If it does, rock on! It’s absolutely good at what it does. It just turned out not to work for me, although I wouldn’t find that out until I got the idea for my werewolf novel.
Most of my ideas come in short bites, just enough to know what the basic premise is and not much else. Not the werewolf novel. When the proverbial dam burst on that idea, it was a flood of ideas. As a comparison, think of most of my story ideas as post it notes, while the werewolf stuff is more like the Lord of the Rings. I quickly found that Word was not up to the task of keeping this stuff organized, and I would soon find myself with several Word documents open as I bounced back and forth between the different documents trying to keep these ideas organized. It quickly got out of hand and frustrating, not to mention that having several Word documents open would begin causing my laptop to become sluggish.
So what was I to do? For a good two or three months I struggled with using Word until I got so frustrated, I went to Google and typed “software for writers”, or something similar, into the search. I don’t remember what all came up in the results, but Scrivener was among the top results, if not the top result. I saw that it had a 30 day free trial, and I downloaded it. It was a little overwhelming at first, but after playing with it for awhile, I started to see that it was perfect for me. I’m not going to turn this into a commercial for this product, if you want to know more about it, you can go to their website at literatureandlatte.com. However, here’s what I found to be the highlights:
- you could keep all the notes and writing in one file, that you could access from a tool bar on the side, so no more multiple versions of the program needing to be opened
- it had a tracker that allows you to set project goals and daily goals, so you could theoretically set your project goal to be at least 80 thousand words, and/or your daily goal to 2500 words (which is my own personal daily goal), and it would help you keep track
- when it came time to export your writing, you could export it in any format, including .doc and .docx (which is Word’s default extensions, depending on version), PDF, and even various ebook formats.
- and probably one my favorite features, you can go full screen and set it to be as opaque as you want, so the background can be made as light or dark as you want it, which helps to block out the annoying pop ups that Windows loves doing, so that it cuts down on distractions
- and my absolute favorite feature, the full screen is set up to mimic a page in a typewriter, meaning that when you start writing, you will of course start at the top of the page, but once it reaches the middle, it stays there, meaning your head is looking straight ahead, instead of bent downward as it would be in Word because new lines form at the bottom of the screen
If you’ve used any kind of word processing program for any length of time, you know how sore your neck gets looking down all the time. This was a huge game changer for me.
The remainder of my set up is that I have a room that I converted into an office, so I have a place to work, but I can also take my laptop and go the the library, or work in the park, and yes, even a coffee shop if I want to deal with that hassle. The only other thing I have in my set up is my iPod Classic, as I listen to music when I write.
So now that I have gone over my set up, how exactly does this help me be more productive with my writing? Evernote allows me to jot down my ideas, and work on my projects without needing to carry around my laptop. When I’m ready to sit down to write, I can simply open Evernote on my laptop and retrieve whatever work I did on it. The laptop allows me to type as fast as my brain spits out the story. And Scrivener allows me to keep everything in one place so that I only have that and Evernote open so that I’m not fighting with my computer being so slow. If I’m in the middle of writing and I forgot a detail, I can click on my notes, then jump right back to where I left off. It also allows me to set up my book so that I can write in chapters, or even in character points of view. If I decided that one chapter should be placed ahead of another chapter, I can just drag and drop it where I want it, without having to rewrite it. My set up works with me, not against me, and because of this, my creativity can flow unimpeded. And the music? Well, that helps with blocking out distracting sounds, and even help with setting the mood for whatever scene I’m currently writing. In a nutshell, the tools serve the muse, they do not interfere with it.
When figuring your set up, make sure that you are striving to create a system that feeds your creativity, or at the very least, doesn’t impede it. I hope this inside look helps you if you’ve been struggling. If you already have a set up that works for you, please feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter account, or Instagram account, and let me know. Who knows, your set up may help out a fellow writer to reach creative nirvana. Stay classy, and keep writing those stories!
This has been another episode of Empty Pages. If you enjoyed what you heard and want more of it, you can follow me at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Please leave me a review, as that really helps me out, and if you do, you might find your review featured in a future episode. You can find me at ianmactire.com, as well as on Twitter and Instagram as @ianmactire. Until next time, I’m Ian, and this is Empty Pages. Stay classy and write those stories!
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