The story-in-a-box: open it up and it unpacks itself

One of my favorite parts of creativity is the brainstorm. Writing is fun, but can be hard. Brainstorming is not hard. No idea is bad when you’re brainstorming, silly mortal! Even if you don’t use something you’ve written down, it’s keeping the brain hamster running in its wheel and could lead to other, better ideas. So you can just write down anything that comes to mind and worry about picking out the good stuff later. Until then, it’s limitless possibilities, and you get to just live the story.

I see ideas as boxes. Like a package from Amazon (one of the best kinds of packages, am I right?). It comes to you, you bring it inside. You have an empty room ready for it, and you take it there and open it. BOOM, explosion. Looks like that little idea box has a lot of stuff packed inside.

All the contents of the box begin to fill the room. Some of it is simple and obvious, like furniture — the developments that come easily from the basic idea. Then you have the stuff you have to open up and inspect, the cabinets filled with knickknacks — the more complex parts of the idea you must turn over in your hands/mind to see every bit of it.

If the brainstorm is my favorite part of creativity, then the unpacking is my favorite part of the brainstorm. When one idea leads to another, then another, and it feels like it will never end. I have that going on with my current story idea. I also have the “staring at self in mirror while brushing teeth” epiphanies, which are fun in their own right.

I have a little time off starting tomorrow. A perfect opportunity to play around with this idea. I was thinking of doing a zero draft by writing it in a “storyteller” format to get the plot down. A fitting method, I think, as it is a story in a tribal setting.

Let’s see what else this box holds.


Getting over writer’s block. As easy as climbing a mountain.

Yes, indeed. Mt. Writingsuccess. The clouds engulfing the peak create an illusion that it is smaller, more easily scaled, than it actually is. I’ve challenged this mountain before.


It bested me.


All writers start at the bottom, surrounded by the writer wannabes. All it takes is one step up the mountain to set yourself apart from them. One step. It’s actually quite easy. No need for rock climbing gear, oxygen, or warm clothing. Just taking the one step is all you need to do.


It’s all uphill from there, my friend.


I climbed beyond the one step. It took time. Effort. I penetrated the cloud cover. Had I reached the top? Hell no! I stood on a ledge and stared up, up toward the peak. So high.


I fell off the mountain. I rolled to the bottom. The fall left me broken.


For years, I stared up at where the clouds met the mountain. I tried to remember what it looked like up there. I couldn’t. Maybe it was best that way. Perhaps I should just forget.


That’s when I saw it. The goat.


Cocky little bastard was standing almost sideways up there. The goat stared at me. It trapped me in the boxes of its rectangular pupils.


Hey!” I yelled. “Don’t you judge me, goat! Climbing mountains is easy when you have cloven hooves.”


Mountain goat

Man, check out this asshole. Smug little shit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Its bleat echoed down to me. Mocking me. Well, to hell with that jerk. I wouldn’t let him get away with it. I started climbing again, determined to get that goat. The climb was harder now. I remembered falling, and I still bore some lasting injuries from it. The goat wasn’t waiting for me, either. It leaped and scrabbled its way higher. I didn’t care. I would eat that damn goat. Raw.






I’m glad I finally fought past the writer’s block. But was that the hard part, or is the hard part really ahead, like I suspect? My skills have lay fallow, so I must relearn them. That sucks, to know I may be a worse writer now than I was years ago at the height of my game. And I can admit to myself that the height of my game wasn’t much. I have a publication in a semi-pro magazine, but that’s it, and that one was a long battle to win. But I will go on. I have to believe I can reach the same level. I have to strive to go beyond it.


My current story is a start. After several drafts and a lot of time, I can say with certainty that it is — okay. Considering it is my first “completed” effort (in quotation marks because it is a full-length story even if I’m still working on it) since the block, I’d call it remarkable. A miracle that I even finished it. But there is so much more climbing to do. I don’t even know if this story will ever be good enough in my eyes to send out to magazines. I’ve got some plot issues to fix, and they’re pretty tough bananas to peel. Might need to give them time to get ripe. Part of me fears putting the story in the drawer, though. What if I never come back to it? I suppose if I end up writing things that I like better, it shouldn’t matter, but it’s symbolic now. Then again, a symbol could be relatively unimportant, only there to inspire greater things.


We’ll see. I’ll tinker with it over the next day or two and make a decision later. Maybe I just needed to write it to break the block, to serve as a learning experience. Who knows?


One last order of business before I sign off. I’ve gone by many names in my day. I shift in and out of them like I change my shape, trying to find something I look good in. Seeing as how I’m making a serious go at the writing thing, I need to settle on a name to write under. Since this is meant to be my personal/professional blog as a writer, it’s probably best to bear that label here, as well.


Ruskin Drake is a name of the past. It served me well enough. New life, though, comes with a new name. Hopefully this time, the name will stick.


You can call me Hob. Hob Nickerson. Nice to meet you.

Beta readers: friends or foes?

I had another post all lined up for today, but I’m preempting it because I can. What are you going to do about it? NOTHING. So sit down and shut your face!

I mean, hey, check this out, lovely people.

Today marks the completion of the fifth draft of my latest short story (which I should really come up with a title for someday). Up to now, it has received no outside feedback. I didn’t think it was ready to be seen by outside eyes. But now it is, and I’ve requested beta readers.

It wasn’t until after I did this that I realized some things. I haven’t written for several years. In that span of time, nobody has read any of my fiction, new or old. This is the first time a lot of people are going to read something I’ve written. Having not seriously written any fiction for so long, I am surely out of practice.

What have I done? Am I insane? ABORT! ABORT!


The button does nothing! (Photo credit: Lorenia on Flickr)

Crap, too late, people are responding. Okay, stay cool. They’re your friends. They’re cool. They’re nice…mostly. They won’t destroy your work and self esteem.

Will they? Oh CRAP, some of them would just for the laughs! I AM A FOOLISH FOOL!

Dramatization aside, it does make me nervous to share my work with people I know. I’m not nervous because I’m thin skinned. I can take criticism, and in this case welcome it. It’s just the fact that I KNOW these people makes it weird, like they’re staring into my brain and seeing things there. Strangers? Hey, no problem. I don’t know them, will never see them, will never attend a BBQ with them or go see a movie with them. People I know? I have to see them (sometimes only metaphorically thanks to the Internet, but regardless) after they read something that I ripped screaming from my head. That’s WEIRD.

But I’m doing it anyway. Because hey, It’s not ME they’re reading. It’s just a story.

What to write, what to write…

I’m getting off a major case of writer’s block. That’s right, I mentioned my block yet again. If you’re playing the drinking game, take a sip. But anyway, one thing that kept that block going for so long is that I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write. Well, here’s a secret for you. Come close, I’ll whisper it.

I still don’t know.

I know I want to write fiction. Speculative fiction, most likely fantasy (if I even attempted science fiction, I know science geeks would laugh at me). That’s all I’ve got right now. I’ve never had a strong direction with my art. Probably why I’ve done short stories for my entire career up to this point. Well, except for that one brief fling with a serial story.

How can I not know what I want to write? I blame my brain and all the things it finds fascinating. I imagine most people have minds like a shelf with a few knickknacks. The knickknacks are their interests, and they only have a few to show off, so it’s easier to focus on them.

I, on the other hand, am more like a box filled with random junk. When you shake me, different things rise to the top, and while the contents of the box remain the same, its insides are still altered.

I have many interests, and each can become primary at any time. I could really be into Star Trek at one point, and then a week later be all about Greek mythology. Can’t control it. My brain just shifts gears and I have to go along for the ride. I’m like a jack of all trades, except it’s really a brain of all trades. But remember the rest of the phrase: master of none.

(Which, according to Wikipedia, actually came later.)

Without a strong, lasting interest to focus on, it’s hard to think about long-term projects, and if I ever want to write novels, this is something I must do. So, considering this fact about myself, how do I decide what I want to write?

Write what I know? I don’t know crap. But really, this goes back to the many interests thing. Write what I read? I read a lot of different things, and I wouldn’t write well in some of the genres and subgenres I enjoy. As much as I’d like to claim to be able to write anything and everything, this is not so.

Maybe to figure out the what, I need to think about the why. Just why in the hell do I want to write? Why submit myself to this torture? The power? Fortune? Fame?

Nah, none of that. I’m not talking about the possible results of my writing. I’m talking about what drives the creative urge.

I think I know one non-answer. I don’t write to deal with my own issues or emotions. I’ve tried it, and it works okay, at best. It doesn’t inflame my writer’s passion. Maybe I’m just too good at analyzing my emotions without the need for fiction? Wait, what emotions am I talking about? I’m a freaking Vulcan. Ask my wife.

The primary answer, I think, is that I write to entertain. If you’re reading my stuff, I hope you’re having fun doing it. Even if it’s not something “fun,” I hope it entertains you.

Two other answers which apply:

  • I write to talk about themes that interest me. Heroism, perhaps, or justice.

  • I write to escape. This world sucks. Writing can let me get away from it once in a while.

I suppose I should ponder these three whys to get the answer to the question of what. I like to ponder.

Branching timelines; the quest for subtitles; all card games should have goblins

Time for one of my random posts, Frankensteined together from smaller posts to make a monster!

*flash of lightning, dramatic music*

Why in the hell did I start writing again?

Still hard at work on the second draft, but I’m coming towards the end. But which end? Now I seem to have two possible paths. My original plan has me finishing the story after two more scenes. While working on the current scene, though, a troublemaking voice in my head asks, “Hey, why not just end it here?”

Whoa now. Hey. HEY.

*pulls the handbrake of the Revision Party Bus and comes to a screeching sideways halt*

Which of you little jerks said that? Was it you, Genuine Idea to Make the Story Better? Or was it you, Getting Tired of Working on the Second Draft and Trying to Cut It Short?

Damn it. Damn it.

See, now I have to pause in actual revisions to think about this. Thinking is good and all, but it’s hard to measure productivity during that phase. Thoughts don’t have a unit of measurement that I know of. It would be cool if they did. Give me something to add to my log. “Revised 6 pages, thought 23 plorpbits.”

Sometimes it’s fun to read a show.

My wife and I continue the search for a new k-drama to watch. We tried Birth Secret and Dating Agency Cyrano on DramaFever, and both are okay, but we both agree that we can find better. Thought we might see what Netflix has to offer. I love DramaFever’s large selection, but the site has been very unstable for us lately, and every time we reload to get it to work, we have to watch at least five ads before we get back to the show. Then it messes up again and the process repeats. I hate ads (unlike the majority of people who love them, right?). Maybe we’ll come back another time and hope it works better. It’s too bad, too, because I just got an email from them recommending a show called Faith that has some time travel, and it sounds cool. A bit historical, a bit modern. It is not on Netflix. Sad face.

The search continues.

Go buy this and they’ll give me money! No, not really. But you should still buy it.

It’s been awhile since I recommended anything to you fine folk. Let’s see…I know, I’ll recommend a card game.

It’s a little gem I helped Kickstart called Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule.

The name of the game LIES!

The name of the game LIES!

It’s aimed for a younger audience, but damn it, I say adults can enjoy it, too. Each card has one side that’s a fairy and one that’s a goblin, and each side has a name and a symbol (sun, moon, mushroom, and frog). You play cards from your hand, and if the name rhymes with any of the cards in the “fairy ring,” those cards flip to their opposite side. Then, any cards with the same symbol as the card you played get added to your hand. The goal is to either get six fairies or get rid of all your goblins (unless you play the variant rules, which is six goblins or no fairies). My wife and I have played it twice since it arrived in the mail, and she’s beaten me twice. I’ll get her one day!

It’s a simple game, and I wish there were more cards, but it’s charming and I love the artwork. My favorite cards are Pixie Power for the fairies and Earwax Stew for the goblins. Release an expansion, I say! Anyway, I say you should buy it now, especially if you have little gamers in the house. If you want to see it in action first, here’s a video. And with that, I am off to think about how my story’s timeline ends.

So what am I going to write? Short stories, novels, or what?

Up to this point in my writing career (such as it is), I’ve only written short fiction. Why?

First, and probably the primary reason, is the traditional advice that writers should start with short stories before they write novels. Whether this holds as true today as it once did, I’m not sure.

Second, I’ve never had an idea that I considered good enough for a novel. Then again, my ideas tend to be puzzle pieces — they never make a picture on their own, but must be joined with other pieces. Perhaps if I took one of my puzzle pieces and took the time to hunt down its friends, I’d prove to myself that I am capable of coming up with novel ideas.

Third, there’s the issue of time. I’ve mentioned that I still work a full-time job, which leaves me little time to write. Short stories are, well, short. A shorter, less costly investment.

But now I find myself questioning my path. I did a Google search on the topic to see what others had to say, and this led to more questions. Should I stick with the short stuff until I feel like I’m ready? Is the traditional way still the best way? Or should I try something new? Would breaking tradition unlock my potential and my future?

Hell if I know. Let’s list this out.

Why should I write novels instead of short stories?

  • My stories tend to go on long. Perhaps their core ideas aren’t enough for novels, but I think the way I write is reminiscent of long form.

  • I think I may have more of a natural instinct for longer work. I have no actual evidence of this. Just a feeling.

  • It is my final goal. Short stories are fun and all, but it’s always been about eventually working my way up to novels. Why delay the inevitable?

  • It is what I prefer to read. Ironic, perhaps, considering how I complain about lacking time, but I’ve always preferred having time to invest emotion in the fiction I consume. I like television series over movies, for instance. I prefer novels to short stories, though not necessarily a series to standalone novels. That’s a topic for another day.

  • Short fiction and long fiction are different markets, and they involve different skills. Working on short stories will not necessarily make my future novels better.

Why should I write short stories instead of novels?

  • Short and long fiction may not share all the same skills, but there is some overlap. I still need to break off the rust from the writer’s block, so short form may be good for practice.

  • Writing short fiction may make it easier to build readership. As I’ve only been published a few times (two of those only being the flashiest of flash fiction), I’m still an unknown. Especially since I’m thinking of switching the name I write under. I need readers who know me.

  • Short fiction allows for more experimental stuff. I may not be a groundbreaking pioneer, or some kind of writing rebel, but the flexibility does appeal to me in case I need it.

  • As I already mentioned, time. It always comes down to time with me. Time and money (but money is not part of this discussion).

So, I still have no answer. For now, as I have this story I’m editing, I suppose I’ll stick with the status quo.

But in the future? Who knows? Maybe I can do both at the same time. I’ve never worked on multiple projects. Perhaps it would be enough to challenge me.

Curse words, or “You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

Ass bitch damn.

These are probably the only “no no words” I’ve used on this blog. Network-TV-grade stuff. I did say “piston licking” recently, but that was just suggestive, not bad. I’m a little less inhibited in actual speech, but not by much, and only when alone or in preferred company.

My fiction is as squeaky clean as my blog. Why? It’s not children’s or YA fiction. At least not yet. Why do I censor myself?

Believe it or not, but I care about what people think of me. Perhaps I fear being looked down on for using crude language. Then again, when I think about the kind of stuff I’ll probably end up writing, I don’t think my potential readers will be uptight about that sort of thing.

I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? This, maybe?

A reader wanders the aisles of a bookstore. He finds my book, or a magazine with one of my stories. Flipping through it, he is horrified at the presence of four-letter words (literal and metaphorical). “What kind of author is this?” he demands of the heavens. “Some kind of barbarian, I say. I will have no part of it!” And so, he goes to the nearest garbage can and throws the book/magazine away, despite not having actually bought it, then storms out of the bookstore. He vows never to read another book ever again.

But the tale doesn’t end there, oh no. Without the magic of reading to soothe his savage desires, he turns to a life of crime. His capers get more elaborate and dastardly, culminating in his magnum opus: stealing the beard from Abe Lincoln’s face on Mt. Rushmore. The son of a bitch. But who is worse? Him, or me, the one who set him on this path of chaos?

Hey, it could happen.

Abraham Lincoln, Republican candidate for the ...

THIS COULD BE THE FUTURE. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I doubt my public word choice will change anytime soon, and that’s fine. Not really what I’m about. Why force it?

In fiction, though, perhaps I need to open myself up to the option of using the bad naughty words. Every word has potential. If it serves the story, isn’t that what really matters? Heck, I can at least toss them in my first drafts and see what floats.