Root-a-toot Tavi, Ideas and All

Writers are asked, “Where do you get your ideas?””

The thing is every one of us get ideas all the time. The difference between the creative artists and the rest? We listen. When we have an idea we think is interesting, we don’t judge whether it is a good idea or a bad one. We take it out and play with it for a while.

And don’t forget it’s all about the play. We say musicians play, not musicians work. Actors role play, not role work. When we writers forget we are playing, not working, that is when we have a case of the writer’s block.

Once we are finished playing, we are not the best judge of whether the results are good or bad. Whether it worked or not.

I once heard the screenwriter William Goldman assert the same thing. He said that making movies was always risky. No one knew whether a movie would be well-received or not. Then he told the story about a movie he wrote the screenplay for: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. After the movie was released, he and the director were walking down the street in New York City one evening. They saw this line around the block. When they found out that the line was to “Butch Cassidy”, they were surprised. Pleasantly so. But still surprised.

And when you play, accidents happen. During a session in a recording studio, Bob Dylan was working on “Like a Rolling Stone”. The musicians took a break. Al Kooper was just hanging out. During the break, he sat down at the organ and started playing around. Dylan walked back into the room and said, “That’s it.” That organ music Kooper played became the beginning of the song.

All creativity is risky. So take a chance and be brave. Nothing is more fun, and rewarding, than playing with an idea. If you don’t believe me, look at how many creatives have long lives. That kind of playing keeps us young.

And the more you listen the more the ideas come. It’s a big sandbox out here. So do yourself a favor. The next idea you have, try playing with it. Who knows? You might be just as surprised as I was when I got “Root-a-toot tavi, I’m so savvy,” I just had to play with it. Here are the results:

Root-a-toot Tavi

Root-a-toot tavi
I’m so savvy
So savvy as all

Swinging on a star
Being who I are
Having me a ball

Root-a-toot chili
Burgers on the grilly
Cook’s standing tall

Running up the hilly
Jack and Jilly
Going to the mall

Root-a-toot billy
I’m so silly
Dancing down the hall

So just look up
Drink from the cup
Spring, summer and fall

Root-a-toot wavy
Stir up the gravy
Step out for the call

Lighter feet, baby
Don’t step heavy
Do give it your all

Root-a-toot tootsy
Don’t give a hoot-sy
Go break down that wall

Kick up your boot-sy
And doodley scoot-sy
Never ever stall

Root-a-toot dabby
Be kind of fabby
John, George, Ringo, Paul

Go catch a cabby
Take a trip happy
Have yourself a ball.

How about you? Any ideas lately?

News for the New Year

Since I began posting here at Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such, I have posted more than once a week. In the past year, it’s been three times a week. Beginning tomorrow, January 1, I will cut down to once a week.

Why am I cutting back? It is not for lack of material. I have material up the wahzoo. And no, that is not a river in Florida. It is the lack of time. I have a forty-hour a week day job. I usually spend an hour or two a day six days a week writing.

The reason for cutting back: I am editing an 80,000-word novel, Adam at the Window.  I hope to have it ready to send out to an agent by the end of 2023. I am using the editing process I posted in And Now What: My Editing Process.

Adam at the Window is the story of what happens to the Janssam family when the father does not return home from World War II. It is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey. Adam, my main character and the youngest son, is the Telemachus figure. He is a talented young artist who finds he can’t paint. In order to become the artist he was meant to be, he has to find out what happened to his father. First, he tries to run away to Paris. But Paris is not the answer.

Over the years, I have written six or seven novels, using the National Novel Writing. This is the first one I feel confident enough to want to publish. It is a story that is, in some ways, autobiographical. So there are some personal issues I have in common with the Main Character. How can a child come to terms with the abandonment by a parent?

Because I am a Virgo, I am a bit of a perfectionist. Perfectionism is the road to shooting myself in the foot.. Nothing gets completed. So I have learned when to stop. Unlike James Joyce, I am not up to putting a comma in a sentence, then taking it out again and again. Once I take out a comma, I don’t put it back in. I try to find another place to put the darn thing in. Just kidding. But sometimes it feels like that.

Some parts of my novel are ready for the Show. I want the completed novel to be all dressed up in its Sunday best. I want it to be something I can be proud of when I send it out. But it won’t be perfect.

Creating a novel is as much an odyssey the novelist must make as it was for Odysseus to get back home. But it shouldn’t take me twenty years.Three, four, five years maybe, but not twenty.

So here’s to wishing all of you a very Happy New Year. And may God’s blessings be with ye.


Writer’s Block?

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face. –Jorge Luis Borges.

It’s a real beach, that devil of a writer’s block. A real hot beach. I can’t go for a swim to get the sand out of my drawers and cool down. There are sharks in the ocean. Jelly fish scattered around me. Those darn jellies and their sting stop me. There is no way off this beach and out of the sun. I’d say that sums up my version of writer’s block. Pretty bad, isn’t it?

Instead of a beach, it might be a snow storm. Or out on a desert dune and no oasis. Or stuck in an elevator that won’t go up or down. There isn’t an easy out. It’s always a beach when a work-in-progress falls on my head.

The characters, especially Miss Main, are not letting me in on their inner lives and their secrets. In one way or another, characters I’ve befriended, fallen in love with, have shut down my story.They are leaving the party with no explanation. All the struggle in the world won’t get them back to the Yellow Brick Road and on their way to the Emerald City. No amount of alchemy will return Dorothy to Kansas. You see, it’s not their story.

So how do I get myself off the beach? Through the snow storm? How can I find that oasis? Certainly not by gritting my teeth and grunting my way forward. Those jelly stings hurt like hell and I am not fond of shark bite.

Of course, I could take a helicopter lift off the beach and be done with the whole damned mess. But abandoning Story is not an option. If I abandon her, she dies, never to live again. No other creator can breathe life back into her.

The only way off this beach of writer’s block is to let go. To trust Story, when she is ready, to reach for my hand, to squeeze it softly, then lead me out of the darkness and into the sunshine. Trusting Story means I have to sit myself down and write first draft crap. Complete garbage though it is, this is only the Lewis and Clark part of the journey. Laying down a beautiful, scenic highway comes later.

Does this work every time? Does this work for every writer? I’ve lost enough stories to know that the answer is probably no. All I can do is try and write that first draft crap. Once that draft is done, there’ll be another and another until a final, polished manuscript is ready for the world. If I don’t do this, I will have the death of more stories on my conscience. Then I have failed not only my stories. I have failed myself.

The Beast That Is Nanowrimo

PrintThis year I am not doing Nanowrimo. I am in the middle of a major edit of a novel I hope will be published. But I have participated in years past and may do it again next year.

Though I am not doing Nanowrimo this year, I have come up with an image that kind of goes along with the exercise. Writing a nanowrimo is like riding a bull or a bronco at a rodeo. You get on, then you are in for a wild ride. And it ain’t like riding that mechanical bull you see in some bars. This one’s wild as wildness can be. He’s bound and determined you ain’t going to get far on his back.

No matter how you practice for that sucker, it ain’t like riding the real thang. You get on, then the chute opens and you’re in for the write of your life. I ought to know. I’ve done four of ‘em. Nanowrimos, that is. Not bull rides or bronc bustings. I may be a little nuts but I’m not crazy.

I start out well enough. October 31 I have my spurs and my chaps all ready to saddle up and write that fellow into the dust. I have my outline. I have pictures of my main characters. I know who they are and they know who I am. And to cliché a phrase, I’m chomping at the bit to get at that Nanowrimo. He’s not about to best me this year. Sure, he’s a little red-eyed and has that snarl. That’s to be expected.

So it’s November 1, and I rise from my bed. I grab my big mug of coffee. I know I’m not going to get a good ride out of that bull without a cup of joe. I crackle my knuckles. I lower myself easy into the chair, then I face the future.

The blank page.

I check my outline. I peruse my notes. I realize. This bull just isn’t ready to fly from the chute. He’s gone tame on me. What am I to do? Go choose another bull. It’s too late. It’s this one or it’s nothing. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I give the bull a kick and it’s off.

I start on a scene not in the outline. “What? You can’t do that,” you say. But, oh, I can. It is written by the scribe who writes such things that I can. I take a gander at my outline and start to wonder what really happened to get this booger going. Why is Mr. Main in the mess he is in? Has he been messing where he shouldn’t have been messing? You can imagine my surprise when I finish almost a thousand words that first day.

Over the next few days, well, actually it is more like over the next week or so, I write 25,000 words and more. I am up to that first scene in my outline. I’d let the beast take over and lead me wherever. I would sit down to work on a scene and start writing, then somewhere a character, a prop or even a setting showed up unplanned. All I can say is “Very interesting.” Then continue on.

After thirty days of sweating the blood, sweat and tears it takes to ride a Nanowrimo, I have my 50,000 words. I have bloody fingers and calluses on my rear. But it’s been worth it.   It’s a tough ride and I’ve managed to stay on that bull’s back for the entire thirty days of November and then some.

The Addiction To Write

At the beginning of this Nanowrimo, I thought I would let you writers out there know how special you are.

It takes a certain kind of courage to speak to the world the way writers do. Yes, it takes a lot of guts to put yourself down on a blank page, then send that page out into the world. To do it well is a Big Something Else.

Yet everyday hundreds, thousands, millions of human beings do the brave act. And do it unselfishly. Because there is never enough return to pay for the hours a writer needs to create, even the well-paid ones. It may be in our job description to write and tell stories. But no one, other than a fellow writer, understands the amount of time and sweat required to come up with an idea, develop it into something unique, then fill out that skeleton of an idea with meat and blood and bone.

That bestselling novel that just hit number one on the New York Times list may very well have taken twenty years to get right and to make it sing. The author is declared a genius, then asked to do it again. And again. And again. If they don’t produce by a deadline somebody else set, that bestseller is declared a fluke by the high and mighty. The readers go on to other things.

Writing stories, writing novels, writing itself is more than just something we writers do. It is who we are and what we are. And most of us don’t make it big time. Sure we get a story or an essay or a blog post published every now and then. They are often featured in publications that don’t pay much or not at all. When it happens, we go around strutting our stuff like some rooster in a chicken coop of hens.

Mostly we are battered around by family and friends and community who harp at us to get a life. Go do something productive. The only answer we can give is that we would if we could. Then we’re back to that very thing they call useless. We sit ourselves down day-in and day-out and do the one thing we know that gives us value and brings us pure pleasure.

Along the way we are given a bagful of don’ts. Show, don’t tell. Don’t use passive voice. Don’t begin with the weather. Don’t use run-on sentences. Don’t use -ly adverbs. Never use clichés. Get rid of all the dialogue tags except for “said” and “asked”. Kill your darlings. Write what you know. After a while, we begin to understand that all those don’ts are a line of hooey. After we’ve read a few bestselling, and well-reviewed, writers who break every don’t in the book, we come to understand that the rules can be broken. The important thing is to know the rules, then to have a good reason to kick them in the caboose.

By the time we come to realize this, we have developed a bit of a style of our own. That is when we throw the bag away and do what we please as well as we can.

We are a drunken lot, we writers. Drunk on words. When we finish a good day’s writing, it’s like we’re at a bacchanalia. We want to dance and sing and tell someone, anyone, what we have done. To have that feeling once is a wonderful thing. To have it again and again and again, that is a life. And there is no way I am going to give it up. Like my motto says, “A day without writing is still a day without writing.”

Yes, I am an addict. Unapologetically so. I’m addicted to laying down words on an empty page, and I am proud of it. Do I hear an amen?