An 1800 Word Self-Pep Talk
I have this problem when it comes to writing stories. The initial idea gets too big, it runs away on me and ends up stalling me out, because suddenly I have an epic to wrap up with no idea how to do it, and I won’t make it past the outline stage. All of my writing is saved in the cloud, because I never want to risk losing something I’ve worked on due to a hardware malfunction, and because I’m a pack rat. My cloud is a fractured one where nothing is complete, and everything is labeled “in process.” A lot of my writing is done for fun, but then gestates in my mind into a shareable idea. Writing stories and blogs are one thing, but I have a lot of fun writing scripts, which is kind of a niche thing for reading material. I don’t think I could share them in a manner that I’d be satisfied, unless they were realized.
The medium that has invaded my life lately is podcasting. A remarkably simple concept, like radio on demand for whoever wants it. It’s so accessible that the breadth of content is unimaginable, with a few swipes of your finger, you can listen to a show that was produced by one guy in his mom’s basement about his goldfish and follow it up with President Obama sit in Marc Maron’s garage for an hour. TV shows have companion podcasts, podcasts become books and movies. My favourite, though, is the scripted fiction shows that I’ve found. When you give writers their own platform to do whatever they want, the results are spectacular. Case in point being the entire Welcome to Night Vale family of podcasts.
I could gush forever about this show, and the others that it’s crew has spawned, but to me, it represents a new era in storytelling, one rooted in the traditions of the old while carrying forward a surrealist style by playing with the medium itself. It’s inspiring as all hell to me, and I’ve spent the last six years chipping away at a stone wall, looking for some of this magic—and it’s lead to all of these incomplete stories. In the spirit of self-motivation, I’m going to talk about all the projects that consumed me for months, if not years at a time.
I have a podcast called Inhabitable about a husband and wife who work for a space agency setting up the first colony on Mars. It’s a mystery in the vein of Sphere by Michael Crichton, and just needs and ending to the outline before I can really start writing. The first episode’s first draft is finished though. That’s how I seem to do things, I’ll start writing and flesh out a first episode, a first chapter, something that dips my toes into the world and immerses me, to get the ball rolling, and then I’ll step back and outline the story.
I have another podcast currently labeled The Untitled Fat Dog Anthology Podcast, and my idea for that one is to turn all of these little ideas into episodes of a podcast in the vein of Black Mirror. A lot of my fiction follows similar themes, so I figured it was good way to unite all of my work under the Fat Dog banner. I want to involve the people I work with for that one, so there’s a lot of women-central stories, which has been really fun for me to write. Out of the six “episodes” there is one sci-fi comedy, one sci-fi drama, one dark comedy, one surrealist horror, a thriller and a human drama. Some are fully casted radio-plays, some are just stories read by a narrator. It’s so close to being finished that I’m actually bothered that I haven’t started this one.
I’ve written a one-page pitch for a podcast called Man Seeks God, in which (while I was living in Edmonton), I was going to talk to people belonging to the various churches in the city, as well as non-practicing members of the same religions. I was going to lay out the major faiths in Canada, as well as the agnostic and atheist point of views in a non-biased, information-based format, and try to find the real human b-line through all of it. It was a project that only didn’t happen because I moved. The pitch was written because, when I was unemployed last summer, I found out that CBC had opened their submission lines for podcast ideas. I reached out to my friend Tara, and she was on board to help me line things up and make it happen—the best person I knew for something like that, but it all fell apart when we had to move to Grande Prairie. I still think about this one all the time and what could have been.
My unofficial-totally official on-again, off-again partner in life and writing is Tyler Fudge, and about two years ago, the two of us planned a wrestling podcast called Reversal, a serial drama that took place in a world where the wrestler’s gimmicks were all real. If the guy said he was a demon, you best believe he was born in hell. We had so many characters fleshed out, a story line that could be extended into multiple seasons, and we wrote four entire episodes, wrestling matches and all. Fudge even went as far as making characters and videos of the matches in a PS4 game that he has. We decided to abandon that one, mainly, I think, because it got away on us.
The biggest sore spot for me, because of the work I put into it, is Fat Dog Season 2. When I started Fat Dog (the podcast) it was much more diary like, much more like the blog. Then, I played with its format a few times, trying to take a more comedic approach to things. Then, it became The Fat Dog Show, and for six episodes, I “broadcasted live from the Fat Dog Theatre in downtown Edmonton,” and had a “studio-audience” and had my own talk show. I still kind of like it, there’s some good concepts, but I made it before I had a real computer. Most of it was done on an iPad, and to me, it sounds like ass. After I did that, I decided to make it a regular thing and turned Fat Dog into a standardized talk-show format with different segments and guest hosts and such. It was a lot of fun to write, and I think I got a lot funnier in the time I was doing it. There’s six episodes of the show like that, and then I stopped. In all, I have fifty-one episodes of “Fat Dog,” recorded over 3 years, just chilling out—doing nothing but collecting digital dust.
Fat Dog Season 2 was a continuation of that finalized format. There’s an overarching story to the episodes, along with sketches, fake commercials and guests. I finished all eight episodes, broke it down into a production schedule, printed it off, put it in a binder and then never touched it again. It’s sitting in the garage at my mother in law’s house under a pile of the rest of my physical writing that didn’t go anywhere. I blame a lot of my failures on the move, but this trend of not finishing things has been going through my life. That’s why End of Side One: A Tragedy in Five Tracks was such a victory for me, not only did I finish something—I self-published it too. It exists, and I can hold it, read it and sell it for $15 on my website.
This isn’t to mention the forty-four-thousand-word book that I abandoned two-thirds of the way through. I can still save that one, but I need to let it sit and grow some mold first. Dear Joseph, started as a podcast, but grew so fast, and so manageably, that I decided to just pile through it chapter by chapter. It’s become a huge ensemble piece that plays out like a mini-series in my mind and contains pieces of everything I’ve ever loved. I have ideas of how to improve it almost weekly, and file them away into my ammo box. One day I’m going to finish that novel, and it’ll be good. Not only for me, but as a piece of art. I’m staring at the file for the manuscript, looking at the hundred-forty-three pages all zoomed out into a grid, and it’s shocking to me that I did all that. I want to show it to people, but its so far away from finished that I couldn’t stand to hear, “so, what happens next?”
All of these projects have been peppered with the occasional real rejection of a story of mine by a publication, which I wear like badge of honour. For some reason, whatever it is, I have never been scared to send a story of mine out in the world. Whether the phrasing is, …unsuitable for our publication, …not a right fit at this time, …unfortunately we will be passing on your piece, or even (my favourite), …is not up to the standards of The ******—whatever the phrase is, “No,” always sounds the same. Girls used to say it to me all the time, my dad was notorious for it; when I hear “No,” I just move on and try again elsewhere.
The problem is when I hear No inside my own head, in my own voice, I listen to it too. That’s the one voice that I need to over power and finish these things. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King says, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” It’s always stuck with me like it’s nailed to my chest, and that’s what these blogs are trying to do—but as you can see, I let it slide. I still haven’t posted chapter three of Datum—it’s the latest story to get away on me.
Writing is an art form, but it’s also a craft. I wish to be a master of the craft, but I seem unable to push past that last wall. Writers block hasn’t been a part of my life in a long time now, and I’m grateful, because I’ve used this time to build habits that, hopefully, will carry me through the next dry season. Regardless of anything though, I need to learn to let go of all these old projects for now. That’s the main reason that I started writing Datum, I needed something to excite me again. My own existing work can still excite me, but I need to let it rest for long enough that it’ll be enough to finish the writing.
Boy, I can sure ramble when I’m trying to stoke myself up.
See you tomorrow.