Jan 1, 2016

New Year Resolutions

To paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara: each year, after all, is another year.

These are my resolutions, they do not belong to New Year’s Day – and they are intended to last more than one day, so I am calling it New Year Resolutions.

Writers have resolutions, just like normal people. We set our sights on lofty plateaus, intending to break the barriers that have kept us from the best-seller lists, hoping for the Pulitzer prize winning, great American novel.

Then we take a deep breath, realizing that to achieve our dreams we have to do some actual writing.

In my case, I have several projects on the burners (even if some of those burners aren’t lit). This year I am going to push two collections of my poetry, a set of essays and two of my novels to the finish line.

To do this I resolve to spend at least two hours per day writing 3000 words. This might sound like a lot, but 1500 words per hour is only 25 words per minute. Since I type at about 50 words per minute, that should give me a bit of time to come-up with the words to type.

A lot of people tell me that they can’t think while they type, that they have to write it all out in long hand (why don’t they use short hand?), then type it in, correcting it as they go. Not me; when using a pen I write verrrrrry slooooowly. My typing is much faster and actually readable when I go back to look at it. For me, as a touch typist, I almost never look at the keyboard. Instead I watch the screen as the words appear as fast as I think them. I guess this means I’m a slow thinker, but the gist I’m trying to get across is that typing is an almost unconscious act for me and writing on paper clearly enough so I can read what I wrote is such an intensive process that it interrupts my thinking (what’s slower than slow? A full stop.)

So this year I’m thinking on the computer about:
  • Near Relations – a collection of poems about growing-up in the 50’s and 60’s
  • Snake Eggs – a short story that has grown into a novel with a hero that has Down Syndrome
  • Twilight Shadows – a collection of dark poems
  • Deliberate Acts – a novel about the post World War II evolution of the Naval Intelligence Service
  • Poems in the Attic – a collection of essays about the 1920s when my grandparents were falling in love and the poems they wrote down from various sources

Stay tuned to this station for further developments.

Dec 11, 2015

The Cornucopia of Ideas

Okay, let’s just get this out of the way.

Every writer gets asked, more than once, and way too often in their career, a stereotypical question: “Where do you get your ideas?”

I’ve heard writers suggest a post office box in Peoria, or Bangor, Smithfield.  I’ve heard them respond providing the address of a consultant (the address is generally an empty field or a mountain top).  I’ve even heard responses to the effect that the address is secret and they can’t tell the questioner on penalty of death.  Some claim to have found a notebook full of ideas that were not turned into stories by famous authors (the further away in time, the better).  Some are rude with their responses, some vulgar, and others question not only the intelligence (or lack thereof) or the breeding of the questioner.

Of course, all answers to this question are basically trying to turn an awkward moment into a weak bit of humor.  In reality (even though we’re talking about fiction), the source of ideas is the world.  It’s you, it’s me, it’s everyone.  We’re all the source of the world’s greatest stories ever written or waiting to be written.

Want to harvest some of the billions of story ideas floating around?  Look at the pictures, in the news, in social media, in the museums; they all tell a story in the images presented – on the canvas medium of choice for presenting their ideas.  Want to get those creative juices flowing?  Randomly pick a picture you see in the news or in your email and tell us what you see.  What are the people in the picture, or looking at the picture think about what they’re doing?

And if you really are having a hard time seeing the story in the pictures, send a copy to me along with a crisp ten dollar bill and I’ll send you an idea.

Dec 7, 2015

Write 3,000 Words Today

During November, each year, a contest that can be a celebration is promoted and participated-in by thousands of aspiring writers across the world: NANOWRIMO – the National Novel Writing Month.  The intent of the participants (the rules of the game) is to produce 50,000 words in the month toward a novel.  Sound daunting?  It isn’t.  It works out to 1,667 words per day. 

Still sound daunting?  Do the math.  If you type 25 words per minute (pretty darn slow for most people – this is one-finger hunt and peck speed), and you spend an hour and a half (90 minutes), you’ll produce 2250 words – more than you need.  In fact you could do this in an hour and ten minutes.

If you spend two hours, you’ll produce 3000 words.  If you do this every day, seven days a week, every week of the year, you can produce over a million words (1,095,000 to be accurate).  If you spend as much time editing and rewriting as you do writing, that’s still enough for five 100,000 word books, or four such books and twenty short stories.  Keep that up and after a few years you’ll be in danger of becoming known as proliferate.

Of course there’ll be days when you do less.  And there will be days when you do more.  Thomas Wolfe (“Look Homeward, Angel”, “You Can’t Go Home Again”) was heard walking down the street one night in Ashville, North Carolina, saying, “I wrote 10,000 words today, I wrote 10,000 words today”.

I’m only aiming at 3,000 words.

-Ben Firetag

p.s. Yes, I know November was last month, I'm just ruminating over what I did and what it means and how it is something that can be done. I did it, and now I'm going to treat every month the same way.

Dec 5, 2015

The Blogless Blog - or getting ready, again

A lesson I have to learn about blogging is to simply blog – whether I think I have something to say that anyone else would find interesting or not.  One of the aspects of blogging is that it is a kind of open diary – and diaries are about one’s thoughts and opinions as well as what it going on that needs to be worked-out.

In words.

Of course as a writer, I always am trying to work things out in words, so this should be a natural process.  Except I am not really all that different from other people and find it frightening to step into the ring with my fears – hah, I’m afraid of my fears – how is that for stating the obvious.

This is the time of the year when I go over my goals and intentions for the next year.  I start this early because it’s our anniversary and this is the 33rd.  This, though is the first time I have tried to cram such a (maybe overly) complicated process into the framework of a blog.  So here I go.  I am going to start off with some definitions…

Dreams are images of what we want - with no holds barred.  It does not matter how attainable dreams may be, it only matters that we dream.  When we decide to reach for a dream, we are setting a goal.

Goals help us achieve the life we want.  We have goals to acquire the things we want to possess.  We have goals to keep excitement in our lives.  We have goals to make out lives easier and better.  We have goals to give us more of our lives to enjoy.

Goals translate into direction.  Each stated and recorded goal sets a target and a timeframe.  Achieving a goal only requires persistence.  Achieving a goal on time requires persistent work.  We work with an eye on the clock as it counts down the time remaining.  We are flexible as to how we achieve a goal.  Life presents obstacles simply because other people exist in the world and their goals will rarely coincide with ours.

Obstacles do not stop the achievement of a goal, they are simply those people, events, obligations, etc. that stand in the way and must be removed, surmounted or circumvented.  In order to move past obstacles we need to determine the steps or objectives that describe the best plan of attack.

Objectives are like a set of lenses that help you focus upon an object and make it clearer.  Objectives have shorter specific targets within shorter time periods that enable us to overcome an obstacle, step by step. Achieving objectives requires researching obstacles to identify necessary tasks and resources required ‑ along with persistent regular effort and monitoring of progress to clarify what is left to do.

Tasks are the steps required to reach objectives.  Each task contributes to accomplishing the plan to reach a specific objective.  Tasks include the use of identified resources, time allotments, and deadlines.

Time is the pervasive and constant element in our lives.  Mastery of time is the key to success.  By planning enough time for our goals and our obligations, we can accomplish both.  We can manage out time better by created blocks of specific time for important activities, just like appointments and keeping a significant portion of time unallocated to handle non-goal oriented tasks that require our attention.

These are my definitions of the language of goal setting.

-Ben Firetag

p.s. I'm still working on the template, trying to remember how I created the abbreviated header.  But I hope the links are finally working.

Nov 26, 2015

Blah, Blah, Capital Blah

So here I am again, trying to say what’s on my mind about what I’m doing, which is writing, so it’s really about what I am doing and learning. Note: I said doing before learning, that’s because to learn, I do.  Since I’m trying to learn how to write what people want to read, I write – and I read.

It’s amazing how much we read if we keep track of it.  For the last few years, I have read about 60 books a year.  That’s not bragging, I just read that much.  I read when I’m waiting; for the line in front of me to get through so it’s my turn, waiting for dinner to be ready, waiting for the advertisements on the television to get through so I can get back to the show I’m watching, waiting for the television to go off so I can go to sleep, as the King of Siam says, etc., etc., etc.

I have tried to do way too much in a blog before, so this time around I am limiting what I write about.  I still have an independent viewpoint on current events, on the political comedy going on now (and for at least the next year), on the naiveté of the cannon fodder out there in the world willing to let people talk them into blowing themselves up, while the instigators try to excuse their crimes against humanity in the name of a religion and I mean any and all varieties.  Not any different from the insane who tell us they’re listening to the voices in their head.  I also still love movies that are well written, well directed and well performed by actors and actresses who can convincingly bring a story to life.  But I’m not going to write about those things in a blog, anymore.  

What I want you to see is a journey of verse and narrative and prose.  Hopefully this journey will help me become better in my writing and maybe establish an audience who want to read what I write.

At this point, you probably realize why I chose the title for this post.

And yes, I know I need to fix links, tags, etc.  I'm working on it.

May 8, 2011

State of the Poem

The Long Dark Night

We work and we play,
Live in the light,
Rest till
The next day dawns;
Repeating the pattern
Throughout our lives,
Hoping to make
The days better
And the nights easier,
Shouldering the weight
Of more awareness
As we grow older.
Carefree delight
Maturing into
Thoughtful deliberation
As we ponder
Our descent into
The long dark night.

May 4, 2011

State of the Poem


I have a right
To a piece
Of the promised land

To my own share
Of the unyielding sand
And the unending strife

To earn my daily bread
By the sweat of my brow
And the fear of history

To rise through righteous
Indignation over the claims
Of my fathers brothers

To number my seed
As the sand where
Our dignity has fallen

To our knees
By becoming what
We abhor

To slay peace
For a place to
Huddle in the sand

To lay claim to
A wasteland only to say
I have a right