MIKE BOCKOVEN

Writing While On Fire

Sep
19

This photo is from my own, personal signed copy of Pwease Wuv Me! By Mitch O’Connell. This dude is one of my favorite pop artists and you can find more of his work here.

Usually, when you go out with your family to celebrate the first draft of a novel, things don’t end up in tears before your drinks show up.

But such is the world right now. I punch at a novel for about a month and a half, get 82,000 words or so down by getting up early and staying up late and hustling my ass off, and your modest yet sincere celebration is cut short by the world. We were still wearing masks (the only ones in our section, thank you very much!) and got the news that RGB had died and that the last, thinnest of the blue firewalls had vanished before our eyes.

As a progressive sort (apologies to our conservative countrymen, but that’s who I am) that feeling hit me in the guts and if you’re anything like me I’m sure you all know that feeling. First, it’s that toxic mix of anger and disbelief at the situation. Then, after a few minutes of that, the motivation to do anything dissipates. You can almost see the motivation for creative endeavors escape out your mouth in a cloud of vapor. It’s a heavy feeling, a numb feeling. It sucks and I hate it.

The last six months have been no fun for anyone and before moving forward on how to write in this mess (because I found a way!) I want to throw a few terrible stats at you.

-Treated cases of depression have tripled in the last six months. Just think, for a moment, what that means for untreated cases.
-The number of people who have ACTIVELY reported suicidal thoughts during the pandemic is somewhere near one in three Americans.
-The unemployment rate is worse than in “The Great Depression”.
-A record number of Americans feel our country is on “the wrong track”.

What I’m getting at here isn’t political. It’s that the last six months have beaten the living shit out of all of us and the manifestations of that beating are here, big and bold. Some folks take that pressure and use that as motivation, right? We all have that friend who left quarantine buff and with a new higher paying job. That ain’t me and I’m guessing that ain’t you. It’s almost nobody I know but if that is you…great! Read on, if you want, but this advice is not for you.

I’m talking to the person who asks themselves “what’s the point” more than twice a week. I’m talking to the person who knows that weight and feels their motivation leaving them. I’m talking to the person who may want to write a novel, specifically, but that idea feels further away than ever before.

Having cranked out a novel in about 8 weeks, the battle is as much motivation as it is work habits. With that long ass preamble out of the way, here’s what my writing routine, inside and outside of my head, has looked like that allowed me to write in the midst of…all of this.

-Cultivate a bunch of ideas. Physically write them down, even if you don’t know where the story is going to go.

-Start on something. Feel it out. It helps if what you’re writing has a strong beginning, mystery element you need to solve something you’re leading up to that you’re looking forward to writing.

-Give yourself a few weeks to get started. It’s literally the hardest part. Respect that, especially right now. Again, the ABSOLUTE HARDEST PART of what you’re doing is the beginning.

-Don’t set anything aside for more than a few days. Persistence is going to be absolutely key but, in the early stages, make sure 48 hours don’t go by when you’re not writing.

-Once you get to between 15,000 and 20,000 words, it’s time to get serious. Is this good enough to finish because. Be honest. Most authors have dozens of “first chapters” in their lap top. No shame in abandoning something and coming back to it much later.

-If the story is good enough, it’s time to map out your next few weeks. For me, I wrote 1,500 words a day, every day. I never missed. If it was 10 pm (my bedtime, usually) and I wasn’t done, than I stayed up and wrote. If I knew the day was jammed with other activities, I woke up early. If I was sick, I wrote sick. This isn’t a “I’ll make it up tomorrow” sort of arrangement with yourself. This is a commitment. Print out a calendar and write down your word counts. I guarantee you the best part of every day is when you get to cross out that word count goal.

-I have found, for me, the more you write the more momentum you build, both from a story standpoint and a motivation standpoint (remember me saying getting started is the hardest part). Ride that wave. Do a backflip on it. Start enjoying your numbers while not obsessing about them. Obviously, story and character are more important but we’re talking motivation here.

-This is a killer for me – Don’t edit unless you absolutely have to. I have a notebook by my iPad and everything I need to edit as the story builds, I write down in that book.

-Go out to dinner when you’re done. Don’t do it the day RGB dies. It’s a bummer.

I hope any of this was helpful. It worked for me but if it doesn’t work for you that doesn’t mean anything. I’m some asshole on the Internet. What does matter is that you know you’ve got novels (or paintings, or sculpture or whatever) inside you and you have the power, smarts and discipline to get them out and into the world. Your body and your brain are fighting you right now. They’re saying “no, we need to protect ourselves” which is true. But what’s also true is you’re a badass who can get this done. If I can, you can.

Good luck. Stay safe. Take care of yourself and go write something. The world needs it.

Check in and Short Story – Stop Fighting

May
03

Hey, everyone. Crazy times, huh?

I am jealously following a lot of folks who are absolutely killing it during this time of self isolation. I wish that were me. Truthfully in the past two months I’ve done very little creatively. The best reason why was described by the webcomic The Oatmeal that said (paraphrased) “I can stand being very tired and I can stand being very wired but what I can’t stand is being both those things all the time”. That’s me. It’s hard to be creative when everything is in overdrive and you also can hardly get the work for your day job done.

Still, it’s starting to come back. It’s not terribly strong yet but ideas are popping through like chutes sticking through the dirt. I’ve got a new book started. I’ve done some work on the one I have finished. And I wrote another short story, presented below. It’s not substantial, by any means, but it’s a start as we get the creative muscles worked back up.

Before the story, I sincerely hope everyone is doing well and, if you’re just surviving and not thriving, I think that is totally acceptable. Do what you can right now. If you find yourself less creative, like me, do what you can to spark some joy and creativity. Like imagining what someone would say to their spouse if they decided to commit suicide by Godzilla.

This turned out a lot darker and introspective for such a stupid concept. Anyway, hope you enjoy it.

-Mike


Short Story – Stop Fighting
by Mike Bockoven

My Dearest Maddie,

I have to go to San Francisco.

I know you disagree. I know you want me to keep fighting. I know every argument, every thought rocketing through your brain right now. I’m selfish. I have more to give. I can’t end it like this. What about my parents? What about the family we were supposed to start? What about all the doctors and nurses who have given their time to me, the tens of thousands of dollars of medicine that has been pumped into my veins? If I do this, it’s all for nothing. If i do this it’s a slap in the face to them and to you. How unbelievably selfish of me.

I know what you’re thinking. I know how white hot pissed you must be. But I have to go.

I wish I could explain it. I’m going to try, but I don’t think I’m going to do very well. Please keep your mind as open as you can. 

A month ago, on G Day, I remember watching the footage coming out of Japan and something stirred inside me that I still, even now, cannot fully reckon with. I’m not going to call it a connection. That’s not right. I think it’s the same sort of thing that mountain climbers feel when they look at the peak from a long way away. I tried to talk to you about it but you had a lot on your plate – stressful job, new house, sick husband, the fact that a giant lizard had just come out of the sea and was destroying major cities half a world away. I’m not blaming you for not listening. I don’t know that I was eager to communicate what was happening in my heart.

I wish the feeling had gone away. I wish it faded and I could focus on my treatments or on you. That’s my biggest regret. I’ve been gone for a while now, I feel like. I don’t know if you feel it to or if you chalk it up to me being sick but…that’s not it. The first time I looked at that 350 foot creature, I knew. That was how I was going to die.

This part is going to be hard for you to read because I’m going to sound like I’m not taking this seriously. Honey, nothing could be further from the truth. I am taking this so deadly serious. So, so serious. 

Ever since G Day I could not stop thinking about what it would be like to see him, to stand in the presence of something that large and ancient, something that lived before the dinosaurs, that can harness the power of radiation, that looks upon me like I truly am which is nothing. I don’t mean “nothing” like I have low self esteem or something, I mean you, me, all our efforts and victories and celebrations and heartbreaks and achievements and legacies are all, at the end of the day, nothing. From a cosmic perspective or, hell, even a planetary perspective, we are insignificant.  That’s what I see when I look at him. I see…something significant. Something eternal. At the end, before I die, I want to stand in the presence of that thing that is older than us. A thing of significance. I don’t expect that significance to transfer to me. Far from it. I am a gnat buzzing around his feet, not worthy of a moment’s worth of attention. But I will know, in my final moments, what real significance looks like.

I can see you spinning this to your sister right now – he had delusions of grandeur and ran off to San Francisco to get stepped on by a giant radioactive monster. Please, baby, understand that’s not what I’m doing. I’m not killing myself to get a peek at a freak show. I’m doing it because my time on this Earth is just about over. I know this. I have accepted this. And before I go, before I fade into nothing, before I am a footnote in your life and the life of everyone I have ever known, I’m going to stand before the mightiest thing that may have ever existed on this planet and I’m going to know. I’m going to look upon him and I’m going to take him in and I’m going to know something your sister will never know. 

Told you I wouldn’t explain it very well.

He is supposed to come ashore on Thursday, somewhere near the city. He won’t burst through and destroy the Golden Gate Bridge like in the movies…or maybe he will. Truthfully, he’s going to do whatever he wants. Like I said, I don’t have a special connection no one else has. But I will be in San Francisco, watching the news and ready to move the second they know where he is. Once I see him, my plan is to run toward him. If I’m lucky, I might even touch him before the radiation stops me. I know this is hard to think about, but in a weird way this is me keeping a promise to you. Do you remember, the night after my diagnosis, we made love and you were in my arms and asked me “is this going to kill you” and I said “no” and you made me promise? Promise me, you said, that this disease won’t kill you. Well, it won’t.

Remember me fondly, OK? Think on the good times. Show this to people or don’t, it doesn’t matter. I have no final wishes other than to see him. No, to experience him. And yes, I now the death will be painful and I might not make it to him or he might turn around and not come ashore. I’ve thought of all of that. If he doesn’t come ashore I have an email ready. If he does and everything goes to plan, all the important documents you’ll need are in the file folder in the attic.

I’d ask for forgiveness, but I know it doesn’t matter. What I do know if every step in my life, every heartbeat, every breath has brought me closer to San Francisco where I will meet him and where I will end. It’s OK. I’ve loved you since the second time I saw you and I learned your name. You don’t deserve this but it’s happening. Stay well. Stay safe. Be as happy as you can in whatever form that takes. Treat every day like it’s something special. 

Good bye, Maddie. 

Miles To Go

Feb
28

Why the Shakespearean butt joke? Because it makes me laugh and because, when confronted with the sheer amount of work ahead of me, I need a chuckle at the moment.

I finished a novel recently. I had to fight kind of hard to get this one started, beginning and revamping and starting over five or six times before it caught. I’ve written about it before. Not a big deal, keep grinding.

Then I gave it to people to read and give me their thoughts and things are…not great.

I’m not much of an editor, obviously. It’s my least favorite part of the process until it becomes my favorite part when things get better and better and you get more and more excited. Even then, I miss big stuff pretty often. I know my voice, I know what I’m trying to say and the words on the screen tend to rearrange themselves to fit what I meant instead of what I wrote. I know the tricks – change the font, read it aloud – I just tend not to do them.

But this time I missed something bigger – the entire engine of the piece. What I had fought with at the beginning didn’t work, for a variety of reasons at were right in front of my face. You get it. It’s not a rewrite from page 1, but it’s not…not that either.

I mention this for several reasons.

  1. My beta readers are absolute life savers. Heroes. Throw them a parade and shower them with rose petals and the sexual favors of their choosing.
  2. To share my frustrations so if you’re feeling frustrated we can commiserate. Not everyone is Jeff Strand or Grady Hendrix who pump out great, fully formed books on the regular. Jeff Strand and Grady Hendrix are also heroes, BTW.
  3. To let everyone know not to expect my next book in the next few weeks or anything. It’s going to be some time.
  4. Hopefully, to kick myself in the butt (he he, butt) to get some damn editing done.

The book is going to get better. A lot better. A lot, lot better. I’m going to give myself a few days, write a short story and hit it hard next week with enthusiasm and gratitude. But, man. I thought I had it.

More soon.

-Mike