Previously published under the pseudonym W. Alexander.
Portfolio: Escape Second Death (Poets Choice), A Nod To Derry’s Son (The Closed Eye Open)
Anyone can write. Few revise well. Revision is essential. It is much more than spell-check and grammar adjustments. Revision is ensuring the story you are telling is clear. Rarely is misinterpretation the mistake of a reader. The job of writers is to ensure readers do not do any heavy lifting. Any skewed reading, comes from bad writing. How does the writer ensure the message they are conveying is interpreted clearly? You guessed it; revision. No one sits down and writes a novel by the seat of their pants in one long first and final draft. If they do, the writing will be garbage, regardless of talent. I would not count on being the exception.
“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”
Starting over sucks. I dread it. All who write dread it. My stomach turns at the thought. But understand this, the rewards of revising will outweigh the pains. You will be shocked. Learn to enjoy the process. Here are some questions you can ask about your work:
Why should my reader turn the first page to the second? Does the first sentence, paragraph, page introduce tension? If not, red alarm.
Is there unnecessary summary? Cut. Cut. Cut! I too often have the impulse to cover too much ground. It destroys energy and I find, I tell more than show. This is a bad thing. The whole premise of writing prose, is to show not tell. A concept I will elaborate on with a later post.
Is it original? Stereotypes are lazy. A good writer will extract any cliches and make a point to show the exact and honest.
Is it clear? Ambiguity and mystery are one of the pleasures of literature. But there is a fine line between mystery and sloppiness. I love characters rich with contradictions. That is the human condition. But I often have to start off with a more simple reality. Then I can build out the imaginative. Have your character answer these: Where are we? When are we? Who are they? How do things look? What time of day or night is it? Weather? What is happening? On how to create captivating characters, check out: Create Captivating Characters
Is it self-conscious? Just tell the story. Your style will follow of itself. But you have to just tell the story. If you get carried away dressing your prose with all your wit and insight, there is a good chance you are having more fun writing that the reader will have reading. Good writing is easy reading! Just tell the story.
Where is it too long? In fiction, you want sharpness, economy, and vivid details in telling. With every sentence, say what you mean to say and get out. Hit it and quit it. Use the fewest possible words. What does this look like? My advice, read the poets. Trust me, the poets will teach you everything.
Are there too many scenes? Try and tell your story with the fewest possible scenes. It is tempting to give each turn of plot or change of setting a new scene when fusing several together would proffer better effect.
Where is it too general? Look for general and vague terms. Write instead a particular thing, an exact size and degree. In fact, my short tip, cut the words very and really out of your work entirely. You are welcome!
Revision, revision, revision. Originality, economy, and clarity all come from thorough revision. These questions are just the start and short of taking a creative writing class, they will serve you well.
Remember in fiction, the goal is to show characters doing things. Never tell what you mean. I promise if the prose is clear and concise, the reader will not misinterpret. You write for the reader. If you forget that, you have lost your way.
Several poems left me exposed and shivering, as if I were in front of a mirror which revealed what’s inside the reader. The images I discovered moved me to tears. And, the more I studied, the more I understood myself.
Previously published under the pseudonym W. Alexander.
Portfolio: Escape Second Death (Poets Choice), A Nod To Derry’s Son (The Closed Eye Open)
Chapter I: Necessity Breeds Destiny
We were poor, almost destitute. I remember pretending to sleep through my father’s weeping himself into exhaustion, day after day, from scratching a scanty living gathering and selling fish to our neighbors. The Nile sustained both of us, until, that is, I became a thief. Father was once a holy man, so the first day I stepped through the door with a handful of silver and laid the coins before his feet, he didn’t ask where my bounty came from. Instead, he sighed. Then, he kissed me and hurried out to trade for wheat and barley. Though necessity drove me to steal my daily bread, I soon found, Ra forgive me, that I was good at it. In fact, I loved the thrill of following fat patricians, as they waded through the agora’s crowds. I became their shadows, and when the moment was ripe, I jostled them, pretending accident, before I slipped my knife into their robes and sauntered into the crowd before they knew their purse was gone.
That day, thievery and destiny entangled. Forever after, my previous insignificant life was insnared in a role far larger, and far worser than what fates befall the gods. I had been stupid, even overconfident. It was a ruse I used often: I hid behind some drunkard poking the barrels of beer imported from upper Egypt grumbling about their price. Senselessly, I lobbed a small stone at the next merchant’s stall, if I am remembering right, hitting him full on the chin. At once, the stall holders clamored at each other’s throats allotting their recriminations. In the upheaval, I grabbed a basket, believing it stuffed with bread, from behind the beer seller’s stall.
But a woman caught me in the act. She emerged from the encirclement of barrels stored behind the stall just as I scooped up my prize and shouted: “Thief!” The entire agora turned. A cacophony of voices followed her, “Stop that thief!” and “Somebody, grab that boy!” I squirmed through the crowding press of the rich and poor alike until—crack—a soldier supplied a cudgel to the forehead. When I came ‘round, the soldier had dug his heel into my chest, pinning me to the ground in the center of the jabbering, malicious crowd. I struggled, but he picked me up by the neck and punched me full in the face with his battle-hardened knuckles. My legs went limp.
“That boy is Ishaq,” I heard someone cry. Another yelled, “have pity on him. His father once served Horus.”
The crowd’s expressions whirled and meshed with the blue liveries donning Pharoah’s guard, and I knew I was caught.
I spit out a single tooth, and feared my own blood threatened to drown me. The soldier dropped me, and I sat up dazed and trembling. Onlookers craned forward to see the incriminating evidence the soldier was about to pull out the basket. I’ll never forget his smirk.
“Why lose an ear for papyrus, boy?” he asked.
“It’s not bread?” I replied.
He laughed, “Scribbles make poor excuses for bread.”
Then, a wave of jostling and shouting, and the crowd parted for six seven-foot-tall spearmen. Into the clearing stepped a figure outfitted entirely in scarlet. Though, I had never seen him before, I knew this was Imhotep: the first prince of Egypt, husband to Pharaoh’s daughter, regent of Alexandria, and, as such, held the power of life and death over all peoples for a hundred leagues. The agora fell silent, and I gawped at him, frightened, as his eyes scanned serenely up and down my starved body, taking in my unshaved scalp, bloody face, and tattered clothes. Prince Imhotep was a slight man, not tall like his guards but handsome. He had a body sharpened from heavy use clad in a scarlet kaftan, and a black satchel, fixed with a turquoise clasp at his hip. In his left hand, he fingered a black leather riding whip a yard long. His face was clean-shaven, carved and framed underneath his nemes. His eyes were cold and inhuman, and he pursed his lips while he studied me.
Suddenly, somehow, in that moment my fear retreated. I discovered I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority. I concentrated my disgust in my stare. He must have recognized my repulsion in the instant our eyes locked, for he simpered.
The soldier bowed and handed over several papyruses, “My Lord, he stole this thinking it bread.”
Prince Imhotep undid the thread tying one of the rolls. I could feel blood running down my chin. I resisted the urge to lick at it. Imhotep signaled he wanted silence. He began to read.
“Can you read this,” Imhotep asked me. Instead, I pressed my lips shut, trembling underneath. “Boy! Answer me.”
I stayed silent.
“You do as your prince commands, or I will—” threatened the soldier who caught me before Imhotep cut him short.
“Silence!” Imhotep thundered.
He stared at me with contempt and then spoke, “You’re brave. I can see that much, but you’re stupid.”
He snapped his fingers, and the soldier grabbed me by the arm, lifted me to my feet and started to drag me away when we all heard a man cry:
“That’s my son. Please, my prince, have pity on him, he’s only a foolish boy.”
Both Prince Imhotep and the soldier turned toward the man’s voice. As he looked, the soldier detained my left arm with only one of his fists. I twisted my body against his grip, ripped free, fell to the ground, and crawled through the prince’s legs and missing, by inches, his fast-closing grip. I took to my heels and dashed through the crowd.
Behind me, hell itself erupted; the soldier shoved and cursed the people impeding his path. A woman threw a pottered vase. I ducked just in time, avoiding my brains becoming entangled with the falling shards which crashed above me. I juked left and right; I slid through the crowd’s legs; I shoved past stout tradesmen and skirted unsuspecting slaves and the livestock they drove. Men and women, slaves and soldiers, sellers and buyers, all rounded quickly, furious at being so roughly shoved. I dared to look behind me. Only the soldier who caught me earlier pursued me. Prince Imhotep and his bodyguards walked, absentmindedly, the opposite direction. I stopped stunned still. That’s when I caught a fist with my left cheek and toppled into the dirt. I pushed my heel into the man’s kneecap. He screamed. Then, I rolled out of the soldier’s path as he dived to tackle me. I got to my feet again and squirmed through another fast-pressing crowd. I sent carts flying. I shoved an elderly man to the ground busy tying his empty cart to his donkey, seizing it, and then, with all my strength, pushing it into the nearby sheep hurdles. The animals let loose, and the ensuing tumult was chaos.
The soldier’s legs were taken out from under him by the stampede of darting sheep. That’s when I raced down a side alley, bursting, to my surprise, through our city’s great library, and into a crowd of philosophers and wealthy patrons. Then, out the other side, up a wide street, passing between noble houses, I ran until the noise behind me subsided. I turned left into another alley.
I stopped in the doorway of a brothel, recovering my breath. No one was behind me. I leaned my back against the door, struggling to calm my hammering heart. The pain emanating from my jaw threatened my ability to stay conscious. In a flash, a hand wearing three gold rings closed around my mouth and dragged me through the door. I landed on my ass, coughing through a pounding head. My stomach churned. I struggled to stand, but a woman’s heel fixed my hand to a dirty clay floor covered in ragged yellow and green carpets.
A voice whispered, “Stop yelling, you fool.”
Outside the door, a troop of footsteps charged down the alley. Their voices commanding bystanders to stop me. The woman let off my hand and held a single finger over her mouth. I crept to the door and peered through one of its cracks. The soldier I ripped myself from in the agora was leading the others.
“Damn, he has help now,” I said.
“Whatever you did, you won’t be escaping today,” she said.
“Who are you?”
She frowned. “I wouldn’t expect you to recognize me as I—,” she hesitated. “As I am now.”
I’ll be done with my degree in a few months, and that means my workshop classes will be history. This breaks my heart, as I fear without the structure of “deadlines,” I won’t write as much. I have my local writer’s group, and without school’s work load, I will be able to attend far more regularly. Not to mention, I will attend national conferences, and by spring my book will be finished.
Fortunately, also in the spring, our new car will be delivered.
However, I’m still going to miss my professors. This is why, per my last workshop at school, I’m going to use my project to apply for grad-school—An MFA.
Yes, I’m still weighing attending seminary. My stomach turns and flips and twists and yanks itself as I discern the future. Fortunately, the decision does not need to be made today, tomorrow, or even six-months down the line. Pray for me!
Today, I talk art. I want to share about how much I love to create; that is, I want to show you how writing changed my life.
For those of you who have stumbled on my blog for the first time, here is a quick introduction. My name is W. Alexander, and I am an artist; I am a writer. I am thirty-two, married to a smoking-hot, perfect ten, and I have two kids in diapers. Our family calls New Hampshire home—a writer’s paradise—, and, well, there you have it: I am a writer in New England. However, as you will see, I am also a budding painter and illustrator. As for my day job, I am enrolled full time at University, and I am a stay-at-home modern dad.
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Ever since I was a small child, I wanted to be a writer. Perhaps, you too wanted to do something you felt passionate about and naturally drawn toward, but life did not pan out as hoped. That is what happened to me. I spent my entire twenties following the “rules.” I devoted myself to work, and I prided myself on clocking long hours of hyper productivity. I was the poster boy for the disillusioned American capitalist, and there was little room left, within, to spend time on my passion, my beating-heart, my calling, my writing. So, like all things left unused, my skill decayed—I had forgotten, it seemed, everything I ever knew. In order to write, and write well, I would need guidance; I needed to study creative writing. Ultimately, at thirty-years-old, I went back to school, and am earning a degree in Creative Writing. That was two-years-ago, and, now, I am set to finish my degree in March, 2022. So far, it is working out. I published, for the first time, this spring.
Many writers declare you cannot learn creative writing, and I think, for the most part, they are, excuse my French, full-of-shit. The arts are like anything else: if you want to get better, you have to work and selfishly carve out a schedule for your writing and push yourself beyond what you know and what is comfortable.
Yes, you can learn craft, and any writer worth his salt is devoted to craft, period. So, obviously, grammar and syntax are teachable, but what someone means when they say, “you cannot learn writing.”, they are talking about style, voice, and the artist’s attention to detail.
“What I took from this book? Stephen King is not superman, and neither does the aspiring writer need to be. King makes it clear, writers are made in the trenches, and those who put their nose to the grindstone, and never let anything stop their writing, succeed.”
One thing I know well: Art demands all of you. You can have no Plan B’s for life, or as one of my favorite song artist said, “The greats weren’t great, because a birth they could paint. The greats were great because they paint a lot” (Macklemore). The same laws apply to the art of writing fiction; if you want to be a good writer, you have to write. Talent makes you decent, obsession makes you great.
Once, I dedicated my life to writing, not to become famous or rich, but to do what I love, I have experienced incredible personal growth. Has it been easy? Hell no! Has it been the best experience of my life? Yes. If my wife asks, tell her she is the best experience. I am a writer, and that means, human psychology is my canvas. To write well, you have to write what-you-know, and your knowledge about what motivates, scares, angers, and affirms the individual person are the brushes you will use to paint page after page. The greatest thing about only writing what-you-know is there is always an excuse to keep learning. The bigger your worldview, the richer your work. All writing is autobiographical, it cannot be avoided, so writing helps me stay oriented as a person, neighbor, citizen, and lover.
Come back next week. I may speak more on the subject. Again, go ahead and follow me and share my post with those you know it would benefit. Also, feel free to contact me and discuss the writing life.
This excerpt is not a stand-alonescene. However, I haven’t shared anything in nearly two-weeks, so, I thought, why not share today’s work, raw and unedited.Read the story from the beginning by reading this post first:
Ishaq panted against the wall. The men screamed their prayers.
They collected themselves, their breathing relaxed, and with unexplainable death, now, no longer imminent, the party started scanning the room. The air was thin, and their torches were barely embers. Ishaq scraped forward in the dark. The men were transformed into floating mouths. Their eyes veiled beyond their torches’ reach. Then he crashed into onyx eyes. Inches from his face, suddenly, out of the black, he snagged himself and his head found stone.
Everyone squeeled at plates made of gold and bronze plates tumbling to the floor. The event relit fires-of-greed in the diggers’ eyes because any proper robber knows the clanks of treasure.
“Was that gold or silver?” A dizzy Ishaq heard someone shout.
“A leopard,” he said.
—End of Chapter—
Ishaq walked through the first-opened-gate back in Thebes. Bes avoided eye contact with the guards. An elderly tax collector appeared to brood over ordering them searched. They had filled their wagon with sand, and that, Ishaq did not forsee, would attract attention. There is plenty of sand on both sides of the wall. The thought, Ishaq could see, was painted on the man’s brow. They were fortunate when the old-man started to raise his hand, a dispute, further down the line, interrupted him, and saved them.
The days passed slow. Four walls become cells of madness for those in hiding. Ishaq emerged the evening of the fifth day. His supplies wore out, followed by his spirit, and he went to market as if he had been there every day. He confused many shopkeepers with inventions of old-conversations whenever a guard was near. He considered this the right decision when, buying tobacco, he heard a temple priest tell a guard captain to follow anyone purchasing with gold or bartering jewels, plates and Ishaq quit listening when Nefari tugged his arm.
“Oh, where have you been hiding?” she said. “I just left our magistrate’s house, I told him to put out the word to find you.”
“Why would you do that?” he said.
“Why? It isn’t like you to disappear. I thought,” Nefari hesitated. “I feared you were hurt.”
That night he dug up the gold he hid, in the earth, under his pillow. He sneaked through his city’s quarter’s shadows. Hidden under the rampart’s shadow, Ishaq spotted the priest he eavesdropped from earlier. Two men emerged into moonlight. Their daggers shined. These men weren’t temple guards.
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Most writers will face the existential crises of writer’s block. It is, perhaps, the most painful and draining season in our lives. The words won’t come; the blank page taunts you. Writer’s block is demoralizing, and, if like me, you already battle mental health issues, like depression, O.C.D., and anxiety, the struggle is ten-fold. I know, I know, there are writers out there, very successful ones, who claim writer’s block is a made-up-excuse. For example, Stephen King argues he has never struggled to concoct a sentence. I call bull sh!t!
For me, writer’s block often appears when I am in a season of performance anxiety. I live in the United States, and, here, the culture is toxic for creatives: if you are not producing, you are failing. I think anyone who discounts how hard it can be to write through these struggles are certainly not writers themselves. So, one way, and it may not be for you, I crawl out of writer’s block is to disregard the end goal; I focus on the process and not the ambition. In other words, ignore the noise.
This is a fact: stress kills art. Sure, there are those who are exceptions to this rule, but, again, focus on your process and stop comparing yourself to what others can do. Some writers will write and publish fifty-books, and some, probably me, will only publish five-or-six, but who knows the future? When you stress volume, you are actually inviting that little devil who goes by the name Capitalism to handcuff your creativity. No real artist, regarding any medium, goes in it for material success—yes, even though, it is natural to day dream money and fame. We do what we do, because it is who we are. There is no plan B option for those called to entertain or educate readers.
Truly, I tell you, you can easily spend a whole-life feeling behind everyone else or below their expectations, or you can embrace who you are and accept your whole self and not just what others accept about you.
So, I want to encourage you, dear follower, to remember why you write. Maybe write down a note about why you love writing and stick it to your computer or desk. Remind yourself that, first-and-foremost, the number one goal is to have fun. Leave your bitter haters to themselves, and cut from your life anyone who tries, even those who love you, to get you to compromise who you are. Art demands sacrifices.
You can do this; you can write today. Now, sit down, set a half-hour timer and force something—anything—onto the page. Trust me, if you do life “their” way, you’ll fail to write, and, ultimately, you will fail to live your true self. You are created to do this; your gifts are part of your identity, and don’t put yourself—and your art—second to anything.
I pray all of you, even the non-writers, have the courage to be yourselves. Truly, I tell you, you can easily spend a whole-life feeling behind everyone else or below their expectations, or you can embrace who you are and accept your whole self and not just what others accept about you. Now, write!