Kirk S. Jockell

Writer, Storyteller, and lover of Small Batch Bourbon

Tag: on writing

Writing and Trust

We made it across the finish line. The conclusion of Tales from Stool 17 is done and available at Amazon.com. The final book of this three-part series, Dark Days of Judgment, was overdue. It’s been over a year since book two, Trouble in Tate’s Hell, was released, and, for a while, I wondered if book three would leave the gate.

I didn’t plan on such a late release. There were several factors that kept pushing the project down the road. Each one factor started as an excuse and ultimately circled back to point to the real culprit: Me.

I made mistakes. Not miscalculations, mishaps, or missteps, they were mistakes. Those other softer descriptions attempt to shift responsibility. Not me. I made mistakes, and I own them. While I would prefer to avoid screwing up, I appreciate them. Mistakes are our greatest teachers.

So … what lessons did book three teach me? There were several, but two speak the loudest.

The first mistake was allowing self-doubt to consume me. Knowing book three was going to end the Stool 17 series intimidated me. I had vague ideas about how it was going to end, and the deeper I got into the writing, the more apparent my ideas were not going to work. I felt like I had painted myself into a corner. I lost confidence. I got scared. I simply stopped writing.

Those were the most frustrating times, not writing. The longer I ignored the keyboard, the easier it became to find excuses to do something else. The thought of walking away never really crossed my mind, but it lingered there in the shadows. I could almost smell it. I was headed toward a slippery slope. I had to do something, so I made a promise. The moratorium on writing would be temporary.

I decided to read.

I started with Razor Girl, by Carl Hiaasen. I picked up a copy at a book signing. After reading it and I stopped laughing, I reflected on some of the things he mentioned during his talk. I found myself in good company. He often has no idea where a story is going either, but he writes anyway and pushes on.

Then I knocked the dust off my copy of Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. My copy is well loved. Her book on writing and life is excellent, and it helps me through the tough times. I rediscovered some little jewels of advice that fit well with some of the things mentioned by Hiaasen.

After licking the wounds of my ego, I got up one morning to keep my promise: to write and finish. Before I touched the keyboard though, I put in some Eric Church and turned up the volume. I don’t know what it is about Church and his music, but it inspires me to be creative. One song, Knives of New Orleans, actually helped shape parts of the episode In Virginia.

After running the song through my head about four times, I sat down to write. I started with one honest sentence, then another. It took a few months, but I didn’t stop until I had finished all my shitty first drafts.

So, aside from losing confidence, what was the other mistake? That’s easy … now anyway. Both Hiaasen and Lamott reminded me of something critical. I stopped listening to my characters. I wasn’t trusting them to show me the way. You see … I don’t write the stories; they do. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. All the crazy shit happens to them, not me. I take dictation. That’s about it. I do, however, wish their spelling and grammar was a bit better.

In the end, it wasn’t just book three that taught me something about writing. The experience of creating all three books in the series has taught me plenty, and there is more to learn. I’m sure the next project will have its own agenda to help advance my craft. I can’t wait.

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Shitty First Drafts

My decision to start writing came late in life. I was 50, a half-century in age, when I decided to throw all caution to the wind and start writing with purpose. Recognizing my age and eventual mortality, time wasn’t on my side. There was much to do, and, to make matters worse, I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t, but I know a lot more now than I did four years ago. Okay … the cat’s out of the bag. I’m 54.

I was in Baltimore, Maryland on business. The day was over, and I was in my hotel room that overlooked the harbor. I had my laptop out pounding out an article for my sailing club’s newsletter. Bored to death with the truth, I put that project aside and started writing something else. It was a sailing story, but fiction. I stopped writing and stared at the screen. What are you doing? My only answer was … I don’t know, but I like it.

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