200 Followers + Q/A Announcement!

Lovely ladies! Classy gents! Something RIDICULOUS has happened!

200 people across the globe tripped and hit their heads upon their keyboards, resulting in 200 subscribes to this blog. If you have sustained this injury and are receiving this post in your inbox or WordPress reader, I wish you a speedy recovery. Put some ice on it.

To all who have subscribed to this blog, thank you. Thank you for supporting me through everything. Thank you for your kind words, your advice, your comments. Thank you for sharing your love for writing and creativity with me. I don’t take a single one of you 200 for granted. I didn’t expect to reach this point, but it’s a cool place to be, and I cherish it immensely.

When I hit 100 followers, I did something special to commemorate it. Many of you may remember that I held a Q and A session in which I answered a bunch of your questions about me, my blog, my writing, and other nonsense in video form! I had a blast making the video, and, if the comments on that post are anything to go by, most everybody enjoyed watching it! I’d love to do another!

So, if you have any questions for me regarding myself, my blog, my writing, my likes, my dislikes, my thoughts, my attractive personality, etc., please leave them in the comments below. Serious or not, it doesn’t matter! I’ll answer em all! On camera! I may even don a suit!

My top 5 favorite posts since my last 100 follows are as follows. If you happened to miss any of them, I’d recommend checking them out, because I think they suck the least out of all of my posts!

Violence and Gore in Writing: Is There a Limit? – This post prompted me to look to literature in an effort to answer the grand question posed. The post generated a wealth of discussion in the comments section, which is why I consider the post to be such a success.

A Missed Deadline, a Hard Look – This was a difficult post to write, as I wrote it in light of the fact that I failed to reach my self-imposed deadline for the first draft of my novel in the works. In the post, I propose a game plan to help tackle the draft.

Writers, Trust Your Readers – This is a good ol’ writing post. I dig discussing writing and storytelling (that’s what my blog’s about!), so this one was a blast. +10 for Lost gifs.

Writing the Five Senses: Sight – I enjoyed writing all of the five senses posts, but this one stands out to me because I wrote it with such confidence. I really felt that I touched upon significant points.

Novel Excerpt #2, Campfires at Midnight – I’m proud of this short passage from my novel in the works. It seems to have been well-received thus far, which is cool to see!

Once again, thank you for being a part of this exciting journey.

Here’s to the next 100!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

I Received the Blogger Recognition Award!

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents!

I recently received a message via pigeon informing me that I had won the Blogger Recognition Award. I promptly returned the messenger pigeon with a note expressing my regrets, as the sender of said pigeon was obviously mistaken. Me? An award? Somebody clearly made a clerical error.

So days go by and the same pigeon descends upon my window. I attempted to shoo it away with a broom, but the bird was a persistent little bugger. To stop the incessant pecking on my window, I finally read the message tied to the winged-creature’s back. As it turns out, the award actually was intended for me. And I know the sender! Oops!

I am humbled to announce that author and blogger Eva Blaskovic chose to award me the Blogger Recognition Award. To my knowledge, she did not do so under duress. Coming from her, this is a high honor. Eva is one of the few bloggers I know who writes posts about a wide range of topics without sacrificing quality. Eva focuses on writing-related topics first and foremost, yet she has recently discussed education and cooking. She is a gem of a blogger that I cannot recommend enough to those who don’t follow her already. I extend my sincerest thanks for her consideration of my blog for this award!

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The note attached to the pigeon included specific instructions as to what I must do to accept this award. The instructions are as follows:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Write a post to show your award.
  • Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  • Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  • Select 15 other bloggers for this award.
  • Comment on each blog to let them know you nominated them and link to the post you created.blogger-recognition-award-1

In short, this award requires me to share my origin story and dish out some wisdom I am unqualified to give.

The origin story of jjazar.wordpress.com is a simple one, nothing like Spiderman’s! I created this blog because I wanted to supplement my novel-writing with something secondary. I wanted to have a place where I could write about writing and reach out to others interested in doing the same. Little did I know I would connect with so many ambitious, fascinating people from across the globe. So I came to WordPress for the writing, but I stayed for the community.

As for two pieces of advice for new bloggers…

  1. Interact. Interact interact interact. As soon as your blog is presentable and devoid of dead tabs and preset messages, find bloggers who write about your areas of interest using your Reader. If you like what you read, like some of their posts. If you have something to say, leave some comments. And if you really like what a blogger has going, follow them! The more people you interact with, the richer your blogging experience will be. Oh, and it won’t hurt your view/like/comment/follow count. Interaction is how you grow!
  2. Treat the “Publish” button as sacred. Post regularly, but don’t post half-assed material. If you didn’t put thought into a post, keep it off your blog. Keep your standards high. Respect your readers, respect yourself, and respect your corner of the internet. It is absolutely possible to post quality material on a consistent basis (take the Comic Vault as an example), but if you can’t sustain the pace, slow it down. It’s okay 🙂

tumblr_mnqubziKKl1sqat0wo1_500.gifI hate to sound like a drill sergeant, but that second point is particularly important. A blog is a representation of yourself, so you ought to make it the best you can make it!

Inspired by Eva’s generosity in this award, I’ve nominated the following classy bloggers for the same honor:

M.L.S. Weech

Angela at Pooled Ink

Steff at Little Booky Nook

I could frankly nominate my entire list of followers, but these bloggers are of a special trio who I’ve been enjoying lately.

Thank you once again to Eva!

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

A Missed Deadline, A Hard Look

I drafted this post one week ago. One week ago, I conceded that I would not be able to complete the first draft of my novel-in-the-works by January 1st. Originally, the tone of this post was somber and slow. I wrote it late at night and it read like a bummer. So I scrapped it entirely and rewrote it in light of reflection. Here’s what I’ve got.

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I kicked ass this month. From December 1st to December 21st, I was getting 4-5 hours of sleep because I was writing into the early hours of the night. Through these 21 days, I was ill and amidst Finals season. Nonetheless, in face of the phlegm, the sleep deprivation, and the Latin (blast you, Latin!), I was happy, driven, and willing to work into the early hours. I made bounds. Picture an artist splattering paint onto a canvas with a stupid grin on his face. That kind of progress. “Oui oui. Zees is amour!” (Do I have any followers from France? I know I have Canadians and Aussies and Brits and Turks, but where are the Frenchmen at?!)

On December 22nd, I boarded a plane for California. (I don’t believe I’ve yet mentioned that I lived in the Golden State for four years. To quote Dave Matthews, “I got people here.”) This may sound familiar to you because I wrote a post the following day about how I wrote five hours on the plane.

Upon arriving, I gave my situation some thought. I hadn’t reached the home stretch of the story. I hadn’t set myself up for a knockout on January 1st. Thus, I decided that it would make the most sense to put the writing aside so I could fully enjoy my time with friends and family. I’ve made some writing progress in spare moments, but I’ve largely put the novel-in-the-works to the side for the duration of the trip. My efforts have been focused on one chapter, which begins, “It was a horse-faced lady wearing a housewife’s apron who pointed the boys to Carmengrove.” 

So I’m here in Cali for a couple more days before I fly back to Jersey (where we say cawfee and wahta). Once I return, I’ll be back into writing mode. But things need to change. I made a strong effort to write consistently for the better part of December, but I hadn’t exercised that level of resolve prior. I wrote, no doubt about it, but I didn’t make it a point to write every day with such ferocity. I’ve taken this week to reflect and evaluate what I can do moving forward to blaze the trails of ink. It’s taken a hearty dose of honesty to reach some of these determinations, but I’m a believer that honesty is better than any alternative. Here goes.

For the sake of organization, I’ve pinpointed changes that need to be made in terms of both addition and omission.

Addition

Let’s start with addition. I asked myself, what am I lacking that I need?

  • A Writing Environment

My buddy Aurelius has been a huge supporter of my writing journey. He’s given me a book on publishing, talked shop with me, and asked for updates as to my progress. When I recently told him I didn’t expect to meet my deadline, he presented me with the “environment over effort argument,” something articulated by James Clear. Aurelius summed it up as follows:

It’s this idea that personal willpower is an imperfect basis for important habits. It’s better to construct an environment that facilitates the habit and to immerse yourself in it. Stephen King writes in a barn that just has a desk and a window in it.

Aurelius has a point. I am driven. (Sure, I talk, but I talk because I’m sharing my journey with you. There’s work to show for the talk. You can see my progress updated weekly on my Projects page and I dedicate a post a month to my progress alone.)

Still, my drive is not infallible (My Latin grade is evidence of that. Blast you, Latin!). I need an environment which facilitates the drive. In other words, I need to make my life easier. When I return to Jersey, I’m going to scout my house and find the best area where I can write with minimal external distraction and maximum convenience. I’ll need an outlet nearby for my laptop charger and a nice chair. Of course, I can scrap all that if I build a writing barn. If anybody would like to loan me money for a writing barn, you can email me at jjazarauthor@gmail.com.

So that’s the first thing: I’ll need a writing spot. If floating around helped me to write, I would float around, but it doesn’t. Thanks, Aurelius.

  • A Set Writing Time

My status as a student prevents me from designating an hour-based time block to my writing. I can’t declare 8 PM a writing time because sudden assignments and due dates prevent me from operating that way. It just won’t happen. Still, I recognize that I need structure. I need a routine to facilitate and focus my drive.

I’ve determined that I write best at night, when there are no longer any non-writing obligations for me to fulfill. Therefore, I will make it a point to work in the nighttime in my to-be-determined writing environment. Sometimes I’m beat by the time I take care of everything I have to do, but if I wrote 21 days straight in the early hours while sick and after preparing for finals, I think I can manage to implement this dynamic of a set time and place.

  • Exercise

For years, I’ve been on and off with working out. Recently, I’ve been off. I’m healthy, thank God, but I’m not where I want to be. Working out boosts the mood and keeps me sharp. If I want to write this first draft and beyond, I’m going to need to be in top shape.

The addition in this case is straightforward: my university has a decked-out gym. I’ve resolved to use it as soon as I return from break. This semester, I have classes four days a week. I will make it a point to go to the gym every day before I leave campus.

A healthy writer is a happy writer.

  • Focus on Demand

Writers know the joyous feeling of flow. Sometimes, we are able to reach a happy place and write without stopping, without hesitation. It’s a beautiful thing. When the ocean of bliss subsides, we notice the clock and sit dumbfounded. “I was writing for that long?” I want to reach that sweet spot as often as possible.

Tam al’Thor of the Wheel of Time series taught his son Rand al’Thor how to enter “the Void,” a state of extreme focus. I long for the Void, yet I don’t know how to grasp it. As of now, the Void falls into my lap whenever it pleases. I want the Void to fall into my lap whenever please. Well, the Void or a leggy lady. One of the two.

If anybody has any insight into focus and concentration methods, particularly as they pertain to writing, I would be delighted if you would share them.

Omission

I asked myself, what do I have which I do not need?

  • YouTube

80% of my YouTube consumption is related to politics (didn’t you hear that the U.S. is having quite an interesting time with politics and things?). I’ve always been one to keep informed, but YouTube is a time-drain.

Solution: My dad will keep me in the loop. He has a knack for picking out the truth through all of the smoke and mirrors. I’ll still be reading news for my Politics classes, but aside from that, I haven’t the time to bother with fiction peddled by the nightly news. I have fiction of my own to peddle.

  • BioShock

I know, I’m essentially broadcasting my age. I get it, I’m a young lad. But one cannot deny that BioShock Infinite is a freakin’ fantastic Xbox One game. To my credit, I haven’t touched the console this entire month, and I hardly play as it is. Still, it has to be declared: I cannot play BioShock Infinite until a more opportune time. The game is remarkable, but now is not the time.

  • Music Indecision

Before I settle into writing, I like to get music going. The problem is, it often takes me ages to search for the first song to play even though I have an extensive, nearly exclusively instrumental playlist. It needs to stop. This may sound like a small thing, but it’s a tiresome focus leech. I used to write to a loop of a couple of songs. Now I’m back to the basics!

  • Snapchat

My sisters give me crap for this on a daily basis. I just recently returned to Snapchat after a short, frankly pitiful stint years ago during which I actively bored myself using the app. The thing is, this time around, I’m having fun. Yeah, I raise the phone in front of my face to take stupid pictures that will be seen for 10 seconds or less. It’s stupid. I get it. It interrupts my writing. I get it. But keep in mind, I’m not conversing with the Snapchat ghost, I’m conversing with people. A couple of people, to be more specific. As I see it, that’s not a waste of time.

So, maybe I should excommunicate Snapshat from my life, but I’m not quite ready to do that. Depending on how the tides ebb and flow, I may or may not keep on with it. Time will tell.

  • Blogging

“*gasp* JJ, you’re leaving WordPress?!?!”

No, disembodied voice. I will do nothing of the sort. I’m here to stay.

“Darn.”

I appreciate that, disembodied voice. You always have my back.

I’m still going to post twice a week. I’m still going to read your blogs and respond to your comments. I’m still going to compulsively check my stats. The difference is, I won’t do any of this when it’s time to write. It’s always tempting to change tabs and check into the blog when writing gets tough, but I’m just going to have to fight it like how teenage indie-punk artists fight their parents: that is, with passionate angst.

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In my first blog post, I acknowledged that there would be stumbles. I wrote, “As I brave the Road of Authorship, stumbling over every rock on the way, I invite you to walk alongside me so you can point and laugh and cheer as I fall on my ass and get back up again.”

Yeah, I fell on my ass, but much to my surprise, I haven’t disappointed myself. Rather, I’m optimistic. I have a sober plan and method ready to be implemented. I hope I haven’t disappointed any of you. Your encouragement, advice, and immensely kind words fueled me through this entire month. I cannot express my thanks adequately enough. Thank you. I hope you decide to stick with me as I continue this grand, exciting journey.

I promise to share a new, reasonable deadline by the end of this month.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

 

I Am Writing

The following is what I expect my WordPress experience to be every time I post something.

*walks on stage to a silent crowd*

“So…ah…”
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END

To my surprise, my expectations have been wildly exceeded. Thanks for that.

Since day one, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep from putting out any “throw away” posts. I understand the utility of such posts, but I’ve elected to keep things real so that when you lovely ladies and classy gents click on a post of mine, you can always expect something substantial (The Jesting Parables have not quite met my standard of substance, but they are remnants of me attempting to find my footing blog-wise. You won’t catch me posting another).

With that, I figure it’s perfectly fair to say I’m holding off on sharing another planned post in the interest of working on my novel. Given that this is my blog, everything is fair by definition, but you know how I feel about technicality (see last week’s hummus analogy in my post about Violence) [<—probably the last time I will ever use those words in that order].

My point is I’m writing. I’m writing hard. I wrote 5 hours on a plane yesterday. If I could have, I would have written 5 hours on a train too, and 5 hours more in Spain, and 5 more in the rain, and 5 more still in a crane (the construction device, not the bird. That would be weird). I’m enjoying myself immensely. It’s challenging, but it’s a joy. With the holidays here, I figure y’all are busy regardless. I’ll spare you a cerebral post and leave it at that: I am writing.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

(‘featured image’ Magnificent Seven art by Renato Casaro)

Explosion of Soul with a Title

Happy Friday, lovely ladies and classy gents! I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I personally broke my pants, so my holiday was a success (I go hard). If you didn’t catch the post on my Facebook page, know that I am incredibly thankful for you. Whether you’re a follower, a frequent reader, or somebody just stopping by, I am grateful for your support. Y’all are the best!

I wrote something up that I suppose could be considered poetry. I don’t know, really. I typically deal in prose. Whatever it may be, here it is. If you have any thoughts about the piece, please share them! I do the macarena every time I get a comment.

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Quill in hand.

Paper on desk.

Empty room.

All quiet save for a ticking clock.

I turn the nib of the quill to my chest.

I eye the thing, the sword, knowing where it must go.

I plunge the thing into my sternum.

The incision is but an avenue. Now for the surgical slice.

I drag the nib from left to write, tearing at tendons, opening my chest enough

That I may reach inside and retrieve my heart.

I seize the throbbing organ and hold it over the page on the desk before me.

I squeeze

That its tales and fancies may gush onto the page.

I squeeze

Until the blank sheet is stained red with blood and soaked wet with tears indicative of joys and sorrows.

Now quill is in hand, nib is on paper.

With an emboldened hand I trace words into the human substance drenching the page before me

And spilling out over my desk.

There is no trick, here.

There is only explosion of soul, here.

An explosion of soul with a title.

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Today, millions will be assaulting the malls and department stores in droves like walkers from the Walking Dead. I’ll leave you with some food for thought: Isn’t it interesting how Black Friday comes directly after the day when we celebrate what we have?

~J.J. Azar

Mom, Thanks for Teaching Me How to Read

When I was a wee lad, I enjoyed writing stories as much as I enjoyed letting Elmer’s glue dry on my hands just so I could pick it off. In other words, I enjoyed writing stories quite a bit. Perhaps it was my mother who spurred my interest in writing. After all, it was she who taught me how to read and write. That’s right, folks: I never went to preschool, which probably explains why I am illiterate in colors.

The primary colors? Psh, I could name the 50 states and probably the provinces of Canada by sheer guess before I could ever provide you the names of the three primary colors. Did you know that scientists and artists have different primary colors?! How can I possibly keep up with that nonsense?!

Is it navy, or is it blue? You might as well ask me the difference between a hawk and an eagle.

What color do you get when you mix yellow and green? I don’t even know if that’ll make another color!

*end tragic rant*

Yes, it was very likely my mother’s diligent instruction which oriented for writing. She opted to keep me out of preschool because she wanted to spend time with me and teach me one-on-one. My mother singlehandedly taught me how to read by using Disney’s Golden Books and Disney’s infamous-in-my-household Elegant Book of Manners. My dad probably read to me once or twice but my mom deserves the credit. Sorry, Dad, this post isn’t about you. I can credit you for teaching me how to swim, though!

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Thanks to my dad, I was comfortable in the pool before I turned 2 years old! Apparently I was a wickedly talented child *read as John Travolta.*

Starting with letters and escalating to sentences, my mother conditioned me to be a reading machine. I mean she literally conditioned me. Every day after Blue’s Clues, we would read and write. If that isn’t conditioning, I don’t know what is.

I am glad my mother took it upon herself to instill upon me the imperative skill of literacy, but the thought of her taking on that mighty task terrifies me when I reflect upon it. In fact, I often stir in the night and wake up in cold sweats, wondering…What if she messed up? What if she accidentally shuffled a couple of letter-flashcards when she drilled me on the alphabet? What if she didn’t properly correct my misprinted ‘k’s? Gosh, if that were the case, I’d be writing like an oaf!

But at this point, unless my mom paid off all of my teachers from 1st grade on in the interest of allowing my writing mistakes to go unmarked, I think I have a solid grasp of the English language. My grammars is very good, thankfully.

The point is this: I am grateful for my mother. Even though English isn’t her first language, she still managed to teach me how to read and write. Simply put, that’s badass (she hates when I use the word so here I am, using the word).

Thanks, Mom. You’re the best preschool teacher I ever had (but I still don’t understand colors).

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To those reading, I’d like to know: for what do you owe thanks to your mother? Share the love in a comment.

As always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar

For Writers: 5 Reasons Why Consuming While Creating is Dangerous

Hello, lovely ladies and classy gents! I hope everyone is having a fine November. To commemorate the month, I donned Ugg boots, strapped a pack of caribou to my sled, and navigated them to my local coffee shop for a pumpkin spice latte. I’m only kidding, of course. I live in Jersey, and snow has yet to fall where I am. Also, I find pumpkin spice lattes to be overrated and tolerable at best. I’m not joking about the Ugg boots though. I rock those things on the beach.

(Here is where I would have inserted a picture of me wearing Ugg boots and swimtrunks, which I actually did attempt to take for the sake of this post. The image did not come out properly. Think ‘newborn deer with hairy legs stumbling around with what looks like two broken feet.’ My sister’s Ugg boots are now five sizes too large. Sorry about that, Tal).

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Regardless, I’d like to talk to fellow writers for a moment about a dynamic that has been on my mind of late: Creation vs. Consumption.

Back in 6th grade English class (*cringe*), I used to write stories in a composition book. While my teacher was going on about what a pronoun was, I tuned her out so I could write. Why? Because I enjoyed reading stories, so I wanted to write one.

Over the course of my high school years, I directed two films, one a short and one a full-length production. Why? Because I enjoyed watching movies, so I wanted to make one.

I made a sandwich once. Why? Because my mother makes incredible sandwiches, so I wanted to make one. And I tried to, and it was a pathetic excuse for a sandwich (I apparently have a biological inability to spread peanut butter, cream cheese, or any other conventional spread using a knife).

And so, while I have learned in the classroom, watched movies, and eaten sandwiches (consumed), I have also written stories, made movies, and prepared sandwiches (created).

All while I’ve consumed things, I’ve used the calories I’ve taken from consumption and run miles with the energy provided to me. Because I simply can’t sit on all of the magnificent things I’ve watched and read. I’m inspired. I need to create. And I know that that is a feeling common amongst writers and artists alike.

Now, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with indulging. Consuming is learning. Consuming is inspiration. There is nothing wrong with watching Netflix or reading books or spending copious hours on YouTube watching car crashes captured by Russian dashcams. Let me reiterate. There is nothing wrong with consumption.

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But consuming while creating is, in my view, dangerous.

As my followers know, I am working to complete the first draft of my novel by January 1st, 2017. Right now, I’m in creation mode. As a result, I’ve decided to restrict my consumption. Not entirely, of course. I’ll be seeing a movie this weekend. I fire up Call of Duty World at War Zombies on occasion (shoutout to JTrain, my go-to Zombie partner). Needless to say, enjoyment is reasonable and healthy.

But I’ve abstained from Netflix excepting the rare Anthony Bourdain episode when I’m eating a meal, and I’ve mostly halted my extensive movies-to-watch and books-to-read lists. Why? Because there is true danger in consuming while creating. Here’s why.

5. Simply put, time spent binge-watching Netflix could be time spent writing.

I fired up the first episode of Sons of Anarchy the other day. I got through precisely one minute of it before I shut it off. I’ve been wanting to watch the show for months, now, but I felt obligated to put it on hold. I know myself. I know that if I take a liking to the show, it will leech my time. And time is valuable, especially when I am working toward a fast-approaching deadline.

When free time bestows its beautiful self upon me, I am faced with a choice. Should I write, or should I do something other than write? The correct answer should be the former. Sons of Anarchy and its friends cannot be an option right now.

Now, I understand that leisurely consumption is crucial for clearing headspace, and clear headspace is essential for writing. For me, however, a quality television show provokes thought rather than dispels it. Perhaps if I want to unwind I’ll watch the Eric Andre show or something completely mindless. Otherwise, forty minutes of television isn’t going to provide for a mind cleansing.

Sorry, Sons. You’ll have to wait.

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This show makes me cry with laughter. Quite literally.

4. What we watch and read often colors our writing.

Reading is the key to writing, but doing the two simultaneously doesn’t work for me personally. I understand that this view is unconventional, and, for some, completely contrary to their lifestyle, but hear me out.

What we read influences what we write. It’s kind of cool how it works, actually. The authors we read will leave a ghostly mark on our works, whether we like it or not. But when I’m working on something of my own, the freshest works I am reading tend to leave a bit more than a ghostly mark. I do not want to accidentally rip off a style or, even worse, content, because I just had to read the next book in the series and something there pressed an inspirational button. That is a risk that isn’t worth taking. I am obligated to write my story my way. There is no room for external meddling.

3. Consuming a complete work in all of its glory can be discouraging when put up against our measly drafts.

Masterfully-told stories are inspiring. They are fuel. Braveheart and Breaking Bad and the Great Gatsby have displayed the power of the story to an expert degree. Stories such as those are the reasons why writers work up the nerve to try our hands at creating something equally as compelling.

But when I’ve been struggling for days to get a proper word written and I stumble upon the film canon of Quentin Tarantino or the beautiful row of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series on the bookshelf not far from my desk, it’s hard to feel anything but defeated. “Tarantino and Jordan have created grand works that are beloved everywhere. And here I am unable to write a word.”

That kind of attitude, however uncommon it may be, is a threat to productivity. Self-defeating attitude is not helpful to writers. Avoid it. Focus on you and your work. Remember: Comparing a rock to a diamond before you polish the rock isn’t fair. Forget about the diamonds.

2. Indulging can lead to guilt.

For some, having a slice of pie is sinful. Why? Because some have established expectations for themselves. In reality, though, a slice of pie is alright. A slice of pie won’t send someone to the E.R. But nonetheless, when that person who is intent on dieting eats the pie to its last crumb, he or she feels guilty.

Much the same, I can absolutely allow myself some slack in the consumption department…except I won’t allow myself to. Otherwise I feel guilty. For real. ‘I should be writing. I want to write. Why aren’t I writing?’ Those are the thoughts I have when I spend my free time doing something less productive than working on my novel. Feeling guilty is no good. So I’m just going to keep writing.

1. Potential motivation is stifled by consuming that which we can restrict until our goals are met.

The joy of having a finished product is reason enough for celebration and treating ourselves, but might we work a little harder if we knew our favorite book series was waiting for us at the finish line? If the end of the tunnel was filled with the next season of that show or the sequel of that movie?

Assuming a mentality of “writing mode” in which consumption is essentially barred by prohibition and “not-writing mode” in which consumption is given the green-light would help to differentiate between what needs to be done and what is waiting for us after the storm. The rapture to be gleaned by switching from writing mode to leisure mode would be liberating. That liberation could serve as motivation itself.

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I realize that these ideas are cutthroat. The one-through-five list reads almost pessimistically. But I have always placed value in hard work. While writing itself may not be such a “serious” thing (we do it in our pajamas), the craft hinges upon discipline. And discipline is certainly a serious matter. I’ve never fallen into things lightly. Writing is no exception. If the thing isn’t kicking my ass, there isn’t a point in doing it.

To read somebody else’s take on abstaining from hobbies in the interest of writing, check out this excellent post from Roderick Wills, one of WordPress’ finest bloggers.

I’m interested in hearing what you have to say. Feel free to drop a comment!

And as always, stay classy.

~J.J Azar

5 Books and the Lessons They Taught Me About Writing

Hello, friends! I would like to extend a grand THANK YOU for helping me to reach a significant milestone: Though this blog has only been around for less than a month, it has already racked up 50 FOLLOWERS! (Shoutout to Gravy for being my 50th follower)! That is insane. A huge thank you is in order for those who read, like, comment, and follow the stuff I post. If you’re interested in following me on my Road to Authorship and joining the 50 of my incredibly classy posse, have no fear! The ‘subscribe’ option is located at the top of the sidebar. For mobile users, it may be located at the bottom of the page. My phone is a rock so I’m not entirely sure.

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I’m feeling as accomplished as I did that time I golfed with the knights. And won. Gallantly.

I’ve really enjoyed interacting with fellow bloggers as well. There are a host of fascinating people out there, many of whom who are also braving the Road of Authorship! For me, the blogging experience has been more about consuming than creating, and I am content with that dynamic, as I find great joy in reading what other bloggers write.

I look forward to reaching 100 followers and beyond. But until then, I have something else to share! I’d like to present 5 lessons about writing I have learned from 5 of my favorite books.

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee…

pvcategoryimage280220140516421605.jpgtaught me how powerful a character can be.

Strong characters are often taken to be of the “gritty fighter” breed. Jack Bauer and James Bond are strong, resonant characters because they kick ass at the expense of their well-being. Daryl Dixon of the Walking Dead is beloved for the same reason: All three characters are wounded tough guys who fight for the greater good with their fists (or crossbows).

Atticus Finch, however, showed me that there was a whole different way for a character to be badass: by embracing virtue. Whether Atticus is offering Scout wisdom or delivering his legendary appeals in the courtroom, his morality is palpable through his calm, honest countenance. In my mind, Atticus Finch should be considered among Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln as being a moral figure who exudes strength. That’s how real he is. And now I know that evoking a visceral reaction through a character by way of the pen is possible.

4. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain…

Kitchen-Confidential 2.jpeg…taught me how integral it is to hold onto voice (I wrote a post on this exact topic last week. You can check it out here).

You know who Anthony Bourdain is. Chances are, you’ve seen him on Travel Channel or CNN running around countries, drinking alcohol, and making edgy jokes.

That’s the Anthony Bourdain I knew before I picked up Kitchen Confidential, the book that propelled him to fame. I am pleased to say that the Anthony on TV is no different from the Anthony on the page. I literally read the book in his voice. Not in the literary sense, in the literal sense.

The book features Anthony’s opinions, insights, and style without any filter. Every crass joke, every filthy story, every brutally honest observation is true to his style, his persona, and his worldview. If the book was filtered, it simply wouldn’t be Anthony’s book. And then I wouldn’t consider it to be one of my all-time favorites. I am committed to holding onto my voice as a writer, and that is largely thanks to Bourdain’s stellar book.

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini…

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…taught me that, even today, “new classics” can be ushered into the world.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” I agree with that bit of wisdom. Every story that surfaces owes dues to stories penned by Shakespeare and Homer and the unnamed authors of ancient Mesopotamia.

It is no secret that the Lion King was heavily influenced by the story of Hamlet, and the story of Hamlet was undoubtedly influenced by stories that came before it. Even Inception, a sci-fi thriller whose concept appears to be the most original seen on screen in decades, is a nostos tale comparable to the Odyssey. But those comparisons don’t negate the profound impact of the Lion King or Inception on the audiences who have experienced them.

In much the same way, the story of the Kite Runner, to me, reads like a “new classic.” The tale tells Amir’s personal story, yet its concepts and its scope could be applied to any time in history all the same. Hosseini showed me that writing a new classic was possible. And that thought is inspiring to me as a writer who is seeking to tell a story that resonates.

2. The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran by Kahlil Gibran…

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My personal copy

…taught me that language is best used honestly.

Often times, writers feel compelled to sophisticate their writing by adding pounds of abstract detail and convoluted ideas into their work. The practice is tempting, after all. Elevating one’s work to a higher degree is certainly a goal worth striving for. But the way Kahlil Gibran achieves this “higher degree” is by approaching language in such a way that can best be described as honest.

Gibran pulls from nature and emotion to convey ideas clearly and without pretension, a style which suits his subject matter. His clarity has more impact on me than any flowery piece I’ve read. His messages and the imagery with which he delivers them are incredible.

The way Gibran uses language is how I would like to use language in my writing: Properly, clearly, and honestly.

Without a doubt, this 900 pound behemoth is worthy of your read.

1. Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan…

LOCCover.jpgtaught me that stories can transcend the page.

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is my favorite book series of all time. And that is putting it lightly. In the future, I will write up some WoT-centric posts, so if there are any Robert Jordan fans reading, say hello in the comments so we can bask in the glory of the Pattern together.

Lord of Chaos is the 6th book of the 14-book fantasy series. This installment is not only my favorite of the series thus far (I am currently reading book 9) but my favorite book of all time. (cue Kanye). Now, don’t get me wrong. The Wheel of Time universe became real to me from the very beginning. Books 1-5 had plenty of exciting, engaging moments. But Lord of Chaos cranked up the profound nature of the series from a 10/10 to a 25/10.

Above the host of story-changing moments throughout the narrative, various significant character moments, and a refreshing look at the antagonists’ perspective, there is another thing which sets Lord of Chaos above anything I have ever read. Two words: Dumai’s Wells.

The effects that this event at Dumai’s Wells had on me, on the characters, and on the story amalgamated into one big, “Oh my God.” In the same way that one is shocked by national tragedies and the deaths of beloved celebrities, Dumai’s Wells was, for me, very, very real. I was nearly ill at the details. For writing on a page to force me to articulate this one event so strongly is evidence enough that, if crafted with passion and read with excitement, fictional word can become a part of somebody’s life. And that is powerful.

~J.J. Azar

Writers, Don’t Reject Your Voice!

During my freshman year of high school, my friend Eruheran and I decided to try our hands at writing a piece for an essay contest. What the essay topic was escapes me, so let’s just say we were both tasked with writing about narwhals.

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narwhal: a horned sea creature notorious for skewering our dearest sea friends.

So once Eruheran and I had completed our narwhal essays, we passed them along to our English teacher at the time, requesting that she read them and provide some feedback to help us out. But our teacher changed the entire dynamic of the situation when she asked, “Whose essay would you like me to read first?”

And there it was. A spark of challenge. Eruheran and I looked at each other with grave expressions. Were we doomed to squabble over the privilege of receiving the first read like Roman gladiators? Were we destined to clash like Maximus Decimus Meridius and Emperor Commodus? Were we bound to fight like Mufasa and Scar? Were we fated to feud like M. Night Shyamalan and all respectable movie-going audiences? No. Eruheran and I decided to unite.

Instead of playing ball, we seized our trusted Sharpies, crossed out our names classified-CIA style, and handed them to the teacher. “It’s your call,” we determined.

And so, days later, our teacher returned our essays to us, and without fail, she put my paper on my desk and Eruheran’s paper on his desk. She knew who wrote which essay because of that little thing called voice. Even though we both wrote about narwhals, my teacher was able to confidently identify the fingerprint pressed upon each paper. My teacher knew her students’ writing well enough to differentiate my essay from my friend’s.

The moment my paper was returned to my desk, I understood the power of voice. Simply put, voice is a writer’s style. Some writers certainly bear similarities to others, but ultimately, one cannot feign a style. If I try to sing like Sinatra, I might sound like him when I hit a certain note (silence), but in the end, I’m just going to sound like me. It’ll still going to be my voice.

And so, fellow writers, I urge you this: Hold on to your voice.

Often times we expose ourselves to so many tips and opinions and insights as to how we should write this or write that. I’ve read people vehemently stress that a writer should use “said” to preface a line of dialogue sparingly. They assert that in most cases, a writer should replace “said” with a more animated verb like “bark” or “growl.”

Upon seeing the narwhal charging with its menacing horn , J.J. barked, “Run!”

I’ve also read people who reject that notion entirely, arguing that one cannot “bark” a line of dialogue, and thus “said” and its more conventional variants should be used in most cases.

Upon seeing the narwhal charging with its menacing horn, J.J. shouted, “Run!”

And then I’ve read opinions from others who insist that prefacing dialogue with anything at all is futile, as the tone of the dialogue should be made clear by the prior action or expression delineated immediately before it.

J.J. saw the charging narwhal and turned on his heel. “Run!”

I’ve learned that those rules of “never” and “always” are utterly useless. If I want to animate a character’s speech by having him bark it, I will. If I want to frame a back-and-the-forth argument using “said,” I will. If I don’t want to preface my dialogue with any word at all, I will.

Of course, a line of dialogue can be presented poorly, and so best judgement is implied in my suggestion of taking liberties, but my point stands. Writers budding and veteran, new and experienced, rusty and polished, do what you’ve been taught to do since kindergarten: Be yourself. Because if you go on trying to write like somebody else for the sake of “doing it right,” readers will be left with nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing original. In an era of Hollywood remakes and rehashes, cookie-cutter novels, and formulaic channel 1-through-ten television shows, that is the last thing the good people of the world need.

Additionally, dismissing your voice is a dishonor to yourself.

If Tarantino cut down his dialogue, we would have never seen Jules Winnfield spend an entire scene delivering gem after gem of dialogue revolving around a burger. Tarantino had that scene in him, and it is all the better that he put it out into the world. And the world loves that he did.

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If Robert Jordan didn’t describe the texture and color and material of every floor and wall he ever wrote…well, I suppose I would be done with the Wheel of Time series already. But his attention to detail is one of the key aspects as to what makes Robert Jordan’s writing Robert Jordan’s writing. In order to invest himself in his own world, he had to paint it so vividly.

I don’t want to read or watch anything conventional. Do you?

Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t seek out wisdom from your elders, because you should! Fill your head! Listen to what other authors have to say. Read about writing. Read about reading. Read. Write. Seek feedback. Always try to better yourself. But with thatyou must remain true to your essence.

Make the odd decision. Have faith in your reader’s intelligence. Have faith in your ability, in your story. Write boldly. Write as you want to.

If you like what you see here, drop a comment to let me know what you think, and if you really like what you see here, you are welcome to subscribe if you haven’t already!

Thank you for your continued support, and as always, stay classy.

~J.J. Azar