Saturday, March 15, 2014

Reclaiming a Writer’s Life

This is the Lenten Season, when many Christians who observe it sacrifice something out of their lives for 40 days until Easter. I am trying to regain something instead.

Whether you like it our not, a life of a writer must be filled with self-discipline. It is the discipline to sit and write when we don’t want to. It is the discipline to carve out of our day and night time devoted to our art. It is the discipline to continue despite the rejections and the criticism and the sense of failure. It was a discipline that I never thought would be broken. It took years to break it. Now—now I am determine to recover it.

Years ago, my daily routine and discipline was:
  • 4:00 AM wake up and write for 1 hour
  • 5:00 AM go to the gym and then:
  • 7:00 AM on work days, arrive at the bill paying job. On weekends back to writing.
  • Lunch time on work days was spent writing or researching. On weekends take a break, go to karate workout and sparing classes  then back to writing.
  • On workdays in the evening: return home from the bill pay job, go to karate , go to karate workout and sparing classes  then back to writing.
  • On weekends in the evening: research, write, spend some time with others.

With the door that led to possible success opening, this all changed slowly over several years as my bill paying job didn’t allow for too much free time and I was busy taking care of an elderly parent on top of that. I would make time to write, but my concentration wasn’t there as I had to keep an ear open for problems. There wasn’t anyone else to help. I am an only child and my cousins have their own families and parents to take care of. In the peak of the parent’s bad health, I was going for months living on one or two hours of interrupted sleep a day. I went from producing a fully drafted novel in two months to not being able to produce a novel in four years. I felt like a fraud as this talent in me shriveled and all but died on the vine.  After a lifetime of writing, with only very mild success of short stories and poems published, I came to the point of walking away from this art. I was devastated—no, worse than that. My soul felt like it was broken and bleeding out, a wasted life with all that was left was a long count to the final grave.

I don’t like anyone whining and I am intolerant of it in me, even when others would say it is deserved. I made a decision months ago when I hit bottom that I was going to somehow crawl out of this hole and use this gift—this talent—this insanity as it was meant to be done. There is a graduation speech on YouTube by Neil Gaiman that somehow rekindled the fire within. It was slow, but like a good camp fire that would last the night and not one that was built to burn quick and die, I felt my soul come back to life. Mr. Gaiman said over and over again in the address that when life handed you something bad, make good art. Those words, like seeds spread on good soil, have taken root.

There is a painting that I once saw at the St. Louis Art Museum that called to me. I own a print and if you Google Image search the name "Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion" you will find it. The painting is about man who had the love of his life stolen by a Genii. The man was determined to find his love and rescue her.  In the painting he is crawling up an impossible cliff, his clothes ripped to shreds and he is almost to the point of surrender—but there is something just holding on. I feel like that man. Every time I have been told how good of a writer I am, I feel like I have climbed this cliff only to have failed. Every time I have been told that I kept a fellow writer going, I wonder –can I keep going? Finally I know the answer is yes.

While many people are observing Lent, I am digging up the old discipline like an archaeologist—not digging with a back hoe but carefully shifting the dirt and brushing it away carefully with a toothbrush. It is labor intensive, but like that archeologist who knows that they have discovered something and will bring it back to civilization, I have the patience to see it through. Each day I am doing one more thing to move myself down that road.

What am I doing? There was an article I read that I used as a framework to build my plan. Here is that plan step by step:

1. Maintain the to do list.
For each project I am working on as a writer or in my bill pay job or with my martial arts, I have a to do list. Then I have a master to do list. The to do list is not just a list, but it is categorized and prioritized. As I mark each item off the list or mark it as in progress, I sync the project list that night where the item came from.

2. When working on multiple projects, focus on the ones that will yield results first.
I need a win. One thing hasn’t changed, I am always working on multiple projects. In fact right now I am working on:
A. A chap book of crime and criminal investigation related poetry
B. A book on Writing the Fight Scene
C. A Science-Fiction/Crime Thriller Novel
D. Looking at starting self-defense and writing the fight scene webinars
E. I have started, with several other writers, an internet radio show addressing issues in writing and publishing. The show is called The Write Pack Radio. (I will post links below)
I take all of these, and give each of these projects their own to do list and their own focus time-1 hour at a time.

3. Exercise
I am slowly getting back to the level of exercise and dedication to my marital arts that I had for decades before everything collapsed. I am not just jumping back in. I have tried that and it is a recipe for failure. As I said, I need a win. So, I am working with my Kenpo instructor going back over every single technique and kata and polishing them to be executed like the 3rd Degree Black Belt I am. While I have always trained for the street first and foremost, it is this –path that I need to take right now. These are my new workout routines.  I can’t run anymore after a surgery I had. But these I can do.

While my old battojusu instructor passed away decades ago, I remember his teachings and I am weaving the Katana techniques in with the Kenpo, as I had started to before.

4. Unplugging
With my cell phone being the main life line for the parent I take care of to get a hold of me, I can’t do this 100%. However, I am unplugging myself more and more from the Internet, Social Media and the cell phone as I can. I am not answering calls—even from the bill pay job (which before I was on call 24/7)—if I am in the zone of “writing project focus”. The calls can be returned when I am done.

5. Establish a stay focus process
I am using a timer to help with my focus time and I am also using certain meditation-focusing techniques.

6. Changing my diet.
My diet has not been something that I can easily control. I know there are people out there that will say, “You can control what you put in your mouth.” I welcome them into my shoes. When dinner is the only true social time that the parent you care for gets (not because they can’t do it other times, but won’t) you are forced to go to dinner almost on a nightly basis. While I could sit there and eat a salad, assuming I am at a place that has a salad, or soup or just drink water, that doesn’t work in the long term day after day year after year.

Instead, I have to pick more carefully what I can and should eat. I have created a list of main foods that help keep you focused and control your blood sugar.  I have created a list of foods that I should avoid. Sadly, where the elderly parent wants to go is where the foods I should avoid are most abundant. I am still working on this. It is slow. But I would rather have the slow fire that lasts than the one that burns bright and dies quick.

Along with this, I have returned to keeping a food log. I limit myself each week with the number of calories I can consume. It is like a weekly bank account. If I go over  on one day, then the other days suffer.

7. Re-establish my old writing habit.
With the focus techniques I talked about, I am slowly learning and adjusting to being able to write at home. I am also, very slowly returning to my old morning routine. If all goes right, I should be back to that on Easter Day-by making 5 minute adjustments each day.

None of this is easy.  Success is never guaranteed. Yet, I am determined to make 2014 a year where I rebuild and get my feet back under me. Every Black Belt and every successful writer out there will tell you that no ordinary person ever achieves success. Each of us climbs the mountain following a different path and each of us knows it takes a lot more than an ordinary person can do to achieve it. There is a saying in martial arts that says no Black Belt can stand on its own. It is only the mark displaying the change that went on in the person wearing it.

Please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens.  You can also find me on Facebook at

Also, check out Write Pack Radio at or on Facebook at or on twitter @WritePackRadio. Write Pack Radio brings Pop Culture, Writing, and Publishing together and throws them into a crucible of humor, clarity, and passion.

Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.


  1. One of my favourite sayings: 'Fear not going slowly. Fear only standing still'. To which I add, 'except if you are deliberately standing still'. :D