why i write by M. J. Kelley

39 Reasons Why I Write

Why do you write?

It’s one of those weird questions that can catch you by surprise.

I’m not asked it often. But when a friend approached me about writing a blog post to answer it, I knew I had to.

I knew I had to because the question scared me. Answering it would take me out of my comfort zone, and make me question the years I’ve put into fiction writing.

I think it scared me because of how intimate that question is, how personal.

I struggled with it for a few months, but then, with a bolt of inspiration, the below list poured from my fingertips.

I Write Because:

1. At age six I captivated my fellow classmates with a series of fantasy stories. The feeling of captivating an audience infects you like a virus. I haven’t happened upon a cure, and won’t be looking.

2. It didn’t come easy for me; Learning to write and read was a challenge.

3. I was the kid who changed his mind every week about what he wanted to be when he grew up. Now I get to be all of that through my characters.

4. A teacher in junior high told me I was good at it, and I believed her.

5. I read 1984 at too young an age to recover the pieces of my blown mind.

6. My Dad wanted me to be a lawyer.

7. A teacher in high school told me I had an ear for it, and I believed her, too.

8. I feel called to do it. I’m not into mysticism of any kind, but there really is a “calling” aspect to it that I embrace.

9. I love language with all my heart, and wanted to dedicate my life to it.

10. I’m attracted to seemingly impossible challenges.

11. I’m intellectually masochistic.

12. I’m flooded with ideas faster than I can write them.

13. I have a high pain threshold.

14. I have little patience for injustice.

15. Truth is extremely important to me.

16. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.

17. I like an audience.

18. I find grammar savory.

19. I’m a freak.

20. I have a healthy, well-checked delusion of grandeur.

21. I live and breathe story.

22. I’ve given my entire adult life to it and even if I wanted to stop, it’s too late to turn back.

23. I want to use my formal education every day of my life.

24. I get irritable if I don’t.

25. I like daily routines.

26. My muse only left me once, and it was devastating. She was gone a year and took the dog.

27. Entering “the zone,” the state of being that allows you to lose time and completely enter a story, is one of the best things in the world.

28. I like to play and goof off, to trick, and misdirect.

29. I love learning: not knowing, and then figuring it out.

30. I hear stories in fragments of speech whispered across subway stations.

31. Facing the blank page on a new project is exhilarating; that feeling of not knowing what you’ll produce. And then you jump, like a skydiver.

32. If I went blind, lost my hands and voice, I’d still find a way to do it every day.

33. I see stories in the way strangers walk and gesture.

34. At times in my life, it was all I had.

35. I don’t want my kid to grow up with a father who didn’t pursue his dreams.

36. I’m egotistical enough to think I can do it well and objective enough to know when I suck. (And sometimes I still don’t know the difference, but trust that I’ll figure it out.)

37. I’m compelled to follow my obsessions.

38.  I’m smart enough to know I’ll never know everything about it.

39. I’m able to embrace failure on a daily basis and move on.

These are the reasons I write.

Thanks to Jessica West for inspiring / tagging me to write this for the Why I Write blog hop.

The Runner (Fiction) v3

In the morning, skeletal buildings puffed smoke from their charred innards. He ran between them, wearing yellow shorts, his shoelaces lime. He ran daily.

Rubble littered and buried the streets. Distant gunshots echoed.

He ran before soldiers sitting on a tank, their heads rising from breakfast plates.

In the plaza, blackened tourist trinkets crunched under his cleats. He shuddered.

He avoided bodies, sidestepping, averting his eyes.

He ran by the park, its trees leafless, their trunks black masts against an overcast canopy.

He passed the perfume shop. Once-beatific scents blended into one slushy stench. Glass bottles merged into twisted, ashen sculptures.

He vomited in an alley, where soldiers wouldn’t see.

Endorphin high, he flew along the canal, whipping forward his rubberized legs. The canal held nothing.

“Drain the water. Burn the city,” he had ordered.

He ran faster, the path uneven with debris. No more, he thought.

Tomorrow he would order the track rebuilt. He preferred the track to this.

 

The 150 word version of this flash fiction piece was a semifinalist and finalist in Flash Fiction Friday’s anniversary contest, #Flashversary 2014. It was eventually one of three stories awarded an honorable mention by the editorial staff of Flash Fiction Online, who were the final judges of the contest.

The Runner (Fiction) v1

In the morning, skeletal buildings puffed smoke from their charred innards. He ran between them, wearing yellow shorts, his shoelaces lime.

Rubble littered and buried the streets. Distant gunshots echoed.

He ran before soldiers sitting on a tank, their heads rising from breakfast plates.

In the plaza, his cleats crunched blackened tourist trinkets. He shuddered.

He ran by the park, its trees leafless, their trunks black masts against an overcast canopy.

He passed the perfume shop, its scents now blended into one foul odor, glass bottles merged into twisted, ashen sculptures.

He vomited in an alley, hiding so soldiers wouldn’t see.

Endorphin high, he flew along the canal, throwing forward his numb, rubberized legs. The canal held nothing. He had ordered it drained.

“Remove the water. Burn the city,” he had ordered.

He ran on, lungs heavy with soot. Charred drapes rippled overhead. He swore they whispered his name.

 

This 150 word flash fiction piece was a semifinalist and finalist in Flash Fiction Friday’s anniversary contest, #Flashversary 2014. It was eventually one of three stories awarded an honorable mention by the editorial staff of Flash Fiction Online, who were the final judges of the contest. To read the updated, 160 word version of this piece, click here.

The Runner (Fiction) v2

In the morning, skeletal buildings puffed smoke from their charred innards. He ran between them, wearing yellow shorts, his shoelaces lime.

Rubble littered and buried the streets. Distant gunshots echoed.

He ran before soldiers sitting on a tank, their heads rising from breakfast plates.

In the plaza, his cleats crunched the blackened tourist trinkets. He shuddered.

He avoided bodies, sidestepping, averting his eyes. Nothing would interrupt his daily run.

He ran by the park, its trees leafless, their trunks black masts against an overcast canopy.

He passed the perfume shop. Once beatific scents blended into one slushy stench. Glass bottles merged into twisted, ashen sculptures.

He vomited in an alley, where soldiers wouldn’t see.

Endorphin high, he flew along the canal, whipping forward his rubberized legs. The canal held nothing. “Drain the water. Burn the city,” he had ordered.

Tomorrow he would order the track rebuilt. He preferred tracks to this.

He ran faster, lungs laboring, heavy with soot.

 

The 150 word version of this flash fiction piece was a semifinalist and finalist in Flash Fiction Friday’s anniversary contest, #Flashversary 2014. It was eventually one of three stories awarded an honorable mention by the editorial staff of Flash Fiction Online, who were the final judges of the contest.

Signed My First Author Contract

M. J. Kelley contract signing author book

The contract is with the independent publisher and publicity company, Novel Publicity LLC. NP is spearheading a new series of nonfiction books for fiction writers, covering everything from author branding to the craft of fiction.

This doesn’t mean I’m quitting my day job or stopping my fiction pursuits, but it’s a great step forward in my writing career.

I’m looking forward to learning about the modern publishing process and working with a great team of editors, publishers, illustrators, and other authors. I’m also excited to share new insights with you right here.

My first book will be tentatively released March 1st, 2015. The working title is “What You’re Doing Wrong: A Fiction Writer’s Survival Guide to Criticism.”

As I write the book, I plan to post brief notes, insights, and lessons with the tag #CritiqueBook.

To ensure you don’t miss anything, you can join my friends and family on my announcement list or join my colleagues on my announcement list for writers.

I’m very grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to get started.

“Comedy Is Acting Out Optimism” –Robin Williams

The news of Robin Williams’ death affected me much more than I would’ve expected.

Since yesterday I’m experiencing sadness and nostalgia.

I can’t remember the first Robin Williams comedy special I ever saw, but I remember the last: Weapons of Self Destruction (2009). I watched it with my wife three or four years ago and we laughed. A lot.

His relentless energy and stream-of-consciousness comedic delivery seemed as strong as ever. It impressed me that he still maintained those gifts of performance after so many years.

He was a performer that I admired my whole life.

From the collective sadness expressed on social media and the web to the upset folks I saw yesterday on my way home from work–it’s not hard to imagine that he affected millions of people.

What is hard to imagine is that he really is gone. It seems contrary to his nature as a performer, contrary to that relentless energy he expressed, that never-ending stream of rapid-fire comedic bits, that always expanding range of dramatic roles.

The very nature of his style portrayed continuation, lasting willpower, and resilience. You don’t imagine someone with that kind of power ever being gone. Ever dying.

Perhaps the lasting gift of his artistic life will be just that: the impression of being unstoppable. I know it will be for me.

26 Ways Writers Can Make a Workshop Successful

What makes a quality workshop?

Mainly it’s the writers and how those writers interact.

Each writer is responsible for making the critique environment productive. But not every writer knows what this responsibility entails and how to get results.

Over the years I’ve participated in many, many workshops. And in May 2014, I created a virtual workshop. Doing so reminded me of ways to make the experience more worthwhile.

Below are the best ways I’ve found to create great critique environments.

Many are simply things each writer should consider and keep in mind during, or before, his or her attendance. These aren’t exclusive to workshops and can be used in a variety of critique environments. But all are useful if not essential.

Ways to Make Critique Sessions And Workshops Successful:

1. Always focus on helping each other to be better writers, readers, and critics.

2. Bring professionalism to the quality of all your critiques and interactions even if the work in progress or the author does not exhibit the same level of professionalism.

3. If you only like to read certain genres, seek out critique environments that explore those genres. Don’t participate in broad critique groups.

4. Before you commit to the workshop, ask yourself if you have the time to read, analyze, and critique the work of your peers plus prepare your own submissions. Can you meet all the deadlines? How many hours a day can you dedicate to the workshop?

5. Know the terminology writers, editors, and critics use to discuss literature and stories.

6. Write constructive, helpful critiques. “I liked it” and “I didn’t like it” are unhelpful if you don’t explain why while using examples from the writing. It helps to focus on the reasons why it does or does not work as a story, chapter, or article.

7. Someone already say what you were going to say? Say it anyway. It’s extremely helpful to know if folks had the same reaction.

8. Don’t want line edits and grammar corrections? Note what you want us to focus on in the body of your post or at the top of your MS.

9. After we’ve read your submission, sometimes it helps to tell us what your intentions were and ask us if they were clear.

10. Often we come across taboo subjects in people’s work: violence, sex, abuse, rape, religion, politics etc. Material with these subjects, although potentially challenging, still requires your professionalism and a quality critique.

11. Is one submission different from anything you’ve ever read before? Does it break with convention? Before you shoot it down, first try to understand it. Ask yourself if the differences are intentional.

12. Take arguments and personal disagreements outside the workshop. (Author and filmmaker Garrett Robinson has a great video on this.)

13. Communicate. Can’t make a deadline? Need to leave the workshop for a while? Need to quit? Always be courteous to your fellow writers and let them know.

14. Do not neglect your critique responsibility just because you don’t like or agree with the subject, genre, style, or author.

15. The workshop or the critique group isn’t the place to justify or defend one’s work. It’s a place to listen and consider. You can privately reject or integrate advice later.

16. Remember if people rip your work up and shoot it down, no matter how personal it feels, it isn’t. Adversity is an opportunity for you and your work to grow. It almost never feels good, but it can be essential to improvement, and it thickens your skin. So eat bullets for lunch. Over time they get easier to swallow.

17. Sometimes following everyone’s suggestions is a big mistake. Pick and choose what works best for your stories. Use your judgment and your instinct.

18. Critique the writing, not the author or the story idea or the genre. (Unless otherwise specified by the author.)

19. Clarification. If you don’t understand a critique, edit, or comment, politely ask people what they meant. And do so every time it happens. It pushes folks to be clearer and creates wonderful discussions about the work. (It also adds to your own understanding.)

20. Aim to leave yourself time to draft, polish, and work your writing to a point where you get stuck or it’s as good as you can get it or you have questions about it.

21. You have to want the workshop to succeed. You have to want your peers to succeed.

22. Do your best to critique and submit on time. “Deadlines are a writer’s best friend” is an old newspaper adage. Being held accountable is one of the best benefits of a workshop.

23. For story lovers, discussing and analyzing stories should be fun. So have fun!

24. Always tell the truth in critiques. And do so nicely and to the best of your ability.

25. Know the difference between sugarcoating and genuine encouragement.

26. Remember, you are the final decision maker when it comes to your writing. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice if you don’t want to.

What else makes a workshop successful?

The Advance (Audio)

Half-Track WWII Basic Training M. J. Kelley (C)

The Advance by M. J. Kelley, read by the author, and the first of a series dedicated to Arthur M. Kelley and based on his experiences.

Military convoy sound sample by Joni Heinonen found on freesound.org under the creative commons license and modified for the purposes of this audio recording.

Also available on SoundCloud and Mixcloud.