Archive for Writing

On the Death of the Period

“Period. Full Stop. Point. Whatever It’s Called, It’s Going Out of Style” is a bit of a mind bender.

My first reaction was, “What? No way.” Then, halfway through the article, I realized the Times had pulled a fast one: they only used a period once to make a point (no pun intended). The rest of the article? Bereft of periods.

And it’s still perfectly readable.

Mind blown.

I’ll admit I’m one of those annoying people who writes text messages in complete sentences, and unless I’m in a real hurry I’ll even copy edit the damned thing before hitting send. Am I just doing it out of habit? If so, is it habit of upbringing, or habit because I think like a writer?

Just now I grabbed my phone and surveyed various messages from friends. My first thought: maybe just the avid readers type in full sentences? Not so much. Two guys my age, one a reader and one not, write in full sentences. A few people several years behind me? Not a period to be found, except one case where there were two sentences in the same text. When she didn’t use exclamations or question marks, there was only a period to end one sentence, and the second sentence was left without.

All of their messages make perfect sense, and I’ve long since stopped noticing the missing periods. And they’re using full sentences, not abbreviations and acronyms. (Maybe those died with the death of numeric keyboards and the rise of autocorrect and predictive text? Either way, I don’t miss them.) I don’t get the impression they much care I use periods, and they certainly don’t take them as aggressive or indicative of emotion. Perhaps it’s time to see how our high school students feel about it.

Language has always been dictated by usage. English has changed quite a bit since Shakespeare, as evidenced by Shakespeare presented in its original pronunciation. Check out this discussion and demonstration by the same linguist cited in the period article:

Fascinating stuff, really. Perhaps we’re seeing language evolve rapid-fire before our eyes in the form of digital content.

Perhaps, then, the period is no different from manuscript habits like using two spaces after a period or double-spacing after line breaks. I once drove an editor mad with tabs at the beginning of paragraphs because software handles first-line indents now, and he finds that a lot more flexible with digital publishing. Are they next to go, or is it just him?

That all said, I don’t see the period disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure publishing will be slow to take up such a drastic change, and academia is even slower. I’ll find it hard to give up the period, even if someone somewhere leads the charge to make it official. I’m sure copy editors and typographers are already having heart attacks at the thought of it.

The next generation may not care. If my kid takes up writing like he says he’d like to, how will his habits change within the next 10-15 years?

On the one hand, it may be a function of design. I read about the punctus in a similar article. That thing sounds pretty cool, but it’s long dead. I bet most of you are googling it right now (and look how “googling” has become a verb, even for those goofy people who still do it on Yahoo!).

It’s about more than just readability, too, because most of us have seen variations of this crop up on our Facebook feeds:

jumbled paragraph

I do wonder about the effect dumping the period would have on someone with dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Or “emerging readers” (elementary students). That might be a question to bounce off the special ed teachers and reading specialists at my day job.

I’m not advocating for or against the period. My gut says, “This is madness!” Yet my brain had no problem processing the article without periods, and I’ve been reading texts and email from people without them for years. We gave up the fight for good grammar in texts and email a long time ago, with exceptions for situations like job applications.

Language evolves, whether oral or written.

Perhaps it’s a matter of ephemera. A text is not meant to last. Neither is a tweet. Nor any other social media output. They’re all mean to communicate something quickly and disappear, despite being stored in a feed until an account is deleted. Even this blog post will scroll on back in time, read for a few days—or perhaps just hours—and quickly forgotten. If it is going to be thrown away or has to be shoehorned into 140 or 160 characters, it really doesn’t matter.

Consider, then, e-books. Are they ephemeral?

“But Mike, books are available forever!”

We’d like to think so, wouldn’t we? Writers love the idea of books stocked in perpetuity, sitting in dusty stacks to be discovered by future generations. With the sheer volume of digital output produced every moment, though, this is increasingly unlikely. I don’t peruse my e-book collection, and I’d hazard to guess those of us who wistfully fondle our bookshelves are very much in the minority.

It’s all consumed and forgotten, consumed and forgotten. As evidence, we can point to the endless number of books published and forgotten over the last 100 years. Walk into any used book store and consider how many books were consumed and discarded. Why pretend e-books are any different? Because Amazon can let you leave it on their servers forever? They’re just going to get buried deeper and deeper beneath the ever-expanding catalog, just like that used book store overflowing its stacks.

A hundred years from now, maybe the period will go the way of the punctus, and language will have come full circle. Maybe someone will find an ancient link to Winter Kill and say, “This #book has periods, how quaint Now where the hell is book three”

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Motivation vs Intimidation

 

motivation-intimidation

Some time ago on Twitter, a friend groused about his lack of motivation when trying to get something done. I told him, “Motivation is really just intimidation in disguise.”

It wasn’t a tough observation, as it’s something I deal with all the time.

Sure, there are plenty of other time-sucking gremlins out there, ranging from social media to the new season of Peaky Blinders to being dumb enough to take on a part-time job. But none of these are truly as damaging as those nagging voices in our heads assuring us we’re just wasting our time. Whether those voices are telling us “nobody’s going to read this” or “this is crap” or “you’d be better off doing X for the day gig or night gig,” they all come down to the same thing: intimidation.

When I read “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators” at The Atlantic, it really hit home. I crushed it in my English classes. My creative writing teachers in both high school and college told me my work was publishable. I had journalism teachers in both high school and college pushing me to do more and more work. Another English teacher read some goofy poetry I wrote at random in a foreign exchange student’s organizer and told me I should be in her drama club. I wrote some passages for a college placement test and got credit for English 101 and 102 without having to take either course.

So hey, I thought I was pretty good at this writing thing.

Then I hit the real world. Slush piles. Editors. Readers. Not nearly as easy. Rejections really didn’t bother me, but lack of sales? That shit stings. I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not successful, as that’s a relative term. I’ve got a Bram Stoker Award statue collecting dust in my office, and Winter Kill has a pile of healthy reviews on Amazon. These things just aren’t putting food on the table, and I allowed it to reshuffle priorities.

Which is funny, because I do still enjoy writing. When I can put off the other distractions and shut out the voices, it feels good to be putting words on the page, whether it’s just a couple hundred or I have that rare good day I hit a thousand or more.

That shifting definition of success brings on a whole new level of intimidation, however. My oldest demon tells me if it’s not generating cash and concrete results, it’s not worth doing. If it’s not better than this or that writer’s work, it’s not worth doing. This demon does it’s job in four little words: “May as well quit.”

The problem with defining success by these accomplishments is so much of that success is out of one’s control. With the glut of content on Amazon and in book stores, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Publishers’ slush piles are bigger than ever, and the 1000 True Fans so many of us are looking for have more content available to them than ever. Social media was supposed to be the great savior for creators of all types, but now we’re all just shouting into a global cacophony in the hope just two or three people will glance at a post on their busy streams.

If we’re going to weigh the act against the results, of course it’s going to be intimidating. The act of creation—whether we’re talking writing, illustration, photography, or recording—takes a lot of time and effort. A lot more time and effort than most people understand. Even in those rare moments when the writing itself comes easy, the rewriting and the editing and the proofreading is a difficult process.

We have to stop thinking about success, however we definite it. Success—and failure, which is also relative—are results. Instead, we should concentrate on purpose.

Why be creative? Because we enjoy it. Because it’s who we are. Because it’s fulfilling. Because we’ve got to get this shit out of our heads. Because it entertains others. These things can all be accomplished whether a book is sitting on a bookshelf, is self-published to Amazon, or is distributed to half a dozen friends by email.

Why, then, should it be intimidating? Because someone may not like it? Big deal. That, too, is a result. That’s getting back to success or failure.

For a work to be seen, to be loved or hated, to make a buck or not, it has to be made.

Get to work.

 

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Evolution of Writing Tools

The first thing I teach my computer tech students is technology has one goal: to make our lives easier. Whether we’re talking simple machines like levers and pulleys or supercomputers to handle complex data sets like weather and climate change, the entire purpose is to make work easy and efficient. Some of those tools may get more complex over time, but they can also handle a lot more of the work.

The same has gone for writing tools. When I wrote the tweet above, I was using Google Docs. Everything is instantly saved, no worrying about losing a few hundred words to a power outage, and I have the added bonus of being able to pick up any machine anywhere and getting back to work right where I left off. Even if my home or work Internet connection goes down, I can keep working offline or open a new connection through my cell phone’s shared data. I’ve even accessed online files on a laptop from the car thanks to my phone.

This was almost unthinkable when my friends and I first started getting serious about our writing some 15-20 years ago. I was hammering away on Professional Write on an old computer at first, then transitioned through WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, and Pages before settling on Google Docs.

We even have better tools within those apps. Google Docs, for example, has a rich revision history built in for tracking changes to manuscripts rather than having several copies of the same novel or story on several different disks or folders.

I know a few writers who lament how the tools have gotten too complex, and all the menus and clicks just get in their way. However, there are plenty of stripped-down or minimalist writing tools out there, and even they have the ability to share across computers or in different formats.

Speaking of, the end of the format war is probably my favorite outcome of the progress of technology. Results were very spotty going from WordPerfect to Word back in the day, and even going between the same program on PC or Mac could be sketchy. I used OpenOffice.org and Pages to work with editors using Microsoft Word and they never noticed, but it did take a little work and management on my part.

Today? Just about everything opens every format seamlessly. Some editors request .rtf files for safety’s sake, but for the most part, you can send them anything and they should be able to open it. If they’re demanding .doc files, it’s more or less out of habit or because it’s what everyone else does. With Google Docs, one click will send a manuscript to an editor as a .doc anyway.

It’s nice to be able to concentrate on the writing itself and not the fiddly bits that allow it to happen. Which, by the way, is why it’s also nice to write on a Chromebook rather than on a laptop where a hard drive might crash, a virus might derail a few hours of progess, or one has to monkey with drivers and updates causing crashes. With a Chromebook, the writer just opens the lid and gets to work.

Now we’ve almost come full circle. A pencil and paper were crash proof, write-anywhere tools. Now, with Chromebooks and smartphones and Google Docs, we’re just about back to that same level of reliability.

I look forward to seeing what’s next.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Real Connections Come from Writing

Sure, outlining is important.

When telling a story, it helps to know where it ends. It helps to understand the setup and plot twists along the way. Or, when writing time is scarce, it gives the writer a clear sense of direction rather than wasting time winging it and having to backtrack or rewrite after a pre-reader or editor points out why a key element doesn’t work.

The problem is it’s easy to overdo outlining.

Some people labor over their outlines for months, sometimes years, tweaking every little detail until the whole thing sings. Or they’ll develop complex backgrounds for even minor characters, things they may not ever use in the story.

At some point you’ve just gotta write. Fish or cut bait. Shit or get off the pot.

I’m not saying character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles aren’t good tools. I’m saying readers don’t buy character sheets and fat outlines and story bibles, they buy finished works.

It’s easy to fall into the “outlining is creating” trap. Hell, I’ve done it a time or two myself. And oftentimes, no matter how meticulous an outline has become, a new opportunity appears halfway through and takes the story in a whole new directly.

We writers like to tell ourselves precious things like “my characters tell me what to do” or “my characters just won’t listen to me,” but the reality is the act of creation is a very organic, fluid process. When we start writing, we start making new connections.

Outlining is creative, but also logical. You might have a killer character and a dynamite scenario, but when you have to put the building blocks together to get the character to the scenario, you have to involve a different part of your brain. It’s effectively math vs art, left brain vs right brain. Is your time better spent solving problems or crafting sentences and making new connections?

As an example, I started work on a new project last night. I feel like I know the protagonist fairly well, as I’ve been thinking about her and her story for a long time now. Until last night, her story has been jammed up behind a few other projects in the pipeline.

Within the first 500 words of the first page, I’d both found and filled a major hole in her back story that I didn’t even know existed, and it made her introduction more effective.

Would I have found that hole by just brainstorming over and over? Maybe, but I doubt it. The brainstorming time was focused on the plot problem, and this was a free-form connection that arose from the act of writing and telling the reader about the character. It sprang directly from the creative effort.

A gift from the muse, if you’ll allow another writers’ cliché.

If you’re all about outlines and character sheets, by all means, keep it up. As with most creative efforts, your style is your own and your mileage may vary.

I’m just saying at some point it’s more important to start creating. Take that skeleton outline and throw some prose meat on its bones. Find out what it really looks like.

The left side of the brain makes important contributions to a story, but the real magic happens on the right side.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Recovery Mode: ON

It’s been a little over five weeks since I last hit the weights. I was going to start back again tonight, but pain in my right forearm and wrist is still nagging at me, so I opted to wait a little longer.

I beat myself up at first, but then I realized this is the longest break I’ve taken in about four years, so maybe I’m due. Guess I’ll have another cocktail and cigar.

Oh, the pain.

Someone suggested maybe I’m getting too old for this shit. Meanwhile, despite my arm injury, I’m still able to finish karate workouts and run, while they bitch about the pain in their back and knees yet do nothing. I pointed out the difference and they don’t seem to get it. I guess I should do nothing and still be in pain? I’m kind of afraid to see how they’re going to feel in another 20-30 years.

If recovery periods like this are what it takes to free up a little time to work on some writing projects, though, then so be it. This is the first time in those five recovery weeks that I haven’t been tied up at the second job, away with family, or running other household errands I’ve been slacking on.

I’m drowning in a backlog of ideas and stories, and as I sit here looking at my various notes, I don’t even know where to start. In a minute I’ll just pick something and roll.

Let’s see what comes of it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Value of Ideas

When I express frustration at my lack of writing productivity, people will assume I’m dealing with a lack of ideas. Next thing I know they’re sharing their ideas with me, and then they’re offended when I politely decline.

The thing they don’t understand is ideas aren’t worth dick.

Nada. Nothing. Nought. Zero.

Ideas are important, but people don’t get paid unless there’s execution. Maybe you can point to some famous author who gets paid for ideas, and then someone else gets paid to ghost write something for them, but the difference is they’ve already proven their ideas are worth executing. Their name and their celebrity is the real attraction, not the idea. The idea itself still isn’t worth anything until it’s on the page, on the screen, or otherwise consumable and money is changing hands.

If it were as simple as selling ideas, I’d hand over my notebooks and my Evernote password and cash in.

This can all be yours for just $5,000.00. Call me.

This can all be yours for just $5,000.00. Call me.

For the most part, these people have their hearts in the right place and they’re just trying to help. Other times they’re just too goddamn lazy to do their own work and they think I can help them cash in. In either case, I generally steer them toward doing their own work. The former group will generally drop it, but the latter will then be doubly offended when I’m not blinded by their brilliance.

Ideas, regardless of their medium, require sweat equity. I don’t care if your idea is in the arts, business, education, or technology, you’re going to have to execute. Create your idea, build your idea, demonstrate your idea works. Make the effort and get the work done.

Or don’t. It doesn’t matter, because ideas are easy. They die as quickly as they appear. If you don’t put any effort into it, then you won’t feel any real value in the idea either. Some random dollar amount you’ve attributed to an idea is just a fantasy until you’ve put the effort into it and proven its value.

So you’ve got an idea? Great!

Now get to work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

B&N: Remember Who You Are

Barnes & Noble has long been accused of squeezing out local indie bookstores, and today’s announcement that they’re slashing their Nook business suggests they’re feeling the same squeeze from Amazon and Google’s Play Store.

Giving their customers a week to save their content is, to my eye, an indication of just how bad the situation is. If they were just shifting focus, Barnes & Noble would make an announcement and give customers plenty of time to save their content. Less tech-savvy users are going to need as much time as they can get. To give users just a week suggest they’re bleeding cash—badly—and they’re shutting everything down immediately to stop the damage. I’m predicting a lot of panicked calls to family tech support over the next few days.

Then we read Amazon is opening a second brick-and-mortar store, and of course there’s speculation they’ll open up a whole chain of them and compete with Barnes & Noble directly. It seems unlikely, but of course that’s what the media seems to be looking forward to. The thing is, Amazon is a megastore that happens to sell books. Barnes & Noble is, despite their recent integration of games and toys, a bookstore.

Maybe all they need to do is start acting like one.

Barnes & Noble stores hold several events like readings, author signings, Q&As, and so forth, just like indie shops. Barnes & Noble has employees who genuinely care about books and who can cater to readers’ tastes, just like indie shops. Barnes & Noble is a place folks can hang out, just like indie shops.

Why, then, does their online storefront look like any other online store’s?

I get it, they have their algorithms and bestseller lists and blah blah blah. But why not leverage the in-store events as well? Use location-based recommendations to see what’s popular in the area is a quick start, but why not also steer location services to local employee lists or blogs that browsers can connect with and follow?

They should also be streaming events. Team up with Google Hangouts or Twitter/Periscope to tackle the tech side, so fans and readers can see or participate in Q&As, author talks, and so forth. Guys like Brian Keene would probably have a good online following. Greg Kishbaugh had over 50 people in-store when he launched The Bone Welder; how many more might have tuned in to his presentation and then clicked to make a purchase afterward?

That’s just a few quick thoughts. I’m sure there are other things they could do, but the point is, they should be differentiating themselves from Amazon in every way they can. Just like they forced indie bookshops to be more creative to hang on to customers, Barnes & Noble should be getting more creative to hang on to their own customers.

Otherwise they’re going to die, just like some of the indie bookshops who couldn’t compete with them.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Tempus Fugitive

I feel like we rang in the New Year yesterday. Every time I even think about catching up on something, I find another week’s gone by. I guess that’s the way it goes when you’re constantly on the move, and why I put such high value on my time.

Am I getting things done? Yes. Am I getting the things you guys care about done? The writing and the short stories and the books?

Sadly, no.

But I’m working on it. I miss it. Dearly. What little time I have left between two jobs and family is shrinking all the time, but I’ve been talking to a few friends about overhauling my schedule to make things happen again.

So let’s talk about what’s still out there:

The Pack books 1 and 2, Winter Kill and Lie with the Dead, will continue to be available for a while. My publisher, Evileye Books, has been forced to shift focus and goals, leaving The Pack and a few other series without a home.

People ask, then, “What about Book 3?” Good question. The book will be called All They Fear, but it’s going to sit in limbo for a while. I need to try to get a few other things off the ground before I can worry about keeping the series alive.

The same goes for the first The Pack short, “Bravo Four.” Grab it while you can! Another short, “Silver Bullets,” has been written but is also in limbo.

Meanwhile, Evileye has released The Burning Maiden Volume 2, the second book in their anthology series. This one includes my short story, “One Night on the Road to Charleston,” as well as a number of your favorite horror writers like Ramsey Campbell, Cullen Bunn, Laird Barron, Paul Tremblay, and John Urbancik. Editor Greg Kishbaugh has put together another great lineup.

You can still grab the first volume on Amazon, which includes my short piece “A Family Tree, Uprooted.” As of today, this one’s only five bucks on Kindle.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback for my comic short “All Things Through Me” in the horror anthology In the Dark. Some readers connected with Tristan Yates, so there’s a good chance I’ll be telling more of his stories soon, though probably in prose form. If that’s something you’d like to read, please let me know.

Later.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Double-Spacing: Another Relic of the Typewriter Era?

I’ve already talked about what I think of typing two spaces after a period, but there’s really no standard requirement behind it. Double spacing between lines, however, is a whole different animal. Some editors still require double spacing in their submission guidelines, and most teachers still require their students double space their work per MLA format guidelines.

MLA format also says, “Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise instructed by your instructor).” To me, this demonstrates that two spaces after a period is an artifact of academia: some teachers are enforcing it out of habit and because it’s how they learned, not because there’s a practical reason to do so, so MLA takes the middle ground.

Have we reached the point where double-spaced lines of text should be treated the same way? If an editor or a teacher requires double-spaced manuscripts, then of course the paper should be turned in that way, but why? It’s time to discuss letting it die as a standard, if not a habit.

The first argument is for readability, but as with two spaces after a period, that’s subjective. We spend hours a day reading without double-spaced paragraphs, both on the Internet and in print. This is when the argument turns to readability for proofreading, where the eye is better able to spot errors. I’m with you there.

Halfway.

I still prefer to proofread in print, but I don’t double space. For me, a printed manuscript is not so much for readability as it is the feel of taking a pencil (yes, a mechanical pencil, because that’s how I roll) to a manuscript to tear it apart. Some writers prefer the nostalgia of a red pen carving a bloody trail of destruction across their beloved manuscripts.

If a proofreader is reading carefully enough, it shouldn’t matter whether he’s reading on screen or on paper. Our eyes can—and should—be trained for both. So what are the red pen and the double spacing about? Efficiency and clarity in communicating corrections.

Yet there’s a computer sitting right there. Don’t worry, we’re coming to that.

Double spacing a manuscript is not for the proofreader’s ease in reading, but for the proofreader’s ease in communicating corrections back to the writer (or to a typesetter if we want to go way back). A red pen contrasts with the black ink so the writer sees every correction, and the double spacing gives the proofreader room to lay down edits and notes. If an editor or a teacher chooses to rewrite a sentence or make a longer note, they’re going to need room to write, right?

Do newspapers still work this way? I wrote and edited for a college newspaper in the ’90s. Our instructor was a former newspaper editor, and we did zero proofreading on paper and never fiddled with double-spacing. Do publishers still work this way? In the last decade, I’ve only turned in one double-spaced manuscript per the editor’s request. I haven’t handled a printed, double-spaced manuscript, proofread by an editor, since high school.

So why are writers and students still doing it? Habit, and because academia says so.

This is for 3rd graders. Elementary teachers love their comic sans.

Proofreading marks would make great Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? questions. We all used (or at least saw) proofreading marks in school, but most adults have forgotten all about them. Hell, a college student at my karate dojo tried to remember some of them while we were proofreading a new manual we’re putting together for students.

We’ve replaced all of this with track changes, commenting, and similar functions in word processors. Even Google Docs now offers a Suggesting mode and allows users to see the entire revision history of a document, and the writer and an editor or teacher can see it all happen in realtime. It’s more efficient than passing papers back and forth and is a much faster and more direct way of communicating.

College students already turn in their work electronically, so colleges are already halfway there. Most K-12 schools are starting to make the change, too. 1:1 programs (1 device to 1 student) are the new trend, whether with laptops or tablets, so every student has an electronic workflow. At the school I work for, every student from grades 6-12 has a Chromebook or laptop and a Google Apps account.

At the elementary level, we’re seeing long-form writing replaced by multimedia presentations and blog-style electronic journaling. Elementary students at my school still write papers longhand occasionally, but even proofreading marks are starting to die out. One of my sons saw them in 2nd grade, but the other has never seen them. They had two different teachers, one of which is in her third decade of teaching, and the other has been teaching less than ten years. Guess which one taught proofreading marks?

That all said, I spoke to a second-year junior high English teacher who requires double-spaced papers, even electronically. He finds seventh graders’ run-on sentences and similar issues are tough to parse in single-spaced text. However, he also admits he requires it because “that’s how it’s commonly done,” and because it’s easier to communicate page-length requirements to students.

Readability, again, is subjective. By high school, and certainly on a professional level, students and writers should be past the point where their writing can’t be parsed in single-spaced text. I’m much more interested in the why of things over “because we’ve always done it that way.” The latter is a dangerous statement, and only invites stagnation.

As for his page-length requirements, it’s not hard to say “give me half a page” instead of one double-spaced page. I suggested word count, but he feels if he required 500 words, they’d stop writing at word 501. They won’t do the same when they hit the end of a page? In any event, these things can be corrected through education and grading.

Double spacing is worth debating. If even academia is starting to make the switch, then maybe it’s time to revisit double spacing as a standard. I can see arguments on both sides, but I think we’re better off taking steps to dump it. Let’s start drilling the habit of proofreading accurately in regular text into our students instead.

And by the way, how many of us catch ourselves proofreading websites, books, magazines, and newspapers? We do it all the time, even when we’re not consciously thinking about it. We tell ourselves it’s easier one way or the other, but we read single-spaced text (with one space after periods!) all day.

If double-spacing manuscripts is already a habit for you, by all means, carry on. If a publisher, editor, or agent requires it, then definitely do it! I just see no reason to keep drilling it into students as a requirement, or to require writers to use double spacing if we’re going to use an electronic workflow through the rest of the publishing process.

I imagine pretty soon it will become optional, just like those two spaces after a period.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Clearing Hurdles

I’ve spent the last six months practicing for my latest rank test last weekend, and that prep consumed a lot of the time I’d otherwise have spent writing. The good news is I passed the test, and I’m now a nidan (2nd degree black belt) in Shuri-ryu karate. The bad news is the only real writing I got done in that time is for the papers I had to write for the test.

But hey, the test’s done. Hurdle cleared. While the school year has kicked off at the day job, things are going a lot smoother than they did last year. Between the two, it’s as if a huge weight has been lifted.

San Cho Sai

Shedding some of the extra body weight has been nice, too.

Now it’s back to productivity. Not having the time to sit down and hammer on the keys has been driving me crazy, and has only served to compound other stresses. The harder, smarter decision was to wait, though, because the writing would have suffered, too.

That’s not to say I wasn’t working on anything. I’ve been chatting about ideas with artists, there’s a pitch out there, and I’m going to have to pick a prose project to concentrate on by this weekend. I also plan to get a few short stories to some editors in the coming months.

The next step is to establish a writing routine as solid as my workout routine. I’ve got an idea of what it will look like, and it feels doable. I’ll tweak it over the next few weeks, and with luck, I’ll have something to share with you all soon.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

It Ain’t a Blockage

It’s not uncommon for people to ask me what took so long between the publication of The Pack: Winter Kill and The Pack: Lie with the Dead. Then they’ll realize how much time passed between The Pack series and Deadliest of the Species and really get to wondering what the hell my problem is.

Non-writers often make the same assumption: “You must be suffering from writer’s block.”

Writers know better: “Writer’s block is bullshit, Mike. Do the work!”

It is and isn’t that simple.

I tend to be in the writer’s block is bullshit camp. There’s a whole lot of precious and pretentious bullshit artists have to wrestle with aside from writer’s block, but really, the fabled block is nonsense. We’re either creative or we’re not. The real problem is some combination of how the process affects us, what our routines are, and how we feel about the outcomes.

I find most people are either creative or analytical. Everyone has a different degree of each, but I think we all tend to lean firmly to one side or the other. Some of us enjoy creating, others are content to consume (not in the dollars sense, but in the sense of simply enjoying the creations of others). Some of us explore new ideas, others are more comfortable with what already exists.

I’ve always leaned heavily to the creative side. Even in my day job, I tend toward the creative. I’m a lot happier working with teachers and students, or finding ways around technological obstacles (like crashed servers), while a number of my colleagues in the same job would rather fiddle with hardware and sift through buggy code.

When I’m creating, I’m happy. When I lose time to a crashed server, I get real cranky, real quick (just ask my coworkers). When I go for extended periods of time without working on some piece of writing, my fuse gets shorter and my mood darkens (just ask my family).

Once I’ve spent some time at the keyboard, or even with a pencil and a notebook, the whole world changes. Things are sunshine and rainbows until something drags me away again.

Which comes to routine. A wise friend of mine calls it the ritual. Every creative person has their own way of making it work. When we’re fortunate enough that it’s our job, routine may go out the window because we have to produce or we don’t eat. For the rest of us, though, we need a ritual.

Yeah, it sounds pretentious. I kind of thought so at first, too. But bear with me, here.

When creating is not our job, we’re forced to live on the analytical side of our brains. We punch a clock somewhere, grind away for a paycheck, doing what we have to do to eat. We have to not create, whether that means troubleshooting servers, bending wrenches, driving trucks, serving up sides of fries, or picking up garbage.

Don’t misunderstand me, here: there’s nothing inherently wrong with these jobs. I know a guy who honestly loves his job riding on a garbage truck. I know a father and son who are perfectly content and extremely competent as auto mechanics. But for those of us who lean toward the creative side of things, it’s tough.

Want to know true misery? Talk to someone who learned programming because he wanted to create games or apps and wound up coding accounting and insurance software instead. They’re working within their dream, even within the degree that cost them a small fortune, yet they’re flat out miserable and don’t even know why.

I digress. The point is the ritual brings us home. We flip the switch from that tiny analytical portion of our brains—our souls or spirits, if you prefer—to the broader creative side. While our colleagues have various ways of decompressing so they can relax, we have to decompress so we can start working on the other side.

I think I deny myself this ritual far too often. When I sit down on a night like tonight, and I light up a cigar and sit out on the porch with the laptop, people assume it’s the cigar that’s doing the work. They think I’m being pretentious again, that I want to have the smoke and fulfill some image of what a writer looks like.

Nope. It’s because I know I’m not going anywhere for a good hour or so, and I can get some goddamn work done.

But I have a day job. I have a clock to punch. Two, actually: I have officially been getting paid to teach martial arts part time since January. I’ve got to get to bed by a certain time because I’ve got to get up at a certain time. We can nitpick the making time versus having time thing and balance it with family, friends, and so forth, but in general the late nights are my best creative time and I often have to deny myself that time for the day job.

I have to suppress the creative and deny the ritual to satisfy the analytical, which is the biggest reason you haven’t seen a short story in a while, and you haven’t seen The Pack: All They Fear or any number of other projects yet.

Last summer was an usual summer at the day job, and I didn’t have as many of those nights available. And boy was I an asshole as a result. This summer is looking to be more relaxing again, so maybe I’ll have more nights like tonight to massage the creative side. We’ll see.

Which brings us to outcomes. Some of us creatives, we spend too much time thinking about analytical things: sales figures; Amazon ranks; reviews and reader feedback; goddamn Twitter follower counts; blog stats; the money our work does or doesn’t bring in. It goes on and on, and it needs to stop.

I need to stop.

Tonight I banged out a blog post for the day job. A creative one. As I near the end of this post, and I exorcise this little demon, I find myself firmly in the creative zone. I feel comfortable, content. My cigar’s almost done and I’ll go back inside, but I feel content. I feel good, even.

And what better outcome can there be than that? I’ll bang on another short piece for a bit. You’ll probably be able to read it before too long, but hey, maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s not the outcome I need to be searching for. I just need to satisfy my creative side.

So no, it’s not a block, folks. It’s a matter of working on my creative side.

I’m getting there.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Another Year Done

School year, that is.

The students at the day gig finished yesterday, and the teachers will wrap up tomorrow. I work all summer, but I’m looking for this year to be much quieter and more productive than last year.

One teacher has been very helpful in helping me push technology into our district, but he’s retired as of tomorrow. As a parting gift, he handed me a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel.

Now THIS is a gift!

Score. Thanks again, Steve! I owe you a good lunch this Summer, both for this and for all the assists.

Now I’m kicking back on a Whiskey Wednesday with a bourbon and a smoke, reflecting on good times, and getting ready to pound on a short crime piece.

Gotta kick Summer off right.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.