Hi there! On not writing, and lizard brains, and stuff.


How apropos that, as the new guy here on Magical Words (and I’m happy to be here, grateful to be able to hang out every other week among an assortment of my best friends in the writing world) my first regular post won’t be about writing.

Get used to it. A lot of what I write won’t be about the craft, simply because I’ve read work from some of you, and from a lot of my site-mates here, and I’m one of the least qualified people to teach anyone how to write. But I’ll spend a lot of time talking about the life of the writer, and my journey toward survival in today’s writing world. 

But first, a brief bio, for those who don’t know me, and while my arrogance frequently knows few bounds, there are certainly plenty of you who don’t know my story. I am a hybrid author, with one foot firmly in the self-published world and the other in the traditional publishing world. I made a (small) splash in self-publishing in the summer of 2011 with my Black Knight Chronicles urban fantasy series, which is subsequently sold to Bell Bridge Books, a wonderful small press out of Memphis, TN. They have the distinction of being the first publisher to see the brilliance that is Kalayna Price, and my friendship with Kalayna is one reason I looked at BBB in the first place. So now I publish The Black Knight Chronicles through Bell Bridge, and I continue to self-publish my Bubba the Monster Hunter short stories.

And now I’m here, in the company of some amazing people, talking about writing. Or rather, talking about not writing. Everyone needs a creative outlet, or at least an outlet. For a lot of people who don’t write professionally, writing is that outlet. That may be the case for some of you. It’s your escape. It’s a hobby that you love, and you want to make something more out of it, but you have a career that you adore and can’t ever see yourself giving up no matter how successful a writer you become. You know who you are, you lucky people. 

But even as we get to live the dream – the quit your day job and write full time dream, which I’ve lived since April of last year – we then need to find a different outlet. Because suddenly writing, which used to be our escape from the world of the office, is the office.

Poop. My dream has become my job. 

And it’s awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love the writing life, and I’m doing everything I can to keep living it. But I have found that I need to have something else in my life other than writing to keep me sane(ish). And apparently the same is true for my Magical Words co-horts, since on any given weekend, or sometimes random evenings, you can find Misty belly-dancing, or Faith on a river somewhere, or David playing guitar, or Kalayna hooping, or me drunk in a ditch somewhere.

Wait, ignore that last bit. I’m not often found drunk in ditches. But if you see a long-haired guy wandering around Cary, NC this weekend, point me back in the direction of Illogicon. No, my outlet is theatre. I have a degree in acting, and have recently begun pursuing acting as an alternate revenue stream, taking the first step to get an agent and begin going after commercial and movie gigs. I’ll admit that it felt odd finally following the instructions on how to break into acting that I was given in college. Twenty years ago. But the advice still held true, I signed with an agent, and now I’ll start going on auditions.

But my point is that to lead a full life as a writer, you must do more than just write. As much as we love it, we can’t spend all our time chained to the computer, or bouncing back and forth between the computer and the Xbox. Not only does it make you go blind and a bit batty, it also keeps you from writing well.

Acting helps my writing, in so many ways. Reading scripts and watching plays helps me write dialogue. Hanging out backstage puts me in contact with some of the most insane real-world characters that I’ve ever known, which I then mine for stories. And the practice of becoming someone else for a little while helps me build characters on the page, too. Not to mention the intense focus that performing requires forces me to shove all the book problems out of my forebrain for a little while, and while my big brain is working on stage, my little lizard brain is back there figuring out plot points.

My lizard brain is impressive for a lizard, lemme tell you.

So find your stage, or your rapids, or your song. Find that other hobby that gets you out there and exposes you to characters, or lets your lizard brain work. And let me know in comments what you find. 


22 comments to Hi there! On not writing, and lizard brains, and stuff.

  • Well, I’m an artist. Much of it seems to come naturally, or at least quickly, to me. So, when I’m not writing, I’m painting, or woodworking, or drawing, and the focus required does shut down the over-thinking process a bit. I sort of don’t mind being a hermit. Still, A good friend and I are starting up a band, which should allow for the meeting of a character or two, once it’s up and running. I enjoy singing and I’m told I do it well. I’ve got the easy part in this gig. My voice is the only instrument I’ve had the patience to master, though I can at least keep a decent beat on a hand drum. He’s the one that has to write the music and play instruments. All I do is write lyrics and holler into a mic. 😉

    Of course, some of the other artistic stuff may become a job soon, as my wife and I are starting up a side business this year with aromatherapy and other craft work. I one day hope that the writing becomes my job, it’s always been my dream, after all.

  • Hey, John! Nice to “meet” you! (And I get down to Raleigh sometimes to visit family, so we might actually be able to meet in person at some point…) My “down-time” hobby these days is knitting (which replaced quilting, for the most part.) Although I sometimes become insanely frustrated trying to work out new stitches and new patterns, I love the fact that I can create usable items. Plus, it’s really fun to browse yarn stores and touch all the skeins 🙂 (Knitting has the added benefit that easy patterns let my mind wander and I can find writing solutions…)

  • Mikaela

    Hobby… Uh.. Wait! I am dabbling with decoupage :). It is easy, and quite fun.

  • Hi John! Great to meet you! Welcome aboard. I’ve taken up crochet again in the last year, which has been fun and creative. And I’ve been making earrings with my husband. And I garden. I’m also trying to come up with some crafting ideas to do with the kids. I also sing, not necessarily well, but with great enthusiasm. A lot of this I started lately after I felt like a lot of my creativity was getting squeezed out by the day job and stresses of life. I kind of wish I’d read your post years ago, because I’m nodding and thinking, yes, this exactly. Wish I’d figured it out sooner.

  • I like drawing, but I’m not good at actually drawing people or places. What I am good at is drawing maps, fantasy maps especially. I finally replaced my stylus, so I’m looking forward to going back to that.

    I also love swordfighting. I haven’t been able to go lately (whiplash plus swords doesn’t mix), but I was able to go to the school’s Xmas party this year and it reminded me how much I want to return. Which I hope will be soon.

    And filking. Give me a song to spoof, and subject matter to spoof it with, and … *snickers* that’s just plain fun.

  • When I’m not falling off something four-legged somewhere, or else making imaginary people fall off imaginary four-legged things somewhere imaginary, I draw. Horses, quite well. Everything else, extraordinarily badly, which is a pain when I try to do my characters, because then they stand there behind my eyeballs going “Oh, come *on*, I do *so* not have a nose that long.”
    Glad to hear you’ll be posting more frequently, John. I look forward to it!

  • Vyton

    Hey, John. Nice to meet you. I like to draw (birds mostly) and mess about with water colors (emphasis on mess). Interesting concept for a story: actor taken over by the mind of an alien lizard. Brilliant performances on stage in the bright lights, but after the show, in the dark …

  • Megan B.

    I’ve had other hobbies come and go, but I guess right now I don’t have one besides writing. Unless you count a computer game. I wish I had the time to take up something seriously. Luckily I love one of my day jobs, and the other one isn’t bad.

    Actually, does playing D&D count? LOL

  • I envy those of you have musical talent. And those of you with artistic talent. My hobbies include being an enthusiastic and/or reverent audience for music and art–I find that both of those help me shut down my brain and just enjoy the moment.

    For the most part, my day jobs have always exposed me to more than enough “characters.” Sometimes I do like to get out and do semi-athletic things. These days it’s mostly walking, but I have been known to whack around some tennis balls.

  • John, you and Misty have a great time at the Con this weekend! I’ll be taking an entire weekend off. Not to run a river. But to sit on a beach and relax. Just do … Nothing. If I remember how to do that.

    Besides writing, I also make jewelry for fun and work full time at the lab for the benefits. And will (this entire year) try to remember how to not work. How to rest. How to relax.

  • These are some great comments, and it’s awesome to see what a talented bunch y’all are! I’ve been away from the computer in meetings with freelance clients all day and am now off to another meeting (with beer) and then to an audition workshop with my new talent agent (not literary agent, and don’t think that might not get confusing!), proving that I’m far busier now that I don’t have a day job!

    Faith, when you figure out how to relax, maybe you can give lessons in relaxation! I could totally use one.

  • James R. Tuck

    I know that without my tattooing gig (which I’ve been at for nearer to 2 decades than 1) I’d be out of balance. It keeps me focused and on a schedule! If I were only a writer I doubt I’d ever know what day it is. LOL.

  • quillet

    Hi, John, I’m delighted to see you’ll be posting more! 🙂

    Long ago and far away, when the world was young…I got a degree in theatre. I’ve done, um, nothing with it since, but I know what you mean about the way it helps with writing. Those “beats” that actors & directors look for are very applicable to the pacing of written stories. And the way actors try to “own” their characters has helped me get into the minds of my written characters.

    Yikes, if I keep talking this way I’ll get the theatre bug! (How much sleep do I really need? Hmmm.) Maybe it’s time to take up drawing again. I can do that in spare moments, and I really like the thought that one creative pursuit can feed and inspire the other. …Highly inept sketches of my characters and world may follow…

  • John that’s a *great* idea. I could teach lessons and charge a fee of … Um. Wait. No. That’s another job. Nope. Still learning…

  • James, I hear ya. If it wasn’t for the calendar I have on my laptop and having to get my daughter to school during the week, I’d be toast. “What? It’s Saturday? I thought sure it was only Friday!”

  • sagablessed

    Good post. Can’t write more as I go to get my puppy. More posts like this though!

  • Gypsyharper

    I dabble in all sorts of crafty things. I used to do quite a bit of sewing and crocheting, though not so much lately.

    I also do theater – I actually just finished a degree in musical theater – though I’m taking a bit of a hiatus right now. Going to graduate school and working a full time job kinda burned me out. But I expect I’ll probably get back to it in some way in the future. I’m often struck by how something I learned in theater is also applicable to writing.

    A lot of my other creative pursuits (like writing!) fell by the wayside while I was in graduate school, but I’m slowly picking some of them up again. It’s definitely nice to stretch different kinds of creative muscles.

  • Love this, John. And I hope to catch you on stage at some point. I have no doubt that you’re outstanding. I LOVE your speaking voice, and have actually thought that you could make a decent side-living doing voice acting and book-readings for Audible and other audio book outfits. Just a thought. So glad you’re part of this site.

  • Razziecat

    Hi, John! I totally agree that a writer needs other outlets. I make jewelry, although I haven’t done much of that lately as I struggle with my WIP. Maybe I need to spend a weekend doing that instead of writing and see if my brain reboots 🙂 I used to draw quite a bit, a long time ago, and have been toying with the idea of getting a graphic tablet.

  • I knit sporadically. And I hike, also sporadically. I need to do something with my body every once in a while to let my hindbrain work. Lately I’ve been thinking about doing faux stained glass again. Or just coloring. There’s something very satisfying about making something pretty and when it’s done, it’s done – you can’t revise.

    Have fun at Ilogicon!

  • TwilightHero

    Other hobbies? I play the piano (when one’s available) and the organ (at my house). It’s all self-taught, my sight-reading is horribly slow, but it’s fun. You get a great sense of accomplishment from mastering difficult songs – which in my case mostly come from video games. I’ve been letting this slide lately to focus on the WIP…I should play more. (Music, not video games :P)

    Nice to meet you, John. Looking forward to more posts on living the dream 🙂