The Storyteller - the wit and wisdom of Frank Coughlin
 
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For me, the start of a story is always the place of fog. I have a vague idea about what I want to do - a semi-plot in which I might have a hero and a situation and maybe an idea of how to get out of that situation but after that I am in a fog.
What happens next ?
I do not recommend this approach to other writers but what I do is this - I write what I have in mind - my little situation and then I see what happens - Usually I come up with an answer - the hero does this and that and before I know it he goes somewhere else and something else is happening and it seems to flow. It is as if I am getting a message from the writers and storytellers who are dead.
I am still waiting for Milton to send me something but I might not understand it if I got it. Tomorrow I will write a story based upon this fog brain writing and I will publish it here. Until tomorrow - keep writing.

 
 
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The Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat in professional basketball tonight. It may not happen again, so I will take this time to praise them (the Bulls) and diss the Heat.
This has nothing to do with the world of writing except for one thing - the Bulls are my passion. I love basketball and I have followed the Bulls from their very beginning. I love them best when they are the underdogs and they still win.
Writing about your passion makes it easier to write. When you feel strongly about something, this passion gives you the energy to do the little things like research and edit - both of which I have not done for this blog post. But the Bulls won so that makes everything all right.
It is a great feeling to see a well laid out plan come to fruition. I only hope I can do my writing projects with this very same zeal and preparation.
So once again I will say keep writing and good things will come.

 
 
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There is no creative person alive who has not stolen an idea from someone else. Even the dead writers of literature stole ideas from other dead writers. (Stealing Tip: It is much easier to steal from a dead person than a baby - babies make noise).
There is no basic plot that has not been written. Star Wars ripped off Shakespeare who ripped off some Greek guy who ripped of some Egyptian guy . . . all the way to the beginning of society. Cain ripped off Abel. The fact is we humans tell the same story over and over again, changing it slightly so as not to get sued and of course - to improve upon it.
You might be asking why is there a picture of a cat above. Is there going to be a story here about cats - the answer is no. I stole the picture of this cat off the internet because I liked it and because I could. I got that idea from blog I was reading that said pictures make your blog more interesting. I guess you could say I stole that idea too.
My point is - Don't worry about your story sounding a lot like Gone With the Wind until you are finished with it. Then if someone points this out to you saying that Rhett says I don't give a damn at the end of your story sounds familiar - you say thank you and change the hero's name to Brett. If that is not enough then change the lead female's name from Scarlett to Charlotte and the mansion's name from Tara to Lara. If they want more then tell them to rewrite the story because you don't give a damn (if someone sues you).
Actually my real point is don't worry about how you think your story is similar to a copyrighted story - write your story - get your creative juices flowing - you can change things later - the point is don't use stealing as an excuse to not write - you the writer need to write because it is in your blood - you need to write to get better. Even Stephen King knows that.
Writers write - painters paint - there are enough challenges to writing without worrying about plagiarism.
Now I hope you will like my new love story - it is called Poem-eo and Foolette, two star crossed lovers whose family's hate each other. What do you mean it sounds familiar ?



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People often ask me:  "How do you tell what is bad writing ?" (Okay almost all of these people are my students or were my students - because they would be the only people who thought I could answer that question).
My reply is simple - bad writing is writing that baffles most readers (as in what is the writer trying to say ?). Now I realize that this blog might belong in that category but I take that risk.
When you write something - say a short story or a poem - you want to say something - you want somebody to understand what you are saying.
Bad writing is different from academic writing for one reason - somebody or most people in academia understands academic writing. Bad writing baffles everyone.

I sense you fogging up and falling asleep so I will put in my example right now. I knew a person who wrote an eight hundred page novel - and gave it to me with these instructions - read it and tell her what was right and what was wrong.
I failed. I couldn't read twenty pages of her novel without my brain threatening me suicide - you will be a vegetable if you read anymore of this. The problem was _ I could not understand what she was trying to say in her novel - hell I couldn't even figure out who the heroine was.
This is my summary of the twenty Pages I did read. A girl Debbie is doing laundry at the laundromat - Bill walks in, says hello, he is not doing laundry. Bill asks where Sheila is. Debbie flashes back to the days when Bill and her did laundry together - they kiss - then Clark walks in (I never did figure out if he walked into the flashback or the present day rinse cycle) Clark kisses Debbie and leaves with her to find some action. Bill puts a new red sweater in with the whites and doesn't use a fabric softener. Mr. McGuff who happened to be walking by tells Clark who somehow came back without Debbie that Sheila is out back fighting with her sister who turns out to be Debbie. Another flashback occurs to childhood days when Debbie and Sheila were locked in the basement with loads of stinky laundry - their mother sits on the stairs holding the key and telling them never to use cold water on whites. Another flashforward occurs where Sheila and her mom are laughing at Debbie - she'll never get a man - she doesn't even know how to pre-soak. HAHAHA    Suddenly, we back in the laundromat with two police officers who are looking for Mr. McGuff - someone complained about him showing off his new underwear. Steve walks in with a roll of quarters, telling everyone to get out of the way because he has a roll of quarters and he knows how to use them. A motorcycle gang pulls up and Debbie rides off in to sunset with them. Sheila and Mr. McGuff go get coffee and nobody takes the clothes out of the dryer which somehow never stops and all the clothes are shrunk. The cops start laughing and that is the end of chapter one. Chapter two starts twenty two years later with Debbie and her mom in a nursing home wondering whatever happened to Sheila. A girl knocks on the door - she says she is Regina from the future and they have to come with her or ELSE everyone will know their dirty laundry.  I never got any further than that (and it took me hours to get that much sense from it). Some of it I added on to make more sense - she the original writer did not like it - said I had ruined her story. It does not make any sense anymore were her exact words.
So the moral of the story is: Never ask me for help - and that is as clear as I can make it so that is good writing or is it ?
Well keep writing - you just have to - to get better.

 
 
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Writing is not only a creative process, it is a sensitive opening to your heart. When you write a story, you are putting yourself out there. You are letting people see your baby, your piece of verbal art, your dear and precious creation. So why then would you trust the words of a total stranger or worse - someone you know.
Getting good writng advice is like finding swomeone who will loan you money and not care if you pay it back - Yes, it can happen but it is hard to find. And in the process of finding a great (or even good or even not bad) source of feedback - you will find many people like the one in the picture above. He looks like me (if I had a neat beard and non- gray hair- I do have the fuzzy mustache and the crazy look in the eyes). He is a stranger and thus you do not know what his baggage is (biases) and that is important. Very Important !!!!
 When you get feedback from somebody (even your Mom) use my simple rules to filter out random negativity and get clear on what they are saying.
1) Family Members have an opinion of you built in - whether you know it or not - never trust them because they will never tell you the truth - there is always another reason why they said what they said (for example - if you are known as the crazy one in the family - they will tell you your work was great and can you please untie us)
2) Internet Friends whom you have never met - and thus you do not know their baggage - you can take the good praise and pump up your ego but other than that it is mostly useless criticism you will get from them because nobody wants to piss off anybody on the internet since you never quite know if they will track you down or not -
3) Real physical friends - they too have baggage but the closer the friend that they are the more likely that you each know the others baggage and the more likely they will tell you the God honest truth - if you trust this friend, trusat their criticism
(but also understand that a CPA might not know anything about poetry or writing creatively)
4) A writing professional - these are rare and hard to find (that is if you want FREE advice or criticism - otherwise they are easy to find and not necessarily any good). The internet and magazines are full of people who will review your work for a price and most of them will never tell you that your work stinks (because they want you to keep coming back and paying). I knew a lady that had written a novel which had unlikable characters, bad plot, bad dialogue, bad grammer, . . . and five hundred pages too much plot. She paid a "professional" to review her novel - the professional told her that with fixing a few details, she could have publishable novel. This is the same advice he gave her three visits and numerable fixes later (all paid for) and no publishing house ever even gave her novel a second look. My advice is NEVER pay for advice (on anything) - unless of course you want to pay ME. Yes, that is right, for a measly pitance I will critique your masterpiece - and for a small extra charge I will praise your work.
So take advantage and email me today (or send cash through snail mail - no checks or anything traceable please)
Until I hear from you (and even if I do) Keep writing !

 
 
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Often in my writing class, students complain (about me mostly but also they complain) about having nothing to write about. It does not help to tell them to write about the one thing they care about the most.
This woman to the left demonstrates the look most students have after I tell them this.
"What would that be ?" they ask me, as if I knew the answer to the internal workings of them. After many attempts, I have given up asking them to find out what they want to write about. I think most students have been programmed to do what the teacher tells them to do and when the teacher tells them to think for themselves and put their feelings on paper - they draw a blank. And suprisingly, this effect is demonstrated by people of all ages. Including me.
I am at the point of no subject right now at this very moment. No, not here in this blog but trying to concieve of subject matter for my poem of the day. What I am thinking about doing is an old technique for stimulating the creative juices called
I can write better than that.
This concept works for me because I have a big writing ego, so it might not work for you. To make this work, I go to a place of bad writing - the internet where there is a universe of bad poets who either think they have to rhyme to make a poem or express their limited subject in the most boring and crude ways. ( Hey if you are angry with someone - yell at them, don't write a poem that says you stink I ahte F%%^K you) This is not poetry - it is not even good language. Good poetry involves using a creative way or style to say something - bad poetry sounds like a sermon "We should feed all the hungry, man "We should stop killing each other"). You get the point - I think I can do what you did better. It is sort like cheating because I was not creative enough to find my own subject - but hey Hollywood does this everyday. Except for the making it better part - they just steal whatever story is not copyrighted down.
So That is my creative writing tip for the day:
Get ideas from stuff that other people have done - you might not be able to do it better but - you will think you did.
Keep Writing.

 
 
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Okay it is really, really hot - even after the sun goes down. There is almost no ventilation and I am sitting outside - other than that I am doing great and this should be a great lesson in writing. Creatively. Which is what I want to talk about.
I have often said that to be better you have to gut it out and write everyday no matter what because the excuses will come no matter what - you know the ones - The dog ate my house, the computer gave me the flu and the tornado did not uplift you. I can think of several others too - the kids need to eat tofu and we are all out - the wife is mad because her boyfriend cancelled their date. And she is taking it out on me. Oh and I forgot that the dog is too tired to even raise a paw in my direction so I have to eat my own assignment.
Well with all that going on plus the fact that international terrorism is at a standstill and it is boring on television just what I am I supposed to do to make this entertaining.
I do not know so I will make like a republican and blame it on Obama. Somehow he must be responsible for this global warming that has made this day so darn hot.
The wife wants me to pretend I am her boy friend now so I guess that I have to go. She is going to pour whiskey on herself and make me drink it - yuck.
Last week it was not as hot as it is now at ten PM ever.

 
 
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This is a picture of my writing room. As you can see there is room to read and watch TV and get on to the computer. There is also room to write - plenty of it. That is the problem with this place - it is too nice for my writing good. I do not know who this woman is but she is nice and I like having her around to listen to what I have written. Mostly she nods her head and says that's really good Frank. (And then goes back to her reading). I do not know why she always wears a dress but that is  her choice not mine. I think it is her job to keep this room neat. That is also part of my problem with writing - she is constantly cleaning up the mess I am making - even on the computer. I think she is an editor. I think she is smart because she is constantly deleting my efforts - she tells me the world is better off without it. She has such a beautiful smile when she does this.
She also can be distracting - constantly asking me if I could help her turn the page - could I help comb her hair - could I help her change clothes - one thing after another. I think that I am being used. Anyway, I think I hear her saying something - I better go - what was I doing ? Oh , writing this blog.
See ya - keep writing and that will make one of us.

 
 
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She sat at the table expecting something. Her legs were twitching, a habit she does when either nervous, anxious or angry.
I sat wondering what it is she could be expecting. Luckily for me, I am prepared for all sorts of oops I forgot occasions. I sensed this was one of them.
Since there was no dinner on the table, I instinctively knew I had to take us to a restaurant. Some place nice that served comfort food. Old Country Buffet. No make that great China Buffet - the one where you can order from a menu if you want.
I excused myself for a second to go to the bathroom but instead I went to my secret stash of gifts and cards. One glance at the my handy hidden calendar and I knew it was indeed a day I needed to get a gift. Years of not being prepared had prepared me for this. I selected the proper pre-written card telling her how much I love her - no specifics just good old fashion love to love you baby stuff.
There are coupons for a hug and a back rub and best of all there are earrings all wrapped and ready. I give them to her as we sit at our table. I thought you for got she says - no I say I was only pretending.
Now what does that have to do with writing - just like with marital obligations - it always helps to have pre-written ideas sitting around ready for when the muse is vacationing and you are not up to it. No it is not like mailing it in - it is more like e-mailing it in.
But I would never do that - would I, honey baby doll kitten.
I have to go - now I have to give the back rub - what day is it again ?


 
 
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On a midnight dark and weary
I sat at my desk  without my dearie
I heard a knock upon my window
and who should appear but a crow
"Not a crow you fool," he said to me,
"I'm a raving raven - that's plain to see.
I have come to mock you while you write."
"Didn't your mother tell you it is not polite,"
I asked while searching for my gun,
"to bother people before they are done?"
The evil one then did open his bill
and with it, grabbed my only quill.
"Caw, caw " he laughed out loud
"I have just done my mother proud."
At this point, a shot rang out
fired from my rifle so stout
And it winged the winged one from hell
Who from the highest shelf didst fell
upon my poor little head
he knocked me out but at least he was dead.
When I came to - I found this poem typed in on my blog
I myself was lying in a fog
with the dead raven next to me and a pen in his beak
I don't know how long he was dead but he did reek
There was a paper lying on the floor
upon which was written something awful - one word:  Nevermore !

Oh Poe, Poe Me - I have written something I did not want others to see
Something cawful something rank Something evil - rhyming poetry.
The Horrors of it all !!