How to Build a Tiny Writing Space (within which you will write brilliant fiction)

I have made six different plans to create a writing space for myself this year. They ranged from most work (move miles away) to the least amount of work. The least amount worked. Let’s explore these plans.

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PLAN A

The first plan was to move west and buy a much bigger house where the exurbs promise lower home costs (and values). I’d get me a giant office for writing and books and records and all great old things.

That plan failed.

PLAN B

Stay in town but move to a moderately bigger place with an office for me.

That plan failed.

PLAN C

Stay put. Staying is great. Simple living is great. My wife and kids were happy. We love our neighbors. My three-year-old couldn’t imagine not living next to “Uncle Charlie.”

I, however, wasn’t as thrilled. After all, I needed a space to compose a masterpiece. I needed a sacred space, a space for prayer, meditation, and fiction writing. No such space existed in my house.

Plan D

Build a writing shed.

This plan got off the ground in a big way. I researched building codes. I purchased a shed to be delivered just before the summer. I would add heat and AC. It would be perfect. But a financial crisis or two declared to me, “you are broke, dude. You can’t afford a new home, new shed, or new shoes.”

These dudes and dudettes had some sweet writing sheds:

Plan E

Abandon Your Family

I decided that, even though despair was setting in, this plan of abandoning my family to be a bohemian somewhere south of the border was probably not ideal, especially if I wanted to write with integrity.

Plan F

Use the space you have. This is the plan that I recommend. It is the plan that I did. Here is how you can do it.

STEP ONE- Set a Goal

My goal is simple: to hear the voice of God and write fiction that shares that voice. For this, I need a contemplative, mystical, sacred space: a space that inspires awe.

STEP TWO-Find a Closet or Corner that You Can Use

This step was hard. We are thankful for our 3 bedroom 2 bath, but it is about as small as a 3 bedroom 2 bath can be, and we don’t have a garage. That means there are virtually no unused corners when you have a family of five.

There was, however, one space. It is a closet under the stairs. Harry Potter style. It had no doors; it leads to the crawl space; it was filled with tools and board games. Te ceiling is quite short. It was perfect.

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Step Three-Build Your Space

I put in some sick flooring. I painted the studs—no drywall, that would take up another .75 inches of my 5 ft by 3 ft office with sloping ceilings.

On the back of the unfinished walls, I painted with chalkboard paint. It worked perfectly. It looks very old and very writerly.

Step Four-Fill Your Space With Items that Will Help You Achieve Your Goal

I had two goals while filling this space:

1-It had to be functional. When you have 15 square feet, and you are a 220 lb man (all muscle, seriously), you need to make the space count.

2-It had to feel sacred. Writing novels sucks. Writing a second novel is in some ways easier than a first, and in other ways absolutely soul crushing. More posts to come on that.

Goals one and two are at odds with each other. I left out some things that I would have included. I wanted more icons and paintings, but four pieces of art and a few knick-knacks will have to do.

I added a few shelves to house my tobacco pipes, knick-knacks and records. After all, we have to inspire awe. MP3s don’t really do that.

Here is a picture of one of my favorite additions. It’s an antique PO Box. I keep notecards with next steps of my novel in it. It is functional and really cool and old.

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Here is the cheapest, smallest record player I could find. It’s not the highest quality setup, but the low-fi sound adds to the mystique. I also keep the record player on my desk while I write. The turning record is therapeutic if not mesmerizing.

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The DESK was a concern at first. There is no room, so I had to make it movable. It is on hinges and attaches to the wall.

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In trying to create a new voice for a new novel, I have begun to write by hand more. That means notebooks, which are certainly not as functional. But I cut a hole under the other side of the stairs. This section is basically the crawl space, but I can remove a little access wall and reach a portable file cabinet when I need to look at some older piece of writing.

I have also sworn never to have distractions in this room, other than a book or two and records, so I am using a seven-year-old Macbook. I removed the wifi card a couple of years ago. No other computer will enter this space.

Jonathan Franzen argues for this sort of distance from the Internet while writing fiction. His reasoning is that he doesn’t think writers will research well with the Internet. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but my concern is that I’ll GChat and judge people on Facebook too much.

Step 5—Keep Your Space Sacred

This is a writing space. You don’t do anything else in here. You can read for inspiration, meditate, pray, but you can’t do your bills or grade papers or surf the web. That will lead to you being a total failure as a writer and as a human being.

Step 6-Write

I’m rereading Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. So I’m trying to write in this same space at the same time everyday. I want to write early in the mornings, but it doesn’t work, so I am writing just after the kids go to sleep. I’m allowed to write in here at other times, but I HAVE TO WRITE at my designated time.

Go and do likewise. IMG_1849

Indie Publishing: A Vast Vulgar and Meretricious Beauty [or] 10 Reasons I’m Trolling Gatsby (#11 is so Meretricious, you won’t believe it)

…He must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby

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When I learned that Gatsby was turning 90 today, I immediately texted my publisher and said, “Let’s make the Kindle version of TRORP free.” No other event has prompted me to give my book away for free. I haven’t trolled any other anniversaries or events or people (though I’m still considering a lawsuit as publicity stunt against Dos Equis’, Most Interesting Man…After all, no one is more interesting than Rey Pescador, but I digress).

So what spurred my generosity? Why am I trolling The Great Gatsby (hereafter Gatsby not to be confused with the character Gatsby)?

I’d like to say it’s because I am fighting overpriced ebooks. I’d like to say it’s because Gatsby a couple of years ago we sold Gatsby at a school book fair and the list price was 15 USD. It pissed me off that my low-income students had to shell out that much money for a book that should be public domain and is so short it costs like .08 USD to print.

I could say it’s because I love Gatsby. I teach Gatsby to several classes every year. Some parts I read out loud every year. I like doing this. One such section is in chapter six where, our buddy, Gatsby is first born from “the platonic conception of himself.” Fitzgerald describes this lovable (but ultimately creepy, right?) dreamer as in “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.” Honestly, meretricious wasn’t in my working vocabulary the first time around. So here is the definition.

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The archaic definition as Gatsby as prostitute is interesting. This less-than-precise definition of Gatsby selling out for Daisy works. The other definition is better; though I think both work for the topic of the day: book marketing.

A few days after my first novel was published last summer, I sat in this tacky cabana in July heat in some exurban midwest waterpark mentally exploring the emotional desert of literary postpartum and emotional vulnerability. I knew that a few people were reading my book. PEOPLE WERE READING MY BOOK— my book that I spent years on, my book that was everything I believed and loved filtered into the fantastic tall tales of a beautiful Latino literary superstar. It was my best attempt to show the beauty of the world. It was for sale. It was a terrible feeling.

What made it worse was that I had to market it. I don’t mind marketing things. But the idea of spending my days online trying to convince someone to buy my novel that had no real reviews and a no name publisher made me realize that I might be another one of the millions of “Indie” authors in the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty.

Part of my goal with Rey Pescador’s story was to criticize academia and literary fiction while criticizing celebrity culture. It’s a sometimes harsh satire of America, but by writing and publishing this satire, I became a part of the industry that I criticized. I didn’t become part of the MFA generated literary fiction world that disappointed me from refusing to fly high enough. But I was now part of an industry that didn’t even attempt to, as Pound says, “make it new.” I became an Indie Author. I am an Indie Author.

We, indie writers, are all Gatsbys, and I don’t mean that in the sense that we are dreamers pursuing some idealistic version of the world where readers read and writers write and there is a book for everyone to read and love and a book for everyone to write. Honestly, I’ve always been too much of a lit snob for any of that stuff. What I’m saying is that we are Gatsby because we are also selling homemade intoxicants intended to make easy cash and help people escape the shitty reality of their lives.

At a literary festival last month, I was on a panel on speculative fiction. Almost every other person said they wrote and read to escape reality. I’m as guilty as the next person of wanting to escape reality—more guilty if you consider my Netflix history. I binge watch bad TV. I escape. I ignore my daughters and wife whenever a computer is around. Twitter and Facebook are there.

Is there a time to use reading as an escape? Maybe. It’s not my form of escape. Mine is TV. But escape is not something I find very virtuous. Escape, if not inherently a vice, can become one–in America it has certainly become an addiction.

Escape is easy in America. What’s hard and important and worthwhile is engagement. My novel, The Resurrection of Rey Pescador, is about this idea. Like Gatsby the titular character is larger-than-life and a product of his imagination. Also, like Gatsby the narrator is a passive observer. Both Gatsby and Rey escape the reality they thought they controlled and their narrators are left determining what is meaningful in life.

It’s a book about the virtues of engagement and the folly of escape. It’s a book about the danger of distraction and entertainment. It’s a book about the beauty of the mundane. But here is the problem I am facing: How do I market that type of book without selling myself, without becoming what I criticize? How do I spend hours on social media promoting a book that is about its dangers? How do I do that without becoming meretricious?

My solution is this– this article right here. My solution is to write about it in a blog post. After all, blog posts solve all problems. I wanted it to be a grand essay on the meaning of art and beauty and marketing, but it’s a blog post that I had little time to write; it’s meretricious, I suppose.

By doing this, I will make my free giveaway a holier-than-thou argument about Gatsby being too expensive and about how the 5,459 published free books ahead of me on Amazon’s free list are cheap. Yeah, that’s how I can do it. But isn’t describing Indie publishing as meretricious make me the second definition of meretricious? Aren’t I selling myself even more than Rey did during the chapter “We Also Sell Mattresses?” (READ MY BOOK TO GET THE REFERENCE!)

I think I am. I think I have.

But if this plan doesn’t work, it’s no matter.  I’ll just join the crowd. I’ll grow my list of followers longer. I’ll tweet on, with prose against the current, borne back sanctimoniously down a screen.

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Oh, yeah…the book is free here.

 

About the Author

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Alfred Cedeno believes human beings are made of three parts: saint, sinner, and robot. He explores all three in his fiction.

When he isn’t writing fiction, he teaches literature and writing, watches Doctor Who with his wife, and plays the types of imaginary games that a father of toddler girls plays—that is to say he is often the king of a castle.

He blogs here about technology, education, and theology and anything else that he finds interesting. Some of these posts are from the defunct blog “The Guilty Conscience,” others are simply ramblings from his journal.

His primary stories about larger-than-life poet Rey Pescador, and his equally famous friends, The Genius Brigade. He began blogging about these characters in 2006. His novel (Winslet Press, July 2014) chronicles Rey Pescador’s search for meaning and adventure in a metal world that has forgotten both. He thinks you should buy it. Like him on FB to get more info.

My Writing Process Blog Tour |OR| How to Create Swag in 21st Century Prose

A student of mine once wore an aphoristic T-Shirt that said something that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since, “Swag,” it said in bold letters, “Don’t come cheap.”

The student didn’t say much else, but we’ve always been…(alright I need to stop the Gatsby alluding before it gets out of hand—sorry).

Ah, swag, that essence of the gods. It certainly don’t come cheap now, does it?

Of course writers know this just as well as high school football players. Swag in writing, that lucid prose that illuminates the mind and sings to the soul and catalyzes the glands—that don’t come cheap either. It requires a process with strict, conscious discipline to rules and ritual.

So here is my writing process. Well, it’s actually more of a rule of writing life.

 (by the way this is part two of my writing process blog tour. Read the previous post and check out Brie Gowen’s website. She’s the one who invited me on the tour!).

 

Rule 1-Don’t write.

 

This one I’m good at. Instead of writing, try to commit to something actually worthwhile like watching TV or working or spending time with family.

 

Honestly, there are too many writers out there and too many books (seriously, if you have a critical synapse in your brain and search Amazon or Twitter for books indie or mainstream, you will cry over the quality and quantity of books).

 

I’m not saying that fewer people should write. Writing is a great hobby. Even this post is an exercise in that. I’ll write it tonight, throw it on my blog, and someone will read it. That’s great.

 

But writing a novel—dedicating hundreds of hours to one project with the risk that no one will read it or it will be the same as everything else—is a terrifying concept. I did it, and I’m terrified. What percent of novels are great, truly worth your time when there are so many good shows on Netflix (have you seen The Wire? I haven’t and I might be missing out big time if I read/write a novel instead)?

 

Don’t write. I’ll say it again: Don’t WRITE! Try to find something worth writing instead. Try to find meaning in life. Try to hear the voice of God. Then if you’ve heard it; if you truly believe you have some truth to share in the midst of this metal world (to borrow an idea from David Rosario the narrator in my upcoming novel), then write. That’s when you skip to rule five.

 

If you are obsessed with a character and his/her life for years, write it. If you carry around a notebook and laugh out loud in the supermarket line because you think of a joke your character says, then write it. Write it again. Write it a third time. Have someone smart edit it (for me it’s my brilliant wife).

 

Then get it published. If no one wants to read it, well you got to hear the voice of God. Not a bad way to spend a decade.

 

Rule 2-Notice everything.

 

If you’re coworkers say something interesting, write it down. If you can’t write it down, or are busy eating cake from the treat table, remember it, at least. Remember the cadence and the syntax. Remember the emotion. Remember the glow of synthetic light. Remember everything.

 

Write everything down.

 

Borrow your wife’s iPhone, because yours is not smart; then jot down how the character felt at some dance in high school. Then go home and realize it is horrible, delete it. Feel the same emotion later, notice where and chronicle how the molding around the stage in this old theater looks like ivory soap, then realize that simile sucks and move on.

 

Rule 3-Listen to your favorite album, something with complexity, something that doesn’t gloss over the reality of life.

 

Listen to that same album over and over for a long time. Write about a man killing a dragon. Only it isn’t a dragon, but really, it is. Have that be the climax of the novel.

 

Then eat a scone. You’ve done well today.

 

Rule 4-Go to Church

 

While I don’t write “religious fiction,” my fiction is inspired by my faith more than any other area of my life. Actually, I don’t really see any area of my life being separate from faith, which is important for the reasons below.

 

Believe the world is sacred. Believe people can be made holy. Then fall in love with the richness of an ancient faith. Spend time weekly with people saying words that are ancient and beautiful and true. Find beauty in routine.

 

There are novels that have inspired me, that have made me need to write, but more often than not it’s a sunset or a sacrament that gets me to steal my daughter’s marker and write on the back of a bulletin. It doesn’t mean that I’m writing sermons or theology. The robot fights in my book came to me during a 9-hour summer grad class about theology. Never be preachy or didactic in your fiction (unless a character is), but do write after hearing a sermon or lesson.

 

Rule 5: Location, Location, (I hate myself for writing this cliché, but it’s a blog, right?), Location.

 

If your kids are awake, you need to leave the house and go to Starbucks or Caribou or that awesome hipster coffee shop two towns over (the problem is that their tables are sticky if it’s humid out, and it’s humid right now).

 

If your kids are asleep, sit in your blue Lazy Boy (that isn’t actually a Lazy Boy and isn’t blue because it has a chair cover to match the earth tones in the basement). Put on a record; obtain the following supplies:

 

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seltzer water
  • A bandana (shout out to my boy DFW)
  • A computer (or notebook or typewriter or alphasmart [seriously, not a bad option]).

 

Place those items next to the chair. Realize that you need to shave. Shower and shave (preferably with a safety razor or something retro). Then turn on some music and write.

 

Rule 6: Win the Pulitzer or Something

 

We began with an aphorism from one of my students, let’s end with one: “Let Your Haters Be Your Motivators.” Actually, this smacks of rap tropes, and it may be from a song, but I learned it from one of my student’s essays.

 

My point is this. MFA programs and undergraduate creative writing classes have taught us to be good at receiving criticism. They have taught us to write clean prose that says something beautiful about monotony. That is noble. But that isn’t what gets you excited about writing. You get excited about Jay Gatsby, about Fitzgerald’s obsession with Zelda and perfect prose. You get excited about Shelley saying ironically, “Look on my works ye mighty and despair.” You get excited to see that Hemingway told Fitzgerald to “Kiss my ass,” after receiving criticism on A Farewell to Arms. So write something bigger and better than everyone else. That should be your tertiary goal (behind hearing the voice of God and writing something beautiful and true).

 

Listen to other’s critiques, but don’t write for other people’s approval. Write to say something beautiful, true, and unique. Otherwise, you might as well catch up on The Wire.
I’m not saying I’ve done this. But I believe in that lucid prose that draft after draft recedes before me. It has eluded me before, but that’s no matter—tomorrow, I’ll sit in my blue chair, pound on my keys, and watch letters create words that create something eternal. And one fine morning…

 

So I beat on, against the current of contemporary fiction, borne back ceaselessly into…another dimension where my MC Rey Pescador lives…it’s kind of a long story.

 

But don’t worry you can buy it soon. Follow me on twitter, or follow this site for news on pre-ordering my novel soon.

 

It was all true,

Alfred Cedeno

@reypescador

 

 

 

 

 

The Genius Brigade

Here are some things you need to know when entering the world of the GB:

#1-Most of the curated material will be told by Rey’s cousin David Rosario. You won’t be able to find either Rey or David Rosario on linkedin or twitter because they are from a different universe, some say a fictional one. Though there are certainly believers out there.

#2-Rey’s world is fantastic. I am using both meanings of that word. Even within Rey’s bizarre reality, he is a larger-than-life character: think Kanye West and Bono in one beautiful Latino shell.

#3-Rey’s world is slightly more technologically advanced, mostly in the field of biomedical science. That is because Sid Cutler is still alive in Rey’s universe. In ours he is dead. That is pretty much the only difference. Sid created artificial hearts that every human on the planet is required to receive at birth. People live much, much longer, perhaps indefinitely (if the singularity happens in that universe).

#4-If you like stories, you will love this story. I sure do.

Contact me with questions or if you want an advanced copy to review.

Hit the plus button below to like me on Facebook or follow me on twitter. I’ll follow back, unless you creep me out or something.

You are smart enough to find my blog and author page (top right “about the author”).

It was all true,

Alfred Cedeno

Rey Pescador Takes Flight

Today we launch my new novel!

Yes, that is right Rey Pescador–the sultan of syntax, the king fisher, the bard from the barrio, the prince of poetry–TAKES FLIGHT today!!!

Even if you can’t read. The cover art (front and back) is worth it!

http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Rey-Pescador-Alfred-Cedeno/dp/0990353826/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404856946&sr=1-1&keywords=rey+pescador

 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-resurrection-of-rey-pescador-alfred-cedeno/1119923505?ean=2940149818945

Rey Pescador
Rey Pescador

 

 

Pre-Order The Resurrection of Rey Pescador Today!

Pre-Order The Resurrection of Rey Pescador Today!

His meteoric rise and fall are legendary, but Rey Pescador’s greatest adventure remained a mystery.

Until now.

When David Rosario finally confronts his absurd past, he composes a series of tall tales and love letters that both chronicle Rey Pescador’s tenure as the world’s most famous man and finally confess his love to the mysterious Rebecca.

David’s one-sided feud with Rey, his cousin and best friend, humorously catapults this adventure across continents and worlds.

It shatters genres in its wake.

Believing that even post-modern life is filled with mythical elements and that common robot fights contain deep significance, Rey Pescador seeks an artistic escape from an undying, scientific world. In the process, he becomes America’s most beloved anachronism.

From his first public invocation of the muse to his spontaneous bout with an imposing heavy-weight in Madison Square Garden, his performances transcend reality. In the wake of an unexpected decline in popularity, Rey’s manager promises fame beyond his imagination.

But at what cost?

The Resurrection of Rey Pescador is available for pre-order!

Click here to to buy my book! 

Here is the amazing cover by George at Winslet Press and the description:

Best cover ever
Best cover ever

 

His meteoric rise and fall are legendary, but Rey Pescador’s greatest adventure remained a mystery.

Until now.

When David Rosario finally confronts his absurd past, he composes a series of tall tales and love letters that both chronicle Rey Pescador’s tenure as the world’s most famous man and finally confess his love to the mysterious Rebecca.

David’s one-sided feud with Rey, his cousin and best friend, humorously catapults this adventure across continents and worlds.

It shatters genres in its wake.

Believing that even post-modern life is filled with mythical elements and that common robot fights contain deep significance, Rey Pescador seeks an artistic escape from an undying, scientific world. In the process, he becomes America’s most beloved anachronism.

From his first public invocation of the muse to his spontaneous bout with an imposing heavy-weight in Madison Square Garden, his performances transcend reality. In the wake of an unexpected decline in popularity, Rey s manager promises fame beyond his imagination.

But at what cost?