I woke up this morning with the unbelievable drive to read a book, read a book, read a m-****ing book.

(Sorry, I had to quote that song. Consider that the first use of real profanity on this blog. I’ll keep it to a minimum, promise.)

It’s not as though I don’t get the urge to pick up a book any given day. I think one of the driving forces behind my interest in writing is my almost insatiable appetite for books. In fact, the happiest way for me to spend an afternoon is browsing a book store, lost in the various sections in an attempt to discover some tome I’ve never seen before. But today of all days, I woke up with the urge to read, not write.

I’m staring down the barrel of a deadline that is, for all intents and purposes, tomorrow and all I want is to pick up a book and lose myself in a good story. Is it the drive to procrastinate that’s keeping me away from my work? Is it some self-sabotage instinct? Not this time. This time, I believe, it is the voice of the inner muse reminding me of one glorious notion: others have walked the path before you and more will come behind. See what they’ve done in the past and are doing now and be reminded that it can’t be that bad.

The line – it can’t be that bad – has always come with a particular voice in my head since I was in high school. One of my favorite shows, Babylon 5, had the most brilliant character in it in the form of Centauri Ambassador Londo Molari. His accent was some kind of Eastern Europe space hodgepodge and when he spoke, he let vowels drip like wine. In one episode, he consoles a morose Security Chief Garibaldi by telling him a story about how in his intensely stressful life, he was once sitting in a strip-joint and couldn’t concentrate on the dancers due to his inner angst. Suddenly he looks up and there is a beautiful dancer there, looking at him. She leans down, kisses his bald dome-y head, and says, “Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad!” That little moment of stripper-provided wisdom stuck with me for years, especially spoken from such an awesomely tragic character as Londo in such a hilarious scene. Because sometimes you need a reminder from the weirdest or most off-beat places that it really can’t be that bad.

I had prepared an article for the blog about the isolation that can come from being a writer, especially when one is like me and tends to find the best writing times in the dead of the night. I wanted to talk about the difficulty of telling friends ‘it’s cool, go out, I’m going to stay home and work’ when you want to be there yupping it up over some beers, but your manuscript is calling. I was going to jam on messed up circadian rhythms and the secret joy of finding your muse hiding at the bottom of your second cup of coffee at two AM when nobody is around to witness your discovery and triumph. Then I got an eyeful of Chuck Wendig’s latest blog post about caring less as a writer and I sat back to think, really think, about what can be taken from the lessons I’ve learned lately about being a writer.

First and foremost, I’ve learned to shut up and stop complaining about being a writer so much.

Let me be clear about that statement. Being a writer is no easy roll of the bones. It is an often thankless, uphill battle against your inner demons, resource (time/money/patience) management, and the ever-capricious well of ideas. It can cause you no end of strife either internally or with your family/friends. Hell, it can cause strife with total strangers when they read your work and suddenly you’re in the middle of a flame war online about the true meaning of words like ‘misogyny’ or ‘feminism’ or, y’know, where you put an apostrophe in a sentence (because people just like to fight over ANYTHING but ESPECIALLY grammar). And talking to your friend/significant other/whatever about what is going on in your head is healthy to a certain extent – it’s called sharing and helps make us well-adjusted little keyboard-tappers.

But behind all the fighting and the fretting and the problems writers have, there’s an inherent magic that I think we keep forgetting about. The act of creation that writers embark upon is, at the risk of sounding way too hippy-like, a beautiful one at heart because creation is beautiful. And when we sit down to make the choice to be creators, we take upon ourselves the task of bringing something new into this world.

I’ll highlight that important bit there that we often forget about: we take upon ourselves. 

A brilliant editor I know, John Adamus, once told me that the first step in being a writer is making choices. I also amended that in my head to the first act of being writer is making the choice. When you sit down to the laptop, when you pick up a pen, you are choosing to take up the chance to make something new. There’s no writer chain gang, shackling us to our desks, demanding it’s ten thousand words before your opportunity for parole. And then, shortly thereafter, you make the choice whether or not to fret yourself to death over the very same choice. It’s all within our power to control and those inner stressors we put upon ourselves are within our power to control if we would just, to quote Chuck Wendig, care less.

Those outer stressors, like money and time managements and friends who wish we’d come around more and parents who ‘just don’t understand’, may be more outside of our control than our inner workings, but it’s still our choice where we put our time and our resources. We make the hard choices to find time to be a writer if we want to. We take the power of creation upon ourselves. And then, when we need to outgas some of our self-imposed internal worry, we crank about it aloud and make it part of our creative process. Sit down, write, fret, grouse, get back to work. I took a hard look at that cycle and thought to myself: which parts of these actually serve the creation process and which don’t? I can tell you, it’s those two in the middle that don’t vaguely resemble work.

I spoke last night with my best friend Andrea who recently completed training to become a doula. For those who don’t know what that is and think that’s a very funny word, a doula is someone who helps with childbirth and yes, it is a hilariously funny word. (It always reminded me of Aanold in Kindergarden Cop trying to pronounce ‘tumor’ – tuuumah!). She just went through her second birth yesterday and we caught up as she recovered from the strain of the whole thing. I marveled at her ability to go into a room and help a woman bring another life into this world and told her so – the very notion of the whole childbirth process freaks me out so badly I can barely listen to her describe it. Yet she made the choice to take up a calling to help bring new little people into this world, and as she talked about the long hours and the worry and the shouting involved (there’s a lot of shouting in coaching a birth apparently, just like on TV), I marveled at the excitement she had for all of it and the pride with which she spoke about the entire affair.

Suddenly, all of my complaints about my long hours behind a keyboard went away. I was just helping to bring some sentences and ideas into this world and all I had to worry about was getting them in the correct order to convey ideas and (hopefully) some proper grammar. I wasn’t standing in a delivery room, worrying over a new life coming into this world. If she could find the joy in the midst of stress, the accomplishment in the middle of BabyDefcon One, then what was I missing? Why did I let my stress overwhelm my creative joy? Why was it inherently part of my process?

I won’t go into why I stress about writing here. It’s a long, drawn out conversation that, in it’s own mental Olympics way, can cycle into that woe outgassing cycle in it’s own way and that’s not where I’m going with this. Instead, I’ll say that in the light of perspective, the little things that drive us to neuroses about our writing can be put into silence if we make our choices and keep an eye on where we fit in what I call the chain. That’s where the books come in.

For a writer, reading isn’t just the act of doing research on the greats in the field, or a chance to lose yourself in the work of your favorites. It is a chance to realize that once you picked up the pen, you are among a peerage that stems back to the first time someone chiseled something into a rock for fun and said, “Hey, Caveman Joe, you gotta read this!” You’re among those who made the choice to spin words out of dead air into strings of new reality that spark the human mind the moment they touch a reader’s eyes. And you’re burdened with the idea, just like they were, that if you don’t bring your particular vision to the world, who will. That book in your hand should remind a reader that there are others out there who could look at your stress and your inner demons and say, “Hey buddy, I feel you” and mean it. You as a writer are not alone and in the end, whatever it is that’s holding you back internally and setting off the monkey on your back, it can’t be THAT bad. There are real-world concerns to stress over that need to be focused on, sure, but the woe we generate over our creative selves sometimes needs the perspective only a good book can give.

Or, y’know, a kiss on the head by a beautiful, wise stripper. But if those are in short supply, take your revelations where you can get ’em. I’m sure trying to.

This is going to be the part of my blog where I support the process of reading.

I can’t tell you how many people I know who do not read for a fig. There’s a great deal of difference, of course, between reading the way that I do (book fanatic as I am) and a regular ‘reading for fun’ pace. What I’m talking about is the general loss and lack of appreciation for reading good books that a lot of people have. My friends, bless them, are a great and creative bunch but some simply do not have any interest in picking up a book and seeing what is between the covers. And I do not understand why.

My early life was prone for giving me a love of books. I learned to read before most other kids my age, and was an only child so I spent a lot of time with books in my hand as opposed to with other kids my own age. That appreciation never really went away, even when I encountered teachers who did their damnedest to make the reading process the most boring thing I’d ever seen. Reading to me was still a portal, a gateway, into things unseen and unexplored, just a breath away. Words became magic to me.

To friends of mine, people I know, they are cumbersome things that get in the way of information. They believe that reading something online, an article, talking about it, that’s enough. But getting down between the covers of a book? That’s either too boring or takes too long or is too difficult.

I don’t understand it. To me, that’s like saying a good kiss is too much tongue work, pardon the vulgar (if you find that vulgar). Is it too much work to cook a stellar meal you’ll enjoy? I never understand how the words can be such a passkey for some to adventure and such a prison of information for others. Myself, it is my bread and butter, my lifeblood, that spill from me like drops of rain.

And from plenty of other people too! These posts, marked appropriately, will be about what I’m reading right now and my impressions of the authors, the stories, everything. So let’s begin with…

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

It shows the mark of a great writer that you can take a concept like time travel, extra-dimensional travel, monsters and haunted houses, demons and wizards, westerns and drug use, and put them all in a series of books that spans places unknown and alike at the same time. Nobody doubts that Stephen King is a prolific and popular writer but this series also proves what many people might scoff about: Stephen King is one of the greatest writers of our time.

“The Dark Tower” series spans an unimaginably complex and beautiful story about the gunslinger, Roland, on his way to confront the Tower at the heart of the universe. From the very first lines of the story, you get caught up in the style and flavor of the text as Stephen King writes, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” There is no way to resist following. It came across to me like a compulsion to keep reading, to find out what this was about, to know more. It takes seven books, but King has completed the series recently, so follow it I will.

I’m already on book three and nearly finished with that one at that. I started this run last Monday and polished off the pages at a good clip. While the first book, I admit, takes a few pages to get into, once you’ve gotten used to the style of writing King uses to mark the gunslinger’s world as different from ours, it’s easy to get into this story of an epic hero on his quest for immortal answers. I can’t wait to see more of what King came up with in later books. The funny part is, carrying this book around has given me an idea of how many Stephen King fans there are out there, because no matter where I go there always seems to be someone who has already read the series or is right smack in the middle, just like me.

An addendum must mention, however, the graphic novels done by Marvel Comics, which tell the story of Roland’s childhood and quest to manhood. They are both epically beautiful and though the world of Gilead and Mid-World looks different in my head than it does in the comics (Jae Lee’s art, while beautiful, is not what I envision), the comics are so beautifully illustrated that there is nothing to do but gape at the tight lines telling the story of a hero’s trials. So far they’ve done two graphic novels, “The Gunslinger is Born” and “The Long Road Home” and they’re just about to get into “Treachery”, the third run. I can’t wait to see it, as all of this is new information to me anyway.

So that’s it from The Dark Tower series. Tune in next time when I talk about “The Exorcism of Annelise Michele”, the true-life account of an exorcism that went wrong which inspired the modern horror film “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”.