All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Creativity Outside of Writing

I will be the first to admit it - I got a pretty strong case of spring fever this weekend (a little early, but that's Chicago weather for you). I have been getting my fair share of outdoor time, prepping the bicycle for some riding, and generally doing a lot of things that have everything to do with the weather and very little to do with writing. However, this does not mean I didn't take a little time to flex my creative muscles. I just didn't do it by writing.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been helping a friend get his poetry and photography published. His work (viewable at is very impressive, and I have found myself getting all kinds of creative inspiration merely by reading his works and viewing his photos. My assistance in getting his work into the land of publication is strictly from a technical side, but I draw some creative energy from merely being a participant in this process. In short, I have created absolutely nothing but I am a little stronger for having explored the process of other people.

That being said, another part of this current publication process is that I have been working with the art of another creative type - Lizzie Nelson (you can find her site/stuff here). While she is a dog person and I am drawn more by the passive-aggressive nature of cats, nevertheless I saw some of her work and my mind began rolling around, thinking creative thoughts and comparing styles. Some of her graphics reminded me of old Charles Addams' works, while others were distinctly more Avant Garde, and they drew me to read her blog. Yes - artwork drew me to read her words. This is part of the beauty of creativity - there are plenty of different forms, but they all spring from a common fountain.

Even the very simple things can feed into the entire creative process - possibly even as a cure for writer's block. Take for example artwork. I have sketched a few little things, drawn some others, created graphics, illustrations, design layouts, etc., but I never felt I had the "touch" for turning pen or pencil into magic. Maybe charcoal, but that's another story. But every now and then I get pushed to try something simple and create a little thing. What inspires me? The logo on my blog. It's a simple yet strategically creative piece, created by Rhys Fuller merely because he wanted me to have a logo. I loved it and it became my masthead. However, as Rhys is also a talented writer (and far younger than his talent suggests), that logo reminds me that creativity is not a narrow path but a vast expanse. Writing is just one path to take (or rather, make), just like drawing, photography, music, etc. And for my regular readers - yes, most of the general rules here apply to creativity in general. Your first attempt will suck. Future attempts will each suck a little less. You will learn through sharing and finding things within yourself that you never thought you could do. And on many occasions, you will surprise yourself in hindsight once you realize, "Holy crap, I just did that!" 

It's a wonderful feeling, so never pass up the chance to find it.       

Friday, February 16, 2024


Recently, I got to look at the first draft of the galleys for a book that would contain some of my poetry in it. My part was haiku-structure poetry, with several entries forming a greater story, followed by a tanka (a five-line poem structured similarly to a haiku). As I read over my work and the discussion around it, I started thinking about the broader idea of writing, of creating, and surprisingly, of gratitude. Now, how on Earth does the last one fit in with the other two? Well, glad you asked.

Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows that I stress the importance of recognizing the creativity required for any form of writing. Writing and creativity are inexorably intertwined, and it is our job as writers to take advantage of this and bring as much to life as possible. However, once we have created our beautiful monsters that are our stories, our poems, our essays and manifestos, we have an opportunity for one more thing. We need to appreciate what we have done, and take a moment to let that sink in. Sometimes, I quietly tell myself, "I finally wrote that story. I wrote the hell out of it. I created something that cannot be uncreated." That is something incredibly special, and we need to take a moment to give ourselves credit for it.

At that point, this is where the concept of gratitude slips in. Chances are, your journey as a writer has not been alone. Maybe it's been lonely - often times this is exactly the case - but it hasn't been alone. The mere fact that you are reading this means that in some way, I have offered you something to consider, use, or ignore as you develop your own process. Everything you've read was written by someone (or something, nowadays), and they have entered your life for that little shining moment. In that regard, I believe there's reason to be grateful for those writers and the time they took to create their little monsters for you to read, process, and incorporate into your work. Even if their stories were horrible and served as great examples of what not to do, that's still a gift to you and your writing.

If you let yourself take in this feeling, it can be very motivational. If you feel the gratitude toward other people and their writing, you begin to realize that other people feel that way about literally anything you share. You realize that your words influence others and help shape their perspective. This feeling makes you know that you are truly a writer, and that you are a part of that great community of creatives out there, changing the world word-by-word.

I was at my local library, making some preparations for my upcoming twice-monthly writing workshop, and I took a peek at the Local Authors display where they had my and other authors' books on display. I noticed my book in the display was missing. As it turns out, it was checked out - again. On the one hand I thought, "Oh well, there's a royalty payment I'll never get." However, what I mostly felt was grateful that the library had that display, and that someone would now get to enjoy my work (hopefully) and be moved as a person by those words. Maybe I'm getting soft and sentimental, especially since my birthday is tomorrow and I will put another year on my body's odometer, but moments like that, either at the library or at home viewing the galleys of my future published work, was worth more than any royalty check I've ever received.

(So far.)      .   

Monday, February 12, 2024

Digging Through the Past

Don't be alarmed - this will not be another post about how to write about personal experiences, cathartic writing, or anything along those lines. If you do like those kinds of posts, then I am glad to know that (and feel free to tell me), but this is not one of them. This is about the journey we take as a writer, everything we encounter along the way, and the importance of knowing how far we've come.

When I first started my career in the financial world, three things occupied the bulk of my time. They were, in order of importance: Writing research reports, reading immense amounts of analysis, and crunching data. My skills, in order of expertise, were: Crunching data, reading immense amounts of analysis, building models/spreadsheets, Minesweeper, several other things, then writing research reports. I wouldn't say I was horrible at the writing part - I wrote a twenty-page thesis paper on the Poisson distribution that got rave reviews, so I knew something - but my writing skills still needed work. A lot of work. 

As I wrote my reports and such, each one would get the red-pen treatment by one or more of my superiors, and I would discuss the errors with them to understand the problems. I would revise them, eventually they'd get approved, and life would go on. However, I decided that if I really wanted to progress as a creator of research, I needed to turn it up a notch. So, for the next several months, I kept every draft that received the red-pen treatment in a stack by my computer. The pages piled up, easily hundreds of sheets of error-filled paper during my first year of reporting. Eventually, it was a ream of paper sitting by my computer, literally tens of thousands of errors looking back at me. That's when I picked up the pile, went to the first page, and reviewed them, sheet by sheet.

At first it was embarrassing to see so many errors stuffed onto one page. Simple errors - dangling participles, subject/verb conflict, mixed metaphors, a whole Rogues' Gallery of mistakes. I read each page, taking in the errors, letting my ego take a beating, and plowed forth. It was hard to believe one literate person could type up such crap, and worse yet, that person was me. Yet there it was and here I was, digging through it all. And it turns out, this was a great idea.

Two things emerged from that adventure. First, I noticed that as the pages went on, the red marks became fewer and less complex. Extensive rewrites became minor adjustments, and notes in the margins grew smaller, eventually vanishing altogether. This meant only one thing: My writing improved. I had documented evidence that I was developing that research-writing skill, and it was rising up that list of expertise. Maybe even to the level of my Minesweeper skills. Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, I noticed that even in the early days of my horrible writing, every now and then I turned a good phrase here and there. As crappy as my writing was, there were still some diamonds in the rough (a term often used to describe me when I was first hired by the the Economics Department). It might've required some searching, but even my worst works had something worth salvaging.

So, the takeaway from this is simple. Every now and then, go through your earliest writing. Look at it critically and let yourself think about all the ways you can improve it. Then, look at it and realize that it still had value as writing. Even your first piece still showed a part of you trying to express your part of the real world. It might've been poorly written or structured, but it shows just how far you've come as a writer.

And yes, I still have drafts of some of my earliest research pieces. One part of me thinks they're crap, while another loves them dearly. Both sides are right.           

Friday, February 9, 2024

Big and Little Rewards

Back in my finance days, I often associated with a department in charge of (pardon the professional talk) big things. If a company wanted to buy an oil tanker, or a fleet of train cars, or some other massive endeavor, they went to this department and things happened - things I didn't fully understand. In the end, the client had their oil tanker and that department earned a nice fee. Often, the client would show its appreciation by sending this department a little model of what they just financed. It looked like a toy boat or a model train car, but for the department it was a trophy, a sign of a successful project. They kept a trophy case full of little twenty-dollar trucks, trains, and ships to commemorate their multi-million-dollar deals.

This is one of the fun things we can get when we write, even more so when we share our work, and something we should always think about. Whenever we consider writing a story, poem, essay, or whatever, we are creating something with huge potential. If you ever wonder if you should write something, write it because it could become something utterly glorious. You see, what actually happens is that this process allows you to create something more than just a Word file or a few printed pieces of paper. You create this little pocket world where you bring everything to life (or death). The paper is the proof of this accomplishment, but something really huge has just been made.

I discovered this fun fact at one of the workshops I attend. I was workshopping my first book, The Book of Cain, and getting feedback for each chapter. Once I completed it, everyone congratulated me, offered more suggestions, and gave me emotional pats on the back for having completed a novel. I was also thoroughly chastised for my frequent misspelling of a pivotal word in the novel, "whiskey." (I often interchanged "whiskey" and "whisky" without knowing there is a substantial difference. Plus it was inconsistent.) I did make the corrections, revised the manuscript, and it went to press.

So now I had a book in my hands, with my name on it as the author. Me. James Pressler. Author. And I had this book as my proof. This was my multi-million-dollar tanker I had just created, and I was proud of it. Then, when I was signing books, one of my workshop cohorts came up to me with a little gift bag. She told me how much she loved the work, then proceeded to hand me four little airplane-serving-size bottles of whiskey - so I would never mix up the spelling again. To me, that was my trophy for the case. The book was great, but the little gifts reminded me that one person in particular was moved by my work, and that my words had meaning beyond something I created. I still have the bottles on my shelf.

Nowadays, for anything I write, I think about it beyond just what it means to me. I think about how this might move other people as well. Maybe it'll make them angry, or sad, or just get them thinking, but I hope that it moves them in some direction. In my mind, it always does have an effect on the audience, and when you write, remember that someone out there will be moved by your words, and you will be remembered for them. Let that be your trophy.         

Monday, February 5, 2024

Why Do You Write?

Barring a change in library administration or some scheduling mix-up, I am finally getting my writing workshop restarted after a COVID-induced hiatus that has lasted much longer than I wanted it to. Prior to COVID, my writing workshop had run for about four years, and grew from a workshop that had been in operation by my mentor, Newton Berry, for about eight years. Putting everything on hold was difficult but inevitable, but now everything is coming back into place. And, of course, this means I have to start really getting back to the mindset of facilitator and guide, as well as understanding just what I discuss.

That last bit may sound weird, but I assure you something changes between just talking about a subject like writing and discussing writing with people who really want to learn the craft. At that point, every question has more depth, more meaning, and there's someone staring right at me, looking for an answer they can connect with. This makes me promptly think about just how important that answer will be, and why I need to drop the perfect bit of knowledge on them. So to prepare for this, I ask myself all of those questions that I would expect to be asked and that I would ask others, and really explore how I would answer it.

The most common question I ask workshop members is, of course, "Why do you write?" I usually put this out to new members at the beginning of a meeting after they offer a brief introduction, and there is no wrong answer. Their response offers me a chance to see where they are, what they need from me as a facilitator, and what I can offer them in addition to what they get from participation. So in the spirit of preparing for the upcoming workshop, allow me to share with you just why I write.

My original spur to take writing to the next level was a realization that I had stories to tell, and that I was the only person who could tell them. That motivated me to start writing things down, to process ideas, and to seek help on how to communicate them more effectively. However, it has become much more than that since I took the plunge and typed up my first official writing-like-a-writer short story twenty-odd years ago. (I don't count writing in school because that was writing-for-an-assignment writing.) As I think about it, my motivation now is entirely different than what drove me back then, and it's something I think beginning writers need to know.

Writing, at its core, is about putting yourself into the world. It doesn't matter if the story is about you or someone else, whether it's fiction or real-life, writing is bringing out ideas and feelings that are processed by the very essence of your existence. Writing about events without placing that humanity into them isn't writing, it's journalism. When I write, I place a little part of me into everything that comes out. That story about wild animals converging upon some deadbeat in the woods - my being is in that story, just like it's in the story about a man reliving his life during his dying breath, or the story of a family cat's adventures in the house. My books all have me in them, even if I am not a character and they're total fiction.

Why do I write? Because the more I write, the more I get to understand myself and how I feel about the world around me. When I write, I get in touch with things that might normally fly under the radar. Everything I write teaches me something about myself and how I perceive the world, and that is a priceless gift. It's not the only reason I write, of course, but it's one that I offer other people when they look for a reason to write. It offers them a chance to grow.

Why do you write?   

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Boom, the Bust, and the Binge

I write about this topic periodically, mostly because I also experience it in my life quite often and find it valid. It's about binge writing, and the benefits and the downside of going on hours-long sessions of writing. Indeed, it can be a lot of fun to be so creative for such an extended period of time, but it may come at a price, so consider yourself warned.

Incidentally, I use the word "binge" for a specific reason. You see, the word wasn't even very popular before the 1980s, and then it became associated with drinking and kind of caught on. As one might've guessed, however, when the era of streaming really caught on, the word became a part of everyday life. There's actually a strong correlation between the frequency of the words "binge" and "Netflix" over the past twenty years (in case anyone's interested). And I think of them in similar fashion.

Sometimes, when we get a little inspiration, we start writing a piece that moves us. If we like what we are creating, we can spend an entire afternoon and/or evening flooding the pages with this amazing story that just caught hold of a special part of our mind. These periods of binge-writing are exciting, engaging, and come with all the thrills of watching an entire season of Breaking Bad in one night (except for season two, which was a little weak). We have this sudden boom of creativity where we put together masterful ideas and churn out amazing sentences with little to no effort. But then what happens? The bust part of the cycle hits, and we find ourselves mentally fatigued. Exhausted. We did all this creating, and we just wore ourselves out. Worse yet, we might read what we wrote and get those first-draft blues because it's not as perfect as it felt when we wrote it. That's when the boom really goes bust. This can ruin all the inspiration we had and all the excitement we felt when we were drunk on endorphins.

It's often difficult to tell the difference between inspired writing and standard writing after we've stepped away for a moment. That first draft you wrote all in one night might've felt awesome, but the sobering light of the next morning reveals that there's a lot of passive voice, a bunch of telling rather than showing, and all kind of basic mistakes. So disappointing, but this isn't a bad thing. When we are on a writing binge, it doesn't mean we won't make the same first-draft mistakes again. We might even do some things we would've caught if we weren't so excited to create. However, the part to remember is that it's not the writing that should excite us when we go on a binge. It's the fact that we are creating a broader story and establishing a framework for something that really moves us. Let the grammar Nazis pick on us later, and nobody cares about first-draft mistakes. Find the thing within that writing that really triggered the creativity. Hint: It wasn't just a frenzy of putting one word after another. There's something very valuable there.

Also, if you find yourself in a mad frenzy of binge writing, try to come up for air periodically. Step away from the words for a few minutes, walk around the room, the house or the block even, and catch your breath. It will put a little bit of clarity back into your head, hopefully without breaking the momentum you built up from the excitement of creating. Then get back to writing with a little more energy. 

And please let me know how it went.