The Problem with The Brantley Blog

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To anyone who is still here after my year long-hiatus from this blog, I feel like I owe you a big apology and an explanation.

The Brantley Blog was discontinued for two primary reasons.

Bad Feelings

What began as select drinking stories and misadventures from college slowly turned into a broader story arc of my coming of age after leaving home for the first time.  This was a natural evolution, but it came with a price.

I struggled with a lot of loneliness in my first semester of college.  During my second semester, I finally made friends and I got really close with a lot of people who didn’t have much in common with me other than our shared affinity for inebriation.  This didn’t end well.

Petty conflicts, jealousies, and certain individuals’ affliction of talking about people behind their backs led my group of friends to a boiling point.  We all met on top of a parking garage to air out our grievances with each other in a structured act of full disclosure.  We called it, I kid you not, a “Pickle Pow Wow.”   Instead of the kindergarten classroom tool of a “talking stick” with which speakers take turns so that they don’t end up shouting over top each other, we passed around a pickle in a pouch.

Tears were shed, hugs exchanged, bandaids applied to minor emotional scratches and wounds, but deep down we all knew that the group of friends was doomed to collapse in on itself.

I know that this is all incredibly stupid and “high school” dramatic, but it really genuinely mattered to me back then.  A lot of people that I cared about stabbed me in the back and friends that I tried to help resented my efforts.  It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Needless to say, the fun of mocking my youthful naivety and the joy of embellishing drinking tales were far preferable to describing how I lost numerous close friends over the course of just a few short months.  When the story that I was telling one blog post at a time reached this point, I suddenly found myself unmotivated to continue.  These events weren’t much fun to write about and I assumed that it wouldn’t be much fun to read.

I had it in my head that someone out there was piecing these individual posts together and reading them like a book; that this heavily foreshadowed climax was hotly anticipated.  I put a great deal of imaginary pressure on myself to get the story right.

Now I know that this was a silly thing to think.  I understand that blogs are typically consumed piece by piece rather than as a unit and that I could have neglected the hard parts of the story and nobody would have noticed.  But it was still enough to suck the fun out of The Brantley Blog for me.

Brantley:  The Great Disappointment

A recurring problem that I had with weaving my underage drinking stories was the looming presence of my parents in the back of my mind.  Both mother and father had recently joined Facebook and had dropped comments (Mom especially) here and there that made social networking lose its luster.  Thoughts of the shit storm that would arise should they find my blog and read about my youthful mistakes (most of which were intentional) prevailed over every revision and every edit of every post.

Over the last month or so, I’ve come to realize that it goes much deeper than fear of my parents finding out that I enjoyed being a little troublemaker in college.  A big part of my tendency to hold back in my writing has been knowledge of their inevitable disapproval of what I have to say.

You see, my parents are very religious.  As a kid, I remember my Dad making this objection throat clearing noise every time a character in a movie swore.  I remember him changing radio stations and calling certain pop songs “garbage.”  I remember my Mom forbidding me from seeing certain movies and how upset she was when she found out that I had used Napster to burn CDs with cuss words in them.

I, on the other hand, have more or less oscillated between atheism and agnosticism ever since the day that my parents decided that I was too old to get away with napping during church services.  I used to lay my head down in the pew every Sunday morning and rely on my family to wake me when it was all over.  Once that was no longer an option, I found myself increasingly uninterested in the entire body of rituals.

Every part of my worldview is so radically different from my parents that it makes for awkward silences during the holidays.  It would be stupid to let my political opinions alienate me from them, but at the same time, there are certain things that I feel very strongly about and it becomes really difficult to see any basic human decency in differing opinions on some issues.

Really, the worst part is that I get the feeling that they don’t even notice these awkward silences, these times that I shut my mouth in polite dissent.  It makes me feel like they probably don’t know very much about me and who I am, who I became once I left their house.

All of this is in the back of my mind during every keystroke, every sentence.  These things that I write, they are an extension of me.  To hate my writing is to hate me.  When it comes to my parents, that’s a lot of stress to handle every time I push that “publish” button.

It isn’t easy suspecting that a falling out with my parents will inevitably be a big part of my artistic journey.  Some days, it’s enough to keep my fingers from hitting any key other than “Backspace,” but I just can’t live that way forever.

I’m 26 years old.  I’m smart, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, and patient (though I struggle with this one sometimes).  I’m stubbornly optimistic and I don’t want to accept defeat, not for myself, not for society, not for the human race.

I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud of my writing.  My parents should be too.  And if they aren’t, then that’s an issue upon which I can’t courteously keep my mouth shut.

From Here   

I plan on continuing to tell my stories, to laugh at myself and the things that have happened to me.  I plan on sharing my insights on petty injustices that I encounter in my day to day drudgery.  I plan on trying to make readers laugh or smile, to entertain a person or two if only for a few minutes out of their day.

I plan on doing these things on a wider level.  I’m going to share this blog with actual people that I know and if my parents find it, I hope they enjoy it.  No.  I hope that they can’t help but enjoy it, even though they disapprove.  I hope that they are just as proud of me as I am of myself.

Need Disney World Advice?

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I’m probably not going to get around to writing up another juicy post for this week.  Sorry bout that!

Instead, I figured I would take this opportunity to share with you some of the fruits of my freelancing labors.  Below are links to blog posts that I wrote for a travel agency in the UK.  As an Orlando resident and a Disney World Annual Passholder, I’m greatly anticipating the influx of theme park savvy Brits that can attribute their efficiency to my writing!

Be warned that these are a bit dry (lacking of the Brantley trademark drunken debauchery and staggeringly bad decisions).

If you found this post through the Disney World tag, let the education/debate begin!

A Beginner’s Guide to Orlando’s Theme Parks

Top 10 Theme Parks in Orlando, FL

10 Tips on How To Enjoy Disney World Like an Annual Passholder

Blog Promotion – A Hiatus and A Crossroads

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Blog Promotion – A Hiatus at the Crossroads

It’s been a weird couple of weeks, people.  In January, I managed to double my followers purely through networking.  I busted my butt for hours and hours every week, reading other people’s blogs, liking their posts and leaving comments.  In return, people gave my stuff a look and dropped comments, followed, or liked posts.  It was rewarding, but exhausting and unsustainable.

I need follows, views, likes, and comments to come to me unsolicited.  I’m standing at a crossroads, and I can’t really pick a path until I gain a better understanding of some things.

The Purpose of this Blog

If anyone has been able to identify a purpose for this blog, please notify me immediately.  I have NO IDEA what I’m trying to accomplish here.  My posts fall under two headings:  stories from college and random contemporary insights.  The first heading was initially my purpose.  These old stories are easy and fun for me to write (which got me into the habit of writing regularly), and are entertaining to read (I hope).  The second heading just kind of evolved.

I want people to read and enjoy my posts, and I’m trying to string them together in a way that tells a grand, coming-of-age story.  Beyond that, I want publishers to see my blog as a substantial platform that can be used to promote the books that will make me super rich.  Is that too much to ask?

I started doing research into ways to get more engagement from my time.  The two general methods of blog promotion that I’ve identified are Social Media and Search Engine Optimization.

Social Media

I know I should be using social media to promote my blog and that it’s a huge, obvious, step one approach that I’ve been ignoring.  The problem is, I don’t really want my family to see this blog.  It contains subject matter that would chafe their religious sensibilities and I don’t get to see them or talk to them often enough that I want to spend the few conversations that we have arguing about this stuff.  For these reasons, my family has ruined Facebook for me.

Twitter is still available to me, and I’m radically underutilizing it.  I just need a basic growth strategy that will bring followers from Twitter to the blog.

LinkedIn is a no-go for me.  I’m in the process of changing fields and I’m months into the job search.  I don’t want to broadcast my college drinking stories to the professional world.

Google+ and Pinterest are platforms that I’m totally unfamiliar with.  I get the gist of them, but I don’t really know how to make them work for me.

I’m working on brainstorming some work-arounds for some of these problems, but others seem pretty insurmountable.

Search Engine Optimization

This is where the gaping void where my blog’s purpose should be is really haunting me.  There’s a cornucopia of great advice and tutorials on how to make your blog easy for Search Engines to understand and categorize.  If you make their lives easier, they reward you by putting you at the top of the results on relevant searches.

The question is this:  How do I optimize a blog that isn’t about a specific subject, but is just a personal platform for whatever I want to talk about?

I know I could put in a lot of hard hours making myself the top result for people searching for my name, but I don’t see much value in that at this point.  I’m not a highly searched guy.  Additionally, I don’t want this blog to be the first thing that potential employers find when they’re making sure I’m not a criminal.

What would you say that this blog is about?  I’ve gotta narrow it down to some keywords that are broad enough that people search them, but specific enough that I can dominate.  Off the top of my head, “College” and “Humor” come to mind.  Combine those two, and you get an enormously popular website that I certainly won’t knock out of the #1 spot in Google search results.

Conclusion

I’m pushing SEO to the back of my mind for a while.  I will be focusing on a light social media promotion strategy that makes sure that this blog doesn’t get passed around to my family on Facebook.  I will also be looking into other outreach possibilities, including listing this blog in any directories or blog networks that I come across, and reaching out to other bloggers for plugs and guest blogging opportunities.

In the meantime, I’m going to scale back the volume of posts for a week or two until I sort out what direction to take my daily promotion habits in.  No sense in publishing all of my best stuff before I figure out how to find some folks to read it!

To Veteran Bloggers

Any help, advice, validation, encouragement, or informative reading material on the subject would be truly appreciated.

New About Page

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I’ve had it on my list to re-vamp my “About” page for several weeks now.  I had a nagging suspicion that it needed an update to hint at how my more current prognostications fit in with my overall theme of growing up.  Tonight, I just got around to taking a look at it.

And I changed like one sentence.

Growing up is such a broad, all-encompassing theme.  Though this blog has primarily been a spot to reminisce about ways in which 18 and 19 year-old Brantley learned things the hardest ways possible, I feel like it has begun to break free of its original humorous, self-effacing cocoon.  This means that it is becoming something more beautiful and profound now, at least according to the metaphor.

With my goal being two posts/week (one current and one Throw Back Thursday chapter in the College drinking odyssey), I’m not exactly sure where blogging will take me.  I just hope that it’s somewhere just as enriching and enjoyable as the path I’ve traveled so far.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my posts and send a comment or like my way.  Double thanks to my 100+ followers!

NaNoWriMo – Final Update

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Yesterday, November 29th at around 11:20 AM EST, I closed my laptop and walked away from a word count of 50,250.  I DID IT!

Though my novel is nowhere near finished and will probably shrink dramatically in its second and third drafts, I’m still supremely proud of my accomplishment.

National Novel Writing Month was exactly what I needed to get out of my head and start writing.  Story elements that frustrated me in the plot outline stage became unnecessary or completely apparent in the rough draft.  Sometimes you gotta stop planning and start doing, and this month that is exactly what I did!

I will definitely need a to set some short term goals for December to provide stepping stones towards my longer term goal for 2013:  to finish the rough draft of this novel.  On a side note, that was a goal that I set for myself last December as a New Year’s Resolution and it wasn’t until November that I started actively pursuing it!  After such a fruitful November, I feel like I’ve made up for a lot of lost time.  If I can keep up this pace, I should have a rough draft ready to go by January 1, 2014.

Congratulations to my fellow NaNoWriMo finishers!

To those who didn’t quite make it this year, don’t sweat it.  The creative process can’t be viewed as a To Do List (believe me, I’ve tried!).  The important thing to take a way from this challenge is what you have learned about yourself:

  • Did you do your best writing in the morning, afternoon, evening, late at night?
  • Were you more productive writing in several short sessions or in one long session where you churn out multiple days’ worth of words?
  • Schedule-wise, what obstacles did you face in your personal life that obstructed your daily writing goals?  How did/could you work around them next time?
  • What pre-writing or planning steps did you take/should you have taken to limit road blocks in your narrative?

My answers:

  • I did my best writing in the morning over a couple cups of coffee shortly after waking up.  It helped me keep my mind clear of other responsibilities in front of me for the rest of the day.
  • I was most productive on the days when I was on a roll and churned out 3,000-5,000+ words in one sitting.  It wasn’t always possible to find enough time in my schedule for this and some days it just wasn’t flowing right, but getting ahead of my quota and finding out that I was capable of hitting 3 days worth of words in one sitting gave me the confidence to walk away from the laptop rather than trying to force it on days when it just wasn’t happening.  That being said, I also had days where I came in under word count and it was some of the tightest, most direct writing that I’ve ever done.
  • Working a “we will call you if we need you today” catering job was the biggest hassle in my personal life.  Moving forward, I’d like to be more disciplined and wake up earlier so that I can churn out a fair amount of words before something like this can arise and chew up a few hours smack dab in the middle of my day.
  • Magic the DogOther potential obstacles included my girlfriend and dog, both of which were perfect in being understanding of the challenge.  My girlfriend was my biggest cheerleader this month, and it really meant a lot to me that she understood the need to hole up in the office and leaving her on the couch some days.  We are on different schedules and don’t get to spend as much time together as we would like , so it was a really huge gesture for her to be understanding of this demanding writing challenge.  My dog was totally fine with NaNoWriMo, just so long as I threw the tennis ball for him as I wrote.  Believe it or not, it put me in a good rhythm where every throw allowed me to gather my thoughts a little bit before returning my attention to the word processor.  I’m thinking about giving him a writing credit – “By:  Brantley and Magic the Dog”
  • My girlfriend’s parents have been coming over every weekend to help us work on fixing up our house.  Unfortunately the only way to work around this time commitment was for me to duck out on them and hide in a coffee shop like a selfish, bad person rather than helping them.  Luckily, I only had to do that twice, and one day was on my birthday when they exempted me from house work anyways.
  • Our house isn’t as sparkly clean as I would like for it to be.  I won’t say that I was wishing for the procrastination bug to bite but I will say that when it does, I avoid working on things by working on other things (such as cleaning up my house) so a little of writer’s block would have helped me win the war of attrition that I’ve been fighting all month with my green pool.  It’s the constant presence of leafs, none of which are coming from my backyard (we don’t have any trees) which only makes it more frustrating.
  • In the future, I need a more balanced approach to scheduling writing into my personal life, rather than just avoiding other responsibilities.
  • It turned out to be a blessing how much I’ve pre-written this story to death.  I had solid plot and character outlines, as well as an adequate understanding of my setting and mythology.  That being said, I’ve learned so much more about my characters through the situations that I’ve put them through and it’s helping me to realize fictional beings aren’t just lists of personality traits.  They’re living, breathing people with strengths that lead them in the wrong direction and flaws that misinform their every perception.  The volume of notes accumulated by November 1st isn’t my complaint though, it’s the length of time over which I mapped everything out.  I became so frustrated with details that didn’t fall into place from a bird’s eye view that I never sat down to actually dig in and sort things out from the trenches.  From now on, I will be less of a perfectionist about pre-writing.
  • One exercise that I found to be extremely helpful in advance of longer writing sessions was to map out some plot points for each chapter.  I started off making around 20-30 points per chapter, totally planning out every beat and move to where I only needed to add some description to have a rough draft.  While this was successful in orchestrating action-packed conflicts, it was confining for chapters focusing on character development, internal struggles, and building chemistry between characters.  Now, I’m down to 5-10 bullet points for what I would like to accomplish in each chapter.  Most of the time, I don’t even use them all.  It’s liberating to stop planning so much and just GO!

It’s been a wonderful, enlightening month for me.  Whether you made your word count or not, I hope that you had a rewarding experience that taught you much about storytelling and a little bit about yourself as well.

Happy NaNoWriMo and Happy Holidays!

50,250 words

99 single-spaced pages

and counting!

I just wrote a couple of pretty good paragraphs – NaNoWriMo Day 18

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59 pages and 30,000+ words into National Novel Writing Month and I just churned out a couple of paragraphs that I’m a little bit proud of.  They’re rough and will need a lot of work when I look back at the big picture after the NaNoWriMo dust settles, but for right now, they came out just how I wanted!  

Set up:  A cowardly man (Greg) hiding in a convenience store denies refuge to three ragged survivors fleeing a large horde of zombies.  At the last possible second, the survivors find a ladder onto the roof of the store and escape certain death.  Now, the store’s front window is on the verge of shattering.  This chapter is being told from Marilyn’s perspective.  She has persuaded the survivors on the roof to let her, Greg, and Patrick (an especially drunken drunk) join them.  When she brings the good news back to Greg, he refuses to join her.  

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NaNoWriMo update #2

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After getting a late start on National Novel Writing Month, I’ve managed to catch up on the word count and even get a head for a short period of time.  When I began, my goal was 50,000 words/the whole novel in November.  A couple of chapters in, I realized that those are two very, very, very different things.  I’m sticking with the number 50,000 (though I’m aiming for 1,700 words/day rather than the actual 1,666.66666666666 words/day because I’m extremely OCD like that).  

Halfway through the month, I should be at 25,000 words (or 25,500 based on my 1,700/day quota).  So far, I’ve got 25,394 words on 49 pages making up 5 chapters.  I’ve got the sixth chapter mapped out and ready to go for tomorrow morning.  

My modus operandi has been to sit down for as long as possible and write while shotgunning coffee and throwing the tennis ball for my dog.  This method usually puts me ahead of my daily quota.  Day after day in the 1,700+ column put me two days ahead of the game earlier this week.  The cushion allowed me a day to go back and fix some chapters that  weren’t really up to snuff, even by rough draft standards.  

Two or three days in a row this week, I was cranky by the time I closed the laptop.  Eventually, I diagnosed the problem:  I had my characters doing things that they wouldn’t actually do.  It was uncomfortable to realize that I spent hours shoving these fictional people in the wrong direction, but there was an enormous silver lining to those mistakes.  My writing sucked and I was able to figure out exactly why.  Also, I’ve already gained enough knowledge about my characters to know when they aren’t acting like they should.  

This thing is a zombie survival story told from multiple perspectives.  It follows a group of survivors working together to rebuild some semblance of civilized society.

It’s a story that I’ve been cultivating for years.  I had Lajos Egri-style character profiles.  I had plot outlines.  I had premises ranging from, “That makes sense,” to “That doesn’t make much sense,” to “What the hell was I thinking?”  I even had a handful of crappily written chapters.  It feels wonderful to finally do something with all of these poorly labeled documents on my computer.  

If you remember my first update from last week, I still plan on editing this up enough that I can post some of it without dying of embarrassment.  It’s on my to do list, but the word count has been demanding (but not as demanding as my poor girlfriend with strep throat) this week.  

I promise I will get on it!

 

NaNoWriMo – Late to the Party

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The first time I heard about National Novel Writing Month was on November 1st.  I was devastated that I didn’t have more time to mill it over, be indecisive, indulge in doubting myself, and then give up before I even started.  Instead, I shouted the intellectual equivalent of YOLO (there isn’t one by the way) and decided to go for it.

I was immediately met with obstacles.  My girlfriend and I bought a house and have been making it sexier so that we can sell it for a profit in 5-10 years.  Leading the charge on making it sexier are her parents, who actually view such strenuous work as a hobby.  For months after we bought the house, they were coming to visit us every single weekend to make it livable.  They took the Summer off because we live in Florida, but they were back on that first weekend of November.  Between working my two jobs, I hid in the coffee shop, stifling the guilt of knowing that her parents were doing something nice for us and I was willfully not helping them at all.

I did what I do best, pre-write.  Only pre-write.  I was working on an idea that I’ve been stewing on for a couple of weeks.  As I tried to bring it to fruition, I realized that instead of that idea, I should be writing the idea that I’ve been playing with for several years.

On November 4th, I pulled up an old, poorly written couple of chapters from a book about Zombies and stuff.  I had to crunch the numbers to decide how quickly I should give up on NaNoWriMo.  I read somewhere that the challenge is to write 50,000 words in November.  That’s like just under 1,700/day.  My old poopy rough draft that was channeling my screenwriting education and not describing anyone or anything because that’s the casting department and set design people’s respective problems was like 22,000+ words.

At that point, my world was rocked.  If I could write 22,000+ words without even doing a good job, imagine what I could do if I actually got some momentum behind me (and by momentum, I mean a 30 day challenge type deal).  On Monday November 4th, I wrote my first word for NaNoWriMo.  Then, I wrapped my first sentence.  Then I fist pumped silently as the dog stared at me like I was a lunatic because I finished my first 5,000+ words pretty much in one sitting, and these weren’t screenwriter words, these were NOVELIST words.  I was still behind (I needed 6,800 words done by the end of that fourth day), but I was hopeful.

I spent November 5th (happy birthday sister) drinking wine and eating too much pizza over a respectable 1,900 words.  I was a little loosey goosey from the second glass of wine, but mostly just distracted by the emptiness of the wine box (don’t judge, it’s fairly legit wine).  I called it a night and went to bed really freaking early because wine makes me sleepy.

I worked 10 AM – 8:15 PM on November 6th.  I told myself, “I will eat the delicious dinner that my beautiful girlfriend has prepared for me and then sit down with my computer and crank out some words,” but instead we watched The Purge, which is a little bit better than Entertainment Weekly said.

Today is November 7th.  I had the day off from one job so I told the other job I wasn’t available to work.  I spend the day playing fetch with my dog as I crank out words number 6,900-something through 14,000-something.  I send my girlfriend a cropped screenshot that contains a gruesome paragraph and a word count of exactly 12,000.  She is either intrigued by the context-less paragraph, or just awesomely supportive (hopefully both!), because she wants to read more.  This is wonderful and I’m thinking I will let her, even though I haven’t re-read any of this crap yet.

On a side note, I don’t think I’ve let her read anything I’ve written since that one satirical short that I cranked out after a bad day at work.  It followed a hard-drinking Millennial cynic who works with stupid old people that are holding him back and he goes to the bar and hooks up with Jennifer Lawrence because irony and also it’s fiction so I can do whatever I want, okay?  (It wasn’t a great piece in case you were wondering.)

So, about the creative process:

  • When I sit down and write, it feels really good (so much better than pre-writing).
  • I’m ahead of schedule on my 1,700 words/day quota.
  • I’m beginning to accept that I won’t be able to write every day.  I’ve been on a roll lately, so I’d rather write for 2-4 hours at a time when I can than for 30 unsatisfying minutes on a busy day.
  • I’m finally starting to adjust to the fact that I haven’t wanted to write books since 10th grade and am making efforts to describe the characters and their surroundings (AKA getting out of screenwriter mode).
  • I had an epiphany that my dog doesn’t partake in Daylight Savings, which is why he has been waking up earlier and going to bed earlier this week.
  • I’m on my 28th page and my 14,178th word.  Some of it’s good, some mediocre, some awful.  As I said above, I haven’t looked yet.
  • I read that first time authors can typically get away with 60,000-90,000 words on their first novel.  This is a bit distressing, because I’m George R.R. Martin-ing out over here hitting the above mentioned page count/word count on 2.25 chapters that just introduce the world and half of my too many characters (sorry – it’s the end of the world and I need my red shirts).
  • On the plus side, my inciting incident is in the first paragraph.
  • I have no idea whether or not I’m formatting this thing in a useful way.  I just opened up Pages and dove in.  It’s all single spaced so far.

This is a journey that we are all taking, so I look forward to searching through posts tagged NaNoWriMo and reading about fellow travelers.

Here is the screenshot that I sent my girlfriend:

NaNoWriMo sample

I can’t emphasize enough that I haven’t reread any of this, so think don’t grammar of my poorly.

Here is my proudest couple of pair of paragraphs (pair o’ graphs?)  so far:

Danny had never believed in a higher power.  How could some divine, supernatural being be in charge of everything when the world was such a messy place?  He had never prayed, he had barely ever asked friends or family for favors.  Since he was a child he had known that he was on his own and that anyone who tried to tell him otherwise was a well-meaning liar. 

He didn’t know who he was talking to when he voiced his desperation.  “Help,” he whispered into the darkness.  Then, he lit the flare.

For context, think zombies and stuff.  Next time, I will try and post more coherent samples before I finish my fourth beer.