Writer Shop Talk: The Catharsis of Personal Essay Writing

newshoptalkWhen you spend years writing about products, trends, culture, and things, it’s easy to lose touch with the human connection that ties it all together. But that’s what really makes it all interesting, isn’t it? As beings made of meat, water, and thought, we’re naturally drawn towards learning about others’ experiences, learning from the events of their lives, and discovering what makes them tick. I love reading those types of personal stories, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I discovered just how therapeutic writing my own could be.

The story behind the stories

Sometime around last December, I sat down at the keyboard and just started typing, much like what I’m doing this very moment. I didn’t know what I was intending to write, but it spun out into a few paragraphs about my then new kitten Seamus, who was living in my office until he was big enough to not be a snack for our prey-driven Shi Tsu.

(Here’s a pic of Seamus, taken right around then, by the way. For the record, I wanted to name him “Blitzkrieg” but Wife exercised her wifely veto.).

seamus

At the time, I was on a string of tight deadlines, in the middle of solid month of daily chaos, and feeling pretty stressed out.

My wife and I have zero kids…but NINE pets (five cats, two small dogs, and two office guinea pigs). So, to the common observer, things that I consider part of my “normal routine” can sometimes look a little batshit crazy. Our morning and evening feeding routine is very much one of those things. It’s a three ring circus from the moment I get up until the moment I sit down at the keyboard to start writing for the day. Every single morning.

A few days later, I was on-deadline for a game review assignment, trying to fend of the increasingly crazy shenanigans of little Seamus, and struggling with a bit of writer’s block. Rather than blowing my stack, which I was very close to doing at that moment, I pulled out my few kitty paragraphs and started reworking them, adding to the story, and reflecting on my zany self-reflective experiences of that morning’s chaos vortex. Later on, I went back to fill in the gaps, flesh out the details, and weave in a touch of humor to laugh at my own absurd follies.

That story became the essay, Diary of a Crazy Cat Dude, one of the pieces in a new collection of writing life stories included in my upcoming book Coffee Is My Religion Vol I.

Something about writing that essay felt good. Outside of slinging articles, writing how-to books, and doing other freelance work, I rarely give myself permission to just write for me. Spewing those thoughts from my brain to the page was cathartic and helped me look back and laugh at a slice of my own life that was very frustrating and raw in the moment. It’s really a pretty goofy story, but going back and taking the time to really build it into a sort of narrative made me want to share it with others.

Meanwhile, I was mulling over future book project ideas, and that’s when the rough idea of writing an ongoing collection of personal stories and essays tied to different facets of the writing life hit me.

Breathing deeper

The actual battle plan for the project didn’t cement until a month or two later, when I picked up a copy of Leigh Alexander’s first book, Breathing Machine. I really connected with certain aspects of the very personal and quite poetic writing in that book. The subject matter also brought me back to my days as a nerdy youth hanging out on our local BBS, playing old-school computer games, and immersing myself in the pulse of the now very outdated technology that was cutting edge at the time.

Leigh’s excellent writing inspired me to push deeper into my own personal writing exercises. I felt like it helped me open a window through which to better look back at and process my own experiences over the years. [BTW: her second book, Clipping Through is also a great read.]

So I started writing and experimenting with other essays, and found examining my writing journey proved to be a great way to process and learn from my own mishaps and victories. It also just gave me an opportunity to laugh at myself, too, and dig up memories both fond and frustrating. Some of these storytelling-focused pieces revolve around my own adventures and experiences as a writer. Others bundle my thoughts on a specific aspect of writing into a cohesive argument. They’re all penned in my usual quirky voice, though the writing is a lot different from what you’ll find in my other books.

The first volume of these collected essays will be out very soon, on December 1st on Kindle. I’m not sure what folks will think of them, but I hope at the very least that they’ll entertain and inspire others to share their own stories.

The book is only $0.99 (for a limited time),which is less than a cup of coffee (Mmmmm…COFFEE). If you pick it up and love it, let me know and please leave a nice review on Amazon so I can know whether to sling more essays in the future! And if you don’t dig it, well…you’re only out a buck. Hopefully you get a chuckle or two out of it.

In Volume I, I tackle a wide range of thematically linked subjects, ranging from self-publishing and coffee-addled writing binges to the challenges of having your work edited and beyond. I’ve got many more tales in me, but I’m holding off on writing them up until I know what people think of this first leg of the project. I’d like to make it a regular thing, with new volumes coming out once or twice a year.

I appreciate your ongoing support! It allows me to continue experimenting and trying out different things with my book projects, of which I have many more in the pipeline.

Thanks a bunch!
-Nathan

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Pre-order my upcoming essay book Coffee Is My Religion Vol I!

coffeeoptionlokinggood1 copy

Pre-order it for only $0.99 on Kindle now!

The first entry in a new series, Coffee Is My Religion, is quite different from Nathan’s previous books in the Game Journo Guides Series. It’s not a how-to guide or advice-filled tome. Instead, this collection of deeply personal, quirky, and often humorous essays on the writing life digs deeper into Nathan’s own personal journey, his routine, his failings and victories, and much more. It aims to peel back the curtain a bit and connect with fellow writers of all sorts in a different way.

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