About biffmitchell

I'm a writer, photographer and illustrator. For more, visit biffmitchell.com.

The Existential Adventures of Crazy Man and the Dog, Sidestepper, Episodes 1 – 4

Crazy thoughts for crazy times with two very strange characters meeting some very strange creatures on the path of adventure and new meanings. Will the dog find his mother? Will the man find his kitchen? Will the shapes in the woods devour them? And where…exactly…does this path lead?

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Download Episode 1

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Download Episode 2

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Download Episode 3

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Download Episode 4

New episodes will appear every Tuesday and Thursday at irregular hours, in keeping with the path.

 

 

 

 

The (FREE) Creativity Workshop

Shot

Something FREE to while away the hours of making your neighbourhood safer by staying home.

The Creativity Workshop is designed to improve your creativity, break down blocks to expressing yourself and give you a set of tools to help you start any creative project. Use these tools for artistic projects, business projects (manuals, proposals), academia (essays, theses) or just to see the world in a different way.

The workshop is hands on, with lots of exercises to get your creative juices flowing. There are no prerequisites and the less creative you are, the more you’ll get out of this workshop.

And…if you don’t want to do the workshop, you can just look at the pictures and know there’s beauty out there in spite of these troubled times. 

You can download the workshop free here: 

https://theweeklymancom.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/creativity-workshop.pdf  

Searching for Peace: The Strange Adventures of Biff and the Fox

Hot Dog

To download Searching for Peace: The Strange Adventures of Biff and the Fox, click here.

I started posting the Searching for Peace blogs in December 2014 and into March 2015. All two people who read my blog were astounded by the sheer absurdity of the posts and read them only so they could laugh at me. But that’s OK, I laugh at myself and the blog posts gave three people a reason to laugh.

By the time March rolled around Biff and the Fox still hadn’t found peace, though they’d almost come close somewhere in their minds. So, this is an unfinished story, serialized over several months. Boy…my two readers were pissed.

They said, unison, “We hate you, Biff, for doing this. There’s no ending. Where’s the ending? It’s like losing power just before the end of a mystery movie or missing the last five minutes of a Leafs game when they’re up 5 points and still manage to lose. We want to see how they do that. We want to see how Biff and the Fox either find peace or don’t find peace. Where’s the ending, Biff, where?”

All I can think of is this: Successful or not, if the search for peace ever ends, we’re screwed.

 

On Describing Writers

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I’ve heard people describe writers as insightful, well-disciplined, open-minded, observant individuals with massive vocabularies, a passion for reading and a clarity of thought that separates them from the rest of the human race.

Bullshit.

Real writers live in hovels. They peek out their windows and watch the world change seasons while they scratch their nethers with one hand and hold a bottle of wine in the other. They avoid contact with other people lest they become contaminated with sociability.

Writers never eat. They drink coffee. They live on coffee. They breathe and fart coffee. And wine. Sometimes they drink tea to remind themselves how good coffee and wine taste. They need these kinds of assurances and reminders because writers are absent-minded and put the kettle in the refrigerator and the cream on the stove.

Writers are on a continual quest to find out who they are. That’s why they write. Along the way they luck out and write something that means something to someone, but never themselves. This keeps them writing.

Writers borrow money from their friends and never pay it back. This is why writers have few friends, if any. More likely none. Which keeps writers poor because they have few, if any, friends to lend them money.

Writers don’t know how to punctuate. They leave this chore to editors who carry whips and chairs to keep the writers at bay, especially when they need coffee and wine.

Writers don’t watch television because everything on television pisses them off and they throw empty wine bottles at the screen thinking that this will change things. Another reason writers don’t watch television is because they can’t afford to keep buying televisions after throwing wine bottles at them and they have few if any friends to lend them money to buy new ones.

Writers talk to themselves because they believe that’s the only way to have an intelligent conversation…an intelligent conversation being one in which they are in unwavering agreement with everything they say. This situation falls apart when they disagree with themselves, which may accidentally lead to insightful writing in spite of the writer’s opinion that, because the writer was not in agreement, the conversation wasn’t intelligent.

Writers claim to see things differently than other people and that this leads to a deep understanding of life and the universe that others will never see until they read about it in the writer’s books. When readers ask writers to elucidate on these understandings, writers talk about their need for coffee and ask the readers if they can borrow money for said coffee.

Writers deny any responsibility for their words and blame any ill effects or consequences on muses, bad editing, lack of coffee and/or wine, celestial alignment, misinterpretation and rumors started by other writers.

Wait a minute! I’m a writer… writers as insightful, well-disciplined, open-minded, observant individuals with massive vocabularies, a passion for reading and a clarity of thought that separates them from the rest of the human race.

 

 

Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Writer? Part 2

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In PART 1, I whined about how tough it is to be a writer. I painted a dismal picture of sacrifice with little reward. And, of course, I complained about my missing dinosaur picture, lost somewhere in China in the early 50s.

But it’s not all bad; there’s an upside. Your novel is accepted by an agent who lands you a contract with one of the Big Six publishers and it goes on to become a bestseller and made into a movie starring all your favorite Hollywood personalities and you drive into the sunset in your fire engine red Lamborghini.

Sorry. That’s not really the upside. I was just pulling your metaphors. The real rewards of writing are intangible. You can’t spend them or drive them into the sunset. You can’t pay bills with them like you can with exposure. Oops, pardon me…like you can with money.

There are some cool rewards that swing your way after you’ve been published, money and literary immortality aside. Seeing your book on a bookshelf in book store or library is cool. I stared at the 20 copies of The War Bug for hours before the manager of the bookstore told me I was blocking traffic and some of the customers were disturbed by the sight of my eye balls bulging out of my head as I laughed like a maniac and screamed, “That’s MY book! That’s MY book!”

I have my first royalty check framed and hanging on a wall. It was less than five dollars and made out to my pen name from a bank in Australia, which meant I couldn’t cash it unless I changed my name or requested a new one. When I look at it, it reminds me of the fragility of dreams and the realities of being a writer.

I think the single greatest reward was the day I was sitting outside a coffee shop on a sunny day working on my next novel when a woman I’d never seen before walked up to me and asked if I was Biff Mitchell. She’d signed out my first novel, Heavy Load (a laundromance), from the library. It didn’t have my picture on it, but another one of my novels was on the shelf beside it with my picture on the back. She told me that she’d read the novel and went on to say how much she’d enjoyed it. It made my day. My week. My year. Unfortunately, this never happened again.

Being published can open up other streams of income. I was working (and still am) as an instructional designer, designing online learning. I put the writing and the designing together and started teaching writing workshops. I’ve made more money on those over the last couple of decades than I’ll ever make on my writing. Try a Google search with the terms “how to make money once you’ve been published and you’re still living in poverty and need money for beer and pizza.” You might stumble across a whole new career…probably not in writing, but new.

Oh, one other thing: once it gets around that you’re a published writer, you’ll be approached from time to time by people who will tell you they have a great story idea, one that will become a worldwide bestseller and be made into a blockbuster movie. All they need is for you to write it in return for a credit in the book so that you can ride the chariot of fame by being associated with their great idea. Don’t shoot these people. Tell them your fees for ghost writing and any split on royalties when the novel is published. If they insist that you really need to do this if you’re ever going of ride that chariot with them, then you can shoot them.

You may also be invited to speak at writers’ groups and give live readings at literary events. You’ll have to use your common sense when you decide whether or not to charge for these and how much you’ll charge. If you’re good at these things, charge for them; if not, do them free until you get good enough to demand payment.

As you’ve likely noticed, the benefits of writing once you’re published are a mixture of the tangible and intangible. But what about before you’re published? This period in your life could be years. My first novel was published when I was 50 years old (though I’m still and always will be 29)…long after I’d memorized the grades 1 and 2 spellers.

Suppose you keep writing and never get published right up to the moment you die on your 90th birthday. You might ask yourself, “What was it all for?”

If you were in it for the fame, glory and money…well…probably it was all for nothing. You might have been better off selling pencils on street corners.

One thing I tell people who are working on novels, short stories, poems, movie and play scripts…if you’re writing, you’re a writer. You don’t have to be published; you just have to be writing in earnest. By that I mean, writing to the best of your ability and doing the things that a writer does: researching, developing characters, plotting, writing first drafts, revising over and over until your manuscript is as polished as you can make it and keeping it up, story after story, novel after novel…and doing all this for the sheer love of creating something with words.

So why would you want to be a writer if you’re the only one who knows about it or you’re likely never going to be published? I know a few people who write amazing short stories but never send them to publishers. I know one person who’s spent over a quarter of a century on a single novel that he doesn’t expect to ever stop revising. These people just write. They write for the hell of it. They write for the love of it. They write because they are compelled to write. They write because they cannot not write.

I think that’s what really defines a writer. It’s like those people who cannot not press bubble wrap just to hear and feel the pop. Once you’ve experienced the exhilaration, you’re hooked.

I feel an orgasmic rush when I re-write a terribly written first draft sentence and make it something I feel is the most perfect thing I’ve ever read…up there with Keats and Hemingway. I read it a second time and think, Holy shit! Did I write that? It could take ten re-writes with each orgasm growing in intensity until I’m doing somersaults in my soul.

OK, so that might be a bit overstated, but it’s something along those lines. There’s a very deep sense of satisfaction to be had from seeing a paragraph of mundane, fragmented, clichéd, boring, yawn-inspiring, pitifully inept words and sentences starting to spark and sputter and flame into a bonfire of beautifully constructed worlds and personalities that you created. Of course, looking at the same awesome paragraph the next day you’ll see a few more changes you missed the day before.

This happens with every successive re-write. You see paragraphs getting better, pages improving, scenes and chapters coming together to tell a gripping story with clarity and precision. And here’s the real clincher…it all came out of your imagination. It was something that never existed until you conceived it.

You’re no longer that person at the cocktail party mouthing the same five minute spiel year after year. In fact, you won’t be at the party; you’ll be wherever you write, writing.

And there are the ancillary benefits. All that research makes you informed and gives you a much broader world view than most people. By creating people, you learn about people and gain a much deeper understanding of what makes people tick deep under the shells they present to the world. You begin to understand the motivations and needs of the people around you. You notice things that others miss. You see the fury of bugs buzzing around a street lamp at night and relate it to the emotions of a passerby with a tense jaw. While others are gawking at a mountain range spreading across the horizon, you’re transfixed by a slice of sunlight cutting into a snow bank…the kind of detail one of your characters would see to create a telling moment rather than a post card.

Writing makes you think about the world around you. It makes you question things and look for the truth under the surface of appearances.

In short, you’ll be a better person. You might be lonely and broke, living in a hovel somewhere sane people avoid and wondering what the hell you’re doing. But you’ll be informed, aware and beatific with every re-write. What could be better? And why would you not want to become a writer?

Why Would Anyone Want to Become a Writer? PART 1

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I’ve wanted to be a writer for most of my life. I also wanted to be an artist. And a rock star. But mostly a writer. I had the grades 1 and 2 spellers memorized before I started grade 1. I was writing sentences while the rest of the class was learning letters and words. I was writing one paragraph stories while the rest of the class was learning how to write sentences. I was also drawing dinosaurs and trees while the rest of the class was producing abstract finger paintings. In fact, one of my dinosaur drawings was selected to be part of an exhibition of Canadian student art that toured China in the early 50s. Once it left the school, I never saw it again. 

My singing peels paint off walls and my guitar playing inspired roommates in the 70s to sell my guitar while I was out of town. Apparently, they regarded the three chord one minute composition that I played day after day and night after night while I tripped out on acid as an audio assault on their ears. They claimed I weaponized music. 

So much for being a rock star.

I put my artist career on hold while I waited for the return of my dinosaur picture from China. 

I’m still waiting.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing. I’ve been writing a lot: several novels and novellas, tons of short stories, articles, poems and essays. There’s something about words that fascinates me. They’re like loose Leggo blocks of the mind. You can do anything you want with them and the only limit is your willingness to whatever you want. The possibilities are endless. You can use them to make people laugh or cry. They can illicit anger, joy, outrage, hatred, enlightenment, sorrow, curiosity, knowledge, faith, love; in short, anything a person can feel can be communicated through words. They’re not pieces in a jigsaw where you’re just reassembling something that someone else has created. 

Unfortunately, most people treat writing as an onerous challenge, something that makes a 500 word essay a major milestone of pain. Grammar likely has its hand in this. Grammar is a plethora of rules that are constantly in flux. Punctuation is a subject of debate that differs across genres; fiction writers can make their own rules about the placement of commas in order to replicate the patterns of speech, whereas a college student may lose marks for straying outside the boundaries of acceptable comma use in a history class essay. The reasons for hating writing are legion.

In fiction writing, I think the biggest obstacle to expression isn’t so much the task of using words to describe a scene, render a character or define an idea. There’s a fear of revelation…of revealing to oneself things that oneself would rather not have revealed to oneself. (Whew!) Fiction has that insidious effect of uncovering truth, wanted or unwanted. I think the best fiction writers are the ones who’ve come to grips with themselves or they’re on a lifelong journey of self-discovery through their writing. But there are those people (probably the majority) who back away from anything that rings of an unwanted truth and create stick people characters.

I notice this in my writing workshop (aptly called Writing Hurts Like Hell) when my students do mindless writing (a concept I stole from Dorothea Brande’s book, Becoming a Writer) in which they have to write on a topic for 10 or 15 minutes without stopping to correct spelling or grammar. They have to keep the pen moving no matter what comes out, even if they go off topic. It’s kind of mindless…and it’s kind of scary. Sometimes the writing goes in directions that make the writer uncomfortable, especially when it reveals things they’ve kept suppressed or just don’t want to acknowledge. 

But…even for those who can look deep into all the crap that floats around in their minds and souls, being a writer can be hell.

I remember a time when being a writer was something esoteric and special beyond words. For many, it created a romantic vision of typewriters banging out page after page of dazzling metaphors and mesmerizing tales of bigger than life people engaged in historic battles between conflicting personalities set against panoramas of turbulent times. Most of these people never really visualized any of that; all they visualized was them sitting at the typewriter being writers and the pages may as well have been blank. Yep, special beyond words.

If you let it be known that you wanted to be a writer, you were invariably treated like a hopeless dreamer until you actually had something published. Then you were regarded with awe and treated like a deity. But for the most part, you’d earned that reverence. You’d likely given up a ton of things that others had and you had to wait for until you were published, if ever.

We hear about writers who lived in poverty while they wrote…the problem being…unless you had the right connections, you didn’t make money on your writing until you found a publisher, and your book could take years to write. This problem is endemic in most of the arts…you don’t get paid until you finish the work. In the meantime, you starve and live in a one room hovel in the worst of neighborhoods. You lose most of your friends because they don’t want to venture anywhere near that awful place where you live. 

This scenario plays out less these days. Most of the writers I know have full or part-time jobs and write evenings and weekends. But there’s still that dimension of sacrifice. I have a full-time job in the IT industry. I write evenings and weekends. I know a lot of people but I have few friends that I see regularly. In fact, I see my best friend about once a week. I rarely go to movies, concerts, plays, gallery openings or any of the social things that other people take for granted. I haven’t been to a movie since the release of Avatar.

This is likely why many writers are considered quirky and lacking in social skills. But the alternative is to live in a hovel and starve…and you’re more likely to starve.

Let’s look at the reality of the publishing world. Suppose you take a year to write a novel. It might take you another year to find an agent or a publisher. Once you’ve found a publisher, it might take up to two years (or more) before your novel is published. And these days, advances on royalties are becoming scarcer and increasingly modest (i.e., don’t give up your day job). After your novel is published, you might wait up to a year before you see a royalty check and the numbers printed on it might not be enough to buy a new laptop. To rub insult into injury, the contract you signed with your publisher might have specified that you’re to spend a certain percentage of that money on marketing, a trend increasingly popular with publishers.

So, here you are…no friends, no social life, no money to show for all the effort and sacrifice and the question arises: Why would anyone want to become a writer?

To be continued…