Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Teach & Talk T-day: Gavin McCaleb

Guest Post: The fun part about being a comedian is having comedians as friends. Our guest today is Gavin McCaleb, a funny guy with some stand-up HERE and a bio HERE. Find him at http://GavinMcCaleb.com. I appreciate Gavin sharing his story with us. Today is not stand-up. Like the old adage says: it's funny because it's true.

Gavin McCaleb

I read writing blogs like this for breakfast. Literally. While I'm eating oatmeal (also for breakfast) I like learning tips about "story," and "character," and "grammar." I have consumed so much helpful reference material that I have absolutely no excuse for what I have become...
My name is Gavin McCaleb and I am a writer. I first realized I was a writer in the spring of 2000. It was very sunny, but still cold. That's just how Utah is, I guess. I had a hot girlfriend at the time who just dumped me for no good reason. I was about to graduate with a useless degree in psychology, and I had no employment prospects. In hindsight I should have studied business or engineering or computers, or anything other than psychology. As my Philosophy 101 instructor observed, "philosophy bakes no bread." I would add that "psychology brings no delicious meatballs." So, yeah, I was hungry. Food service was becoming a solid option. 
I bumped into my hot former girlfriend on campus a few weeks after the breakup and she asked what I was going to do after graduation. I told her I was going to be a writer. I assumed that would win her back immediately. She patronized me, saying "good for you." I laughed inwardly, and bit my lip, knowing that I would inevitably be the Papa Hemingway to her [insert appropriate female Hemingway love interest. Mariel Hemingway, maybe? I don't know. Historical fiction is not one of my interests.] Anyway, one thing I forgot to tell you about me, is that I can bide my time like a son of a gun, so I said "see you around," chuckled to myself, and settled in for a long siege. 
One thing an otherwise useless college degree will teach you, is how to study. To begin my illustrious (nay, lugubrious) writing career I read some books about writing. I read Stephen King's On Writing. and Bird by Bird : Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Each being the only work I have read by either author. Pages were turned. Lessons were learned. Then I sat down to write. Nothing came out. So taking the lessons I had just learned, to write whatever comes to mind. I began: "Here I am sitting at the computer writing. Yep, just typing away at the ol' keyboard. Looking good so far. I'm interested to see what happens next..." (These ellipses metaphorically extend to infinity.) I guess I thought I would just plop down and bang out a book?! What audacity! Well, nothing of substance emerged, and a few more attempts were similarly fruitless. It wasn't long before all plopping ceased and consequently, no book was banged. 
Fast forward twelve years * Schwing! * (That's how time elapses for me.) I found a different hot girl to marry, and I sort of fell into the real estate profession. I always felt like an outsider in business. As if I was just pretending to be in real estate, because, well, I'm actually a writer. Right? Well, this is what I've written to date: content for several websites, a few articles for trade newspapers, advertising and marketing copy, facebook posts, facebook comments, a ton of emails. Uhhh, grocery lists. Crap. So here I am, a writer who never wrote anything worth a diddley. 
The last two years I have 100% tanked the NaNoWriMo program. Word counts: 0 and 0. About 15 days before the month begins I start to feel nervous. My fear is that I will write something horrible and shameful. This fear causes me to go through all the stages of grief - simultaneously! Then the first day of NaNoWriMo comes and I think, "I'll just skip the first day to get over my nerves, but I won't fall to far behind in word count." That goes on for about five days before I finally officially let myself off the hook. The feeling of relief is palpable. After the second wrestle with the WriMo rhino I went ahead and psychoanalyzed myself. (that degree in psychology isn't going to psychoanalyze itself. Or, wait? What? Whatever, just go with it.)  How can a person identify himself so strongly as a writer and yet never actually produce any writing? After sufficient reflection I eventually came to terms with my issue, summed up thusly: If I write my best and it turns out no good, then I have completely failed as a writer and I would have to build a new identity. But if I never actually do it, I can still tell myself everyday that I am a writer with the potential to write something great. This my friends is a terrible seat to be sitting in. 
At some point, I don't recall when or where, I came across an article by Michael Ventura called The Talent of the Room. (http://www.michaelventura.org/writings/LA4.pdf) It haunts me to this day, because having the information it contains removes any excuse I have for not producing. It lays bare the device of my faulty self identification. While all the while I felt a writer at heart, I have failed to do the one thing that would cause it to be so. Sit and write. 
(I did not ask Gavin permission to use this picture of him wearing a pink boa)


  1. Just a comment about NaNo - if you're happy writing 0 words, that's cool, but if you'd like to write some sometime, the trick is to accept from the start that your novel may well suck. ;) I never worry about quality while I'm writing NaNo..just quantity. haha. i know that's not seen as a good thing, but I always find it easier to work on honing writing that actually exists :P

    I do like your logic for calling yourself a writer though. hehe

  2. Gavin, this post is awesome. It's honest and raw and I think everyone can relate to pieces of it. I think you are brilliantly talented (so does everyone I know who knows you) and I know when you finally get around to writing you'll nail it...not the first time though. You have to give yourself the opportunity to suck first. Then you'll nail it!

  3. Can I just ditto Shelly? Because yes! Awesome, honest, raw, relatable. And yes you'll suck, then you'll nail it. :)

  4. A pleasure to meet you, Gavin! I've found my psychology education great for character development, while at the same time, besides writing and socializing, I'm not much good at anything else. Totally digging your style.

    Thanks for hosting Gavin today, guys! :)

  5. You've been tagged to join the Great Star Wars Blogathon! Details here: http://www.troublewithroy.com/2012/03/so-you-say-youve-got-this-idea-on-how.html

  6. Nice blog. Keep up the good work.

    As someone interested in words, I thought you might like to look into the word play in cryptic crosswords (if you aren't already into them). I have been doing a series of posts about cryptic clues and how to solve them. This is the first one in the series:


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