Good Friday, Better Me.

Apr 3, 2015 by

Good Friday, Better Me.

In most cases it’d be a cliché to say, “I’m changing,” but in this case, I feel it’s dramatic enough to not be.

It was five years ago last month that my second marriage came crashing to an end. The details, many still like fresh wounds under a band-aide that can be yanked off exposing…you get the picture, but in the past year, I’ve learned a lot about myself I didn’t know or either had suppressed or worse, stopped believing.

Since July, I’ve been a student in the Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path program. I’m on the novel track. It’s like being in a master’s program, but it’s continuing education. There’s no degree at the end. Instead, there’s a high prospect of having a well-structured and polished manuscript ready to submit and plenty of feedback gained from people who have published novels. At the end of the program, there’s the opportunity to submit the work to a blind-committee who can pick up to 13 people to go to New York City and meet with potential agents and publishers. It is the only program like it in the world.

That’s a great outer goal for me. I’d love to be selected one day. But even better, there are more important things happening to me on the inside because of this process.

The Hero’s Journey

I didn’t know consciously about the Hero’s Journey before I decided in March of 2013 to write a book, but the more I was exposed to it, the clearer I see it. A few weeks ago, I told someone it was like having once seen the arrow in the FedEx logo–once you know its there, you can’t “unsee” it.

Time has proven there are 12 phases any character in a reputable work of writing, either film or print, must endure for a story to feel complete. They are: Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold, Tests Allies and Enemies, Approaching the Innermost Cave, the Supreme Ordeal, the Reward, the Road Back, the Resurrection and then the Return with the Elixir. I will not go into the aspects of each of the phases, but I will say this: Writing about them and exploring them with my characters has caused ME to go through my own hero’s journey.

There’s a fun movie called Ruby Sparks about an author who writes the perfect girl and then she becomes real and ultimately helps him realize how he has to change his view of the world and relationships with the people in it. But Calvin Winfield isn’t just writing a second novel to be writing a second novel, he’s writing because his counselor thought it would be helpful for him to do so.

The leader of the SMU program, Suzanne Frank, (If you follow the link you’ll find her works on Amazon) often says in a writer’s first work, they’re exposing their innermost thoughts so much, “It’s pretty much full frontal nudity” of the psyche. Irene Adler, “The Woman” on Sherlock also said it well, “D’you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.” In other words, for young/most writers, the more we try to disguise, the more it becomes a self-replica.

There are things that are in my writing that are truly reflections of me inside, though part of me still denies that. It is important for me to note that studying the process of change a character must undergo in their story has helped me come to understand the changes I need to make in my OWN life. There are major points in any story where a hero will announce or be told what he/she needs to address in their life in order to move on or to be the only one who could bring the end of the story to its ultimate outcome.

This is true for me in my life, as much as it is for any character you’ve seen on screen, but just as well, it’s true for you, my reader as well.

Good Friday

It’s Good Friday 2015 today. In Heroic Chapters Wednesday night, Author and SMU Scientist Keith Goodnight (you may also follow the link to his work on Amazon) was describing what has affected one of the lead characters of a person in my writing group. He said it sounded like the hero had suffered such a massive, horrific Supreme Ordeal, that he just got stuck there until years later, something came along that rekindled a spark inside him to move on to seeking a reward, taking the road back, finding/proving his resurrection and ultimately, returning with the elixir of a better world than when he started the story.

I took several significant Supreme Ordeal type corrective steps earlier this week. Keith’s words, spoken to someone else, nonetheless were affirming. Not shamefully or with any sense of anything else negative, I knew he was right. I understood what he was saying.

I don’t know what life holds in the days, months and years to come. No one does. I’ve written about 53,000 words of what I project to be a 97,400-word work and I still have much to learn about me, my characters and life. But I’m on a positive path now. In many ways, I’ve killed off the person who I’d let others turn me into over the past few years. Now I’m trying to resurrect the old, stronger, younger one–the foremost student iconoclast, as I was labeled after leaving college by a history professor I never studied under–but as important, someone who is stronger than the guy at the beginning of this story, changed forever, better or for worse, to be the only one in the world who can face my challenges head on.

Get Out Of Your Own Way

I leave you with this video from Rachel Platten. Her song is called Nothing Ever Happens. It’s written for a woman, but guys face the same issues. I have. The chorus grabs me every time I listen:

And nothing ever happens if you stay in your room
Nothing ever happens if you leave the party too soon
You’ll never be a winner if you’re not in the game
And nothing ever happens if you always play it safe
Make a little space and get out of your own way.

The next step in your life is up to you. I finally realized it was me who was holding me back. Not the people who dumped crap all in my life. I let their misery, anger, hurt, shame and baloney stick to me like concrete and freeze me, hold me back, even though intellectually I knew I needed to move on. I had to do what Rachel says, make a little space and get out of my own way. I’m 53,000 words closer to having done just that…..

Grammatic Artist 

You may already have noticed, you’re on and not I’m rebranding. Even on Twitter. A grammatic artist, is someone who uses words, pictures, sound and video to tell stories with purpose, just like a graphic artist would focus on just images.

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McDonald’s Archenemies: The Protagonist v Antagonist

Jan 5, 2015 by

McDonald’s Archenemies: The Protagonist v Antagonist 

The new McDonald’s commercial, Archenemies, is a great 60-second spot all aspiring writers should watch again and again.


Penguin and BatmanThey say a story is only as good as the battle going on between the protagonist and the antagonist. That’s the battle between the good guy and the bad guy. If a writer fails to establish a significant level of contrast, the story will be boring.

The new commercial from McDonald’s helps by showing iconic archenemies, but the twist is the premise that McDonald’s food is so good, even these guys can put things aside and enjoy a drink, fries, chicken nuggets or a burger.

We may not all be fortunate to create black and white, good and evil, iconic good guys and bad guys as they are portrayed here in the McDonald’s commercial, but we should all endeavor to portray such opposing relationships in what we write if we are wanting to write good, solid fiction. Otherwise, we are not being true to the art of storytelling.

If the difference between your protagonist and antagonist isn’t as vividly clear as the one between Batman and Penguin, the postman and a dog, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch, donkeys and elephants, and on, then you really need to spend a little more time raising the stakes of your story and more clearly establishing what it is the protagonist is wanting and what the antagonist is fighting with all of his or her might to prevent.

McDonald’s did a great job of magnifying the differences of these archenemies and the power of their food in being able to unite foes. But ask yourself where literature would be if knights and dragons, and coed swimmers and sharks were ever able to get along?

McDonald’s please keep selling your food. For those of us writing, don’t forget your story goes nowhere if your protagonist and antagonist aren’t duking it out for something bigger than french fries.



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The Artist’s Way

Dec 3, 2014 by

The Artist’s Way

This morning I began something new. Morning Pages. They came at the behest of Julie Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, a book that’s been referred to multiple times now in the work I’m doing in the SMU Writer’s Path program.

Morning Pages are simple. You wake up. You grab a pen and you’re then to write out three pages in long-hand about whatever it is that pops into your head. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is no editing. No review.  No one, not even yourself, are supposed to read what’s written. The exercise is done purely to free one’s mind of the gunk that’s collected there that’s blocking the way to creative thinking. Pure. Simple. So far, mid-day, it feels like it’s working. At least once I got up from the desk this morning, I felt like I’d left a lot of baggage on the page and emptied it from my mind.

Then came a walk with Maycee. Actually, my Morning Pages contain multiple references to her whining and begging to go out. She’d already been out. So I was compelled to let her on to the porch. Nope. More whining. More writing. More whining. Back inside. Then she went to the front door and rang the Christmas bells that are hanging from the knob. Maycee is now six months old and those bells only were put there last Wednesday. Thursday, the twins, Reagan and Haley, I’m told because I didn’t witness it, trained her to ring the bell with her nose. That she’s learned to do that, I can testify. When she needs to go out and poop, it’s ring, ring, ring.

After a second trip out this morning, I completed my Morning Pages. I didn’t go back and read them. I went on with my day, which now led to another trip to the potty area for dogs, and then Maycee and I left out on our usual morning stroll of at least one-mile’s length before 8 a.m.

Done with that, shaved and showered, I got in the car and headed to meet with my mentor, Ron Rose. You see, I’m at a stuck point in the development of The Privacy Patriots, the novel I’ve been trying to develop over the course of 2014. I gathered up a couple of notebooks I keep working through, grabbed a laptop and iPad and out the door I went, promising to be there by 9.

Traffic on 635 was a mess, so I wound up running parallel to I-30 west until Dolphin Street. Made it through the Canyon and on the other side, began to realize I was actually going to make it to our rendezvous point early.  And then the car stalled. It apparently went into “Limp Mode.” A design feature to keep serious damage from happening to the engine.

By 9:20 my car was attached to a tow truck and headed from whence I’d just come, back to Mesquite.  By 9:44 a.m., the time OnStar’s people said the truck would be at the spot of origin to get me, we were pulling into the repair shop.

The shop, one I told the tow truck driver I use because it’s so quick, is backed up. They have about three or four jobs in front of mine. So Bruce, the owner of the shop, dropped me here back at home.

And instead of going and talking to my mentor, discussing, hashing and rehashing, God revealed to me another plan.

Sitting Still

You see it was yesterday that another now very significant mentor in my life, Author Suzanne Frank, told me to go do something besides trying to work on my book. She said to go trim the tree.  (I didn’t write her back and let her know there are already three up.) She said to bake something. But to get away from my book and let my mind wander a bit.

And so I began reading Week One’s section in The Artist’s Way.

And wow.

When I did all but about three of the first week’s exercises, I turned my chair from the desk, leaned my head back and closed my eyes and said a prayer.

I Am A Brilliant And Prolific Writer

I wrote in a notebook the following sentence:

I, Donald J. Claxton, am a brilliant and prolific writer.

And then I wrote it out again. Eight more times I repeated this function for a total of 10.

And as I wrote, I began to hear little voices saying, “No you’re not.” “You fool.” “If you’re so good, why haven’t you published anything significant yet? Your 49th birthday is Saturday. What the hell have you been waiting for? Lunch?”

I wrote those things down, too.

And then I identified people, “Monsters” the book refers to them, in the past, who might have called me things like that or said things about my writing that was negative. And then I identified positive people and positive things that have been said about my writing.

There are a couple of more exercises I need to do for the first week. And I will do them another day. Tomorrow, I will get up, scribble some thoughts about hopes and prayers the car gets repaired and isn’t going to cost a lot of money, money I don’t have, to get on the road again.

Tomorrow I have a writing class at SMU that I missed in November because of a family tragedy back in Alabama. Now, at the moment, even being there tomorrow night feels like it’s in jeopardy.

But I have to firmly believe as I sit here at this writing and believe that the same God who made sure I took some time today to be still, to think, to not think, to just meditate and breathe in the good and the bad of life, is going to make sure tomorrow works itself out, too. Perhaps if the day had gone some other way, I’d be upset about all this.

Something tells me already today’s first week lesson has already taken hold on my heart.



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Binge Watching HBO’s The Newsroom – A Lesson In Character Development

Nov 11, 2014 by


Several of my friends posted on my Facebook wall Saturday p.m. about how distraught I must have been about Auburn losing to Texas A&M.  I really was not.

Truth is, I didn’t even watch the game, and for that matter, haven’t sat beginning to end for an entire collegiate game all season.

I’ve had other things going on.

Namely, I’ve continued to use every available moment to work on my first novel project, what I’m calling, The Privacy Patriots.

So what was I doing most of Friday evening, nearly all day Saturday and three hours on Sunday?

My homework, prescribed by Author Suzanne Frank from Southern Methodist University.

I was binge watching, the HBO series, The Newsroom. Yes, from about 1:30 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Sunday, I watched all 19 episodes of Season 1 and 2, and then at 8 p.m Sunday night, watched the first episode of Season 3.


I’d never heard of the show before Thursday night’s class at SMU with Suzanne.PS newsroom

As class was beginning, she handed back 36 pages of 12 scenes involving my lead character, Kip Rippin. The exercise was designed to learn about what 12 major events had shaped him before the book begins. We were supposed to develop things that made him weak, strong, wounded, needing to change; the guy he is when we meet him on Oct. 13, 2016 in the newsroom of the fictional media blend of TV, radio and print called The Washington Broadcaster.

On the cover page of my submission was a note from Suzanne: “PS: you need to watch ‘The Newsroom’ especially this final season.”

Suzanne cautioned me about binge watching. “Every show is so intense.”

And is it ever. From the beginning scenes you’re sucked into an emotional roller coaster with multiple character archetypes and storylines.

Twenty hours of viewing later, I’m a much different person than I was Friday morning. I’m a much different budding author and writer, too, as I’ve seen some excellent examples of what I need to be planning and revising in my own characters. Not to make them like Will, Mac, Maggie, Jim, Don, Sloan (BTW, how in the hell does Aaron Rogers from the Packers wind up with a girl like that?) Charlie, and Neal, but to give them places to grow and develop in the pages I have yet to compose and then revise a dozen times before they hopefully appear printed before your eyes.


HBO has a great show on its hands. Regrettably, there are only five more episodes to go before the series is over and the character arcs are completed. The important thing about this new season is that Neal, one of the techies in the show, is now entangled in a mess with an Edward Snowden type of character, much like my Kip Rippin is in The Privacy Patriots. Naturally, my storyline isn’t going to be like the Newsroom and the premises between the show and my work are completely different, aside from involving whistleblowers. The richer experience for me, no matter how the Whistleblower storyline goes, is an example on making characters come to life, play off each other, and live rich lives in the conflict that’s created in their tiny world of a cable newsroom in New York City.

I can’t wait to see how the next five episodes go. But more importantly, I can’t wait to see where my own characters go because of the experience of watching excellent storytelling on TV.





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The Writer’s Journey

Aug 31, 2014 by

The Writer’s Journey

For much of my life I have been in love with writing. If you jump over to, you’ll see a reference to the window at 208 Fortress Street on what was KI Sawyer AFB, in Gwinn, Michigan. From that window of opportunity,  I would sit at my kidney bean desk and a children’s typewriter and construct stories.

Admittedly, I long have had a problem in my writing. I like people and dislike controversy so much, I found it hard to create characters who I began to care for and then needed to throw every sort of imaginable adversity in their way to make a compelling tale. As I told the class I was in at SMU over the summer, “I hated to skewer my characters.” Essentially, however, that’s what makes a good story; one worth reading, one that has something to say.

My life has changed drastically over the past four years. I have had a lot of bad things happen to me emotionally, physically and any other kind of -ly you can come up with to where I’ve been able to punch through what I didn’t have in me before. I’ve experienced how bad things happen to people that shouldn’t, how nutty and dishonest people can wreck one’s life. I’ve witnessed how mean and disingenuous people really can be. Disillusioned now, I have seen how the truth has so little to do with what goes on in court rooms, and how jealous, greedy and evil some people really can be. I’ve seen what demise the use of meth can bring about to a person and their family. Ultimately, I’ve learned to put new value in the simpler things in life.

Christopher Vogler‘s The Writer’s Journey

The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

There are two upcoming classes at SMU I look forward to beginning the next two weeks. One is called Story, a five-week class that features the book The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. The second is a class called, “Stakes,” which is a two-session class designed to help writers “raise the stakes” their characters will endure in a work.

I’ve begun reading Vogler’s work, which also led me to Barnes and Noble yesterday to purchase Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Vogler wraps a lot of what he has to stay around the works of Campbell, which are largely based on premises of Freud and Jung–and as much as modern psychology has undone the concepts they put forward years and years ago, I have to wonder about some of what Campbell says–but I’m enjoying the aspects of what Vogler has put forward. But Campbell also dissects the essential elements of what stories have been about for thousands of years of recorded human history, largely through myths. Volger and Campbell’s contention is that stories, even today, are still deeply rooted in the tales of yesteryear and will be until the end of time.

At this writing, I’ve only ingested the first part of the book but it has been exceedingly insightful into the essential elements of the characters a successful work theoretically should contain.

Of course, a story needs a hero. But then there are certain other foke that a hero must get help from, or be opposed by, to make a good story work.  I highly recommend this book already. Yes, I’m still a fan of Bob McKee’s STORY, but Vogler is able to say things in some ways that are simpler to comprehend than McKee.

The Privacy Patriots Progress Update

For the Stakes class, yesterday, each of us in class were to have sent in two chapters of our work, and a 12-point plan for our “hero’s journey.” That’s a dynamic spelled out in the Vogler book where the progress of a story is broken down into 12 logical steps from setting the stage of the hero’s ordinary world, getting called to go on an adventure, refusing to go, meeting with a mentor, crossing the first threshold or point of no return, going through tests, meeting allies and fending off enemies, to approaching the lair of the biggest enemy, the ordeal, getting the reward or seizing the sword, the road back, the resurrection or climax, and then the return with the elixir.

Essentially, any good tale is going to have all of those elements, not necessarily in that order, but they will be contained in the work to make it compelling to read or watch.

In some ways, it almost ruins the reading or watching of books or movies, because instead of concentrating on the content of the story, I’m now more mindful of which element is in play and where. The trick of all writers though is to make the tale so compelling, that while one might be aware of those elements, the reader is still captivated.

So I’ve begun the process of writing the book. The two chapters I sent in were a prologue–which many books argue is out of fashion today, but if you go to the book store and pick up a book, it’s still likely to have one–and then blocks of what’s theoretically going to happen in establishing the “ordinary world” of my primary characters.

This past summer, along with massive client projects, I’ve managed to build some in-depth character profiles for each person in my book. And now, almost as if I were a character in a story about writing a book, I’ve been given my call to adventure (START WRITING IT WILL YA?!)  and in part, answered it metaphorically with, “I’m not ready.”

My two instructors over the next six weeks are going to be the “meetings with the mentors” to get me further down the road with this tale I so desire to tell. It’s time to skewer some characters and make them hurt before helping them emerge on the other side, stronger, better and more human because of it. Much like the last four years has done to me.



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The Road Taken Along The SMU Writer’s Path

Jul 13, 2014 by

The Road Taken Along The SMU Writer’s Path 

The exciting thing about life is we really don’t know where we’re going to wind up next. Honestly, we can plan, we can arrange, we can have goals, and we can strive to get somewhere, but there are no guarantees and life and the Lord have this wonderful way of showing us we needed to veer off the course a little here and there to actually get to where we were going.

That’s where I am with the SMU Writer’s Path. Classes began last Monday evening under the tutelage  of Carmen Goldthwaite who in a matter of minutes nudged me to thinking about concepts I’ve been weighing the past few months about the construction of my first novel, but in a more fundamental way.

As noted previously, my walk prior to last Monday included the works of Robert McKee and his tome STORY. Then there are dozens of other works that have peppered the thoughts of my mind from a handful of authors whose names I do not recall. Clearly, I’ve been significantly moved and influenced by the works of Jeff Gerke in his two books–The First 50 Pages and Plot Versus Character–because I have done so much study now with Myers-Briggs temperaments and how they affect my characters and more importantly, ME.

But with Ms. Goldthwaite, we set sail in a different boat last Monday evening in the class Creative Writing Foundation. Now for someone who has been writing actively for nearly 40-plus years, one might think taking a class that starts again at the foundations to be, well, insulting. But I honestly have never gone there in my mind. Being a life-long learner, I’ve come to know and understand I don’t know everything and the past few years, I’ve come to find my mind as something of a sponge when it comes to the knowledge spilled about me. I soak it up, contemplate it, and if it’s “logical” (I’m an INTJ according to Myers-Briggs and David Keirsey), I adopt it wholeheartedly.

Books suggested and required for the SMU Writer's Path Foundations class.

Books suggested and required for the SMU Writer’s Path Foundations class.

New Books To Read

Ms. Goldthwaite’s reading materials for her class include Gary Provost’s Make Your Words Work.  The assignment for the first week has been to read chapters 2, 3 and 6, which included style, grammar and description, respectively. Many good suggestions and tips have come from reading this book the past few days. This book isn’t like McKee’s STORY, where you’re into the fundamentals of the structure of a story. This is about the building blocks that make up the foundation of telling a story–largely picking the right and fewest words possible to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. The book is full of good stuff, including sections at the end of each chapter called “Coffee Break.”

The Elements Of Style

Ms. Goldthwaite also recommended William Strunk, Jr and EB White’s Fourth Edition of The Elements Of Style.  (Amazon has been good to me this week.)  Now having spent so much time in the AP Style book over the years, it’s hard to look at some of the things in The Elements Of Style and to me, worse, The Chicago Manual of Style 16, because to me, in particular about capitalization of headlines, I go with Up Style, meaning every word in a headline/title gets a capitalized first letter.  (Chicago says to capitalize the first and last word, and all other “major words” but not to cap conjunctions, and prepositions when they are used adverbially or adjectively, and don’t cap articles like a, an and the.) Provost’s book talks in the Coffee Break about description of being aware of “what a word or an arrangement of words will bring to the reader besides meaning.” I wish the fokes in Chicago would do that again.

Back To Class

Three hours with Ms. Goldthwaite disappeared quicker than the sands of time in the hourglass before Dorothy in the Wizard Of Oz. My fellow students were equally engaged in the conversation, eager to learn and it was refreshing to be in a room of so many like-minded foke.  The assignment for tomorrow night is to bring a 500 to 1,000-word character description that introduces a reader into a place or time but has no dialogue and doesn’t contain a scene. We are to show the character’s movement, thru clothing, hair, when they are, and let our readers see how emotions cross their lives and their values.

On Sunday mid-day, that’s still something of a challenge. So much of the past two months has been spent around formulating the world of my novel’s characters, figuring out who they are inside, even having bought some clay to begin molding one of them into a physical shape to better see who they really might be. Now comes the time to do the inevitable–ascribe them to paper and laser ink.

And so I must conclude this writing to begin another. And there’s client work that must be done today as well.

Ready to do some serious thinking and writing of your own? SMU soon will be opening up this class for August. It’s highly recommended.





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