Tag Archives: writing a novel

That’s a Wrap — Kind Of


So I still have this blarg, apparently, even though I’ve neglected it for a few weeks. Which is a nicer way of saying it than to say nearly a month.

But it’s not a desolate moonscape in the creative real estate of my brain. Far from it. In fact, it’s something like kismet that has me writing today on the topic of this post: the word “wrap”. It’s almost like Linda somehow psychically reached out and tapped my headspace and picked up on the juju I was giving off. Because this week — Wednesday, to be specific — I wrapped the first edit on my current project.

You know, the one that, along with a few extra responsibilities at work, ground me first to a halt and then into an anxiety I couldn’t shake to save my life. Panic attacks and existential doubt. A fog of doubt obscuring everything like a thick London pea soup. I didn’t touch my project for something on the order of seven or eight months, which, for a guy who’s always blathering on and on in his online space about the importance of momentum and the good feelings that creating brings, is, to put it lightly, a problem.

So to get back to the project — as I did toward the end of the last school year, in May — and even simply to start getting words on paper again, to be creating the story again, to be making clear, measurable improvements to the work again.

And now it’s done.

Well, not done. There are still fixes to be made, plants to be planted, narrative threads to be sewn up or trimmed, fluff to be excised. But if this novel-writing journey were a walk to Mordor, then this feels perhaps like arriving at Osgiliath. Not quite “almost there”, and certainly there are obstacles — and perhaps some of the hardest obstacles — ahead. But there’s more ground behind me than there is in front. And there’s a feeling about arriving somewhere, even if it’s not the last stop, that clears the head a little, that lifts the spirits. You stop, you relax, you stretch your legs. You check the map, survey the road ahead, start to realize that it’s not so bad, that you’ll be there before long if you can just keep pushing.

That’s where I’m at right now. Wrapping up a first-pass edit is a huge milestone to pass, and for a project I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish, it’s a milestone I am more than happy to commemorate.

Of course, the flip side of that coin is that I have taken a step back when it comes to the ol’ blarg here, and while I’m not particularly happy about that, it’s a tradeoff I can live with. The website has always been something I thought of as a diversion, a pressure release valve, a place to write to clear out the cobwebs or when I need to clean the slate after working on the novel. And, well, there just hasn’t been all that much pressure to release, because I’ve allowed myself to be okay with writing days that don’t go great. With missing days here and there. With spending a little time foundering around, letting ideas marinate, spending writing time just thinking about the project.

And as for writing about something that’s not the novel, well, I’m doing that now with my Morning Pages, where I drivel out a solid 7-800 words every morning, but without the added pressure of feeling like I have to polish and shape those words and keep them on topic for the purpose of posting them online.

Like I said, it’s a low-pressure environment, and it’s working.

And while that makes me think that maybe I need to reexamine what I’m doing with the blarg here, I kinda don’t want to go making new commitments or thinking too hard about something that’s just meant to be a bit of fun.

So I’m going to let it be what it is for now, keep shooting for a post or so per week, but keep my focus on the novel. Because getting a taste of a milestone like this has me wanting more again. I want to wrap this project for real, and I’ve already started the next edit.

All of which is to say, thanks for reading. Sorry I haven’t put as much here lately, but it’s only because I’m putting the words where they count, where (I hope) they’re doing the most good.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


Thunderstruck


When you hear something that matters, you know it. It’s a shock to the system, 1.21 gigawatts right down the ol’ fluxcapacitor. You feel supercharged, empowered, motivated.

I’m working my way through Save the Cat!, (something in me rebels against punctuating a comma right after an exclamation, but Save the Cat! is the title, so there you are), a tiny tome — giddy guidebook, prognosticating pamphlet — on screenplay writing.

Which is to say, on story writing. Snyder focuses on film, but film is just one storytelling medium among multitudes, and I’ve yet to see anything in the book that wouldn’t fly for novels, plays, games, perhaps roleplay with that special someone. It’s all gold, and I’m only 40 pages in.

The book is less bespectacled-professor-reading-from-a-musty-tome and more Morpheus-pulling-back-the-veil-of-reality. “Here’s a story,” the book says. “Look at it, see it, yes, it’s about these things, sure. But look closer. Strip away the trappings and look at what it is behind the mask.” Rather in the vein of Campbell’s monomyth, or Booker’s Seven Basic Plots, Save the Cat! is about archetyping, codifying, categorizing. Once you know the categories and the tropes that your story plays to, you can then maneuver more expertly within them; becoming the Han Solo to your own personal Kessel run.

Anyway. I’m finding it useful to take it just a few pages per day, so that I can marinate on the chapter I’ve just read without getting inundated trying to process too much at once (which is my fancy way of saying it’s my toilet reader of the moment). And today’s pages were all about making sure that your protagonist is the right kind of protagonist for your story.

Ka-BLAM. Thunderbolts and lightning (very very frightening [and yeah, that lyric has always bothered me, THUNDER DOESN’T COME IN BOLTS]). Just like that, I see why my trunked novel failed — my protagonist was all wrong. Or rather, all wrong for that story. The realization was like opening up a corpse for the autopsy and finding the spleen where the heart should be, the lungs crammed in behind the bladder, the leg-bone connected to the neck-bone.

Right pieces, wrong arrangement.

And while the current project isn’t exactly a stunning specimen of anatomical narrative perfection, it seems like most of the current appendages are at least in reasonable places for the phylum. Whether that’s by accident or because I grew a little between novel #2 and #3 is for fate to decide, but needless to say, this story doesn’t feel broken the way the last one did.

All of which is to say that I heartily endorse this book, as I’ve mentioned at least once before.

Save the Cat, read this book.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday. I misread the prompt, but by the time I went back, I didn’t feel like starting over, so rather than getting a word that starts with “oc”, you get a word that contains “oc”. Deal with it!


The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Occasional Boost


Know what has two thumbs and had a thousand-word day yesterday?

This guy.

I sort of hate to spend time talking about a productive writing day or writing in any way about my daily word count. Such things are interesting only to a really tiny sliver of whatever readership my blarg might have. (Maybe only to me!) But it feels like an accomplishment, and I’ve become a real firm believer in claiming your accomplishments of late (after all, if you don’t crow about the things you’ve done, who’s going to do it for you?).

1000 words in a session might not seem like a lot, and in fact, it might objectively not be a lot. Browse some writers’ sites on the net and you’ll see that lots of them like to get in 2000 words before breakfast. Which is well and good for them. But a lot of them are paid writers, which I am not (yet), and several of them are even full-time writers, which I am definitely not (yet). Which means they have the time in their day to devote to such things.

Me, I’ve been subsisting on about 500 words a day over the past few months working on my current novel. That, hacked out in thirty-minute sessions at the beginning of my work morning before the day properly gets started. It ain’t much, but those 500 words are mine, and I defend them pretty stridently, even if the force I’m most often defending them from is myself. There are always other things I could be doing, maybe even should be doing, with those thirty minutes. But I also know that a week of 500 words a day turns into 2500 words a week. And a month of 2500 words a week turns into 10,000 words a month. And the math from there is pretty easy: 10,000 words a month turns into a full 80-90,000 word novel in eight or nine months, and I’m pretty much on schedule for that, notwithstanding the loss of about twenty thousand words a month or so ago.

So needless to say, a 1000-word day is a not-insignificant drop in the not-insignificant bucket.

(Oh yeah, after my 1000 word session, I was a good little soldier and backed up my work. Won’t be making that mistake again.)

Even still, consistent or not, the 500 words a day still feels like a struggle a lot of mornings. More than a few mornings a week, I spend about half of that time staring at the screen, wondering just what the hell these characters are supposed to be doing, just how the hell they’re going to solve the dilemmas they’ve found themselves in, just where the hell the whole crazy train is going.

But every once in a while, I don’t struggle.

Every once in a while, the right idea floats past my neurons, makes its way down to my fingertips and crackles like static lightning out onto the page.

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When that happens, the whole “writing” thing feels less like creating a story and more like transcribing it; less like building the thing from scratch and spare parts and more like just watching it happen and making a record of it.

And in that way, you get a thousand-word morning in the same space of time that it usually takes to get a five hundred-word morning.

Of course, there are caveats. Most of these words are probably crap, and will need massive rewrites when it’s time to revise. I have a sneaking suspicion that the big mini-climax I’m writing now, coming in at the 2/3 point of the novel, actually belongs at the 1/3 point of the novel, with much of the first third of the novel going on the scrap heap.

But those, as I like to say, are problems for future me.

Right now, the novel is alive and kicking. The 500-word days pave the way for the occasional 1000-word day, and the 1000-word days keep me motivated to keep pushing the thing forward.

Even if “forward” carries it right off the edge of a cliff.

Whee!

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Out of My Hands


Well, I did it.

I finally, after months of delay and deliberation and procrastination and hesitation (and probably a few more -ations along the line, but let’s not get carried away), I typed up a query letter and sent it out to an agent.

(Yes, I know this is a thing I was talking about several months ago. See the above note about procrastination.)

It may come as a shock, but I have confidence issues when it comes to my work, all right? I am so stressed out right now. SO STRESSED OUT. I want a cigarette, and I don’t even smoke.

I know that the query process is a long one. I know that I’m unlikely to get any results from my first query letter, or even my first dozen. But you know what they say about journeys of a thousand miles and single steps. You do know, right? Because I’ve forgotten, actually. Is it hot in here? I’m sweating.

Putting myself out there like this is in my top five list of most stressful things I’ve ever done. I daresay that writing the novel — and editing the novel — and editing the novel again — and letting friends and acquaintances read the novel — and editing the novel AGAIN — ALL OF THAT was easier than pressing “send” about ten minutes ago.

Deep breaths. Baby steps. This is the way forward.

Now it’s time to start working up the next query…


The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Fickle Finger of Fate


We are all touched.

The fickle finger of fate bestows on us through random chance a series of affinities, of likes and dislikes, of urges, of callings. I’m going to wager that, if you’re reading this, you’re called in some way to write, to tell stories. And that’s magical.

Michelangelo, Abstract, Boy, Child, Adult, Background

Not everybody has such a calling. Most people don’t. Everybody thinks they can write a novel, or a screenplay, or a memoir about their “amazing” life, but they can’t. Or, more importantly, they won’t. Writing is a lot of work, after all, and pretty thankless work at that (and that’s coming from a high school English teacher … I’m an authority on thankless work). And without the spark, without the calling, without the need in your bones to work at your writing, to learn how to tell a story, to sit in front of the screen for hours and days and months on end, writing becomes as impossible as flying a manned mission to Jupiter.

The calling makes it sufferable. The calling makes it possible to grind out the time in solitude, knowing that writing is not just something we do to pass the time; it’s an investment, if not in future windfalls and book deals and legions of adoring fans, then in the self. The writer is at peace when he writes; perhaps not outwardly (because some writers certainly do suffer with their product, and I’m no exception), but some small piece of the writer’s soul is only quiet when he practices his craft. Some ever-screaming facet of the self will only cease its torment when it’s given rein and allowed to stretch its legs once in a while.

Problem is, we don’t want to believe the calling. It’s all too easy to think I shouldn’t be doing this, or this is a waste of my time, or somebody else could do this so much better than me. And the subproblem is that on some level, those doubts are true. There are probably more immediately productive things we could be doing. It may, in fact, be a waste of our time. There are almost certainly others doing what we’re doing better than we’re doing it. That’s how the Howler Monkey of Doubt works — it takes something that’s true in one way and screeches at us until we believe it’s true in all ways.

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But the fact is, we should be doing this. There are seven billion people in the world, and they need to hear our stories — that’s why we invented language, after all. This isn’t a waste of our time — on the contrary, writing makes us better people. We learn more thoroughly what we truly think about things, we exorcise the demons of doubt and exercise our grey matter. And, sure, okay, somebody else might be better at doing what we do than we are — but that’s true for all disciplines, and it only changes if we work at what we do.

The truth is that the world needs storytellers, even if we think it’s saturated with them. If we have stories to tell, the world has audiences waiting to hear them — my crappy little middle-of-nowhere blog is a perfect example. Here I do nothing but blather on about whatever’s in my head, and somehow I’ve attracted almost 400 followers, and I even have some who read my work (and I even laugh at calling it “work”) almost every day. This makes me confident that when my novel is finished, though the likelihood is that it will land with a whimper rather than a mushroom cloud, it will find readers. It’ll find fans. The story I’m telling is the perfect one for somebody out there; for somebody, it’s exactly the story they need to hear.

Fate’s fickle finger touches us all differently. (Yeah, that sounded wrong.)

To embrace what the finger gives us (did it again) is to embrace who we are.

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This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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