How

I was at a social event the other night. I encountered some casual friends. They knew I wrote fiction and asked questions. 

Now, I’d vowed not to talk about writing, particularly my writing, because once that faucet is opened, it seems to break, and nobody can turn it off. I’d planned succinct, polite answers for the questions that are usually asked.

But these folks persisted in inviting torture. One answer led to another question and requests for expansion and clarification. 

Basically, they first asked, “How do you start?”

I understand that question. I get it often. I know that people read a book and think, this was written from beginning to end. That’s what I thought when I first began writing. 

That works for some writers, but not for me. I explained to the others, I just begin writing. I see a scene, I hear a voice, I met a character, and I begin. I usually have little idea about what’s going to happen or who the characters are. I’m learning this, along with the story. I’m usually beginning in the middle, or toward the end. It’s only after I learn the characters and situation more that I start to see how the novel starts, because then, when I see what happens, I ask, “Why do that happen?” Questions like that take me backwards, toward the beginning.

They also wanted to know if I outline.

Generally, I don’t. I’m an organic writing. But sometimes, a scene all comes in at once, or scenes and the story becomes complicated, requiring some process of clarification. I’ll sometimes outline that aspect, just to help me handle the information, find gaps, and fix them. I also use snapshots to do thinking outside of the novel’s context. These are documents that aren’t included in the novel, but help me grasp what’s going on. That helps me make sense of what I’m trying to convey, but it also helps me track information that I don’t share with the reader, usually because I don’t want it revealed too soon.

Generally, I don’t. I’m an organic writing. But sometimes, a scene all comes in at once, or scenes and the story becomes complicated, requiring some process of clarification. I’ll sometimes outline that aspect, just to help me handle the information, find gaps, and fix them. I also use snapshots to do thinking outside of the novel’s context. These are documents that aren’t included in the novel, but help me grasp what’s going on. That helps me make sense of what I’m trying to convey, but it also helps me track information that I don’t share with the reader, usually because I don’t want it revealed too soon.

“Do you ever get writer’s block?”

Yes, and no. I don’t embrace the expression. It’s too glib and provides a false impression about my process.

I sometimes struggle with a scene or direction and don’t know how to take it. I’ve learned that I can overthink things, so I tell myself, don’t overthink it. I’ve learned to trust my subconscious mind and instincts, and that I just need to get out of my own way. I’ve learned that I don’t need to write everything in sequence, so write something else and come back to the problem later. I’ve learned to take a walk or read a book or do something to let my mental resources work without my attention. 

“How do you know when it’s done?”

When I, as a reader, think that I, as a writer, have explored and answered the questions and problems put up throughout the novel, within the context of what I set out to do, then I think it’s done. That’s part one. Part two, I write for myself, and my pleasure. If I take pleasure from what I’ve written, including the ending, I’m satisfied that it’s done. 

I admit, sometimes the ending that comes surprises me. “Is that it? Really?” Upon further review, sometimes it isn’t, but sometimes it is. It’s a process.

I also give the finished manuscript to people I trust to tell me their thoughts about the novel, including the ending, and there are editors. Novel writing is generally an individual endeavor, but finishing a novel often requires several minds, especially if you’re driven to get it right.

Scheduled events then began, saving them from more explanations. 

I took a break from my editing to write and post this. The process actually went, I’ve been editing and writing for hours. My butt’s asleep and my neck is stiff. I need to stretch and take a walk. While taking that break and walking, I remembered and thought about this conversation and decided to create this post.

Time to get back to it.

Thursday’s Theme Music

You know, sometimes, no matter what you do, you end up getting stuck somewhere where you don’t want to be. 

I’m happy to report that there’s a song for that, called, “Stuck in the Middle With You”, Stealers’ Wheel, 1973. I often think of Reservoir Dogs when I recall this song. Its bounciness, with Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) dancing around as he cut off another man’s ear and doused him in gasoline, offered an interesting counter-balance to the scene’s gritty intensity and violence. 

I guess I’m fortunate that when this song comes to mind at social gatherings, parties, or standing in lines at stores and airports, that nobody is cutting anything off of me.

Peas

He doesn’t like peas, and turns them down — of course. Who eats food that they don’t like, except children being forced to do so by parents, guardians, and caretakers? Or sick people being forced to eat something cuz it’s good for them? Or starving people who can’t be choosers? Okay, we’ll stipulate that exemptions exist. 

People often try to force them on them, as if some loop will suddenly change. He admits, only to himself, that, yes, it’s possible some loop will suddenly change, but to get to that point, he must eat peas, and he doesn’t wanna.

Others ask, why don’t you like peas? As if every decision stand on foundations of logic. As if he has a choice about everything. As if he fully understands the logic of why he doesn’t like peas, or he knows the fulcrum of the moment when he and peas parted ways — if they’d ever been together in the first place.

When asked about his refusal to eat peas, peas said, “Who?” And laughed.

Beer Etiquette

He found himself forced to explain beer etiquette to others. 

“Beer etiquette,” others said. “Like, the proper way to drink beer?”

Which led, inevitably to statements, “I know how to drink beer. I have a PhD in beer drinking. I’m a natural.” These comments were regarded as hilarious.

No, that is not what he is talking about. He is talking about when you take beer to someone else’s home, or to a social gathering. When you take beer, a six-pack, for example, to someone’s house for a party, for example, you should always remove one beer.

“That would make it a five pack,” someone quickly and acutely noted.

Yes, he agreed, smiling, preparing to continue his explanation.

“Why would you do that?”

If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll explain.

“Okay, explain.”

Yes. Removing one bottle or can shows that you like this beer so much that you had to take one for yourself before you brought it. If you don’t take one, people will think that you don’t like that beer, and wonder why you’re bringing beer that you don’t like.

Cries of, “Bullshit,” and “Come on,” answered, but he was adamant that this was good beer etiquette. Always take one bottle out, whether it’s a six or twelve pack, or a case. If it’s a growler, you should remove twelve to sixteen ounces.

“Do you drink it?” someone said.

You can.

“What about wine?” a wag asked.

Another laughed. “Do you take six packs of wine to people’s houses?”

Another said, “Do they make six packs of wine?”

No, he said, gently, this etiquette is about beer. 

Silent drinking pervaded the gathering. “Well,” the wag said, “Next time I go, I’ll just take an empty case and told them that it was too good to give away.” Then he laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. 

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