The Whirlpool

I finished the tenth draft of the latest novel-in-progress, April Showers 1921, several weeks back (Surprise!, September 26). I thought it was the final draft but knew that I had notes which called for more work before I could say that it was finished as a draft. I hesitate to say final draft. Nothing is final about a novel-in-progress until it’s published. I prefer to call it the working final draft. Yeah, that’s pretty ambivalent, isn’t it?

I’d begun April Showers 1921 back in January, 2019. It originated with a dream of a book that I’d written, resulting in a powerful impetus to make it real. It’s a hefty ms., one hundred eighty thousand words and six hundred thirty MS Word pages. I recognize that an editor will probably cut through some of that beef. The story is told by skipping back and forth through multiple versions of the same fourteen-year-old protagonist, Anders. I struggled with that, and that facet pushed multiple revisions until I fully recognized and understood why and how the multiple Anders interacted (or didn’t interact) with one another.

The other matter is, I’m sure that the working title of April Showers 1921 will probably be changed. April Showers is a machine invented specifically to interact with Anders, a human. As a machine, she generally acts and looks human. That simple claim gets complicated because the novel is about how multiple levels of filters interact to create realities and alterverses. After exploring everything, April Showers’ role was reduced from what I’d originally expected it to be.

I was right about having some work remaining. I’d identified five sections in my notes for further work. Before I dove into them, I read through the notes, remembering why I’d jumped ahead of those sections. Two of them deleted. I thought they were needed but they weren’t. This happens to me. As I write a novel and explore everything, I develop a sense about where it’s going and what’s going to happen. Sometimes, though, those insights are overtaken by events and turn out to be superfluous to the final tale.

The other three sections were filler/bridge sections. Impatient critter that I am, I didn’t feel like dealing with minutiae that these three sections demanded. As I read the preceding pages to them, I easily slipped into what needed to be done (all hail the muses!).

What became more time-consuming were the side roads I frequently stumbled down. To confirm a point of continuity or clarity, I’d open a second window and hunt my notes and the manuscript for specific points. I inevitably ended up becoming engrossed in the ms, reading chapter after chapter, which I call the writing and editing whirlpool, because it just sucks me in. Small errors, pacing matters, and typos were typically addressed during these periods, but I was mostly indulging myself. Part of the process was sometimes coping with surprise about what I’d written and where that section went.

Seems strange, doesn’t it? I wrote it, so it follows that I should know what I wrote. My conclusion about it is that I’m working on a different level. Two, my writing process is like weaving. I don’t hesitate to dip into a section of the book and edit it to meet my preferences. That tangibly results in many sections being re-written, revised, edited, and polished multiple times. I often wear reader or editor hats when I’m doing that, instead of my writer hat. Maybe I’m just blowing smoke, though, to cover a weak or faulty memory.

Anyway, I’m out of the whirlpool. The final working copy is completed. Now, the part I loathe, presenting it to the world begins. I need to write up a blurb, summary, elevator pitch, synopsis, etc., to entice others into my world.

It’s been a good nine months of writing, editing, and revising like crazy. As other writers have mentioned, and I’ve echoed before, finishing the novel leaves a void. A friend is gone, a puzzle has been finished, a routine has been completed, a desire has been fulfilled. Leaves me with wondering, where do I go from here?

Well, yeah, there is the aforementioned loathsome tasks. I don’t really celebrate the completion except to mention it to a few close, supportive friends and family members, and privately toast myself, “You did it. Well done.”

Then, I begin thinking about the next novel. There’s so much to read, research, think about, and write. Existence is a rich mine of potential stories to be found and written.

Off I go, at least one more time, to write like crazy.

Surprise!

A moment ambushed today that I really wasn’t expecting. I finished writing, editing, and revising draft number ten of April Showers 1921. 

I’d finished writing the novel, and it ‘felt’ correct, a coherent and complete tapestry of time, characters, settings, events, and story.

I was pretty damn astonished. Just like reading an entertaining book, writing a book that entertains me leaves me breathless and lost, wanting more while processing, it’s over. It’s good. It’s done.

Draft number ten is a hefty boy, let me tell you, six hundred ten pages in MS Word, one hundred eighty thousand plus words. It’d required eight months, my gosh, almost to the date I’d officially started it after a dream in early January. I’d first mentioned it in a January 27, 2019 post. Eight months of thinking about it, writing, revising, researching, editing, processing, and editing, revising, and re-writing again and again. It’s odd and startling to realize that I’ve written all those pages in that time, and doesn’t count all those pages that’ve been removed during the revising process. It was just such a short spurt of time, and just a few hours each day of typing.

Now, I’m contemplating, what do I do with myself? This is my writing time, but I’ve finished writing the novel. It’s like getting out of school early. Such possibilities! Should I go eat? Well, I’m not hungry; this is my writing time. Tell someone? Well, of course, I posted this, to share with my online friends. Many of you are writers and appreciate the satisfaction of writing and finishing. I think you, of all, will most understand, and have been quite supportive.

I suppose I’ll take a break today, and then return tomorrow, and start going through my notes to confirm that I’m not leaving something out there hanging. Then…well, we’ll see.

But, um, yeah, I guess I’m done writing like crazy for today.

Yeah.

A Writing Update

Short, simple, and sweet.

My writing progress on the novel in process, April Showers 1921, has been going well. It hasn’t been easy; I sweat over details, sentence placement, sentence length, descriptions, verbs…argh. I sweat over paragraphs, pages, and chapters, and the three Cs: clarity, coherence, and continuity.

It’s not easy, but it’s satisfying and rewarding. Going back over the work the next day in preparation to begin another writing session, I’m happy with what I’ve written and the shape that the story has assumed.

I sometimes speculate on when it’ll be done. I began writing it in January, 2019. I’m on my tenth draft. That means most days are spent editing and rewriting, with new bridge material, verisimilitude added, or scenes more carefully addressed. While I hold true to the original concept, I love the expansion of thought and understanding that accompanied the writing process.

So when will I be done? Well, I often shrug and say, who knows? Who cares? It’ll be done when it’s done. I’m surprised, too, that I don’t want to explain anything to anyone. I’m happy with what I have, and that’s good enough for me.

Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Cake On My Mind

If you know me and my blog scribblings, reading the post’s title might prompt you to think that I’m talking about the alt-rock group, Cake, being in my stream. They’re not, although I sympathize with them and the theft of their music gear in Portland, OR.

But, if you read my blog posts, you might also think I’m talking about food. I like food. I don’t often post about it, but it’s been on display recently in conjunction with health issues (nothing too serious).

The cake, though, comes from my writing and dreams. Ahah, there we are the other tracks that I’m often following when I post.

Cake has been part of my writing and dreaming worlds the last few days. My April Showers 1921 protagonist encounters a survival group. The group is made up of children. After rescuing him from an attack by a pack of dogs, they take him to their fort to have cake, incidents and details delivered by the muses on Wednesday. Thursday was spent broadening and detailing the scene. Several cake options are available. He likes chocolate, so he chooses to have a large slice chocolate layer cake with buttercream chocolate between the layers and fudge frosting on top. A team of children baked it; teams of children baked all the cakes. Anders wonders where and how they have these resources to bake cakes, but other important matters are at hand, and he can’t pursue the answers.

So, okay, been writing about cake. It must’ve bled over into real life, because, last night, I dreamed about cake.

In a rollicking dream, a competition was going on. The activity was too frenzied and chaotic for me to keep hold off upon waking, but I know that I did damn well in the dream competition. What I do remember very well was that cake was being served at the end, to reward participants. I was so happy, I was giddy. The big piece of sheet cake presented to me on a plate had yellow cake and white frosting with roses, and it fell apart on my plate.

The server apologized and told me that she’d get me another one. I took the plate, though, telling her, it didn’t matter. I could eat it even if it was falling apart.

Then I ate it with my hands, laughing as I did.

It was a weirdly satisfying dream.

As A Muse Will

I’d come in, fired up the ‘putin’ machine (no, not the one that make everything that comes out look or sound like Putin), had my coffee, and settled in to write. Problem was that I didn’t know what to write.

In the course of revising April Showers 1921, I added another layer. It’s worked well. I was ready to end that layer. I didn’t know how. I’d been thinking about it but nothing came to me.

And then, hands on keyboard, the muse arrived and conducted, as a muse will. A scene flashed on my mind’s edge. Words arrived. I typed. The scene took off, becoming multiple scenes and dialogue, becoming a chapter. Walking away from it much satisfied with the results, I continued thinking about it as I conducted my post-writing walking review, and the next pieces came to me. Arriving yesterday and setting up, I took up with that, and had more terrific results. Then, today — yep, again, for a hat trick.

It was an intense and productive three days. I feel like I’m just coming back up for air.

I know it’s not a muse, but deep recesses in my mind shooting neurons at mental walls until something sticks and some sort of Jackson Pollack-like story ideas gel. It’s easier, simpler, and more elegant to just attribute it to the muse, though.

Besides, you never know. If it is a muse, sure as hell don’t want pull a Joey Tribbiani* and upset them.

Done writing like crazy for at least one more day. Cheers

* If you need the explanation…

Joey Tribbiani was a Friends character played by actor Matt LeBlanc. (Friends was a U.S. television sitcom on NBC last century.) Joey was an actor who achieved success on a daytime television soap opera. During an interview, Joey claimed that he wrote most of his own lines. The writer wasn’t happy and promptly killed the character.

The end.

 

Double Think

Seven triple four began doubting his mission. The Kazmo believed he had a special insight into where the other versions of him resided. The Kazmo were correct, although it wasn’t as easy as they perceived. The silver machines didn’t know or understand that many of his other versions were fakes. Usually existing for about fourteen minutes, triple four suspected these other versions existed to distract the Kazmo and their resources.

That fact scared triple four. If he was right, his other selves knew about the Kazmo and their project.

They probably also knew about him, too, then. But if they knew about him, it could be that the fake others might only exist in his perceptions.

What he needed was a way to figure this out. If he couldn’t, he didn’t have a reason to exist.

Laughing At Myself

I’ve been laughing at myself. When I finished the first draft of April Showers 1921, I thought, what a mess. Then I began hunting for what to do.

I found problems with structure, character motivation, pacing, story-telling… Whatever could go wrong seemed present. Very disheartening.

I began hunting fixes, slicing like a surgeon removing tumors. Draft two was finished and stalled, then three was written and discarded, followed by four. I lamented to myself, “This is like telling the history of World War II. So much happened. How do I find the right handle to it?”

That lament helped. Although I was complaining, it was true. The novel sprawled in a million directions. I needed to reduce the sprawl and improve the story.

Meanwhile, in parallel, I was reading thrillers. I was reminded of a Stephen King quote: “I showed them what can happen, and then I make them wait for it to happen again.” I’m paraphrasing. Forgive me. Maybe it wasn’t King, too, but I thought it was.

Whoever came up with that quote, it helped me sharpen my story’s focus, and tightened my grip on the sprawl.

I created some rules for myself.

  1. Head down. Focus, and stay focused. Work hard. Concentrate.
  2. Stay humble. Ride the wave. It’s a long ride, so manage your energy and emotions.
  3. Write better. Tell a better story. Sharpen your story-telling skills.

The last was revealing. I’d always concentrated on writing, putting words after words, fixing pacing and finishing novels and stories. Now, I decided that I needed to elevate my efforts and focus on being a better writer. That would hopefully result in a better story and novel.

It required hard decisions. Cut this arc. Modify that one. Tens of thousands of words were shred.

Partway through draft number seven. I think I’ve found a grip. I won’t know until I’ve finished and read it through again.

Done writing and editing like crazy for today. Time to go for a walk and let myself decompose.

The Fourth Time

Finished the novel-in-progress’ first draft back in June. Turned out to be a hot mess. So, after a few days of sulking and withering under the glares I gave myself in the mirror, I tried again.

Yeah, finished that draft and choked on it. I went into a hard work & focus mode that I’d discovered in myself about forty years back. Went to work on number three. Number three was a third of the way through when I realized, no; not working. Still not finding the root issue.

Damn it. My frustration levels were rising and hadn’t peaked. But with each draft, I narrowed down issues, and fixed problems. Come number four, and damn it, I remained dissatisfied. I kept thinking about what the problem was. Then, once I realized and admitted what it was, I began addressing how to fix it. The challenge haunted me through everything I was doing.

A possible answer was found this morning. Warning myself not to overthink it, I resumed work with draft number three as the basis, but designated as draft number four. I warned myself not to get my hopes up; I thought I could fix it twice before.

I did end up satisfied with the changes today. Need to sustain the effort, though, focus and keep the pressure up until I finish a draft that satisfies me. This might well take all summer. I could be writing about draft number twenty by autumn’s first day.

Done with writing like crazy for the day. Cheers

Contracting and Expanding

The mid-year cusp finds me contracting and expanding among multiple spectrums, like my psyche is inhaling and exhaling, troubling and calming itself, encouraging and discouraging. All’s well, it’s not looking good, but it’s looking better even if it looks like crap.

July is beginning. I’ve completed the first draft of the novel begun in January (April Showers 1921). The first draft strikes me as abysmal. The things that I thought I needed to write and I thought were so perfect make me want to hurl now. Wading through them is like walking naked through a chest-high pool of liquified feces.

It’s wonderful.

This is writing’s essence for me. It’s the matter of thinking on topics and characters, needling the imagination into pulling concepts out of my ass, and then tinkering with it all, hunting the story, wrestling with understanding, and coping with how to tell it, and what I’m telling.

I began a new draft and reorganized the structure. That’s another phase in progress. I’ve edited and revised the first twelve chapters in the past week. Several of the chapters required five or more passes. One chapter remained unsatisfying after six or seven hacks at it. I marked it for more work and continued, remembering that the story being told is the sum of all the separate pieces, and only come together for me when they’re all known and understood. Then, working on another chapter, I went back to the troubling chapter. Eureka! I saw the issues troubling me, clear as a full moon on a cloudless night. Slash, slash, slash, slice, slice, slice, cut and delete, cut and delete, rework, rework. Ah; better. More passes are needed, but it now works.

Others have noticed my focus and intensity. They only see the outer panel. Inside me, it’s as intense as a hot, bubbling cauldron. I noticed the impact on other aspects of my life. Phone calls and emails that are promised are postponed to keep from interfering with my progress. My focus on this novel causes me to forget to do things that I’ve planned, errands to run, et cetera. I know this is the case, but my wife thinks I’m being forgetful because I’m getting old or something. I don’t bother to attempt to correct her, because there’s no value in wasting that energy.

Above and beyond, after reading interviews with authors, I’ve ended up with a long list of books to read. The ideas found and presented are spectacular. I want to go read those stories. It’s far from an altruistic plan. While it’s born in the enjoyment I find in reading and the admiration I have for their success in going the path that I follow, there are more books for me to write. Reading these others will help unleash these book ideas. That excites me.

That thought reminds me of the danger of tastes and preferences. I tend to read science fiction, thrillers, historic fiction, a few ‘literary’ books, mysteries, some non-fiction about science, economics, and politics, but I need to expand that circle. It’s a decent size, but it’s too small for the size of our existence. I’m hungry to find more, learn more, imagine more, and write more.

One thing that I learned while working in the military, startups, and Fortune 500 corporations is the value of pacing. There will be ups and downs, but to finish, I have to manage my intellectual, emotional, and physical energies so that I can be there at the end. That requires introspection and meditation, but my dreams help me.

It’s a different path for each of us. I’m jealous of being who stumble onto their path early and who manage to navigate it to their satisfaction, but I can’t deny that I’m happy to be on this path.

We’re cresting mid-year. I hope you’re all doing well on your paths. Press on.

Cheers

 

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