A friend’s daughter recently published a short story. I ended up with it in hand to read. It wasn’t her first. She’s been published about a dozen times.
Oh, how the urge to edit pulsed through me as I read it. My inner writer was shaking his head. The story was wooden, with passive verbs, a weak concept, and slow pacing. There was much telling, then showing what’d been told, and then sometimes told again.
I was dismayed and baffled. This was my take, but this was a recently published short story. This must be what editors like.
Novels that were recently published that I’d read were recalled. With many designated as bestsellers, I often thought the writing was clumsy, particularly in the early chapters, but they knew how to tell a story, and that came through in the end. Of course, there were a few where the writing was sublime. Those tend to be the award winners.
Yes, I know, every reader brings their a unique set of expectations, and finds their own story from what the writer offered. My take will be different from what others find and enjoy. Yet, something like the things I found that I wanted to edit seem like the basics of strong writing.
I concluded, I’m out of step with what’s wanted and desired in the writing and publishing world — and the reading world — and probably destined to be so forever. Accepting that, I’ll resign myself, again, to writing for myself and trying to improve my writing.
Take that, world.
Time to write like crazy, at least one more 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
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.
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.
Dreams wrecked my sleep like booming thunderstorms. While the dreams went all over the place, often with multiple storylines and settings, and frequently anxiety fraught, one theme stayed true: the leads were missing or broken. I kept hunting them or trying to repair them. In one example, others brought in a large and heavy broken motor. “Know what we found in this?” one man that helped deliver the heavy electric motor said. He was affable and burly, curly-haired and sunburned, a little dirty and greasy in his blue uniform with its red and white name tag with “Mike” in script, and a gap in his teeth.
I grinned. “Broken leads, right?”
Mike grinned back. “Yep. You got it. The leads weren’t working.”
Stepping back, I’d finished the first draft of April Showers 1921 a few days ago. I found it a hot mess. Good writing, yes, but shitty storytelling. The concept had over-excited me, and I’d peed all over the place. It’s my big friggin’ writin’ weakness. The first draft had become six hundred Word pages and one hundred fifty thousand words. The last quarter and ending were weak. The beginning and middle were confusing.
When something goes wrong, I try to figure out what to do. That’s been try for me for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, the process requires me to walk away from the project. Grant my mind some space and let it work. This isn’t one of those projects, though. I felt an urgency to keep working on it.
The writing hadn’t been a waste of time, of course. One, it entertained me. Second, I learned more about the concept, and then the story. As I’ve quoted Terry Pratchett before, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Now I knew the whole story, and it needed to be re-worked. Many hours of thinking and walking were conducted in search of what to do. Well, I roughly knew what to do: revise and edit. Sure, but I thought, more structure was needed than to proclaim revise and edit and go forth. I needed a better, more solid plan. I just wasn’t satisfied enough with this draft to begin considering revise and edit. I was thinking, write again.
I didn’t wanna write it again, I whined. I know, I answered. That’s writing.
Decisions were made. Each decision took me down a tangible plan. I began seeing how and why I’d concluded the ending and last quarter were weak. Glimpses of what to do began emerging.
Wasn’t easy to get there. The journey from proclaiming hot mess to saying, okay, this is what I’m going to do, took hours of thinking and plotting. It was intense. I was not a good person to be around. Fortunately, I was mostly on my own.
Then came the dreams.
The dreams were beneficial. They didn’t dictate, “DO THIS,” in a deep voice that might’ve been Jehovah or James Earl Jones. No, the dreams were more like a thundering rain storm with strong winds, blowing out the mess.
Now, it’s been accepted. The first hot mess was done; work is required. The path has been defined. Jaw is set. Coffee is at hand. I’m in position.
Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.
Thoughts on a novelist’s life as they cope with conceiving, writing, revising, and publishing a novel.
- Jubilation! What a great idea! I must start thinking about this and writing. This is brilliant! Coffee, quick!
- Doubts. Wait…what was it about? I don’t know…that’s more complicated than I realized, and derivative as hell. What the hell…why would those characters do that? What’s their motivation? Man, I need some caffeine just to make sense of this. Better go get some coffee.
- Bargaining. Look, let me play a computer game and then get through just one day, just one hundred words, just one scene, just one paragraph today, and I promise that I’ll write more tomorrow and catch up. Give me some coffee.
- Denial. Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t have what it takes. I’m not smart enough or talented enough. I’m such an idiot! Why did I ever think that I could write a novel? Let me just finish my coffee and go.
- Acceptance. Well, I’ve gone this far. Might as well finish the damn thing. Then, maybe I’ll set it aside for a century, and take a look later, see if I can edit and revise it, and make something out of it. I need a fresh cup of coffee.
- Jubilation! Hey, this isn’t so bad. This is pretty good. It just needs some work. It’s all coming together. Give me some coffee.
- Doubts. I don’t know…what was I thinking when I wrote that? I don’t even remember writing that part. Who is that character? I don’t remember them. I have never seen so many typos in my life. Even the coffee tastes bad. What a waste.
- Bargaining. Listen, self. If I can just finish reading and editing this part and sleep on it, I know that I’ll find a way to make this all work, and then I’ll take a break from it all. More coffee, please.
- Denial. Who am I kidding? This is absolute garbage. I’ll never make it as a writer. I can’t even type. Even if I finish this, who will ever read it? Maybe I should work on something else. I need more coffee.
- Acceptance. No, you’ve come this far. You owe it to yourself to at least finish it. Maybe more coffee will help. Come on, you can do it. What’s the saying? Just open any vein. Sure. Give me some coffee.
- Jubilation! This is pretty damn good. Now all I need to do is find someone to publish it. Let me hunt for an agent. But first, some coffee.
- Doubts. I’ll never find an agent or a publisher. Maybe I should self-publish. But then I’d need to have a cover made, hire a copy-editor, and then do all the marketing once I publish it. Let me drink a cup of coffee and think about it…
How ’bout you, writers? Any thoughts on the stages of coping with your writing efforts?