I didn’t finish writing the first draft of It Begins. (BTW, I’ve come to despise that title, even for a working doc. It was always meant to be short-termed. I keep waiting for the real thing to pop up.)
Disgust, anger, irritation, and frustration all stopped me from finishing the first draft. This wasn’t working, it wasn’t what I’d envisioned (or anywhere near it) and more, it wasn’t satisfying, winning a prolonged grrrrr from deep in my throat.
WTH and WTF? I kept trying to write around the issue. What was it disturbing me? Didn’t like that beginning, so I added shit. Didn’t like that, so I took it away again. Rearranged chapters. Deleted story lines.
None hit the magic g-spot. Exasperation hounded me like a hungry cat. Finally, and at last, as I was in the bathroom, a huge freakin’ epiphany struck.
First, I want to note that a much of my best epiphanies arrive in the morning while I’m doing my washing, shaving, and dressing. I think that’s because the tedium of routine permits my brain to enter a prolonged idle. The stream of thought calms and new items percolate in.
The second strike of intrigue came as I walked, thought, and then started writing. The epiphany showed me that I was pursuing the wrong tack. But as I reviewed what I’d written in the first takes compared to what I thought that I was writing about, it seemed that my subconscious (through the vessels called muses) was pursuing the correct direction while my conscious mind slaved in the wrong direction.
I’d been thinking that I needed clarity. That’s what I’d been hunting, not a problem with the writing, but clarity about the story that I was trying to tell. Now it feels like clarity has been found.
Hope so, but you know, like many things, a victory is achieved on one day, but the same work is required on another. Which was what I think all my writing efforts demonstrated: I knew something was off, and tried writing through it to a solution. In a roundabout way, that’s what happened as the effort helped my thought process. Guess that’s what fiction writing is about, in the end.
Once my clarify was delivered, I felt like I was suddenly shifting into a new, unknown writing gear. Not surprising, right? That’s what happens when you overcome an obstacle.
Done writing like crazy for the day. Off to other adventures. Cheers
First, some acknowledgements were required. Then decisions, followed by introspection, and finally, action. Yes, it was a typical writing day.
I’d finished writing the first draft of April Showers 1921 and found it a hot mess. Part of that were unreasonable expectations (who, me?) about how the first draft should read, along with unreasonable comparisons to published novels being read. I know that one author comparing their work to another author’s work has never been happened before, but I couldn’t help myself. It probably had to do with a bad moon rising, a hormonal surge, or general malaise.
I’d also begun hearing editors, publishers, critics, and readers in my head. It was a crowded damn place, and they were a damning crowd. Foolish, I know, to consider anyone else while you’re writing the first draft. It’s one of my problems with being human.
Third, I was over-thinking every aspect of everything that I was writing. I know, writers never do that, and yet, I was, for some reason.
Fortunately, I was able to intervene with myself.
I have a habit of hunting for quotes about writing, writers, and the process and curses. I’ll often hunt for interviews with authors to find these quotes. It shouldn’t surprise many that I focus on quotes dealing with whatever issues are vexing me.
This week, I found quotes from Jane Bardam and Anna Burns that helped me get over myself. Jane’s quote, “We never know what we’re writing about, even when the book’s over,” first struck me. Becoming overwhelmed with my concept, I felt like I’d become trapped in blackberry bushes and couldn’t escape. I’d become paralyzed trying to analyze and understand what I was writing about. That was just shutting down my brain.
Likewise, over-thinking what was going on undermined my writing process. I then came across Anna Burns’ comments. She was all about how the characters turning up and telling their stories. That’s exactly what I normally do, when it’s all going well. Anna continued about it being a messy process, and that it’s sometimes told backwards.
Yes, and yes. Those were true for me.
But the last part was what saved me. Anna said, “Eventually, though, the book cleans itself.”
That reverberated through me. I’d gone from trusting my muses, the convenient label I apply to the thinking that comes out of my subconscious spigot, to trying to think my way through everything. In other words, I’d suddenly begun approaching this creative process backwards.
Those interviews and their insights helped me re-balance myself. “Relax,” I said. “Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust the process.” Those calming words pulled me out of my funk and put me back on track.
None of this is like splitting the atom. It’s basic writing process. Of course, your experience will probably vary. For me, it’s always about finding and losing myself, trusting and questioning, struggling, and then succeeding. It’s about being willing to fail, recognizing that failing isn’t permanent, and that there must be a way to go forward; it just must be found. That can be daunting.
Been a good day of writing like crazy. Time to quit and pursue other crazy. Cheers
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.
I’m continuing to work on the novel-in-progress, April Showers 1921. Its challenges remain remaining and satisfying with a few dips into frustrating.
I’ve recently re-discovered the joy of deleting to build and improve the tale. When I began with the concept, it had a bajillion directions that it could take. I wrote about half of them, writing two to three thousand word chapters about the directions, exploring the characters, plot, and arcs. That resulted in a complex novel with a complicated plot, and extensive raw material. As I neared completion of the first draft, I met the muses at a crossroads. We agreed that some matters needed clarified and changed.
With mostly their guidance, I went through, exploring that first mess. Sometimes I attempted to work something into the mix, mostly because I enjoyed the passage. But, as often noted, sometimes killing favorite scenes help. As I deleted them (putting them into another documented that was a collection of these things…just in case…), I discovered how much the process sharpened my insights into the characters, situation, storylines, plots, and arc. With more focused insights, my writing and story-telling became crisper. My direction was better defined; I had more understanding of the final destination.
All of this wasn’t done overnight, but through several days of frequently frustrating searching and thinking. Sometimes I went backwards and then had to retrace my steps.
Now I’ve gone on into thinking of this mass as more like a giant piece, waiting to be sculpted molded, or carved. Unlike working in clay, wood, stone, or other hard, substantial materials, the novel’s characteristics change, depending upon how, where, and why they fit. Some pieces of the novel are solid. Only fine chiseling and polishing are needed. Other sections are thick, and I carve whole chunks away. Some are softer and more pliable, demanding shaping to improve coherency, pacing, motivation, and story-telling.
The process of writing and thinking about writing a novel often intrigues me as much as the novel-in-progress. As every novel is unique, so is the process used to write it.
Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.
Puzzling through the work-in-progress last night and this morning, I thought, the characters are good, and the writing is good, but the novel is crap. How do I fix this?
When I thought that last night, I thought it with a groan. Such recognition of the first draft’s state is expected but still a letdown. When I read the draft and thought it this morning, it was with a laugh. Few first drafts are not crap, so join the crowd. Glimmers of how to fix it were peeking through the murk, as well. Patience, discipline, and perseverance, I told myself. Yeah, you know where to stick your patience, discipline, and perseverance, don’t you?
The muses said, “Okay, let’s get busy.” They seem to be in a good mood, but that might be because I promised them a sugar-free, gluten-free, organic, GMO-free cookie, if they behave. I call such a cookie a “What’s-the-use?” Again, though, it’s for the muses.
Got my coffee. Time to write like crazy and start fixing this pig, at least one more time.
I’m feeling breathless, worried, and giddy today. You probably suspect that it’s the smoky air because I’ve been complaining about the wildfire smoke so often in July and August. Well, you’d be wrong, suckah. We have good air today.
I’m breathless and giddy because I completed the first draft of Four On Kyrios today. The novel has officially made the transition from beta to first draft. At the same time, I received feedback from two friends who volunteered to read the beta version as a second pair of eyes. They’d finished reading the manuscript and offered their comments. Both were enthusiastic and are ready to read the next book in the series. That pleases me, but I’m worried because, as a writer, I’m unique among writers, and worry whether others who read what I wrote will describe it as gilded garbage.
That was decent sarcasm, wasn’t it?
Four On Kyrios is the first book of the Incomplete States series. It didn’t take me long to read, edit, and revise it. I attribute that speed to several points.
One, it was the third book in the series to be written. That advantage means that a great deal of thinking about the concept, plot, background, and setting was already completed.
Two, I edit and revise as I write. My organic writing process drives this pattern. Writing what’s already written helps me connect with the muses and continue discovering and telling the story. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I fix grammar, punctuation, pacing, and continuity issues when they’re discovered. (Are you surprised?)
Three, Four On Kyrios is the smallest of the four novels in the Incomplete States series. MS Word clocks it at ninety thousand words and three hundred seventy-five pages.
Four, of the four novels, it has the simplest plot and the fewest characters. Those factors keep it easy to read and edit.
As this is the first novel in a series of four, it’ll stay in first draft status while I read, edit, and revise the others. The four books were written to tell one larger tale, so they’re interconnected. I came out of the editing and revising process with one page of notes. Some are reminders, a few are continuity questions, and the rest were issues. All of the issues except two were resolved. They’ll remain open until I complete the other three books.
Most of the changes in the novel were more about expanding some scenes to slow down and let the characters breathe. I’ve been reading a lot since I finished the beta draft of the four books. Reading others’ published novels impact my ‘sense’ of the book. To me, this is the instinct we develop as writers because we read. It’s a feel for what seems right and correct about something we’re reading. It’s about flow and story-telling.
Just for the record, I’ve read Lincoln in the Bardo, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Godless, The Midnight Line, Time’s Eye, and Diary in the past few weeks after finishing the first three books of the Dire Earth Cycle. I’m now reading The Pagan Lord and The Order of Time and searching for The Triggerman’s Dance. I think La Rose might be up next on my reading, though. The Order of Time is a fascinating book about time, physics, and quantum mechanics by Carlos Rovelli. I don’t agree with all of his points, but it’s fun thinking about them.
Now, on to the next novel in the Incomplete States series, Entangled LEREs. I’ll begin editing and revising it tomorrow. Right now, though, my stomach is posting orders for something to eat.
I think I shall comply.