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.

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Beep…beep…beep

That’s the sound of me backing up. It annoys many others in the coffee shop when I back up when I’m writing. “Can you stop beeping?” they shout. “I’m on my cell and I can’t hear myself think.”

Sorry.

I’m backing up from yesterday’s writing. Oh, what a miserable day. I don’t know where the muses were, but they weren’t here. Did they stage a walk-out? Maybe. Don’t know.

I knew I had to make some links, slow down and let the story breathe, to improve the novel. That’s what I was trying to do. After a fitful session, I’d written a lot but I felt like it was horrible. I didn’t like it.

The muses agreed this morning. As soon as I awoke and finished thinking about my dreams (more family and dogs – WTH?), a muse rep said, “You know that stuff that you wrote yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s terrible.”

“I — ”

“It muddies the flow and does nothing for the pacing or coherency.”

“Yeah, I — ”

“This is what you need to do instead. First, delete all of that crap.”

“Crap is a little harsh, don’t yo — ”

“And then, this is what you write.” He proceeded to tell me.

I thought the proposal over. It was a lot better, and made more sense. I nodded. “Okay, I will. Thanks.”

My thanks went to empty air. The muse was gone. Guess they were off to help some other poor writer.

Got my coffee and took my first gulp of the blessed hot, dark, bitter brew. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Puzzling It Out

 

 

Back in January of this year, I had an idea that excited me. In this case, the idea arrived as a dream at night, while I slept. Into my dreams was inserted a title, April Showers 1921, along with a gold embossed cover. I knew April Showers. I wasn’t certain what 1921 was about. (I now know what 1921 means in this context, and it was a surprise.) That didn’t deter me. I began to write.

E.L. Doctorow

Scenes emerged like mushrooms after heavy summer rains. I had ideas about what this story was about. I brainstormed in search of explanations and coherency. I drove forward, headlights blazing, through a dark countryside of thought, although I turned down made several wrong roads, and occasionally went off a cliff.

Characters, scenes, and the concept grew in understanding, although not at the same rate. As they grew, details gained substance. Storylines arced. Characters gained dimensions and complexities. Their stories expanded.

As I thought, wrote like crazy, listened to the muses, and sometimes argued with them, a novel took shape. One day, I thought, I can see the end of this. I can smell the end of it, if you will. It was a strange sensation of anticipation and completion.

It was a false impression, like seeing the Rocky Mountains on the plains ahead as I drove west across Kansas and thought, oh, we’ll be there in a few hours. The immensity fooled me. Terry Pratchett and others stated, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” I’ve written a few novels by now, but each novel is unique, so I need to learn the work-in-progress and what’s required. What I had really reached was a complete understanding of the novel.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

I’m still in search of the first draft but now I see and know the entire story. Most of the pieces have been created, but now, understanding the story, I need to put them together in the proper order, adding more pieces to complete the picture, and other pieces to finish the tale.

When I began, I created a folder, “April Showers 1921”. Eleven documents reside in it. Two are brainstorming documents. One is the novel in progress, and the rest are trails that went nowhere, or side bar information. I didn’t expect April Showers 1921 to take the turns that it did; my headlights didn’t let me see that far ahead.

As always, it’s a fun ride, fun and challenging. I love the process of exploring and discovering, and then trying to write what I’m seeing and hearing, what I’m witnessing. 

Patricia Cornwell

It’s been a good day of writing like crazy, but the coffee is gone, my ass feel sore from sitting, and my brain feels wiped out from reading and writing. Time to stop, at least for now.

The Muses and Me

Yeah, another writing rant/post. Aren’t you lucky?

I wondered again about this writing process and how much control I have. Writing today, I reached a scene where I stopped writing to say, “I don’t want this to happen.”

The muses answered, “Okay, we appreciate your opinion. Now write the scene.”

“But — ”

“You’re wasting time,” a muse said. “Pitter patter, get ‘er at ‘er.”

Jaw clenching, I put my hands on my lap and glared at the computer screen. “I’m the writer here. You’re not the boss of me.”

“Yeah, we are,” the muses said with hooting laughter. As their laughing mounted, one shouted, “He thinks we’re not the bosses of him.” That fired their laughter into higher mocking tones.

Saving my work, I locked my computer and went for a walk to shut them up and think.

I couldn’t appreciate their case for what they wanted to happen. I didn’t have an impressive alternative, either. Hard to argue with them when they have a plan and I don’t.

Dismissing that for the moment, I reflected on the epiphany that I’d had, that, ah-hah, I need something else at the beginning, “something else” being mental shorthand for a more involved and complete opening scene (or chapter) that properly sets up the story and consequences, a piece that gives the reader more reason to be invested with the main character, along with the supporting protagonists.

As many writers before me have said, the first draft is the writer learning the story, and you can’t write the beginning until you’ve finished writing the end. All this seems especially true with this novel in progress.

Returning to my writing, I sat down and did as the muses decreed. It was the best thing to do because, at this point, I was wasting precious writing time, analyzing what they were telling me to write and my reasons for not wanting to write that. Besides, this is just a draft. I can always edit and revise this part later, right? I can even delete it.

That cracked the muses up. “Sure,” they said. “Of course you can. You’re the author.”

Sometimes, I’m not fond of the muses. They can be so mean.

The coffee cup is empty except for a cold, bitter dribble. Time to stop writing like crazy, at least one more time.

Closing on the Finish

It’s a weird thing, actually, but then, the writing process, organic and raw, often strikes me as a weird thing. In this case, as I wrote yesterday and today, I thought that I’m closing on the books’ finish. By that, I mean the beta draft, of course.

This isn’t a matter of page or word counts. The first is three hundred twenty-five Word pages, and the second is seventy-seven thousand words. I’ve cut away whole chapters as the story found shape.

No, this is just a feeling suddenly that it’s all coming together for a final rush toward the ending. I wrote a sense of the ending a few weeks into the novel-in-progress, sort of a light in the tunnel to aim toward. I’ve not revisited it in over a month, I think, so I know it’ll require major revisions to incorporate all the threads and ideas that’ve germinated into storylines since.

As always, I have a mixed response to this feeling that I’m coming to the end. It reminds me of being on vacation and realizing that I’m going home in a couple of days, that vacation will end. It’s been a good time, but I’ll go on to another phase of living.

I can be wrong. The muses might be pranking me. They may jerk the rug out from underfoot at the last minute, laughing as I fall on my ass.

Or I might finish and begin reading it and then discover that it’s a miserable load of dinosaur feces masquerading as a manuscript. It’s all happened before.

I address that with a shrug these days. Writing is always a process of discovery, re-thinking what’s been found and presented, twerking changes, refining what I think I know and what should be told. Editing and revising is a shift of how it’s done but it’s a continuation and refinement of the process. That’s my view, and I’m sticking to it.

Been another satisfying and productive day of writing like crazy. You know the scene: the coffee is gone, my ass is asleep, my stomach is rumbling, and the day awaits. Time to save and close the docs and walk away, at least one more time.

Another Stimulating Day

It was another stimulating day of writing like crazy. The writing had taken off on startling tangents, tangents that made me laugh aloud, although quietly, because I’m in a public coffee shop and I’m not fond of attention. This session capped off several wild writing sessions where I just let it flow without thinking and then, ‘lo, the whole thing somehow connects in surprising ways.

Well, they surprised me. Hope to hell readers who didn’t write it also find them surprising.

So cool, so much fun and enjoyable. When it comes like this, I wonder if I’m writing it, remembering it from something I’ve read or written before, or just acting as a vessel. I wonder, but I don’t question it too deeply, accepting it as a mysterious but pleasurable process. Of course, then I came to the day’s stop, and suddenly all the usual angst about whether it was any good, made sense, etc., sank its fangs into me.

My coffee cup is empty and the novel in progress has been saved and closed. That reminds me that I put off doing a back-up yesterday. I need to do one. I don’t want to lose all of this because I was lazy.

Meanwhile, I’m done writing like crazy for today.

What School? (Updated)

Once again, Stephen King has managed to irritate me.

I’d been busy writing, thinking, and brainstorming yesterday, capping off the final few minutes of an enjoyable writing session. (I know, I seem like an eternal optimist, don’t I? Truth is, I don’t share many of the dark days. I don’t like dwelling on ’em.)

MS Word froze. Hell, the entire computer froze. With an exasperated, “WTF?”, I sat back, sipping the last of my cold coffee, hoping to wait it out. A few things were attempted to break the hold. Not a damn thing worked.

Hard reboot, please. I was sore about it, nay, pissed. I wanted to bring the doc up to finish those last few thoughts and paragraphs.

Twelve minutes later – was I counting? Ya think? – the docs were up with some final paragraphs missing. Grrr. The excitement had fizzled, the energy had dried up, the thrill was gone. (Cue B.B. King.) So was my coffee and the allotted time to write. I made a note to myself, just a brief, slightly cryptic thing. I figured, I’d remember…

Twenty-four hours later, I don’t remember. Well, I remember three out of four that I’d thought. Damn it, that fourth one is plaguing me.

Which brings me to the eternal question, which school do you belong to? Are you one that writes copious notes, or are you of the “I’ll remember it” school?

I used to be the copious notes school. Then I read that Stephen King said that he doesn’t keep notes. He said that if it was important, he’d remember it. How sage that sounded! I would be like Stephen King. He can do it, so I can, too…right?

First, I lied. I am a copious note maker. I have documents of notes about the novel in progress, explaining what and why, because I know that I’ll probably get lost in the tangled tales and forget. I invoked the Stephen King clause yesterday in an optimistic fit. While I don’t remember it now, I’m sure that I will as I write today…or tomorrow…or…sometime.

I hope.

Got my mind juice, a.k.a., coffee. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

UPDATE: I remembered the fourth as I began writing, and made a note of all four. Ah, the power of coffee.

 

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