Keep Paddling

Well, I’m up the creek. No, it’s not a creek, but a river as wide and powerful as the Amazon or Mississippi Rivers.

It’s all about writing, of course. I’ve used many metaphors to explore and explain my writing ventures, progress, and process. All of them, despite being disparate, are correct and accurate. My writing processes changes as I go through different phases of conception, imagining, creating, writing, editing, and introspection.

Paddling on a broad river seems the correct metaphor, simile, or analogy for now. I have a firm idea of where I’m going, yet currents attempt to pull me into different directions. Swirling eddies trap me with bursts of vacillation about which way to paddle. Right now, the river of words and ideas are bright and shiny. Sometimes, though, the sun goes down. Moonlight and starlight might help then, but sometimes, I’m alone out there, lost in darkness, on the river alone.

Muses often help me out, throwing lines, shouting directions and encouragement. So does the habit I have now of reading interviews with published authors in my quest for a quote. Many of those writers have tales of being out to sea, up in the air, trudging through a hot, dusty desert, or locked in solitary confinement. They write about writing for themselves for years, sometimes being published but with little to speak of in the ways of sales or recognition. They continued writing because they’d discovered the joy of writing for themselves.

Then, suddenly, bang, an agent signs them. A publisher publishers one of their novels. A rave review punches through the public’s consciousness. An actor, director, producer, studio head, whatever, reads their novel, buys the rights and makes it into a movie. Overnight, they’re a sensation after years of writing for themselves.

The joy of writing for myself can’t be overstated. I’m on a river now because while there’s sounds and sensations, I’m mostly in solitude, communicating with my muses about where I’m at, what I don’t like, and what I do enjoy. I’m going with a flow. Although it might not seem like it from everything else written above, it feels like a process flowing with quiet confidence and satisfaction.

Your results and processes are probably different, of course. Or perhaps they’re the same, or you see some nugget of yourself in the now of your existence, doing similar to what I’m doing. No matter how your process works or changes, I wish you well on it.

The coffee is gone. Time to pack up and head out for a sweaty walk in the hot sunshine. It’s been an excellent day of writing like crazy.

Cheers

The Next Book

I’m working on two novels right now. One is an “official” novel, destined for publication. The other novel is the unofficial, not-to-be published parallel story to that novel.

Coming to that point has been an interesting process. My normal process generally has several documents. First, of course, is the beta document. This is expected to become the book. Another document is about brainstorming and epiphanies. A third is a bible of terms, characters, settings, relationships, and major milestones and turning points. Fourth are snapshots. These include expanding thinking about characters, relationships, settings, historic references, just a handy guide to easily find information. I’ll often add notes about why something was decided, and where it’s included in the novel.

Last of my many documents is the deleted scene compilation. These are chapters that didn’t work, wrong turns, if you will. Sometimes they’re overcome by new concept or plot developments. Sometimes they’re deemed redundant, or they’re telling about something that I already showed. Sometimes they’re the original chapter that I wrote, which was then edited and revised. I keep them for just-in-case needs.

Why so many? I don’t know. This is what my process evolved to be. It works for me. That’s the critical component.

To this mix of documents, I’ve added the parallel story. It originally began as the deleted scenes document. I found it added a mystique, an intriguing veneer to the true novel to explore what’s happened in parallel and then have the original novel react to it.

I don’t work on the parallel novel much. It’s not meant to be a final document. Scenes are not deeply fleshed out, but are taken far enough to enable my understanding of what happened that will affect the novel in progress. Characters are sharply defined, because their thinking, decisions, and actions affect the real novel.

This is all part of the organic writing process, what some call pantsing instead of outlining. In looking at total word counts for all these documents, I estimated that I write two and half words of background and thinking material for every word in the novel. The beta draft of April Showers 1921 is forty-four thousand words. The others total about one hundred ten thousand words when added together.

That aligns with my last project’s results. Incomplete States is a series of five novels that total four hundred eighteen thousand in their latest draft. The supporting documents are just over a million words together.

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

Sorry, No

I recently met a person at the coffee shop who discovered that I was a writer. They asked me to tell them about what I was writing.

Sorry, no.

In a hurry, I said, “Sorry, it doesn’t work that way,” and departed. But after walking away, I began thinking about my answer, constructing the reasons that it doesn’t work that way.

In my early days, I was always eager to tell people about what I was writing. My position changed for several reasons.

  1. In the early days, I was hunting for validation and encouragement. I was more insecure about writing. I wanted someone else to tell me how wonderful it all sounded.
  2. A book is a written work. The nuances live in the words and the order that I’ve arranged them to tell a story. I work hard to find the ideas, establish and grow the characters, advance the plot, and tell the story. That’s all done through written words and the supporting structure.
  3.  I’m an organic writer, also called a pantser. Starting with a concept, I build. The construction takes unexpected directions and doesn’t seem to pause until I write ‘The End’. What I tell you about today may not make it into the final first draft.
  4. Writing a novel or short story excites and energizes me. My ideas are usually complex. Chances are, you’re not going to be able to follow, because, again, I’m talking about a written work. Your lack of enthusiasm will depress me. Unless you want to read a passage or have me read it to you, I’m not going to tell you. I’m also not going to let you read it because of reason number two, already presented: it’s a work-in-progress.
  5. Finally, with all the previous reasons, talking about what I’m writing to others siphons energy off, in my experience, so, sorry, no.

Policy exceptions exist. First, if you’re an agent or publisher, I’ll be polite and do what I can to tell you what I’m writing and why it excites me.

I can also talk about the writing process (I probably enjoy talking about it too much), especially to other writers. As part of that, I’ll share some of a WIP with other writers. Whether it’s me and my expectations, or their experiences, or our empathy, or all of these things along with other aspects, I think other writers are worthy recipients to hearing about my WIP.

Thinking about all of this, I realize that my attitude is a major hindrance to selling agents or publishers on my finished novels. I love being subtle and complex in my writing, and accomplish that, in my mind. Lot of people don’t have the patience for subtle and complex, and it’s hard to convey in the first twenty pages, along with a synopsis, pitch, and hook. I’m just not good at that shit. Admitting it means that I need to work harder on it, along with my first twenty pages.

I suspect that my writing style likely only appeals to one percent of potential readers. Not a problem, to me, because there are many readers in the world. The larger problem is that I probably need to submit to one hundred agents to get one interested, and they’ll probably need to pitch it to multiple editors and publishers. So, I feel like I’m looking at a high and steep rocky mountain to climb.

I’ve been climbing it for a while, and will keep going. Each time I reach one ridge, I think I’ve reached the top only to find there’s more climbing to do. That’d be a problem if all of this conceiving, imagining, writing, editing, and revising wasn’t so much damn fun.

It’s also addictive.

Okay, enough reflecting. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.

Assignments

Getting ready to write begins with walking, in my routine. This is when I’m preparing to make the physical transition and focus energy. As my wife has observed, “You’re always writing, aren’t you?”

Yes, the writer(s) within rarely sleeps. He/she/they – we’re not sure of Writersville’s precise population – are always busy. Every sensory, mental, or emotional input can play a role in triggering ideas. Some ideas directly pertain to works in progress. Other inputs spill into a massive mental junk drawer for possible later use.

Splash writing gets the most attention. Something splashes in, and I write it out in my head. Later, I sit down and type it out.

I like writing in the late morning or early afternoon, and typically leave the house about ten to ten thirty in the morning.  My writing period, of sitting at the computer and typing, is not long. This is exactly how I’ve worked all my life, thinking long about things that I need to do and then using intense, short periods to execute. I usually write for about ninety minutes. Output isn’t huge, a thousand to three thousand words. My norm is sixteen hundred words or so. Back when word counts were measurements of progress, I counted. I no longer count, but I have an awareness, probably due to habit and repetition, of how many words I’ve done.

When I start walking, I put away thoughts of life problems, plans and issues, and turn to writing. That generally takes about eight minutes. This, along with the weather and other plans, dictates how long I’ll walk before writing. My preference is to walk at least ten minutes, but I’ll also use my Fitbit to decide how long I’ll walk. More recently, I’ve taken to walking about two miles before writing, so my walking and exercise is spread more evenly across the day.

But this is about writing, not exercising, and how I prepare to write. Sometimes, what I’m planning to write is more involved, requiring deeper, more prolonged thinking. So more time as I walk will be spent on it. But perhaps eighty percent of the time, I know what I’m going to write. For that other percent, maybe fifteen percent will come from the unfolding process that I sometimes employ once I sit down.

Finally, there’s that less four to five percent that’s a greater struggle. On those days, I’ve found it best to put the writers to sleep. Give them the assignment, and tell them to come back to me when I have something.

Then I walk. I stream music in my head. Note changes to the town, and the weather. Drift through thoughts and observations about lives and bumper stickers, or think about other novel concepts in progress. I’ll think about catfinitions, and possible blog posts.

Doing this today, I thought about how much the process really is like a teacher or manager giving out assignments, and then taking up the results later. Freeing mental energy by engaging in mundane issues and matters, or larger problems about which I can do little, frees the writers to use that mental energy and write. Then, sitting down, I’m generally well-prepared to begin. Well, eighty percent of the time.

The trick to all of this was that I’ve learned to be flexible about my approach, because I know more than one way will work. Deviations are acceptable. Even not writing, but thinking about writing, is acceptable, although it’s accepted with a grimace. Fortunately, that probably happens less than one percent of the time. In other words, of one hundred times sitting down to write, I’ll not actually write one time. And that’s cool; it’s not a reason to panic or to be afraid that I won’t or can’t write.

All this is evolved from those first efforts of sitting down with a notebook and pen, and mumbling to myself, “What can I write? What can I write?” The evolution has been helped greatly by the insights others provided, like Annie Lamott, Natalie Goldberg, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Damon Knight, and Elmore Leonard, and a plethora of blog posts and articles. Part of this, too, comes from understanding that my writing is a weaving process. Little of what I first write is how it appears in final form. That doesn’t matter, either, so long as I reach a point where I tell myself, “Fini.”

The other part of my process is that I like to have a cup of coffee or coffee drink when I write. Oddly, I’ll drink a quarter to a third of the cup in the initial writing session, and then the beverage will be forgotten until that point when I think I’m done for the day. Then I’ll pick up the cold cup and drink the cold beverage while I reflect about what I’ve done and what will come next. Drinking cold coffee disgusts my wife, but it doesn’t bother me at all.

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

Beta Chapter

A chapter was ‘completed’ yesterday. It was one of five chapters in progress in this portion of telling the story. I often work like this, because events happen in parallel, or results from one chapter affect the others.

Finishing the chapter, I didn’t think of it as a first draft as much as I thought of it as an alpha version. Playing with that idea, I decided a chapter isn’t a draft until the whole novel is completed as a draft. Beta is better, because it’s pretty complete, but subject to other possible changes, unknown at the point of first completion, because I’m an organic writer, and I don’t know what else is going to happen. Things that happen later can often force changes to chapters and scenes already written.

Calling it beta is something that just came to be yesterday, stolen from the software development world. Once I completed that chapter, I walked around, mumbling to myself, “Now what? What comes next?” I had no idea. The chapter was done, a pivot point established, and I no clue where it was pivoting to. Yes, I know the book’s ending, and how the trilogy ends, but that’s like saying that you know what a country is like because you know the country’s shape.

Coming in to write this morning, I still didn’t know was to happen. Walking, I distracted myself by thinking of other things, like cryptocurrency and politics. Then pop –

Write this. This will demonstrate that. Then write this, and this, and this.

Suddenly I had a chain of beginnings and kernels of scenes. Computer fired up, coffee swallowed, I bent my head and typed streams of words. New alpha chapters were started. One of them reached beta. Even as I wrote them, I saw another pivot developing, but could not quite see how it all fit together. But, as I’ve learned, it’s best for me not to worry myself about it, but just to write to it. Writing to it will take carry me forward as needed. I don’t seem to consciously understand what’s happening, but on some sub-conscious level, the words and scenes are all known, like the book is already written somewhere else, and I’m just opening the pages and copying them.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But it works. I’ll take it.

It’s odd, but I want to keep writing because it’s been fun and productive, and I feel like I’m riding a terrific wave, yet, my writer’s sense is telling me to stop. So, I’ll acquiesce to that voice.

Great day of writing like crazy. Time to go eat lunch.

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