The Flow

I used to be an avid motorsports fan. I thrived on the exploits of Dan and Mario, Bruce and Denny, Jody and Giles, Keke, Niki, James, Alan and Alain, Aryton and Mark. I still keep abreast of it, but it’s become a complicated relationship.

I was recently reading Mark Hughes at MotorSport. He’d written a mid-season recap of how Formula 1 teammates fared in qualifying against one another. About one driver, he said, in essence, that the driver was still correcting and reacting to the car, that he hasn’t been able to get into a flow with driving it.

That’s how I often feel with creating a novel. Days come and go where I feel like I’m chasing the scenes, acting, and reacting. I’m not able to get ahead of it. I blame the muses for not showing up, for mumbling guidance, changing their minds, or disagreeing with one another, trapping me and my writing in their battle. But then, building on experience and effort, suddenly I fall into the flow. You know the flow when you’re there. Time and the world seem to vanish, because you’re inside your creation. Scenes spin into being like magic. Dialogue leaps into your head and onto the page. Decisions are made; you hold your breath at what’s happened, and walk away spent.

Today’s session isn’t a flowing session…yet. The muses seem to be sleeping in. Every sound from grinding to talking heard in the coffee shop feels like a personal assault.

The flow doesn’t always come easy. When it does, it’s a spoiler. Yesterday was one of those days. I walked in, sat down, wrote, edit, revised, cleaned it up, and departed. See how that would spoil me?

Time to put my head down and try again to write like crazy, at least one more time.

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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 Twelve Stages of Writing

Thoughts on a novelist’s life as they cope with conceiving, writing, revising, and publishing a novel.

  1. Jubilation! What a great idea! I must start thinking about this and writing. This is brilliant! Coffee, quick!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?

What Crap

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.

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 Effect

Sometimes, there’s an effect. You notice it but you’re not sure how to categorize it.

For example, after purchasing my coffee, I settled in at a table to write. A woman occupied the next table. From the very beginning, she emanated a dark and heavy presence. At least, that’s how I felt it. Both uncomfortable and distracting, I was pleased when a friend joined her after ten minutes and they moved to another table on the other side of the shop. The area immediately felt lightened, relieved.

Weird, too, but it seemed like the muses didn’t want to come while she was at the next table. Is it possible for someone to literally repel the muses?

Of course, all of this could be my imagination, or it could’ve been her energy’s reaction against my energy. She had backpacks, too, so maybe something in her backs was the actual source. Whichever it is, I’m pleased that she relocated. Maybe she resented me sitting next to her, and I felt it. Maybe it was my energy that encouraged her to relocate.

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

May I Continue?

Well, writers, musicians, artists, poets, essayists, and novelists, we made it to May. Sometimes, in Feb. and March, May seemed like an impossible goal. But we kept going, didn’t we? Sure, there were a few stumbles. New bruises and injuries were acquired, but here we are again.

March and April were good, and not good for me. That’s how life often seems, though, doesn’t it? One area is going great and another area collapses like a calving glacier. My setbacks were in health. First, there was a long time where I had a severe cold. It seemed to be touring my body. Just when I thought it’d done it’s farewell show, the tour would begin again.

Next, whatever steers these things enlarged my prostate and shut down my bladder. It wasn’t a joyous experience but I survived. I’m fortunate to be financially comfortable and have health insurance. Besides being painful, uncomfortable, and inconvenient for a while, the issues meant that coffee, caffeine, chocolates and alcohol needed to be sliced back. I allow myself one cup of coffee a day. Drinking it centers around my writing. I used to drink a glass of red wine each night; no more. I haven’t had chocolate in weeks. I still have a beer once or twice a week. I last had one a week ago. I going back to the doctor in a month to see if surgery is required, or what.

Many writing days were lost in March and April. I’m surprised to discover that the novel I began writing in January is eighty-eight thousand words, three hundred forty-five Word pages, and almost finished. I thought, how did that happen? I guess it demonstrates the power of just sitting down and pushing. I didn’t write for five straight days in March, although I tried. I stopped posting my goofy little things for a few days, too.

When I read the work-in-progress that I’ve written, I enjoy it. Then I read someone else’s novel and fall into dejection because my novel is a piece of crap in comparison. Then I read my work-in-progress again, and think, no, this works.  It reminds me of George Jetson. Know him? He’s a fictional character in the animated cartoon series, The Jetsons. When the show ends and the credits run, George is walking the dog on a conveyor belt. The cat jumps on, and the dog begins chasing the cat. As the belt goes faster and faster, George falls down, and the cat and dog jump off to watch as George haplessly goes round and round, shouting, “Help. Jane, get me off this crazy thing.”

That’s how I sometimes feel with my writing efforts.

My exercise practices took a hit with my illnesses. Some days, my walking dropped to two and a half weary miles a day. Weekly totals plummeted to thirty-two miles. I gained eight pounds.

I’ve lost five of those pounds. The weekly totals of miles per week are back up into the mid-fifties. I recorded ten miles yesterday for the first time since the end of February. So, I’m making progress, and will cling to that.

That’s my recap. I hope you guys are all doing well, making progress, and not going insane or becoming depressed. Thanks for reading.

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

Cheers

 

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.

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