An Update, and Some Random Associated Thoughts

How about something that isn’t a rant today…

I’m at a good place in my relationship with The Novel right now. I have an ending. I’m pretty sure (finally) that I know how I’m going to get there. I am not sure how long it’s going to take me to get there, but it isn’t too far away. I’m still in a dark tunnel, but there is a glimmer of light that gives me the impression I’m almost out of it.

Once the first draft is done, I will get to bury the Novel is some deep, fell place where no light shall shine on it, where it will fester and ferment until some not-so-distant moment of time approaches and it will be brought forth into the light of day where the purifying beams of the sun will burn away the putrescence and filth and, with some burnishment, turn it into a glorious, wonderful marvel of modern literature.

Or something like that, but probably not.

More likely, I will have to undergo the painful process of revision and editing, and in this case, separating it into more digestible parts. I’m looking at the First Draft ending up somewhere around 1200 pages. Since I’m not James Clavell or Robert Jordan, I don’t think that can be considered a salable product.  With some luck, I’ll have the Draft done by the end of May, and starting the Sacred and Holy Edit in the middle of July. We’ll see.

For next project, I intend to write another screenplay. It could be the frustration of working in a novel-length format talking, but I think I might be better suited for film. My brain, I think, works closer to that way of writing, but I’m not sure, since I’ve only written one screenplay.

It could be that I’m not cut out for anything other than marketing convenience store hot-dog signage, but we won’t know until we’ve exhausted every other opportunity.

Regardless, I’m enjoying myself just putting pen to paper. I encourage you to do the same. Get a pen – right now – and some paper – also right now – and knock out a couple hundred words. It doesn’t matter on what. Start a novel. A screenplay. Write an ode to the subliminal glory that is egg salad. It doesn’t matter. Just write. I’ve always wanted to read ‘Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying’, but it doesn’t exist yet. You could write that.

Quite talking about it and do it already. 😉

~James

I Don’t Mean to Go Off On a Rant…

I’ve managed in the last month to utterly fail at my stated goal of posting here more frequently.

Life happens, as it happens to all of us. I’ve become a more active volunteer with the Boy Scouts, taking over as Scoutmaster for his troop effective at the beginning of the year. ‘About an hour a week,’ they said.

Hahahaha. They suckered me into that one. 😉

Truth is, I’m enjoying myself and appreciate the opportunity to contribute to the lives of so many young men. It does take time, though.

The good news is that my writing hasn’t suffered the way this blog has. I’ve been able to write nearly every day, other than a short stretch surrounding a three-day canoe trip. Something has had to give, though, and this blog continues to be the thing I have to choose not to do when a choice has to be made.

The blog is good and wonderful and I like doing it, but The Work has to come first. This doesn’t ‘count for score’, though it does feel like it should. Like going overboard on research and never doing any real writing, ancillary activities can be as much of a distraction as the internet, or doing the dishes, or the World Cup, or whatever your particular procrastination of choice might be.

If we’re going to write, we need to write. Not talk about it,  not blog about it, not world build, not anything else other than write.

When it comes down to brass tacks, ask yourself what it is you want? Do you want to write for the sake of writing, or enjoy the attention that being a writer gets you, or the fame and fortune that the celebrity writers get, and talk about the magic of your craft and your process and how you get your ideas and what kind of pen you use and how your muse only visits when the wind blows from the sorthweast and you have a virgin sheet of alpaca-hide vellum parchment in front of you?

Or do you want to go on about your struggles with writers block and have an ‘artist’s temperament?’ Or babble about the difficulties of maintaining the three-act structure in post-modern cinema and ensuring the beats fall on the proper pages of your screenplay?

I’ll tell you something, quite possibly the only thing I’ve really learned while I’ve been on this tortuous journey called ‘writing’, and here it is: None of that means shit. Jack shit, in fact. If you aren’t putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and knocking out another few hundred words of your distopian fantasy or a few stanzas of your response to ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, in iambic pentameter, none of the rest of it means diddly squat.

You either write, or you don’t.

If you wrote today, you are more of a writer than CS Lewis, or Tolkien, or Heinlein, or Asimov is today. They didn’t write anything today.*

But you did.

If you didn’t write, but insist on calling yourself a writer, ask yourself a question. It’s a simple question, but an important one.

Do you want to be a writer?

If the answer is yes then pick up a pen and write something. Anything. Anything at all. It doesn’t matter what you write. Just write. And like that, you are a writer.

Don’t wait for anything. Just write.

Will it be crap? I can almost guarantee it. But guess what? You can fix it later. You can always fix something you’ve written later.

You can’t fix something you haven’t written.

I have nearly 1000 pages of steaming horse dung sitting in my computer. If you concentrate, I’m sure you can smell it from where you’re sitting. I’m counting on the chance to edit and revise and rewrite to make it into something I might be willing to let someone read.

But first I have to write it. And then I have to finish it.

TL;DR version: Write if you’re going to write. If you aren’t going to write, but insist on talking about writing, shut up. I’m writing.

~James

*The fact that the four of them are dead is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.

First Drafts

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As I’ve mentioned previously, I listen to a number of podcasts about writing. Some are exceptional, some are great, some are just good.

Several like to talk about beats, structure, theme, and spine. The arc of the protagonist is mentioned, along with conflict, and where you can place hints, foreshadowings of what’s to come, in your story. In some cases, they go so far as to specify that such-and-such needs to happen on page 30, with the next event on page 100, and so on and so on.

While such talk can be helpful, and taken as a whole should be kept in mind when putting a story together, when you’re writing your first draft, it reeks of putting the cart before the horse.

Just get your story on paper. Finish it. You can fix it later.

If you worry too much, in the early stages of your project, about where something happens or when it occurs in the timeline, you get bogged down in dealing with it now rather than getting it written. Once it’s on the page or in the word processor, you can tinker with it to your heart’s desire. But you have to have it finished first.

For now, just write it. If you think of something that you want to change, or add, or subtract, make a note of it and push onward.  Keep that creative part of your brain that has something to say energized by bulling ahead and getting it done. Write a crappy first draft. Who cares? No one needs to see it, no one should see it, but you.

During your ‘fermentation period’, when your manuscript is festering away in a drawer, that is the time to listen to advice, or read books on formatting, or whatever, and add that to the mash.  When you’re ready to bring your work back out into the light of day, all those things – the story, the book learnin’, the advice – can be brought together and used to do what you want or need to do next: make the story better.

I’m not saying you should write a script in prose, or use a play’s format to write your novel, but in the early stages of the game, focus on getting the damned thing written. Worry less about how it gets done than that it gets done.

If you can do that, you’re well ahead of your ‘competition’.

 

~James

2014 – In Review

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

2014 is the first year I’ve made a concerted and extended effort to write with the goal of having something published. I had written a script years ago, fiddled around with another, and dabbled in other miscellaneous activities, but this was my first real effort to do Something.

The effort has given mixed, but generally positive, results. I’ve learned quite a bit, I think, though most of them will be better applied to The Rewrite(s) or the next project, than the draft I’m currently working on.

1) Writing every day is huge. Before this past year or so, I’d had projects lying around that I knew I needed to work on, but couldn’t get started on or keep going. By my best guess, I wrote at least two out of every three days on average in the last twelve months. That number might be closer to three out of four days, or even five of seven, but my manual record keeping makes counting things up pretty exhausting.

However, my gut tells me that I did pretty well in this area, but I could do better. Between Journal, Blog, and Novel, I figure I produced somewhere around 300,000 words over the course of the year, the majority of that (200k+) on The Novel. If I’d written every day, or closer to it, that number might have reached 400k.

2) Allowing enough time per session. When I gave myself at least an hour to write, my production was solid – typically in the neighborhood of 1,000 words. Writer’s block wasn’t ever really a problem, but I found that with proper time and writing a passage I was really interested in, 1500 words wasn’t unheard of. However, when I didn’t allow myself a suitable interval to write in, especially when I struggling with the content, it was hard to get 500 words down.

3) Outlining. When I wrote the first draft for the The Script, I spent several hours outlining and organizing it. As a result, that first draft went pretty quickly. I finished it in a couple of weeks at the most. It was certainly crap, but I had a ‘finished’ product in my hands that I could adjust and refine.

I haven’t made an outline for The Novel, and I regret it. I’m approaching 900 pages and expect to have another 100 at the minimum before it’s done. I knew going into it that ‘discovery writing’ might produce a lot of material that wouldn’t make it into the second draft, but I fear as much as half of what I’ve committed to paper is going to get tossed. At best, I’ll be able to split it into the three or four separate books and keep most of it. We’ll have to see, but I think there has been a lot of writing that will end up going to waste, unless we can count them as ‘practice pages’ that will make whatever my next project is better than it otherwise would have been.

4) Objective Feedback. This has been a grand and glorious thing. I sent The Script out to a couple of Trusted Readers for review. That was both difficult and invigorating. I sent the copies out with no preamble or explanation, just a terse ‘read this, please’. What I got back was hard at first to read, as it was my first experience since college of having my work read by critical eyes. Once I remembered to separate Myself from My Work, it got easier. I found the criticism to be most helpful. Parts I thought were clear, weren’t. Things I was sure worked, didn’t. Other things I didn’t like so much received positive feedback. It is a good thing to see your work through someone else’s eyes. Once I’m done with this draft of The Novel (if it ever ends) I will go back again through The Script and apply what I learned.

The key thing here is that you have to treat the feedback as objectively as you’ve asked your Trusted Readers to review your work. It isn’t personal – it’s (if you’re lucky, as I was) an honest effort by them to make your piece better, which is exactly what you wanted and hoped for.

Those were the big things from the past year. There were a few minor things, such as buying things in bulk when they’re on sale; expensive isn’t necessarily better, especially when dealing with pens; and Pandora can be your best friend, but those are minor details that I chalk up to preference rather than hard and fast rules, if there is such a thing when it comes to writing.

The last observation is about this blog. I made a good run of it, especially in the middle part of the year when I was able to commit more time to it than I have lately. If you’re going to have a blog, it needs to receive as much dedication as your primary writing project does. More than anything else, the blog has been put lower on the priority list because of holidays, work, sickness, the World Cup, and the like. I will endeavor to pay it the attention it deserves in the coming year. It shan’t be easy, but nothing that is worthwhile ever is.

Thank you again to everyone who reads this and has followed my Adventures in the past year, and thanks in advance to those who chose to stay with me in the coming year.

~James

200,000 words

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I caught up a bit of my transcription over the last week or so, and tonight I found out that I crossed the 200,000 word mark about a third of the way through my writing session on 6 Dec, about three weeks past my stated goal of 13 Nov, which was the one-year anniversary of my starting his project.

Printed out, it would consist of about 870 pages of unadulterated garbage.

But it is my garbage.

I didn’t count up writing days for the last year, but my daily word count over the 388 days it’s taken so far is 517. If I’d managed another thirty per day, I would have hit the mark on the anniversary. Lesson learned. Another reason to write every day. Every day you don’t write puts a goal at least another day away.

‘Discovery’ writing has good points and bad points. The primary good point is that you are surprised all the time by your story. Interesting bits and pieces are uncovered in nearly every session. There have been some twists and turns developed in the story that I don’t think I would have found if I hadn’t just sat down and started hammering the story out.

The bad points are two-fold. First, a lot of material is created that probably won’t make it past the first draft. The meandering and pursuit of threads of story and lines of thought make for a messy, messy first draft. I am both excited by and dreading the prospect of editing the monstrosity lying before me.  Second, without a clear plan in place ahead of time, I’m not entirely certain of my ultimate direction while writing. More meandering, more wandering, greater chances of getting lost.

To top it off, I still haven’t found my ending. I think I know what it is, and I haven’t painted myself into a corner wherein I won’t be able to get to the end I’m thinking of, but I am not near100% sure of what the hell is going on.

I tried this method of writing to see how it would go. I’d preplanned my script fairly tightly before I started writing it, and it went pretty quickly. While there are benefits to the discovery method, I’m hesitant to say I’m going to try it again. At the very least I’m going to pound out a basic outline for my next novel project and see how that goes. With clearer sign posts ahead of me, I think I might be able to be more productive and get that critical first draft done quicker.

Anyway, I just wanted to provide a small update and some thoughts on the process so far. I’ve been focused on getting to this point the last couple of weeks, hence my absence in this space, but I will endeavour to do better going forward.

Feel free to let me know how you are doing on your own project or ask any questions you might have. I’ll do my best to answer them – I’m by no means an expert, but I have the advantage of both being far enough along to have some experience but close enough to the beginning to remember what it’s like.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

~James

Creation vs. ‘Mere’ Work

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m not sure what is more difficult for me, the actual writing of new material, or the transcription of said material into the computer.

The former is certainly more mentally challenging. Creating a new thought or idea, or the continuation of one can be taxing, frustrating, and difficult, especially when you’re stuck, but when the words flow, they can pour out of you like water flowing out of a spillway. Nothing can hold them back when they want to come.

Transcription, thought, feels like a karmic repayment for however hard or easy a particular writing session went. If you struggled on a given day, typing the few words you put out into the computer is simple, easy, and a breeze. However, the universe seems to conspire to heap misery on me as compensation for the ‘easy’ writing day. Typing the greater number of words is tedious and difficult.

I try to remain thankful for having more words to type, but at about the 1,000 word mark, when my carpal tunnels are screaming at me and my fingers are aching, it’s hard to be grateful.

First World problem, right?

I’m considering offering one of my kids a way to earn some extra money by doing my transcription for me.

It sounds great in theory, but I would then lose the chance to give a first, cursory review and edit to my work as it goes into the word processor. A different word here, a change in order there, and the First Draft receives some minor improvement before it’s done.

I’m sure the good outweighs the bad. I will consign myself to doing my own administrative work going forward, and do it for my own good, and the good of The Work.  My carpal tunnels will have to live with it. I will live with it.

The Struggle Continues.

~James

PS – if anyone has some ideas on how to stay productive during the Holiday Season, with all its demands on time and attention, I’d love to hear them.

PPS – The Novel sits at just under 189k words, as of the transcription for Nov 6th. Looking at what’s in longhand, I think I might be over the 200k hump, but won’t know for sure until it’s all in the computer.

The Standing Question…

…might be, ‘So, did you hit your goal?’  Close runner up is ‘How far off are you/were you?’

Truth is, I don’t know.  I’m currently about two weeks behind on my transcription (I’m getting ready to start typing what I’d written on the 3rd of this month), so I’m really not sure.

The choice has boiled down to either writing or transcribing, and I’ve pretty much voted for writing. Writing counts for score. Transcription doesn’t.

My gut tells me I fell short (which my previous post, ‘Math’, laid out in clear terms).

The good news is, my gut also tells me that I’m pretty close. I’ve had  a good stretch lately where the words have flowed and most of my sessions have been somewhere around 1,000 words each. Given the small amount of time I get to write without interruption in a given day, that doesn’t suck.

I will provide another update when I get caught up more, or if another topic urging me to bring it out into the open comes up. Until then, keep writing more than you talk about writing.

~James

More Math

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Not really, but I wanted to give an update on where The Novel stands in relation to The Goal.

As of the latest day I’ve completed the transcription for, I’m at 181,000 words, more or less.  In the notebook I’m writing in, I might have another 10k words left to type (I’m 8 days behind).

That leaves me about 9k words short of the goal. Unless something amazing happens, like I’m sucked into a time warp and have infinite amounts of time available to me, and given my typical production rate of about 800 words/day, it will take me about two weeks to get to 200,000 words.

Two weeks behind isn’t world ending. I will surely survive, but if you recall from the last post, ‘Math,’ I’m paying today for the days I didn’t write anything at all. Even if I’d put in 100 words on most of those days, I’d only be a week, or a few days, off target instead of half a month.

Every day matters. You don’t have to write every day. But you need to write most days. And you need to remember that every day you aren’t writing comes at a cost. Sooner or later, that bill becomes due, and I’m now settling up with mine.

~James

Math

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s a simple answer, in numbers, for those you out there that a) like math, and II] wonder why should write every day.

Let’s say you have a quite reasonable plan to write a 100,000 word novel in a year.  Sounds very doable, right? It is, and the math proves it.

100k words/365 days = a mere 273 words a day, give or take a few, to reach your goal to have a first draft done in a year.

You decide you want to have weekends off, so that eliminates 104 writing days out of your year.

100k words/264 days = now you’re average word count per day is up to about 379 words per day.  Still very reasonable, most people, including me, find under 400 words in a daily session to be as easy as pie.

We can add in a few days here and there for being sick, having to go to stuff you can’t get out of, or waiting in line for the next Hobbit movie, Star Wars VII, the long awaited Beatles’s reunion, whatever.  Say two a month. Life happens.

We’ve got 240 days left to write in. 416 words per day now.

Thanksgiving’s pretty much shot, with the house full of family, so those four days are lost.  Christmas, too, with more family, and going out to visiting friends, and parties, and what not.  You could easily write the entire two weeks off.

222 days. 450 words.

You can see where this is going.  Every day you don’t write, that day’s words need to be spread out among what’s remaining.  It gets even worse the closer you get to the deadline.

In the middle of September, I had 36,000 words to knock out to hit my target of 200k by the 13th of November.  638 words per day.  Still not too bad.

As of 25 October (the last day I’ve transcribed and have a word count for), I missed 12 days of writing for one reason or another – parties, not feeling good, not feeling like it, whatever – and got my total up to about 178,500 words.

Guess what those 11 days cost me, not to mention the days that I wrote less than my words per day goal?  I now have to write 1,126 words every day between now and Nov. 13th.  Read that again. The number nearly doubled.

Still not insurmountable. Not difficult if you really think about it. I know of writers that put that much into their personal journals on a daily basis, writing that I don’t even count for score when I do it myself.

The point of this exercise is this:  If you write every day, even a little bit, that goal of finishing your novel/script/short story/non-fiction work remains firmly in reach. Daily chiseling away at it keeps the Stress Monster small, manageable, and out on the porch where it belongs.

Neglect him, and he grows ever larger, worrying away at you and your peace of mind, until you don’t want to work on The Project but instead talk about it and bitch about it and complain of your Writer’s Block and how you want to do nothing more than drown yourself in the nearest open container of your favorite Adult Beverage.

So just write. Every day. Even if it’s crap, just write. Everyday. Just write. If you stick with it, it will happen. If you don’t, it won’t ever happen.

So quit reading this, and go write. 😉

~James

Negativity

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

While sitting and knocking out some transcription tonight, I came to the realization that I have been really down and negative on where things are going with The Novel and how it’s coming along.

I didn’t start this blog so it could be a platform for me to vent my spleen. Mention the trials and tribulations, yes. Vomit poison onto the page, no.

Maybe this had been instructive in a number of ‘how not tos’. If you got anything out of my last half dozen or so posts, then good for you. You found the needle in the haystack, and I applaud you.

Things have been much less solution oriented than I’d like lately.  While I’m not the person you should come to with ‘what page exactly should I put the first plot twist so it properly supports the spine of the story, develops the plot and paces the thematic elements…’

That’s not my thing. My approach to writing is much less academic. I do struggle with things that other writers (I presume) struggle with, and my posts have been written with the intent to demonstrate how I got through the hard times in the hopes that my solutions will help someone else.

Going forward, I will endeavour to return to what had been the plan before. If I lapse again, please feel free to reach out and give me a good hard slap. I’ll probably need it. 😉

~James

PS – I listened to an interesting podcast today that discussed dropping the word ‘aspiring’ when describing yourself. If you write, you’re a write. There’s not anything ‘aspiring’ about it.  You can find the podcast here:
http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/10/26/writing-excuses-9-44-getting-in-the-writers-mindset-with-peter-beagle/

It’s also available on iTunes. And no, I don’t get anything if you visit their site, download the podcast or anything like that. Just enjoy.