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Back in November, as I was savoring the last mild temperatures of the year, I finally sat myself down and dug in to sort out the rest of my plot. Ever since I shook things up, I’ve just been treading water. Unable to write much further without plotting a course (pardon the pun), and uninspired every time I tried to think my way through to a new ending.

I got it all sorted out that day (at least enough for this first draft) and once again felt invigorated to finish this beast. I finally set myself a deadline, and let my two writing confidants know what it was.

I’m proud to say that Read the rest of this entry »

Psssst…I broke a hundred thousand words today. By a lot.

It fritzed the “Word Count” window in the status bar on Word for Mac. It’s just an empty box now, which if ever there were an indicator that this draft is going to be too long, I guess that’s as good as any.

One hundred thousand. 100,000. 100k. Cent mille. 100 Grand. Mmmmmm…I should eat one of those tonight as a reward.

327_100Grand

I know it’s just a number, like any other, a pointless milestone on this road to mastery or madness. But I can’t help feeling like I’ve gotten somewhere. Like this story of mine is actually becoming a novel.

It’s weird. I know it’s nothing, but somehow it’s something.

Anyway, just thought I throw that out there.

I quit my job after nearly 14 years with the company.

It was time. I wasn’t happy there, despite my best efforts. Fortunately, my lovely partner is in a position where we could afford to do so. So I broke one of the cardinal rules of novel-writing: Don’t quit your day job.

Things are much better. Been knocking things off the life list, doing some freelance work when I can find it and, thankfully, I’m writing again after sitting at the 3/4 mark for half a year. I’m told that’s normal; I don’t know how it can be. But I’m not going to dwell on it. Ever forward.

So I’m walking the dog the other day, after the most productive day of writing I’ve had in six months, and I’m pensive.

One of the things that has been bogging me down is knowing that my plot intentions seemed to be Read the rest of this entry »

I finally broke 300. And it’s been a hard-fought 30 pages.

The closer I get to the end, the further away it seems. Not in terms of actual pages or plot points, but in all the holes and unresolved, unrefined, unrealistic details that pop up and needle me as I keep trudging forward. Which is disconcerting since I’ve been following this outline for almost two years.

I push this awful beast ahead; it pushes back. I make it through a tough chapter; three revisions stem out of what I wrote to be implemented at a later date. I’m starting to lose details I wrote months, even years ago. I know I have something to say, I just don’t think I’m saying it and I don’t even trust myself right now to be able to judge.

Unlike earlier in the process, any long day of writing ends with more misgivings and inconsistencies than when it started. I don’t hear my story, hear my characters…I don’t even hear my voice anymore. And while I may be sluggishly plodding toward a finished draft, with each page I become even more confident that it’s a giant pile, that the story is complete garbage, and that no one, NO ONE is ever going to read it.

I want to quit.
I mean I really want to quit.
But if I don’t finish this monster, I’ll be damned.

“The best way out is always through,”
                                                                            -Robert Frost

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”
                                                                           – John Steinbeck

I hate that I want this.

No matter what our plans or best intentions, life somehow always has a knack for getting in the way.

It was a tough summer. A lot of stuff went wrong. A lot of sh-stuff got in the way. Life’s been handing me a lot of lemons lately, and I’m rather sick of drinking lemonade.

Nevertheless, I managed to make some good progress on the story and work my way through a number of difficult chapters that I’d been avoiding.

I’d be lying if I said that all of the life challenges this summer hadn’t influenced the story. Amazing how that happens. I always figured I’d dream up a story and write about it. I never realized how much the course of life, or love, or hopes and dreams would play into the crafting of said story.

Just as this blog is chronicling my process of writing this novel, so has the novel become a private chronicle of what transpired throughout the course of writing it.

No, it’s not becoming autobiographical. But there are enough reflections of the happenings of my life throughout the telling (at least in this draft) that I think it will almost serve as a sort of chronology for the time I spent writing it. Just to me, of course. I’ll be the only one who knows which bits were pulled from reality and which ones sprang from my mind.

I think I like knowing that.

My workflow has been sporadic. Some of my writing days were spent actually writing. Some were organizational, retracing the scenes of my outline and restructuring where necessary. Some days were just spent editing, when the words weren’t flowing but the story was still captivating. I’ve been told I shouldn’t do that. But hey, it’s better than ignoring the story completely and feeling like a failure at the end of a “writing” day where I didn’t write anything really.

This, however, I found most interesting. In the thick of the lifeload of crap that was being thrown my way this summer, where things had completely hurtled out of my control and I was cast adrift in a perfect storm of happenstance, misfortune, and bad timing, I found respite in an unlikely place.

At times, it seemed the only sense of control I could conjure up came from when I was writing.

It never really occurred to me how empowering the crafting of a story is. After all, it’s mine. Really, truly, wholly mine. I drive the story, I drive the dialog, I drive the action. MINE!

The next time things go south in my life, I’ve got to remember that. When I’m feeling out of control, I should spend more time at my keyboard: more time in control. Win-win.

When life hands you lemons, write.

Many writers whom I respect have said they “don’t believe in writer’s block,” and I, with a head full of great ideas that I never seem to have enough time for, have always been inclined to believe them.

They cite the inability to write as being indicative of another issue, such as disclarity of plot, an unexamined character need, a loss of love for your original idea, or perhaps the rising demon of self-doubt. And if the words weren’t flowing for me, I would pair it against this backdrop, search for the delaying speed bump, work through it, and inevitably agree that indeed, writer’s block does not exist.

Well, if whatever I just went through wasn’t writer’s block, I don’t know what is. Read the rest of this entry »

“So it goes.”

It’s a simple phrase.

Three words. A catchphrase, of sorts. Almost insignificant. And yet it perfectly demonstrates the magnificence of Vonnegut’s exceptional “writer’s voice.”

I’m still forging ahead. I took a little time off around the holidays (couldn’t you tell?). And I reluctantly embraced some long-avoided but necessary technological advances—namely a smartphone and a new(er) computer— which brought with them some setbacks to my workflow and productivity. But I’m back.

Story is coming along. Cranked out a long avoided chapter today that wasn’t easy to write. Probably still need lots of work, but it’s written.

Generally speaking, characters are coming along nicely. They are developing in ways that I like and, in turn, they’re starting to carry the story. I’ve had several 5-10 page days and when I do, they happen sort of effortlessly. So I’ll count my blessings.

But then I start thinking about that pesky “voice.” As in, I’m afraid I don’t have one. Or that it’s inconsistent, or undefined. Or that it just plain sucks. Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s conferences are a double-edged sword. On one hand, you expose yourself to other writers’ sagacity and experiences that you would not otherwise encounter, expanding your horizons and possibly giving you a fresh perspective.

On the other hand, you also open yourself up to the sob stories, tales of woe, and harsh realities of the writing and publishing industry, which can snatch the wind from your sails faster than a slaughtered albatross.

The conference at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop was of the first kind.

The one this past spring in Badgerland was of the latter.

So many of its speakers and attendees were quick to relay the “truths” and statistics that serve only to muddy the waters of creative process: the unlikelihood of finding an agent, the slim chances of getting published, the even slimmer chances of your first book selling well (and the likelihood it will be your last), and of course, the absolute impossibility of ever making a living writing fiction.

One of those painful tidbits is looming large these days. Read the rest of this entry »

Forty.

40. 4-D. Two score. Four dimes. Over-the-hill. The mid-point. Intermission. Halftime. On the flip side. The start of Act II. The third quarter. Entering my fifth decade. Coasting downhill. Past my prime. The dawn of middle age. The beginning of the end.

Yes, it’s true. I recently passed the arbitrary milestone that carries with it enough gravitas and gloom to bring even the most spry and vigorous traveler to at least a brief period of introspection, if not melancholy.

Truthfully, becoming a quadragenarian did weigh on me some. Not so much for the age or the number itself (such trivialities as round numbers do not impress me), but rather in examination of my life and how, on the surface at least, I largely am right where I was a decade ago.

I entered my thirties living in the same house in the same city in the same job with the same company in which I find myself now. I had an unfinished novel at the time, and I still have one (albeit, a different one). And while I have much to show for that same decade—in knowledge, and love, and friendship, and maturity, and wisdom, and experience, and even writing—it is also a stone cold reminder how fleeting time can be and, when our daily schedules and surroundings remain unchanged, how quickly we can lose awareness of its passing.

In addition to that realization, it also was just over a year ago that, creatively charged after my trip to the Writer’s Workshop, I boldly purposed to have this novel drafted as a 40th birthday present to myself.

Well, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men… Read the rest of this entry »

My apologies for leaving you hanging, I’ve been away for a while and I owe you an explanation.

Just to put it right out there, I haven’t been writing much. Not here, not on the novel, not on anything (except my day job of course). I’ve got 20 pages since my last post, which is something at least. And no, it didn’t take me four months just to get those 20 pages.

I wish I could say I’ve been “taking a break,” but that would imply a summer spent relaxing. Far from it. I’ve not been idle, mind you; been plenty busy in that time. But admittedly I’ve been away from my story for too long and it’s time to start regrouping.

Truth is, I’m stuck. I’ve been stumbling on one of my main characters and how the story relates to him. One primary character’s arc and story have come into focus nicely. I can see his path points well and was using them to pull myself along for a while. But my second character is just as, if not more, important and his development and plot points have remained blurry and elusive.

As a result, the relationship I worked so hard to establish leading up to the 1/3 mark (back in January, ugh!) lacks half of its density. It feels one-sided, perhaps even unrealistic now. Until I can better clarify the one character, his story, and arc, I fear the relationship and the other character appears hollow, unengaging. So I’ve been stuck; been there for months now, which makes it really hard to move forward.

Adding to my pusillanimity, I’ve had so many other worthy, important tasks in the queue (homeowner stuff, friend and family visits, travel) that I’ve been all too happy to let them distract me from writing, thereby facing my obstacles, for much of the summer.

My sticking points are big enough that I want to avoid them and concentrate on the pile of other tasks, responsibilities, pleasures, and obligations that invariably spring up. The pile of other stuff is so available, rewarding, and seemingly important, it is all too easy to use it to avoid concentrating on those sticking points.

It’s a vicious cycle for sure, and it’s time to acknowledge that and start working on the story again, problems or no.

A year ago, charged and empowered after my visit to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I had set an aggressive-yet-confident goal to have a draft in time for my 40th birthday, which by the way arrives, warranted-or-not, next week. Obviously, that’s not going to happen, not without a Rocky-like* comeback and an intravenous feed of espresso for the next six days.

I’ll just have to let that arbitrary, perhaps unrealistic deadline pass by and appreciate this process for what it is…a journey, and not a destination. At least I’ll keep telling myself that in hopes of one day believing it.

Climbing back on this horse is going to take some heaving. But I’ll get up there again.

Write on.

 

* Stallone wrote “Rocky” in two and a half days. Surely a Pulitzer-worthy novel can be cranked out in a week, right?

I’ll admit, it has been a rough winter. I’ve only had a few productive days since the turn of the year as I’ve been ensnared in my own web of hesitation, second-guessing, and the urge to go back and fix stuff.

Last week I took off to watch basketball (a once-a-year guilty pleasure) and the week before my writing time was like chewing on tin foil. The words weren’t coming, my phrasing was crude and disjointed, and after struggling for six hours on two pages, I deleted most of what I had written and then switched to a different project just so I could salvage a little taste of feeling productive for the day.

It was deflating, demoralizing, and depressing and I had more than one thought of throwing in the towel.

I’m happy to say that today I broke the logjam. I worked out a significant kink and it feels like I’ve got my story back on track. It took a while to get going, and I deleted entire paragraphs, even pages, more than once. It was nearly 2:00 in the afternoon when I finally felt I had a hold of something good. Six hours later and I’ve got eight solid pages to show for it and several good hooks to latch on to in my next session.

I really want to hit the next milestone by the end of spring. Here’s hoping that the tap stays open for a while.

Write on.

I just realized tomorrow will be the 1st anniversary of writing what has become the first chapter of this novel I’ve been chewing on ever since.

I suppose it started as an exercise, a challenge to write a character that needed to be brought to life, if only for one very short story. That brief introduction to him was enough to get me hooked and out of it a story was born.

Twelve months (though really only 5), eleven chapters, and 128 pages later I’ve hit that first major milestone, the one-third mark. My two main characters are alive; they’re real and struggling, and more importantly, I’ve finally brought them together despite the unlikeliness of their meeting. I suppose, not knowing I was starting a novel back then, that’s not too shabby.

Of course, after reaching the milestone, it didn’t take long for the ol’ writer’s curse to set in – doubt. On top of the ever present, “No one will ever want to read this,” and “What the hell am I wasting my time for?” I’m now battling all sorts of story-specific questions like, “Are my characters real enough?” “Will anyone actually care about them?” “Have I shown enough of their struggles and strengths?” “Was their meeting too contrived?”

Shadows of such shallow confidence are darkening the path ahead and I’m not sure what to do. I’m still caught in the quandary of going back or forging ahead. Do I throw it in reverse to add the stuff I know I need to add, to change the things that surely need to be changed, and to analyze what’s there to see if it even holds water? Or do I plod ahead, knowing full well that there are things missing in the first third of the story that I’ll have to go back and add later?

There are arguments for both, and I’m stuck between them. I hoping for an inspiration or revelation to push me in one direction or the other, especially since I really want to finish a draft this year.

Man, I didn’t see this coming.

I’ve had a couple of really productive weeks now, making huge gains on both of my writing days. Once I set things in motion, scenes are flowing out of me rather smoothly and I have a lot of confidence that what is getting down on the page is pretty good, for a first draft at least.

As the story evolves, however, I find myself starting to recognize that some things I’ve written will have to change, move, or even be deleted entirely.  I’ll be working on a chapter and remember that something I had written much earlier might conflict with what I had just put on the page. Then, once I knew about it, it would needle me, popping up again and again in my head, nagging me to go back and change it.

I’ll admit, I did a little of that, the going back and changing. Just a touch. One big conflicting piece that simply had to be moved and edited. I had to in order to keep moving the story forward. But beyond that one instance, I decided to make a few notes and leave the rest be for now.

Mistake? We’ll see. But my logic was based on the fact that I am SO close to reaching a major milestone—basically the end of the set-up and exposition—that to turn back now would be almost entirely self-defeating.  Indeed there is something to be said for the motivating power of momentum.

Here’s the deal: the ten chapters I’ve written thus far all lead up to two significant scenes, likely told in two chapters, one of which I’m ¾ of the way through. These scenes are tough; they involve a lot of careful wording and, since the story is written as a 3rd person narrative with limited omniscience, a high degree of fairness and introspection from the two main characters involved. In other words, I’ve got to adequately and realistically portray both characters’ thoughts, emotions, and inclinations, while still bringing them together in what would otherwise be a relatively unrealistic scenario. But hey, I can do that; I’m the author and that’s what fiction is all about.

In any case, knowing how good it will feel when I’ve finished these scenes and reached the milestone, I want to keep trudging toward that. Then perhaps I’ll take a little break, circle back and see what pieces I’ve left out-of-place or no longer need.

Until then, write on.

I’ve had some really productive days in the last six weeks, despite not typing a single word of my story for the past two.

Life stuff happens, you know? Good or bad (in this case, very, very good), every now and again, something bubbles up that just can’t be pushed aside. Life is a shifting sea. Sometimes you find yourself in calm, peaceful waters; sometimes you’re twisting under gargantuan waves and clinging to the oars as tightly as you can.

So despite my best intentions, turbulent tides have forced my attentions away from my novel for two weeks. Yes, I feel denied. Yes, I feel guilty. But I don’t feel the least bit lazy since I’ve hardly had a moment’s rest in ten days and I’ve got plenty to show for my time. But of course, none of it gets me closer to finishing a novel. Which brings me to my point.

In past years, I would have felt bad putting it off, thinking I couldn’t do it. But because the preceding four writing days had been so productive, I’m not that down on myself.

Hoping not to jinx it, the truth is I’ve been quite successful lately at making the most use of the time that I do spend working on my story. Knowing that life can, and will, get in the way, that sometimes I will not be able to spend as much time as I hoped writing, the secret is not to beat myself up over it. Because when we do sit down to pound the keys, it’s just not going to help if we’re black and blue with self-defeat and frustration.

You’ve got to make the most of the time you have. So when I get there, when I’ve cleared out the obstacles, reined in the perceived responsibilities, drowned out the distractions, and I sit down to actually work, I clear my head deliberately, look at where I left off, step into the zone, and start cranking. It wasn’t easy at first, but after three weeks, it started to almost feel like ability, even skill. Inch by inch, yard by yard, I can tell I’m getting better at it.

It feels good honing myself, finding that state of calm, creative alertness. Hopefully, it will still be there next Friday.

Write on.

Fine, so I’m not as far along as I thought I’d be.

It’s been just over two months since my plotting workshop and the big, hearty boost it gave me. Despite being all gung-ho and “I can take on the world” after it concluded, naturally, that wore off after a bit. No longer spending every minute of every day thinking about my novel, surrounded by interested and helpful writers might have something to do with that. Just as,  I’m sure, going back to work and taking care of a home and having to cook and do laundry and walk the dogs and tie my shoes all played their part.

But I’m really trying not to point to excuses or get down on myself for the modest gains I’ve made. The success lies in that I’ve kept at it, writing at least some notes 2-3 times each week, and writing 5-10 pages every couple of Fridays. Yes, the time I spend at my keyboard is productive all right, I just don’t spend it there often enough.

Nonetheless, I’m making progress. More importantly, I’m making process. After toying with an outline for several weeks after the workshop, I was getting frustrated at not getting any words on the page and still not having every little detail figured out. Finally, I said “to hell with it” and I started actually writing the first third of the story, since that part had the clearest milestones already in place.

It was the right choice. The day I stopped outlining and actually started writing, I pounded out over 10 pages. Pretty good ones too, for a 1st draft.

So, lesson learned. Work the outline as best you can. When it starts to piss you off, start writing. Lets you feel productive again and keeps the muscle flexing. Gives your characters being. Flushes out more of the story. Makes the milestones feel closer together and more congruent. Gives you a sense of urgency.

It’s Friday. Back to the story.

I’m going to do this.

I just spent an incredible week at a fiction writer’s workshop and I’m exhausted.Pen

See, I’ve been having some trouble plotting lately. No, not my nefarious plans for world domination, my novel. It’s not that I don’t have ideas for my plot; I have plenty. It’s that I don’t typically have a lot of confidence when to comes to those ideas. I get all caught up in my own head worrying that what I’ve laid out is uninteresting, or cliché, or weak, or inconsequential, or mundane, or lacks sufficient buoyancy to sustain an entire novel.

Yes, the age-old writer’s curse—self doubt—seems to have grabbed hold of my former amateurish confidence and choked it out like Royce Gracie on a championship night. I’ve been stuck. Floundering in a lack of self-confidence, I would stare blankly at my noble and approachable characters, unable to craft any tasks and challenges that I deemed worthy of them, or worse, of my potential readers.

So on a whim, I trekked to Iowa City for some writer’s respite and much-needed instruction from the “sages of the Foxhead.”

I went hoping that I would acquire some methods and tactics to eventually formulate a plot that could sustain a novel. Instead, I left with an actual sustained plot for my novel!

Granted, it’s a rough one, but when my incredible instructor helped me drop the last significant piece into place, the floodgates opened and a newfound clarity caused the rest of the story to flow out of me so quickly my fingers could barely keep up.

What started as a half-dozen key plot points quickly became a comprehensive outline, which then evolved into a full scene index with several dozen installments. By the end of the week I had all of my milestones laid out before me (well, most of them) and I couldn’t wait to start writing my way down that winding road.

Yes, it was a very rewarding, invigorating experience and for any writers out there, I highly recommend it. Much can be said about just the opportunity and environment: taking a week off to be away from work, home, life, and its responsibilities and dedicating that time instead to writing, thinking about writing, and surrounding yourself with writers who are doing the same. Cliché though it may be, it’s magical.

So with this renewed sense of purpose, and a wee bit of validation to bolster my confidence, I’ve got a roadmap for my newest literary project and frankly, I’m stoked about it.

Why am I telling you? The reasons are twofold. Read the rest of this entry »

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