Chapter One, Page One

Since last you heard from me, I was in the midst of NaNoWriMo. Between then and now, I got back to my life, while still devoting a few nights a week to finishing that book , which I did in early March. Solomon’s Key (working title) finished up just north of 110,000 words, and while I felt kind of disappointed with it, but I did finish. Perhaps next year I’ll read it and consider if it’s worth salvaging.

That was all just prelude to what I was really looking forward to doing: editing the previous year’s project, “Automaton”. The first thing I did was to run spell-check, which I had turned completely off while I was writing. I don’t mind telling the world that I’m a bad typist (there are likely typos lurking in this very blog post), but sweet zombie Jesus did checking 120,000 words take a while! Three evenings of constant clicking and looking up words to make sure I was choosing the right homonym or puzzling over an odd series of transposed and accidentally doubled letters. And don’t get me started on trying to find words that I thought I knew how to spell, but which didn’t show up in any of the dictionaries I searched through. I can’t for the life of me remember what that word is, so I guess I’m doomed to misspell it again, but I do remember that it started with an unexpected letter. Maybe.

But enough about spell checking! The big thing I did recently is to print out the entire 120,000 word manuscript. On paper. Like it’s 1985, all over again! Yeah, baby, yeah!

As a standard manuscript format (double-spaced, 12-point font), it ran about 561 pages, which I printed front-and-back. It still comes out to be a huge stack of paper.

Manuscript

I can't believe I wrote the whole thing.

I didn’t just do this to see how many trees I could kill – I did it at the behest of Holly Lisle. See, the other major step I took toward learning to write was to finally enroll in Holly Lisle’s “How to Revise Your Novel” on-line course. Lesson 1: Read through the entire manuscript, making notes about specific passages and how they failed in the categories of world building, character development, reader interest, etc….  She has a whole system for noting down your observations in one place with only a minimal cross-reference mark in the manuscript itself. I’ll be doing this for the next 561 pages; so far, I’ve done 3.

Her system appeals to me, though I am only seeing the tip of the iceberg. I feel like Daniel, washing Mr. Miyagi’s cars and sanding his decks, though I’m not about to throw a tantrum (I am only 3 pages in, after all), nor am I being bullied by karate hooligans.

Since I’m only just getting started, I can’t judge how successful it’s going to make my editing process, but I’m sure I’ll learn a huge amount over the course of the next several months. Check back over the next few months as my understanding of HtRYN grows. I’m sure this is going to be helpful though. I love me some organizational tools and methods. This you will no doubt learn as you read my future blog entries.

Looking at that stack of paper, I feel odd abandoning my beloved Scrivener during the editing process; it was designed to be an excellent tool for that purpose, and I’ve been looking forward to using more of it’s potential. But instead of ignoring the directions of my instructor, I’m going to be good and follow instructions. Hardly anything of the process has been revealed to me, and until I’ve been through it all, there’s no point in wasting brain power trying to supplant the tools I’m supposed to use with the one I want to use.

Once I’m done with the course, I’m sure I’ll already have adapted the system to Scrivener, and will be ready to use my new skills in combination with the best electronic tool for writers since the word processor.

Until then, I hope to keep you appraised of my progress.

Wish me luck.


Can’t write; I’m doing NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2011 participantI’ve been remiss in updating the blog, and there is much that I’d like to write about, but I just haven’t found the time. Also, my inner editor is relentless when it comes to the blog. Hopefully, I’ll get over that sometime soon.

In the mean-time, admire my awesome 2011 icon. If you’re a participant, click on it to be taken to my author page on the site and say, “Hi!”


A Cart with no Horse in Sight

For as long as I can remember wanting to be an author, I’ve struggled to focus on my journey, rather than my destination. I forget the feel-good aphorisms about the journey being the worthier part, or it just doesn’t seem to resonate with me. Maybe that’s because I don’t feel “worthy” of any part of authorship. But there is a way of putting it that makes more sense to me. It’s a statement of fact shared by every published author whose blog covers the topic, rather than a piece of advice you can follow. In one form or another, they all say, “you have to enjoy writing to be a writer.”

Well, if you’re like me, then this bit of wisdom will elude you from time to time. Just like every kid who was ever in a garage band, most people who try their hand at novel writing (or hope to get to it some day) have this image in their head of a successful author sitting on piles of money with adoring fans lined up around the block at book signings. I’m no exception. Day-dreaming about my as-yet un-earned mega-success is a favorite form of procrastination from writing.

Of course I know better than to write to become rich and famous. Not only will I probably never be a professional writer, but fame and fortune are supposed to be a by-product of chasing your own shooting star. Focus too much on what you’ll do when you find it, and you probably never will.

My dream is to have a book published by a real publishing house, complete with an editor who argues with me about cutting chapter five. But that’s just one carrot to reach for. Scratch that, I hate carrots. That’s just one cookie that I’m reaching for; there are so many reasons to write.

I want to hear enthusiastic things from my friends, like “When are you finishing the next one?” or “May I become your wealthy patron?” But even that won’t get me through months of first drafts, and many more of revision. Every published author tells me that I need to forget about what is trendy now, or what seems to be a profitable genre, or how much money the movie deal might make, and just write the books that I’d like to read. And while that advice has it’s own pitfalls, I see what they mean.

I’m going to be pouring my heart out ainto a story for upwards of one hundred thousand words, and then cutting them and writing more for a ungodly number of hours sitting behind the keyboard. If I don’t get something out of that experience, then I might as well stow my metaphorical typewriter on the top shelf and get on with another hobby.

Luckily, I do enjoy the actual-writing bit. It’s kind of a thrill to think up the next chain of events, and the struggle to keep my self pointed toward that next touchstone. There’s a certain quixotic joy in typing some really awful dialogue, knowing that later I’ll cut it with a feral, some might even say “crazy” grin on my face.

This isn’t to say that I’ll have a grin on my face the whole time. The fun can fade as you keep trudging along through what feels like necessary drudgery to set up the good bits. But I’m learning a little more about the craft every time I put hand to keyboard, and overall it is fun. If I’m not lining up words, one after the other, I feel like something vital is missing from my week.

Which brings me to Automaton. I’m eager to start on the editing phase of my book, though I feel there needs to be a little more distance between me any my scribblings. But there are two more partly-finished books that need my attention, and likely a fourth come November (I have yet to fit an entire story in anything close to 50,000 words). I’m looking forward to giving those two a proper ending, and a big part of their middles too.

Yes, writing is fun. And it’s hard. It’s revelatory and it’s monotonous. Kind of like a very long journey. Or perhaps there’s another word for it. Maybe novel writing is like and adventure. A little bit. Except for the peril. I’m glad to do without the peril.


Phantom Manuscript Syndrome

It’s been two weeks since I wrapped up the mess of a manuscript I’m calling Automaton. The absence of a writing routine has left me feeling a bit out of sorts, having open blocks of time after work. I’ve considered getting to all of those household projects I put off while I devoted my evenings to writing, or avoiding writing, but the motivation for fixing up my house has mysteriously evaporated. Strange.

What’s Automaton about, you ask? In broad strokes, it’s a story about a man who wakes up one day to discover he’s been enslaved. The servant to rich people who think he’s nothing more than an amazing mechanical curiosity, he does what any reasonable man-in-a-metal-body would do: he freaks out and runs.

Set in the twilight of the Roaring Twenties, it has elements of the steam-punk science fiction sub-genre, an “Undertown” below the city of St. Louis, gangsters and Irish coppers in the city above, a driven lady reporter, revenge plots, mad science… Wow, that kind of sounds like a good book!

This is what I will pick up as my first attempt at making a horrendously unreadable rough draft into a readable, and hopefully entertaining novel. It’s many months away from being ready to hand to the first-readers who impulsively (some might say foolishly) offered to critique for me. Until I start on that though, I’m kind of at a loss for what to do.

I guess I should build a fence or something.


Secret Origins

Some authors have always known that they wanted to write for a living. The rest of us may have grown up knowing that ‘author’ was just as valid a career as nurse, pilot, lawyer, or teacher, but either the dream died along with the other choices like dancer, astronaut, and superhero, or the sacrifices seemed too drastic. For others, the option to write for a living may never even have occurred to them, not even as a quickly rejected passing thought.

For me, the idea came later in life than it does for some., I was about twenty years old, taking night courses in hopes of returning to higher education after an alarmingly expanding “break”. They were remedial or core classes that I had neglected during my one directionless year at a private school I could not afford.

One of these night courses was Composition One, taught by a high school teacher named Mrs. Green. Mrs. Green was the first teacher to show me how to “find” inspiration through free-writing, and it was through her class, and the threat of her grading “chainsaw”, that I really took to heart the authorial trope: writing is re-writing.

In her class, I discovered that I loved the entire creative process. I loved the sheer volume of writing the class inspired in me. From my first illegible stream-of-conscious scribblings, through marking up computer print-outs of my 10th draft, to my final read-through for over-used commas – it felt amazing and satisfying. Like real work.

At the end of the class, Mrs. Green awarded each student a mock certificate of accomplishment. Mine was for the most prolific use of metaphor, which simultaneously made me proud and warned me against being overly eager to use that device. It read “Metaphor King” in 40-point font with an author’s quote, long since faded from memory, and it gave me far more joy than any A+ ever did.

I was inspired by the whole experience, faux-awards included. I knew what I wanted to do: take a year off of my anemic two-classes-per-week go-back-to-college schedule and start writing and submitting short stories. Mrs. Green had awakened in me a burning desire to challenge the literary world with my brilliant insights and engaging character-driven prose and prove that I had it in me to be a real writer.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was more like a flickering candle than a conflagration, and so it was easily snuffed by someone whose opinion mattered to me. The exit of this person from my daily life helped me eventually grow into an independent man, capable of dogged self-determination.

I wish I could describe an 80’s movie-style montage of me in a writing furious essays on independence, epic chronicles of solo adventures, and even my debut New York Times best-selling novel. It did not. Instead, I played it safe and went back to school, but not to become a journalist or librarian. No, my choice lead to a very comfortable existence, though not one of great inspiration or creativity.

For the better part of a decade, I played with technology, or pursued hobbies too esoteric to go into now. It was only recently that I began to dabble at writing. I wrote in fits and starts for a while, completely alone in my pursuit, just as I thought it had to be. Then I made a discovery that is changing my life–even now, as I write this inaugural blog entry.

I found National Novel Writing Month also known as “NaNoWriMo.”

Through the challenge of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days, I have learned that I can, when I apply myself, get a lot of writing done in a pretty short period of time. I’ve also proven that I have the wherewithal to keep going, even without the challenge, albeit at a much slower pace..

As of this writing, I have 3 unfinished rough drafts, all started during NaNoWriMo. The latest of these I finished a short while ago, and it is now resting in a virtual drawer, not to be looked at or fiddled with until much of the detail has faded from my mind.

This blog will be my explorer’s journal into the world of novel revision, proofing, finding a critique group, writing techniques, writing tools, new NaNoWriMo struggles and any other ephemera that I can link to the craft of writing. I am here to share what I do and what I learn along the way. There very likely will be false starts, embarrassing faux pas, bad grammar, and garden-variety rookie mistakes. I hope it proves edifying, or at the very least, entertaining.