Tag Archives: writing

Lesson 2

About a week and a half ago (that long!?) I finished lesson 1 in the How to Revise Your Novel course work. I’m terribly far behind. While it’s not uncommon for lesson 1 to take a month or more, the lessons are doled out once a week. I’m now about 22 weeks in. The whole course is effectively within my reach, if I want to peek ahead, but I’m determined to keep focused on what’s in front of me, and that is Lesson 2.

 

Lesson 2 requires that I read through my book for the second time, but now I’m looking for “promises” that I’ve broken to my (entirely theoretical) readers. These promises take the shape of objects or minor characters, who by the way they’re introduced/described, carry far more weight than I intended them to. They look, to the reader, like something that’s going to recur in the story, or that’s going to be used in a key point later, while looking like window dressing to me. To do this, I assign points to descriptors for each character or object as they’re being introduced for the first time, and then weigh that against a scale that tells me if I’ve over done it, or sometimes even under-done it.

Also in there are examinations of how strongly or weakly I introduced the handful of truly main characters that I have. Around page 100, I introduced a main character of my story, who sticks by my real main character for the rest of the book.

I’m moving quickly through the lesson, as I don’t apparently describe that many objects or introduce a lot of main characters for ten to twenty pages at a time. Not sure if that’s a good thing.

My feelings on the quality of the lesson are mixed. There are some very specific examples of how to score each thing at first, but the further along I get in those explanation, the more muddy the scoring gets. At one of the very last categories of scoring, related to the unusualness of the number of an object, the example is so muddled with other kinds of points-earning description, that it’s unclear what the ‘number’ of that object contributed to the tallied score. Imagine that a character enters a room, and there is a ventriloquist’s dummy sitting in a chair, staring at the entrance. That might score as a significant object that you’ll have to do something with later. But it’s completely unclear what I should add if there were 3 identical dummies in the same kind of arrangement. Or 10. Or 100…

This might not be a big problem if the scale by which these things is judged was more expansive as the scores increased, but it’s not. Typically, 15 is the number at which you just stop counting, as there’s little point to continuing to add numbers at that point.

I do, however, see the value in the lesson, and the scoring. It’s a potent technique for revealing what might catch a reader’s attention, so that I can evaluate if it should have caught their interest.


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.


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.