So...how things have changed.
I thought it would be a good idea to back up all my work to hard copies, and stored them neatly in boxes in the closet. Then there was the fire. There's no point in going into all of it -- I'll just point out that computers melt and paper burns and that is all that there is. Save your work to the cloud, people. It seemed for a moment, like the worst thing. Years of work turned to ash.
And didn't I have my perspective adjusted. Welcome to the Age of Quarantine. Somehow, we are simultaneously all in this together, and terribly, terrifyingly alone. I remember the H1N1 epidemic, but it was so much less than this.
I think about writing horror in these days when the horrors are real, when there are real monsters in the closet and under the bed, and wonder if I shouldn't lighten it up as I am trying to recall and rewrite the work that was lost. I've decided not.
I think we love the monsters we can manage. My fictional disasters are overcome, so that even death cannot completely sever the slender bonds of love, and the good guys always win, even against the unspeakable. Maybe that's why we love fiction. Do writers have an obligation to create happy endings in days of darkness? I'd say no artist is ever bound to uplift, but maybe it's something to consider more seriously now that the shadows have settled around us like wet blankets on a winter night. Spring is here, but we hardly feel it.
I hope you all are well, and looking after each other. These days will pass, sooner or later, and we will recover. We may be better and stronger when it is over, if we try. That's what I'm hoping for, at least.
I have a big red 5 subject notebook. It's chaos. In it, I keep just about every book related thought that occurs to me. A snippet of conversation overheard. The lavenderness of a summer evening in the woods, and the way the gnats rise from the undergrowth in a wavering mass. The careless courage of a curious young fawn. Images, solutions, inspirations, dreams. They all go into the big red notebook for further consideration.
I had intentions of keeping it organized, since it was divided into useful sections, but I discovered the sections didn't mean anything in the end. Is an image gathered from the space between dreaming and waking an inspiration? A piece of story? A plot solution? i don't know. It's just what it is: a flash of thought that might prove useful later. So putting them in different places just made them harder to find later when I wanted to remember what was so important i wrote it down so as not to forget it, and now I've forgotten both the thing and where I put it.
Stephen King said in his book, "On Writing", that he doesn't write anything down, because the good ideas stick. (I'm paraphrasing.) I find I lose too much with this philosophy, and I wish I had written more down. I can always discard, but an idea lost seems to be gone forever. Having said all that, I have held on tightly to enormous amounts of garbage. Or maybe they were flashes of unmitigated genius lost to the vagueness of the entries. Some notes, unmoored from their original thoughts, are of no use to me without them.
So what do you do? Do you keep track? Write down? Let go? Let's talk about it.
Sometimes, I don't feel like writing. I just don't want to. I love writing, so there's usually a reason why I grumble as I plop down in the chair without enthusiasm. Here are my reasons, and what I do about them.
Fatigue is the creativity killer. Many of us have other jobs, and most of us have other obligations that require our attention. And I hear you, devoted writers who say that you make time for the things that really matter to you. That is true. But most of us are pulled in many directions at once, and you do have to make choices.
When my problem is fatigue, I choose rest. Not the two week kind, but a few hours, maybe overnight if it's been really rough. While plenty of pantsers wander in their plots, I don't like to, and when I find that things are just randomly happening to characters, or I'm describing the process of tying shoes in great detail, it's time to rest. My readers don't want to read that. I don't want to write it. It usually comes from fatigue, and anything I write in that state will wind up cut anyway.
2) Wandering Plot
See above for the cause of this problem. Once I've let it happen, I find it hard to keep writing. I don't want to throw out pages of work, but I don't want to keep going as if I haven't noticed I've gone off track.
This one requires the courage to throw it out. Go back to where you lost the thread, and start slashing, metaphorically. It will hurt, but when you go back and start that scene over, it will be better, and you will feel better as a result. It's cleansing to let the shoe tying go, and return to something more interesting.
If you're bored with your story, chances are good your reader will be, too. When were you last enthused about it? Find that spot, and consider what would have happened if that character had gone the other way at a metaphorical fork. Or maybe a physical fork. Is it possible to make a better story that way? More conflict?
Sometimes, too, it's a lack of detail. You don't want endless descriptions of a window frame, but you do want to know whether it's wood and glass, or just a hole in a stone wall. Make sure you've thoroughly painted your scene, so you can see your characters moving through fictional space and time. If you get into their worlds, you will be more embedded in your world, and you can take your readers with you.
These are my solutions to sudden and overwhelming indifference to a project. Have you got another reason for your indifference? What do you do to alleviate these problems? Let me know - let's talk about it.
I'm not afraid to say it. I love my little mountain home, but I'm not sure where Spring went, and Summer's heat and humidity are gathering on every solid surface. What does this have to do with writing? I was going to make some obscure cosmic connection, but it's hot and I'm cranky, so I'll admit there's nothing. I am writing, of course. The second book, 'Twins', of my Ereban Trilogy is half first-drafted. And yes, that's a word.
The positives? Fresh tomatoes and bright colors at the farmers' market, if you can get there early. I don't know about your part of the world, but in mine, if you show up past 10, you're getting bugs in your cucumbers and that's how it goes. The early bird gets the watermelon. Also, when the rain finally breaks through and falls it doesn't chill your bones like it will in November. You can just let it fall on you and be glad of it. Which is good, because it falls sideways, and there's really nowhere to run.
Rainy weather is great for writing, and sleeping, and it's important to keep them separate. I always do. I've never fallen asleep on my keyboard and typed pages and pages of the letter 'G', because I am a sophisticated adult who is in charge of things. For example, I remembered to buy toothbrushes on the first try, despite the heat radiating forth from the pavement at midday.
I'm sure you're impressed.
There are a million websites, books, pinterest posts, and online classes available that offer writing exercises. I think I've used most of them, at least a little. They can be fun, and stretch your creative muscles before a long morning of putting words to paper (or screen, most likely), but not all are equally useful. I've noticed that some are more helpful than others, so here's a few things I've learned about what's available.
The most important thing, of course, is what you put into any exercise. Doing it to say you've done it, no matter how brilliant the idea, will not teach you much. If you find it difficult, then scribble down whatever to fill a word count, you've wasted your time. It's not a rough draft, where the goal is just to get down your ideas so that you can find their flaws and correct them; an exercise is complete in itself. For the most part, you're focusing on some small aspect of craft, so you need to pay attention to that. When you've finished, evaluate your work. If you have someone patient around to read it, ask them. It's almost impossible to see your own work clearly. In this way, you get the most out of your work.
Choose exercises that focus on your weaknesses. I struggle, always, with tight, coherent plotting. So I choose exercises that work toward plot outlines, or character arcs. It's fine to pick something that is easy for you, if you just want a little boost. But the reality is, progress is only achieved through pain. You must do what is difficult in order to improve your skill.
You still need to do the work. An exercise or two to stretch your brain is fine if it helps you warm up, or approach an issue in your work. But if you spend your writing time fiddling with practice exercises, you're not finishing your work in progress. The only way to get better at writing is to write, evaluate, and write again. The more works you finish, the more you will know about finishing. Each moment of writing IS practice.
So find some good exercises for 'deliberate practice' where you need it, and see where it takes you. Just keep in mind that the most deliberate practice is the completion of your work in progress.
So...it's the middle of the editing. Not even the middle of the middle, but the beginning of the middle. The first two chapters look pretty good, but, (and perhaps this is universal) this is the phase where I find all the plot holes. Or some of them, anyway. I hope it's all. So I go from the written copy and its red ink notes, to the laptop and the revising. Solving one problem changes something somewhere else. It takes a while. I didn't have any expectations about time, but there is something about the middle of this that feels like drowning. I might put in two hours, stretch, fetch a snack, and sit back down, and discover I'm still where I started.
But it also has to be done. The more I read from more experienced writers, the more I am certain that I am not alone in this, and that the middles always feel sloggy, like feet dragging in the muck. I am making progress, and all of the major points are in place. It's hard not to get bogged down in the details. But maybe that's what this phase of revision is about -- cleaning up the patchwork of day to day writing to form a coherent whole.
It feels like stagnation, but it isn't. The only way out is through.
Confession: I'm not sure either. I know how I do it, so I'll share that, but I'm not sure it's the most efficient way. It's just the way I use. If you've got another method that really works for you, I'd use that.
Once the draft is complete, I print a hard copy. I write a long outline by hand before I draft, so I get that notebook, and my printed copy, and put them in one of those three ring binders we all used in school. This allows me to make small corrections on each page, and notes on wider reaching changes in the notebook. Corrections are always in red. Because it's tradition, I suppose. It separates my original outline notes from these corrections.
My first drafts need heavy editing, unless they're very short. I tend to lose track of details, misspell or even change names as I'm fitting my fiction writing time into the spaces in my life around other work and aspects of life. This is where I (hopefully) discover all the small mistakes I've made, and root out inconsistencies.
Then I spread out the laptop, the paper notebook, and the bound copy, and dig in. It's a painstaking thing. I have often wondered if everyone finds editing to be so challenging. Perhaps great literature springs forth from other minds whole and nearly perfect. But the more I read from other writers, the less I think this is true. The more I think we all struggle with a project like this that stretches over months, or even a year. So maybe that's ok.
So my novella, 'Maestro', is in the editing phase. When I have a clearer idea on how long it will be to completion, I'll post here, but for now, I enter the dark forest of editing without a flashlight, chased by nameless monsters.
Available in paperback and on kindle,'Fireside Tales' is here. It's available for free on Kindle, and the stories are quick reads you can enjoy on your phone. I hope you'll take a look, and send me some feedback, or drop a review on the site.
I'm also in the The Molotov Cocktail: Prize Winners Anthology Vol. 4, along with a gathering of other very talented writers. I highly recommend you take a look at this one. Enjoy!
I know why I write. I write because I want to take you out of your world, and into the one I've created, and let you see what I see. If you are familiar with my work, there may be some question as to why you would want to go there, but I leave that to your discretion.
In order to take you into the cell with the crazed and lustful monk, I need to choose my words carefully. There is a limit to how many you will read, even if they are very good words, like 'sizzle', and 'moist', and 'eggplant'. But I need several to make you smell the spoilage and feel the cold dampness when you are cuddled in the warmth by the fire. So in the final draft, I struggle, sometimes with a phrase, sometimes a word, sometimes a single mark of punctuation. I call people I know, and I say, "Does this need a comma?"
They say, "It's two in the morning," and then offer helpful suggestions about where I might put commas in general, often in ways that are physically impossible, and I let them get back to bed.
Does it matter? I don't know, in truth. I'm not sure which moment of carelessness will be the one that pulls the reader from the story and destroys the illusion for them. I only know I want to avoid reaching that point. But if I wrestle with every word on the page, the story will never get told at all, and you will never dance with your lover in the cemetery beneath a full moon.
So how to decide? I've heard of the 80/20 rule, wherein only 20% of your effort produces 80% of your work. I hear you, Vilfredo Pareto, but I'm not ready to buy in just yet. That's barely a B, and I think I can do better. In writing, at least, for me, that 80% is a framework, a test run to see if the story in my head can make it to the page. After that, it needs more time, more careful structuring, a tweak in dialogue. Still, I'm never quite pleased. Not everyone is sitting on that porch, waiting for that school bus, knowing that childhood is really over.
But that has to be ok. I am learning, still, to come around to the idea that I can never be finished. It will never be everything I want it to be, and it can't. But it can be good, even good enough.