My agent, whom I have promised to stop calling Darth Vader, recently returned an edited manuscript copy of my latest writing project. He did it the old fashioned way, it was a printed copy liberally scribbled-upon and covered with FLYNs (effing little yellow notes). The whole mess was accompanied by a three page letter outlining in detail my crimes against literature.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. A bit.
Anyway, on such occasions, I have found it constructive to wait a few days before diving in, because without the correct frame of mind and the willingness to do the work I will not be able to atone for my sins, which are generally related to plot, or the lack thereof. This time around I decided to change things up a bit, so I showed the edited copy to a friend of mine, also a writer, first, because I value his opinion, and second, because he’d already read the work in question and he’d had generally positive things to say about it.
Moral support, don’t you know.
My friend read the letter first, then thumbed through the manuscript, looking at all the Flyns. And when he was all done he handed it back to me. “Wow,” he said. “This is great.”
Not what I expected.
Bastard. Whose side was he on?
“No, it’s really great,” he said. “And I agree with him on almost all of this, by the way.” Then he told me about his own recent experience with his editor, who had done nothing much, really, except to complain about his deficiencies in spelling, punctuation, and other such inanities. What he wanted from his editor, and what he thought I should want from mine, is an informed and objective review on what he’d done wrong, what he’d done right, and some thoughts on how to improve, which is pretty much what I’d gotten from the aforementioned Mr. Vader.
My attitudes still need work.
If I ever get to Purgatory, I’m sure I’ll recognize the place, having spent so much time there in life… I think anyone who’s ever tried to get something published will understand exactly what I mean.
Great movie, but if you are an artist and you are trying to get someone to look at, listen to, read or otherwise check out your stuff, you might want to think twice before going to see INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, because it will not help you. Cuts pretty close to the bone.
So I thought I’d take a break from writing. My agent at Vader and Co. is reading the manuscript I just finished. My current title for it is ‘A Sensation of Shadow.’ This waiting period is maybe the most uncomfortable step in the whole process, at least for me, and this time around I really don’t have anything in mind that I want to do next. So, a break should be just the thing, no? Give me a chance to catch up on the giant TBR pile in my office. And for a week or so it did seem that I was able to put the whole thing behind me, other than checking my email every day for a message from the Dark Lord…
So there’s this guy I run into the The Bronx every now and then. I’ve been trying hard not to hate on the guy, but I’m finding it very difficult, for a variety of reasons. A lot of reasons, not relevant here. Anyway, we happened to be thrown together the other day, he and I, while in pursuit of our separate goals, and he stops right in the middle, says, ‘I gotta make a call.’
So I wait. Probably was not the image of grace and good humor.
‘Babe,’ he says to the phone. ‘It’s time to get up. You gotta get outa bed.’
‘Why?’ He looks at me like I might have an answer. ‘Because. You gotta. Go on into the kitchen now, okay? Open the fridge. See them pills? Top shelf. Says ‘brain’ on the bottle. Yeah, ‘brain.’ Take two of ‘em. Two pills. I’ma wait while you do it. Shit.’ He looks at me. ‘Fuck, man, she put the phone down.’ Makes like he wants to throw his cell at the wall, but goes back to talking into it instead. ‘Yo, babe. BABE! Sorry, okay okay, sorry. You took the pills? You took ‘em? Good. Now don’t go back to bed. Because you can’t stay up in bed alla time, it ain’t no good for you. I’ma be home soon. Yeah. Yeah. Love.’ Makes kissy noises, ends the call, sticks the cell back in his pocket. ‘Sorry, man. Let’s do this thing.’
Run with that.
Where’s that take you, what do you see?
I guess what I’ve been doing, instead of really taking a break, I’ve been holding auditions. Looking for sparks. The NY Daily News is one good place to look, and The Bronx, despite its considerable drawbacks, is another.
All of a sudden I have a lot more free time on my hands. I did it, I finally finished the writing project I’ve been working on. The current title is ‘A Sensation of Shadow.’
Now what I need to do is let go. I have always been able to quarantine the process of writing from the business of publishing, so for the whole time I was writing this story I haven’t spent much time or energy sweating agents or editors or money or any of that. Now that wall has been breached. And my major problem with this part of the process is that there isn’t a whole lot more I can do, right at the moment. And even if there was, I am no salesman, I’d have trouble selling cheeseburgers to a starving man. And patience and faith are not virtues I know much about.
Funny, though, the feeling I got when I finally wrapped this one up was, relief. I think it’s because you always start out with a vision or an idea of what you want your book to be, how you want it to feel, and the question for me is, how close to my ideal am I going to get this time? Can I really make this the kind of book that I saw in my mind’s eye when I began? And then compound that with the fact that this is a different kind of novel than what I’ve done before. Initially I wondered if I was a fool to take on the theme that I wanted to work with.
Did I do it? I suppose that remains to be seen. A manuscript is not a book, it has to pass through a couple of different fires before that happens, and I have a long way to go on this one. But… Reading over my last two chapters, I feel relieved. I think I came pretty close.
November is almost upon us. November is the month when a lot of people will set themselves the goal of finishing a novel (writing one, not reading one), or at least a good portion of one. I’m not down for it this year, the writing project I’ve been into has been working me over pretty good. My goal now is simply to finish the damn thing. I spent much of the summer being stuck, I don’t know exactly why. I think sometimes life just intrudes, sometimes the forces down below decide that you’re going to be occupied elsewhere, and that’s that. I seem to have gotten unstuck recently, and again I don’t know exactly why, but after a few false starts I have gotten some good work done on it lately. I don’t want to jinx myself but I think the end might be in sight and if I can keep a little mo going I might actually get the thing done.
This draft of it, anyway.
I like the current draft, though, I think it’s in pretty good shape, although I’ve said that before, and been wrong. Hemingway once claimed that he read his entire manuscript every day when he sat down to work, and although I wonder if he might not have been over-served when he said it, I must admit that I spend a lot of time going back, rereading and cleaning things up as I go. Most writing teachers tell you not to do that, the prevailing theory holds that you should press on regardless, just get the damn thing written, get to the end and then go back and do your housekeeping later. I really try to work that way sometimes, I think I was laboring under the misapprehension that it would speed things up, and maybe it does, but not for me. I don’t seem to be wired that way. But I do feel like I’ve finally left the last base camp and I’m climbing, and the top of the mountain can’t be too much higher.
I am about eighty percent done with the current draft of the writing project that I’ve been working on, and I am sick to death of it. The protagonist’s name is Saul, and I wish he would just give up and go back to his island. The hell with it, Saul, if no one else gives a shit, why should you? When does this sort of behavior become pathological? This book is ruining my sleep, it was a bad idea to begin with, but if I stop now it will never let me alone. I am inching forward, I have to finish this thing, kill it before it kills me.
I read somewhere that J. K. Rowling has agreed to write a series of screenplays based on the world she created for Harry Potter, but set back in time, before Harry. I was glad to hear it, I enjoyed Harry immensely, both in print and on screen. I was a little disappointed that she plans to write scripts and not books, but I suppose you can’t have everything. I think the movies were well made, and if you pay attention, you’ll find a scene here or there that tells an entire story in the space of a few seconds. One example: in ‘The Half-Blood Prince,’ Dumbledore takes Harry along on a visit to Horace Slughorn. Dumbledore wants him to come out of retirement, and Slughorn refuses. Dumbledore and Harry accept his decision and they leave, but the camera lingers on Slughorn’s face, just for a few seconds. There he is, an old man in his pajamas, surrounded by his creature comforts, all alone. You get the impression that he has everything he needs, except for a reason to continue. As you look at his ruin of a face you wonder if perhaps he has not just seen, maybe for the first time, how empty and pointless his life will likely become if he stays where he is. And then, blink, the scene is gone, the film does not hit you over the head with it. To me it is an indication that there are artists at work, that care has been taken. It’s there if you want it, or if you prefer you can eat your popcorn and wait for the smoke and the loud noises. At any rate, it is good to hear that Rowling is back at work.
Stress is like cholesterol, too much of it will kill you, but if you don’t have enough, you will make your own. I do that, in my writing life. Too many expectations, I think. What I should do, really, is let go of all of those goals, at least for a while, and work at my own pace. I don’t know where I got this idea that I have to be under pressure to get anything done.
I grew up around a certain amount of chaos. Whether or not it was really a lot depends, I suppose, on your frame of reference, but I find it interesting that in my professional (non-writing) life I have gravitated to situations that tended to be fairly chaotic. I got pretty good at functioning under stress, at getting things done with a lot of unhappiness and shouting going on in the background. But just because you’re good at something doesn’t make it good for you, or, for that matter, good for the work you are doing. Or trying to do.
Without some stress, I won’t get anything accomplished. Without something inside me pushing and nagging and complaining about my lack of effort, the book I am currently trying to write will never get where I want it to go. This situation is analogous, at least for me, to working out. It is something I enjoy both for its own sake and for the rewards I think I might get out of it, but I cannot do it properly without pushing myself. For them to be effective or even enjoyable, my workouts have to be reasonably close to on schedule and on plan or they will accomplish nothing. Mark Rippetoe says that if your workouts aren’t designed to get you to a specific goal, you do not have a program, you only have an activity, and I think that is a valid observation. If I apply that metric to my current writing project, yeah, sure, I have a goal, which is to finish my next novel and for it to be as good as I have the power to make it. The question is, do I have a design that will get me to that goal? Am I too structured, in my writing life, or too unstructured? Is it even possible for someone like me to impose order on something that has always been a somewhat chaotic process?
If I don’t have a program, to borrow Rippetoe’s word, I won’t get the book finished, not the way I want it to be finished, and I’ll be left with writing as an activity, which sounds pretty lousy to me. I could, I suppose, just write, just go on-line and complain about politics or sports or whatever, add my voice to the din… In my opinion, that would be both an insult to and a waste of whatever talents I have been given.
And there it is: I started out trying to get rid of some of my stress and wound up deciding that I need it after all.
I have been stuck (there’s a shock) for a while. I am right at sixty thousand words on my current writing project. To me, that means that Act 1 and Act 2 are basically finished. I have some ideas about this last third of the story, and I’m beginning to see the ending, even if I don’t know exactly how everything will get framed up. However, when it comes to what goes down on that next blank page, I got issues.
I was talking with another writer recently, about process. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours… How do you go about doing what you do? Do you really need to write every day, do you get hung up on this or that, and so on. And, what do you do when you are stuck?
You can’t write harder, it doesn’t help.
In the wake of that conversation I realized that I have been taking something that I love and enjoy, and I’ve been making an ordeal out of it, so what I did was take a step or two back from the whole thing and try to think about what I’ve been trying to say, as opposed to how I ought to go about solving this plot problem that I fell into. One of the issues, I think, was that there was something missing from my opening, you know, the all-important first pages that I’ve re-written about thirty times. I think I finally realized what it was, and the fix involved no more than a paragraph here and there and a couple of minor edits. Call it three hundred words, total, but it’s amazing what the right three hundred words will do. The opening finally feels right, it feels like it’s finished, though I doubt if I’ll be able to keep from fiddling with it. But I think that now-finished opening has changed, somewhat, the way I think about my protagonist, and it may be pointing me in the general direction of what the last act of this story ought to be.
What I'm Doing...
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- November 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- August 2010
- July 2010
- June 2010
- May 2010
- April 2010
- March 2010
- February 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
- August 2008