Archive for the ‘Humble efforts’ category

why I don’t outline

October 7, 2021

I’ve long thought that the reason so many writers love the “rules” (whether that’s grammar or genre conventions or the proper use of dialogue tags or whatever) is because there is so much self doubt in what we do. Is this good enuf? Am I good enuf? Will anyone want what I write? Will anyone read what I write? Should I be writing something else? And on. So when someone comes along and says that this or that rule about writing is absolute, a good many of us are quickly seduced by the imagined certainty and cleave to that rule.

Of course one writer’s rule is another writer’s suggestion and another writer’s antagonist. Long-time readers of this humble blog (both of you) will know that I don’t give much allegiance to the rules (even spelling — the word “enuf” occurs throughout Obelus — and I suspect my use of em dashes is often incorrect). Sentence fragments seem to be integral to my natural style. But then I know of at least one 100+ word sentence I’ve written as well.

One of the fundamental bits of guidance writers are given when starting out is to outline the intended work in advance. Organize your thoughts. Put them in order. Re-order them. Organize sub-thoughts under major points. Work from a premise and work toward a conclusion.

Yeah, I don’t do that.

When I start on a story, I do generally have an idea of where I’m going and what I want to achieve. But in nearly all cases, my result is far from the original idea. Latest Big Project is a good example. I had an idea for writing a semi-serious work of seeming non-fiction that was really going to be a very unconventional work of fiction. And while it’s still that, the semi-serious portion is barely holding on. The seeming non-fiction part has grown more absurd as I’ve been writing it. Crazy thoughts come into my head throughout the day about how I could develop this idea or introduce that idea. I had introduced a sub-plot that I thought would give my character some depth, and that sub-plot has taken over and become the main (hidden) point of the story.

Similarly with Obelus, a certain character was intended all along to be an ambitious free-lance journalist, but when it came to showing her as such, I suddenly shifted her into something altogether different. I don’t know where this revelation came from. I hadn’t planned for it, but it took the novel in a different, and better, direction. It’s a vastly different novel in tone and plot (the plot is the MacGuffin).

My point is that if I had outlined what I wanted to write in advance, I don’t know that these “revelations” would have come to me. If I had been neat and orderly in advance, I think I might have missed out on the creative chaos and discovery that seems to work so well for me. I’d have been devoted (blinded?) to developing the story as it was originally conceived rather than flowing with it as it evolved.

So I don’t outline. Well, not in advance. I am about to begin outlining Latest Big Project, which I have mostly finished, so I can see where to wedge in hints and references to the sub-plot that’s become the main plot. It needs to build to that (where all is revealed in the final chapter). So having an outline of how things are now will be a kind of after-the-fact guidebook for where to take it further.

What about you? Do you outline in advance?

__________

(Funny, this post is not at all what I had started out to write.)

progress amidst lack of progress

April 19, 2021

I’ve mentioned here once or twice that I’m working on a new, big project that I’m calling Losers (for now). And while I am making a lot of progress with it, it feels like I am standing still. I have more than 10,000 words written, and I have a clear idea of how to develop the rest of it, and then I have a clear idea of how to really develop the rest of it (mostly the story behind the story), but the sense of completing it is so far in the future that I feel as though I’m making no progress at all despite unbroken hours before my laptop.

While this will be a novel, it will be an unconventional one, at least from the way the tale is told. (And thus, unmarketable?) And before I can get the meat of the story into it, I must “assemble” the parts in their proper order so that I can hang the real story on them. I realize this is all cryptic and perhaps precious, but it’s the only way I can think to describe it without giving away the plot. (A writer I respect once said to me, “Tell your story once, and tell it in writing.” The point being that the motivation to finish a story can dissipate if you tell it before you’re done writing it.)

Helping or hampering this effort is the continuing fact that I’m having profound (in context) “realizations” about what this novel really is. In the last two weeks I’ve had three of these realizations that made everything that came before them just pencil work. “Of course, what’s really happening behind all of these words is . . .”* And “Aha, that’s who the narrator is!” And “I see now. This is why the tale is being told in this way!”

These kinds of revelations visited me when I was writing Obelus, and it resulted in a very different story from what I had started out to tell. I certainly welcome them, but what I have after is so much “better” than before that I fear I can’t finish writing the work until ALL of the profundities reveal themselves to me. And they don’t seem to be on any schedule or announce their pending arrival.

So I make slow but gratifying progress.

__________

*Should I put a period after that ellipsis? Or maybe an exclamation point?

“Icarus” revisited

February 3, 2021

This is going to sound a lot like last week’s post about my story “Hush Arbor.” Just as with that story, I had my story “Icarus” accepted, in this case at The Magnolia Review. But the extraordinary events of 2020 intervened, and not only was publication of “Icarus” delayed, but I feared that the journal itself had gone dark.

But then I received an email this morning from the editor apologizing for the delay and announcing that the issue with my story was in its final stages of production. Volume 6, issue 2 of The Magnolia Review will be coming out online very soon and possibly even in print.

This is the second story I’ve had published in The Magnolia Review. My story “Fire Sermon” appeared there several years ago and was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

When the issue goes live, I’ll post a link here.

no NaNoWriMo for me

November 11, 2020

In the month of November I began writing my next novel in earnest. I’m happy to say that I have 550 words down! They’re the hard ones, of course. The first ones. And I’ve struggled with them, changed them, rearranged them, deleted them. As one does.

This is not a blistering pace, but I am finding my way (and if my experience this time is anything like it was with Obelus, I don’t even know what that way is yet).

But 500 words in about half a month is still minuscule. I understand the participants in NaNoWriMo average 1,667 words each day, with the goal of 50,000 words in the month. I’m not going to qualify for that.

I’ve written about NaNoWriMo here before, and it’s not been favorable. Over the years, my thoughts have mellowed. It’s not for me, but if it works for another, then good for them.

Update 27DEC20 – The writing of this new novel I mention has come to a halt. I think it’s a good story that I can tell in a clever way, but it’s leaving me cold, at least for now. Perhaps I’ll come back to it some day. I had really hoped it would become my next great projects, the way Obelus consumed most of this year, but that’s not proving to be the case.

white noise

November 9, 2020

Due to some particular quirk of physiology, I am able to hear my own heartbeat in my right ear. If the room is quiet, and I am sitting still, which is pretty much the definition of my writing time very early in the morning, I can hear the pulse of blood through whatever artery is near that ear.

When I first noticed this years ago, I feared it was a sign of dangerously high blood pressure, but my numbers have always been low in that regard, and when I mentioned it to my doctor, he dismissed it as nothing to worry about. And so I haven’t for all of those years.

But I have found it to be distracting when I’m trying to write in the quiet of my early morning sessions. And so I’ve begun an experiment with white noise to override the sound of my heartbeat and let me drift along whatever creative waters I’m on.

Back in the days when I worked in an office, the building had pumped in white noise as a sort of damper to nearby cubicle conversations so individuals could work without overhearing others (much) and general clatter. This was believed to have worked, and I guess it did. (The Wikipedia entry on white noise does offer this caution though: “There is evidence that white noise exposure therapies may induce maladaptive changes in the brain that degrade neurological health and compromise cognition.”)

I found a YouTube “video” that plays a constant hiss of white noise (for ten hours!) that I’ve been playing in the background as I work. At first, and as expected, I found myself listening to the white noise, which is a truly unremarkable sound, but when I turned my attention to writing, I soon forgot that I was hearing it and just got to work. I think I will get better at this the more I use it.

And it works. I cannot hear my heartbeat when the white noise is hissing in the background. Whether that will mean a boost in my productivity, I cannot yet say, but I’m grateful so far to have this apparent success with it.

bits and pieces

October 26, 2020

I continue to send out queries for Obelus, and I continue to refine my letter, and I continue to keep the faith. I’ve even come up with an “elevator pitch,” which I think is crass (the need for one, not the pitch itself). What kind of service are you doing to your 100,000+ word novel by condensing its substance into two or three breathless sentences? Anyway, I spent two hours on Saturday morning reviewing potential agents, studying their interests, their submission guidelines, and managed to send only two queries.

__________

Also, someone please explain to me the wonder that is If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. I promptly read it when an agent who turned down Obelus had hoped it would have been more like that novel. A lot of people have said how wonderful that novel is, but I didn’t see it. Maybe I just had a crappy translation, but it seemed cumbersome, with characters I couldn’t engage with, and a plot that, while innovative (for its time?), was obvious.

Same with The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I’d classify it as “high metafictional” but it just wasn’t my thing. After I figured out the tone and style, I just wanted to get done with it. Yet people praise this novel.

__________

In the meantime, any work at all on anything else at all is pretty much not happening at all. I’m barely submitting even the finished short stories I have, and I’m not writing any new ones. I made a kind of decision over the weekend that I need to compartmentalize my time, devoting a certain amount to Obelus submissions and a certain amount to new writing.

And so, I began work on a new novel, which I’m tentatively calling A Short Walk in a Sad Place. I’ve been making notes on this since the middle of summer, and the “plot” has evolved considerably since then. This is how Obelus happened, becoming something far different from what I had originally conceived, so I consider it a good thing. A Short Walk will be another metafiction, and I think it will be fun to work on.

__________

My son, who lives a half hour down the road, is moving to a different part of his college town (to ensure his children get into a good primary school), so my weekends have been devoted to helping with that. My truck has proved useful, as has my back. My wife has provided childcare. There is currently some confusion about closing dates on the current and new houses and how their timing may/may not require time in a motel for this family of four (their three cats would chill in my basement). This hasn’t interfered with my “writing” time, but trips to the cabin have dried up.

__________

I’ve taken the two mandatory training classes for my election day volunteering, and I’m taking one of them again later this week so I can feel a tiny bit more confident about not screwing up too badly when I’m working at the polls. It will be a long day. I must be at the polling site at 4:30 a.m. (not a problem for me, and it’s just a few blocks from my house), but I have to stay until the polls close (at 7:00 p.m.) and then later to help close up the shop and complete all of the paperwork. So I’m taking election day and the day after off from work. Perhaps I’ll have some interesting stories to tell when I’m done.

__________

In an old college notebook, with some remaining unused pages that I jot spontaneous notes on as I’m writing or researching, I found an assignment for a class I took more than 40 years ago: a three-page paper about Ben Franklin’s autobiography. I don’t know what became of the paper I wrote, but the assignment sheet — a mimeograph — has my handwriting on it from that distant age. It’s surprisingly legible; I seemed to remember having terrible handwriting, but I guess not. The assignment sheet will go in the recycling bin, 40 years after its creation.

“The Magic for Beantown”

February 7, 2020

My story “The Magic for Beantown” appears today in Aethlon. You’ll recall that this story may or may not have a Leprechaun in it and that the editor sent it back twice for rewrites, which a different editor friend assured me meant he really liked it and wanted to make it perfect.

__________

Also in today’s mail came the $30 check for my story “MTWTF” that will appeared in Workers Write! in April. An acceptable trip to the mailbox (and another reason why I don’t wait for decent weather to visit it).

MTWTF has found a home

January 20, 2020

My short story “MTWTF” has found a home. It has been accepted by Workers Write!, an annual print publication now in its 16th year.

I checked my records and learned that I’ve been circulating this story for a year and a half. I didn’t realize I had been trying so long. In that time I’d sent it to a total of 18 prospective publications and received 16 rejections. (One was pending response at the time of acceptance.)

I’d sent this to Workers Write! last summer, and while I never despaired, I suspected it was just one of those publications that only responds if interested. (Most of the rejections for this story were swift. And there were so many rejections!) I liked this story — I even dared to share it with a writer friend whose opinion I respect — but I began to suspect it was too quirky for publication. At nearly 4,000 words, I knew it was close to the it-must-be-a-perfect-fit status to be accepted. Glad that was not the case! (Or maybe it was. Maybe it is a perfect fit.)

I don’t know yet when the issue will come out — I’m going to get more details and a publishing contract for it soon, I’m told.

Anyway, pretty good start to a new year.

where things stand

January 1, 2020

So that flame of a new story idea that has kept me on fire for a few weeks continues. I’ve already rewritten the first chapter that I had completed before, swelling it to 2,200 words. And I’m sure I’ll revisit it several times as the rest of the novel blossoms in my mind. I’ve also scrawled the first two sentences of the second chapter, which is big (as a motivator, not in word count).

I make copious notes for the story when I’m away from my (new) laptop, and I still rise at that unholy hour to work on (struggle with) the writing. Compound this with the pleasant intrusion of my son and his wife and their two girls from Seattle and my other son (his twin) and his wife and their boy and girl from down the road for holiday visiting and activities. I’m taking it as a measure of the story’s worth that I am staying devoted to it during all of this competition for my attention and affection.

I feel that I should create a Category on the humble blog for this so that ardent scholars can more easily research the novel’s genesis in years to come, but I’m not sure what I would call it. The word “Imaginary” figured importantly in the short story I wrote that inspired the novel idea, but it’s not so important to the bigger project. And “Conde Sazdorff” is still too odd. And “Belgium” is right out.

So the new year begins with a bang, so to speak, and it looks like it’s going to be sustained for a while.

(But should I be concerned that work on my other story ideas has completely dried up?)

***

The photo above is a snake skin I found out in my woods some years ago. (And a nice view of the lake looking full with a lush forest around it. Also, raggedy fingernails.) Snake skins have an important thematic purpose in One-Match Fire but don’t (yet) figure in this new project.

Rollator

December 26, 2019

My story “Rollator” appears in the latest issue of Falling Star Magazine. I submitted it for the Intersections themed issue. There is a street intersection in my story, but another kind of intersection is what’s really important.

For the last year or so of her life, my mother was getting around town (quite well) with her Rollator, and I saw that these can be truly deluxe pieces of durable medical equipment (as we say in the trade). She had several, each successor being more feature-laden than the last.

This, and the activities at a certain house I pass each time I take my dogs to the park, merged and resulted in my story. Normally I don’t want to know where my “inspiration” comes from, but I don’t mind this time.