Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Disorder in the House and Finding Motivation

November 5, 2009

Hitting one of my many lulls in re-writing The Novel, I find that one of the hardest things to come by is just time where I am left alone. The apartment I share with my girlfriend and kid is relatively spacious but it doesn’t exactly have different wings we can venture off to when we wish to be alone and undisturbed.  What makes the whole writing vs interaction thing more difficult isn’t when we just have conflicting projects to work on where we each need the computer but only have space for one of us. We’re moderately well behaved and well adjusted adults, after all,we can sort this out. Meaning she smacks me with her Webster’s II and I agree to wait until she’s done.

The most problematic times are the times when one of us is trying to work while the other wants “quality time.” Alright, yes, it is stereotypical here for it to be her wanting to snuggle and chat and blah blah blah, and I’m sure I occasionally fall into the nagging “spend time with me” mode, too. But, today, it’s her in that mode and all I want to do is what I am doing now. Sitting at my computer (after she sat at hers all morning and I sat in the bedroom reading or went to the living room and jiggled around with wii fit thirty minutes), doing a blog or two, maybe some email and, hopefully, some work on The Novel.

Of course, this situation didn’t come about through some frictionless negotiation. So she’s in a surly mood now, I’m going to pay for it later and, well, yeah. Fun. But this is something everyone deals with, right? But I think it’s something that is particularly difficult for people trying to do something artistic (though i still hate referring to my attempts to write as “artistic” as I don’t see myself as any sort of artist). Sometimes we just need left alone and, as anyone who writes a lot knows, we who write tend to spend more time than normal alone and entirely by choice.

Where is all of this going?

Well, it goes towards another problem I’ve had the past couple of days and that’s finding motivation to open up the word doc and start working.  I recently got done with grinding through two particularly rough chapters in the re-write and I’ve been hesitant to delve into the next chapter.  Maybe I just need a mental break from it for a couple of days, or whatever, I’m not sure, but I also feel horrible at not making more progress yesterday. So last night I was talking to my girlfriend about this and she suggested setting carrots out in front of me. For every so many chapters I get re-written we would go out to eat or get a book or something.

with how much writing is focused on being a delay of gratification (after all, unless we have a book deal none of us knows if our stuff will ever be published, regardless of how much time and effort we put into it), she thought that maybe this would be a good way of providing a little extra motivation to get through the particularly rough patches. And it seems like a good idea. But when we started talking about it, I realized that there also just isn’t a whole lot I want and, generally, what I want bad enough to really want, I’ll just go out and get.

but this has made me wonder: do external motivations work for writers in general? Or is it mainly an interior drive to get the thing finished that pushes us through to the end of projects?

The Work Backs Up

October 12, 2009

at the very least I have been sitting down and working on The Re-Write every day. Some days it goes well, others it doesn’t. The more I work at the re-write the more I find myself taking the write part literally. Instead of just tweaking, the thing is being written all over again in total.  I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, it is definitely shifting a bit in pace and tone, but I think it is a good thing. It seems more complete than before, as if I’m finally not leaving as much behind in the mentral debris of my head as I try to mine the vein and send the ore to the surface.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that I have a growing amount of work on backorder. Another novel that I had started and was roughly half-finished yet hasn’t been touched in quite some time. Old ideas that I’ve been kicking around since they were new ideas have been rattling their canes and wondering why I haven’t visited them lately.

This bugs me.  But I also know that a problem I’ve had in the past is that Ihave taken too many projects on at once. So resisting the urge to open up a new word file and start hacking away at another idea while trying to re-write another idea and trying to finish writing the first draft of yet a third idea is probably a good idea. 

But it still bugs me. I hate the idea of work backing up or, more accurately, of ideas backing up. Because they’re still in my head, they keep popping up and saying hey. They’re not like a book I can put on the shelf and just come back to later. That will hopefully come later. Right now they are more like someone who calls every once in awhile, says hey, and wants to chat for a bit.

And knowit’s the knowledge that these ideas are sitting there, waiting, that I have more stuff to work on, that bugs me. I want to be working on them and seeing where they go. I want to know where the story goes. What world is in my head. I want to do the work. I want to get the ideas out of my head.

But I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I have other work to do right now, that I need to finish the other re-write before starting other work, and so, for now, the work will just have to back up for awhile.

To Run a Marathon

October 10, 2009

right now I’ve put aside David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” and have taken up a brief excursion: Haruki Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” First, I just needed a break from Wallace’s endless march of words. Second, Murakami is my favorite writer and the opportunity to finally read another of his books is something I couldn’t resist after walking into Borders with a decent sized coupon and finally finding it in paperback.

reading about what other writers think of writing and how they do it isn’t always of interest to me. I’ve read about Stephen King’s habits, the way Kerouac, Ginsberg and clan put themselves together, and maybe one or two others; now including Murakami.

Some degree of physical fitness seems to be a common denominator among people who write for a living. This isn’t saying all writers have to run marathons or that there aren’t writers who are larger bodied. But it seems like the norm is to be at least average in physical fitness.

Murakami mentions a toxin that builds up as you write. He didn’t mean it literally, writing doesn’t somehow allow a build up of mercury in your blood or anything, but that writing is something that has the ability to make you feel pretty crappy. It’s stressful, it’s difficult, it’s lonesome. It seems being fit, or healthy – pick your term -, is a way of neutralizing this.  It’s easier to sit down and write every day when you feel good. maybe it’s as simple as that. And I know, from personal experience, that the better shape I’m in, the less junk food I’m munching on, the more exercise I’m getting, the better I feel and the more often and more productively I write. It helps me find balance. So I guess it’s back to the Wii Fit for me.

Chapter Seven

October 7, 2009

I’ve never re-written a novel before. I’ve writtten a couple of novel length pieces that have just sort of vanished over the years and that I’ve lost interest in but I’ve never really seen a project through to it’s true end. So the work I’ve been doing lately is rather new to me.

And dreaded.

The entire concept of editing and re-writing has been largely foreign to me for most of my life.  Reports and essays for school were always just scratched out and handed in with no real revisions and no appreciable proof reading (the fact that I did well in school is something that still amazes family and friends). The same with fiction, poetry and anything else I wrote for fun or entertainment or assignment. I would have an idea, I would put the idea onto paper, it would be done and I would move to the next idea.

This has produced a lot of surprisingly solid work, some of which I even still enjoy reading.

But it has also produced a lot of stuff that I have felt was half-formed.  the problem has always been that I haven’t had the ambition, or plain blue collar fortitude, to sit down and truly re-write any of it.

There was also a bit of artistic arrogance to it that, before, might have been thought of as artistic principle. It was that the first take is usually the most honest and true to a vision and that altering whatever is written is destined to move the piece ever further from its most natural beginnings. And this might be true. After all, there is nothing to definitively say that it isn’t, but it is also something that likely requires an incredible amount of natural ability, of intense training in this form or, most likely, a combination of good helpings of both. I don’t believe I have either of these things, at least to the degree that would be required to pull off such a style.

So I stepped timidly into the world of re-writing with my short fiction, poetry and prose. and I couldn’t help but admit that it made my work better.

I also couldn’t help but admit that I found it all sorts of difficult, time consuming, and physically and mentally taxing. It wore me out. it still does. And it’s gotten twice as difficult with the novel.

Knowing how much time and effort went into the initial conception of the idea, there is a part of me that hates to admit how much work some sections need. And a larger part of me that simply does not desire to sit down and do this work.

luckily, the novel started off easily. The opening chapters required little work and I was able to breeze through and feel pretty good about it. I should get through this in no time, I thought, and then began setting all sorts of entirely unrealistic time lines for myself.

then I hit chapter six and things stumbled a bit. I wanted to change one  aspect of the chapter and this change forced me to re-work roughly the first half of the chapter. It was rough but I got through it and I felt the stronger for it.

And then came chapter seven. Chapter seven is a place where I introduce a new character/story line and it was something that I felt I had botched almost entirely with the first draft. But it was still something that needed to be salvaged in some way for the rest of the novel to work.

Figuring out how to salvage the basic character/store line was the easy part. Coming to chapter seven and actually seeing all of the work laid out before me was the beginning of the difficult part.  the entire chapter needed re-written from the ground up. Even the names were changed to entirely put the past mistakes behind me. Not only was I altering something that I had spent much of the past few years on but i was entirely changing it. I don’t want to say I felt awful doing it, that wouldn’t be true and it would be an overstatement. Closer to what i was feeling was probably a certain deflation. After all, spending so much time on something only to re-read it later and realize I had botched the entire thing  is a pretty big kick in the knee.

With a 1500 word sprint today, though, I got it done. Chapter seven is behind me and I’m now feeling pretty good about it. Not just the chapter itself, which I think is vastly improved over what it had been before, but about finishing the chapter at all.  I know I will have future chapters that will require similar work but, having gotten through this one, the chapters to come seem less daunting. Now it is a case of having been there and done that and knowing I will get it done again.

All writers likely go through something similar, most probably at a much earlier stage than I, but it still feels good. It feels as if I have cleared a hurdle placed before me and the track is now opening up a bit allowing me to just run instead of maneuvering over, around and through obstacles. Now for Chapter Eight.

It’s Noon

October 5, 2009

I always have a hard time getting back into the rhythm of writing after having been away from it for a bit. Part of it is clearly my own fault but part of it is that I still live in two places and I keep having these two or three day stretches where I am away from the computer, away from working on what I have been working on and I get entirely out of my routine.

As I’ve gotten older I have found routine to be an important part of my being productive. Going to bed around the same time, getting up around the same time, eating around the same time, doing the same chores each day at the same time, etc. etc. etc. It’s a way of building a schedule and being sure that all of the needs of the day are met.

Writing is one of those needs and it seems to require a certain peace of mind regarding the other aspects of life. It’s like the conversations I have with the five year old about eating and finding balance in your diet and that being the importance of fruits and vegetables (two things he has a blankly irrational dislike of). If you want to be healthy you have to have balance. When you don’t have balance things get skewed and your body moves too far one way or the other.

Writing is the same in regards to how it fits in my life. I need balance between writing and some sort of more tangible productivity. A few hundred words are written, the dishes get done, a chapter is finished, trash is hauled out, etc. etc. I’m not sure yet why this balance is necessary but it is. I am just more productive when it occurs and productivity has become the end game of writing lately. It’s the realization that I’m not competing with anyone other than myself and my “success” is, currently, something that can only be measured inwardly. Perhaps this will change if I become successful at my ambitions. And my routine will almost certainly have to shift. But for now my goal is to simply find my routine, find my balance, and be productive.

You want to go forever…

September 25, 2009

Today has been spent delving into the re-write of the novel. The beginning euphoria of it, something that was roughly equivilant to the feeling of beginning a new novel from scratch -the limitless possibilities, the newness of the story, the curiosity over where you would be going and how you would get there, etc.- has quickly worn off and I just need a break.

The coffee maker has been getting pretty solid use. I’m feeling a little wired and queer. I’m not really thinking of anything but it feels like I am on the cusp of remembering something or thinking of something important. It’s odd.  My fingers feel disconnected.

I was somewhat unprepared for the reality of re-writes. I’ve re-read the thing once, made notes, etc. and now I’m effectively re-reading it again and then deleting/typing/arranging. It’s a continual re-working to get something closer to what I want to say.  It’s looking at something and know it’s not working and trying to figure out why. It’s reverse engineering someone else’s product to figure out how to put it back together with your own spin before realizing you have forgotten you built the thing in the first place.

then there is the re-reading of what has been re-written and realizing that it’s still not right and knowing I’ll have to go back and re-write what’s been re-written and wondering if, even then, it will be closer to what I want or at least closer to being readable.

so now I’m listening to REM and just trying to string myself out for a bit and let everything settle despite having chapter five open across the bar at the bottom ofthe computer screen, waiting to be maximized and finished and knowing that there isn’t even that much left of chapter five to go over and re-work but knowing what is left is what drove me to blog right now in the first place.

Then there was yesterday when I was at the library and noticed a book that looked to be bent along a similar line as mine and wondering if there was any point in going through all of this mess anyway if someone has already done something similar and, quite possibly, better. On the bright side, after checking said novel out of the library and beginning to read it at home last night and this morning found that it’s not overly similar and not even overly enjoyable to read. At least not as enjoyable as I hope my novel is to read, so I feel a bit better again on that angle. One, from knowing the novel isn’t remarkably similar to mine and, two, from being able to convince myself that mine’s better written.

Whether it actually is or not I have no idea but it’s what I’m allowing myself to believe. and now I’m starting to feel up to delving back into chapter five and continuing the march towards completion. there are messier chapters to come, more intensive re-writes to engage and maybe I can get a couple out of the way today.

It got longer

September 23, 2009

alright, I’m still plugging away on the re-write of my novel and I’m noticing something I’m leery of. It’s getting longer. Not only the parts where I’m tweeking but there are entire chapters that I’m adding now.  To be fair, part of it is that I intentionally left stuff out with the first draft thinking it wasn’t needed only to find it severely lacking in these areas through the course of the re-read. that’s where the extra chapters are coming in. but i’m just leery of the other chapters getting longer.

what this really boils down to is a lack of experience. Realistically, stepping back, I see that my first draft is largely an outline in spots. Places where I just kept writing to get down what was in my head but hadn’t fleshed out or communicated properly. So, going back over it, I’m picking those areas out and changing them and putting some meat on the bones.

But this also seems entirely contrary to the idea of “tightening up” a work. Every time I read of someone’s editing efforts, they are only looking for stuff to pare away. As if it is an absolute truth that leaner=better. 

It’s something that I have a passing belief in myself. I don’t like using a lot of -ly words. I try to get to the point of what I’m trying to write and not divert myself into several needless directions or use “flowery” language. An economy of language while not compromising the flow and the story is a goal for me.

So now I’ve added roughly a few thousand words while barely scratching the surface of the re-write. Looking at other novels, though, I’m wondering where the idea of Leaner=Better got its foothold, though. A look at the fantasy shelves in your local borders shows a litany of 500+ page novels, often a number of them stringing together to make up a 5+ book series. Roberto Bolano’s posthumous work 2666 is hailed, in part, for its daring breadth and scope. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is hailed, in part, for the undertaking that its girth represents while Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is regarded as a minor deity with its considerable heft. Don Delillo’s best book is, also, arguably his largest, Underworld.  Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a sizable paperweight, also.

Then, of course, there are the heavies of literature’s past. Dicken’s wasn’t exactly short of words. Neither were Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Austen, or Melville. Books have never seemed to have been hurt by their having too many words.

Is the mantra of editing to a smaller size our tacit acknowledgement that writing has gotten worse and we simply want to read less of it?  I don’t know but I’m going to continue to worry as I re-write and enlarge my novel.

You Should Write About Storms

September 21, 2009

it’s funny what can jog your memory. I was sitting on the front steps of our building with my g/f and the neighbor’s kid, waiting for the school bus, when he asks me if I write books. I joke back that I write books badly and chuckle when the conversation quickly shifts to the ever worsening weather. I mention in passing that I like thunderstorms, the darker, louder, windier the better. Then the kid says I should write about storms.

I’m not sure if the kid was joking or not. It was flat in tone and, with the right inflection, I could easily see it being a weird little jab at my “being a writer.” But it got me thinking about maybe writing about storms. What they could symbolize, how they could be worked into a story, etc. etc. etc. when I realized that I had already written about storms!

It was just a short story, with kids and an apocalyptic storm that fell disaster upon them – a real Stephen King Special – but it was something that I had really enjoyed when I had finished with it but which had been lost in the shuffle since I wrote it. It also made me think of the another little horror story I wrote for a fiction course I took a couple of years ago when I was pursuing my PhD. It was a little vampire tale with all sorts of sexual allusions and innuendo but it, too, had been lost to time and to the refuse of my harddrive.

While I enjoy both stories, it makes me think of the fight between being a REAL Writer and being a Genre Writer.  As a young child, I had been a big reader and writer. An only child, living in the middle of nowhere, it was really the only option before the proliferation of the internet and cable/satallite television. Unfortunately, it was a habit that elementary school fairly drummed out of me. What really drew me back into the fold was genre writers; it was Stephen King and Michael Cricton. Enjoying reading again was something they jointly gave back to me.

But, despite my debt to them and the great amount of joy I got and get from their work, why don’t I take my genre works more seriously? The two little horror stories I wrote I enjoy immensely but they haven’t been something I have given the sort of importance I give other works – despite the fact that they may be two of my better crafted works.

So what does this mean that I have sort of, maybe, kinda turned my back on a type of fiction I enjoy? I may have slipped into snobbish elitism, the inevitable result of too many lit courses and too many encounters with other would be Serious Writers. Or maybe my tastes since my re-introduction to the writing world have gradually widened to the point where I simply write what I want now and try to ignore having my work split into categories while also being aware that to be published within a genre has a definite risk of pigion holing me in that genre for eternity. After all, I still find copies of Motherless Brooklyn tucked away next to Amnesia Moon in the sci/fi section.

And I’m still thinking about writing about a storm.

It’s harder than it seems

September 15, 2009

over the weekend I finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s “How to Be Alone;” a collection of essays spanning, roughly the mid90s to late 2001. Franzen is a writer I’ve ben curious about for awhile, always seeing “The Corrections” on the shelf at Borders and getting the impression that he is a current writer that should be read. But that is a perception that is pushed onto nearly any major literature writer and I’ve come to take praise on bookjackets with a health dose of salt. But after reading “How to Be Alone” I am sure of two things. The first is that I will be reading “The Corrections.” The second is that I want to give the whole essay writing thing a shot.

so I’ve started trying to piece together a little essay about recent trips home and the feelings it entails since moving to cleveland coupled with recent deaths in the family. And this is where Franzen proves how truly skilled he is at writing the essays from “How to be Alone.” Attempting to write an essay myself is far more difficult than how Franzen makes it appear.

On the one hand, it’s pretty solid praise for Franzen. He wrote a collection of essays that are entirely enjoyable to read and made it look insanely easy to do in the process. On the other hand, I’m having a difficult time structuring and saying what I want to structure and say.

I’m also hoping to punch up some reviews in the next couple of days, so I’ll try to keep the updates flowing.

it’s got good size

August 26, 2009

I’m not sure where I was reading about it, or even if it was true, but an agent was relating stories about how they hate a particular month because it is a month that they get a ton of slush material and the majority of it stops at around fifty thousand words. This is because it is part of a national “writing month” or something that encourages everyone to try writing a fifty thousand word novel so it has people just writing to cover the word spread. There were stories of works ending on the fifty thousanth word, regardless of where they were in the story, paragraph or sentence. They hit the magic number, they stop. The novel is done. Over. Complete. Fin.

While the stories were funny, I think they also held a bit of every writer’s worry, or at least the worry of every writer who has yet to secure a book deal; is it long enough? Or, is it too long?

While the idea of quitting a story at a particular word count is absurd to me, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that size was something I try to measure and evaluate myself with. I’ve went so far as typing pages of other books up in word and running the number count on them. I found that the average novel has 330-450 words per page. Why or how they came within this range, I don’t know. I’m not sure I care. But, when I’m particularly curious about the length of whatever I’m working on, I find myself taking a number within that range and dividing my total number of words by it to see where it comes out at.

Should this concern me? Should this concern any writer? Ideally, probably not. But, realistically, we all know that there are predescribed size limits for our writing that we must meet to be marketed as what we wish to be marketed as. For novels, I’ve generally heard that seventy thousand words is a short novel, ninety thousand is the sweet spot and anything appreciably longer than that is a longer novel. At least by today’s novel standards (outside of the fantasy sections where 800 page epics seem to be the norm).

And I know that when my first novel crossed that seventy thousand word barrier that I was more than a little pleased with myself.  It marked the passing of a threshold, the movement into another realm – if not physically then at least emotionally and psychologically I understood this – and was something that could never be taken away from me.

For whatever reason, knowing that what I was continuing to write was technically of novel length was uplifting and help propel me through several more pages before falling back into the real work of writing that bends backs and breaks shoulders.