Monday, June 27, 2011

That damned asterisk

Well, I guess it had to end some time. And no, I'm not referring to whatever important event that's going on in the extroverted world. I'm talking about my weekly writing streak. Yesterday, I wrote, and it was the only time I worked at that all weekend and I only completed two chapters of the three. I didn't even make up for it this morning; I didn't even try.

On the one hand, it feels appropriate to list all the different things that led to the breaking of the streak of six months, the friends in hospitals, the power outages, the quasi family crises, but on the other hand, I wonder at the difference between an excuse and a reason. That's the line from the movie: it's not an excuse, it's a reason. And I can't say whether I have either or both, and ultimately those sorts of things are tools to get a given person to forgive us our mistake. And the only person I need to placate on this matter is me. Simply complicated.

Despite being late, and pressed though, I came away confident about the writing I did do. There's scripted to be two chapters left of each book, and an epilogue, which is roughly three more weeks of work. I ought to be able to fulfill my goal of being done before August, even with this setback. I'm getting a little better at not rushing, too. I realized I was getting ahead of myself when I was thinking about writing before I thought about what I'd be creating, and taking a quick step back, I noticed that I was leaving some important bits out. No point in coming all this way to screw it up at the end, I figure.

And on that note I came across an interesting conundrum of character. In the middle of a scene, I had a character freaking out over a situation, and had to stop myself, had to force myself to think "would this character freak out over this?" and to answer yes or no had to give a few moments to the character's cumulative experience, and personality, and mindset. I was a little dissappointed to come away with the realization that I didn't actually know her all that well. Still, those sorts of things can be notated and worked through in future edits (that is, if one is conscious about those notes and committed to those edits).

But all in all, I had a lot of pratfalls this weekend. I was paid a compliment by a writer friend who told me to 'take a break' because I was 'working too hard.' At least, I took it as a compliment. I imagine that when people say that, it means one's hard work has been noticed, and I would much rather be chided for working too hard than derided for not working hard enough.

I'm also finally on twitter. I have no idea how to use it, or what I'm supposed to be tweeting. I had the idea to put some poetry on there. Though, nothing I think of feels even an inch short of pretentious.

Monday, June 20, 2011

See what had happened

On Friday I was humbled. I was working in a friend's scene shop at his theater and saw something I was hard pressed to put into words. It was right then that I realized that I'm doing that all the time, every day: looking at things, thinking about things, and how I would describe them, in words to someone who hadn't been there to witness it. I guess to a certain extent that's what writing is, conveying something through words that only the writer can see, though, even that sounds wrong.

'Wood birthing steel' is what I came up with for the description of a spinning saw blade whirring up through a waiting block of wood, the stimulus only audible at first, and then, like a thin, steel head cresting out of its wooden mother, the experience became visual as I watched the biting metal create a burrowed slit. It was pretty cool, I must also add. I told my friend about the experience of looking at something I had no words, at the time, to give to someone else so they could experience it, too. It was an exciting challenge, one I wracked my brain over until I came up with the garbled gibberish I just gave to you. Likewise, the weekend was one of new challenges.

Because I didn't write that Friday. I was out very late (for me) on Thursday night, and woke up too drowsy and disoriented to write confidently. I'd been told that a person only needs about six hours of sleep to operate, but to function creatively the number rises to about nine. I believe it. Despite this faith, however, even with writing on Saturday morning in mind, I repeated my nighttime activity again Friday evening. I woke Saturday too early from too little sleep with a decision to make: man up and write with half a brain or risk trying to write three chapters Sunday morning. And I tried that once before already; it worked out about as well as I'm making it sound. So, I attempted to write, and made yet another discovery. The outlines called for three chapters to be written with different tones, some emotional, others dramatic. The one I tended to was mostly action-oriented, which, for me, has little to no discernable tone at all. There are loud noises and strange smells and bright lights but no real feelings, for the most part. Having committed to the edits on those this morning, I came away confident that I had made the right decision.

Sunday morning I finished up the writing, realizing that putting myself in a mindset where I could imagine a character crying, or wanting to but not, much more easily. I had a bigger resvoir of empathy and a better grip on my imagination. Also on Sunday I finished up my submission to a local book fair. It required a 100 word or less bio and a 175 word or less synopsis. The former wasn't so difficult; I spent most of the time finding the best adjectives and strongest metaphors. The latter created a problem of space. It just didn't feel like I had enough words. Without even trying, I overshot by a hundred and I was aiming at brevity. Getting that down to 175, and getting those 175 the best I felt they could be proved difficult. I didn't start that on Sunday, but I finally finished it, and sent it off this morning.

Looking back on what I was able to accomplish made me pleased. Only a few weeks left and I'll be ready to relax and start on something else (which is good because yet another story idea recently afflicted me, and has been growing in my brain). I do wonder if it was the presence of the challenges or the perceived triumph over them that makes me smile though. What the reason is, and what the reason should be.

Monday, June 13, 2011


A few minutes ago, a sports story I wrote on Bleacher Report got 1000 reads. I know this because the site sent me an email saying so. The number even earned me a bronze medal. I don't know if it indicates anything about my writing skill as much as it apparently pays to write about polarizing figures and provocative subjects. It isn't my first story on the B/R, but it's the first one that garnered that much attention (which means I've never come close to even third place with my stories up to this point).

I segue from that thought to hearing recently about rumors about a new trend in 'rebooting' with movies. Stick with what works, is the central premise, beyond the basic idea that unless whatever idea continues to be used, rights revert back to the original owner of whatever intellectual property (translation: studios will lose the ability to print money). Combining that situation with the financial gamble making movies nowadays is creates a likelihood wherein people will very soon have occasion to wonder "haven't I seen this before?"

And I jump from that valid question to my own work. I was looking at reviews written about my book and noticed a common theme. At its least flattering, my style is referred to as 'strange' and 'weird' and 'odd,' and at the most complimentary descriptors of it have been 'fresh' and 'new' and 'interesting.' Of course, either negative or positive, all of these are hay needles and I don't have anything amounting to a readership yet to have any sort of way to know if the effort was a success or not. Recently, I spoke with a writer friend who had just finished the book that morning, and among other things we discussed what sorts of things those popular authors do that helps them sell. The techniques involved have a lot less to do with dynamic language and vivid metaphor than one might think.

Looks like it'll be another week of wondering if I'm doing things in a way that will ever turn a meaningful profit.  I take solace in the writing over the weekend having gone well. I haven't gotten to the edits quite yet, but thankfully I'm far enough along in the process that these pockets of time where the pace falters might as well not matter. I'm almost done, close enough to the end that for one of the books I have the last few chapters all ordered and outlined. When I talk about the stories now, I can discuss them beginning to end, I can look back on the out lines and nod. I can look at the folders filled with files that back in January seemed so terribly empty. It's a nice feeling.

Medals are nice, too, even fake ones made from only virtual, semi-precious metal. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

The prison of E

Yesterday, while on a date no less, a friend of mine noticed something that was both pretty cool and related to me. He even went so far as to send the picture mail to my phone. The image was of my book sitting on a shelf in a bookstore. I smiled, and replied, thanking him for carrying my book around and having the creativity audacity to sit his copy on the shelf and take a picture of it. He called me not five minutes later, still on the date, to clarify that the image was not of his book. The picture was of a stack of yet to be purchased volumes, legitimately for sale. I stick my foot in my mouth a lot; I've even used my own foot to wipe egg from my face. That conversation will stand out as one of the more positive occasions.

But perhaps I should also digress and explain. Firstly, I don't self-condemn that much anymore. The reason I jumped to my initial conclusion is because I had seen a picture of another author doing the same thing. I was almost inspired enough to do it myself, and my thought when I got the text was "oh, I must have told him about it at some point, and he went and did it." Small press authors like me and most authors I know don't benefit from corporate machines that put our books in check out lines and on television commercials and in newspapers. You won't meet a lot of people that have heard of the place that published me, or the sorts of places that would likely give me a second look at this point in my career.

And because of the small staffs and small budgets, the tendency to lean on technology is great. Ebooks is what I'm talking about. And for all the sales we might enjoy, all the congratulations we read on computer screens, seeing ones book on a shelf in a store is something I haven't heard much of. A month ago, to get my book without personal internet access, a body had to go to the store and order it through the clerks there, then wait until whatever process happened and the item was delivered and waiting to be picked up. Today, at least in one store I know of, that same body can walk in, perhaps on a lunch break, see the book on the shelf, and pay for it right then. The times are changing, to be sure, but there are still a lot of readers that don't browse the internet the way they browse book shelves. Certainly, of the people I know that have bought my book, only two picked up the digital version (and that was only because they couldn't figure out how to get the paperback).

And perhaps that's the reason for my own lack of initiative in regards to jumping into the future. Networking for the past few months has paid off, but more than one person has told me I need to be on Twitter. And more than once I've put in the url and stared at the log in page, hovering over the sign up link. I'm not sure if my defiance has waned or if my acceptance that it has to be done has grown to eclipse it. I had just gotten used to doing this blog, too, writing my thoughts down as if I was talking to more than ten people. But I guess that's part of the point; technology leaps forward, and keeping up isn't by nature a comfortable affair.

But at least I'll always have my stories. The chapters this past weekend went swimmingly, as did the editing this morning. I even did some outlining, too, and the ends are in sight. The ritual is all very nice and familiar. I also worked a bit on a submission for a local book fair. A co worker came in and asked me about whether or not I had talked to the people at the library on campus. I said no, of course, but we did make arrangements to make that awkward conversation happen on Wednesday. Maybe the trick is a little bit of old and a little bit of new. I was never one that went in from the deep end.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Downhill summer

Well, the blog is two days late, but the drafting I spent my brief vacation committing to worked out right on time. I'll take that trade. Two weeks, twelve chapters. And aside from the seasonal heat, I'm fairly ecstatic to be back to work. It was surprisingly stressful to be worried about failing to make the deadlines I set for myself, but on Memorial Day at 12:02 I finished the last edits on the last chapters I wrote, and didn't even pass out. I did exhale heavily, though. Also, I learned some things, possibly invaluable things.

I call the concept virtual distance. When a writer writes something, it's not perfect. Usually, it isn't even close to as good as it can be, hence the need for editors. And it's a fair question to wonder about why a writer, who supposedly puts words together so well, cannot edit their own work. A popular answer, and one that further expands on the concept, is that "the writer is too close to it." To a certain degree, all of us who do this sort of thing, when we look at at work, or talk about it, can remember massive amounts of it with high specificity. We know what we meant, in almost every case, and in a lot of cases, too, we also can easily recall how we put those sentences down. So much so, that when we go back and look at it, we will oftentimes fill in blanks, smooth over mistakes, and alter things in our mind as we go. We have a more difficult time being objective, so that other person, that editor, is needed to give neutral perspective.

With a lack of editor, time is a viable substitute. Virtual distance can be created by more or less forgetting what we wrote or how we wrote it, so when we look at it, we've become a stranger to our own words, an editor, as it were, and we can then hack and slash whatever it is into fit submission. The writing I did over the break, specifically, didn't take a week, but I also wanted to go back and look at each chapter I wrote, and with foreign eyes as well. That required space. That required time. Time I did not really have.

Which is how I happened upon my discovery, because along with all that writing I did, I also pragmaticaly went about trying to see friends during my free time as well. I might have even overachieved in that regard, too. Some days I would see two different groups of people, some days three. Hours of diverse stimulation and taxing distraction which helped me forget what I had been doing that morning. Those occassions, and another day or so, a night of rest, all culminated in my ability to go back and look at my chapters and frown, really frown at the confusing parts and be impressed by the impressive parts, congratulatory as if I was reading someone else's words. It was very effective overall, for the process, but also very tiring. And there wasn't even any alcohol involved (well, not much).

Of course, it's hard to really know whether or not something is really effective. Either way, I'm currently working through the outlines, denoting this month as the home stretch. All three of the stories are in their final acts, and the goal of finishing before August is well within reach. Things worked out a bit marvelously. Ever since starting at the beginning of the year, I had been outlining ahead of my chapters, but at the doubled pace, I did much more writing than planning, and caught up with myself. Now, I have some time to breathe and work through how it all shakes down.