Paddling for the Latest Plot

Writing is an individualistic pursuit. While it’s perhaps wise to read the advice of those who have gone before and certainly to read their fiction (if they’ve written any), at some point you’re going to want to do things your own way. This is made easier by the fact that some advisors tell you in case A, do X, while others tell you that case A absolutely calls for doing Y. Whatever boneheaded thing you do, there’s probably some other bonehead out there advising just that thing, or close to it.

Alas, making your own path is also made more difficult by the same division of opinion. If you’re a beginning novelist like me, you have no idea whose method is best, or if they’re all equally good, or if they’re all dead wrong, at least for you. You have to just point your bow, start paddling, and hope that star you’re pointing at is the right one.

Having completed the rough draft of the beginning part of my novel, I’ve decided to revisit the plot, which seemed to have a lot of unnecessary stuff cluttering it up. This goes against the advice to keep going, no matter what, and only partially with the advice to have a galvanized outline (iron-clad would be too inflexible, I think) before writing a word–you see, I wrote sort of an outline, wrote some prose, did another outline, wrote a lot or prose, and am now doing another outline.

If you take a look at the outline below, you’ll see it really does need some work. The Beginning section has 35 sections, while the Middle has 14 and the End weighs in at a mere 10 sections. That’s a little out of whack, isn’t it? (Don’t worry, the full version has lots more detail.)

To get myself out of this jam, I’ve returned to my original cookbook, The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, which gives a clear, if somewhat traditional-publishing-oriented (that is, non-indie-e-book) approach to the process. One of the many useful features in this book is a section template. Here’s an example of my own modified version:

Tartarus Trouble

Denizens/staff of Tartarus figure if Colin & Faust are down there, they are supposed to be punished somehow, for something. Aegaeon, a hundred-handed giant, is in charge of Tartarus. He is incredibly strong and ferocious (per wikipedia).

From # Oracle’s Word Surprise #1

To # Reacting to Oracle

Action/Reaction: Action
Section Character: Soul-Colin
Where: Tartarus
When: Early morning, June 17

ACTION
Goal from character’s last section: Get back to his body ASAP. Get out of Tartarus before the alarm gets too much. Stay true to his values. Continue trying to get free with Faust’s help. Just now, he feels to heck with the souls.

Cliffhanger from character’s last section: They leave the island and the demons are after them. (Maybe they go further into the lake of fire to get away.) This Cliffhanger part is my own addition.

Against (person or circumstance that brings crisis): Tartarus demons, especially Aegaeon.

Conflict (occurrence of crisis; section character’s reaction): Colin & Faust want out of Tartarus. The demons want to imprison them there.

Failure (unless opposition) (inability to undo or deny crisis) (swift and sudden): Faust gets caught and Colin can’t rescue her; he has to get away.

New Goal (or go to a Reaction section) (character doesn’t necessarily have to devise, but describe it here; can devise here, though, or devise in Reaction section): Rescue Faust before he does anything else; figure out how to do that. AND… Get back to his body ASAP. Stay true to his values. Continue trying to get free with Faust’s help. He feels to heck with the souls, except for Faust.

Cliffhanger: Faust getting dragged away. Colin diving back into the lake of fire, swimming deep.

REACTION (Used if a character is not acting, but reflecting on events from his or her previous scene.)
Failure from character’s last action section (briefly describe; the section will restate it):

With (other character that shares the section):

Emotional reaction (character’s gut reaction to the previous failure):

Rational reaction (character’s analytical reaction to the previous failure):

New Goal (character devises): He/she will X in order to X.

By slowly and carefully completing one of these for each scene, or at least trying to, I’m starting to get plot #3 into some kind of shape, with a better sub-plot, a more coherent main plot and a good storage bin for bits and pieces I want to see if I can use once the big rocks are all carved up and placed more or less to my liking. With any luck, I’ll have Middle and Ending sections outlined in a few weeks.

Without any luck, I may find that the start I pointed my bow at is the light of an oncoming supertanker. We’ll see. All I can do for now is cross my fingers and keep paddling.

Beginning    

             1.  Mine! (R)

             2.  Worst Tip Ever (A)

             3.  I Ain’t Got No Body (R)

             4.  TS & Coven Revealed (R)

             5.  Welcome to Hell (A)

             6.  (A) Getcher Hands off my Garbage

             7.  (R) Today is the First Day of the Rest of Eternity

             8.  (A) Satan: Prince of Darkness, Major Ass-Badger

             9.  Body-Colin Bodyguard (A)

             10.  All Busted Up (R)

             11.  (A) Welcome, My Son… Welcome to the Latrine

             12.  Sucking Up to Satan (A)

             13.  (R) Septic Beastie

             14.  (A) What Really Happens to All Those Missing Socks

             15.  (A) It Pays to be an English Major

             16.  (A) Gimme Shelter

             17.  (A) Into the Slop

             18.  (A) Thanks, Superpigs!

             19.  (R) Friends

             20.  (A) Br’er Fox Makes a Comeback

             21.  (A) One Fancy Stick in the Mud

             22.  (A) Pretty Tough for a Dead Guy

             23.  (A) Shelter Skelter

             24.  (A) de Retz Promoted

             25.  (A) Colin Becomes a Gladiator

             26.  (A) Hitching a Ride

             27.  (A) Colin’s First Battle; Spares Faust

             28.  (A) Roadies

             29.  (A) Oracle Explanation & Escape

             30.  (A) I’ve Got Rythm

             31.  (A) Journey to Tartarus

             32.  (A) Coven Concert

             33.  (A) Demon Head

             34.  (A) Oracle’s Word Suprise #1

             35.  (A) de Retz, Big Demons, Angel Hint

Middle

            37.  (A) Tartarus Trouble

             38.  (R) Reacting to Oracle

             39.  (A) Body-Colin Gets Away

             41.  (A) Swiping the knife–but not the bough

             42.  (A) Swiping the Bough!

             43.  (A) Discovering Satan’s Plan

             44.  In Heaven’s Court

             45.  DIY Saving Universe

             46.  Working Drummer

             47.  Hiding the Bough & Knife

             48.  In Arena with Traitor Angel

             49.  Lost Fight

             50.  Annihilation

             51.  Captured

End

           52.  de Retz finds the Bough

             53.  Attack on Heaven

             54.  Killing Colin

             55.  Taking the Universe

             56.  Utterly Screwed

             57.  Annihilation Again

             58.  No Annihilation

             59.  Animals Stampede

             60.  Colin gets Bough

             61.  Freeing Angels

Extra Writing for Lent

I’m a member of the Episcopalian church. For those of you unfamiliar with that, think of it as “Catholic Lite.” Wikipedia can tell you a lot more at its “Episcopal Church” wiki.

As an Episcopalian, and a Christian for that matter, I observe the season of Lent. One source says “In Lent, the church journeys from Ash Wednesday to Easter, from sorrow to joy, from mortality to eternal life.”

So what does this have to do with writing? Bear with me; I’m getting there.

When I was a kid, we used to give up something—usually candy—for Lent. The sacrifice was supposed to remind us of the way Jesus sacrificed everything for the sake of his fellow man. Then, on Easter morning, we’d discover our Easter baskets on the dinner table, loaded with candy to make up for all that abstinence, reminding us of how Jesus’ rising from the dead replaces sorrow with joy. After I grew up (contrary to those who say I haven’t yet), I learned that instead of giving something up for Lent, you can take something on.

For Lent this year, I am committing to finding at least one extra hour a week for writing—if possible, two. Taking this on will mean I’ll have to give something up—likely some sleep or some yoga, so it looks like I’ll be getting into the Lenten spirit pretty well.

I also think it’s a good idea to unify two key parts of my life, creative and spiritual. My hope is that as I write for Lent, I’ll open myself a little more to God’s influence on that pursuit and that, in turn, I’ll be reminded to bring imagination and increased attention to my religious practice. If one, the other, or both happens, I’ll consider myself blessed indeed.

Plotting: New-Fangled Note Cards

It occurred to me as I was writing away on the new beginning to Thin Spots that I still had a lot of holes in the plot. Big ones, like a decent ending. I mean, I had one, but it just kind of lay there, you know?

Also, I’ve been reading Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris, which has some dandy tips of filling in plot crevasses and that inspired me to give the story another look. I haven’t finished NYN yet, but since it goaded me into doing something, it must have something going for it; I’ll let you have my final word when I’m finished reading it. (No doubt you’ll all be waiting breathlessly for that.)

Planning, while it’s fun, is nowhere near as fun as writing is. I keep getting pulled off the planning task by the compulsion to write scenes one after another, to get on with it. The problem is, that’s what I’ve tried before and I’ve always written myself into a dead end that way.

So, how to make planning fun enough to keep me from jumping into the writing work? Buy a new toy, of course. If you’re a nerd like me you buy a new piece of software.

In this case I bought myself a license for SuperNoteCard, which enables you to create stacks of virtual index cards on the PC or Mac. You can create multiple decks, categories, cards, relationships between deck and cards and relationships between relationships. You can color-code and annotate. You can distinguish specific “Factors” in your story, factors being people, places and things that “factor” into your story. You can plan your head off with this thing!

I created all my cards from existing materials and came up with nearly three hundred, counting all the duplicates. That exercise alone was enough to help me see I was building the fiction equivalent of spaghetti code (software code with logic that twists and turns on itself like a pile of spaghetti noodles). Now that I’m able to step back and look at the thing from a higher level, through the cards, I’m better able to trim fat and organize the story. At least that’s the way it appears at the moment.

That’s it from the trenches for now. Here’s a picture of SuperNoteCard in action:

Getting to Know You: Character Sketches

Having started sometime in October, by some other time in December I was twenty thousand words into the first draft of my novel-to-be, Thin Spots (coming eventually to an e-bookstore near you). Pleased as I was about the word count, a couple of things started to bug me. One was a flaw in the plot structure, which maybe I’ll talk about another time.

The other bugging item, which I’ll talk about now, was the characters.

The story’s got characters, all right—good guy, bad guy, love interest, the works—all moving around, doing stuff. Great, right? Except they felt flat, like cardboard cutouts moving around against a watercolor backdrop. Not really knowing what to do, I just kept moving them around, having faith that an answer would bubble up from the kettle of creative process in due time.

Sure enough, due time came around and I realized the problem, or at least part of it, was that I didn’t know the characters. Oh, I knew their names, physical characteristics, motivations and that sort of thing, but I hadn’t sat down with each one of them and let them speak or act as they wanted to. Another way of putting this might be that I hadn’t let their true natures rise out of my unconscious into the daylight.

I started this project with a novel-writing cookbook that advised me to define characters by filling out a list of specifics for each one. Here’s a partial example, for the lead character:

  • Character Type: Lead. Name: Colin Davis. Colin is a short form of “Nicholas” means “victory of the people”…
  • Connection to Lead: Is
  • Story Goal: He wants to get back to his body so he can stay alive, end his torment…
  • Gender: Male
  • Age: 30
  • Appearance: Blonde. Late 20s-early 30s. Average height & build…
  • Height & Body Type: Average American; 5′ 10″. Body type: Just a shade on the stocky side…
  • Hair color: Blonde
  • Eye color: Dark blue, unusually so.
  • Mannerisms: Combs his fingers backwards through his hair when thinking…

You get the idea. It’s all well and good, and it probably helped me start thinking, but not a bit of it gave me a gut feel for what this guy is like. These items are details for building an automaton, not for bringing a character to life.

What to do? I cast my mind back—way back—to a wonderful high-school English teacher who had the class write character sketches, which were just a page or two putting a character in an everyday situation and letting him or her move through it. I’ve been doing that over the past few days and I like what’s happening. The sketches don’t give me all the details of the character’s high school romances, dental work, etc., but they do make me feel as though I’m getting to know them well enough to work with them in a story.

I’ll be sharing these sketches in the next several posts. Here’s the first one. It’s for Doc Lutz, a character I didn’t even know I had until I started working out the plotting problem I mentioned earlier.

Doc Lutz was running late, which wasn’t good, because he was the only one with a key to Pizza Haven. That was only good sense—he was the owner, after all—but it meant the help would be piling up around the back door, bitching, building up a bad attitude that would last all the way until quitting time. Their attitudes were bad enough—he didn’t need to give them any help. He put the pedal to the metal, blasted through the last red light between him and the Magnolia Walk strip mall and arrived in a handy handicapped-only spot with a squeal of brakes.

They were there, all right. Manny, his lead cook, leaning against the graffiti-spattered brick wall with a cigarette dangling from his perpetual frown; Tanya the waitress in her usual form-fitting mini-skirt, hugging a black leather jacket around her against the cold and Colin, the delivery guy, utility player and general waste of space, sitting cross-legged on the ground, scribbling in a notebook as usual.

“Okay, people, spread out, Daddy’s here.”

Tanya spit her gum into an open trash bin. “If you were my daddy, I’d have grown up in foster care.”

“Nice. Merry goddamn Christmas to you, too. Manny, stomp out that butt before you come inside. And wash your hands before you start in the kitchen. How many times I gotta tell you?”

“Hell. I just lit up, Doc. These things are expensive.”

“So, quit. Hey, Shakespeare, you going to finish your masterpiece there and grace us with your presence?”

Colin stayed where he was and chewed his pencil. “Any of you guys know a good word for ‘sticky’?”

“How about ‘fired’? Do anything for you?”

“All right, all right.” Colin slapped his notebook shut and stuffed it into his backpack. “Ready to ride at your command, my captain.”

After he had made sure that Manny’s hands were washed and Tanya knew the specials, Doc went to do the liquor count. Colin Davis, he knew, would take care of himself, scribbling, until there was something he was needed for.

He grunted as he squatted to peer into the liquor cabinets beneath the bar. His weight wasn’t going anywhere but up—an occupational hazard—and his knees weren’t what they used to be. Heedless of the discomfort, he painstakingly counted each bottle, reaching to the back to be sure nobody had hidden a partial there, hoping he’d get lazy and count it as a full bottle. He also spot-checked a few bottles by upending them and watching the liquor cling to the glass or, if they were already open, removing the tops and sniffing the contents, to be sure they hadn’t been watered down. After recording the results of the count on a tally sheet, he went to his office to check the results against the previous day’s sales.

The office was a Spartan affair, consisting of a metal desk, a battered swivel chair—both bought used—and a safe set into the concrete floor. There were filing cabinets, a time clock and a bulletin board. The board contained the only personal items in the space: the first dollar Doc had made at Pizza Haven, sealed in a baggie, and a picture of his daughter, Rosalie, the one good thing to come from a marriage that had broken up many years before.

The liquor count and the sales sheet didn’t match up; the sales figures accounted for less liquor used than did the count, even with a give-or-take of five percent to account for the general inexactitude of the process. This was the third night in a month it had happened. Doc pulled a file and checked the staffing logs for those nights. There were only two employees common to all three nights: Lequoin, a kid he’d hired to bar-back about six weeks back, and Colin Davis, a.k.a. Shakespeare.

Doc scratched his belly and mulled over the matter. It was unlikely Colin was the culprit. He was too young to drink and, anyway, his job was driving, and on a motorcycle at that—not something that lent itself well to sneaking booze. Lequoin, on the other hand, was around the bar a lot, and he was so taciturn and slow-moving anyway that it would be hard to tell if he’d had a couple, unless you got right up in his face and smelled his breath.

“You’re my guy, coonass,” Doc muttered. He pulled up a number on his cell phone and hit dial. In a moment, he heard “Yo, this is Bobby Lequoin. Hit me up at the beep.”

The phone beeped. “Hey, Lequoin, this is Doc over at Pizza Haven. You’re fired. Come get your last check anytime we’re open. Merry goddamn Christmas.”

That’s a helluva cold message if it ain’t him, Doc thought, but he didn’t have any serious doubts. He trusted his instincts in these matters and was seldom wrong. And if he was by some outrageous chance wrong, he knew better than to ever admit it. He pulled an apron from a hook and headed out for the floor, pausing just long enough to look at his daughter’s picture and say a quick prayer for her. It was Christmas, so he was running with a skeleton crew and would have to do some of the heavy lifting himself.

The Dreaded Block Monster

Well, it finally happened. Writer’s block. Oh, the angst of it all.

The old first draft is starting to take a turn or two on its own and, to tell the truth, it kind of freaked me out. I didn’t know what was going to happen next and the first draft wasn’t talking.

The result? I couldn’t get my writing started. Okay, that’s not quite true. I did write a paragraph. Then I deleted it. Then I went through the sequence again. And again. And blabbity blah. Not squat did I get written in my allotted hour today.

A complete disaster, you say? That’s not the case, I’m pleased to say. I actually learned some things that—lucky you!—I will now share:

  •  It’s not the end of the world if nothing gets written on a given day. Empires won’t rise or fall. Nor municipalities, even.
  • It’s probably a good idea for me to lubricate my brain cells with a stream-o’-consciousness free write before I start hammering the brass tacks.
  • It’s wise for me to avoid writing attempts in bustling places like the coffee shop I spent my hour in today. (It’s a wonderful hangout under most other circumstances.)
  • Maybe most important, “block” is a misnomer. It’s more of a space, an empty field where ideas can grow.

The best part is, after all this spacing and learning and whatnot, I now know where the next scene is going.

So, um, yippee!

Lame ending? Well, I told you I was blocked.

By the way, here’s your reward (or punishment) for reading this post: today’s small smackerel, from the wholly unwashed first draft. smackerel 12-07-11

 

Keeping the Muse Atop the Monitor: Freedom versus Order

I tend to get obsessive over stuff.

Like writing.

If you were loose enough with your time to read the first post of this blog, you may recall I said stuff like, “I’m treating this as fun, for its own sake” and “I’m taking my time. It gets finished when it gets finished.”

For a while, all was well. I just kicked back in my chair, put my fingers on the old keyboard and told myself the story. Great fun!

But then the gremlins of perfectionism, hurry and ambition started climbing up on top of the monitor with my muse. At first I thought it was just because my muse is pretty cute and they wanted to put the moves on her. Also, no such luck. They were there to drag me down, just like they’ve always been.

“Don’t you dare leave this page until it’s better than Hemmingway! And no, Steinbeck’s not good enough,” said Perfectionism, adjusting his twisted boxers.

Hurry jumped up and down and shouted, “Four hours a week is not enough! You need to be cranking out more words per day or you’ll only have one novel finished before you’re dead! Maybe not even that!”

“This is how you’re going to show ‘em,Carson. Anybody whoever said you were less than 100% fantastic, once this baby hits the best-seller list, boy, are they going to feel small. And that’s what we want, right?” Ambition lit a cigar and blew the smoke in Muse’s face.

Day after day they kept up this nattering until I started to believe it. Poor muse was reduced to sitting next to the keyboard, having been shoved off the monitor altogether. She was miffed, of course, and spent more time sulking than helping my story along.

It’s easy to describe now, but as it was going on, I wasn’t fully aware what was happening. It’s a slippery slope one slides down into the slough of obsession.

Then, fortune smiled. I have the chance to talk to a good friend about the work and how it wasn’t going well, how it was starting to feel like an obligation instead of a lark. She wisely helped me stop talking about it and visualize what was happening. That’s when I really saw the gremlins, along with poor Muse, and realized what was going on.

I realized that my first-novel project is subject to the same tension that informs the rest of my life—the desire for spontaneous freedom versus the desire for rigid order. If the two get out of balance, it’s bad news—too much freedom and nothing gets done; too much order and creativity goes to hell.

So, what’s a wannabe novelist to do? Just three things, I think. First, remain aware of those gremlins and what they’re up to. Second, choose to keep the balance tipped in favor of spontaneity and freedom. Third, make a conscious decision at the start of every writing session to do the first two. That should keep Muse on top of the monitor, where she belongs.

I could work on a clever closing, but it’s late and I’m tired, so I’ll just say I hope this is helpful. How’s that for spontaneity and freedom?

“Rewriting”… no, “Revising”… no, “Editing”… Oh, Crud…

As I’m puttering along with this first novel of mine, I have discovered the desire to rewrite.

Already. Hooray…

One reason for this is that I’ve been listening to the audio version of Lawrence Block’s instructive Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, which is full of great teaching and humorous writing. I’ll get a notion from Mr. Block and feel I simply must apply it right away, before I lose the idea or forget how I wanted to implement it.

I also just like rewriting. For me, there’s a certain pleasure in juggling the puzzle pieces of narrative and language until they fall together in a pleasing manner. (Not that I’m doing that here, as you can probably tell.) This is probably because 1) I’m a pathological perfectionist in matters I care about 2) I’m coming back to fiction after a long hiatus and need to polish the rust off everything I write 3) I like sitting for long periods in front of a computer screen, sipping Arizona Diet Green Tea and snacking on wasabi-dusted almonds.

This is just dandy now, while I’m only about fifty pages in, but as the piece gets longer it’s going to get harder to do this sort of immediate rework. I’ll end up doing so much rewriting I’ll never make any progress on the story. At the same, I hate to set some kind of wrongheaded precedent in the early pages, follow through with it and then have to slog through fixing the whole damn thing when the first draft is done, or make an abrupt change to some story element partway through and then have to make the former part match up with the latter, again after the first draft is done. (Man, oh man, was that sentence long enough? You think?)

Keeping in mind I get to do whatever I want in the course of this enterprise, I have devised a plan. It even has phases, which as a sort of sometime development guy I am certain are bound to enhance it.

Phase 1: I’m going to slow down and spend part of my regular sessions writing new material and part revising. I’ll devote entire sessions to writing or revising, or mix them during the same session as the mood and situation strike me. I’ll keep this up until the manuscript is too long to support this method. At least then I’ll have a first part that’s somewhat fixed, which will give me less to repair at the end… in theory.

Phase 2: Once Phase 1 peters out, I’ll just move ahead and make myself notes in the text, probably cross-referenced to an appendix I’ve already got appended to the document’s end (that’s another post), for necessary details. This will probably look something like this:

Basil pushed open the double doors, only to find Penelope waiting for him, gun in hand. [set up gun in previous action]

The bit in the brackets will be hyperlinked to the appendix entry. I got the brackets idea from some science fiction writer, I think, who wrote an essay about avoiding writer’s block this way… or something like that. It was a long time ago. If you know who it was, let me know and I’ll give him or her credit in this space, which will no doubt lift his or her career to heights previously undreamed of.

I don’t know if this is going to work. There’s at least an even chance I’ll find myself in rewriting muck sometime during this process no matter what I do. That’s okay, though–as long as the green tea and almonds hold out.

Please let me know if you have better ideas! Not high bar, I’m thinking.

Oh, and as a reward (consequence?) of reading today’s post, I’ve attached what Winnie the Pooh would call a “small smackerel” of the work in progress. It’s as raw as Christoper Robin’s nose in February, not even proofread, but you’re welcome to check it out: smackerel 11-23-11.

The Writing Police Have Left the Universe

One thing I have to remind myself every time I sit down at the keyboard to story-tell is: “The Writing Police have left the universe,” or “the Writing Police have lost their funding,” or “the Writing Police have all quit to become ski instructors in Vail,” or something even sillier.

The point is, there are no Writing Police anymore, and, in fact, there never were any. Nobody is going to come haul you away in irons if your writing is lousy.

I find this a great comfort on those days I’m confident every word or combination thereof I am putting down is trash–which is pretty much every day. Once I remind myself that the Writing Police are an illusion, I can free myself to write crap–and boy, is writing crap fun! Once I get beyond getting it right and get on with getting it written, the story starts to flow.

Every writer’s Writing Police–unless he or she is blessed to be free of them anyway–are different. On some days, mine look like Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Melville and King. Three of them stare over my shoulder and curse my incompetence while the other one gets the handcuffs ready. On other days, they look like everybody I’ve ever wanted to prove myself to–quite a large crowd. They gather everywhere–behind me, on the desk, on top of my head, laughing derisively while I try to get out the next sentence. No handcuffs here–when they want to take me away, they all just grab me at once.

This literary constabulary used to bother me a good bit, but now that I’m older, and somewhat better at not giving a damn, I have discovered a way to make the Writing Police hightail it. I simply think, or even say out loud, “I shall now right the skunkiest load of crap ever known to man! Observe!” Then I start doing it. At this point, the Writing Police flee in terror–no, that’s not right–they evaporate.

Because, you see, they were never anywhere but in my head, after all. And I run that joint.

So, friends, I say to you, when the crap is flowing, let ‘er rip. Sooner or later, the gold and diamonds will come.

If you have any experience with the Writing Police, I’d love to hear about it. Thanks.

A Blockhead Again

Several years ago, I decided I hated fiction writing because:

  • It was hard. I had to make up everything and make every word a gem.
  • It kept me inside on sunny Saturday afternoons.
  • It made me stay up late or get up early when I wanted to sleep.
  • It made me sneak off to an empty conference room in the middle of the work day when I wanted to eat.
  • It made me grumpy and worried because I was sure I wasn’t good enough.
  • It took me away from my family.

All this for the privilege of collecting short-story rejections and the overwhelming probability that any novel I produced would never be published, even if it was great.

So I gave it up and vowed never to write fiction again. I chucked all my fiction-writing books and turned to drawing and painting with equal measures of passion and ineptitude. (I still love visual arts and will keep after them.) I wrote non-fiction, pursuing a blog about project management for 18 months and continuing with an already established gig writing dining reviews for The Thirty-A Review magazine. I also continued doing oral storytelling, an art I’ve practiced for about 20 years, most recently with the Carapace group in Atlanta, GA.

But, as the sage has said, “never say never.”

Recently, a couple of things happened:

  • My old college roommate, the talented Kevin McLellan (not the poet at U. of RI), completed the first draft of his first novel. This inspired me and made me think, “well, if he can do it…”
  • I learned about self-publishing on e-platforms such as the Kindle, which one can do with minimal up-front costs. This made me feel I had at least a fighting chance of finding an audience should I write a novel.

Thus, I have once again become a blockhead. I find myself at the beginning of a novel and, to quote the Craig family motto, “I have good hope.” Unlike previous attempts, this project has a decent chance of completion because:

  • I’m not “writing” this time; I’m storytelling. Deathless prose be damned. I just want to engage the audience.
  • I’m treating this as fun, for its own sake, not for fame or money or anything else.
  • Even though it’s fun, I am considering it as work.
  • Even though it’s work, I’m letting it get done organically; that is, if something more pressing than writing time–like family–comes along, so be it. Think non-attachment.
  • I’m taking my time. It gets finished when it gets finished.
  • I’m planning to keep my day job, whatever happens. No pressure.
  • I’m letting my writing muse (gremlin?) run free, instead of shoving her into some literary crack.
I’ll be sharing the work in progress in this space and I invite your comments. Please don’t feel the need to be nice or offer praise, unless it’s truly merited–I am looking to improve, not to be stroked.
And now, as Jackie Gleason used to say, “away we go!”