No More Posting the Draft

Rubber stamp marked draft

For a long time, I was posting regular excerpts of my nascent novel, Thin Spots, in this space. More lately, I’ve had the draft up on Wattpad and invited you kind readers to view it there.

Well, not anymore. I took the draft down from Wattpad a few days ago and am pretty sure I’ll keep it off, because, as I’ve been working through the draft lately, the idea of thrusting version 1.0 into the public eye has seemed more and more lame.

First of all, it’s a first draft, full of errors, from typos to plot holes you could fly a zeppelin through. The more I think about it, the less I want that to be the first impression people have of my writing. It’s better, I think, to wait until the thing is fully baked and then cast it upon the waters.

Secondly, and more important, is that having the draft out there started me worrying about how many people were reading it, why or why not and how I could get more people to give it a look. I was slowly slipping away from writing the very thing I wanted, for the enjoyment of the thing, and into writing to please everybody else. As I’ve said here before, that could be the death of the process for me.

Third is the problem of major changes. I have revamped the first three or four chapters and some of the changes ripple through the rest of the book. Do I make all those changes now and re-post all those chapters, or leave that until later and hope readers understand when, say, characters who were around in chapter six (pre-major change) aren’t around in chapter 45 (post-major change) when clearly they should be, at least as far as the reader knows? It gets messy and, frankly, I’d rather spend the little spare time I have writing than reorganizing everything, writing catch-ups and what not.

My only worry is that there are a few people out there that really were following the draft and would like to continue. If there are any such people (this may be looking for the lost tribes of Israel), and you are one of them, please write me at coolcarsoncraig@gmail.com and I’ll put you on a mailing list.

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10 Bogus Reasons for Not Writing Your Novel

No ExcusesWhen I look through the wonder that is the Amazon Kindle store and other online literary emporia, I’m flabbergasted by the number of novels out there. After I’ve been flabbergasted for a while, I have a cup o’ joe to calm down a bit. Then I start thinking about something else—the number of novels that aren’t there, but could be. These poor little guys are in people’s heads as concepts, in desk drawers as partially-finished manuscripts to be picked up one day, in city dumps or recycling centers where they were tossed by folks who just gave up.

Do you have a novel that’s languishing for lack of attention? You have your reasons for neglecting it, of course… but maybe they’re bogus! Check this list and see if any bogus reasons are yours.

10. You Don’t Have Talent. If you’ve got the yen to write a novel at all, it’s a sign you have some kind of talent. Maybe it’s a talent for pretty prose, or artful plotting, or just sitting back and letting rip with a good yarn. But you won’t know until you try, will you? Talent needs to be developed. If you have that urge to novelate, the ability to generate that emotion is your talent. Nurture that by writing and it may develop into more and greater talents.

9. Your Story Ideas Aren’t Good Enough. Good enough for who? If your ideas are good enough to keep you entertained while you’re writing, that’s all you need. Nothing will sustain you through the long course of a novel like enthusiasm for the project for its own sake. And who is telling you the ideas don’t cut it? Some long-dead teacher? A parent? Tell these ghosts in your head, “Thank you for your opinion. I embrace it and now I let it go, because you are just a ghost in my head, and I can have a big glass of wine when I’m done and you can’t—ha, ha, ha!” And then write.

8. It’s Self-Indulgent. We’re so often taught that doing something for ourselves is selfish and bad, especially if it doesn’t result in money or a mowed lawn or something. Let me remind you that the seventh habit of highly effective people (Stephen Covey) is to Sharpen the Saw; that is, to get away from the grind and do something that enriches your brain. That’s what writing does. Besides, if writing makes you happier, isn’t that good for everybody around you? You bet it is.

7. You Need a Certain Environment. Okay, I know we’re all tired of hearing about her, but J.K. Rowling wrote at least the first Harry Potter book in several Edinburgh cafes . I know one author who, when her three kids were all tiny, would lock herself in the bathroom, put her pad on the toilet seat and write while the three little ones were banging on the door. If you try, you can write almost anywhere; maybe not as much or as well as you like, but you can do it.

6. You Have Writer’s Block. I believe that writer’s block is real. It’s happened to me, in a small way, when I tried to write everything beautifully the first time around, or when I tried to write for somebody else. It’s also happened to me when I didn’t have an adequate plan for what I was writing. If I have a plan, I don’t write myself into a corner and get blocked trying to figure out how to write myself out. Once I gave up perfection, started writing to please myself, and started planning everything, my blocks went away.

5. Your Novels Always Flame Out. We’re back to planning again. Your novels flame out because they have no plan, so they get out of control and crash into the trackless wastes of Not-Written-Land. As a seat-of-the-pants, non-planning writer, I have flamed out on at least three novels. These days, I use a plan and I am farther along that I’ve ever gotten before. What’s more, I’m confident I’ll finish. Make that flight plan, gang, and you won’t crash.

4. A Novel is Too Big. I wholeheartedly agree. A novel is too big for any sane human to take it on. All those characters, settings, events, details… it boggles the mind. But what if you only had to write one page? You can do that, right? That’s how a novel is written: one page at a time. The pages add up and become your novel. It’s almost as miraculous as compound interest.

3. It’s too Hard to Get Published. I agree with this one, too, if you’re talking about traditional publishing. Not only do you have to write a great novel, you have to hope it gets to the agent or editor when he or she is in the right frame of mind for your kind of story. That could be five minutes of every day. But all is not lost, because now you can e-publish yourself for minimal cost. Yes, you have to do the marketing yourself, but you’d probably wind up doing most of that anyway. And the royalties are light-years better.

2. You Don’t Have Time. True, time is limited for most of us. We have jobs. We have families. But how much time is “time”? You could probably plan a beat on a beat sheet, or write a summary paragraph for a scene, or a piece of a scene itself, in ten minutes. Writing in dribs and drabs like this certainly makes the work go more slowly, but if you put the time in, the work will also go forward. There’s no hurry.

And the number one bogus reason for not writing your novel is:

1. You’ll Do It When…  If you look around on the internet you can find a novelty item that’s a round disc with the non-word “tuit” on it. Get one of these and then you’ll be able to do all those things you were going to do when you finally got a round tuit. We want to wait until we’re retired, or when the kids are out of diapers—until all the conditions are right before we jump into the novel. Why? Did you wait until everything was perfect to go to college? To try your first beer? To ask that cute girl or guy on a date? To get your first… well, never mind. The point is, we do lots of huge things in life without waiting around. You can do the same with your novel. Start now! Life is short. Who knows, tomorrow you might get run over by a muscle car and end up in a coma. Like the hero of my novel, which I am writing… now.

Personal Goals for Writing

Writing GoalsA long time ago, when I was single and much more carefree (but much less happy), I set a writing goal of eight hours each week. My schedule was three hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and two hours sometime over the weekend. I kept it up for a year and at the end of that time had a short story published for the first time. For the curious, the story was “Homefield,” published in the summer, 1997 volume of The South Carolina Review.

As a result of this small success, I am a big believer in writing goals.

The flip side of this success story is that “Homefield” is not just the first short story I ever published, it’s also the last. About a month before the acceptance letter came I had given up writing fiction as a waste of time. By the time the letter came, I’d had a month for discouragement and laziness to set in and that was that. I’m rather ashamed of throwing in the towel, but there it is.

As a result of that fumble and later reflection on it, I am a big believer in not giving up. Make that a lot of later reflection. Make that a lot of later reflection and a spate of writing later on, after which I also gave up.

Now I’m writing again and I’m a shade wiser than I was before. I think. I hope.

I still believe in having production goals for writing, but I think now that each writer has to set his or her own type, be it a certain amount of time devoted, a number of words written, a certain project milestone reached on time, or whatever else might suit. For me, it’s time. If I hit my five hours a week, I’m happy.

I’m also a huge believer in flexibility and non-attachment for goals. If your goals just aren’t going to work with the more important priorities in your life one week, make up for it next week or simply let it go altogether. I know this thought might be nearly sacrilegious to some, but if I didn’t take this approach I wouldn’t be able to write at all—I’d be too uptight.

I have also come to see that a writer mustn’t give up. Nobody ever got readers by not writing anything. I have three things that keep me going.

For one thing, I told people I was going to write a novel and started posting chapters of the rough draft on my blog. If I give up somewhere along the way, I’m going to look pretty stupid and I’m as opposed to embarrassment as the next guy.

Making peace with the possibility of stopping once again helps me keep going. If I burn out, yes, I’ll be embarrassed, but the world won’t end and there will still be plenty of love and fun in my life. Having the freedom to fail helps keep the bung out of my creative keg.

Lastly (is that really a word?), although I would love to have readers (witness the excerpts posted every Friday in this space) I am doing the writing just to tell myself the story and to see if I can master the challenge of just finishing. The joy of sitting down to see what happens next keeps me coming back to the old keyboard.

I don’t know if this philosophy will work for every writer, but it’s working for me so far. Back in the days of yore, there was a band called .38 Special, as in the pistol. They had a hit song with the lyrics “hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” Maybe that, in a nutshell, is the best way to have writing goals without them making you crazy.

Writing Lessons from Reading: “Letters from Hades” by Jeffrey Thomas

Letters from Hades coverI found Letters from Hades by googling “novels set in hell.” You get a pretty good list that way. The story is presented as the journal of a man condemned to Hell for suicide. The journal itself is another condemned soul who has been formed into the cover of a book with an eye in its center. The eye sees and reacts to the action during the novel, which is just one of the interesting things Thomas brings to the tale.

I enjoyed this novel and I found some writing lessons, positive and negative, in its pages. Let’s get to them.

Use striking images. The novel begins with the line “On my fifth day in Hell, I found a praying mantis.” It’s an ordinary creature in a bizarre location, which grabs your attention. Thomas takes off from here with a description of his environs with sentences like “When the rain was over, the grounds of the university steamed with scarlet pools and there were even squirming, flopping eels and jellyfish in those pools that I realized were actually organs and entrails.” Vivid, eh? Notice how the description is packed with verbs and nouns.

Vividly imagine the setting and use it to support the story’s action. This lesson is an extension of the previous one. Regardless of where the protagonist wanders in this story, the setting is always played up, almost like a character itself. After his arrival in the city of Oblivion, the narrator describes a “…tower that seemed to support the molten sky like a column. Where most of the large skyscrapers had windows, housing either citizens or perhaps the Demonic class of Oblivion, this one had not a single pane, and its flanks were entirely formed of intricately woven black machinery heavily scabbed in corrosion like dried blood. Further, this machine building thrummed, gonged, chattered, whined, rang, chittered, hissed, rumbled, causing its immediate environs to vibrate. Steam billowed out of vents along its great height, curling like specters escaping from a gargantuan funereal obelisk.” This one building represents the oppressive feel of the entire city and the city itself lends its darkness to everything that happens there. You get the feeling that the things that happen there could happen nowhere else.

In a love relationship, try getting lovers from opposite sides. One of the best-known examples of this idea is “Romeo and Juliet,” I suppose. In Letters from Hades, the protagonist and a female demon named Chara fall in love and run away together. The fact that they are from such vastly different sides of the track and that most of the characters around them are against the relationship ratchets up the tension in the novel, so it keeps you turning pages.

In a first-person narrative, let the reader know the protagonist’s name. I wouldn’t call this a hard and fast rule—not that any of these are, of course—it’s just a touch I think enables the reader to connect with the lead character a little more. There’s no need to repeat it over and over—maybe just once or twice. It seems like this would help with verisimilitude, too—the lead is often in conversation—how likely is it nobody would ever say his name?

Avoid a flat narrative; be sure to have a beginning, middle and end, with a climax in there somewhere. The one objection I have to this novel is that there doesn’t seem to be any climax. It goes something like this: 1) Lead gets indoctrinated 2) Lead wanders, meets female demon 3) Lead goes to Oblivion City 4) Lead and demon fall in love 5) Things start to go badly in Oblivion City 6) Lead and demon escape Oblivion City and go elsewhere; the end. While this novel has several interesting points of conflict along the way, there’s never that big moment where everything is on the line, the situation looks hopeless for our hero, but then at the last instant, our hero prevails.

Jeffrey Thomas has written several novels, including Deadstock, which was a finalist for the John W. Campbell award and Monstrocity, a finalist for the Bram Stoker award. Clearly, the guy is no slouch. I learned a lot from reading Letters from Hades and I imagine I’ll be dipping into the J. Thomas canon in the future.

Ty Johnston Interviews Kron Darkbow

Fantasy writer Ty Johnston is touring the blogosphere this month, in part to promote his latest e-book novel, Demon Chains, but also because he loves blog touring. His other fantasy novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and Ghosts of the Asylum, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online atSmashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his blog tyjohnston.blogspot.com. Below, Ty interviews Kron Darkbow, the main character of most of his fantasy writings.

Ty: Hello, Kron. Been a while since we’ve seen one another.

Kron: Hrrm.

Ty: What’s that supposed to mean?

Kron: It means you are wasting my time, and it means it has not been that long since we have seen one another. You were just proofreading the Demon Chains novel.

Ty: Well, yeah, but I guess I meant it’s been a while since we were … uh … writing together. After all, it’s been a month or so since I finished writing Demon Chains.

Kron: Fine. Be on your way, then.

Ty: But I just got here!

Kron: Which means you can turn right around and leave.

Ty: Why are you being this way? Why so obstinate?

Kron: You created me. You should know.

Ty: Um, well, I realize you probably don’t like me very much.

Kron: True.

Ty: But I guess it’s not because I put you in perilous situations.

Kron: Again, true.

Ty: You probably don’t like me because —

Kron: Because you are wasting my time.

Ty (smirking): Oh, yeah? What else do you have to do? I’m the one who sends you off on your adventures, and since finishing Demon Chains, I’ve yet to send you on another one.

Kron: Just because you are not forcing me to face down demons, cannibals or dark wizards does not mean I do not have other things to do. In fact, I have better things to do than talk with you.

Ty (whining): But I’m your creator!

Kron: You are also a writer, which is a notoriously wasteful way to spend one’s life.

Ty: What do you mean?

Kron: What, exactly, do you do to make the world a better place? Do you go out of your way to help your fellow man? Do you —

Ty: Now hold on a minute! I might spend my days and nights in front of a keyboard, but I try to entertain others with my prose, and from time to time I try to say something important about humanity, the universe, etc.

Kron: Which accomplishes nothing. Words, words and more words.

Ty: There’s nothing wrong with trying to entertain people!

Kron: Except you could be out there saving lives.

Ty: Well, excuse me if I’m not two hundred pounds of solid muscle with a big sword hanging on my back, and trained in the arts of melee from a dozen different nations!

Kron: You forgot about my years of training in alchemy, languages, and all manners of thwarting magic.

Ty: Yeah, you’re a regular Batm —

Kron: Don’t say it!

Ty: Say what?

Kron: You know what! Bruce and I are only distantly related. I am not based upon him.

Ty: I guess. I suppose you also have a little Frank Castle in you, and some Mack Bolan. Maybe even a smidgen of Max Rockatansky.

Kron: I have no idea who those people are.

Ty: That’s what Wikipedia is for. Look it up.

Kron: What?!? Look, I have to go. There are street scum needing beaten up, and monsters that need killing.

Ty: I suppose you’re the man for the job.

Kron: I am.

Ty: Okay, okay. I get the picture.

Kron: The what?

Ty: Nevermind. Maybe you’ll find out some day if I ever send you into the future or into my world.

Kron (grinning, all teeth): That would be interesting.

Ty: How so?

Kron: Because then I could hunt down you.

Ty (gulping): Okay, uh … that’s enough for the day, I think. We’ve taken up enough space on Carson’s blog. Um, Carson, thanks for putting up with our nonsense, and I look forward to any replies to this post.

Kron: You forgot to say goodbye, idiot.

Ty: Okay. Goodbye, idiot.

Kron: Hrrm.

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:

No Time to Waste! Writing for Its Own Sake

The following quote appears on author Tom Vowler’s blog, How to Write a Novel, as something to ponder:

“Write a bad short story and you’ve wasted two weeks; write a bad novel, you’ve wasted two years.”

Tom’s a published novelist, and I’m trying to learn, so I pondered. After I’d pondered a while, I decided that, while this blog is full of useful insights, pithily posed, I disagreed with this particular tidbit.

Specifically, I don’t believe any time spent writing is a waste, if you’re writing for the right reasons, which I am, of course, perfectly qualified to define (pause for snickers from the readership).

If you’re writing primarily to please anyone else, then time spent on unsuccessful–that is, unread–pieces will indeed be wasted. Write for money, write for fame, write so your mom will be proud, write to see your name someplace besides on your checks and you’re dependent on the approval of others to get pleasure out of your writing.

Because you can’t get the approval of others until your writing’s done, all the research, planning and wordsmithing are not done for their own sake, they’re done with the hope of a reward later on. And if you’re chasing a reward from other people, you’re in grave danger of trying to conform to their preferences instead of to your own artistic vision.

If you’re writing for yourself, enjoying the process for its own sake, you’ll never waste your time. I’m working on my first novel and here’s what I’ve found so far:

> Research is fun if you stay open and curious. I read come of the Aeneid, which I’d never bothered with before, as part of my prep for this project and it was great stuff. I renewed my acquaintance with Dante’s Inferno.

> Plotting is just a big game where you take pieces and try to fit them together.  It’s also full of surprises as the story takes shape and you figure out that B has to happen for A, which you thought of before, to make sense.

> Writing is the process of telling yourself a story for your own amusement and personal growth. In Stephen King’s novel, Misery, the hero, who’s a writer, gets through the ordeal by writing his novel to see what happens next. Even if you’ve outlined your novel from stem to stern, it’s going to develop organically and take unexpected twists, and it’s great fun figuring out the adjustments you have to make.

Am I a twisted masochist? Maybe so, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. Sure, I want my novel to be clever and beautiful, and sure I want it to bring pleasure to untold thousands of readers, but if I focus on those things I’ll squash the pleasure of what I am doing right now.

What I am doing now is crafting the first draft of a novel called Thin Spots (for now), about a guy whose soul ends up in Hell by mistake while he’s in a coma. The whole process, even when it’s hard, is a joy; not a moment have I wasted.

(For Technorati: K3WK6GYZ7REH)

The Fictive Dream versus The Leaf Blower

Today, I’m going to swipe an idea of the late John Gardner’s. I had the pleasure of meeting him once when I was but a callow college lad. He was a fine writing teacher and I’m proud to spread his wisdom in this space.

Mr. Gardner had a notion he call “the fictive dream.” In The Art of Fiction, he writes, “In the writing state—the state of inspiration–the fictive dream springs up fully alive: the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols.”

If the writer is true to his dream, his words will provide his readers the same experience. They will fall into a sort of dream state in which they are living the story along with the characters. If you’ve ever been engrossed in a work of fiction, you know what I mean.

Now, what if you’re asleep, and you’re having a great dream, and your neighbor starts his freakin’ leaf blower about two feet from your window? You’re jolted out of it, right? The experience is ruined.

Something similar happens when a writer screws up grammar, at least if the reader is aware of the problem, which isn’t always the case, I realize.

I’ve been reading a couple of very talented self-published Kindle authors lately, with genuine enjoyment, but they keep shocking me out of the dream state with their inability to use the verb “lie,” as in “lie down,” correctly.

I’m dreaming along and I run into something like, “He was exhausted after the chase and decided to lay down.”

Aiiee! Leaf blower! It should be “decided to lie down.” A person does not lay down. My dream is interrupted by the error. I’m jolted awake and forced to acknowledge I’m just reading a story. The sense of reality is gone. The writer has defeated his or her purpose. (For the complete poop on this verb, just go to dictionary.com or someplace similar.)

Perfect grammar isn’t always desirable for a writer. In fact, bending or outright breaking the rules can be a great way to achieve effects.

The problem comes about when a writer makes an unintended error out of carelessness or ignorance and it’s egregious enough for the reader to notice.

“To lie” might not really be a problem for much longer. It’s getting increasingly common to mix it up with “to lay.” Many people don’t even notice the error, I’m sure. After a while, we might see a change in usage that makes “I’m going to lay down” perfectly acceptable outside southern Mississippi.

Until then, I hope writers everywhere, especially the self-published ones who rely on their own resources, will proofread carefully and continually upgrade their vocabularies. Keep those readers dreaming, folks–please.

That’s all. I have done lied down the law.

Oh, and let me lay this smackerel of Thin Spots (totally unedited rough draft) on you: smackerel 12-14-11

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?