Onward! Even When Your Fiction Writing Stinks

02-27-13 OnwardIf I have learned anything about writing fiction this week, it’s that the magic genie comes and goes. I’m talking about the magic genie that makes your writing worth someone’s putting an eye to.

Monday was painful. I had to squeeze fiction in amongst a bunch of other stuff and what came out was corny or wooden. Tuesday was much the same. But then, on Wednesday, something happened. My imagination woke up, the cork came out of my word-bottle and the next thing you know I was writing about pirates-turned-gladiators-in-Hell and a prison where the inmates are encased in solid blocks composed of some – let me exercise some delicacy for once – especially unpleasant materials. I had action, sights, smells, characters, plot movement—joy! Thursday and Friday continued this happy pattern.

So what does this have to do with you, dear reader, who is perhaps, like me, a time-challenged part-time fictioneer?

Everything. Well, okay, a lot.

The one thing I did on each of this week’s five working days was sit down and bang out some fiction. Stinky, glorious, whatever its quality, I hammered on it. That happened for a few reasons, handily revealed by hindsight:

Habit. Over the last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve become accustomed to the routine of carving out about an hour or so five days a week to work on the not-so-great American novel. So part of getting through this last weird week was just reflex, one I’ve developed through some early discipline.

Big Picture. I kept reminding myself that this is the first draft. It’s okay for the first draft to be rough—okay, terrible—in places, or even all the way through. I’m just at step one of a lengthy, multi-step process.

Permission. I followed the advice of J. A. Konrath and gave myself permission to write crap. It never fails to surprise me how that little attitude adjustment will help you keep going.

Associative Causality. That sounds important, huh? Let’s say it again, together: “associative causality.” Ooooh. We are smart. Actually, I’m not smart enough to come up with a term to encapsulate the notion that because our thought processes proceed by associating one thing with another, that even crummy writing produces thoughts and ideas that eventually cause your brain to spit out something halfway decent. This is just a pompous, ten-dollar way of saying I realized that if I kept going, something good would happen. I just didn’t want to call it “optimism,” okay? Too cheer-leader-y.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. I hope it’s helpful. Good luck with your genies, folks.

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Overcoming Obstacles in Fiction Writing and Life

02-21-13 cellWarNotebooksI’m late to this party, but I’m going to join it, anyway.

Earlier this year, Duolit (selfpublishingteam.com) posted an article about about Julie. Julie is the author of the the Cell War Notebooks, a chronicle of her battle with cervical cancer. Julie lost her battle, leaving behind a daughter, Luka. The book is still being published and all proceeds go to Luka.

The folks at Duolit proposed that on January 31st, its community of readers write posts about overcoming an obstacle, include a link to the Cell War Notebooks, and publicize the post via social media.

I have an old friend who is suffering from cervical cancer right now. I don’t know how it will turn out and I can’t do much about it, but I can do this.

First, the link to the book: http://amzn.to/W17WN4

Now, about overcoming an obstacle…

One of the chief obstacles I find among the aspiring novelists in my writing group is time, or, rather, lack thereof. One friend has an invalid wife to care for, in addition to his day job. Another just had his first baby (with the help of his wife, of course). Another has care of her young children. We’ve all got responsibilities of one kind or another that make fitting the writing in difficult.

How to overcome this obstacle? We sacrifice something else. In my own case, I sacrifice taking a normal lunch break to relax, socialize, or catch up on work. Instead, I get away to a coffee shop, the library, or an empty conference room and spend about an hour writing. My friend with the ill wife does the same thing.

One member of our group tells a tale of when her three children were very young. She would lock herself in the bathroom for short periods and write in a legal pad braced on the toilet seat while the kids shouted for her outside. Many writers carry their work with them and write in snatches whenever the opportunity arises—at stop lights, at baseball practice, while waiting at the dentist’s office.

In the past, I despaired of writing because I was convinced I had to do it in blocks of at least two hours, so I could get warmed up and then produce a satisfactory amount. When I finally let go of my perfectionist ways and started doing what I could, instead of what some false ideal told me I should do, the creative dam broke and now I’m three-fourths and 80,000 words into my first novel’s first draft.

Before I could find time, I had to give up and attitude, an unreasonable belief, that writing had to be thus-and-so. If you’re unable to find time for your art (even if it’s not writing fiction), step back and check yourself for such an illusory barrier. If you can identify it, you can work to give it up or work around it. Then your creative work will take off. It might go more slowly, but it will go.

Finding time for writing is nowhere near the obstacle cervical cancer is. I’m grateful I don’t have to face such a thing. May all those suffering from serious illness or issues similarly daunting find healing and peace. May all those seeking time for their art overcome their blocking attitudes and find the time they need.

Keeping the Muse Atop the Monitor: Reprise

Hi, there. It’s a holiday week, so here’s a reprint!

Greek musesI 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?

Anniversary! And: Don’t Let Jerks Rob You of Writing

This post’s publishing date, November 14th, 2012, marks the one-year anniversary of Carson Craig, Nascent Novelist.

Many thanks to everybody who has stopped by to read a bit.

Special thanks to those of you who visit on a regular basis.

May your souls be in Heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

One more piece of business: I won’t be publishing the draft of the novel here anymore. You can still follow the developing story on wattpad.

And now, to the post!

Time and time again in this space, I return to the things that can keep you from writing, things like writing to please other people or not taking your time. The other day a bad memory popped into my head, as they are unfortunately wont to do, and I remembered something else you might have to overcome in your writing journey:

Jerks.

Which brings me to a story.

When I was a young man, I wanted to be a poet, or a fiction writer, or both. I had a good career as a college poet in that my poetry prof loved my work and I got a lot of my pieces published in the school’s annual literary review. After college, I spent about three years partying as much as humanly possible. Writing anything went out the window.

I discovered writing again when I stumbled into graduate school at an institution offering an MFA in Creative Writing. I started writing short fiction. The first thing I turned in, a “literary” piece, was well-received by the professor. Subsequent efforts, which were more in the lines of humor and fantasy (my favorites), not so much. Still, that first story stood out and provided the catalyst for subsequent events.

A term or two later, news arrived that a Great Literary Person (GLP) was to visit our campus and conduct a workshop. The GLP was the fiction editor of a famous magazine and was even bringing its spouse, a writer, we were told, of some note, although none of us had ever heard the name. Excitement reigned.

My excitement reigned particularly high, because my writing prof offered to submit that first literary story to the workshop. It would be read and then personally reviewed in a public forum by the GLP and spouse. Having always come out well in such situations before, I assumed this would be one more ego-fest.

Wrong!

As it turned out, my wonderful story wasn’t. The lead character’s traits mixed those of a young adult with a little kid, and so didn’t make sense. The church portrayed in the story didn’t conduct itself in a normal Episcopalian manner, so it wasn’t believable. The thing was too much like a Flannery O’Connor tale. The criticisms went on.

Nobody had ever reacted so negatively to my writing before, so I was crushed. But, looking back, it wasn’t so much the criticism itself, but the way it was delivered that squashed me.

The GLP was downright nasty, and the spouse wasn’t much better. The tone of voice they used was haughty. The words they used were loaded. They said nothing about how the work might be improved, or what merits it had, but focused exclusively on the faults. It was so bad that one of my teachers—not my writing professor, I’ll note—stood up to interrupt and defend me. I walked out of that room with my tail between my legs. Had the criticisms been leavened with some constructive advice, I think the results would have been different.

I had already slowed down my fiction writing, for reasons I won’t bore you with here, but that experience brought it to a complete halt. I allowed myself to be blown off the rails by…

Jerks.

The result was I didn’t write fiction again for many years. I made a couple of good starts that fizzled on the way to my current adventures in word-world, but really, the time between my being victimized by jerks and the happy writing practice I enjoy today is about thirty years.

Think about that.

Thirty years, never to be recovered.

Please, please, please, don’t let this happen to you! It is all too likely that you will run into jerks in your writing life who will try to run you down personally and as a writer. They’ll take great glee in ripping your work to shreds. If you can, find a way to shrug off this garbage and keep writing.

If you can’t shrug off the jerkiness, keep writing anyway. The pain will stay with you a while and you’ll feel like you’re no good, but keep writing anyway. Sooner or later, the pain will fade and what will remain is all those pages you’ve filled up—many of them pretty darn good, I’ll bet.

So, write for yourself. Write to see how the story turns out. Write for the joy of it.

Don’t lose more than half your lifetime to jerks.

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.

Good News about Ideas

Galaxy“Where do your ideas come from?”

I understand that this is often a question writers who do workshops get asked when they are giving said workshops, but it seems to me a question asked by somebody who can’t think of anything else to say. Either that, or by someone who doesn’t get a lot of ideas.

There is nothing wrong with asking a question because you couldn’t think of anyting else—at least you’re participating. And there’s nothing wrong with not getting a lot of ideas—God made all kinds of people and fewer-idea people are usually much better suited to making the practical elements of the world succeed than us creative types.

I guess it seems like a silly idea to me because I have a brain that generates lots of ideas from out of nowhere. Quite often I can just sit down at the page, start to noodle around and something comes out that, with some work, will be a story idea.

I don’t read the papers or watch TV for ideas. I have never used writing prompts, except in a class. I don’t brainstorm or mind-map.

There’s no formal process I use. If I were to put it in physical terms, ideas seem to form in my brain stem and then work their way up into the frontal lobes. From there, they fall out onto a piece of paper.

I saw a show about guitarists the other day in which Jimmy Page said ideas just come from “the creative spark.” That’s a pretty good way of putting it.

Of course, I have had some advantages that have made me a good, idea-generating writer.

I had a lousy childhood that’s tremendously helpful, because it’s given me this odd neurotic psychological energy that transforms old pain into new ideas. The same goes for a difficult adolescence and early adulthood.

I have an introverted personality, so I don’t talk a lot, and yet I want to say many things, so a lot of that ends up in writing ideas and actual writing. Introverts also are comfortable doing the sort of staring into space that often gives birth to new notions.

I’m well into middle age, so I’ve gotten enough perspective and help by now to realize that every idea doesn’t have to be great or even good; that helps them flow more freely.

So, I’m neurotic, too quiet for most purposes and old. Who would have guessed all those things would have given me a better idea fountain and made me a better writer? Funny how all that stuff that might have been so bad has turned to good.

I am grateful to a beneficent universe. I think I’ll go stare into it for a while.

Writing a Stubborn Scene

Writing the Stubborn Scene

This week I had a struggle with a scene in my nascent novel, Thin Spots. It’s a pivotal point in the plot, where the hero finds out he’s not just a soul trapped in Hell by mistake; rather, he has a comatose body on Earth to which he can return. There’s a lot of information to be presented and I figured the best way to do it was in dialogue between the hero, Colin Davis, and the angel who screwed up and landed him in Hell, a character named Sakamiel.

As usual when I struggle with a portion of the book, I learned some things to share in this space.

Be prepared to retrofit. For this expositional scene to make sense, I had to go back and plug some events into a couple of preceding scenes. For instance, Sakamiel gives Colin the news that his body is in a coma back on Earth and that there’s a chance he can return to it. How would old Sak know all this? As things originally stood, he couldn’t, so I altered a previous scene to show Sakamiel’s boss relaying the coma story to him and I altered another to indicate that Sakamiel was doing research that would uncover facts about Colin’s being able to reunite with his body.

Outline for clarity. I didn’t just want to convey information in this scene. I wanted to show that the information had set Colin on a new course of action. That meant I had to arrange the dialogue so it built from the least arresting matters to the most arresting and ended with Colin’s making a decision. I tried simply writing the dialogue a couple of times, but it just rambled. To tighten things up, I made a bulleted list of the points I wanted to make and then arranged them in the most interesting sequence. It was a miniature beat sheet just for this chunk of dialogue. Once that was done, I was able to write the scene to my satisfaction.

Keep going… and retrofit again, if necessary! The day after writing draft one of this post, I started work on the scene after this troublesome one. Lo and behold, I discovered that to make the subsequent scene work the way I wanted it to, I would have to go back and rejigger the stubborn scene yet again! So, with a little carping, I backed up and did the work. Thank goodness I did—both scenes are better than they would have been otherwise.

Let go of perfection. I keep learning this lesson over and over again. Even with all the effort I’ve described, the scene still doesn’t quite ring like it ought to. I was very tempted to keep working on it until it was just right, but then I remembered the old mantra “don’t get it right, just get it written.” The scene is good enough as it is and I will be revisiting it during the rewrite anyway, so it’s time to move on. The niggling pursuit of perfection slows you down, leads to writer’s block and, most important, sucks the fun out of everything! So I’m letting this puppy go for now and happily moving on.

If you’re interested in reading this scene, keep an eye on the Friday excerpts; it’ll be coming up in several weeks.

The Writer’s Disadvantage

Native American StorytellerI have been a writer of one stripe or another for a long time, but I’ve been a performer for even longer. I became a theater kid when I was 10 and didn’t let up until I was out of college. Not long after college, I was the lead singer in a little soft-rock band in Memphis. That didn’t last long, but it was great fun. I got involved in working my way out of poverty after that and so didn’t perform for a long time, until I was comfortably ensconced in the cubical of a technical writer. It was then I discovered oral storytelling, a craft that allows for loose story composition and offers a lovely lack of long rehearsals. I’m still doing that when I have the chance.

The thing all these performing activities have in common is that they put you right in front of your audience. This gives you some great advantages when you’re trying to entertain people.

For one thing, you get instant feedback. If people laugh, or gasp, or lean forward, or even stop talking for a couple of minutes to listen or watch, you know you’re on the right track. If you’re in the groove, there’s a weird ethereal connection between you and the audience. You can feel each other.

For another thing, you have many tools of communication at your disposal. You have body movement, facial expression, tone and volume of voice and personal appearance to name just a few off the top of my head. You might have music, too.

When we create fiction, the goal is to get the same audience reactions the performer does—laughter, tears, attention, dollars in the tip jar (sales, that is). Alas for us, we have precious little to work with—just words on a page. I am conscious of this, at some level, whenever I write to entertain and I am forever astounded at the facility with which some practitioners to weave a spellbinding tale using only this system of symbols, devoid of any other ornament.

How can I make a prosperous journey to that lofty height of writer-dom? Here’s what I tell myself:

  • Don’t worry about it. If you worry about it you’ll just get wrapped around the axle.
  • Practice. Write as much as you can and have some discipline about it.
  • Read. Check out the acknowledged greats and the obscure folks, too. Include poetry.
  • Write poetry. Poetry demands the most of your vocabulary and your ear for language. Make it something that demands careful word choice, something with structure. Haiku is good for this.
  • Get support. Join a writing group or groups, with real people or online, preferably both.
  • Read it out loud. Does the piece work as an oral story? If not, maybe the language needs fixing, or the story itself. This is a great way to ferret out typos, too.
  • Imagine telling it live. When you’re writing, it’s sometimes fun to imagine you’re telling the tale to an audience. Try it, maybe you’ll like it.

This is all stuff that works for me. I hope you’ll find something here to help you overcome the writer’s lack of resources. I mean, overcoming that lack is half the fun, right?

Getting It Right Enough

Cat says "What absolute twaddle."I recently came upon a section, the first one featuring Tanya—waitress, shaman and romantic interest extraordinaire—as the viewpoint character, that I just couldn’t turn loose. I didn’t want to get wrapped up in making it perfect, but I needed it to be good enough to build more story on top of.

In seemed to me that most of the writers I’d read or heard from said that its best to forge onward, full steam ahead, no matter what. Roz Morris even advises leaving your typos to be corrected later on. Lawrence Block is the only writer I’ve heard that advocates getting it right, or at least as right as possible, the first time around.

I originally started the section with Tanya in her apartment, getting a visit for shamanic services from a timid little man named Mr. Thomas. Mr. Thomas had nothing to do with the story otherwise and was really only there to discover lead character Colin’s inert body in the bathtub, hopefully causing the reader to ask what happens next. The scene dragged on and I kept thinking, “Get to the bathroom already, you sap!” Besides that, I realized that if Mr. Thomas showed up in the story now, I was going to have to clean him up later on.

So I 86’d Mr. Thomas before finishing the section. On to round two.

With Thomas gone, now I could bring in Doc, a character who shows up in the first section, who interests me and who I know is going to figure into the greater scope of the novel. That felt better. I could delve into Doc’s character a bit and build a relationship between him and Tanya that would round out her character, too. I got further into the section, but stopped again before it was done. There was something wrong I couldn’t put my finger on at first, but at last my finger landed… in giant pile of twaddle.

The section was dripping with useless babble. My favorite example is a fairly lengthy description of a sort of river of light. That sounds a little cool, maybe, but then hippos and chimaeras and stuff start to float by in it and it’s just ridiculous. More important, it was completely unnecessary. I went back again, stripped out the twaddle and finished the section with Doc discovering the inert Colin. (Not dead, just inert—let’s be clear here.)

What with all this rewriting, I was fearing that was slipping back into my old habits of perfectionism, but after some reflection I had a little epiphany. I wasn’t worrying about the beauty of the writing or the typos or any of that while I was reworking, and that’s the kind of thing the writers I consulted warn about. Instead, I was solving a story problem, the kind of thing that’s sure to crop up again and again as I cobble together this novel. And I’ve even left the solution a bit clumsy—as I think the writing authorities would say I should—it will need plenty of polish later on.

Now I can move on with the story feeling like I’m building on a solid foundation, because I didn’t get the section just right, I just got it right enough.

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)