The October Wind-Up, November Goals

October went pretty well. My goals were to finish critiques (big check…there were ten of those buggers) and to finish the rough draft of FJR. I am four chapters shy. But! I still have until November 5th, when I meet my fellow pirate bloggers to finish that up. Since I finished the biggest, chunkiest chapter on Saturday night (see That Hurt…) I am hopeful that a measly four chapters can be done and I’ll have finished my October-and-a-week-goals.

So, assuming that everything until Nov 5 goes good, heres the goals for November:
1. To cheat at NaNoWriMo. The ‘winning’ requirement is 60,000 words. After finishing my other novel, I don’t feel like jumping into anything quite that large. I’m going to shoot for 20,000-30,000 words using:
The Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan (This box is really cool, you find out who your protagonist is by spinning a wheel, you keep your story moving by using ‘non-sequitor’ sticks…my goal is to have fun with this and write something completely random. Who knows what I’ll get?) So, I won’t do the word count for NaNo, nor will I really come up with key points for the story…if that’s not cheating I don’t know what is.
2. To finish the critiques (again!)–there are eight this time around. However, I’m thinking this month, instead of getting them all out of the way early, I’ll do the time-honored tradition of procrastinating until the last minute.

That Hurt…

Last night I woke up at 2:30 and could not go back to sleep for the life of me. I stayed awake and watched the alarm clock tick away. Ever have one of those nights?

But that’s not the only masochistic piece of me. Oh, no.

I tried to take a nap this afternoon and that didn’t work out. Instead, I decide, in all my brilliance, to write a submission for the Sunday group (for tomorrow…). Then I decide that what would be even better than that would be to write the stand-alone-ish part of FJR and submit that. Unfortuantely, in my head this was supposed to be one of the longer chunks. Well, hell, I said to myself, just go ahead and get-r-done. So from 5:00 until about now, when I have finished printing out the last page, I have turned out fifteen pages.

Don’t oohh and ahh. That frickin hurt. And I’m sure it will be reflected in the critiques. Thank Goodness that I have to wait a month to hear them. =)

Writer’s Marathon Results…Part 2

I like to think of this one as: “The Birth of the Land Pirates’ Captain De Foe”

(Consider this a character sketch for a future novel character…)

“Once there was a dashing young man who was commandeered into His Majesty’s Navy. The young man’s dashing good looks were eventually dashed onboard ship. Scurvy took his finger and toe nails. A seemingly endless diet of turtle soup took part of his lower intestine and any liking for liquid foods–like soup. But he did learn a great deal about mizzening masts and hoisting main sails. One day, he and the crew of The Happy Charleton (named for the king) committed mutiny and became hideous sea pirates of the variety with no teeth or discernable table manners. Eventually, however, the young-yet-no-longer-dashing man, who made himself Captain of The Happy Charleton, grew weary of vomitting over the side of the ship but did not want to give up the life of pirating and riches he had grown accustomed to. So, he hatched a plan. The crew would take The Happy Charleton ashore. The ship, vast and mighty as it was, would be loaded and rolled along the trunks of felled trees. Instead of other ships, Captain and crew would plunder castles and manors.”

Writer’s Marathon Results…Part 1

A writer’s marathon is not physically taxing. Let’s just say that. However, there are elements that definitely test one’s endurance. Using the places that you travel to as an influence, for one.

Lynette, our host for the Pueblo Writing Marathon–part of the Southern Colorado Writing Project and All Pueblo Reads–did not make us use the library as a means for inspiration, however. Instead, she read an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, to get out creative juices flowing.

Because I’m not too worried about selling the rights to the work I did yesterday, I have decided to go ahead and post them as my writing samples, for now. After all, having a writing blog with nothing to back up my claims as a creative writer seems weird. So, here is my response to Lynette’s choice of excerpt:

“The Mississippi River has mosquitoes that swarm, like clouds sometimes when the weather’s just right. On evenings like that, before the sun fully sets and the cool night breezes blow in to wash the buggers away, he has a hard time imagining why he left a home with a roof. As the skeets bite away on his exposed toes–the socks had rotted away over the skin–he looks westward. Somewhere in California his wife and daughter would soon make dinner, probably cursing his name–which he can’t seem to remember now, like part of his identity disappeared when he left them. He watched a mosquito land on his arm among the fine, dark hairs and he flexed his muscle, holding the little bugger there. Blood pooled into the mosquito and after a moment the small creature stirred with a tiny beat of wings. Then, as the mosquito burst, blood leaked onto his arm.”

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 3: Revision Time

“Now let’s say you’ve finished your first draft….You’ve done a lot of work and you need a period of time (how much or little depends on the individual writer) to rest. Your mind and imagination—two things which are related, but not really the same—have to recycle themselves, at least in regard to this one particular work.” Stephen King, On Writing

Space. Distance. Time.

Now that I’m approaching the end of FJR’s rough draft I’m having flashbacks to the first novel I finished (in rough draft form). Intimidation? You betcha. That monster is about 600 pages long and it needs to be about half that size.

Deb recently asked about what to do when you want to throw your book across the room, out the window, down the street, and into the harbor…okay I added the last couple bits with some help from Finding Nemo.

My answer: wait, grasshopper—is greatly inspired by my first novel experience. I wrote that book definitely thinking it was my “big break.” There would be advances and accolades. Life would be good. I had no idea how much work it would be to revise that whole damn thing. When I began the initial revising (without waiting, yes, initially I blew off the mentor’s advice…) I hated the stupid story, the stupid characters, the stupid stupidity of the whole mess. So I boxed the dumb thing, went to college so that I had to read and write a ton of stuff that had nothing to do with the novel. Wrote a bunch of short stories and poems. After two years, years (!), I looked at it again.

It was less scary. There were scenes that definitely needed to be there to tell the story. The rest was (I should say is because I haven’t really revised it yet either) just extra stuff that needs to be cut out. I made a list of important scenes and, one day, if I decide that it’s worth revising and not just a ‘practice novel’, I’ll have a great place to start.

Things I learned from that sorta-revising process? How to streamline scenes. The novel I’m about to finish is much shorter…maybe I’ve overcompensated? We’ll see. And I learned that I need time.

When the first draft is finished, I plan to hand it out to my first reader gang, but I refuse to talk about it, or read their actual critiques, until at least March. That’s more than King’s recommended six weeks but I’m not as experienced as him. It’s just fact. I need a little more distance so that when the time comes, I’ll be ready to fix what needs to be fixed in a creative, good kinda way.

A Planned Reading Spree

After I finish the rough draft of FJR, I have planned to go on a reading spree. But, I’m having trouble deciding which stack of books to read.

Stack 1: Stuff that I just wanted to read. These are in no particular order by no particular people, just books I thought seemed interesting and picked up off the shelf.

Stack 2: Reading that is meant to get me prepped for my next novel-writing endeavour. These are books (I still want to read them…very important to note) that I think are similar to what I want to accomplish with the next book.

The mind frame is different while reading. One is a much more conscious thing with special attention to style, etc. The other is more T.V. watching–but since they’re books then there’s still the lit element. You see what I’m saying? How to pick?

Authors Who Have Humbled Me

Among writers there is a tendency to be like that old actor joke:
Q: How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: One. And seven more to stand around and say “I could have done that better.” (now insert ‘writer’ for ‘actor’)

The truth is, that just ain’t so. We did not have thier original ideas. We did not have their life skills, their writing ability, or their je ne sais quoi. So, we really need to give some writers their due.

The following list is compiled of authors that made me sit up and go “I could never in a million years do that!” The list is nowhere near comprehensive….

1. Stephen King. The Stand. Just the scope of this monsterous book was humbling. You pick it up and it’s like weight lifting. Then there’s the story itself. Huge and gothic and religious in scope. Impressive.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri. Short story, “The Third and Final Continent.” Even the title gives me goosebumps. Then it was so quiet and subtle. I am subtle like a jackhammer. Quite frankly, if I ever wrote anything that remotely resembled this story…I’d die a happy writer.
3. Chuck Palahniuk. Haunted. Holy crap. It was disgusting. It was gross. It was hilarious. It was some weird car-wreck-train-wreck-with-bus-full-of-school-children-over-a-cliff-while-skydiving kind of ride. You couldn’t look away.
4. Anne Bronte. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The magic of this story happens in the time period in which it was written. A woman taking her child and running from an abusive husband. Happens in a lot of movies nowadays, but in Victorian England? That took some guts. The style of writing reminded me of Jane Austen writing about something other than a safe marriage. Cool.
5. J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter. I may have wanted to finish the sucker, and I may have called just about every important point in that last book, but I could never have come up with the wizarding world. Just couldn’t have done it. Period.
6. Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Nope, could never, ever, in a million-plus years have put something like this together. I’m not even done with it and know that.

That’s the beginning of my list. Anyone else?

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 2: The Commandment

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” –Stephen King, On Writing

Time for a little self-evaluation: Do you follow this train of thought?

For the first part, the reading, I think that I do pretty okay. Currently, however, (and I blame J.K. Rowling for this) I have gone through a ‘reading block’. I did not think something like this could happen. I mean, how do you not read? Just pick up the book, open the cover and let your eyes rove along the lines of words.

Nope. Since Harry Potter finished up I’ve been at a complete loss as to what to read. I think I wanted to pick up something un-put-down-able like HP but have been failing to tell myself that any book is good enough. Just read. Just do it.

Then, the night before last, it occurred to me to do the opposite. I would pick up a book that I knew I would not be able to finish in one shot. I picked up the largest, heaviest, thickest tome I could find, knowing I would have to put it down. No, not War and Peace. The book that I selected to pull me out of my reader’s block is Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. And I’m sooo glad I did. It’s really quite good, but I can put it down without feeling guilty because it’s like a reading marathon…a good companion to the writing marathon I’m putting myself through.

As far as writing goes, King recommends a really strenuous writing program. And if I did not have a full time job and a kid and a half then I would gladly write for four to six straight without any complaining. I realize that this sounds like “I have no time” excuse, but I have a really hard time buying that when King was daddy to three small children and working in a laundry and/or teaching high school English that he wrote for six hours straight either. (Or maybe I should take up smoking?)

My writing schedule is something more like this:
Tues-Thurs: write while Owen is at school (three hours), if I have to work one of those days then I swing it during my lunch 15 minutes and sometime in the morning/afternoon depending on what shift I’m working.
Fri: generally a no-go
Sat-Mon: early in the morning is seeming to work best, I have anywhere from an hour to an hour and half.

I do try to write something everyday. Now that I am focusing on finishing my novel (seeing the home stretch!) then I keep my butt in the chair a little more than normal. So, I think I do okay. How’s about you other writers out there? Are you workaholics? Or write-when-the-mood-strikes? Or somewhere in between?

The Critiquing Load–Gone!

Let me just put a big, honking, gigantic CHECK!! next to one of my goals for this month.

No, I haven’t finished novel rough draft yet…I have been too busy reading the critique pile (equilvalent to reading a novel…).

But this is like a huge weight off my shoulders. Now I can just cut loose and write. Dig it, man. Dig it.

Mentor for the Month: Stephen King, Part 1: The Desk

“…now I’m going to tell you as much as I can about the job….It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” — Stephen King, On Writing

(I realize that Neil Gaiman technically won the poll for ‘Most Wanted Mentor’…but since I voted for King, we’re gonna use him first.)

In one of those serendipitous moments of life, right after I decided to take writing seriously, I found Stephen King’s book On Writing. Read it cover to cover. He said exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it, in a way that I could hear it. And one of those passages that spoke to me was the above quote.

Two things came to me from that:
1. I needed a desk.
2. I needed to find a place to put it.

I needed a desk so that I knew I took my writing seriously. There needed to be a space that was inherently mine, and it was inherently for writing–my place to keep the ‘door shut’. But I had nothing. Most of the time I was working on my short stories out of 10 cent notebooks on my lap. I was in my early twenties, still living with my mom, trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life…and the argument “I wanna write” sounded more like whining than an actual argument (especially since to all outward appearances, I was making no progress in that regard).

I reviewed my meager finances and decided that I would buy a desk. The first piece of furniture I ever picked out, bought, and used by myself. It couldn’t be large, because I was basically living in a seven-year-old’s bedroom. It couldn’t be expensive. It couldn’t be used (like sharing a bathroom–who wants in on private moments like that?).

Turns out, I found the perfect desk. A roll top, half the size of a normal roll top. It has slots and files and places to organize stuff. There’s no room for a computer, but I was doing all my writing by hand at that time because I didn’t really have a computer…my brother and I were splitting computer usage until he left for the Marine Corps. It cost me $200. I still have it.

As far as placing it goes: I knew what King said was correct. Writing is a humble job. You don’t get to look glamorous like a movie star. You don’t get to ‘write’ in public. You put your ideas down on a silent, no-talk-back piece of paper and wonder what the hell you’re doing. Are you doing it right? Will people like it? Is that what you’re doing it for in any case? So the desk does not go in the middle of the room like a shrine.

Turns out, I could never figure out where my desk should go. It has been in the corner of at least two bedrooms, the corner of a living room, the basement, and now it’s against the wall in the kitchen. I’m always interrupted (but the door somehow remains closed) and I can tell everything that’s going on in the house. My son’s kindergarten papers are mixed with drafts and critiques and jump drives. I’ve also expanded the desk. Now it’s a desk + table. The table keeps all the tech stuff (computer, printer, etc.) and the desk is the creative mess it should be. Not nearly as organized I’d like but it has all the chaos of a great working space.

It’s my little corner of the world.

How about you? Do you have a space that’s just yours, even if it’s in the middle of kids, pets, neighbors, fast food workers, etc? Where’s your writing hidey-hole?

I highly recommend finding your space. But don’t let it block you from the world you want to connect to.