Get to the point already!

Taking a break from rewrites today for two reasons: 1) the synapses just aren’t all firing—chalk it up to exhaustion following a busy work week (I’m writing this on my Saturday, which is Sunday for you M-F’ers, even though you’ll be reading it on your Monday, which is my Sunday, got it?), and 2) I don’t want to neglect the blog, so when I got an idea for a post I decided to hurry and write it up.

I haven’t written anything new for quite a while. I’m still trying to get the same batch of 4 short stories published (the oldest of which has been bouncing around for almost a year now), considering final tweaks on novel #1 before finally calling it officially done (I recently had a light bulb moment regarding the final act and may have to rewrite some of the book’s climax), and rewriting novel #2 (#1=Snakebit and #2=Liberating Oz, for those of you keeping score at home). What this means is that I’ve been in an editing frame of mind for quite a while, and will be for at least a couple more months.

On top of that, I just finished Stephen King’s latest novel, Revival, and had a brief discussion on Facebook with my friend and fellow writer (as well as my go-to movie and music expert) Jeff, in which we agreed that Mr. King has an issue with being excessively wordy and needs to keep someone around to tell him when it’s time to cut the crap and get to the point.

How cool is that? Also, if anyone cares, this is an alternate cover, of which there were several, all of them cooler than the official US cover, in my opinion.

How cool is this? This is an animated GIF of an alternate cover, of which there were several, all of them cooler than the official US cover, in my opinion.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of Revival, but it’s by no means a bad book. The first third or so had me riveted as I waited patiently to see how all the backstory would pay off. And the ending was quite good, if you like things dark and twisted like I do. Especially coming from King, it was a satisfying (which in this case means unsettling) ending, and yet I was still a little frustrated when I finished it. Because the rest of it—from about 1/3 of the way through until the last 30 pages or so? Ugh. It was still interesting, at least to me as a musician, but it started to drag on, and on, AND ON, until I started thinking, ‘Good God, when is something going to finally happen?’

A brief word about my job (it ties in, trust me): I’ve completed training and am now a full-fledged Fire and EMS dispatcher, so when calls come in for medical and/or fire-related emergencies, I’m one of the people going out on the radio and telling the units where to go and what’s going on there. It can be stressful (and is, fairly regularly), but it’s actually also a boatload of fun, if you can believe that. But the thing is, among all that chaos I still have to take 911 calls as well and juggle all of it simultaneously. What this has meant is that when I’m on the phone with a caller I have a newfound sense of urgency—I need to get the pertinent information and get off the phone as quick as I can so I’m available on the radio if units need to tell me or ask me something. I feel like a lot of writers could benefit from having a similar sense of urgency in telling their stories.

Elmore Leonard had the advice that aspiring writers have probably read a thousand times, “Try and leave out the parts that readers skip.” I wish more writers would take that advice. Now, I’m not opposed to taking some time to give some backstory, or maybe a lot of attention to detail in certain scenes if it’s called for, but for the most part I like stories that cut to the chase and keep the ball rolling, like that big boulder at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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Liberating Oz is written in the first person, and it’s the first extended piece (meaning longer than a short story) I’ve written from that POV. The fist third-to-half of the book is setting up events that unfold in the second half, and for some reason it feels at times like I’m rambling and not staying on task when telling the story. Deep down, I don’t really think I am (I won’t know for sure until I sit down with my reading cap on versus my writing/editing cap), after all the thing’s barely novel-length as it is, but still, I wonder. In my conversation with Jeff about Revival, I said to him, “It would’ve made a killer novella.” I don’t want the same thing said about my own work. I’d rather write a killer novella than a too-long novel that bores people.

Writers out there: do you ever have any issues with feeling like you’re taking too long to get to where you’re going, be it first or third person? How do you keep yourself on the straight and narrow?

Readers out there: what books can you think of that lost you along the way because they just took too long to get to the point? Or, conversely, what books got right to it like a gunshot and had you riveted from start to finish?

Until next time, I’m off to do a little reading, once I decide which of the remaining books I got for Christmas is next. What a nice problem to have.

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I’m finally finished (by which I mean I’m really not even close to being finished at all)

A little over a year ago (okay, it was 06/17/13, I got curious and looked it up) I wrote a post proclaiming I’d finished the rough draft of my first novel. I won’t/can’t go back and read it because it will make me cringe too hard, but I remember not feeling the sense of pride or accomplishment I thought I would or should.

There were a couple reasons for that: the story’s word count was simply too low for it to be considered a novel, as it was solidly in novella territory, but I also just didn’t like the way the story turned out. It was a good idea, and one I’m itching to rewrite in the near future, but that first draft was mostly unusable crap.

I mention all that because after writing still another rough draft that was novella length (one that was much better and will take significantly less to make it into a something workable), I finally have a legitimate rough draft of a legitimate novel. And you know what? It feels pretty good.

It’s a rewrite of a novella I wrote maybe a year and a half, two years ago. I was proud of it then, and gave it to a couple people to read. Their opinions were unanimous—what I thought was a cool cliffhanger ending to the story left them coldly unsatisfied. “It stopped right when it was getting good,” one of them said.

So I went on to other things and kept writing, but the story burned in the back of mind constantly (as all unfinished stories do), until finally I had an idea that I thought might work. Then a few months ago I got to it and started writing, which has left me where I am now—with just over 65,000 words of raw mass. A giant hunk of clay, waiting to be formed into a bizarre-looking ashtray. Or, as Mr. Eloquence Chuck Wendig calls first drafts, a big vat of vomit with a bunch of legos in it. So now begins the task of sifting through the vomit and snapping bricks together.

And it’s not like all the short stories I’ve been writing don’t count for anything—on the contrary, I still have a handful I’m trying to get done and at no point will there never be an end to writing them. They’re fun, after all. But there’s something about knowing I wrote an honest-to-god book, you know?

So now the real work begins. Fleshing out characters, fixing clunky dialogue, shrinking plot holes, all that junk. It’s going to be hard, but I’ve already come this far, too late to stop now. The editing (and continued writing on whatever project I pick next) will continue to eat into my blogging time—if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been fairly inactive on here, and that’s likely to continue, at least for a while—but I’ll get into that with my next post.

In the meantime, I need to find some hip boots or some waders or something: I’ve got to go looking for legos in enough vomit to fill a kiddie pool.

What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What to Do?

I’ve been keeping up with my bizarre new ritual of getting up about an hour early every morning to spend some time on my writing. It’s allowed me time to catch up on other people’s blogs, check my email, try and find publishers accepting novella submissions (which is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought), check Facebook…basically do anything but write.

It’s not that I don’t want to write. On the contrary, I’m itching to write. I did write another flash fiction piece, but I’m anxious to write something a little longer. The problem? To borrow a phrase from Ned Flanders, I’m in a dilly of a pickle.

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I have a rough draft just sitting there, waiting for me to work my magic, but the magic well appears to have run dry. I see (some of) the problems with it, but haven’t had any light bulbs going off about how to fix them. And so I sit. And read. And wait. And nothing comes.

I’ve read that the hardest part is getting the idea out of your head and onto the computer. Once the rough draft is out of you, whatever you are left with can be shaped and fixed. I’m at a loss here, and don’t see an immediate solution. I guess what I’m wondering is…

Is it a cardinal sin to just set a WIP aside and start a totally new project?

Of course, even if I do that, I’m not totally ready to begin on my new project either. I’m still researching some, and I’m trying to outline and develop the plot a bit more before I start writing. Am I transforming from a pantser to a planner? That’s a topic for another post.

So what’s the popular opinion among the other writers on WordPress? Commit to finish the project before starting a new one, come hell or high water, or start something new and resolve to go back to it later? Of course, there’s also a third option – finish editing the novella I pulled back from submissions. God, there’s more that I could be doing than I realized…your opinions and advice are encouraged and welcome.

I Just Finished The Rough Draft To My First Novel…Why Aren’t I More Happy About It?

I finished the rough draft to my first novel.  It didn’t take as long as I thought it would, which I guess should be a good sign.  But the thing is, even though I do feel a sense of accomplishment, overall I just have this feeling of all-consuming dread.

I see so many gaping holes in the plot and timeline it makes my head spin. The ending is a little weak.

Rewrites and revisions will probably take quite a while, especially with summer coming on and my work schedule picking up, plus the never-ending yard work and my tireless battle with the bugs that always come about this time of year.

After thinking it over for a while, though, I guess I am pretty happy about it. I have a lot of ideas about fixing what doesn’t work and making what does work even better, and I’m really happy with the general premise for the story. I think it mixes a few elements of outright horror with the tension of a suspense story. Time will tell.

This is also a bit of an experiment for me. My past projects, I would write until I got stuck, then go back and edit until I had an idea or felt inspired to pick back up where I left off. With the new book, though, I just steamrolled through the rough draft, leaving everything to be edited and rewritten later.

I hope to go through it one more time fairly soon and make some of the changes I thought of while I was writing, then I’m just going to let it sit for at least a month or two while I finish editing my second novella and the short stories I’ve written in the past few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep blogging at least once a week or more, if I think of topics that interest me. This is the longest gap between blog posts since the A to Z challenge started in April, and it feels weird. I want to keep connected to the blogosphere, and I’ve noticed if I’m not blogging myself I’m not keeping up on everyone else’s blogs either. So my apologies to my fellow blogger friends I’ve made in the past couple months, I’ll get back on track and catch up on your blogs!

Writing – I’m a Poor Swimmer

I use the expression I ‘jumped’ back into writing, but it was really anything but a jump. I got back into writing the same way I get into a cold-ass swimming pool (my wife will appreciate this analogy more than anyone else). I know I want to go swimming, but it’s cold. So Cold.

So, I go in up to my knees.  God, it’s cold. I go a little deeper, up to my thighs. Jumpin’ Jesus, it’s cold! Then I get a little more brave, go on in past a certain sensitive area, and on up to my waist.

cold

At that point, it’s basically the point of no return. I still creep my way in, but the hardest part is over. Before long I’m up to my neck, until I finally submerge and acclimate to the water.

I remembered enjoying writing. A lot. But it was cold (so to speak). So I started slow.  I started my novella, then realized I forgot how hard (cold) it was. So I stopped for awhile, enjoying the knee-high level I was at. I began to slowly find things that encouraged me to go on in a little deeper. So I went back and wrote some more, then stopped again; up to my thighs. Then a whole slew of things happened that made me realize I needed to quit being such a freakin’ baby and take the plunge.

So, I went in up to my neck.

Here’s the thing : I am a terrible swimmer. I hesitate to even say that I actually know how to swim. But once I’m in the pool, I love it. It’s hard to get me out. I walk to the middle of the pool, where the water is up to my chin but my feet are still on the floor of the pool, and I just chill there. I’ll splash around, float on a pool noodle, all that, but I love just being in that middle ground. If I drift too far into the  deep end without realizing it, I have a small moment of panic. I know I’m fine, but my instinct is to freak the hell out because I know how poorly I swim.

I’ve almost reached that point with my writing. I took the plunge, and started working on my novella every day. I consider that about waist high. That was nice. Then, I finished it, which was awesome. As I began revising and editing, I started writing another one. I was just about right where I wanted to be; up to my neck, but with my feet on solid footing. I finished the second one before I finished revising the first one, so then I had two to edit. But I didn’t want to stop writing, so I started another, which is what I’m working on now.

I’m in that place, a couple steps past my comfort zone, where I have to struggle to keep my composure. Hopefully, it won’t last too much longer; I’m almost ready to submit novella # 1 (I swear this time), then I’ll just have to edit # 2 while I keep writing #3.

So far so good; but before long somebody may need to throw me a pool noodle.

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Editing – Boy, Does It Ever Stink

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Even though I’ve been writing for a long time now, up until the last year or so it’s been on again, off again.  So in no way do I consider myself experienced. I wrote my first novella in 2000. I finished the rough draft for my second one 06/15/12. I’m still not done editing and revising it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read over it and tweaked it since June; I’d guess at least 10 or 12. Go ahead, more experienced writers, rev up your laugh machines for what I’m about to say: I totally underestimated how difficult the editing process is.

The process really feels never ending. Every time I begin to look it over, I find something else that needs fixing. I don’t think the time will ever come when I will look at it and not find something that feels wrong, or second guess the way something is worded or the way the story unfolds. I spent my breaks at work today editing it, and I decided after I finish this pass through it, I AM DONE. I can’t obsess over it forever. It’s about as good as it’s going to get. It’s time to let this baby bird leave the nest and fly on into the big, bad, scary world of submissions.

Besides, I’ve got my third novella waiting to be edited and revised, and who knows how long that one’s going to take. And by the time I finish with that one, I may be finished with the rough draft of my novel. And I think the editing is a pain now. That’s going to feel like a freakin’ root canal. Does everyone find editing and revising this difficult? Does it ever get easier?