I have a day off from the office and I’m trying to savage my final draft like a drunken barbarian. The Project One manuscript ended at nearly 190K words, and that’s an awful lot for many reasons. It’s a big investment for a reader, not to mention a publisher. It also sets a precedent for future books, and that’s a writing pace I’m uncertain I can maintain. It feels heavy, both literally and metaphorically.
Amidst the edits, cuts, and barbarically setting the countryside ablaze, I came upon this sentence:
Tildy also noted that it was still as quiet as she remembered.
It tripped me because my brain registered “still” as a synonym for “quiet”. Well, if that’s confusing, does the sentence work without that unnecessary word?
Tildy also noted that it was as quiet as she remembered.
I wonder if I’ll be able to make similar cuts, the way I did here and here? A quick Ctrl-F showed 192 instances. Some will likely remain, but others will have to go. And then there’s this:
Well, that’s embarrassing, but a fine example of how difficult it is for a writer to be objective when editing their own work. If you’re curious, I deleted the first three, rewrote the fourth out, and kept the fifth. Only 187 left to go.
For more tips (and embarrassing admissions), we recommend these posts. Good luck with your writing!
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I’m sure some of that came from the societal stigma about showing vulnerability and my extreme reluctance to share personal aspects of my life. I think the greater issue, however, was the fear that such an admission would transform thought into reality if it reached the written page.
I wrote a draft of this post in mid-September after a rough couple weeks, when stressors and disappointments had piled upon another. I’d found myself angering easily or venting frustration in situations where it wasn’t warranted. My novel always appeared to be the catalyst: not having time, not being inspired, delivering garbage when I did sit down.
It wasn’t the first time I’d had similar feelings, but these were more acute and my defenses were down.
There’s a betraying voice in your head that suggests the simplest solution: Quit doing the thing that’s causing pain. Just walk away.
Because writing is the primary way I express emotion, my head started drafting a post along those lines. The admission hurt, and that feeling intensified as I fleshed it out, because it reflected the abandonment of something I’ve wanted my whole life.
I sat at the computer that morning with little optimism and a negligibly more determination. I didn’t want to write this post…and I told myself over and again that I was pretty sure I wasn’t quitting.
Then I happened to read the following passage I’d copied from a book, and my perspective changed.
“You have to understand his motivation,” Michael said. “A writer can spend years working on a book he isn’t sure will ever sell. What makes him do it?”
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
No joke, it was like a switch flipped. A flood of positive memories surged through my brain, washing away the dark thoughts that had taken root. I decided that, yes, I was going to write this post, but I wasn’t going to take the “woe is me, writing is hard” approach (if there’s one kind of writing I’m certain people don’t want to read – aside from advertising – it’s that).
And so, I used the Delete key many, many times to get the post you’re reading now.
Writing and telling compelling stories is hard, make no mistake about that, and with any difficult task, there are highs and lows. There will be a few black days, and sometimes you will feel crushed or trapped. There will be days where the lying voices are very convincing, but quitting does not bring the bliss they promise.
Writing this post was cathartic, though perhaps not at the intellectual level a person might assume. No – and apologies in advance – it was more analogous to vomiting up the thing that made you sick. You can wallow in misery, which I’d been doing for a couple weeks, or you can stick your finger in your throat and get it out. Our bodies are miraculous things. They know when something doesn’t belong, and it’s unnatural to fight that. Our heads are the same way. Intellectually, we recognize the blackest thoughts, even when there is little illumination for us to see that.
In closing, here’s another admission, though an easier one to share. I stopped writing this post at the last paragraph and set it aside for months. My purpose for writing it, a desire to lift my spirits, had been achieved. Rejuvenated, I immediately went back to writing and the following weeks were happier. I’ve completed it for your sake and mine. We might not need reassurance or a kick in the pants today, but on another day we will. And this post will be waiting for us.
Good luck with your writing!
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My younger son, Benji, is nonverbal and autistic. I don’t share it much because one of my primary responsibilities is protecting his dignity and privacy. And it’s usually not relevant to this site. But like any person important to you, his influence is always there in my writing, nevertheless. In this post I’ll share one of the ways my craft has changed because of him.
Ben has a limited vocabulary, though his communication includes expressive gestures and sounds, not just words. In talking to us (people who clearly are too dim to understand), he’s practically speaking three languages, and often, more than one at a time. It’s not his problem when we can’t figure out the translation; it’s ours.
To an outsider, however, it might create an uncomfortable situation. Not because that person is a bigot who despises neurodiversity, but because they are walking in unfamiliar territory. I liken it to me meeting a Black man for the first time (in my memory, he looks like actor Brock Petersin his Star Trek days). I was just a little kid, terribly shy around strangers, and before me stood a person so completely unlike every person I’d known in my secluded little rural town. At least, that’s the lie your brain tells you. In every aspect that I could see except skin color, he was like my neighbors.
I hadn’t been taught to hate or even dislike Black people; I just had some unintended bias to push past because my world was filled with people who looked like me and had basically the same beliefs and ancestry.
It’s one thing to know there are a variety of people in the world. Seeing them is another. Further still, interacting with them changes your perspective in significant ways. Watching Black people on TV wasn’t the same as meeting them. And meeting one certainly wasn’t the same as having people like him in my daily life.
I choose to believe the same lack of experience is true for people who aren’t sure how to react around Ben. It could be uncomfortable at first, but the smallest effort by them can overcome that. I don’t think they can do it alone, however. As Ben’s father, I believe one of my responsibilities is to help people with this, which also helps him.
Now, I grew up as a Boy Scout and I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I’m predisposed to helping others and recognizing those who are disadvantaged. But there’s a distinction between that and being an advocate. Believe it or not (sarcasm), there’s a difference between adding a rainbow frame to my Facebook picture and standing up to LGBTQ bigotry when people post it. Advocacy requires deliberate action, and I can help by leading through example, by sharing posts like this, and by injecting it into my books.
At a recent happy hour for a departing colleague and friend (aka Trusted Reader #3), the subject of my writing came up several times. I’m at the point where I enjoy this more than I once did. Part of it is comfort, part is the practice of refining my synopsis, and part is knowing more about the story and what I’m doing as a writer.
I’ve written about the difficulties I’ve had hereand here.
As stressful or scary as this might feel, it’s an important part of the writing process. Even if you never want a person to read your writing (which I consider a shame – share with us!), it will help you as a writer.
Sometimes….you might just plop gibberish upon the page.
When I’m in the zone, I type around 100 words per minute. That’s not elite status, but I’m definitely moving. My brain, however, is processing the story much faster. Passages aren’t necessarily being fed to the page in order, and oftentimes, sentences aren’t landing with the words in their intended sequence. It’s a bit of a wires-crossed thing that requires some adaptation, patience, and editing.
An unfortunate, though sometimes hilarious consequence, is some serious gibberish. Although it breaks my rhythm, I usually delete these things immediately because they’re too horrid to live on the page another moment. However, since I started this series of Casualties posts, I’ve decided to save some of the better ones as examples of just how wrong an experienced writer can go.
As always, I’ve created some definitions, and the correct words (if I’ve deciphered them) follow that.
Hiuefully – a well-saturated color
Initiatititive – making the first move on a sexy date
Tjamls – beasts of burden that tjaverse the djesert
Habyart – a question posed to the entrants of rural art shows: “Habyart?” “Yessaidoo!”
Consticuous – something stuck to the wall and definitely out of place
Priviledge – born with the right to stand upon the precipice
Viluminous – an evil glow
Predigestion – what happens to chewed food slathered in saliva
Predamentary – the basics for stalking prey
Harbordence – a thick fog hanging heavy upon the docks
Trhaventily – seriously, I got nothing here. A flower? A kind of fancy silk lace?
I started working on Samor’s new story in December 2019. It’s been a journey of considerable challenges and delights. Some things have gone very well. Others, hmm, not so much.
Part of my writing process is reflection. I regularly look back at what I’ve accomplished. I think it’s a critical step because writing a book is a difficult journey filled with self-doubt. When your energy is low or your mental defenses are down, abandoning a draft can feel like the only viable option. But take heart! Energy always returns. Defenses are rebuilt! Reminding yourself of your good work will replenish your creative tank.
Here’s a list of ten accomplishments and discoveries of the last twenty months.
If a person writes a book and no one reads it, is it still a book? Depending on your reason for writing, your answer will vary.
I write for a variety of reasons – relaxation, brain exercise, practice my craft, gottagetthatdamnideaoutofmyhead – but I primarily write because I want to entertain people. It’s a need written in DNA, and a novel is the current medium in which I choose to satisfy it (I’ve also dabbled in flash fiction, a novella, pitched a comic series, and currently have two tabletop game ideas I’m exploring).
Looking at it from that perspective, I won’t find success until my writing is in someone’s hands, whether physically, digitally, or in the not-too-distant future, displayed via holographic projection. Said another way, what I’ve written is not really a book until someone reads it. It’s simply a interesting story, perhaps an exercise, occupying a similar paradoxical state as Schrödinger’s cat.
I imagine people protesting on my behalf: Don’t sell yourself short! There’s value in the experience! Simply finishing is a major accomplishment! All these things and more are true. They have value, and I appreciate the sentiment.
But they’re not the things that bring me to the keyboard. However…
Sometimes a piece of writing just hits me the right way, and I sit back, amazed. It makes me want to hold up the book and exclaim, “Look! Look at this right here. Now this is writing!”
I usually don’t literally do that, but I did this week.
I’m reading Get Shorty for, I dunno, maybe the tenth time. That puts it up there amongst my most-read books. It’s the first and only Elmore Leonard book I’ve read, a mistake I’ve been meaning to correct for something like fifteen years. My reward for finishing this post is checking out Rum Punch from the library.
I’ll be honest: I picked up the book because I adore the movie and the character Chili Palmer. I apologize to book purists in advance, but there are are some parts of the movie I prefer. However, there’s one thing it didn’t capture.
That Elmore Leonard frickin’ dialogue, man.
John Travolta is nice and smooth in the movie, Chil you might say, but his portrayal has that Hollywood polish. Chili Palmer in the book is tougher, rough around the edges. He thinks and talks like a person, which is to say, not like a written character obeying the rules of writing and language. He also doesn’t think much of the things people say.
Despite having read this book several times, it always takes me a few pages to regain my comfort with Leonard’s natural, if unusual style. I say that with all possible affection. As much as I appreciate grammar and the mechanics of writing, there are times when you break all the rules, and he is a master.
I’m coming to the end of the book and this passage knocks me out:
I didn’t want to admit it. I figured if I kept these parts in the book, eventually I’d find a way to make the passages work.
But the writer knows. You know when it’s not going to work long before you concede the reality.
And then about a week ago, I wrote this note which sealed their fate: “Repurposing these words to the Elf would move the Dragon to Samor Book 2; at which point all the other Dragon stuff could be moved out. I’ve been struggling with their purpose for a while.”
Even then, it took a few more days before I started yanking stuff from the manuscript. I once again followed the advice of Stephen King, who was borrowing from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:
I wrote this just over a year ago, when many of us were still underestimating the impact of the pandemic upon our worlds. “Oh, my sweet summer child,” to borrow George R. R. Martin’s commentary on naiveite. I found the post waiting in my drafts folder, one of a number of writing projects that got shelved due to other priorities. I share it now because it touches on an important matter for writers. Please don’t mind the dust.
A friend (Trusted Reader #12), sent me this message:
So, I have a “what’s important about writing question” for you when you have a moment.
YES! There are two surefire ways to get my attention: 1) talk about Star Wars (my wife does this) and 2) ask a question about writing.
As you can imagine, I dropped what I was doing and emphatically replied. My brain raced. Was this philosophical? Perhaps this was related to me having a writing degree in the business world. Oooh, could it pertain to the importance of reading?
What’s more important, story or character?
It’s a great question, and I’m glad he asked. I had an answer, of course, but part of me wondered if I was walking into something.