A Writing Biography, Volume II, Part 1: First Attempt at a Novel

For years, I thought about writing a NOVEL, a big old pile of words that would amaze everyone who read it and announce that a new talent had arrived.

You were that deluded when you were younger too, right?

After fits and starts and humbling hits of procrastination (I also breezed through my college years in the process), I finally decided on a tale. The book was entitled Buried Secrets and it was somehow generic and convoluted all at the same time.

TL;DR version: A high school senior with interests in journalism and/or law enforcement learns that a mysterious girl his age is living alone in a house that seems to be abandoned. He gets to know her and learns that she is trying to find out the identity of her biological mother and father after her adoptive parents died (car accident? I’m too over it to actually go into the document and look). She came to find out that they were both residents of his hometown (a small eastern Iowa town, hint hint). He agrees to help her out with his knowledge of the town, and they begin to have a romance.

At the same time, he learns that some members of his school’s football team committed a sex crime against one of their classmates. (Taking a cue from a real-life incident in the national media, the first drafts had this person be a girl, but I eventually changed it to a guy and the secret boyfriend of my main character’s best male friend). As he’s trying to help out this girl, he’s also trying to solve a case that will eventually involve his two closest friends.

All of the possible first-time mistakes writers made with their books, readers, I wound up making. It was too autobiographical, even though none of the supporting characters were based on people I’d known in high school. It was too convoluted, with two main plots and me trying to interweave them and make sense to each other. I got too caught up in the love story, I think, to make the female love interest relevant, even though I tried to do that. And, there was too much talking and debate and not enough action.

I wound up taking the book to an agent who wound up charging me $120 to take it around and sell it to some publishers. After a year and no sniffs at it, my agent said to give her another year. I decided to save my cash instead. There were no other takers among publishers or agents.

About four years ago or so, as I began the slow process of beginning to restart my writing life. I decided to take one more look at Buried Secrets and see if there wasn’t a viable story in there. I spent about a month attempting to see if I could carve it down, convert it into something that could be a good story. I couldn’t relate to the story anymore; more importantly, I couldn’t relate to the main character who I’d all but intended to be my surrogate but was now simply a ghost self of someone I no longer recognized.

By the end of it, I left it on my external hard drive, sitting there like a patient I’d had to cut open and save but who ended up dying in the attempt. By then, it was just lying there with its insides out, and I couldn’t make it into something good. The only good thing about it being a book rather than an actual patient was that I didn’t have to go through the motions of sewing the long-dead person up again just so the sight of it didn’t freak everyone out. It was Buried Secrets, and now it is properly buried, now simply something to learn from rather than a symbol of what could have been.

I wasn’t ready to be a writer then. That came later.

Advertisements

Writing Journal 9/24/2017: Up And Down, Mostly Stable.

So…

I didn’t do that midweek update I had planned. I will do my best to make one happen this week.

My writing totals were up and down. Total word count was slightly higher; days worked went down; days meeting my quota still the same. The hard stats:

+3,960 words written.

-60 words cut.

Days writing: 5 out of 7.

Daily writing goals met: 3 out of 7 days.

I’m glad I can hold things steady, even if I feel like I’m having an off writing week.

Another bit of good news; I made it past the 40,000-word threshhold this week! As I mentioned before, on this new writing project (American 9), I am shooting for just under 100,000 words in length. This is a brand-new way I’m tackling the work – writing the essential scenes first and filling in or leaving out other items later – and it seems to be helping me with getting stuck in narratives.

Just keep writing along…

A Very Quick Note:

Since I haven’t mentioned the topic for a while, I thought it would be good to update everyone regarding my publishing efforts on The Holy Fool.

Essentially… those have stalled. While I have put together a cover letter that I would be able to use, with some modifications, for most of my target publications and/or agents, I have not started to get out emails to everyone.

I am planning on getting it published, even if I wind up going through Amazon to do it. It’s going to go into a book form, in a way that’s not going to put me out too much money, because I’m not going to go into vanity publishing if there is a chance I can get it done on my own.

I’ll keep everyone updated, and hope to get out another post soon.

Writing Journal, 9/17/2017 (Hit and Miss)

Once again, time for the tote boards. I have been writing consistently, but getting 500 a day is still something of a struggle for me.

The totals:

+3,851 words written.

Days writing: 7 out of 7.

Daily writing goals met: 3 out of 7 days.

So, less production than last week, but I am keeping consistent. It’s tough for me to judge how things are going week to week, but I’ll have to keep everything under consideration.

A Writing Biography, Volume I, Part 6: Stephen is Still The King

Last weekend, I happened to catch the new film version of IT at my local theater, at the suggestion of my daughter, who happens to be into horror more than a little bit. I have to say it was of a higher quality than the 1990 miniseries. After the movie, over dinner, we wound up having a lively discussion regarding why they moved the plot setting 30 years ahead of the original book (cheaper and more readily available 1980’s items than 1950’s items nowadays) and how the plot progressed fairly closely to the original text. I was surprised…

 

[SPOILER]

 

… that the filmmakers decided to split the story into two. But with that decision made, it made far more sense to me that they decided to focus on the Losers’ adventures as kids rather than going back and forth between teen and adult adventures. It made for a far more coherent plot line, all things considered.

 

[END SPOILERS]

 

As we watched the film, I kept thinking back to the prominence that King has had in my writing life. It is a place that has hardly diminished from my teen years, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to come to terms with what it has meant to me.

My mother was – still is – never a horror fan. I was not going to be able to buy any of King’s books or watch his films in my parents’ house. I still had to respect that. But there were libraries, other opportunities to get involved with his work. And I did.

If there has ever been someone that I would count as a literary idol in my life, it would be Stephen King. I can’t remember the first King book I read, but I know that I read the vast majority of them from when I was a kid to now. I don’t think everything he wrote was great – not even he thinks that everything he wrote was great – but he has had way more hits than misses, and I firmly believe that the hits are keeping on coming even though he’s now in his seventh decade.

There were so many things about King that I dug so much. His plots… well, plot was never something that he was into, more interesting situations with interesting people. An outcast girl who has the telepathic powers of a demigod? Sign me up. Recasting the Dracula myth into an American ethos 20 years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I’m down. Writing two insanely long books that, in turn, aim to be the definitive apocalyptic thriller and the Great American Novel of childhood and growing up? Sign me up, brother.

As a kid, I was interested in the graphic nature of the material, but it was the psychological horror that really got me. There was plenty of guts in some of the books, but one scene that has stuck with me more than any of those was the one in Salem’s Lot where the father was so distraught at his son’s funeral that he jumped onto the coffin. (On a related note, Salem’s Lot probably had one of the most devastating endings I’ve ever read.)

Whenever I read King, I read someone who was in love with the art of storytelling. With King, I gained more insight into the people and country I lived in. I also managed to get a lot more insight than I ever anticipated about the culture of New England. (I still will argue that King should be classified just as much as a regional writer as he is a horror/scifi/fantasy author.)

Then I read his book On Writing when it came out. I still rank it as one of the best books on writing that I have ever read – so simple, such an easy read, a mix of his writer’s biography and whatever advice he gave to be a writer. I’ve used adverbs sparingly and watched out for the passive voice ever since – a lot of my students got the active verb/passive verb lesson from me at one point or the other.

More than the individual pieces of advice, it was a literal dare to me. As I read it, I realized, this was what it meant to be a writer. This is what it takes to really dedicate yourself to being a writer, never mind a successful writer, however that’s defined. Are you ready to take him up on the challenge?

Reader, for many years, I was not.

Why I was not ready to meet that challenge, after years of saying I wanted to be a fiction author, writing tons of journalism that some people read and others disregarded in places that were never hotbeds of news, and teaching more than a few people how to write better themselves?

Man, that is a massive question. In fact, it’s probably such a massive question that it will likely dominate Volume II of my writer’s biography, which I think will soon start. (Don’t worry, I’ll likely put out some more stuff about reading as a kid, AKA Volume I stuff).

But to start answering it, I have to mention about how I always compared myself to King. I saw in him someone who was inherently a writer, and I always pictured myself as lesser than him. I didn’t get started writing serious fiction until I was much older than he was when he got his first book published. He’s put out more fiction than entire towns of authors. I’ve come to accept I’m not going to write as many books as he will, much less James Patterson. (Yes, I know Patterson has help.)

I’ve accepted that, though. I’ve accepted not being a literary superstar because that’s not really the reason I’m writing anymore, even though I’m really interested in finally getting my fiction published somewhere, in some capacity. But it’s OK to have something to shoot far, even if you miss the target. I get why Joe Hill hid his name for a while, took some time to become his own person before his name got out in the world. He’s a damn good writer, too.

Now I just want to be me as a writer. With my recent work, with this blog, I might start to finally get there.

Ahem.

Just to let you know that I did start writing an interesting blog about Stephen King and my admiration for him in my past and now… but I realized I needed to get some fiction writing in and some sleep.

Maybe the longer posts need a two-day writing period? I guess so… 🙂

You’ll read it when you read it. See you then.

Writing Journal, 9/10/2017 (Seeing results)

Well, everyone… I wondered whether setting a daily writing goal and powering through would make a difference in my writing results. Shall we go to the tote board, fine people of the online world?

+4,559 words written.

+4,338 words reviewed for revision.

Days writing: 7 out of 7.

Daily writing goals met (500 words per day): 5 out of 7 days.

If I could have consistent weeks like this, week in and week out… I think that my concerns about not being productive enough will be a thing of the past.

New goal.

Not going to make this a long one, but I need to lay something out.

In light of my massively disappointing writing performance last week, I’ve decided that I need to start setting distinct writing goals for myself. Whether I meet these goals or not is up to me, but I feel that if I am going to have any hope at becoming a more productive writer, I need to be following some of the writing advice I have read over the past couple of years. (I’m just glad that since I have started the blog, I have not gone more than two days without writing fiction, which is far better than the years I took off when I was younger.)

So, this is my current plan.

  1. On writing days, I will have to get to 500 words a day.
  2. I should have at least four writing days every week.
  3. Other days throughout the week will be revising days, when I will be revising drafts and so forth. I will not have more than three revising days for every four writing days. Although I will not set a goal for those days, I will record what I do.

This plan is officially in effect as of yesterday. I had one of my more productive nights then, but I am planning on making my 500 tonight as well. And some more nights after that this week.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Writing Journal 9/3/2017 (AKA the lack of writing)

Ugh.

It was a putrid writing week. Cannot justify it other than procrastination, distraction, and – for sure – lack of direction.

For what it’s worth, here’s the stats:

+822 words written.

Days writing: 3 out of 7.

Obviously the very worst writing week that I’ve had since I began the blog. The only thing that I can see as a bright spot is that the times that I go without writing are becoming shorter and shorter over the course of my life. There were times where I went years without writing a single word of fiction.

I’m better than this. Tomorrow I’m going to set up a plan for a daily writing goal – maybe not as ambitious as some advice I’ve read, but ambitious. I’ll talk about it then, and maybe do another entry on another subject.

Stay tuned.