Writing Journal 7/30/2018: A lull at the end of the month as I contemplate going back to school

Well, I got on a little bit of a losing streak this week, everyone. Here’s the totals:

+349 words written.

Days writing: 1 out of 7.

Days revising: 3 out of 7 for 120 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 3 out of 7 days.

Not much to say. I think part of it is because I am now in the “Sunday” section of my summer vacation. As of right now, I have 17 days until my first in-service day and 25 days before I start teaching to kids. It’s that mental of still being on vacation yet preparing yourself mentally for getting back into the school environment.

There are a couple of factors adding to my… not anxiety, but anticipation for the new year, at least. It will be my first year at a new district, and it will likely take me the whole school year to adjust to the new environment. This was after working for three years at a school district that I truly enjoyed and learned a lot from. It was where I first began working as a special education teacher, and the students and staff were amazing there. It definitely felt like a second home.

Now I’ll be a new district. It is slightly larger than my previous one, but I’ve got a good feeling from the staff and administration, and I do know some people there from previous professional experiences. I’ll have to go back to a five day-per-week rather than a four day-per-week schedule, sadly, but the school days will be shorter and I will have less travel time even taking the extra day into account. And of course, there will be the whole process of getting to know new school procedures, culture, students, and other expectations. I believe this will be a good move for me (one I had to make due to a decline in special education student enrollment at my previous district), so I am looking forward to making it a good year.

As for the 17 days I have left, I am going to try to use them to get as many revisions and writing done as possible. I have been doing OK with doing mid-weekly posts to the blog; that might fall off a little as I get closer to the start of the school year and into the school year. You will still see some of them sometimes.

That’s about all I can think of right now. I’ll write more here later.

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Regarding How to Read and Consume E-books: Like I Have A Clue

It appears likely that I will be the author of at least one book, maybe more, that will be available in an e-book edition. As a result, I started considering how I should consume said e-books, because I’m not really doing that right now.

I was going to make this an in-depth study of e-book readers and formats, but guess what, I didn’t make the time to go ahead and research any platforms that I could use to read them. Instead, I decided to make this a quick piece about my (very brief) history with ebooks and the pros and cons I have with them.

Either my wife or my mom got my an ebook device who knows when from who knows what company. After a few years of sitting on my desk at home, I wound up stowing it in the big plastic tub where I store all of my old electronic stuff I no longer use but might remotely have a possible use for later. (All the kids out there, mine included: Don’t buy a lot of stuff. After a couple of decades at least half of it is going to either be in storage or cluttered junk, and you won’t remember most of it, anyway. Save your money and go on vacations instead.)

So, I’ll just list my pros and cons for each media, and let the chips fall where they will.

The Wood Books (just books)

Pros:

  • I can pick them up and read them anytime anywhere, except in the rain (naturally) or the dark.
  • No loading times.
  • Can be a nice decorating touch for a home office or library.
  • A pretty straightforward gift for people.

Cons

  • Heavy as hell and inconvenient to pack up and move.
  • Take up too much space once you get a whole bunch of them.
    • I might have mentioned before that I’ve had to get ruthless at culling my current collection, and I probably haven’t been as ruthless as I’ve needed to be.

The Metal and Plastic Books (ebooks)

Pros

  • Easy storage.
  • You can get a bunch of them and not break any of your shelves.
  • Portability is pretty nice, too.

Cons

  • No power, no reading.
  • Difficult to figure out all of the ins and outs of the programs.
  • Different formats – why can’t I buy one ebook and have it read on different platforms?
    • If any readers know if this is possible, let me know in the comments.

Well, regardless, I’m going to take another dive into this brave new world and see what is up with it. Wish me luck, and I’ll write more later.

 

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Writing Journal/Random Notes 7.22.2018: Revision City

In looking at last week’s numbers, you can tell that I’m getting deep into the revision game.

+1,303 words written.

Days writing: 2 out of 7.

Days revising: 6 out of 7 for [EDIT] 510 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 7 out of 7 days.

I’d have to look, but this might be the best week I’ve recorded regarding revisions, and I’m nowhere near done. It’s definitely the first time in a long time that I met my DWGM every day of the week.

The thing that kicked off this spurt of activity was the feedback I’d gotten from one of my beta readers I really respect. That and some of the other comments I’ve received made it very clear where I should be going with this revision on The American Nine.

The good thing is that to give my character more of a struggle along this path, I’m not going to have to add any additional material. (Version 3.0 of the manuscript is hovering at around 93,000 words – I’ve said before about how I want to keep my finished manuscripts at a maximum of 95,000-100,000 words, preferably on the lower end of that scale). It’s just going to be a matter of me rewriting scenes to show more uncertainty and struggle. I realized that while I wanted to create an idea of the American Messi or Maradona with this character, the character is 17 at the start of the book and like Messi and Maradona, they had to work and rise to the top to get where they were. I have to show that process in this book.

Two random notes to close things out:

  • How much of a soccer fanatic am I? I’m seriously following the International Champions Cup that started this week. Also, it’s transfer rumor silliness time…
  • Trying to get into some new TV obsessions. Starting to pick through Stranger Things. Also saw a new trailer for the Sons of Anarchy spinoff Mayans MC. I’m going to be hyped for that in September.

Anyway, more later.

On Revising, Part 5: Raising the stakes

I think I’m ready for the big “Deep Think” revision on my project, The American Nine, and I’m super excited about it.

Whenever I get to about the third (out of four minimum) revisions I like to consider it to be my “Big Idea” revision. That’s when I take a look at everything about my story and see if there is anything structurally the matter with the piece. Are my characters (especially the MC) compelling? Does the story flow? Does my plot have any leaks or dead ends?

Thankfully, I had a chance to show my manuscript to some beta readers, and one in particular, a published author I’ve gotten to know well over the past couple of years. And she was nice enough to give me comments, the whole nine yards.

There’s a type of critique that really puffs you up and there’s a type of critique that pulls you down, pulls you down so hard it either breaks your will or you totally disregard it. The critique I got was a third kind – the kind that excites you with the possibilities that you didn’t see before. It’s the type of critique that shines a light onto something you didn’t realize and lights the way to a better story.

There was a lot to it, but the essential part of the critique was this (I’m paraphrasing here): “Well, it’s all good to have an interesting character going through interesting experiences. But it’s not like he’s in danger of losing, is there? Not the way you have it written. The way you have it written, I know he’s always going to succeed. There’s not the suspense there, is there?”

It was then that I realized:

I needed to raise the stakes in my novel.

Let me try to explain this a little.

One of the deadliest things that a beta reader, or any reader, really, can say about a book is, “Well, who cares?” If you want readers to care about your story, you have to make that story involve struggle.

If I was going to define what stakes were, I would lay it out like this. What does your MC have to gain if they succeed? What do they have to lose if they don’t? Are they the type of things that other readers could relate to, even if they don’t find themselves in the same situations as those characters? Could they relate to them, at least?

The problem was, my MC was always winning. Even that’s OK, but I have to make sure that it’s tough for them to do that. There has to be doubt in the readers’ minds that your character is going to succeed and some consideration of where the character is going to be if they fail.

Essentially, the premise of my book is, what would an American version of Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi look like? What would that person’s path be to soccer glory, and what would they have to overcome to make that happen?

In reading over my beta reader’s comments, I realized that I had dedicated most of my time to ensuring that my MC would reach those heights and not enough time putting obstacles in his path. For example, Diego had to overcome poverty, and Lionel had to overcome hormone deficiency to become the soccer gods they eventually became.

What did my character have to overcome to reach his goals, especially as a 17-18 year old kid starting to learn about life and what it takes to succeed? I had to show more of the building and less of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, essentially. I had to show the struggle, the climb to the top, to make sure that people cared about what happened to my MC.

That’s the challenge that I’m going to face with this next revision. I have to admit, I’m almost grinning at the challenge. There has to be a struggle, and there has to be a payoff, in life and on the page.

I’ve got some work to do. I can’t wait.

 

Writing Journal/Random Thoughts 7.16.2018: A slight drop off, World Cup thoughts just because, and one insight that might only interest me

Yeah, so the numbers for this week… not really impressive, but not a disaster:

+1,206 words written.

Days writing: 4 out of 7.

Days revising: 3 out of 7 for 90 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 3 out of 7 days.

So, not matching last week’s totals, but not a total collapse. Explanations? Two in particular come to mind.

First, since we are now in mid-July, I have to say that I am officially in the doldrums of my summer vacation where maximum complacency sets in. Luckily, this has not been as severe as previous years. Due to various circumstances, I find myself keeping active with local political volunteerism and assisting my wife with various errands. As a result, I am more occupied than last year, when I literally had nothing to do during the summer after a few consecutive years of taking and/or teaching classes during that time (to be fair, I probably needed the break).

Second, of course, was the conclusion of the World Cup yesterday and this past week. As has been documented previously on this blog, I have a pretty serious soccer obsession at this point. General thoughts (Random Notes? Random Notes!) on the tournament:

  • I was very happy with the quality of the games and the action.
  • Video assistant referees (VAR) have been a long time coming and much needed.
  • The final was great, with the young kids of France proving themselves against the best of the world.
  • Also glad to see the Belgians do well – my name and family background has some Belgian origin, so that was cool to see.
  • I was sorry not to see the USMNT in action, but I’ve been happy to see how the younger kids of that team have been doing in friendlies, and that plus the fact we will be hosting the 2026 WC alongside Canada and Mexico have helped me to get over that. Compared to the winter fiasco the 2022 Qatar WC will be, our tournament will be paradise.

How much of a soccer/football junkie am I? I’m actually counting down to the ICC club exhibition tournament in America within a couple of weeks. Plus there’s still Major League Soccer in America, and the European leagues will start up in a month… the fact that there’s always soccer on somewhere in the world is good for me, but it can be annoying to those close to me. 🙂

Well, hadn’t expected to write that much about soccer, but there hasn’t been too much writing items to talk about.

I will say this, however, as a small piece of writing advice. If you are writing a story and you are not feeling it, you may want to swap out your characters for new ones that attract your interest. Not to get into too many details at this very early stage of the creative process, but I started considering putting a main character from one of my current projects into a writing project that had a totally different genre. And I think it’s going to work. It might be a project that I wasn’t planning on writing for a while, but I think it has made it a far more interesting and not quite as cliched as I had initially feared. Mixing and matching – it worked for rap, and it will work for you, too.

That’s about all for now. I do plan to write up something for midweek – I know I didn’t do that last week as I have been trying to do. Anyway, I’ll get you more stuff later.

Writing Journal 7.9.2018: Chugging along, I guess – at least consistently

I hadn’t even totaled up last week’s numbers until just now, but from my estimates, they appear to be… pretty good.

+1,236 words written.

Days writing: 5 out of 7.

Days revising: 6 out of 7 for 240 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 6 out of 7 days.

Well, I wasn’t expecting it. So, what was happening over the Fourth of July week?

  • Most of my revising has been on The American Nine. Nothing too heavy, just more of a casual read-thru right now,
  • In something of a whim, I basically started a rough draft of what would basically be American Nine 2. I’m only a few hundred words into it right now, but it’s been so much fun. I can see now why authors can get into writing book after book about a main character, especially if that MC has plenty of possible stories.
  • Progress on We Can Be You… has been slow at best. I think I have the idea behind the first book well and truly set up, but getting on with it has been a bit of a road block with me. I think it’s caused me to think long and hard about the motivations I have for the my lead characters and what their motivations are.
    • I think going back and forth between writing projects has shown me I have to have main characters that I have a true burning interest in if I want a book to succeed.

Honestly, I think that about all I can think of for right now. I’ll try and be more creative with this journal next time if I can.

 

Report On That Writing Conference I’ve Been Mentioning Off and On For A Few Weeks

Good thing I promised to do this in a day or two, not right away.

Anyway, wanted to finally let you know how that conference went. I believe this is either the third or fourth such conference I have attended, and I think I learned something or got some insights from each of them. I think they have also given me more focus on my work and inspired me to take my interest in getting published more seriously.

I was thinking that this was going to be a massive post, but for reasons to be explained, it will wind up being relatively short. I will go over a few observations/points/notes in no particular order regarding the conference.

  • I did not attend too many of the events at the conference. Part of my reason for that was because there were not any sessions that applied to what I have been writing recently. In addition, I was attempting to save some funds and not have to make the trip up to the Quad Cities more than I had to.
  • What I did decide to do was participate in a critique of my work by one of the presenters at the conference and a pitch to the MWC Press for one of my works in progress. From the critique, I was happy to hear that my main character had made such an impression on her, even though she didn’t know his background and only had an excerpt from the book. She also had some good suggestions as well. Although I’m not sure whether anything will come of the MWC Press pitch, it was a great experience to be able to do that and be able to articulate why I thought it was a compelling project.
  • I also have to give thanks to the Midwest Writing Center and St. Ambrose University for hosting the event. They always do a top-class job of hosting the event and making you feel welcome. Any writers who live in the eastern Iowa/western Illinois area, especially near the Quad Cities, would do well to check them and their programs out.

Well, I told you it was going to be short. However, if I can make it to next year’s conference, I certainly would go again.