It's not a good sign if what you are writing bores you. Generally speaking, if you're bored, chances are your reader will be too. I mean, you should probably be the biggest fan of your work in some regards. I know I've talked a lot about the need to be self-critical so that you can be an effective self-editor and reviser, but at the same, if you can't get excited about your work, how will an audience or an editor?
Now, let me complete undercut and disregard those opening statements: as I tried to finish revising the third draft of my novel, I slipped into a literary doldrums, a windless void of "dear God, why isn't this done yet?" After several successful weeks of logging a TON of hours on my timesheet and blazing a trail of fun, exciting, powerful writing that would serve as my novel's climax, I was left with... the end. The denouement. The other side of the mountain. And I lost steam rapidly. Now, it's not as simple as my story was boring. The problem was three-fold. I was entering a less action-packed section, but it was time for the reader to get answers and find some resolution (and set them up for book 2). However, I was also fighting a section that was very disorganized, needed a lot of work and attention, a problem compounded by the changes I'd made throughout the third draft. On top of that, I was fighting personal fatigue. I'd been working on this draft for years and going non-stop at it for eight months.
How did I succeed? Slowly? Sorry, no great advice. I just kept trudging along. How do you get out of the doldrums? Well, it's been awhile since I read The Phantom Tollbooth, so to go with a slightly more adult explanation of the metaphor: when there's no wind, you fucking row. And that's what I did. At one point I cleared space on the living floor and laid the last four-ish chapters out in a spiraling circle around me, reading and marking them as I went, labelling each major event with coded post-it notes and translating that into an outline (which then became two outlines, one of what was and one of what would be [and one to rule them all!]). I even made-up little signs that said "plot-hole" and the like. Then I could start moving papers around and drawing arrows across sheets. I wrote out of my comfort zone, how's that for advice? CHEESY ANNOUNCER VOICE: In the doldrums? Trying to finish your novel but stuck in denoue-blah? Do something weird and different to mix it up, like surround yourself in your novel on the living room floor or go find an all-night diner, grab a booth and order onion rings. (I eventually added on a salad at about 1:30 in the morning because I was feeling unhealthy... and a little gassy. TMI?)
Whatever you do, don't stop. Momentum is a powerful force. Queue the Newton's first law references. However I did, I did it. And now, it's time to polish it up and send it out to be published. Look out world. No seriously, look out, there's a lot of random rocks and gamma rays flying around out there.
Me Eric. Me no published.
The summer after finishing my master's degree (last summer), I worked and worked and wrote and wrote. But then the summer ended and I was not even halfway done. I voiced my displeasure with this to someone who tried to console me by saying "the good part of being a teacher is that there's always next summer." Now pardon the language, but my mental reaction was a whiplashed, "*** that!" The master's degree was out of the way and I had no intention of stopping. Staring at next summer seemed like looking at the edge of a cliff: all I had to do was peer a little farther and I could see the abyss yawning before me. "In 16 years, the kids will be out of the house. You can write then!" No no no no no. I couldn't wait for my whole life to end before I finish the damn book. This isn't a bucket-list, end of life thing, I want this TO BE MY LIFE. This novel is step 1. I'm still on step 1. And I wasn't going to wait 10 months.
So the problem before me was familiar. The difference was one less obstacle and perhaps a little bit of impatience. I've always been determined and I don't think my resolve changed, so it had to have been impatience. You wouldn't think that would be a quality that could ever help you write a novel, quite the opposite in fact, and yet, I think it was my impatience with not being done, my impatience with being foiled and set-back, that lit the fire under my ass to write write write. Anyway, my solution was simple. I would keep writing, week nights and week ends. I created a chart in MS Word where I could log my start time, my stop time, what I accomplished, my daily hours, and my total hours for the week. I set a goal to write 15 hours a week. I didn't always accomplish this, but something about this visual, about the constant update of being able to say "I've only put in four hours this week, I need to stay up late on Friday" or the instant gratification (something in short supply with a project like novel writing) of being able to say "I wrote 18 hours last week!" that really spurned me on, kept me on task and drove me forward to success.
I got into mini-routines, all of which are documented in my little MS Word timesheet. There would be a span of weeks where I put in 2 hours a night on weeknights and didn't really do much on the weekends. There were times when I wrote nothing during the week but pulled late nights back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, downing a five-hour energy and typing until two. There was last October, which nearly did me in, four straight weeks of goose-eggs in the chart. Why? Life, why else? My brother got married (out of town) and the first quarter ended, necessitating marathon grading from the work I'd put off for all the writing I'd done in the prior month and a half. But I got back to it as I always do, and next time, I'll finish the tale of how I finished the draft.
Until then, I'm a giant nerd for not abandoning this sign-off YEARS ago (and I'm Eric, an unpublished writer).
So the first thing I did was stop writing. There was no point. All that trying and accomplishing nothing, thinking about the book constantly but having not time to work on it. I was making myself miserable. I focused on immediate task at hand and spent the fall of 2013 and spring of 2014 finishing my Master's Degree and as of May of last year, I have an M.Ed. after my name (Master's of Education: Secondary English Curriculum and Instruction, if anyone's asking).
My worry was that the novel would fade into the background. That I would never pick it up again. That after my degree was done I'd want a break and that break would be the rest of my life. Sheesh, pretty over-dramatic stuff, huh? Then again, I suppose deep-seated fears about failure and the loss of dreams would come out sounding a bit melodramatic. Confirmation that I was doing the right thing and that writing was my true passion came to me in the persistence of vision. All throughout that year, I possessed the same thoughts and drive: I was finishing my degree merely as an interim, it was an obstacle to be overcome and a means to an end. Recently, a friend was bragging about me to some of her other friends as way of introduction: "he has twins, a job, got his master's, AND wrote a book!" Little do most know that I view the second to last in that last, as merely a step in achieving the very last. As much as planning and drafting and providing feedback, my Master's Degree was just another step in that process.
Partly, as I've explained, because I had to do it before I could rest the time to finish the damn thing, but also, in learning to teach writing, I've become a vastly better writer. As much as the numerous hours in workshop at FSU, I've bettered myself by the time spent reading Peter Elbow and Donald Graves and Barry Lane, as well as by the time I spent in Room 211 of Steinbrenner High School, trying to get 10th graders to pass state assessments or show young people the power and possibility or writing in my Creative Writing Classes.
To teach is to know, right?
The last post I made here was over a year and a half ago. I was fed up and failing at balancing my life as a writer with the multitude of other demands on time: twin girls, full-time job, working on a Master's Degree in education. I was trying everything I could think of: writing early in the morning, writing during my planning period, writing once a week before the sun came up on Sundays, writing in the few weeks left to me during summer vacation. Nothing was working. And I found that I had very little left to say in this forum. No one wants to read about a guy complaining about how he has no time. I know this because I had no desire to write it. If I had a few minutes to sit down, then I wanted to use them to write in my book, not a blog. I also found that I had very little left to say about writing itself. I just needed to write. There comes a time when all that's left is the hard work. The sit-down-and-do-it.
So, a year and a half ago, I vowed to not post on this blog until I was done with the third draft. And that's what I did. It's done.
In the next three blogs, I will detail how I did this and then return to regular postings, particularly as I explore the world of novel publishing.
My novel, completed for the third time, stands at 24 chapters and approximately 165,800 words (that's down about 9 or 10K from the 2nd draft which was 30 chapters plus an epilogue).
These are big steps and exciting times for me, but until next time, I'm Eric and I'm an unpublished writer.
Tried to post a few times but I've just been too busy. Not enough of that has been writing but it's been in there too. Finished chapter five. Working on chapter 6. Problems are getting solved and so far everything is moving forward smoothly. My goal is to get to chapter 10 before I go back to work in two and a half weeks. We'll see. I apologize for breaking form with the numbered days and all, but for anyone following this still I wanted to update. Writing is happening, music is being played, Eric is still unpublished.
Edit: this was posted July 22, 2013 11:06:22 PM EDT. The date above is from the first time I tried to make an update to the blog.
It's funny. I always thought the subtitle of this blog "The Struggle of an Unpublished Writer" was a bit overly dramatic. Struggle was probably the best word to sum up today. Got started over an hour-and-a-half later than I wanted to (therefore only getting to work for about an hour this morning) because Juliette simply wouldn't stop screaming and allow us to put her down (very out-of-character for her). Then through the day of TBAWP, I fought hunger, headache, wife calling me about issues with the kids, additional TBAWP responsibilities and, surprisingly the worst of all, the lack of headphones all kept me from writing.
The problem is it's so easy to move writing to the bottom of the list when you consider the immediate, pressing concerns of day to day life. In fact, in terms of deadline, as an unpublished author, it pretty much lives at the bottom of the list. Though it shouldn't. This isn't something I want to do before I die, it's something I want to happen right now! I just recently found a letter an old friend wrote to me, someone with whom I've lost touch. He told me that life does not happen in our own time, but in God's. You can't force life. Something like that (the absence of quotes being deliberate). I'd never dispute the importance of patience, and to work on a single project for this long takes so much patience, no doubt of that. But I can't be too patient with this. I have to make those sacrifices and move this to the top of the list.
I know I've said this before, but what it goes to show is that constant struggle the unpublished writer goes through, the constant pressure to do other things, to give up, to let it sit at the bottom of the list. I could easily. I just hope I don't.
Working on: Chapter 5
Time Spent Writing: Maybe 3 hours between the two daysWriting Music: The Greatest Video Game Music (London Philharmonic), Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack, Cowboy Bebop Soundtrack
I wanted to blog everyday this week, but it was just too crazy and what time I had to write went straight to the book. I've had anecdotes and more "there's always reasons not to write" moments, but what it boils down to is this: I got another chapter done. A chapter a week may not be the best pace but it's the best pace I've known in a long time and if it stays steady, I'll be happy to complete this thing sometime in the fall. The days I'm counting down (or up rather) are the days of summer. I'd like to finish this draft this summer but the lines of wishes seldom cross the axis of reality.
Chapter 4 wasn't too hard, just time consuming and it is a fairly long chapter. But I took the advice of the people I polled on Facebook in several ones. One: the chapter is deliberately long and ends with a certain punctuation. There is a reason for it being a chapter in and of itself. There is page break about a 1/3 of the way through, and as far as those commenting that they'd only be annoyed when there was a ten page chapter and then a sixty page one, that just isn't the case. If the others were ten pages, then this one is less than twenty. And it's my conceit that it's a real solid twenty.
Working on: Chapter 4, start to finish
Time Spent Writing: Day 15: 4-5 Hours Day 16: 2.5 hours Day 17: 4 hours Day 18: 1/2 hourWriting Music: Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack, Gustav Holtz's The Planets, The Greatest Video Game Music (London Philharmonic, Battlestar Galactic Season 3 Soundtrack, Assorted Piano Music (Personal playlist) Megaman OCremix
Gratuitously long title anyone?
After an exceptionally long wednesday (though it will be the norm for the next month) I had the hardest time waking up this morning, whatever that superlative compares to I don't know. I got here at USF about an hour later than normal and though that would have left me still two hours to write I elected to instead work on the 90 minute presentation I will be making on monday. I doubt I will be doing much writing (and very much doubt there will be blogging) over the weekend. However, I hope to spend the Monday morning before my presentation easing my mind before the big day and getting back on schedule with the book by enjoying a nice block of writing time. Yes, it's sad to be away from the novel (and very subtly stressful in its own as I've said several times that the third draft NEEDS to happen this summer). But the good news is that I know pretty much everything I'm doing for my presentation with a very detailed plan; I just need to put it all into a presentation.
Which brings me to my second point: I want nothing to do with publishing. In High School, I thought my propensity for writing and storytelling would lead to screenwriting and I would major in film. I quickly realized at my FSU orientation after hanging out with some prospective film students that I wanted nothing to do with them because their interests were completely different from mine. All they could talk about was what camera they used or what editing software they preferred. My response: who gives a ***? Let's talk about what the film says! And then I majored Creative Writing (and minored in Philosophy). Today, this realization is reaffirmed. I planned out this whole huge lesson that I think is really dope and now I'm faced with the task of "publishing." I care that it looks nice, but very much do not enjoy taking the time to pretty it all up. I'm tempted to throw it all onto base, black writing on white slides, but I do care that it looks professional. Bleh.
This is why I like writing. It's all about the words and the story. Let the readers make their own pictures. In their minds.
This morning, I finished Chapter 3, (Huzzah!), and after yesterday's discussion thought I would share what punctuation I believe it ends on (may have to writing more and look back globally before I can think about the novel's rhythm). So, what punctuation does chapter 3 end on? A semi-colon. Because it rounds out a thought and seems to conclude nicely, but still joins nicely with the start of the next chapter (I think and hope).
Looking ahead to other problematic chapters (I, happily, think I should be able to soar through chapters 4 and 5), I think I may need to almost completely re-do chapters 6 and 7. Again, this is where a lot of material from draft 2 and even the working draft 3 (that didn't work and I only got a third of the way through before the babies were born) is getting scrunched together and rearranged and even new stuff added and... the point is, there's a lot going on and I think it may behoove me to just plain rewrite these chapters. Of course, I'm saying this because I think it'll be easier to just write as though I were first drafting it. I know I said in yesterday's blog that I should always approach my writing with that mindset, that this doesn't have to be perfect, but the question is which will be more effective: trying to use the writing I've already generated, adding and cutting and changing as needed (with a lot of adding) or just start from scratch? Can I even start from scratch? Should I write from scratch then compare and revise? That last option sounds like the most work.
Working on: Finished Chapter 3, Started Chapter 4
Time Spent Writing: About 2 HoursWriting Music: Star Trek, Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique
Just about finished chapter 3 and the only thing that's keeping me from moving on is seeing how long the next chapter potentially is. I wonder about chapter balance. Plenty of books I read have short chapters and long chapters. Only when they are in the extreme one way or the other do I really notice at all. I posed the question to facebook and this is the response I got:
Thanks for the responses, y'all! Ultimately, I think I need to focus on the function of the chapters, but out of courtesy to readers make sure that there are page breaks in longer ones (this tends to happen naturally, I've noticed). This is easy and relieving though to a degree ignores the idea of rhythm presented in the last response, although as far as novel-rhythm goes, I may be unready to tackle such an issue. What I can definitely do is make sure that chapters end for a reason and not simply exist as arbitrary sections. The first draft was very guilty of this. I would write about 5000 words, wrap things up nicely and close it out. When I reread the first draft I realized (and I can't remember if my wife helped me realize this or if I just had a conversation with her about it) how crappy that was. That chapters needed to end on notes that kept people wanting to read. This isn't a new idea, having a cliffhanger. I like the way Calvin put it: "punctuate a book." That punctuation doesn't have to be an ellipsis, a question mark, or a exclamation point (though I think those would be the most common).
The only reason I don't feel I can tackle rhythm is that I'm still parsing out so many other issues, but this is always the writers problem. Even in a novel, everything serves multiple functions. You don't take one sentence to establish mood, another character, another setting then you go into plot. Everything is dynamic and intertwined. I guess I just don't feel like I have a feel for the rhythm yet, especially when I'm consciously working to maintain the same narrative voice (important even for an unseen, omniscient narrator), style and mood. Will have to ponder rhythm more in the future. Just one more thing... THANKS DIS-ROBE-A-TELL-HE!
Working on: Finishing Chapter 3, Starting Chapter 4
Time Spent Writing: about 3 hoursWriting Music: Favorite Piano Music Playlist, Firefly, OCRemix
That stands for Tampa Bay Area Writing Project. I am and will be for the next four weeks attending their summer institute for writing teachers. I'm expected to create a demonstration lesson to take back to my school (and district) to share with my peers about the teaching of writing. It's from 9 AM to 4 PM. Monday through Thursday. For four weeks.
BUT I'M STILL GOING TO GET THIS NOVEL DONE!
How? You, a blunt but reasonable, though possibly annoying, person might ask.
Well, today I showed up here at USF (where the institute is held (I get grad credit for this! one less class!)) at about 6:30 AM and began to write and got a nice chunk done. I may be able to finish chapter 3 tomorrow! Really! EXCLAMATION POINTS AND FIREWORKS AND GRATUITOUS DISPLAYS OF CAPSLOCK (why isn't "caps lock" in all caps on my keyboard?)!!! (p.s. google interbang)
One way I think I'm growing as a writer already is in versatility of environment, though like so much growth, this is one of necessity. I've been able today, to write in a courtyard and a hallway as the building was not open when I arrived and after that, the room was still not. And I got plenty done. I also have to constantly remind myself, that though I'm working towards perfection and perfunctory publication (perfunctory because it will be so perfect), when I'm too conscious of this, my work gets worse and worse and when I'm writing new material, even if the book as a whole is in its third incarnation, that particular paragraph is in draft 1 and that can be polished later. It's necessary or I'll never move on. And boy do I need to move on from chapter 3.
So, I'll be busy over the next 3 weeks, but as my friend JC pointed out when I was in college and doing the internship at Rowland Publishing (when I started this blog), I get more done the more busy I am. I wrote for 2 + hours this morning and almost an hour during lunch. I feel good. Lots to do, but I feel good. Especially since I volunteered to present first so I'll be presenting on Monday and after that, every afternoon will be all about the writing (as much as I can. Still need to participate and help my peers make their presentations). So....wake up, write, TBAWP in the morning, writing lunch, TBAWP in the afternoon with writing starting next week. Potentially I could get more done than at home and still have the evenings with my wife and babies. I'd say 'let's do this!' but IT'S ALREADY BEEN BEGUN!
Working on: Chapter 3
Time Spent Writing: a little less than 3 hoursWriting Music: Cowboy Bebop Soundtrack, Various OCremix, Classic Western Themes
It's always a struggle, man. They say you need routine but that's not all. Writing at the end of the day is no good. They say Hemingway wrote at the beginning of the day. He got up early and wrote until noon. I've heard people say you should write in the morning, as soon as you get up, because your subconscious or unconscious or whatever is still close to the dream-state. That it's like harnessing the power of your dreams. I've never been one to buy into that sort of thing, maybe a little, but not really. I like writing in the morning because I'm refreshed and new. I may be tired, but it's a waking up rather than a winding down. Writing at the end of the day like this, just too damn exhausting, or rather I'm too exhausted already.
It's never a good writing session when your just skipped around wildly, but not doing much in any particular place. At times, I couldn't tell if it was really late or if this book was just broken beyond all repair. I came up with a few good (I think) ideas for how to reconcile the changes I'm making now with later chapters that will need to be doctored to fit accordingly.
The real difficulty at this juncture is trying to figure out what the reader knows. I know so much that won't ever really need to be revealed in this book, or possibly ever, with character backstory and history and what-not. Trying to seperate myself and understand my audience is a unique challenge. So unique that I've created a table in a word doc that lists the chapters then I write in what is revealed to the reader in each chapter and, in the last column, what the reader might infer from this information. It's been useful, though this evening I may have spent too much time staring at that instead of chapter 3.
Anyway, it's late. I look forward to the days when I don't start off each post with how hard writing is. That's getting old. Man, it's so late, I'm not even proofing this. Deal with it, imaginary reader.
Working on: Chapter 3 (and looking ahead to 4, 9 and 10 with some planning and writing)
Time Spent Writing: 1 1/2 hour or somethingWriting Music: Battlestar Galactica Season 1 and 2
No, there wasn't a day-three. Not sure yet if I'll be posting everyday that I do writing, but sadly, yesterday was completely consumed by working on our old house and getting ready to be rented. 10+ hours. Good stuff. Going back today for about an hour / hour in a half. But this isn't a blog about not-writing...
Today, I write! And, since someone asked me on facebook and I haven't mentioned it here yet, I am no longer using Storymill, my beloved writing program. Storymill was awesome, potentially is still awesome, however, it is broken and their technical support failed to actually do anything for me. After updating the software, one feature stopped working in a very malicious way that did result in the loss of someof my writing (a very small amount, just what I had done in that particular writing session, but there is nothing more discouraging or frightening to me as a writer than the simple disappearance of my work, having my hard-wrought time amount to nothing). So Storymill is out and a folder with lots of other folders inside of it and each of those full of word documents is serving as the sad, but effective replacement.
I say effective because I'm getting stuff done! Definitely feeling warmed up today and wrote a lot though I noticed that many people might look at what I'm doing as actually containing very little writing. Mostly, at this phase, I'm reading and revising. Though there is definitely some rewriting going, the closest I come to just straight up writing is when I have to craft a new section entirely to tie things together or act as a replacement. Chapter 3 has, in the end, been so difficult because it has been the confluence of several chapters from the first draft being boiled down, distilled and other cooking-related metaphors for reduction and simplification. I know some writers fear the blank page, but I long for the days of the first draft, just writing along, whatever came to mind, free-wheeling, fast-typing with the wind whipping through my care-free knuckle hairs. Whoa, that got weird.
Anyway, it's good news. I could see myself being done with Chapter 3 in another good session (good meaning, nice amount of time, like today).
Working on: Chapter 3
Time Spent Writing: 4+ hours (though with many baby-related interruptions)Writing Music: Tchaikovsky ("Little Russian," "Winter Dreams," etc.) and Battlestar Galactica Soundtrack Season 1
Well, I failed at writing this morning. Not in the getting up and getting start part but in the isolating myself from family part. I've got to have my space to write, especially when it's something like this, where the ideas and inspiration aren't as fresh and you have to force yourself into the chair a bit. Then there was a whole day full of stuff to do, including a grad class from 5:15 to 9:00. But there are always reasons not to write. After I came home and ate dinner, I got right to it and though I may not have gotten all I wanted done, it's something and be able to say I tried and did something is very important at the end of the day.
As for the writing itself, still plugging away at Chapter 3, trying to work through this log jam. This may be the third draft of the book, but chapter 3 has seen more than it's share of renditions and revisions. At this point, I"m taking stuff from all over the second draft and these super messy chapters as part of this internal third draft processing and revising. It feels a lot like sewing as I cut and then try to pull this material back together. I hate to be so vague, but I don't want to go into the details of the book. Suffice it to say, the second draft was a lot longer and several attempts have been made around chapter 3 and the subsequent installments aimed at reducing that word count and delivering the reader to the action and the drama. So far, I've literally (in the novel sense) rearrange solar systems to get this thing to work and now, in many ways, I'm putting a lot of it back, but still trying at all times to shorten the text. Challenge indeed .
Working on: Piecing Together Chapter 3
Time Spent Writing: less than 2 hours, dividedWriting Music: Phillip Glass' "Mad Rush" and Zelda Playlist (OCRemix, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Jean Carlo Emmanuel Gonzalez Cruz)
Here it is, the first day of summer. Let me say, I'm already starting off by having failed in my goals a bit. I'm not even talking about the numerous other attempts I've made to get Draft 3 started that go back more than a year at this point. No. That's far too depressing to talk about in a blog about a grand new beginning. I'm just talking about how I wanted to get ready for today and this summer. I wanted to get a little momentum, use the last week of school (at the least), and the weekend before post-planning to start writing, at the very least do some prewriting. I wanted to sit down on my first day of writing and really be able to start cranking out the words, baby! YEAH! (think John Dean, not Austin Powers). Well, "if wishes were horses, we'd all be eating steak." None of that happened. Heck, I'm nowhere close to "ready." The office in the new house (oh yeah, Mary and I moved, so there's another giant reason why writing hasn't happened) is still in complete shambles, boxes everywhere, things that need assembling and hanging (and in one case re-hanging).
But there are always reasons to not write. Too many actually. I could use the fact that Mary had to interrupt me for help with the babies several times this morning as an excuse, but I always came back to the office (she did a good job of kicking me in the right direction, the wonderful woman). I could have stayed in bed: 'hey! it's vacation time!' or 'I didn't sleep well last night.' Sure, I'd love to spend the morning playing Civilization IV or take the girls for a walk. There are always reasons not to write and that's why this blog is a good one, about hope and victory and tacos and all those good things. I got up. I wrote. Tomorrow I'll do it again.
The goal is simple: finish a complete third draft that is really frakkin' good.
Working on: Chapter 3 / Ton of Prewriting
Time Spent Writing:about 3 1/2 hoursWriting Music: Donkey Kong Country OCRemix