A Different Approach

In the last five years, I’ve written six novels, mostly in the literary genre except for my one venture into science fiction. I completed the first draft of my latest novel, a psychological thriller, last September, but I’ve been meandering through the editing process since then. Having spent some time learning more about the craft of writing, I’ve given less emphasis to the speed at which I finish a book and more to the aspects of crafting and re-crafting the story. Many an accomplished writer has acknowledged that writing is mostly re-writing, and nothing could be closer to¬†the truth. As I’m relatively new to the world of novel writing, I’m still crafting my own approach.

I think it’s important to get the story out. Often, when I have a new story idea, I find myself in the throes of passion for the novel and want to get it on the page. I don’t hold back in this honeymoon phase because it’s more important to get the general idea in words than it is to worry about the structure or inconsistencies. These things can be honed later. Re-writing provides ample opportunity to perfect a story. Imagine making a piece of pottery: I want to get the general form in place and then I’ll carefully smooth out the rough parts repeatedly until I get the final, beautiful (hopefully) piece that I originally imagined. A novel is very much like pottery. In the end, no novel is perfect in the author’s view; the goal is to get it to a level approaching perfection that is cognitively acceptable to the writer.

At the base level, re-writing is no fun. It’s like having to write the same sentence repeatedly as a form of punishment (I can’t be the only one who had to do that in school). The process is very slow and often discouraging. Some things simply don’t work the second time around when I re-read my work. I find it helps to have other projects to work on while I’m going through this phase; otherwise, I’m likely to go crazy. During the re-write phase this time around, I’ve banged out my memoir and written countless concepts for potential novel ideas. Sometimes, I find myself working on other writing ideas simply to avoid re-writing.

Despite my internal reluctance, I have made progress on my current novel, and I’m starting to appreciate the approach. Once I finished the first draft, I re-read it a couple of times, and then, I deconstructed the story and realized that I had two parallel story lines in the novel, but one wasn’t fully fleshed out. I’ve spent much of the past few months writing that second story line. I’m almost done with it, and when I am, I’ll have to integrate it into the first draft and do another round of revisions since several inconsistencies have arisen in the story. I think this approach will work for me. I think this will help me set a good pace for the story and end up with a true first draft that has legs.

What hasn’t changed in my approach is the importance of the characters. I have a tendency to fall in love with my characters and become them in many ways. I love stepping into the mind of a character and letting myself wander around. At the end of the day, when my writing is done, the characters take me to where they want to take me. It’s almost surreal. Before I started down this road of writing novels, I didn’t quite understand it when writers said they let the characters decide where to go. I understand now, and it’s true. The characters own the story.

My goal is to finish the second “first” draft of Into the Caldera by the end of June just in time for my first residency at The Fifth Semester in Chicago. This is the story I plan to cultivate during the writing program. I’m excited about its potential. It’s an enthralling story with a strong main character that I hope captivates readers. Only time will tell.

Writing Goal for 2017

I only have one writing goal for 2017: Improve my writing. That’s it. I like to keep it simple and focused, and I cannot imagine a simpler and more focused goal than that. It’s not that I haven’t worked on improving my writing in the past – I have, but 2017 will be solely about pushing my work to the next level. In 2016, I wrote a lot – certainly over a thousand pages when all is said and done, and I completed two more draft novels. I’ve received some great feedback from other writers and agents, and the reality is that I still have a lot of work to do if I’m ever going to get to the point of publication, so I’m dedicating 2017 to getting better. Much better.

It’s nice to have a goal, but without a plan, it’s worthless. Once again, I’m going to keep it simple. There are three things I’m going to do in 2017 to help me achieve this goal: (1) Read (or finish) five books on writing, (2) Attend the Fifth Semester workshop, and (3) Practice. I’m a glutton for punishment, so I couldn’t resist forming a corny acronym out of my plan called RAP – Read, Attend, Practice. Can you tell I’ve worked in the corporate world for over 20 years? Every morning when I get up to write before work, I will remind myself of RAP and ensure that anything I’m doing with that precious hour falls in line with my plan.

To get even more specific (and focused), here are the five books I plan to read (or finish) on writing:

  • Story Trumps Structure by Steven James
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Art of Character by David Corbett
  • How to Write Dazzling Dialogue by James Scott Bell
  • Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

All of these books have been recommended to me by other writers or on blogs about writing.

I’m most excited about the Fifth Semester. This four-month-long workshop that includes three-day residencies in Chicago and New York will give me the opportunity to really accelerate my development as a writer. I plan to take my latest novel, Into the Caldera, and put it through the wringer of this course in the hope that I come out with my first publishable novel. It’s a huge investment, but it will pay off in terms of my improvement.

Last, but definitely not least, I will continue to practice by writing at least five days a week during that seminal hour every morning from 5 AM to 6 AM. My focus will not be on completing additional novels; although, I will continue to work on new ideas. Previously, I had set a goal of writing two novels a year, but I’ve backed off that goal as I’ve accumulated seven complete novels and have yet to get to the point of publication. I’ve learned a lot in this process, but now, I need to focus my efforts on getting past novels in the proverbial desk drawer. Much of my practice will be shared here in this blog as has been the case for the past two years. This blog is like my lab, not everything makes it out as a finished product, but at least the experimentation is fun.

Here’s to an exciting and, hopefully, rewarding 2017! Happy New Year!


Inspiration Lacking

Sometimes, life gets in the way of writing rather than providing more fodder for the constantly-churning mind that turns everything into a story. Sometimes, I sit in my chair and I don’t feel like writing at all either because I’m distracted, disgusted, annoyed, or a little bit of everything except inspired. It’s hard to break through in those moments because the very thought of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard seems so anathema to anything else I’d rather be doing, but it’s important to let those few moments fade into the past and find inspiration on another day.

I’m fairly regimented in my writing habits. I sit in the chair for at least an hour every morning and write, but I don’t let my habits govern my work. I may write something entirely new on any given morning or I may edit work that is in progress. I find editing helps me get around those mornings when I’m not inspired, but I can only do so much editing before I’m ready to move onto something else.

If I still find myself at a loss during my writing time, I try listening to music or reading a book. Sometimes that helps me find inspiration, but if I still can’t break through, then I walk away. I don’t force it. There’s no reason to write¬†insipid and uninspired prose because that does no one any good. There’s always tomorrow. There’s always another moment of incredible inspiration that makes me want to keep writing for a whole day, and when that happens, I’ll take advantage of it.