Saturday, March 17, 2018

Life, It's One Damn thing After Another

Excuse me for the brevity of this post, but I am massively distracted by the imminent sale and move from our home of twenty-some years to a purchased apartment half its size.  You'd think that decisions on furniture and rugs would dominate, but you would be wrong; its the little things that consume time as you emotionally debate whether to discard, give away, or save  every damn knick-knack, picture, book, or momento you managed to acquire, cherish and forget about. Then there's the packing, arranging, moving, settling, and dealing with a seemingly endless parade of friends, agents, lawyers, vendors, etc who stumble over each other trying to make things "easier."

Then there's the attempts at writing.  Hardly a spare hour goes by without a phone call, neighbor dropping by, the spouse screaming for "a few minutes of your time," as the ideas dissolve into a meaningless morass of random thoughts and ill-structured sentences.  The hell of it is that after you again grasp a few moments you can't immediately jump back to where your mind was before the interruption and by the time you almost recover that blessed state there's another interruption!

But then, how is this any different from my day to day life?


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Busy,busy, busy

No time to pontificate this week because of personal and professional issues: signed another contract (third this year), waiting for the next round of copyedits from my novel's publisher, working on a novella that has not yet resolved into a coherent story while trying to finish two draft novels (both at 97% of completion), preparing to make a scary move from my current house to a smaller apartment, and waiting for three galleys to arrive for proofreading.

Needless to say my nerves are shot and March has arrived sooner than expected! Thank the lord that I am not running for office this year!          


Saturday, February 10, 2018


Where to start?  Another blank page stares at me two days after my last submission and I am bereft of  ideas.  My first instinct is to just write off the top of my head without thought to the route to the end or even as to where the destination might be found. Should I posit a character and then surround it with complications, compulsions, or contradictions?  Maybe I should think of a problem and then solve it - but no, that never works. Perhaps I can contrive a series of improbable events and populate them with seemingly intelligent, but actually brutally stupid, actors.  But what kind of events would be interesting?  What sorts of characters would find, much less allow, themselves to be involved?

You see the problem: the entrances to the maze of plotting are many as are the exits but the core of the maze, the intricacies of turns and twists, and the barriers to a straightforward plot will always be clouded. Each turn presents new challenges, each twist a new character who, incidentally is just as confused about their part as the protagonist. Then there are the trap doors of non-sequiturs, grammatical snares for the unwary, and the dead ends of failing imagination. Characters multiply like ants at a picnic, wandering into and out of the narrative with few lines to speak and fewer descriptive details.  Some even have the temerity to possess names!

Often one can crawl thousands of words into the maze only to find they've strayed so far that there is no hope finding where they started or even a hint of where the next passage might take them, let alone show them an easy path to the exit. You may force yourself through more thousands of words only to discover suddenly that the tissue of lies you have been telling is crap and on exposure likely to drop you into a pit of shame.  It  appears to have been so much wasted effort.

You are lost, hopelessly, bitterly lost.

You could go back to find a more inviting way to begin, retrace your steps to discover where you could have turned a better phrase or altered a scene, and bravely struggle onward, all the while wondering if those the paths you ignored might have been better choices.  But at this point, you've become so invested in your course that you feign to discard it.  Yet you stumble on, keeping your eyes on the prize until, at last, you reach an end, any end.

And begin to edit.


Friday, February 2, 2018

IS and OTH

I just sold a few more short stories which should be a time for celebration.  This would have been a balm to my persistent Imposter Syndrome (IS,) which has bedeviled me for more years than I care to count in both my former professional and now writing life. I have never been comfortable since I am continually  waiting for a red-robed fanatic to jump through the door screaming my unworthiness and revealing that I am a fraud, a cheat, and a charlatan.  That I am unable to produce anything worth reading without a maddening amount of rewriting, editing, more rewriting, editing, going back and rewriting the rewrite to its original form, and changing words even as the galleys are being reviewed.  I'd scribble improvements (edits) in the margins of magazines if B&N didn't take offense.

But the sale(s) didn't give me the congratulatory euphoria I expected because I'd just read a twitter post by Charlie Stross* bemoaning another writer's affliction that I fear has afflicted me - the dreaded OTH (Over The Hill) syndrome.  OTH makes me worry that my best writing years are behind me, that I am no longer the innovative upstart I once fantasized I was, that words no longer seem to flow effortlessly from my fingers to the page, and that the modest skills I've acquired over the succeeding years have been steadily deteriorating. Every new draft begs the question if I will be able or capable of finishing it.  Every editing pass of endless drafts seem to highlight the unworthiness of my scribliing.  Every rejection is a stake in my heart that illogically reinforces both my IS and OTH syndromes!

Sure, you struggling, beginning writers might scoff: "That will never happen to me," but in the late dark hours of your career these thoughts will  haunt you, wrapping their tangles of hopelessness about your creative imagination and suffusing your muse with doubts even as you struggle to do one more sentence, one more scene, one more story, one more chapter, and one more submission.

But you continue to write.

*who introduced me to Scrivener years ago


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Of Ovens, Writers, and Perseverance

Now that I've recovered from my most recent mini-disaster I've managed to work my way through the remaining 30k of the novel and returned it to the hands of my editor/copyeditor for further butchery in hopes that she will tell me how to carve delicious steaks from its carcass.

The best thing to do instead of nervously biting finger and toenails to the quick while I await the next round of edits, I turned back to some incomplete drafts in hopes that work on them would clarify the issues that impeded their completion.

I pulled one draft out of the pie-oven* to see how it had turned out from the perspective of a few weeks and with my recent near-death editing/rewriting experience, behind me.  The draft on this read was barely acceptable and contained more errors and misplaced emphasis than I'd realized.  The rewrite was extensive with as many words deleted as changed.  In the end I had a decent draft that I thought I could present to my (mostly) short story writers' group without embarrassment.

Although I did not identify members of the group as my target audience, they listened respectfully and then provided a barrage of insightful comments that revealed where more work was needed.  Some even suggested changes that might amplify and improve the story's message.  This process also revealed that three other writers in the group WERE in my target demographic after all. This shows  how naive I was to think what they wrote was what they liked to read.

The story, after a day's work of patching, shifting, adjusting, and rewriting to fix the problems identified, a much improved story is back in the oven where it will sit for another few weeks before my next read-through.   Hopefully** that next read will convince me to finally send it out for acceptance.

*I learned the pie oven technique
 from Michael Swanwick.

**As ever


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Abrupt Deletion, Frustration, and Recovery

Forget what I said last week about the joys of editing. In an attempt to clarify a few points in my latest novel revision I spent an entire day writing about 2,000 words of new material when, to my dismay, I accidentally erased not only the freshly minted words, but the outline for the remaining changes I hadn't yet made.  In desperation I tried every trick I knew to recover the work but, thanks to my normally safe setting for auto backup, all I was doing was overwriting the draft deeper every 30 seconds!

I cursed with every word I knew and, being a writer, probably crafted a few new combinations, swore I'd never write another damn thing, and fumed for hours at the injustice of it all.  Most of all at my stupidity for not taking additional protections.

The morning after the disastrous erasure, I sat down and tried to recall what I had lost and, little by little, managed to put together a rough outline of what I had (and intended to add) written.  I probably missed a few points and added some new material, but in general felt I'd managed to recover the flow and bits of the important dialogue.

Using that new outline as a basis, I recreated what I had lost as best I could, but did so knowing in my heart of hearts that the original lost material had been pure gold and worthy of acclimation.  Or so I kept deluding myself as I continued to slog ahead.

After all, they were just words.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Writing, Revinsing, Revising damnit!, Modifying, Editing

Writing, Revinsing, Revising damnit!, Modifying, Editing provides both the bane and pleasure of writing. The bane is realizing that the piece I just completed is in fact an atrocious piece of poorly worded, rambling, disorganized crap. The pleasure comes from the continual polishing of successive drafts to make each word matter until the pearl steps from the oyster as it were.

All of my stories begin with far more words than ever reach the reader.  Most of my short stories were almost three times as long in their original draft. As the sculptor said modestly about his works, "It's easy to  a produce a statue once you see the part of marble you need to remove."

To begin with, editing a first draft is easier than the writing of a story. At that nescient stage errors of haste become glaringly obvious, as does any material irrelevant to the story.  Most misspelled words and grammar mistakes are hopefully taken care of automatically so are of no concern (except when you're writing SF of course.)  Editing becomes increasingly harder with each succeeding draft as you struggle to clarify and improve the action while honing descriptive and expository sentences into razor-sharp clarity. This last effort (reaching for the perfect word/sequence) can become as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.

As a case in point, take the piece I just completed (on the fifth draft.)  The opening paragraph was the most important scene in that it was supposed to  grasp the readers attention, raise questions that impel them to continue, and create a sense of anticipation so that they immerse themselves in the story's progress.  At the fourth revision my opening paragraph was 566 words long and, I thought, rather inelegant. After a full day (six hours) of struggle I had reduced the word count to a  more precise 213 words with greater impact.

I did this with two key internal scenes as well and, on reflection, the third draft would have been acceptable ( to the right editor, of course) and I question whether I was needlessly embellishing the piece without actually improving it. This is a question that remains  uppermost in my mind as I grind and polish each facet to get microscospic improvement to the work.

But then, that's just me.