Friday, November 30, 2012

The Golden Moment

After wallowing in self-absorbed misery over my lack of progress a bright moment finally happened like the summer's sun rising in the east, illuminating what earlier had been obscured, revealing so much that I gasped in wonder at this magical awakening to the single arc that united all these disparate parts of my draft into a unified whole. This new insight tells me what dross to cut and where new material must be added.  The hitherto dark way is now clear, the plot is certain, and the story finally has taken on its own form.

There always is a point in the development of a story where I want to give up, give in, go for long walks, or take up something that doesn't demand so much hard work.  Stories that started off with such promise from a brilliant (so I thought) idea rapidly built into pages upon pages of rambling prose.  The  ideas for scenes came so fast I can barely type fast enough. And then, it happens.  I realize that there are...gaps...plot holes, mischaracterizations, and just silly stuff, of which we will never speak again,  Not bad, think I, and proceed patching here and there, adding a bit of structure, painting over a misstep, pounding some overwrought passage into submission.  I struggle on, trying to wrench plot from the dreck, cutting here and there, letting some parts run on and on and on until fatigue overtakes me.

When I return to my writing anvil I realize that the story isn't very good. In fact, it is horrible, beyond recovery, an absolute travesty that would forever besmirch whatever is left of my good name.  I've wasted hours, days, weeks on something so unworthy that I am ashamed.  There is nothing I can do that can save this piece. Nothing.  I move on to something else, swearing never to return to this time-wasting crap.

That is when the magic happens and the story becomes infused with the light of understanding, of seeing the whole buried within and where it needs to go.  When it happens i go forward with renewed confidence,  seize the draft, and begin writing the story that wanted to be told and not necessarily what I set out to write.

It would be a blessing if this were this to happen only occasionally, but, truth to tell, it happens every damn time I get into a new project.  The longer they are, the worse the depths of my frustration and pain.  It is a sinusoidal wave form of enthusiastic peaks of creativity, the declining slope of struggling to wrest meaning from tedious prose, and finally reaching the depths of despair from which only the golden moments let me rise to the peak satisfaction of a decent, submission-ready manuscript.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Agony of Slogging Along

Another day, another thousand words while dealing with feelings of incompetence as I struggle with the work in process.  Why am I putting myself through this?  Why do I slog daily through words, words, words, fighting the impulse to add ever more to what I've already done even as I scribble out words that only yesterday were golden but today seem utter dross? The story that began with such promise has devolved into a messy assortment of ideas that do not quite jell.  In fact, the scenes have become so disparate that it's hard to believe they are parts of the same plot and why the hell did that character's name change from Jean to Gene while his/her gender remained unchanged but the clothes did not?  Moving scenes around doesn't help; it just makes the damage look that much worse.

God in heaven, I feel I will never, ever get this story done, but I blunder on, believing that there might be a solution somewhere ahead if only I continue to work on this phrasing, this paragraph, this scene, this whole fucking story!  Maybe I should stop rereading and just move on until this twisted tale reaches some sort of conclusion, epiphany, or simply dies unresolved.  Yeah, that makes sense. Or does it?

Is this what my life has become - struggling to make sense, to smooth the words into a coherent story, fighting the urges to move on to something -anything!- else just so I don't have to deal with what I've already driven into incomprehensible ramblings?

What twisted aspect of personality drives me, an otherwise sane person, to sit before a computer for hours, days, weeks at a time scribbling words that might never be read by another human being?  Isn't it presumptuous to think that my words, my concepts, ideas or phrasing merits any more praise than another's?  But questions like this, the nagging doubts, the painful realization of insufficiency, of mortality, and human frailty fail to dissuade me as I slog through the working part of writing - battling the devils that harry me as I proceed along the exhausting long march that will hopefully, prayerfully develop into something somewhat readable.

Is this agony the common lot of a writer?

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I've spent a few days cleaning out my file cabinets, sorting through old, outdated paperwork, tossing away product handbooks for items I no longer possessed, and, in general, doing what I should have been doing routinely.  In the end I'd reduced five packed file cabinet drawers to four loosely filled ones and filled two huge bags with waste paper.  It was the detritus of fifteen years, at least.

I loaded the bags in the car, along with miscellaneous electronics - mostly chargers whose original purpose was long forgotten, and drove a few miles down the road to the county recycling yard where  large bins with prominent labels await each type of recyclable material.  The site is a marvel of efficiency, all cheerfully administered by smiling staff.  Over where the big trucks dump their non-recyclables a million and one seagulls cover the hillsides and hover over newly arrived garbage trucks with squalling anticipation.  Recycling, even through the internal processes of birds is a wonderful thing.

Lest you be wondering, none of my writing stuff followed the recycling route. Instead I carefully package each year's electronic and paper files and work papers for my archivist so that some future researcher can discover and, hopefully, enjoy them. I often fear I am so desperate that even the hope of a pathetic bit of posthumous attention seems appealing. I hesitate to apply the term "re-cycling" when most of this stuff has yet to be "-cycled."

But back to recycling,  During my writing career I've completed perhaps five hundred stories and sold only twenty percent. A lot more unfinished pieces await my renewed interest.  I've kept all of my stories in the hopes that some day I might be struck with some wonderful illumination that might raise a weak plot into something of substance, a phrase that would brighten a scene, or a concept that would resolve a difficult plot turn.  I frequently activate one of these chestnuts and play with it for a while, too often sending it back into semi-recumbancy because the idea still hasn't gelled.  The good ones (IMHO) get sent out to once more make the editorial rounds, a practice that makes me ever  hopeful.

Since a good story is never finished but only abandoned, I persevere in recycling my old material, not willing to see any effort go to waste.  I have some pieces I've been fitfully working on for ten or more years.  Others I turn to are quickly abandoned back to my midden to await another day.  On rare occasions I've managed to turn a failed manuscript into a published story.  It doesn't happen often, but enough that encourages me to keep recycling.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Last week I was so depressed over a couple of routine rejections that I felt that expending any more energy on writing was futile, even as I sent both pieces forward to the next editor on this list [ yeah, I maintain a list so I know who to torture and curse next.]

Then I had an idea:  Hoping that writing something easy would clear the mental cobwebs and dispel the aura of gloom that had enfolded me, I proceeded to through together an "outline" and then write a page for each of its ten lines. There are some stories I can write almost without thinking. The words, the scenes just roll out, one after the other.  I manage to sell some of these for some strange reason, but that's by the wayside. The problem was that some of the outlined scenes became multiple pages and, by the end of the third session (I tend to write in four hour sessions each day) I had over seven thousand words, some of which (I say modestly) was pretty damn good.

As I did this the issues with the other WIP became clearer, their paths to completion  open, and concerns about their probable sale diminished.  The diversion seemed to be well worth it so I continued my usual rearranging of the chairs, putting the scenes in an interesting sequence, trimming a bit  here and there, moving snippets about so the reader didn't get lost, and in general touching up the language to improve the literary aspect.

Finally, four days in, I had a well organized tale and could begin turning it into  a story.  Although this was an exercise to clear the cobwebs it turned out to produce a half-decent short story, which was an added benefit.  The takeaway on this is to remind myself to stay creative, even if it means heading off in a completely different direction.

To add to my pleasure, I also received a contract for another piece.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Two rejections so far this week.  After being in this writing business for so long these rejections shouldn't bother me - part of the game, says I.  Yet, despite the agonizing frequency of such, each rejection feels like a dagger plunged into my heart.  A simple rejection shouldn't make me feel that I've failed, shouldn't make me think I've wasted hours, days, weeks, or months of agonizing over a word, a phrase, a passage, and shouldn't make me doubt my skills.  I know it's a simple statement of editorial preference, nothing more, so it shouldn't hurt, but it does.

Damn, you'd think after all these years I'd have built up some scar tissue to insulate me from the realities of spec writing, but I haven't.  Thanks to today's e-submission and response system I don't even have a letter I can tear up in frustration.  The boundless enthusiasm I have for writing instantly dissipates with each ever-so-neutral "thank-you-very-much- but..." rejection and, for moments after, I feel that all that effort and time put into that piece was wasted.

Two rejections in as many days tells me that finishing any of the WIP --three novels plus a dozen short stories in varying levels of draft-- and selling them is vanishingly small.

Time for assessment of my WIP, says I: Is this what it comes down to in the end; the realization that fighting to get your stories published in a dwindling market os a futile effort, to swim against the shifting tides of editorial preferences, or fight against the fall of dark night from which no one can turn?  What the shit?  Why should I put so much time and attention, my heart and should, into writing only to see my stories rejected and rejected and rejected until I feel like screaming. Why do I put myself through this? Why? Why? Why? Give me a single reason not to turn off the damn computer and walk away from this madness  Maybe it's just not worth it any more.

But then I think: Maybe the next editor won't reject these and there's the new short and that pile of WIP to finish.....