Hot Tub

When I get stuck and I need inspiration to work through a tough chapter or difficult plot twist, I head off to one of two places. At home, its the shower. I have gotten some of my best idea's standing underneath a torrent of hot streaming water. The more problems I'm having with my book, the higher our water bill climbs. Using the shower has a couple of challenges however. First, although our hot water heater is substantial, its not endless. Eventually I'll get chased out by the cold water, no matter how many awesome idea's I'm coming up with. And the second, its extremely difficult to take notes about these awesome idea's I'm having in that wet environment. I haven't found a water-proof digital recorder yet.

The second place I head when I crave a creative boost is the hot tub at the health club where I excercise. Are you seeing a theme here? Hot, streaming or bubbling water, running on, over and around my body. I can lay there for an hour and map out an entire chapter. Its awesome!

My wife promised me that if I do indeed get published, I can get a hot tub installed on our back deck. Talk about motivation!!

I wonder if I can write it off as a business expense? Get it . . . write it off. *Sheepish grin*

Layers

Oops. I can't believe its been over a week since I've posted a new blog. Sorry about that. I promised myself when I came out of the closet and began promoting myself more with this blog that I'd post at least once a week. Look what I've done already. Bad Don *Slaps wrist*. I promise I'll do better!

Anyway, if you read the previous post you know that I lost a couple chapters of my book due to a file transfer problem. I've finally re-written those and I'm currently in the process of formatting the book for submissions (there is a standard font & font size, amongst other things). While I'm doing that I'm re-reading a couple of books I bought to help me with my writing. After I've finished studying up, I'll start with the next layer. Everybody writes differently, and my way is to start with an outline, write a first draft, tweak a few things in the plot that need emphasis, adjust the formatting, and then attack it again to add on more detail, descriptions, character elements. The final step is the buffing stage where I make it all nice and shiny for agents and publishers to look at. Don't I just sound like somebody who knows what he's doing. HA! I'm making this up as I go along, flying by the seat of my pants, but it's my process so far. Whose to say it won't change the next time I write, if there is a next time.

Just as I am layering onto my book, the same is true for my writing. I've composed an outline of what I'd like to accomplish, I've made initial foray into the process and fleshed out what it would take to be successful (my definition of successful). Now its time to add depth and really expand on the concepts I first conceptualized. What does it really mean to be a writer? I've just one major hurdle to overcome before I can throw myself into that question.

Can I write? Let me re-phrase that. Can I write something that is entertaining and doesn't sound pedestrian? Let me re-phrase that one more time. Can I write a story that a complete stranger (not friend or family) who is not also an aspiring writer who might lavish undeserved praise in hope for some in return, would enjoy. The jury is still out on that question. I'm willing to do the work and make the sacrifices required to stratify myself, but would you take music lessons if you found out you were tone deaf? There are some people who just can't tell jokes. They know all the pieces, but they don't have the comedic timing and flair for telling them. Writing is the same way. Your may have imagined the greatest story concept ever, but if you can't command the words to do your bidding, what's the point?

Anyway, those of you who have asked to be a test-subject for my book, you'll have to wait a little bit longer while I add at least one more layer. It shouldn't be too long. And when you read it, false praise won't do me any good. Be honest and thruthful.

I need to know if I'm tone deaf.

Frustration

It was a week ago today that I blogged about finishing my book, but I was dissatisfied with the last few chapters. Well today was the first time that I've had a chance to go back and and look at them. When I did, I noticed that something was off. Some changes that I knew I had previously written were no longer there. The closer I looked, the more changes I found missing. When I drilled down to the final chapter, it wasn't there.

WTF!!!

I finally figured out what had happened and I am beside myself for my own stupidity. I work on my book on two different computers, home and work. The bulk I write at home, but every now and then I have down time at work and I'll devote sometime to tweaking this or that. In order to do this, I e-mail myself the book back and forth between home and the office. I'm usually very disciplined about this. But for some reason, after I spent a good portion of Labor Day weekend finishing the book, I didn't e-mail it to myself at work on the following Tuesday. On Wednesday I opened the file at work, made some changes, then e-mailed back home. When the e-mail arrived at home, I saved that version (the pre-labor day weekend one) over the top of the Labor Day weekend version, thus wiping out everything I had written.

What upsets me the most isn't the entire chapter that is gone (because I have a hard copy of that), but rather the tiny adjustments I make. I'll think of something I need to foreshadow earlier in the book, so I'll drop in a line or two. It's those type of changes I've lost and those are the hardest to remember.

Losing a chapter or some fairly insignificant changes isn't the worse thing, I've know people who've lost 3/4 of a book from a hard drive melt-down, but it still smarts.

Time to pick up the pieces and move on.

Pre-Season Camp

Back in August, when the 105 college players all reported to their respective schools for the start of fall camps ahead of the 2009 College Football Season, I reported to my own camp as well. Making it through a fifteen game schedule, not including bowl games, without sustaining injury or mental exhaustion requires its own form of training and dedication. Being one of the veterans of the squad meant that others were going to be looking to me for the standard expected to be upheld, so my attendance and high level of performance was key this year.

The first day set the tone for what it was going to be like this year. Right off the bat they had us doing the deep knee bends, preparing us for the constant ups and downs off the couch as we celebrate touchdowns or violently protested horrible calls by a referee. Next came what seemed like an endless procession of finger pushups, leaving our hands looking like twisted nubs as we fought cramps. But we knew that our fingers were being prepared for extreme remote control operation that required both fluid and perfectly timed button sequencing to switch back and forth between games. In the advanced leagues this included the manipulation of the primary and PIP channels. Next we were subjected to a constant barrage on our posteriors by hooking us up to a machine that ran a narrow leather belt under our ass and vibrated at a rate of 100 cycles a minute. Needless to say there were quite a few accidents as some campers ignored the sign suggesting a trip to the little boy’s room before engaging. This regiment was designed to strengthen our rears to endure a 15 hour day planted on the couch in front of the television, without a break. Finally we were herded into a sound proof room in groups of four and instructed to scream as loud as we could for 15 minutes. At the end of that period we were allowed to rest for 5 minutes and then we repeated the exercise. The phrases we were instructed to scream over and over were; “HONEY, GET ME A BEER”, “HONEY, ORDER THE PIZZA”, and “HONEY, WE NEED MORE CHIPS”. The purpose of this drill was pretty obvious.

This past weekend when the season debuted, I proved that I was a lean, mean, football watching machine. I showed the younger guys what watching college football is all about, and it isn’t something you take lightly. Or else you can sit in the kitchen or quilt with the women!

Game ON! GEAUX TIGERS!!!

Writing without a plum line

Anybody whose been around construction, or undertaken a home project or two, recognizes the term plum line. It's a piece of string, coated with colored chalk, and when you roll it out and snap it against whatever you're working on it imprints the chalk on the surface. This provides you with a visible reference point to ensure you either remain level, or lay things out in a straight line.

What I've discovered with my writing is that although I had heavily outlined and plotted events in my chapters very carefully, I could still drift away from my core premise. When I'm writing I make adjustments and go with elements I may not have plotted out, because it makes sense at the time and it moves the story in the direction I want to go. But sometimes a small change early on can turn into a major deviation when the project is completed. Without a plum line to keep you centered, to maintain a point of reference, you can drift very easily. And the result is not what you intended when you began.

When I completed the final chapter of my book this past weekend, something felt off. And I couldn't really pin-point what it was. I should have felt elated with my accomplishment, but instead I had this unfulfilled sensation. You know how you feel sometimes after you've just eaten, but you're still hungry. What finally helped me realize the problem was sitting down with my wife and having her tell me what she felt the book was about.

Her answer was this. The book is very much a buddy book. A tight-knit group of friends (she called them rag-tag) pull together when one of their own is attacked and anothers business (Detective Agency) is put in jeopardy. The resulting investigation lands them in the middle of an unrivaled crime spree. What I realized while she was explaining this to me was that the last 1/3 of the book focused very little on the group of friends and instead had shifted to a single friend and a FBI agent helping her. The way the book ended, although satisfying, was not on my plum line.

So I have to go back to work and make adjustments. It's all part of learning how to write, and I can't let it frustrate me. What I find encouraging is that I felt something was wrong before I knew what it was. That makes me feel that my internal compass, although not as visual and immediate as a plum line, is working just fine.

Seventy-five Romance Writers . . . and me

Saturday I attended the 14th Annual White County Creative Writers Conference . It was definitely an experience worth mentioning here.

You know how they always tell you that growth can sometimes be painful? Man, they weren't kidding!! I joined the writers group here in my hometown four months ago. It was one of my many steps to start taking my writing seriously and develop my craft. My wife Kim had to accompany me to the first couple of meetings for moral support (thanks honey), but I forced myself to go. Have I mentioned that I don't do well in social gatherings! Anyway, I discovered the group was made up of 90% women, and the average age of the members was north of fifty. I also learned that the organization was hosting a writers conference right here at a local college. 'Sign me up', I thought. This could be another learning experience and growth opportunity.

What I didn't realize, (maybe I did realize it, but I just didn't make the connection) was that the speaker for the conference was a successful Romance Writer (Jodi Thomas if your interested). That meant that 95% of the audience (the ones that had a clue) were aspiring romance writers, and 99% of them are women! And the majority of them looked like your typical grandma. That's right, you no longer need to wonder what women do after they make a career and raise a family. They write romance novels. And I'm talking the steamy sex books with covers depicting a bare chested cowboy playing with his rope.

I was in a room with 75 of these women, and three other men. I think one of the other guys was gay, and the other two were there for the food. Needless to say I was uncomfortable. But I stuck it out and actually learned some good stuff.

What I learned wasn't so much about the craft of writing, but more about what it takes to get published. Her stories about the connections she made with agents and publishers at writers conferences (ones much larger than this one) illustrated a point I had only suspected. Once you get your novel polished enough to be sold (published), it takes more than sending out umpteen query letters and crossing your fingers.

There was something else I gained insight to, and it was unsettling. One of the main themes Jodi Thomas constantly hammered on during the day, was working hard and persistence. She talked about using stop-watches to track the amount of time devoted to writing each week, about making schedules, about spending money on classes and conferences like the one we were at. She espoused the belief that it was only a matter of time before we would be published, if that's what we really wanted. She told us what we wanted to hear.

Not once did she bring up the fact that there were those in the room whose writing may not be entertaining enough for mainstream publication. It's a reality that I think deserves at least a mention.

I guess it wasn't a very romantic notion, though.

Looking for a few good men . . or women

I'm writing my last two chapters of my book and I expect to have the first draft completed by the end of the weekend. My next step will be to take a little time off (just a week or two) and then start the process of revising and editing. I had an idea though. I thought I would solicit the help from a few of my friends and family. What I really need input on, even before I start editing, is questions like this: What works? What doesn't? What characters need more emphasis? What plot twist need better explanations? Which ones are telegraphed too soon. Did I hit an emotional funny bone?

So here's what I'm going to do. I am asking for five volunteers who would be willing to read the first draft of my novel and give me feedback. Now before you raise your hand so fast, there is a catch. First, you need to be a follower of this blog. Second, there is work involved. What I need is chapter by chapter summaries, filled out upon completion of each chapter. Answering the questions I posed above and providing me with an insight to how the plot is developing from your perspective. As you read, I'd like you to highlight parts you like, parts you don't like so much, and especially writing you stumbled on (had to read several times to understand).

If you're willing to do all of that for me, I'll make arrangments to put the book in your hands. FALLEN KNIGHT is a mystery/thriller, and does contain some objectionable language (not a lot). Now remember, this is only the first draft, so the musical score and special effects haven't been added yet. But you'll get the idea.

Don

Willing readers can apply through the comment section.

Writing on a Budget

Word count. It's one of the main aspects of writing for publication that's different from writing for fun. When I'm writing with no goal in mind the number of words I'm using is irrelevant. I type until I'm finished. And I know I'm finished when I feel there's nothing left to say. The same can't be said when your writing for somebody else's expectations.

First time novelist have approximately 100,000 words to tell there story with. That kind of limitation definitely limits the scope of what you can work with. It gets even more difficult when you target short story publications. Can you tell a story that interesting, compelling, engaging, in 5,000 words or less? How about 2,500? Sometimes you find yourself trying to shoehorn a story that really deserves more, just to get underneath a word count.

I'm finding out that most writing, be it for a book or short story, is a lot like movie making. A director will film a lot more of a script than what actually finds its way to the screen, most of it ending up on the editing room floor. The same process happens with novels. The author will cut out words, paragraphs, scenes, even whole chapters to foster a better reading experience. Finding one word that can take the place of three is the holy grail. Unfortunately for writers, they don't have the opportunity to see their deleted sections end up on a DVD.

When I sit down to write a short story, I think of an idea, flesh it out a bit, then decide how many words I want to target. Most of the major contests have standard word limits, so once I determine my boundaries I set about writing without regard to word count. When I'm finished with the first draft is when I'll look at the count and see how much I have to cut (I never had to add). That's the hardest part. Every deletion feels like your hollowing out your work. If I write 7500 words for a 5000 contest, I'll shelve the story rather than try and edit it. I've read about authors who write a 2500, 3000, and 5000 word versions of the same story so they can submit it to different contests. I can't write that way, but then again, maybe that's just me being naive?

My wife has me on a budget. I get so much a month to spend on whatever I want, but usually it goes towards renting movies & video games, and buying music. Lately some of my allotment has been devoted to writing resources like books and magazines. I have the same feeling about being on a budget as I do about writing on a word count. It is a necessary evil, one that I constantly butt my head against. But to ignore my wife's budget, or to disregard the publishing worlds guidelines, will both see me end up in the same place.

On the couch, alone, reading my own book.
 

Archives

Blog Blitz

Design by: The Blog Decorator