Monday, April 28, 2014

Reader Response

As a writer, my primary motivation is simply that I can't not write. It's baked right in. But the reality is that there is another motivation that writers who are aiming toward publication may or may not be willing to admit. Yes, we all write for ourselves, but the reality is that we also write so that others may read and enjoy our writing. Otherwise, there would be much easier ways to make a living. I already have a full-time job that, while no one would classify it as easy, I'm quite good at and from which I get great satisfaction. And I get a lot less rejection as a teacher than I have as a writer. So when someone says something positive about my writing, it really does mean a lot.

The reason I bring this up is that I sent out my second manuscript to a few beta readers. And I sent my first to those folks too so that they could read from the beginning. One of the readers contacted me partway through the weekend complaining she wasn't getting any work done because she couldn't put the book down. I saw her this morning at work, where she told me that she had finished one book and was halfway through the second. Her response was, to say the least, positive. Another reader said, among other things, that she loved my narrator.

I hate to admit it, but I felt like I was going to pop from excitement when I heard these things. Yes, it's a nice stroke to the ego when people say positive things about my work, but that really isn't the top reason for my elation. It was simply the joy of knowing that I had created something that people responded positively to. That they felt the same enthusiasm for the characters and story that I felt as I was writing it. And that, if these people liked them, other people might too and I could have a chance to actually sell my work and make a living as a writer. That I'm not wasting my time pursuing publication.

So, to quote myself, now to get the darn things published.

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Writing Process: Reaching Critical Mass

Over the last few days, I've been taking every opportunity I could to write. The reason for that is that I estimate I'm within ten pages of finishing the first draft of my second manuscript. I can see the end in sight and it's all I can do to go to bed at night because I'm ready for it to be finished.

It's not an I'm-sick-of-this-and-want-it-to-be-over-with thing. It's an excitement that I will soon have a complete, albeit preliminary, story. I know the first draft is just the beginning and I have months of revisions before it's really ready for publication, but this is the first major milestone toward that ultimate goal.

I did the same thing with my first manuscript. I kept up a pretty decent pace over the spring and early summer, but when I realized I was within two or three chapters of wrapping it up, all I could think about was finding time to write. I skipped activities, I ignored house and lawn work, I even skipped meals--and if you know me personally, you know how significant that is.

I think that's when I realized I was a writer, not just someone who liked to write. It borders on a compulsion, even an addiction. Like those addicted to other substances, I can manage it most of the time, but once in a while it becomes an aching need, a hunger that just takes control, to the detriment of all my other responsibilities.

At least this is an addiction that won't rot my teeth or destroy my liver. Who knows, I might even lose some weight if I skip a few more meals.

Monday, April 21, 2014

My Writing Process: Letting The Story Go Where It Wants

I wrote earlier of deciding when to end a story. And I've written in the past of times when my characters do and say things that actually surprise me. But I experienced something last night that was quite exhilarating and unexpected. As a reader I love a good plot twist. I just didn't know that I could enjoy the same thing as a writer. I mean, I'm writing the book. How can I not know what's next. I have no idea. I just know that's what happened.

I started writing a chapter and, frankly, it was spinning its wheels. I had no idea where it was going. I had some fun dialogue and a few laughs, but the plot wasn't being advanced. Why? Because I couldn't figure out where to take it. I was afraid to have my characters take any action until I knew where I wanted the plot to go. But I couldn't decide. Catch the bad guy? Almost catch the bad guy? Kill the bad guy? None of the above? If choice D, then where to now? I just couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to happen next. 

So I decided to choose option E: surprise myself. I put the main character in an iffy situation and see what he would do. He did a cool thing, it turns out. And as a result of this cool thing, he made a startling discovery that will lead to some neat plot points down the road. And the exciting part was that, until about thirty seconds before they travelled out of my brain, down my arms, into my fingers, and onto the screen, I had no idea what the words and events were going to be. 

I have to admit, while it was a fun way to write, it was also quite daunting and exhausting. On one hand, I was so thrilled by what happened that I had trouble getting to sleep. On the other hand, despite being restless, I was really wrung out. Actually physically spent. It's kind of like hacking through the jungle with a slightly dull machete (though the dull part is probably only because it was me). Once you get to a clearing, you really appreciate it, but you'll be sore when you arrive. I don't mind visiting from time to time, but I don't want to live in the jungle all the time.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014


I was scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or some social media site when I came across a link to a list of books that promised to change my life. I had already read some on the list, while others were in my "to be read" pile at home. One, interestingly enough, I had just purchased at our school's book fair, on the recommendations of a couple of teacher friends. The title was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon. It sounded like it would combine two things I find interesting: issues with autism and related brain disorders and murder mysteries. So I moved it to the top of the pile. I am glad that I did.

There is a murder mystery to be solved, though not your usual type. The book opens with a young man named CHRISTOPHER BOONE discovering the body of a neighbor's dog, which has been gruesomely murdered with a gardening fork. Christopher seems to be a savant of some kind, with a sharply analytical mind that is almost computer-like in its precision, but struggles with integrating into, or even understanding, society. For instance, he is positively phobic about being touched, to the point that he punches a policeman who has come to investigate after the owner mistakenly assumes Christopher has killed her dog.

Christopher, over his father's objections, decides he is going to solve the mystery of the dog's killing. In doing so, he accidentally uncovers several pieces of information that completely change his view of both the world and his family. These discoveries force him into a long, terrifying trip across England in search of his mother.

The story in itself may not seem that compelling if it weren't for the fact that the whole thing is narrated by Christopher, who sees the world in a completely different way than would be considered "normal." Things that seem completely innocuous to most people are mind-numbingly frightening to him. Just the comparatively simple process of buying a train ticket and then riding on the train take every ounce of his resolve. Conversely, the young man is genius level in math and science and has a photographic memory. He sees patterns in nature that the average person just can't see. He ultimately finds that this is both his curse and his greatest blessing.

Seeing the world through the unique lens of Christopher Boone's mind is both entertaining and enlightening. I don't know if the book changed my life cataclysmically, but it definitely enriched my view of the world and of the people with whom I share it. I highly recommended this book. If you're interested in purchasing it, it is available from Amazon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

When I Just Can't Find Time To Write

I'm sure I've addressed this issue before, but it's of significance lately. And no, it's not lost on me that I'm writing about the fact that I'm having trouble finding time to write. But this kind of writing is much less labor intensive to me than the process I go through to write fiction. Though sometimes I can finish a chapter in relatively short order, I often will struggle for days. And even after I've finished a first draft, that obviously doesn't mean I'm truly finished. When I come back to it a day or two later, I realize it's all wrong and, at best, requires major revision. At worst, it may need to be junked altogether in favor of another direction.

And unlike writing one of these, which are basically just spitting my thoughts out onto the page and then doing minor revisions for clarity and correctness, I find I'm just not one of those people who can write in short spurts throughout the day. Let me back up a bit and make clear that I'm not saying I don't put thought into a blog entry. It's just that this is a completely different, less emotionally intense, type of writing to me than fiction writing. To me, fiction is more soul-baring than this is. That may not make sense to some, but I'd be willing to bet that others who write short stories and novels will know exactly what I mean. Others may say that, since I find blogging easier than fiction writing, that I should consider trying to do that for a living instead. First of all, I have no idea how I would do that. Second, that something is easier is not an indication that it's the better choice. Just the opposite is true most of the time. The emotionally draining, time consuming, sometimes even soul-crushing process of creating a work of fiction, especially one as long and complex as a novel, is ultimately one of the most satisfying things I've ever done.

But back to the initial reason for this entry: I just don't seem to be able to find a way to write in my spare time. I need an established period of time--at least five or six hours at a shot--to write something of any quality. And I need that amount of time several times a week. Otherwise, my writing is choppy and lacking in continuity. But mainly, I just don't want to do it that way. I don't enjoy it and if I don't enjoy it, I'd rather do something else.

So it seems I have a couple of choices. I could write seasonally. I can, if I choose, not teach summer school and just concentrate on writing during that time. If I truly made writing my occupation from mid-June to mid-August, I really believe I could knock out a book a year. That's not a perfect choice because I would miss writing the rest of the year. Maybe blogging would suffice as fix enough to last me until summer. Maybe not. I could also, I suppose, take a leave of absence from my full-time job and concentrate on writing. Not eating or paying my bills could be a drawback, though. Similarly, I could make the leap and just quit my job in favor of pursuing a career in writing. Frankly, I don't think I have the guts to do that, considering that I haven't had even one piece published. Finally, I could continue to do what I'm doing, being aware of the fact that, like has been true of the last two weeks, there will simply be times when I don't have time to work on a book.

Or one of you could be my patron and pay me to be a writer. It worked in the Renaissance, so why not now? Any takers? Anyone? Oh well, I'll look for the check in the mail.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Is It a Beach Trip If It's Too Cold to Leave Your Condo?

Life's been a little nutty since I got back from my spring break trip, so I'm just now getting to write about it. Based on the weather, it would be more appropriately called winter break 2.0, but it happened at the end of march, so it was technically spring.

The trip down was an adventure in itself, as we hit blizzard conditions in Fancy Gap, VA. I don't exaggerate when I say there were tennis ball sized snowflakes hitting my windshield. When it wasn't snowing, it was a driving rain until we got about an hour north of our destination, Murrells Inlet, SC.

When we got there, the rain stopped for a day or two, but was replaced by frigid temperatures. My brother, mother, and I went for a walk on the beach that was nothing short of miserable. Well, to be fair, it was uncomfortable for me while being miserable for the others. For some reason, cold doesn't bother me as much as it does them. My brother wore three jackets and was still too cold.

Eventually, we got two days of decent weather and took advantage by going to Broadway at the Beach and then playing a round of golf. I am proud to say that I won the last hole. It was the only hole I won, but it was one more than I expected.

The trip back was even worse, weather-wise, than the trip down. It rained torrentially almost every minute of the trip. Snow was replaced by pea-soup fog in Fancy Gap. It was tricky to decide where to drive in relation to other vehicles because if I got too near, the blowback was blinding, but if I got too far, I was literally outside their wake, making the standing water deeper. I ached all over by the time we got home from being tense for nine straight hours.

But despite all that, it was a nice trip. I saw my parents for the first time since December and got to spend a week with my brother, who I don't see that often either, despite the fact that we live in the same town. I also had good reading time as well as some time to write. The apartment was a little small for getting away from everyone so I could concentrate, though, so I only got one, albeit long, chapter written. I was planning on sitting out on the balcony to work, but none of us could stand to be out there more than a few minutes at a time.

I understand it's sunny and in the 80s down there this week. I'm not bitter. Yeah, yeah I am.

Sunrise on our first morning

The sky for most of our stay :(

Frigid but beautiful

View from our balcony

The other direction

I think I know why they're going out of business.
And another excruciatingly bad sign
And a other

An upside down building at Broadway at the Beach

The boardwalk where a seagull pooped on me

One of the warmest days we had. Notice the coats.

My brother at B at the B

The highlight for me was probably getting to see these wonderful old friends. We were in church together. Layne and Babs helped with the youth group and Adam was one of my youths before being my student in AP English

A beautiful tree outside the restaurant where we ate together