Monday, October 28, 2013

The Need for Feedback

I'm not procrastinating. I'm getting this off my chest so I can get some real writing done this morning.

I like feedback. I like knowing what others think of the things I'm doing or have done. In the context of my writing, I have some trusted readers whose opinions I value very, very much. Since I tend to write a LOT of short stories while I'm on my road to becoming a Professional Writer, I don't overburden these readers with everything I write. I have come to recognize what's genuinely in need of more work.

So when I'm asking for feedback it's because I need honest, outside myself opinions of a story. I need someone to tell me how it could be improved. Or if it should be scrapped completely and move on to the next thing.

Recently I ran off a number of stories that I think might be commercially viable. While I'm perceiving that maybe I've leveled up as a writer, I'm anxious to know if my trusted readers feel the same way. I've got my fingers crossed.

And I'm anticipating a number of very honest "I don't think it's ready yet" notes. One such reader came back with what might be deemed some harsh honesty and I really didn't take it that way at all. I want to get better, I want to tell stories that make sense to others and not just to myself. I need this feedback like an adman needs his glass of Scotch before a 10:30 AM staff meeting.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what kind of genre I write and why it's necessary to be pigeonholed in that way.

But that's for another post. I've got things to do while I'm waiting to hear back from my friends on that story. After all, it's NaNoWriMo in four days.

And that story is another one I think might be pretty damn good, too.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Glad To Be Alive IV: Dream Master

Okay it's been a while since I've let you in on what's going on with my health. The short version is that I'm doing very well, thank you. It's been two months since The Incident and a month and a half since I went back work. I feel better than ever (well, at least than in the last two or three years) and that's not just hype.

I'm stronger than I've been since probably my twenties when I was hauling bass guitars and amplifiers all over town for rehearsals with my bands and playing local gigs. Walking every day is awesome. Exercise is the best medicine for a lot of things and I'm lucky I'm young enough to engage in activity like that. And work has really been busy so I'm not spending much time at the desk and walking across campus a dozen times a day is also good for me.

But strength is relative. I am stronger than when I was at my weakest in the hospital, and stronger now than I've been in a while. Am I as strong as I was a younger man? I think I may be even though I've never been muscle-bound. Always have been soft around the middle, me. The doctor's ordered me to lose the weight. Even gave me what I swear to god is a truly unrealistic end goal even though she said five pounds a month is how you do it.

Well, as of this writing I've dropped fifteen pounds since I went back to work. The hectic pace and my exercising and cutting out the snacking after dinner (mostly) is how it's been done. I'm watching how much I'm eating but not necessarily what I'm eating. Except for the leafy green stuff that's loaded with vitamin K, I haven't changed a lot. Or maybe I have. My body is acting like I have.

Finally, I have an appointment in a week or so with a hematologist (yet another doctor) who may be able to tell me if there was a cause for the blood clots. Or may not. I don't know. If there's a genetic cause I need to be able to tell my son that. If not, then I'll be on the blood thinners for the rest of my life.

All this, of course, is fuel for stories.

With NaNoWriMo right around the corner, some of this (and other life-changing experiences) will undoubtedly inform some of what I'm intending to write. Some of it on character levels and some on plot levels. Some of it overtly most of it not. It's another test of my skills as a writer.

Which are also stronger than they've ever been. It takes a lot of work and practice to get better physically and mentally. And I'm just glad I'm around to practice and work hard and get stronger.

Updates here through November will mostly be the word count variety. I'm going to reset the "death bar" on the side over there so you can keep up if you want. There might be some occasional commentary but I'm not promising. Also, in December I'll be returning to the Confabulator Cafe so there's that. Lots to look forward to, I guess.

Thanks for reading here, gang. I appreciate you all.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nose to Grindstone

There's a cottage industry around making people feel
creative. Don't give in to it, don't spend the money. Just
dive in headfirst and do what makes you happy.
I want you to do something, it's a little crazy and it's going to sound odd but it's the best I can think of to say.

Here it is:

Don't 'heed the call to be creative', just be creative. Make something. Put something into the world that no one else can. Don't read a book about it, don't watch a YouTube video, don't read anyone else's blog about 'how to do it', just do it. Go on. Stop reading this right now and go do that thing that will make you happy.

Are you still here? Why are you still reading?

Damn it, get off the internet and make the thing that you've always wanted to make. Go. NOW.

No amount of platitudes or stories of success will inform you how to make what only you can make. Maybe it's a story or a wood carving or a piece of furniture or a movie or a playlist for your best friend. Whatever it is go do it. You're the only one who can. So - off you go.

You can't still be here. Jeez. What do I have to say to get you off your ass to make the thing you want to make?

It's going to take sweat, and elbow grease and TIME. It will take TIME to do it right, to do it the way you want it done. You may not get it right the first time, either. THAT'S OKAY. It's awesome, actually, to make something imperfectly. It's not a mistake, it's a learning experience. If you're willing to invest the time in doing it, then invest more time in learning to do it right. Everyone who's 'wildly' successful has spent time practicing or learning or refining whatever their craft is. You think Michael Jordan didn't miss free throws? Or that Maria Callas had some troublesome times with pitch? Nothing is perfect but you can make your thing the best it can be from your point of view.

Your point of view.

You learn by doing, not by reading or listening to a podcast. (I'm on a roll here, don't get in a twist over the various ways people intake information. Sheesh.) Get your hands dirty. Make that pie, write that story, do whatever it is that will make you happy. It's okay if it's not perfect the first time. Or the second or third. You're programmed to think that it's not, but it is. Trust me on this.

Really, TRUST me.

Make the effort and put in the time. Don't hurt anyone along the way but do what makes you happy. If you're good at it, good things will happen for you. If you're not good at it but it makes you happy, then it's just as well. Don't you think?

Now stop reading the internet and go make something. Do something glorious. Spend less time sitting on your butt doing nothing and be productive. The cat videos will still be there. The witty GIFs will be waiting for you when you have a moment.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

NaNoWriMo and Me

I've written six novels, five of them with the help and support of NaNoWriMo and my writer's group.

The first novel you can read here on the site for free. I'm toying with the idea of going back to it and doing some revisions. There weren't many that happened as it was being written as I was working on a self-imposed deadline of 1500 words published a week. Each story took four weeks to tell and the entire thing took a little over a year. 13 stories that interconnected called The Long Range. Perhaps once I've done the revisions I might self-publish it.

Some of it's fun, some of it shows promise and all of it is ambitious. As I was writing it, I heard about NaNoWriMo. Too late to participate that year, but I signed up the next year and dove in headfirst.

That first novel is full of bad, bad writing and interesting if unrealized ideas that I carried over in the following year's novel. I would have liked to have taken that novel to some more places but I knew it was merely an exercise in seeing if I could repeat the previous year's success by finishing with more words in less time.

I did.

The writing was only marginally better and the plot - if one could say there was one - was thin in so many places that it looked like a ragged sheet hanging on a lamppost during a hurricane. After I reread what I'd written, I toyed with the idea of combining the two novels into one, expanding the good ideas and tossing the bad ones.

Alas I failed to do that. It's still on my bucket list for 'someday' as I'm still happy with the ideas and I know a lot more about plotting and how to fix things so that they make a great deal more sense.

Part of what fascinates me, and makes me a writer, is moving on from something I've accomplished to something new. It's not often that I go back to look over things that I do to learn from the doing of them. A friend once marveled at the number of stories and novels I have in The Trunk. "I'd go crazy if I had that much unpublished work," he said. "It should be making money."

Well, yeah, it should if it was good enough. I know enough about the business to know that self-publishing sub-par work is bad. Every novel I've written during NaNoWriMo has been a learning experience. What I learned each time has been different, too. Mostly I'm learning craft and refining my methods for writing.

The biggest thing that's helped me and taught me the most is that I can blast out words in a word-sprint and their BETTER than they were three years ago, or even last year. That old adage about practice making perfect is true. It's also how you get to Carnegie Hall, right?

The other thing NaNo taught me is that writing every day is the best way to be successful. One learns how to be better every time fingers touch keys.

The third novel I wrote petered out after 65,000 words. I didn't know the end. I still don't.  My fourth is the one that came together and I've spent a good deal of time on. Editing, revising, refining, submitting, etc... It's a good story, it's well-written (or so I've been told) and I'm trying to get it sold.

Last year's novel was ostensibly the sequel to the fourth and even though I knew the ending, it petered out, too. 67,000 words, that one. I've been thinking about it ever since. That's the story I want to write again, having learned a lot more since the end of November last year.

All this of course causes well-springs of other ideas to fountain upwards into my consciousness. Another idea has sparked my imagination and that would lead to what I think could be the best idea I've ever had for a novel, even though I'm nowhere near competent enough to even attempt it.

So this year's NaNoWriMo is going to teach me something. I don't know what it'll be but I'm going to apply everything I've learned so far.

I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

What's In My Head

This is what I'm using as the inspiration for this year's NaNoWriMo science fiction novel. As yet it's untitled.

It's a sequel to the book I'm shopping around and trying to find representation for. I'm also writing and editing a bunch of short stories that expand the universe of the two novels.

I tried to write this book last year but I didn't have a proper handle on it, didn't know what it was really about and so the ideas that are central to the plot were flawed. Now that I know what I'm writing, I'm adjusting the ideas and adding more, taking some away.

This image is tugging at my imagination and I had to share.

So, as you see, I'm busy. Gotta get back to typing. More soon(ish).

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Glad To Be Alive Dept. III: More Alive

So here's the latest health update:

(If you're just catching up, here's what happened, and here's the first big update. Ready?)

Everything seems to be returning to normal. I haven't been given a clean bill of health yet, though that may come in December. It would be a fine Christmas present if it did. What happens then is another round of tests (echocardiograms and the like) to see where the blood clots have gone or even if they're gone. I'm confident they're dissipating because I can breathe very well, now, thank you, and I've resumed the regular, daily exercise. I'm supposed to lose 5 pounds a month and I'm almost there but man, it's difficult. I'll do it, I will, but this is the hardest thing I've done in a while.

I've cut my coffee consumption by one cup down to three and not drinking any after breakfast. I'm walking well over four miles a day now (and sometimes five or more) thanks to a big power walk in the morning and the fact that my job requires a lot of walking and pushing things. I've cut back my breakfast by only having one piece of toast with cereal and I'm measuring out the one cup serving on that, too. I am mostly good about NOT snacking after dinner and certainly not after 8 pm. Mostly. These adjustments are me retraining myself to eat like a person should and not like I did. Not like I have since I moved out of the house. Food is comfort and relief from boredom.

All this has caused me to sort of re-evaluate a bunch of things and one of the things that's gotten put aside is the blog here. If you've been wondering where I'm at and what I'm up to, I apologize for the radio silence. It's been much easier to talk in short bursts elsewhere rather than blather on here endlessly. I've started and discarded several posts over the last few weeks as they ended up being snarky commentary on things ranging from reality TV to the current political situation and I don't want to do that. Be snarky, I mean. There's plenty to say about a lot of things (for instance that I'm sorry to hear about Tom Clancy's passing) and the debacle in Washington certainly merits comment.

But I'd rather spend my time writing stories. Time is the commodity we all have the same amount of and I've been really, really trying to make the most of what there is. I'm even stepping back a little from my social media spots, too, focusing on writing.

With NaNoWriMo coming up, I won't be blogging much at all. I'll probably post up word counts here with minimal commentary in November but they may not be regular. They'll be when I feel like I've made significant progress and have something to say about what I've written. Right now the plan is to chuck what I've written on the sequel to the book that I'm trying to get published or represented by an agent and published and start over from scratch. I'm already working on the outline.

So that's the update. I'm doing well, getting healthier and the writing is taking over my spare time. I'm querying agents and looking for a home for my novel. This is a good time.  More so than at any time before.

I'll be back here with more when I have something significant to say.