I was going to write a post today. Honest. Then I saw this from Chuck Wendig, which contains some valuable advice for authors, or anyone, using social media. So you’ll have to wait until next week for my next dollop of wisdom. For now, enjoy!
So, this morning I woke up to find that I had been put in Twitter Jail for *checks notes* five hours. And I was put there because *checks notes* hell, I don’t know. They didn’t tell me.…
And now, my contribution. I hope you’re enjoying following the Godfrey’s. I also hope you enjoy the occasional article that I repost from Chuck Wendig. A foul-mouthed genius, is the way I think of him. I was going to write about first drafts, and of course, just today, he beat me to it. But, I’m going to do it anyway, because this is important, dammit!
My first drafts are horrible. No, worse than that, they are essentially unreadable. Here, I’ll give you a sample, from a book that will, if there is justice in the world, never see publication. Here are the first two paragraphs:
In those days I was a big company man. By that I mean that I believed in the company, in what we were doing. In those days, if I could have, I’d have told anyone who asked that I was doing really important work keeping the streets and highways safe. So far as I knew at the time, that was the absolute truth. I don’t believe in absolute truth any more. I’m not sure what I believe in, is the truth. But I think I’m better off, if only because at least now I can tell people what I do every day, even if it isn’t much. Back in those days it was a secret thrill to have a job that I couldn’t even tell my own mother about, if I still had a mother that is. I was thrilled, and I was happy to be of service. The company? I’d have told anyone, if I could have told someone, that the company was putting us out into the rush hour traffic to get people to slow down and be careful. As they say, hah! But so long as I believed it, life was good. Let me tell you about a typical afternoon, back in those days.
Never mind where that was going, just look at that thick prose, over-talkish verbiage, poorly written gibberish, etc. That example shows why, except for you, dear readers, nobody ever sees my first drafts. They suck. They truly suck. But, the great thing is that I love writing them. It is such fun slapping words down into a file and watching the story grow, taking the plot from point to point, messing with my characters until sometimes I actually kill one or two. It’s a hoot, and I love those guys, I really do! Which explains why so often I have to delete entire scenes, occasionally a character, add additional characters, and for the love of Aristotle, put in something to make a reader give a damn what happens to those people, whom, by the time I’m done, I totally hate, and would enjoy seeing roasted over a slow fire.
I don’t have doubts during my first draft, like Chuck Wendig does. I have doubts when I read the damn thing over a few weeks after I key in “The End.” Because they suck, every time, and I can’t see, at first, anything that I could possibly do to make the thing into a decent story. I’m telling you, it’s depressing.
But then I start revising, using the bits of my brain that know about character, language, subplots, story arcs, emotions, showing versus telling, all that stuff. And, amazingly, that’s fun, too, even though I don’t get lost in the process in the way I get lost in first drafting. And I take Wendig’s advice every time and trust the process I use. It gets me there. At the end is a good book, and I know that. It works! It’s alive! Bwaaa haaa haaa haaa!
The picture this week is relevant to the topic. Yucca Mountain is politically controversial in Nevada. Google it if you want to know more. Short story is that this is the place where it was decided to store the nation’s low level nuclear waste. Since it’s just 75 miles from downtown Las Vegas, some folks are worried about what might happen. Nevada is an active earthquake state, so you can imagine the sort of scenario that is being proposed. There are counter arguments, also, and frankly, they may be right. I have seen video of various things being tried to break one of the containers that the waste is stored in, and I’m not sure the average earthquake has the energy to do that. But, I’m not arguing a position on Yucca Mountain. I am using both sides as an example of how politics can skew the view of a situation.
“Good God, we’re all gonna die!” True.
“Not from Yucca Mountain because that stuff is safer than you’d think.” Also true.
So, I just managed to slip in my position without saying so, which is the point of this essay. No matter what you believe, no matter what your politics are, YOUR POSITION AND POLITICS ARE GOING TO COME OUT IN WHATEVER YOU WRITE. Mark Twain never gets on the nose with his commentary on racism in Huckleberry Finn. But, he does have Huck volunteer to go to a literal Hell rather than be a racist dick toward his friend Jim. That is a much stronger statement than saying “Racists are ignorant and undeserving of respect.” I doubt that Twain believed that statement in the raw form I’ve presented above. But maybe he did. Either way, Huck volunteering to go to Hell is a lot stronger way to make a statement about racism and social norms than any essay could ever be. So, okay, you say, but you’re writing an essay right now, aren’t you?
Well, yes, but that’s because I have a need to write something at frequent intervals. I just finished the first draft of a middle-grader, and I’m working on structural editing of a YA. Neither of those things involve much writing per se at this point, so I crank out the occasional (every Wednesday, I hope) essay, to keep my “write something” Jones down to a mild roar.
And my point, then, is that, if you, as a writer, are upset about politics on any level, if you truly want to do your bit to make the world a better place, then the thing you should do is write your stories. Maybe you’re like me, and you need to produce a few essays in between editing. Okay, fine. But write that damn story right now! It doesn’t matter what the story is, it will, without you being at all pedantic, be a better illustration of your world view than any essay (or Facebook post) could ever be. I’m serious, bucko! Stop reading this and writing something now!
That conference was a lot of work. But, if you’ll forgive me a quick aside, several years later I ran into Oscar at the ALA Conference when it was held in Vegas. He remembered me, by name, and where we’d met. Then he gave me a free copy of his book, which of course you should buy. I have trouble remembering the name of someone I just met, which may explain why he’s a successful politician, and I’m not.
I have cut back to writing basically just one day a week. That may get expanded, but for the moment that’s the way it is. That day is Tuesday, because for the life of me I can’t manage to get much business as a ride share driver on Tuesdays. I have no idea why not. Other people do it. Today, of course, is Wednesday, and I made about sixteen bucks an hour, which is pretty good for that sort of work. (I meet a lot of interesting people, too.)
On Tuesdays I do the things I resolved to do when I was at the RWA conference in Denver last month. And maybe other stuff as well. I do have an idea for a book, which might be a funny book, but so far that’s all it is. Maybe two projects at one time is enough? We’ll see. But, as I’ve stressed before, I do write. Just yesterday I got some kids through a dangerous situation, people shooting at them even, by using their brains (and running like heck.) It’s the first draft, so it’s fun to write, and no doubt will take three times as long to revise as it did to put down, but that’s okay, ’cause that’s how writing works. Will I have to do it all on Tuesdays? Who knows? But I will do it all, that you can take to the bank.
(It’s gonna be a great book, too. Oo-oo, you’ll like it!)
If only I weren’t more concerned with telling stories than politics, I could have a wonderful time ranting here, and on Facebook and Twitter, about, well, you can probably figure out what about. But I don’t rant, at least not very often. What I do is keep writing my stories. I don’t put any overt politics into my work, but you just know that whatever it is I believe will come out. I’m the one writing, so I’m the one who will end up on the page, no matter what I write, for what audience, or in which genre. It’s all me, folks.
Tolkien and Lewis used to argue about this sort of thing. Tolkien thought that works like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe were too “on the nose.” And, given the relative success of his stories versus Lewis’s, maybe he had a point. But my point is that Lewis was himself and what he wrote reflected his own beliefs, and the world that he lived in. Tolkien also put in a lot of linguistic material that, to me, distracts from the main narrative. And, as my son says, a whole lot of “elvish poetry that I skip over.” Indeed. I have no interest in what the elves are singing about unless it tells me what’s happing with Frodo and Sam. Lewis, on the other hand, leaves out all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there. Technically, I think that C.S. Lewis is the better writer. And, yes, I can see the Christian influence on both Authors’ works. So what? That’s what they both were, so that’s what came out.
I was raised to be a Christian, so maybe you’ll even find a smidgen of that in what I write. More likely, though, you won’t, because I gave that up at the age of thirteen. I could rant about that, too, but I won’t. If you want to know what I do believe, I suggest that you read my fiction, when it’s available, or just go back over my posts on this blog. It’s all in there, folks. I wrote it all, so I’m in it all.
Which brings me to the main thing I’m trying to say. What you really are will come out in your writing, no matter how you try to disguise it. The only way to ever succeed, then, is to be true to yourself, and to be your own writer, your own artist, your own muse. If you try anything else, you will come across as phony and pretentious, and nobody ever buys phony and pretentious fiction. Politics, maybe, but that’s another rant.
We drove up to Cedar City, Utah over last weekend to catch a few plays at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Specifically, we saw The Merchant of Venice by some dead English guy; Big River, based upon That Book, Huckleberry Finn, music and lyrics by Roger Miller, book by William Hauptman; and The Foreigner by Larry Shue. In that order. As I do occasionally, I’m offering my thoughts on the program.
First, the Shakespeare. Merchant is well written, and funny in parts, but I must have been very young when I read it because I forgot just how intense the anti-Semitic bigotry is in that play. Holy cats, Will, what’s up with that? I’d never seen it. Doubt if I’ll see it again.
The festival is doing the entire Shakespeare Canon, so they had to include it. I think, though, that they maybe felt a bit bad about that, because they also included a musical version of That Book, Huckleberry Finn, my favorite story. The musical sticks to the original plot amazingly faithfully. Huck was played by a tenor, Jim by a baritone, and the two actors worked well together, in song, and in action. Excellent choices. And, of course, That Book is one of the most vehemently anti-bigot works ever created. Bless you, Sam Clemons, for producing it in the first place.
But wait, that’s not all! The Foreigner is, first, hilarious. Both in dialogue and in action, including some top notch silent work between some of the actors. The man who plays Huck is in this play as well, in a prominent, but not title role. A major plot point (even comedies need one) involves defeating a contingent of the “invisible empire,” the Klu Klux Klan. Another swipe at bigotry here.
The other Shakespeare work playing last weekend was Othello. As I said, perhaps the festival was feeling a bit nervous about presenting The Merchant of Venice.
The writing in all of the plays is, of course, superb. I like watching well-written plays, because I think that the more top-notch material I absorb, the more nearly top-notch my own material will be. Hey, you can’t read ’em all; sometimes it’s good just to soak it up, you know?
And, if you haven’t guessed, these plays, particularly Big River, have reinforced my notion that some books are good, some are great (talking to you, Thomas Pynchon) and then there’s Huckleberry Finn. Hemmingway said that American literature began with that book, and that there has been nothing as good since. And who am I to argue with Ernest Hemmingway?
I chose a picture of Barcelona because Dali lived there for quite a while. I couldn’t find a picture of the artist himself that I could be sure I could legally use, but I imagine that he enjoyed looking at this view from time to time.
Dali was a writer in addition to being a visual artist. I didn’t know that until I visited the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida. I know, right? A museum of Dali stuff in Florida? Whoda thunk it, but as it turns out, a couple of people who lived in St. Petersburg were very good friends with the artist, and amassed a large collection of his works over many years. They subsequently donated all of their Dali art to the organization which was set up to build and operate the museum. I mention that he was a writer because he is also a good example of someone who apparently never believed that he was good enough, if that sounds at all familiar.
In his case, he was the second child his parents named Salvatore. The first one died very young. Several things happened as a result. When he was twelve, the second Salvatore knew that he wanted to be an artist. He attended a prestigious art school, but ended up getting expelled for being too, well, I guess it was radical. His ideas on how art should be made also estranged him from his parents and from his sister. In brief, his art went from more or less impressionist, through surrealism, and into something all its own. And all the time some people said that he was arrogant, which was, surprise surprise, a cover for being unsure of his place in the world.
Not hard to see how he’d be ambivalent about himself, what with having his dead brother’s name, is it?
This is Salvatore Dali, friends, a man noted for an unconventional approach to art, writing, and life. He had a lifelong case of imposter syndrome, which probably cost him some friendships. Salvatore Dali, one of the most talented artists ever to pick up a brush, was afraid that he’d be caught as some sort of fraud.
Think about that when you’re not feeling worthy. Your opinion may not be terribly reliable, you see.
As for the museum, it’s pretty cool. They had a VR exhibit called “Dali’s Dreams.” You’re fitted with an Oculus headset and earphones, and you can wander through a world of Dali creations (he said they were based upon dreams) for three minutes. This was not long enough, by the way. My personal favorites were the elephants, and if you want to know more about them, visit the museum and see them for yourself. It’s just cool, is all. I was also impressed with just how realistic the man could paint, should the occasion demand it, or how good he was at hiding images within images. Cool stuff!
And remember, he suffered from imposter syndrome, just like you!
So, yeah, there’s keeping bees. Since I collected that sweet stuff, it’s gotten too hot to even open a hive to look in on my workers. They’re flying out and back again, laden with nectar and pollen, so I’m not worried. In about six weeks I’ll take another look. If I’m right, I’ll get about double that from two of my three hives. (#3 is new this year, so they get a bye.) That’s one thing.
Another thing has been “supervising” the guys installing our new flooring, which looks mahvelous, by the way. There were two of them, and they worked long hours for four days in a row to level our awful floors and install some waterproof laminate that wood’s own mom wouldn’t know wasn’t wood. That killed last week.
The week before that, well, see my previous post. Not the one from OddGodfrey, you silly, mine.
Today I drove 200 miles to our place outside Ash Fork Arizona to collect rent from tenants living in our old place outside of Ash Fork Arizona, and to check on the damage from a recent awful storm. For the tenants, the score is storm 2, them zip, as it took out their mini fridge and water heater. So, I’m shopping for a new water heater for my tenants, if you have one extra lying about. For our own place, we have some serious erosion problems, and three of my security cameras now have bad power supplies. Swell. And, when I got there, I discovered that I’d left the water on to the swamp cooler, which drained our cistern, so I had no water. Double swell.
And, besides that, I’m in the middle of revising my YA, and drafting my new Middle Grader, which, yes, I have been doing daily since returning from Denver. Phew. No real point this week, just wanted to vent a bit. Thank you for reading it.