Tag Archives: Writing

First Drafts

This is from Redwoods NP. It is named Julie Pfeiffer Burns.

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!

 

Politics

Yucca Mountain. North of Las Vegas Nevada

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!

There. I feel better, and you should, too!

Cutting Back

Oscar Goodman Welcome Speech at a Conference I Helped Organize and Produce. Probably won’t do that again. 🙂

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!)

S.

If Only . . .

Miss Atomic Bomb, from sometime in the fifties. They used to stand on downtown rooftops to watch the bombs go off. True story.

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.

🙂

Dali

A view of the harbor at Barcelona, Spain

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!

What I’ve been up to

My latest harvest. Not quite two pounds of the best honey I’ve ever tasted

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.

My Turn at the RWA National Conference

It Was Requested of Me to Pose Here. I Declined

I reposted Barbara Oneal’s take on the conference in Denver. Please read it. You can just go to the immediate previous post from this page, or click here. Just close the page when you’re done, if you choose that option.  This was not my first RWA conference, and I’ll get to some reasons why I recommend one below. First, though, I also noticed the almost obsessive attention to diversity in the organization. I have to say, it is about time. Lest you think that a man at that conference was unwelcome, I assure you that such was not the case. My career was as respected as anyone’s. I was a peer, and treated as such. I got to talk frankly with more African Americans than perhaps I ever have before, and that was excellent. I wish those who see “others” everywhere could do something similar, because, in the end, there are no “others.” We’re all stuck with each other.

Yeah, at times that sucks, but it’s true. Humans are the worst species on the planet, except all of the others, and that’s a fact. You think that beavers ever have second thoughts about their destructive ways? 

Thanks to millennia of stupid thinking, the sort of activism seen everywhere in America these days is necessary. Too bad that’s true, but it’s true. There are those who take it farther than necessary, for sure. (Wendy, the new take on Peter Pan, seems unnecessary. When I read the book, Wendy already seemed to be a strong female lead, but maybe that’s just me. And, anyway, if it sells, who am I to say it nay?) But maybe taking it beyond the end point is the only way to get to the end point. That point, for me, is simply when I can quit worrying about being diverse and simply write stories about people. I may not live that long, but I do believe that the current political climate is hurrying us toward that day.

Whew! Now, on to the conference.

My wife has been a member of RWA for decades. And for decades she has been telling me how useful RWA conferences are. Finally, at a conference in New York three years ago, I found out that she is correct. Here is a sample page of a few hours of programming in Denver last Friday:

See what I mean? There are practical workshops (my favorites) on topics like how to price your books, how to use Scrivener, Research help, as well as book signings (by the actual authors, of course) and a chance to meet one-on-one with various publishers, editors, agents, and so on. At that luncheon, seating is mostly open, meaning that you may well end up having lunch with a famous author (it’s happened) or an editor (ditto) or an agent you’ve been wanting to meet (also ditto.) This goes on for four days. The price includes two luncheons, the first being on Thursday, when the awards for best as yet unpublished books are given out. Not surprisingly, being nominated for one of those awards (called the Golden Heart) is an excellent way to exit that unpublished status.

Or, of course, you can publish your own darned book, which is what a lot of the workshops aimed at helping one do. As the previous post says, publishing is a lot different these days. Bomb in the traditional market and you’re a pariah. Bomb today, and oh, heck, try another one. Maybe they’ll appreciate the first one after you’ve wowed them with the second. (This also happens.)

I have written one, count it, one Young Adult romance novel. Heck it has everything: romance, violence, threats of violence, a couple of people who we don’t know die, all sorts of good stuff, and, most important of all, the ending is so happy that it’ll bring tears to your eyes. Watch for it, because you will see it for sale. I’ve written all sorts of other stuff. Chapter books, mostly, which never include romance per se, but which do have happy endings, if not the HEA (Happily Ever After) required of the romance genre. Which is to say, you would (I assume you’re a writer) find this conference useful even if romance writing isn’t really your thing. Sure, romance characters may be a tad overdrawn. Huh. Is Hamlet a tad overdrawn? Is MacBeth? Why, yes, yes they are. You can learn a lot about drawing good characters by simply overdrawing a few.

So, next years conference is in New York City. I probably won’t attend, because, frankly, New York in July is uncomfortable, much as I love that city. But you could go. To learn more about RWA, just click here. Trust me, you could do worse! (A tinge of New York Yiddish humor there.)

RWA 2018

Denver Airport December 2006. Also the only picture I could find from Denver. Hmmm.

By the time you read this, I will either be on the way, or actually at, the Romance Writers of America conference in Denver. It is just north of Civic Center, at the Sheraton. I lived in the Denver area for 17 years, and liked it pretty well. Raised a family there, and two out of three of them still live there. One near downtown, one just outside the City and County. Really, just outside. You could maybe throw a rock into Denver. So it’s a dual-purpose trip.

No writing advice this week, but I suppose that it would be good of me to share whatever new and exciting information I’ve gained with all six or so of you readers when I come back, so that’s what I’ll do next week. This week, I’m too busy with getting ready for the conference, plus preparing for some major interior renovation and relocation in our home, to say anything useful about writing. Except that you should do it. Remember, you haven’t failed until you quit. Nobody wanted to sign the Beatles. Casablanca didn’t find any takers in Hollywood a few years ago. You know the drill. Keep on keeping on!

Talk to you next week.

Blogging Can Jumpstart Your Writing Career…Even Before You Publish a Book

Blogging is the easiest way for a new author to display the vision and marketing skills agents are now looking for in a fiction query.

Source: Blogging Can Jumpstart Your Writing Career…Even Before You Publish a Book

So this just popped up in my inbox, and it looks like some might find it useful. Therefore, I’m reposting and linking it here. Hope you enjoy it!