About S Earl

I like to write and I don't know why. I'd love to be able to sit back every day and have the words to my next bestselling novel roll endlessly onto the page, while the royalties pile up in my bank account faster than I can possibly spend them. The odds of that are pretty small, so until then I just write.

A year???

It hasn’t been a whole year since I posted, has it?  I guess I’m not winning over too many new fans at this rate.

During the summer, I have no classes and I have more time to think and write – if I don’t find other less productive ways to spend my time.  This past summer I was laid up for a few weeks with a bad back.  That should have been my excuse to do even more writing, but alas… I failed.

I did, however, get up enough steam to rewrite… and I do mean rewrite, not just edit… the first half of Chapter 1.  I didn’t manage to get Emily and Alistair to the train station yet, but I got them out of the house!

I looked at all the helpful criticism I got on Scribophile and really attacked the story.  The result is a vast improvement.  I’ve posted the new chapter here.  The old one is nothing but scrambled bits floating randomly around my hard drive.

New Year’s resolution?  I don’t believe in them.  But I will try to post more often, even if I don’t think I have anything much to say.  I can always find something to bitch about over on The Grumpy Curmudgeon.

Not going according to plan

Well I had big plans to use the month of August to finish the first draft of To The Skies. So much for that. I did, however, get the first couple of chapters posted over on Scribophile where the folks were very helpful. They basically told me I was doing it all wrong but they were nice enough to tell me it was crap in a way that made me look forward to rewriting it.

That was very helpful but it did tend to move my focus off of the current chapter and get me thinking about the rewrite.  Thinking about the rewrite may be a bit premature because I really should get the first draft done instead. One thing at a time.

I’m up to my earlobes in alligators at my day job at the moment as well so the creative juices just aren’t flowing the way I’d like them to. On top of that, I’ve been trying to spend a little quality time with Mrs. Novelist because…  well because I like spending time with her 🙂

Those are all pretty good excuses but they’re just excuses. I could kick myself in the ass a bit harder.

So my next college class is getting ready to start back up and we’re also heading into our semi-annual crazy time at work.  Nevertheless, I am still dedicated to getting a first draft completed even if I have to grind it out a hundred words at a time.

I’ll just have to hold off on the down payment for the Maserati for a bit longer.

Hey S, how’s your novel coming along?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

Well, this has been a pretty crazy week at work.  You know, at the real job?  The job that actually puts groceries in the refrigerator?  We’re playing musical offices this summer.  We used to have this one building, and my office was outside in a trailer.  Then they built a new building about a year ago and added the old building to the new building to make one building.  I moved into the old part of the building.  Now, they’ve done some remodeling and decided to put this office here and that office there and… I’m one of those offices.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it was just one desk full of stuff, but I had to move my absentee co-workers junk too and then there is the ton of computer crap that has to move.  Probably ten different computer systems, plus all the networking, and it has just been kicking my ass.  I’ve got stuff piled all over the place and one of my co-workers remarked that it looked like the latest episode of Hoarders.

Nevertheless, I have been doing some writing.  Yesterday I got contacted by one of the Vice Presidents of the company asking me for my input on a particular project.  Me.  Talking to a VP.  A VP who used to be a 2-star general.  I was a bit shocked by that, I have to say.

I know I’m a pretty smart and capable guy, but I wasn’t really aware that the upper echelons of management thought I was Our Man in Bumfuck Who Can Answer Those Questions.  Rather heady stuff considering I used to be nothing but an enlisted puke back in the day.  So I spent the better part of a day crafting an email to the HMFIC.  Got to put the skills to work and not look like a stumblebum.

So there’s two perfectly good reasons why the First Novel hasn’t moved forward.  Not good enough for you?  Alright then, how about if I tell you I’ve been spending a lot of time on Scribophile?  In case you haven’t been there, it’s a site where authors (and the other Next Great Novelists) can go to discuss writing and most importantly put their own work up for critique.  However, before you put your own stuff up, you’ve got to earn some karma points by offering your own critiques of other people’s work.  So you have to give before you can take.  It’s a great system and the people are all very helpful.  The first chapter of To The Skies is garbage and they were kind enough to tell me so in a way that made me look forward to thoroughly rewriting it.  In other words, they offered some very helpful and constructive criticism.

So I actually have been working on the First Novel, even though the word count hasn’t gone up any.  But I pledge to you, my loyal First Fans (there will be many thousands of fans who will come later, once TTS hits the NYT bestseller list, but you will have been my First Fans), that this week I will at least get Chapter 12 complete and have some notes put down for where I want Chapter 13 to go.

So get off my butt already!

How to keep focus and motivation while writing a novel

Well, I sure wish I knew the answer to this one too.  Greenelephantperson asked me this question earlier, and I thought I’d respond to her request.

The first thing I thought of was how I write.  Almost immediately I realized that “what works for me may not work for you.”  I can describe how I write, but that does not answer the question.  My real answer is, “I don’t know.  I haven’t done it yet.”

Let me tell you a little about the journey The First Novel has taken.  Maybe my own experiences will do the best job of explaining.

The First Novel began about four years ago as a simple story that I wanted to tell to a friend.  It described a man and a woman taking a trip together.  Because I was (and still am) fascinated with old aircraft, and because I had just learned all about Transcontinental Air Transport, I framed the trip as a journey on TAT.  There was no ending to the story at the time, and I had no thought of making it into a full length novel.

Then, as such things tend to do in my mind, the story began to grow.  Sometimes I chewed on it consciously, and at other times it must have been subconsciously because a thought about a particular scene or a piece of the plot would pop into my head.  I kept writing, although it hasn’t been a smooth progress.  There were blank periods that lasted months.

That explains my initial motivation and how the novel got started.  More to the point, however, is what has kept me going.  The simple answer is other people.

I shared my story with my sister because, being a Big Sister, she can be expected to pat me on the head and tell me what a wonderful guy I am.  But also because she is my sister, she can also be expected to tell me when my fly is open, or when I’m being an intolerant douchebag.  I have always been able to accept her criticism easily, and she’s good at it.  So she would kick me in the butt from time to time and keep me going.

Next is Chainsaw, my writing buddy.  (I haven’t formally proposed to him yet, but we’re writing buddies in action if not in title).  Chainsaw has already finished a couple of novels, and that drives me crazy.  I know he just looks down his nose at me constantly and thinks I’m inferior because the world is just full of unpublished wanna-be authors who are working on a novel but haven’t finished one yet.  So, partly because it is a male competitive thing, I’m pushing to get my first draft done so that I can at least say I have completed a novel.  (And besides which he has only uploaded some text to Amazon and set a price for it.  I could poop all over some paper (figuratively) and sell that on Amazon too.  Take that Chainsaw.  *MY* novel will be on the NYT bestseller lists for years.  But don’t worry, you can come visit me on my yacht.)

So that’s Person Two who keeps me motivated.  Person Three is you, dear readers.  You and everyone else to whom I have been bold enough to announce, “I am writing a novel.”  Because many of you will encourage me, like my sister, and many of you will look down your noses at me, like Chainsaw, because I haven’t finished a novel.  So I’m motivated to keep going because I’m going to both earn your praise and shove your noses in my finished novel when I make a down payment on my Maserati.

That answers the motivation part of the question, at least for me.  Focus is another struggle, and the mechanisms for achieving that are as varied as writers are.  My main enemy is distraction.  I have a tendency to “research” as I write (how many horsepower did a single Mayback V-12 on a zeppelin produce?) and that often leads me down a rabbit hole into the wonderland of the Interwebs where I have a tendency to get lost.  Next thing I know, I’m “researching” the two types of V-16 engines that Cadillac produced in the 1930’s and I realize I’ve got to get up and go to work in six hours.

Personally, I like to slap the headphones on and listen to the Blues while I write.  It does tend to minimize certain other distractions for me, although some writers need graveyard quiet.

Bottom line is, whatever works works.  You’ve got to figure out how to get into the zone and write – focus – and you’ve got to find a way to push yourself into that zone day after day – motivation.

Someday, if I follow my own advice, I’ll be able to say, “I wrote a novel.”

What is wrong with you people?

Why are you not flocking to my blog, re-blogging all my fantastic posts, and flooding me with comments and requests for more of the First Novel?  I am the Next Great Novelist!

Well, maybe it’s not entirely your fault.  Maybe I’m not all that interesting. . . yet.  Or maybe I just totally suck.  Okay, well I pretty much suck most of the time, I guess.  But every time I post I get better, right?  Right?  (listens for the sound of nodding heads)

I actually have something worthwhile to discuss rather than just complaining (which is still complaining even though I do it tongue-in-cheek).  First, I have finished Chapter 11 of the First Novel (with a Zeppelin!), and have begun on Chapter 12, wherein the female protagonist lands her first Hollywood role.  Which will lead to. . . oh no you don’t.  No spoilers yet.  It will lead to the end of the story!  So there’s that.

And, I’ve also done some work on the Second Novel.  I’ve realized that while the First Novel is great, the greatest greatness of the Next Great Novelist will be in subsequent novels.  So I worked on my new protagonist and actually put in some effort on creating the character first rather than just banging away at the keys in some naive hope that the story will magically coalesce out of the vast ether of unexpressed ideas into a brilliant, coherent, and marketable story.

I’ve also been working on improving my craft by reading what those who are much farther along the path of authorship than I have to say about it.  Today I came across a post by Karen Lamb titled “The Bookpocalypse” which rather bluntly explains why the First Novel is likely to be childish scribbling compared to the inspired masterpiece which the Second Novel will surely become and how the First Novel may be destined to become nothing more than tiny bits of ash once I finally realize that explosives are a more fitting end for it than the humiliation of publication.

Before I break out the dynamite, however, I’m going to at least finish the first draft of the First Novel and solicit some feedback from a few beta readers.  Then I’ll put some strong effort into a rewrite.  Once in a while, to give myself a little break, I will plunk away on the work for the Second Novel, for which I only have the vaguest notion of a plot so far.  It will be GREAT though!

Angry and Sad

Earlier today I learned – in probably the worst way – that a friend of mine passed away.

They slip away from us so easily sometimes, when we’re not paying attention.  “I’ll call you soon,” we say, “we’ll have a cup of coffee.  Talk about the old days.”  And we mean to, but then there’s this thing or that and a few days turns into a few weeks, then a few months.  And one day, you wonder why good old so-and-so hasn’t called and it turns out they haven’t called because they fucking died.

Poof.  And that good intention of having a nice chat soon about the good old days will sit down in the pit of your stomach and have a nice long gnaw at your soul.

I met David when we were about 12 and we spent a lot of time together over the next 8 or so years.  Good times, bad times.  Got in all kinds of trouble, had so much fun we laughed until we cried, had so much misery we cried until we laughed. 

Around 20 or so, I thought I was getting my shit together.  I was getting married and I was getting over all that teenage bullshit… drugs and partying and mayhem.  And David was starting a descent into a pit of alcoholic hell that would take him 30 years to climb back out of.  I don’t really remember the last time I saw him, but he remembered.  He was crashing at one of our drugged out loser acquaintances places, unwashed, spread out with all the other garbage on the apartment floor.  I left him there like a piece of trash and I didn’t talk to him for another 30 years.

In the meantime I wrestled my own demons.  Failed marriages, addictions of my own.  And one day, with the internet at my disposal, I sought David out and found him.  We emailed, we talked on the phone, we promised to get together soon.  He was in rehab.  He’d spent the whole 30 years building a life and destroying it with alcohol.  But when we found each other again, he was sober.  Not only had he gotten sober, but he’d decided to become a counselor himself.

We talked less and less frequently and then faded apart.  Again.

#

Not long ago, the idea for The Second Novel came to me.  The First Novel, like all first novels, is never going to be my finest work.  It’s just the story that has gotten me ramped up and is preparing me to be The Next Great Novelist with my second and subsequent works.  And my new protagonist is a character that David would love – and identify with.  He’s a tortured soul, fighting his personal demons, conquering them slowly, and maintaining an amazing sense of humor throughout.  And he helps other people find peace.

I knew David would love this guy, because we’d created some great characters together before and told some inspired stories about them.  It was usually just to amuse ourselves, but we both had the same spark, and the new guy was poured out of the old mold.  So I decided I’d seek David out again, share a laugh, get his counsel, collaborate a bit.  This time, we’d have that cup of coffee.  And today I found out he had a fucking heart attack last May and fucking died.  So I can’t share my new character with him, have a chuckle over a joke only he and I would understand, or anything else because he’s gone.

And worse… so much worse… because this is the second time this has happened to me.  The second old friend I called and said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll get together soon,” and then blew off.  The second friend I looked up on the internet and found out he was dead.

So maybe David, may his soul rest in peace, reached out to me and gave me my new character.  Or maybe I just want to think he did.  Looking at the new character now, I see he is David, at least in part.  So… I can’t go have that cup of coffee anymore… but I can make the new character live.  I can share the anguish in his/my soul.  I can show an indomitable spirit, a crazy sense of humor, a love of life, a realization of what matters.  And nobody else who meets my new character will know that, but maybe, because of who he is and how he lives, he can touch somebody. 

I don’t what else to do for David or for me, but it’s something.

Arrgghhh!

Writer’s block of a different form.  I sort of started this blog as a way to help me grind through the rough patches on The First Novel, maybe work out a few anger issues with The Grumpy Curmudgeon, and last yet certainly not least, build a fanbase of loyal readers.  Can’t be the Next Great Novelist if nobody reads my stuff.

I’ve actually been plugging right along on Chapter 11, which is great.  I’m maybe about two-thirds of the way done and. . . it has a Zeppelin in it!graf-zeppelin-los-angele004a  That’s right!  How many stories do you get to read with a Zeppelin, eh?  Pretty cool.  And no, it doesn’t explode.

But what I haven’t been writing is this blog and I feel like I owe y’all something.  Problem is, I don’t really have anything good to write about.  So it’s the writer’s block thing sort of.  I figure, however, if I write about what I have been writing, and write about why I haven’t been writing about what I haven’t been writing, and put in a picture of a Zeppelin… then we’re good.  For now.  Yes?