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!

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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!

Just WRITE, damn it!

So, I’ve got the summer off between classes and I set myself the goal of finishing the first draft of The First Great Novel.

Yeah, right.

I figured two pages a day, five days a week is a decent goal.  I know that when I’m on a roll, I can crank out a half a dozen pages without even breaking a sweat.  The problem is to get rolling.

I’ve even got a day off, with nothing in particular that I have to do.  I went through the usual morning routine of avoidances.  I spent an hour or two running around the internet wasting time this morning.  Then I had toast and coffee with Mrs. Novelist (usually a pleasant way to spend time).  Then I watched an entire movie on TCM (a great old Navy flick).  I browsed around here in WordPress for awhile, reading a few blogs I follow and wandering through a few random posts in topics that sounded interesting at the time.  I’m also about to finish tipping all my neighbors in Restaurant Story.  That pretty much runs the gamut of allowable diversions.

I’ve also completed the checklist of preparations.  I had a couple cups of coffee and I’ve got a cold iced tea sitting here.  I’ve got the headphones on and my favorite Blues station is jamming.  So everything is ready. . . and instead I’m sitting here writing another blog post because I’m telling myself that my loyal blog followers expect to see something every couple of days. . . or else their loyalty will be short lived.  And that’s important right?  Because that’s the basis of my huge fan following that will be hanging on every word I can possibly write, just waiting to throw money at me for each succeeding Great Novel.  That villa in Spain isn’t just going to buy itself, after all.

Except that none of that is going to happen until I can finish writing The First Novel.  Hey, I did make some progress over the last couple days. . .  we got to see a polo match. . .  I got a character named after Chainsaw worked into the story as payback for him putting one into his named after me. . . I put a few more forgotten landmarks into the story. . . and now here are Protaginator and Protaginatrix (and her brother) about to sit down and have dinner at one of the most famous restaurants in Hollywood and. . .

Nothing.  Like when you’re getting ready to go somewhere and you open the car door and you notice the light doesn’t come on.  You pretend to ignore it, even though that nagging little voice that won’t fucking shut up says, “Dead battery, dead battery, neener neener neener.”  You get in and stow your gear and slip the key in and. . . nothing.

::sigh::

Alright, damn it.  My brain is like my old 1957 VW bus.  I’ll just turn the key on, give it a mighty shove, leap into the seat, slam it into 2nd gear and pop the clutch.  Oh yeah, there it goes. . . ::cough, sputter, bang, BANG, purrrrrrrrrrrrrr::

Make it short? Make it good? Make it last?

It’s starting to grind again.  I’m at that point where, when I manage to distract myself from all my distractions and actually sit down to write, I can barely manage to push out a paragraph before I falter.

I mentioned before how I’d ground out a chapter that way, one or two paragraphs at a time, and thought it was disjointed and weak only to have my sister tell me it was the best I’d written so far.  So, I’m pretty sure if I can just kick myself in the ass hard enough, the basic quality of my work will hold up.

So I’m trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep it moving.  Journey of a thousand miles, blah blah blah.  The problem I ran into yesterday is that I had the main characters tour a stable, meet with some polo players, and watch an entire polo match – in three paragraphs.  After taking a couple hours to get that far, I looked at it and went, “Really?  All that in three paragraphs?”

So I got to thinking – a good form of distraction – and I reasoned that perhaps this was merely a transitional scene, and not one of those parts of the story that really move things forward.  Therefore I shouldn’t waste a lot of the readers time on things that don’t matter… right?

Maybe.

Truth is, I don’t know where the hell the story is going right now.  Oh, I know where it’s going to end up, I’m just not sure of the path it is going to take to get there.  So should I take a few pages to describe all of the stuff?  Should I describe each horse, the colors of the wrappings on their legs, the differences among polo saddles, English saddles, and Western saddles?  Will the readers enjoy an exciting description of the polo match?  I can probably fluff all that up pretty easily – as a kolij granulate (twice!) I’m no stranger to filling x pages for a paper – but is it important to the story?  That’s the real question.

The answer is, I have no freakin’ clue.  “The answer,” he said, pointing a finger at the knucklehead staring at him out of the mirror, “is to just write it.”

First things first.  Write it all down, and get a complete first draft.  Write fast, write slow, write with music, write in a darkened room… whatever it takes.  Get it out of your head and onto the screen.  Then, you can edit, revise, and rewrite.  That is what I tell myself, while I sit here banging out a stupid blog post instead of writing.

::sigh::  Okay… back to work then.

Oh no! It’s happening to me!

Last night I sat down and the words began to flow.  A torrent of prose erupted from my fingertips and splashed onto the screen with fantastic nuance, deep soulful longing, achingly beautiful imagery.  What’s more, it was The Big Scene, which I’d had in my head for months, but hadn’t gotten to yet.  Last night, it was time.  And I wrote until my fingers bled – okay four or five good pages – but it was good.  It was fan-freakin’-tastic good.

Mrs. Novelist was sitting on the couch when I finished the scene.  I decided to show her just how incredibly fantastic her husband truly is, so I read her a few pages and finished with The Big Scene.

Except that somebody had taken my deep, touching, wonderfully poignant, thrilling, tear-jerking words and replaced them with utter crap.  I tried to stop reading, but it was too late.  The words kept coming out of my mouth right up until the end.

I looked up, prepared for her to tell me that our dog could probably poop more artistically than I could write, yet hoping she’d be gasping for breath as the tears rolled down her cheeks in rapturous joy at hearing something so beautiful.

“That was nice,” she said and continued playing her game on her phone.

Hizzen and Hern

I am sick to death of butchering the English language in the name of gender-neutrality.

No, I’m not a misogynist (as long as you keep makin’ them sammiches! – sorry, I couldn’t resist).  No really, not a misogynist at all.  I absolutely understand and completely agree that English could and should evolve to reflect the fact that approximately half of humanity is female.  I have no problem with that.

Here’s what I do have a problem with.  I was reading one of the blogs I follow and the author concluded with this sentence:  “A writer that can create this kind of epic and heartfelt rivalry between their characters has all the conflict they need to drive their story.”

The subject of the sentence is “a writer.”  He could have chosen “the writer,” but he opted for an indefinite article.  A singular indefinite article.  Not all writers, or some writers, or even two writers.  Just one single indefinite writer.  Later in the sentence he mentions two things that belong to this indefinite singular writer: characters and story.  To indicate that these items belong to the singular indefinite writer, he uses a third person possessive pronoun.

Now this singular indefinite writer, being human, must be either male or female.  Doesn’t matter.  We have a singular third person possessive pronoun in English for males and a different one for females.  However, because we’re afraid we might offend half of the population, we refuse to use either singular pronoun, and instead choose the plural third person possessive pronoun, because there is only one of those and it isn’t gender specific (because, being plural, it must include both genders).  So, “a writer has their characters and their story.”

Which is just fucking WRONG.  Singular subject and plural pronoun.  Wrong.  Always wrong.  Forever wrong.

Now if we look at this not as avoiding insult, but rather as an attempt to respect and credit all humans, then it does make a bit of sense.  Still wrong, though.  Nice gesture maybe, but bad English.  And it just irritates the living hell out of me.

The “fix,” if you will, is to change English.  Since we actually have three third person possessive pronouns in English, and the third one is gender neutral, we could say “A writer has its characters.”  But this is more wronger, because “it” is never used to refer to people.  So that option is out.

We can agree that “their” is okay because it is gender neutral if not numerically correct, and this is generally the hand wave of acceptance that the PC/GN crowd uses to justify this grammatical departure.  And I can’t stand it.  Makes me want to kick holes in things.

Or, we can use both the masculine and feminine pronouns together, “A writer has his or her characters and his or her story.”  But that gets pretty annoying pretty fast.

Or, we can create an additional pronoun which, while singular, is gender neutral.  Such as… I don’t know… hox.  A writers has hox story.  We can make up words if we want.  We’re not stuck with the old ones.

Or, and this is the option I will choose, if the author is male, and the subject of the pronoun could be male or female, use male.  If the author is female, use a female pronoun.  So I could write,  “A writer has his characters,” and you (if you’re female) could write, “A writer has her story.”

Now, y’all (there’s another fun pronoun) can do what y’all want, but I happen to be a male.  I’m not going to apologize for that, nor am I going to attempt to minimize or diminish the other gender.  But from now on, when I need a singular third person pronoun to refer to a single person of unknown gender, I’m going to choose the male version.  After all, a writer should be able to choose their pronouns, right?