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.

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.”

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?

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.

Just write!

All writers, whether we are unpublished noobs like The Next Great Novelist, or famous and prolific writers like [insert name of famous prolific writer], are going to experience moments when the words simply don’t want to flow.  There is lots of advice available on the internet (and elsewhere) to help us over these rough patches, and most of it demonstrates the old adage that “free advice is worth what you pay for it.”

I was having just such a rough patch a few months ago on the First Novel.  I know I’m doing everything the wrong way on it, by the way.  I’m writing from start to finish; I’m editing as I go; I have almost no outline or character sketches; and so on.  I get a flash of persp… no… INspiration and I pull up the keyboard and just rat-a-tat-tat on the keys (I can do about 60-70 wpm if the wind is right).  The problem is what happens in between those flashes?  Well, I did what They say to do… I just wrote.  I sat myself down and made myself write even though I didn’t “want” to – even though I didn’t feel the muse elbowing me in the ribs.  I ground out a chapter – I forget which one it is now – piece by laborious piece.  I cranked out a paragraph here and there or even sat down and practically dragged myself through a page and when I was finally done with the chapter I remember thinking it was absolute crap.  It was, after all, uninspired.

So I sent it off to my sister who gives me very down-to-earth practical criticism and who isn’t afraid to hurt my feelings because she knows I love her to death no matter what, and I winced, waiting for the storm of disapproval.

Guess what?  (You should see this coming.)  She said it was the best chapter I’d written yet!  She loved it.

So, I guess it’s true what They say.  If you want to be a writer, you have to write.  Get rid of the stuff that stops you from writing (which is hard for me since every computer I use to compose on has the oh-so-distracting internet on it), and stop making excuses.  Give yourself a reasonable, attainable goal like:  “I will write for one hour,” or “I will finish this chapter.”  If the words aren’t flowing on Project A, then try writing about Project B for awhile.  Or write about anything.  Just write.