Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Let's Talk about the Illness

I am on page 65 of what I have decided to call the third draft of the current work-in-progress. It's proving much harder than it should. I've got a complete story, for goodness sake! A start to finish story with a beginning, a middle and an end. But this is my weakness, I understand. I love starting things. I enjoy diving head-long into a project and spending countless hours, days, weeks in the flow, losing track of time. Now I can see the finish line.

This is the biggest, hardest, most complicated story I have ever attempted to complete, and I feel myself slowing down. It would be SO EASY to walk away right now. It would be simple to start a new project that was full of fun, creative energy.

But that's not going to happen with this one. There is no doubt in my mind that I will finish this book. In spite of the fact that it may actually be crap.... in spite of the fact that people may hate it... I've been down this road so many times and I understand, now, how to cross the finish line.

That doesn't make it any easier.

That doesn't mean it's going to be effortless.

"You still have those doubts?" I asked my friend, Cheryl (who has published two books, and has nine years under her belt as a newspaper columnist, and has won awards with her writing and gets invited -- regularly -- to speak at events and do readings).

"Every day," she said.

What is it about being a writer that makes us feel like we are a continual work-in-progress, not quite there yet?

I fell into bed exhausted last night, scolding myself (just a little bit) for not getting more done on the work-in-progress. A little while later -- still not asleep, wondering if I was really as tired as I thought I was, or if I was just avoiding the work ahead -- I realized that I was plotting the NEXT novel. The one that follows the current work-in-progress. As if I haven't had enough of these crazy characters already. Full scenes from part II of this story are already being written in my mind.

This is the illness, the affliction.

It would make more sense to walk away, to just be done with words. I could get a job tending bar. I've been thinking of that as a job I'd like to try out. Pouring drinks. Watching people. Absorbing stories.

Like that would give me nothing to want to write about.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Writer's Progress...

is changing a word in a work-in-progress because it occurs to you that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying the word out loud... like at a reading, perhaps... then changing it back again because you figure you have plenty of time to learn how to pronounce it correctly.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Long Overdue Tribute to Writing Friend, Dorothy Masters

Dorothy Masters: January 9, 1936-February 21, 2014
Photo Courtesy of Carol Yoho

Dorothy wrote me a note after I published my first book, Tiger Hunting. I could always count on Dorothy for kind notes. Often by email, sometimes by snail mail, she always took the time to say hello, to acknowledge my efforts, and to thank me for my time.

When I think of the kind of person I want to be, Dorothy is a role model. She once told me that she wrote her stories for her family, to leave something of herself behind. I collected Dorothy's books, though we were not relation, and I enjoyed reading them, too. Dorothy's stories were about making connections and nurturing relationships. They were fun stories and always full of the sunny view of things. One of her books was titled, in fact, Keep on the Sunny Side of Life. In her professional life, Dorothy was a nurse. She lost her husband in a farm accident at a young age and spent many of her younger years as a single mother. Dorothy wrote a column that was published in several rural Kansas newspapers for many years. She published several volumes of her memoirs and some short stories, as well.

The second year I was editor of the Kansas Authors Club yearbook (2008), Dorothy submitted The Rose Bush Theory as her entry. I am sharing it here, with permission from her family.

The Rose Bush Theory
by Dorothy Masters

I relate life and death to a big, beautiful rose bush. Picture a large blooming rose bush and you can see your family or circle of friends. Some of the roses are in full bloom with gorgeous color and perfect shapes. Some roses are starting to form buds. Some of the buds never complete the full growing process, and remain undeveloped on the bush. some of the roses are dead and remain on the bush, while others are starting to wither.

Now, relate each and every one of those blooms to different members of your family or your circle of friends and you can see the living and dying process. Life is a process with death being the final phase. Please do not wait -- live life to the fullest each and every day.

Keep in mind, to maintain that rose bush (loved ones) big and pretty, it must be fed, watered, nurtured, pruned and protected from the elements and given gentle caresses, plus some tender talk. The care is even more essential when caring for people.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What's on the To-Do List for 2015?

Found this on Shelf Awareness on Facebook. Neil says it so well. Happy New Year!

Once upon a time I considered myself the queen of New Year's resolutions. I was one of those freaks who made and actually kept them. I was building habits, most of them good, and at some point I reached a point where I couldn't bring myself to make another resolution. More of the same, became my mantra. One day at a time, one moment at a time... I rarely stick to one project at a time, though I still wonder if that might be good for me. Mostly, I try to remember that I can't allow myself to become devastated or distraught over all that I have not done because, let's face it, there will always be things not done.

Starting out the New Year, my big project is completing the yearbook for the Kansas Authors Club. I am feeling a bit behind on this project, but remain optimistic that I will get it done on time. It also helps that I am really itching to get to my next completed novel. I've been reviewing my stack of first drafts and have selected the target. It's going to take some work, but I will get there. There is no option other than optimism.

I am also working on plans for the next book in the works for Meadowlark Books. Watch for an announcement. There will be a call for entries by the end of this month.

Momma always said I could speak your reality into existence. I've written it. And now I've read it aloud. It will be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Collections: Beautiful, Meaningful Words

BuzzFeed has a post of 51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature and it inspired me. I keep a journal of my favorite lines from books I've read. Here are some words that I have collected where I found deep, personal meaning and connection.

"I was a New Yorker, and if you are a real New Yorker, you don’t leave. You want to leave all the time but you don’t. That’s something fake New Yorkers do. The same way that if you’re really part of a family, you don’t leave it. To leave a family physically felt more drastic. Like leaving a self behind."
Fiction Ruined My Life, a memoir, by Jeanne Darst

"Once my family’s strong, predictable safety net, I now felt like the trapeze artist himself, flying from bar to bar, grasping at any line that might swing my way in hopes of staying afloat."
Househusband, by Ad Hudler

"I’d always thought confidence was as permanent as eye color or earlobe size, but it had become clear to me that it was as fragile as cornchips."
Househusband, by Ad Hudler

"It takes time to find the courage to display the parts of yourself that aren’t bright and shining. But you have to see them, have to know they’re inside you, because they will resonate in the landscapes you control."
Sebastian, by Anne Bishop

"I have not survived against all odds. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. I have not lived to tell. This, this is my story."
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

"It seems we humans so want to divvy the world up into clean little packages that fit neatly together. But in reality, each package seeps into the next, affects the next. And the pile forever shifts. And, as far as I can tell, no one understands where the contents in the packages came from to begin with. I certainly don’t. It seems to me now that the point of living is less to understand, more to not become dulled to the miracles that are everywhere."
Madapple, by Christina Meldrum

"I don’t know how to rest in myself very well, how to be content staying put. But mother knows how to be at home and, really, to be in herself. It’s actually very beautiful what she does."
Travelling with Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

"The two most powerful impulses of my life have been the urge to create and the urge to be – a set of opposites – and they have always clunked into each other."
Travelling with Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

"I began to realize how hard it was to separate out all the voices to hear the single one that came just from me."
Savvy, by Ingrid Law

"Memories and experiences become part of who we are. Kansas seeps into our cells, reconfigures our DNA, claims us as its own. If we leave, it follows."
Flyover People, by Cheryl Unruh

"We never lose this sense of being grounded, of knowing who we are and why we're here, of being nurtured by the soil and the grass and the stars."
Flyover People, by Cheryl Unruh

"I am homing in on forty years old. Another twenty years and I’m looking at sixty, and these days, twenty years seems like next Tuesday. I feel young but pressed for time. I am beginning to get a sense of all I will leave undone in this life. It makes my breath go a little short. I’m not desperate, just hungry to fill the time I am allowed."
Truck: A Love Story, by Michael Perry

"There is nothing further from calm than a shelf full of books. For these are the screams and the shouts and the moans of humanity, quiet only on the outside."
Harvey & Eck, by Erin O’Brien

"But for those hardy tempers who could love great spaces, where one spot was no more important than another, experience of the sea of grass was glorifying. On the Great Plains, a man of strong identity stood always at the center of his world – a king of infinite space."
Kansas Ghost Woman, by James S. Barnett

"It is true I do not speak as well as I can think. But that is true of most people, as nearly as I can tell."
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

"Some people have an inner voice. I have an inner to-do list. And since I'm a glass-half empty type of guy, my list is entitled "Things That Are Wrong With Matt." Whenever I am in danger of feeling too good about myself, that list starts flashing in my head."
American Shaolin, by Matthew Polly

"Who is the real person, I wonder—the ten-year-old being dragged or the sixty-year-old going round full of admiration and appreciation? How many other characters can I expect to be before I die?"
No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year, by Virginia Ironside

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's a work-in-progress that may not see the light of day for a very long time. I got my final 2,000 words for NaNoWriMo in just under the wire. Even after a long weekend away from home, I was too close to give it all up.

Many thanks to my writing buddies for NaNoWriMo 2014, Cheryl Unruh and Marcia Lawrence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

10,000 Words to Go

The end of November is near and I've just passed 40,000 words on my NaNoWriMo project. It's been going well. Getting the time to write daily has not been a problem, but upping my word count per day has taken some time to get going. I had developed something of a 500-800 words per day habit, apparently. That's the half hour window I've been holding out for writing fairly consistently. It doesn't sound like much, but believe me, a half hour once or twice a day gets me a lot farther on a piece than an 8 hour stretch once a week.

At least, that is the rhythm that is working for me now. And through the month of November I've been working to get that number closer to 2,000 words per day, which has often looked something like about a thousand in the morning and another thousand in the evening.

Now I'm looking at an extended family meal for Thanksgiving tomorrow (more finger food and games, low pressure) and travel this weekend for time with more extended family. I'm staring at the last 10,000 word stretch and wondering if I can do it. Can I really get it written now with so much activity on the schedule for these final days of November?

My story has reached that point where I can see the final chapters, I just have not written them yet. I can see, as well, so many changes that need to be made. I got over a hump these past several days where I spent too much time dwelling on all that hadn't made it into the story, then somehow managed to narrow my focus again. For a full 24 hours, the novel morphed into an even bigger project, involving a blog (written by both my fictional character and me in real time) and an online community and more. I have this tendency to want to throw all of life's questions into my fiction. Maybe my subconscious thinks that if I can tether these thoughts to paper, I can get them out of my system, once and for all.

It was an eye-opening moment, however, trying to summarize the direction I was going/had gone with this particular story and seeing that I was pulling in themes from past unfinished novels and trying to cram them into this story, as well. It may be that my December (and beyond) project is already calling to me and I am not yet ready to listen (10,000 words till I'm ready, almost there).

I am determined to bring something to completion before spring. I simply have to decide which piece I am ready to tackle. That box under the bed is full enough. If it were an oven, the fire alarm would be telling me there were several pieces ready to come out now, to get the finishing touches, to have their chance to be served, at least, on the buffet line of books. (This is a more literal reference than it should be -- I do have several printed works-in-progress in binder clips, stored on the bottom shelf beside my bed.)

While I started NaNoWriMo with the dream that perhaps I would be able to write a novel from start to finish, take another month or two to tidy it up, have it edited, get it published.., I am ending November with a better understanding that this is simply not the way my brain works. I have no more hope for this novel, at this point, than I had for Tiger Hunting in 2009 when I closed the file for the final time, having reached my 50,000 words.

Yet, the hope/the belief is there. I do see potential in my current work-in-progress, and I see that getting it this far, so quickly, has been as exhausting as it has been exhilarating.

I will get 10,000 words more by the end of the month. I've come too far to drop the effort now. And maybe one day, a few years down the road, I will be able to share what I came up with for NaNoWriMo 2014.

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