Friday, December 21, 2007

Awaiting SFF's Final Chunk Review

My wife, SFF, is beside me reading the final chunk of the first draft. She probably won't finish it today, but I'm all ears to hear what she has to say about the ending.

I also have a whole list of questions to ask her about the last chunk, the characters, and the manuscript as a whole.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No Writing Allowed

My overall plan calls for a writing hiatus after completing the first draft. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, recommends a six week interval between the first draft and beginning the first rewrite. Accordingly, I'm planning to start the rewrite after the new year. There is plenty to do in the meantime - researching facts, thinking about the characters, writing descriptions of them, getting SFF's feedback and digesting it, converting the file from AppleWorks to Pages, all kinds of things.

That said, I'm having a hard time not jumping right into the edit. There's a lot to be done and I think it will be much, much better when its done. Its a good thing we're going down to California for our big family Christmas get together or I might not be able to wait that long.

And, yes, if I wait until the first it will only be a two week hiatus, but that's about as long as I think I can wait.

Monday, December 17, 2007

First Draft Complete

The first draft is complete. The momentus event actually occurred yesterday in the Denver airport while on a maintenance delay. I wrote the final sentence, typed the final period, and looked up, not quite sure for a moment where I was.

After deleting 13,000 words worth of accumulated notes, ideas, reminders and outlines that had accumulated under the text itself, the manuscript clocks in at 206,000 words. I've been really hoping that it will finalize at under 200k, so with the rough at 206k it should be doable.

The 5th and last Chunk has been printed and is setting at SFF's place at the kitchen table.

While I'm happy with what I've accomplished by completing an entire first draft, I'm not thinking or claiming that I've "written a book". I won't feel that I have until I'm finished with rewrite number X and I can't think of anything else I could do to make it better. Then I'll consider that I've written a book, and whether it gets published or not won't change the fact.

As it exists now I'd be embarrassed to have anyone but SFF read it. I've peeked back at the first few pages and not been impressed with myself. I take solace from thinking that I must have gotten better over the 200k since then, I've been writing in flows with little on screen review, I've done virtually no rewriting yet, I know the characters a ton better, etc.

We'll have to see how the rewrites go. I told SFF today that it may never be good enough even to send out to beta readers (family and friend). I wouldn't send it to them now. I see a complete first rewrite, printing the whole shebang for SFF to read start to finish, getting her input, taking a deep breath and plunging into the second rewrite, and when that is finished sending it out to beta readers. It may never be good enough for that. If not, I guess I stop there - but if its the best I could make it I would at least feel that I'd written a book.

For now, though, all that's in the future and I've finished the first draft.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Even Closer

Got in a good session this morning, Saturday, then it was getting a Christmas tree and other stuff this afternoon.

I'm halfway through the final chapter, things are moving fast, I'm liking how its going.

One more good session and the first draft is done.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Soooo Close....... the end of the book, the end of the first draft I mean.

I emailed my writing buddy last night and told him that today I would start the final chapter. That wasn't quite correct, there's a lot of ground yet to cover with a natural chapter break in the middle, so this morning I started the next-to-last chapter. Its going very well, the words are flowing fast, I should finish it tonight and, if I get a lot of time to write tomorrow, the last chapter will be done.

Wow. "The last chapter will be done"

For the first draft. Yes, just the first draft.

Even so, its been nine months of writing and approximately 215,000 words (yikes!) to get to this point. I may raise a few glasses in mild celebration tomorrow night, should I in fact get to type the words "The End".

If so, I have another immediate, pressing writing assignment to complete: The Family Christmas Letter. Family and friends, if I ever complete the book to the point of sending you the manuscript, and if you ever have enough interest to peruse this blog which documents its progress, realize how hard it was to resist putting in an announcement of the Secret Project into the Christmas Letter.

Here's hoping that Christmas Letter 2008 will announce the completed & polished manuscript, maybe even representation and, dare I say it - no, I don't, we won't risk breaking the Pop Off Rule.

Tomorrow night or soon thereafter I should be able to blog the completion of the first draft.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Query, Pitch Iterations and Project Re-Writes

I came to a stunner of a realization yesterday.

While writing the first draft I have also been doing a lot of research into agents, query letters, publishers, etc, so that when the time comes I'll be able to give the best chance of getting Overboard published. When I hit a block during the writing, or need a break or something, I'll read agent blogs such as Pub Rants and Miss Snark. Based on all their sage advice I started working on a query letter a while ago, and just recently I worked up a pitch and submitted it for review on the Bookends LLC blog.

So what?

Well, my novel-writing timeline was laid out for one year, with approximately 8 months budgeted for the first draft and 4 months for re-writes. If I'm going to stick with the timeline it will turn out to be 9 months and 3.

So what?

Yesterday I was looking at my query letter and the old iterations of it I have saved, and the pitch and its previous incarnations. I am on the 15th iteration of the query letter and 9th of the pitch. Each version is, I feel, better than the previous.

So, if it takes me FOURTEEN REWRITES of a query letter and EIGHT of a pitch, neither of which are yet perfect, how many times must I rewrite the novel itself to get it right?

I mean, HOLY CRAP, I'm agonizing over 4-5 paragraphs on the query letter and three SENTENCES on the pitch! Will it take 15 or more rewrites of the book?

My Project Pendulum is way over on the pessimistic side of the scale right now.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Late Breaking Thought

The writer's strike is ongoing, and I'm still writing. Dang.

Silas Arrives at Omega

^^^ There's a cryptic title for this blog entry.

I've been supplying my writer buddy with nearly daily updates of my progress on the Secret Project, most likely to his chagrin and boredom. After he humored me by saying that he didn't want those updates to give too much away when he finally gets to read the scintillating manuscript, I told him that Silas (the protagonist) needed to leave San Francisco, then travel to point A, B, then C, where the novel would end.

Silas arrived today at C, but I remarked to my wife, SFF, that I should have labeled it Omega.

So, Silas has arrived at Omega and I'm in the final stages. There is a lot that will happen at Omega, though, its not just a place to type "The End". To paraphrase and butcher Churchill's quote, its not the ending, or the ending of the beginning, but the beginning of what leads to the ending.

198,000 words as of this moment. Gulp.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Broke the Rule

The no-writing-at-home rule got broken today - with SFF's support. The kids went off to school, SFF had her own projects, and I was left in my office to scribe away. I got 4,000 words down despite distractions such as the phone, lunch, the dog bringing her toy in to play, and my own proclivity to waste time surfing web sites.

Speaking of surfing websites, I submitted a pitch for Overboard on a literary agent's blog, Bookends LLC . The agent has offered to review and comment on submitted book pitches. Her reviews look to me to be very helpful and informative. I'm at the end of a pretty long queue, however, so it will be some time before she gets to me.

To be clear, I didn't pitch the book to the agent, but submitted the pitch to be critiqued.

Upon further review, I'm going to add Bookends LLC to my links on the sidebar, because it appears to be an outstanding blog for helping prospective authors.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Good Sessions

I got a good couple of sessions in today during those periods I had available. 2,700 words recorded in the form of 1's and 0's on a spinning magnetic platter.

I almost lost a hunk of writing the other day. I was working on the Secret Project while riding in an airliner with no place to plug in the laptop, saw that the battery life was going, and stopped hitting the Save command to cut down on writes to the hard drive to stretch out the battery minutes. I was depending on the Mac's usual warning of a low battery, but for some reason it never came and it shut down on me. Damn!

I quickly scratched out an outline of what had been written, but figured it would never be the same. (Actually, it likely would have been better the second time around)

Anyway, I recharged the laptop and when it fired up again it pointed out that the document hadn't been saved, and asked if I would like to recover the data? Umm.... yes.

Way to go, Apple. I pity anyone who has to work with a winbloze machine.

Despite the fact that the words have been flowing at a good pace I don't think I'm going to make it (first draft done by Christmas) without breaking the no-writing-at-home rule once more. Its the only way to make the goal and my wife, SFF, who's been extremely supportive, will tell me to go ahead.

Word count: 186,500

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I Didn't Know Silas Very Well

I hit the first draft another lick today and as I did so I realized how much Silas, the protagonist, has changed since I first made his acquaintance. I conceived the book idea and the character together and, although the rough outline of the story has stayed quite true to the original plan, Silas has not.

He's not the guy I thought he was. He's similar, certainly, but he thinks and acts differently, especially as the book goes on. I'm not sure how much that is due to the fact that he was different than I originally imagined him, and how much is due to the fact that Silas has changed as result of the people and events around him through 180,000 words of narrative.

I think it must be some of both and it would perhaps be best if most of it is due to him growing and changing through the course of the story. After all, character development is kind of important in a novel. ( I know, "Duh") Which leads to a question I've been wondering about for some time.

When I hit the period key that finishes the first draft I will know Silas far better than I knew him at the beginning of the novel, and he will have changed a lot from the 19 year old youngster who woke up on the farm one morning. So, when it comes time for The Great Rewrite, how do I separate those two changes in order to rewrite him accurately?

I'm probably not being clear. I should be able to rewrite Silas much better because I know him so much better - early scenes should ring more true once rewritten. On the other hand, I'm imagining it might be difficullt to keep the vastly more experienced and world-wise Silas of the end of the book from appearing in the early stages. He can't benefit in the rewrite, as a character, because of experience he gained throughout the later course of the narrative.

Its something that a good, experienced novelist is doubtless familiar with and is able to handle. I'm a first time novelist and it remains to be seen whether I'm a good one.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

In the Goldfields

My protagonist, Silas, is in the mountains of Gold Rush California and things are happening. The words are pouring out and into the laptop. I've looked forward to this, the final major section of the book, for some time, and its fun to write. After lunch today I found myself actually hurrying back to the hotel to get to writing.

The best part of it is that I can feel the various threads of the book all starting to come together. Where I am right now the (eventual) reader might not be feeling it but I certainly can. Everything is starting to coalesce into ever-narrower places and times until the final denouement which will provide, I like to think, a good ending.

As always, I'm wordy. It feels like I'm writing simply and directly, but scenes need to be set, events must occur, dialog needs to be spoken, and the next thing you know I've run the word count up. I was thinking that the first draft would finish at 200K, but I think I'm going to bust that.

180,400 as of right now.

Friday, November 30, 2007


To what extent is my Secret Project secret, and why is it so?

The first thing that strikes me is that this blog is damn near a perfect secret - to my knowledge only five people other than myself know about it and only one of those looks at it on occasion. Of course, my original intention was simply to document my progress throughout the writing - rewriting - querying - publishing process, and thereby have a journal of sorts to look back on when it is done. The blog is functioning just fine for that purpose, but I find myself in a kind of cyber-loneliness, looking wistfully at other blogs with tons of traffic (pub rants, for example) and wishing there was someone to talk to.

Enough of that. Why is the Secret Project a secret?

Because I like having a secret, because I like surprises, and because I don't want to be bothered with a lot of "how's the book going?" questions from well meaning friends and family. Also, I want to be able to quietly pull the plug on the whole project if I don't finish it or it doesn't meet my standards for going forth to face the world.

That said, its really not too secret. My wife and kids know about it, of course, and a close friend of mine, who is also an aspiring novelist. At work, when my colleague sees me typing away and he asks, "What are you doing, writing a book?" I simply answer, "Yes". So, quite a number of co-workers know about it, but as I see them very infrequently it hardly amounts to an expose'.

I'll come out of the closet with it after the Big Rewrite as I will then present copies of the manuscript to my parents, parents-in-law, my brother, my sister and my friend. I'm really, really looking forward to dropping them all into the mail and awaiting their reactions when they receive it. Then, even more so, their reactions as they read it. Perhaps I shouldn't look forward to that part so much.

Speaking of looking forward, I'm also looking forward to receiving my first rejection letters - that's part of the process, too.

DeMotivating Link

I've added another link to the blog, 101 Reasons to Stop Writing, a site that started out as a blog dedicated to encouraging people to stop writing so that less crap gets published. The site explains itself thusly:

"This blog is dedicated to the thousands of writers out there, labouring in deserved obscurity, murdering forests and supporting the postal system, wondering what the hell they’re doing wrong. I’ll tell you. And God help me, I’ll make you stop."

Is the site aimed at me? Not specifically of course, but I can only conclude that I am a prime example of the target audience - an amateur writer with little or no literary credentials attempting to write a good book.

Check out the "DeMotivator" tab for posters to inspire aspiring writers to give it up as a bad job. My favorite is a portrait of Shakespeare captioned "Aspiration - You Will Never Be This Good. You're Not Even Titus Andronicus Good, Much Less Hamlet Good".

Is "101 Reasons to Stop Writing" going to stop me from writing? No. Do I suspect that maybe I should? Yes. But I'm going to give it my best shot.

Now I need to find a Motivating blog or site out there somewhere in cyberland.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Links Added to the Blog

I spent much of this afternoon in limbo while waiting for the mechanic to come to the house to fix my son's dead Bug. Unable to muster the concentration to work on the novel itself, I instead added a bunch of links to the blog. These have all proven valuable to me both in improving my writing and understanding how to go about getting published once the finished manuscript is in hand.

Books on Writing:

The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. This book should be a cornerstone in every writer's foundation.

On Writing, by Stephen King. Entertaining, semi-autobiographical, he touches on a lot writing topics.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Browne & King. Although designed for editing your work once the manuscript is complete, I've found it to be very useful in trying to avoid doing things in the first draft that would just have to be edited out later.

I had already started working on my book when I decided that some how-to research was in order, these three books are what seem best to me. I read each of them, then highlighted them, then did an extract on each that I titled "Writing Reminders" to which I occasionally refer when I feel the need to get re-grounded in the basics.

I may some day discuss some of my excerpts from these three books. A simple example from Elements of Style: "Use the active voice". As an axiom it is as simple as can be, but I need to be reminded on occasion.

Writer's Resources:

Writer's Net, Critique Circle and Backspace all offer a slew of information for writers, each with particular strengths. I'll leave it to the reader to click on and explore them.

Valuable Links on Getting Published:

The first four links, Pub Rants, The Rejector, Nathan Bransford and Miss Snark are all blogs of actual living, breathing, rejecting (and accepting) literary agents. They provide invaluable advice and information for an aspiring novelist trying to figure out how to give himself the best chance of actually being published. Although now dark, Miss Snark's blog is the most entertaining and you can spend a lot of fun and educational time in her archives.

The fifth link, Agent Query, is the best place I've found so far for when its time to actually begin querying agents to seek representation.

Am I putting the cart before the horse by spending a lot of time looking at literary agent blogs? Yes, somewhat. On the other hand, I want to be prepared, I'm interested in learning how it all works before the manuscript is fully polished, and although I'm kind of like a kid standing on the outside with his nose pressed up against the glass, its still fun to watch what's going on inside.

Time to Break a Rule?

The rule in question is "No Writing at Home". I've done it once before, and I'm tempted to do it again under the pressure of the looming first-draft-done-by-Christmas deadline, plus a growing eagerness to write down all that I have worked out in my head.

I've not had a business trip in a while, so I've not had any away-from-home opportunities to write.

Now the kids are home from school, can't/won't write now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Needless to Say......



Its All There Now - In My Head

I'm on the home stretch of writing the book. My protagonist, Silas, has arrived in California and is on his way to the hills of the 49er Gold Rush.

And I know what to write.

I don't know what the writing process is like for REAL novelists, but for this amateur it has turned out that I work from a series of ever-more detailed outlines until I finally have one - usually set down in a kind of stream of consciousness style - that I can actually write from. Typically, I'll write a chapter or two from my detailed outline until I reach a place where I don't have enough specifically worked out in my head to continue putting words into the first draft.

I then need to do some housekeeping of the notes, ideas, research reminders, etc, that I've scattered at the bottom of the working pages, then I sit and think, concentrate, cogitate, brainstorm, etc, until I've worked out in my head what, in detail, is going to come next.

Its a "writing" session in which little or no writing gets accomplished, but in the end I'm usually eager to write because its all there - I know what to write.

The challenge of how to write it is always there, of course.

So, anyway, during my last session I sat and thought, took notes, and I finally have it all worked out in my head - what characters are going to appear and when, which scenes will come before others, how I'll work out the logistics of setting up a chain of events, etc.

Which is great because I have it all figured out right up to the ending.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Page a Day?

I just read an interview of John Grisham posted at in which he recommends writing a minimum of a page a day, otherwise "the book won't get written". Hmm.

Mine is getting written, but on my write-only-on-a-business-trip schedule, which means that there are significant numbers of non-writing periods, such as right now in which I'm on day 4 of 5 in a row at home. I don't write at home for two main reasons; one is that I don't want to lock myself away from the family at home, the other is that we always have tons of projects that need doing around the house. (We've been working on a 1940's farmhouse and 9 acres for 10+ years, but that's the subject of another blog.)

I do worry, though, what the effect the repeated interruptions in the flow will have, however. On the one hand it may effect continuity and overall quantity, on the other perhaps it helps to come back to it refreshed after a layoff.

Pay your money and take your choice - it hurts or helps, is the glass half empty or half full?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And SFF Says -

- that she really enjoyed reading the voyage section. She had a few comments and suggestions, but nothing major. Hmm.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Awaiting SFF Review

My wife, SFF, finished the 4th Chunk while I was asleep next to her after getting home from work at 0600 in the morning. She mentioned it as we were running errands this morning and I asked her to hold off on commenting until were were home so I could take notes. Her feedback is invaluable and it all goes down in the laptop so I eventually will cover every point she makes.

I don't know how anyone could write a quality book - or at least do their best writing - without a close or intimate friend who can read it and offer honest comments and criticisms. I'm sure there are people that have do so - its hard to imagine Poe taking his stuff round the pub for some light hearted feedback - but I don't know how to do it. SFF's help will greatly improve my results.

From how many people is it possible to get valuable feedback? My plan is that I finish the first draft, then embark on The Great Rewrite, incorporating SFF's feedback, all of my own, as well as all the changes that occur in the flow of the rewrite. Then I will mail manuscripts of the second draft to my parent's, brother, sister, and a friend. Right now my guess is that their feedback will not result in any major changes, but will instead result in catching errors, inconsistencies and unclearness.

I've rambled a bit from the intent of this post, which was simply to record my anticipation of what SFF will say.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Time To Write

How do you find the time to write?

Everyone must face that problem, probably even authors like Stephen King, who are full time professional writers, but nonetheless have demands on their time just live everyone else.

Writing on the side must make it orders of magnitude tougher, though, especially because of the nature of the creative process and its demands on one's brain and energy.

I mean, if you're trying to find the time to hit the golf course, or go to the gym a pickup basketball game, or a dance class, you just have to get your ass off the couch and go. To get decent words down on the page I have to have the next scenes clear in my head, have energy, have creativity and, most importantly, have the motivation. How often do those stars line up such that you can get in a good session?

If you can't write until the kids are in bed you may have an undisturbed workspace, but how much energy is left after the day job and dealing with those same kids?

I thought I was going to get in a good session yesterday, but circumstance conspired against me and after some literary housekeeping I only got 400 words into the laptop.

What's frustrating is that my motivation has never been higher, I'm in the home stretch, I have a goal to reach and the most-fun part of the story is happening - if I can just find the time to get it down.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


One of the most enjoyable aspects of this project has been the opportunity to be creative. Depending on one's job and/or hobbies creativity may well be a nearly forgotten word to someone in middle age. Writing a novel is creative, certainly, and the overall plan of the book is creative, but what has been most fun is having an idea right in the middle of a writing session and immediately putting it to use.

A recent example is that when Silas arrived in San Francisco he did so aboard a sailing ship that dropped anchor off the frantically growing city (the setting is 1849). How to get him off the ship?

There are reasons why he couldn't just walk off but still, as originally conceived, he was going to get himself ashore in a fairly straightforward way.

Then came an idea, then another idea of a complicating factor, then another of how to resolve it, and by the time Silas was on dry land and walking into the city a new minor character had been created - a character I hadn't planned on, one who hadn't existed an hour prior, and one who will go forward with the novel.

That was fun.

Nice Comment!

My wife, SFF, offered an unsolicited comment last night. She's been reading the 4th Chunk, which has Silas, my protagonist, on a sailing ship going from New Orleans to San Francisco. She's not to the point where he's around Cape Horn yet, but she offered that she was "really enjoying" the voyage.

This was a very nice surprise, not only because SFF doesn't sugarcoat things, but because I had such a hard time writing the at-sea part. Fans of this blog (both of you) may recall that in my head the voyage was initially a kind of necessary hiatus to get Silas from New Orleans, where he was done, to San Francisco, where I wanted him to be. I got pretty blocked over it, until I realized that the important thing was what was going on with Silas, not where he was physically located.

Altogether, a really motivating remark because I've been worried that the voyage would be a weak section of the novel.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Word count is always in the back of my mind, although I've resolved to let the story run where it will and tell it as best I can, word count be damned. is an example of why I'm at 158,000 words so far:

The good ship Progress dropped anchor at its destination at last and 2,400 words later Silas set foot on the the shore of San Francisco. TwentyFourHundredWords?

Why couldn't have been something like "The ship dropped anchor in the Bay and by first light the next morning I was standing on the golden shore of California." 23 words instead of 2,400.

The answer, of course, is that there were things that had to happen and things that Silas had to do before reaching shore, all of which had to be expressed in my riveting prose, but I worry about verbosity. My wife, SFF, says it adds richness. (Very supportive of her as she hasn't read this part yet).

Richness? Wordiness? Time will tell, but its all subject to edit when the time comes.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Ship Drops Anchor

The good ship Progress has dropped anchor in San Francisco Bay. Silas has at long last reached California and is ready to abandon ship and join the Gold Rush. He is ten days ahead of the revised schedule, and only three weeks behind the original schedule.

The next sub-goal, a major one, is to finish the final chunk of the novel, the Gold Rush section, so that the rough draft is completed by December 20th, at which time we're going down to San Jose, CA for a family Christmas. I really, really need to get it done by then - it would be a great Christmas present to myself.

The biggest obstacle to reaching that goal is that there is a TON of stuff planned for this final section, all the threads drawn together for resolution, if I can accomplish that. I think the word count is really going to bloat (155,400 as of the SFO arrival). On the other hand, I've really been looking forward to the California section so, motivation being the primary factor in accomplishment, I'm optimistic that the rough draft will be done by Christmas.

Another benefit to reaching this current sub-gaol is that when I get home I'll be printing the 4th Chunk - New Orleans to San Francisco - and presenting it to my wife, SFF, for reading and review. Her comments and criticism are invaluable.

Here we go - full court press to the finish.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Revised Goal Schedule

I knew my original goal schedule was too optimistic. Silas was supposed to be in Panama City by September 15th, he arrived there October 14th. One month behind. So, a revised schedule:

November 13th: Silas arrives in San Francisco

December 20th: First Draft complete.

I can then take a break over the Christmas holidays, prepare for my job related annual recurrent training, then get into the Great Rewrite.

With regards to Silas getting to San Francisco, I'm pretty confident of makiing the revised goal schedule because there are only a few significant events planned for that leg of the voyage. After that, though, the entire wind-up crescendo of the novel takes place as all the elements I've created come to the Gold Rush for the final conflict and conclusion.

On the one hand its going to be a big chunk of writing, on the other I'm thinking it might go pretty fast because I've been looking forward to writing it. I have an ending planned which I believe will be a good one.

We'll see.

For now, I need to get him to San Francisco.

Writing While Hunting

I'm back from a five day deer hunting trip in Eastern Washington. I threw my laptop in the camper because I figured there might be slow times in camp around mid-day.

One day another hunter suggested going to a hillside to watch the river bottom, later in the afternoon another hunter in our group would be pushing the river bottom cover and we on the hillside would be in position.

We got there pretty early, so I set up a camp chair I had brought, an Alaskan Amber, the laptop and my rifle. I then opened up the Secret Project and got in a pretty good two hour writing session while occasionally having a good look around. As it was getting close to the push time I then closed everything up, including the chair, and hunkered down to put all my attention on the deer hunting.

No deer that evening, but I got Silas to Panama City.

If I ever classify these posts this one will be under "multitasking".

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Month Behind the Goal Schedule

According to my previously blogged, wildly optimistic goal schedule whereby I would complete the novel in one year I am pretty much one month behind.

Silas was supposed to arrive in Panama by September 15th, it is now October 6th and he's northbound off the coast of Peru. I'll be on a hunting trip on October 15th so my new, reality adjusted sub-goal is to get him to Panama by October 11th, the last available writing day before the hunting trip.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Block Removed, Wind on the Quarter

Word count is 137,800.

Silas and the good ship Progress are around Cape Horn and sailing north for warmer, calmer seas and a port call, although the protagonist and supporting cast don't know it yet, in Panama.

I've really struggled with the sea voyage part of the book and it has forced me to so some hard thinking about what is going on. I realized, and this should be no surprise to anyone who has taken a Lit class, that the most important thing is not an endless series of really cool, highly entertaining scenes - although that doubtless helps any story that has hopes of being published.

No, the most important thing must be what happens to the character, how he reacts, learns and grows through all the different experiences that the reader watches him go through. I sat back and thought about Silas, the story, the events, the other characters, and where I was going with it all as the author. I came to a pretty good understanding of what was going on in my own novel and in the life of my own character, and once I saw that I found that I could press forward with the sea voyage. The sea voyage itself wasn't that important, its how the voyage affects Silas that is important.

Once I figured that out I could write the voyage and the words started to flow again. I'm not worried (much) about the voyage being boring (which in reality is day after day of crawling across the ocean) because things are happening to and inside the main character.

Of course, realizing these things and being able, as a writer, to put them down effectively on paper so as to make a good story are two different things. I can draw up a pretty damn good pass play on paper, but with my wrecked right arm I'd have a hell of a time trying to complete it against the Colt's defense. We'll see if I can execute the game plan.

On a somewhat different note, I was discussing the word count with my wife, SFF, my Ideal Reader. Fans of the blog (both of you or the one of you) may recall that I was concerned about it getting too long for it to have a reasonable chance of being published. SFF's previous sage advice had been to just let the story go where it wanted to, the heck with the word count, and we'd see what happens.

Anyway, in discussing the word count she made an offhand comment the other day that I found remarkably encouraging. She said, "Well, regardless of the word count it doesn't READ like its long."

That has to be a good thing, right?

My pendulum is swinging towards optimistic at the moment.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Block is Back

I'm having a hard time carrying on. I think the basic problem is that the sea voyage is just not as interesting to me, although I introduce a new, fairly important character and expand on pre-existing conflict.

Its just becoming something I have to press through, but right now I'm really having a hard time coming up with the motivation to do so.

I just looked back at the first chapter and the contrast between Silas now (at sea) and Silas then is startling - and not in a good way, I think he was more interesting back then.

Before the Great Re-Write I'm going to have to really sit down and think about his character and how he changes but, most importantly, how he is deep down - the kinds of rock bottom things that don't really change.

That's in the future, though, for now I have to keep slogging through this tough spell and stop thinking so much about how much work there remains to be done.

Work? Its supposed to be fun and enjoyable, right? Seems like it was back when Silas was on the Mississippi, but its not right now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Silas at Sea

I've finally buckled down, cleared the decks and gotten my protagonist Silas to sea.

After SFF's critique of the 3rd Chunk I placed her comments/suggestions into my list of reminders and to-do's for the Great Re-Write, then I glanced through my approximately 4 page list of "Writing Reminders" that I culled from writing books such as Stephen King's "On Writing", then I thought about my motivations for tackling the project, then thought about how much fun it will be to ship off a copy of the 2nd draft to family and friends, and finally I put fingers to the keyboard.

I had a good idea, perhaps unique perhaps not, for a task that Silas must perform as a landlubber who is on the First Mate's shit list, and it helped to get me going.

There. Is. So. Much. Left. To. Do for this project that its extremely daunting to think about, however, so I'm doing my best to use the mountain climber's technique of not looking all the way up at the peak towering in the distance, but instead to concentrate on getting to the next switchback in the trail, the next stop for water, etc, in other words, to concentrate on the next intermediate goal.

The next intermediate goal is Silas to Panama which, according to my schedule, I should have accomplished by 3 days ago. Sigh.

Another thing I have to concentrate on in this section of the book is that there are only three important components of it: 1. Physically getting Silas to California 2. Developing a new friendship 3. Further developing an old enemy. While being entertaining, of course.

The Great Re-Write: Another subject for another time, but its looming over me.

Monday, September 17, 2007

3rd Chunk Reviewed by SFF

My wife, SFF, has finished reading the 3rd Chunk of the Secret Project. If I haven't said before, "Chunks" are just large packageable installments of the book based on significant events, in this case Silas going from St Louis to leaving New Orleans. The 3rd Chunk ended up being as big as Chunk 1 and Chunk 2 put together.

OBTW, the working title is "Overboard".

So anyway, SFF finished reading the 3rd Chunk of Overboard and, as usual, had some very constructive criticisms. Some of them I was already conscious of - not going deeply enough into Silas's remorse, for example - others were surprises, things I had to explain to her and, obviously, if I have to explain them verbally I haven't conveyed it well enough on the page.

Some positive things she said in a general way was that it was very much holding her interest and the characters had gotten much more rounded in this third section.

An insightful observation she made was that the protagonist (Silas) had changed a lot from the 1st Chunk, but not necessarily in a way that was consistent with the character as originally presented. Certainly characters have to grow and change - is there a good novel where they don't? - but she thinks (and I agree) that a character can't change into something he never was or never could be.

Here's the deal: I originally envisioned Silas a certain way and initially wrote him that way. Then, as things have progressed, the orientation of the novel has changed and my perception of Silas and the way I'm writing him as changed. Some of it is growth within Silas himself, but much is due to my external-to-the-character-and-narrative perception of him. So......I can see that when the Great Re-Write (more on that later) occurs, I need to completely and fully address which Silas is going to be on stage for the whole novel - the prototype Silas of Chunk 1 or the evolved Silas of Chunk 3.

Which leads me to my next cogitation: Certainly a big part of the change in him is the natural growth of the character, which is good and must be kept. By the time I get to the end of the book's rough draft I'll know Silas hugely better than when I started, and significantly better than I do now, so when the Great Re-Write starts I can write him as I know him to be, BUT I'm suspecting that it will be difficult not to present the "finished" Silas at the beginning of the book.

Clear as mud?

In paragraph 1 of Chapter 1 of the finished book I can't present Silas as I've come to know him to be in the last paragraph of the last chapter- he still has to go through all the growth and changes that the storyline causes in him. I will kind of have to say to myself, "I know how Silas is deep down, so, once again and with truthfulness and feeling, what is THAT Silas going to be like when he starts out BEFORE all this stuff has happened to him?"

If I can do that, then the inconsistency that SFF has spotted in the rough draft should go away. Silas will grow and change but it should all be believable, because its consistent with the inner, basic character.

Two last thoughts/observations:

One is something that popped out of my mouth as we were discussing some details that have been lost in the shuffle, some plotline points I've missed, etc and I said that this whole process has been "mind expanding". Wow, what a lot of work and mental effort a novel is! I've read thousands and not even come close to fully appreciating them.

Second is that although I've not received fulsome praise from SFF - not that I was expecting it, as I said she's a straight shooter - I was noting her body language as she read the 3rd Chunk. When she's very into a book she holds it closer to her face, inclines her head more, kind of rounds her body to it. If its a book that's not holding her attention its held further away, she's leaned back, etc. Her body language in reading Overboard has been getting to be more like the first kind. :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Writer's Block? Or Something Else?

For the first time since I started the actual writing of this thing in March my motivation has taken a downturn. Yes, for those of you paying attention, if any, this is right after my last entry in which I said my motivation level had never been higher.

I'm not sure what the deal is. My hero, Silas, has left New Orleans and is on a sea voyage that will take him to San Francisco. The second half of the novel will take place in California, with all the threads of the first half (hopefully) drawn together for the final conflict and resolution. I have lots of plans and ideas for the California scenes and, indeed, will have to work hard to prune it all down to a workable, not rambling, second half.

So why am I having trouble with motivation all of a sudden? Is it because the sea voyage has been not much more than a blank in my mind so far - no great ideas, just a way to get Silas to California? Is it because I've been thinking lately about just how much MORE time this is going to take? Is it a let down after completing the 3rd Chunk, which was the size of 1 & 2 combined, and had a lot of fun stuff going on in it?

Or is it writer's block or, more accurately, writer's trepidation, because, after all, how many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of books have sea voyages, and what could I possibly come up in terms of descriptive originality? Maybe I'll just have him fall into a coma and wake up in San Francisco.....

Its not like I can't write at all - this morning I added about a thousand words which has Silas well offshore southbound, but the sharp motivating drive has been dulled. I'm afraid that if I just write kind of on autopilot - which it sort of feels like - it will come out as very pedestrian (which the whole thing may be, of course).

Part of it could also be because I'm waiting for my Ideal Reader (borrowing the term from Stephen King), whom I sleep with on a regular basis, to finish reading the 3rd Chunk and offer her comments. My wife, SFF, is not one to sugarcoat it for me, she'll let me know what she thinks very honestly - I take notes when she tells me her comments. If she comes back with some encouraging words it will be a big help for me to press on.

On a different, positive note - I have a comment on this blog! A fan! Okay, "fan" is much too strong a word, but thanks to 'october fairy' for posting and telling me to keep up the good work. I've had one posted comment before, but it was from my (good) friend who did it when I asked him to - just so I could see how posted comments worked and so I'd have one.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hiatus Excuses

Boy, time flies, its been about a month and a half since visiting the blog. My excuse is the best one - I've been working pretty darn hard on the Secret Project, and never felt there was much time to blog.

Progress Report:

The bad news is that my protagonist, Silas, did not get out of New Orleans by my intermediate goal of August 15th. There was just too much going on.

The good news is that he HAS made it out of New Orleans, which happened on 31 August, two weeks behind the production schedule. The "3rd Chunk" of this first draft of the novel has been printed and is awaiting reading by my wife who is finishing up a re-read of the 7th Harry Potter book.

Yes, re-reading Harry Potter takes precedence, its like she thinks JK Rowling is a better writer than me or something, but in fairness to my wife, SFF, she did start the re-read well before I had the 3rd Chunk printed.

Word Count: At this point the rough draft stands at 113,000 words and I estimate that its somewhat over half complete. I'm guessing that the finished, polished product will clock in at 200,000 or so. Some literary agents who blog (Miss Snark and Pub Rants) are of the (professional) opinion that 100,000 is a good, marketable size for a debut novelist but, what the hey, I'm just trying to let the story go where it goes.

With regard to wordiness, I'm not sure if I'm being overly so or not. It surprises me almost every time as to how long a given scene takes, how much dialog there is, etc. Two characters get to talking about something important, for example, and before I know it they've covered two pages where I'd have expected one. Perhaps I'm too wordy, perhaps it will tighten up in edit, and perhaps it sucks, but it seems to happen when I just let them flow naturally - at least to me.

Try diagramming that last sentence a la high school English class.

My motivation to write the thing is stronger than ever, now I'm re-dedicating myself to keeping up on the blog.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

First Waypoint Reached

Hey, I'm pleased. I've reached the first waypoint on my overly ambitious schedule. The as of today, July 14th the narrative has left St Louis - the goal was July 15th. It was close but at least I didn't fall on my face over the first hurdle.

The writing is actually coming somewhat easier now. Now when I have outlined in my head what happens next I'm looking forward to writing it out and when I sit down at the keyboard I know that it will come with less effort than before. I realize that its the first glimmerings of confidence - I'm not sure how the outside world will judge it when the time comes but I'm starting to get a good feeling about the process.

Also, the characters are starting to wake up and move around on their own. The broad outline is still being followed but at least small things are happening that I didn't expect.

So....what about follow on intermediate goals, that I'm calling waypoints? Out of New Orleans in a month? Ambitious. The way overly optimistic item on the timeline is the month and a half blocked out for the first rewrite. We'll see.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Novel Goals Schedule

This post bears a title that would invite the disdain of Professor Strunk (the original author of Elements of Style). What am I talking about? A schedule of intermediate goals in the writing of my book, a novel? Or is the post in reference to a litany of unusual scoring shots in hockey?

Okay, I decided that I needed to schedule some intermediate goals to track the progress of the creation of the novel. I used an assortment of already established facts, such as: It was started roughly in March (or roughly started), I think a year is a reasonable goal for completion, Stephen King in On Writing recommends a 6 week hiatus from even looking again at a manuscript once the first draft is complete, January 1st would be a good time to start the first rewrite, 6 weeks earlier is my birthday, the 1st draft is approximately 20% complete already, etc.

So, with no more boring further ado, here is the Schedule of Goals put boldly forth in front of God, Cisco servers and everybody (Location are where I expect the main action to be at that time, assuming that the characters don't decide to go off somewhere else instead):

15July07: St Louis

15Aug07: New Orleans

15Sep07: Panama

15Oct07: San Francisco

13Nov07: TBA

31Dec07: Break is over

01Jan08: First rewrite starts

15Feb08: First rewrite complete, manuscripts out to family and friends

23Feb08: Break is over, read entire book aloud to self (SK recommendation)

01Mar08: Final rewrite and polish begins

31Mar08: Novel is finished

01Apr08: Query letters hit the USPS and email servers. An auspicious date.

There it is, we'll see how well I track the timeline. The well worn joke is that I have never completed a project for myself on time - remodel the kitchen, build a new fenceline, put in an RV building, etc and finished it on the original timeline. SFF argues that they are never actually finished, strictly speaking.

The reason for the published timeline is a major reason this blog exists - to put it out there for anyone to see and put pressure on myself to perform. Its like talking smack before a basketball game or darts match - it puts on self applied pressure and raises the stakes somewhat. I'm not doing this to put bread on the table; every little bit of motivation helps.

First Blog Mistake - Of Which I'm Aware

Time for some embarassment: Stephen King's book on writing is actually titled "On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft" and should properly be briefly referred to as "On Writing".

My excuse is that in the manner of books sold today the cover bears the well-known writer's name in huge font size "STEPHEN KING" then, in this case, there is clever kind of sideways script font saying "On Writing" followed by "A Memoir of the Craft" in a standard font. The book spine seems to be the deciding factor in determining the short version of the title and it states, "On Writing."

All of which is just an excuse, and there should be none for a factual error, my bad.

Monday, June 25, 2007

If You Blog & No One Clicks Is it Still Virtual Reality?

There's a question I've been wondering about. When does cyber land become the cyber void? Or is that backward - one starts out posting to a cyber void and then, maybe, if people discover the site, it becomes cyber land, part of the cyber landscape?

In any case, I know of only one person who has visited this blog, my friend the aspiring novelist, which is fine, for now.

The word count on the Secret Project is now 40,000 which is bothersome as I would estimate that I'm only perhaps 25% through the storyline as currently envisioned. Word on the street holds that 100,000 is the optimum ballpark figure for agents considering taking on a new author.

In consultation with my wife, SFF, it has been decided to just press on and let the story flow, we'll see how it turns out. Good editing in the first rewrite will doubtless prune it down some, after that we'll just have to see.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Three Books on Writing

Boy, blogging is turning out to me more of a time commitment than I had expected - and this is only the third post. If I really feel like writing I hit the novel a lick, once that burst of energy has run its course there is very little left to blog - if I want quality in the blog, which I do.

How's that for a run-on, complicated sentence? Which leads us to three books that I have recently purchased in an attempt to improve my writing on the fly. They are:

1. The Elements of Style, 4th Edition, by Strunk & White. This evidently is or should be every writer's slim little bible. Virtually everyone who talks about improving their writing enthusiastically endorses this book. Originally published in 1918.

2. A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. Yes, Stephen King the best selling novelist. I bought this on the basis of recommendation on writing threads and agent blogs. "Combines autobiography and admonition, inspiration and instruction. It's an enjoyable mix." - The Washington Post Book World

3. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to Edit Yourself Into Print, Second Edition, by Brown and King. In an amateurish, best-effort way I've edited two manuscripts for a buddy of mine. Perhaps this will improve my effort for him as well as me should my rough draft ever get finished and require editing.

I've read Elements of Style and am halfway through A Memoir of the Craft. After reading each book I will re-read and highlight, which is an effective way for me to study something. My plan for the blog, for now, is to discuss some of the highlights from each.

Right now, though, I'm in a hotel in Dallas and its lights-out time.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Plug for My Friend's Book

I've cut and pasted my review of my friend's book at Amazon:

In the mid 90's my buddy, a Navy fighter pilot, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. While the rest of us continued with our flying careers whether military or airline, my friend faced the bitter reality of a long downhill fight against in incurable debilitating disease. He was medically retired from the Navy, moved back home to Iowa, got a job as a financial analyst and built a wheelchair-friendly house. He has been "lucky" in the course of his MS in that his has been a slower than average progression of the disease - he can still walk, for example, albeit with difficulty. Although MS is still incurable research continues and he recently went through an experimental high risk stem cell transplant procedure that, it is hoped, may halt further progression of the disease.

This book is about his experiences in learning the diagnosis, sharing it with his family, and dealing with a future that not only involves no more flying, but will likely include a complete loss of personal mobility and independence. It is written absolutely from the heart in the hope that other MS sufferers, and indeed those with similar afflictions, may learn some of the lessons that he has.

He sent me one of the first copies, I read it and immediately sent an email recommending it to virtually everyone on my email list. What came back was rather surprising - I submit that you would be astonished at the number of friends and family that you have who either have someone in their life with MS or know someone who does. Many of these people on my list have ordered the book and ALL of them have been very impressed by it.

I recommend this to anyone with MS or a similar debilitating disease, as well as to their family and friends. It comes from someone who has been there and is living that.

Further: My friend has pledged that all profits from the book will go towards Multiple Sclerosis research.

At Amazon: The Gift

I added this to the blog because we just got a phone call from a friend who has a friend with MS and had ordered the book on my recommendation. After the book had arrived but before they had even taken it out of the Amazon box a second friend of their's called to tell them she had just been diagnosed with MS. They sent her "The Gift" before they even had read it. This second friend, a cancer survivor, called after reading it to express her heartfelt thanks for the book and expressed the hope that she might get to meet my friend, the author, when he next visits us.

Have you, a family member or friend been touched my MS? "The Gift" may be a big help for all concerned. ALL profits will go to MS research.

When It Started

I just went back and looked at the creation dates of my first files for the novel. The outline was created July 3, 2006. Immediately leaping into full press mode, the actual first words of the book itself were committed to 1's and 0's on February 27, 2007. I wouldn't want to rush into anythng.

The problem was commitment: I just couldn't bring myself to declare to myself and the world that I was going to write a book. I hate leaving tasks unfinished and this would be a big unfinished task if I quit before completion.

Another problem was/is the time it's going to take. I couldn't commit the hours without giving something else up; it's not like I had hours every day where I was staring at walls - or staring at TV or other time wasters either. The biggest optional time usage before the book was playing online poker. I was doing very well, and giving up the money would be a drag, but it was the only way to free up enough time on an ongoing basis. online poker until the book is done, that's the vow.

Intermediate goal? First draft done by Christmas. Which Christmas remains to be seen.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night - And the Blog Began

I'm writing a novel. That's hardly something to crow about. Finishing a novel - now that's something to cluck about, anyway, rather like laying an egg, perhaps. Getting one's novel published - there's something worth leaping up to the top of the chickenhouse and crowing over. We'll see if I end up clucking, crowing, or quietly wandering off.

Its a project I've toyed with for years, which is certainly not something that sets one apart from the crowd. Lot's of people think about climbing Everest - but how many accomplish it or even give it a good try? Its time to fish or cut bait, though, I'm middle aged and I'd best let loose what creativity I have left before too many more brain cells fade away.

What are my qualifications? They're not overwhelming. I write well, most everyone agrees on that, yes, especially my Mom. My Christmas letters are well received. I've had a few magazine articles published. Not the New Yorker, but nonetheless they paid me and you've probably heard of the periodicals. I've written a few short stories that my wife liked. That's it.

Motivation? That's been hard to come by. A very good friend of mine has written two, both are as of yet unpublished. I've assisted with some editing, he's assisted me by reading my short stories and telling me to get off my ass and write a book. I started a serial killer crime drama a few years ago, got to about 25,000 words, showed it to my wife and she hated it. That aborted Sercet Project One (SPI).

I learned lessons from SPI: don't just aim for a commercial market, write a story that you want to read yourself, write something your wife can support.

I started Secret Project 2 (SP2) a few months ago, the novel that is the subject of this blog. I have a story I like, one that I'm interested in, and some characters that are opening their eyes and moving around on their own. 30,000 words and my wife likes it so far.

Why the blog? Partly its to make a public statement in front of the world (" I'm going to write a novel "), to apply pressure to myself, partly to discuss novel writing/querying/agents/publishing as each of those become factors, and partly to function as a journal of the process.

Well see how it goes and whether I stick with the project, the blog, both or neither.