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.