Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sleep well manuscript

It finally happened. I reached the end of my creative juices on my latest novel. At 25,000 words in, I’ve had enough. The book started well enough. I had a great idea and I feverishly wrote the first draft in under three weeks. I let it sit for a few days while I visited the Jersey Shore and then pulled it back onto the screen anxious and excited to begin the revision process. And then thunk!

Plagued by writer’s block for the last two weeks, I’ve been spending my morning writing time agonizing over the draft. The story is strong, the characters lively, and the setting fantastic… so what’s my problem?

Perhaps, it’s the oncoming nice weather, or the fact that I’ve come up with another new, fresh idea for a book (a philosophical thriller). I don’t know. But what I do know after writing twelve novels, nine of which are published, is that when I lose interest in a project it only results in flat writing and a boring story if I continue. I learned this lesson the hard way after writing three novels that I struggled to finish over a span of years only to realize that they weren’t very good. A combine twenty-seven months of work shoved into a closet drawer for eternity.

There’s nothing worse than realizing the drive to continue this book is dwindling and the joy of writing this book is waning away. It’s a good book by all standards (great plot, action, and suspense) except my own. As the itch to start a new project tickles in my mind, I feel both sad and relived (because I’m only three months into this project and haven’t wasted too much time) that this latest novel needs an incubation period before I continue with the revisions. I think that’s what separates the consummate writer from the wannabe; knowing when to move on.

So, as I put my latest manuscript to rest in the drawer with the others for who knows how long, I’m feeling the excitement, anxiousness, and commitment of starting yet another project. Writers get better with time and experience, and although my latest novel may never be finished or may become a bestseller in the future, I realized for my own sanity that for now, I need a new world to live in and new characters to meet.

Sleep well my unfinished manuscript, may you someday see the light of day again and come fully to fruition. For now, it’s time to start another new novel. I can feel my fingertips tingling already.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The sacrifice

Spring is here and once again the oncoming nice weather will test my resolve to finish my latest novel. I find it especially difficult to keep focus when it’s a beautiful, sunny seventy-degree day outside. But as an artist I must ignore the temptation to enjoy the outside. When I am working on a first draft (as I’m doing now) I find that I can only concentrate on creating original material when I’m sitting at my desk. Something about that particular space and mindset unlocks my imagination greater than any other. In a way, I’m a slave to my own setting.

I have no problem revising second or third drafts from anywhere in the world; on plane, sitting on my deck, or being in a hotel room; but that first draft must always be written in this particular space. I guess it’s where my muse likes to hang out.

Despite a brief attack of writer’s block (my first ever), and several trips to the hospital (It’s all chronicled in my blog), the first book in my planned dystopian series is coming along. I reached 25,000 words yesterday which is just a few thousand less than I had planned in my timeline. The story is coming together well, the characters are shaping up nicely, and the futuristic setting is awesome. Now, if I only had a title for the work.

This is the first book I’ve ever started without having a title in mind. Perhaps, that’s because I have been thinking about the plot of this one for so long that the words and story came onto the page before I even had a solid idea of what to call it. I had a few titles in mind, but when I searched Amazon I found that there were already books that had those titles. As a writer, I highly recommend that you search Amazon so that your book title is unique in the world and therefore easier to find when googled. I’ll keep my thinking cap on until the right one hits me.

As I stare out my office window at the beautiful day I am going to be missing, I can’t help but wonder if all this sacrificing is worth it? Will I go to my deathbed regretting the time I spent writing rather than enjoying the wonders of nature? Will I grow old and angry that I didn’t take advantage of every nice day offered out to me? I don’t think so. For long after I’m gone my books will still be here and readers will be able to enjoy my stories. In a way, I’m sacrificing a few beautiful days to immortalize myself in the human condition.

So, I’ll lower the shades to keep sunlight from stinging my eyes and get down to the business of finishing this first draft. I may miss out on the day, but the joy I get typing away at my keyboard greatly offsets it.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Taking pause

As a prolific writer, I find it hard to take even one day off of working on my craft. In my mind, a day spent not writing is an unfinished day, as if I’d skipped exercising or went to bed without having dinner. But every now and then the unpredictability of life pops in and you have to take time to pause.

This happened to me recently as a family member was suddenly admitted to the hospital. After a long, unproductive week of experiencing torturous writer’s block, I had finally fallen back headstrong into writing my dystopian series, when a sudden, shrill phone call put a halt to everything. Instead of delving into my imaginary world of telepathic plants, domed cities, and half-man half-animal hybrids that make up make latest novel, I found myself once again sitting in a hospital room waiting for my mother-in-law’s test results. (Those of you who follow my blog know that several months ago I spent several days hanging out in the hospital while my wife recovered from cancer surgery).

When I was younger this sort of interruption in the novel-writing process would have driven me crazy. Back in my early writing days I was obsessed and starved for success. My first few novels were written with the “fever” and almost nothing could have dragged me away from the keyboard. From the age of eighteen until thirty, my novels took precedent over all else; friends, family, lovers; everything.

As I get older, life appears to throw more and more obstacles that a young writer hasn’t yet experienced and therefore can’t judge how to react, aging parents being the topper. Though the compulsive drive to write still harpoons me daily, I have also found a certain level of peace in dividing my time making sure those I care about can hammer through tough times. My books are and will forever be my “children” and I will never ignore them or let them fade away into cyberspace, but I’ve also come to realize that our mortal time on this planet is finite and there must be a balance between writer and human being.

One must spend time outside the imaginary worlds to be a part of real life.

So, as I spend another day in the hospital waiting room and not writing my latest novel, I find myself feeling not agitated and anxious to be away from my work, but actually calm and accepting of the curve balls that life sometime throws at you. Taking pause and helping others can be the best refresher any writer can enjoy.

-- I also wanted to include a response I got from my previous post on having writer's block that I think hits the nail on the head.

I think the human mind is like my grandfather's fields. They are rich and black and whatever you put into them rewards us with bushels of amazing crops and keeps the wolf at bay from the door. Naturally as a good "steward" of the earth, he emptied out the cattle barn every spring and doused the land with steaming black cow poo flying out the back of his manure spreader. He would have on his agenda when the plants began to come up to a certain height go out and plow the furrows to rid them of any errant weeds which might choke the life out of the crop. He would then sit back and wait.
Sounds like you Neil. Wake up each morning and plow, weed, cultivate and harvest year after year. The missing piece - all of us and the farmer's fields need a fallow time. In the north it is called winter and everything gets quiet and rests. My grandfather knew that there would be years when he would have to change the crop; let it rest; plow something under and wait. The mind needs to rest after such steroidal creativity. It obviously was frightening because it came unexpectedly, but your mind knew. It knew it had to rest, to sleep, to be unproductive in order to be the best it can be later.
Congrats, the pipes are thawed and the electricity is on - away you go. The mind likes a rest once in a while.
By Katherine Edwins Schumm

Friday, March 8, 2013

The virtual bookshelf

There is a riding wave of enthusiasm and excitement among indie authors that finally, after centuries of struggle, we can now put our books out there on the virtual bookshelf for the world to see and for all eternity. What an incredible concept that a hundred years from now someone might happen upon one of my books and my characters would rise from the ashes of time and thrill a new reader. Or is it?

What is the likelihood that a future individual will happen upon one of my books? If you do the actual mathematics, it doesn’t seem likely.

Ebooks have only been around for a few years and their rise in popularity is growing at exceptional and exponential levels. When I first started publishing in the virtual world, getting my books noticed was as easy as posting descriptions on social networks and threads. If you were lucky enough to afford a promotion on a popular reader’s website, you could draw dozens if not hundreds of new sales. Ereaders were a novelty that the next generation had to have and ebooks were golden jewels.

Well, the reading population bought both books and devices, and they bought them by the millions. You would think that is a good thing for indie writers like me, having a new audience who have a lifetime to discover my works?

With the new wave of ereaders also comes a new wave of writers. Writers who have discovered how easy it is to publish a book and try to sell their work. Many of these indie books are coming onto the market too soon. In a rush to get published, many writers are neglecting the basics of grammar, and characterization, and the importance of details in the setting. These quickly written books are coming on the market raw and unreadable, and flooding it in the process. Many novice writers are spamming the once mighty reader’s websites giving the legitimate indie authors little exposure and the art form a tarnished reputation.

It is true that the virtual bookshelf will exist as long as humanity and the internet do, however, being discovered on that bookshelf is soon going to be like trying to find a specific grain of sand placed somewhere on the largest beach on Earth. What can possibly set apart the great writers from the wannabe’s: Marketing? Promoting? An incredible tale?

I believe the only saving grace for the gifted writer will be word-of-mouth. Only if you write a great story will absolute strangers tell other absolute strangers about it. Like all things great, it will rise above the garbage and shine like a diamond. And there will be a lot of garbage out there, I predict billions of books.

As I continue to see mediocre books flooding the market (many free or at a price insulting to the art form) I can only wonder how long it will be before I, too, drown in this oncoming sea of mediocrity. Writers whose works are truly gifted are getting lost in a flood of new titles. A virtual bookstore where anyone can sell your work is truly a Godsend to the true storyteller, however, with virtual unlimited shelf space there may soon be more books than readers who care to read them.