Chapter 19

So I got to Chapter 19 and everything went off the wire. I mean…yeah…ok. Let me start from the semi-beginning because I know so many folks are reading this that you forget a few things.

Part, the First: Rather than start this new writing kick by doing something small, like a short story, I decided to shoot big. I am working through one of my novels, trying to see if I can make it work–or at least trying to see if it’s even possible to make it work.

Part, the Second: I’ve been working at a pretty fair pace, and overall I’m happy. My micro-writing needed quite a bit of work, which was concerning, but what the heck. The story moved pretty well, and if I have one area I’m focusing on it is trying to be much more clear about the strength of my main character’s persona. I think he sometimes disappears.

But overall, I’ve been able to work with my story and make things sing much better than they had been. Overall, I was thinking this was a pretty good story.

And then I got to chapter 19, and suddenly there was no flow. Dialog was redundant. My characters proceeded through a series of discussions that were beyond tepid for nearly twenty pages. I wasn’t really sure what happened, but I’ve worked on it for nearly two full days. Then this morning, I think I get it. This is a critical point of the story for the MC. It’s a place he’s making decisions. And, to be blunt, my writing shows signs of being afraid to lay it out there. My main character is hesitating, and so was I.

Armed with this thought I’m going back to it again.

What do I have to lose, eh?

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt ran a 9.69 100-meter dash yesterday to break his own world record and win an Olympic gold medal. His run was so dominant that he essentially stopped running in the last 20 meters, and instead began his celebration.

I admit I’ve become inured to the in-game celebration. It happens now, regardless. A guy tackles his opponent and raises his hands to the crowd. A dunk draws a chest pounding as the dunker jogs back down the court. A homer is now incomplete without the stand-and-stare-and-point-to-the-sky move. I admit I don’t like it, but hey, you know it’s just the gig today. So, great.

Bolt’s action bothered me for some reason, though. And it’s just today that I was able to put it into words simple enough to represent what I’ll call truth. In each of the cases above, the player has at least accomplished something. They have won, but more important, they have tried to do their best and they have accomplished something by doing so. Their crime against my sensibility is one of ego.

If Usain Bolte had run the last 20 meters at his race pace, it is reasonable to assume he would have beat his world record by an astounding number. Perhaps another tenth. Perhaps further. Who will know? But instead he stopped performing before the event was over in order to celebrate.

The message this sends to me is: I don’t care about doing my best. I just want to beat you.

At the end of the day, I guess that’s fine. I like competition, and being competitive is a valuable trait. But it bothers me because it doesn’t seem particularly Olympian, and because it just seems to be out of order. Athletics are so powerful because they are a metaphor for other areas of life. And in the end, I think the order should be: I will do my best, and then I will hope that’s good enough to beat you.

In this light, Bolt’s “crime against my sensibility” is not purely one of ego but also one of a form of sloth. Or, maybe better said, one of lazy craftsmanship.

Think about it.

Simple Goals

I have given myself a goal. This goal thing works for me. I don’t know why. I mean, I should be able to just sit down and write as a general course of action, but for me I’ve always needed a goal that I believed in to really make something stick.

My goal came about as a result of several things, but the most obvious and direct was a podcast interview I heard Tobias Buckell give where he was asked how to get back into writing after a break. Among the options he gave was a classic–just commit to sitting in front of your screen for a certain amount of time. A side-bar to this is to consider it a success even if you do nothing, but to realize that eventually you’ll get bored and do something. The kicker of course is that when you commit to sitting in front of your screen you allow yourself only one other form of action–creating words.

So, that’s my goal. Sit in front of the screen for a certain amount of time each morning.

I’ve not been perfect–I missed one morning due to work needs. But I managed to get words done more often than not, and I’ll take every step forward at this point. All progress is good.

Another Day, Another Chapter

I went back to “regular” work yesterday. Odd, I know. Take a week off Thursday-to-Thursday. It makes sense for me and my professional role at present, though, and sometimes you just have to say “what the hell.”

Today will be day two.

This is important because today also represents Morning Two, meaning my second straight morning of getting up at 4:30 and making it downstairs to complete a chapter’s rewrite. Today was more difficult merely because I was up late finishing work that I’m now way behind on due to my vacation. Life is like that. You can take time off, but everyone else continues to move forward.

Still, I’m happy. I got up–only a little late, I fed the cat, and I made it downstairs. I avoided the pratfalls of the normal dalliances that I can sometimes use to avoid progress, which would have been easy since I had left off at a bit of a sticky point yesterday. Difficult thoughts and decisions are the ones most fun to put off, and all that. But I didn’t put anything off. I dug my heels in and I got my way through the rough spot, and even went back and made it even better than I thought it could be.

At least I think it’s better, and really, I’m the only one who matters at this point.

Again It Begins

Square one has gotten to be a familiar spot.

I finally came around to taking some time off work this past week, and faced with the truth of something I’ll call “free time” I decided to put up or shut-up.

I thought about challenging myself with something daunting like in the old days–write a short story a day, or write two short stories a day, or something audacious like that. I envisioned blogging my great success, as if anyone was actually around to really care. In the end I decided that kind of thing didn’t make sense. I didn’t need that.

Instead, I needed something that said commitment. In the end, I think that’s what’s been lacking–commitment to something truly hard. Creating drafts of stories is not very hard. At least I don’t think so.

Writing is easy.

Storytelling, however, is hard. So that’s what I decided to do with my time off. Look at storytelling.

I’m not a total sadist, however. Rather than start afresh, I decided I would take my fantasy novel and begin working with it. I would read. I would work with it. I would try my best to find its flaws. In the process I have to admit that I hoped beyond hope to begin to fall in love with it just a little bit again.

That too, I think has been missing. Sometime I’ll think about that a little more, too. Sometime I’ll write about it. But for now I’ll just say that I’ve worked on this thing for nearly a week solid. For now I’ll say that I’ve spent this week doing heavy lifting, practicing skills I’ve left fallow for longer than I care to think about. I worked on the computer. I worked with paper and ink. I worked while I cooked on the grill. I worked on the couch. I left things untouched, thinking about them in spare moments in order to return to them later with fresh perspectives.

I like that my story took surprising turns. I liked that I thought my characters were interesting. I didn’t like that my micro-writing was sloppy, but I guess I could always say that.

Yesterday, though, it happened. Yesterday I finished a scene and I stepped back, grinning. “That’s really good,” I said to myself. “That’s really, really good.”

Then I went back to work.