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Signed, Sealed, Delivered

February 26, 2010 1 comment

After an intense writing blitz, I finished my short story, revised it, and sent it on its way. It took hours. And hours. I far surpassed the 60 minutes a day I’ve been aiming for. On Sunday night, I worked for over three hours. On Monday, a full 90 minutes, on Tuesday, Wednesday and today I put in two hours a day.

All of that time spent was due mainly to the fast-approaching deadline. It was a strain, but I wanted to meet this mini goal. I wanted to do more than just finish a story – I wanted to polish it to the point where I felt it was worth spending the $5 to send it out for others to read and critique. I know that the story could have been better with more time, but it is what it is.

Two interesting notes cropped up over the revision process. My wife, who has been a rock for me throughout this process, read the story twice and smothered it in comments. Many professional writers advise against having loved ones read unpublished work. They fear that it will cause more tension than anything else. I found it to be a tremendous help though, and I don’t think that my wife is ready to kill me yet. She did, though, say that it was very hard to know how others will see the story because she was so involved in its creation from the beginning that she was unable to read it as a reader. She could only see it as an editor, and could not fully gage the sheer entertainment value and storytelling charm of the piece. That’s why I chose the literary journal I did. My story will get a blind reading and will be returned to me (in three months) with commentary. I hold little illusions about the likelihood of publication, but I hope to grow from the commentary.

The other point of interest is a bit less heady. Over the course of writing the story, each day I would save it as a new file, so that I could go back to older versions if needed. I enjoyed watching the size of those files slowly grow over time. The first day, the file was 11 kb. Day two saw the document more than double to 23 kb. By draft 11 – the day that I finished the full telling of the story – the document was 87 kb. The file that I printed and mailed today was 79 kb. The steady rise, then the slight fall, in the file size is exactly the pattern I hoped to see. My daily regimen yields slow but consistent progress, and the editing process reduces the file size because I’m cutting the worst 10%-15% of the content before the piece is submission-worthy.

For now, I’ll take the next two days off to celebrate my daughter’s 5th birthday. On Sunday I’ll return to my novel. I am excited to get back to that story.

A Long Weekend, and a Good One

February 16, 2010 2 comments

It has been a long time since I have posted here, but the writing is going well. I am well into the short story that I will be submitting next week. I have perhaps seven pages left to write on that story, and then I’ll need to do some heavy revision. I’m both nervous and excited to submit this piece. I won’t know the decision of the journal’s editors for three months – by which point I hope to have completed most of my novel and perhaps an additional short story.

The big news of the President’s Day weekend writing experience has been how successful I was at writing at home. It was the first weekend where I was proactive and worked with my wife to schedule in time that I would isolate myself and focus on writing for at least an hour. The kids find this very interesting. With the support of my family, I’ve been able to get in a good writing groove every day. The story is improving and I am still finding the whole experience to be very enjoyable.

I do wish that I had a completed product at this point. I was hoping to have finished the initial draft of the short story and to have spent the weekend revising. I am finding that the pace at which I write can’t be rushed. I need to allow for that and remember to build that into my scheduling in the future. As it is, I feel a bit under the gun as far as the submission deadline for the short story goes. The deadline looms.

Of course, the journalist in me functions best under the pressure of a deadline.

Feedback Loop

February 3, 2010 Comments off

Holding myself to a strict daily regimen of writing is producing results. A week and a day into my little experiment, I’ve written the first 5,000 words of a young adult novel. The prologue is done, and I should finish chapter one by the end of the week. At this pace, it’s plausible that I’ll have a novel by June, before the school year is out.

That’s an exciting prospect for me. I’ve written on and off for the last few years – more off than on – but have never had anything to show for it. Actually producing a readable manuscript will be rough, but it is now seeming doable.

When I realized that, I started to have some people I trust read what I’ve written so far. This may have been a mistake. Part of what I’m doing is just trying to hammer out a manuscript, so there are some very rough edges. My two readers both see flaws in the work – structural, grammatical, stylistic flaws – and I agree with most of their concerns. They know me, and when they see me writing something inconsistent with myself and my capabilities they are both very adept at pointing redirecting me. I value their voices, and make the changes they suggest. But at the same time, I don’t want to get hung up right now on minutia. I have a very real sense of needing to let this novel just happen – to get it out on paper.

It’s not all that different than painting a room. After the first coat, the walls look worse than before the Dutch Boy was poured. But a second pass makes all the difference. When my wife (who, by the way, is my most frequent and honest editor) and I redecorate a room, we don’t invite the family over to see it until it’s fully complete. We share in the creation process together, addressing small problems and inconsistencies of design as they arise. The end result is a cohesive, comfortable space that we’re proud to share.

I’ve mimicked that process in my writing. The project is mine alone, but I’ve allowed two people – my wife and my best friend – into the inner circle to see the process as it unfolds. They provide me just enough support to keep me on track, and they understand that at times I may need to ignore their voices altogether. (An interesting side note – their aesthetics are both so different that a sentence one loves is trash in the other’s eyes. Either I’m hitting the mark, or I’m so far off it there’s no audience whatsoever for my work).

My hope is that by June I can let a larger crowd in on the action – extended family and more colleagues at work. Who knows, maybe some day what I’m doing will be on full public display.

I sure hope so.

Weekend Update

February 1, 2010 Comments off

I found that writing on the weekend was a bit of a challenge. My thinking was that the weekends would be no problem. There are always a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays that are not occupied with errands and household minutia, so I thought that fitting an hour in midday would be simple.

As it turned out, I never ended up sitting down during the day. Those down times – times spent lying on the couch with my wife or reading or watching a show with the kids – are not pieces of the day that I’m willing to surrender. I need to remember that part of the point of trying to become a writer is to find an occupation (NB I don’t yet think this might ever actually turn into a profession, but it will certainly occupy me) that allows for flexible and meaningful connection with my family. Finding the time to write during weekend days means removing myself from that part of my life that I value most. While writing has become an interesting motif for me over the last few days, it has not reached a level where it’s important enough to justify ignoring my family.

The writing then got bumped to the late evenings, which is no real solution. Sitting up well past midnight to write is not ideal, even though I am at my most creative late at night. I want to spend that time winding down my day, talking to my wife, sipping a glass of wine. Occupying myself with writing late at night cut into all those valuable pieces of my weekend routine.

I am beginning to realize that 60 minutes a day will end up being like training for a marathon. I will get a lot out of the experience, but I need to be aware of the potential strain that the exercise will place on the rest of my family. To be fair to them, I need to modify my routines so that I can write when it will not negatively effect them. If that means early mornings or less TV, then that’s going to have to be the case.

I joked that this whole idea might drive my wife nuts before it makes me crazy. In truth, that can be no joke. I can only write about what I know, and I don’t ever want to write about lonliness.

Categories: family, marriage, night, time Tags: , ,

The Name’s the Thing

January 30, 2010 Comments off

I have a problem. I’m loathe to even write about it, because it feels very much like a rookie mistake. A mistake that any half-decent literary agent who happens to stumble upon this blog will see and will instantly use as an excuse to label me as a no talent hack.

I can’t name my characters.

I sit down to write and get moving along and freeze up as soon as a new person walks on stage. No one has a name that fits. A big part of the problem, I think, is that I’m a teacher. Any name I think of I immediately associate with some past student. I project their traits out onto my character, I fear that they’ll actually somehow read what I’m writing some day and will see that I’ve written them into the story.

The same thing happened when my wife and I had to name our children. The problem then was doubled; she was a teacher too. Names we had long thought of as not being all that bad – maybe names we would have settled on for our son – were forever spoiled because of that one kid with ADHD that I had third hour two years ago, or that girl whose mom never blinked – not once! – during parent/teacher conferences.

In the end, we were able to name our kids. People like our kids’ names. They fit. The problem for me is that finding a name for them was a months-long process. I’m nowhere near as attached to the characters I’m writing about as I am to my own children of course, but naming them is proving to be just as hard. I ask my wife about it, I try to project different names onto my characters as I go through the day. I can’t take months on this process.

I keep going back to the idea that writing breeds writing. I have settled on opening a website and using the first name I see. If I go back and change the name later, no problem. But maybe the characters will grow into their names.

Maybe it’s not worth all this fuss.