Doing it the write way!

Last Monday or Tuesday, maybe Wednesday — sheesh — I began another edit of my novel. I have a couple of manuscripts out to readers, but the story called to me. This might go against all sound advice, but I completed a development edit on August 31, and the story was more or less fresh in my head. I debated giving it a long timeout, say three months, but I knew there were sections that needed surgery. At the end of my story, looking back, I knew of several scenes that needed either modification or removal. Reparative surgery or amputation. I debated waiting for feedback to confirm my suspicions.

I decided to re-read my first chapter.

I should backtrack a bit. I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, Francine Prose’s ‘How to Read Like A Writer’, and Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451′. I had literary words in my head. I had Gaiman’s efficiency, Prose’s extreme literary examples, and Bradbury’s almost hyperbolic style hitting me all at once. I had focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs. I was focused on the writing, not the story. I felt I was in a zone.

I have also been working on a short story extracted from my novel. One of my readers told me a short scene I shared read like a short story. But it was only 500 words. Hmmm. I found another dangling scene and glued them together. It was an improvement, but it didn’t quite work. (see my previous post) The story also primed my thinking on my novel, and reaffirmed my need to get back at it.

I created a new file and began. I assumed a position of a content and line editor. I asked two questions: does it read well and does it belong? Maybe these do not belong in the same edit, but that is what I asked. The very first answer of the very first sentence was no, so I re-wrote my opening lines. I smiled. I felt good. I kept going.

Scene number three was my first challenge. I felt many times it needed trimming but could never find it, could never slash any of it. As I read it, it became very clear that much of it was crap. It was crap content and it was crap writing. I cut, cut, and cut. I then jumped ahead to a scene I knew needed a beat-down. I had just pounded one scene, so let’s roll. Let’s rumble why we’re in the mood. I chopped, chopped, chopped.

I am now 27k words in and have removed almost three thousand words. Yes!

But I added my short story in. It is a chapter in my novel. And this brings two dilemmas:
– do I remove bits of reference material needed for the story but not for the scene; because they were introduced in the novel?
– what will this do to my publishing chances? How does the copyright thingy work? Is it good or bad to publish a chapter as a short story?

I am discouraged I write so poorly, but aren’t we all? Anne Lamott in ‘Bird By Bird’ claims all our first drafts are shitty and not to worry about it. Good writing takes much effort, may rounds of editing, many attempts at trying new words and phrases, of experimenting, of working at it. Determination results in more creativity any noetic miasma might. So I plod forward and don’t look back.

Last night, after a weekend away, I edited a key scene. I asked myself “did I really write this?” It was good. Seriously, it was very good. It gave me chills. I woke this morning at 4:30 and jumped back in the pool. I re-edited the same scene and felt just as good. I edited the next scene, and … I removed it. It was part of my short story. I welded the remnants to the next scene, and read through it twice. I made some sentence changes. I moved me almost to tears. I smiled. “Fuck I’m good,” I thought, and slapped myself.

No I am not. Not yet. Never will be good. Quality writing occurs with a quality process. Focus on the process John. Do it the write way!

If you are beta-reading my last draft, sorry about this, but I will not likely use much of your feedback. Well, maybe I will, or maybe I will have already.

A Winner?


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Have you ever written something you know is a winner?

I think I am writing at least one, but it is not easy.

On Sunday morning I sat at a Second Cup coffee shop with a writing friend talking and writing. I had a new short story in my bag, and I was struggling with it. I knew some of its content was special. You know what I mean by special? Words that make you laugh or cry. Words that make your heart skip a beat. A story that slaps you upside the head and knocks you into a daze. One of those rare birds.

My story wasn’t there yet, and I was lamenting to myself on how I needed a master reviewer to tell me what was wrong with it. Not how to fix it; just tell me what doesn’t work, and if possible, why. I had uneasy feelings about the story, but I was too close to it. I couldn’t touch it because my fingers were all over it. You know what I mean; you as a writer have been there. Clarity. My kingdom for clarity.

What I needed was a specialist, and I know very few feedback specialists. Or do I? Jim walked into the shop. Jim is a distinguished Toastmaster as is my wife. I know most of the local Toastmasters, but hey, they only speak. They don’t write short stories or novels. But communication is communication, right? Jim knew Neil and I were writing and he sat down next to us; because that is the kind of guy he is. He is interested in what people he knows are doing. I have known Jim for 22 years, and we’ve never failed to at least say hello when our paths cross. Jim is also one of these special people. He is driven. He is actually the President-elect of Toastmasters International, a highly prestigious position in that organization.

I asked Jim to read my story.

“It starts out too slow.”

He didn’t say much more than that. He scattered a few nice comments. It contains good stuff. But it starts too slow and he never gained interest.

Bang! It’s the kind of feedback that kills writing careers. It’s the kind of feedback that can knock you on your ass so hard you never want to get up. This story I felt so good about, even with my nagging doubts, was shit. It was the truth.

I said thank you and let it flow through me and out. I did not let emotions take root. It was a bold chess move I didn’t expect, and I sat back and analyzed deeply before deciding what to do. And changes did need to be made. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. The more I pondered its slowness, the more ideas for speed crept into my head. I found a glimmer of hope — that my premise was in fact sound — and I clung to it for dear life.

This morning I sat down, opened it, selected the first half of the story, and pressed delete. The action was now at the top. My 1290 words was now back to 600. Then I typed. I wrote. I realized I had opportunity to create imagery revolving around the main topic. I filled in spaces. I fleshed out story. I wrote, and I smiled.

Tonight after at least a half-dozen edits, I am feeling once again like I have a winner. I don’t know if it is there yet. I have passed it on to some other reviewers and have asked them to skin me alive, rake me over the coals, and beat me with large, heavy clubs. I know I have a winner, and I know I cannot do it alone.

Thanks Jim, and Abby, and Elsa, and Max, and Neil, and Megan, and John, and a host of other writers all struggling to make our beginnings, middles, and ends match each other and our own creativity.

Write on!

“The Slilent Treatment” – Writing Prompt, 2014-8-20

Our second prompt last night at the city library’s main branch was “Silent Treatment.” Readers in order were Philip, Abbey, a new girl whose name I cannot remember, Megan, Scott, Neil, Sally, Max (female and not short for Maxine), Hendrine, Elsa, and me, John. The six women slammed the four men with their sexist prose, poetry, and historical account *grin*, so I was happy to finish with this little [unedited] piece ;) 

“What are you doing Phil?”

“Huh? Oh, checking out the dog house.” He’s on all fours with his head in the thing.

“Good Lord, no, we are not getting a dog,” Megan says. “We don’t have room in the house for us.”

“I don’t want a dog,” Phil says. “I’m checking out its construction.”

“Get up off the floor already,” she says. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“What?” he says, his words muffled by his new enclosure. His head is shoved in as far as it can go. His stalwart shoulders won’t fit through the entrance.

“Jesus Phil, get your ass out of there!”

Phil pulls back and slowly stands. “I don’t understand,” he says. “I can hear you just fine from inside this one.”

Phil turns and walks towards the power tool section.

The Plains Of Mordor — when your assassination targets reveal themselves.

If you’ve stumbled across this post, I am editing a novel. At this moment I have edited 99,254 words of my 120,620 word manuscript. A week ago I was around the 90k mark, but there is some deception in the numbers. At that time the manuscript contained 120,000 words, but I have added much, maybe 4,000 words. If you do the math, this means I have also deleted some 4,600 words. I have many more words to delete to get to the 100,000 target arbitrarily assigned new authors.

Honestly, I tried to delete as many words as I could over this summer. Seriously. Really I did. But almost everything I worked on ended up growing. All my writing was needed. During this last week, my opinion of much of my story has changed.

I now work on the final leg of my journey, the Plains Of Mordor. What a dreadful place it is too. The land is barren and sere, it’s covered in odd-sized boulders and rocks, and it crawls with ugly orcs. It is the land of the dead, and all of those necessary passages I kept are now haunting me. They scream in my ear “why didn’t you continue with me?” or “that’s not what I was going to do!” or “I’m so fecken bored, just shoot me, please.” So much of what I have written is now showing itself to be wrong, and it has drained my mind. I want to lay down and never see this piece of shit ever again.

Except today I edited a wonderful scene. I trimmed it nicely. I removed the extra curls, trimmed the eyebrows, and plucked its nose hairs. It is now clean and presentable and a strong component of a great story. Never mind the rest of the story doesn’t quite support it. What I knew would happen is happening, but it’s still painful.

My plan is simple and straightforward. I am going to edit the rest of this story as best I can. I know the ending is fairly true, so I will clean it up as best I can. I will slay any useless children. I will slit the darlings’ throats with a clean, sharp fish-knife. I will toss the remains in the ditch and laugh.

And then I will start over. I will bring a shotgun this time, plus a crossbow, a sabre, an M16, a Luger, a Remington 9mm, and an American policeman’s nightstick. I will search out and destroy these evil little demons. I will root them out and assassinate their sorry asses right out of my story and replace them, if necessary, with the handful or less of emptiness left behind.

f somebody wants to buy me one of these, I won’t complain. I may need it.

Back to work.

Novel Progress [2012]


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I’ve been busy this summer, writing-wise. Otherwise it has been pretty slow and laid back. I am unemployed and off of EI, so we are living off my wife’s salary only. We have also moved into an apartment in the city, and our daughter, who began her first full-time job in May, and her boyfriend are renting our house from us. The housing market sucks around here, and we have some foundation work to complete before we are ready to sell. Call it an experiment. So far, all tests are positive.

I decided to use this downtime to focus on a novel. Every day that passes I feel more comfortable with my abilities as a writer, more confident in my abilities to write a readable novel. Hell, let’s cut to the chase. I think I can write a best selling novel, and I think I have two in my portfolio, maybe even four.

Okay, pop the balloon head.

Seriously, I do think I am approaching take-off, that point where one of my novels can be pitched to an agent. And I’ll get this off my plate right now: I have zero interest in self publishing. None! I believe a novel placed in front of readers needs a large amount of care. Novels not only need a great amount of effort by the author, but also a great deal of editing, story and copy. As an avid reader, I want a quality book in my hands. I do not read trash. At least not often. And when I do, I give the book the review it deserves. I think my worst rating this year is two stars, but blame that on my prejudice against werewolves.

So when my school term ended in late June — I’ve been teaching part time at our community college — I began to stick my head back into my 2012 NaNoWriMo effort. I cannot accurately describe all the work I have done on this story, but I know it is a lot. 50,000 plus words were originally written in November 2012, and in the time since, it has grown to 115,000 words, give or take, as of July 1, 2014. *If you are an agent and are turned off by seeing NaNoWriMo, please do not be. I treat Novembers seriously. It is a convenient time to write, and the group support very helpful. We — me and a few other keeners who hope to get, err, plan to get published — are actively planning our 2014 novels now. Brainstorming mostly. I have almost nothing concrete in my notebook, and frankly, I didn’t in 2014 either. But that’s not my point. The point is I write seriously, and NaNoWriMo for me is a serious project kick-off. How many times have I heard authors say “I wrote this story quickly, in a couple of months?” And the audience says “ooh.” It’s impressive to write 50,000 words in a month if you are a published author but not if you are a hack writer? *end of rant*

I began by writing about my story. It is a complex tale with many subplots and themes interacting. I created a page for each and cross-linked them all. Funky graphs. Various colors of fountain pen ink. Stabbing, paring, dodging, and reconciling. Two weeks later I was still happy with my story but with notes. Gaps and danglings. Dead ends and stupid wtfs. No darlings though. I’m that good ;)

I am now deep into editing. I just finished off 90,369 words of 120,000. Yes, I have added 5k since July 1. And I am learning a lot about my writing. I think too much and direct the stage too much — he feels, he watches, he thinks, he looks. He edits with a heavy pen and a light heart.

I have a big stickler of an issue though. I introduce a main character late in the story and another after her. It pains me to leave them so late, but it kills the story to bring them in earlier. I think. I did manage to bring him, the second character, in much earlier, and I am real happy with the scene and placement. But I cannot bring either in sooner. Let me describe it another way that might make sense. I have two stories. I have the internal transformation — let’s call it becoming a wasp from an egg — and I have an external story, an in your face, dramatic story — the wasp saves the nest. These two characters belong more in the second story, and if look at the second, external story on its own, they are introduced early. But if you look at the lead up, the egg-to-wasp story, they play more minor roles, so they come in late. They cannot show up until the threats to the nest appear, really. I think. Anyway, that’s where it stands, at 90.4k of 120k words and less than three weeks left to my self-imposed deadline.

Then it’s beta reader time. They are lining up to read it!

I only wish the agents and publishers were lining up.

*** If you are local, I think I am going to read a short scene at Bernie’s open mic night in September at the Arts Centre. It’s a head twister ;) ***

Straightening Out My Crooked Manuscript


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If you try to write novels, you know what my title means. You have finished a couple of drafts, the first a whirlwind of creativity and the second an attempt to fix holes with plaster. But now the story has problems. It begins well enough and ends superbly. If you could publish the first four chapters and the last three, you’d be on the NYT bestsellers list. But of course you can’t. That middle section is a cloudy, muddy cesspool.

We try to fix it. We think we have a plan. We sit down with the first scene and begin reading it with the intention of making changes. The scene feels okay on its own, but when you sit back and think how it fits in the story, you don’t have many concrete thoughts, good or bad. Your mind goes nowhere, so you go there as well. You pack it in and go do something else like work on a short story, a blog post, a rebuttal to the latest vegan science, replies to anti-climate changers, anti-vaxxers, anti-whateverers, a rebuttal to any extremist’s post on whatever topic, or maybe play a 32 hour game of Civ V.

Our stories got in this state by our own excessive creativity: it would be cool if Mr. Protagonist did this or that or maybe joined the Brazilian football team. Apparently they let anybody play for them. And this Germany-Brazil game is a good analogy of the state of my novel — a disaster of national proportions. How do we fix it? How do we make sure it all makes sense, flows progressively and logically, all of the unnecessary verbiage is removed, and all of the black hole gaps are filed in. No traces of angst are left. Nobody can see the panty lines or skid marks of your novel. How do we sort it all out?

I decided to perform some technical analysis. TA is structured, objective analysis of a situation and often involves numerical indicators. I did not use any statistics. I examined my interfaces. I will describe what I did in point form so you can easily use this as a checklist if you wish.

1. I wrote a one sentence description of my story in this form — Protagonist learns to do this instead of that.
2. I reviewed all my scene headings and wrote a list of my subplots. I ended up with nine.
3. For each subplot I wrote
a. A description
b. Its pros
c. Its cons
d. Its character building contribution
4. Constructed a matrix to cross reference all subplots with
a. Relationship (echo, foil, etc.) *my knowledge of such descriptors is thin
b. Whether the current line contributes tot he cross-referenced line.
c. Conflict arising from plots meeting either against each other or in support of each other.
5. On the back of the page I wrote a paragraph for each line-line relationship. I labeled them 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, etc. I tried to write how this relationship should work.
6. I recorded any gaps in a list

I spent time on this. I did one sheet a day and I thought deeply about these lines and relationships. They say you should have no more than three subplots, so nine is way too high. But, bear with me. I think I extended the definition of a plot. At least three of these are more rightly called themes. Others, while they do have events, do not flow like plots. They are more like objects or symbols. When I filtered it all down to their exact definitions, I really only have two full subplots, maybe three if I stretch it. Regardless of definition, I examined my manuscript from nine different angles or dimensions. It feels like I examined a house I want to buy from all possible angles — roof, basement, walls, rooms, electrical, plumbing, heating, windows, doors, landscape, etc. Do these rooms fit this house? Do these trees match the shape of the house? Are there enough electrical outlets? Too many? Are there enough baths? Too many? What happens if my kids come home to live with us and five of us need to take showers every morning? Will that work? Is it realistic? One gets to know one’s house by asking such questions. One gets to know one’s manuscript by asking such questions.

You have a tough, mangled manuscript? Ask hard questions. Identify its important aspects (subplot, theme, symbol, motif, etc.) then ask how each aspect interfaces with each other aspect. Document gaps as well as pointless prose, though that will likely come out as you edit. Learn your story from the inside out by looking at it from all possible angles.

Tomorrow I edit!

Grandma’s House


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Poetic Asides Prompt #268

Just think, If you’ve been religiously following Robert Brewer’s blog since inception, you’d have written 268 weekly poems by now.

This week’s prompt contained multiple words. We only needed to use one of them.


Toast and pop brought me immediately to my grandmother’s little house on E. Front St. in Wauzeka Wisconsin. I have not been in it since maybe I was about eleven or twelve years old, 1972 or 1973. My brain cells from that era are AWOL. It wasn’t anything special. It was small and cramped, and its bathroom was always in shambles, but it had a yard with a chestnut tree in back and a line of climbable maples in the front. It had a large propane tank we could climb on and a garage we could get in trouble in. The backyard was annually flooded by the Kickapoo river which we were not allowed near. For good reason too. It was brown and deep and if you fell in, they likely wouldn’t find you until New Orleans. Pft! The black trains ran by at night, and our only other pastimes were watching TV and playing cards. The Rockford Files, the lowly Milwaukee Brewers, the state news, cribbage, Euchre, Crazy Eights, and later Bridge were rituals. Cousin Mike — Grandma raised my cousins — might play his record collection of Dylan, CCR, Jethro Tull or one of his innumerable more local records such as Mason Proffit’s “Come And Gone.”

Coke and Pepsi were staples, along with popcorn, chips, and the new Tang. One of my younger brothers called Coke Coca Cola pop and the other called Pepsi Pessi-Cola pop. We celebrated the treats like any good 70’s family and turned these names into car-chants and we drove down highways 14 and 133 from Madison for the weekend. Is it any wonder I became diabetic a few years later? Don’t even bother with your retort that sugar doesn’t cause diabetes. I am not sold on that defense.

Card playing was pushed as safe, family entertainment — which it is — and while smoking and alcohol were not front and center, they were not exactly hidden. They tended to come out later at night when kids were sleeping, and only when company were present, which they always seemed to be. The 70’s homes were much more social than today’s. Grandma was the school librarian and English teacher. Dad taught the Hornets music for a few years until moving on like most teachers did then. A couple of years ago I stopped to chat with an older tourist at the Saint John City Market who wore a Wisconsin shirt. Turns out he was a music teacher from Praire du Chien, a few miles away and knew him. I whipped out the cell phone and they chatted a bit before he headed back to his cruise ship. Small world, 2200 miles away.

Grandma’s house also had bats. She hated the little demons with a passion. Always tried to scare us with her story of swatting 300 of them one night with her broom. One would squeak into her kitchen through a little hole and just as its legs waddled through, *whap*, she would let it have it. 300 little black demons piled up on her kitchen floor in a Wauzeka legend. We three boys and cousins Mike and Danny would stand out at dusk with busted tennis racquets, splintered baseball bats, and rolled up Mad Magazines and try to bash the little buggers as they orbited the house. Then we’d wail on each other until the referees jumped in, bathed us, and send us to he kitchen for card playing lessons — they taught us how to play, and we thought we were teaching them our own wisdom. Eventually family friends, fellow teachers, sweaty old farmers, and perhaps a local farm laborer dad had befriended, would trundle in with their beer, chips, and maybe a bottle of whisky which would be hidden until we disappeared to bed. The kitchen would soon fill with bodies, stories, and laughter. As young heads nodded and chairs became scarce, off we’d go to our beds upstairs.

Grandma’s house means bats
The little black screechers invade every summer evening
And we little ones howled all the way to bed
Until we learned how to play cards
Until we showed we could win at crazy eights or dirty clubs
We had to go to bed before the serious fun started
A kitchen full of grown-ups eating popcorn and drinking
Coca-Cola pop, Old Milwaukee, or that other stuff they wouldn’t
Bring out until we finally went to sleep
And even when we snuck down to peek
We were too young to read its dark, mysterious label
On that shiny, large clear bottle
We were pretty sure we saw its cousins lying shattered in a ditch

Who Are Novelitsts Really?


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Today I am exploring the attributes of a good writer. I want to distinguish between things good writers do and things good writers are, their qualities. A successful novelist needs to be able to sit and work, but does this describe the writer? Am I someone able to sit and work hard on a single subject for long hours? I think this describes actions good writers do, not things good writers are. Adverbs versus adjectives. As I research this subject, I find many articles that prescribe activities writers must do to achieve this notion of greatness, but very few discuss what characteristics these writers inherently possess. In The 6 Unique Traits of All Remarkable Writers, Demian Farnworth discusses actions rather than traits:

1. Remarkable writers have the ability to size up content
2. Remarkable writers are able to connect the dots
3. Remarkable writers can express ideas clearly
4. Remarkable writers can write in their head
5. Remarkable writers read with a deep purpose
6. Remarkable writers swing the snow shovel

There is a subtle distinction here, but when you examine each in detail, you do realize these describe actions a writer must perform: she or she must size up content, connect the dots, express ideas clearly, write in their heads (write constantly), read with deep purpose, and swing the snow shovel (work hard). These are actions, not traits.

Compare to a photo I discovered posted by Random House on Facebook.


On first read this image seems rather tongue-in-cheek, a parody of who novelists are. Stereotypical profiling. We read it, smile, and brush it off. We do not wish to think of ourselves as socially inept losers of this game of capitalism. But isn’t this image more or less true? I tally Seven of Nine for myself, my own personal debauchery:

Seven Of Nine

But how unique are these traits? I’ll bet the same images can apply to just about any profession. I know for a fact that accountants are way more screwed up than novelists, if this is the benchmark. And computer programmers live in their own, higher (lower) realm of pathos.

Joyce and Jim Lavene offer some corroboration in their book The Everything Guide To Novel Writing with a list on page six:

Beyond working hard to get their writing published, there are other characteristics that seem to define successful novelists:

* Focused enough to finish an entire book but restless and unhappy in other work
* Strongly creative, usually in more than one art form, despite childhood admonitions to be more practical
* Tend to have many different jobs in their lifetime. (Others interpret this as lack of commitment, but writers see it as research.)
* Have problems with being labeled as “dreamers”
* Have a burning desire to tell a story and can see their story played out before them like a movie.

Consistent with Random House’s cartoon image, but are these valid? I spend a lot of time thinking about cause and effect, especially with nutrition and health. I won’t go into that rat hole today, but let me say that often we interpret symptoms as causes. I will rapid-fire my comments. I don’t want to write a whole book on this, not yet.

> I am focused enough to finish work because I enjoy it.
> Creativity is hard work (Csikszentmihalyi).
> Because our ideal job (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) do not pay.
> Because our ideal job (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.) do not pay.
> Isn’t this the crux of it?

If all it takes is to love to write, wouldn’t we all be Stephen Kings, John Irvings, or *cough* J.K. Rowlings?

I think it is clear that successful novelists do live on a special plane of the writers dimension. With the risks of delving into things writer’s must do again and into areas I have not yet fully explored, I will give my own list of things writers must be or be capable of:

* Lavenes’ “Have a burning desire to tell a story and can see their story played out before them like a movie.”
* Delaney’s “The talented writer often uses specifics and avoids generalities — generalities that his or her specifics suggest. Because they are suggested, rather than stated, they may register with the reader far more forcefully than if they were articulated. Using specifics to imply generalities — whether they are general emotions we all know or ideas we have all vaguely sensed — is dramatic writing.
* Innately feels conflict, tension, and draw. They know their ambiguous suggestion raises questions and they play it to its max.
* They feel the emotion and are able to match their sentence form to their emotional content.
* They can become their characters and live in their fictional world.
* They can write images, typically subtle and subliminal.

I could write all day on this, but I won’t. It is a topic for a MFA student to tackle fully and logically. I have explored these ideas for my own personal satisfaction (not really), have examined my own values and beliefs (even if I haven’t written about them much), and it is time to move on. No, I do not think writers are only those who experience social rejection. They are not outcasts but walk their own paths, have stepped out of social norms on their own. When you take your own route, you will tend to get lost. Waywardness is a symptom of us doing what we want to do rather than what we are supposed to do.

In the end, I hope we never arrive at a consensus. I like mysteries and I want the question to persist. It’s too early for resolution.

Does Family Count?


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You know, as reviewers of your fiction.

My dad stayed over night last night and wanted to read my work. I gave him the first scene. It took him awhile to get through the 14 double spaced printed pages, but he did. I got back from a meeting at 9pm, and he asked for more — “You aren’t going to leave me hanging, are you? I have to know what happens next.”

Music to my ears, but was it authentic? Though he picked out a type, is he qualified to give an opinion? Was this an opinion? The trouble with my story is you need to read the next forty pages to appreciate where I go with it. We stayed up until 2am and watched game #4 of the Stanley Cup finals. He read while we watched, asked me lots of questions, and we discussed writing. He has a PhD in music composition so can relate to writing notes, themes, objectives, etc. He is writing an opera, so he understands drama as well. His wife (not my mother) also read it. The gave me more “this is good” and “this is definitely publishable” comments scattered throughout our morning of me being a taxi driver for them.

Yeah, it feels good. My limited queries told me they were affected as I’d hoped, even more so in some regards like the interaction with the woman — “they are obviously going to get together.” Well, maybe.

I have so much left to do. I have spent 80% of my effort on the first 20% of the story. “Arrgh!” So much left to do. So many gaps to fill in. So many plot lines to organize. So much theme to apply.

Have I ever said I think I finally understand my story? I think I know who my character is, why he is the way he is, and how he changes, transforms. I know all the drivers. I know how the ship gets on its journey to the center of the earth, all of the obstacles in its path, how it overcomes them, and how it brings the important people home safely. I know how the hero’s journey should play out.

Sandford Lyne says to write affirmations and repeat them until you believe them. Consider this posting a big affirmation for myself. I will complete this novel successfully. I will get it published. It will generate only five star reviews and tens of millions of sales. Yes, it is that kind of book and I am that kind of writer. I write fiction.

The best writers give themselves the most permissions.


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Sandford Lynne has written a very popular book on poetry titled “Writing Poetry From The Inside Out.” Thank you Robert Brewer and the fine participants over at Poetic Asides for the recommendation. I am not recommending this book though, at least not yet. It is a beginner’s book and I am a beginning, ignorant poet, yet the book bothers me. Me. I am looking for nuts and bolts and so far the author has only given his attempted inspiration. I am on page 67 and until now it has all been writing BS — “You can do it!” Pfft. I know that; I just don’t know how.” But on with my point I feel so self-secure about.

In the last paragraph of Chapter #4 the author leaves us with his legacy. When I read it I stopped, and not because it is the end of the chapter. I re-read it and re-read it. I have read it several times now, and I have Googled it. Many have written about his lines on this page number 31. I’ll present his full text since I always seem to skip the most important parts when I truncate.

When I think about it, the happiest, most successful, most fulfilled people I know are the ones who, over time, gave themselves the most permissions — in all areas of their lives. Guided by the compass of an inner truth, they did not wait for others to tell them what was okay to do, or wait for others to tell them which steps to take. Through trial and error, they learned how to experiment with their lives. And maybe this is worth underscoring: The best writers give themselves the most permissions. The happiest, most fulfilled people give themselves the most permissions. The two go hand in hand.

I am writing about this prescription to let it go because it has been a theme with me this past year. I run a prompt writing group, and this is really our one and only theme. Let it go! I have written poetry, essays, fiction, and pages full of landfill. I have turned a few of them into novel scenes and maybe one short story. Time flies. Every Wednesday night when it isn’t blizzarding I let myself go as much as I can.

I think I wrote not too long ago about my Douglas Glover workshop. On the way out he encouraged me with some direct advice. “Let it go!” I don’t know if those were his words; he probably said something more elegant. But that was the message. Let it go. Give yourself permission to go for it, and damn it all, go for it!

But an aphorism is useless without action. Words are just words, unless you are writing them. Or reading them. Yesterday I began my first John Updike read. I’ve been picking up his little novels for over a year now, but I have never managed to hold one open in front of me long enough to let anything sink in. I am notorious for that — reading a paragraph and brushing it off. I a a profligate first paragraph reader and a delinquent last paragraph finisher. I grabbed his short story collection “The Music School.” It was first published in 1962 and is almost as old as I am. Some of the stories, maybe all, are likely older. So let’s start from my beginning, I thought. How bad can this be?

The first sentence and the paragraph of the first story — “In Football Season” — hooked me.

Do you remember a fragrance girls acquire in autumn?

Are you serious? Of course I do. I paused while my mind raced back to chasing my wife at university in the autumn of 1979 and remembering her fragrance. My mind continued back to junior high school in 1973 when my interest in girls had exploded open in that young teenage hormonal irruption. The fragrance of girls at the school dances and on the mile and a half walks to and from school each day.

As you walk beside them after school, they tighten their arms about their books and bend their heads forward to give a more flattering attention to your words and in the little intimate area thus formed, carved into the clear air by an implicit crescent, there is a complex fragrance woven of tobacco, powder, lipstick, rinsed hair, and that perhaps imaginary and certainly elusive scent that wool, whether in the lapels of a jacket or the nap of a sweater, seem to yield when the cloudless fall sky like the blue bell of a vacuum toward itself the glad exhalations of all things. This fragrance, so faint and flirtatious on those afternoon walks through the dry leaves, would be banked a thousandfold and lie heavy as the perfume of a flower shop on the dark slope of the stadium when, Friday nights, we played football in the city.

Updike knew his opening sentence would create many of these sensations on its own, but now he directs them towards us. He tells our histories to come alive and be remembered. And then once he has us, at least us knuckle dragging men, he then directs us to the football field. And now we’re all hooked on John Updike.

But was this giving permission in action? What does giving permission mean and how do you know if you’ve given yourself permission? These are questions I ask of my own writings. Am I giving enough?

First, how many grown men would write about the fragrance of young teenagers? How many would write past glancing references and delve into flirtations and implicit inviting crescents? In today’s pedophilia-phobic society? In 1960? Any way you cut it, John Updike explored emerging sexuality without inhibition — at least by 1960’s standards — and went so far as to publish his words. I think it is pretty clear he gave himself permission to explore and write about all facets of the human condition. And the more I read John Updike, the more I fall in love with his free pen. The more I read John Updike, the freer I feel with my own writing hand.

Write on!


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