The Best I Could Is No Longer The Best I Can

May this always be true: The best I could do is no longer the best I can do.

If this is true, it means improvement is happening. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? Growth?

I’m not the same writer I was five years ago. Honestly, that’s a very good thing.  When I was starting out as a newly published independent author, I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes. I’m still prone to mistakes today, but, boy, things were kind of rough back in the day, which makes me feel very appreciative of all those positive reviews these strangers left on what was not my best work.

There’s a reason I’m rambling on about writing growth. I have been meaning to start re-promoting one of my favorite novels, which I published in 2014 – The Reach of the Banyan Tree.  It was my third and longest novel at the time – a multi-generational, historical romance novel mixed with war, adventure, and contemporary intrigue. I’ve always loved the story behind this novel. It covered all my old stomping grounds from my ten years living in Vietnam.

Finally, I was ready to start re-promoting it, but something happened. I started reading through the beginning of this novel and, honestly, I cringed. No, I didn’t really write like that back then, did I?

I read more and sighed deeply with one simple realization: I did not want to promote this book if it’s going to make readers think that that’s the way I currently write. I didn’t want to give that impression because there were many problems with the way my prose flowed in 2013. So I had a decision to make: keep as is and no longer promote it or do a complete re-edit and revision.

Yep, what you know what I chose.  Over the last two weeks I did a thorough read and re-edit – getting rid of all those narrative issues and those needlessly wordy sentences. Oh, and those adverbs. There was more, but you get the picture.

Once the ebook was reformatted, then came the paperback. I came to realize that I didn’t even know what a drop-cap was back in 2013 when I was putting this together. So you know what I had done? I used some sort of anchored text box to make drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. They looked terrible.

The final re-edit isn’t perfect. I didn’t have unlimited time, but I’m much happier with the result, and I am now happy to start re-promoting it.

This whole process gives me hope that the best of my writing is yet to come. It’s exciting for me to see what’s brewing in the mind which will one day be a whole host of new stories. Let’s hope they are crisper than ever before.

How do you know if a story ends well?

How do you know if a story ends well?

Cross your fingers?

Hope that you’ve tied up all the necessary knots?

There is no way. Not really.

Okay, I’ve just finished – I mean minutes ago – the final edits on the end of my trilogy, and honestly I don’t know how I feel. I guess that’s the way it should be.

A story ends because the writer ends it but will it resonate with the readers?

I took, what I felt, was a little bit of a writing gamble in the last book of my trilogy. I sidelined two of the main characters for a large chunk of the book. I had my reasons, and if you read it, hopefully you will understand why I did it. I received positive feedback from my beta readers about the move, but still, it was kind of scary to do.

Ultimately, a writer is bound not by the reader or by an editor but by the story and its characters. A writer has to go where the characters are leading him or her. There can be no other way. The voices giving suggestions can only be that – voices. Not to be ignored, for sure, but they can’t speak louder than the rhythm of the language and the journey of the protagonist. Sometimes you have to make the tough choices and then ask yourself a simple question: are you happy with it?

I am. I am quite pleased at how it turned out. Even quite surprised because I wasn’t sure if the plot was going to hold up through the crazy twists and turns. But it’s done.

I just sent the first review copies out to reviewers.

Now it’s out of my hands.

Will it end well? In my mind, it did. I need to be content with that and move on to the next project.

Goodbye Bee and Ash! Perhaps we’ll meet again.

aPartingFRONTNEW

I answer questions about the creative process in the journal Crossing the Dissour

I answer questions about the creative process in the journal Crossing the Dissour

Greywood Arts of Ireland released their first online journal about art and creativity. It’s entitled CROSSING THE DISSOUR, and they asked me to participate in the multi-artist interview on the creative process.

You may remember that I had a writing residency in Ireland last year and had a terrific and productive time. I very much enjoyed thinking about the creative process and sharing some of my methodology.

You can read the entire interview at Crossing the Dissour. Here’s the LINK!

Check out all the great content from their first issue.

Writing Collaborations: What’s the Goal?

This weekend, I’ve been collaborating on a short play writing project with one of my students. We have a finished draft on a fun and meaningful script which I plan on using in my new show coming up in April.

It’s been a while since I’ve collaborated with students on a creative writing piece. I used to do it all the time. In fact, these type of collaborations are what kick-started my writing career. I have many students to thank, because they helped me to just write and put my work out there.

This weekend, I’m writing with a student who has never written a play before. She came up with the idea for the play and I helped to formulate it into scenes. We each took different scenes to write and then there’s the process of combining them together, editing, adding new ideas, and the general non-stop revisions which are needed. I’m excited to see the final product of this script.

This endeavor got me thinking: what’s the goal of this type of writing collaboration? A new writer with an experienced writer.

Here’s how I approach it. I, first, want the idea to originate with the new writer. I wanted her to have ownership in the process because I know how I can be: I get an idea and I can’t stop until it’s done. This allows a new writer to catch-up to my overbearingness, so to speak.

The new writers are typically reluctant to edit my work. That’s understandable, but I want to make it clear that there is no hierarchy in this collaboration. There’s only one goal: write a quality piece. That’s it.

That means that I will edit the new writer’s scenes thoroughly. I’ll make additions. Suggestions. Give feedback. Get feedback. And, invariably, the new writer comes back with “yes, yes, yes, that’s so much better. yes.” I’m not a better writer than they are. I just have more experience. I’ve also produced 25 shows. I know visually how the dialogue will look on-stage.  I know what will work, what will sound authentic, and what won’t.

My goal is for the new writer to see my entire process and, hopefully, learn from it. Then they get their name as a co-writer in the playbill which is always fun. And, if they act, which they almost always do, I let them star in their own play if they so choose.

What’s important in the process, at least for me, is not to settle for less quality because a writer is new. I will push them, I will encourage them, I will ruthlessly edit their stuff in order to make the piece better. An okay piece will not be acceptable to me if it can be a great piece, because I’m putting my name on it as well.

I guess what I’m saying is: don’t dumb it down. Keep the standard high.

I had a past school principal who said that the lost practice of kids and parents eating supper together every night has hurt the kids’ development. They need to hear adult conversations. They need to be able to ask questions. Wonder what that word means. It’s one of the ways they grow and learn.

This is exactly how I view writing collaborations with students. I hope my intent is reached with this one.

This is going to be a good play. It’s entitled: “Why Leaves Change Color.”

If It’s Good Enough for Mr. Livgren, then …

If It’s Good Enough for Mr. Livgren, then …

I’ve admired Kerry Livgren for a long time.

Yes, you know him. The composer, guitarist, lyricist of Kansas.

Yes – “Carry on Wayward Son” – “Dust in the Wind”

Okay, now you’re with me.

Livgren didn’t just disappear after the glory years of Kansas in the late seventies and early eighties. Far from it. He released many solo albums, founded the band A.D., got back together with his old mates from the pre-Kansas days and released three terrific albums under the name Proto Kaw.

The guy is brilliant. Yet, the thing that has stood out the most for me about his musical procedures is that he is never satisfied. He said in an interview once that if he has the opportunity to make a previously released song better, he wouldn’t hesitate to do that. And he has.

He has remastered albums. He has kept the vocals of songs and completed rerecorded the instruments to make an even better product.

His dedication to his craft is relentless, and it has inspired me (as a writer) to be like Kerry!

When I think back seven years ago when I was writing my first novel, I didn’t know what I was doing. Seven years later, I’m still learning – lots.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the old stories. A lot, actually. I’m proud of my first novel BEAUTY RISING, but can it be better? Yes. Can I apply things I know now and didn’t know then to make it better? Yes. Will I do it? I will try. (There is a thing called time, you know.)

So I am hoping to do something like Kerry does. I’m not going to change the stories. The heart of the story will remain, but I might rework the language. I make color passages in a more interesting way. I may delete adverbs which I seemed to like so well back then. I’m looking forward to doing a new re-edit on some of my old stories to help freshen them up with my new rounds of knowledge about writing.

If it’s good enough for Kerry, it’s good enough for me. What about you?

Writing for Pleasure

Last night I decided to write for pleasure. My pleasure.

Sadly, a lot of writing time can be consumed with the less desirable parts of the trade: marketing, editing, blurb-writing, social media, writing-to-get-the-blasted-thing-done.

We’ve all been there. But when’s the last time you wrote for pleasure, not for purpose.

Much of what I have written this year has been purpose-driven, and, of course, that’s not bad. It’s good actually. Get a plan, stick to it, work hard, reach your goal. That’s been my driving force for years. Luckily, most of the time it has coincided with pleasure, simply because I love to write.

But there is something to be said for deadline-free, purpose-free, just-have-fun kind of writing.

That’s what I’m doing now. I’m writing a dramatic duet.  Just because I want to. How selfishly creative of me. For me, pleasure writing using comes back to writing drama. It’s just so fun to watch the characters begin to form and to have new ideas pop into my head which lead to more ideas. I can get consumed by the narrative and forget about the outer-trappings of the world. To be transported as a writer! How delightful, indeed.

If you haven’t written for pleasure in a while, take a day off from your novel. Refresh your creativity on something that grabs your mind. Allow yourself to “go down the rabbit hole” and forget about the deadlines and the unfinished work ahead of you.

Enjoy the words. Laugh at the characters. Be silly with your expectations. Remember when you had yet to publish anything? When you would sit for hours all alone and laugh at the ridiculous things you’d written. You didn’t care what others thought or whether you should query an agent. You wrote for the love of it. You wrote for pleasure.

I must admit–it’s quite fun to be doing that again.

The First Ever Massive Trilogy Read-Through

I had just finished the second revision of book 3 of my brand new trilogy.

So what was next?

Revision three, of course.  But then I paused and thought for a moment. I knew what I needed to do, but I was reluctant. It would be too time-consuming. It would stop the flow of my revision work. No, don’t make me!

What was it? It was to read the entire trilogy from first to last page. I would become the first person to read the entire trilogy, which makes sense since I wrote it.

I told myself I needed to do it. I rolled my eyes and thought of any other way to get around it. But I knew if I wanted to present the very best overarching story possible that I needed to delve back into the ENTIRE story.

So that’s what I’m doing.

I just finished reading book 1: A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far, and you know what? I enjoyed it. After just finishing the storyline of the entire trilogy, it was fun to revisit the genesis of everything. There were definitely some details along the way which I had forgotten, but I was pleased with the story’s consistency.

I think I’m on the right track, and that makes me happy.

It can be painful to read one’s own work. Tedious, actually. But it’s so important, and I usually end up surprising myself thinking “Hey, how did I think of that? If I wrote this paragraph today, I don’t think it would have been as good.”

On the other hand I also run into these thoughts: “I don’t really like this sentence anymore. How about a simple edit?”

Re-reading is crucial to jog one’s memory of the myriad of character and plot details which absolutely must mesh.

But do it. Hold your nose if you have to, but keep re-reading your own work. It will be well worth it.

If you haven’t read book 1, please check it out. It’s a story I’m really happy with, and it’s only $1.89 on Amazon. Permanently.  Thanks for the support!

Link to Amazon. Only $1.89 on Kindle.

cropped-wordpress-forgotten-august-20181.jpg