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A Writer on Pause No More

I’m a writer.

But it’s not what buys the bread and puts kids through college. For that, I am also a teacher.

But the best part of being a teacher and writer is, of course, summer. Summer is when I can hit the resume button and become a full-time writer again. I am at that blissful part of my year as I currently write this. Writing happiness has returned once again.

I’ve had the most wonderful writing routine the past three days, and it looks sustainable for the next month or so. I carve out of my day about three hours to sit alone with my laptop, immersed in my thoughts, and punch out as much coherent dialogue and description that I can during that time frame. Then I pack it up, get back to family time, cook some dinner, and ponder where my next writing episode the following day will take me.

Three hours is typically the maximum amount of time that I can concentrate on writing. Sometimes only two depending on how the chapter is coming together. By the time I reach the two or three hour mark, I’m ready for a break. I need to allow what I have written to sink in my brain and make sure it is exactly where I want to take the story. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. Three steps forward. The next day, I’ll backtrack and re-read what I wrote. Edit and revise. Check and double-check, and then plow on to the next chapter or segment. When I get to do this this everyday for two or three hours, I can make a lot of headway, and within a month, I can have a solid outline for a complete novel.

I’m currently working on book 2 of my first trilogy. I’m already over the 42,000 word mark while cruising into the latter half of the book. I’m having a blast with this story and can’t wait to see where it will take me.

A summer where the pause button is no more. The pedal is to the metal. Full speed ahead. It’s exciting. Stay tuned.

How about you? How do you carve out time for writing?

Writing Anywhere. No Pen, No Computer Needed.

Writing is one of the most versatile passions anyone can have. To be productive, you need nothing but your brain and a little time.

Paper is helpful at some points.

Of course, a laptop is even more helpful.

But neither of those are needed. No. Not at all, or at least until “eventually” comes around. All you really need to be productive is an active mind and time to let it explore.

Here’s what I mean. I’m currently working on a variety of writing projects including book two of my first trilogy, a Christmas show for 2017, and a variety of other play ideas. But lately, I’ve been swamped and have had no time to actually write. Yes, it’s killing me, because I want to get back to the stories. I want to push them forward. I want to explore where they are going and how everything will piece together in the end. But, life happens. Weekend baseball trip to Bangkok, theatre projects, rehearsals, work requirements, etc… and I’m stuck looking at another day checked off the calendar without a word written.

But it’s all right. Calm down. Everything is not lost because writing is the most flexible of passions. The crucial element of writing is thinking. A writer must ponder, must weigh options, must zigzag around in the mind before the pen ever hits the paper. And that, the pondering, the zigzagging can happen anywhere at anytime. A stray thought during the day can bring a character to mind and make me wonder about what will happen next. A daily happening can lead to new ideas. The other day, one of the readings from my social studies class I teach talked about a certain type of snake. It jolted my memory of something I’ve written in book two of my novel series, and I started to ponder if I could actually use that snake in my story. I thought about throughout the day as I complete many tasks not related to writing. Finally, I concluded that it would be a wonderful idea and can really add to the story.

Now, have I actually added  it to the story yet? No. Like I said. No time. But I have furthered my writing. I do this many times in many different situations. Allowing your writing mind to connect to what you do in every day life is a great way to move things along and be productive  even when you have no time to actually be productive.

So I guess the bottom line is this: write at all times. When possible, use a computer.

 

 

Justify the … Idea. It’s How I Write

In my theatre arts class, we play a game called Justify the Pose. I say ‘go,’ and everyone tears off around the room doing whatever they like. When I call ‘stop,’ they  must freeze in whatever awkward position they find themselves in, whether they are mid-step or standing on a desk. Then I call out a couple people’s names and they have to justify the pose, on the spot they have to think up a situation in which they might find themselves in this position and then act it out. It’s a great game to get the actors thinking creatively about how to understand certain situations.

Recently, I began to realize that this is exactly how I write. I try to justify the idea.

This is a great way to generate ideas and force a writer to think creatively about a certain idea. Here’s how it works. A random image pops in my head and I immediately think what could justify this situation. What would be the back story? Why would this person be in this situation at this time?

My entire second novel was started on a premise like this. One day I had a random thought of a woman from a second story window seeing a man below wearing a red hat. That’s all I needed to write an entire novel. I began thinking why this woman would be interested in a man wearing a red hat. What was his relationship to her?  Was he a bad man? Was he trying to hide something?

I’m currently working on a trilogy which is based on the same time of premise: a strange image which makes no sense, but I forced myself to give it meaning and make it make sense. In doing so, it forced me to think creatively and I ended up with a novel (and soon to be novels) which are beyond what I thought I could ever think of. But I now know that’s not the case. I can make anything work if I give it enough time and brain power.

So give it a try. Take an idea, a random idea, a bizarre idea and try to justify it. It’s fun and you never know what you’ll end up with.

 

Open Submission … (if, if, if …)

I’m currently looking to expand the reach of some of my plays which I admittedly have done very little with over the past couple of years. Researching on-line, I’ve come across some wonderful theatres and festivals who encourage new voices of the stage to submit their work. I’ve very encouraged by all of this.

At the same time, I can’t help but chuckle when I come across some supposed open submissions which have a series of asterisks after it more prominently displayed than Barry Bonds home run totals.

Here are few. Paraphrased.

  • Open Submission! We would love to see your work except we don’t want it to end in death. We have enough death in the world and want to have some feel-good stories.
  • Open Submission! But you must have a permanent residence in northeast Ohio.
  • Open Submission! If you have a literary agent.
  • Open Submission! If you live in New Jersey, Delaware, or Rhode Island.
  • Open Submission! We will not accept scripts which have guns as props.

Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t it be better to call it limited submissions?

It just seems strange that the artistic community wants to shape the outcome of an artist’s endeavor – change the ending so the protagonist doesn’t die so I can send a script there – re-write a gun out of a scene so I can send a script there – move to Akron so I can send a a script there.

I just like to write. I let the stories dictate their endings. I let the characters dictate the props. I don’t let location dictate anything.

And I’m okay with that even if some people aren’t.

 

Are you satisfied? I never am.

Writing becomes addictive. Almost compulsive. The worst kind of compulsive behavior. It stalks you in the middle of the night, when out driving your car, when embroiled in the minutia of your work. Writing doesn’t stop. It possesses your mind and forces you to make decisions that you never wanted to make. Such as, do I do my job or do I follow the rabbit down the hole?

Writing is a 24-hour cable news network. It shouts and screams its biases and its commands that you pay attention to it. If you don’t, it sneaks into your psyche in other ways, often unnoticed as a slight and sly trick of the mind.

Writing demands its authority to be recognized. I’m not talking about the whims of a person who one day wakes up and wants to write her memoirs. Or I’m not talking about the person who has a great idea for a story and struggles to see if he can fulfill its promise. Each of those people should attempt it. Why not? Creativity should be embraced and encouraged. Go for it. Strive to write that book.

But no. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m well beyond that. I’m well past the time that I want to see if I can do it. I want to see if I can improve. Build. Create. Attempt something that hasn’t been done. Use language in ways that give the reader pause, enjoyment for sure, but pause also. To think, to feel, to experience, to live. Life abundant. Ideas free. Flowing. Beyond what I could imagine. I want to reach and grasp far above what I commanded a few years ago. This is not about the story. This is about the story commanding its attention, taking over my life, pushing me in directions I never thought I’d go. This is about being immersed in its flow, its pageantry, its tradition, its all encompassing … what is the word? That is what I want to know. All encompassing …

It’s discovery.

It’s progress.

It’s life.

It’s writing.

That’s where I am. Life and writing. One and the same.

Was I Sleeping 4 Times Through This Chapter?

Revision work never seems to surprise and frustrate me. I have been doing some fairly significant re-writes on my next novel up, and each revised chapter had its moments in the grinding machine of my mind, polishing and burnishing each one a little closer to the end result. And then yesterday, I came across a certain chapter that was so poorly written that I had to ask  myself a question: Was I sleeping when I wrote this chapter? And when I revised it three previous times?

It’s bizarre, actually. Were the writing Gremlins having their best inside my Scrivener, choosing just to sabotage one chapter so as to not make it so obvious?

I really don’t have an explanation of such inconsistent writing, especially after this is the fourth revision of this chapter.

It only reinforces what I’ve been doubling down on lately: take your time. That’s the beauty of being an independent author. I don’t have deadlines to meet. Sure, I want to consistently put out work, at least once a year. But don’t stress over fake deadlines and fake writing goals.

There is only one writing goal: write the very best story possible. Period.

To do this, it needs time. A manuscript needs time to simmer, time to aerate, time to reveal its cracks. Obviously, certain cracks can be hidden in plain sight, but they are there, plain as day, they only need to be looked at once more and they will reveal their fatal flaws.

Which is good, because then you can correct them.

So once again I say slow down, Mr. Revisionist. Slow down, Mr. You Are Typing Too Quickly. Slow down and read those words out loud. Here the flaws, listen to the cracks, and boldly insert the solution.

This is going to be a great novel. How do I know? Because I see its flaws and I haven’t turned away yet.

 

I am very much me. And so is my writing.

I am very much me.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that when I write, I focus on what I know.

I know Asia. Living here for twenty years will do that. Asia is probably forever in my writing DNA, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

What did Hemmingway write? The South Floridian wrote about the Keys in “To Have and Have Not.” (I loved that book.)

The war-time ambulance driver wrote the fantastic “For Whom the Bell Tolls” about the Spanish Civil War.

If you aren’t creating new worlds, it’s a tried and true practice to use what you know.

I remember when I was in college, I wanted to write an autobiographical novel of my life. I failed miserably. I never wrote one word. I wrote a few poems about my life to that point, hoping that it would thrust me wholeheartedly into my earth-shattering novel about an 18 year old who had no experiences.

Yeah, I was naïve. But that’s okay. It discouraged me that I had nothing to write about. Fantasy wasn’t interesting to me. I’ve always been about real-life human issues and emotions, and it just so happened that that 18-year-old had no interesting human issues and emotions.  So I stared at many blank pages until I realized one day that twenty years had passed and I hadn’t written anything.

But what did happen in those twenty years were experiences. Marriage, kids, happiness, sadness, new cultures, new languages, new people, diverse people, interesting people, unbelievable situations, strange food, motorbike trips into the mountains, and a glimpse of every human emotion imaginable.

These experiences have become my tableau. The sheet is no longer clean. It’s stained with all types of deliciously interesting situations. And as a writer, I am grateful for it.

So as I write my first full-length play in two years, I find myself once again using my Asian experience, my political interests, and meld them together in an interesting, fun and engaging new play.

If you are going to write, start with what you know. If it isn’t enough, give it a little time and let life fill in the details until letting yourself loose.

Writing: If your brain keeps stewing, you probably aren’t finished.

As a rule, I typically do this: if my brain keeps stewing about a work you completed, it’s not complete and you need to revisit it.

I’m not talking about the revision process when a writer is still in the mode of improving a work. I’m talking about after the writer thinks the work is finished. If it keeps bothering you, if something isn’t sitting right, you need to take a second look.

This is an excellent reason to allow a finished work to sit untouched for a while before the writer publishes it or does anything else to it. Time allows the ideas to settle, and time will eventually tell you are not finished.

I came across this issue this past week. I wrote a piece (with a student of mine) this summer, a short play which will be part of my show in December. I thought it was finished, and we’ve actually started rehearsals with the piece. But this week, for whatever reason, I started thinking more about the structure and characters and the more I thought, the more I realized I wasn’t satisfied.

I didn’t really have time for another re-write, but I know me. Once I feel unsettled about a work, there’s no stopping me until I’m satisfied. It’s an annoying trait, but I think it’s a good one.

And so over the last couple of days, I went through two more re-writes, I cut out about 20% of the story, dropped one character completely, reedited many lines and ended up changing the title three more times. I actually sent the new updated script to my actors with one title, but I just changed it again about ten minutes ago.

Writing perfection doesn’t exist. A work is never completely done, it’s typically just abandoned by the writer. But sometimes, a finished work can haunt you until you give in and do the necessary work to improve it. Because that’s what is ultimately important. The process. The small increments of improvement played out over a long period of time.

Don’t settle. Listen to the unsettling voices inside. It will make the work better, and it will make you a better writer.

Reflections on Writing: Are they good enough?

I’ve just finished writing a collection of short dramatic sketches which will be performed as my new Christmas show, “MORE Tales of Wonder: Another RLT Christmas,” this December.

My immediate reaction to the pieces is rather muted. I don’t know what to think about them, and I’m sure I don’t really know what I got in these pieces.

When I compare them to last year’s “Tales of Wonder,” they don’t seem to be as good. But I have to remind myself that my opinion of those is tainted by their live performances which were exceptionally well received last year. The real question is: what did I think about last year’s pieces before we produced them?

This is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process, knowing what you have after you’ve finished. Of course, different people will assess them in different ways, so I’m mainly writing at the wind here, trying to understand a process which is mainly incomprehensible.

I’ve found that most writing consists more of a workman effort rather than heavenly inspiration. There were very few “ah-hah” moments in writing these, most of them being slowly whittled away with version after version until the storylines and characters become more visible. This is probably one of the reasons why I feel nervous about these. If they lack inspiration, will they not be inspirational?

That’s not the way it typically works. Writing is about plowing a the field, planting the seeds, and slowly cultivating the crops; hoping that the mature plant will produce a strong yield. But there are no guarantees in writing (as in farming). You just have to do the work, put in the effort, stick with what has worked in the past, and then leave the results for others to assess.

Do I think we’ll have a good Christmas show this December? Based on track record, yes. Based on these rough scripts I’ve been writing in July? I don’t know.

Are they good enough? They are never good enough. But you still have to stop and move on to something else. That’s what writers do.

 

Indie Authors: What we have and don’t have.

Here’s what Indie Authors don’t have:

We don’t have a large corporation peering over our shoulders.

We don’t have a lot of resources, other than the explosion of ideas in our heads.

We don’t have a publicist to arrange our events.

We don’t have elaborate offices, vacation homes at Martha’s Vineyard, or an army of well-entrenched book reviewers at all the major papers ready to take on our work.

We don’t have the backing of the publishing establishment.

We don’t have literary agents knocking down our doors, no matter how amazing our stories are.

We don’t have enough time to write, juggling two or three “real jobs” as we follow our passion.

But …

… we do have a few things:

Indie authors have passion. We do it all for the story. We are compelled to do so.

Indie authors do have readers. And they don’t care what imprint is on our spine.

Indie authors do have other careers and families, but it doesn’t stop us from our writing.

We have resilience. A bad review won’t keep us down.

We  have uniqueness, our independence is our strength, allowing us to tell our stories our ways. No formulas here.

So love yourself an indie author and all the passion, creativity, and fierce independence which goes along with it.