Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving and Priorities

Oh boy, it’s been a week. Sorry for not blogging earlier, but here’s the thing – between bad travelling weather, the need to make up lost hours at work, and the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve not had a lot of time to write. So when I did write, I worked on my current manuscript instead of blogging.

I suppose the prioritizing of creative time is an issue for everyone. I love the idea of the professional writer who sits in his quiet cabin and just writes, trusting that his or her efforts will ultimately pay the bills.  I’m not there yet.  I assume most writers are not.  So, in this Thanksgiving week, let me just say I am thankful to have a day job.

Oddly, I get appear to get more done when there are more demands on my time. I did a lot less writing when I was unemployed. Now I find myself thinking ahead about when I can get this or that done, while still allowing time to eat, sleep, and spend quality time with my wife and friends.

So when I know I have time to work on my manuscript, I do.

Do I have my priorities straight? Possibly not if the goal is to become a truly pro writer. But I am happy and relatively sane.

And I’m still writing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On the Cutting Room Floor

So I’m writing away on my current November project, The Illusionist’s House, and I’ve already deleted a scene. It was one of the first scenes I thought of, too, when the whole project first came into my head.

I remember when I first started buying movies on DVD. All those lovely extra features! And deleted scenes were particularly enticing. After all, if I liked the actors and the film, what could be better than having a little bit more, right?

Well no, not really. I quickly realized that if the film were any good in the first place, the deleted scenes had been excised for a reason.  Sometimes it’s fun to watch them just to pick out why.

Sometimes a scene serves to make a character less sympathetic than they should be. Sometimes it just screws up the pacing.  Sometimes it presents information that is better presented somewhere else.  Sometimes they just don’t work.

I have occasionally stumbled across a scene that should have stayed in the film, but these gems are rare indeed. The film people are professionals – they know what they are doing.

Knowing that the professionals produce more than they need and have to pare their story down in the editing room is comforting.  Film and actors cost a lot more than keystrokes. Cutting and editing don’t mean I’m doing wrong, they mean I’m doing it right.

And isn’t that a happy thought?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Don’t Abuse the Muse

Writers and poets and other artists should, I suppose, be very nice to their muses. Right now I want to smack mine upside the head.

So here I am, on the bus.  I downloaded that old Nanowrimo piece that I discussed in my last blog entry onto the halfling laptop a few days ago and I’m ready to start revising.

On my way to the bus stop this new idea spring loads into my head. It has characters, a narrative voice, an opening sequence, even a tentative title, The Illusionist’s House. All I have to do is write it down. The old Nano piece still doesn’t have a title, a year later.

So do I practice discipline and work on the piece I have committed to doing (if only in my last blog entry) or follow the advice I gave a few posts back and respect the mysteries of my brain? A classic writer’s dilemma.

If I had a firm deadline for the old piece, if I had a contract waiting, I’d do the professional thing and concentrate on it. I might take the time to jot down notes on the new piece while it remains fresh and inspiring.

But since I am at liberty, I will follow the muse, even if she can be difficult at times.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unintentionally Deliberate

Way back in the long ago, I used to take Tai Chi classes. The instructor liked to talk about doing Tai Chi with intention. The idea being that anyone could just go through the motions, but they wouldn’t really be doing anything beneficial – just making empty gestures. To do it right required focus and breathing and, well, intention.

The word intention also means purpose, or goal. There is a difference, for example, in writing something for the fun of it and writing something you hope to publish.

All of which makes me wonder – when did a just-for-fun, one-month, knock-off script writing project become something I’d be revising and editing half a year later? I still have no expectations of it ever being published or produced. But I still want it done right.

Ars gratia artis. (Art for art’s sake. Also known as I’m going to finish this, damn it and I’m going to get this right, damn it.) I guess the work can become it’s own intention.

So now I’ve got the script done. For my next move, I’m re-writing an old Nanowrimo project with new intentions. I don’t know yet if I am aiming for something that can be published or just something I can learn from and blog about.

But chasing word  count for Nano last year gave me a good foundation from which to start. So now I intend to polish it up and do it right.

Stick with me and we’ll see what it becomes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

April in November, or, Continuity Editing

I think I’m almost done. Remember my D&D-style movie script that I wrote last April? The one for the 100-page Script Frenzy challenge?  After it was done, I decided it needed a little revision.

The original draft never had the moment where our heroes’ success was truly in doubt. Where, if I might borrow a phrase, the quest stood on a knife’s edge. So I went back and added one. No big, right?

But everything after that point in the plot was subtly shifted. I couldn’t just cut-n-paste the previous ending on wholesale. So, now I think I’m done, but I’ve shuffled so much stuff around that I need to do a continuity editing pass.

It’s an annoying step – mostly because it’s a technical, almost mechanical job, rather than an imaginative, creative one. What I need to do is review the draft and account for the progression of events. I’m looking for things like characters using their weapons two scenes after being disarmed.  And who has the McGuffin, which changes hands as McGuffins tend to do.

So here’s another secret of writing, which I hope inspires you as much as it does me. Sometime in writing, like in any craft, there is annoying busy work that needs to be done. I guess the secret is to want the finished product enough.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

For those who might be unaware, November is National Novel Writing Month. All across the US (and possibly beyond) people take the Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in one month. There is no prize beyond bragging rights, but it’s fun.

There’s even  a website (Google Nanowrimo to find it – I’d provide the link but I don’t have Internet here on the bus) where you can enter and update your word count, post sample pages, and discuss the experience on user forums. It’s hosted by the same folks who did the scriptwriting challenge I took last April.

I love Nanowrimo. But I’m not doing it this year.

First, I’ve done it more than once – I know that I can. My first novel, Fever Jenny, grew from a Nanowrimo project.

But I haven’t liked my results from the last few Novembers. I can get the word count, but the stories don’t add up. I find myself forcing the story ahead to reach the exciting, easy-to-write, high word count scenes, absolutely killing any sense of pacing. I find myself collecting large unfinished pieces with no promise of resolution.

And I find myself not doing the follow-up work when November ends.

So this is my plan for this November. First, I’m going to finish that dratted April project (which I should be able to do in about a week, if I actually commit myself to doing the work). Then I’m going to take the half-finished story from last November (which actually only reached about 48,000 words) and fill in the missing pieces, so that it’s done right. And maybe even finish it.

But I’m not going to obsess over the word count.

So November is still my month for challenging myself. For writing and learning from the doing of it. 

Oh, and I’ll keep with the blogging, too, so you know how I’m doing.