Thursday, February 25, 2021

New Twit on the Block


I took the plunge into Twitter when I retired. I try to post every day; most days I’m successful. (By “successful,” I mean I tweeted, not that tweet was well received, or received at all. Or even grammatical.) I’m getting more comfortable with it over time (one would hope so), but it’s still a little like trying to tie one’s shoes while wearing mittens.


There are things I like. Twitter is a good for random thoughts expressible in 280 characters or fewer. This forces me to write tight ,as I refuse to resort to Twitter shorthand unless I have no choice. (I will shorten URLs when necessary.)


As the Twitter account I’m keeping up with is my author account, virtually all posts are writing related, things that came to mind that didn’t seem to have blog potential. Sometimes they come in bunches, so I have a file on my desktop where I save them to post over time instead of dumping them all at once.


Twitter is also good for coming across people you might not encounter on Facebook. As far as I can tell, re-tweeting has far more potential for sending a post viral than anything in Facebook. It’s a personal thing, but I’m more willing to follow someone I don’t already know on Twitter than I am to send a friend request on Facebook. This provides me a field of vision less incestuous than what I have on Facebook, where I rarely send friend requests, though I also rarely refuse them unless they are obvious spam.


The downside of Twitter is the character count, which makes it almost impossible to have a serious discussion. Write as tight as you want, there are thoughts you cannot express in 280 characters. Stringing tweets together is fraught with awkward breaks that increase the chances of readers taking comments out of context.


I’m sure my activity will increase as the drop date for the new book approaches. I want to give Twitter at least a year of honest effort, which I have never done. There will be highs and lows as I move along my learning curve. Check this space (or my Twitter feed: @DanaKingAuthor) for progress reports and feel free to send suggestions, either here, via Twitter, or on Facebook.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Abandoning Your Darlings

 I may have mentioned I now no longer edit first drafts; I re-write them. (I have so much going on right now I don’t remember what I told The Beloved Spouse™ ten minutes ago, so how am I going to remember what I might have written last month?)


Full disclosure: it’s not exactly a first draft I’m re-writing. It’s about a draft-and-a-half. Something like those 24 ouncers you get at some bars. I did an entire draft in Scrivener, which I like a lot because of how easily I can move things around. I let it sit a while, then read it through, making notes as I go. Another pass to address the notes, making additions and cuts as needed. Then I let it sit again.


Now I’m rewriting. (Or re-typing, depending on your opinion of my writing.) Scrivener is at the top of my screen, Word at the bottom. Some things come over verbatim. Nothing gets copied and pasted. Even if a large chunk comes over with no changes, I make myself retype it.


This is not because I’m super old school. This gives me every opportunity to make change. Typing can be a chore for me, so if I really don’t feel like transferring something, maybe that’s the Muse telling me that bit doesn’t belong. I rephrase a lot of things, and sometimes add several paragraphs if a new bit presents itself.


This is the second book I’ve done this way; the process is still under refinement. The downside is it’s far more time consuming than converting the Scrivener files to Word and doing a straight-up edit. (Scrivener is great for assembling stories, but shit for editing.) The upside is that it’s far more time consuming than converting the Scrivener files to Word and doing a straight-up edit, which forces me to think about everything.


As we all know, the most difficult, and important, aspect of writing is killing your darlings. You worked hard on them and it breaks your heart to hit the delete key. Re-doing the whole thing means that never happens. Now when I come across a darling and the realization strikes that it doesn’t belong, I just leave it out, as it’s far easier to leave your darlings by the side of the road than it is to kill them.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Staying Fresh


Last week I wrote about the convergence of my writing process with Joe Lansdale’s description of his before I even knew what his was. This week I’ll conclude those thoughts; great rejoicing may ensue.


We left off with how much more free time retirement provides, which doesn’t mean I spend all that time with fingers on keyboard. I try to write at least three times a day, in bursts of 45 minutes to an hour. Longer than that and my ego starts to intrude, and, as Milch says, the ego is the enemy of creativity. Set it aside, do anything else for a while, come back. Worries about this process being more indicative of sloth than art were put to rest in Joe’s post: “I try to write only about three hours a day. I stay fresh that way, and don't get so tuckered out that next day I do nothing.” Staying fresh is a big deal. I now look forward to the next session, rather than feeling as though I have to get it in out of a sense of duty.


Staying fresh is also forestalls burnout, as taking too many “maintenance” days can make it too easy to postpone writing altogether. Joe again: “I try to work five to seven days a week, and it takes something special to throw off that approach.” That’s exactly what I do. Paraphrasing Stephen King, “It’s true you do your best work when the Muse strikes. It’s helpful if the Muse knows when and where to look for you.”


All this cultivation of the subconscious is necessary and fruitful, but the subconscious is not the best arbiter of what’s good or we’d all get rich by transcribing dreams. Per Joe: “There's a lot of stuff there in the subconscious, and the disorganized materials have to be trained to line up, and this is a primary duty of the conscious mind, which for me works best after the subconscious has sorted things, and has in fact done a lot of secret plotting. The conscious mind scrapes off the edges, jettisons the useless, the materials that will not work in your story.” In other, less entertaining words, editing.


Two other great writers’ ideas come to mind:

Hemingway: Write drunk. Edit sober.

Milch: There are no mistakes, only things that need to be better.

How I think of it: The subconscious can create a baby but only the conscious can properly prepare the little bastard to go out into the world.


I could go on, but I won’t. As the philosopher Harry Callahan said, “A man has got to know his limitations.” Writing is not hard; it’s difficult. It’s not ditch digging, but it’s also not for the faint of heart. Understanding what we’re doing won’t necessarily make us better, but it will prevent us spending our free time learning to tie nooses and looking for open beams. If you have to take your medicine, it might as well come from someone like Joe Lansdale, who can make it go down so much easier.


(Thanks to Joe for allowing me to quote him in these posts.)

Thursday, February 4, 2021

De- and Re-fining Process

 Last week I wrote about Joe Lansdale’s thoughts on first readers and got tangential a few times. This week I have more from Joe’s Facebook posts on writing, dealing with the process itself.


Again, it’s gratifying and validating for someone with my level of accomplishment to see my method has evolved along the lines of one of the greats. I am comfortable with not having the same level of talent or success. What matters is, however good my writing may or may not be, it’s not because of things that are under my control. I’ve done my due diligence.


The topic of Joe’s post was, “How Many Drafts Should You Write?” Joe’s answer fits in with what my practice and research have shown me: there is no right answer. Joe writes: “Each writer finds their path. I do one, and then a polish. Now and again I end up doing more polish than expected, and each day I revise as I go, so how many drafts do I do daily? No idea.”


I’m a bit more OCD, so I have a pretty good idea, but the number of drafts has changed dramatically over the years. I used to keep hacking until I couldn’t bear to look at the manuscript anymore and was spending most of my time adding and removing the same commas. Then I started using each draft for specific things: one for descriptions, one for each character to get their voices right and unique, one for action and narrative, then the overall polishing. That took forever and require too much polishing, as the multiple drafts left me with a story that didn’t seem organic.


I winnowed that down by beginning each day by looking over and tidying up yesterday’s work. This probably saved a draft and had the added benefit of reminding me exactly where I was the day before.


Then I came across David Milch’s concept of “resting transparently.” (It’s actually Kierkegaard’s concept, but since Milch distilled it into something I can understand, I give him the credit.) My version is to think as little as possible about what needs to be written today because that’s the conscious mind looking for a logical continuation of what I wrote yesterday, which is not always where the story needs to go. Now I sit quietly, letting my mind wander until I know what I want to do. At first I’d often as not fall asleep. Now there are days where I sit for as little as thirty seconds before I’m virtually propelled out of the chair and off to the keyboard.


This isn’t much different from Joe’s advice, though arrived at from a different direction: “The most important thing I learned as a writer was to work from the subconscious. This sounds easy, and pretty much is once you are able to tap into it, but it takes practice.” Resting transparently is my way of releasing my subconscious. With practice I find I barely need the actual process. My subconscious now knows when to feed me what it’s been working right when I need it.


What stimulates my subconscious? Many of the same things Joe describes. “Reading novels, stories, comics, non-fiction and viewing films, TV shows, are fuel for the subconscious…” I used to feel like I was stealing when I took an idea from a previous work and adapted to my needs until I saw a d read enough to realize how many stories are adaptations of things that came before. Just because I first saw a scene by Author A doesn’t mean he hadn’t seen a variant of it elsewhere. I used to feel bashful about changing the ending of my first Nick Forte book to use a concept I saw in the movie Three Days of the Condor, especially after it received a Shamus nomination. Now I’m looking forward to thanking James Grady the next time I see him, less for “giving” me the idea, than for putting something out there I was able to adapt to my own purposes.


The subconscious is not as low maintenance as one might suppose, especially when you hope to get some benefit from it. Milch tries never to think about writing except when he’s doing it. Unsaid is that his subconscious, left to its own devices, is always churning away, whether he’s aware of it or not. He likes to operate on faith and I believe a lot of that faith is that his subconscious will not abandon him.


Lansdale has a similar attitude: “But, during the day, if I could learn to relax and think about anything but story, ideas would develop, and certainly at night a seed would be found.” I retired at the end of last year and now, a month or so down the road, I find I’m much more creative. More story ideas, more ideas on how to improve what’s in progress, more ideas about what I might want to revisit. I believe that’s because I’m no longer tied to thinking about workaday things half my waking hours, five days a week, with those concerns also intruding on my “free” time. Now I spend an hour or three most days taking care of household business, then my day is free.


(Next week I’ll conclude this series with a post on pacing yourself to stay fresh. Thank to Joe Lansdale for allowing me to quote from his posts.