A Round of Words – Round 2 – GOALS

Starting Monday, I’ll be participating in a “Round of Words for 80 Days,” a friendly goal-setting group that challenges participants to set any word-related goal and to stick to it for 80 days. Coincidentally enough, that 80 days will be long enough to get me to the brink of time when I can write more or less focally on my “Haunted High School” novel, which is just in time for Round 3.

My goals for Round 2 is to write 1,000 words a day initially on prep materials though once a scrap of dialoge, description or drama starts to creep in, I shan’t hit “delete.”

80,000 words of prep materials? That’s longer than a successful NaNo. There are a few twists I want to deal with which I’m sure I’ll discuss as the project goes along. I’d love to start actual drafting but in the least, I want:

==>  Full character descriptions of the major characters — I find it MUCH easier to write believable dialogue when I really know the person who is speaking. It’s often the case that actual dialogue starts to appear as I cobble together a character description so this might not be entirely unusable backstory

  • Brandon
  • Caitlyn
  • Robert

==> Good Enough descriptions of the supporting cast — Yes, of course, everyone in a book needs to be fully rounded but the supporting cast appears largely to present problems for the major characters, just as grown ups are around largely to get in the way of what teenagers really want to do, right?

  • the Computer Teacher,
  • the English teacher,
  • the Science teacher,
  • the custodian,
  • the community assistant,
  • the principal,
  • the assistant principal,
  • and of course, the ghost
  • and the ghost’s wife

==> a “snowflake” outline of this bookRandy Ingermanson has the idea of fractal outlining where the shape of the whole is, in a sense, recursive throughout every part. In the least, his strategy is to start with a one sentence description of the whole novel, then to expand it to a whole page and on and on. Kind of clever and it avoids the problem of writing just one thing after another, which is great for a journal but a bit rambling for a novel.

==> A spreadsheet of scenes based on the NaNo draft – I need to see what I have already and to see if any of it can translate to the project I’m attempting now.

==> A comprehensive timeline of what each of the three major characters are doing at any given moment. — Why? More on that later.

Now I’m off to figure out how to add the “Linky” for A Round of Words… Can’t be TOO hard, right?

Ghosts and the Grind

My friend Mark took me out on the town yesterday since he thought I needed cheering up about not getting into Clarion. We went to a Sci-Fi art opening at Funhouse Gallery in the Russel Industrial Center, hit a couple bookstores where I got a second hand copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book and a couple issues of the comic Mouseguard signed by David Petersen, The Boston Tea Room where I bought a crystal ball and The RustBelt Market where I purchased what I thought were mortician’s tools. (Not so sure they are anymore. They’re still cool as hell though.) I’m not particularly discouraged about the rejection but since Friday was payday, who am I to pass up a little retail therapy? Halfway through the day, my buddy asked innocently enough what my next big project was and a lump formed in my throat, a huge clot of words I wasn’t fully able to get out. Let me try again here.

My next big project is to revise a novella I wrote during NaNoWriMo, though the word “revision” makes the task sound far less daunting than it feels. I’ve written several full-length dramas and an over-sized Masters thesis so I’ve a passing familiarity with revising longer works. The novel in question however has to essentially re-form itself from the inside out due to a realization I had late during NaNoWriMo. It’s embarrassingly obvious now but the story is about a ghost that haunts a high school. I figured out around word number 40,000 that it is in fact a young adult novel which meant that having a teacher as the central character was a little… dumb. I muddled through to complete the required word count but I wasn’t pleased with what I’d written. So, Mark, my next big project is to re-envision, recast and entirely reform the tale from the perspective of the freshman computer enthusiast who confronts the ghost, the school body and ultimately himself.

How? I started by reviewing the prep work I did for the original draft. I already have character work done on most of the major figures, including the character who’ll now be the protagonist. Re-reading his backstory, I am simply shocked that I didn’t realize he was the hero earlier. File this under “Listen to your characters.” While I was fleshing out two of his friends, I realized that they had the potential for their own novel-length narrative arcs which means I might have my topic for NaNoWriMo 2012 already.

I have a few days off in a week where I’ll retreat from worldly distractions long enough to re-read the whole work and make a spreadsheet of the scenes. Then I’ll brood, tap my fingers and drink lots of coffee while I try to see the world of the story through my new major character’s eyes. My goal at the end of that week will be to have an outline of the tale as young adult novel.

Then I’ll let the idea brood until late June when I have more time off, the time I had already cleared to attend Clarion. My goal by the end of August is to have a book length manuscript that is better than a first draft. This time, Mark, I won’t be too ashamed of it to let you read it.


FAQ: The Banner Photo

Nope, it’s not a stock photo. The banner photo at the top of “Troubled Cosmos” is a panorama I took myself using my iPhone and a cool app called “PhotoSynth.” It stitches together panorama photos on the fly. I took the photo standing in the parking lot where I work. I chose it as the banner photo because it expresses a lot of my “worldview,” if I can use such a fusty old word. There is a strip of human activity at the bottom, the powerlines, the radio tower, even a “Stop” sign lurking in the lower right. But dwarfing this ribbon of humanity is the grand horizon of clouds and sky, of impending dark and the merest glow and glint of light, forces that for all we know are engaged in their own economies and interactions entirely oblivious to our struggles. If it had a caption, I’d quote Puck from A Midsummer’s Night Dream “What fools these mortals be.”

FAQ: The Beard, e.g. What’s Up With It?

Oddly enough, this IS a frequently asked question.

I grew up wanting to be Gandalf. I used to sport a full and lush “Santa” style beard that is until it turned gray, then white and my body type changed to where comparisons to that jolly holiday gift-man became embarassingly apt.

During my recent “Second Adolescence” I trimmed my whiskers to something more resembling Colonel Custer, perhaps Honoré de Balzac, though truth be told I was going for Sir Graves Ghastly. My darkest fear is that now instead of Santa, I just look like Burl Ives  as the animated snowman.

Yes, I use “moustache wax,” a concoction I make myself with equal parts beeswax and petroleum jelly. I have been known to twirl the tips of my ‘stache while contemplating devious plots and the predicaments of my characters.


What I Learned from my Clarion Workshop Rejection

Last night I got my rejection from the Clarion Writers Workshop. It was a standard “sorry, Charlie. Better luck next time” kind of message. The wording was clean, clear and precise, pefectly fitting for a writers workshop. Certainly I felt disappointed and perhaps even a bit hurt because I’d wanted so badly to attend. But once I thought about it, I realized that I actually learned a few things from the process.

• I learned not to pre-reject myself –– It’s a writerly truism that a manuscript never submitted will never be published but what I learned was slightly different. Clarion only accepts a handful of students per year so if it was a publication it would be considered a highly selective market. But Clarion like any workshop is doing something a bit more personal than accepting manuscripts: they accept applicants on the basis of their manuscripts. From one perspective, this situation is the closeted writer’s greatest fear regarding submissions, that somehow they themselves are being judged by their works. That fear leads many writers to “pre-reject” their stories by not sending them out for consideration. When I sent my submission into Clarion, I considered myself worthy of attending. I still consider myself worthy of attending; other circumstances just got in the way.

• I learned to submit my best work — The application clearly says to submit two stories that represent your best work. As strange as this sounds, I was not accustomed to looking at my writing in those terms. When I thought through the literally dozens of stories I’ve written and which I had even been submitting to publications with spotty success, I didn’t consider any of them to be my “best work.” I realized that if I was honest with myself, those stories were just “good enough.”  Then I asked myself why I would waste my time not to mention a slush reader’s time with stories I knew myself weren’t my best. Cowardice is the answer I came up with. It would be easier not to take a rejection personally if I knew deep down that the story I sent was flawed. Applying to Clarion made me realize that life is too short to submit crap. Lord knows I still write plenty of “shitty first drafts” as Anne Lamott calls them; they’re the only way I can get to slightly less shitty second drafts, partially crapulent third drafts and eventually a submission-ready manuscript that I can really be proud of. The work I submitted to Clarion was sincerely my best work and it now can be a touchstone for the work I do in the future.

• I learned to own the fact that I’m a writer — As soon as I got my rejection, I wanted to share the news with others if for no other reason that to get a bit of comfort.  I realized last night that only a couple of my friends even knew I had applied to Clarion. They provided me with counsel and support throughout the application process but most of my friends and associates didn’t even know I had applied. Once I thought about it a bit more, I wondered if most of my contacts even know that I consider myself a serious writer. And all of a sudden it  struck me how absolutely crazy it is to be a writer in a closet. Publishing now more than ever requires self-promotion and a network of people pulling for you. It’s unlikely I’ll ever make my living through writing alone but writing stories has been an enduring passion through most of my life. I learned that someone can’t really know me and not know that.

I don’t know if I will be able to apply for next year’s Clarion Writers Workshop. There was an unrepeatable coincidence that opened up time in my summer schedule this year. But even if I never give Clarion a second thought, I think I’ve learned valuable lessons just from the process of applying.