One Dead Computer and One Open Journal

I had every writer’s nightmare come true yesterday morning: my computer wouldn’t start. At 5 am I hit the power button and noting happened. I held it in. Still nothing. I cursed, got on my hands and knees and unplugged everything. After waiting the obligatory ten seconds I tried again. Nothing. Happy Monday.

I struggle with technology as is, but without a cup of coffee I knew I was useless and any additional attempts were to be futile. I pulled the plug on the computer (only three years old) and sat down in front of my black screen. What to do?

I still keep a journal and use it to prime my thoughts before typing, to take notes in during revision, to outline new stories, to create character sketches and any to jot down intriguing overheard dialogue. So I snagged my notebook and figured I’d get a solid 15-20 minutes of rambling and call it a day.

An hour later, I looked up and didn’t know where the time had gone. Apparently I had a lot to get off my chest, and the unconscious practice of just moving my hand across the page was extremely cathartic. I’ve read and taught Writing Down the Bones countless times, but haven’t used Goldberg’s methods in quite a while. It was refreshing.

I haven’t gone back and read what is there, but I’m sure it’s not the seed bed for my next novel. It’s me venting about my two sick daughters, my injured elbows, decisions I need to make about editing my current manuscript, what to do with my previous novel–to Kindle Direct Select or no. Essentially, there’s a lot of me just trying to figure out my life.

It is a worthwhile practice, and for me, how I began writing. I never said, “I will write stories.” Rather, I decided to write what came to mind and to see where it took me, no agenda. I have all my old journals, stacks and stacks that take up a large section of my office closet and another spot in the attic. From them, came my way into narrative, taking my own musings and giving them voice via fictional people. They are the stepping stones, and I won’t part with them. Nor should I.

I’m not saying I’ll journal more, now. But possibly I’ll allow myself the time to sit and let my mind wander and to allow my hand to sketch out the problems and possible solutions. Because that’s what happens. Light bulbs went on for me. I had clarity about issues I needed to decipher, but hadn’t taken the time, nor figured out a way.

My computer did that for me. It forced me back to my old school methods. And the best part? There’s nothing wrong with the machine. The tech guy told me to change the outlet I use and didn’t charge me for the service. He was right. I’m writing this entry on my trusty Dell. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the pen and paper, always available at my side. In fact, they are more evident than ever before.

Something Old, Something New

While I have been busy revising Tap Out, I have also been in the process of returning my first novel, This Side of Normal to the market. The rights were reverted to me and while I was excited by the idea of owning the work outright, I soon realized the daunting task of just what to do with it.

Initially I searched for someone to do the work for me and ended up on sites like the Online Publishing Review and An Incomplete Guide to POD. Basically, I wanted my book to be available in print and in digital format and for there to be some distribution channel. And I didn’t want to spend a fortune for this to occur.

The more I researched the more I realized that I was either going to gamble my time or my money, because outfits from the aforementioned sites and those of the same ilk had more fine print than I was comfortable with. I don’t have much cash to gamble, and I’ve always found a way to make time, so I set forth with the advice from Twitter via @NatalieWright_ and @AdamRPepper.

I read JA Konrath’s blog and I researched Create Space, Kindle Direct and Smashwords. I liked what I found. Konrath has a David and Goliath approach to the industry along with practical advice for those who want to enter the fray. I don’t see this so much of an Us versus Them issue, but the knowledge was priceless. As was the cost of Create Space, Kindle and Smashwords. I just needed to put in the time to edit the manuscript so that my eBook didn’t look like nonsense.

I began with Create Space because that was easiest, and I should see the proof copy some time this week. It took me twenty-six attempts with Kindle to get my manuscript correct, but once I did, it only took me five attempts with Smashwords. The learning curve was steep but invaluable. I had a sale on Smashwords within an hour of posting and hope once This Side of Normal is catalogued in their Premium catalogue that will increase.

Regardless of the sales, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to venture into the self-publishing realm. I have no platform on which to speak about the value of self-publishing versus traditional publishing other than there’s a certain wonderful freedom with the self-pub world that isn’t nearly as polished and pretty as the traditional. And that’s fine. So long as we don’t try to compare apples to oranges, we’re good, because both are worthwhile. And so long as the aim of both is to produce quality books for a hungry audience, I’ll gladly have a bit of each.

The Hermitage of Revision

I have turned into a hermit. I began revising Tap Out at the end of last month, and since then have done little else. Sure, I’ve gone to work and have been with family and friends, but the story has been in the back of my mind non-stop. I have been with it, alone, and dwelling more than I have done anything else.

Fortunately, I made it through the major edits, and have answered the significant points raised in my editor’s letter. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s in large part due to the fact that I haven’t read this work in months. The story wasn’t new to me, but at times I was surprised by my own writing, for good and for bad. I have stayed locked in my office every morning for as long as time permits, with a notebook of scrawled points to consider, my editor’s letter open for reference, and my mind racing with one questions as my eyes pour over the screen: Does this work?

It’s a difficult question to answer because it all depends on the context. Each stage of world-building and plotting and characterization has its own purpose. What works early on becomes redundant later. Yet, for a story to have adequate resolution (if such is desired) the original points must be returned to by the end, and the change needs to be evident, but not through blunt observations. Finesse is key, and often the one element I lack. I’m working on it.

I mostly write stories about teenagers who’ve messed up, or who live in less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s what I know after having been a teacher for the past decade and having worked with teenagers in various settings ever since my early twenties. I had a relative this weekend ask about where I was with my writing, and I divulged this latest process, most certainly with the pressured speech of someone a little unhinged. He was intrigued and asked if I felt I would always write for teens or would I mature into adult writing. It was kind of a backhanded compliment, but I kept my poise, informing him that I didn’t see my subject matter aging just because I do. He didn’t understand.

And that’s fine. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I cannot expect someone who doesn’t write to understand. All that matters to me is that my wife continues to be supportive as I space out around friends or ask for a piece of paper while driving so I can write a note about my story. So long as she and my daughters are comfortable with the idea that I am not always present, even when I’m physically there. I’m in my cave, myopically studying the world I’ve created, tumbling the stones of plot and making sure all resonates.

I enjoy the process, the tweaking, the “perfecting” (or however close such is attainable). I don’t like the pressure, not of the deadline, but that in which I put on myself. I want the work done and I want it done now, but most importantly, I want it done right. So it’s good that I’m cloistered with my thoughts. I can work and berate myself and no one else has to bear witness. They don’t need to. The product of the toil will be on shelves soon enough.

We Live in Our Own Worlds

I write early in the morning, at 5 am. My house is quiet, as the rest of my family is still sleeping. I go into my office, turn up the white noise, drink coffee and type. It’s by far the most pleasurable part of my day. I’m only afforded about two hours before I must leave for work. When I do so and shut off the white noise and shut down the computer, I re-enter the world, and it feels so very foreign.

I think it’s fair to say that most people do not enjoy working in solitude. My mother works from home and needs to leave the television on for background noise. I know people who split time between the office and home and are more productive at home, but miss the company of their colleagues. Writers, in spite of their collaboration with agents and editors must embrace being alone. Sure, we can write at coffee shops and libraries and anywhere with free Wi-Fi, but ultimately, we are still there by ourselves.

Beyond the world and character creation, I love the silence of writing. Sure. My head is humming with ideas, but nothing else is touching me. How often can I say that about the rest of my day? I’m surrounded by teenagers and then athletes and then my family. The constant stimulus of “To Do” lists and the Internet and gossip and texts and tweets keeps me wired for the bulk of my day. But I know upon going to bed, that in the morning my office will be there, a pot of strong coffee will be brewed, and the world outside will stay quiet for a while, because my other one awaits.