I’m not here

I have a challenge for you. Go tell a story. For six hours straight. Feel free to pause as needed to collect your thoughts on how you want to phrase your tale. But commit to those six hours of storytelling. Now, do this for five days a week, for two months.

This is exactly what I did last summer (and what countless full-time authors do every day). When I returned from my vacation in July, I set to work, and by Labor Day had finished the first draft. That story is what I am currently working on, currently retelling for hours on end, tweaking, altering, deleting and staring some Portions over. I am trying desperately to finish up, and you might wonder what the rush is. There isn’t one, except for the fact that because of this story, I’m not here.

I began revising in June, but school was still in, and I had consulting work, and so it was very part-time. I knew the summer was around the corner.

My school year finished and I began revising more heavily. My wife was away for five days, and so the work was still light, two to three hours, tops. But once she returned and my daughters went to camp for the morning, the revision cranked up.

And now, with most likely the rest of this week and the next to go, full bore, I’m lost. Not in the story. No, that’s the only place I can actually see. I’m useless everywhere else.

My parents were over last night, asking questions about trips we have planned and other topics I should have ready answers to. Nothing. It’s as if they were speaking about someone else’s life.

I have a project list for the summer that’s virtually untouched, because I have little energy for anything else. *Disclaimer* I also hope my wife reads this post and takes pity, hence that last admission. She probably won’t.

This isn’t complaint, but commentary. I am amazed at the energy-draining quality of this project. And it’s not that the story is a mess and I have extensive work to do. It’s as good and as bad as my previous drafts. What I believe it boils down to is focus. I am at the point of no return, where nothing else matters besides the story. Not food, not sleep, not health. Just sitting and writing.

Delilah Dawson, author extraordinaire, recently wrote a post, “On Writing: WE’RE CLOSED.” It resonated with me on so many levels, even the showering. Go on, read it. She nails it.

Therefore, if you see me, or another author you know working like this, stuffed into an office, losing it slowly, be gentle. Speak clearly and directly, but don’t be offended if the glaze of storytelling doesn’t leave the eyes. We’re elsewhere.

And when we do return, there’ll be another story to consider.

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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.