The Writing Process

Recently, I used a foolscap method to plot the entirety of my book.  This was cribbed from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art which isn’t only a guide on creativity and writing, but also getting out of your own way in life a lot of the time.  Though I didn’t use the Big Chief tablet itself, I did use an Excel spreadsheet, which is more akin to the method Heller used for Catch-22.

Here’s a copy I borrowed from the interwebs for reference.  As you can tell, it isn’t anything more than a spreadsheet with all the plot points listed in bite sized chunks.  Since my handwriting is awful, you’re probably a seasoned teacher if you can decipher any of this.  Believe me, I can hardly read some of it, which means that when I transfer it to electronic format, I get to be even more creative! (Because I have to make stuff up that I cannot decipher).

So, you can imagine if I did an entire foolscap of this, it would just look like one of those Magic Eye posters and instead of seeing the plot and connections, I would wind up seeing a sailboat or the spaceshuttle emerge from the collection of squiggles and lines.  This is what years of disuse and arthritis do to your penmanship, kids!

Onto my point, sometimes, regardless of all the motivation, inspiration, time on my hands, and black inky squiggles, sometimes I need a minute to just let the ideas percolate and collect, redistribute, marinate…and I must be getting hungry with all the food descriptors here.  So, lately, I have let the plot sit in its little boxes and I have been writing some flashback chapters.

When I wrote Song of the Cinder, I kinda danced with a formula, or really it’s what happened.  For most chapters something happened, there were chapters which mirrored them that were flashbacks.  It was a good way for me to keep the story fresh as well as delve into the history of the world and characters as I went along.  Sometimes a chapter would break and the juxtaposition of what had happened would be revealed in either a flashback, dream sequence, or a POV shift of the past.  I have steered clear from dream sequences lately though.  In literary devices, dreams are too literal and reliable.  Real dreams aren’t like that at all.

Dreams are usually crazy and non-sequitur.  That’s why people roll their eyes usually when you want to tell them about a really cool dream you’ve had.  By the time the accountant that is a giant squirrel shows up and demands you order him a pizza from Shakeys, you start to realize just how crazy it all sounds.  But in books, dreams might as well be video evidence and treated as Truth.

But sometimes you can just take a chapter and write it as something separate from the events that are contained in the main plot.  It’s a nice diversion and actually something I have always enjoyed as a reader.

So, I’ve been working on flashback chapters.  The story is progressing and if I decide to get rid of the flashbacks, at least the rest of the story is infused with a tincture of what those chapters contained to give it life and flavor.

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Day Three of No Facebook

It’s laughable that I’m treating social media like a substance addiction.  But I don’t know if it is all that much of a stretch.  In many ways, the prevalence of Facebook is said to have been influencing the last few Presidential elections, that algorithms and how information is distributed among groups of friends, lending itself to bias is how this is being orchestrated.

Twitter is the voicebox of a Presidency that seemingly has no filter, no restraint, and is making a lot of things worse, because the information is coming directly from the mind of someone, without delay, who should be one of the people on this planet who take a long, long time to think before they speak.

People’s lives are being affected in ways that they have never been before.  The worst thing about social media, the internet, information, etc. is there are no ethics behind any of it.  People can take your picture, post it online for anyone to see without your permission.  Your words can be removed from context, even private conversations, and shared with others in damaging ways.  Facebook itself has become a resource lawyers use in court to influence the rulings of judges, in civil and criminal cases.  Posts to Instagram have resulted in job terminations, jail time, and worse.

Twitter is often used to communicate secretly, out in the open as it were, for protesters, terrorists, and even law enforcement who counter activity originated there.  It used to just be for flash mobs of people swarming train stations to do the Thriller dance.

Net neutrality would be a wonderful thing, that is if anyone had any idea what responsibility was in our world these days.  Electronics, social media, texting, etc. are rewriting how people interact socially. How children spend their time, socialize, respond to stimuli outside their own heads.

Due to what has become 24 hour a day bullying, suicides are on the rise from social media.  It used to be you could just go home from school if someone was tormenting you.  Now you carry them with you in your pocket wherever you go.  And if not them, their friends, your mutual friends, and complete strangers looking to dog pile you.

Kids are sending naked pictures of themselves to each other. There’s an app that will help them do that.  It’s called Snapchat.  Everything “goes away” after it is viewed.  Right…idiots.

The proliferation of easy to get pornography is so much more different now than 25 years ago.  Not only does the easy access to porn mean that the audience of watchers can have greater exposure to this kind of addiction, but also I feel that violence towards women, especially in regards to rape and murder, are spurred on by people being eager to act out these oftentimes violent theatrics.

YouTube algorithms are influencing teens in ways that are making them question ideas of gender, possibly needlessly so.  Combine that with the echo chamber of nearly anonymous peer groups spread across the country, and you have a recipe for ultimate confusion.

So, does it cheapen the idea of addiction to say that social media is bad?  That Facebook was slowly causing me to slip into a state of depression?  I mean, it’s not booze, pills, opioids, or meth, it’s just the computer, right?  Who can’t just step away from a computer?

What’s my point?  I’m not trying to get attention for battling some kind of addiction. Honestly, I know it’s my own damned fault if I’m on social media and wasting time on it.  I don’t want to pull out the victim card just yet.  I’m not looking for pity.  What I do know if the world is a lot quieter without it.  I’m getting more done.  In spite of the reflex whenever I get bored to see what my Facebook friends are up to, I don’t really miss it too much.

Last night, I made changes to a chapter in my book.  I wrote five paid blogs.  I did some reading.  I went on a walk for an hour and put in 12,000 steps.  I watched a movie.  Facebook is a massive waste of time.  In some ways, it was a nice place to escape.  But when you are escaping your life, you aren’t living it.  Anymore than you are living your life at the bottom of a glass, needle, mirror, or hot piece of foil. Or card table, porn site, refrigerator, or cross-fit class.  Addictions come in all shapes and sizes.  The way to recognize them is would you rather be doing that than anything else?  What is it costing you?

I think I’m at the preachy part of my recovery.  It’s a nice way to convince myself that changes like these are good.  It’s also a good way to be held accountable for my decisions.  It’s harder to ignore these decisions when you write them down.

Maybe I wasn’t addicted to social media so much as I was comfortable with the routine?  Well, what I know is the routine left me feeling empty and worthless.  That’s not healthy.  It made me covet lives of people, things they have that I won’t, it made me less of the man I want to be.  It left me feeling alone.

The funny thing is yesterday, I chatted with about half a dozen people, having actual conversations in person, in text, etc. outside of social media and it felt great!  Eventually I realized I had a lot of work to do and had to excuse myself.

People are still out there.  You don’t need social media. In fact we might find ourselves closer to each other without it.  In no time at all will it no longer be Life without Facebook.  It will just be “life.”

Work in progress

Today is a double post.  I realized this was an entry all on its own, and important enough to get its own entry.

My book

The chapter I finished last night started off in my little black notebook, written in my nearly indecipherable coded language, known as Clint’s handwriting in cursive.  The older I get, the worse it becomes too.  Most of the time I can’t read it, which means that my ideas and secrets are safe if I ever lose the notebooks.  It also means that as I transcribe the writing to electronic format, I can’t read much of what is there either.  Fortunately, it’s more of a mnemonic trigger.  If I start transcribing and then the writing takes over, generally I cover whatever I had written in the notebook.  To my surprise, this even includes specific words and details I will later decipher from reading the notebook again, just to make sure I caught everything.  It’s almost as if the story is there, and I am just uncovering it and bringing it back into the light.

The little black notebook is the perfect bridge from the brain to digital.  It’s an analog tool that acts as a capacitor of sorts, slowing down the impossible speed and clarity of the mind to something the computer can deal with.

Last night was a tricky piece involving a Rashomon method, where I tell the story one way and then from another character’s POV it is something else entirely.  I’m hoping I can pull it off.  It was a lot of fun to write.  I think it also worked well with the pacing, and rather than breadcrumb the reader into the big reveal moments, which are already highly telegraphed, I can just drop them in the middle of it, and they can enjoy the ride.  I think that will free up the story much better, rather than put all these Agatha Christie-esque A-HA! moments into the book.  This is only the first draft, so anything is still possible.

I have waffled on word counts.  Like many of my writer friends, I used to use them as a measure of progress.  I still keep an eye on them as a way to feel satisfied.  Anything under 800 words, and I feel lazy. So I try to increase that whenever I can.  But the numbers are arbitrary.  Yesterday, combined with the blogs, this blog, and the chapter, I probably wrote around 5,000 words.  Around ten years ago, I could write a 10,000 word short story in one day, then spend the next two weeks whittling it down to publishable size.

The word counts mean something, since they can show that I am just phoning it in and could be pushing myself further.  Much like the steps we count to stay in shape.  The important thing for me to get into the habit of is pushing myself until the words stop working, until I hit the point of exhaustion. That could be 500 words. Or it could be 10,000.  Right now, about an hour and a half is what I am back up to.  I’m letting the story tell me when it is done with me.

This morning in the shower, the story tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me it was still there.  It’s some changes to the chapter from last night.  Sometimes it would be nice to have a little privacy. Scared the hell out of me!