Refining My Reading

book-reading-words-flying-by-animated-gif

I’ve been putting a lot more books in my Did Not Finish pile on GoodReads lately, and to be honest, I’m not feeling too worried about it.  It’s not that the books are bad (though there have been a few), it’s more that they’re just not my thing.

I’ve found that for me, one of the most common reasons for not finishing a novel is that trying to get through it is a chore.  They’re either far too verbose, far too infodumpy, or just in a really irritating style.  There are also the Everything/Everyone Is Horrible novels that I really don’t have time for in my life right now.

When I was a teenager it used to irritate me that I would lose interest in a book.  Granted, a good handful of the assigned reading when I was in high school was dry as a bone (George Eliot’s Silas Marner remains one of my least favorite books for its desert-level dryness); others were Written to Make a Point (like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which dropped metaphors on you like Acme™ anvils).  Both are my least favorite styles of writing.  It actually put me off reading for entertainment for quite some time.

Yes, this, coming from a writer, right?  This is why I focused more on storytelling in different mediums, like comics, movies and television.  It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I figured it was time to actually read novels for entertainment again.  Once I got back into the swing of it, my personal library expanded exponentially.

Thing is, I found that I was trying to read everything, whether it was enjoyable or not.  There were very few books that I wrote off as DNF; I kept a hold of them for years, trying to read them again at a later time.

Nowadays I go by my book ownership rules:

  1. If I just bought it new, it needs to be read within the year.
  2. If I’ve bought it but haven’t started reading it in over a year, I push it to the top of my To Be Read queue.  If I don’t think I’ll get to it anytime soon, however, it goes to the donation pile.
  3. If I’ve owned it for ages and enjoyed it in the past but don’t think I’ll be reading it again, it goes in the donation pile.
  4. If I’ve gotten a quarter of the way in and it’s just not doing anything for me, or if it’s more irritating than enjoyable, it’s not worth finishing. [Note: This is not to say I toss books at the slightest irritation.  It takes a lot for me to give up on a book, so I give it a serious go before giving up.]

I donate the books to the Friends of the SF Public Library at their book store over in Fort Mason.  I’m totally fine with not making any money back, because these end up getting sold at their store or at their Big Honkin’ Book Sale they have a few times a year.  I might not have liked the book, but hey, someone else might!

I’ve found that sticking to these four rules works out really well, as it helps me get through my towering To Be Read pile quickly. Time’s too short to force myself through novels that are more of a chore than a joy.  Plus it leaves me more time to check out new writers!

My daily writing process, told in anime gifs

Trying to think through the scene I’m about to write:

anime-thinking-sasuke

What the inside of my head looks like at that very moment:

naruto screaming

What I probably look like at the same time when A. walks into Spare Oom to see what I’m up to:

anime blank eyes

When I suddenly decide maybe I need some brain food if I’m going to get anywhere:

spike spiegel eating

Post-snack, back to thinking about what I should be writing:

anime thinking smoke ears

SUDDENLY: An idea emerges!

fullmetal idea

And now I write.

umaru-kawaii

That moment when A. decides to come in and check up on me again:

anime blink blink

Kicking ass and banging that scene into shape:

anime ergo proxy

Getting into the groove and hitting a damn fine word count:

naruto killer bee

Almost forgetting to save my work. ALMOST.:

anime shocked

Realizing I’ve been working for an hour and a half straight with no break:

tired panda

Calling it a day, heading to bed:
anime-tired

Instinct

dareka no manazashi
Source: Dareka no Manazashi by Makoto Shinkai

Meanwhile, the Apartment Complex story is slowly — finally — taking shape.  I’m trying not to give away too much, for fear that it’ll blow up in my face once more, but I’m feeling a little more hopeful this time.

Instinct is something that doesn’t get talked about when we talk about writing, except maybe in a clinical sense.  We talk about rules that we follow and rules we break.  We talk about inspiration.  We talk about styles, processes, all kinds of things.  But we don’t always hear about the instinct of a writer.

For me, it’s a very large part of how I create a story, to know if it feels right to me.  It’s more than just looking at a rough, just-written passage and feeling the frustration of how horrible it reads.  It’s more than keeping to the notes of future plot points written on my index cards (or in my head).  It’s more than knowing if I’m following the rules, mine or others’.

Regarding the Apartment Complex story, my continued frustration with the previous versions was that instinct kept telling me: this is not the way the story is supposed to go.  It was telling me: this is not the story you want to tell.  The prose was weak and the plot was forced, sure.  But instinct kept telling me I was going in the wrong direction.

With many of my projects, it’s instinct that tells me whether a possible plot point is worth it or just filler.  This is how I edit my own work, to some degree.  During the Great Trilogy Revision, I relied on instinct almost exclusively; I knew the story inside and out, so I could tell what was weak and need to be excised.  There are numerous scenes — many of them in The Balance of Light — that were cut for precisely this reason.  It just didn’t feel right to me.  In the context of the rest of the story, if it felt like a weak point, or a useless ramble, out it went.  But I was also putting the trilogy in the context of an extremely long single novel; I had to rely on instinct that what I was editing and revising in Book 3 connected on a deeper level to the other two books, and the entire story as a whole.

It’s not a magical thing, instinct.  But it’s something I’ve relied upon quite a bit over the years with my writing.  I connect myself to my writing on a level where I try to understand its spirit, if that makes sense.  Or perhaps it’s like music, my other obsession.  I understand the melody and where it’s going, anticipating its flourishes and quietness, connecting with its tempo and its ambiance.  And I try to sculpt the story into what I hear within me, waiting to come out.

It definitely took me years to learn this, but it’s never let me down once I did.

Getting back on the horse

cat on horse
Yeah, I’m not sure, either.

After all the frustration of the last couple of weeks, I’m glad to say I’ve got my writing back under control.  I’m back to getting my daily practice words working on a rough draft of the next project, while spending my evening sessions working on attempt number four of the Apartment Complex story.  I’ve given that project a lot of thought over the last couple of days, figured out (I hope) what works and what didn’t, revised how I’m going to approach it, and I’m just going to go ahead and write the damn thing without any reservations.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered numerous false starts, and I know it won’t be the last.  That’s part and parcel of the writing biz, unfortunately.  All I can do is soldier on, one way or another.

Getting back on the horse can be frustrating in itself, especially when your brain wants you to be running full tilt from the beginning.  That rarely works out though.  Sometimes you just have to be patient and relearn the process to fit the kind of story you want to write.  Take it as it comes, and eventually you’ll suddenly notice you’re back up to your normal processing speed.

[Yeah, I know… I’m going a bit overboard with all the idioms in this post.  Sorry about that.]

ANYWAY!  The good thing about all of this is that I’m going in the right direction, and that’s the most important part.

TFW You Suddenly Realize You’re Where You Want to Be as a Writer

tom hanks
CAUTION: WRITER AT WORK

Earlier this week, just a day after I’d released Meet the Lidwells, I started thinking about a lot of different things related to the writing projects I had going on.  I was working out how to publicize the new book while also plugging my trilogy, reading over the chapters of the Apartment Complex story that I was going to read for FOGcon, playing around with my daily words (which are currently focused on In My Blue World), and the evening session words for AC.  All while hoping the Day Job wouldn’t cause any delays for everything else.  In other words, The Typical Day in the Life of a Writer.

What threw me was that I didn’t feel that moment of wondering if I would ever be a pro writer or if I was just going to continue faking it.

I actually had to stop and think about that for a moment.  I’ve been writing for over thirty years now.  Sure, most of that time was spent learning, hitting roadblocks and dead-ends, wasting time, getting stuck on the OK Plateau, and trying to figure out what the hell I had to do to make any of this work.  I’ve rarely had a crippling self-doubt about it, but I’ve certainly had my moments of wondering if this was as good as I was going to get, and that maybe I’d better focus more on a Day Job career.  I hated that feeling with a passion.

Self-publishing the trilogy turned that around; this proved I could achieve the goals I’d set for myself.  But what cemented it for me was the release of Meet the Lidwells; that’s when I’d proved to myself that the trilogy wasn’t a fluke or my One Shot at Greatness.  [The unexpected icing on the cake, I should add, was the multiple downloads of the Bridgetown Trilogy this past week, thanks to the Smashwords sale.  One or two downloads makes me happy; five or six a day all week long felt amazing.  I thank all of you new readers for that!!]

 

That feeling when you suddenly realize you’re exactly where you want to be as a writer, though?

That feels absolutely AMAZING.  It took forever to get here, but I’m glad I stayed with it.

On the Run

anime music listening

Oops!  I seem to have forgotten to prepare a post for today!  Sorry about that, and thanks for waiting!

We’ll be on vacation next week, and I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I should write posts or fly-bys.  I could easily write them tomorrow if need be, but at the same time I shouldn’t feel guilty if I post a fly-by instead.  Except that I do.  Writing can be like that.

As always, I spend a bit of vacation prep debating what writing-related things to bring with me.  Sometimes, like our recent Disney trip, I won’t touch it at all.  Other times, like our previous London trip, I’ll actually get work done.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’ve learned not to overpack like I used to.  I never bring my laptop anymore, though I might bring my tablet, especially when I want to do a bit of revision or reading of what I have so far.  For this trip, that’ll most likely be it, aside from the notebook and a few printouts for the Apartment Complex story.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this break.  It’s been an unexpectedly busy first quarter so far at the Day Job, which means continual and very annoying interruptions from my work by the client reps, asking when my work will be done.  Eesh.  I just want a week to not think about much of anything at all except the next time we head over to Rainbow for more loco moco or kalua pork.

Is it 4pm yet?

 

On Longevity and Starting Late

 

traveling wilburys
Edited picture courtesy of @nealbrennan on Twitter

Some of you may have seen the above picture courtesy of a tweet from comedian Neal Brennan that came with the accompanying text:

Was talking with friend about how impossibly old the Traveling Wilburys seemed when they released their music in 1988. I’ve listed their ages at the time. For some perspective, three of them are no longer alive. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

While his last comment does make a good point, I thought instead about where those artists were in their career at that point in 1988.

Bob Dylan, at 47: 25 studio albums, 4 live albums.
Jeff Lynne, at 41: 11 studio albums, half a soundtrack, and 1 live album under the ELO moniker
Tom Petty, at 37: 7 studio albums with the Heartbreakers
Roy Orbison, at 52: 23 studio albums and countless singles
George Harrison, at 45: 12 studio albums and numerous singles with the Beatles, 11 studio albums and 1 live album

At the time their “Handle with Care” single came out, all five had had careers since the 70s, a few since the 60s.  This was a sort of older-generation supergroup brought together for the fun of it, all five having worked with at least one other member in the past on solo work.

Now that I’ve hit Dylan’s listed age this year, the fact that my own output is limited to three self-published novels and an anthology entry probably should make me feel like I’ve been wasting all my time to get to this point.  But interestingly, I’m not.  I’ve already made peace with having started my professional writing career late.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really.  To be honest, it’s hard as fuck to write a novel, a good novel, a professional-level novel, all while dealing with Real Life, Day Jobs, Families, and Other Responsibilities.  Pretty much all five Wilburys started out their musical careers at a young age and went pro in their early twenties.  Not all of us are able to dedicate all that time.

At 47, I’m happy where I am.  I worked my ass off over the last three decades to learn the craft, make all the mistakes and be the best writer I can be.  I’m glad I took that route using a minimal number of projects rather than trying to write hundreds of stories that may not see the light of day.  It made me the kind of writer I am, and it helped me develop my personal style.

And now that I’m at this point, I can see a much clearer future, where I can face future projects and not feel as though I’m stabbing in the dark.  I know what I’m working towards.  And because of that, I’ve cut down on my turnaround time considerably.  I could conceivably release a book a year if I wanted.  [I’m quite sure I’ll have those seasons of writing an epic similar to the trilogy that’ll eat up a good couple of years, but I’m thinking those are going to be exception and not the rule.]

So yeah…I’m fine with being 47 and being right at the beginning of my career instead of somewhere in the middle of it.  It means I’ve got a lot more to look forward to.