Tag Archives: writing process

Counting Words

13 Oct
Mm hm.

Mm hm.

I have written a lot of words. That reads a little funny when I write it – I imagine it would sound funny if I said it aloud – but it is accurate. It would be interesting if I could have a magical, floating counter that told me what my lifetime word count was, at any given moment. I can almost picture it, at the edge of my vision, the manual dials clicking up as I type these words. What would the count be? If it included everything, starting from the first time I scrawled my name on the kitchen wall with a greasy crayon? I cannot conceive of it. In the sixth grade alone, I probably wrote more than in the next ten years combined.

Somehow, I don’t think it would be encouraging. It might have the opposite effect – after all, these particular words in front of me are special. They exist right now, as I create them, and put them together. If they aren’t special, does that just make them part of an indiscriminate mass? I suppose that it is the destiny of all our words, no? At some point in the future, everything you have written becomes just another statistic – another pile of characters, data, digits.

Uh oh. I think I may have dropped the existential soap again. Quick, gotta spin this away from the metaphorical abyss of navel-gazing doom…

So, I wrote a book. It’s a pretty big book too – at least, for me it’s big. It weighs in right about one hundred and ten thousand words. Since I was aiming for around ninety thousand (give or take), I’m pretty damn happy. If even ten percent of it needs to get cropped, the book is still in the proper range. Which is a funny way of looking at it.

We don’t talk about most other art this way, do we? Do you know how small the Mona Lisa is? Or how big your God’s finger is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Does anybody really measure the success of statue on how many tons it might be? It strikes me as peculiar that stories are counted, and measured, and judged on their length and girth.

The Stranger is a powerful piece of literature, and no less daunting to read just because it is (relatively) short. On the other hand, Infinite Jest is so dense and impenetrable that it would still feel thick if it were one-tenth the page count. I fundamentally don’t believe the size of a piece will determine its quality or efficacy in delivering a story. More pages equal more words, and more words equal a larger canvas to tell your story. And often, the stories don’t need that much room to move. Maybe I’m blind, or too narrow in my focus, but that is how I see it.

Of course, there is the commercial aspect. And some would say it is all-important. Who cares what your story is, if there’s no one there to read it, right? And to a large extent, that is true. For me, these words – just over a hundred thousand of them – represent my latest obsession. I still can’t think about it in those terms. I still have to cool off, let myself decompress, gain just a little bit of editorial distance. Otherwise, it may just end up another set of meaningless numbers – an anonymous jumble of funny shapes in a file somewhere.

Many years ago – when I first decided to be a ‘writer’ – a friend asked me if I was going to work on a novel. I replied something to the effect of, “I don’t hate myself that much.” Well, I’ve written a couple of novels now. And precious few of my words have ever seen the light of day. I wonder what that says about me and my precious words?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How Do I Write? A Writing Process Blog

19 May
Exercise caution.

Exercise caution.

 

My amazing and multi-talented friend A.J. Ash – a comrade in literary arms – told me about this idea a few weeks ago. She mentioned that it was a cool exercise and hoped that maybe I could take a turn as well. I was intrigued and have read a few really cool entries out there in the wilds of the internet. However, being *ME*, I have done exactly zero preparation for this. No warm ups, outlining, booze, or drugs. I’ve sacrificed two chickens to nameless deities, but they were scrawny (the chickens, I mean). I want this to be a raw, genuine, and spontaneous expedition into the recesses of my writerly craft. And I’m going in dry. Uh, so to speak.

 

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What are you working on at the moment?

Wife: “How’s the book coming along?”

Me: “Pretty good, actually. I figured out how to work in the flashbacks, finally.”

Wife: “Oh, good.”

Me: “Yeah, it works as a parallel narrative. And it pushes the characters towards the inevitable doom at the end of the story.”

Wife: “Doom? I didn’t realize it had a ‘doom-y’ ending.”

Me: “What? Are you kidding? There’s the whole terrible Cthulhu-baby being born, and the cocaine-fueled evil doctor, and the bomb, and – ya know? The weird sex/religion/crime/drugs metaphor?”

Wife: “Uh, what story is this?”

Me: “The crime/horror thingy. With the drugs and the mob and the monster. Wait. What did you think I was talking about?”

Wife: “Mm, the other one? What happens after the alien invasion? I’m sorry.”

Me: (pause) “Oh yeah.” (whispers) “I was working on a totally different book.”

Wife: “But I think it’s GREAT that you’re working on that one. I like that one too.”

Me: (crying) “Good. That’s… good?”

Wife: “You are very silly.”

 

 

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

I’m an autodidactic sort of guy. There have been attempts at formal education in my life, but they never really stuck. I’m not bragging. So many times I’ve had an “Aha!” moment that I later realized was something that my Freshmen English teacher tried to beat into my brain. I wasn’t ready, I guess. My brain needed to warm up to the idea – apparently for a long, long time.

 

I tend to lean towards the weird, the absurd, and the surreal. A quick survey of my work might lead you to think I favor science fiction, but the truth is that I don’t like to stick to genre conventions. This makes me miserable at times, because I often feel like I need more structure in my work. Does it make me different from others? Oh man, I don’t even know. Yes. The answer to “How does my work differ from others in my genre?” is YES.

 

 

Why do I write what I do?

I’m chasing a feeling that I can’t name. I want to hunt the ineffable. I want to track down and corner the ineffable. And when I do, I’m gonna eff it, man. No. Well, kinda. It’s like the construction of joke telling. There’s a funny idea, that I can’t put my finger on. I look at it and I backtrack. I ask myself, “What do you have to do to make this the logical outcome?” Take a series of these ‘writing prompt’ ideas and stretch them out – sprinkled over a novel, say – and I end up goals to hit. I’m making up riddles or cyphers and trying to untangle it all. Why do I do that? I can’t NOT do it. That’s all I can say.

 

 

How does my writing process work?

When I sit down to do the actual work of writing, I fumble around a lot. I try out different places to write and different things to write on. Sometimes I can write in my house, but often I have to escape to somewhere else. There is always a struggle to pick the right balance of resources and comfort. But I did discover a neat pattern that I fall back to, again and again.

 

I start by typing up pages on my Olympia portable typewriter. To the best of my ability, I have already visualized the part I’m writing, so I just hammer it out as quick as I can manage. When I’m done I have a small stack of pages to do the next step.

 

The next time I sit down to work, I fire up my computer and transcribe the original into a Word document. This lets me make changes and edits “on the fly” – without going into full editorial mode. I rearrange paragraphs, delete sections, pad out dialogue or action scenes, and generally just improve it as I go.

 

After I have the pages typed into the computer, I shut it down. I feed paper into the typewriter and start where I left off. By typing it up first – but knowing that I’ll be editing “on the fly” I can shut up my internal editor. It allows me a little breathing room to get the ideas on paper. When I type it up on the computer I allow myself the chance to edit a bit and really think about what I’m doing. And by the time I go back to writing, the work is fresh in my mind. It really does wonders for my craft too. I feel like it makes me a better writer on the first draft.

 

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And that’s about all for that. What a good load of fun that was. It was a bit like pulling a rotten tooth I didn’t know I had, from a mouth that has been kept secret from me. It’s a relief, but also a surprise, and kind of alarming. Would I want to do it again? Oh man, I don’t even know how to answer that. I suppose weeping, wailing, and fleeing into the night is an appropriate answer. Yeah, let’s do that.

 

Oh, since I’m supposed to ‘tag’ other writers with this thing I will. But since I’m a disagreeable and contrary person I will only ‘tag’ dead authors. So get ready for James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, and Paul McCartney to rock your world. Or, hell, I don’t know… Maybe Umberto Eco, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis would work? If I had to pick living authors, that is. (Damn, I’m not very good at this.)