30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 30: An Ending and a Beginning

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.30.14Where I Wrote: The Table Tennis Subway Plaza at the top of the lifts at the 190th St. station on the A line.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: It was genuinely good work that put me at ease about the rest of the book.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Weirdly unfazed. Unmoved is probably a better way to say it. It was a mood that led to a strange ride home on this final day of NaNoWriMo.

The Experience: I woke up to find that it was nearly 50 degrees. Excellent. That meant I could forgo an indoor location for this last 30 Days outting.

I decided in favor of a good view.

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This is the Subway Plaza on Fort Washington Ave., directly before reaching Fort Tryon, a place I found on my return to the Cloisters at the very beginning of this last week of NaNoWriMo.

The view of Inwood and Fort George wasn’t amazing here today–not like it was at the beginning of the week–but it was scenic enough to be pleasant and boring enough to make work easy. Not as grand as Linden Terrace inside of Fort Tryon (my second spot from Day 24, overlooking the Hudson), but thus perfect for focusing on work. Particularly convenient with New Leaf offering public restrooms a short walk north (around the back and through a door that looks locked but absolutely isn’t [meaning you don’t have to buy a generic small coffee that turns out to be $4 and change]).

Here, I ironed out more of the kinks with the endgame. To be honest, I didn’t realize there were still problems with my protagonists’ plan, but, after brainstorming way too much the past few days, last night and this morning saw really simple fixes popping into mind. Scenes that would only be possible if the set up for the endgame was like this… and hey, wouldn’t you know it, that works perfectly. I spent a good while at the plaza, working and making those fixes until the weather turned and I realized that the Subway Plaza was in the adjacent buildings’ shadow for the last few hours of the day (making it yet another spot that would be better in summer). I packed up and headed home.

And had a bizarre train ride. I wasn’t sure why exactly, but something bothered me about the day.

Broken down to my simplest reaction to it, I was disappointed. Somehow, I expected everything to fit into place at this point. I’m fine with not finishing the book on NaNoWriMo’s deadline… but I thought the last day of 30 Days would be more spectacular in some way. I saw the weather and perhaps thought that it would be sunny and beautiful–that I’d be able to tell a final, good story.

But there was nothing. And as I rode back home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d missed some opportunity. That I’d gotten the bad ending. Which led me to the strange thought…

Well, I guess there’s next year.

Next year… to have a perfect outting? As if… I couldn’t just keep going out this year? As if I now had to return home and turn sedentary again? As if life was a video game or a meticulously composed plot? As if I’d lost anything at all?

As if I’d learned nothing from 30 Days of NaNoWriMo?

No. No, I won’t do it. Fuck you.

Because this is how life works. Life is all about throwing the curve balls at you. 30 Days has ultimately been about me repeatedly dealing with, learning from, and avoiding those curve balls. I knew that–I have for a long while now. Just like I know that the one major lesson of 30 Days is to…

Just… keep… working. To not give up. To not surrender to distractions. To not give in to the reflex to walk away from a story. To not wait for writer’s block to go away, but to keep hammering at it until it yields. To never let a piece of your work cool for so long that it turns dun and lukewarm in the open air. To not give up–ever.

And, for me, personally, to never ignore what I want and never lose faith in what I can do.

Because Memory is a chapter from being finished. I lost NaNoWriMo. Okay. I’m fine with that.

But I won myself back. For the first time in years, I finally feel like myself again and not the horribly depressed person that the last 3 years of circumstance made me.

So, this is my grand ending. I will end 30 Days with this 30th day, because I don’t want to prolong it. I don’t want to drag it out.

And because I know that regardless of challenges and deadlines and every other curve ball the world throws at me, I will finish Memory in the next few days. Nothing could stop me from doing so. I will post when I do and then take a short hiatus to handle a ton of things I need to do for myself.

Until then, thank you to everyone who’s read. Tons of thanks especially to those who Liked and Followed during the month, but also, of course, thanks to anyone who stopped here, whether you’ve come back or not; even if you never read this, thank you.

And to any writer who’s had a remotely similar experience to mine–who’s struggled like I’ve struggled–never give up. Never wait on your ideas. Never smother them with lethargy. Never write for anyone other than yourself.

But most of all, never add qualifiers. Never strictly regiment what you write. Never set standards that will break you if you don’t meet them.

Instead, just write. Don’t wait for a particular month. Don’t wait for a particular mood. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect because it never will. Write often. Write from the heart. Write in places that you love and places where you’ve never been. Write until it’s a strange addiction that you find you’re suddenly terrified to lose.

Write until it feels like maybe it’s unhealthy. And at that point, do not stop.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 26: The Prep Session

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.26.14Where I Wrote: The New York Public Library in Bryant Park. In case that means nothing to you (it sounds so bland), it’s the flagship of the NYPL system–the striking Beaux Arts building with the two stone lions out in front, just a short walk from Times Square.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Excited!

The Experience: After the insane success of yesterday (and its negligible degree of total failure), I was really excited to get back out there today.

As will probably be the standard with the rest of NaNoWriMo, I brokered no bullshit with my choice of a writing spot. In fact, as it was hailing outside (which I guess is what you’d call today’s soft, thick, slushy snow drops that pattered to the streets with the rain’s exact rhythm and tempo) I brokered no bullshit so hard that I did it twice; the first time, I chose the most straight forward and definitely open and comfortable of the spots I have left. And then, when I got to 42nd St. on the way there, I super brokered no bullshit by bailing on that spot in favor of the NY Public Library at Bryant Park.

The weird thing is, I’d never actually been to that library; in the weird way of many New Yorkers, its a giant, impressive landmark I’ve walked past many, many times without really even looking at it.

But, if I learned anything from the NYPL at Lincoln Center, it’s that big Manhattan libraries are always amazing for writing. You go in. You find a seat among other people who came into a library, of all places, in the heart of Manhattan. You all sit there, mutually agreeing to leave each other alone and make as little noise as possible. Always good.

I was instantly thrown by how amazing the library is though. I’ve become acutely aware of how easily I’m impressed by certain architectural feats and landscapes. I’m definitely aware that I go into full Lame Dad mode when I see a weird-looking building (“Wow, kids! Wouldja look at that building? What an adventure, huh?”). And, really, I’ll own that–I am a nerd who loves architecture and landscapes like he loves earth sciences and D&D. Fuck it. You got me.

But all of that is to just set up that holy shit have you been to the library in Bryant Park? My… God that place is amazing. I feel bad not capitalizing “library” when I write about it. I mean… I walked through its revolving doors and found that the elaborate stone work that was outside… was also inside–everywhere inside.

I refuse to try to put it all into detail or this post will just be way too long. Instead, I’ll explain it with a single emotion: it felt strange to be there because it felt like I was in a foreign country, standing in an ancient building that’s still in use. Of course, that’s what the Library pretty much is, but if you’re a New Yorker, you’ll understand how rare that feeling is because you’re so used to flat cement and hastily-painted ply wood.

I found that the main reading room was closed unfortunately, but thankfully, shenanigans did not escalate.

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I found this reading room on the second floor, which afforded the same experience as the reading room I used in the library at Lincoln Center (although thankfully without the exhaustion). I sat down and got to work reading and editing everything from my late addition to the middle of the book to the start of its endgame (a personal term for a great, exciting third act).

And I was glad to find all of it good and enjoyable, but not perfect (as odd as it sounds, I would’ve been put off if it was all perfect). There was some solid editing that needed to be done and, of course, small additions to tie my new second act to the rest of the novel. The editing session was not without its bumps. It honestly took hours.

But I did finish editing the rest of what I’ve already written. And I added a small scene–a brief check-in with the villain that helps establish the endgame more firmly.

When I finished that scene, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was glad to add something new–glad that yesterday’s love for writing persisted today without effort. I had to stop myself from adding more, certain that I needed to get back into the mood of the conclusion first.

And now, a train ride of brainstorming later, I’m excited for tomorrow–the beginning of the endgame. The fourth-to-last day of NaNoWriMo. #BringItAlready #AirHorns

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 15: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.15.14Where I Wrote: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good. It’s not perfect (as I was packing up my tablet, I thought of an addition I had to make). I honestly might cheat a bit tonight and add a handful of tweaks to the major dialogue exchange in today’s scene, but, overall, that scene achieved a few things I was hoping it would (and a few others I wasn’t expecting). It was a really emotional day for my characters and, although it was a struggle to realize that at first, I eventually got it to shine through naturally.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: It being an emotional day for them made it extra weird that I was insanely exhausted today. I do not know why; I woke up tired, rallied for Isaac (because, ya know, a man needs energy to fail a few Rebirth runs, I guess) and then passed on coffee I didn’t think I actually needed on the way to my spot. Turns out, yes. Yes, I really actually needed that coffee.

The Experience: I did not take pictures of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. There were many people there, but I probably should’ve gone for it regardless–snapped a picture of the exterior at least. I probably should have bothered.

But today… was not the day for bothering.

I had no trouble getting out of the house. I had no problem hopping on my train. I had no issue landing a seat on said train and enjoying more Clariel for most of my ride.

No, the problem began near the end of my commute, when I genuinely started to nod off while reading.

Empirical Fact #1: It was not Clariel.

Empirical Fact #2: Today was one of those weird days when I woke up to find that the bags under my eyes actually black. I know other people must experience this too, but my first bout of life this morning was a trip to the bathroom, a distracted observation at the mirror that I looked like a raccoon, and a prompt return to sleep.

Empirical Fact #3: When I got outside, I found that my left leg hurt. Weird. My left leg never hurts–it’s my right leg that sucks. I believe I actually thought, Huh. It’s almost I’m over-exerting myself or something, but that’s silly.

Empirical Fact #4: I had coffee before leaving. So… why even with the exhaustion?

I convinced myself I didn’t need coffee because of that final fact and proceeded to ignore the second and third… And the fact that I’d slept maybe five or so hours in total after last night’s work marathon. Five hours. Not bad when you’re sedentary.

Horrible when you get outside every day.

I wish my brain had not been an unfocused blob today. I wish that I wasn’t so wasted that I actually turned on wi-fi and checked Kotaku for a few minutes in the middle of my writing session.

I wish especially that I’d had the energy to explore more of the Performing Arts Library, which I’d only been to once, years ago–so many years ago that it seemed like a completely different place. I wound up heading right up to the second floor–which I think I saw the first time (please forgive–still tired)–but where I expected to find generic library cubicles, I instead found a sleek, glass encased sitting room with massive tables and chairs that were so comfortable that they definitely didn’t help with the exhaustion. I’m absolutely sure there are other great spots in that library (and as it’s absolutely free in a beautiful location with outdoor seating and coffee shops galore, I’ll absolutely be back to find them).

But today, I just clung to the one reading room for dear life–satisfied that it was literally the first thing I saw after riding an elevator up to the second floor. Particularly unwilling to migrate when I found bathrooms directly next to the elevator I’d just stepped off of. I found the chair farthest from everyone else, sat down, started writing.

And hit a block. I honestly wasn’t falling asleep (it wasn’t that bad), but it was insanely hard to work out any details for any part of my story. Everything I clumsily smacked onto my keyboard was vague and simplistic. I knew that today would be a little tough–I knew I hadn’t plotted out every detail, leaving myself some decisions to make this session–but making those decisions was like pulling teeth. I was checking my progress after 300 words. And then I was online, actually reading articles and other blog posts. I was contemplating having another sub-1000 day.

But then I actually got a little annoyed at myself. You can do it. You’re just not doing it, I actually told myself. I took a deep breath and sighed a sigh that was dangerously close to being a whiney “Fine-uh!” sigh.

But it was an, “Alright. Let’s kick this pig,” sigh.

I buckled down; reread the last two days’ work; spotted small tweaks that needed to be made; made them; kept reading; discovered that, with today’s exhaustion, I’d missed an emotional beat for my protagonist that really needed some seeding in yesterday’s work. I went back. Added. Ironed. Straightened. Got to new content and rolled right into one of the first scenes I imagined for this story (a year or so ago, when it had a completely different conclusion). By the time I was done, I’d almost hit NaNoWriMo’s quota and definitely surpassed my own (which is hovering around 1000 words these days).

And, more important than anything else, I was up to a huge, emotional payoff that leads right into the conclusion–a fact that feels strange to me even now. Because just last night, I’d blinked and remembered that Memory of the Black Sun is a play off of Shadows of the Black Sun, the title of the very first, insanely generic Fantasy story I made up when I was… God… 13? 12? It was wildly different now–Memory isn’t even comparable to Shadows. The original was supposed to be a multi-part epic. Memory is shaping up to cap around 200 pages–a novella by Fantasy’s standards.

But now, suddenly, after a snap decision made 15 days ago, it’s almost done. On a whim. I easily could’ve pushed this story back another year while postponing my last edit of War of Exiles. But now, Memory’s almost done and, against all reason, I’ve actually started to get excited for the edit of Exiles. Outside, I spot reminders of it and its unwritten sequels and my breath catches because I know I’ll be back in that world soon. I’d been terrified of a focused, straight week of editing, done quick so that I could keep all of the plot threads together instead of procrastinating and losing track. But now, that editing week feels more and more like it’s going to be child’s play; silly to fret over–sillier to silence my world for.

There’s something intimidating in that determination. Something scary because it’s so wildly different. NaNoWriMo’s going to end and I’m not going to be able to stop. And that terrifies me.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 12: Too Perfect–Must Take Picture

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.12.14Where I Seriously Barely Wrote: The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Honestly, kinda meh. I will get it out there right off the bat that I’m not upset about how little I wrote. I am sure though that what I did write needs to be cut down a bit; it was the product of me not having prepared enough, getting to the day’s writing spot, and then being way, way too distracted to work out what came next in the plot.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Now that I think about it (and laugh), I was actually just excited to go to the Botanical Gardens. Little preview of how today’s session went, right there.

The Experience: Turns out some writing spots… are too goddamn good to be writing spots.

In case you don’t know, photography is one of my hobbies. Thanks to a friend from a few years back, I got into it a bit more than the average person–there are tripods involved. Tripods balanced by the fact that my camera absolutely requires tripods to get anything decent (it’s definitely old and falling apart).

I recessed from photography though; pulling away from it was part of a kind of hobby purge I performed earlier in the year when I realized that my desire to be really good at a handful of things was actually detracting from the one talent I was best at. It’s something I still stand behind–I don’t take pictures or do design work on Photoshop or devote my time to online multiplayer in a variety of FPS’s because those aren’t the things I want to be the best at. I’m not a logo designer–I could be, but it’s not what I already am. I’m not a pro gamer although I might hit that distinction if I dropped way too much time into gaming. I’m also not a photographer even though I really like taking pictures.

I’m a writer. I always have been. And, earlier in the year, I realized it was silly and self-defeating to try to be everything but.

That said, I learned a really, really valuable lesson today. My need to take pictures of things can absolutely outweigh my need to write.

When I rolled out of bed today, I was excited to visit the Botanical Gardens because, having been there recently, I knew it would be an awesome place to write. Not a mistake–it definitely is. If you’ve never been, there are benches everywhere here–in a place designed to be quiet, relaxing, and beautiful. And, although I’m sure it’s busier in the summer, it is the one place in New York that never feels crowded–there are only other patrons here to relax or employees who are almost strangely nice. No, coming to the Botanical Gardens to write could never possibly be a mistake.

The mistake was thinking, “I’ll bring my actual camera so I can take nice pictures for once instead of shaky, quick snapshots on my tablet.”

When I got to the Botanical Gardens, it was overcast. I thought it was going to rain, meaning that I went straight for the spot I remembered from my last visit–a handful of canopied benches in the Native Plant Garden, not too far from the Visitor Center. I got there, whipped out my camera, set up my tripod, got a few simple, kind of ugly, overcast shots to post here.

Only, No–there are better shots here, I found myself thinking. I looked for them, lining up the Native Plant Garden’s small river and waterfall with its benches and paths. I tried several spots, knowing there was a decent angle somewhere, getting a few pics that I were just alright.

And then it sank in–time had passed. A lot of time. At least a half hour, sunk directly into trying to find a good shot to use for this site. Alright. Alright. Time to write now, I told myself. I got out a portion of a scene, remembered that it wasn’t where Chapter 4 was supposed to start, backpedaled and started the scene I forgot because I was so distracted.

And then a strong breeze came through and blew leaves off of the trees around me in a large, perfect wave.

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Well, it certainly sucks that I missed that first wave of leaves. That was the shot, but at least I got a few that were dramatic. Should probably leave my camera out just in case. I went back to writing.

And then the sky opened up.

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Well, I mean, come on. I couldn’t not take these pictures. The lighting is too perfect. I sat down again, trying to focus on where I was in the story.

And then, another breeze. I wound up sitting with my tablet on my lap and hand on my camera–standing next to me–staring at the trees, repeatedly turning the camera to different angles, and taking way too many pictures.

It got to the point that I realized I had to find some place less photogenic or I wouldn’t get any writing done. I packed up by sheer will (I seriously, honestly had to push myself to leave), and wound up back at the Visitor Center, just inside of the Conservatory Gate.

Even if the Botanical Gardens was just the Visitor Center, it would still be a haven for writers; there’s a lot of outdoor seating, rest rooms, a small cafe that sells obnoxiously-priced coffee and not-so-obnoxiously-priced hot chocolate (maybe I’m biased, but it was $2.50–far, far better than City Bakery’s $7.00). In that cafe (I think it was called the Pine Tree Cafe), I finished up the scene I’d been working on, trying and failing to keep it concise.

Failing because I realized I hadn’t even brainstormed this morning–I’d just charged my camera and commuted to the Botanical Gardens, only thinking of taking pictures of everything. In my last moments of writing, I let the scene run on because… “It’s better than nothing?” I stood at my table in the cafe, stared at my tablet, arms crossed… and then finally shrugged. “Yep. Got nothing.”

In contrast to the last time I barely got any words out though, I wasn’t upset; I laughed about it here. Because it was such a lesson. Dropping those other hobbies doesn’t mean they won’t nag at you. The obvious example is the way I will definitely consider playing whatever multiplayer game if I’m home. The need to pull myself out of that environment isn’t key, but it’s wound up making writing so much easier during NaNoWriMo that it’s insane. When I’m writing outside, I don’t drop what I’m writing to play Slayer or Skirmish because I can’t.

But, other hobbies can totally, obviously encroach on writing if you unwittingly choose a spot that has everything to do with them. Am I saying not to try the Botanical Gardens? Of course not; it’s amazing. And it’s free on Wednesdays.

But if you’re also a photographer, visiting in the Fall–of all times–maybe don’t bring your camera.

Or maybe do–for a preliminary visit–to try to get it all out of your system. And to pick a nice spot for next time.

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Brand New Day – Week 15 – You Don’t Look Back

I was sitting at an old friend’s house. She (let’s call her Claire), like a lot of other friends, moved abroad last year, but she stopped by for the holidays to see family and friends.

So I was glad to get an invite from her; not to be dramatic, but via a bunch of different events, I lost nearly all of my social ties last year. I’m glad that very few of them were seriously bad breaks, but it’s still hard to have your entire social network disappear in the course of a few months. In a way, it’s easier to deal with someone who up and stops calling. Or someone who suddenly decides that they don’t want to hear from you anymore—at least at those times, you can be sure (if it’s true) that they’re the assholes in the situation. Having your best friends all move abroad though? Seeing a lot of them get engaged and move out of the state? Having some move across the country? Or into a new job that demands all of their time? And all at the same time while you try to break ground on an endeavor that requires you to be completely alone nearly all of the time? Somehow, it’s worse. You can text, you can meet them online, but that’s it.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. So, I’m sitting there, and I’m glad to be there. But it’s a surreal experience. Claire’s little sister is there, who had been a little kid the last time I’d seen her. But she was a teen now, complete with Uggs and a smart phone she never put down.

To boot, another of Claire’s friends was there. I introduced myself to her and Claire jumped in with, “Don’t you guys know each other?”

And then I realized we did. We’d met…

Back in 2002? Downstairs, in Claire’s basement, where we and other friends at the time were playing D&D. This friend (let’s call her… Megan?) came over for some reason, and for a reason that I didn’t understand at the time, Claire invited her in to watch us play D&D. Now, adding fuel to the obvious, raging awkwardness of the moment, Megan was (and still is) extremely attractive. So much so that my reaction at the time was to stop talking. No, people, I was not, in any way, a lady’s man. These days, I definitely get by, but I’d still be extremely uncomfortable starting a conversation with a beautiful woman who walks in during a D&D session. I’d like to think most people would be, because, hey, aside from being caught murdering someone, I’m not sure there’s less of a turnoff than being behind a 3.5 Player’s Handbook and a pile of dice when a woman first meets you.

But, hey, whatever, I thought. That was ages ago, and rightly so, because it was.

And that’s just the thing. It was ages ago. Everything is now.

More than any other time in my life, the past few months have been the most extreme hard reset I’ve ever experienced.

  • I’d say 80% of my best friends moved far enough away that I couldn’t just hop on a train and see them.
  • Of the remaining 20%, I’ve only been able to stay in touch with about 15% (that’s the thing about having exes you’re still attracted to as friends [especially at a time when you’re always depressed about being alone and every else has moved on]).
  • I lost my job because Borders went out of business. So not only did I lose all of the acquaintances and social interaction that came with that job, I lost a stable source of income I could’ve used to have new social interactions.
  • And every single chance at romance that I thought I had quietly went away.

So all that’s left me with are the occasional hangouts with the extremely amazing 15% of my close friends who are still left (I can’t thank you guys enough), and… me.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Having this time alone has allowed me to take a serious, honest look at myself and my life—to change things that needed to change and figure out what I wanted from everything. And I’ve done so well enough that when Megan eventually brought up her engagement at Claire’s house, I smiled and congratulated her (perhaps moreso because a younger, shittier version of myself would’ve been jealous about it).

But it’s the only reward in a sea of silence and temperance. I had dinner with Claire, Megan, her mother and sister, and I smiled and listened to them talk about their lives, grateful that there weren’t questions about my own, aware the whole time that I’d be leaving soon to ride a bus back home—a trip I hadn’t made in years. Aware the entire time that everyone else was moving on and I wasn’t. Trying to reap confidence from the thought of the book, how well it was going, how I was still on schedule.

I gave Claire a goodbye huge around 9 PM. She had to get up early to catch a plane back to Florida. I don’t remember the exact farewell I gave her, but I remember walking away.

Away from the memory of the summer job where I’d met Claire. Of parties we’d gone to and experiences we’d shared as buddies with her other friends. Of my other friends, completely unrelated, and the days when I’d always had a set hangout day with them. Of old jobs and old acquaintances who were simply gone now. Of hands I would never hold again and the almost unfamiliar curve of long gone lips.

I didn’t look back. Because you don’t look back at things you know won’t ever return. You just walk on and try your best. Keep on the unfamiliar trail, no matter how difficult it is, and hope that you find something worthwhile at its end.

Brand New Day – Week 13 – Things Unsaid

Last night, I decided to delete a chapter and a new character from the book.

Don’t freak out! Doing this hasn’t set me back at all. To the contrary, getting rid of an entire chapter and a new character who wasn’t exactly helping is incredibly healthy. Particularly for a first time writer who intends to submit to agents with strict guidelines for manuscript length; part of the reason I’m rewriting War of Exiles in the first place is that the original version was over 100 pages too long.

That wasn’t the entire problem though; it was too long and there were so many unnecessary plot points that I didn’t know what to delete and what to leave in. It was like looking at a tower of bricks loosely stacked on a tangle of wooden chairs and being told that you had to pull out half the bricks and chairs without bringing down the tower. In contrast, deleting Chapter 4 when I’m only up to Chapter 7? Getting rid of Ozi entirely? Saving him for a short story? Completely worth it.

In retrospect, the inability to make this kind of cut is what left me with a 461 page, bricks-and-chairs-golem of a first novel. And to me, it’s one of the things that separates an amateur from a writer who really wants to improve—the ability to be your own worst critic. You can sit back and judge everything else until your face turns blue (which most amateur writers do all the time anyway), but until you can do the same thing with your own work, you’re just wasting your own time.

And this is true for every kind and level of writing; after being a college tutor for nigh on seven years, I can tell you that the major flaw of students is a very common inability to pass judgment on their own work or deal with it from others. The amount of times I’ve had students get impatient with me because they didn’t want to acknowledge a grammatical error as a mistake is absolutely uncanny.

But really, nearly everyone is guilty of this crime. No one wants to accept criticism, particularly because half of the writers out there, who all seem like worthy readers, are usually waiting to shit on your work so they can feel better about themselves; I’ve actually had a trusted writer chuckle as he dismissed a short sample—of my outline. I remember sending it to him and thinking, “Do I even need to add ‘it’s an outline and I’m sending it to you because I need real, constructive criticism, or else why the hell would I send it in the first place; this isn’t to show off at all—I need help, not a snap and a headroll?’ No. He’s a good writer. He’s actually going to help, not take this tiniest opportunity to be a shithead.”

Lesson learned? All writers are readers, but not all writers are good editors. And, also, some writers are such amateurs that they’re absolutely in love with passing judgment because it makes them feel special. More important lesson learned? I’ve been that asshole reader. And, to the person whose manuscript I read, I’m sorry you had to deal with me being a total amateur.

Getting back on topic though, an inability to proofread and copy edit is only the basest facet of the amateur writer’s folly. A more mature form is the inability to trim; despite what many people think, the important difference between “we will have been there ten times” and “we’ve gone ten times” isn’t the subtle nuance of tense that imparts a delicate nugget of specific meaning. No, the important difference here is that “we will have been there ten times” wastes the reader’s time and bores the crap out of them. In my experience, there has almost never been a time where a flowery phrase couldn’t be reworded and trimmed into something far more engaging.

Take something like, “Then, he pivoted to his left, took out his well-sharpened dagger, and lifted it up as he struck!” With something like this, the writer felt it was necessary to give you a lot of extra details. The subject didn’t just pivot, he “pivoted to his left”. His dagger was “well-sharpened”. He “lifted it” as he struck. Fine, but none of those details are necessary. Look at how much more engaging this simple edit is: “He pivoted, drew his dagger, and struck!” There’s no filler to dull down the intensity and slow the action. And all of that nonessential information should be provided by other means anyway; we should know from this character’s personality that his dagger is well-sharpened. We should know that he’s a skilled fighter who would know which way to pivot—and really, in a basic, human way can infer that he pivots in one direction anyway and it really shouldn’t matter which way he chooses regardless. It shouldn’t matter how he lifts his dagger either, for that matter. But sometimes, people fall in love with the very particular scenes and actions they have in mind. And the inability to let go of that, to make scenes simpler and more engaging—the inability to embrace the things unsaid—is the heart of the amateurs’ inability to edit themselves.

And somewhere further down the line, there’s the inability to remove whole chapters, characters, and their plot lines.

Now, am I saying I’m the most epic writer of all time? No. I’m just saying that I’m incredibly glad I cut out Chapter 4 and Ozi. I know I’ve got a long way to go to being an author, but I think I’m getting there.

Brand New Day – Week 9 – When the Night Comes

When I was young, I used to get upset when the night came. A better word would probably be “afraid,” but that implies that I was just scared of the dark (which I was, but it isn’t that simple). I used to be afraid that the day was ending and I didn’t do enough with it. It’s a weird thing for a kid to be afraid of and eventually, I did get over that whole thing.

But I felt it again the other day. In the same way a Summer wind can smell just like a friend’s old house in Ohio, or the way sunset on a hot day with a large fan in the window can inexplicably remind me of playing the original Resident Evil with my brother, sunset the other day brought the fear right back.

It was definitely diluted; the original feeling was really a childhood fear of death, which is super morbid and not where I was. The new and improved version of the fear was just time-based; I looked away from Skyrim, saw that the sun was going down and realized I’d only been awake for an hour. Sure, I would be up until the sun came back for a while allowing me more than enough time to get things done, but would I?

Suddenly, I realized all of the things I’d missed lately: parties I couldn’t make it to, hang-outs that I canceled, outings I kept putting off; all things that work on a normal schedule I’d managed to completely invert for myself by playing Skyrim until 6 or 7 AM—sometimes later.

And all of it, the staying home, the backwards sleep schedule, was part of a self-sustaining funk that resulted directly from the major writer’s block that hit me late last month. I’d been incredibly optimistic about completing the outline and possibly first draft for my book in six months. But then chapter 6 came and… well, I didn’t discover what writer’s block is like because I’ve definitely had it before, but I did get a refresher course without pesky things like work and hanging out to bring the instant gratification.

But seeing that I was losing the sun a few days ago made everything simple. The fear came back—a small worry at the back of my mind—and suddenly I felt guilty. Because I was letting young Louis down. I was letting myself fail—letting myself be defeated. Even after getting over the block, I was letting the funk beat me; time was passing and I’d been so lax with everything, from working out to writing. I remember looking back to Skyrim and realizing I’d already written a review for it; I didn’t need to keep playing it. Especially when there were a ton of other things I did need to start doing. For starters…

Step 1 – Sleep and wake up like a human being, not a mole man. √

Step 2 – Finally stop being afraid that your final take on chapter 6 is terrible, give it a once over, and move to chapter 7. √

Step 3 – Start working out again. √

Step 4 – Start writing down every story idea you have and working on short stories like you were supposed to so you can have something to fall back on in case writer’s block happens again. √

Step 5 – Finally update your own blog… √

Brand New Day – Week 1

Last week, on Wednesday, the 14th, I worked my last day at Borders. The rest of that week and the weekend that followed disappeared in a bunch of Borders closing parties (and the hang-overs that followed).

Yesterday, Monday, the 19th, was a brand new day. In short, it was the beginning of my gamble to finish rewriting my first fantasy novel, The War of Exiles, within the next six months. And it began with a few wake up texts from Ronin at Hot Mop Films, asking me what time I’d be in. And, no, it wasn’t that I’d forgotten—I just thought we’d discussed the projects they wanted to recruit me for enough through email (and I also didn’t expect to sleep in ’til 11a.m. [memories of waking up at 4 o’ clock in the morning for Borders shifts that started at 6 are already so distant]).

This, in all honesty, was not how I expected the first day of the rest of my professional life to start, but there are worse ways. The meeting got me up, got me working, and (probably more importantly than I’d like to imagine) got me outside. It was still a little annoying though—not because I’m not excited to work with Hot Mop again, but because I was planning to roll out of bed and get right to work on chapter four of WoE. But now the entire day’s flow was thrown off; I’d get home and someone would be on Xbox Live, or there’d be something to work on for Infinite Ammo. There’d be no time to—

Wait. No. To hell with that.

When I got home, I ate dinner, opened the outline for WoE, and worked from 7p.m. to 5a.m. (allowing for the short breaks that often plague writing [which I hope to siphon out in the next few weeks because, seriously, ten hours?]). Not the amount of work I was expecting, but the amount I had to do because I could (there were at least five more times when that same voice came back with things like, ‘Well, you don’t need to write this character’s bio right now. Leave it for tomorrow! You’ve been at it for like, 8 hours!’ and ‘You don’t need to figure out this cultural detail right now. There’s always tomorrow,’ but each time I fought down the arguments and just didn’t stop]).

Today is Tuesday, the 2oth. And a brand new day.

It started with a wake up text from Chaos Mechanica, asking what stories were ready to post on Infinite Ammo. I spent an hour or two editing two of them and making and assigning images to both. Now, I’m moving on to writing ideas and drafts for Hot Mop.

And I’m also doing “alpha bullets” for chapter five of WoE.

Because the outline for chapter four is finished.

And now, completely unlike Louis from last week, I know I can get it all done by tonight.

Because now, every day is just another, oddly busier work day than I ever knew at Borders. And I’m absolutely loving every second.