Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Education of Julius Goat

A brief warning: Unless you are actually interested in my writing process, this is going to be as dull as fifty bad beat stories. Razz bad beat stories. Feel free to seek distraction elsewhere.

If you're still with me, then thanks for your interest. I will be your best friend as this whole world, as my older daughters would say.

I've been at this novel thing for about four months solid now, and at the beginning of this month, I actually started writing it. I think I've already mentioned in this space that there was so much inventory to take, and so many choices about what to keep in, what to leave out, what new directions to discover, and all the difficult work of actually crafting a story, that it took me through the better part of three months. It was fun and excruciating. It made all my hair fall out and then grow back in again. My eyebrows still have not returned, and were last seen on safari somewhere west of Nairobi.

Pretty much twice a weekend, I sit down at my desk, call up a jazz/classical playlist, pour a fine beer, and try to fall into that old groove. If I do a good job, I look over three or four hours later and the beer is only half drunk. If I'm procrastinating, I open a second beer.

There have been more two beer nights than half beer nights, sad to say. I am easily distracted. But I'm getting better, and closer, as I clear the debris out of my writin' groove and write fiction regularly for the first time in eight years.

Here's what I'm learning.

The Internets are a writer's greatest friend. The other day I found myself unexpectedly having to know more than I currently do about bowling balls. For example, what are they made of? In the past, this would have required work, and, let's face it, work is for total losers. Now? The answer is at my fingertips. I am probably the poker blogger who knows the most about how bowling balls are made.

The Internets are a writer's worst enemy. You do realize that, instead of writing, I can play poker, right? Like, whenever I want? Or I can read blogs, as many blogs as I want. Or I can fire up the IM and see who's around for a chat. Or I can play one of the 100,000 free Flash Games that are available. I mean, sure, one could write what one hopes is an engaging and meaningful novel . . . but how far can you make the Yeti smack the penguin this time? Put it this way: While I was writing this very paragraph, I checked my bloglines.

Have a framework and stick to it. Whenever I write a blog post or a short story, or pretty much anything, I just start with a general idea and then let it rip. After a quick read-through and polish, it's done. That's worked OK for me, but what became clear from my first abortive attempt at Subject to Infinite Change was that this method just wasn't going to hack it. I'd make things up as I went along, but when I went back to read it again, I found that either characters were acting on motivations that hadn't been properly explained (or even hastily sketched out), and that plot points were just popping out of nowhere in highly contrived fashion. Why, I could have written for Heroes! To have cut out the parts of the story that aren't story, and made firm decisions about what parts are, and how they are supposed to roll out, is freeing beyond words. Long fiction demands this kind of scrutiny; you just can't fake it. Or, at least, I can't.

Do not stick to the framework. Having said that, I've discovered that the freeway to dull, pedantic writing is to just take the plot and write it, or just take the themes and put them in your character's mouth. You have to start around the edges, make the reader see something very vividly, move them into the moment, before you can get the action going. If your narrative is nothing more than Character did Thing and then Thing and then Thing, you may as well be posting hand histories. Good writing comes in through the side door.

Writing is like poker. Once you have the framework, it's just a case of keeping your eye right in front of you. You aren't writing yesterday's pages, or tomorrow's. You aren't done, and you never will be unless you make the next sentence an interesting and useful sentence. And then the next. And then the next. Word by word, sentence by sentence, your choices need to be good and unpredictable.

Writing is nothing at all like poker. No cards. Duh.


Riggstad said...

Suiluj University

Liberal Arts

Course Work: How to write (a novel)

Class 305: Instructor: A. Goat

course load: M,W,F 10am-12pm

Learn to write fiction and non-fiction in a structured way to be able to present your ideas in a marketable, consumable book format

Prerequisite classes:


Discipline 101: How to stop screwing off

Combatting Apathy 212: Focusing on your important goals.
This course will highlight the distractions and obstacles that distract you from the important projects that you have identified as life changing events.

The course will consist of hours of playing on line games in an attempt to bore the hell out of you.

pokerpeaker said...

ONe thing that always helps me when I"m in a writing funk is to watch a really, really great movie. THe imagery, the "writing," and the overall feel of it inspires me to get off my ass and starting scribbling. Good luck. I"m thinking of you during this exciting process.

SilverVW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
1Queens Up1 said...

Hey, how can you put down razz bad beats like that?

I would rather listen to a story that starts out " I completed with A-2-3, 3 showing, and this azzhat with a K showing calls!" more so than: "So I raised 3x the BB with A-A and this idiot with K-10o called!" anyday!