A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 8: Regarding My Pretensions About Word Processors and My Unrequited Love Affair With The Alphasmart Neo

The words pretentious and writer seem to go together quite a bit. The first word is often used to describe people who title themselves to be the second word. That’s probably not a surprise, considering that many consider writing as an intellectual exercise (which it is to a point) and something that only an elite few ever do, much less do well.

f I ever believed that, teaching writing cured me of that belief, at least.

However, as a younger man (say, of the Volume I or even Volume II era), I would have to say that I had at least a few of those pretentious attitudes myself. At one point, I confess that I considered myself to be a literary writer and had fantasies of putting together a future Pulitzer or National Book Award winner. I spent years of forcing myself to read Jonathan Frazen and David Foster Wallace and trying but failing to force myself to like their work. I eventually realized that there was no way I would ever be a literary writer if I had no interest whatsoever in reading that type of work. So, I’m a genre guy through and through, trying thrillers, sports dramas, and now dipping my toe in fantasy.

I’ve had pretensions about other aspects of writing, however. Just a little while ago, I mentioned how much attention I paid to notebooks. I’m shocked that I’m not someone who was into collecting fancy pens, even though my dad got me a few of those when I was younger. I think part of it was it was always a pain to try and get refills for those pens, so they’d often stay dry. And although you can always keep old notebooks around and revisit what you wrote in them, used pens don’t have any equivalent value.

But if you think I was pretentious about that, wait until I get into keyboards.

I told you before about how I was obsessed with typewriters as a kid. I’m the years since, I’ve gotten to be more comfortable with the electronic medium because it is a lot easier to revise and edit without having to rely on whiteout and correction tape. Plus, you don’t have to have access to a copy machine to make more than one copy of your manuscript.

It was when I was making my one serious attempt to compete in National Novel Writing Month when I first learned of the Alphasmart. I had bought Chris Baty’s book about the competition and he had talked about the Alphasmart in his book as an alternative to a traditional desktop computer or a laptop.

The more I started reading about this machine, the more I fell in love with it. A word processor that only needed three AA batteries to work? A simple on-off switch that would have you up and typing in a second? A machine that automatically saved your work as you typed? A word processor that wouldn’t distract me with games or the Internet, but I could download my work onto a PC? Something that helped me fight my lifelong battle with procrastination? I was hooked, readers.

So, I bought my Alphasmart – actually an Alphasmart Neo – in the mid-auguts. It immediately got a workout as I used it for my pitifully modest freelance journalism work for some Eastern Iowa/Western Illinois newspapers. I used it once or twice for my burgeoning teaching career. I even used it to actually write some stuff, but at the end of my “young man” portion of my life, I took a long hiatus from any fiction writing. Honestly, I think I suffered more than a little mentally by taking that break.

By the time I had finally begun to try and pull my head out of my rear and begin to take writing seriously again, my poor, durable Neo was no longer among the living. It had gotten some screen damage and was, sadly, unusable. And I was despairing of getting another. The last Alphasmart in production, the Neo 2, was discontinued in 2014 and its parent company, Renaissance, no longer provides services for it.

However, the machine never left my mind, and there are a lot of them out there on the used and resale market. A few weeks ago, I found this honey online and… well, reader, I had to have it.

My Alphasmart Neo 2 sitting in my breezeway. Photo credit: Me.

It’s as nice as I remember it. I got a USB cord to download stuff from it to my current laptop. I’m trying to treat it with kid gloves because… well, I want to keep it going for a long while this time.

And it is useful. Writing on an old Mac would seem to be a disaster in waiting. I’m also not going to be like Frazen and remove my modem from my computer – I need to update the thing sometime. So, I want to preserve what I have.

Then again, I went online and saw this new device, Freewrite. It looks so sweet, and they’re still making it…

Sometimes, old habits are hard to break.

[I was debating whether to call this a Volume II or Volume III post. For those not following along, my Volume I posts cover when I was a kid, Volume II when I was a young man, and Volume III is about middle-aged me now trying to be consistently serious about my writing. Since what I’m about to talk about began during my young guy days, I’m deciding this post gets a Volume II designation.]

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 7: Letting the past go

I’ve moved four times in just over 20 years. It’s not gotten easier with time. You want to know what it has taught me? Owning stuff is overrated. Even if it is something you have created or treasured.

Yes, I did wind up owning that amount of books. I wound up donating about four boxes worth to Goodwill or the local library. Recently, I’ve had to become very choosy about how many books are in my collection.

It’s a funny situation.

In the summer of 2020, I wound up being the last adult at my house for a couple months. My wife, Laura, had managed to find a great job opportunity in southern Iowa. It was going to be a brave new world for me, who had spent most of my life living in Eastern Iowa, and my wife and two kids, who had lived there for all of their lives.

My wife had actually moved the fall before to our new hometown, installing herself in an efficiency apartment near her work while returning to our home on the weekends and holidays. I’m not sure I really hinted at it that much on this blog at the time, but Summer 2019 – Summer 2020 was one of the weirdest times in my life and my family’s life. I was trying to keep things together – not often perfectly – while working a job that I knew I was going to be leaving at the end of the year. Laura felt like she was missing out on our daughter’s senior year, but she was being too unfair – she had always been part of our kids’ activities and lives, and this was something she was doing for all of us. And, of course, we had COVID happen in the middle of everything and both disrupt my daughter’s senior year, delay my son’s post-high school training, and stop my lame duck year at my school district dead in its tracks.

The biggest change, and the biggest challenge for us, was the house that we had spent the last 12-13 years in. The kids had spent the vast majority of their remembered childhoods in that home. It was the largest home I’ve ever lived in. And we had to clear it out and move whatever we were going to move halfway across the state within a few months.

What we were dealing with after 12-13 years of living in one house with two growing kids. This was our basement circa Spring 2020.

As you can see, there was a lot of stuff to deal with. It included kid junk from several eras of childhood, both my kids’ and my own. It included nick-knacks on top of nick-knacks obtained on a whim for long-forgotten reasons. There was stuff stored behind other stuff and underneath still more stuff that had been long forgotten about by both myself and my wife. There was at least one big pile of newspapers filled with my ramblings about long-forgotten council meetings or interviews with fifth-string candidates in the Iowa Caucuses. Some of it was just short of trash, decorations for holidays that had been made snacks of by the occasional mouse.

All of those things we spent a lifetime collecting and keeping for “when we needed it.” Until the day came when we didn’t need it anymore.

I remembered a specific time when I was faced with a pile of those old newspapers, reminders of a career past when I did my best to let people know about their community even though not everyone read those stories. For a while, they defined who I was.

I sent that entire pile out to the trash hauler. I will tell you that getting rid of that was a massive relief.

There were many nick-knacks that I had kept over the years, items that long lost their meaning. Those went into the hauler, or over to Goodwill. There were so many clothes that I kept just to keep them and they were so far in the back of the closet that they never saw the light of day. I think I remember filling about five or six large black garbage sacks full of clothes and shoes to Goodwill. They got a lot of plus-sized clothes from me, that is for sure.

One thing that I realized:

If you don’t see it and you can’t reach it easily, it’s almost like you don’t own it.

Jason Liegois

There’s very few things that I absolutely had to keep. There are the fiction writings that I’ve generated, off and on, ever since I turned 14. Those are stored in file folders or, nowadays, on external hard drives or flash drives. There are the photos of my family, both hard copies and electronic ones, that we’ve either got up on the walls or stored someplace safe. There are the books that I kept after getting rid of… maybe eight of those boxes of books over the past four years and four of them in that last year alone. If I want a book now, it has to be either high on my list or I go the Amazon Kindle route.

If there is one thing that the move solidified for me, it’s that material things are not the best investment for me. I want to invest in my health and the health of others. I want to spend what excess resources I have on great experiences for me, my wife, and our kids. I want to help them if they need it down the line.

It’s funny, but I’ve been reading (in slow starts and stops) a one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I know a lot of people connect with the humans (naturally) and the elves in that story, but it’s the hobbits that might have made the most connection to me. I can see myself as a version of them, working at a simple job, in a simple hobbit hole in the ground, and spending my time meeting with friends and family over a fire (or maybe watching soccer, lol).

As I get older, I start wanting to simplify things more and more. Leaving some of the things a younger man bought was one of them.

Author’s Note: I debated whether to make this part of the Volume II (my life as a young adult) or the Volume III (my life since I rededicated myself to writing, also known as the present time). By a narrow margin, I decided on titling it in the Volume II section since the things I was getting rid of came from my younger self.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 6: My obsession with soccer

Honestly, there’s been more than a few hints that I’m obsessed with soccer/association football/football.

The origins of the obsession come back to me, in fits and spurts. You have to understand, those of you who only remember 21st century America, that if you were ever transported to late 20th century America, you would find much of it to be familiar, yet there would also be some profound differences. For the purposes of keeping on topic, I’m going to only stick to what it was like for those who had an interest in soccer.

By the time I was growing up, soccer already had a century-plus history in the world under the rules and regulations that had been started up in an English pub around the time of the American Civil War. I knew none of this history growing up. I knew soccer was a game where you kicked the ball and used everything but your hands to move it, but that was it. There weren’t any games I could either watch on TV or hear on the radio, and the first match I ever saw live were the YMCA youth games I played in.

I’m sure I probably looked up the encyclopedia article for soccer at some point, but the first proper book I remember reading about soccer was a small one published by the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). I forget its name now, other than it was a little green book that went over the rules and general positions for soccer. (They still had the kids line up in a 2-3-5 (Pyramid) formation 30 years after it was obsolete.

It also talked to me about some of the legends who played soccer – Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, and Shemp Messing and Kyle Rote, Jr. (Americans playing soccer? Impossible). It talked about their exploits in America, in the old North American Soccer League, even though I didn’t know and the book didn’t say that the league was at that moment dying a quiet death.

Pele became my first soccer idol, even though he was retired from playing and I never saw any of his games as a kid. He was just that good, right? I did see him in a World War II movie directed by John Huston called Victory where Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone (what???) were Allied POWs who were challenged to a soccer match by the German National Team in occupied France. Stallone was the goalie and actually looked passable in the role – I learned years later that the former England keeper Gordon Banks had helped coach him. Pele was on the Allied team – they had to make him someone from Trinidad because while Brazil was on the Allied side during WWII, they never sent troops to Europe during the time in history.

Then there was my own limited playing experiences in YMCA soccer. I loved the freeflowing nature of the game, how improvisational you could be with the ball and how you didn’t have to be built a certain way or have a certain look to be successful with it. To be honest, I was a pretty limited player even as a kid – a defensive left back with a good right foot whose main defensive weapon was “get to the ball before the opponents and kick it as hard as I can.” The old English managers would have loved me.

I remember seeing a article in People magazine during the mid to late 80’s, a lifestyle story about Diego Maradona. I was fascinated about him being so small and yet so dominant in soccer, and intrigued about the wild lifestyle the article just hinted at. He became my first soccer antihero.

I vaguely remember there being a World Cup, but I really didn’t get into it until the USA hosted it in 1994. That was the first time I remember the entire tournament being on TV. I specifically remember visiting my then-girlfriend, now-wife, at her mom’s home and randomly turning on the TV to see how the US v. Columbia game was going on. When I saw we were already 2-0, I jumped up shouting and everyone in the house wondered whether I was nuts. I was a fan of the US men’s national team from that moment forward. I guess I was technically a US women’s national team fan from then on, too, but not really until the 1999 Women’s World Cup, when I saw them work their magic.

Ever since then, it’s become easier and easier to feed into my soccer fandom, with better coverage of the game in America and overseas, especially the English Premiere League which I have been addicted to since they began broadcasting those games regularly on American television. It’s been fun to find teams to root for in the different leagues, even ones in Mexico and Germany, among others.

And now, that passion for the sport has bled into my writing world, the Project A that I’ve talked about. I have a great main character from America and it’s been a blast dipping him into the world of soccer, though I think that this character in particular would be interesting no matter what he was doing.

However, I’ve put him in the world of soccer. That’s because, in part, I’m always up for seeing what happens during a good game.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I debated whether this was going to be a Volume I (childhood) entry, a Volume II (young adulthood) entry, or a Volume III (middle age and onwards) entry. I first learned of the sport and played it as a young child, my soccer fandom started as a young adult, and I didn’t complete the main project I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. It was a roll of the dice, but I settled on Volume II because that’s when the obsession really started.

Anyway, I’m publishing this not on the weekend, so I can still call it a midweek post and keep my word to everyone, lol.]

[AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The pic I used for today’s post comes from a photographer I found out about from the blog In Bed With Maradona. If you are massively into football ⚽️ culture, you need to check it out. The photographer’s name’s Jurgen Vantomme and he does some great stuff. This comes courtesy of this collection, and you can check his web site out here.]

 

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 5: My time in journalism

Last week, I met with an acquaintance at my house. The guy, Dale, was picking up some old files from me for a writing project that I was dropping and he was passing on to another writer.

As I asked about the writer, I learned that he’d worked at the same newspaper as Dale had years back. That was more than a few years back, “before the buyouts.” And just like that, for a few moments we were swapping stories back and forth – the buyouts that had hollowed out Dale’s former employer, the cuts at the hometown newspaper that I used to work for that left it more of a zombie publication than a living, breathing institution.

I was flashing back to my time as a journalist. I call myself an old retired journalist, even though I’m 20-40 years younger than most of the people who claim that description as their own. In years past, I would have been in my prime as a journalist, with honors aplenty and years left to go in my career. Now I’m retired from the profession, with no foreseeable way to return to it, or any real desire to do so.

Continue reading “A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 5: My time in journalism”

Unplanned Posts

There’s been a few times when something I’m writing has turned into something totally different. Usually that’s been a good thing for me, so I’m hoping it’s a similar situation here. It’s the first time it’s happened to me blogging.

Remember how I mentioned about that one blog post that I was planning on writing last week? The one about the thing that happened with me about an aborted project?

Well, now that’s turned into no less than three Writer’s Biography pieces.

Let me explain.

Without giving away the entire story before I write it, a few years ago I began initial plans for a nonfiction book, which was the first time that I had ever thought of doing anything like that. Essentially, the lure of fiction called me more than the subject I had been researching.

Last week, the guy who had passed the project off to me asked for some files that he had given me a few years ago because another writer was interested in it. No problem there, I thought.

So, that planned visit got me thinking about the differences between fiction and nonfiction writing – a difference I was familiar enough with from my dive back into fiction and my years in journalism. I thought it was at least worth a post.

Then Dale, the writer who first mentioned the project to me, came to my house last Thursday. Our conversation went into old journalism days, long-ago projects, and other related topics.

That got me thinking about three things. First, I realized that it’s been since last May when I last wrote one of my A Writer’s Biography posts. For those not familiar with this blog, those have posts that have looked back at my life and my experiences with writing and literature. Some might have noticed that I’ve broken them into Volume I and Volume II. Volume I has covered my experiences as a kid, while Volume II explored experiences I had as a young man. However, to my surprise, I’ve read through all of my Volume II posts and I have not yet written any post specifically about my years in journalism. Considering that I spent 12 years overall working full or part-time as a journalist, I though that was a bit of an oversight. So that’s has to be worth a second post.

That led me to my third realization, which was that I have yet to write a Volume III entry. I’m going to classify Volume III as stories from when I decided to rededicate myself to writing in middle age to the present time. It would make sense to add the whole nonfiction book story to that list, since that just happened a couple of years ago. It would be a good Part 2 for that volume.

Why Part 2? Because I also realized that Part 1 had to be an analysis of how I turned things around and got back to my passion of writing. As I considered this, I really tried to search my brain and try to recall a single instance where I decided to get back to what I considered to be my passion. I’m not sure there was such a moment, but I think there might be enough for me to talk about it in depth. Creating this blog was a big part of that gradual turnaround, but I haven’t discussed it head on before.

[EDIT: If you’re interested in (rough) timelines, etc., I’d estimate that Volume I covers 1980-1995, Volume II covers 1995-2010, and Volume III covers 2010 up until the present time.]

So, that means that I now have enough stories to last the entire month. Not sure about what order I will post them in, but they will be related to each other. It’s been a bit since I’ve been excited about upcoming posts. I’ll be interested to see what comes out of the process.

That’s all for now; I’ll write more later.

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 4: Reviving An Old Writing Project

As a kid, I took my music seriously.

When I was into rock and roll, I really dived deep into the history of the music, especially Sixties and Seventies rock. I grew up as a little kid starting to hide my interest in heavy metal and punk from my mom, who thought the music just a little harsh for a kid my age to get into.

By the time I was off to college, the alternative rock and indie rock surge was all around me and I truly got into that. Nirvana was one of my biggest bands and I still remember driving in a car when they announced Kurt Cobain killed himself. One of the things that I did admire about Kurt was how he promoted and discussed his musical influences, the musicians not only from the Sixties and Seventies, but the underground rock acts of the Eighties that helped pave the way for bands, like his, like Black Flag, The Minutemen, Husker Dü, The Replacements, Dinosaur jr, and many others.

In the years since then, I’ve expanded my musical interests into many other genres and styles, but I still appreciated music made by people who believed in authenticity and emotional honesty. From that love of the music started to come the origins of an idea.

What if I wrote about a fictional band from that 1980’s era of underground rock? What if I was able to put together a whole fictional history for that band, make it my version of some mix of Nirvana and Sonic Youth? And like Sonic Youth, what if that band had overcome personal and professional adversity to make it to widespread fame by the 1990’s?

So, I started writing a book, several years ago (closer to the beginning of this decade than the end of it). I got into the origin of the band, spouted off a lot of word salad about the meaning of music, and the effort petered out after I got somewhere around 35,000 words. I’ve talked before about how I used to work; that was one of my creative casualties.

So, after I got finished with the first draft of The American Nine this year, I was sort of puttering around and decided to take a nervous look at what I’d produced and see if there was anything worthy of getting on with. My verdict:

  1. I was very happy with the characters I’d produced, especially the band members. All of them had different personalities and had different reasons to come to the music, but that mutual interest and respect drew them together.
  2. It was way long-winded, back in the days when I never worried about word counts except for the time or two I tried to do NaNoWriMo. Managed to cut down what I had to just over 30,000 words without too much trouble.
  3. Even with those cuts, I think I’m still going to have a book that’s not going to be able to fit under the 100,000 mark. I have the feeling it might fit more into a series – a trilogy, actually. If I do a trilogy, the ending of the first book will have to take some planning, but I think the rest of it is coming together.
  4. I think this is something that could work.

So, that’s my initial impressions of the new project. The advice that I would give you today is that even a project you think didn’t have potential might look better after some time away from it. Don’t ever throw away mistakes – you’ll never know when they’ll be, as Bob Ross once said, happy accidents.

 

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 3: Procrastination

There could be epic poems written about the concept of procrastination. Despite my best efforts, I would not classify myself as a poet. So, this will be about the best effort to do this that I can muster.

I have been an expert at wasting time for as long as I can remember. My natural state is to be at rest, and now in my 40’s, I have the physique that indicates that. But exactly what distracts me is a little harder to place.

What I have found is that I don’t believe that there has been any one distraction that has kept me away from writing. Anything that has distracted me from writing, has also distracted me from other opportunities as well.

Those distractions, as I’ve said, have been varied and changed over time. Reading and movies have been big time sinks over time, but I also sincerely believe that reading is necessary for a writer to help develop their vocabulary and tools. Video games used to be a big time sink, but has faded over time. Right now the biggest game I wind up playing is Football Manager on my mobile phone.

Here’s the question that’s been lingering around my head for, what, 10 years or so?

Am I an inherently lazy person?

Whenever I think about that, it reminds me of job interviews where they ask you to mention what you consider to be your weaknesses. Who ever wants to be considered lazy? Isn’t that supposed to be a sin, Christian or secular, in this world?

Not to stray too far away from writing here, but I think this fear about being called lazy fits into the American dogma of how individuals can always improve and better themselves through hard work alone, no matter what the circumstances. As for me, I have seen enough science fiction and current events to ponder what the advent of artificial intelligence and the Singularity will do to this culture. I believe that it will leave a lot of people in the world, much less America, out of sorts.

How do you change procrastination (or being lazy, if you’d prefer that term)? For most people who can’t afford extensive counseling or life coaches like a Tony Robbins, I think the only answer to that is very slowly. Sometimes you just grow out of certain behaviors, like what has happened in recent years with the author Tucker Max.

For me, the situation has become more that I’ve gotten tired of not accomplishing anything. I’ve gotten tired of talking about being a writer and not actually writing. The whole point of this blog has been not to showcase the brilliance of my writing (it might do that someday), but to get me into the daily mode of being a writer. Have I fully accomplished this? Not at all. Maybe I’ll never fully accomplish it, whatever that means. But I am getting better.

[NOTE: Doing this forced me to pull out some of my old journals, etc. I may have to do a few posts regarding what I wrote in recent years.]

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 2: The NaNoWriMo Experience

It’s starting up again as November 1 draws nearer. Nobody seems to talk about All Saints’ Day anymore (at least that’s what it seems on my social media feeds, but it’s not like that covers a true cross-section of America or the world or anything like that).

Yes, the new secular writing holiday, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us. For those not familiar with the event, it began last Thursday 1999 in the San Francisco Bay area. The goal is for participants to write a full 50,000 word novel in the 30 days November provides. It’s the idea that you can finally get that novel out of your system.

If you do not know already, word count and writing production is something that I’ve become a bit obsessed with. To make it to 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to write around 1,667 words per day. That’s a pretty fast clip. 50,000 words is not a massive novel, by the way – it’s pretty short by today’s standards. It’s not quite novella length, but it’s a short read. The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer all clock in around that length.

I think that it’s a great idea. NaNoWriMo is the perfect argument against “Well, there’s no way I could ever finish a book.” Right now, people around the world are gearing up for the fastest writing sprint there is.
As the image with this post indicated, I used to be one of those participants, and a successful one at that. And it resulted in the second completed book I ever wrote.

2005 was a lot different for me, other than the fact that I was 12 years younger. At the time, I hadn’t worked full-time for three years. I had been a freelance journalist during that time, doing some odd jobs, and looking after my two kids, who were preschool-aged then. Halfway through that year, I returned to school, the beginning of a nearly two-year-long process that resulted in the beginning of my teaching career.

The point being, I had a far more flexible schedule than I do now. And so I took one look at NaNoWriMo and said, I can get it done.

The story I had in mind was inspired by the rush of school shootings that had occurred both before and in the wake of Columbine. One question had come to my mind: If some of these kids survive and do their time in prison, what happens to them next? That got me thinking.

What I came up with was pretty good, but I think the original title I used (which I won’t say here) ended up being too gauche, to be honest. If I was going to re-title it, Excitable Boy sounds like a good one.

My Main Character (MC) was a 16-year-old boy with an undiagnosed psychotic disorder. Bullied at school by kids put off by his odd, secretive nature, he snaps one day in the middle of a delusional episode and kills two of his tormentors.

It was a tragedy all around. The MC’s father (his mother died of cancer a year previously) commits suicide when he learns of the incident; he has been in denial of both his and his son’s mental issues. The MC was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental health care facility.

The MC is released after five years at the center. He is reunited with his only remaining family member, his older brother, a law student at the state university. He goes to live with his brother and his brother’s longtime girlfriend, while he tries to figure out what he is going to do with the remainder of his life. But, there are a rash of murders around campus, and people are starting to look at him as a possible suspect. In time, it’s up to him and his brother to find the real killer and find out why somebody might be setting him up…

Looking back on it, the NaNoWriMo experience for me was two steps forward and maybe a step and a half back. I always felt that if I wasn’t producing that amount of writing, I wasn’t going to be a success. That bogged me down a lot when I started teaching and didn’t find (or couldn’t make) time for writing. Also, I think I wound up using too many characters, including a supporting character that wound up being too much of a Mary Sue for my taste. I think I tried to sell it at one point, but that never went anywhere.

I’ve just looked at the book again, maybe for the first time in… eight years, maybe? Unlike my first adult attempt at a book, there just might be a decent story in here. If I get motivated, I might want to take another look at it, trim down some characters, make the story simpler, and see what comes out of it.

But for now, I’ve got the new project to work on. Another time, maybe. It might have potential.

 

Writing Journal, 10.29.2017: Steady success and some math

OK, if I keep having writing weeks like this, I will be cruising to the end of the book soon if my math is correct. First, here’s this week’s math:

4,213 words written.

Days writing:  7 out of 7.

Daily writing goals met (500+ words): 4 out of 7 days. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Two of those missed days were off of my goal by only a couple dozen words.]

My current word count on my new project is 56,796. As I mentioned before, I am shooting for a maximum word count of 100,000 or somewhat shorter. If I meet my minimum daily quota of 500 words for all of those remaining days (3,500 words per week, to put it another way), I will have an additional 31,500 words, putting me somewhere just under 90,000 words.

 

Right now, if I continue on this pace, there is a slight chance I will finish a rough draft of this project by the end of the year.

This is unfamiliar ground to me as a writer. I’m beginning to like it.

[YET ANOTHER EDITOR’S NOTE: Come back to this space soon; I’m going to have a story from my Writing Biography series that has a NaNoWriMo theme to it in honor of this year’s upcoming event.]

A Writer’s Biography, Volume II, Part 1: First Attempt at a Novel

For years, I thought about writing a NOVEL, a big old pile of words that would amaze everyone who read it and announce that a new talent had arrived.

You were that deluded when you were younger too, right?

After fits and starts and humbling hits of procrastination (I also breezed through my college years in the process), I finally decided on a tale. The book was entitled Buried Secrets and it was somehow generic and convoluted all at the same time.

TL;DR version: A high school senior with interests in journalism and/or law enforcement learns that a mysterious girl his age is living alone in a house that seems to be abandoned. He gets to know her and learns that she is trying to find out the identity of her biological mother and father after her adoptive parents died (car accident? I’m too over it to actually go into the document and look). She came to find out that they were both residents of his hometown (a small eastern Iowa town, hint hint). He agrees to help her out with his knowledge of the town, and they begin to have a romance.

At the same time, he learns that some members of his school’s football team committed a sex crime against one of their classmates. (Taking a cue from a real-life incident in the national media, the first drafts had this person be a girl, but I eventually changed it to a guy and the secret boyfriend of my main character’s best male friend). As he’s trying to help out this girl, he’s also trying to solve a case that will eventually involve his two closest friends.

All of the possible first-time mistakes writers made with their books, readers, I wound up making. It was too autobiographical, even though none of the supporting characters were based on people I’d known in high school. It was too convoluted, with two main plots and me trying to interweave them and make sense to each other. I got too caught up in the love story, I think, to make the female love interest relevant, even though I tried to do that. And, there was too much talking and debate and not enough action.

I wound up taking the book to an agent who wound up charging me $120 to take it around and sell it to some publishers. After a year and no sniffs at it, my agent said to give her another year. I decided to save my cash instead. There were no other takers among publishers or agents.

About four years ago or so, as I began the slow process of beginning to restart my writing life. I decided to take one more look at Buried Secrets and see if there wasn’t a viable story in there. I spent about a month attempting to see if I could carve it down, convert it into something that could be a good story. I couldn’t relate to the story anymore; more importantly, I couldn’t relate to the main character who I’d all but intended to be my surrogate but was now simply a ghost self of someone I no longer recognized.

By the end of it, I left it on my external hard drive, sitting there like a patient I’d had to cut open and save but who ended up dying in the attempt. By then, it was just lying there with its insides out, and I couldn’t make it into something good. The only good thing about it being a book rather than an actual patient was that I didn’t have to go through the motions of sewing the long-dead person up again just so the sight of it didn’t freak everyone out. It was Buried Secrets, and now it is properly buried, now simply something to learn from rather than a symbol of what could have been.

I wasn’t ready to be a writer then. That came later.