A Writer’s Biography, Volume III, Part 6: The importance of writing groups

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: My deepest apologies for releasing this blog Monday rather than sometime civilized on Saturday. Still getting used to the new schedule.

[SECOND AUTHOR’S NOTE: OK, it’s at 12:10 p.m. rather than 12:00 p.m. Still pretty close to what I promised, right?

[PHOTO NOTE: This is not my actual writing group, past or present. This is the first image that popped up when I did a Pexel search for “writing group.” And, there you go.

If you would, permit me to make a small detour into the world of politics.

It was in the middle of running for his second term as president in 2012 when Barack Obama got into a minor controversy over a statement he made on the campaign trail. At a campaign stop in Virginia, he was trying to make the point that rich people don’t become rich just because of their own efforts, but from the help of others, the help of government, and good fortune. He said in part:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Barack Obama

I bring up this statement not to debate its value (I personally agree with it) nor to explain why it is so. I wanted to compare this idea with another idea that has long been popular – the idea of a writer as a singular artist.

This is an idea that, if it cannot quite be classified as a cliche, maybe could be considered more like a trope. I can remember so many scenes in films, television, and (yes) books as well, scenes of serious, dedicated writers hunched over hand-held notebooks, legal pads, typewriters, or word processors. They’re always so serious, aren’t they, their isolated rooms echoing with the scritch scratch of pens or pencils, the slamming thunk thunk of typewriter keys or the tiki-tak tiki-tak of word processors. Those scenes burned into my brains so much I’ve worn out keyboards for the past 25-plus years. Wasn’t it Sean Connery in Finding Forrester who said “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” Oh, I lived that idea for many years. It is the reason that all of my spacebars on my keyboards have some worn-off parts, as well as a few other keys.

A writer lends a person so well to being a solitary artist. Not quite sure an idea is going to work out, or if somebody else likes it? Who cares, nobody is going to stop you, right? You are the final say over your story except for those sorry brothers who agree to collaborate with one or more writers. No worries about how much it would cost to render a scene for your reader, no worries about filming budgets or payrolls for actors and crew – you can build any world you want, any characters you want, for the cost of your imagination, your time imagining, and the cost of a workable computer or typewriter if you have a real 20th Century mentality. Especially if you have a nice little writing space, you can shut everyone out and everything out except you and your imagination. You would be the classic, mythical rugged individualist as artist.

However, as Barack said at the start of all this, “You didn’t build that.” Sure, you did build those worlds, those fascinating characters, those wonderful stories. Those are your words on the screen or the page. But, you didn’t get to that point on your own.

If we look into ourselves and understand the real writing process, the real ins and outs of how literature comes to be, we know that we are not just lone gunmen spewing our stories into the ether. There were so many that got us to the point where we were able to tell our stories and share them with the world.

There were other people that helped us to be able to share these stories, these writings, with the rest of the world. It is the same for all you writers out there just as much as it was for me. For me, I admit, I relied on my fellow writers to get me to where I have gotten to today.

I specifically remember the late Aughts of 2007 or so in regards to myself. I was returning to my hometown (Muscatine, Iowa) after a 10-year stay in Clinton, Iowa, and what felt like an equally long hiatus from writing. (I was writing off and on, but in no way consistently at all). In fact, initially I just sat and stewed for a while, which I might have attributed to entering the teaching profession and getting adjusted to that. But another part of that was the fact that I was writing in a vacuum, with nobody I could turn to for advice or guidance.

It was then that I remembered a local writing group called Writers on the Avenue. There were many differences between me and the other members. I was generally younger than most of them. Many of them preferred to work in poetry or mainstream literature, and I was the crazy kid writing thrillers or sci-fi/fantasy. We had differences of opinion on a lot of things about life. But we all had writing in common.

I went off and on between not participating in the group to at one point serving as club secretary. However, the feedback I got from them all about writing was invaluable.

They helped shape what eventually became my first published novel, The Holy Fool. They also provided critiques of my other novel projects as well. It was through them that I was able to network and get in contact with groups such as the Midwest Writing Center, where I learned a lot from the seminars and critique groups they had. I was able to network with other writers and get ideas about expressing myself through writing that eventually led me from repurposing an old Facebook page I had used as part of my past journalism career to creating the blog that you see here. I even got into poetry because I kept listening to their work and finally decided to try my hand at it. Some of those poems you can find here.

One of the real downsides of moving to South Central Iowa (Chariton, to be exact), is that I’m not able to meet with those groups on a regular basis. I’m glad now that I have started to settle in and get to be part of groups such as the Iowa Writer’s Corner. I’m hoping to get together with some other writers in the Des Moines area and continue my progress as a writer.

And who knows? Since Zoom has become such a thing, maybe I can get together with some of my old Eastern Iowa writing friends without burning too much gas.

What I’m Working On Now, June 2019 Edition

A while ago, pretty shortly after I started this blog, I let readers know some of the bare-bones basics regarding some of the projects that I wanted to work on and that I was working on. I thought now might be a good time to update that, just to keep myself, much less any readers, in the loop about what’s coming down the development pipeline.

I’ve mentioned these projects before in some of my writing journals, but to keep from being too repetitive, I decided to put them all in one place as a reference. I’m not going to mention working titles or big details about plots, etc. However, I think you will get an idea of what the gist of each of the projects are below.

I also think, looking at some of the items on this list, that you’ll see that I’ve been bouncing around with several different genres and subjects. I appreciate writers who want to stick to one thing, but I enjoyed too many different styles and genres of writing to stay in one wheelhouse. I want to create and I want to spread my work to others – that’s basically my life goals regarding writing.

And Now, The Projects

  • Project A: This is a book about a young man who is a football player and the son of a famous college football coach who is also obsessed with soccer. I first got the idea to write about what I thought the first American Lionel Messi might be like and it turned into one of the richest characters I’ve ever written about.
  • Project B: This is a short novel about a young teen who shoots two of his classmates during a psychotic break. After five years imprisonment, he is looking to rebuild his life with the help of his brother, but former high school classmates start turning up dead around him…
    A former NaNoWriMo project, this is one of the shortest books I’ve written, around 50,000 words. I want to make this one nice and tight, not much longer than it is now, which I think will be a good plan for a thriller.
  • Project C: For someone who never messed around with poetry, the idea of me putting together a poetry collection is a real trip. The poetry enthusiasts of Writers On The Avenue in Muscatine were so much into poetry that I decided, starting around 2010 or so, to give it a whirl as well.
    However, I think this is some of the most interesting stuff I’ve written, and a way for me to connect to where I grew up. A big theme in this collection is the Mississippi River, how I’ve experienced it, and what it means to me. I first got the idea of this project well before I knew I was going to eventually leave the Mississippi River area, but I think it’s been a good reflection of what I will be leaving behind. (People leaving their homes for various reasons appears to be a reoccurring theme in a lot of my work).
    I had originally decided to try to put this out as a whole project, but some recent advice from a poet I’ve met has convinced me to try and get some of these out individually. So I’m going to start looking into those markets, with the intention of getting those poems published and thus generating interest in the larger collection.
  • Project F: This is the fantasy project I was inspired to write based on my Game of Thrones obsession. The basic theme that I’ve been playing around with is this: So, I started thinking of a scenario, of a new fantasy world, where civilizations representing the concepts of magic, chivalry, and science and progress would clash and face each other. The more that I’ve watched Game of Thrones and what they’ve done right and wrong, the more this idea of writing fantasy intrigues me. I’ve started to look over fantasy map building sites and think about what these civilizations would be like.
  • Project S: What started out as the idea for an analysis of one Game of Thrones character has now turned into an epilogue for the series that is running over 27,000 words as of this writing. Obviously I have no interest in monetizing this whatsoever. I’m going it as an exercise and as a way to get over how ridiculous the last season was.

Also, there are the following projects that might get letter designations as well, to help keep them straight.

  • Project R: A story of a fictional indie rock band and its history from the early 1980’s to the early/mid-1990’s, my love letter, so to speak, of the indie rock that caught my ear so many years ago. This will likely turn out to be a trilogy.
  • Project W: A thriller, just the germ of an idea. But, it’s pretty intense, pretty heavy material. This might wind up simmering for a while.

As part of my greater efforts to keep myself publicly accountable for my writing successes and failures, I also want to list when I am planning to get these projects done. So, feel free to cheer me on or have a laugh at me, depending on my successes and failures. Putting my goals in print makes them more real for me.

  • So, here are the current projected deadlines for those projects:
  • Project A, begin querying agents and publishers: Sometime in early-mid summer 2019.
  • Project B, finish major redrafting of the rough draft (more of a second rough draft rather than a more focused revision): End of summer 2019.
  • Project C, finishing creating rough draft poems: End of 2019.
  • Project F: None at this time, but I would like planning for the project to be well underway by the end of 2019.
  • Project S: Maybe posted by the end of the month (tentative)
  • Project R: None at this time
  • Project W: None at this time

Finally, don’t forget my first published project, The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt. That project was years in the making and getting it out this year was a major life accomplishment for me. Get to the My Work page on this blog for all of the links if you want to find out more about it and (possibly?) buy it. But, there’s other ways you can support it, too.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. If you’ve got any questions or comments, leave them here and I’ll be glad to answer them.

Writing Journal 3.17.2019: Getting back to it and on with it

So, I had a little bit better luck with writing this week. There was one time this week I was at a friend’s house to see one of the presidential candidates that swarm through Iowa every four years. I was trapped in a kitchen nook by the swarm of people and national media, and I heard him speak, but I didn’t see him. I wound up polishing off two poems while I was standing around there, so that was a success.

Here’s the stats for people who care:

+1,526 words written.

Days writing: 3 of 7.

Days revising: 5 of 7 for 135 total minutes.

Daily Writing Goals Met (500+ words or 30 minutes of revisions): 5 of 7 days.

I’ve got some appearances coming up if you want to see me out and about and talking about writing and my book, The Holy Fool, so don’t forget those. I’ll probably send out some additional reminders on my Facebook and Twitter pages, too.

OK, a quick briefing on what I’ve got going on:

  • Project A: Not really anything in the realm of revisions. The subscription to Writer’s Market might be around $39.95 or something annually, but I’m going to have to think about that. There are many different sources out there for finding agents and publishers, so I’ll have to do a bit of searching around. If anyone wants to mention any resources to me in the comments or to me directly, I’d love to hear it.
  • Project B: Maybe moving forward in this, totally recreating a scene for the book. Now that I think about it, I will be reviewing and cutting out so much of this rough draft that I have to properly call this the second rough draft of the project. Whatever it is, I think I will still be on track for this.
  • Project C: Probably made the most progress on this one. I created two new poems this week and have already finished typing out all but the most recently created ones. I honestly think I have a long way to go with this – I’ll likely need twice as many poems that I have on hand currently. However, I’m feeling ambitious.

And, for myself and for the readers, I’m putting my current deadlines for all of these projects here to keep both me and you in the loop.

  • Project A, begin querying agents and publishers: Sometime in early-mid summer 2019.
  • Project B, finish major redrafting of the rough draft (more of a second rough draft rather than a more focused revision): End of summer 2019.
  • Project C, finishing creating rough draft poems: End of 2019.

That’s all for now. Not sure if I will have a midweek post, but I am sneaking up on the 200th post on this blog, so I’ll likely do a special one for that when it comes along.

[PHOTO NOTE: We had one (last?) snow of the season, so I figured I’d document it.]

How Many Books Are in Me? A Speculation.

Given my well-known tendency toward procrastination, I came to an unsurprising conclusion sometime around the beginning of this decade: I was not going to be able to write as many books as my man Stephen King.

I’m OK with that. There’s people like King who have banged out tons of books, and those who have written even more like James Patterson and William W. Johnston, among others. Then, of course, you have the example of Harper Lee and her one (two) books, including To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’d like to have a production level somewhere in between that of King and Lee. Exactly where in between them is another issue.

As you heard before (man, look at all of the time I have to write during the summers 🙂 ), there are currently five novels that I have in various states of completion/revision/hidden from the world because they were too stupid to see the light of day. After that, there may be about five stories that I might want to get done – including some possible sequels to some of my previous works and at least one epic tale of a fictional indie rock band from the 1980’s-1990’s and their improbable rise to notoriety…

Then, of course, there are about… how many? Five, seven? Maybe eight… fever dreams of books, ideas of stories that flew around in my head for a while.

What happened to them? Some of them went past their due date, ideas that sounded good in the days I started playing with them in my head, but after looking at them on the initial pages didn’t seem so strong. Others were fevered teenage dreams that just seemed too small when I finally thought about them. Then there was that story about a presidential candidate that seemed to fit the turn of the millennium than the current climate. But, maybe that could get revived; I would love to write the Primary Colorsfor the 20th century.

I don’t like to think took much about the future, but I do wonder at times. If I’m lucky, I might have anywhere from 30 to 40 years of mileage left. If I’m lucky and good, I could turn out a book every 18 months at my current pace (as long as it picks up). If I’m only slightly unlucky, maybe that could be a dozen, 15 books?

I think that is one of the reasons I started this blog, because I realize that I’m not guaranteed any amount of time on this planet and I might use whatever time I have to create something interesting.

What I do know is that I will keep on writing. I also don’t think I’m going to be running out of ideas, either. At least, not for a while to come.

Writing Journal/Random Notes 1.21.2018: It’s getting a little better

And just when you thought I didn’t have any writing goals… here are some from tonight:

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See, I told you. (Check with me next week to see if I actually fulfilled any of them.)

Also, off to the totals. The verdict: An improvement over last week, but not where I want to be.

+1,916 words written.

Days writing: 5 out of 7.

Daily writing goals met (500+ words): 2 out of 7 days.

Ahahah, this is going to go out a lot later than I expected. The notes for this week:

  1. From all of the advice I received from the writing groups (which I just spent 15 minutes checking them out before getting my focus back), I have decided that keeping track of how I revise should be done on a time-based system rather than by word count.
    With that, I decided on a daily count of 60 minutes per day on the days that I am revising. I think that I will alternate between writing and revising pretty soon, with some weeks being heavier than others, depending on where I am on projects.
  2. How I monitor that time will be interesting. I will have to have a set up where I track the time that I totally focus on revising. It may come in fits and starts, but that will be OK.
  3. I used to like the computer app Freedom, but now they’ve moved it to a subscription service. If I had an alternative I’d definitely consider it.
  4. OK, I will run another post tomorrow and maybe, finally, get a midweek post again. You know what I want to talk about next.

More later.

Writing Journal, 9/10/2017 (Seeing results)

Well, everyone… I wondered whether setting a daily writing goal and powering through would make a difference in my writing results. Shall we go to the tote board, fine people of the online world?

+4,559 words written.

+4,338 words reviewed for revision.

Days writing: 7 out of 7.

Daily writing goals met (500 words per day): 5 out of 7 days.

If I could have consistent weeks like this, week in and week out… I think that my concerns about not being productive enough will be a thing of the past.

New goal.

Not going to make this a long one, but I need to lay something out.

In light of my massively disappointing writing performance last week, I’ve decided that I need to start setting distinct writing goals for myself. Whether I meet these goals or not is up to me, but I feel that if I am going to have any hope at becoming a more productive writer, I need to be following some of the writing advice I have read over the past couple of years. (I’m just glad that since I have started the blog, I have not gone more than two days without writing fiction, which is far better than the years I took off when I was younger.)

So, this is my current plan.

  1. On writing days, I will have to get to 500 words a day.
  2. I should have at least four writing days every week.
  3. Other days throughout the week will be revising days, when I will be revising drafts and so forth. I will not have more than three revising days for every four writing days. Although I will not set a goal for those days, I will record what I do.

This plan is officially in effect as of yesterday. I had one of my more productive nights then, but I am planning on making my 500 tonight as well. And some more nights after that this week.

I’ll let you know how it goes.