Happy Medium

Well, a lot has happened since we last talked. To get to the elephant in the room – yes, the novel is still alive, though it is mostly asleep. I poke at it every once in a while to make sure it’s still breathing. More on that another time.

First, I want to tell you about a revelation I had. Last Monday, I went to a Master Class by Robert J. Sawyer, part of the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) at Lakehead University. It was a small, intimate class of perhaps 30-40 people, and in it Sawyer talked about theme and science fiction – or really, how science fiction does such a good job of handling theme. I’m not sure it was his intent, but after attending I’m convinced it is one of the best genres for doing so. Science fiction, he argues, takes thematic metaphors and allusions, and turns them into literal constructs. Like in Planet of the Apes, where the very real species divides between gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees (and humans) is meant to be an allegory for race relations in the United States during the 1960s. Very thought-provoking, and made me think about how I’m constructing my own (not science fiction) novel.

Anyway, during the Q&A I asked Sawyer about social media – a question I’ve been asking writers lately when I’m at these types of events. Specifically, I saw a show years ago where he stated something to the effect that for every minute he is writing a blog, he is not writing a book. This was of course at the beginning of the “revolution” of writers “engaging” with their readers, and you could tell there was a certain amount of frustration in his voice about the whole thing.

I asked him if he still felt the same way, now that engaging readers is almost expected of authors. He said yes, but clarified (and I’m heavily paraphrasing and internalizing here) that he likes blogging and social media, but it takes time away from his work. He has a finite writing limit – he mentioned four hours per day, but I’m not sure he was just throwing out a number – and blogging takes away from that finite number. After four hours, the well is dry and you have to wait until the next day.

So of course, for a guy that writes for a living during the day (usually more than four hours), I took this to mean that I shouldn’t be writing a novel at all. Or I should find another job – not an appealing thought though. What am I going to do, sell TVs? I think not.

Here’s the revelation – it’s okay to feel overwhelmed with writing a novel. It’s okay to put it aside and say, “Today will not see my best writing, after everything else I’ve written.” Won’t get the novel written any faster, but should alleviate some of the guilt…

Okay, now I’m taking away from work writing AND the novel. Back to work.

~Graham

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The Edits

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently editing what I have so far, and locking it away in a separate file marked “Your Eyes Only” — which will mean anyone’s eyes but mine. It is time to get some feedback. I’m realizing that I’m a little rudderless right now, and the reason I’m rudderless is because I’m not sure I’m going in the right direction, and that I won’t know if I’m going in the right direction until I get a 10,000-foot view of the thing, but I can’t do that myself because I’m stuck on this boat, right here in the action (i.e. “too close to the work” to use the technical term) so I need someone else’s — or several other people’s — perspective.

So yes, I am going to send it out. Problem is, the last section of the book isn’t even written in first draft yet. That’s because I’m not quite sure how to resolve the conflict. I’ve already written the last 10 paragraphs or so — I know what to say after the resolution — but my plot ideas seem to be mostly falling apart.

In any case, it might be fine if people read the (essentially polished) first half of the book — I think getting some input will help the process of nailing the ending down.

More updates to come shortly.

~Graham

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Final Stretch

When are you ever done polishing?

It’s an age-old question for writers, and one to which I know the answer in my day job. I can’t really describe it — I just know it’s done, much like you know when an episode of The Simpsons is done, or a piece of toast.

But this novel thing — it’s different. I started polishing the first two scenes — again. I like it, yet I’m obsessed with getting it absolutely right. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, and once I have a few of these under my belt, I’ll naturally know when it’s done too. But until then, I think I need some feedback. No, scratch that. I’m ready for feedback.

So I started a new file today:

Novel Draft2l Final 130414.doc

I polished the first two scenes, then cut and paste them into this document. Which I won’t read again until someone else does.

Total words: 6,952. I’ve restarted the counter on the right to reflect this. Looks pathetically short after all this time. But how do you measure the progress of a novel? Word count? Time spent? Day required to generate that time spent?

In the end, I think there is a start date and an end date. Everything in between is Schrodinger’s Cat scratching to get out. (Or not scratching to get out. Depending.)

Either way, I’m officially calling this day the first day of the Final Stretch. The question I’m pondering now is, do I let people read it before I have the whole novel copy and pasted into that file?

~Graham

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Day 1,000,000 – April Update

Has it come to this? Monthly updates? lol.

I started from the beginning again recently. Put another hour and a half in this morning. Crafting. Trimming. Polishing. I like this book. I like the intricacies (I think I’m) weaving into the story. There is a lot more give and take between the two main characters than I thought there was at first, a lot of subtle undertones. Is it enough? I’m not sure about that… Others will tell me, I hope. That’s one thing that I’m still working on — unlike my day job writing, I’m still not 90% sure whether this is “good” or not. It’s humbling (in a good way) to have to rely upon others’ viewpoints to get me through this.

But as I say, I like it. That’s a start, I suppose.

~Graham

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Day 879 – Ch… Ch… Ch… Changes

I wrapped up my #MyNoFiMo / #NaNoWriMo on a positive note. I didn’t get Draft 2 done, but I got a lot more finished than I might of. Okay, I admit: I can’t help but feel like perhaps I failed… Hey, any time you set a hard deadline and blow it, that’s a failure. I wonder though if the failure is in the making of the deadline itself, rather than in the blowing of it? I know there are some people who say they can put a deadline on art, but I’m not convinced. Some of my favourite writers have a strong disdain for deadlines. Not sure the logical conclusion is that they are better writers because of it, and therefore I should emulate their bad habits so I can become a better writer. But it’s the conclusion I’m going to go with at this particular juncture.

So I’m going to take this as a win. I’ve been getting back to writing regularly (including tonight) so although I’m still not quite done Draft 2, it is coming together nicely. As art should.

Here’s where I’m at: I’m just entering the final section of the book — Part 4, as I affectionately call it. The main character has just had a major epiphany at the end of Part 3 that will send the story in a whole different direction. I’m very excited with this, as it comes largely unexpected. Check that — I knew he had to have a change at this point, but the problem was what change, and how to show it. After writing through it, the answer came fairly organically, and therefore is more believable.

That’s the hope at least. We’ll see when the reviews come in how successful I actually was.

Planning a few changes for this blog as well. Still way too early to go into any great detail… these changes will take a few weeks at least to put together. But, since I’m trying to journal rather faithfully what’s happening in all aspects of my novel writing process, thought I’d mention it.

Until next time.

~Graham

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Day 871 – Frozen

FrozenI’ve been frozen this week, both literally and literally.

Here’s what the temperature was when I put the kids on the bus on Monday. For all you US readers out there, -36 Celsius is just about -36 Fahrenheit — the “sweet spot” where they meet up is actually -40. Either way, it’s cold.

More importantly in terms of this blog, I’ve also been frozen writing-wise. I’ve put myself in a bit of a corner. I’ve put a deadline on this draft, though I know the book isn’t ready yet to send out to people. I could have something finished by January 31 — and I will have something finished. But what it won’t be is a ready-to-read Draft 2. So of course, to combat the problem when I realized this, what I did was push it behind the tin of tea in the corner of the counter and forget about it for a week. I hear this is quite normal for writers, especially those who only drink tea on occasion and therefore won’t be constantly reminded by the sight of the manuscript every time they make a cuppa.

Anyway.

Canada ReadsHad some chai tonight, saw the poor thing just sitting there, and decided to do some work on it. Was inspired too by going to a Canada Reads event here tonight, where Jane Urquhart and Richard Wagamese (click the image to enlarge), both up for the next Canada Reads book of the year, did a reading and answered some questions. They are from Northwestern Ontario originally, though both moved away a long time ago when they were kids. I wonder if they consider themselves to be Northwestern Ontario writers? Likely not, though they obviously have an affinity to the area since they both have used the region in their books. That would have been a good question to ask during the Q&A.

So Draft 2 — still in the works, and likely will be into February. But when my deadline whooshes by me next week, it won’t be a total loss. I’ve put more time into the book this month than I have for a while.

Here’s to more.

~Graham

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Day 863 – Another Gatsby Film Flop?

I have not been a fan of The Great Gatsby translations to the big screen. The closest, I think, was the Robert Redford and Mia Farrow one in the 70s. It was a product of its time, which is to say it was overly dramatic. I loved Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway though — he nailed it.

So when I heard there was a new one coming out, I was excited, but cautiously so — especially when they announced it would be in 3D. Leonardo DiCaprio seemed like a reasonable choice as Gatsby. Tobey Maguire, well, I could see that perhaps he’d do a good job. (I still see Waterston in my head…)

After seeing the trailer though, I’m getting prepared for a letdown. It seems highly stylized, even mashed up with the music they are playing. It’s decidedly not Jazz Age, but then using the music of today certainly gives you a better sense of what they felt in 1925, when that music was new and fresh and electrifying, instead of old and 1920′s-ish like it feels now. Musically different, but maybe emotionally a better reflection of the time.

DiCaprio seems way too sure of himself as the title character. In the book, Gatsby is always questioning himself. Yes, he’s driven, yes, he knows what he wants. But you can tell he’s outside his element, still “faking it ’til you make it” long after he buys the mansion. At every turn, he’s looking to Carraway for affirmation at every little detail. In the trailers here though, you’d think he might be reprising the role of Howard Hughes, cocky and in control.

I’ll go watch it, of course. I’m hoping that the marketing department has glitzed it up more than it’s worth.

Got some solid time in today on my own novel. Should have Part 3 complete by tomorrow. Then on to Part 4.

Word count keeps going down… and that’s a good thing at this point.

~Graham

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Day 862 – Why You Need a Professional Cover for Your Novel

Bad Book CoversI think I’ve mentioned here that I’ve been looking into self-pubbing as a possibility for my book. I’m not convinced this is the way to go, but if nothing else, I find it fascinating to do a bit of research into self-publishing and get myself ready in case it happens. A lot of it I’m familiar with through the stuff I do in my day job. Some of it is brand new, like all the layout and coding involved with formatting for various ereaders.

One thing that I’m not sure authors understand enough is how important the cover is. It’s one of the top things (after writing a good book) that bloggers blogging about self-publishing talk about. Yet there are many, many examples of bad, bad covers, like in the image above. Some are definitely worse than others, and I’m not going to call any out in particular. Some obviously had a lot of work put into them, even if the results don’t match the effort. Honestly, if you could only pick one book seeing nothing but the cover, which would you choose, any of the above, or this one:

Gatsby Dust JacketThe point is, people do judge a book by its cover. Quite literally. If you are self-publishing, you want to give yourself the best chance possible to have someone pick up and read your book. For many, the cover is the first contact they’ll have with your book. If you don’t hook them then — or at least pique their interest a bit — you’ve lost a big chance at a sale. Even if you have just written the best novel since The Great Gatsby.

You can see book covers in more detail on the Lousy Book Covers Tumblr blog.

Another productive day on the writing front, I’m happy to say. Got some solid work in again in Part 3 — just a few more pages until the end. Then, uncharted territory as I start writing Part 4. With half a month left to go, I’m feeling fine.

~Graham

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Day 861 – Where is My Mind?

Great session today. Not a lot of words edited, but I’m happy with the ones I polished. Took my first draft that was raw and crafted it into something a little more cerebral and edgy and symbolic — all while trying not to lose its primal feel. I’ll know tomorrow if I succeeded.

~Graham

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Day 859 – Sunday, Lovely Sunday

Got a lot a good work in today, getting through most of Part 3. A few tweaks here and there, but mostly I like what I have. Gearing up for the end of Part 3 and then the hardest part of this exercise this month: writing Part 4.

Also took some time today to look for professional freelance editors for a manuscript critique. Seems that will be harder than I had expected. If anybody out there knows of a good editor specializing in “literary” fiction (don’t want to be hoidy-toidy about it, but this book doesn’t really fall under any other genre), please let me know!

Been getting nervous about finishing the book lately. Not because it will be finished, but because it means I’ll have to actually show it to people. Funny, haven’t been nervous about people reading my work in at least 10 years, probably more. Maybe this was part of what has been holding me back? I’m not really worried that it will be shite — it’s my first novel after all. It took Fitzgerald two novels and a boatload of short stories to come up with Gatsby.

No, what I’m worried about is friends reading it, hating it, and either trying to tell me they hated it, or desperately trying to not tell me it.

If it’s not to you taste, please just tell me so — it will make it easier for all of us! Trained professional and all that. I can take it.

And if you love it, well, feel free to option the film rights.

~Graham

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