Condense It

"You know…if you take everything I’ve done in my entire life and condense it down into one day…it looks decent!"

-George Costanza

On Fire

I’ve been remiss in posting to this blog due to some seriously crazy life-happenings. By way of an apology, here’s a new track!

Purchase the full EP here.

Growing Up

“I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived.”

-Ursula K. Le Guin

Treasure

"Read sometimes for the story, Bobby. Don’t be like the book snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words—the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”

-Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis

August in Waterton, Alberta

"Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind. All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.”

-Bill Holm

I Am Apart

"I am apart. Always I have seen around me all the games and parades of life and have always envied the players and the marchers. I watch the cards they play and feel in my belly the hollowness as the big drums go by, and I smile and shrug and say, Who needs games? Who wants parades? The world seems to be masses of smiling people who hug each other and sway back and forth in front of a fire and sing old songs and laugh into each others faces, and truth and trust. And I kneel at the edge of the woods, too far to feel the heat of the fire. Everything seems to come to me in some kind of secondhand way which I cannot describe. Am I not meat and tears, bone and fears, just as they? Yet when most deeply touched, I seem, too often, to respond with smirk or sneer, another page in my immense catalog of remorses. I seem forever on the edge of expressing the inexpressible, touching what has never been touched, but I cannot reach through the veil of apartness. I am living without being truly alive. I can love without loving. When I am in the midst of friends, when there is laughter, closeness, empathy, warmth, sometimes I can look at myself from a little way off and think that they do no really know who is with them there, what strangeness is there beside them, trying to be something else."

-John D. McDonald, The Scarlet Ruse

On the Polishability of Shit

I wrote 55,000 words of a novel during the month of November (as part of NaNoWriMo). Here are my thoughts on the whole experience. WARNING: A heady dose of narcissism follows.

I suppose I should start with a definition.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating writers to, you know, write. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. If you hit 50,000 words, you win. If not, well…Chuck Wendig wrote a great blog post on the gamification of writing, which I’ll try not to reiterate here.

I’ve been meaning to participate in NaNoWriMo for a while, but this was the first year I could actually squeeze it into my schedule (after all, I still have a wife, a 40-hour work week, and various other creative commitments). Occasional overachiever that I am, I told myself, “I know what this writing thing is all about. I already have one novel under my belt. Why not shoot for 60,000 words?”

[NOTE: Lest you think less of me, let me take this opportunity to mention that I would have hit 60,000 words if it weren’t for an unexpected bout of the flu knocking me on my ass right after pie on Thanksgiving.]

2,000 words a day isn’t actually all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it meant that every day for nearly a month, I’d get home from work, grab a quick bite to eat, then retreat to the basement for a couple of hours. Now…this isn’t all that different from my normal routine. But if I were having a particularly tough day, then my writing time would inevitably cut into my time with my wife—after all, I had to hit my daily quota, or else be branded a failure for all eternity.  (Don’t get me wrong…she was supportive throughout, but that sure as hell didn’t make things any easier.)

The thing of it is, as thrilled as I am that 55,000 words of my second novel now stain the digital pages of my word processor, I’d hate to write this way all the time (even setting aside the effect on my personal life). The first week was liberating. The second week was a grind—not because I didn’t enjoy writing, but because there was no time to sit back and let the story breathe. I’d reach the end of a scene and realize it needed a different emotional beat, or an additional character moment, or god forbid, to be excised altogether. But I couldn’t go back and edit, or else I’d miss my word count for the day. There was no choice but to make a note of the scene’s shortcomings and move on.

I don’t like leaving things unpolished. (It’s part of the reason the first draft of A RAVENING FIRE took a year and a half to write.) So having a mounting pile of words that were nowhere near passable (much less polished) really began to eat at me. I began to think, "What if someone reads this and thinks it’s the best I can do?"

In those moments, I’d force myself to remember that most first drafts are little more than steaming piles of freshly-flung monkey shit. This one just happened to be steamier than usual. And now that the month is behind me, I can honestly say that while this draft has more than its fair share of dross, there are some truly inspired scenes (if I say so myself)—scenes I’m excited to flesh out and tighten.

But for the moment, my 55,000 words will sit, steaming and unpolished, while I work on other things. For one, I put the second draft of A RAVENING FIRE on hold for the month of November and I’m eager to get back to it. After those edits are finished, and it’s been trundled off to my alpha readers, then I’ll return to this draft, most likely at a more leisurely 1000-word-per-day pace.

For writers who need an extra kick in the pants, I’m sure NaNoWriMo is great. For me, it was a learning experience. I feel like I understand myself better as a writer. But if I do it again next year, I’ll probably stick to 50,000 words, or possibly even fewer (unless the money truck crashes into my house and I can afford to devote more than two hours a day to writing).

For now, I take consolation in the fact that with writing, unlike with some creative mediums (I’m looking at you, painting and sculpting), nothing is beyond repair. Anything can be polished. Even monkey shit.

-Peter

What Terrifying Joy

Last night at a party, I confessed to a near-stranger that I’d almost finished the second draft of my first novel. She asked me to describe it in a sentence. I told her, “It’s the story of a golden wolf who rejects his destiny to become a god.”

With that simple utterance, I showed her a sliver of my soul. What terrifying joy.

And now, hopeless narcissist that I am, I’m sharing that same sliver with all of you.

-Peter

Books Are Meant To Be Read

When I buy a new book, even if I’ve read it a dozen times before, I still feel the need to read the new copyto break it in—as if the crime of leaving its pages uncracked would be beyond imagining.

Maybe

"Hard work + Self-awareness + Perseverance = MAYBE"

-Scott Lynch (full post here)

I don’t know about you…but I find comfort in this equation.

Writing My First Novel: What I've Learned So Far

First, a brief timeline (I hope to keep updating this with completed drafts, submissions, and the inevitable rejections):

  • January 2010: I decided to finally put pen to paper and flesh out a story that had been banging around in my head for years. I began building the world of the Great Isles.
  • July 2010: After more than six months of worldbuilding, I started outlining, laying out important plot points chapter by chapter for all three novels.
  • July 2011: I completed the outline and showed it to my wife. I asked her for feedback so I could revise it and share it with others. She told me I should just start writing. (That’s right. It was a year-and-a-half before I even STARTED writing. I’d probably still be outlining if it weren’t for her.)
  • January 2013: I finished the rough draft of my first novel, A RAVENING FIRE. 105,000 words.
  • February 2013: I took a week to organize my notes from the rough draft, then started in on the second draft (previously referred to as the shitty first draft—confusing, I know).
  • May 20, 2013 (date of initial post): I finished revising chapter 8 of 27. The story is already much stronger than it was just a few months ago, and I anticipate that as much as 25% of the original draft will be excised by the time I’m through.

Thoughts so far:

If I could do it over, I’d spend no more than a month worldbuilding, and a month outlining. So much changed in the course of writing the book that in hindsight, most of that first year-and-a-half now feels like needless foot-dragging.

I originally hoped to finish the second draft in six months. This may have been optimistic (I try to revise a chapter a week, but some chapters need more love than others). I now hope to finish the second draft no later than October 2013 so I can hand it off to alpha readers before NaNoWriMo. I plan to use the month of November to kick-start the first draft of the second novel.

I probably won’t update this post again until the second draft is finished (Lies! See below). But I want to take a moment to acknowledge that even with no readable draft yet to show for all my hard work, the support from friends and family has already been overwhelming (especially from my parents, who seem to take everything in stride: “Oh…so he wants to be a writer now. Sure, why not?”).

As always, thank you for reading.

-Peter

UPDATES:

  • June 9, 2013: My super-supportive wife and I have decided to put off having kids for another year so I can devote as much time as possible to writing before all hell breaks loose. I mustn’t squander this gift.
  • July 29, 2013: I’ve finished revising the first half of the second draft. I’ve already doubled my productivity (by writing to a daily goal - why wasn’t I doing this already?). At the current pace, it looks like I’ll be three chapters shy of finishing this draft before NaNoWriMo.
  • January 23, 2014: The second draft of A RAVENING FIRE is finished at 93,000 words! I’ve printed out a copy for a final read-through, and then it’s off to the alpha readers.

Thoughts, now that the second draft is complete:

In the end, I discarded about 15% of what I originally wrote (I also added/expanded a few scenes). If the first draft was 50% of the way toward being the story I’m trying to tell, the second draft is closer to 75%. I’ll be relying heavily on my alpha readers to tell me where its weaknesses lie. I’m hoping it won’t need too much work (famous last words). I plan to use June through August/September for the third draft. We’ll see how that goes…

Mona

I know it’s only vanity publishing, but there’s still something fulfilling about seeing my words in print.

Mona

-Peter

In This Room

"In this Room, Time and Space are not,
Here the Words of the Living and Dead lie side by side,
Here the Wisdom of the East and West are met,
Here you are not the Creature of an Hour bounded by Walls of Stone,
The Vistas of all the Ages lie open unto you and the Kingdoms of all the Earth”

-Anonymous