Posted in Writing

Me, You and 100,000 Words

So, I’m staying with my sister again. A life in transition. I feel like I’ve been in transition for far too long. Maybe it’s just too many times. Too many phases. Yesterday someone likened my existence to Jack Kerouac. I just laughed. Hardly.

I  moved in two days ago, and took this photo this of my room. I think it accurately captures who I am right now. I sort of think this is a rite of passage for a writer. Every writer needs to have this photo at some point. So, here’s mine.

It is in a quiet, near-empty room in a big house full of adults who work all the time. I scoured the house for random furniture, and then bought an air mattress, a printer and a dry erase board, and there’s a Starbucks next door. What else could a writer want?

But you know, I am tired of reinventing myself. And the thing is, I’ve got this novel. And it’s a good book. I think you’d really like it. I wrote it for  you, and I would love for you to read it. It just needs some…sprucing. And an agent. And a publisher. The last two I can’t control, but the sprucing thing I can handle.

So, in the vein of transition, I’ve decided I’m going to end this three-year journey on this novel once and for all. I’ve decided I’m going to spend the next six weeks just “sprucing” this manuscript.

With no other projects on the board, and no job to report to, what better time than now?  I have a small balance in my bank account that will keep me in coffee and bagels for the next six weeks. And beyond that, it’s just me and 100,000 words.

Once the six-weeks play out, I will try one last time for an agent. If the manuscript  doesn’t sell, well, then, I can honestly say I did the best I could, and it just wasn’t good enough. And, you know, I feel like at this  point, I could live with that. I’ll bury myself in alcohol and self-pity for a few days, and then re-emerge from my  deep, dark hole, self-publish the bloody thing, and move on with my life.

But, I’ve got this sneaky suspicion, that that’s not the way things will pan out. I’ve got this sneaky suspicion, that once I give this manuscript everything I’ve got, something great will come of it. Something wonderful. Something I’ve never had. And, for that, I am giddy enough to float through walls.


Posted in Life

Selling Snoopy

I am selling my car today. It is an older vehicle, nice and well-kept, but still old. I loved that car. It was white, with black trim and dark windows, earning it the nickname, Snoopy. And then it blew a head gasket, and…well, RIP Snoops. So, now I am selling it for whatever I can get. I put an ad on Craigslist, and got a few hits right away.

One quite persistent fellow wanted to have his man deliver to me a cashier’s check, and would have the vehicle shipped once the check cleared. He would even add in some extra cash if I would guarantee him the vehicle right there over text. How nice of him. Tempting, but no, Mr. Nigerian Prince. I drive a hard bargain.

Then another fellow wanted to come in about an hour, sending me into a frenzy as I had just listed it, and hadn’t had time to properly prepare the vehicle for sale. I knew I had a few things in the back, and the inside could probably use a vacuum. So, I opened the car after six months of non-use, to find yellowjackets nesting inside the door frame. I freaked out. The guy was coming in 45 minutes. And, well, bees and I have an understanding…you stay over there, and I’ll stay over here, and we will all live happily ever after. The end.

Now, as I watched these hornets crawl all over each other in a paper clump they had fashioned on the inside of my car, I was going to have to violate this seminal law of nature. Live and let live, had turned into dominion of the earth, or at least survival of the fittest, the laws of the jungle. And it was up to me, and no one else. And the clock was ticking. 43 minutes…42….So, I grabbed the longest handled broom I could find. I figured I would knock the thing down, and then run like a screaming banshee for all I was worth.  This was a logical plan, sort of. But, in the moment, I just couldn’t do it.

I stood about twenty feet away, and watched the moving horde of black, and yellow with their tapered wings, and the adrenaline that wisely screamed, “danger,” blared as a pounding drum in my ears.

But the clock ticked on. So, I aimed in the general direction of the open car door. I wielded my sword like a blindman groping about, with about fifteen feet of empty air between me and the vehicle. I tried again, this time correcting my foot stance into a lunge position for proper swordmanship, and fleeing at the same time. I wished I had time to watch some YouTube videos on fencing. I banish the thought. No time for that. The clock was still ticking. I groped again, this time hitting the door near the nest, managing to simply alert the bees that trouble may be afoot. The swarmed the area, and I dropped the broom, and ran like hell squealing the whole way home.

From the safety of the porch, I watched the bees settle back down, and I contemplated my next move. The nest must come down. There was no way around it. So, I found a slightly longer broom and tried twice more, this time the bees caught onto me, and chased me halfway across the yard. That was it. It just wasn’t going to happen. With trembling fingers, I texted the guy that something had “come up,” (the bees…up out of their nest) and would he mind coming tomorrow? His answer was a cool, “Sure.” I calmed down, and called my dad. I needed a male type for this.

He arrived later that night, and straight away opened the door. He grabbed a dish towel, walked right up to the nest, and confidently swatted the bees down. That was it?! They swarmed him for a few seconds, and he batted at them like annoying flies. But, then, in the space of about two minutes the whole ordeal was over. Except, he explained as an afterthought, he got stung once, but he was alright. “I’d get stung for you any day,” he said. Aww…

So, now the guy is coming this afternoon, to see a hornet free car. So, I am putting together my selling points, and trying not to be nervous. But, I will probably spend the whole day quaking with nerves driving myself crazy trying to reimagine the various scenarios and questions I will face on this transaction. I am too emotional to do these sorts of things. I wish it were easier

Posted in Life

This Lonely Road

I am leaving this today. I am leaving this place that has felt so much like home. But it was never mine. Such a lovely place, but it wasn’t meant for me. I was welcomed well enough, but I have always been just passing through. So, I go on, still searching for home. Still searching for a place to belong. I’ve got a restless heart inside me, and where it will go, I still don’t know.

But I am so tired of looking for somewhere, for someone, to call home. I had hoped to find it here, oh I had so. And I found many  things along the way. But, my heart still searched. Never quite finding its peace.

I am tired of endless searches, long empty wandering. Is there a place for me in this world, I wonder. I have fought so hard to create one. But maybe I just fought the wrong battles. At times I feel so close to something real. It’s like being lost in the woods, and knowing that just beyond this dense layer of bush, there is a vibrant, bustling city for the taking. Other times, I feel like a fool. The Proverbs lazy man, “He who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty,” the Teacher aptly warns.

I have been happy here. But it was always someone else’s game. I was just a player here, for a time. Beyond, that, this lonely road is the only thing I really know is mine. And as I travel on, I ache for something more. Something of my own. Something truly meant for me.

Posted in Writing

Why Microsoft Word Is Inefficient for Writers

Yesterday, I was talking to a designer about software, and he extolled, with unbridled passion, the supremacy of PhotoShop.

“It does everything,” he gushed.

As  he explained the varied uses of PhotoShop in different aspects of the design world, I started thinking about the writer’s equivalent.  Do we have one?

Yes. Unfortunately. We do.  We have…(gag) Microsoft Word. Every editor has it. Every publisher has it. Every web design company has it. Now, magazines, newspapers, publishers, web design companies, and whomever else you may be writing for, will ultimately reformat your piece into a variety of other applications.  But as I explained to my designer friend, “They want it from you, in that .doc file.”

This is understandable, as it relates to setting a universal file format for an industry of contract writers that largely work from home. But MS Word is….well…Bill Gates’ version of what it means to be a writer. It’s a businessman’s software. Memos. Job offer letters. Business proposals from a company template. Nastygrams to be laminated and posted in the break room. But for a writer, Microsoft Word sucks. Here’s why:

Word works in a linear fashion. You open the file on page 1. Scroll. Page 2.  Scroll. Page 3. And so on. For you non-writers, you may be asking what’s wrong with that? Everything.

If you have a 3 or 4 page document, it’s not that big of a deal. But, what about a 600 page manuscript? Then you’ve got problems. First of all, in my experience, Word tends to get a little finicky around roughly 400 pages or so. I’ve read that this has to do with Word’s attempt to be all things to all people.

Because there are so many varied uses for the application, the coding is more complex, making simple text files larger and bulkier than they need to be. In other words, your text file is full of all sorts of useless information running in the background so that you are set up to use any of the program’s many other features. Which makes no sense, because, if you try to use Word for its other features, design-centered documents like newsletters or other desktop publishing, it’s…really not the best either. Which, begs the question…for whom is Word really designed?

But aside from all that, can you imagine trying to edit a 600 page file? That is, trying find that one paragraph that you think is…somewhere….around here….between page 234 and 237….and moving it to that one section…that ends up being…on page 349? I guess you’d make proficient use of the “go to” or “find” features. But those functions are designed for quick maintenance, not heavy use.  What about when the prospective publisher says it way too long and you need to cut it by half? Can you imagine doing major reconstructive surgery on a 600 page text document?

Well, of course, you wouldn’t put it all in one document. No. You put the manuscript in a series of files, by chapter or scene. So, if you’ve got 25  chapters, and each chapter its own file, you’ve got at least 25 files to manage for your reduction project, cutting and pasting between them. Now, each chapter is composed of scenes. If you want to reconfigure the chapter, you will probably want to start by working with the scene files, rather than the still lengthy chapter files. If each chapter has, conservatively, 4 scenes, that’s 100 files to manage. That is–to remember, keep in order, and name with memorable keywords.

And then, there’s this. Most novel writers don’t write sequentially. They write as they come up with scenes, a lot of which don’t even get used. So, while the final product may have about 100 files of individual scenes all arranged in folders that they’ve compiled to form chapters. But then there’s a whole separate folder of “deleted scenes,” which they may use in whole, or in part, later. My head is already starting to hurt.

And that’s if the writer is organized enough to keep a good system. Many aren’t. Many writers start out with a system, but mysteriously end up with “charlie-car-wreck-scene-version3-revised-final-again.doc, somehow in their Mobile Photo Upload folder from September 2012. And they have no idea it is even there, until they remember writing that one description that would be absolutely perfect in the final document, and so they have to run a full computer search function based on a key phrase they vaguely remember. Geez.

Which brings up the other problem with Word’s linear layout. In MS Word, the current screen version is the only version that exists. Unlike other applications, there is no provision for alternate versions of the same file in one place. It’s a business way of thinking. It’s either there, or it’s not. Black and white. There’s not a cutting floor full of usable scraps that can be recycled, tried out, tweaked and then tweaked again. If you want that, which is necessary, you have to create and navigate your own ad hoc system.

This means, if you want to have, perhaps, ten different takes on the same scene, the only way to do that, is either to have ten different files, or keep all the different versions sequentially in one really long file. (Like, six versions of the same eight page scene, each with slightly different variations…)

If you’re not sure which version you like, or maybe you’d rather have a varied combination of several versions, you’re jumping back and forth between ten different draft files, or scrolling like a boss, cutting and pasting all over the place until you don’t even know what you’re doing anymore. The only split screen function in Word is to be at two different points in the same file. This is helpful when you are working with perhaps a 10-20 page file, but if you are working with four different 8 page files, this all must be done from your taskbar.

If you are certain that a particular version is crap and you don’t want it in your way anymore, you can delete it. But, if you change your mind six months later, you had better hope you didn’t empty your Recycle Bin.

Not to mention, if you’ve got ten different files, on say, about 100 scenes, that’s potentially over 1,000 Word files to manage and keep track of for your manuscript. The probability for human error and subsequent data loss… almost certain. That’s not even counting background files. These are things like character bios, plot summaries, outlines, or just those preliminary type documents where you ramble for fifteen pages trying to explain what the story was going to be about, when not even you knew.

There are many text processing applications, I don’t know all of them. I wish I knew more. But I don’t want to bog my system down with a lot of experimental downloads. But, when I found  Scrivener from Literature and Latte, I fell in love. It’s created for Mac, so the Windows version can be a bit buggy from time to time. But the benefits of having an organized system of files are so much better. I have Word, and I use it for lighter projects. But, for heavy writing, especially intense pieces, I use Scrivener.

I don’t know how anyone wrote anything major when all there was was Word. Maybe that was before e-mail submissions were standard, and typewritten work was still marginally acceptable.

Posted in Life

How to Live with a Writer

Writers are an enigmatic bunch. Or at least we would like to think so. Unlike some artistic temperaments, we aren’t necessarily difficult people with whom to live. (Looking at you, rock stars). But, we do have our peculiar brand of quirks and habits. Some of them are individual, some are unique to our occupation, and some are across the board attempts by all artists, to manage that mysterious and coveted flow of creativity. If you are a new housemate, roommate, or just mate, of a writer, here a few things you can expect.

Movies/TV–If you watch a movie or television show with us, don’t be fooled into thinking you are gleefully enjoying a piece of entertainment. You are there to critique a screenplay. Not only is your writer picking apart the story, characterization, and dialogue and comparing their skill level to that of the screenwriters, but just like in English class, your writer is critically evaluating the piece for themes, metaphors, and the overall message of the film. It’s not our fault. We really can’t help it. Blame our English teachers. So, while you may have watched a relaxing comedy, your writer just sat through an editorial, and will spend the ride home pensively evaluating the validity of the message.

Throughout the film, your writer may also be gathering techniques and tips–especially if there is a writer in the movie. Note: Anytime the plot of the movie includes an English teacher lecturing on a piece of literature, your writer will later be reading that book, if they haven’t already, to see where screenwriters were trying to draw a parallel, and how deep the parallel went. (Because trust me, there is a parallel, it’s a cheap screenwriting trick).

Don’t question the creative process. This is a pretty common sense one.  But there is no one way to write anything. We are constantly reinventing our creative process. As we gain experience, we will develop specific habits, but  we will always be thinking of new ways to do things. So,  bear with us as we walk through various stages of writing editing/development, and what it may look like to you.

The truth is, our creative processes can look really strange. Depending on the writer, it could be sitting quietly in a chair, while staring out the window. It could throwing stress balls against the wall repeatedly. It could be intermittent smirking, and laughing while typing.  It could be laying on the floor of a darkened room, blaring Celtic music, and staring blankly at the ceiling. It could be pacing the floor, while reading a printed copy aloud or to oneself. It could be acting out a dialogue scene in a mirror, complete with body language. It could be long, meandering walking through the neighborhood. It could be writing until dawn, and then not writing again for three days.

We are creatively organized. We may not necessarily be organized people, but our pieces must be organized or we will have no readers. We know this, so we work hard to try to organize the chaos inside our brains into organized pieces. We may need lots of tools for this. This may include stacks of papers all over the floor, that are disorganized to everyone but us. Or index cards in different colors and sizes and stickies…everywhere.

It could also include random purchases of dry erase boards in various sizes for various functions. Some of these boards, we may fill with color coded scrawl and diagrams, others, we may abandon altogether  and settle for markering up the mirrors and windows, a la John Nash (A  Beautiful Mind). Oh, and by the way, cheap deodorant erases permanent marker, so if we ever come home with a package of colored Sharpies, and a stick of deodorant, relax. (This is also good information for you to know, just in case in our creative excitement, we accidentally grab a Sharpie instead of the dry erase). But, if the markering up the house becomes too much, here’s a tip to reign us in. Buy that chalkboard paint, and give us a whole wall to chalk up. We will love you forever.

Buy printer ink in bulk…(and hoard your own cartridge). We edit as much as we can on the screen, but there’s a point where we can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. Having a printed copy of our work, is sometimes the only way to see the piece for what is. Unfortunately, this may be an entire 400 page manuscript…or all 40 pages of chapter 2, which need to be reworked, marked up, and then printed out again, and then reworked and printed out again….you get the point. We need lots of ink. Sorry. We know you needed that 1 little pdf form your boss sent. We really didn’t mean to use up all the black ink. Honest. Will your boss mind if it’s in blue ink?

It may be worth it to talk to your writer about investing in a high volume printer for the household–that is, one that is intended for a small to medium office, and can handle several thousand pages per cartridge.

If you are having a dead end conversation with us, it may not be personal. Check for a couple of occupational clues first. Have we been writing for three hours, and are now mindlessly chopping tomatoes, and giving monosyllables to your anecdote about the lady at the grocery store?  It’s not that we don’t care, we are still in book land. It may look like we are making lunch, but we are actually writing… in our heads. Ask us what we are writing, and you may snap us out of it.

The other possibility is that we have written until we are brain dead. We have this vague headache, it’s usually described as a fog. But it’s this numb, or tingly sensation in the brain that mildly feels like when your foot “falls asleep.” And in that moment we don’t know what the word, “tomato” really even means. While we are trying to remember, tossing the word over and over in our fuzzy head, you are continuing your story and we are completely lost….When we get to this point, suggest a nap, and make sure we literally don’t walk into walls. Writing is intense thinking. And when done all day, every day….Well, let me put it this way. When I think about the amount of mental energy, focus, concentration, habits, and dedication, I expound every single day as a professional writer, I realize that if I had given this much to my high school studies, I could have done the Ivies. Oh, what I wish I had known about life back then..

If you can’t think of a topic to discuss, ask us about: 

  1. The illiteracy of people on the internet.
  2. The Coffee Wars (Starbucks, versus McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc…versus the indie shops…)
  3. The Oxford Comma. Trust me. We know what that is. And we would be glad to explain it to you and give you our opinion on it.

The Principle of Creative Energies. The principle of creative energies states that in any physical space, there is a finite amount of creative energy. This means, that if we write in any given space for too many days at a time, the creative energies will dry out, and we cannot write in there for a time. We must find a new place to write,  until the creative energies in that space have a chance to replenish. Then we can come back. This may sound a little…mystical. But, it’s true. This is why writers throughout time, have had offices or, “studies,” as they used to be called. But they also haunted cafes, bars, coffee shops, parks, lakes, beaches, bull fights, etc. Creativity is a fickle mistress to serve, and those that are successful at it, know how to manage her, and still stay on deadline.

We enjoy fun new methods to write. Typewriters, particularly antique ones, are making  a comeback, and I don’t know a single writer who wouldn’t love to have one, if even just for show. Then there are always leather bound journals, and nice hardback ones. Chances are, your writer will enjoy the exciting flavor of something new.

We love our beverages and laptops. Writers come standard with coffee makers and laptops surgically attached.

The bonus upgrade, the MacSnob Writer, comes with a top of the line Keurig, and the latest iPhone/iPad combo. (The Budget MacSnob Writer comes with an older model iPad/iPhone, and includes a twice daily whine alert about the newest Apple gadgets and their capacities). The Party Writer comes with a standard six pack of beer, and the Writer Sophisticate model, includes a daily bottle of wine.

Writers are usually generous with their coffee, and will probably educate you on new flavors and brewing methods. We may also be into teas, and optional accessories to the standard writer package may include loose leaf tea kits as well as pour overs and other coffee accessories. These are geared toward the MacSnob and Sophisticate Writer, but can be added to any writer package.

However, do not ask to borrow the laptop. We will probably let you, but we won’t like it.

We don’t really like small talk. We spend our lives thinking and bleeding the meaning of existence onto a page or screen. We have to work really hard to understand why the benefits of various shampoo brands are important. If we like you, we will really try, and probably succeed when we understand the philosophical meaning of shampoo to you.

Help us by explaining the deeper meaning. For example, shampoo represents a value system of ranking of individuals based on their physical attractiveness. Your need for it, represents your desire to compete in that system, and thus your desire for status, acceptance, and ultimately love.

Love is the primary drive for all humans, and physical beauty is the currency you are using. And physical beauty, whether it is right or wrong, is a valid system of human ranking in our culture. And, if you choose to use that, that doesn’t make you wrong, it is just a choice that you are investing in to compete for love and status.

Now, when we can see it that way, then we can talk about shampoo with you. And it’s interesting. Really interesting.

We can be moody, but it will pass. Just learn to read our cues, when we want to  be talked to, and when we don’t, and you will be just fine. We don’t hate you. We probably just hate ourselves, or at least our inability to get published. And if you love us anyway,  we will  love you back, with a deep, soulful connection.

Remind us to eat every once in a while. We get so wrapped in our heads, sometimes we can ignore time wasting inconveniences, like….eating. And, in many cases, reminding us to eat, will probably fix the point above on moodiness. But on peril of your life..DO NOT TELL US THIS!!!

But you can remind us every once in a while that paying attention to our bodies, can actually go a long way in improving our work. When you put it that way, we will probably listen.