#ApocalypseNation #amwriting #revising #cleaninghouse

Why so many drafts? Why so much work?

It’s because you have to get everything into the piece. You can’t pick or choose, not in the beginning. Everything has to go in. All the characters, the landscapes, the details, the dialogue, the mysterious stuff that bubbles up from inside that you can’t control, the mystery, the entire story arc—you can’t leave any out.

Early on, it seemed like it was imperative to only write what I thought needed to be there. I attempted too much cutting and paring from the start. It took me maybe ten years to learn that I had to include it all. And it took another five years to discover that I have to take most of it back out. I have to put it all in at the beginning but then I have to take most of it out by the end. That’s why it takes so long. How many times did I get stuck somewhere in a story and decide that the only way forward was by “figuring something out?” How many times did I let that stalled motion kill the story, while I slogged through the muck of “figuring”? There’s no figuring involved. I simply had to learn to put it all in and then be patient. The stuff that needs to be cut loose will rise up all by itself.

It’s like moving into a house. You have all this stuff that you bring in. You might have thrown away a few things before you moved, but still there’s boxes and bags everywhere. You brought everything that you thought was important. All the boxes sit around and you maybe set up the bed and hook up the cable that first night, but you’re exhausted from loading and hefting your stuff. And then you probably have to go to work the next day so you let the boxes sit for a while, pick through them after you get home, or on the weekends. After a few weeks, you’ve been living with all the stuff out and about and you can see things a little more clearly. You have the spices in the cabinet and the DVD’s in the rack and the sheets and towels in the closet. You’re really starting to see the place—really starting to make it feel like yours. Some pictures go up on the wall and then you decide you need a new lamp and maybe some new curtains. The pile of stuff is no longer that big. You get the place decorated the way you want it, adjust the angle of the television, bring in some plants to brighten up the study. Finally, you decide that you really love the place and you’re about to settle in and relax for a while. It’s then that you notice all the leftover boxes. A lot of that stuff that you brought with you is now superfluous. So you begin to throw stuff away. Some of the stuff you store in the attic, just in case, but mostly you can clear out everything you don’t need. Only once all that stuff is gone can the place be really finished.

It’s the same way with drafts. Everything goes in the first draft, even the stuff you don’t think you’ll need in your new place. Everyone works differently, of course, and you may start throwing stuff out early, but I’ve found that I can’t go throwing stuff away until I find out what I need. That’s what’s happened with my novel manuscript Apocalypse Nation. I thought I was done drafting. It felt “finished.” But I was still at that stage of home decorating where I was blind to all the boxes in the corners, filled with unnecessary belongings. With a little editing help from a fantastic new friend, I found that I had a lot of things I could cut, throw away, reshape, or store in the attic. Now Apocalypse Nation is bright. It is a literary thriller—as much about people and sacrifice as it is about things that go bump in the night. I have hope that it might find a home. You are going to want to read it. Stay tuned for further developments.

Summer Writing Awesomeness

I drafted by longhand all summer with a strange feeling of joyishness about the work. I did not look behind. I wrote forward, a slim plot scratched out to keep me on track. I was unsure what I wrote each day because I never reread. Only forward. Only now. Now, I’m transcribing the longhand to a word document, typing it out, the first step in a multi-step revision process. And although I feel strange admitting to liking the story–let alone loving it, or being totally jazzed by how it is unfolding–that is exactly what’s happening. It’s a very strange story but on each strange page I transcribe, I feel like I’ve tapped into something good. I still have miles to go before I sleep, but–dare I say it? Admit it?–this writing is making me happy.

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Revising

My goal this past summer was to write eight stories between the end of June and the end of August. Eight stories in eight weeks. I felt behind some and came to the finish just one week late. I liked all the stories and knew they needed a lot of revision. I’ve been working my way through them even as I work on a new novel. The stories are coming along very nicely. I’ll be done with the revisions by the end of my winter break and can spend my writing time during the semester working on my zombie/apocalyptic novel.

The stories are quite different than the new work. They weren’t conceived as linked in any way, but because I wrote them in such close proximity to each other, they feel a part of a complete whole. For my money, I think they make a pretty nice collection of stories. I’m revising the last two now. “Sanctuary” started as a goof on the CSI franchise, but goofs don’t necessarily make good stories. I had a couple watching a show called Crime Scene Examination, and suddenly I just didn’t want to make fun of the show, or the people. In fact, the show is helping save my characters’ lives, although I won’t tell you why, or how. So I couldn’t really make fun of CSI and get that across as well. Plus, I like CSI, a fine morality play on TV, all forumla, but good anyway. So, in the story, I tried to write the best two episodes of CSI that I could. The final two shows of the season. If you watch CSI, you’ll recognize the types of people on the show, although I did try to make them their own people, not just copy the characters on television.

The last story also concerns television and is narrated by the child star of a television show called Moon Over Manhattan. Funny that the final two stories of the collection concern television. Maybe I was sub-consciously trying to write stories that TV watchers (like me) might want to read.

Of course, if any CSI producers check this blog and are intrigued by my description of a killer revision of their show and want to buy my storyline and give me a guest slot (I’d totally be a body!) on CSI that will catapult me to fame and fortune and a really cool car:

…that would be okay too. Hey, a guy can dream, right?