What Does “Writing” Mean?

I used to beat myself up over the fact that I didn’t actually write words on paper as often as I thought one was required to do in order to call oneself a writer. The simplest advice anyone offers when faced with the question “how do you become a writer?” is to say “write.” They imply that it should be done every day, that you can’t BE something unless you DO that thing regularly. I mean, sure, you can call yourself an astronaut, but unless you’re in outer space, you’re just a person in a funny suit.

Writing, they say, requires repetition and volume and schedule. Writing professionally takes practice. Writing is an acquired process, it doesn’t just happen.

This last part is the biggest truth out there: WRITING DOESN’T JUST HAPPEN.

 

When I sat down to write my first book back in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. I had a main character and a vague plot with a rickety outline. I wrote the thing like I was talking to a guy at a bar who had a vague interest in what I was saying. I tried to describe action movie scenes on paper. I figured as long as I wrote two or three pages a day, I was being a writer.

Granted, that first book got me an agent, but it didn’t get published. The second book got a bit of attention, but it didn’t get published either. The third book excited my agent but I couldn’t get through the rewrites. Finally, even I lost interest in the fourth book, with its nonexistent conflict and unsympathetic characters.

 

A month or two ago, I sat down to start book #5 (though, honestly, it might as well be called book #1 at this point). I’m nearly 40 pages into it and it doesn’t even have a title yet. I wrote out character histories nearly two years ago. Scenes were scribbled out on index cards over a year ago. Bits of dialogue and ancillary character names and suggested quirks and idiosyncrasies were jotted down on backs of scrap paper and other paper-clipped forms. I even wrote the first page a while back.

Then I chucked it all.

Why? Because I wanted to slow down. I wanted my writing to take up more space. I didn’t want to rush from one thing to the next simply for the sake of getting it done. This book is going to be written on my terms, no schedule, no outline, no pressure.

Sometimes, I go to the library and sit there for an hour, scrolling through Instagram photos until something inspires me. Sometimes I hop on the treadmill and run a couple miles, singing songs in my head, stirring emotions that can be harnessed. Sometimes I’ll chop up vegetables for a salad, the rhythm of the knife knocking ideas loose. EVERYTHING I DO IS WRITING.

 

I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

My new book, the nameless one, deals with a Hollywood has-been trying to get his groove back. He’s offered the job of a lifetime and tries his hardest to screw it up. He’s the proverbial square peg being jammed in a round hole, except in this case, the round hole is life itself and he’s had enough of it.

Pressure and expectations and self-loathing are powerful forces. Sometimes you just need to do it your own way.

Let Me Explain.

I started this blog, like, seven or eight years ago as a repository for my pop culture musings while I was doing government work. It ebbed and flowed with activity as the years progressed, mostly resembling a dried up creek bed experiencing sudden flash floods. Things picked up when I turned my focus towards a burgeoning writing career. Then, somewhere towards the end of 2013, it ground to a halt.

The summer of 2013 hit me hard on the personal front. A lot of my relationships with people changed. Friends died. Others left. Everything suddenly fell apart.

It took a little over a year to piece myself back together. During that time, I didn’t write a word. I barely left the house. I drank a lot. Watched some soccer. Took to running and yoga fairly consistently. Slowly, and carefully, things gained some normalcy. My wife took the same job as me and we now work together every day. Our kids got a year older and more capable, more independent. I started caring what my home looked like. And I picked up a pencil again.

Before I go any further, here’s a quick cheat sheet for new readers:

  • Wrote Book #1 and got an agent.
  • Wrote Book #2 and got the attention of some Hollywood folks.
  • Wrote Book #3 and…my agent wanted me to rewrite the second half.
  • Tried to rewrite, then gave up, then tried again, then gave up.
  • Tried to write Book #4 and gave up after one page.
  • Tried to rewrite Book #3 again and gave up.
  • Started writing a different Book #4, got halfway through, and hit a wall.

NOW, I’m going back to rewriting Book #3 and…so far so good. It’s amazing what a little time and distance can do. The characters feel alive again. The setting feels like home.

I’ve also started reading more and doing a biweekly comic book podcast with an old friend. If that’s your thing, check out Super Comic Disco Party Time!

With things back on track, I hope to provide more consistent updates for that scant handful of people who read this. I’d also like to offer some quick advice: PERSEVERE. Things can get difficult. Life is full of obstacles. Just keep going. You can do it.

 

Writing and Talking.

While nearly halfway into scribbling out my fourth novel, I’ve shared some attention with my other hobby: COMIC BOOKS. Though I only really read them in trade paperback collections now (aside from the occasional 1970’s back issue), I’m clearly still influenced by and opinionated about them.

To that end, my friend John and I have launched a new podcast called Super Comic Disco Party Time! that you can find on our website and also on iTunes. Our first episode went up last week and we’re recording #2 this Thursday. We basically talk about characters and storylines, both good and bad, and what we would do differently with them. We’re so humble.

Please take a listen. If you like it, let us know by email (SCDPTshow@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@SCDPTshow).

Meanwhile, I will continue writing this book and hopefully have some cool publsihing news to share later this summer…

He Had the Eyes

He had the eyes, right? That sadness. That depth of pain that rang out across all the nervous laughter, across all the incessant prattling from accent to joke and back again. That manic energy helped to contain a nonstop darkness that twisted the light and ached to be set free.

None of us will ever know where it came from or how it chose to be seen. We only saw the bits we wanted to, the parts that brought a smile or a laugh, the parts that made us roll our eyes and change the channel. “He’s doing it again.” The parts that made us think the ride was over, all the stories had been told. “Why is he always like this?” The parts that even the biggest fans grew weary of. “He is so annoying.”

He was so annoying. He took our need to be entertained and he crushed it. He was relentless with the constant need to be ON. We didn’t know. Sure, we’d heard the stories. He told them himself. Always at ease when the lights were on, when the sweat was rolling over and between the creases, the weary lines. But obviously what we thought was ON was more often OFF. He was clinging to the punchlines for salvation.

Then he turned it upside down on us. He let out bits of the shadows, let them curl up through the screen and reach into us. The person we knew as funny could also be human. He could be kind. He could be attentive. He felt what we felt because he was just like us. Life is falling upon all of us. Sometimes it’s difficult to catch your breath, to find your way, to even open your eyes.

The best humor comes from sadness, from looking at the worst and finding the best. You scramble for a spark to hold on to, to cling to, to squeeze the fire of life from with every beat of your heart. Yet sometimes it simply isn’t enough.

Sometimes you can tell. Ignore the smile. Look at the eyes.

End of Summer Summary

The trip to Portland was eye-opening. We’d move the family in a second, if we could. A few things need to work out first.

School is back in session. That means my schedule has changed. After surviving high school and doing some creative course selection in college, I never thought I’d be a morning person again. Welcome to adulthood. I hope I won’t be staying in this weird place too long.

As far as writing goes, there’s some bad and worse news…

After my last check-in with the west coast branch of my agency, they decided to close the place down. My book has been relegated to Hollywood limbo, most likely forever. I begged my agent to submit the manuscript to a couple smaller publishers in a last ditch effort for publication. Nothing else to report there right now.

As soon as I’m done here, I’m going to finish typing up the last few pages of Book #3. My agent then asked me to sit on it a month and re-read it to make sure it’s as good as can be before we try to throw it at editors. We’ve surmised that this is the most mainstream thing I’ve written (and plan to write at least for the next two or three books), so it’s best to take our time and perfect it.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some research materials for Book #4. It’s going to be a fun one, so I want to take my time with it. Always need to have something in the pipeline to distract me from the crushing emptiness of reality, right?

Keeping the Plates Spinning…

One month later and there’s still no word from the West Coast. All I know is that the producer has given the book to the director. From what the agents tell me, this is Step #1 on a list of steps that continues to grow as the days go on. Apparently, from here, the two of them decide if they want to pursue the book as a movie without paying me up front for it. If not, then we’re back to square one and my agents will re-submit it to the next producer on their list.

If, however, this producer fancies it, then we move on to the next step which also does not involve me getting paid. In fact, I’m not exactly sure where on this list of steps that payment to me actually comes into play. It’s the thickest onion, layers-wise, and it’s already making me cry.

From what I can gather, the producer then shakes my script at some studios, some investors, maybe even a famous actor or two, and sees who is willing to throw money at it. Then there’s a screenwriter involved. Some casting decisions. Maybe a caterer. I dunno.

I won’t lie. It’s both a fun process and an infuriating one. When book #3 stalled a bit, the non-action on Sleep Suits Irish was driving me crazy. I have no patience. Now that I’ve gotten back on track and only have about 100 pages left in the new book, my focus has returned and I feel better about things.

Plus, you can’t help but be excited when you know that the producer-director team responsible for one of the most famous late 80’s action-comedy movies is considering adapting your book for the big screen. I mean, the film these two did basically created a new genre when it exploded onto the scene. It was the biggest box office success of the year, even garnering an Academy Award nomination.

We shall see.

In other news, I’ve got pages of notes for book #4 and I’m very excited to start writing it. I’m going to be exploring some new formatting and digging into some of my favorite childhood pasttimes. Book #3 is rounding the last corner and getting ready to hand off the baton.

Also, the wife and I are heading to Portland, Oregon at the end of the month. We’re on a bit of a recon mission, hopefully considering a relocation at some point. If anyone has any places we should check out, please let me know…

Irish on the West Coast

Quick update: The west coast branch of my literary agency liked the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish and have submitted it to a producer.

I won’t give any specific details, but I will say that this producer is a former studio head who helped shepherd, develop, and release some of the biggest movies of the eighties and nineties. He now has his own production company and, interestingly enough, I’ve been told that he’s looking for a project for a director who’s trying to make a comeback in the industry.

Could be a win-win for everyone involved.

THEN, if the film rights sell, we go back to the publishing houses with that small trophy and wave it around a bit hoping that someone will want to publish a book based on a possible movie that’s based on the book itself.

I think I need a drink.

 

Not Quite One Third Plot-wise

I lied.

First of all, I haven’t been sticking to my writing schedule. Or at least I’m not sticking to it EXACTLY. See, I had a lot going on last week…in fact, today is my first full day of work at my office since the end of May. I ended up taking last Friday off and had HOURS that I could’ve written something.

Instead, I took a nap. Unintentionally.

See, I thought I was at “that point” in the book where I was ready to bring all the plot points together and start snowballing the whole thing. Last Friday was supposed to be the day that I began that chapter. The only problem was, I had no idea what I was going to write. It turns out that the book was nowhere near where I thought it was. I have this thing in my head, I guess you could call it a defense mechanism of sorts, where I play out a book from beginning to end. Then, when it comes time to actually write it, I don’t want to. I want to move on. I feel like I’ve already done it.

So, the second way I lied is by saying the book is a third of the way done. It’s not even close. I sat down on the couch last Friday and went over all the characters in my book (in between games of solitaire on my Kindle and actual napping), figuring out where they are now and what their destinations are by the end of the book. I realized I have some more development to do before the plotlines coalesce.

So I spent an hour outlining almost the entire book in a two-page summary.

Then, through a comical series of printer ink mishaps, eBay issues, forgetfulness, and general frustration, I ended up skipping library time and hating myself all weekend.

The good news is that I wrote yesterday, nearly 5 pages hand-written, and I’m following my new outline to the letter. I’m now writing chapter 9 and it looks like everything will come together in chapter 13…so even though I’m a third of the way through in page count (approximately), it looks like the climax of the book may actually happen at the halfway point. Seems appropriate.

And the book FEELS better now than it did before. All the foreshadowing leads somewhere. All the characters have a purpose.

It just sucks that I’m so impatient…I’ve already got the opening line to a new book in the back of my head…

 

One Third into Book #3

Book #3 is officially over 100 pages now. Finished chapter 8 yesterday. Word count is just under 23,500. That puts me one-third of the way to the finish line. More or less.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m basing my book’s progress strictly on word count or page count, because that would be ludicrous and arbitrary. I’m only ludicrous and arbitrary in my normal day-to-day dealings (such as parenting, or driving, or mowing the lawn). Writing is much more serious to me.

No, I know I’m a third of the way through because chapter 8 was the last “set-up” chapter. I’ve established the setting and my main characters. I’ve created an introductory conflict and some inner turmoil. I’ve dropped in some background info that puts some other characters’ motives into question. The next chapter begins phase two where everything ramps up.

I’ve been playing with a new structure (new to me, at least) on this project. See, I basically have two protagonists that, so far, have been following parallel paths with their own problems. My narrative voice has alternated between the guy on odd chapters and the girl on even chapters. The narration is third person and doesn’t skew specifically to one character or another, but the story follows either the guy or the girl. It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve noticed that the guy chapters move faster for me and have a lot more going on. The girl chapters are slower and more emotional. This has nothing to do with my ability to write female characters (which I think I’m rather capable of doing), but more about what’s going on in their lives.

With chapter 9 (or 10 at the latest), I merge the two storylines. From there, I’ll be able to focus on either (or both) of the protagonists as well as turning the narrative onto two of the supporting characters. I’d turn the narrative onto the protagonist too, but aside from a minor character who acts as a conflict catalyst, the book’s protagonist is really the setting itself and the circumstances that setting has caused for the characters. There’s also a Macguffin thrown in there that swirls everything up for the cast.

It’s all so meta, huh?

On a scheduling front, I’ve finally managed to make Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my writing days…2-3 hours after work on each day. A bit of structure always helps and sometimes forces me to write when I don’t really want to. Poor me.

As for book #2: I’m waiting. My agents have the updated manuscript and are, hopefully, reading it now. Fingers crossed that it moves forward…

 

And Now We Wait…

Edits, tweaks, new chapters, punched up dialogue…ALL the rewrites on Sleep Suits Irish are done. AGAIN.

The whole thing ended up being just over 77,000 words and 352 pages. Sent it off to my agents (in NYC and LA) Wednesday night. The waiting is the hardest part.

If you think about it, I’ve already been through a long, drawn-out round of rejections, and now I’m setting myself up for it again (when I spoke to the LA folks I think I heard mention of sending the book out to 20 or so producers). That’s like asking the cute girl out to the prom, having her say no, then going back the next day and asking her sexy but crazy best friend when the cute girl’s out of earshot.

Now I need to decompress and get my mind right to climb back on that horse called Book #3. Hopefully a weekend of mindless drinking will do it!

I used to think, if I didn’t have to have a “real” job, that I could easily write two books a year (maybe even 5 in 2 years). Now, with the rewrites and the mood swings and the regrouping and the dashed dreams and the Phoenix rising once again, I’m thinking maybe one and a half. It’s all so draining.

But hey, that still gives me time to catch up on entire seasons of the Rockford Files on DVD, so I guess there’s a silver lining…