Losing it

For every thing I’ve done right on this first-time-writing-a-novel thing, I feel I’ve done two or three things wrong.  I work at it most every day, but I don’t always work organized.  I take notes as I work, but those notes are not always coherent or even helpful.  I read tons of writing advice, and sometimes I read so much writing advice I overthink when I should just be writing.

This week, the biggest writing sin yet.  Except if I’m honest, it’s not a this week, it’s more a past-couple-of-weeks thing.

I lost my editing notebook.

My editing process is twofold.  Rather, it was twofold.  I kept notes in the margins of the text as I worked, especially writing down things which were too big to tackle while I’m trying to work quickly through the draft or things I wasn’t sure how to fix.  I also kept my notebook handy, writing down a running list of general things which needed fixing in the novel as a whole; continuity issues, missing elements, character arcs, and a running outline of the book.

Losing this book is driving me up the walls.  I’m so incredibly frustrated.  First of all, for losing all that work that I’ve done and will have to re-do (never mind that I won’t be able to do it the same way next time around).  Second, for the loss of momentum; I haven’t taken notes the same way elsewhere because I keep hoping the thing will turn up and I don’t want to deal with copying notes over or, god help me, keeping two notebooks.  Third, and probably worst of all, I am a jerk to myself.  I mean, a rat bastard.  The Howler Monkey of Doubt has been on a gleeful screeching bender since the book has gone missing: “YOU’RE AN IDIOT FOR LOSING IT, IT MUST NOT HAVE MATTERED TO YOU THAT MUCH, GOOD LUCK ACTUALLY GETTING PUBLISHED IF YOU CAN’T EVEN KEEP UP WITH A LOUSY NOTEBOOK HAW HAW HAW”.  Yeah, that guy always speaks in all caps, he’s as annoying as you could imagine, and he’s in my head ALL THE TIME.

I’ve tried all the tricks.  Retraced my steps.  Looked through all my bags, every drawer in every desk near any place I ever work on the novel.  Checked the cars.  Checked the floor under the desk.  Checked under the bed.  Looked in the tank on the back of the toilet.  Anywhere I might conceivably have been thumbing through the thing.  Not a sign of it.  I’ve uncovered all kinds of things I thought lost or thrown away forever — some very nice pens I thought I’d lost, a few decks of cards I used in class during my first year teaching, my old notebook I used as a soccer coach last year — but not the one thing I need.  It’s either been stolen by a malevolent authorial gremlin or maybe, JUST MAYBE, some clearer-thinking, much more level-headed version of myself hid it away, knowing I’m going about this edit all wrong.

Because make no mistake, I constantly fear that I’m doing all this writerly stuff wrong.  I drafted wrong, I’m taking notes wrong, I’m evaluating the copy wrong, I’m not reading critically enough, I’m reading too critically, I’m working too slowly through the draft, I’m not taking enough time… name it, I’ve had that spot of doubt.  Let’s not pretend I haven’t lost things that mattered before, but they always seem to turn up eventually.  I’m going on about two weeks without my notebook, and considering I was using it just about every day, it’s making less and less sense that I simply mislaid it.

I’m talking this in circles and it doesn’t help, but I can’t adequately describe the depths of my frustration with myself for losing this thing.  Granted, I could probably re-create the notes I’d taken in the book with a night or two of dedicated work, but the simple fact that it’s been lost in the first place has so disheartened me…

Ugh.  If it doesn’t show up over the weekend I’m going to have to start the stupid notebook over from scratch.

Another Dilemma, and a Writerly Question

Because I like it, and because I have to scratch my own back on this project a little (because nobody else is going to do it for me) I’m posting another favorite passage of the day.  I read this and it just made me smile knowing that this sprung fully-formed from my own personal thought-box.  But the passage comes with its own problem.  Rather, it’s a problem related to the passage by dint of the fact that the passage made me realize the problem.

God, my thoughts on this thing are a trainwreck.  The problem, or rather, the dilemma, is this:

I think the book is full of scenes that are good.  At least, the book is full of scenes which are potentially good.  And I like my main characters.  I love them, in fact.  They’re ridiculous and earnest and silly and flawed and, ultimately, I hope, believable and maybe a little compelling.  My leads, in short, are great.  But as I read the work — and I recall thinking this as I was drafting the thing — I realize that some of my favorite scenes don’t directly involve my main characters.  In fact, the scene I read today is easily my favorite scene in the whole book.  Hands down.  And neither of my main characters is in it.

I’m not saying it’s the best scene in the book, but it’s certainly the one I enjoy most.  So far.  And in retrospect, considering what I remember writing toward the end of the novel, I don’t know that it gets any better than this at the moment.  And this feels wrong.

So for my fellow authors and authors-in-training out there: Is it a problem if my favorite scene in the book takes place between characters who aren’t even on the marquee?

Anyway, here’s the passage:

…for the children of the gods, these tremendous abilities are as natural as breathing, as unconscious and automatic as reaching for a pen to jot down a phone number.  Only when we discover that not only has the pen been removed, but it has been replaced with a snarling, voracious badger can we approximate the feeling that struck Calli in that moment.


I’m falling a little bit behind on my daily schedule for editing, but if I can keep finding gems like this along the way, maybe my Past Self can keep my Present Self motivated.

You’ll Join Eventually, Anyway

Chuck’s challenge for the week:  SpammerPunk Horror.  In short, mash up the horror genre with spam e-mail.

Here’s a goofy entry.  Inspiration drawn in part from “Re: Your Brains” by Johnathan Coulton.


You’ll Join Eventually, Anyway.



You are receiving this message because we have determined that you are Horde material.  We are contacting you in the hopes that you’ll seriously consider joining our ORGANization — one of the fastest-growing in North America, and soon, the world!  Many of your friends are already a part of the movement.  Join now and see what all the buzz is about?  (Flies are only part of it!)

What is the Horde?

It’s a group of like-minded individuals who share similar interests, such as shambling around aimlessly, eating, hunting for food, and losing weight holistically (sometimes even losing entire limbs at once — name a weight-loss program that can boast that).  Members of the horde eat together, walk together, and hunt together, but what we really enjoy doing is recruiting new members to our ever-growing movement.  Sound like fun?  Contact a representative today!

Why should you join?

Because the Horde is inevitable.  Our numbers are growing daily, and the more members we have, the more we grow.  Soon there will be nobody left.  You will be one of us one day anyway — why not get in now and start enjoying the benefits of membership today?

What do you get for joining?

Life eternal, for one thing (as long as your body stays in one piece — or maybe two).  You’ll never need to sleep again once you’re exposed to our patented lifestyle secrets (many of our members report that they have literally stopped aging!).  And you will have a worldwide community to which you will always belong.

Still not convinced?  Here are some member success stories…

I lived alone my whole life.  When the Horde came and got me, I found myself instantly surrounded by friends.  Now I walk with them every day.  -Jim, former introvert

I can remember a time in my life when I was scared to break a nail.  Well, I lost three fingers the other day and most of my foot a week ago, and I didn’t feel a thing.  Thanks, Horde!  -Sally, former secretary

I never thought I’d acquire a taste for human flesh.  Now, I hardly eat anything else.  -Arthur, former vegetarian

What are you waiting for?

Contact one of our representatives today.  You can find us anywhere: we usually roam the streets or cluster in dark basements, looking dusty, sometimes moaning or drooling.  Don’t be alarmed — that’s just the Horde having fun!  If you’re lucky, there may be Horde members outside your door right now, just waiting to accept you into our ranks.

You can’t hold out forever.  There’s only so much food.


Do not respond to this e-mail, as zombies have difficulty navigating an inbox.

The Shape of a Story

There’s a shape to writing, and that shape is a pear.

No, I’m kidding.  To be fair, writing does go pear-shaped, almost every day if I’m honest, but rare are the days when it doesn’t turn around and end up feeling productive or enlightening or, at the very least, right to have written, even on the days when the writing is total bollocks.  But to say that writing is pear-shaped is to oversimplify in the worst way.  It’s calling a baby a factory for poop and tears and snot.  It’s calling a puppy a factory for poop and vomit and midnight barking.  It’s calling my car a lumbering bucket of soon-to-be-rusted-and-worthless bolts.

Also, to call writing pear-shaped is to essentially say writing is fruity, and it’s certainly not that.  Fruit can’t shave away at your soul like writing does.  Fruit can’t make you feel impossibly brilliant and numbingly stupid in an instant.  At its best, fruit is delicious but transient.  It doesn’t stay with you.

No, I think writing is not so much a shape as a line.  Specifically, it’s a line describing a downward arc through the depths of the soul and the psyche.  You start high, full of motivation and ambition and giddy thoughts that you’re writing the best thing ever, that the story will be momentous and the characters transcendent and the themes and the symbolism and the echoes of the real world will reverberate through the annals of literature, or, at the very least, score you an interview segment on Conan.  You start at the top.

Then the work begins and you lose steam.  You start to struggle.  You realize that writing is hard.  That it’s incredibly difficult to write believable characters, that making multiple plotlines weave together is as easy as playing Chinese Checkers blindfolded, that the nuts and bolts of your narrative make as much sense as a box of chocolates without the label card.  You bite into this thing and you don’t know if you’re getting coconut or caramel or a goldfingered disgusting cherry.  Then you get halfway through your draft and it gets really hard.  The characters are stupid.  Your idea is stupid.  Your narrative might as well be a bile-soaked hairball for all that you want to try and straighten it out, and the end you imagined makes about as much sense as the Duck-Billed Platypus.  And down, down, down you slide.

But you FINISH.  And you float there for a moment, translucent and gleeful, basking in the fact that you finished this monolith task.  Slew the mammoth.  Ate the five-pound steak.  And then you re-read the thing and you realize it’s even worse than you feared, and DOWN, DOWN, DOWN you slide, all the way to the bottom, where maybe one day you finish the thing, and it’s terrible and crippled and ugly and squealing and you feel like you really should put it out of its misery but you spent so much time on it that maybe you ought to just send it out, and then the bottom really, finally, truly, for realsies, drops the fargo out and you plummet into the all-consuming black hole at the bottom of your self-doubting soul.

No, that’s not right.

Writing is a line, but it doesn’t arc downward.  It curls up, like the pointy ends of Snidely Whiplash’s majestic mustache.  You start at the bottom.  Your idea, ill-formed.  Your characters, half-baked.  Your voice uncertain.  But you pick the ball up and begin to write.  For days, you struggle.  You fight the momentum of non-productiveness and you urge the story forward, bit by agonizing bit.  And then a little miracle happens.  The lights start to come on.  The engine turns on, splutters, then catches.  The story starts to move under its own power, just a little bit.  And this gives you hope.  And you keep writing and the story develops its own momentum and one day you’re writing but it doesn’t feel like you’re writing anymore, you’re just seeing the story unfold and transcribing as it does, like some lunatic translator scribing a lost manuscript into English for the first time.  The dragons you’ve yet to slay don’t seem so large, the sharks don’t seem to have quite so many teeth, and you feel you may actually finish this thing, and that momentum lights in your fledgling little wings and spirits you off the ground.  And you finish the thing, in a heady swirl of accomplishment and drunken confidence and sheer self-amazement that from nothingness you have created SOMEthing, in an act that flies in the face of everything you thought you knew before.

You still have doubts, but you know you’ve accomplished a capital “T” Thing, and then you go back and read it and you realize that for all its problems it’s not that bad.  And that realization buoys you even further up, into the rarefied air that only the astronauts and the gods get to breathe (okay, astronauts don’t breathe the outside air, I get that, I’m on a roll here).  And you begin to refine your creation, to shape and polish and sharpen it into the thing you never knew it could be, and then, finally, giddy with achievement and drunk with confidence, you send it out, and Icarus himself could not fly closer to the sun.

Maybe Icarus is the wrong comparison, or maybe he’s the perfect one.  Both of those lines are true, and both are false.  Writing lifts you up on the crests of the highs and casts you down into the snakepits of the lows, in a wickedly exhausting roller-coaster ride that somehow lasts for months on end.  The point is, it’s a hell of a ride, and you might barf at the end.

This post is part of SoCS.  Somehow I wrote all this without an edit.

Can I Return These?

I tore my sole up in January.  I struggled with plantar fasciitis through spring.  I battled back against my withered fitness during the summer.  Now the fall is here, the runner’s Mecca, and by all accounts I should be back up to speed and racking up the miles and pushing up my distance and reveling in the gorgeous weather that will last a scant month or so.

But my feet are borked again.  I felt a tweak this weekend when I got in some runs in Florida, so for that reason and that reason alone (not at all because the kids were away and I was able to get some entirely uninterrupted and unmolested sleep, nope, not even a little bit because of that) I took several days off.  Yesterday evening it became impossible to put it off any further and I went for a run with the dog, and now it’s official.  They’re borked.  Both feet, no less.  I’ve got pain in my right heel not unlike the precursors to the plantar fasciitis I feel I’m finally recovering from in my left.  My left foot feels like I stepped on a sharp rock, and while my foot was tweaked upward, I hit it with a hammer.

First-world problems, I know. Boo hoo, I can’t run without this nagging pain in my feet.  Problem is, if I can’t run, I’m not going to want to do any exercise, because other exercise is only going to make me mad that I’m not running.  And if I’m not running or exercising, I’m going to start feeling sluggish.  And when I start feeling sluggish, I’m not going to be thinking as clearly for my writing nor motivated to eat any better, and it’s all going to turn into one towering nosedive that ends with my health in the crapper and my mood shattered on the rocks.

The most frustrating thing is, I don’t know what to attribute the injuries to.  On one hand I think it may be all my recent runs in my VFFs, but then I wonder why my left foot improved for so long doing almost all of my runs in them.  On the other hand, I wonder if it’s perhaps the shoes I’m wearing while I’m at school and on my feet for better than half of my workday.  On the third hand, maybe I’m just getting old and my feet are broken.

Seriously.  I’m not yet 35, is it time for parts of my body to start simply breaking down?  I know it’s a reality I’ll have to face sooner or later, but it just doesn’t seem right.  Do they have some sort of guy-in-his-thirties warranty or trade-in program?  Because I’m pretty sure the feet I have are defective.


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