writing daze

For some reason, I woke up early yesterday–the last of my five day Thanksgiving break–to grade. And lesson plan. All that fun stuff that I missed in the previous four days. I finished shortly before 11 a.m. and told myself that any kind of workout was simply out of the question. To distract myself, I decided I should write.

Nine hours of writing later, my head was swimming. I didn’t even really want to stop. But I thought I should get some sleep before Monday morning’s classes. 

I fell asleep without a problem, only to awake at 4 a.m. Thinking about my characters. Or one character in particular. I had left her in a not-sogood situation, and I started to wonder if she would get fired. That wonder turned into worry about what she would do if she were to get fired.

So sympathetic of me, I know.

Except for the fact that I know she doesn’t get fired. And even if she were to get fired, I could easily write it away and write away my worry in the process. For the next two hours, I replayed the last scene over and over again.

Maybe I should add this…I should write that she says this…I forgot to write…

All I have to say is that if it’s going to be like this until this fourth draft is done then I hope that end is sooner rather than later.

 

weekend.

grind coffee beans. peanut butter toast. vacuum. laundry. Grand Central Market. run. bike. Dodgers vs. Giants. sleep. feed the cats. water the plants. grade. edit. write. write. write. Alicia Keys. re-write. soak beans. The Bluest Eye. Los Lobos. grade. Dodgers vs. Giants. friend. bike. weight lift. Ralphs Fresh Fare. simmer. Valerie. download. sleep. feed the cats. coffee. peanut butter. beach run. sun. homemade soup. simmer. shower. grade. family. Dodgers vs. Giants. feta quesadilla. iron. take out the trash. water the plants. sit. write.

on (re)writing: she isn’t dead

I started the re-write process with a simple grammar edit. Easy.

I moved to a setting edit. Not-so-easy. But doable.

And 120 pages into that second edit, I realized two things:

  • my setting edit was focused way too much on timing and not enough on actual place description. Whether or not this is important, I let settle into my brain for a bit. But after two random conversations, I realized it’s important to me. No big deal, I thought. That will be edit three.
  • one of the characters who died isn’t dead. Yup. And the funny thing is I didn’t realize that I shouldn’t kill her. I realized that she isn’t dead. I stopped writing to think this through. After all, the outline was finished with the character dying. It made sense in that timeline. And then all of a sudden, it didn’t.

Flash to me with my head on the table. Seriously. My summer is a few weeks from being over and the hours of editing I’ve put in is not only going to turn out to be a mere fraction of the writing that needs to be done, it’s probably going to keep me from starting the re-write of another story.

Sigh.

I suppose, though, that walking around running every errand possible for the past three days and repeating over and over in my head She isn’t dead. She isn’t dead. She isn’t dead. has really done nothing to help it get re-written.

The good news is, though, that a lot of what I think is the issue with the story will be solved by this revelation when it occurs. And I have to think that it will also be a better story.

It just leaves me with a lot of recalibrating to do in terms of my writing time. And my blogging time. I don’t want to abandon the chapter-by-chapter posts again, but I fear that when I go into this re-write nothing will make sense. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. For those who read, I guess my goal is that they get a taste of the way I write.

So, we’ll see. But in the meantime, she isn’t dead.

on writing & baseball: research

This is half a post about my failure to research prior to writing the first novel last time and half a post about my first experience at a minor league baseball game.

When I started writing last time, it was more about something I had to do to get my head and my psyche in order. Because I told myself (and still believe) that was the primary purpose, I did little in the way of actual research for this book. I had maybe a 3-page outline (compared to the 29-page one I did for my current draft) and some random character sketches.

I still don’t think the story is bad. I really don’t, and one of my major goals for this summer is to rewrite it (how that’s going to occur, I’m not really sure that I’ve thought out too well).

The primary comment that a friend made after reading that draft was “I never felt like I was there.” That made me aware of how much I had skipped in terms of setting. All senses of setting. In short, the book is about minor league baseball. It’s pure fiction, but still could use some of the little details that would make one feel that I have some clue about minor league baseball.

The worst part of this story is that there are several minor league teams within driving distance of me, and one of those belongs to the Dodgers.

So, I finally made the trek out to the Epicenter, home of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers Single-A affiliate.

It was quite an experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Blake Hawksworth was making a rehab start.  (I think it was his second 1-inning rehab start.)

Overall, it was fun, and a major deal compared to the price gouging I’m used to at Dodger Stadium. Parking was $4, my ticket behind home plate was $8, and my food was a whopping $12 (nachos, bottle of water, root beer float). All in all, I was quite happy with the price.

What I didn’t expect was the veritable three-ring circus that surrounded the game. Never have I heard music played during an at-bat. There were constant games and promotions. It was very family friendly. But apart from the three scouts sitting behind me, I don’t think many people were there to really watch baseball. The other major discovery that I made is that Single-A baseball looks absolutely nothing like major league baseball. (The rewrites that will need to happen to reflect that were swirling in my head.)

I don’t think I was too far off in terms of the stadium and facilities (I’ve visited the Dodgers spring training home, which also serves as a minor league stadium). But I definitely have my work cut out for me in conveying the atmosphere.

character overhaul (umm … rewrite)

It started driving over the 6th Street Bridge. I have to remember the exact location just in case it’s significant to the thought process. A person in the car next to me flicked a cigarette butt out of the window.

Why doesn’t she smoke?

The main characters of both of the novels I have drafted are women. And I think in my efforts to make them completely different, the second one is a little less strong that I’d like her to be. She’s definitely more reckless, but at times, to me, it seems that it’s without warrant. She definitely has a “because I can” attitude about things. Not that smoking would change any of this, but she definitely lacks a certain element of character that I want.

I don’t think that investigator Teresa Jordan will turn out to smoke at all, but I think it was important for me to think about why she doesn’t. The only problem (?) is that now she’s been stuck in my head for the past few days. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but it does make life a little interesting. And my apartment cleaner than it’s been in a while.

editing, editing, editing

I think I failed to mention that a couple of weeks ago, I finished the draft of my book Lucha. 

I realized this as I someone asked me the other day, “by the way how’s your book coming?”

Oh yea, I said. It’s done.

Yes. Done. Done. Done! And through stage one of the editing process. This was a very basic edit. I went through for all the grammatical issues and typos I could find. I did a very cursory overview of anything that may not be entirely clear. A complete hand edit is done, and now I’m working to rewrite the changes on my computer.

I have to admit that I’m loving the process. Within hours of being done with my school year, I sat down and finished the pencil edits. The computer revisions are at about page 92.

This is my major writing goal for the summer. Well, one of them.

The other is to do a major overhaul of the first novel. The funny thing is I love that story so much, but I’m not thrilled with the structure anymore. I learned so much writing this second novel draft, and I think that it will definitely help me create a solid second draft of the other novel.

The other goal for this summer is to start publishing Lucha on a blog again. I started a while back and stopped for a variety of reasons (mostly what I now consider to be bad advice).

So, if you want to start at the beginning, check it out. At this time, I think I’m going to update it three times a week until the story is done. And simultaneously, I think this will help me revise again.

Always, always a work in progress…

born to write?

I have always found it funny that people will agree that an athletic talent is just that–a talent. People are okay with saying that some people are born with natural abilities to run, jump and play. They will also acknowledge that training–even with the deepest of desire– will only get some people so far.

The thing that strikes me as odd is that people will argue to the death that this is not true about writing. Anyone can learn to write.

Do I agree? Yes and no. It really depends upon what type of writing we’re talking about.

I teach two standard 10th grade English classes, a Creative Writing course, and advise a Yearbook staff that lets me inject a little Journalism into my day once in a while.

So, yes. I do think anyone can learn to write–academically, that is. Academic writing is very formulaic. It is based on a set of rules, a general format, and the ability to think and analyze. It is one of my biggest pet peeves to hear a student say I’m just not good at writing. All that says to me is I just don’t want to bother to learn rules of grammar and spelling. And I really don’t want to research anything. And, more importantly, I don’t want to think about what I just read.

Do I think anyone can learn to be a journalist? Yes. That is also very formulaic. It relies more upon tenacity and quickness than anything. But when I think back to my days in college and memorizing the entire AP style book, I realize there are a host of rules there, too. The good journalists know them well. The great journalists have that “it” factor. The thing that allows them to convey humanity in a way that moves other people. That, I have to think, some people are born with.

And for the last element, can anyone write creatively? Yes, of course they can. With the same attention to structures and styles and grammar and spelling, of course anyone can write creatively. Here’s where I truly believe some people have a talent that others do not possess. Of course, they also have to work to develop it, but they start with a lot to work with.

The best writers in my English classes are those who are well-read and who work hard. They proofread. They write multiple drafts. They use a dictionary. Basically, they’ve studied and learned a skill.

But the good writers in my Creative Writing class have talent. Pure and simple. They have a creative spark and drive. They have a masterful command of their writing voice. They have ideas and stories to tell. The greater writers in this class have mastered their craft. They utilize punctuation to their advantage. They have a broad vocabulary, and they use it with ease.

They are the athlete who doesn’t need to practice, rarely shows up in the gym, but can still dunk a ball in the net without any trouble.

reading & writing

No writing. No reading.

At least that’s how it feels. Teaching high school English really means that those are all I do. I’m constantly reading. Constantly writing. I logged 10 hours of those two activities on Monday alone.

Yet, it feels like I’m not reading or writing a thing.

I did manage to squeeze in Paulo Coelho’s new novel, Aleph. But I’ve been carrying around a copy of Moneyball for at least two months now. I have read it in pieces. 15 minutes at a time. Twice a week. Waiting for cross-country practice to start. I’m dying to read The Art of Pitching, which sits on my nightstand, or any of the other books sitting there, waiting patiently to be read.

Instead, my brain is filled with novels I teach. Short stories I filter through. Texts on writing. Texts on reading. Research. Methodology.

And writing? Goodness. The sheer amount of words that have come out of me in the last three days in remarkable. A student sat today with her mouth open and said she didn’t understand how the words just come so easily. But I haven’t written in this blog in … a month? I’m not even sure.

I suppose I should be greatful that I am able to teach what I truly love. But every now and then, it would be nice to have large amounts of uninterrupted time to read and write whatever I please.

23,483

It’s weird to think that many words can come out of your brain. Not all at once, of course, but all the same.

Even weirder to think that they’re all telling one story.

I have to say this time around it’s going much smoother. It helps that I had some help with the outlining and character development. It also helps to know that I’ve done it before. So, I know what I have to do to get it done.

I discovered today, though, that I have one major timeline issue. I guess I didn’t catch it in my outline. Part of me wants to stay up and fix it now, but the smarter part of me knows that trying to fix something while I’m tired usually makes a bigger mess.

So, I can happily stop with 27 chapters and 23,483 words written.

staring: on writing

A friend and I have been listening to commencement speeches and sending them back and forth. The recent habit was inspired by a speech we listened to together. It was awful.

(The truth is, though, that there are some really great speeches out there. John Legend’s at the University of Pennsylvania from a few years back is probably my all time favorite. From it comes one of my favorite things to think about: the collision of sound and silence.)

A couple of days ago, I found Ann Patchett’s commencement address given at Sarah Lawrence in 2006. I loved this for this moment in my life because she talks about the journey of a writer.

What I found (funniest) most interesting was the concept of staring and how much time a writer spends staring.

Yesterday, I went to wash my car. I use one of those places where you put the quarters in the machine and wash it on your own with this little spray hose thing. Next to this place is an alley. And across from the alley was an apartment building. It was not very well-kept and on the door nearest to me was spray painted APT 3. It wasn’t well done. And I imagined that one day someone just got sick of knocks on the door asking for Apartment 1 and grabbed a spray can and wrote with loud, big, sloppy words. So there, it says.

On the steps sat a man. Hair every which way. Long beard. Smoking. A Jesus-looking figure, if you will. Minus the cigarette. So, as I dried the car, I stared at him. And from that staring came this entire story. An estranged daughter. An all-too-helpful son-in-law. A lifetime of struggles.

And then my mind went to something my father said to me last week. Your imagination is a little out of control.

It is.

When I sat down last night to get my chapters in on Lucha, I realized that my transition from the previous activity (in this case the Dodgers & yoga) requires staring. At nothing. Stare. Stare. Stare. Then, the words comes. Easily, really. And they don’t stop.

There’s really a lot to be said for staring.