Sunday, November 17, 2013

Comfort Is An Asset For An Author

I am sitting in my home office and writing today. I am taking a trip back in time as I do it. Well, maybe only a small trip. I am dressed in pajamas, slippers and bathrobe. I dress this way for a good reason. I am absolutely comfortable as I write. That, to me, is a huge part of the experience.

This used to be my "writing uniform" for almost every writing session, but that was back when I had swing shift hours. I would get up in the morning, read the newspaper, drink a couple of cups of coffee and adjourn to the home office. My uniform was pajamas, slippers and (in the colder months) bathrobe. I could write for hours dressed this way. My new schedule is basically 9-to-5, Monday through Friday. I can't settle into that old routine with those hours. But today is Sunday, and I am calling my own shots.

Here is my guideline: Make yourself physically comfortable, but make yourself uncomfortable in what you are writing. My pajamas uniform meets the first criterion, my story line meets the second.

Some people like a little alcohol while they write. Maybe a glass of wine (or two), or a beer (or two). I rarely do that. I prefer a clear head, thereby turning aside Hemingway's advice to "write drunk, edit sober." Comfort is relative to each writer. Add either classical music or Latin guitar on my headphones and I am one happy writer.

And that is what I am going to do right now.

WHAT I AM READING NOW: "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini. He is a patient, brilliant storyteller. I am only 100 pages in, but I am being drawn into life in Afghanistan. This novel is a big departure from some of my other recent readings: "The Jefferson Key" by Steve Berry, "The Bone Bed" by Patricia Cornwell, "The Highway" by C.J. Box, and "Where Men Win Glory," the story of Army Ranger/football star Pat Tillman, by Jon Krakauer. I will concentrate on Berry's novel in my next blog post.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Authors Can Add by Subtraction

I had a great day writing earlier this week. Most writers judge success by how many words they add to a novel on a given day. I reversed that. I was happy that I subtracted more than 10,000 words. It had to be done.

My novel took new directions after I attended Donald Maass' writing workshop (referred to as BONI) in September. I got great feedback on my work. I was told I write beautifully. I am great at using certain phrases and descriptions. But I also heard words authors don't like when they believe they have a completed novel.

Cold.

Predictable.

You are capable of much better work.

I don't have such a big ego that these criticisms sent me into a tirade. Exactly the opposite. The people who reviewed my work -- Maass, Lorin Oberweger, Jason Sitzes and Brenda Windberg -- are pros in the business. I listened, I internalized what they said and wrote, and I went home and started plotting ways to make my novel better.

Part of that is addition. There are swatches added to good chapters, and a handful of chapters that include new plot elements. But I had to prune parts that didn't work well. That trimming took away those 10,000 words. I even took two chapters I loved and put them into storage for use in another book.

It's simple math: Addition by subtraction. I am ready to make another editing trip through my entire manuscript, and there will be other changes. As I was told during the workshop, there really is no such thing as a completed novel. A published novel, yes, but never complete.

This is a big thank you to my BONI critics. I needed your slaps in the face and your excellent suggestions. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go back to editing and revisions.