Wednesday, February 29, 2012

100,000 The Hard Way (and Ramblings on the Past Couple of Weeks)

I realize it's been a while since I last weighed in on my progress, but the past week-and-a-half have been filled with all manner of unexpected twists and turns. I apologize in advance if this post isn't perfect prose, but hey, you can't complain about the price, right?

Most importantly, my apartment flooded a couple of weeks ago after a careless individual (or individuals) didn't notice the water level rising in my bathroom after using the facilities. Most of my time the past week-and-a-half has been spent trying to get in touch with various employees of the insurance company, as well as the drying/reconstruction company that is doing the extensive work required to get my place back to "normal."

It's been a constant pain in my ass and a huge inconvenience to myself and my neighbors below me. Thank God for insurance, or else I would be even more pissed off than I already am (if that's possible).

If I was in the "old blog" frame of mind, I'm sure I could find a lesson somewhere in all of this, but for now, I'm just waiting for my home office to dry out and for the workers to replace the carpeting. That alone would be a minor miracle, but will probably take another week or two.

Also, as I neared the end of "Part II" of my novel, I came down with a wicked case of writer's block with regard to the story for "Part III." I had developed a couple of ideas that I didn't really like, and languished for days putting off finishing the Part II "epilogue," if you will, because I didn't have anything ready to go. I'll go into "writer's block" more in-depth in a future post, but for now, know that it's a pretty helpless feeling, like being stuck in an unfamiliar town without a map or GPS.

It was a trying time for me, depressed about the flood, worried about Part III, and just feeling all-around shitty.

So, I did what I used to do in such situations; I started watching documentary series on Netflix and reading some non-fiction about topics that interested me.

I was already working my way through David McCulloch's excellent book 1776, about the first year of the Revolutionary War, when I noticed that the History Channel did a whole series about the Revolutionary War that happened to be on Netflix. For a couple of days, I tore through both the book and the series, for some reason obsessed with that time period, and the way that Washington and his underdog band of misfit officers and soldiers were able to overcome loss after loss to finally, decisively strike the British at a few incredibly important points in the war: the Seige of Boston. Crossing the Delaware to strike the German mercenaries at Trenton. Fighting a guerilla war in the Carolina back country.  And most importantly, securing a major victory after a long siege at Yorktown.

As I watched, I wondered why I was "wasting my time" on something so fascinating but ultimately "useless;" after all, if I wasn't writing, that was another "wasted" day that would come back to haunt me later, right? I kept kicking myself, so forhexed with the "act of writing" and churning out pages (since, let's be honest, that's how words get on the page...err...screen) that I lost sight of the larger forest.

Of course, after completing the doc series and the book, it finally hit me; since I was interested in that time period, and had some flexibility to play around with, why not just run with it as Part III of the book? Within an hour, I crafted a (I think) pretty good third act for this saga, which already has spurred thoughts of what "Part IV" will be like in the next book (What? You thought I was stopping after the first one?).

Working in a creative field, it's not always clear where to get inspiration. In fact, it's far closer to "never clear."I guess because the first two parts of the book came to me fairly easily, I just assumed that the third part would, as well.

The pressure of the external factor of the flood got me more than a bit down for a few days, so I decompressed a bit, and, to be perfectly blunt, felt more than a little weak about doing so.

But by decompressing, I was able to come up with a pretty kick-ass idea that is entertaining, well thought-out and plotted, and should be fun to write.

In the face of unpleasantness, and feeling a lot of pressure, sometimes it's most important to get back into a frame of mind of just feeling good, so that those feelings can rattle around in your head, ferment a bit, and age into something potentially great. Though I was kicking myself for "slacking" for a few days, those days were crucial to getting me back to a place where I want to write a story that I'm excited about, around all of the distractions and problems.

And this week, I've kicked ass, turning in 12,000 words in three days. That's "a bit low" for me now, but considering the circumstances, I'm pretty happy with the results. I have a story that works and is interesting and fun for me to write, and that makes me think about it in my time away from the computer. As a writer, that's pretty much all you can ask for.

Not only that, but I can feel my writing improving by the day; I'm certain that this third story is going to be better than the first two, which is perfectly fine, since I can always go back and make the first two that much better during editing.

For now, though, I'm happy to announce that I've surmounted the 100,000 word mark. I have no idea how long this book will ultimately end up being, though smart money is on somewhere between 140,000-150,000 words. Somewhat poetically, Word doesn't even keep a running count at the bottom after you pass 100,000; you have to run a manual check anytime you want to see how many you have.

In some ways, that's good; it will allow me to get back to writing "the story" instead of dutifully counting the words at the bottom like a robot...or a really, really smart...chimp...of some sort.

After a couple more weeks? The editing starts.

And THAT, my friends, is when the real fun begins...

Words: 100,054
Pages: 350 3/4

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Success...for now!

Just a quick update on my progress: I started the day at a little over 79,000 words, 7,000 to go to reach my goal of 86,000, which also would be 25,000 over the past week.

The final tally? 86,626 words, 300 pages, and perhaps most importantly, the completion of the second of three parts to the book.

It's obviously exciting for many reasons, but I'm just glad that I can not only continue to chip away at milestones, but also do so more and more quickly than I used to be able to, and (I think) at a higher level of quality.

7,500 words in one day--a Friday no less, which tends to be my toughest day to motivate myself. Again, no parade is on the agenda yet, but I'm glad that in a week that finds me at half of my original, unbelievably audacious goal, I was able to put in a day that really pushed my limits on what I thought was possible.

Now I have the weekend to recover. If anyone needs me, I'll be relaxing with some fine wine and maybe a beer or two.  See you next week!

Days working: 30
Words: 86,626
Pages: 300

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Missing the Mark

I'm sure a number of you are wondering how my 50,000 word challenge is going this week, so I'll let you in on a secret:

Not so well.

And yet, extremely well.

I knew I was in deep trouble when I only mustered a little over 5,000 words on Monday. I was completely sunk when I could only manage another 5,000 on Tuesday.

There was no way I was getting to 50,000 words by the end of the week. At first, I felt...not so great. I mean, how do you usually feel when you fall short of a goal? Kind of weak and helpless, really; like I had somehow let myself down.

But instead of wallowing in my self-pity like I may have done a lifetime ago, I went right back to the keyboard and kept pounding out words each day.

The result? 18,000 words (or so) so far this week, by far my most productive week to date.

I'm not going to throw a parade for myself; it's a long ways off from 50,000 words.

What I am going to do, though, is try to go the extra 7,000 words tomorrow to get to 25,000 for the week.

It would still be one hell of an accomplishment. If I can get to a level where 25,000 words per week is the norm, that's one 100,000 word novel a month, give or take a few days. Granted, this is before editing, proofreading, formatting, and all of the other fun stuff that comes with (most likely) e-pubbing a book, but it would still be a hell of a pace to increase the catalog of my works.

And even though I may have fallen short of my goal, I've learned that, as I've mentioned before, steady, incremental progress can be a writer's best friend. Though 50,000 words is probably a bit much for me (for now), it's another goal to work toward, and hopefully one that I can make a real run at by the end of the year.

For now, though, 25,000 a week would be just fine. 7,000 words in a day is a lot, but it's a more discrete, and thus more doable goal than something seemingly monolithic and insurmountable (again, for now), like 50,000 words in a week.

Feel free to wish me luck in the comments!

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

And Now, It Gets Serious (or "I'm an Idiot")

For the past few weeks, I've been making what I consider to be "pretty good" progress on my novel.

I just passed the 60,000 word mark today. I seem to have more and more mental stamina as the days and weeks tick by. I'm able to sit down and just run with the story as it plays in my mind, basically transcribing the movie in my head into the computer.

I have a big announcement to make, but let me preface it with some background. I've always been a writer who thrives on deadlines. Even in law school, I wrote 30 pages of a research paper in the day-and-a-half before it was due, mostly because I was "slightly more than undisciplined" in my work habits 3L spring, but in large part because deep down, in the back of my mind, I knew I could do it. I've written about my procrastination habits in the past, and part of being a successful procrastinator is knowing the "zero point," where you absolutely have to buckle down and work your ass off to complete whatever the project is.

So, I'm going to work the usual schedule on my novel this week, and try to work up to 5,000 words a day by Friday. Hopefully that would put me at 70,000 words going into the weekend, when I plan on outlining the third part of my book.

Then, next week, I plan on writing the remaining 50,000 words to finish it up.

"But D.J., you're crazy! You just got really worked up over finishing 50,000 words in a month. What makes you think that you can finish 50,000 in a week!?"

I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone else with this; ultimately I want to create an enjoyable book for readers more than anything else, and I'm sure that my rough draft simply won't make sense. I've already altered a number of things in my head that I need to fix, but haven't gone back and edited it yet simply out of my desire to get the first draft utterly complete.

No, this is more to prove that I can do it to myself. I haven't given myself a good challenge in a while, and I think that this is a way to really do so in a 50/50, "can I do it or can't I?" sort of way.

And more than that; I need to know what my absolute upper limit is in terms of productivity. Not so that I can procrastinate more in the future (though it would certainly be nice for that, as well...), but so that I can plan out what projects that I can realistically take on in a given period of time, and how much raw product I can produce when absolutely pushed.

Will it be good, or even passable work? Will I be exhausted at the end, and need a few days to recover? Do I even have it in me? I have no idea.

But that's part of the challenge--I want to see whether or not I can do it, and test my limits.

Maybe I'll do it, or maybe I'll fall short. The important thing is that I'm going to push myself, and see exactly what that upper limit is right now.

Besides, without anything cooking for Valentine's Day, what better time to try?

Days (of work): 23
Words: 60,542
Pages: 208 2/3

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Writers vs. Authors (or "Wise Words From a Wise Man")

[Note: Long-time readers may have noticed that I took down the ads on the blog. I did this because a lot of them have been of the "Want to write a book? Start here!" variety, most of which are probably scams that seek to part aspiring writers from what little money they have already. I'd like to get them back up at some point, if I can figure out how to keep these from popping up. If anyone knows Adsense and can help, I'd much appreciate it. Thanks! -D.J.]

Since the end of the football season, I've endeavored to take this full-time fiction-writing seriously. Part of that is following a number of writerly blogs out there to get advice on the profession and business of this whole thing.

One thing that I've learned by going through a number of these blogs? Dean Wesley Smith is a pretty smart guy.

I say that without a hint of wise-assery (and I say THAT without a hint of wise-assery...and THAT without--you get the picture).

"Who the Hell is Dean Wesley Smith?" He's a very prolific fiction-writer, who, along with his wife, Kris, is good enough to make a pretty good living at the craft. He also has an excellent blog that is dedicated, at least in significant part, to dispelling a lot of popular myths about being a fiction-writer.

One of his central ideas is that there's a fairly wide chasm between what he calls "authors" and "writers."  Authors work meticulously on one book, then tweak it with edits or rip its still-beating heart out with rewrites, and then spend most of their time promoting "their book." Every book they write is "special" (at least in their minds), and needs a lot of time and attention to do well.

Writers, on the other hand, write. They write work after work, story after story, and when they're done writing, they write some more. Each story is exactly that; a story. Some are good and some are bad.

As you write more, it just so happens that the "good" ones start coming a lot closer together, and the bad ones become fewer and farther between. Instead of promoting, especially in the new world of indie publishing, it's far better to write to not only improve your craft, but also to get more stuff out there. Writers are notoriously bad judges of their own products, so why not just get it out there and let the market decide?

When I first read his blog, I was struck by how much sense he made. It explained why writers like Stephen King come out with books so frequently, while so many other "authors" are left tooling around on their keyboards for 500 words a day or so at Starbucks, wondering why no one has recognized their genius as of yet.

But more than that, it hits at a central idea that I even used to harp about on this blog back in the day; the idea of not letting fear control your life. Too many "authors" are paralyzed by fear; fear that their book isn't any good, or that, even if it is, then the next one surely won't be.

Dean is all about getting over that fear of rejection, sending your stuff out, and meanwhile, "What the hell--why not write another story?"

It's so refreshing compared to a lot of the walking-on-eggshells, corporate-minded, "afraid-to-be-fired" attitude that's so damned pervasive nowadays, and so utterly simple in its elegance.

Write. Send it out. Write some more.

Another reason why I buy into it so readily is that I had to do the same thing during the football season. Every day was a new article, six days a week. There was no "I'm afraid people won't like it so I won't put it up today!"--I'm sure Tim would have really enjoyed it if I did that. It simply wasn't an option.

That doesn't mean that I didn't have those thoughts and doubts; I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't worried about the reception that some of my columns would get, but that didn't change that I had to get a column done daily, and drown out that voice with a good amount of bourbon courage sometimes to just write something and put it up.

I'll get back to that schedule eventually, I'm sure, but right now, I'm having too much fun writing this book. It's really starting to take shape now, and I'm excited by the progress.

But whereas before I may have just finished it up, then agonized over proofreading it line-by-line before sending it out to agents, and beginning the long process of going the traditional route, now I'll make my edits, have a few friends read it over, and put it up on Amazon (and iBooks, and Smashwords, and every other means of consumption I can think of). Though I want it to do well, and be a good read, it's not "my precious baby;" there will be (I hope) plenty of other books to write, plenty of other stories for me to commit to...uh...pixels and magnetic tape.  I already have two more projects that I'm "writing" mentally as I work on my book, and countless other ideas down in my notebook. 

Write. Send it out. Write some more.

So simple.

So wise.

Thanks Dean!

Days (spent working): 21
Words: 53,084
Pages: 183

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

50,000 (or "Progress as Promised")

I passed the 50,000 word mark today.

It's a big accomplishment for a guy who once thought that 25 pages a week was worthy of throwing a party.

I'm right at around 50,500 words now. For a little perspective, the objective of National Novel Writer's Month in November is to finish a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I spilled out 50,000 words of ingot (or "raw material") in 26 calendar days.

Of course, this is far from "finished product"-type stuff; I still need to make some sizable changes to the early stuff, especially, but I'm happy that I could physically sit down and write so many words in such a short amount of time.

50,000 words also marks the unofficial "halfway point" of my novel, since I've targeted around 100,000 words for the book.  Of course, that figure is subject to change; I'm a little worried that part II is going to run a bit long, so that may send it closer to 120,000.

But the big deal (to me, at least) is that I've proven myself that I can sit down and crank out the raw material. If I've already thrown out 50,000 words, what's to stop me from doing it again...and again...and again? In my own mind, at least, it's refreshing to know that this project has gone from "something that I've always wanted to do" to "attainable, in-progress goal."

I know a lot of folks don't have the time to accomplish everything that they want to in their spare time. I also realize that "half a novel" is far from a completed work; far be it from me to throw a parade over 50,000 words that I've written, which may or may not be incoherent gobbelty-gook when I go back through and edit.

But by making progress, even slow, steady progress, you have to realize that you'll start to make it closer to a goal that you once thought unfathomable.

Keep on trucking along. Keep piling up those milestones, and compounding them again. Take a few steps every day toward a goal you have in mind.

This has consistently been my mantra through the entire process, and now I'm beginning to see some very tangible results from my steady work. If anything, I'm even more heartened because I've picked up the pace somewhat; I hope to continue that trend as I get further along in the process.

But for now, 50,000 sounds pretty good to me. So forgive me if I take my customary weekend to relax, recharge, and make obnoxiously inappropriate (but hopefully funny) comments about Tom Brady and the Manning Family this Sunday during my Super Bowl party.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Days (of work): 20
Word Count: 50,476
Page Count: 174 1/5

D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author.  Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here).  E-mail him at djssuperblog@gmail.com.  You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.