Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How do you get it done … like finished, fini, The End.

So while I cool my heels waiting to hear back from Kindle Singles, let's roll back the clock a ways to when I first started.

I got the writing bug when I was twelve. I had emptied the high school library of any book that I wanted to read. There were still plenty of spines lining the shelves, but not the stuff that dug under my skin and opened whole new worlds to me. I had to solve that issue ASAP. 

This farm boy's other hurdle was that I only got $4 a week for all the chores I did on the pig farm. Most of it was shoveling shit. So no cash, no books ... as if I had a book store to go to.

My solution – write my own stories. How hard could it be? (insert maniacal laughter here)

What nobody knew at the time was that I also had ADHD, long before it was a recognized learning disablity. My own grandfather's diagnosis for me was “lazy and featherbrained;” my teachers called me eccentric ... to my face.

Back then, I think I finished one short story and that was about it. For literally decades, I'd start a cool story concept and get stuck in the middle, lose interest and then find a bright, shiny new idea to play with. I was the writer's equivalent to a crow … or a raccoon.

Fast forward to now and I've got a folder of finished fiction projects.

Quick aside: This is a stark contrast to my old journalism /marketing career where I have reams and reams of articles, ads and press releases. … Deadlines and a paycheck every two weeks can be a wonderful motivator, I tell ya. In the old pulp days where magazines were demanding five or more stories a week, Harlan Ellison says that he thought of the first story of the week as his rent check, The next one was his meal ticket. A hell of way to keep yourself motivated.

The rest of us gotta dig deeper to get to the finish line. For me, it was a combination of things that got me to finally start putting “The End” on my fiction pieces.

My original motivation for any story was an awesome visual that I'd see in a daydream. CGI ain't got shit on my daydreams. People with extra spider limbs fighting inside five-star hotels or a cowboy walking down a muddy street with huge invisible dragon footprints surrounding him, those were my money shots.

I'd try to write to that scene, and if I had to make a convoluted plot to get there, even better. Problem was, I'd never get there.

Finally, I decided to make a commitment to finish a damn novel, no matter what. So I swore off starting off anything new. If I had to spice things up, I'd add that new shiny to my novel in progress. 

It might be a Frankenstein of a book when I was finished, but that wasn't as important as getting the damn thing done.

 I also made the plot as stupid simple as possible. An outline might have helped. (But every time I do one, I either end up with one sentence or a whole treatment.)

I plugged away at it for years. At times, it was a snail's pace. In part to having a day job, in part to writer's block. At this point, I really hadn't mastered finishing a project, but I did manage get some stick-to-it-iveness.

Then I joined a workshop and that gave me monthly deadlines. (Workshops will be another post sometime.)

For a while, I circled the same chapter for half a year as the workshop helped me fine tune it. Then the crew put their foot down, they refused to see the chapter again. Either submit the next chapter or do a different story. 

So the workshop not only gave me deadlines to shot for, it also taught me when to let something go in the short term for the sake of the whole piece. At some point, you have also do this for the whole novel. To paraphrase Leonardo da Vinci,  novels are never finished, only abandoned.

The odd thing is that there is no real difference to giving myself a deadline or deciding that I've circled the drain long enough on a chapter. But like AA, the strength of others and their expectations pushed me to get my shit together.

Sot to recap:
  • Don't start anything new
  • If something makes you passionate, add it to your novel
  • Find a way to make deadlines motivate you.
  • Stop mucking with it and move on.

Those are the things that helped put all this shit that's now on my hard drive. … At least it's not pig shit this time.

Short postscript/addendum/footnote/whatever:
Every writer is different, so their strengths and weakness all vary and vary in degrees. That means there's no magic bullet to solve your problems. If you were hoping for such a thing, you need to stop making yourself a target for wishful thinking.

This forces writing advice to be either generic in a “How to” format, or it's going to be specific to a writer.To reach a broad audience, most advice is written in the former.

IMy personal stories may not help everyone, but if it gives a leg up to at least one reader, then I'll consider it a “personal best” for me.

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