GOALS, HABITS, ROUTINES
Even though I don't write every day, I'm always thinking about the pieces I’m working on. I have a box full of pieces that need revision or are partially completed. The box is nearly full. Also lots of notes. I’ve found setting goals to be helpful. Depending on what I’m writing or want to write I like to set short or long term goals. It may be just to finish a draft or upload a file from AlphaSmart into Word. Every year I draw up a mental list of what I want to achieve for that year. Most of the time I reach my goals. For the last five years, I have made it my priority goal to get my story collection published. In 2018 that goal was finally attained. My next goal is to get a collection of my flash fiction published as a chapbook and to finish my mature adult novel “The River.”
I prefer to write my first draft in pencil. It can be anywhere from three pages to five or six and sometimes even more. I don't like to be interrupted when I'm at this stage of my writing process. When I'm done, I immediately type it out and save into my “works in progress” file. Several years ago I tried writing a story from scratch on my computer. It was a disaster. I missed the feel of a pencil on paper—like drawing a story. After the initial draft is done, I use my AlphaSmart for writing inserts which I upload. I never worry about the number of drafts I generate and save most of them. There are always sections that can be used with other stories. As I like to tell myself—borrow shamelessly.
For me revision is what makes a piece. There were 15 revisions for "Patch of Dirt" and "The River" is at revision 25. The collection reached six revisions. I stop revising once the piece is published. I make it a habit to save all prior revisions. When a piece is finally completed I like to go back and look at the earlier revisions just to see how the first draft evolved and if there are any sections I can use for other pieces.
I’ve never thought I had much trouble with titles. I have the title in my head before I start. If I don’t the title will usually come to me after the piece is done. With my collection I thought I had some good titles, but found out that the editor didn’t like some of them: Heroes became The Great Cause, The Laughter of God became Laughter for a Padre, Rain Smoke became The Calf and Don’t the Governor Write A Pretty Hand became A Pretty Hand.
My novel “Patch of Dirt” was what I like to call a compilation novel. The first draft was two stories totaling forty pages and added on from there to reach 65,000 words. It is made up of all or pieces of some of my stories either copied word for word or summarized.
My novella “Iron Butterfly” morphed into a novella from the field notes I’d written when I was in Hong Kong collecting butterflies. My previously published short story “The Butterfly Lovers” was also a chapter in the novella. I don’t mind plagiarizing myself at all.
I wrote the dogoir "Holy Terriers" to shut up a cousin who constantly tormented me about writing a book about dogs. In hindsight, I should have found an agent for it, but wanted to have it ready as Christmas presents for all who know the holy terriers. I'd never written a nonfiction piece before but had read several dog books, most of which I didn't like. The three dogs, all different breeds of terriers, provided me with a close examination of pack behavior. The alpha male was a tough little dog who didn’t like the older male but was protective of his pack. He loved to pee on tires and sandcastles. Their behavior was something I hadn’t come across in my reading.
“I Like a Little Bit of the Handsome Americans Myself” took me one month and several cases of beer to complete. It’s based on a real person. I made the decision to keep the chapters short to keep the action going as fast as I could. Where all the characters came from I don’t know that was part of the fun of writing it. I took a “what if approach” as I wrote each chapter. I had the ending in mind before I started; the rescue of Darlene Darlene, a former Miss Chicken Parts, from an abandoned railroad track. Some of the characters were a worm salesman, a baseball flipping Japanese gentleman, and Arnold Porkwinder who dealt in chrome. I have notes on a sequel and hope it will just as much fun the write. It was rejected across the board by publishers and agents. I made the decision to publish it on Smashwords, then Amazon. Still no sales.
The first draft of the "The River" came from a rough ninety page novella I had in my "works in progress" file. Set in 1936 I had to do some research for that year and found a treasure trove of long dead family stuff which I modified as needed for atmosphere like house descriptions and the things the family did and thought. What I have to do now is to make the characters more likable.
Listening to music when I write is an integral part of my writing process. I have some individual CDs I listen to, but it is Leonard Cohen when I want to really dig deep into a piece. I usually don’t read books while I’m writing a book. I don’t want to be influenced.
As part of my daily habit, I like to walk and always had dogs. Sometimes we'd walk 2 or 3 miles a day. Walking also gave me time to work out the plots, characters, and the structures of my stories.