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My father had a lot of 5-year plans, one of which was to build a rock garden in the front yard by the driveway, an area that was occupied by—well, a rock. He went out on weekends for an hour or two at time with a screw driver, a giant spoon and a children’s sand sifter and chiseled away at that rock, excavating small piles of dirt and sifting it to remove pieces that prevented anything from growing. I have to admit, after five years, he did have a little garden growing there, but shit, aren’t there better ways to spend your time—and still get a garden?

Recently I have discovered (to my utter consternation) that I am apparently a chip off the old rock sifter. After spending nearly five years collecting pieces of a novel, I then wrote the first complete draft in four months, the second in another three months and submitted it to agents. It got me representation, but the book still needed work—a lot of work.

So here I am, six months later, chiseling away at this stupid rock of a book with a tiny little screw driver. Actually, I’m using a fairly new Mac Airbook and Microsoft Word, but it feels like I’m pouring a thousand pounds of dirt through a plastic sieve, one spoonful at a time.

I have been using Word ever since I switched from an IBM Selectric in the early 90s (no comments needed)–and it has served me well. In the beginning of this process, it was easy: just open a new Word doc and start typing—anything at all. It was all draft stuff anyway, so it didn’t matter. Over the last five years of writing this novel, I collected nearly forty documents with file names like, ‘the girls,‘ and ‘the cat.’ Unfortunately, I don’t recall what these subtitles mean anymore. I end up opening the files to read them again–and I don’t get much writing done.

So, this was my process (see below). If you are writing anything longer than a few pages, or you write a lot of different things and you are still doing it this way, you can easily see that it’s time to make a change!

OLD PROCESS:

When I assembled the first draft last year, I did chapter files and kept a tracking sheet. Then I put the chapter files together into a single draft document and did the first revision, naming them “master document” and “Master2”.

To prepare for agent submissions, I had to create sample files of the first 100 pages, the first 5 pages, the first 2 chapters and the first 3 chapters, all of which went in a sample folder. Along the way, every time I read something, I changed it, basically corrupting the integrity of the other files.

Next I did submission letters and created a submission tracker in Excel. It’s very handy, but let’s face it, I’m spending a ton of time as my own secretary, instead of writing.

And that’s just the beginning.

Then I began a major revision for submission to publishers. First, I divided the book into four parts to make it more manageable. The problem was, it wasn’t manageable. I keep forgetting what happened in previous chapters and when it happened, I was losing track of plot points, and felt a need sketch plot diagrams on napkins like an imprisoned lunatic. I have lots of napkins, but none of them really make sense.

And then, about two-thirds of the way through the book, I got stuck. I had a huge time loop that wrapped around itself like a pretzel in a novel that did not involve time travel. I was ready to revert to 19th century thinking–handwriting the plot points of the WHOLE BOOK on note cards. Even in my deranged state, I could see this was a 3-month project that might not even get me back on track.

I knew it was time for something drastic–yes, a change in my perfected writing rituals. If you write at all, you know we are a superstitious lot. Many writers insist on writing only on a typewriter. Many will use a word processor (like Word), creating their own archaic system of tracking versions, changes, submissions, notes, ideas, and mental breakdowns. Many of us still hand-write our first drafts on yellow legal pads, because the writing flows more naturally that way. Many of us are idiots. (Not you, of course, the other idiot).

I am here to say, I have been reborn, and it is a wonderful thing. I will not enslave my brain anymore to trying to figure out how to create a sequenced outline from a mess I started years ago (my next book has some notes that go back even further).  This is the twenty-first century!  People monitor their heart rates on little wristbands and play games with the people sitting next to them via satellite. We must certainly have developed some kind of organizational software for the throngs of us ambitious enough to attempt our version of Harry Potter or Carrie. (Neither Rowling nor King used special software for these books, and they may not now, but if they read this post, they too will be converted).  We do. Some very clever people have already thought it through and come up with some very inexpensive ways to save your brain for your story.

So I did a little research on novel writing and plotting software and here’s what I’ve learned:

1) Most programs are cheaper than you would think (ranging from $19.95 – $100.00 US)

2) They offer many of the tools I have been developing inadequately on my own, including character notes files, plotting devices and timelines, submission trackers, and revision tools to help you keep the various versions organized.

3) There are important differences among them, and you may want to use more than one

4) Many of them don’t come in Mac versions

AND

5) The time it has taken me to research the software and write this post is a mere drop in the sand sifter compared to the days and weeks I have been wasting on documenting and managing the plot twists and character development through the many rewrites.

BTW – I can spend my time reviewing software for you, but others have already done it better:

http://mythicscribes.com/writing-tech/novel-writing-software/

http://novel-writing-software.net

http://creative-writing-software-review.toptenreviews.com

Thanks to one of these programs, I did finish the submission draft, which goes out this week. As soon as the new revision of the book–still called Of Yin and Yang–goes out, I’ll share what it took (a lot) to train my brain to adapt to this new process, which I’m already enthralled by.

…But that’s a story for another day.

© Copyright 2015 – Arts Enclave.

Be a Minion to Your Art

Take success where you find it, and call it yours.

Stan Lee, the most famous comic-book creator of all time, was born Stanley Martin Lieber. He started working as a teenager at Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) where he filled the inkwells for the artists. He planned to use the pen name Stan Lee for serious fiction. In 2008 he received a National Medal of Arts as a writer, editor and publisher—of comic books.

Dan Fogelberg and Joni Mitchell both planned on being fine artists. Oops.

As I write this, I am repeating the mantra to myself: take success where you find it. A lifetime of planning my career in the arts has taken me to many places I did not expect to go, and while the goal stays the same, the journey is not at all what I could have pictured. Through the years, I have worked in publishing, hospitals, advertising, art festivals, movie sets, corporate business, and even retail. It’s all good, because eventually, it all ends up in the book…

You can’t plan your journey in the arts…or in life. You can only prepare for it and then go where it takes you.

Very few will find the kind of success in their fields they dreamed of and others will find so much more. If you choose a life in the arts, then it’s about legacy. While money and fame are certainly possible, they are the rare rewards and to many a distraction from the actual work. Stan Lee, to my knowledge, has never published the novel he planned on writing, although, I suspect he’s pretty satisfied with what he has done.

Even in the business world, there are parallels. Only one person at a time is the CEO. The rest are all just hopefuls and minions.

Now there’s a term we have come to see differently: Minions. Defined as, ‘a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power,’ the connotation of this word changed with the release of the movie Despicable Me. Where once a minion was thought of as one of the faceless mass of followers, usually of ignominious stature, that movie created a whole world of individual minions who are fantastically happy being just what they are. In fact, the new movie “Minions” is based on the notion that they seek to be followers in the most zen-like fashion.

It’s a hard life to pursue the arts, and we are drawn to it because inside, we simply have no choice. Eventually it will call you out, and you know what you want to do. For most of us, it will mean working at other vocations to earn the moments we spend making art of any kind. Those moments are certainly precious, but the ones we spend in our other lives are what we bring to our art.

It’s what you do outside of your art that goes into it.

The secret is to appreciate the journey for what it is. Be a minion to your calling and accept the unique life it brings you.

Here they are, singing the Banana song. Enjoy.

 

BTW: Support Wikipedia with a small donation to keep it ad free. It’s the best FREE resource on the planet!

 

© Copyright 2014 – Arts Enclave.

 

In his new memoir, “Possibilities,” Herbie Hancock describes the single most illuminating moment in his jazz career. It came when he was very young, playing keyboard with Miles Davis. During the show, Hancock suddenly played a chord he called, “so wrong” that he was stunned into momentary silence. “But Miles didn’t judge it,” he said in an interview with Jared Bowen. “He paused and played a few notes that suddenly made it work.”

It took years for Hancock to integrate that moment into his personal musicianship—to learn not to judge the work—but it changed everything he did. The concept of going into the unfamiliar in art has fascinated me for a while—I even wrote an awkward analysis of Neil Young’s forays in a post called, The Unexpected Note, when I had even less knowledge of music. But I think the arts are all connected, and we will get to the answers sooner if we take multiple routes.

Hancock later discovered Buddhism as a way to break boundaries in his own thinking that opened up the possibilities of his music—and here, later in his career, he seems to have coalesced his thinking in ways that he can pass on to me people like you and me.

I haven’t read his new memoir, Possibilities, but it goes on my reading list today.

In a series of lectures he gave recently at Harvard on the Ethics of Jazz, Hancock discussed the nature of creativity in the context of his extraordinary career. He has a lot to say verbally as well as musically, so it can take a while to take him in. But it’s extremely articulate and it’s well worth it. Here’s an especially interesting talk he gave on Buddhism and Creativity.

“Buddhism is uncovering and leading a creative life, and in the process, establishing your own story. A common viewpoint holds that one’s destiny is determined by external forces; however, the practice of Buddhism can break through that notion and carve out the kind of life where you’re the author of your book—and not the coauthor, or a character in someone else’s story.”

 

 

It all ties in nicely with the explorations I’ve been doing on the nature of creativity. What is creative? Where is the line and why are we always looking for it? Herbie seems to have gone further and may have small pieces of the big answers. You have to find ways past the predictable, and it doesn’t come from practice. It comes in the little moments where you let go. The mistakes that most of us try to erase or do over may be the most glorious moments in our creative lives.

I’m just entering the world of jazz and beginning to learn all of the emotional/intellectual levels it accesses. So, an afternoon of Herbie Hancock seems like a great way to spend a Sunday.

 

© Copyright 2014 – Arts Enclave.

 

 

Prompts can offer you a lift-off point to write from, a way to free associate without worrying about having to tie it to any ultimate goal. You just take a simple notion and write a few lines or even a page around that one idea. You can start or end with it, use as dialog or work it into exposition. Try the one below and see where it takes you!

Today’s Prompt:  Where did I park the car?

In the writing world, the sentence is sacrosanct, although we tend to take them for granted, because there will be so many of them in our writing lives. But, in the grand scheme of the history of the written word—or in the significantly smaller realm of your own career—does one single sentence matter all that much?

Well, yes. Continue Reading »

This is a literal exercise. The use of color is a powerful tool to convey meaning and mood to the reader without having to come out and say everything. Color influences our perception of everything we experience, and writing is a visual medium in that it creates pictures in the reader’s mind of the story enfolding. Enhancing this picture with color cues can lend a great deal to the narrative, providing psychological and emotional nuance. And, it’s fun to play with.

Continue Reading »

Having recently signed with an agent who is now enthusiastically sending my novel, Of Yin and Yang, out to editors, I have a little time to share some of the details of cleaning the up the manuscript. Now that it’s out, I have to trust that what they read is the best of what I could show them. I think I came close, by following a lot of advice I found on various websites added to what I already knew from many years of professional medical writing. Here is a synopsis of what I’ve learned.

Yes, now that you’ve finally finished that book, you have to go back over it again looking for all the things that could be improved. This is the first clean up, and it’s important to showing agents and editors that you are professional. Specifically, you will be looking for:

Continue Reading »

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