Monday, March 26, 2012

Where Did I Leave Those Two Guys?

       There are so many different methods of writing, doing what works for you trumps the best methods of any other writers. I admit I am fascinated listening to what established writers do to get inspired, to write, to persevere, and to blow off steam. I am fascinated but know most of these methods are not for me. I think when you start writing, knowing other possible methods is helpful but in the end you’ll discover and adopt your own best personal practices.
The pattern you settle into will either work or eventually you must change to something more efficient.
People make such a big deal over writer’s block. I don’t because, for the moment and foreseeable future, that hasn’t been my problem. I continually wonder why and I think I understand that when I was first starting out, working for a weekly newspaper, I had to fill up about four pages of news per week as well as provide three to four photographs. The coverage area of this weekly mandate was nine towns in a 25 to 30 square mile area that makes up the Pascack Valley, in northern New Jersey.
That might sound like a lot of different human interest stories going on simultaneously but given a slow news week, the fire department rescuing a cat from a tree could be a front page photo and a feature inside on the department’s new ladder truck. Anything that moves becomes fair game for a story plus you are constantly trying to anticipate when situations might present themselves in a way that the dots can be connected to a bigger story. Do this for ten years and the seeds of your imagination can be harvested for a lifetime. Now, I have many characters and stories to drawn upon.
I respect two types of acknowledgements from an author. The first is the author who admits the characters are possible composites of several people although nobody in particular. Points for being honest and up front. Kurt Vonnegut had my all-time favorite disclaimer: “The names have not been changed to protect the innocent as God protects the innocent as a matter of heavenly routine.” Got to love that idea.
The authors who crack me up try to explain that their characters are not drawn on any particular person from real life. Yes, that was me who just came in off the turnip truck and now my one leg is slightly longer than the other. No particular person? You expect me to believe that? The golden opportunity of evening up a score with that guy who mashed your sandwich in cafeteria or the recreation program coaches who unfairly stretched rules or loaded their teams – pass that up?
Returning to the subject of writing methods, there are writers who are riveted to one project at a time. They put the famous “butt in chair” and emerge months later with a first draft, and not seeing their shadow, go back into the hole and emerge months later with their edited opus. These are the full timers. I’m a part time writer, at the moment. I have all sorts of demands pulling me like taffy in nine different directions. That’s a bit how I write, too. I work on one main project but then constantly work on several others at the same time.
Wouldn’t that mean priority number one will take longer to finish? Maybe slightly more, but probably not. I have too many eclectic interests to narrow focus on one and I love them all, passionately, too. Another reason is that I write fiction and nonfiction. I was in for a rude awakening when I tried to write nonfiction under a deadline where only the physical writing time counted. It was much like the annual November novel frenzy writing. This challenge was to write at least an hour a day. Actual writing, not editing or research, or rewriting. Sounded easy until I discovered that for every hour writing, I was spending three to four hours checking facts, looking up time lines, making sure spelling was correct and words were used in their correct context. What made this time drain ridiculous was that most of the work was based on a memoir of growing up during American’s Space Race, so wouldn’t you think that if it is a memoir, that I would know the facts inside and out? Nope.
The whole writing exercise reminded me of the first time I attempted to run the 125-yard high hurdles in college. That’s a longer story, so don’t ask. The point is that the first three hurdles are easy unless it’s your first time, it’s in a college meet, and college high hurdles are just under waste-high in a very dangerous area if you miss. In desperation, you take your lead foot and step on the very top flat part of the hurdle and “step it down” – you don’t have to jump over it. You just have to get past it by going over the darn thing. If it wasn’t so time-consuming you could crawl up and over each one being careful to leave your innerds intact. The high hurdles event is not designed for your safety but set up as a completion to see who can get by ten of them in a 125-yard distance. You’re on the clock. Crawlers come in last.
The first few days of the writing challenge I was going over those first three hurdles, but by the time hurdles four though ten came up, I was wildly behind on my time. All those ancillary activities that supported that one single hour of writing caught up to me. I was drowning. I took a rain check on that project and although I add information from time to time, I’m itching to get back to writing about space and history in a full-time effort. When I have the proper time and enough of the side research done, I’ll go back. In a way, getting back to writing that story is a form of the carrot to my horse. If I can finish some of these other projects, I can get back to writing about rockets, space and the moon.
Recently an article I wrote, a short story in historical fiction, was accepted for publication in a bi-monthly magazine. I have no idea why I decided to write historical fiction. I love reading American history, especially McCullough, Fleming, Goodwin, and Ellis. I never read historical fiction but I sat down and churned out a story set in Revolution-era Bergen County, New Jersey. The story came out of nowhere and my writing group enjoyed it so I decided to write another. I am actively writing two other projects, so pausing to grind out a story in a completely different genre seemed par for the course.
I just started another historical fiction short story (unrelated to the first), and not to tip off too much, two young men are riding down a path in northern New Jersey on their way to meet with a high ranking American officer. They are arguing how they will present their proposal as they get nearer to the encampment. I can imagine them as if I were watching a movie. I sketched out almost 500 words by the time I arrived at work (I word process on the train) and I put it aside until I take the train to work tomorrow. I’ll probably finish it in other one or two hours of writing and then go back to my other projects. Writing about something totally different gives me a break and serves like an absence as in” absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I can’t wait to resume my number one priority and will dive into it with renewed vigor, as well as keeping that eye open on the other two on-going projects.
Those characters are so vivid in my mind. When I get back to them they will still be riding down that path, a wide grassy road with wheel ruts from a few wagons, not too well-traveled. The trees will be in full leaf and canopy the trail. It’s early morning and the sun is trying to make its way through the foliage. The path is still dappled with the streams of sunlight breaking up pockets of shade. I wonder how far they got down that path? Or, maybe they are still where I left them.
Oh, about that part discussing the acknowledgements and the recreation program coaches, forget I ever mentioned them.

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