Troy Kirby

Friday, October 28, 2011

The lure of distractions

I’m dealing with a lot of different distractions at the moment.

For me, they come in huge tidal waves, then end up being nothing later on. But dealing with them, brushing them off when they attack me at all sides, is something that I am coming to terms with. Namely, it’s that point of focus that I sometimes lack.

There are periods in which I am so focused, so selfish to what I want to do that it is uncanny how different I am when I am distracted. As if there was no focus, no selfishness to me at all. I’m all over the place in small periods.

Luck for me, as I mentioned, this happens in small periods. If it happened in large ones, I doubt if I could hold a page of content let alone a book together.

I will look back at those short periods of erratic behavior with awe. Damn, that was WAY too unimportant for me to be focused on. Look at all of the things I could have done, had I not worried about that.

And that’s where I’m at. Most of those things distracting me from writing are useless nonsense. They need to be compartmentalized in order to help me progress as a writer. It’s the application of that method of focus which I tend to lack, but have to reinforce on a weekly basis.

If I tell myself that I am going to write, I will plan out a good period of an hour or two hours where I refuse to do anything but write. On vomit drafts, this can be difficult because the guidelines are less for the expansion of notes. By the rewriting portion of draft two or draft three, with those guidelines, it becomes somewhat easier to sit and write for longer periods. I mention the word “somewhat” because there are exceptions.

And boy, as a writer, I have found them.

Those times in which your friend calls and talks for two hours on random issues or topics. Or you find yourself sitting around, thinking about nothing, but trying to get in the mood for writing. Or going to see to a movie which is not worth your money, then arriving back home to write, only to find that you are too tired to sit down and bang out that story.

These are some of the distractions which pull me off focus.

Others include work related nonsense which I bring home with me and never gets solved anyway.

These distractions haunt me. They come at different times even when I am ready to sit down and write. Periods in which I’ve sat at the computer, convinced myself of spacing out writing time, and still something takes me off course.

But I do remind myself that these distractions come as part of a larger choice. It’s something which I remind myself of daily. Do I want to be a writer bad enough?

Do I want to be a full-time writer someday or am I thrilled to not be and to serve only as a reminder to others of what could have been?

That fear resides deeper than any distraction can. It makes me sit back and think. I don’t want to be that guy who could have made it. I want to be the example of the guy who did make it.

Therefore, my focus has to continue to be primed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vomiting all over the logic train

I’ve been seeing the “logic train” quite a bit during my drafts of my new novel. This is a good thing, and although it can be frustrating at the time to have to redraft something, it is very necessary. How many times have you heard that the hard thing to do is often the right thing as well? It stinks because you want to pound those keys, have it turn out perfect. But the more you know yourself as a writer, the more likely you will come to terms with the fact that you will not be one on a vomit draft.

Maybe I’m wrong on this. Perhaps Shakespeare was a vomit draft type of guy and never edited a word or never wrote a sonnet if you watch the new movie Anonymous (keep in mind it’s written and directed by the guy who did Independence Day).

I doubt that Ernest Hemingway sat at his typewriter in Ketchum, Idaho (among other places such as Paris and Key West) and wrote A Farewell To Arms on a single draft. Things, if they happen in that form, are outliers not exact principles.

I took a writing class in 1997 from an Olympia writer named Steve Charak (1953-2004). Steve was a great teacher, good friend and I do think about his instructions. He edited and ran Young Voices Magazine out of Olympia (way before the internet was cool) and loved teaching children. I enjoyed having someone who would actually read what a young person wrote, work with them, instead of dismissing it or patronizing the writer because they were “too young to understand.” He always said that if it was important to be seen, it must be quality. That only happens when you rewrite something. Over and over again. Until you can’t stand the text, know the story WAY too intimately, and are convinced that it is the best result you can get. (And still someone will find an editing mistake).

That comes back to the logic train statement. It’s that imaginary metal beast on tracks that rip-roars through the country of your mind. Those quirky ideas showing you patterns and plots; things that make your stories different from everyone else. Without that hubris of plotting or logic, there is no real story. If anyone could do it, everyone would, and it wouldn’t be art, or a skill, or something you could sell to someone who can’t.

But the logic train sometimes is self-defeating. It shows you errors out of that vomit draft that by draft three you are kicking yourself for not correcting prior.

Those are the little nuances where you ask yourself why you wrote a character to do this, instead of that. Why, if a family is being robbed, would you have the husband so chatty, friendly? Why make the wife withdraw money from a bank account right before having her husband killed? The vampire talking his victim to death, when all he has to do is bite the victim, make them a damn vampire, then can talk until the sun rises.

Absurdity is found in the vomit draft. It usually takes a lot of logic train routes to get from draft one to draft five. Or draft eleven. Yes, even though it may take you a few drafts to understand, it doesn’t matter. The reader is all that matters. Even after that point, if the reader is having difficulty with something, that’s on you as the writer. Tough lessons even I have to learn from time to time.

The good thing about logic trains is that they frequently avoid vomit drafts. There is no reasoning for a logic train to be scheduled to come through your first draft. A vomit draft serves the purpose of puking out whatever comes to mind. And if you write like I do (even if you don’t), you probably need that. All of the different ideas crushing the page for me is the only way to determine what works and what doesn’t. I’ve had several ideas that I’ve written down as notes, only to see them become failures when expanded on the page.

But I wouldn’t have known that without getting to that point with a vomit draft.

There is no emotion to a vomit draft, which is why it works. No wall preventing you from putting out more information, getting more facts into the story. Sometimes, it contradicts other things you’ve already written.

The only thing I don’t do is develop different names for the same person in the same draft. While I may change a name for a specific reason, if I did it in the same draft, I would worry it would lead to confusion for the readers. If by some accident, the editing process of draft two or three did not make the same character utilize the same name, this would be bad

My vomit drafts do illicit some great dialogue. Stuff I keep throughout. But it is also gets mundane, to the point dialogue. Sometimes two characters will just talk, say obvious, stupid stuff in the vomit draft. It’s a way of advancing the story.

Everything in a vomit draft gets puked out. By draft two or three, there should be less vomit. Things should be cleaned up.

The goal is to get less vomit each time. Clean it up with better results. So you can get to that point in the story where everything hums. Once you have that going, you have a good story. And then, nothing looks like the mess you initially created.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What Lies Beneath

The first draft for me appears as a betrayal by the second or third draft.

At least in portions of it, mainly because things change. Everything within the story is organic, it grows or dies as it progresses. And the first thing to go in the first draft are some of the story components that I felt were completely awesome when I had the idea in my head.

By draft three, a lot of those components have been altered in a way. Some of it looks so different that I feel as if it’s a Hollywood starlet getting her third round of plastic surgery.

This comes from several factors

A. I never know everything little twist and turn in a story from page 1 to page 300 in a first draft.

B. I like the first draft sit a while. It starts to churn with new ideas that come in my head, things people have said to me in different conversations, etc.

C. Sometimes a new idea overtakes an old one.

This is how I operate. And no matter how often I believe that I am going to write an awesome first draft, by draft three, I look back at the first draft and know how bad it really was. But that is why we redraft things, revisions, rewrite. Because if we all believed that the first draft was king, there would be nothing to rebuild at all.

I am starting a new novel. Got the notes down over the last year, waited to finish a few projects, then went back to it. The amount of notes were about five word documents, one of them that lasted fifty-two pages. All different ideas, scenes, characters. Thoughts on theme, language and setting.

And you know what?

I still penciled out a good 26 chapter outline that shrunk all of those notes down.

Then, I started writing the first chapter. Easy as can be, right? Except that things don’t often appear as far away as they do in the mirror (because it reality, they are closer than they appear).

That was what got me started thinking about how I feel in the second or third draft. All of the effort to change things, to improve them.

Sometimes this doesn’t happen.

Just look at the reviews for "Crunk" - Some people liked it (5 of the reviews are at 3 stars). Others thought it was worthless (one lady gave it 1 star & wrote "It makes me wonder whether this author has personal experience with these actions somehow"). NOTE: I've never been arrested, nor am I criminally insane. That's why it's called "fiction" - FYI.

Even though I can suggest to you that I don’t look at those things, I do. Reviews of your work tend to gloss over how hard you've worked (or how long) on each sentence, plot or story. That's why everything in terms of writing is very internal. Doing the best you can with what you’ve got (talent, story, characters, taste) is all you can hope for.

Especially after the third or fourth draft where you’ve really started to ensure that everything adds up. For some people, it’s not going to. They are predisposed not to enjoy something. It fits in their demeanor or character.

And the worst thing you can do as a writer is stop at the first draft. Because this “sounds” more like what the reader wants to read. That’s the thing about the reader, they are waiting for you to surprise them. Despite what they say or ask for, in the end, they wish to have a surprise.

That’s why the third or fourth draft, despite the feeling of betraying the original draft and concept, is actually a good move for any writer. It means that you are treating it as an organic piece of work.

And aside from that, what else can you hope for?

SIDE NOTE: I will be changing this site in the coming weeks. It will be in connection with my latest novel release and the ability to have a more fluid system for my blog, etc. Things are a changing for the better. I just hired a graphic designer to take over the covers for my novels and plan to release 2-3 novels in the next couple of months. That’s why I’ve been out of touch lately, writing takes charge of your life sometimes and all you can do is hold the reigns and keep from falling off into oblivion.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just "clicking"

I got that "clicking" sound in my head this weekend.

I went off like a rocket. Became a typing machine, smoke jetting out of my new IMac and wireless bluetooth keyboard.

It was fascinating to watch. My typing was so noisy it scared the paint off of the walls (okay, that's a little bit of a stretch, but not by much).

By the time I was finished through the lost weekend of writing, it was Sunday night.

I averaged 8,000 words over each day in this period of "rage writing."

Were they all perfect words? Refined to the point of “Hemingway-worthy?” Nope, but even Hemingway didn’t have each word, sentence and paragraph designed as well as he liked on the first or second draft.

The point is, to soldier on. Even Hemingway had his clich├ęs, his plus and minuses. Because writing will come, writers will see, the writing will live on, then the writing will end. (My impression of Ernesto's writing).

Conventional wisdom has its own beast that you must defeat on your own terms. It is written by non-writers, cliches to explain the unexplainable. Namely, the "correct way" to do anything.

Conventional wisdom suggests that good writing is developed by consistency, writing the same pace at each time. Write 2,000 words a day, always. Never do more, or less. Maybe that’s true for 99 percent of writers. For me, it’s hogwash.

"The way that I write" is a form that has been written way too many times. It's that form of "what works for me" but attempts to adhere others to the format. Since it works for them, it must work for everyone, right?

My writing happens in large spurts sometimes (doing 8,000 is awesome but I usually average 6,600 before I poop out and call it a night). This happens while I have tons of ideas flooding into my brain, everything turns into a story idea, fits perfectly with all of the things that I am writing about.

Other periods yield about 500-1,000 words in which I go through the motions and never have an original idea. It is lame, but you have to be able to deal with it.

Once in a while, I don’t write for a few days. I let my brain settle, get some of the issues/bugs worked out in my head.

You’ve got to set your own rhythm. Too often in this society, we are at the mercy of the past. The accomplishments someone else puts up is something that each of us compares our lives to. This is wrong. We are different pieces of the same puzzle, each set on a different course although we may look fairly similar.

For every engineer growing up, Steve Jobs’ life may be their pinnacle. But the heartache of losing his own company, then re-emerging with it, is grand. Another factor is the fact that even though he was highly intelligent, he was not at the mercy of code or chip design. Instead, he was a fantastic salesman who understood vision. Every engineer is not the same. Some are techno-geeks who can't see anything but a computer chip. Everything is different in its own way. The same can be said of writers.

This is where the learning lesson of who you are as a writer begins. No matter what someone else does, or how they go about it, you will be different. Perhaps your differences will be slight or they may be massive. Just be the best you that you can be.

I used to judge myself by the great writers of the time. Attempt to perfect every sentence before I got to the next one. This was how I was taught in school. It is why my first drafts of any novel are less than 45,000 words. And I used to believe I was a failure because it wasn’t a draft down situation (i.e. the first draft is huge, the second draft is minus twenty percent of the first).

Then, I realized one day that I drafted up. Completely different than the conventional wisdom of any writer out there. Everyone suggests that drafting up is no way to write. I disagree and, since I am the one writing this, I make the rules.

After a 45,000 word first draft, I write a second draft which is double that first draft word count (this is because I expand on topics, character histories and situations). Now, with 90,000 words, I then write segments of passages in rewriting. It’s how I do what I do. It helps me define the story, deconstruct and reconstruct specific parts, then enable it to grow.

Maybe this isn’t how others do something. But so what. That’s what the "clicking" sound in my head is for. It helps me hard charge through something. We all go at a different pace. You should too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Segmenting redrafts

Anyone can get a first draft out. They just pound the keys, do a few things, and move on. I like to segment out my first draft ideas. When I get to specific segment of writing in which I know it is going to be interesting, I put the two documents side by side, and rewrite that segment about four or five times.

You heard me: four or five times.

Why? Because it creates for a more interesting story. And if you have some writing gold in a specific segment, you may lose momentum by waiting until after the entire piece is complete before rewriting.

An example:

In "Crunk," I started getting a good feeling for who Irish Pete was. During the parts about his house, I randomly threw some wording in about dead animals. Instead of waiting until the entire first draft was complete, I went back and rewrote that portion about four or five times.

Instead of just a small bit about dead animals, it became indicative of his entire character. The fact that he stuffed and mounted large exotic animals, placing them around his house. The way that the interior of his home was actually dirty, full of cobwebs, showed that he was also very cheap and lived alone.

Another bit was how Sully killed Angel. Instead of it being easy as it was the first time I wrote it, by expanding upon the issue several times, I made it difficult. It became an emotional thing for him. A first kill that so disgusted him that he was unsure he even knew himself. After it was finished, I have him standing naked in his pad, watching the sunrise in front of his bedroom window. That is telling in how cathartic the entire situation was. How it made him entirely.

Too many writers seemed to jam a few drafts of something without segmenting. To each their own, but I think that you have a better chance of learning who your characters are by segmenting. The ability to enhance specific areas of the text or story, which builds into the psyche of who each character is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where the hell did that come from?

Last night was funny.

Like the way George Thorougood talks in “One Bourbon, one scotch, one beer.” Where he asks his friend if he can stay, friend asks the wife, and comes back to say, ‘she acting funny’ and the reply is, ‘I know, everybody funny, now you funny too.’

There are trends in everything. Days of rage. I was hilarious last night.

For the past week, I’ve had the plague. A really badass cold. But I’ve been able to write a little during that stretch. Got the second-third draft of a new crime novel done, then went onto to a horror story I had been working with for a while. I mentioned it a few months back, because it was the last time I really looked it at. Couldn’t figure out what to do about it halfway through a second draft.

Then, I got funny.

Pounded out eight thousand words in two and a half hours. Went to a bad flick, came back and did another thousand words before bed.

And all I could do at my regular job today was think about all of the things I can add to that story tonight.

That’s why it’s funny.

The writing spark hits me weird sometimes. I’ll be getting a little slow, some of the creativity drained, then it starts hitting again. I get ideas popping into my head (not all gems, but hey, at least they are coming). Then, I just started to rage write.

That’s the type of writing where you don’t realize you’ve plugged away about two thousand words in an hour. Or whether you have developed new characters out of the blue, just by letting the characters and situation feel itself out.

That happened about two or three times last night with the horror story.

A scene that I kind of drifted into with no intentions of doing anything but setting atmosphere expanded into something really interesting. As if the vortex of creativity overtook me and I produced something far greater than I had ever intended. That’s when you enjoy what you are writing. Thus far, it’s been a hell of a kick.

I’ll be done with it at some point, then onto the next idea. I’m saving up a few of the things, trying to let my friends get their input in, and also trying a new copyediting/proofreading service I read about. Very inexpensive and could save on a lot of complaints people have on minor editing mistakes.

Hell, it don’t matter none. Because I’m funny. Yeah, cuz everyone’s funny, right?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Re Examining Your Rewriting...

One of the unique portions of rewriting is how we develop new avenues of plot, character and style based on second or third drafts.

First draft sample:

Bob Wright went to the store. He was very sad. His wife had left him. He bought a nail gun and decided to renovate his house.

Second draft sample:

Bob Wright had a lot to lose during his time. The ring on his finger was coming off as soon as the divorce papers were signed. Gloria had been insistent on keeping the house during the proceedings, leaving him with a second mortgage on a bad property that needed a lot of upkeep. Bob headed into the local tool store, picking up a nail gun on a thirty percent off special that fired each nail deep into the wood. He decided to renovate the bad property, seeing if maybe his luck would turn.

Third draft sample:

He wasn't a handyman by any sense of the imagination. But Bob Wright had it in him to attempt the impossible and fix up an eyesore of a property and flip it to an investor. In the past, he would have been hindered by his wife, Gloria. That was the past though. She had filed for divorce, meaning the ring on his finger that had stay on for twenty-two years would be coming off as soon as the divorce papers were signed.
Inside Harmon Tools, Bob moved toward the back, seeing that the place had changed since the owner had passed, leaving the place to his two sons who appeared to bicker over how much they could bilk from the business rather than nuture as their own. Bob selected a nail gun off the shelf, thirty percent off. The weight of it in his hand felt cheap, but he attempted to make the best of it. Maybe by renovating this property, his luck could turn around.

Okay, so this isn't the best writing. I did it on the fly to prove what I was saying. That as you take a sentence, then rewrite it, you change the story. Sometimes you water down original meaning or you give it an improved life. It's up to you, but I believe a lot of writers neglect their rewriting skills. In fact, the majority should take time to rewrite.

One step is to let the writing "sit" for a while. Go work on something else, then come back to it in a few weeks or months. Let it craft inside your head.

The second is to remain confident. You are your own best friend. Rely and trust in yourself. You make the best art that you can make, and worrying about how the eventual document is going to look to others is silly. It usually looks better than you think anyway.