A new book is coming together, slowly. Though, really, I should say books. I’m putting together a couple books, three to be exact. I wish I could write them faster, but they are not coming along very quickly. I work often and I work hard, but progress is glacial.
Life is full.
A (yet-to-be-named) collection of nonfiction short stories
The first book is another collection of short, stories. Since the stories are nonfiction, it’s basically a sequel to Luck Favors The Prepared. However, I dislike, very much, the book’s title. So I’m not going to talk about it yet. Not here, at least. Not until I’ve exhausted all the alternatives and I’ve resigned to the fact that there’s no other possible title for the book.
I know it sounds like a cop-out but, sometimes, for better or worse, a book chooses its own title.
This is one of the many reasons I dislike writing. Writing is a pain in the ass. There’s so many writers, especially in November, especially on social media, posting pictures of themselves, swaddled in quilt, cupping hot cocoa, their pecked-at carrot cake close by, swooning about writing and creativity and about how beautiful creation is and how it makes them feel so ALIVE.
Give me a break.
Creation is a nightmare. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you a pumpkin spice latte.
Poetry is unmarketable
The second book is a hard left turn from the usual—this will be a collection of rhyme-and-meter poetry for children. Think Shel Silverstein for the digital generation.
I actually wrote these poems long ago, on a factory floor, during my days as a machinist. The project was shelved because the poems definitely need illustrations. Poetry is, as you could guess, basically unmarketable. Adding illustrations is really the least I could do.
But illustrators don’t come cheap. And they shouldn’t either. Their work and talents should be fairly—no, generously—compensated. Hence the shelving of this project: a dire lack of funding.
I’ve accepted that, if these poems are ever to see the light of day, and they are good poems, I will have to draw the illustrations myself. Whether this will elevate the book, or sink it further below market value is a tossup.
A novel idea
In writing circles, which are the worst kind of circles, I am what is known as, a ‘pantser:’ one who writes by the seat of their pants.
So far, writing by the seat of my pants has suited me just fine—kind of. Until now, my advantage, if you could call it an advantage, has been that I write mostly non-fiction. The stories are already done. I just have to arrange the elements to make them sing.
Still, nonfiction is not without its pitfalls. Storylines can easily fall victim to sidetracks and elaborations, running off the rails and diving several pages into a dead-end before an edit reveals that, for whatever reason (continuity, flow, clarity), it must be scrapped. This can make rewrites an incredibly lengthy, unromantic process.
It is a process strikingly similar to my poorly plotted bike tour from Amsterdam to Champery, Switzerland. This was years ago, when GPS and wifi were not nearly what they are today, and the maps I’d brought were massive, for of all of Europe, and were as ungainly as studying fine print on a picnic blanket. Not to mention, wielding large maps in the wild is akin to holding up a sail wherein even a limp breeze can find substantial purchase and send the map skittering across a pasture, or a freeway (The most accurate mapping I performed on the entire journey amounted to ‘head southeast.’). On more than a couple occasions I had to stop riding and cop to the hard reality I was hopelessly lost and the wrong turn I’d taken was thirty grueling miles behind me.
This can be especially true for fiction. And since this third book I’m writing is fiction, I predict massive and lengthy (and heartbreaking) rewrites in my future.
Confronted with this grim prospect, I’ve begun preparing not only a very detailed outline, but also, intimate character sketches of the major players. Even though the outline and character sketches will never be published, I am treating them as a completely separate writing assignment that needs to be just as airtight as anything else before allowing myself to commence actual work on the book.
Working from an outline
Mapping out the storyline ahead of time seems a better approach to fiction. Maybe it is even, dare I say, proactive.
While outlining is new to me, it has already proved fruitful. It has forced me to develop the story much differently. So far, I’ve uncovered huge gaps in the plot, obvious things, I’m embarrassed to say, I just hadn’t even thought of. Also, it has made me come to terms with the fact I was getting in far over my head with the subject matter and the characters, which were both becoming needlessly gruesome. Writing the outline, I’ve been able to see how I can still tell my awful story but with humor, and still get my characters to accomplish the same things.
Also, it is my hope, that by outlining the story ahead of time, I will be able to devote more time to a strategic and quality ending. A good ending is so important. So important that, maybe books should be written backwards.
Start from the ending
Recently, a friend of mine, when hearing I was venturing into fiction offered this sage observation: “You seem like you would write a very unsatisfying ending to a novel.”
This gave me pause.
My friend probably knew what he was talking about, since he’d read and enjoyed Luck Favors The Prepared. It is a rarity people offer advice that is both accurate, helpful and not insulting. Maybe it was his New Zealand accent which softened the blow? Regardless, it was advice I took to heart.
He did take the occasion to call-out the endings to my nonfiction stories as ‘suitable.’ Which is fine with me. Being nonfiction, they are what they are and the stories ended the best they could. Such is life.
But, if you’re going to create something from the ground up, that ending better dance. A parachutist, for example, doesn’t float blindly to earth. They’re going to aim for a nice soft patch, or, preferably, a beer garden.