Writing versus real life

There are many reasons I spend so much butt time at the keyboard, as poet/novelist Charles Bukowski once compressed the practice.

I’ve examined some of them elsewhere, but what I’m circling back to today is the necessity of bringing some kind of order to the seeming chaos of what happens to each of us in “everyday life,” at least through the lenses of my own encounters.

What emerges is hardly objective, no matter my training in objective journalism. If anything, I lean on the hopeful side of history. The side we see as progress, even in the face of the clouds of doom.

Long ago I crossed a threshold where I couldn’t move forward without drawing on so much that had accumulated before then. I think of it as turning the compost, to give it air and enrichen future crops, worms and all. Yes, those blessed red wigglers. Or wrigglers, depending on your spelling.

Am I self-deluded? Or is my practice of writing one of prayer, even in the face of so much hopelessness?

What is life, anyway, apart from what we experience subjectively?

So here we are, all the same.

Keep writing, those of you in this vein. No matter the outcome.


If you’re getting toward the finish line with NaNoWriMo, just remember

The first draft is for yourself, as a writer. You want to see where this idea goes. And a  book-length manuscript in just a month is a mental marathon, often through uncharted terrain.

The revisions are more for the reader. You really have to lead them through what had been  tangles.

Sometimes that includes you. Just in case you were wondering what to do with your next 11 months.

Sometimes a character dictates the story

For a writer, nothing is more magical than when a character begins dictating the story. Sometimes, you can’t type fast enough to keep up with her.

As I was saying about the “zipper” that sometimes appears while revising a work? This one, I’d say, is the most satisfying.


Now that I’ve confessed, it’s your turn.

Do you ever hear “voices” while doing something? Do they help or hinder your action?


My novel’s available at the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Scribd, Smashwords, Sony’s Kobo, and other fine ebook distributors and at Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.

The paperback cover …

Structuring a big book

As a reader, you probably don’t pay much attention to the bones of a book — the number of chapters it has or how many sections they fall into. For a writer, of course, these can be central considerations. Ideally, there’s a beginning, middle, and end for each chapter and each section as well as the entire book itself.

In my psyche, one ideal structure is the symphony — typically, but not always, four movements, each one different, having an underlying unity that ends in an exciting climax. (Oh, there are some gems that do end quietly — so much for expectations!) A typical novel, on the other hand, may be twenty to thirty chapters of roughly 20 pages apiece running in chronological order, not that I’ve ever stuck with that convention.

In What’s Left, my novel I set out hoping you could start or end in any chapter, yet in some way they’d join to build the tension and resolution of the whole. The model that inspired me appeared to use chapters as mosaics or panels that could be moved around independently, if the reader desired.

I can’t quite see doing that in the final version my work, though a reader might leap over a chapter or two, if needed, and still pick up on some action — if, that is, the chapters are complete enough in their own right. Think of a string of short stories.


If you’ve had a chance to read What’s Left, give me your feedback.

Does this structure work for you? Would you rather I’d broken the novel out into two, three, or four shorter books as a series? Did you skip over any parts? Would rearranging any parts work better? 


In my novel, the family’s upgraded Carmichael’s restaurant could have emerged like this one in London. Instead, they took a bolder direction, even if a Greek menu wasn’t a viable option where they were.

Trailings from a writer’s life

Random notes in no particular order:

  1. Consider each chapter a movie – beginning, middle, and end – conflict and some resolution. Boy meets girl etc.
  2. My characters don’t lie … it’s one of my defects.
  3. Any time it sounds like writing, cut!
  4. Always go for RIGHT BRAIN revisions
  5. Each book is unique, special, fragile in its own way. Honor it.
  6. Talk to your readers. Like in a smoky bar.
  7. Rereading an old favorite, only to realize how much my own standards have risen.
  8. Certainly, there is room for a range of Midwestern writing as well – and for recognition of the manifold subtleties among the smaller localities within that country. It ain’t as bland as you’d think.
  9. “Riotous complexity moving swiftly within a basic unity” (from How the Irish Saved Civilization) … not a bad formula for creativity, is it?
  10. What was I really hoping to accomplish, back when there were only 500 new novels a week?

Not every first draft is going to require tons of revisions

I recently discussed the travails of revising my centerpiece novel What’s Left over a 3½-year period. I should mention that most of my other novels required more years to compose start to finish, but they faced far more interruptions than What’s Left did.

This fall, I’ve had an experience of writing a novel that was quite the opposite. It’s the fourth and concluding book in an independent series, one that won’t appear under my name, and its 52,000 words came together in just about three weeks. The manuscript required only a few minor revisions and tweaks afterward.

Essentially, I started at the beginning and wrote it step by step over a simple chronological plot line to the end. The previous novel in the series presented the traumatic event that prompted this book and its theme, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. On the other hand, that approach always includes some limitations, too.

No spoilers, I’m not giving details. But there were earlier specifics and, in addition to the protagonist, four characters to weave into the advancing tale. If you’re a NaNoWriMo aspirant and looking at reaching that minimal word count, having boilerplate like this to work from helps.

I did have a separate Word file where I could develop specific morsels to insert into the manuscript itself as the story emerged, but doing so proved fairly seamless. Cut and paste from one file into another. So, technically, you could argue it wasn’t quite a straight-through writing, though for me, this is as close as it gets.

Crucially, a rhythm was set. My, that really does help the drafting!

One thing that helped immensely was the creation of tight character profiles (in that second file) for the nine new individuals who populate the book, including notes of how they connect with one another. Those summaries were then backed up by photos I collected online for people they might resemble and for residences and neighborhoods that would fit them. Much of the color in my narrative arises in these specifics built on their social milieau. Often, the images took me well beyond what I would have envisioned in my own smaller world. Look close!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo and getting stuck, try this. Trust me.

While I had an overarching idea of the plot line, I was uncertain about the ending. That crucial bit came to me while sitting in Quaker worship. When I got home, I entered a note at the end of the manuscript and returned to the spot much earlier in the timeline where I was keyboarding.

A week or so later, as I dug down to that note, I was startled. I had been building the crisis to a different character, not the one I had noted. Which do I choose? I elected to stick with the note, in part because of its surprise in the plot line. It still makes sense from the earlier developments. And I definitely now think that was the right decision.

So you NaNoWriMo aspirants, take heart.

You really can make that deadline on your first draft. Go, team, go! You can make it in the next two weeks.

Adding an Apple to the mix

Finishing the manuscript is one step.

Doing the revisions leads to more.

And then, with luck or daring, there’s publication.

But you’re hardly done.

Maybe the hardest part’s still ahead.

The part they call marketing. It’s a major topic of conversation when authors get together.


One of the small but important changes I’ve made in my presentation in the past month is expanding the available links to my ebooks. I’d previously said “at Smashwords and other fine ebook retailers.” But then one of the retailers, the Apple Store, pointed out I wasn’t mentioning them as one of the options, and that got me looking at the others as well.

What it’s led to is something like this for me in general:

Check out my author page at the Apple Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Scribd, Smashwords, Sony’s Kobo, and other fine ebook retailers.

And something similar for each of the particular books, with the added sentence: “Or ask your public library to obtain them.”


After informing one of my Web-savvy younger associates, I was surprised that she really didn’t know anything about Smashwords.com. No, I was really surprised.

That got me thinking. My sense is that adding Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Sony as details boosts my credibility.

What do you think?