Posts tagged writing
So there I was. I graduated high school with good grades. I could have gone to any number of colleges as part of the ROTC program, but was told by my recruiter (I’d already signed up as an enlisted man) that I couldn’t go because I’d agreed to their Advanced Electronics plan, and Nuclear Power program. It was, of course, not true. I was part of a quota they had to reach, and had I opted out for the life of an officer, I would have left them with a hole to fill. A particularly hard hole, actually, since I qualified so high on the exams, and made it (by the skin of my teeth) into the Nuclear Power program. They got extra points for that. The joke was on them, in the end, as I found a way out of that particular program, but that’s far in the future.
I could have gone to school in Charleston, Illinois. My mom ran one of the big food services on campus at Eastern Illinois University. I could have gotten into classes for free, or close to it. To do that, though, I would have had to live with those I hated. Many of the kids at the high school would just become young adults with the same attitude they’d always had. My step-father would have been ever-present, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of living even another day under the same roof with him. The only thing remotely good for me at the time was that I’d been attending The Church of Christ, and I’d met a lot of very cool college students. I knew, however, that they would graduate, and leave. I thought, at the time, that I might go into the ministry myself, but not there – not in that town, or that place.
The Navy offered me a good way out. There are many ways to describe the military, but for me it was escape. They paid me. They trained me. They gave me a place to sleep, and had enough discipline in place to keep me from making any truly stupid moves too early in life. I honestly believe that a few years in the military is a good idea for the majority of kids. It gives you some time after school to align your priorities, save for school, learn about the world beyond your parent’s home and control, and figure yourself out.
I left home without so much as a glance over my shoulder. I was just ready to be gone. They flew me to Chicago, where I was processed in – an experience that included meeting a young black man named… David Wilson. Born exactly the same day that I was born. We had a lot of fun telling everyone we were twins, and explaining how it was possible. He is now my long-lost twin, as I never saw him again.
Transience is a constant in the military. You have to work hard if you want to forge friendships that last because every two to four years, you move, and those around you are also in constant flux. You have to build those relationships in that short time period, or lose them as you split up and move on. I have always been a person who either developed very strong friendships or none at all. I’m odd, always have been, and though I try never to allow it to show on the surface, I’m pretty full of myself. I think most people are. You could put the t-shirt my wife loves – it says “C.S.I. – Can’t stand idiots” – in a room full of 20 random people and all of them would chuckle, glance around at some of the others, and think that the shirt was meant for them to wear, but never that it might be directed their way. It’s the way humans work. We all live in tiny, separate worlds where we rule. Those worlds blend, and interact, but really – it’s never quite the same in any moment for you as it is for someone else. It goes back to those influences. All of us have had different influences, all of us believe and know and think at least a little bit differently.
Transience is a familiar sensation to a seasoned writer, as well. You meet your characters for a short period of time. You interact with them, live and love with them, and if you do them justice – come to care about them. You shift into their world, and then, when the story has been told, you move on and leave them behind, hopefully with enough mojo that they can pass on the experience to your readers.
The military swallowed me up in Chicago and spit me toward San Diego, where I went to boot camp. I went in the summer. A very dry, hot summer. I ended up dumped into Company 927. We were commanded by an ex-Seal who was about to retire. He had a good attitude, but he was tough. They chose a guy named Fort to be our RCPO (Recruit Chief Petty Officer) and another guy I only remember as Catfish as the ARCPO (Assistant). Catfish spent all of his time with his mouth wide open, and he sort of worked it – like a fish trying to gulp air out of water.
A more diverse group would have been very difficult to find. One big scary guy who ended up getting dropped for being too crazy to serve, a tiny little guy named Blankenship we called the Admiral who talked too much, an older guy named Buckholtz who was overweight, and constantly confused, a pair of Mormons, myself (wanting in equal parts to be a minister and a writer) and a ton of others.
My experience there was different than most. We were a “drill” company, meaning that our members served in the Drill Team, with the rifles, the Flag team, and in the Bluejackets Choir (where I ended up). We had it a bit easier than most of the companies, and every Sunday we got to go and perform during church services. It was there that I became more aware of the workings of other faiths than my own (at the time) fundamental Christian views.
Currently, I believe in science, and the wonder of the real world that surrounds us. I think something big and powerful created everything, but can’t imagine it had a thing to do with ancient mythology, Hebrew or otherwise, and am happy to believe that being the best person I can be for no other reason than that I know it’s right is the way to go. I have come to detest most of the organized religions of the world for their narrow-minded attitudes, and the fact that the majority of the wars in history can be tracked back to them. Again – I digress. Believe me, though, I will return to this.
The most important thing I learned in boot camp was how to re-imagine myself. I had been a particular person in high school, but the minute I left home, and all the people I knew, I had a choice. I could be whoever I could pull off. Sure, I ended up with people who liked me, respected me, laughed at me, etc… but it was all new, and all different, and that was an experience the Navy gave me again, and again.
This is where the boot camp experience begins to relate directly to writing. First, I met a lot of diverse characters. I am a born mimic, and I spent a lot of time figuring out their accents, and listening to their stories. At the same time, I learned – as noted – to make myself over into something new. Living as different versions of myself allowed me to experience the world through slightly different perspectives. For a writer, this is the kind of insight that can make the difference between real and plastic. Even in genre fiction, fantasy, science fiction, or horror, the thing that makes all of the unbelievable elements work is the core reality you create to surround those unbelievable elements. The reactions of your characters, and the world you surround them with, need to seem believable to the reader in the context of your plot, or you will lose them very early on. Give them someone, and something, to relate to.
In boot camp, I played the young kid from southern Illinois who could run, and write, prayed every night, and argued with the Mormons. I was there for my friends, smart enough to keep my head down and my mind mostly focused on doing what would get me through with the least trouble. I sang on Sunday, shined my shoes, and worked very hard at creating a suit of armor around myself to hide what was already some fairly serious doubt in my chosen life of faith. I didn’t write – not then. I told everyone I was a writer. I believed I was going to be a writer. How in the world I missed that first, fundamental truth – that a writer writes – is still beyond me.
What I didn’t realize then, but understood later, was that a writer is always working. Sure, once you get going, it’s important to write all the time, but if you plan on having anything relevant or important to say, you first have to live, experience, and grow. For me, boot camp was a period of serious growth – one that I have good and bad memories of, and that has found its way into more than one story, character, and plot.
I’m not going to dwell on that time. There are periods of my naval career that deserve serious consideration, and I’ll get to them in due course. The important take-away is the ability to redesign your thought processes into those of a different person, and the idea that every moment of your life is a learning experience directly applicable to writing. If you are reading this, and you are young –just beginning life and work – this is vital. Pay attention. Keep your mind open. Even if you can’t share the beliefs or ideas of others, try to understand why they believe them, and how those beliefs define their world. If you can’t think like a particular character, you can’t write them believably.
Next stop? US Naval Submarine School, Groton Connecticut, where, again, I did not write…
For Halloween… something I wanted to share. Here are ten horror stories that I love, and that I believe everyone should read. They are diverse… but the one thing they have in common is that they stuck in my mind and would not let me go… Without further ado:
“Smoothpicks” – Elizabeth Massie – one of the most intense short stories I have read… left a serious mark.
“Blind and Blue” – Wayne Allen Sallee – the first of many stories by Wayne that I have not been able to get out of my head.
“Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” – David Morrell – Befoer I knew he wrote Rambo, or read anything… I loved this.
“Scartaris, June 28th” – Harlan Ellison – I am not the huge fan of Ellison that most are, but I loved this.
“His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” – Poppy Z. Brite – one of the first things I read by Poppy… led to meeting her and selling a story to Love in Vein II
“The Encyclopedia for Boys” – Jeffrey Osier – a truly unforgettable story, and a beautiful example of tying horror to long-buried childhood memory.
“The Last Feast of Harlequin” – Thomas Ligotti – I had a hard time figuring out which of Ligotti’s stories to choose. This is one of my favorites.
“Fugue Devil” – Stephen Mark Rainey – I live in North Carolina. I will always have half my attention over my shoulder.
“The Alchemy of the Throat” – Brian Hodge – This is no sparkly vampire story. This is vampire fiction taken to a very deep level, emotionally and psychologically
“The Mangler” – by Stephen King – My absolute favorite example of suspension of disbelief. A story that works, scares, and then sounds ridiculous when you try to explain what it’s about.
I’m listening to the audiobook of J. K. Rowling’s pseudonymous mystery / thriller, The Cuckoo’s Calling – narrated by Robert Glenister and attributed to the fictional author Robert Galbraith. I will start by saying it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book, and that I’m very pleased to have been in on the secret prior to reading it, because there are hints of Hogwarts I might have missed otherwise, like the victim – Lula Landry – can’t help but remind one of Luna Lovegood, and the accented voice of Cormoran Strike, our erstwhile detective, when performed by Robert Glenister, resonates with hints of Hagrid. This is not a review of the book; I have other things on my mind, but I have to say, I am loving the characters, the story, and the narration, as I would expect to, the work having been created by a favorite author.
That brings me to the crux of the matter, though. I almost didn’t get the opportunity. The book, first released as a novel by Robert Galbraith, would likely have slipped past me unnoticed. It received what your average novel with a slight leg up might see – came out in hardcover and got a short bit of press, and then began to fade quietly into obscurity, despite solid, positive reviews. All of this changed, of course, when people learned that it was J. K. Rowling behind the pen, and that she’d managed to put one over on the literary world. There are now more reviews of the audiobook on Audible.com than I have sold of my last book…and considering the low percentage of listeners who take the time to rate, or review, the numbers become staggering pretty quickly.
A couple of things occur. I am betting that Rowling’s agent and publisher were never as enthusiastic about this as she was. I am guessing they tried to tell her how hard such a transition to another genre was going to be. I am also guessing it was their idea for the book to come out under a pseudonym. I’m of two minds on this.
For one thing, I am fairly certain that it is doing as well as it is partially BECAUSE of the revealed secret. The sad fact is that the subject of my post here (which I promise to get to eventually) is as evident in readers as it is in publishers and editors. If this book had come out as a mystery novel by J. K. Rowling, it would have done well, but it probably would not have been the phenomenon that it is. Many people would have nodded and smiled, but waited in hopes she’d come back with more Potter. It’s happened to others – John Grisham, and “The Painted House” which is one of his best books, and also slowest performing. The truth is; the “branding” everyone is so hot to create for authors is a two-edged sword, because, by definition – you are branded.
I have mentioned this before, but never attacked it head on. Limiting an author to what an editor, an agent, or even the public expects and wants to hear from them is a horrible, soul-sucking thing. Only at the very top end of publishing, the Kings and Koontz’s of the world, can the bonds be broken, and in most cases it’s because the author’s name has grown so powerful it’s a genre unto itself. Anyone mid-list and below with even moderate success who comes to their agent or editor with something completely different is probably going to be ignored, harangued, or at the very best, forced into a pseudonym – where the book will be treated like any first book and forgotten, and the editor / agent will say SEE? Of all the evils and horrors of the world of publishing as it has grown over the years, bloating, shifting control to agents (who are supposed to work FOR writers) giving marketing control over content, when marketing as often as not wouldn’t know a book if it slapped them in the face but DOES know the lowest-common-sales denominator, and, of course that’s more important than quality, the forcing of authors into “molds” is the most insidious and has probably cost us the most in terms of wonderful, forgotten books.
Writers are artists. They perform at their optimum capability when creating what they need to create, not what someone wants to sell. The farther you stray from this truth, the more generic and cookie-cutter the work becomes. I have not been categorized – not really – because I’ve yet to have one of my books take off. I am certain that if one of them does, that is what I’ll be known for, and judged against, and shelved by… and I will have to fight against that because I simply enjoy writing what excites me too much to go back to writing what someone else thinks I ought to.
J. K. Rowling is my hero because she did what she wanted to do, and then, she made it powerful. She put herself and her name behind it and said “This is what I wanted to write,” and it is GOOD – and I love her for that. I only wish she had not needed to prove the worth of the book by hiding it under another name, and that publishing, the reading public, and life were not so caught up in the notion that you have to buy the known quantity. The movie with the top actor. The book with the biggest name-brand and associated with the history of that brand. The car some idiot drove too fast in a movie that is (in fact) nothing like the one you can buy…
You should all go and read The Cuckoo’s Calling because it’s a wonderful book, and because a talented author wrote it. You should not read it because she wrote Harry Potter… but because you recognize and appreciate her talent. You should not have to make that choice, but the world has put it in front of you… How many people read 50 shades of crap, just because there was a big hoopla over it, and in SPITE of the almost absolute agreement among critics, authors, and readers that the writing wasn’t good? How many people – also despite all of that – will go and buy the book on writing written by this person who by all accounts writes poorly – because it has her name on it? How many of you – honestly – who read or are reading The Cuckoos Calling would have done so if J. K. Rowling had been on the cover originally, and there had never been a secret, or a big deal made of the revealing of that secret?
The question is, of course – can writers make their way writing what they want to write, and can readers learn to pick books – not because of advertising hype, or “branding” – but because of quality? Or will publishing, despite it’s changing face, always make buying books as much like buying cereal as it is like art?
The other day a blogger took me to task for being disappointed that one of the blogs that signed up for my tour didn’t post the guest post I gave them, or respond in any way to queries about it. There was going to be a review at that tour stop too…something I’ve come to anticipate, as I’ve gotten only a moderate number so far on the book. Here’s the thing.
There was a bare minimum of effort required for that blogger to meet their commitment. I wrote the post, and I handed it in to them more than a month ahead of time. I provided a free copy of my book and, while that blog does have a review policy that says reviews not guaranteed, they committed to the review when they chose it as an option on the blog tour AND their own policy states that if they just couldn’t finish, or whatever, that they will say so… They said nothing.
Thankfully, the talented Michelle Lee let me borrow her blog space, and, albeit a day late, the Character Interview with LENORE is live (link below). Maybe I have unreasonable expectations, but these things have two-way commitments. I met and exceeded mine, and it’s frustrating and off-putting to have that work ignored. Enough on that. I hope nothing horrible happened in the life of the blogger in question, and I wish them well, but as a cautionary note – if you set up a blog tour, vetting the blogs carefully is important, and one thing I would check is how long it’s been in operation (the blog) and how regularly it’s updated. Also important? Traffic, comments, and popularity. If most of the traffic on a particular post is channeled through my own post about it on my blog, then I didn’t really need that other blog at all…the idea is to diversify and build the audience. I hope I’m doing that. On the up side, 287 people (or so) have signed up to win one of the prizes…
Today’s post is about the birth of Nevermore, A Novel of Love, Loss & Edgar Allan Poe. It covers the pre-story in Kali’s Tale, and moves on to explain how the book came into being. I hope you’ll enjoy it. Here’s a snippet:
“Eleven months ago, I wrote the following at the beginning of a post at my website and blog:
THE TOUR SO FAR:
Read about Genres & Why I hate them : ==> AT THE AUTHOR’S CAFE
We are at a convention in Pensacola, trying to sell books and hunt ghosts…so today I’ll just post about the great review I got over at “Brook Blogs” and to tell you about my guest post there about Cletus J. Diggs, and about memorable characters that aren’t your average, run-of-the-mill heroes…Read the guest post and the review here. She liked it!
THE TOUR SO FAR:
Read about Genres & Why I hate them : ==> AT THE AUTHOR’S CAFE
I have a recurring theme in posts on my blog, that of history – whether an accurate version ever existed – how to mine it for fiction, how to research it – how to preserve it. Today’s post on the Nevermore blog tour is over at Christine’s Words- where I wrote about history, in general, how it led to the creation of this particular novel – interesting stuff, to me, anyway. I hope you will pop on over there and check it out. While you’re there, you could comment, you know? You could also sign up for the gift card and free book giveaway… Here’s an excerpt from the post, and a link to the whole shebang:
“When you set out to write a story or a book that is set in the past, you have your work cut out for you. On the one hand, you need to do your research. How much research is enough varies wildly, dependent on the setting, and how the events and time period play into the story. I generally do far more research than is necessary, immersing myself in the characters, or the events of the time period, and then use what I’ve learned sparingly to keep things authentic. It’s as important not to bore your readers with details as it is not to lose them by using some event, or technology inappropriate to your setting.
But that’s the easy part. You can find a thousand articles on how to write historical fiction. There are wonderful blogs and tutorials on research, organizing your background material. I could write about those things, but I’d only be adding to a wealth of good information that’s already out there…” =>Read the Entire Post at Christine’s Words!
THE TOUR SO FAR:
Read about Genres & Why I hate them : ==> AT THE AUTHOR’S CAFE
Today, I am being hosted on Blog Tour Day Four – at The Author’s Cafe. I particularly enjoyed writing this guest post because it’s something I probably would have written here anyway. Today’s post is about not allowing agents, editors, publishers, or – really – anyone tell you what you should write, or what you can’t. It’s one of the biggest shames of the publishing industry, in my mind, that authors have become convinced they have to emulate the “big thing” to get ahead, that they have to write just one thing so as not to confuse fans, and that they have to do what their agent tells them. Newsflash. The agent works for the writer, and if that’s not true, it’s not really agenting – if your agent isn’t enthusiastic about what YOU DO and how you do it, you have the wrong agent. Anyway, here’s a short excerpt from today’s guest post:
“Genres and Why I Hate Them
By David Niall Wilson
All through my career I’ve been plagued by a couple of misconceptions and a string of bad advisors. The misconceptions are:
A: You should write what’s hot.
B: You should choose a genre and stick with it so fans don’t get confused.
I won’t get into the long string of bad advisors, except to say that at least two of my agents turned out to be crooks (one went to jail for it), one told me things were being submitted and I later found out – not so much. Still another advised me to pick a bestselling book and try to do something “like that” – which led to a string of outlines, with three chapters each, that said agent could not “get behind.” I had her get behind me, and it worked out better. I sold all of those books….” ==> READ THE REST OF THE POST AT THE AUTHOR’S CAFE.
THE TOUR SO FAR:
I spend far too much time on trivialities in this blog, ignoring what it should truly be about. Words. Stories, creation and art – the ups and downs of the particular life behind my own stories. Some things matter more than others, and today, I have decided, is a very good day.
First, unrelated to any of the other topics involved, I went running for the first time in almost a year. I made it a mile and a half in the brand new Vivobarefoot Running shoes (more on those in another post). I came home, got the leash, and took Gizmo for a long cool walk, came home once again, fed the birds and closed their door so the rest of the family could continue sleeping…
Then, as I shook loose the final cobwebs, I opened up my Kindle Fire, turned on the Wi-Fi and began the download of the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s newest – The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I knew nothing about this story. Well, that isn’t exactly true. I knew one thing. There are things you look forward to. There are movies coming out – concerts to see – television premiere’s – vacations. All of these things you hold inside and when things get rough, you turn to them and wonder about them a little, and forget the world.
For many years now, one of the things that has done this for me is the work of Neil Gaiman. It’s infectious, of course, and has spread somewhat to the rest of the family. I pre-ordered the book because I think Trish might want to read it, and that Katie most certainly will. (She loved Coraline and has The Graveyard Book and Fortunately, the Milk waiting on her Kindle). While I will sit and agonize over buying new books and paying bigger prices, I have cast this aside as unimportant in a very few cases, and this case – this new story waiting – has been a top-of-that-list case for some time now. I pre-ordered the audiobook the minute it came out, and purposefully timed the last book I listened to to end yesterday, so I’d be ready.
So, I ran a mile and a half. I opened up my computer browser and went to check on my own story (written with the very talented author Steven Savile who – as it turns out – is also my very good friend) – Hallowed Ground, which has been enjoying a two day free promotion and has given away a (to me) staggering 18,200 copies or so. Currently, our little tale is #6 of all the free books available for the Kindle. If the gurus are right, well, this will continue on into sales when the promotion ends. If not – just maybe – some of those 18,000 people are settling into their day – perhaps with the Whispersync for Voice audio that is only $1.99 with the free book – but more likely with a Kindle – and dropping through time to the city of Rookwood, where magic, and crow-men, and even Lilith herself awaits them. That is what I hope, because here’s the thing.
I do not want to write like Neil Gaiman, though I count him among the three or four working authors I most admire. I do not want to write like Neil – but I want to “be” like Neil. I want to be seen for what my heart tells me I am – a teller of stories. Some of them are good, and others, probably not so much, but they are mine. I want to write like me, and be like Neil Gaiman, and -right this very moment – I want to be back on the bench, by the pond, where I left the protagonist of his new book staring at a pond and remembering. I want to listen for Monster, padding through the grass. I wonder what happened to Lettie. I will say nothing more about this book until I reach the other side…
But so far, this is a wonderful day. Thanks Neil.
There is a lot of timing involved in a writing career. Anyone who does not believe this should pay attention. Here’s a story for you…and a commentary on where I find myself these days. This is not a complaint, or a call for, well, anything…just what I do. When I write in this blog, I try to adhere to my own advice to write what hurts…
When I started writing back in the 80s, horror was in a boom. Due to circumstances that could have gone other ways, I became a writer of horror and dark fantasy early on and I had a unique opportunity. I either blew that opportunity, or avoided it. The votes are still out on that. I had an agent at one point who called while I was away at sea. If I’d been there when that call came in, there was “a slot”. What this meant, at the time, was that pretty much whatever I’d turned in (and I had books) would have been published in the raised-foil tsunami of horror. That probably would have irrevocably changed my career. Maybe I’d still be riding the wave – maybe I’d be drowning in the aftermath of the big crash. No way to tell, because I was out at sea, and missed it.
I set off on my own multi-directional path. Star Trek, White Wolf, Vampires, horror, science fiction, fantasy – mystery and thrillers. I’ve written them all. Most of my books have gotten good to great reviews. I’ve won awards. People in some small circles know who I am. I write a lot, and that will probably never change.
Along the way, though, something weird happened. I never reached the heights of best-sellerdom, or even the upper middle-class of writing. I just did okay. I barely missed a lot of things that would have changed everything, and I kept writing.
Recently I started noticing that – despite the fact people know me and congratulate me when I finish a project, they don’t read them. It’s not that no one likes the books – people who do read them like them – sometimes even love. I don’t see any of those dreaded threads on message boards about how no one gets how I am still writing, or they couldn’t get through my books. I also don’t see anyone starting threads about me in any positive way, or any excitement over whatever I’m working on. What I get – mostly – is nothing. Nothing at all. Those who have always been famous remain famous. Many newer authors, some awesome, others mediocre, and even a few I consider a long way from ready for prime time, get read. People gather together and read their books in groups. They line up to buy them before they are even published. For my books, people are happy to enter a contest and maybe get the book for free, but buying seems to just never happen, and when people DO buy the books…well, if they ever read them I seldom hear about it.
I’m the author in the middle, currently. I still believe I’ll find the way out – not sure what it will be. If I do make it out, I hope those who “discover” me also come back and read the older books – the ones I’ve spent a lifetime writing. I hope they like/hate/talk about them. Mostly, I hope they read them.
When I started writing seriously, I attacked the challenge of the short story. The first few times out the gate I remember how difficult it was to hit what I considered the minimum length for a serious story – 2500 words. I worked out characters ahead of time, almost like a role-playing game stat sheet for each one – not because I intended to use all of that information, but because if I knew it, it could inform the decisions and dialogue of the character.
I believed that there needed to be a set number of plot twists, and that there was a particular point in the story where you had to be working on the conclusion. I was fond of twist endings, cliché as they usually turned out. I read constantly through the pages of Writer’s Digest and The Writer, and I bought all the popular books on writing. Oddly, what I don’t recall doing is sitting down and trying to emulate a particular formula or style. Considering all the dissecting, prodding, poking and plotting that was going on, it’s an odd omission.
I don’t want to dwell on formulas just yet, though, I want to talk about the constant desire of authors I have known (myself included) to keep score on the words. As I said, in the beginning, a 2500 word story seemed pretty long to me. Over time, I started to stretch them out to 3, 4, and even 5000 words, but throughout that time I managed to hold onto the ability to be succinct. To this day I can write flash fiction under a thousand words without much effort, and with pretty good results.
Unfortunately, in the world of short fiction, you are paid by the word. In the world of novels, you often have guidelines you need to fall within – like 70-80k, or “about” 100k. If you are winging your novel, writing from the seat of your pants, these sorts of guidelines can drive you crazy. They are one reason that I took up the fine art of the outline a few years back. I don’t need explicit instructions when I travel – in this world, or one I’ve made up – but I like to know where I’m going and about how far I expect to travel before I get there.
I remember clearly a cruise I took on board the USS Guadalcanal, one of the ships I served on in the US Navy. I had two computers at the time – I took the older one with me to the ship. It was an old 386 with Word Perfect 6.0 loaded and ready. Along with that computer I had a Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 500 – the sturdiest, most reliable printer I have ever owned. I took a drawer full of ink cartridges, and a case of paper. I remember sitting down before I left and figuring out that, at 250 words per page, there would be half a million words printed if I used that entire case. I came very close.
I was the Leading Petty Officer of the Electronics shop during that period. I didn’t have an office of my own, but I had a UHF Transmitter room that I sort of took ownership of. Most of the equipment in that room was mine to maintain, and there was a workbench that would hold my computer. I also had a large “boom box” and a box of CDs. Those became the soundtrack for several novels; not all written on that cruise, but at the very least revised and completed. I had floppy disks with all my books and stories, and I worked constantly. The ship served dinner between 4:00 and about 5:30. After that, every night that I did not have duty, I was in that room, typing away, until around 11:00 PM – sometimes later.
Depeche Mode and Concrete Blonde were my friends. I memorized the first two Crash Test Dummies CDs and learned to love a band called Ten Inch Men, whose album Pretty Vultures is still one of my all-time favorites. The singer from that band, Dave Coutts, went on to sing for “Talk Show,” along with members of the Stone Temple Pilots. I met Dave, and several other members of Ten Inch Men, when they found my review and comments on their music in my Live Journal online. Again – another story.
The point is the words. You just don’t see how they add up until you let yourself think about it. Most professional writers I know claim about a 2,000 word per day output. In those days on the Guadalcanal I averaged 3500-5000 a day and had days that topped 10k. These days I fall in the 1500 -2000 word range, but here’s the thing.
One of my great pleasures every year is participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. 50,000 words in thirty days. When you say it that way it seems like a horrifying challenge. When you break it down to the reality – 1,667 words a day, you see that a lot of working writers write more than that every month. If you add in what I do for the Crossroad Press site, and the blogs I write to promote my work, I’m sure I’m still doing the 5k a day shuffle myself.
So…in reality…if you concentrated, you should be able to churn out 3-6 novels a year with some regularity, although broken up by short stories, essays, reviews, etc. Writers write, and though there are certainly times this is less true than at others, a steady stream of words produces a prodigious output over time. I have been at this a very long time, and have determined that I do not – at this point – want to know how many words I have written. In fact, I cringe at the thought of it and want to run away, pulling out what little hair remains to me and go screaming off into the night. I’ve written so much, and yet, I feel as if there is so much still to accomplish. There are so many stories waiting, and now they are piling up against the end gate as I plow into them, trying to fight my way through in the allotted space of a lifetime.
You can get buried in the words. You can get lost in worrying over the numbers. In the end, those that can’t be held back will escape your fingers, and your personal mountain of words will grow. I’ve decided to make mine tall enough to touch the sky, beautiful enough to attract climbers and wildlife, and solid enough to withstand time. Foolish, simple dreams that make me smile, and keep me working. I have always loved the mountains.