Saturday, January 13, 2007

Moving Forward with Focus

To move forward, sometimes one must go back to the beginning. I have been sitting at a crossroads for a while now, not sure which way to go.

It’s my own fault. I’ll admit it. I was good out of the gate, but down the road I always petered out. Sometimes it was fear. Sometimes it was procrastination. Sometimes it was that big bully "The Job" that pulled me away. I’m ranting. Let me focus.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I started my writing career with a novel. I didn’t set out to do this. I was just putting to paper the story that was in my head. This is the story that started as a couple of paragraphs–the one my wife spied on the computer. I did good. I forced my butt to stay in the seat and I pumped out around 100,000 words. It was tough but I finished it.

Now came my first dilemma.

Who was I? Nobody, that’s who. I had no publishing credits. No contacts in the publishing world. If I was going to get published I would need an agent. And if I was going to get an agent, I would need to be published. Whoa! Did anyone else feel their head spin?

So I set my novel aside and started writing short stories. That part has actually worked out well for me. After about three or four short stories I once again felt the itch of the novel. I had had an extremely vivid dream–one of those that stays with you like indigestion from a 4 A.M. pizza. That dream was the fuel for novel number two.

Dilemma number two.

Do I embark on the second novel or do I go back and polish on the first one? Right or wrong, I went for the second novel. It was winter time. I was laid off from pouring concrete until the weather broke. It was great. I would get up early, kiss my wife as she left for work, then off to the computer I’d go.

I was doing great. I had somewhere around 50,000 words down when something horrible happened. They called me back to work! Oh, did that take the wind out of my sails. I struggled over the next few weeks to keep writing. My output kept dropping and dropping, and eventually I gave up.

I continued to write short stories and even wrote a second draft to my novel. You want to talk about a ROUGH draft. It was like a chunk of coral wrapped in sandpaper. I passed out my revised version of the novel to some trusted friends. I even gave it to an English professor at Indiana State. The advice that was the hardest for me came from my friend Catie–an English major at Indiana University and granddaughter of the afore mentioned English professor.

My novel was written in first person. Catie said I should switch it to third person and tell the story from several different points-of-view.

That did not sit well. The story wasn’t perfect, I knew that. It wasn’t ready to send to agents yet, but a change like that was a bit much. That was a complete overhaul. I would practically be writing the whole thing over again.

I set the novel aside and went back to the short story again. But the two novels wouldn’t leave me alone. The first was down on paper, the second still half in my head. They come to me in my daydreams and the times when I look inward. It seems they’re not through with me yet.

So I found myself at that proverbial crossroads. An alarm is ringing within me. "Crap or get off the pot," it tells me. I never said my inner self wasn’t rude. Maybe it’s that another year has come and gone. More likely it’s that my firstborn is only a couple of months away. Whatever the case, there are hot coals beneath my feet. I have to move, or die where I stand.

I began to consider Catie’s advice. Good advice is like good medicine. You’re better for taking it, but it sure is hard to swallow. I was afraid. What if I spent all my time re-writing my novel and it still isn’t fit to be published? It was the first story I had written. There is a lot there to fix. But it is a good story. I was more experienced when I wrote the second novel. It’s only half done, but I still have the desire to finish it. What to do?

Well, come what may, I’ve decided to go back to the beginning. I am taking Catie’s advice. Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah, I have to re-write a lot of it. But it feels really good.

I’ve regained my focus. I’m polishing this jewel with everything I’m worth. If I stay on schedule, it should be finished about the time my son is born. I have three short stories that are still floating around out there. I’m confident they will find homes. Soon I am going to take my FINISHED novel, whatever publishing credits I have, and I am going to find an agent.

After that I have my eyes set on novel number two. I can still see that dream. The characters still call to me. I’ll not let them down.

Wish me luck.