What, in the Hell, Am I Doing? (On Writing & Editing)


Photo Source: http://www.monicamccarthy.net/2014/04/15/true-and-false/

So it seems like my writing career is more of a hobby these days, happening about once a week. I’m not spending any where near enough time, sitting in the chair and writing, which is basically what writers do, I guess.

I am always happy to get back into the seat and put some focus in on the craft. The pump pad remains my savior, and I will hail its power all my days as a writer. If what you are pump padding matches up with the section you have to edit that day, this offers one of those magical moments of creation, where you can take the new material and in grafting it on to the preexisting material, get a running start at the editing of the whole section. Artists are addicts for this creative moment of self absolution, where we can turn over into the act and be immersed in the creation. It’s this mystical space, which can sometimes have me thinking, what in the hell am I doing?

I think that is one of the most difficult things starting out as a writer, is just answering the question, what does one actually DO as a writer? Like in Carpentry it is more obvious. Want to build a box? The size and purpose of said box will instruct you on how to build the box. Geometry and physical skills like making straight lines and operating tools are the prerequisites for constructing the box. You know you are going to have to be able to cut some wood, and maybe use a hammer or whatever. Now you may not be able to do these things yourself, but it is obvious what needs to be done, and when you see someone who really knows how to be a good carpenter, it can seem so simple and self explanatory.

Writing has parallels to this of course, especially when you decide to become a professional and develop your skills. But at first it can be very slippery and unclear, even more so since you are just some weirdo in your basement trying to be the next J.D. Salinger or whatever. So to save our collective face, let’s think what does a writer actually do? Like for real?

A writer is a crafter of language. Language like geometry has it’s own inherent, natural laws, which need to be worked through. This is actually the field of Logic, which is more akin to Mathematics. It’d probably behooves all writers to have at least a basic understanding of Logic. Logic is algebra for truth claims. Truth claims are basically any claims which can be proven, like I like doughnuts, or the sky is blue. Conjunctions like “and/or” are the plusses and minuses of mathematics. If/then formulations are crucial in constructing truth claims like, If I walk in the rain, then I will get wet. This is an objective truth claim and we can parse this out through the process of Logic and effectively prove it.

What does that have to do with writing your Harry Potter fan-fiction? Well a lot actually. Because the mind is built and trained in these logic relationships we have to use them when writing are own stories. Suspended disbelief exists in the if/then type process of the mind. When we violate the natural laws of Logic in a story, we rip giant holes through our creation. Enough of these rips the coherency of your thought experiment, the fictional work, will collapse and boredom will ensue, and the reader will go back to Netflix.

All this acknowledged, most people aren’t jamming out to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason in their free time. Lord of the Rings is not Heidegger’s Being And Time (or is it?). So what makes great Fiction so stimulating and entertaining? Again we could turn to the study of Philosophy and Ethics, and take a scientific approach, and analyze how certain heroic tales stimulate certain innate passions in the hearts of man, and from this same heart spring all the love for drama flows, because it reflects back to ourselves our own inner dramas. That every book is like an oracle which can tell us about the past and future lives of ourself. But see how we have gone all flowery and mystical again. How does someone actually do this? How do you become so immersed in your imaginary world that it can actually function in this way?



It starts to feel sometimes like all writers are Victor Frankenstiens in the making. That ultimately there is something dark in these goyim like creatures called books, who are just a shimmer of their creators. It’s ugly, but like Frodo, if you want your work to command the passion that haunt men’s heart, then you are gonna have to go cave diving. You are going to have to crawl around in the dark and do battle with the subconscious enemies of mankind, and somehow preserve yourself in these efforts, and pull an artifact out of these primordial fires.

Part of capturing this part of great fiction is observing it in the world around you. The Good Book says nothing new under the sun, now if we pushed that through the machine of Logic, we could come to some interesting conclusions, maybe that if there is infinite possibility, that anything that can be imagined could or maybe even does exist? It’s a fractal view of the world, where the seed contains the whole. So practically speaking, you are thinking of the villain of your character go to your local shopping center and observe your fellow man? Look for the physical mannerisms and behavior of evil people. Incorporate this knowledge into your work. You need to have clear leads and advisories, heroes and villains. There has to be the process of inherency, trouble, and resolution. You have to be stimulated as a human being in your own process in these things. This also coincidentally is a key to good book, it has to be a copy of you! If you are sort of a dark, wicked person, don’t be trying to write from the perspective of some pure Hero; it’ll never work. Again a mystical paradox of writing seems to be you can never fake your fiction.

To be a great writer, you have to see passed the details to the form of what makes great stories. I believe most people don’t read for the details, but for the experience. This doesn’t mean get wonky with the details though! Because discrepancies will stand out to all readers. But still people read to have an interesting experience. They want to be engaged. That’s what’s weird about good writing because you are basically just enjoying yourself, and this seems to offend some remnant of a Protestant work ethic that was engrained in me, and makes it all seem very ethereal and flakey…

Think of it like this, every Stephen King or Anne Rice, started out as some person just sitting somewhere going on these long excursions into imagination land, hunting for little jewels which they could bring back and commodify and exchange with the world. But for every Mark Twain, there are hundred of other people who will never be read. What is the difference between the two, that’s what I want to know?  Imagine if there were just theaters all over the place, filled by chubby people, surrounded by a bunch of dirty coffee cups, books, and their manuscripts. The show is not finished, but the materials are all there, three-quarters in completion. They just need the master craftsman to bring it all together and it could be great. But it’s not. The theaters rots. The roof leeks. There’s no more coffee. The artists is emaciated, mad. He hates the theater and the manuscript now. It mocks him, because he got stuck, Gollumed.


Before I get lost in the trenches here, let me finish be recapping the point I thought I was making. The writer is attempting to better themselves and their world; they are trying to save themselves. This is actual work and involves specific skills. The skills involve shaping language and ideas, that encompass things like Logic and emotions. To be a writer is to be build thought experiments which deal with questions of morality and logic. The writer is reproducing their own inner drama and that is the well source of their fiction. To write then is to provoke your own inner drama and to relate that through artifice to the world. So next time you sit down trigger your relevant Mommy or Daddy issues and get some blood on the page! I hope your own efforts are a success!

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Going With the Flow (On Writing & Editing)


So this is gonna be another post extolling the virtue of the pump pad. I finally found myself back in my office with some time to focus on my writing. I have a busy weekend ahead, starting with a wedding today. I was feeling a little confused about how to start. Editing wise I am right to the chunky middle part, where things sort of jump off and get weird, and so with love and tradition in the air, it just didn’t feel right going all dark and crazy. So instead I decided to go with the flow and turn to the pump pad. I decided to write a random scene with my lead and her love interest. And again the pump pad came through. 

As usual I’m not sure if the thousand I put up will ever make the final draft, but what it does is help fill out are the details of my characters. They come alive by writing these scenes. And it’s interesting too because having the basic story in mind, I can sort of imagine the affect this is going to have on a reader, when they final get to the ending. It’s like I can actually feel the layers being added; it’s a very cool sensation. 

It made me think of other Arts which are obviously more mechanical, like painting or playing and instrument. And somehow getting that perfect line you want in a figure is analogous to finding that perfect feel for a character, when that success is achieved only then does the figure begin to jump off the page. That’s what’s loved in something like the Mona Lisa, or The Old Man in the Sea, the ability of the artist to create a real world out of artificial techniques. The more we focus on these real, tangible methods of our the art the better we will become. Art is not about being inspired and sort of vomiting out a finished project, but it is the slow march forward that wins the day. 


Going with the mood of the day, dictated by agenda, was a success as well. I reflected on why people feel the need to marry, why I myself have desperately needed monogamy and companionship. The scene I wrote brought out all kinds of ideas. It is because we need to communicate, and be understood, recognized in our personhood, by another. It is because we are on an adventure, and it is perilous and having a dedicated companion gives you strength. It is because the world is confusing, and getting simpatico with someone makes it less confusing. It’s because we don’t have all the answers, and we are obsessed with that mystery of the other, and we know if we can just understand one other person fully, than maybe we have moved forward. It’s is because we are pack animals, whose skin was built to give and receive pleasure, and sometimes it can be so cold and then a warm body next to you can mean survival. 

This is what I think is meant by write what you know. You need to work with the emotions and experiences that interest you. And though you can be writing some crazy distant world, it needs to come from your own heart and mind; there is no other way. 

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All Hail the Pump Pad! (On Writing and Editing)

So I wrote last time about priming the pump, the idea that when editing a writer should still “prime the pump”, by pounding out a thousand or so new words before jumping into any editing. With the business of Summer afoot, the writing side of of my life is sort of being neglected, but finally today I got after it. Thinking about the big picture of my story though, especially after like a week or more of not really working at it, had me feeling confused and overwhelmed. But then I remembered the pump pad.

Coincidentally, I had also have also been experiencing a little bit of domestic discourse with my Wife and so I was feeling bit litigious, and so that prompted  me to turn to the climax scene of my book, which is a sort of mock trial event. Then bam, an hour later, the thousand words are out, and we have ended up with a couple juicy tidbits which might actually make the final draft. 

The pump pad is awesome. I really like writing new stuff, that main is the reason I do it. And if that’s all it is, just me banging on the keyboard, making stuff up, having a little fun, that’ll be enough. But the thing is sometimes I also dream about other people enjoying what I have written. And something like hopeless stirs in my heart. It’s futile, a dark mind says. No one will ever read your story. And there’s truth in that dark voice right now, because readers could never happen until we have a finished product, and can’t have finished project without the massive edit, but don’t like to edit? Despair. Solution? The pump pad!

Honestly, if you’re like me, stupid, lazy, and careless, the pump pad is for you! Some people say anything worth doing is worth doing right. My motto is anything worth doing is worth doing twice! So get out there and just rewrite the same scene a hundred times, sooner or later one of those will have to not suck, right? 

There’s this philosophical thought experiment called the infinite monkey theorem. The idea is how long would it take a infinitely supplied room of monkeys banging on a typewriter, for them to write Shakespeare. Now the point of thought experiment is about the results of infinity and randomness. It wants to indicate that if there is an infinite amount time and randomness, then there is an infinite amount of possibilities. And this provides me some strange hope, that maybe one day if I just keep banging away on this keyboard, out might pop a master piece! 



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Priming the Pump (On Writing And Editing)


Picture From: http://mabrgordon.hubpages.com/hub/Ivy-Green-The-Birthplace-of-Helen-Keller

So, I started back at my farm handing gig this week. On the farm they got this cool hand pump, and and it’s sort of confusing to use, because when you pull the handle open, at first nothing comes out, but then you pump it a couple of times, and then you hear this little push of pressure and then water is just gushing out of the pipe. I read recently about how it was a good idea for writer to prime the pump as well when editing and rewriting. So that before you set down to edit even, you should take some time and just write some new stuff, maybe more background, supplemental material for the work in progress, or even the next sort  You may not incorporate this material into the final story, but doing it you will learn new things about your characters and get into the rhythm of being a word slinger. 

Today I started priming the pump by doing some free writing. So I wrote two sections adding on to pre-existing scenes, one of which I got into a characters heads which I hadn’t done previously, and with both of these I think I actually may incorporate some things in the final draft. I also just did some writing about the world of my story, and it actually was pretty insightful. I was able to generate some interesting ideas which help me understand my world better. And though I may not use any of this materially directly in the story, knowing it will help me mature the world overall.

I have been having some trouble editing, duh says frequent readers of the blog, but I think my problem was I wasn’t priming the pump. Instead what I was doing was just staring at a mass of text, hoping somehow that the yellow break road of the story would just open up. But like all things worthwhile and challenging, it is all about routine and doing the work. The work for a writer is writing, coming up with new words everyday. You have to feel that energy and have that creative energy to keep the whole process alive and moving forward.

I am currently reading “Revision and Self-Editing” by James Scott Bell. I am really enjoying reading all these books on writing. Even when the tips aren’t groundbreaking, just having another writers thoughts and experience, helps the spirit and the method. Also because hopefully it is writing, these books are easy and quick to read. And you get great reading lists!


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Does Size Matter? (On Writing & Editing)


Well I don’t think it does, really. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity, in most areas really, ahem. There is a lot of discussion out there among writers about how much is enough. There are different word count for different genres I’ve learned, and a myriad of reasons and explanations for these different levels. Like Hard Sci-FI should be no less than 90K words, and YA should be somewhere around 60k. These are of course dictated by the always dubious and ambivalent, “publishing industry”, and so of course my Generation Y, anti-conformist, middle-child syndrome, wasn’t raised right ass, is highly doubtful of all these conventions. Of course no one is really saying these word counts are a hard line in the sand or anything. No, of course not, just merely suggestions, based on empirical research and common sense.

For a thorough listing and explanation of word count expectations, check this out    http://www.literaryrejections.com/word-count/

So I am on Chapter 3, Draft Three, and I am having another sort of size issue. The first two chapters are each roughly six pages and then my third chapter end ups being only like two. So I have gone back tightened it up, done some rearranging and rewriting, removing some of this telling, adding some of that showing, and it still sort of tops out right around two. So then I ask, well is this just the way it is? Is this okay? I think about pacing. We start out Chapter 1 in the action, 2 we get a little interlude world building, 3 bam we get another little bit of action, 4 we will return to development, five pick up the action, I see some sort of scheme here. All sounds fine and dandy, but then again the over analytic, non-conformist, begins to think, well is it too symmetrical, too formulaic, and then suddenly an existential abyss opens up and the whole thing must be evaluated for all points of problem and merit, until we find ourselves lost in circular battle of artistic doubt and mania, and then our Tuesday is ruined…


source: http://alexiuss.deviantart.com/art/The-Abyss-333599379

That’s not what happened though. I edited for an hour, will probably spent another half an hour, in deep contemplation, rereading Draft 2, and then I’ll call it a day, and go plant some tomatoes. Now how do I grow those things into monsters….

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The Work Continues (On Writing and Editing)




We are off on draft three people. About one and 3/4 chapters on our way, so we still got some way to go. I understand too of course that this may not be the last draft either. I do hope though that this can be a definitive draft. If I can’t get this basically in line, this round, then I will have to caste it to the abyss officially. I don’t want to do that.

All right with that melodrama out of the way, life is going very well for me. Spring garden is rocking, except for the ravaging bunnies. My garlic is about twelve inches tall, got a tater popping, and seven tomatoes plants out in the raised bed. Little kiddies are keeping on rocking in the free world, and the Wife has five days off! It’s write time folks. Actually edit time, I guess.

The great thing about writing is you can only do it so long. If I get in my morning session, like I like it, by noon I am basically spent and can go do other stuff. Like read! I picked up a few books on editing. I started Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. The first chapter was about the differences in the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. How they each have similar rules and conventions, which self-identify to perspective editors and publishes. He also give a wonderful overview of the readings that should be done to acquaint yourself with the scientific cannon. So basically I got like twenty some authors I need to go get into, super exciting!


I’m realizing that my writing has a lot of plot holes, and not in the traditional sense of a singular distracting instance, but instead like holed swiss cheese. I need better character integration, and better frames for the main narrative. I need substantive development through narrative, but not info dumps. All the actors are here, the set is made, and the ideas are on the page, but we still don’t have the story, beginning to end. But we are getting there, one day, one session, one sentence at a time. Hope you are getting somewhere too.


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Book Review: The Empty People, Barry N. Malzberg (as K. M. O’Donnell) (1969)


Great book review!

Originally posted on Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations:


(Howard Winters’ cover for the 1969 edition)

3.5/5 (Good)

“Inspecting a few she found that they were about what she had expected: the science-fiction books seemed to be full of nonsense about extraterrestrials or flights into space, the damnedest silliest stuff imaginable, and the sex part was sheer filth.  There was no question about it; there was no other way to describe those books” (12).

Science fiction as delusion.  More specifically, chapters replete with SF plots with evil aliens with interchangeable names and megalomaniacal claims to power culled straight from the pulps are delusions.  Imagined (perhaps?) by an average American man with “metastases” (14) growing in his brain while a concerned, albeit cheating, normal American housewife waits at his bedside.  The Empty People (1969) is considered Barry N. Malzberg’s (writing at K. M. O’Donnell) first SF novel.  However in the vein of his more famous Herovit’s World(1973), the most convincing interpretation of the novel suggests…

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