Post #139: Ambitious Attainability

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

I love some good goal setting just as much as the next guy. After all, setting goals + achieving goals = happier self. And who doesn’t want to be happier? But I’ve also developed a bit of an algorithm for my own goals, whether they be for my writing life or just my life in general.

I believe in setting goals that are ambitious, but still attainable. Ambitious so that I’m properly motivated and know that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Attainable so that I have something to celebrate because celebrating feels good and is a really important part of the process. Most goal setting happens privately, and when it’s just you and you, small victories really matter. In the age of social media, it feels like everything is for public consumption, but deep down, most of us still know that we have to make ourselves happy first.

Now, I know that the notion of attainability sort of flies in the face of all the “yay-me!” feelings that are supposed to accompany goal setting in the greeting-card sense of the phrase. We’re always telling ourselves to “dream big” and “be our best selves.” To “reach for the stars” and be “the person we were always born to be.” But you show me a person who spends a little too much time dreaming big and reaching for the stars and I’ll show you a person who regularly doesn’t meet his goals and doesn’t get to celebrate success as often as he’d like.

Let’s get specific. At the top of this page, you’ll see a picture. Now, I’m not in this picture, but what you’re looking at is me celebrating successfully meeting a goal in about the least sexy way possible: by writing numbers on a page, and then writing more numbers beneath those numbers, and then more numbers beneath those. That’s my daily word count for last week.

I was off for a week over the holiday, and I knew I wanted to make some progress on my novel-in-progress, which I’d been struggling to make traction with as of late. But when you’ve got children dominating your life and schedule, Christmas to plan, not to mention food to eat and classic films to watch, days full of free time–the thing we all want more of–can whisk by in surprisingly brisk fashion.

I needed a goal. So, I set one. I decided that during break I would try to write 1,000 words a day. Now, I tend to write fast, and so 1,000 words doesn’t feel like an overly-huge haul, but I also knew that I’d be more likely to reach my daily goal if I set it for an attainable quantity. If I’m properly focused, I can usually write 1,000 story words in 2-3 hours. However, to reach this goal, I knew I’d have to wake up early and get my pages in before the family was up and the day swept me away so that I could properly focus. I’d have to skip morning time chatting with my wife and reading the Beatles biography I’ve been working my way through. I’d have to sacrifice. And sacrifice takes ambition. As does consistency, which was part of my goal. 1,000 words a day, every day. No excuses.

And that un-sexy photo at the top of the page? It’s proof. It’s my reward for a job well done. The first two days waking up at 6:30 when I wanted to sleep in kind of sucked. But with each passing day, I wrote down my current word count before getting to work, and as the numbers grew, I felt successful knowing I’d not only reached the prior day’s goal, I was proving to myself that I could reach today’s as well. And tomorrow’s. With each day, getting up early and getting my pages in felt just a little bit easier, and a little more satisfying.

It’s easy to get romantic about writing, especially fiction. But the dirty little secret is that writing, almost more than anything, is about showing up. And then showing up again. And again. You could write for twelve hours straight and bang out 7,500 words in a marathon Kerouac-style session, but you’re more likely to do it in small chunks. A little bit each day adds up to a lot.

This year, let’s practice ambitious attainability. Let me know how it goes. Very un-sexy pictures of celebration highly encouraged.

Post #138: You Know it When You Hear It

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice, writing news

Since my publisher, Deep Hearts YA, does not do much with audiobooks just yet, one of the tasks I’ve given myself in anticipation of my debut novel coming out next year is independently producing an audiobook of my book to accompany the paperback and e-book release. Why? Mostly because I love audiobooks. Secondly, because it sounded like fun. I know, I know. My version of fun isn’t exactly normal. But I’ve hosted my own podcast, know a little bit about recording and editing quality audio. How hard could it be?

The truth is that before I even got going, I confronted a serious problem. Who would narrate it? Initially, I had planned to narrate it myself. I have a background in acting and teaching and podcasting, which means I trusted myself to deliver a solid performance, and hey, I’m on a budget here. But when I mentioned this plan to my wife, she scrunched up her face in that way she does, the one that lets me know I’m a complete idiot.

You see, I’m a middle aged guy, and my protagonist is, well, not. In fact, my protagonist is a 15-year old girl. My wife gently explained that audiences would probably warm more to the story if the voice narrating the story was closer to that of its main character. She also pointed out that this was especially important given that the novel is in 1st person. But…But…But…

I had some serious Buts because this flew in the face of my plan, and my budget, and my selfish desire to read it myself. And, after all, how the hell do you find someone great to narrate an audiobook?

While I have some additional feelings on the topic of whether a narrator’s gender needs to always match up with that of a main character, my wife was right on this one. She usually is.

So, I thought about it: who do I know that could do this? I sent some emails to local theater organizations. I asked friends. I thought some more. I sent some more emails. Not surprisingly, not much came of this. So, I did what any sensible person would do. I quietly panicked.

And then I discovered ACX, which, as many people know is Amazon’s giant portal for authors and narrators to produce and publish audiobooks. It’s a place where narrators can post samples of themselves and where authors can discover the perfect narrator. I filtered for “YA” and “female” and no fewer that a billion or so narrators and their samples came up. I began clicking and listening. Clicking and listening. Some were fine. Some were not so fine. Some were excellent. Some were professional. Some were decidedly not professional. Some were clearly recorded on a quality microphone. Some seemed accidentally recorded by a phone’s voice memo function. I just kept listening, not quite sure what I was looking for, but hoping that I would know it when I heard it.

And then I heard H’s voice. Everything about her delivery and timbre, her ability to sound vulnerable and real, felt like it would fit perfectly with Rainey, my main character.

From there, things clicked together with a kind of serendipity that is truly unusual. I reached out to H, told her about my project, sent her some sample pages, and asked if she was interested in doing an audition. She was.

A few weeks later, she sent her audition through, and I got goosebumps when I listened to it again and again while walking around my neighborhood with a goofy smile on my face.

I’m happy to report this story has a happy ending, and that I’ve found my narrator. You’re going to love her.

Post #126: Nothing Is Ever Really Lost

New Writing

eudora-470x260Greetings to you, faithful and patient readers!

I’m excited to share the good news that I have a new essay on Eudora Welty up over at The Bangalore Review. It’s an in-depth look at Welty’s amazing short story “Music From Spain.” Give it a peek. Many thanks to them and their editorial staff for including me in the May issue. Enjoy!

Post #112: If You’re Listening to This

New Writing

I’m delighted–hell, I’m downright plucky–to have a story in the September issue of Fogged Clarity. If you’re playing along at home, you’ll remember that earlier in the summer the fine folks at FC published my short story “Who Has Time for Stars?” and I’m pleased to say they recently accepted my story “If You’re Listening to This,” which is now up at FC as we speak. So hop on over there and read it. I’ll make it easy on you. Click here.

It’s an honor to be included in what looks like to be another dynamite issue and I’m grateful to their executive editor Benjamin Evans for including me.

Post #110: The Beginning of the End (I hope)

Dear Charles, New Writing

Dear Charles,

Today, I begin what I hope will be the final stage in the editing and re-writing of my novel in progress Returning. That is, until I decide I need to, or am asked to, re-write it again.

The summer has seen far more massive structural and character changes to the book than I would have anticipated. I’m about to re-read the whole thing to see how those changes hold up. I’m predicting that, for the most part, they will. The last time I wrote you, I was editing God and atheism out of the novel and from Chick Myers’s character arc. Turns out I found an ever so small way to include them after all. After I re-wrote the third set, I re-wrote the fourth, and yes, the fifth. The novel begins and ends in the same place and mostly the same way as it has all along, but the roads travelled have been re-directed and filled in with fresh blacktop, and shiny new places to eat.

If you count research and prep time, I’ve been laboring on Returning for over three years and in all that time and all the many hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written and deleted, nobody’s seen a word of it but me. This is a thrilling and scary proposition. When you write a book, you build a protective bubble around yourself and the book so you can keep it, and you, sane and safe during the writing; however, you build this bubble knowing that in the end, you’ll have to pop it and let in all the air that’s been amassing outside.

That moment is coming for me, and for Returning. Soon I’ll begin digging through my desk drawer, looking for my sharpest pin.

As ever, I’m grateful for your friendship and support and will keep you posted.

Best to Martha and the girls,

Benjamin

 

Post #97: Who Has Time for Stars?

New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading

I have a new short story that’s part of the May/June issue of Fogged Clarity. FC is great and I’m thrilled to be included. They publish fiction, poetry, reviews, and music! I’m listening to “Mountain Sounds,” the album in the new issue, right now and it’s fantastic. I want to also give some love to my dear friends Kara, Stephanie, and Angela who looked at early drafts of this story and helped nudge it along.

Have a peek at the story. Think you’ll like it. http://foggedclarity.com/2013/05/who-has-time-for-stars/

That’s all for today friends.

 

Post #53: Pre-Order Purgatory

Music, New Writing, Shaking My Head

I have to vent for a minute about the sudden (or so it seems to me) availability to pre-order forthcoming whatever.  Books, music, movies.  You can buy anything in advance these days.  Let’s say you do some searching to see what’s new out there.  Whatever purveyor you’ve searched (iTunes, Amazon, etc…) will tell you not only what is available, but they’ll show you what’s not available, or what you can pre-order.  And sometimes they won’t even delineate between the two in any obvious way.  This annoys me.  Now, I like knowing what will be available, this gives me something to look forward to, but do I need to know six months in advance?  And it begs the question, why would you buy something that you can’t even have?  I’m a Coldplay fan and I remember that for months before their new album Mylo Xyloto came out, it dominated the iTunes charts.  Was far outselling the bestselling available album of the moment.  This is weird to me.  I mean, there’s no limited supply.  They’re not going to run out of downloads, are they?  Not to mention, if you’re enough of a Coldplay fan to even consider pre-ordering, you’re not going to forget that they have an album coming out, so why not just buy it when you can actually listen to it?

A couple months ago I was looking at Michael Chabon titles on Amazon because I’m a loser and its what I do for fun and my eyes popped out of their sockets when I saw the colorful icon for his new novel Telegraph Avenue.  Breathless, wetting myself (not really), I clicked on the icon, which gave no indication that this title might not be available for purchase right his very second, then waited to click “Buy Now” only to find out that “this title is available for pre-order and will be released on September 11, 2012.” And this was a couple months ago, which means they were advertising this book for pre-order six months before it comes out.  What the hell?  Why do I need to know this far in advance?  Why torture me?  It’s not like they’re offering me the first five chapters for pre-ordering or something, so there’s basically zero incentive.  Occasionally with album pre-orders, you get the single ahead of time or the album will automatically download when it’s finally available, so that’s pretty cool I guess.  Or not.  We’re already the most advanced buying culture the world has ever seen, and now we don’t just buy what we want, we buy what we are going to want as well.  And it works.  If pre-orders didn’t get people to buy more, Amazon and iTunes wouldn’t offer so many of them.  It’s fairly simple.  It’s like, want better TV shows?  Stop watching shitty ones.  Want a less gossipy culture?  Stop reading Yahoo OMG and TMZ.

It’s like those tantalizing previews for the juicy looking upcoming blockbuster, a preview for which just started and you now can’t wait to see, only at the end of the preview you find out that its release date is a year and a half away.  So far away that you could be dead by the time it hits theaters.  When this happens, I don’t feel excited.  I feel deflated.  I feel like Ralphie from A Christmas Story.  You know the part, when he finally solves the Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring mystery and he’s so stoked, only that instead of finding out a worthwhile secret to justify his time and effort and live up to the anticipation, it’s just a reminder to drink his stupid Ovaltine.

His response?  Say it with me…

Son of a bitch.

Post #51: The Collagist

New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading

A couple of excellent writers I know, Alan Stewart Carl and Lyz Wyckoff, have short stories up this month at The Collagist.  They’re short, digestible nuggets of fabulous fiction for you to feed your brain with.  Enjoy.

I met both Alan and Liz at last summer’s Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  How I wish I was headed back to the mountain this summer.

Post #49: Sad Jingo

ebooks, New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading

Good news.  My friend Ron Dionne’s novel Sad Jingo is finally available as an ebook from Delabarre publishing.  Ron and I met at the NY Pitch and Shop a few years ago and since I first heard the premise for Sad Jingo, I’ve been dying to get my hands on it.  The wait is over and I’m loving the book so far.  It’s edgy and dark and full of suspense.  You can buy yourself a copy and read more about the book here. Sad Jingo took a rather circuitous and somewhat nontraditional route to publication and in the coming weeks, I’m hoping to get Ron to join us for some guest posts about his experiences in publishing and how he eventually brought his novel to readers.  So be on the lookout.  For now, treat yourself to a new book!

Post #47: Returning Update

Dear Charles, New Writing

Dear Charles,

It’s funny you should mention that Agassi autobiography (Open).  Who knew it was going to be such a fantastic book?  The truth is that it was an inspiration to me, but not in the way you might have expected.  Agassi’s story is in many ways a sad one.  His father hijacked his life, molded him like a lump of resistant clay.  As a result, Agassi hated tennis, even as he stormed up the rankings and found out that he was enormously gifted at this thing that had been chosen for him to do.  That’s compelling because it’s so unexpected.  But no matter the depth of Agassi’s pathos, and we do feel for the man, but still, for Agassi, it all worked out.  He became the best in the world.  Excelled to historic proportions at this thing he’d been forced to do.  He eventually became rich and famous.  And a sex symbol and an unwilling fashion icon.  Not to mention he was married to Brooke Shields!  And that’s not the half of it.  He’s currently married to Steffi Graf, with whom he has children.  My point being that once you realize that Agassi’s hatred of tennis and the entire rebellious tenor of his book’s POV comes from a position of enormous power and privilege, you can only feel so bad for the guy.  Sorry, but people with wealth and fame and beautiful wives can only be afforded so much empathy.

What I wondered while reading was this: what if you took Agassi’s life up until the point when he was a top junior prospect, a comer generating buzz, but then instead of burning up the rankings and becoming the greatest returner of serve that ever lived, instead of becoming the best in the world, instead of becoming a legend, you became a has been?  In other words, what if Agassi had never become Agassi?  What would that have done to his perception of the game?  Of himself?  Of his father?  All those emotions invested in the small and narrow pursuit–they wouldn’t just wither up and die; they’d have to go somewhere.

That’s part of the spark that led me to Christopher Downy-Parks, the main character in Returning.  Would love to play this out more, but I have to run.  Be in touch.

Best to Martha and the girls.  Would love to hear back from you soon.

Benjamin