Friday, May 21, 2010

This Property is Not Condemned

It’s amazing how much a few pictures on the walls can change the personality and look of a place. Today, it’s my place that looks different. I hung some of my pictures yesterday and today. When I sat down to do some work, I looked up and noticed how the pictures I hung, at least the ones I can see from the sofa, changed the dimensions and feel of the living room and hallway.

I am a bit superstitious about some things, like where I live and how long I get to live there—or in this case, here. Two years seems to be the limit for my tenure anywhere, except when I lived next door to Lon Chaney’s house two years ago. Yes, it has been two years since I moved here and I had lived at the old apartment for three years. It’s not a perfect place to live—the roof leaks in my office and the walls have no insulation—but it has been home, and continues to be home to me. Nowhere is perfect and I’ve lived in a lot of places over the years: Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and here in Colorado most recently. Every time I started hanging things too soon or getting too comfortable, I ended up having to move. It’s part of the reason I didn’t hang my pictures before now, and it’s the same reason I don’t unpack all the boxes. Now, I can.

The idea of buying this cottage from Mark has crossed my mind a few times recently. It would be one certain way of getting Mark to fix the roof and finish connecting the electrical features of the stove: lights and fan. I could also get him to fix the flooring of the cabinets under the sink, the separation between the outside kitchen wall and the front of the house and install a front doorbell. The rest, I would handle. I could use a back door in the office and French doors would be nice. I like having a back entrance in case of fire. A grant should cover having the walls insulated and a solar panel. New bookcases need to be built in the office and washer and dryer hookups would be nice. I’d also like to find out what happened to about two feet of the wall shared between my bedroom and the living room. More shelves for the living room, an entertainment center and maybe a window seat. A platform for my bed and built in night stands, headboard and baseboard would be nice and it would also provide some added storage space and places for more books. I have lots of books.

This place has a lot of potential and now that my worries about how long I can live here are calmed, I can move forward and set down roots. A wrap-around deck for the front of the house with built-in planters, some patio furniture, a grill and some flowers would be nice and there’s plenty of room for a portable greenhouse so I can grow berries and vegetables all the year around. Yes, hanging those pictures and finally finding a spot for Tut and Nefertiti have changed more than the look and feel of this place; they have fired my imagination and made me yearn to put down roots at last and consider buying property, a sort of trial run before I find the land where I can build my cabin and move to my dream house. A little bit at a time, that’s what it takes to write a book and plan a life, especially when property is involved.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Novel Finished; What Next?

The question caught my eye on the forums: I've finished writing, now what?

At first, it seemed a silly question. How could a writer not know what to do next? Are there no classes, no instructions, no innate knowledge gleaned from hanging around and reading and hearing other writers complain, mention, howl and talk about what happens when the rough draft is finished? Then I remember back to the first romance novel I started writing. I never finished the book, not with all the how-to books and critique sessions did I have an idea how to finish the novel. I chose romance because I was told it was the hottest market and more new writers could get published there than in any other genre. It was a bad choice for me. I don't like reading romances and writing one was harder than I thought.

I had a great premise, great characters, snappy dialogue, back story and a plot in my mind, but it would not come together on the page. I never finished it. It's on a floppy disk and on a hard drive in storage. I don't think I'll revisit it. Instead, I worked on writing nonfiction: books, articles, how-tos, interviews, profiles, etc. I didn't revisit the novel until eleven years ago when I got a great idea, having just ended a relationship because the guy wouldn't commit. I turned back to romance. Imagine. Me, writing romance.

I started and finished the novel in two weeks, the first rough draft. What came next was obvious; I moved on to something else. I knew it was too fresh and too raw for me to be objective and I was not ready to face the characters again. A break was in order. Can't edit or rewrite or proofread something that has taken so much energy and time without winding down a bit beforehand.

That's what I told the novelist on the forum who asked, what next? Put the novel away and start something new. Don't even think about the just finished novel. Think about new characters and situations. Take a vacation from that situation and find a new one to concentrate on. Write something else. In a week or two, when you have some distance and objectivity, go back and read.

Print out the rough draft. Pick up a red pen, or whatever color works for you, and begin making notes, marking errors in spelling, syntax, grammar and punctuation, and tightening up or fleshing out wherever it is needed. This is the editing, rewriting and proofing part of writing a novel.

Unless you are the Mozart of prose, there will be blood on the page and plenty of editing and rewriting to do. Go through once, take a breather and work on something else, and then go through again and again until the prose is perfectly polished and ready to send. Anything less is a waste of time.

I also told him that before he begins any work on the novel to celebrate. He started and finished a novel. That is grounds for a really good celebration. Writing a whole novel is a major accomplishment, whether it sees print or not. Few people, me included, have been able to master the craft and, in mastering any craft, there will be mistakes and things that have to be done and redone, but completing a project is a big step in the right direction. The first novel may not be the best, but writing is a process that gets better with time and practice.

That first novel I didn't finish gave way to the second novel that I did finish. It was light years better than the first and I learned a lot along the way. I learned even more when the publisher got hold of it, but that's a tale for a different time. The third novel was better than the second and my fourth novel shows the scars and marks of everything I've learned to date. Each successive novel will be better for the lessons learned before. At least, I can hope and believe and keep writing to find out.

I don't know whether the guy with the first draft of his novel will take my advice, or the advice of several other writers who told him about the same thing, but I hope for the best. If he does nothing with his book and sticks it in a drawer, he has still accomplished more than most people ever do. He started and finished writing a novel. Whether it is good or bad only reviewers and readers will know. Right now, all he knows is that he has earned his typing spurs and will never be the same person -- or writer -- again.