I’m Having a Blast!

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Creative writing is fun. One of the things that makes it so much fun for me is that it’s challenging. The learning curve is substantial. The climb to reach my personal pennacle of achievement is invigorating. There seems to be no end to all I must learn to be the best I can at writing. And I love a worthwhile challenge.

In August of 1988, I began working as the technical training instructor for Hyster Company. My job was to provide training for mechanics servicing powered industrial forklift trucks at Hyster dealerships throughout Southern California. I conducted classroom and shop training on subjects such as hydraulics, electrical systems, fuel systems, cranking & charging systems, etc. I enjoyed the work very much for the first few years, but by 1990, the work was getting stale. After having taught countless classes on Delco-Remy electrical systems, I increasingly felt like I was stuck in a humdrum pit. Fortunately, in 1990, Hyster began to get in step with technology, requiring technical training to do the same. I loved it! The job surged with new and wonderful challenges. To me, challenge is the spice of life. I love it when today is more challenging than yesterday.

I love it that there is so much to learn about my final career as a creative writer. And, the best part is that my work is a “learn by doing” experience. To say the least, I am having a blast!

“Sixteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest”

No … I’m not quoting it wrong. I know it’s supposed to be fifteen men. I’m just superimposing my lifeless body among the other carcasses on board the ship’s deck. The image came to me this morning as I slithered into my daily regimen of formatting, proofreading, and editing a book I seem to have been working on for a decade.

Now, Mac lovers, please don’t be offended, but I’m finding my Macbook Pro somewhat different from the Microsoft PC I’ve known since the advent of the IBM 286 of time long past. YES. I’m aware of it! I just dated myself by many decades. But let it here be known by all and sundry that an old dog CAN learn new tricks. It’s just painful, that’s all.

So, trying to get this dog-gone book to the publisher, all the while moving ahead at a snails pace with my brand-new Mac PC, makes me feel like I’m lying among the corpses of other aspiring writers whose best efforts ended up on the deck of an over-run pirate ship.

A Writer’s Wordometer

Certainly, writing is about words: artfully arranged; interestingly choreographed; painting a verbal picture that evokes emotion. I’ve seen it suggested that a writer should add 1,500 to 3,000 words to his / her manuscript each day. That’s a lot of words! And, no fair including the stuff written on Facebook or the blog. It’s good to have goals, and, I suppose it’s good also to measure creative flow with a virtual yardstick. I’ve learned that some writers feel slothful if they’ve penned less than 5,000 words in a day. Who are these people? Still, something to consider, I suppose.

Conflict is Fun!

Boyhood Adventures is replete with conflict. The most redundant is between Frank, Dennis, and Lee. Frank wants to be the best of pals with Dennis and Lee, but find them constantly engaged in sorties that would frighten a Kamikaze pilot. Frank wants to be “one of the crew” but he feels as though every mission puts him in great peril.

Conversely, Dennis and Lee are annoyed by Frank’s skittish nature, but they seldom plan a nocturnal adventure if they know he will be unable to accompany them. His panicked response to anything he perceives as even remotely life-threatening is so predictable as to lend comic relief to otherwise mundane moments.

The conflict between Lee Farmer and Bobby John Deacons is palpable. B.J. once listened intently to an adventure story told by Lee; something about an excursion to an abandoned asylum. The next day at school, Lee learns that B.J. is telling Lee’s story, claiming it for his very own. Not only does Lee see this this as an ethical infraction, he considers it a most dishonorable and deceitful act; one deserving of harsh retribution. This conflict is like a rubber band being stretched to its limit. The reader can sense that there will soon be a climactic eruption between the two characters; the question is: how soon?

Writing conflict into a story like Boyhood Adventures is a great deal of fun. I’m enjoying every minute of it. I hope my readers enjoy it too.

Motive

I have to keep reminding myself, when absorbed in my world of creative writing, that my reader needs to know, at the outset of character action: WHY? For example: “Why is it so important for three 8-year-old boys to be outdoors after dark, driven by a quest for adventure?” As the omniscient story-teller, I am acutely aware of character motivation. But my readers are not omniscient. If I don’t let my reader in on the secret, the story falls in the chasm between BOREDOM and CONFUSION.

For Dennis and Lee (characters in Boyhood Adventures) the motivation is evasion of that which they perceive as adulthood doldrums. Frank’s motivation (another character in the book) varies greatly from his two best friends He just wants to be a member of the crew. As boys, their perception of life is limited by their immaturity; something any parent can understand. The boys see their parents as being trapped in the snare of hum-drum living; without fun or excitement. While boyhood motives are simple, sharing them with the reader can be a complex endeavor. Establishing motive is not a thing I can simply blurt out with a megaphone. If I do it right, it will be artful, entertaining, and – on a really good day – embellished with humor.

Character Voices

One of the trickiest things about creative writing is assuring that each character has a voice separate and distinct from others. My writing style, in Boyhood Adventures, makes me the omniscient story-teller, sharing a story about three eight-year-old boys seeking adventure in Texarkana, Arkansas, in 1953. Writing dialog between the three boys is a bit like walking through a swamp littered with patches of quicksand: one misstep, and I’m sunk up to my ears. With all three boys the same age, the challenge is amplified.

Such is the nature of my writing style. I chose it. I have to live with it. And I have to make my character voices work for my readers. It’s one thing to write, “he said – she said.” But if “he” and “she” use precisely the same grammar, exactly the same wordage, or all-too-similar clichés, well … that’s asking my reader to work a little too hard to accept the characters as being distinct individuals.

The University of Endless Study

Most every day is the same for me. I spend the first fifteen minutes in scripture study. Then I read something from the book of the day. This morning, that book was The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig.

I suppose it fair to expect my more educated colleagues to disapprove of my idea of an educational textbook. I fully realize that Chuck’s book probably wasn’t included in the textbooks recommended at better universities. But I can’t afford to study at Stanford or BYU, so I get my text books from Amazon. And I have to say, for this humble story-teller, Chuckey hit the nail on the head. I felt as though he had me in mind as he offered advice to “aspiring writers.” Every morsel seemed like manna from heaven. Well, maybe not from heaven, as his vocabulary is less than reverent. But his advice is sound and timely.

I suppose education is a matter of accepting the fact that study is endless. While universities must pick and choose textbooks that sustain their syllabus, my personal educational process is, “…cram as much learning in my cerebral cortex as humanly possible.” I may not agree with every point of doctrine I read as I study, but I must sample it, consider it, and decide whether or not to incorporate it in my professional paradigm. Today, my time with Chuck Wendig was well spent. Irreverent, but well spent.

The Beat Goes On

I’m in the process of formatting my manuscript for submission. This can be a daunting task. The publisher provides submission guidelines but they can be woefully deceptive or somewhat lacking in a few details. The good news, I have found, is that publishers are very willing to respond to questions about things I’m uncertain about. So, it’s working out okay.

Formatting is FUN. Okay, I’m being a bit sarcastic. But with practice, practice, practice, I find the task getting easier. Once again, paying close attention to publisher guidelines is a must. It’s amazing what publishers will do to help your work along.

Finishing the Book

Manuscript editing is a tough job. I really can’t trust myself to the task because I’m not as objective as others who’ve volunteered to do the job for me. My wife, Gail; my Sister-in-Law, Leanne; and my son, Brian are all chipping in as watchdogs on the project. I must admit to being surprised at the errors they’re finding: simple things I passed over without a discerning glance.

Manuscript submission closely follows the editor’s green flag of approval. This will be a moment long awaited. For me, being published by a “vanity” agency is nothing compared to being published by a legitimate publishing house. It’s a right of passage. It’s the difference between purchasing a BS degree based on a lifetime of acquired knowledge and a degree earned from an accredited university like BYU. One might like to believe one is as credible as the other, but it just ain’t so!

So, the month of April – May 2015 will be an apex in my writing career. I hope the experience turns out to be everything I’ve worked for.

Overcoming Anxiety is Fun

Lessons learned as a Marine remain usable as I advance in years. One of those lessons involves embracing anxiety and attacking things that frighten. Working on a synopsis for my latest book has been intimidating. Moving forward – despite feelings of apprehension – has been a rewarding exercise. Coining lyrics sung by the great Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.”