Saturday, October 31, 2009

How My Writing is Like the Houston Texans

As I sit here outside Starbucks on a day that actually feels like fall here in Houston (Friday; gray and cool), I’m thinking about writing. Specifically, I’m thinking about my recent output: not much fiction, whole lotta blogging. Reminds me of the appellation that’s been given to me (Blogger) rather than the name I by which I'd rather be known: Writer.

To write means to write. Most of these writing blogs all boil down to the same thing: Write. Repeat. But I’m also cognizant of the mental part of writing, the thinking, the planning, the outlining, the revising of story structure before you put pen to paper. I tend to fall into the Gay Telese, F. Scott Fitzgerald school of writing: plan it all out first, then write.

That’s been my bane in recent months, however, too much planning, not enough producing. Guess I thought I had to get it complete correct and perfect before I even began. You see, the first novel I wrote I had all planned out and it worked brilliantly. The opposite (i.e., everything I’ve written since except my western story at Beat to a Pulp) is a mish-mash of half-assed planning and muddling, leading nowhere. I don’t like to work that way. The muddling scares me.

The Houston Texans are no strangers to muddling. They have muddled through various NFL seasons since their inaugural 2002 contests. For the past two years, the Texans, on paper, were a good team. No Indy or Giants, but a team that should be competitive almost every season. The same predictions were made in August, before the games actually started being fielded. Our record is 4-3 and we’re picked to win this Sunday. I’m hopeful.

The thing is our coach, Gary Kubiak, likes a certain type of offense: use the run to set up the pass. His problem is the running part. For five games, it was all but nonexistent. Three weeks ago, he adjusted. In the second half of the Texans game against the Cardinals, he abandoned the run and went to a passing attack. The Texans almost pulled off the upset. A week later, they did, on the road at Cincinnati. Same thing last week versus the 49ers.

Kubiak adjusted. And it’s paying off. Thus, I’m adjusting, as well, in two ways. One, I’m starting my next book with only Act I laid out. I think I know how the book is going end. I’ll make a point of writing it on a piece of paper, in ink, something I can’t change and can return to when the book is done. I’ll also be channeling Lester Dent, who famously wrote his first Doc Savage novel in less than a month and continued doing so for years after.

The second thing I’m going to do to kick my butt into gear is participate in NaNoWriMo. The premise is simple: write everyday for the 30 days in November with the end result being a 50,000-word manuscript. In the age of gimmicks (yeah, it's a gimmick), why the heck not. My main goal is to create the habit of writing *fiction* every day. My second goal is to have a 50,000-word manuscript that I can then edit, edit, edit into something I can start pitching next year.

Earlier, I wrote the simple formula for writing: write, repeat. I loved the writing process of my first book, all of it: the late nights, seeing the movie in my head, casting it, and planting that last period. Having written a book, it's a feeling unlike anything else. I haven't repeated the process. I want to. I'm going to. I’m putting myself out there. My word is on the line. No matter what happens, I’ll report back in December.

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo? What gimmicks or tricks have y'all done to kick-start your writing?


David Cranmer said...

I force myself to sit in front of the keyboard each day and create something. Sometimes it's only a couple hundred words but on other occasions the palabras just flow and I get lucky.

John McFetridge said...

That's good idea, to base your plan on a coach who has been able to make adjustments.

Up here we the Bills plan, so I guess I'm hoping my quarterback gets injured and I can fluke out a win or two before anyone figures out the new guy.

though I like the idea of writing every day, that's probably a better plan.

Dave White said...

I signed up. Not really sure why, but it might help me beat Steve Weddle.

Dana King said...

I make it a point to write one single-spaced page a day, two on days I don't work the paying job. Editing also has a set amount of ground to cover. I can do more, not less. If it takes half an hour, fine. If it takes three hours, so be it. Eating the elephant one bite at a time keeps me from being overwhelmed at how much remains to be done, and, since I'm not writing to any contract deadlines, I can get away with it.

(Thanks to my Beloved Spousal Equivalent for teaching me not just the elephant line, but the philosophy. It has served me well in many ways.)

Chris said...

I'm doing NaNoWriMo as well. My user name there is "chrislatray" (I think). If anyone wants to add me as a friend or whatever they call it, do so!

My wife was out of town a couple weeks ago and I took the week off as well. My goal was to crank out a 23,000 word pulp western. I got about halfway through it. I got derailed toward the end of the week when the local Indy paper called me at the last minute and asked for a story, so that seems like a legit excuse for failing (since it was something that actually paid). I learned a lot with the project, though. Wanted to finish it last week, but totally fell off the wagon while on the road for work and didn't write a word. Hope to get back on track this weekend, especially with NaNoWriMo -- a new project -- kicking off.

Speaking of travel for work, I have to go to Houston for a couple days next week, and plan to visit Murder Books. Scott, if you have any interest in sharing a beer, hit me up at If not, feel free to ignore it.

Mike Dennis said...

Scott, I lived in Houston for 8 years during the Oilers era. Talk about muddling! And that's to say nothing of the Astros, the undisputed, undefeated world champions of muddle.

Anyway, to warm up for November, I've changed the direction of the new novel I'm working on, and wrote 2000 words today as a warmup for the big month coming up.