Thursday, August 20, 2015

On word counts, James, and Playboy magazine

By Steve Weddle

In November, Playboy magazine will publish my story, "South of Bradley." Country Hardball (2013) ended with a ride off into the sunset (headlights). This short story picks up where the book left off.

After I finished that book, I went to work on a longer story, one that moves back and forth between years and families. Part of that longer story became "South of Bradley." Here's how this new story opens:
Roy Alison hadn't killed a man in three years, two months, and four days.
The new book, Broken Prayer, is currently more focused than my original plan, which was to move from present, to the 1950s, to the 1930s, and back and forth. So far, this has been more than I am able to handle. It's likely that I'm not a good enough writer to do that yet. Maybe someday.

While writing, while putting ink to paper, a writer is by necessity solitary. Though I listen to music while I write (Tom Waits for the first book. David Lynch for this one.) I pretty much need the rest of the world to shut up. Maybe I'll have a map of the area in front of me. Maybe I'll have historic photographs. But I need to be shut off from this world, so that I can tune in to that one.

I try to get a page a day in the moleskine. Some days are better than others. You can follow the pages on Instagram if you have the internets where you are.

So, there I am, uploading an image of a page to Instagram. Here's why. I did a thing. I got up, had breakfast, ran or didn't run. Maybe I didn't have breakfast, after all. Maybe I just went right to the desk with a cup of coffee, pulled open the notebook and started writing. But after those couple hundred words get on the page, you know, I sit back and look at this thing I've done. The story is moving. Or maybe it isn't. I have no idea until I put the filled notebook into an envelope and mail it off to World's Best Agent, who then gives it to a typist in Koreatown, and then something something magic, the pages are emailed to me in a Word file. Then I can see what's happened. But, at that moment when I've filled that one page, I've still done a thing.

But there's no one around. Because I've shut the world out, remember? And, yet, at this point I don't want trees falling silently in the forest. Do I want to share this accomplishment of doing the thing? Uh, does the pope shit in the woods? You betcha. So it's off to Instagram.

Some people post word counts each day. I'll see "450/21,874" come acroos my internet screen. Or I'll see someone share a paragraph or a line written that week. Sometimes people will share cover art for an upcoming book.
Now I'm relieved to hear
That you've been to some far-out places.
It's hard to carry on when you feel all alone.

You know what? We do carry on alone. We have to. We're not those people who show up at the coffee shop with laptops and soy lattes so that the others will think we're writers. We are writers. We're up at dawn's crack writing luminous paragraphs. We're struggling, neck-stretched to get another page in before we crash at two in the morning, We're hiding away on our lunch break with a stack of index cards and a workplace pen. We're writers, and we're mostly alone when we're doing the thing we do. 

So when we get the thing done, when we get a piece of the thing done, hell, when we have an idea about this thing we're going to get done, we're going to share that accomplishment, damn it. Because we made a thing. And you know what? We could use a little encouragement along the way. Because we're writers, we sometimes stagger between the arrogance of creating a thing and the despair of thinking the thing is no good. Some days we're write the greatest sentences of our lives, and some days we can't understand why anyone would want to read this dreck.

I'll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can't keep
Inside of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour

This is what we do. We're writers. And, some days, we get an email that a story we've written is being bought by top-shelf folks and will be seen by a bazillion people. And some days we email a dumb question to our agent, forgetting that it is Tuesday and she has 19 clients with books out that day, seven others with movie deals just announced, and three glossy magazine interviews with Owen. Never email your agent on Tuesday. (In the time it took me to write this post, Joelle has signed another five-book contract.)

But you know what you can do? Tweet me your word count. Facebook your opening paragraph. Because I bet it's wonderful. Or maybe it sucks. But you know what? You did a thing. While the soy latte, coffee-shop writers were home in bed or matching their trucker caps to their flannel shirts and thick, unnecessary eyeglasses, you were hand-cramping your way through that scene that had been eating at the back of your brain for a week. And you got the damn thing down on paper. Con-friggin-grats.

Post that word count. Share that sentence. Then get your ass back in the chair tomorrow and do it again. Because I'm sitting here with an empty space in my TBR pile and I've been waiting for something wondrous.

Those who find they're touched by madness
Sit down next to me.
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me.


Lauren said...

Goodonya, Steve. Keep writing. I see your Instagram posts and always enjoy them. They're two kinds of art - the writing (which is mostly illegible, so maybe three kinds of art) and the photograph. In the moment, I'm enjoying the art of the photograph, because I'm a paper and pen and word nerd and I dig seeing a compilation photo of them together. But I'm also anticipating the moment when I get the other art in my hands, when those scribblings are on paper between my hands. So keep at it!

Steve Weddle said...

Thanks. The art of the pic to the art of the novel. Cool way to think of it.
Or, as that Danish dude said a while back, "Words. Words. Words."

Holly West said...

You know when you write a really good comment and it disappears because you weren't logged in? That.

Anyway, here's the gist of it: Congrats on the story in Playboy. That's a big deal. Also, you might want to check out Brian Panowich's BULL MOUNTAIN, as he does the back and forth through time thing and it works. Just an example of how another writer tackled it, you know? And third, thanks for writing this post.

Nigel Bird said...

I love these insights. I find them encouraging and useful and make me feel a little more balanced on this revolving planet because I know there are others who make a thing. Today I made another bit of a thing. Tonight, while my daughter plays with her orchestra and I'm stranded until she gets out, I'll make another bit. In several months, I'll have enough bits to put together to make a whole.
Should I ever get an agent, I'll remember the Tuesday rule.
Keep it up - writing has clearly worn its way into your bones like French polish might in an old carpenter.

Steve Weddle said...

Thanks. Yeah. I enjoyed BULL MOUNTAIN.

Right. Keep that Tuesday thing in mind. It'll save you some sadnesses.

jack welling said...

Lovely essay. Nicely done.

How well the writing session went is clear by the amount of ink on our fingers at breakfast.

Joy to you on the Playboy article.

Steve Weddle said...