W.I.P. until I R.I.P.

A Work in Progress
Authors often refer to their current project as their w.i.p. or work in progess. If you’re a writer, you have at least one. I write books a lot like I read them. I usually have at least two books going at one time; it’s the same with my novels. I almost always have one or two at differing points of completion. This system would make a lot of readers/writers crazy. It’s just what works for me. As a writer, I’m often asked about writer’s block. I think this system is one reason why I can always answer that I’ve never experienced it. If the words and ideas just aren’t flowing with one w.i.p., I can turn to another one.

Today I finished what has to be at least the fifth re-write of my current w.i.p., and tonight I’m starting what I hope will be the last. Each time, the process moves much quicker, the story gets a little tighter, the language more descriptive, and the characters more drawn out. I’d compare it to staining woodwork; it’s just a matter of putting on layers until you get the shade exactly right. For those who know better, trust me, I’ve never stained anything in my life except the front of my shirts, but you get the idea.

The other day, I was thinking about that abbreviation, w.i.p., and I thought how much the phrase “a work in progress” actually applies to me and people in general. Whenever my kids fall a bit short of our parental expectations or their own potentialities, I remind my wife that it’s okay because they are still works in progress. I also know that I am constantly “re-writing” who I am. I know that the version currently writing this blog entry won’t be around for long, as I’m still trying to deepen my stain. I always tell my students that when I see them in the future, I hope I don’t recognize them because they will have grown so much from the year I spent with them when they were seventeen or eighteen-years old. I don’t think there are many things sadder than stasis.

In his poem Ulysses, Tennyson, in the voice of Ulysses himself, says “How dull it is to pause, to make an end / To rust unburnished.” I totally agree with Tennyson. Therefore, the title of this article and one of my many philosophies on life. I hope to be a W.I.P. until I R.I.P.

Writer at Work

Writer at Work
One of the most common questions I’m asked is “When do you find time to write?” In fact, I don’t know if I “find” time so much as I “make” time. I don’t know how many people have shared with me over the years that they have a great idea for a novel. The only difference between me and them is that I actually sit down to write. Which means I’ve had to cut back on my television time, my Netflix time, my sleep time, and sadly, my reading time. These are sacrifices that simply have to be made. It was when I was in grad school pursuing my English Literature masters that I realized that there is a lot more time in the day than most of us realize. It’s primarily a matter of being attentive to how we spend it and making conscious choices to spend it in particular ways. Otherwise, it slips through our fingers.

During the school year, I “pick” at things. I jot down ideas; I draft a little; and if I have a project that is being prepared for release, I do a ton of editing and proofreading. It is, however, in the summer that I do the majority of my actual writing. My daily routine is to write for three hours in the morning, go for a run, eat lunch, take a short nap, then write for three more hours in the afternoon. If I have nothing planned for the evening, I may sit down and either write some more or read and edit what I wrote that day.

Tomorrow is my first full day of summer, and I still need to devote some of my time to promoting GOODNESS FALLS, I can’t wait to get back to writing. It’s without question the editing that separates bad from good and good from great writing; nonetheless, it’s the creation process that is the most enjoyable. I have a first draft of what I plan to be my next novel already completed. However, I haven’t hardly looked at it in months. I will read it out loud looking for plot holes, grammatical glitches, and clunky-sounding dialogue. I will cut out scenes that don’t work and add new ones to bolster the plot and to better develop characters and themes.

The yet-untitled novel is one that I have been playing with for over two years and about which I am very excited. I love its premise, but I haven’t yet quite fleshed out the plot to my satisfaction.


Interview with PC View

One of the cooler aspects of publishing GOODNESS FALLS has been the opportunity to work with student journalists at Port Clinton High School. A few weeks back, one of my students, who is interested in pursuing a career in journalism, conducted an interview with me that appeared on the front page of the Ottawa County Register. The interview above is from the PC View television show aired locally and produced entirely by PCHS students under the direction of Mrs. Carla Pelz, who just happens to have been a student of mine in one of my very first years as a teacher.

I understand that these aren’t exactly the New York Times Book Review or the Oprah Show; however, I cherish them both dearly. If the interview has piqued your interest, you can order GOODNESS FALLS through your favorite online bookstore. A link to Amazon is provided below.

Music and My Writing Process

A question I’m frequently asked by interviewers is whether or not I listen to music when I write. My answer is always, “No, I don’t.” The reason is that when I listen to music, I’m drawn into it completely; I’m incapable of listening to music as background noise. I find that inattention disrespectful to the artist. Also, if I have music playing while I’m writing, the lyrics and melody continually distract my attention out of the story I’m trying to craft. Therefore, I prefer silence or the white noise produced by a little machine I use, called a Sleep Mate (J.C. Penney’s catalog), that drowns out all the noises laying siege to my fragile focus. I’ve often confessed that writing is always work for me, and I can be easily convinced to pursue other interests; therefore, for me to be productive, I have to guard against all temptations.

This does not mean, however, that music plays no role in my writing process. I’m constantly inspired by the music to which I listen. I sometimes listen to music as part of my prewriting that is reflective of and helps me to set the mood in my own headspace that I hope to create in the portion of the story on which I’m working. Songs that I hear when driving or running also inspire ideas pertaining to plot, characters, and especially themes, when my mind is nowhere near my writing,

I also tend to prefer singer/songwriters who write with a narrative bent rather than those that focus strictly on emotional expression – artists such as, Bruce Springsteen, Better Than Ezra, The Counting Crows, and Ray LaMontaigne and genres such as country, Celtic folk music, and Broadway musicals. Many of the songs by these artists and in these genres are a sort of mini-novel. One of my all-time favorite singers/songwriters/storytellers is Dan May, whose current album Dying Breed is on heavy rotation on my MP3 player. (http://itunes.apple.com/album/dying-breed/id431741937?v0=9988&ign-mpt=uo%3D1)

With technology advances such as the Apple iPad, there’s little question that the future of e-books is limitless. E-book readers will demand more than black words on a field of white or gray. They will want  allusions in the texts they read to be hyperlinked to web pages that explain and expound on those allusions, especially any mentions made to songs/artists, whose music could then be immediately played as an enhancement to the narrative and purchased if desired.

I’ve often said that my goal is to write a novel that catches and maintains the vibe of a great pop song or, even better, an entire pop album. I think that young adult literature is especially conducive to making this link between literature and music because music is so central and speaks so loudly to teenagers and their larger-than-life emotions and dreams. The blending of literature and music is a natural fusion that I will continue to explore and attempt to implement in my writing because in the final analysis, I’d rather be a rock star.


If you’re like me, you love to listen to or read discussions of the writing process. Continually, I’m amazed at the number of and divergent ways in which authors approach and produce their works. I think, at least in some way, all artists seek the magic formula, that one Yellow Brick Road of methodology that leads unfailingly to the zone, or groove, or pocket that they can only occasionally conjure. Call it inspiration, your muse, or mojo.

For me, my best periods of creativity come in elusive and short-lived bursts. When they arrive, I feel as if I’m not writing so much as channeling. It’s like the story already exists “out there,” and I’m merely the conduit through which it arrives and is given form. There are actually times during re-readings when I wonder, “Where did that come from? Did I write that?” On those occasions, I wonder if I can even take much credit for what I produce.

I anticipate that after SO SHELLY is published readers will wonder and some will even ask about the plot choices I made in composing the novel, and I will be forced to shrug my shoulders and admit that I didn’t actually make the choice. It happens that way in the story because that’s the way it came to me. I don’t mean to use this explanation as a cop out, as a way of avoiding responsibility for several scenes that will certainly be viewed as controversial by many and as inappropriate by some. But the story had truths that I merely reported; to not do so with absolute honesty would have been cowardly. It was the story I had to tell as much as the one I wanted to tell.

To some this will sound strange. Others will know exactly what I’m talking about. In no way do I mean to belittle or deny the importance of hard work or the genius of artistic craftsmanship. Most often, my time tapping out words is more about discipline and drudgery than inspiration, but, as a writer, I live for those rarified moments when flow, cohesion, and meaning merge and I lose myself in the process.

“Writing Habits”

Since I first started seriously pursuing publication, I’ve developed a few quirks that help to put me in the mood for writing and to sustain it once I begin:
1. For me, nothing jars ideas loose inside my head better than a long run. Once I settle into a pace and successfully regulate my breathing, thoughts regarding my various projects start to flow. During many runs, I have patched plot holes and jump started many stalled plot engines.
2. A steady supply of Animal Crackers, Twizzlers, and Diet Pepsi. I think, sometimes, I’m motivated to write because I’m jonesing for my treats.
3. Write a little; nap a little. I very commonly reward myself for spending a prolonged period writing with a ten-to-twenty minute nap. During which time, the next scene often appears to me and chases me back to my den and desk.
4. Speaking of my den and desk, that is the only place I write, which makes me wonder why I even own a laptop. The next time it sits on my lap will be its first.
5. I work best when the house is empty; however, that is rarely the case. Therefore, I do my best to drown out the noise of daily living by turning on what I call my “noisemaker.” It’s actually a “white noise” machine designed as a sleep aid for light sleepers (think of the sound of a room air conditioner or a fan). Its gentle hum prevents me from becoming distracted by life outside of my den’s French double doors.
6. I always begin a writing session by rereading and making necessary revisions to whatever I completed in my last writing session.
7. I put on clothes that help me to feel “writerly,” which for me is typically a bohemian-grunge look: barefoot, a pair of my most comfortable jeans, and a favorite graphic t-shirt (in the winter time, over a white, long-sleeved, waffle-knit or flannel shirt). I have no idea why this is my image of a writer.
8. If the ideas aren’t flowing, I’ll go do something, anything else until they do. I refuse to wage war with writer’s block. I love to write, but sitting still for prolonged periods is almost impossible for me.
9. I like to shower right before I begin writing. It seems to energize me, wash away all that is unrelated to my work-in-progress, and puts me in a fresh state-of-mind.
10. I review Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing.”
Those are a few of my peculiarities. What about you? What puts you in the mood?