I thought I was so systematic but really I’m not at all!

I found out how truly unsystematic I am by setting a schedule for myself and not following it. That happened because I invented Finishing School. I invented Finishing School because I wanted to finish things I start. I wanted to finish things I start because I feel crummy when I don’t. Crummy is a polite word.

Also I’m too hard on myself. I had two therapists in one day tell me that. I think I just try to see things as they are and not be crushed by them. To others that looks like being hard on myself. So I try not to be too hard on myself about being too hard on myself. But it’s hard, because I want also to know the truth about myself.

The truth is that I am not very systematic. I just think I am.

But I am inventive. That sometimes makes up for not being systematic. If I find a vexatious shortcoming I cannot mend, then I make up a program around it and involve others and then it becomes a service to humanity, not a character flaw.

Tonight we gather again in the living room, seven of us each saying, this is how I break my gargantuan task into doable weekly pieces; this is the part I am finishing now; this is my goal.

And lifelong wishes get built piece by piece.

I know that for me the obsession with finishing, and the fear of not finishing, stems from my fear of repeating my father’s shortcomings. If I could finish the things I start and also be as smart and funny as he was that would be better but I don’t think so. At least I get to finish something — in this case the novel. Ha ha.

I say Ha ha but it is getting done. And the ways I am solving the problems in the novel may be interesting to others. Perhaps I will share some of that as I get closer to finishing.

So: To recap: We do finishing school by deciding every week what part of whatever gargantuan impossible project we want to finish this week and telling people. We mark out time on a calendar. We get assigned a creative buddy and we call or email or text our creative buddy before and after each creative session.

Here is the part where I find out how unsystematic I am: I write down on a calendar what I am going to do and then don’t do it. I get to watch myself not doing it.

But here is the other part: I set this goal and say I am going to do it at one particular time and don’t do that but then wake up at some other time and do it. It comes upon me unbidden, and I buckle down and disappear into the work and emerge hours later as if out of a trance, and work has been done.

I try to be systematic and instead I encounter my essential anarchic nature. But the work gets done!

Links and Exercises for Writers–Books, Blogs, Lists, Etc.

Here are some of the links I mentioned in the Santa Barbara Novel Mentor workshop in February 2013, about dialog, pitches, queries and beginnings of novels.

dialog

Writing Dialog by Tom Chiarella. I lent this book to somebody and have to get it back. It’s a good book. Useful. Interesting.

12 Exercises for improving dialog by John Hewitt. Some of these are pretty good. You can’t go wrong trying things out. The more you do, the more you learn.

And how can you go wrong with dialog advice from Stephen J. Cannell, right?

Also … That dialog exercise we did in the workshop together, that came indirectly from Robert Olen Butler. I liked doing that. I liked the suppressed tension that many of our writings had. And then if you recall I thought, now let’s raise the stakes, and so suggested that we write a dialog between two characters, one of whom asks the other, “What do you want more than anything else in the world … and what are you not willing to do to get it?” That last bit, expressed in the negative, is hard to grasp at first but it’s basically saying, “Would you stop at nothing?”

pitches

Here is former agent Nathan Bransford on the one-sentence pitch.

This from writer Hilari Bell on writing a pitch I find useful because it takes us through several iterations of a hypothetical pitch. Plus, she has a whole bunch more interesting tips here.

Now, of course, this is all in addition to all the things that Michael Neff has to say and all the resources that are on the Algonkian site.

queries

I thought this query letter madlib idea from Nathan Bransford was funny. And maybe it could be useful. As long as what you build on it sounds reasonably like it was written by a human.

openings

I love this long list of novel openings, as well as these 5 ways it can go wrong, both from DarcyPattison.com.

I guess it couldn’t hurt to read this list from the American Book Review of 100 best opening lines, but somehow it leave me flat. I think because there’s no analysis. We don’t really know if those are the best opening lines or they just happen to be the opening lines of some really great novels. Worth thinking about: Would they be in there if the novels that came after them sucked? For instance a couple of them might stop an agent cold. Like No. 65, “You better not never tell nobody but God,” from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982). Or Saul Bellow’s No. 69, “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” If it wasn’t a famous and great novel by a famous and great novelist, would it get recommended as a great first line? I dunno. I’m just saying. Saul Bellow, Herzog (1964). And there are among them, of course, lines I like a whole lot, like: 67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963) and 75. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. —Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms (1929). And here is an appropriately doubting and irreverent take on those same 100 first lines.

OK, so that’s it for now. I just promised at the Santa Barbara conference that I’d get back to you on those links and stuff. You could look forever on the Web for such stuff. I’m not saying all of it is great. I also have some favorite books about writing. Maybe I’ll put some of that together too.

Best

Cary T.