Oh, yes, another metaphor. This time, to writing and woodworking. Usually I go blacksmithing, of course but today I’m feeling like woodworking is best. It’s the whole grain/stain thing. You pick out a good piece of wood (ideas, first draft, etc). Then you shape it and sand it; and at first glance, that piece is beautiful. The curves and lines are there, the form is right. But the details are off.

I remember as a kid I was riveted whenever I saw this one infomercial about some random varnish or stain that you put on wood. It would make the most hideous, scratched, stained, boring piece of lumber into a magnificent work of art. And although no woodworker would ever admit to the process being as simple as that, I still hold that a finished book is like a finished piece of wood. When you apply stain, the natural details in the wood just pop. It’s why when you select a piece of wood you dampen it, to see what the deeper colors and grain will look like with the application of stain and varnish.

Of course, I’m just finishing off with the stain. That’s the second draft, and the Big Edit. Which, honestly, for all intents and purposes was a complete rewrite. Sure, the characters are theĀ  same, and some of the premise is the same. But I went after my selected piece of wood with a hatchet when I should have chosen a chisel. Or something.

I am hovering around the 135K mark at the moment, about 15K from the end of this book. And as always I feel a little like a kid poised at the top of an icy hill in a snow tube. It’s going danged fast. When I emerge at the other side, which may be in a few days if the speed is any indication, I’ll dance around and celebrate and likely buy a bottle of expensive wine and some Brie. I’ll record it so you can share in my revelrie. (The last draft’s celebration–nearly a year to the date–was a tattoo.)

Thanks for bearing with me as I finish this. I’m excited, and thrilled, and can’t wait to hear the response when the last podcast goes live. I’ve got some surprises that even I was taken by; it’s so mind-boggling when the gears all move into place as if moved by some pre-destined hand.

Back to Home Depot, then, to pick out the last bits of inlay and contemplate the right varnish.

I wish I could tell you that I had a magic formula for writing. It’s what we all want, isn’t it? That alchemical balance of heat, light, and air, with perhaps a dash of electricity to evoke the perfect environment for creative ecstasy.

But unfortunately, save for a scarce few writers in the world, writing is just work. Oh, sure it’s fun. It’s fun to think about, and fun to create–but the actual act of sitting down and putting the ideas in your head in verbal format is just hard work. That’s it. End of story.

Mostly, anyway. I have my routine. Sometimes I can woo the words with candles, music, and beverages (this sounds… rather seductive, but I promise you it’s not even remotely that exciting). Green tea, for instance, if I’m feeling sleepy; wine if I’m writing certain other characters. But when the rubber meets the road, there’s nothing that will decide what happens other than my own fingers.

That said, and the NaNoWriMo month being over, the most important thing to remember is… well, don’t get in your own way. There are always going to be distractions. Billions of distractions. And the more you give in to distractions, the less you’ll write on paper.

See, I happen to think that writing isn’t just about physically telling the story with words. It’s about a state of mind. The more you think about your book, the more you let your mind wander (in those spare moments which, as the mother of a two-year-old, I know the scarcity of) into the depths of imagination, the easier it will be to write when the time comes. I think many new writers don’t make a habit of this. They consider time at the computer as their only writing time. But I see it more like an iceberg. There are billions of words, feelings, descriptions, and nuances beneath the surface of a book–that’s what’s in my head. What’s peeking out is the best, the easiest to share; I can always delve deeper if needs be.

At any rate, and in spite of my rambling… if focus is your problem, consider scheduling some time for yourself. I’m personally awful at this, but I find if I can mentally pencil myself in for writing at some point in the evening. I don’t always do it, but sometimes I can trick myself into thinking I will–so, even if I don’t get to the actual act of writing, I’m thinking about writing. And for me, that’s often as productive as anything else.

ReginIt occurs to me that during yesterday’s very early morning post (this was before I even started work, people!) I missed out on a really fantastic comparison.

How could this be? Me, the writer? Missing a simile!?

Well, I should say, duh.

Yesterday during my Runes class (yes, I take a class on ancient Runes… and yes, that is super awesome) and we were talking about Regin and Sigurd, and how the sword Regin smithed was indeed the best EVAR, but it also took him three times to get it perfect (and good enough to slay a dragon, no less!).

So I realized, then, that gosh–the parallels in writing a novel and smithing are incredible. Yes, I’ve written novels before. And yes, they’re far from perfect. They would indeed “shatter” if used. But taking the time to edit, that’s like tempering the metal, refining it, making sure that it holds up.

And yes, it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s physically and mentally exhausting. But in the end, the final product will be that much more durable, because I took the time to do it.

Sure, some people can learn a craft and do it flawlessly each time. But most of us mortals have to work really damn hard to get it right. Because if you care at all about your work–whether it’s swordsmithing, portrait painting, novel writing, or invention tinkering–you have to be willing to make it better. You have to be able to say, “I wrote this, but it’s okay if I delete it, because it’s not good enough.”

I suppose in a way, I have my own characters to thank for this insight, as obvious as it might have been. Brick and Cora appeared to me in a flash of clarity almost a year ago to the date, their faces as vivid as if I’d seen them across the room. And since then, they’ve taken me on quite a surprising journey. I’ve learned more writing The Aldersgate than any other work to date, and not just about the story, either. Working on The Aldersgate has given me new insight into myself, my soul, my work; I feel like I know myself better having gone through the process.

So maybe it’s not just the sword that gets tempered, but the smith, too.

It’s strange, being a writer. It’s not something you can readily explain to other people (those who don’t write or engage in creative endeavors, I mean) because it’s really a different perception of every day existence. It’s looking at life through a different filter, noticing things all the time, never being able to turn it “off.”

Lately I’ve had trouble focusing on writing simply because of my writer’s brain getting in the way. I’ve been getting story idea after story idea, in the strangest of places in the most mundane of situations (the grocery store, the bathroom, the kitchen, etc). It’s like my synapses suddenly come to life and begin multiplying, like deranged rabbits, while I look on helplessly.

I should be writing these ideas down. It would be prudent. However, I’ve been so busy in my actual existence that this hasn’t been much of an option.

Though I loved writing as a child, it wasn’t until I was about 12 or so that I realized my brain simply worked differently. I recall sitting in the lobby where I took acting classes, and one of the student’s fathers came in–he was dressed in Army camo, and I sat there for about fifteen minutes writing an entire novel about him in my head. I don’t know what it was about, other than what the fellow looked like (he was sitting to my left, against the adjacent wall). But I do know I didn’t actually know the man (the student was a dancer, younger, and not in any of my classes). Yet he lived, somehow, in my head.

Strange, yes.

Though I’ve not grown out of this past-time, I’ve certainly found less and less time to just sit and ruminate. I work in bursts, flashes, intense explosions of energy… then things get quiet. I’ve been trying to work through the quiet patches, regardless of lack of momentum, and it’s worked surprisingly well the last few months. But it’s still much harder; with the quiet times, I am more harsh on myself; I second guess myself; I question every movement.

It’s a shame that when we’re young, and time seems in abundance, that our brains are (typically) not primed to write novel-length pieces de resitances. Instead, we spend our spare time writing The Novel That Will Change the World But Really is a Thinly Veiled Novel of My Recent Crush or The Same Novel That Stephen King Just Wrote… Because when you grow up, fancy is hard to come by. Long stretches of time, where you can just let your mind wander without worrying about: money, family, relationships, taxes, death, expectations, careers, politics, religion, etc, become fewer and farther between.

So I suppose that although the ideas are coming rather in quantities too large for me to deal with (and, consequently, cutting into editing time, etc) I’ll Let It Be (to quote Mr. McCartney), ride it out, and try and hold on. It’s part of the process, just a bit on the baffling side.