Falling in Love With Your Own Writing

Joe’s Post #177

Listen to what Boromir says.

Listen to what Boromir says.

Is there anything better than falling in love? What about falling in love with your writing? Is that a good thing?

Well, no. No, it’s not.

It’s something I’ve been struggling with as I rewrite my novel, Yager’s War, for submission.

Set in 1940, it tells the story of a Chicago detective in Holland trying to find his missing sister before the Germans invade.

When I first wrote it, it had more of a mystery feel. Dead bodies. Gun battles. Lots of tough guy talk. Some hot sex. But from my writing group and my dedicated readers, it became clear that I needed to shift it a bit, and focus on the humanity of the story. Less Jack Reacher and more Gorky Park.

Why? Because I’m trying to write a deeper story. A story with emotional weight.

I spent a TON of time reworking my first 50 pages to see if I could hit this goal, and after many tears, much staring off into space, and a lot of bugging a published writer friend of mine, I think I finally got the right feel to the story. Good pacing. Some heart. Compelling characters in a compelling story.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

If my novel was a kitchen, this is what I would like it to look like.

For most of 2017, I’ve been hard at work recrafting the rest of the novel to be as good as those first 50 pages. It’s been hard and, frankly, a lot of the novel has been totally rewritten. It’s sort of like doing a kitchen renovation where all you want to do is replace the sink and end with redoing the counters, cabinets, floors, lights and adding a 75” TV, cuz every kitchen should have one.

But perhaps the toughest part has been letting go of some of my best writing. There was one scene that I loved. I loved writing it the first time. I loved reading it the second time. And the third.

It was powerful. It was emotional. Hell, I think I even gotz all the grammar right.

But here’s the horrible truth, a truth that we writers must face sometimes.

It no longer works.

The story has evolved in such a way that this beautifully written passage was no longer relevant.

It’s very sad.

It was hard to let it go.

But then I remembered what someone told me about letting go of things I’d collected in my house. You know, the sentimental things – the ashtray that my mom used to use, the chair my grandfather made that was now nearly in tatters, the 10,000 VCR tapes that I’d collected over the years… the things to which you attach memories, the things that have meaning but take up an awful lot of space and you no long need.

Well, someone said take a picture of those items so you’ll always have the memory. And, you know what? That worked like a charm. A friend saved me from being a hoarder.

So I applied the same principal to that nice bit of writing. I didn’t take a picture of it, but cut it out of the story and pasted it into a file called, “Things Joe Can’t Delete but Loves.” Like my original Sim City from, like, 1989 which hides somewhere in my computer games file.

Doing this allows me to move on.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

And, hey, it can be resurrected.

In my mind, I imagine my kids looking at this after I die and saying, my goodness, Joe REALLY could write. Who knew?

Rest in Peace, Good Writing.

Rest in Peace.

Time for a story

Joe’s Blog #27

I thought it was time for something different. No wise words of wisdom this time. No sage advice. No tales of computer malfunctions. No, something else.

A story.

Mostly true.

The Renovation

I have to confess that the worst job I ever did, I actually hired myself to do.

The interview went well, I suppose, though I thought the only applicant was a little on the tubby side and I didn’t much care for his attitude.  Still, he was the only one to show up and, frankly, the only one crazy enough to do what was being asked.

The job was simple.  At least it looked that way from the outside, standing there in the garden, in the summer’s heat, the roof a long ladder away.  All I had to do was dismantle the brick chimney so that we could continue with our renovations.

No biggie.

So what if I was scared of heights?  So what if I’d never done anything like this before?  We were about to have our house raised, a suite build underneath and that chimney simply had to go.

No biggie.

So I climbed up the ladder, spider-crawled my way up the roof with a chisel in one hand, a small heavy hammer in the other.  At the apex of the roof, I clawed myself vertical with the help of the chimney.  Standing, I took tool number one, the chisel, placed it against object A, the chimney, and swung tool number two, the hammer.

Clink

A bit of brick dust fell to the roof.

A good start, I thought.

I swung again.  Harder.  Klank.  Again.  Clunk.  Again.

I beat the bricks from the side, from the top, from the edges, and slowly, surely, they began to come apart.  By now the sun was baking me on the roof and sweat ran into my eyes and, I am very sorry to tell you, into the crack of my ass.

It was one such trickle that distracted me and one swing went wide.

Splat.

gaaaaaaaaaak!!!!!!!!!

Now, I have certainly hit my hand a good number of times building things, including a few times when I wasn’t the one wielding the hammer but never before had I done it on top of a roof.  I guess I should have practiced a bit.

Because what I did was leap back, hand flying to lips, coppery blood oozing into my mouth.

The problem was, there was no real, ‘back’.  Just a sloped roof.

So I fell.

And bounced.

And rolled.

And skidded, arms flailing, feet clattering.

Now contrary to what I had imaged, falling off a roof isn’t so much falling as scraping.  The trick to living, I discovered as I grated downwards, was to decelerate by friction, which is to say, you hope you don’t run out of skin before you pitch off the roof.

Luckily I didn’t.

Run out of skin, that is.

I have a lot of it.

I stopped a few inches before my feet would have hit the eves.

And there I waited for a moment, heart pounding.

Like a cat, I looked around, fearful that someone had seen me. Sure enough, a family was gathered at their kitchen window and dad was pointing to his son.  “See son, that’s what happens when you’re a moron.”

I hated being one of life’s cautionary tales.

But that was just the beginning.  I still had much to teach my fellow stupid people.

I lay flat on the roof for quite a while, the tar smell of the old shingles and the surge of adrenaline making me want to throw up.  I was scared to slither back up and definitely too scared to slither any closer to the edge.

At some point, I think it was a year later, my wife came out and asked what I was doing, and like any good cat caught in an embarrassing moment, I lied.  “Just checking the gutters,” I replied.

“Don’t take too long,” she said.  “Tomorrow the guys are coming to raise the house.  We need that chimney done by then.”

“Right-O,” I said and forced myself to stand as she left to go do a half-day at work.  My legs wobbled and my hand throbbed and my head whirled but I managed to teeter my way back to the chimney.

I dispensed with the chisel and got my gloves out of my pocket and just used the hammer to beat the living crap out of that chimney.  Each time a brick came free, I hurled it away.  Bad brick.  Bad, bad brick.

Piece by piece the chimney came down and the more I destroyed it, the easier it was to destroy.  Half hour later, sweaty and coated with fine red dust, a pile of bricks lay somewhere on the lawn and all that remained was the interior part of the chimney.

Now, I’m not completely stupid.  I knew that if I went to the base of the chimney in our basement and just hacked away, the whole thing would come down on top of me.  Pretty smart, eh?

So I began to dismantle the bricks from the top, piece by piece.  They had been built the bricks double wide but I made a good enough landing for me to stand on while I worked. So, as I hacked them loose, I’d take a step down, in effect creating the first disappearing spiral staircase.

Bricks fell down with surprising speed and I made great progress.  Sure, it was hot and when I say hot, I mean oven-like, and sure the air was so heavy with dust that I had brick snotsicles in my nose and the inside of my mouth tasted like gritty porridge and my eyes stung.  Sure.  But in another sweltering, sweat-staining hour, I had gotten down six feet.

Then I paused as a great thirst overcame me and I thought, standing there in what is essentially a stone hole, the sun baking me and the bricks, gosh, wouldn’t it be swell to get a drink.

And then it hit me like a, well, like a brick.  I had dug myself into a proverbial hole.

I stood there for a long moment, six feet down, chewing on the brick sludge in my mouth, perspiration dripping from my nose.  I could wait until my wife returned but then how stupid would that look?  She’d give me one of her looks, shake her head and walk away muttering why did I marry such a moron?

So I decided just to dig my way out and for the next six hours, as the sun set over me, I hammered and I sweated and I hammered and I swore and I hammered and the worked my way down.

I hammered until the blisters burst on my hands and the handle was coated with a clear, pasty goo.  I hammered until my arms trembled and my shoulders ached and my back began to seize up.  Nearly blind from all the dust, nearly deaf from all the thunderous sounds inside such a small space, nearly dead from lack of water, my tongue so dry I could have used it as sandpaper, I finally was able to crawl out the bottom, exhausted, dehydrated and so sore I could barely move.

Well, long story short, I ended up losing 5 pounds, most of the skin off my hands, a little bit of my sanity but hey, I kept my dignity.  And when my wife returned, she was impressed with all the work I had done and so distressed at what I looked like that she said I could take the next day off.

But holy crap, that was one job I’d never do again.

I marched into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and said, “I freaking quit!”