Lost on Page 493

Keck Hits 493

Lost in a haunted forest, characters express their optimism about further progress.

Your author is striving to maintain something like progress as he makes the transition to moonlight part-time writer.

It’s fourth day of the school year (if you’re a teacher in the New York system responsible for various things), and the rewrite of the ghastly haunted forest scenes is underway. 

On page 493, the characters have put their noses in the terrible forest. And, while you and I know that scenes have been moved and motivations are shifting, the characters are only just getting started (the poor dears).

If you work in a creative field, you will know that it doesn’t take long to get your head out of a project. 

My characters might be lost in the woods, but, if I don’t keep pushing them forward, it’s likely that I’ll be lost in the same woods until the Winter Break. (And that really can’t be how this turns out).

[Author shakes fist at universe].


Time: I Could Use More

Time I Could Use More

Your author creates a creative graphic in order to complain about needing more time to write.

Revisions of Dave’s Third Book, have reached the middle of the manuscript’s biggest muddle — just as the school year is beginning.

The situation: My characters have blundered into a terribly, repetitive and deeply confusing series of chapters in a haunted forest. Readers are in grave peril (should they somehow encounter the book). The thing needs some real adjustments. I’m cutting scenes, remotivating nearly everything and moving the beginning to the end. (Or nearly).

It’s fiddly work and will take concentration.

The danger here is that, as school sucks up time and attention, the whole project vanished (with the characters) into the mists and trees and repetition.

Is there hope? This weekend, I worked in stolen moments during a little family getaway. (We know these lovely people with a pool and a house in a patch of woods on the side of a hill — it’s a bit of the gilded age up there). This was actually something of a test. I managed to keep chomping through scenes as friends and family swirled around me. (I’m not usually able to do this).

Now, the big challenge starts. School kicks off. I’m already fielding email and sending information to teachers. I’ve got to find a way to hang on (and hit the manuscript daily to keep things alive in my tiny mind).

Wish me luck! (Except reports as news is available).


The Struggle of Stolen Time

Keck Struggles

Somehow your author believes this image represents a struggle of some sort.

The summer of 2014 is coming to an end and with the arrival of autumn I expect a return of the curious version of writer’s block created by the totally-otherwise-occupied mind.

Any of you who has read a little about creativity will have discovered for yourself the idea that people need to keep projects simmering on the various back burners of the brain.

When I, for example, am teaching, I spend a lot of mental energy on teaching. To teach the way I do requires a constant search for resources and the constant development of new tools. (Everything my students do each day is mounted online and loaded with links. They run into video presentations created by their teacher, they find themselves referred to online posters and screens with graphics and all kinds of things mostly designed for them by their teacher).

The back burners of a teacher are often filled with teaching.

This fall, I am very close to having a solid draft of Dave’s Third Book finished. This fall I will be a little better at stealing time.

Dictation Software Surrealism: The Dragon Speaks

Keck talks with dragons. Things get unsurprisingly odd.

Keck talks with dragons. Things get unsurprisingly odd.

Dictation software can be a great help, but I’m not sure that it will ever handle medieval fantasy.

I’ve been in the habit of scribbling scenes directly into notebooks (usually with a lovely Japanese fountain pen!)

The idea was to keep myself away from such distractions as web searching, social media and incessant polishing by taking my notebook and pens up into a park or coffee shop and writing without the aid (or distraction) of modern technology.

My intention was to capture all of this scribbling with a popular speech-to-text package whom I will refer to as the dragon from here on out. 

Sadly, in my haste to go bowling through page after page of scrawled text, I’ve tended to miss those moments when the dragon went wrong. And, where a human secretary might have interrupted me to ask a clarifying question (“I’m sorry, are you insane?” or words to that effect), my dutiful old dragon just kept on going.

The end results adds a touch of surrealism to every page.

A partial list of the oddest is provided below:

I would have you with for your oaths to be if you will.

He took her small head.

Ottawa, he she was booed a dream or two yet.

Hassan is a perilous thing, do you know? They do not warrant a man.

Durand still felt the graph presence of Google

Two of the rats allies detach themselves from the fracas.

He glanced endurance direction.

with manic goals or colors of iron clamped around the man’s ankles.

Antidrug to the ground.

I’m not sure that the dragon and I are writing the same book.

Problem Solving Doodler’s Style

Keck Brainstorms

Keck shares an incomprehensible mind map for some reason. (It includes an irrelevant and toothy monster)

For the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with mainly small problems in my current novel. (Though some felt large at the time).

When I hit a larger problem (mostly just to keep my mind locked around it), I’ve been using two old tricks. The first (one I don’t often use, actually) is just to start typing my thoughts as quickly as I can think them.
When I teach kids to solve problems and generate ideas, I’ll sometimes throw this at them under a variety of guises, and it can work.
My favorite, however, has long been “mind mapping”. I’m a natural doodler and I like to be able sketch out connections. I find that even the doodling itself helps to keep my teeth in the problem as I worry away at it. My mind maps are often loaded with sketches and almost always dabbed with blobs of grey and colour.
I had a good old-fashioned half hour bash at a plot problem today and, for the heck of it, took a picture. That’s the image heads this post. The one in the pic is actually pretty simple. I started to find a vein of connected ideas that seemed to work for me. But, it’s a big piece of paper and much of the ink is blue.
So there. Now you know.

Revision: A Disturbance in the Plot

Disturbance in the Plot

During the revision process, your author begins to suspect his own motives…

Several times during this big rewrite, I’ve found myself cheerfully writing scene after scene when I begin to suspect that something is not quite as it should be. 

Usually, it turns out that a character hasn’t spoken in forty pages (or the damned horses have disappeared, died and reappeared again). 

It’s the literary equivalent of that “Have I left the oven on?” feeling. 

Most recently, it was motivation that went wrong. After chapters of a building supernatural menace, suddenly everybody became thoroughly distracted by a crucial political issue.

Now, while the political issue was indeed crucial, the original supernatural menace really ought to have been on their minds. (To be honest, it ought to have been burned into their minds in such a way as to defy generations of therapy). But they simply forgot.

It’s this kind of thing that creeps up on you. It’s the growing sense everything is consistent and polished and sensible and solid — but fundamentally and increasingly wrong.

My hope is, it never happens again!

Yours from the last week of summer,


Read Ahead! Finding the Dead Horse

Read Ahead Keck on Revising

Keck realizes that he really ought to real ahead before he begins to make massive changes to the manuscript because his memory is rather an imperfect instrument.

Okay, it’s getting serious.

Revisions are probably most effective when a writer approaches a text that’s been left to cool for a while. 

Like a reader, you approach the text with fresh eyes. You forget most of the intentions and assumptions that you brought to the job and you can only see what’s actually on the page.

Which is lovely.

In my recent experience, there is a considerable downside to all of this freshness and clarity. Sometimes, you actually don’t know where the story is heading. You think you do. After all, this your story. You wrote sketched and planned and outlined and drafted. You might even remember where you wrote the scene and what fountain pen you were using.

But, if you’ve really left a scene sit for months or years, you don’t remember! 

And this means that time and time again, you will tear out weaknesses — that turn out to be crucial to the story. You will add lovely touches — that completely destroy revelations coming just around the corner.

My favorite recent one involved missing horses. (I wrote about this just the other day). Our hero borrowed a horse. Then, in later scenes, it seemed to have vanished. Later, it reappeared. I spent a careful hour finding deft and unobtrusive ways to slip the horse back into scenes. (Imagine it passing the salt at the dinner table, or commenting on the weather from time to time). 

Still later, I discovered that the horse had been dead the whole time.

It was a casual reference. I ought to have remembered. But it meant that my characters were riding and comforting and passing the salt to zombie horses.

A lovely blue-roan zombie in one instance.

Be warned.

Structural Nonsense

Keck discovers that some terrible writing is structural.

Keck discovers that some terrible writing is structural.

What fun I had yesterday.

I had only the morning to work yesterday (there was a birthday in the family), so I was eager to get underway. I planned to use discipline to make steady progress despite the time constraints.

That is when things went wrong….

The Case of the Vanishing Horses

Horses mystified at sudden removal from Keck manuscript.

Horses mystified at sudden removal from Keck manuscript.

As I picked up Wednesday’s threads, began to realize that, although my characters had been riding horses for a day or two, the animals quietly dropped out of the narrative. No one had released the animals. It’s just that, quiet suddenly, my characters were walking. 

(I picture the horses following behind them casting confused glances at one another).

Repairing this required a little backtracking.

Structural Crap

With the horses restored, my morale was still strong. Although there had been a setback, I could pride myself on having spotted a problem and dealt with it firmly (and in a timely manner).


Next, however, I ran into a bad spot in the narrative: 

It had to do with rhythm (which sounds a little esoteric, but matters a great deal when it goes wrong). Simply put, the book desperately needed a break at that moment. The story needed put some things behind it and get on with the next chapter. Instead, the admittedly well-meaning book chose that moment to lurch into a convoluted and dreamy sequence that even the writer couldn’t endure. Some times, you need to go on.

Cutting was required.

But, as I moved forward, snipping and chopping, whole big revelations appeared in the bad scene. And the scene showed no signs of stopping. Whole caverns of muddled junk opened up.

And there I was sawing away at the pit props holding up the roof.

In the end, the whole thing had to come down. By the time I’d finished, the book was a thousand words shorter, big revelations were gone and important character moments had been slashed.

Still, I suspect that the book will function better with the horses (and without the crap!)

Latest Progress Landmark: 400

Keck hits page 400!

Keck hits page 400!

A quick update: The rewrite proceeds apace.

A King in Cobwebs is nice and coherent up to page 400 at this moment.

Over the last few days, I’ve hit new ground. As you might expect, the first sections of the book have been repeatedly polishing (as I reread and restarted during school breaks). This latest material is mostly virgin territory. The differences have been enormous.

On the positive side, the text keeps surprising its forgetful author (which has been fun). Less enjoyable have been the numerous speech-to-text phonetic fails that I’ve been repairing as I move forward. (Much of this section was written longhand and dictated). These gaffs have been a source of sporadic frustration and amusement. (Medieval fantasy gives poor Dragon Naturally Speaking fits sometimes).

Onward and upward!

300 (Plus)

Rewrite of King of Cobwebs reaches 339th Exciting Page

Rewrite of King of Cobwebs reaches 339th Exciting Page

So, in keeping with my recent tradition of keeping you posted on the progress of my summertime 2014 rewrite of King of Cobwebs, it’s time to announce that I’ve passed 300 pages.

This weekend promises to involve considerable solo parenting, so I might find that concentrated writing time is limited over the next couple of days.

Still, I’ve got my hero and his friends back over the haunted mountains. Hideous creatures have been encountered (and gorily brawled with). We’ve just lost a second set of horses in two days. And we’re in conversation with an undead being in a confined space far above the ground.

Scary part? I had to chop out a perfectly disgusting fight sequence because, well, it didn’t fit. You know, rhythmically. You would have to ask that Vandermeer fellow to explain. Honestly. (Maybe I’ll try a poor man’s explanation in the near future).

(There’s a hideous skeleton giant who convulsively slathers itself with yellow bile on the cutting room floor!)

Yours considering explaining how the sausage is made,