Monday, November 30, 2009


I crossed the finish line yesterday, but the journey continues.

On November 6, I signed up online to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Each participant strives to write a 50,000-word novel, starting from scratch, in November. I’m now at 53,700 words, but my novel has thousands of words to go before the first draft is complete. Still, NaNoWriMo was a good kick in the pants to stay focused on a single project. The focus was on quantity, not quality, but I did continue to revise as I went. I need to spend some time later this week taking a step back and looking at the big picture. Is this novel compelling enough? (Certainly hope the answer is “yes”.) When I’m locked in the day-to-day writing, it is hard to tell.

If nothing else, participating in NaNoWriMo firmed up my writing routine. I also realize that having short-term goals helps so I will continue to set my own. Sometimes the focus will be on word counts, but I need to set some goals about submitting my work as well. I have about ten projects on the go so now is the time to buckle down, sharpen the endings, work through the revisions and put something other than Christmas cards in the mail. (Oh, but I need to work on those, too!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reaching for the Bar

A writing routine is imperative, but every so often you've got to shake things up. That's why I signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Somewhere in the virtual world, I'm part of a massive group of writers striving to write a 50,000-word novel in November. Nothing will happen, in and of itself, it I reach that mark and nothing will happen if I don't. It's an artificial milestone. Still, I update my word count each day and take a gander at the updated bar graph to show my progress. Part of me finds it a hokey gimmick, but the part of me that's trouncing on that half-empty inner voice feels it's a motivator that only comes along once a year. Since I started on November 6th, I was 8,300 words in the hole at the outset, based on the daily goals shown in the bar graph. I like that. It gives me an extra push. I should be finally caught up by Monday as I'm working through the weekend. And I might squeak by the finish line by the 29th.

Participating in NaNoWriMo, I get emails with pep talks and notices about sites in Vancouver where people can congregate for communal writing. (Might try that next year.) Today I came across a suggestion that intrigues me: set a 10K day. As I typically write 2,500-3,000 words on a good day, 10,000 would feel like a marathon. But the 10K running lingo is yet another novelty to add some spark to the routine.

I'll wait until I get through my one-month novel to get it a try. Like I said, those bar graphs are giving me all the kindling I need for now.

Friday, November 13, 2009


There are days that challenge us. For me, this is one of them.

I’d stayed up late last night, cramming in a nighttime writing session after having to halt my productive late afternoon write to meet up with some friends I haven’t seen since I began my road trip back in August. Dinner became one of those lovely drawn out occasions, followed by another meeting fifteen minutes down the road at Starbucks. (In some respects, I was relieved to know that the franchise closes at 9 p.m. in sleepy Gibsons, giving me time to head home with enough caffeine-infused energy to finish my day’s quota of writing.) I didn’t start reading the morning paper until after midnight.

I awoke to the blare of a ferry horn, a dog barking and a blast of broad daylight. The sun, which had packed up and gone for a weeklong exclusive European tour, was back. Welcome, for sure, but not as my morning greeting. I usually get up to see the dawn and get cracking with my daily regimen. I glanced at my alarm clock. It was still sleeping, lights out.

Power outage season had arrived! (It’s called winter in the rest of Canada.) Anytime the winds pick up, there’s a risk of losing power in my rural community. The ferry’s cry told me it was already 8:30. I scrambled to get up, walk the dogs, shower and dress, ever hopeful that the power would be restored at any minute.

Nothing doing. The pot of coffee, such an integral part of my start, sat idle. I considered using a pen and my writing journal to begin my work for the day, but I realized I have now switched to using the laptop exclusively—apart from a few urgent brainstorming sessions. And, unfortunately, my laptop battery has the juice to keeps things cranked for a paltry two minutes max when not plugged in (to a working outlet).

I headed into town. The first coffee shop was packed and, worse, the outlets were already taken by other laptop dependent, power outage survivors. I headed for Lower Gibsons, the quainter, quieter part of town, and lucked upon a table with an outlet at my favorite cafĂ© in that area. The cup of coffee did not fully supplant the pot of coffee (which, rest assured, is a 40/60 blend of caf/decaf), but it activated enough of my brain to begin the day’s writing.

Already off to a late start, I had to interrupt things for a vet appointment and my midday swim workout. I dashed home, relieved to find the power restored. I booted up the laptop and heated up a can of soup for a quick lunch. Just before resuming writing, I opened the refrigerator to grab a drink. The light in the fridge was out. Power outage #2. (I hadn’t noticed the faint whistling of the trees.) I reported the outage to B.C. Hydro and was given an estimated three-hour window for the power to come back on.

So here I am writing away at the library in town. I have been inconvenienced today, but I have trudged on! Sometimes all the real power you need is the power within.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I’m five days into my new novel—six, if you count Saturday, my day off—and I’m finding the journey to be tricky on an emotional level.

I’ve decided to write what I call a What If memoir. The story is grounded in my real life, but picks up at a point where there was a fork in the road and, much to the chagrin of Robert Frost, I took the path more traveled. Yes, Robert, that too has made all the difference.

Twenty years ago, I’d gone to Malibu, California to enter law school. From the outset, I wasn’t certain that becoming an attorney was really my life’s path, but I had a full scholarship and it was in Malibu. Hey, things could be a lot worse for a twenty-four-year-old who still hadn’t a clue about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Truth is, I did have a clue. I just never dared share it. Silly dreams are cute when you’re seven. I want to be an NHL hockey player. I want to become an Osmond. I want to be an elf. (Two out of three of those were my childhood aspirations. Too embarrassed to confess outright, I’ll just say that I’ve never had an interest in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Or Utah.)

My impractical grownup dream was to become a writer. Specifically, I wanted to write for television and movies. I’d written my first screenplay shortly after undergrad and I studied dialog and plot from television shows the same way I devoured college texts two weeks before finals.

But I wasn’t a Coppola, I didn’t have an uncle who had a friend whose third cousin went to high school with Ron Howard’s dry cleaner and I didn’t have the dashing good looks of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. I didn’t have an in. I could write the next “Annie Hall” (or the next “Police Academy”) and never get my break.

I was raised to be practical. Abandoning one career (as a teacher) was only acceptable because I was pursuing a more highly esteemed career as a lawyer. (What’s wrong with that statement?!) I think subconsciously I headed for Malibu to pursue my writing dream or, at least for starters, experience a little Hollywood immersion.

My first year of law school was grueling—at least that’s what all of us pampered law students believed and, if everyone said it, it had to be true. Sure, I studied a lot, but some of that time was spent reading my casebooks at the beach. (Never could shake all the sand out of them!) And there was still time for plenty of dinners at trendy restaurants where we shared ample amounts of wine and whine.

I enjoyed studying law. I had a couple study partners who were exceptionally driven to succeed and I don’t think they rubbed off on me; frankly, I was just a like-minded individual. Yet, when the first year of law school concluded and my grades were ridiculously high, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I knew the best thing for me would be to quit and pursue something that might become a possibility.

I met with an official from the law school and she talked me into staying, promising that I’d have so many other career opportunities once I earned my law degree. I didn’t buy it, but not knowing what to do instead, I stayed on. I did increase my course load so that I graduated a semester early. It was a consolation to myself, the law school fraud.

What if I’d quit? What if I’d pursued writing (and waiting tables or selling knockoff handbags on Venice Beach or whatever was required to pay the rent)?

That’s where my novel begins. What makes it so emotional draining is I have to dwell on that moment in time. And everything before that key moment provides context to everything thereafter so I find myself recalling so many experiences with so many friends that I cannot find on Facebook or through Google search channels. (Trust me, I’ve been trying a lot over the past week!)

I seem to honor these dear people as I write, but any regrets I have are not about my law school decision; rather, they’re focused on losing touch with remarkable people who continue to impact me two decades later.

My nostalgic trip isn’t all heavy. There’s a backdrop of movies, television and songs of the time. As I write, I pop in cassettes by Mariah (back when she just dressed badly, not trashy), Simply Red and Wilson Phillips. I’ve YouTubed Cathy Dennis and Milli Vanilli and Wikipedia-ed “L.A. Law” and “Ghost”. I’ve almost been tempted to run out and rent “Rocky V”. Almost.

Good times. Why does it take hindsight to realize how good?

Monday, November 9, 2009


One of my favorite musical groups is Chicago. Still. I particularly love their heavily orchestrated songs of the ’70s. (But then, my friends would point out I love everything of the ’70s which I contend is not true. Never much liked “Baretta”.)

Back to Chicago. I was listening to a greatest hits compilation the other day while taking a writing break and picking up all the things on the floor that I’d managed to ignore for a week or so. On came “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and, for the first time, I wondered why a guy who professes to not care about such things happens to be wearing a watch. Just one of those Things that Make You Go Hmmmm…. (which, let me point out, just so happens to be a ’90s expression).

I wish I could be as flippant about time as the singer claims to be. Fact is, time matters. Especially when it comes to my writing. I have the savings to permit one year off my day job—and that’s a stretch. Thus, I have to make the most of it and get as much solid writing done as possible. That’s why I’m keeping to a schedule of writing six days a week. Normally I hate schedules, but I can’t afford to amble through my twelve months like a loopy flower child. (After all, that’s the ’60s, an amazing decade, but come on! One can only retreat so far in one’s imaginary time capsule.)

Six days a week. No time off for holidays. I began by “pushing myself” to aspire to three hours of actual writing time each day. That doesn’t sound like much but, in the beginning, it was hard to achieve. I’m not the kind of writer who can sit and just write for the sake of writing, content in knowing that a good chunk will end up crumpled in a virtual trash can. Sure, I go through significant revisions, but none of this starting over that I hear other writers talking about.

Three hours a day became three and a half after I read an article about Stephen King’s writing habits. If 3.5 works for King, it’ll work for me. After awhile, I came to the harsh, but obvious realization that I am no Stephen King. I upped my time to four hours daily. And it’s working!

While I have to be conscious of time, the luxury I do have is flexibility in my day. If I get distracted or delay my morning start, I don’t need to beat myself up over it. I just have to fit in the time at some point before I turn in for the night. Yes, I’ve had one session that ran past midnight which is technically into a new day, but 230 minutes is not enough.

I realize that my four-hour allotment is the kind of artificiality that Chicago sings about, but one cannot take even the greatest bands too much to heart. I hate to point it out, but this is the group that also released the dreadful “If She Would Have Been Faithful”. But, hey, that was the ’80s when dreadful was in.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I just signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month. The designated month happens to be November and I'm six days behind, but that seems like a typical place to start.

Participants have the calendar month to produce a novel comprised of 50,000 words (175 pages) or more. There are no fees or prizes. The entire emphasis is on quantity, not quality. It's about getting it done, with potential motivation from being a part of an online community endeavoring to do the same thing.

I quickly wrote a 500-word foreword for my novel and my personal account at NaNoWriMo created a bar graph showing my word count and my word goals per day. I'm supposed to be at 10,000 words. At first, I couldn't detect the yellow bar representing my word status. I had to view at 150%. Again, typical.

I am undeterred.

Obviously, this project must mean more than obsessing over word counts. Signing up provides a virtual whip to ensure that I am indeed writing. While that has not been a problem for, I have been bouncing around from project to project. Today I have a new novel idea and it will be my primary focus--at least until the end of November.

Must write more!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I finished another spec script today, this time for a Canadian television series, "Being Erica". And I have a rough sketch for another script to start tomorrow. All of this in an attempt to get an agent--or someone!--to read my work. I am told that if someone finally reads a script and likes it, that person will want to immediately see something else. Gotta make sure you're not a one-shot wonder. Hence, the portfolio that I'm creating.

As with "Big Bang Theory", writing a script for "Being Erica" was immensely enjoyable and, upon finishing, incredibly satisfying. The whole tone of the writing was different as "Erica" is a drama involving time travel, flashbacks and quirky quotes from a mysterious therapist. I became hooked on the show over the summer, based on a recommendation from my cousin. I caught the first season reruns that followed and I went back and watched some some of the early episodes online to ensure I had a firm grasp of the show's premise and its structure. The "research" was worth it. While writing, I could hear the characters' voices. I also tweaked the plot based on comments and experiences from prior episodes.

For my next script, I'm developing an idea reminiscent of something I wrote years ago. I decided to review that piece of writing, but I could not recall where I'd stored it. I went down to the basement and dug through boxes of things I cannot defend keeping. Then, in an old briefcase, I found not what I was searching for, but something I had to stop and read. It was an article I'd cut out from The Dallas Morning News, the date: March 16, 1988. Title: "Making it as a screenwriter". Twenty-one years ago I dreamed of becoming a writer. The date and title alone reminded me how important this year is for me. So many years of dreaming and so little time to fully focus on writing. I did write--sporadically--and I did finish scripts that I liked, but I dared not show them to anyone.

It takes a risk like this, going without a regular source of income, to force me to be open about my writing and to do whatever is necessary to get it out there. As my bank account dwindles, I couldn't be happier with my decision.

That old script I was searching for? Turned out it wasn't in the basement at all. I found it in the filing cabinet in my office, in the third drawer, the place where I had looked in the first place. Somehow it hid between other files during my first inspection. While I'd set out to find a teleplay, the yellowed newspaper clipping was the true find.

Fortuitous, don't you think?