May 112015
I generate garbage for a living,. These are my first drafts for 2015, and the year's not half over yet.

I generate garbage for a living,. These are my first drafts for 2015, and the year’s not half over yet.

By my own estimation it’s around 512 pages, but I’m not gonna bother to count them. It’s thicker than a ream of paper, and at least a few trees sacrificed themselves for my work.

Or something.

It’s uncut, with nothing between brain and paper except an old typewriter. Much of it is stream of consciousness, with an outline being thrown together after the fact. The whole thing took 40 days and at least two cans of Cuban coffee.

It’s terrible, but all first drafts are. Hemingway called all first drafts — including his own — something that I will not repeat in a family venue such as this.

No third party reads my first drafts and lives. But that’s the creative process.

If you listen to the uncut version of your favorite jazz album you’ll probably hear multiple takes, false starts, train wrecks, conversations with the sound guy, and the leader screaming at one of his sidemen. Pharoah’s Dance, the 20-minute opening cut on Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album, has something like 19 edits. There are a couple of places where you can hear the splices. But it’s an amazing album, essential listening.

Every time you fumble through a song the first time, every blog post you write, every porch you build or every piece of software you create is gonna have issues. Big ones. You’ll end up throwing half of it out and totally rebuilding the other half.

Then you hope you threw out the right half.

It’s a necessary step in the creative process.

The next step is to let it sit a good while. Detach myself from the project and do something else. Forget it’s there. Then on July 1 I’ll pull it out of the box, read through it, go through a few red pens and try to pull something out of it. Kind of like finding the pony in the mountain of horse flop.

Diamonds come out of coal. Oil comes primarily from dead things. Art comes from the aforementioned pile.

You need to create the garbage before you can dig out the good stuff.

The garbage comes first.


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May 112015
Word count: 102,365. Half of them may live.;

Word count: 102,365. Half of them may live. The typewriter is even older than I am.

Trust me. It’ll be pretty bad.

It’ll sit in cold storage for 40 days and 40 nights, and will come out July 1. Then I’m gonna bleed all over it with a red pen.

Half of it will get thrown out, and the other half totally rewritten. But that’s the nature of the business.

There’s a story in there somewhere.


Nov 052013


Punch this bad boy and get started with that novel.

Punch this bad boy and get started with that novel.

NaNoWriMo started this month without me.

That’s National Novel Writing Month, a community-driven exercise in fast writing. The whole objective is to produce a steaming 50,000-word pile of hot garbage in a month.

Some writers love it while others hate it. The emphasis is on putting words down on paper, roughly 1,667 per day, with quality taking a back seat to output.

In other words, fairly standard first-draft material. As in bad. As in all-you-can-eat $1.99 seafood buffet kind of bad.

That doesn’t matter, though. You’re throwing your thoughts down as fast as they come, and that’s good practice for a writer. First drafts are usually done with the door closed, and maybe eyes closed too.

I get a kick out of writers who go into NaNoWriMo as if it’s some sort of challenge. And it is. If you’re not used to writing you’ll find this akin to a death march. It’s hard work, but it gets easier as you develop the habit of writing every day.

Since I started charting my output on August 14, here’s what I’m logging:

  • In August I laid down 27,301 words in that partial month. That’s 18 days. Projecting it out over 31 days, that’s 47,018. Close, but just missing it.
  • September: 57,551. Average: 1,918 words per day.
  • October: 50,233. Average: 1,620 words per day.

My high output since I started charting was 4,317 on August 31, and I had two other 4,000+ word days. Six days I threw down more than 3,000 words. These still pale against my all-time high word-count day of more than 8,000. I think I was quite manic at the time, but that’s another story. But trust me, I wasn’t worth a darn for a day after that. Shoulders hurt, back hurt, neck hurt, everything hurt.

For those two and a half months, plus the first few days of November I have 138,042 words down. Now, these word counts don’t include the day-to-day Web writing that supports me, nor does it include blog posts. This is all the evening writing that goes into a couple of fiction works in various stages of completion.

So, yeah, I can pull it off.

I entered once before, and nailed it. That was a few years ago, and the whole thing is ready to publish. Second and third drafts completed. Only reason I’m waiting is because the timing is not quite right. I’m being strategic here; want to get a few other things out before publishing this work.

I won’t be in NaNoWriMo this year. My two fiction works are past the first-draft phase. One is in second draft and the other sits in the post-first-draft crock pot for 40 days and 40 nights. That’s enough projects for me right now. I’d rather not mess with another first draft what with this heavy editing; the earliest I can really attack a new project is in February, after Part One of B.I.C. Cartel hits Amazon.

For people like me, Rochelle Melander of The Write Now! Coach suggests rolling your own NaNoWriMo. Who says it has to be in November? Sure, it won’t be as social, but it’ll work. Shoot, with a U-Build-It version you can set your own goals, write any genre or even do your second draft.

I like NaNoWriMo’s emphasis on writing quickly. You don’t have time to agonize over every word; you’re just throwing them down. It’s good practice for first drafts, which are great if you don’t mind jamming out a whole bunch of barely comprehensible words. All good writing starts with really bad stuff anyway.

Forget editing on the fly at this point; just get the words out.

Here’s the thing, though. I’ve heard of people finishing their 50,000 words and submitting the work right away. Hoping an agent or publisher will love it, or self-pubbing the thing through Amazon. Except first drafts read exactly like first drafts. If you’re a pantser you’re taking the narrative wherever it goes and there’s not a whole lot of thought about the characters. Even plotters have a rough time getting a readable first draft, but the odds are a little better.

Here’s what Joe Bunting of The Write Practice says about it:

“It’s silly for you to submit your NaNoWriMo novel to an agent or publisher on December 1. Please don’t do it. This is a shortcut and your novel is worth more than that.”

In my own first drafts I’ll have some parts that are fully formed. Others are nothing but skeletal notes. But none of it is publishable.

Another aspect of NaNoWriMo is the social one. Most towns have a so-called write-in, where people get together to pound stuff out as a group and talk about writing. The NaNoWriMo site also has forums where you can talk about writing some more.

Me, I’d rather write than talk about it. I may post my word count on Twitter, but that’s about all.

Then you have the people who only write during NaNoWriMo. Which is fine if you’re a hobbyist, but a pro is out there every day. I mean both are writers, but a professional has a whole different attitude about the process and the result.

That said, there’s plenty of support along the way. Besides the NaNoWriMo site, writer Mur Lafferty is putting out a series of short podcasts to walk you through the process. Even if you’re not participating, these are good to check out anyway.

Anyway, if you like the idea of NaNoWriMo, you can still get in. Go for it. It’s a learning experience. You find out how to tell your internal editor to put a sock in it. You develop the habit — hopefully — of writing every day. You learn what first drafts really look like, and if you have the cojones for it you’ll edit that mess.

OK, so what do you do with that steaming pile of literary excrement? I take a page from Stephen King here, and it’s become my practice. Set it aside for a period of time. He suggests six weeks, which is right in line with my 40 days and 40 nights. Then take it out, read it, scribble all over it with a red pen (or however you do that on the computer) and take your time with the rewrite. Call it 40 days for that too. The third draft is where you polish it up for publication.

But if you have a story in your head, don’t tell me about it. Go to the NaNoWriMo website, create an account and start work. Get it out of your head and onto paper where it belongs.

Who says it has to be good?

# # #

What say you? Are you going for NaNoWriMo this year? Can you slam down all that verbiage in a month? Please share in the comments.

* * *

LATE ADD: A couple of conversations on Twitter:


creativedangercreativedanger: Will peel the wrapping off the draft of my first novel, BIC Cartel today. 100,000 words of first-draft slop. Wheee! #amwriting10:21am, Oct 27 from txt

WCWritingTipsWCWritingTips: @creativedangerHahaha! It can only get better from here! What are you writing about?10:51am, Oct 27 from Web
creativedangercreativedanger: @WCWritingTips WC, it’s about a whole bunch of hot steaming mess. Fiction about some creative types who swear they’re never good enough.5:24pm, Nov 05 from HootSuite

 * * *

… and this one’s great …

creativedanger: 2nd draft: Where you pick through a barn full of horse dung & look for the pony. #amwriting12:46am, Oct 25 from txt

BenLeighHobsonBenLeighHobson: @creativedanger@JannaKaixer I like that you didn’t go for the ole diamond in the rough. Even your diamonds are ponies!5:07pm, Oct 26 from Twitter for iPhone
creativedangercreativedanger: @BenLeighHobsonYou’re right about the diamonds in the rough. need to remind myself of that. Thanks.5:16pm, Nov 05 from HootSuite

# # #


May 132013

[intro] You can’t tell by looking, but this creative&dangerous blog has been wildly successful in the year I’ve had it up.

OK, so you won’t see that in the usual metrics. Readership and ad revenue (what’s that) are flat, and sometimes I can even hear the joint echoing when I post new material. How could I say anything about being successful?

I’ll explain.

One of the biggest reasons I started this blog was to keep myself accountable. If I shared what I was doing, maybe I’d run out of excuses and actually use my gifts. that’s all. But if others find the same thing happening with themselves, then let’s talk and compare notes. But … it’s working.

Even though I can talk a pretty good game, I’m noticing my walk is starting to catch up with it so they almost match. Instead of me writing about turning pro, butt in chair and getting stuff done, I’ve actually got my butt in the chair, getting stuff done just like a real pro.

After 50-plus years of not getting stuff done, I can look over the past 12 months and point to at least three fairly significant things I’ve completed. And if I stay on track with my schedule, on July 1 you can make it four.

And that’s scary.

Tossing out the lines of BS from an ivory tower is easy. Any fool can do it, and a Google search will unearth those types by the thousands.

Reporting from the battle lines is less safe. All kinds of bad stuff happens out there. You run the risk of having your butt shot off.

So about this creative&dangerous thing. Expect a few changes in the content. While I’ll still bring up the theoretical stuff that ties in with creativity, there will be less of it. There will be less reporting from the ivory tower and more from the battlefield.

Y’all OK with that? You sure you won’t miss the overabundance of theoretical stuff?

Theory is fine, but I want to show you the danger. Maybe put it right there in front of you.

Stick around. You’ll see a new category called “@ work” and that’s the practical stuff. Tales from the front.


* * *

After letting it sit for a few days, I tore the wrapper off my recently-completed first draft and read through it this morning.

Just what I expected. It’s bad.

burning paper

Too bad USB drives don’t burn as easily as paper. Or do they?

I mean all-you-can-eat-99-cent-seafood-buffet kind of bad. Worse than that, even. It’s horrible. It’s so bad that I even began to wish I was a drinker, just so I’d have a valid excuse for writing such swill.

Burning my work did occur to me, and I might have done it had I typed my work out on my old Underwood typewriter. But I’m told USB drives don’t burn as readily as paper, and they release some pretty nasty stuff into the atmosphere.

It was so bad I considered burning the USB drive anyway, just to see exactly how toxic the fumes are.

Here’s the good news: I’m on the right track.

So I have this el crappo manuscript on a USB drive I dare not burn. But I have so many brain cells invested in this thing. I have so many experiences that may go to waste if I kill the project. I have so much I need to say that I have little choice but to continue.


Might as well hold my nose, hold my mud and edit the stupid thing.

But it’s nice to know I’m on the right track.

# # #

Oct 152012

Writers know about this one. Your first draft will be an unholy mess, written in a frightening stream of consciousness and probably not fit for human consumption.

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, suggests locking that first draft away for a period of time. Give it at least a month. Just for grins, let’s make it the biblical 40 days and 40 nights before picking it up again. Just don’t think about it in the interim. Don’t go there.

Even if it’s something time-sensitive like a fast-turnaround article, I like to have it sit overnight after the first draft. Failing that, even a few hours while I go for a bike ride or hike. That gestation period gives the creatures in the attic time to work on it, if you catch my drift.


Aug 292012

One of the cardinal rules of writing is that your first draft will be an unholy mess. Bet the hacienda on that. And the first time musicians get together they’ll produce a lot of disconnected skronks.

This will improve over time, but it’ll never be perfect.

The cool thing is that your audience doesn’t expect perfection. If your humanness shows up in the work, that’s fine. Your audience just expects a product — with your name and your fingerprints on it.