Writing Process: The Almighty Opening

Every time that I open Anori – something I have done a couple of thousand times – and wait as the document slowly loads, my always eye fastens on the opening line. And it’s never what I want, which has led me to change it some fifty or sixty times.

Dee watched the police car turn down the empty street and vanish on the other side of the park.

The keys to this sentence are a. the police car, b. the viewpoint (from a penthouse apartment) and c. the winds of Hurricane Sandy.

Jostled by the winds, the police car vanished on the other side of the park, as Dee slid the balcony door closed.

And then I think it’s all too much and that I only need the bare bones: The police car vanished on the other side of the park. But, that doesn’t work. Neither does: Dee braced herself as the gusts of wind came up again.

I want to communicate an isolated and brooding tone in the opening, something like Dee stood alone watching the police car as it went from sight on the far side of the park. But not that either.

Editing the Gangly Bits: Writing Process

I had a scene with some real problems. The background information was heavily front-loaded, and it was repetitious and awkward and gangly and sputtering and bad.

And so I hacked it up, rendered it down, patched it to another equally sputtering bad thing, did some cauterizing and cutting again and thought I was on the way to something new.

Silhouetted rocks on Oregon coast

But it had become a bald thing, nothing in it, the description and progression and dialogue trimmed to nothing, the conclusion non-existent. And so I started to write it all over again.

Anori Extract: Apollo Kills a Galapagos Hawk

They were down from the mountain, the sun hazy through the low trees, so much hotter here, already past the conservancy camp, walking along the rocky edge, when Apollo ran ahead through the tidal pools and leapt at a hawk on the rocks.

Crabs scurrying away to tidal pools on Fernandina Island

Everything else scattered – cormorants, boobies, sea lions and crabs – as Apollo pinned the bird, the frantic brown bird fighting back, catching Apollo with its beak and talons in rapid succession.

“Apollo! No!” Dee stumbled down the rock face.

Apollo held hard to the bird as it flopped around, reared up, spasmed and shrieked.

“Let it go!” Dee yelled at him. “Drop it!”

Apollo hunched away from Dee, gripping the bird firmly.

“Apollo! I said drop it!”

“What the fuck, man.” Pax arrived from the other side of the pool. “Seriously, what the fuck.”

“Galapagos Hawk.” Dee sighed. “It’s a threatened species.”

Galapagos Hawk on Fernandina Island

“Apollo just killed an endangered species?”

“Not endangered.” Dee replied. “Threatened.”

“Well, this one’s fucking extinct.”

Arguing The Arc: Writing Process

While there are many aspects of the story arc that make sense in terms of pacing and development – like good old hamartia – the arc is a dated idea, limiting our understanding of who are to exacting plot points that only satisfy writing coaches and network executives.

Stream of consciousness is not the answer nor is it supposed to be all higgledy piggledy, but a style that reflects a understanding for ourselves. Reality television is the bald ugly version of this or the latest insanity of Trump’s dying days.

Tierra’s Eyebrow might be reality television’s greatest work

An amalgamation is needed of the two, an arc that that follow a path and yet simmers and U-turns with significance. That is my aim in The Cx Trilogy, to guide readers into a world and leave them there to look around.

The McPhedran Way – A Typical (Bad) Day in My Writing Process

6:30 am Play Fishdom and Words With Friends. No thoughts on writing.

8:30 am Play Fishdom. Read emails, watch YouTube videos and search for “inspiration” by porn surfing. A general malaise dominates thinking.

11:00 am Half think about writing but retreat from that, afraid to start.

12:30 pm Lunch. Watch random bits of film – anything from Battleship to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

2:00 pm Ride stationary bike and listen to intense music (Rage Against the Machine, Cheap Trick, Nine Inch Nails, etc.) in an attempt to get brain moving. Watch birds flying past, beds being changed in hotel rooms across the street and people working in adjoining business. Writing problems do not come to mind.

Entertaining things can occasionally be seen in Artezan Hotel.

3:00 pm Read more emails, watch more videos and porn. Snack.

4:30 pm Open the Anori document. Close it. Play Words with Friends and Fishdom.

8:00 pm Think about what I might do tomorrow

So it goes on a bad day. Which oddly enough can lead to a good day.

The McPhedran Way – A Typical (Good) Day in My Writing Process

6:30 am Think about the big picture things – characters, theme – when I wake up.

8:30 am Ideas drift around for the next few hours as I sort through emails, purchases, music downloads and desk cleanup. These activities get my brain moving, akin to rocking a car back and forth out of the mud, until I think it might be ready to gun it and get on the road.

11:00 am Review what I wrote the previous day(s), read through a scene or two, and identify problems – weak dialogue, weird scene arcs – and make brief edits.

12:30 pm Lunch, news and emails. Maybe apply for a new job.

2:00 pm Ride stationary bike and listen to electronic music (Fripp & Eno, Ekca Liena, Keith Berry, Endless Melancholy) or The Grateful Dead. The first twenty minutes of my workout is about the workout, focusing on getting my heart rate up, and then begin the process of thinking of what I need to do, generally research and blogs. And then I think of my first writing problem. Why is the chapter not moving in a clear direction? How do I get it to do that? How do I avoid repeating myself and get my characters to stop sitting around and bitch about life. Things need to happen. What if I move the launch to the end and the conversation and Lai’s scene to the start?

And so it goes. I review the ideas and accumulate more and more, until I am up to as many as I can remember – my maximum is around a dozen – and then repeat them in my head until I can get them in a pattern. I finish the workout and write notes on everything I can remember – hopefully all of it.

3:00 pm Enter the ideas into the text while listening to electronic music.

4:30 pm Write. Momentum on my side, this is where I write and write. This might go for another 3-4 hours, pauses and beers in between, until it begins to taper.

8:00 pm Save some things for tomorrow. I agree with Hemingway’s assertion that writing to the last drop is a dreadful error. That only means that tomorrow there will be nothing. The next day too. And so I leave an idea or two on my screen to help me regain my momentum tomorrow.

So it goes on a good day

Writing Process: Finding My Way

Years ago, I read an interview with James Bond author Ian Fleming who detailed his daily writing regime at his Caribbean home. He would rise early every morning and write five pages by noon and then spend the rest of the day at the beach with a cocktail in hand.

The Sanibel Island Writing Contest offers many places to bask and ponder

I liked the idea so much that I blogged about it and mimicked it – albeit without the beach and Caribbean home. I wrote five pages every day for my first novel, The Sacred Whore, but realized that the pages were weak and ill-conceived. I was going through the motions to get to my metaphoric (and literal) cocktails.

Later on, I tried writing at different times – afternoon, evening and night – with a similar page count in mind. No dice. Fleming’s process simply was not for me. I needed something else. I needed my own process.

Notes for All In written on a newspaper

Something that I have learned over the years is that I don’t work well with an exact routine. My system tends toward the erratic. That is not to say that I don’t have a system, but that when I am overly regimented, the work loses its divination.

That said, when the writing is working, I have a pattern that works. I suppose you might call that The McPhedran Way. More on that tomorrow!

U Turn Memory

I have a memory, if it can be called that, a moving image that bubbles up when I’m writing.

It is of a stretch of road called Marine Drive, connecting North and West Vancouver. It’s a thoroughfare, three lanes each way, thick with strip malls and autobody shops on each side.

Nothing happened there that I can remember. I just have to make a U turn. That’s the memory. I have to get back to something. Not a place, but a person, someone I left on the side of the road. And I am waiting to make that turn.

Not Marine Drive, not even close to it.

But I never make the turn because the light doesn’t change. I just wait and look at the orange and white sign for the autobody shop across the way.

My Tendency to Overwrite

I push hard to get my point across and, to make that clear, write the thing again. I might write it in another way. Or maybe not. I repeat myself to make sure that my point is getting across. It is the point, as simple as that. And I have to make that clear.

Modified excerpt from Anori

This veers toward a tendency to overwrite, filling a cup well beyond its capacity, thus defeating the purpose. The trick is to find the right words and use only those.

Excerpt tightened up…but too much?

The right words. That’s the rub.

Fear of Writing the Perfect Thing

Death cannot be far once you have realized the purpose, right? I had that feeling, of having realized my purpose, in the early 1990’s.

I was in the basement dark room of our house on Marlborough Road in Toronto. I was in the midst of writing Wreck of Dreams, an autobiographical snippet written at age of 28.

Cover design for Wreck of Dreams

It was earnest at best, but mostly trite, like the feeling. And yet, oddly enough, the feeling has seeped back. I am older now, 30 years hence, and so it seems that may be the real issue. Vain and dumb, all I know is that I’m still writing