The Agony of #amwriting

Sep 18, 2015 by

I’ve been doing some writing lately. Hashtag #amwriting is how we let others know on Twitter.

This week, I began with around 61,000 words written on what is a second novel. Today, I have 91,000 words.

It took almost 16 months to figure out how to write a book by attending multiple courses in the Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path program, and then getting that first draft written. The Privacy Patriots came out about 95,000 words and though I sort of began officially writing it sometime in November of 2014, I didn’t get really going with it until this spring. At the end of April or early May I was at 56,000 words and wrote the rest of it in three or four weeks.

That draft has been sitting in a binder in a closet since early June. I was advised strongly not to think about it. Not to touch it. To let the words marinate so that when I open them back up, there won’t be a sacred word in them too sacred to revise or eliminate.

So to keep my mind from going soft, I began working on a second, completely unrelated topic in July. Almost three months later, here I am.

AGONY 

I tell you that history so that I can explain something more intense, more complex.

There is a new word I understand better than any other in the English vocabulary right now and it’s “AGONY.”

While I played around with some deeply emotional topics in my first book, I brought just about everyone of them I could think of out into the open for the second. One of my writing mentors calls it “Full frontal nudity of the soul.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 3.52.16 PMThe process is gut wrenching.

I’ve pulled triggers back to the surface of my emotions, things that I had long ago suppressed and kept shut away in a box, and I hauled them all out into the open.

As Kirk Carson my latest hero character dealt with issues from his youth and even ones he still deals with today as a man in his fifties, (I’m not that old) me, myself and I had conversations with t
he ghosts of those past events, with those fears, some as real as they were or might have been had I ever really had to deal with them.
At one point last week, someone wrote a counseling friend of mine and had him do an intervention check on me. I’ve gotten numerous texts and emails and messages asking “Are you okay?”

PUNCHING THRU TO THE OTHER SIDE

Now that the first drafts of my sixty-plus scenes are done, I feel somewhat relieved. This morning, I began at Page One and over the next few days I’m going to read to the end, revising, editing, cutting, trimming, adding where necessary until I can say I’ve gone from beginning to end and it’s in as good of a shape as I can get it for the meantime.

I’ve been through some hard days and hard times in my life, worse the past seven years than any other time in my life. But I have to say that the past three weeks, dealing with the rich, emotional wounds of the past, confronting them head on in the mind of a character I created, one who I understand very well, has been therapeutic. It has also been a living, mental hell. My brain aches. Even right now. My jaws are sore from clenching constantly.
I saw a quote today from Twitter that said, “The only thing more tormenting than writing is not writing.”

I understand that sentiment now more, having completed, or very near completed the first draft of a second book. My mind, I have found, is already probing where the next story should come from.

Maybe the first one, in the form it’s in in my closet was just my starter novel. I don’t know. When I open it back up, perhaps, as a result of the emotional hell I’ve been through to construct the second book, revising the first and then polishing it is going to make it that much more richer. I just don’t know yet.

But what I have felt, even as I tried to sleep last night, is more at peace.

FINDING PEACE
There is a suggested series of sequences to writing a novel. You don’t start at the beginning and write to the end. You can, but it’s not recommended.

I found myself last writing the “reward” scenes.

And the last one of all of them I had mapped out was a scene called “Finding Peace.”

How wild was that, that somehow, through all the emotional turmoil and hell I’d endured to write the second book, to end it, I was left to write a scene about finding peace.

To a person who doesn’t write, maybe this won’t make a lick of sense. Maybe even to those who do, this won’t either. But it does to me.

After going through all that I have to carefully choose and pick the words to make up the total for The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, I finally have found peace in my mind. How long it lasts? I don’t know. As I started reading through the first 28 pages this morning, I felt my heart hurting, aching and the agony returning. There’s just 300 more pages like that I want to read again before I print them and put them in a binder to sit for two or three months.

I hope this has helped. Maybe for those who are worried about me this shall give you some peace and some empathy to better understand what all is going on inside my head. Maybe you’re living through a similar storm of life. I have no way of knowing.

But thanks for reading. I can’t thank you enough for checking on me.

Sincerely.

Donald J.

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Go Set A Watchman

Jul 16, 2015 by

At 12:30 p.m. last night, I finished reading Harper Lee‘s Go Set A Watchman. It’s 277 pages and I bought the book Tuesday morning at 9:15 a.m.

There was a period of time Tuesday when I thought about how I wanted to Go Set It Aside, but the story compelled me to keep going.

At one point Tuesday I thought it should have been titled, “Besmirching the character of a character.”

But I endeavored on.

Editing

HarperCollins, the publishing company, did a poor job of editing this book. There is just no other way to put it. From misspelling Judgment Day by adding an extra letter E on Page 65, to the absolutely ridiculous changes from first to second to third person interchangeably, worst on Page 120, to beginning the second paragraph on Page 170 with a lower-cased letter L, I do not for the life of my understand how these things would have made it past a half-dozen red pens at the publishing house. Italics would have been nice when we jumped into Scout’s head in first person from the previous sentence being in third. Or in second (think of listening to the world’s worst quarterback Tony Romo trying to talk sense … you, you, when you…) GSAW Pic

A friend of mine says there’s no way Harper Lee would have penned the sentence atop Page 24 where Scout is studying her beau Henry and says to herself, “I never tire of watching him move, she thought.” No, said my friend, “That’s a line out of Thelma and Louise, but the only way to know if Harper Lee wrote that would be to go visit her in the nursing home and ask. It’s clear she wasn’t involved in editing this book.”

Which leads me to the theory that that is what happened. Harper Lee wasn’t involved in editing this book. Maybe I’ve just not dug deep enough online, but it appears  they took this unfinished work of Harper Lee’s and published it like an archaeologist would leave a find in situ–undisturbed, as they found it….

One of my most valued writing mentors told me she was going to pass on Go Set A Watchman and not read it in order to not damage her perspective of Atticus Finch and “Keep my childhood intact.”

Another writing colleague has said she will juxtapose Go Set A Watchman with To Kill A Mockingbird and use them as examples of GREAT writing and not as much.

Worth Reading

Go Set A Watchman is worth reading. In many ways the scenario penned in this story is still being dealt with today and applied to more issues than just relations between white and black foke. Maybe that’s what some of the foke who are reading it are getting upset about. It’s been a bitter summer in 2015 for many across the land and in many of the same ways, the liberal Yankee media they complain about in the book and the Supreme Court still don’t have a clue as to the mindset of most Southerners and probably never will. What happens because of that eventually is going to get far uglier than what we have seen already. For every action there’s a reaction and the pressure cooker’s steam seems to be rising.

A Writer’s Declaration

After reading Go Set A Watchman, I now declare that if after I have died or have been struck down by a debilitating stroke and my daughters, loved one, or my agent or someone else goes through my drawers of umpteen notecards, notebooks of drafted manuscripts yet unpublished, or finds files on my computers they think the world should be privy to, they CANNOT release them unless they have been well-edited. And by that I mean no style errors, no head-hopping, no changing tenses on one page without logical breaks in between. No, nothing that would make people be as frustrated as I was Tuesday afternoon trying to figure out what in the Hell Harper Lee was trying to share with us in her book. Got it?

 

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Happy Birthday To My Fictional Characters

Apr 7, 2015 by

Happy Birthday To My Fictional Characters

This morning my sister sent me a text–“I wonder if you know the day Kip was born on.”  I promptly sent her a copy of my Aeon Timeline, a timeline development software program compatible with Scrivener, the novel writing software, showing his pre-book life history and that of most every other character I’ve invented. But she wrote back, “No, the day he got into your head.” It was April 2, 2014 when the domain name was registered.

Let me explain.

I had the idea to finally begin writing a major work in March of 2013. Since then, it’s been a high priority among work projects and being a dad. I’ve now written more than 54,000 words in what Scrivener project’s is going to be a 94,700-word manuscript when Draft One is completed. In the process, I’ve gone through at least 1,000 4″x6″ notecards, which are all in various stages and stacks around the house. I’ve used Scrivener, which is a pretty powerful organizing tool, I’ve read dozens of books on “how to, how not to” and then I’ve really settled on some key guides–Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Eric Edson’s The Story Solution, and Robert McKee’s StoryBooks for Privacy2

There have been other works along the way that deserve mention–Brian McDonald’s Invisible Ink, Sally Hogshead’s Fascinate, Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal and Carol Pearson’s Awakening The Heroes Within. This weekend I devoured Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering and did some serious thinking about Concept and Theme enhancements that I’d not as deliberately developed using Vogler. (My Kindle is loaded with other books about writing, but none of them compare to this core group or the other titles pictured to the right. You might also notice, I didn’t skim these books–there are color tabs hanging out of many of them for quick reference.)

Character Name Generation 

But it was a year ago, April 2, that I used Scrivener’s Name Generator to search for the right names to suit the characters I’d determined I needed for the story I want to tell. When I found a name I liked, I purposely went to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn, WhoIs.net and Google to see what came up for that name. If I could not register the character’s domain name, get them an account on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the name was tossed. If something came up in Google or in Amazon it was discarded. That was the last test. When a name had cleared those six hurdles, they were allowed to become real–at least in my mind and my writings for now.

My book may not ever get published. I am not planning for that contingent, but moving forward positively. When it is published, my character’s names are already commercially protected. I own them and I’ve established use of them by locking down accounts for them in Social Media, which will be critical for commercial marketing when the time comes.

My Characters

So, sadly, I missed April 2, 2015 as the day they came into existence. But in the year and five days that have passed, they’ve taken on lives of their own. I have a two-inch thick binder of Myers-Briggs profiles on all of them (Read David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me II). I’ve done the Color Quiz. I’ve created a chart where I’ve taken the Hero’s Journey and applied Pamela Jane Smith’ eight Inner Drives chakras to each character and where I think they’re going to be during each of the 12 phases of the book. And like I said, over the past weekend, I took Larry Brooks’ “What If” exercise to new levels for my characters, really pushing to get to the drama that needs to be included to make my work as intriguing as I know how to make it.

They are nothing but names to you, for now. For me, they’re crowding my head with work, family and wonder. During the day, whether I’m sitting at my desk or a lonely table in Jason’s Deli–I do wonders sitting in a public cafe with all the noise and chaos around me, not there to eat, but just to be in an active atmosphere–I write about ups, downs, challenges, inner demons, ways to cause havoc in the world by hacking into places that are impenetrable and blowing things up, ways to fall in love, and ways to save the world.

My characters hurt, they find joy, mystery, and anguish. They sometimes are very sacral chakras centered and only care about sex, money and power, and others, even the same ones, at other times, are in the heart center, focused on the good for all mankind. And while they float the range of chakras, apparently, I do, too.

So I say Happy Birthday to Kip Rippin–Kip, a name I found by accident, means a “unit of force.” I’m writing a thriller. He’s going to need some units of force to survive and save us all. Maycee Vincent is into honey potting–she is from Menlo Park, CA, and works in a quasi-governmental Internet monitoring operation between Stanford and the NSA. (And yes, Maycee is also the name of my 11-month old Great Pyrenees.)

Colin Mistry is my villain, working for President Oliver B. Carr, and my Mr. Big Bad Guy, corporate America businessman, Josh Chi Dormin. (Spell Dormin’s name backwards and think of what he might want to do–this time with a computer.) (“Chi” coincidentally, is an “Birthday 1energy force.”) Purely by accident, I pitted a “unit of force” against an “energy force.”

It was one of those forces of wonder that comes from creativity. It’s perfect. It spells one thing–CONFLICT. My other secondary characters include Zach Woodhall and Gwinn Bolynn–her parents were “Yoopers” in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Gwinn is a small town near Marquette where I lived several times thanks to the USAF.

It’s been a fun year with my characters. “A year?” you fellow writers might say, “That’s a long time.”

I thought that, too, this time last year. I thought I’d be finished with all of this. Chasing publishers and agents. But to make a book as close to right as possible, this is not something one goes and does on a weekend and comes back from the mount with it all on a tablet.

Amazon is filling up with those kinds of self-published half-baked, unedited books, full of typos and plot holes a semi-trailer truck would get stuck in.

For me, patience and discipline is so important now. I’m not saying it’s easy. Like an aging wine. It has to ferment, the tastes blend and become something more than it was when it was first poured into a bottle. It’s like preparing for life. You’re not ready for a massive journey into a special world any more than you can decide one day you’re going to go walk the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail on Friday and be back in six months.

Happy Birthday, again, to my characters.

If you’re on a similar journey, I hope you can take the time to let your characters grow as mine have. You’ll find they have much more to them as characters if you do.

 

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Good Friday, Better Me.

Apr 3, 2015 by

Good Friday, Better Me.

In most cases it’d be a cliché to say, “I’m changing,” but in this case, I feel it’s dramatic enough to not be.

It was five years ago last month that my second marriage came crashing to an end. The details, many still like fresh wounds under a band-aide that can be yanked off exposing…you get the picture, but in the past year, I’ve learned a lot about myself I didn’t know or either had suppressed or worse, stopped believing.

Since July, I’ve been a student in the Southern Methodist University Writer’s Path program. I’m on the novel track. It’s like being in a master’s program, but it’s continuing education. There’s no degree at the end. Instead, there’s a high prospect of having a well-structured and polished manuscript ready to submit and plenty of feedback gained from people who have published novels. At the end of the program, there’s the opportunity to submit the work to a blind-committee who can pick up to 13 people to go to New York City and meet with potential agents and publishers. It is the only program like it in the world.

That’s a great outer goal for me. I’d love to be selected one day. But even better, there are more important things happening to me on the inside because of this process.

The Hero’s Journey

I didn’t know consciously about the Hero’s Journey before I decided in March of 2013 to write a book, but the more I was exposed to it, the clearer I see it. A few weeks ago, I told someone it was like having once seen the arrow in the FedEx logo–once you know its there, you can’t “unsee” it.

Time has proven there are 12 phases any character in a reputable work of writing, either film or print, must endure for a story to feel complete. They are: Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the Threshold, Tests Allies and Enemies, Approaching the Innermost Cave, the Supreme Ordeal, the Reward, the Road Back, the Resurrection and then the Return with the Elixir. I will not go into the aspects of each of the phases, but I will say this: Writing about them and exploring them with my characters has caused ME to go through my own hero’s journey.

There’s a fun movie called Ruby Sparks about an author who writes the perfect girl and then she becomes real and ultimately helps him realize how he has to change his view of the world and relationships with the people in it. But Calvin Winfield isn’t just writing a second novel to be writing a second novel, he’s writing because his counselor thought it would be helpful for him to do so.

The leader of the SMU program, Suzanne Frank, (If you follow the link you’ll find her works on Amazon) often says in a writer’s first work, they’re exposing their innermost thoughts so much, “It’s pretty much full frontal nudity” of the psyche. Irene Adler, “The Woman” on Sherlock also said it well, “D’you know the big problem with a disguise, Mr. Holmes? However hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.” In other words, for young/most writers, the more we try to disguise, the more it becomes a self-replica.

There are things that are in my writing that are truly reflections of me inside, though part of me still denies that. It is important for me to note that studying the process of change a character must undergo in their story has helped me come to understand the changes I need to make in my OWN life. There are major points in any story where a hero will announce or be told what he/she needs to address in their life in order to move on or to be the only one who could bring the end of the story to its ultimate outcome.

This is true for me in my life, as much as it is for any character you’ve seen on screen, but just as well, it’s true for you, my reader as well.

Good Friday

It’s Good Friday 2015 today. In Heroic Chapters Wednesday night, Author and SMU Scientist Keith Goodnight (you may also follow the link to his work on Amazon) was describing what has affected one of the lead characters of a person in my writing group. He said it sounded like the hero had suffered such a massive, horrific Supreme Ordeal, that he just got stuck there until years later, something came along that rekindled a spark inside him to move on to seeking a reward, taking the road back, finding/proving his resurrection and ultimately, returning with the elixir of a better world than when he started the story.

I took several significant Supreme Ordeal type corrective steps earlier this week. Keith’s words, spoken to someone else, nonetheless were affirming. Not shamefully or with any sense of anything else negative, I knew he was right. I understood what he was saying.

I don’t know what life holds in the days, months and years to come. No one does. I’ve written about 53,000 words of what I project to be a 97,400-word work and I still have much to learn about me, my characters and life. But I’m on a positive path now. In many ways, I’ve killed off the person who I’d let others turn me into over the past few years. Now I’m trying to resurrect the old, stronger, younger one–the foremost student iconoclast, as I was labeled after leaving college by a history professor I never studied under–but as important, someone who is stronger than the guy at the beginning of this story, changed forever, better or for worse, to be the only one in the world who can face my challenges head on.

Get Out Of Your Own Way

I leave you with this video from Rachel Platten. Her song is called Nothing Ever Happens. It’s written for a woman, but guys face the same issues. I have. The chorus grabs me every time I listen:

And nothing ever happens if you stay in your room
Nothing ever happens if you leave the party too soon
You’ll never be a winner if you’re not in the game
And nothing ever happens if you always play it safe
Make a little space and get out of your own way.

The next step in your life is up to you. I finally realized it was me who was holding me back. Not the people who dumped crap all in my life. I let their misery, anger, hurt, shame and baloney stick to me like concrete and freeze me, hold me back, even though intellectually I knew I needed to move on. I had to do what Rachel says, make a little space and get out of my own way. I’m 53,000 words closer to having done just that…..

Grammatic Artist 

You may already have noticed, you’re on GrammaticArtist.com and not DaddyClaxton.com. I’m rebranding. Even on Twitter. A grammatic artist, is someone who uses words, pictures, sound and video to tell stories with purpose, just like a graphic artist would focus on just images.

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McDonald’s Archenemies: The Protagonist v Antagonist

Jan 5, 2015 by

McDonald’s Archenemies: The Protagonist v Antagonist 

The new McDonald’s commercial, Archenemies, is a great 60-second spot all aspiring writers should watch again and again.

Why?

Penguin and BatmanThey say a story is only as good as the battle going on between the protagonist and the antagonist. That’s the battle between the good guy and the bad guy. If a writer fails to establish a significant level of contrast, the story will be boring.

The new commercial from McDonald’s helps by showing iconic archenemies, but the twist is the premise that McDonald’s food is so good, even these guys can put things aside and enjoy a drink, fries, chicken nuggets or a burger.

We may not all be fortunate to create black and white, good and evil, iconic good guys and bad guys as they are portrayed here in the McDonald’s commercial, but we should all endeavor to portray such opposing relationships in what we write if we are wanting to write good, solid fiction. Otherwise, we are not being true to the art of storytelling.

If the difference between your protagonist and antagonist isn’t as vividly clear as the one between Batman and Penguin, the postman and a dog, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch, donkeys and elephants, and on, then you really need to spend a little more time raising the stakes of your story and more clearly establishing what it is the protagonist is wanting and what the antagonist is fighting with all of his or her might to prevent.

McDonald’s did a great job of magnifying the differences of these archenemies and the power of their food in being able to unite foes. But ask yourself where literature would be if knights and dragons, and coed swimmers and sharks were ever able to get along?

McDonald’s please keep selling your food. For those of us writing, don’t forget your story goes nowhere if your protagonist and antagonist aren’t duking it out for something bigger than french fries.

 

 

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The Artist’s Way

Dec 3, 2014 by

The Artist’s Way

This morning I began something new. Morning Pages. They came at the behest of Julie Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, a book that’s been referred to multiple times now in the work I’m doing in the SMU Writer’s Path program.

Morning Pages are simple. You wake up. You grab a pen and you’re then to write out three pages in long-hand about whatever it is that pops into your head. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is no editing. No review.  No one, not even yourself, are supposed to read what’s written. The exercise is done purely to free one’s mind of the gunk that’s collected there that’s blocking the way to creative thinking. Pure. Simple. So far, mid-day, it feels like it’s working. At least once I got up from the desk this morning, I felt like I’d left a lot of baggage on the page and emptied it from my mind.

Then came a walk with Maycee. Actually, my Morning Pages contain multiple references to her whining and begging to go out. She’d already been out. So I was compelled to let her on to the porch. Nope. More whining. More writing. More whining. Back inside. Then she went to the front door and rang the Christmas bells that are hanging from the knob. Maycee is now six months old and those bells only were put there last Wednesday. Thursday, the twins, Reagan and Haley, I’m told because I didn’t witness it, trained her to ring the bell with her nose. That she’s learned to do that, I can testify. When she needs to go out and poop, it’s ring, ring, ring.

After a second trip out this morning, I completed my Morning Pages. I didn’t go back and read them. I went on with my day, which now led to another trip to the potty area for dogs, and then Maycee and I left out on our usual morning stroll of at least one-mile’s length before 8 a.m.

Done with that, shaved and showered, I got in the car and headed to meet with my mentor, Ron Rose. You see, I’m at a stuck point in the development of The Privacy Patriots, the novel I’ve been trying to develop over the course of 2014. I gathered up a couple of notebooks I keep working through, grabbed a laptop and iPad and out the door I went, promising to be there by 9.

Traffic on 635 was a mess, so I wound up running parallel to I-30 west until Dolphin Street. Made it through the Canyon and on the other side, began to realize I was actually going to make it to our rendezvous point early.  And then the car stalled. It apparently went into “Limp Mode.” A design feature to keep serious damage from happening to the engine.

By 9:20 my car was attached to a tow truck and headed from whence I’d just come, back to Mesquite.  By 9:44 a.m., the time OnStar’s people said the truck would be at the spot of origin to get me, we were pulling into the repair shop.

The shop, one I told the tow truck driver I use because it’s so quick, is backed up. They have about three or four jobs in front of mine. So Bruce, the owner of the shop, dropped me here back at home.

And instead of going and talking to my mentor, discussing, hashing and rehashing, God revealed to me another plan.

Sitting Still

You see it was yesterday that another now very significant mentor in my life, Author Suzanne Frank, told me to go do something besides trying to work on my book. She said to go trim the tree.  (I didn’t write her back and let her know there are already three up.) She said to bake something. But to get away from my book and let my mind wander a bit.

And so I began reading Week One’s section in The Artist’s Way.

And wow.

When I did all but about three of the first week’s exercises, I turned my chair from the desk, leaned my head back and closed my eyes and said a prayer.

I Am A Brilliant And Prolific Writer

I wrote in a notebook the following sentence:

I, Donald J. Claxton, am a brilliant and prolific writer.

And then I wrote it out again. Eight more times I repeated this function for a total of 10.

And as I wrote, I began to hear little voices saying, “No you’re not.” “You fool.” “If you’re so good, why haven’t you published anything significant yet? Your 49th birthday is Saturday. What the hell have you been waiting for? Lunch?”

I wrote those things down, too.

And then I identified people, “Monsters” the book refers to them, in the past, who might have called me things like that or said things about my writing that was negative. And then I identified positive people and positive things that have been said about my writing.

There are a couple of more exercises I need to do for the first week. And I will do them another day. Tomorrow, I will get up, scribble some thoughts about hopes and prayers the car gets repaired and isn’t going to cost a lot of money, money I don’t have, to get on the road again.

Tomorrow I have a writing class at SMU that I missed in November because of a family tragedy back in Alabama. Now, at the moment, even being there tomorrow night feels like it’s in jeopardy.

But I have to firmly believe as I sit here at this writing and believe that the same God who made sure I took some time today to be still, to think, to not think, to just meditate and breathe in the good and the bad of life, is going to make sure tomorrow works itself out, too. Perhaps if the day had gone some other way, I’d be upset about all this.

Something tells me already today’s first week lesson has already taken hold on my heart.

 

 

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