Friday, August 13, 2010

365 Days Down; (Hopefully) Less Than 365 To Go

I always wanted to write a book. One year ago today, I sat down and started.

My initiative was the result of four things:
1. Though not part of my plan, I was allotted extra free-time.
2. A reality star, who shall remain nameless, had just published a book. I remember thinking: If this person can do it, so can I.
3. My parents had recently attended a publishing party for a non-fiction novel.
4. I love writing.

I opened my laptop and began typing. Experimenting. Feeling my way around the task; trying to discover a path to take. If a student turned that piece in for a grade, I'd have given him a C. When I turned it into myself, I gave it an F. A high F, but an F nonetheless.  But I discovered I wanted to write YAL fiction, so that was something.

Attempt 1:

I typed for hours about a boy at a swim meet. Why? I have no idea! Maybe because I missed swimming? Or, maybe I thought it would uncover a story. It didn't.

The first words I spit out were a pathetic variation of the statement: "The weather that night was perfect." Honestly, that draft was so bad, I chucked it a few days later. There was nothing usable - just ten pages of single-spaced garbage.

Attempt 2:

I know! I'll write about a boy moving. After all, it happened to me - twice. Kids can relate, can't they?

::Insert game show buzzer sound here::

Number of pages wasted: 50. But this time, I double-spaced.

Attempt 3:

A little closer. I explored relatable teen issues. Unfortunately, the pages I typed sounded more like a self-help book. (Really; the first person to read it said so!) It was dry and failed to hook the reader. I had no connection to my character.

Blah, blah blah.......DELETE!

Attempt 4:

Closer... I was parked outside a Wawa. It was after midnight and I had just purchased a 20oz. coffee to recharge my battery. I opened my car windows, carefully sipped my beverage, and turned the radio on quietly in the background.

And then, someone started speaking. It was a boy, fifteen years of age. But he wasn't in the parking lot. In fact, we weren't in the same state. Where was he coming from?  Had he tapped into the radio? Maybe he communicated telepathically. I'm not sure, but I heard him. Loud and clear.

He claimed his name was Ryan Grant. He had depression, and I told him I could relate. An immediate connection was formed.

"Ryan" began ranting a mile a minute. Quickly, I hopped out of my car and grabbed a pen and notebook from the trunk. Then, I grabbed my coffee and sat on the curb, outside the Wawa, scribbling everything he told me.

Later, when I got home, I typed this:

"Ryan Grant sat quietly in his father's Audi sedan."

I liked it for about a minute - then, not so much. But I recognized I was MUCH closer to uncovering my story. And "Ryan" was going to help me do it.

Attempt 5:

Almost there. “Ryan” kept in touch. We bonded, and he started trusting me with more information. It turns out, his name wasn't Ryan Grant - it was Michael Kearns. But he needed to be sure I was on his side before revealing his identity.

And alas, I met my character. Heard his true voice for the first time. I knew how he spoke - his slang, his dialect, his vocabulary. Hobbies and interests were revealed. I discovered his personality, mannerisms, family and educational background, and the experiences that made him who he was.

I've never met Michael in person. We never speak via phone, e-mail, or any technological means. And we never will. When he wants to talk, he taps into my head. I can’t contact him; I wait for him to contact me. He does when he's ready.

Michael has a story he wants told. For some unbeknown reason, he wants me to tell it. Maybe it's because I know what he’s going through. Though my personal experiences are NOTHING like his, I can empathize, because I've felt his pain. Both of us have been dealt hands we didn't ask for.

Michael has given me full control and creative license - as long as I get his message across. I've promised not to reveal anything prematurely. He will let me know when I can. Until then, I keep working to make the piece perfect - and to make Michael proud.

Taking on this project involves much more than writing. The required research is astronomical. I've had to read articles and books; conduct interviews, fieldwork, observations, and network on so many levels. I’ve read and read and read to study my genre. I've also involved myself in the cause I'm tackling. I enjoy it all, but it takes time.

Then there’s the writing process itself. Most of the time, I stare at the screen. When my eyes hurt, I stare out the window (if I'm home) or at other people (if I'm in a bookstore.) Eventually, I'll be either (a) told off, (b) punched, or (c) arrested.  Eh, whatever.  Bring it on. 

I do a lot of prewriting. When I go back and read it, I'm lucky if I can salvage enough sentences to make one coherent paragraph. Usually, I end up with pages of trash.

But trash isn't for nothing. Even cut material allows me to learn my character. There may be situations the reader doesn't need to know, but as the writer, I must know it all. And after a year, I believe I do. Finally.

As a result, this draft has undergone many rounds of plastic surgery. Characters have been altered; characters have been cut. I started in first person, changed to third person, and ended up reverting back to first person. At one point, I had two drafts - one from each perspective.  But for me, it has to be told from Michael directly.  Although third person allowed more details and information to be disclosed, it lacked the intimacy I was going for.

I've cut pages to a paragraph. Rewritten chapters, deleted chapters, condensed and expanded. I've chucked scenes and replaced them with something better.

I never know when Michael is going to contact me, but I'm always ready. I have pads and pens everywhere - on both sides of my bed, in my car and bathroom, and plenty of scrap paper for anywhere else I might be. It’s a wonder I can decipher my thoughts when I need to.

Thankfully, I have talented peers to offer constructive criticism:

Now that I've begun the final trimester, I’m totally pumped. I look forward to hearing from Michael - learning the conclusion to his story, and fitting all the pieces of his puzzle together.

I've learned a TON. If nothing else, I've enjoyed (almost) every second of this journey.

Although it took time, I’m finally comfortable calling myself a writer. I only hope to one day be referred to as an author.


  1. Paul, this is really interesting! When you're ready, I'd love to read it!

  2. Samantha (Scuba Sam)August 14, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    Paul, I really think this is great! You should be very proud of yourself!

  3. Keep pluggin along Paul! You are really doing great. I'm impressed:)

  4. I think you are being bold.

    End of story.

  5. I'm proud of you, "Son."


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