Saturday, September 15, 2007

Heading to the Inca Trail

Lest you think I'm a total slug, I actually have been busy and productive since my last post in April, I just haven't been busy doing a whole lot of writing!

A big chunk of time was spent teaching a journalism class at American University in Washington, DC. Twenty-five students from around the country -- most of them juniors and seniors -- came to DC to intern at various media outlets (BBC, MSNBC, ESPN, etc). The emphasis of my class was on writing. Students learned (and I'm pleased to report they really did learn) how to write for both print and broadcast. My teaching philosophy is that you "learn by doing," so students wrote a LOT (which means much of my summer was spent reading and editing the hundreds of pages they wrote). Every week, they had to take a lengthy wire story and boil it down to a crisp, 20-second broadcast story. In addition, there were weekly guest speakers whose appearances were treated like a news conference: students were required to ask questions and then write the story in newspaper style. Guest speakers were: Washington Post reporter Michael Ruane; the ever-feisty veteran White House Correspondent Helen Thomas; journalist/teacher/author Alicia Shepard ("Woodward & Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate"); and my fellow CNN colleagues Zain Verjee (State Dept. Correspondent) and Alex Wellen (Online Producer).

Following the exhausting (but fulfilling) summer journalism teaching experience, my wife Cindy and I escaped to a secluded cabin on a pond in Maine for what amounted to a two-week second honeymoon (our first was 29 years ago). We were virtually cut off from e-mail and the internet. GLORIOUS! (However, I did manage to squeeze in a few book talks and signings, just to keep limber). Cindy used her Mac to put together a magnificent slide show which, if I ever get the time (and technical prowess), I'll post it here for you.

A week from today, I leave for Peru where I'll hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Piccu, one of the newest "Seven Wonders of the World." This came about earlier this year as I was in the midst of the fourth major revision of my second novel (working title: BLUFF). A murder takes place along the Inca Trail, but the more I researched the place online, the more I realized that in order to make my writing more vivid, I'd have to go on location. I'm excited, but a tad apprehensive, too, because I'm a lot older than when I did stuff this rigorous in Army basic training in 1970. So...... your prayers are earnestly coveted and deeply appreciated.

I'll "see" you when (Lord willing) I get back.


Thursday, April 5, 2007


Wouldn't it be great if the novel was written smoothly and perfectly the first time? Reading someone else's work always seems to lull me into thinking that their writing process was effortless. But any writer will tell you that couldn't be further from the truth.

As I slog through the process of revising my second novel, I'm struck yet again that most of the writing process is actually rewriting.

In draft 3 of BLUFF, I made some major structural changes. I added a lot of details and I rearranged the order of several key scenes. But now, as I begin to work through things, I've discovered glaring time problems:
  • haziness about when things happen
  • mix ups in the sequence of events
  • arbitrary decisions I made earlier which now threaten to slow the pace or derail the plot

Thankfully, the organizational groundwork I laid down in draft 3 is now paying off in draft 4. The wisest thing I did back then was to create a list of scenes. It's an elastic document that expands and contracts as I note various details: title, subplots, action, problems, number of pages, a cumulative word count, etc.

Now, as I deal with those pesky time problems in the current rewrite, I've begun to nail down when events take place, noting them in the scene outline and adjusting them in the manuscript. I ran into several major timeline roadblocks in the second half of the story that I've slowly been untangling. I suppose I could go into detail for you, but that would be boring and could inadvertently give away plotting secrets.

The point is that taking the time to be organized has, I believe, streamlined the rewrite by making it easier to navigate quickly throughout the work and make the necessary updates.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


For the past month, I haven't looked at the third draft of BLUFF.

It's been simmering.

But last week, I read it straight through. In many ways, it's like seeing the story fresh for the first time.

There's a lot I like about it. A lot.

But there are weak places, too. Plenty of them.

I'd say the biggest improvement from draft two to draft three is the major structural rearranging I did. In addition, being able to flit back and forth among the various chapters really sped up and simplified the writing/rewriting process. (See previous posting.)

The story is still too spare, though.

A writing book I'm finding helpful is "Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction" by David Michael Kaplan (Story Press). There's even a brilliant chapter entitled "Adding What is Essential." It's just what I need.

The next step in the rewrite process, then, will be to read portion's of Kaplan's book as I continue to rewrite what I hope will be my second book.

Watch this space.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

From Brooding to Flitting

In my last entry, I wrote of "brooding" over the current structure of BLUFF (book two in my Lark Chadwick Series.) During last month's rewrite process, I had a great creative experience: I call it "flitting."

It starts with good organization.

In my computer, a new manuscript draft gets a new folder. Each chapter/scene gets its own sequentially-numbered slot along with a nickname so that at a birds-eye glance I have a visual cue as to what happens where. I also have a scene outline -- one page (it's become 6) where all the scenes are thumbnailed.

All the ponderous brooding and wholesale rearranging I did during the rewrite process paid off when I discovered "flitting."

Here's how it works:

In Flit Mode, I can decide to dip into the manuscript where ever I want, make the necessary changes, jump back to the scene overview to decide what needs to be worked out next. I don't have to get bogged down on tedious line-by-line edits (yet). For now, I simply flit all over the manuscript making repairs, smoothing, adding, fixing.

It feels great.

And I'm making progress (or am sufficiently deluded into believing that I am).

Of course, all you serious writers out there have been doing this -- or something way better -- for years, but for me it was a Eureka Moment I had to share.

Hope it helps.

Your thoughts?


The Rewrite Process

I feel that my approach to writing is different from what I hear from other writers. Some say, "The characters just take over the story." Others say they write in a stream of consciousness and things eventually come together.

None of that has ever happened to me.

Am I doing something wrong?

As a writer, I have to know where I'm going. That's not to say that I'm inflexible. I often make changes, but I just feel like I'm spinning my wheels and wasting time if I don't at least have a destination in mind.

Right now I'm in serious Rewrite Mode. A month ago, I finished the third draft of BLUFF and the going is slow.

In book one, FAST TRACK, my rewrite task was to whittle the manuscript down from the original 130,000-word mishmash to the lean 76,000-word version that was released in hardcover more than a year ago. (A trade paperback re-issue is in the works). But now, my problem is just the opposite: the structure is solid, but the ms is an anemic 56,000 words.

During the month or so it took me to revise the third draft, I brooded over a list of scenes I made that gives me an overview of the story, including key plot pivot points.

I did a LOT of brooding, almost to the point of being Nixonesque.

But I made progress. I rearranged some things, did a better job of camouflaging the villain, added tantalizing red herrings, and did a better job of playing up one of the scapegoat characters. It felt great, but when I did an actual word count, I'd only fattened things up by fewer than 10,000 words. I have to add another 15,000 before my agent will even take a serious look at it.

So, that's my dilemma: I have a solid story -- and it's getting better. I can feel it. But I have to find ways to add texture and depth in ways that aren't just padding, but actually reinforce the story.

So, the brooding will continue.

And I'll write, too, in hopes that something miraculous will happen as I type.

It'll be a step of faith.

I'll let you know what happens, and I'll look forward to any thoughts on creativity you might have.
To be continued......