Present Circumstances

Under the present circumstances, it is difficult to find anything to write about that is as important as the present circumstances. Of course, at my age, my creative energy runs out all too soon anyway. I am not the only one. I subscribe to a blog by a writer who, once rather prolific, now seems to have run out of things to say.

But I have not given up. I am writing a book which, typically, is far too ambitious. It consists of a cycle of twelve stories, each of which requires enough world-building for a whole novel. My characters grow, a great problem is solved, and the ending of the cycle — when I eventually get to it — gives me chills.

But, even without the present circumstances, it becomes ever more difficult to find the energy each day to do a sketch, a rough draft, a developed draft, then a first, second and third draft, then a series of final readings, all for just one chapter out of five or seven for each story. It’s typical. But I don’t have the creative energy I used to.

I am an introvert, but I find that, oddly enough, I am motivated by prolonged, intense social interaction with a lot of different people at once. Like at a science fiction convention. Which I have not attended since early March. And probably won’t for a while, under the present circumstances.

But I have not given up. Every day I go a little further. Maybe only ten or twelve steps instead of thirty or fifty or a hundred. But every day is another ten or twelve steps closer to that ending which I so much want to reach. I’ll get there.

The Gift

I have been spending all my creative energy trying to finish my newest book, and get a cover, and get it published, and at last it is done. My final draft was listening to Voice Dream read it aloud to me, and catching far too many little problems I had missed on every previous reading. I did the cover myself this time, under Darcy’s supervision and with her advice. Formatting for 6×9 printing is easy, dealing with widows and orphans (including on the paragraph level) takes some time. Publishing for paper and digital was a bit tricky, since I hadn’t done it over a year, I use my own imprint, Ogden House, and have to deal with Bowker for the ISBN. Putting it on my book site (Allen Wold’s Books, should have been easier, but I hadn’t done that in over a year either, and it took a while to remember how to do it, and save it, and update it, and so on.

Writing a story, of whatever length, is one thing. Making it available to readers is quite another. But at last it is all done, and is life on Amazon Now I can get back to work on my next book.

Jack Vance

Jack Vance was the Guest of Honor at a convention in Virginia Beach many years ago. He was perfectly comfortable in small room parties — such as the one I was hosting — talking with people even if they weren’t fans. He influenced a lot of writers, and readers too, by his storytelling, characters, and plots. Something he told us that night would eventually change the way I wrote my first drafts.

The conversation was about word processors, and he explained that he had been reluctant to try them, since he tended to edit himself while typing. That’s not easy, especially if he did more than just fix typos. Revising a whole sentence meant x-ing it out and retyping it, which broke the stream of his creativity. Going back to revise anything before the current sentence meant retyping everything after that, sometimes the whole page. His internal editor was insistent.

He discovered a way of dealing with that. He would take a sheet of yellow legal paper, fold it in half top to bottom, turn it 90 degrees, and write across the lines, using four fountain pens: black, blue, green, and red. As he wrote, he concentrated on making colored patterns with the different inks. This distracted his internal editor completely, and liberated his unconscious creator, in a kind of automatic writing. When he finished his draft, his wife typed it all up, and then he could make his revisions.

He was afraid that, if he used a word processor, it would only give his internal editor more power. Someone suggested that he should try using it with the brightness turned down, until he couldn’t read the text well enough to edit, so that he could just stare into the depths of his story. After a bit of experimenting, he found that it worked. He didn’t need the pens any more, and his wife didn’t have to type it up. And editing a finished draft on a word processor is far, far easier than retyping all those revisions and corrections and changes scribbled on a typed page.

I still use longhand when working on a story, if I have to think carefully while creating. But most of the time I compose at the computer, especially if the story is alive in my head, and I need to get it all down. In my own version of Jack Vance’s solution, I turn away from the screen, stare into what my muse is showing me, and transcribe what I see there. 

I really like it when I can do that.

Part-Time Writers

I know people who write full time and make a living at it, but most writers have to have a day job, or other financial support, so that they can pay the bills and provide for their families. They write when they can — between patients, early in the morning, instead of TV — a police officer by day and a writer of romances by night, as it were. 

My day job is household management.  My wife has an outside job, to provide our living, and I stay home and run the house. It’s a good job, from six in the morning till eleven at night — though not straight through. I am not paid in money, but in kind: a place to live, a car to drive, food, clothes, books, movies, insurance, trips to conventions, and the computer. It’s what my mother earned in the fifties, while my father earned his living at the advertising agency. 

My day job is usually flexible. I can choose when to do what needs to be done, and I’m able to write when the time is best for me, and for as long as I want, my muse permitting. 

Like so many writers, I write part-time, but a writer is what I am. My day job is just what I do for a living.

Another Form of Success

I know a few writers who don’t depend on traditional publication. They write what they want, have lots of fans, and know how to please them as well as themselves. One or two make a living at it without the need for other employment.

Those who support themselves have to work quickly, but they have the skills. Their imaginations are impressive. They pretty much do their own editing, and even distribution. They all have to produce marketable works. And they have to know how to promote. Not everybody can do all that.

Those who can write good stories. They have their own styles. Their characters are sympathetic and believable. The plots make sense and are frequently surprising. The situations and settings are interesting. The stories are internally consistent. And the endings leave you wanting more.

These few writers may not have the sales numbers of those who are traditionally published, but they are real writers by anybody’s definition. They enjoy another form of success. And I enjoy their company.


Many writers have said that they love writing, but that they hate editing and revising. I’ve never felt that way. 

Writing is original creation. It’s hard work, and it’s exciting to see something grow out of nothing. Editing is looking at what you’ve made, realizing that it’s all a jumble, and doing your best to turn it into a story other people will want to read.

But it must be done. If you spend all your time just making first drafts of new stuff, nobody else will read it, or want to, and neither will you after a year or so. You need to take up a different set of tools, and make something good out of it.

There are a few writers who have created only a sketch or rough or first draft, then turned it over to a collaborator to finish it, and to then do the editing and revision and correction and polish. And it works, to the benefit and satisfaction of both. But I would never do that. Nobody could make the story be what I want it to be.

It is hard work, dealing with the wrongness, the mistakes, the holes in the plot, the inconsistencies, the continuity errors, the wrong words, the — hell, the junk and garbage. But I want to get chills when I read that final draft. It tells me that what I’ve done has been worth my time. So I do all that hard work until it really feels right.

It takes more time and effort than raw creation does. But every draft makes the story a little better, and after a while it comes together, and when it does, and I can visualize it, feel it, know the characters as people, share the emotions, get caught up with the flow, and then I get chills. Even if I reread it the next day. I get an immense feeling of satisfaction.

The story I’ve been working on recently gives me lots of opportunities to find satisfaction. Lots. But that’s okay. More chills every day. And as each page and scene and chapter finally comes all together, I know that I will have created a reality that other people can experience. And that makes it all worth while.

The Idea File

I used to hear writers complain about the people who ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been asked that, but not so much any more. Maybe it’s because the people I associate with, even if they aren’t writers, already know a version of the real answer. It’s not the snide put-off: There’s a shop in Poughkeepsie where, for ten dollars, you’ll get a list of five good story ideas, or its variations.

The real answers are different for each writer, but many of them are something like: It’s not where do I find them, it’s choosing the best one at the moment, out of all of those in my head. It’s recognizing a good idea when it comes along, because of the way it resonates, the way it won’t leave me alone, not because it’s clever.

I knew someone at college who had a card file of ideas. He had five of those green library boxes with drawers, which could each hold five hundred cards. I don’t see many of those any more either. He was so proud of them. Every time he got a story idea, he wrote it down on a card, with a key word at the top, and filed it away.

I don’t know how many idea cards he actually had, surely not as many as twenty five hundred. But he just hadn’t gotten around to actually writing a story yet. Too many ideas, not enough story.

Ideas come to me all the time. Most of them I forget about at once. Every so often, an idea just won’t go away. That one I write down so I can stop thinking about it. I have a few of those somewhere. But sometimes, an idea will grab me so hard, that I have to actually sit down and start developing the story right then, even if I’m already working on one. That happens only once every couple-three years or so. 

I am working on three books at the moment, code named The Empty House, Star Kings, and Soul Stone. When I run out of steam on one of them, I switch to another. I’m making progress on all three. 

Who needs another idea when you’re writing three novels simultaneously? I have all I can deal with at the moment.

A Sort of Success

I’m a storyteller. I am full of stories, usually novel length, that I want to write, for myself and for other people. I have published some of these the traditional way, but as I grew to know myself better, I became less marketable. My stories (novels) were too short, or too long, or with no clear genre, or too slow to start, or whatever, and checking a publisher’s guidelines suggested, too many times, that I shouldn’t even submit. Unless I twisted the story to suit what they wanted. Not what I wanted. 

I had stories that I really, really wanted to see in print, but unless I forced them to conform to editorial demands, — or, really, marketing department demands — then they would never get out there. One time it took three years for an editor to reject a novel. I was in my sixties then, and just didn’t have time for three-year rejections.

So I gave up traditional publishing — they didn’t want me anyway — and decided to learn how to publish for myself. Long slow stories, character growth and development, something between fantasy and horror and science fiction and real life.

I’ve sold a few. I’ll never be rich and famous. But I have fans, who really like my work, and who want more. So, I guess, in a strange way, I am a sort of success after all.

Every Book is Different

Every book is different. Not only the stories, the plots, the mood and tone, but even my working methods are different. Instead of sketching and drafting the whole novel, then going back to develop, simplify, tighten, expand, check continuity, consistency, and completeness, all the way through, then revision and corrections and polishes, as I usually do, this time I am hammering out each chapter of Soul Stone one at a time, every step up to a good clean draft. And I’m editing and revising and checking continuity as I write, instead of doing a clean pass all the way through. This is so different from the way I usually work, and I don’t know why I should be doing it this way.

But every book is different, in construction, form, atmosphere, demands, and even methods, as in this case. I have learned, the hard way, to work as my muse suggests, not according to somebody’s principles, even my own. This forging the story, chapter by chapter, is what’s working for me now. If I try to plan ahead (I do have an idea of what the ending is about — more or less), then I go off track, or stop cold, and can only throw those plans and pages away. And if I move ahead without finishing a chapter, when I go back to it I make changes that invalidate parts or all of the chapter following. For this book, forging this way works all the time.

One story at a time for Star Kings. One story-chapter at a time for The Empty House. Maybe I’m just evolving.

It’s been a while …

I have not been posting lately. I have been deep in my current project, working title Soul Stone, and by the time I quit for the day, I have no creative energy left.

Writing a blog post is not something I do ad hoc, off the cuff, one draft then post. I put as much effort into it, word for word, as I do into my stories: Sketch, developed rough, clean draft, revisions and edits, lots of polish. I try to devote Saturday mornings to it, but trips, health, social commitments, family obligations, demands of the current novel, and real life have been keeping me from it.

I don’t have as much creative energy as I used to, even ten years ago, and as I get older, there’s less and less. I start about 6:30 in the morning. If I’m lucky, I can do some work after lunch (which is at about 11:00). More usually, I stop just before lunch. Some days I run out of steam long before that. Some Saturdays I don’t have the energy to even put a final polish on a post I’ve already written.

My stories are so important to me that, even when I can no longer write, they churn away in my mind, in the back of my head, and I have little interest in anything else. So this is not an excuse, it is just by way of explanation. I have not forgotten. I hope to have something more interesting to say next time.