Tuesday, August 27, 2013

100 Writer's Project: In the Beginning

Introducing... Claudia Wagner!

My first novel, first draft almost finished. How did I get here? If I were Michener I would start--In the beginning, God. This blog post begins only a little later than that, but well before cell phones and the internet.

I used to write and submit poetry for publication. Acceptance letters along with the standard thank you and a promise of two copies of the issue in which my poem would be published thrilled me. But in those pre-cell-phone days, it cost a fortune to call all my friends and relatives long distance to tell them the good news. Not to mention the expense of buying additional copies of said issue and postage to send those copies to friends and relatives.

I’ve worked for a small-town daily newspaper. I’ve seen my by-line and my name in cutlines enough. But the idea of a book with my name on the spine sitting on a shelf in the Edmond Public Library seems much too grand. It shimmers above me in the night sky, brighter than the moon. A dream, a desire, a star too brilliant to look at and too distant to touch.

Knowing that a novel was beyond me, my book started out as a short story. I’ve written short fiction. I took a course in college. I understand how it works. So all I needed was a prompt of some kind and a deadline. My daughter provided the prompt and the deadline allowing me to choose the genre.

I ignored her prompt and chose murder and science fiction. And I went to work.

The deadline came and went, and the work proved to be as undisciplined as I. The story would not limit itself to short fiction. So I reconsidered the situation and decided to do a little book, a murder mystery that takes place on a colony in low orbit around the asteroid Ceres. But I needed help.

I happened to attend a monthly meeting of Oklahoma City Writers, Inc. at which William Bernhardt was doing a two hour presentation on novel writing. He talked about outlining. An instant turnoff since my research paper days too many years ago. But he made sense and showed how to plan the structure of my book. He was talking about the actual nuts and bolts of constructing a book-length story.

Three years plus several months, three of Bill Bernhardt’s intensive writing workshops plus a conference here and there, and I am coming around the last turn on this full-length murder mystery science fiction novel.

Bill said write every day. Four hours a day. If I had done that the book would have been finished long ago. Did I mention that I’m undisciplined? I heard somewhere that Stephen King says to write four hours a day and read eight hours a day. Or was that Mark Twain?  The eight hours reading I could go for, whoever said it.

There was a recommendation that I join a writers’ critique group for support and critical input. But that meant I had to also give support and critical input. I left every one of those meetings feeling bad because I had said harsh things to people as earnest about their writing as I was about mine. Tact is not one of my virtues. And have I mentioned lack of self-control?

Then somewhere else the advice was to just write it all the way through, do not do any editing until the story is complete. What a good rule. But mine is a murder mystery. As I wrote I discovered things that needed to appear earlier in the story. That required a rewrite of a scene. Editing? Even sitting down to begin the next writing session without looking at what I’d done the day before was impossible. Reading the work from the day before required minor or major changes. Did I mention that I tend to break rules even when I impose them myself?

What have I learned these past three-hundred, ten pages, and counting? Somewhere I heard that the definition of the verb to persevere is to begin again, and again, and again. No matter how many times my discipline fails, my control is lost, and my rules are broken, I can begin right now where I am. My book will be written and I will be launched into the night sky to find my name on the spine of a book in the Edmond Public Library. Just gotta finish this book first.

Claudia Wagner
I was born in Oklahoma. I learned to read under my mother’s ironing board. I learned the importance of stories around the dinner table during holidays and in the cellar during storms. I started writing to entertain my classmates. I continued to write because classes or work required it. Sometimes I wrote to understand my life. I have been office help, a welfare case worker, a fast foods manager, and a roustabout in the oil patch. I have also worked for the USDA. I’ve managed a veterinary clinic, helped care for my dying mother, and been a Page at the Edmond Library. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. I believe the future of humanity is as unlimited as the Universe. And I believe that we as a species are imaginative enough and brave enough to move beyond the Earth into that Universe.

For more from Claudia, check out her blog, The Bookwright.

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