I’m 168,000 words into my novel, Cottonwood

I really regret not keeping up with progress reports on Cottonwood over the time I’ve been working on it. The funny thing is that I until I checked I couldn’t even remember how long I’ve been working on the book. Now that I have checked I see it’s been a good long time since my first novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open came out in April of 2019.

Cottonwood is a sequel of sorts. No, I guess it’s just a plain old sequel. It takes the lives of the two main characters from the early 1970s in Pennsylvania all the way to the desert of California and the late 1970s. I didn’t really have another book with the same characters, or at least some of them, in mind when I was putting the finishing touches on JJM. But suddenly, when I was totally done with it, I realized that I wasn’t totally done with it.

I imagined the book continuing into the future, the future being nearly a decade later. I saw the book continuing into my own time and closer to some of my own places. So much of the first book was an educated guess. Oh sure, I’d been to Pennsylvania when I was a kid but I didn’t have any real memories of it, other than staying with my mom’s cousin in an ancient row house in Reading, Pennsylvania one summer when I was about 12. Worse, I’d never been to Wales or anywhere in Europe for that matter (still haven’t, in fact). That was a huge problem. I spent hours looking at maps, imagining how the sun rose and set in various parts of the country. I read about how much it cost to take a ship from New York to Wales and how long the voyage took. I came to know some of that stuff, as we know facts that are printed on the page, but I couldn’t know them as experiences.

They say to write what you know. It makes a kind of intuitive sense but the need to know breaks down quickly when you start to write. The important thing for me has been to know and understand my characters. From there, my book is only a measure of how well I can bring my imagination and my relationship with my characters together. I think that Cottonwood will be a better book than JJM, or at least I hope it will be. It’s certainly a longer one and it’s not quite done yet. I wanted Cottonwood to have a more leisurely quality than JJM but life over the last two and a half years got in the way, both for me and the main characters. Life up and took away some of the meandering feel that I had hoped for the book and replaced it with something more intense, and I guess that’s Ok. We all write, partly, to make a character come to life. I hope that Cottonwood will do more than keep the characters from JJM alive. I hope it will show them as they change and meet challenges in the world they exist in much as I try to do in my own.

Anyway, it’s been a long effort and I happy to have made as much progress as I have. I can see the end of Cottonwood coming and also the beginning that will follow it close behind.

Looking down on the setting for Cottonwood

I’m 168,000 words into my novel, Cottonwood

Best writing advice ever!

I’m in deep into the sequel to my first novel,  John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

The working title (and my bet the final title) of the sequel is Cottonwood.

I am dedicated to moving the narrative along at a rapid clip. I hike fast. I play golf fast. I speak fast and I write fast, until I take a break, which I did too often with JJM.

That’s a mistake I will not make again. In fact, I’ve put a serious time limit on writing the narrative to the sequel. I want to finish the narrative by the end of 2019. It’ll take another three to five months to edit and format the dang thing, so it’s really not all that fast compared to other writers.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the best writing advice I ever heard. The advice is in Doug Nichol’s 2016 film, California Typewriter and it came from the late Sam Shepard.

I’ll paraphrase the advice:

Never quit when you’re stuck. When you start up again you’ll still be stuck.

Now the funny thing is that I rarely consider myself to be struck. If I fail to work on my book it’s nearly always because I’ve been distracted by lesser things like work. But, there’s still a lot of wisdom and usefulness to what Shepard said. Since I heard his admonition I try to quit when I’m on a roll I know I can keep it going later. In fact, a lot of times the momentum of the roll is actually enhanced by the renewed energy that comes from taking a break to go on a hike or drink a fine IPA.

When I do nudge up against stuckness (to borrow a word made up by Robert Pirsig) I dedicate myself to the kind of written thrashing about that, if I’m lucky,  gets a few more words and hopefully good ideas onto the page. The small success of getting those kinds of difficult words down blunts the sharpness of feeling a little stuck and replaces it with the confidence that a way forward can be found with a bit more effort.

Anyway, think about what Sam said the next time you find yourself stuck.

 

 

Best writing advice ever!