When Is “Finished” Actually Finished?


Every project has an end in sight: completion. Whether I’m writing a novel or a song or making a walking stick from a piece of dead tree branch, I always have the same goal: making it the best it can be.

But when is “finished” actually finished?

When I start carving the bark off a dead piece of branch, I know I’ll also need to file the nodes as far down as I can. I can only saw them off so close to the branch itself, and sanding them down is tedious and sand paper-consuming.

Then I do some serious sanding with course sandpaper, making sure to round off the edges of the top of the  stick to make it safer. And sometimes having to file or sand the bottom end enough to fit a rubber furniture tip on.

Then comes sanding with fine sand paper. That doesn’t take much work, but if some of the bark proves uncarveable, the sanding can result in loosening some obnoxious “threads” of bark that take forever to get rid of.

A coating of linseed oil brings out the grain, and then two or three coats of polyurethane give it a lustrous shine. Even then, however, just when I think I’ve finished, I’m apt to find places I didn’t sand smoothly enough or “threads” that feel unpleasant to the touch.

So that means more sanding of something that had seemed complete. And redoing the linseed oil and polyurethane.

When is enough enough? Whenever a finished walking stick is finished, I guess. When there’s nothing left for me to do to make it better.

That’s true of my novel writing as well. Beginning novelists think they’ve done something really special when they complete their first draft, and they have. But if they think their books are anywhere close to finished from a publisher’s or reader’s point of view, they’re sadly naive.

It normally takes me twelve to twenty complete times of editing and revising that rough draft before I’m tempted to call it complete. The rule-of-thumb seems to be “don’t do it any more if the improvements are so minor no one can tell the difference.”

Writing novels that will be read by other authors as well as by regular readers is tough. Other authors are pickier readers. I certainly am.

Now that I’ve gotten into indy book publishing , I’ve found there’s even more to the problem of when finished is finished. I had to submit one recent manuscript to CreateSpace three or four times just to get the cover photo to look right. On other books, a reading of the proof copy may reveal a simple mistake or two that I can’t permit to be included in the final edition.

Even in the print version of my latest book, Wherefore Art Thou Ramon, after paying in succession for three proof copies, I discovered one blank page in my intended final copy. As tempted as I was to correct the file and resubmit it, that change might adversely affect some other page. And changing that one might affect another one.

So I bit the bullet. Enough would have to be enough.

Song writing has its own set of problems, because it’s hard to be sure I’ve correctly notated the music in Personal Composer software. But songs also have a different kind of completion problem. I wrote a song in 2010–“God’s Words.”

I made some changes to the words a few years ago, and right now I’m in what I hope are the finishing stages of adding a refrain to the song. It was complete before, but soon it will be even more complete.

I’ve added bridges or refrains to at least four or five completed songs during the past few years. Are they really complete now? Are they really finished?

I sure hope so.

Jesus knew his earthly mission–dying for mankind’s redemption–was complete when  he uttered, “It is finished” from the cross.

That’s the ultimate kind of completion because it doesn’t require anything more.

Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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The Rewards of Writing

If you read my post on Wednesday (“Why Write?”), you already understand that I don’t write for recognition or money. Those things aren’t important to me. Good thing. Neither is in sight.

Instead, I write because God has given me the talent and I want to please Him by using it. And by striving to keep improving. Good writers  are never entirely satisfied with what they’ve written. They must accept it as the best they could do at that stage of their careers. That’s what I have to do.

It’s hard to turn a manuscript loose, though, knowing it could be better. And admitting that I haven’t reached the point of knowing how to improve it.

So, in a very real sense, every book published, every manuscript completed is an imperfect work.

As I explained on Wednesday, my goal is to both bless and entertain through my writing. How can an imperfect work do that? That takes some work on God’s part. But how can I know I’ve succeeded–at least in God’s eyes and with Him working behind the scenes?

Certainly the number of volumes sold is an indication of the minimum number of lives one of my books has had the potential to touch. Not every person who buys a book reads it, though. Yet because people often share their books, the original reader may not be the only person to read a particular copy.

Feedback from readers is what counts the most. I have a number of faithful fans–Tom D and Sally W are two names that come to mind immediately–and most of the reviews The Devil and Pastor Gus receives on Amazon are not just good, but enthusiastic. That kind of feedback helps me feel my writing is accomplishing something. That it’s touching lives. That it’s both entertaining and blessing readers.

Just within the last week,  I’ve received unexpected feedback from two very different sources. The first came from a fellow writer who was reading The Devil and Pastor Gus. She wrote,

God is so amazing! I started reading your book and found myself amazed. I’m only on chapter 6 but so far it is exactly what I’m going through and why I’m on a sabbatical from writing.
The words you wrote about Gus’s IT touched me and clarified some of my own feelings about my writing ministry. I don’t know if that will hold true for the rest of the story but just reading those few chapters have helped.
I’m pretty sure God wanted me to read this book.
I don’t mind telling you that message moved me to tears.
Several days later, my wife and I went to Red Robin for lunch. The young lady who brought our food to the table recognized me. Not from a picture she’d seen on a book cover and not from seeing me at Red Robin before, even though she’d waited on us before.
She recognized me because her professor in a graduate psych class had referred to several of my blog posts in class and included my graphic head shot. That professor may not have had any idea who I was or even realized that I live in Richmond, but she found something sufficiently valuable on this blog to share with her students.
Those are two examples of the very special rewards I receive from writing.
Do you have hobbies or interests that provide special awards? How about sharing a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Why Write?

When I tell people I’m an author and have three published novels–I rarely bother to mention that I also have two self-published books of my shorter writing–they think it’s pretty nifty. I suppose the average person hasn’t met many authors, much less actual novelists. Even a writer friend at church who I think is very good at writing nonfiction admires my writing and admits he could never write a novel. He  doesn’t have the imagination.

Strangely enough, however, I don’t recall anyone ever asking me why I write. Of course, people who know I write Christian fiction probably assume my writing is an outgrowth of my faith. Although that’s accurate, there’s more to it than that.

It’s easy to dismiss the reasons for writing that don’t fit.

I don’t write for fame or even recognition. Yes, it MIGHT be nice to walk into a bookstore and have some shy individual approach me cautiously and ask, “Aren’t you…?” Then he struggles to remember which well-known writer I am.

No, that wouldn’t work for me. I’d rather be a nobody. Like Emily Dickinson. (If you don’t get this reference, look up the poem “I’m Nobody, Who Are You?”) My writings are more important than I am.

I don’t write for money, either. Yes, I received a decent advance for each of my first two novels, but sales never paid back those advances. Truth be known, because so much of book marketing falls on the shoulders of the author, The Devil and Pastor Gus has not only earned less than $2o in the two years it’s been out, whatever royalties it has earned have gone back to my publisher to help pay for their marketing efforts.

Nope, money’s never going to happen, and I’m just as happy. My wife and I are not overly materialistic, and I don’t want to become addicted to THINGS the way I was when I was younger. We’re not rich. Nowhere close to it. But we’re comfortable. We have what we need–everything we need–and a little bit more. God sees to that.

So why write?

God has given me writing talent and helped me to develop it. He’s also given me creativity and an imagination. Failing to use those gifts would be a slap in His face. He’s never led me to believe He wants me to become a success as the world sees it. But He has given me a number of spiritual insights I didn’t have when I was younger, and He seems to want me to express them through fiction. It’s as simple as that.

When I sign a book, I typically write, “I pray this book may both bless and entertain you.” I mean it.

When I started writing this post, I had a couple of other things I wanted to talk about, but I’m at a comfortable stopping place now. I’ll use my next post to talk about what I’m leaving out now.

What about you? Do you write? If so, why? If not, why not? Has God given you some other talent that you are using for Him? Or one you should be using for Him? How about leaving a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Pantser or Plotter?

I don’t usually talk about writing on this blog. Mostly because I doubt that many of you are writers or that I would have anything of value to contribute to your knowledge.

However, several times recently I’ve been asked a question about my WIP (work in progress), and I’ve ended up explaining the difference between pantsers and plotters and how that relates to my writing.

Here’s the nutshell version. A plotter outlines the whole novel–I’ve heard of authors who have fifty or sixty pages of details all written down in proper outline form. He or she knows exactly where the story is going and follows the outline carefully. It’s rare that the plotter deviates from the plan. The plotter doesn’t let his characters take over the story and do their own thing.

I’ve never been a strict plotter. I don’t outline–hated that in school, hate it even more now. But what I normally do–I say “normally” because that’s what I’ve done with my three published novels and my nine unpublished ones–is to create a list of bullet points, different things I know must happen in the story, and arrange and fit them within the format of a three-act play. I know which events cause other events to happen.

My bullet points fill anywhere from four to eight pages, and it usually takes me weeks to complete that document. I feel as if I don’t dare to start the actual writing until I’ve finished my bullet point mock-outline. At the same time, I’m so familiar with my overall story by then that I seldom–if ever–look at that document while doing the actual writing.

Occasionally I’ll let the characters take over for a short time, but I don’t let them lead me away from following my carefully chosen course.

“Pantsers” are people who write “by the seat of their pants.” They have an idea and they plunge right into writing their story. They have a lot of fun simply being creative and letting things happen as they may. Their first draft is apt to need a HUGE amount of revising because it’s apt to have some irrelevant rabbit holes–perhaps little side trails that don’t really contribute to the story–that need to be changed or eliminated. But boy! did they have fun writing that first draft.

I’ve always admired pantsers who end up with a good book, but I’ve never wanted to be one. I couldn’t be one. I have to know what’s going to happen when and how we get from point A to point B to point C. I’m too rational and too logical to just write and let the story evolve that way.

But something unexpected happened in working on my WIP. I’d come up with the idea for PLAY THE RIGHT GAME three or four years ago. I had an eight-page bullet point document and had even written the first chapter.

But then–for what reason I don’t recall–I left my plans for PLAY THE RIGHT GAME in my UNFINISHED NOVELS folder and moved on to something different.

Sometime last year I was at the point of needing to start a new novel. I looked through a list of ideas I maintain for possible future use and stopped at PLAY THE RIGHT GAME. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but it was almost as if God was saying, “This is the one. Go for it.”

I wasn’t about to argue with God, so I started working on it again. But I didn’t feel very enthusiastic. The original idea just didn’t turn me on. I tried to create a new bullet point document, but it just wasn’t coming. So I wrote a new Chapter One.

And oh! did that chapter change my thinking. I introduced a new character, one I’d expected to play a very minor role in the story, and realized she was going to be a major character. And I introduced two male characters, both of whom were major players.

Suddenly I had the potential for a double romance story with multiple conflicts over which woman would end up with which man.

I’ve written 65,000 words now out of an anticipated 80,000, and I’ve allowed my characters to do their own things and steer the story in a somewhat different direction that I’d intended originally. Somewhat different? Ha! This story is nothing at all like I’d originally intended.

And there’s no telling what twists and turns will take place within the final 15,000 words. But it will be interesting. Hopefully something my readers will love.

So for once in my life I’ve ignored logic and care and thrown caution to the wind and let my creative spirit take over. But even if PLAY THE RIGHT GAME proves highly successful, I sure hope God doesn’t lead me to write this way again.

But if He does, I’ll do my best to count on Him for my novels to flow the way He wants them to flow and to say the things He wants them to say.

What do you think? If you’re not a writer–or even if you are–would you be a plotter or a pantser? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

The First Seven Years of Retirement

ThreeBooks

When I retired seven years ago at the age of sixty-two, my intention was to become a full-time novelist. By that time I’d already written two or three novels. I hadn’t found an agent yet, however, and I hadn’t succeeded at getting anything published by a traditional publisher. The self-publishing of my first novel several years earlier had proven a good way to spend money, but not a good way to make a name for myself.

But at least I had time to read writing books by the dozen, attend writing conferences, and–most important–I had time to write. Although I kept cranking out more manuscripts, I wasn’t getting anywhere.

Two things changed that. James Scott Bell, a fine novelist in his own right and one of the best writing teachers around, looked at the first page or two of Found in Translation. “Roger,” he said, “this doesn’t even begin with a scene.” That led me to scrap the first fifty pages and write a new beginning. Had that not happened, who knows whether that manuscript would ever have been considered publishable.

And then Kimberly Shumate, who at that time was an editor at Harvest House, not only gave me a great deal of encouragement in spite of the fact that Harvest House couldn’t use any of my manuscripts but believed so strongly in Found in Translation that she went out and found an agent for me. Mr. Terry Burns, who has since retired, served nobly in that role until recently. And he got me the contracts with Barbour Publishing for my first two books.

I’ve since learned that even some of the most popular authors struggle to find publishers for the next book. Especially as a newbie, I found that to be true. Especially when Barbour discontinued their Young Adult line when I was 30,000 words into writing the third book in the series.

Thanks to friendships made at writing conferences, I was able to pitch The Devil and Pastor Gus to Eddie Jones of LPC (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). I agreed to make one basic change to my manuscript and to work with a wonderful editor to reduce it from 100,000 words to 80,000.

That was important because LPC uses POD (Print on Demand), which is a more expensive way to print, but prevents a publisher from having to make a gigantic outlay of money to print and house a certain number of copies that might or might not ever sell. My other option would have been to go with only an electronic book (Kindle, Nook, etc.).

The Devil and Pastor Gus came out in November of 2014.

I have completed nine yet-unpublished manuscripts. One spent two years under contract to a small publisher who failed to carry through with getting it published. Fortunately, a friend and editor at LPC loves that book and will do whatever she can to help.

But even if she succeeds, that would leave eight unpublished novel manuscripts–approximately 800,000 total words.

I’m working on another novel now, but it’s hard to keep going at times, knowing that only three out of a dozen novels have been published. I keep praying that God will either relight that spark or give me another idea–for something He would prefer for me to be writing.

When I started this post, I didn’t intend for it to be only about writing. Sorry about that. I’ll try to do a Part Two on the subject of my retirement next time, and I promise not to mention writing except in passing.

Are you retired? How do you spend your time productively? If you’re not retired, what do you hope to do for fulfillment once you do retire? Please leave a comment.

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

No End to Learning

When I graduated from Frostburg State College (now University), I was probably naive enough to think, “Good. No more going to school. No more classes. No more homework.” Thank goodness I wasn’t naive enough to think, “No more learning.” I recognized that learning would be a lifelong process. I just couldn’t anticipate how long my life would be or how much I’d have to learn between then and now.

Several months later I found myself in the classroom again, teaching tenth grade English; the next year they moved me down to ninth grade. Aware that the direction of my career depended on getting a Masters of Education, I spent parts of two summers taking two classes each year. My word! Why did I sign up for “20th Century Russian History”? Even though the Soviet Union was still intact at that time, the course was the kind of challenge I’ve rarely encountered since.

When I quit teaching at the end of December 1974 to take a State job, I was elated. No more spending my free time planning and correcting papers. And no need to finish that Masters program.

The State job involved a lot of paperwork, but virtually no classroom training. Okay!

My parents–amazing how perceptive they can be as we grow older–recognized that I wasn’t overly thrilled with what I was doing, and for some reason thought I might really enjoy computer programming. So they offered to pay for me to hop up the road an evening or two a week to Chesapeake College.

Even though I was back in school as a learner, my parents’ insight had been dead right. I LOVED programming and ended up with a 4.0 average on the 24 credits I took there, completing two certificate courses simultaneously.

No need to go into the problem of “how does one find work without experience and how does one get experience without working.” My good grades barely counted in the real world–except for showing my potential. I almost wished I was back in the classroom.

I started working as a computer programmer in September of 1984. Although I had to attend an occasional class, most of the learning I didn’t do on my own came from attending (and later teaching) sessions at a semi-annual computer users symposium called DECUS.. I’d made so much progress in my learning that I was also invited to teach a day-long class at Australia DECUS in Melbourne.

Wow!

Nothing seems to stay the same for long in life. As mainframe computing surrendered to networked personal computers, I was no longer the expert I’d once become. So I dug into web programming, but without the degree of success I’d experienced before.

And then in 2002 I was asked to join a different team. For a very important new piece of software we were to begin using, I attended a week of formal classes along with the rest of the team, but–probably for the first time in my life–my ability to learn what I needed to learn fell short of expectations. I didn’t catch on, and I did miserably at the job. So much so that my being downsized a year later was actually a relief.

What I’d learned more than anything else during that year was information technology was changing faster than I could keep up. I knew my career in that field was doomed. I ended up on the register at Target for three years until I was old enough to retire. Definitely no formal education needed for that job.

I wrote my first novel during those three years and discovered that I needed to begin the learning process all over again. 21st century novels weren’t like their predecessors, and graduating from college with an English major wasn’t the background I needed to write better.

So, for the past eight or ten years I’ve attended at least one writing conference yearly. Invaluable learning experiences. I’ve subscribed to and pored through Writers Digest, and I’ve amassed over a hundred books about writing.

Learning never ends.

One thing I’ve become especially conscious of is the fact that authors must always strive to do better with each successive book. That may not always involve learning some new writing technique–I’m not sure there is such a thing–but in relearning and applying things that may not have seemed relevant earlier.

And so I strive to make each book I write the best one yet.

What part has learning played in your life? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Which Would Be Worse–Blindness or Deafness?

I’m in pretty good health for a sixty-eight-year-old man who’ll turn sixty-nine in September. Although I have to take four or five different types of medicine just to keep my body in reasonably good working order, I’m probably not by myself on that.

I’ve had cataract surgery on both eyes, but I still have to wear glasses because of astigmatism. But at least my overall vision is better than it’s been in many years. So I’m not anticipating that I’ll ever go blind.

I’d hate to be without my hearing aids, no matter how unsatisfactory they are compared to “natural” hearing. But they are adequate, and I have no reason to anticipate going totally deaf, either.

So why have I chosen a topic like this one?

Perhaps you didn’t notice that I said I couldn’t anticipate going blind or becoming completely deaf. But I can’t say for sure that I won’t. And neither can you. Those things–like so many others in this earthly life–are beyond our control.

Comparing the loss of sight with the loss of hearing is almost like comparing apples and oranges, though. I take both of them for granted–probably equally for granted.

In a way, sight and hearing are two sides of the same coin. With my eyes I see my sweet wife, Kathleen. With my ears I hear her loving words. The same with our grown children and our grandchildren. How could someone easily choose between seeing the people he loves and being able to hear them?

It gets more complicated when I think about my normal activities.

Blindness wouldn’t hinder me from getting around at home once I got used to it, but while Kathleen is still young enough to have to work, I don’t know how I’d even make it to the nearby Sonic drive-in for my daily diet cherry limeade. Much less the various other places I need to go when Kathleen is normally not available.

I could learn to do my novel writing on a computer that’s designed for the blind, but it would take a whale of an adjustment to do things any differently from the way I’m accustomed to doing them now. And Personal Composer, the software I write my original songs down with, would be impossible to use without sight. Not even software that turned audible notes into notes on the page would be adequate.

If I were deaf, however, at least I could get around outside. But how would I communicate with the people I ran into? Even though deafness wouldn’t affect how I write, going to writers conferences and trying to interact with readers except electronically would be useless. Learning sign language at my age wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be a challenge I’d rather not face.

Writing songs and playing guitar around the house and at our church’s weekly nursing home ministry would be impossible without hearing. As would playing bass guitar on the praise team and singing in the church choir. Those are important ministries for me.

Oh, my! And those hundreds of CDs I could no longer listen to. And giving up the challenge of picking out new downloads each month from emusic.com.

Although we don’t watch TV now–we don’t even have rabbit ears on our TV set–we subscribe to Netflix and watch old TV shows. At least closed captioning would be available for some of those.

I suppose deafness would have advantages. Like not having to listen to all of that distracting noise in restaurants. Or the sound of other people’s loud car stereos. Or the grinding of the garbage truck doing its pre-dawn pickup at the Arby’s behind our home. Or any of a million other things I would gladly give up having to listen to.

I know I’m barely skimming the surface of how blindness and deafness would affect me. But if I’m forced to say that my writing is just slightly more important than my music, then blindness would be worse. Honestly, though, I’d hate to have to adjust to either problem.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Please leave a comment.

~*~

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go HERE for links to those places.
Tentative-Front-Cover
Best regards,
Roger