Going through the motions

I wasn’t happy with yesterday’s blog post about my decision to leave Mercer. I started out with a different angle, but the first 300 words I wrote were mainly throat-clearing as I tried to discover my topic. By the time I realized what I wanted to get at, it was late, and I wanted to post something quickly so I could go to bed. As a result, I didn’t refine the entry as I would have liked. It could have been much more powerful, and made a great lead-in to the series of entries I want to do, about my experience as a member of a fundamentalist church. My next novel will be greatly informed by that experience, so it will be worthwhile to explore it. I feel like I can get a short story or two out of it, as well.

This second challenge iteration hasn’t been as good as the first. The freshness has worn off, and although I set my goal at 250 words per day, not 250 words per entry, it has amounted to the same thing, since I haven’t written my entries until later in the evening. If I’m going to hit 250 words, I have to do it in one entry.

I’ve got three entries left in this challenge, so I’m going to finish, come what may. But iteration three of this challenge will have no minimum word count. I also need to either write them early in the day, or write them a day ahead of when I want to publish them.

The Big Mistake

Transferring away from Mercer University was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.

I attended Mercer for four quarters beginning in the fall of 1985, after falling in love with the place in eleventh grade. I went into my first quarter with unreasonably high expectations, but somehow reality proved far better than my hopes, and it only got better over the course of the rest of the year. I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life there.

It couldn’t last. My mother had never been thrilled with me going away to school. She had wanted me to stay at home and go to UCF, and she never stopped pressuring me to come home. Mostly, that took the form of talking about how expensive Mercer was. I was being selfish. It was an enormous burden on my father. Eventually, I caved.

Not entirely. I wouldn’t go to UCF under any circumstances. I was planning a theater major at that point. Both Florida State University and University of South Florida had good theater programs, but I didn’t want to go to FSU, either. Too many of my high school classmates had gone to FSU—primarly the ones I disliked.

USF was enormous compared to Mercer, and I felt lost. I didn’t fit in with the chapter of my fraternity. I struggled to make friends outside of the fraternity. When the girl I had loved since tenth grade broke my heart, I had no one to lean on. The cherry on top was that I hated the theater program, so my ostensible reason for going there no longer applied.

I fell into a deep depression. I’d suffered from depression before, but never this profound. Food tasted like sand. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t laugh. I got by that first semester, but my grades went into free fall after that. When my GPA dropped so low that the school put me on probation, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pull it back up in time, and I dropped out.

If I had stayed at Mercer, I still would have had my heart broken, and I still would have been depressed, but being surrounded by good friends in a place I loved would have helped me recover. And without that profound depression, I wouldn’t have fallen into the clutches of the toxic faith that devoured the next six years of my life.

Critique Group

On Sunday, I attended my monthly critique group meeting. I’ve been part of this group since about 2011 or 2012, and it predates me by a couple of years at least. I’ve grown a lot as a writer thanks to the feedback I’ve received. Also thanks to the feedback I’ve given. Examining other writers’ work with a critical eye has helped me recognize some of the same problems in my own prose, and to stop making the same errors.

I haven’t grown as much as I could have. As I mentioned in the first post in this daily blog experiment, I have often been reluctant to take risks and show unpolished work to the group. As a result, I’ve robbed myself of opportunities by going months without a submission, or by submitting something I’d worked on so much that I’m reluctant to make changes when I do get feedback.

This month, I submitted a raw first draft: a short story of 1,300 words, warts and all. A character appeared in paragraph four, then vanished. Another character changes location from one paragraph to the next without covering the intervening space. (This is not a science fiction story.) The ending is simply the place where I stopped telling the story.

Previously, I would have held onto this story. Turning it in helped me realize that the internal dialogue that the protagonist carries on is not distracting, as I’d feared it would be. Had I revised the story before turning it in, I probably would have edited that element out. In fact, my group gave me suggestions for a stronger ending that relies on the fact of the that internal dialogue. And one of my partners shines when she slices my paragraphs to ribbons, and rewords and reorganizes them. I often don’t like the exact suggestions she makes—our writing styles are so vastly different—but the changes she makes often give me fresh perspective on how the words are recieved, and the next draft will be much stronger.

If I ever do manage to have a novel published, it will be a direct result of this group’s advice.

Scrivener 3.0 for Mac

Today, Literature and Latte released Scrivener 3.0 for Mac. Although there are many new features, the one that caught my eye has long been on my wish list: true paragraph styling. Previously, the RTF formatting was difficult to manage, and whenever I compiled a Scrivener project as a Word document, fixing the formatting so that I could use styles the way I’m accustomed to was tedious and cumbersome.

I created a document with each of the predefined paragraph styles, then compiled it as a Word .docx file. I was happy to see that each style came through as a true Word paragraph style, with Scrivener’s default “No Style” mapped to Word’s “Normal.” In a second test, I created a brand new style with a unique name; it showed up as expected in Word’s Style gallery when I compiled the document. Creating, modifying, and deleting styles are all simple tasks, and switching between paragraph styles is simple.

The new style system comes at a cost, though: Scrivener 3.0 files are not backwards-compatible with previous versions of Scrivener. Round-tripping a file between a Mac and a Windows PC now requires exporting the Scrivener 3 project as a Scrivener 2 project. That’s frustrating, but I imagine that the number of people using both Mac and PC to round-trip projects is very small. The website says that version 3.0 for Windows will be here next year, I’ll believe that when I see it. Literature and Latte’s track record in that regard isn’t promising. The original Windows version took forever to be released, as did the iOS version.

The new interface has a lighter, more modern look to it, but the overall layout is much the same as Scrivener 2.0. I’m disappointed that I still can’t customize the formatting buttons—I almost never user Underline, so that button is wasted real estate for me. Meanwhile, I use strikethrough frequently, and I’d like to add that button to the formatting bar.

That’s a small matter, though, since I can always use the shortcut key for strikethrough. The paragraph style system was the big selling point for me, and it does what I’d hoped it would. It’s a bummer that I can’t round-trip projects, but I will learn to live without that. The primary use case for that scenario is my writer’s notebook, and I can use my iPad in a pinch.

Whether Scrivener 3.0 is worth the upgrade price ($25 if you bought before August 20, 2017—newer users get it gratis) for users who don’t care about paragraph styles, I can’t say. But for me, it solves my biggest frustration with the product, so I’ll gladly shell out the money come next payday.

Struggling

I’ve struggled to write blog entries for the past few days. Although I haven’t skipped a day, the topics have been anodyne, simply a recounting of some aspect of my daily life. I suppose that’s OK. Everything can’t be a deep, soul-searching memoir or a reaction to the latest gun idiocy.

Speaking of which… you heard about the idiot who was showing off a pistol in church and ended up shooting himself and his wife? Nothing says “responsible gun owner” like ignoring all four of the basic rules of gun safety. But I digress.

Oddly, I feel bad about the daily life posts, as if I’m not giving my best. As though my day-to-day life is not worth writing about. The inner critic whispers, No one wants to read about that. It says the same thing when I delve into memoir, too. Who cares about your past? No one wants to hear it.

I do it anyway. I want to be able to draw on the events of my life in my fiction, so it’s important to capture moments that might seem inconsequential right now. It’s also valuable to explore events in my past with an eye toward understanding how they shaped me. That will lead to more robust characters in my stories.

Mostly, what’s important to me is the discipline of writing every day, and more importantly, sharing it every day. The only way I’ll ever feel comfortable writing honestly and openly is to keep doing it, even when it feels uncomfortable.

 

Yard Labor

We spent the morning doing basic yard work, which we had neglected more or less ever since Hurricane Irma. Areca palm fronds were hanging over the sidewalk, and where they weren’t, grass in the sidewalk cracks was ankle-high. I hadn’t mowed the lawn since the week *before* Irma, so it looked pretty ragged. And the walk leading to the house from the sidewalk also had weeds everywhere. The house was starting to look like it was abandoned.

So we clipped and trimmed and mowed and I used a shovel to get the weeds out of the cracks because we never, ever use herbicides. And then I swept the walks, and we loaded all the brush into the bed of the truck and took it up to the brush recycling site. Then we went to a nursery and picked up more flowers and milkweed for the front flowerbed, which got totally destroyed by Irma, and Carolyn spent time this afternoon putting in a new flower bed.

We used to have a guy who would come out on Saturday mornings and help with the upkeep of the yard. Sadly, he’s no longer available. That’s another reason things got so out of hand. But the main reason was that it was so damned hot for so damned long this year. It was hard enough just to walk to the car in the mornings. No chance I was going to get outside and work if I didn’t have to. Time to hire a regular lawn service, I think. If not during the winter, then by spring at the latest.

Bummed

 

I replaced the ROWDIES license plate on my truck today with a generic plate. It made me sad to take the old plate off. I used to enjoy being a fan so much, but the new owner ruined that experience for me. I never liked sports very much before I started following the Rowdies, But soccer felt different. It was exciting, it was fast-paced, it was fun to watch. It seemed like there was a better ratio of nerd:meathead than other sports. It was fun to sing with the supporter group. It was fun to cheer and make noise. I loved running into people at the tailgate, I loved going to Crowley’s after the game.

Little by little, it all vanished. I left the supporter group because of the pervasive sexism and the attitude on the part of the leadership at the time that something was wrong with me for objecting to it and trying to do something about it. The games became excruciating to watch when the current coach took over. Crowley’s closed down. Although that was unrelated to the team, the fact that I was introduced to the place because of soccer meant that the two were intertwined in my mind.

Watching soccer on television isn’t the same. I don’t get the same charge that I used to get being in a big crowd. Honestly, what I really liked was not the game itself, but the socializing. The regular party atmosphere. I think if you could tailgate before a play, I’d get season tickets to the theater.