So You Want to be a Working Class Writer? – Concrete Steps to Finish Your Project.

Been rummaging through old folders … This is something I’ve touched on before but it’s always good to remind yourself and update…

short novel picture

So you want to be a working class writer?

If you are reading this, I’m assuming you are working class and that you got this idea in the back of your head that you’d like to be a writer.

Let me tell you the only fucking way you can make it and trust me, you’ll need this because you’re not in the NY literary scene, or the Toronto literary scene or the London, UK literary scene.

You’re not interning at some big 5 publishing house hoping to get your first book deal at 28 with that beige fucking cover and the smoky letters on it. And if you are that person, this fucking post is not really meant for you. but if you are working class, you fucking know most of your time is spent on your job, getting food, getting gas, sleeping just enough at night and then getting up in the morning to start all over again.

The reality is this : our stories are probably more valid, useful, relevant or even important than anything the NY literary elite is throwing out there these days but we have to work five times smarter just to get them on paper. (Noticed, how I used the term “smarter” rather than “harder.”)

Luckily there are ways around this and I do believe I have enough experience now to share it.

1 – Find a job you can write from.

This sounds simple yet it’s not. There aren’t that many working class jobs where you actually get to write on the job (or around the job) and there are two ways you can get around this.

The first is you find a job where no one talks to you and it’s actually not that important. I mean shit like nighttime watchman or a machine operator where the operation doesn’t keep you disturbed every five minutes. I’ve worked shifts where we could squeeze in 20 minutes of down time on the hour and made those 20 minutes count. Most of the guys would go out for a smoke, I took notes on small pieces of paper and typed them back at home later.

I know there are jobs out there where there are plenty of work but also plenty of down time. Find one of them and stick to it.

Now I’m sure some will find this un-ethical or some shit well let me answer this : Faulkner did it all the fucking time. He wrote entire novels as the night shift guy in a power plant. So that’s good enough for me.

The other way you can work around your job is to be employed somewhere they give an hour for lunch. A lot of places only give you 30 minutes a day and it’s had to make something out of that, it really is. But an hour…you can work with an hour (and you’ll need to.)

So what I’ve been doing for the last 8 years (maybe more) Is that I’ll eat my lunch on my fifteen then run out of work as fast as possible on my lunch break and get writing right away. That’s how I made it through college and that’s now how I manage to write books.

2 – Split you’re writing time into hours of crunch time.

You’ll rarely ever get more than an hour at a time to work on something and you’ll need to make that hour count. (If you have kids, this is even more important!!!) I trained myself to shell out as many words as possible during that hour and during what I now call “crunch time” I can write 1000 to 1200 words on my lunch break.

And when I mean, hours, I mean, hours. Don’t expect writing days, you can’t afford it and it rarely ever happens anyways. Sometimes on a weekend or during your vacation, sure, but it’s not gonna be enough.

You’ll need the hours. You can squeeze in a lot of fucking “writing hours” during your week.

This brings us to No. 3

3 – It’s a numbers’ game.

I’ve talked about this before with many people: a novel is not that much work in terms of “man-hours” and if you’re working class, you know what the fuck a “productive-man-hour” is. If the management concept works for a construction crew, it can work for your novel too.

A full length super-commercial (Dan Brown type of shit) mystery novel is around 90 000 words. I aim to land around 75 000 words for an indie mystery which still mean I’ll write around 300 pages because I use a lot of dialogue.

If you counted it, that’s a maximum or 75 man-hours of production at 1000 words per hour to get that first draft out.

I count my own editing at 1=1 so I expect to spend another 75 hours just editing and polishing the story. Consider this like sanding a piece of wood to absolute perfection. That’s how I see it and that’s how you should see it too.

So you’re looking at 150 hours of production per novel before it’s ready to go out to publishers and editors. That’s it.

4 – How long is it going to take?

If you’re young and angry, you should shell out 6 writing sessions a week at 1h per session (sometimes you might squeeze in 2 a day on the weekends) but let’s keep it at 6 for the sake of life getting in the way.

That means you should have a first draft in about 12-15 weeks and a something ready to send to editors/publishers within 30 weeks. That’s more than a novel a year.

Now I understand that everyone’s situation differs. I’m a single dad on a shared custody, so my 6 sessions a week are down to 3, maaaaaybe 4 these days. I also take into account the fact that a lot of “writing” time now goes into writing proposals, business plans, outlines and blog-posts such as this one.

Still, that time management scheme allows me to write about a novel a year and leave some room for a side project.

4 – if you worry that you have nothing to say

You’re fucking working class. You get up in the morning and you beat traffic to go to work and weather every shitty comment or problem or issue or you build something out of your hands or fixing or fucking up and messing around and the guys are talking about this and that and the gals are talking about this and that. They’re telling jokes and stories and they’re happy or worried or messed up or looking for a fuck or a fight or a way out.

This is the stuff of life and it used to be the stuff of literature. I can’t help but feel it fell of the radar of the literary world for too long. What the fuck’s some intern at Penguin got to say about life that you’re not already living on a daily basis?

Go out there and write now. I gave you the roadmap, you just have to use it.

Take care,

 

Ian.

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Excerpt From “Montreal – A Novel”

Hey! After weeks of holidays crap and terrible writing, I felt like posting something that was actually good for a change. Started editing “Montreal” again. Here’s a short chapter about the impulse of art.

Chapter 14

 

It was in the way the veins diverged at the wrist and converged back at the thumb. There were small details like that that didn’t matter to the rest of the world but often became the absolute centre of attention for Eli. He looked at the black ink of his tattoos, not the colours, just the blacks, the outlines, the shading, the way it faded at certain places and didn’t at others. How the sun had faded the forearms over time and he still had 50 years to live.

He was just sitting on his mattress, the playlist was on and it was hip hop and electronic, instrumentals, doom…noise. New day, same shit: perfect music to create to.

He had been staring at things for almost an hour now, waiting for the inspiration to hit. Sometimes it took him that long to bubble out of his life. He listened to the words of great artist, prophets really, witnesses to human emotions after all. And he was trying to find that moment when creating almost because spiritual, or even beyond spiritual.

It was a bit much to say a street artist could be a witness to human existence, but wasn’t that the truth as well? He kept wondering, pondering, but most of all, he sat and he stared.

He looked at the tiny scars on his hands, the scratches of the past from handling to much of everyone else’g garbage and the flakes of paint he couldn’t get from underneath his nails anymore. He tried to catch the pulses under his skin. He looked for body hairs that were out of place or try to catch that tiny, barely noticeable twitch in his pinky.

Then he looked at the wall for inconsistencies in the paint job and the texture, looking for something that shouldn’t be there and even the cleanest of jobs will always have that one flaw that granted him hope for the universe.

It had yet to skin into his heart, the fact that he could actually make it as an artist. He knew it to be true, sure. He was aware of the rationale behind the thought process that lead the the recognition of the necessity of art and enjoyed it when his own brain entered these strings of words that sounded like everything an anything all at once. The mind could easily play with those and it allowed him to skid away from the common truth if he ever needed to, but the heart had to get on board now. He knew the technique, the function and the art and the aesthetics but the heart was always hesitant to fully embrace things.

His rational side made the cost-benefit calculations years earlier: he was fucked and broke anyways so why not go all in? It was always easier if he could thread a line that allowed him to bail on his true emotions.

His heart was scared no matter how he looked at it. It was so fucking weird to him how he had this inner fire, this insane self-confidence about what he was doing but had yet to dare to cash in and take in a bit of emotional pain on the way there.

So far it had all been external. He looked at society and spit back what he was seeing the best way he was seeing it. Bashing society was easy. It was necessary, but it was easy. His own skin wasn’t on the line. It was the same with art as it had been with women. What the fuck did you do when it was time to get serious?

He felt it just under there somewhere inside his chest. He was going to pry this shit open, dig into the the wounds and see if his own guts were worthy of attention for once.

He smiled at himself and almost moved. Almost! There was a song playing that was from Sage Francis’ Human the Death Dance. Going back to Rehab.

Eli sank himself back in the mattress, put the song on repeat. He allowed the melodic line to build up and take over his mind and the words flowed freely in a way only a masterful MC like Francis could ever manage. Eli must’ve listened to the whole song three or four times on a loop.

Soon, he was ready for his body and his mind to accept everything.  He had found it. He had found that singular instant in every artist’s life when they stared into nothing, absolutely nothing, and found a way into equanimity.

“Overstanding,” he had read once, “a specific form of understanding of the emotional knowledge of the universe connected to a rationale best represented in the art form known as Hip-Hop.”

He had just found Overstanding and finally allowed himself up from his mattress.

It came down to this in the end. His truth of the moment was the truth of someone else at any given time in the past. It will be the truth of dozens more at any given time in the future and that made art valid because truth was only a moment in time.

And he was ready to speak that way to the world now.

He tore open three canvases and he was going to paint something he knew was downright cheezy but he had to do it. He had three characters in his mind now and he had to commit them to canvas. That was just the way it was. He popped open cans and sharpies, opened his window for the fumes to get out and the cold air sifted in but he liked how it snapped his senses into focus. He put on his mask and started to paint.

The past. The present. The future.

It was simple enough, basic plot but complex emotions: the nameless girl from Braking it Down was going to go on the first canvas. She was cute but nothing fancy. He did his best to give her that hopeful drive around the eyes but there wasn’t much more going on there and maybe they were just from different worlds and that’s what he tried to capture her.

Then there was Alex in a short skirt with that Blue Jays jersey on in winter. Her natural kindness still unaffected by all the nihilists of the world and her natural curves that should make the envy of the entire world.

Then there was Mari.

Marianna who was perfect. Perfectly flawed, perfectly rich yet perfectly poor and perfectly torn between French and English and a place up the hill but also with both shoes down in the gutter and didn’t she feel exactly like Montreal in a way?

It was that uncommon vibe of hers that said, “fuck you I don’t need your approval” that was really so very rare in reality and he liked that.

He liked that a lot.

Over Half a Million Words and Counting – Resilience and the Creative Mind

I am about to announce my first “officially” published work, as I was lucky enough to team up with an up and coming indie of the publishing world, and I found myself thinking about the path that led me here.

Part of my intellectual process is to understand patterns very easily and part of my spiritual search is to understand the origin of such patterns (or paths) and their influence on the person I am today.

It is often said that any artist who’s “made it” had to fail time and time again in order to learn and grow. I can only say that the clichés are true as I was trying to figure out how many pages I had written and scrapped before getting to this point.

I did a pretty complete breakdown of everything I could think of between being a geek writing his own role-playing games when I was in fourth grade and looking into a chunk the huge market of mystery writing. (soon to be announced officially.)

I wrote

3 role-playing games – say 90 pages total

4 short stories in high school – say 20 pages total.

2 personal essays in junior college – 80 pages total.

5 “short” political dissertations – 200 pages total.

20 smaller college works – 8 to 12 pages – say 160 pages total.

(I’m not even gonna count all the weekly 2 to 7 pages assignments)

About 50 songs (music and/or lyrics) – 50 pages total

1 really bad script – 90 pages

1 really bad novel idea – 60 pages

2 full length plays – 120 pages total

1 short movie script – 6 pages

1 good full length movie script – 100 pages

3 novels : say 800 pages

1 self-made translation : 140 pages

2 poetry collections : 160 pages

4 years of curating texts for the MainLine Gala for Student Gala.

An unspecified amount of arts events and designs

Plus plans for a series of 5 graphic novels which I have yet to count…

2166 pages of “unsuccessful” or DIY writing to get here. At least 420 pages of which I literally scrapped. Most of it I used but have yet to pay out and some if it I actually look to make small amounts of money from.

I’m not even counting the letters, proposals and blog posts.

@250 words a page, that’s over half a million words I wrote before I got a book deal. (541 500 to be precise)

(With all the proposals, treatments, blog posts, letters, homework, submissions… I’m confident I’ve hit the million words by now… but let’s stick to manageable figures for now.)

So I guess the message is this, If you write every day, or even every week. If you started young because it felt natural to you, keep doing it. Half a million words and counting…that’s what it takes.

If that number scares you, you should probably do something else.

“Until you die or it dies in you” – Charles Bukowski.

Take care,

Ian

 

 

 

Music to Write to: My Summer 2014 Playlist

I’m in-between projects right now so I have time on my hands and not much to think about.

The first draft for “Grand Trunk and Shearer” is simmering for a week or two before I get into the re-writes.

I also have a short story in the works that’s almost done and that’s pretty much it.

As I am standing in the eye of the storm, getting ready for the next wave of self-and-not-so-self-inflicted deadlines, I needed to take a minute to recharge my creative juices.

And when I need that, I usually turn to music so I wanted to share with you my recent playlist. Of course, most of these are really old now, but good music ages well.

These songs are textured, atmospheric or have a very steady beat which has proven to get me writing faster. Depending on what mood the scene I’m working on requires, I just put one of these in loop and my brain gets to work like a steady locomotive on a railroad track.

In no particular order

National Anthem – Radiohead

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLQ9S5D_mxw

Mexican Grand Prix – Mogwai
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Jv64uhCIrU

Right Where it Belongs – Nine Inch Nails
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jAyfGzSaz0

Snow Angels – Mike Patton (this was cut out of The Place Beyond the Pines soundtrack and someone made a 10 minute loop out of it and put it on youtube. I find it amazing!!!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ew0TZk0DVks

The Blood of Thine Enemies – Jacob Bannon
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVeP4ACC2Qc

Truth – Bossk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi0jtNVs5w8

Aftermath – Tricky
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWNOzFnYCI4

Coma Black – Marylin Manson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDO2TrYdM70

This City – Plaid (Tekkonkinkreet Soundtrack)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmat3qAJ6Bk

Blue – Sage Francis
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LVMSDPNObE

That’s all for now.

Take care,

Ian