‘Tis the season for “ideal” writing conditions…

English: A cold day in December!
English: A cold day in December! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s cold, and it’s good to be inside! Sage words, I know, but winter has definitely crept in and it’s the perfect time to get that revising/editing completed on the novel before too many more days fly off the calendar.

NaNoWriMo has come and gone, and I’ve read a lot of summaries and testimonials by fellow writers this past week regarding the levels of success attained during that most hectic November. And, for the most part, no one seems to feel as though they failed, even though they may not have reached the 50,000 word target. Most felt that the process of building a draft, albeit short of the “winning” word count, was what really mattered.

I stopped at just over 52,000 words, yet the novel is not complete. As those other writers did, I found the experience of getting a novel that far along to be worth every minute and hour I invested during November. Like them, I now have a solid first draft that needs a conclusion. But that’s for later this winter and spring. Again, that is the true beauty that is NaNoWriMo.

Right now, though, it’s time to get serious once again and put this year’s NaNo creation away–let it sleep and mellow–and knock the cobwebs off The Bet, my next novel to be published. This novel is the one I knocked out in NaNoWriMo 2012 and worked on finishing up over the summer and early fall. Now, I’m in the revising/editing/polishing phase and eager to be finished with it and have it ready for publication before the end of the year. And, as I’ve written about previously, I really have no other excuses now since November with all of its “interruptions” has fled the scene.

December, with the advent of cold and inclement weather, is certainly one of my favorite times to get work done. My ideal time to write/revise/edit/polish is when it’s mean outside and quiet and comfy inside, with calm and pleasant beautiful music in my ear buds. Even though the sun is shining brightly on this Saturday morning, the temperature is not going to climb out of the ‘teens, so it’s one of those “ideal” times to be inspired to work on the novel that patiently awaits in my Scrivener projects folder.

Scrivener (software)
Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the many positives that came from the month-long grind of NaNoWriMo is that there was no time to think about The Bet. It was forced into that “sleeping and mellowing” stage, away from my eyes, where I might have been tempted to jump back in to tinker with the plot, characters, or setting and distract me from work on this year’s NaNoWriMo novel.

But now that NaNoWriMo is finished, I have re-awakened the story after a month’s hiatus, and much of what I was growing weary with has taken on a fresh, new look, and I have already seen ways to make the whole novel better. Thus, I’m finding the rewriting/revising to actually be kind of fun for a change!

Now, all we need are some gray skies, some swirling snow, and a wonderful sense of shelter inside where it’s warm and comfy. That would be truly ideal writing weather! Without a doubt, I don’t think I’ll have to wait too long for that weather to arrive if current forecasts are correct. Can’t wait!

Anyone else feel the same way? Happy revising, all…CortlandWriter

Football weekend, beautiful weather, and off to see the Rocket Boys…

Another beautiful weekend has come and gone, and a good portion of it was spent doing what I enjoy doing during this glorious time of the year: watching football. From the grandsons’ flag football game Saturday morning, followed by games featuring Illinois, Northern Illinois, Ohio Sate, Alabama, and Sunday’s NFL offering of the Bears against the Lions, I pretty much got my fill of the sport. Of course, the crystal clear weather of which we’ve been blessed certainly provided a wonderful backdrop for it all. The little bit of rain we received Saturday night was perfect, too, as our yard and bushes are starting to complain that they’re getting awfully thirsty!

Now, Sunday night, I’ve mustered up enough ambition to open up the MacBook and get caught up on some writing and editing. I really need to get a lot finished this evening as tomorrow I will begin to get ready for an upcoming trip at the end of the week to beautiful Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. A friend and I are leaving very early Thursday morning and driving to Beckley, West Virginia, to attend the annual Rocket Boys’ Festival.

Homer H. Hickam: Rocket Boys
Homer H. Hickam: Rocket Boys (Photo credit: Wolf Gang)

For anyone unfamiliar with Rocket Boys (1998), it’s the book by Homer Hickam, Jr., and was later made into a popular movie, October Sky. The story surrounds Homer and his buddies growing up in the coal mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. Homer’s interest and love of rocketry leads to many memorable exploits of which he writes and brings to life in his award-winning book. And for nearly fifteen years, there has been a Rocket Boys’ Festival, most years in Coalwood but moved to Beckley in 2012.


Last February, when my wife and I were on one of her ancestry “field trips,” we found our way to Beckley and then over the rolling roads through hollers and over mountains to Coalwood. What we found there were the remains of the old mining town that Homer “Sonny” Hickam so vividly brought to life in his poignant book and the other two in his “Coalwood” series, The Coalwood Way (2000) and Sky of Stone (2002). It was during that brief passing-through visit that I decided I wanted to come back in October and attend the weekend festival, especially since Homer and three other Rocket Boys would be there. I have reserved tickets for the hour-long Writers’ Workshop on Friday evening, and I’m looking forward to hearing Homer speak, answer questions, and possibly even get to introduce myself to him. We have conversed many times via mail and Facebook, but there’s nothing like an in-person, face-to-face meeting.

Cover of "The Coalwood Way (The Coalwood ...

Thus, I have a suitcase to pack, as well as my laptop and items needed for writing “moments,” and a rental car to pick up Wednesday evening. We managed a pretty good deal on the car for a week, so we can save our own vehicles the wear-and-tear and keep the many miles off them. Because it will be an early wake up Thursday morning in order for me to meet my friend at 5 a.m., since he lives about an hour east of here, I suppose I should get some sleep these next few nights! That said, I will close this for now and spend an hour editing my novel-in-progress. I’m looking forward to posting from my hotel room in Beckley next weekend. I look forward to the experience….CortlandWriter

Cover of "Sky of Stone: A Memoir"

Draft Complete! Time to edit & revise…

The First Draft Of My Flickr Book
 (Photo credit: rich115)

It’s nearing the end of September and summer is “officially” over with, and I have finally reached the revision stage of my novel, The Bet. Since my last post, which was written soon after we closed up the cottage, put the intrepid pontoon in mothballs for the winter, and moved back into our humble little dwelling here in beautiful northern Illinois, I have managed to bring the first draft of my novel to an end. For better or worse, the thing is “done,” and now rests and awaits some major revising and editing—two things that I’m very much looking forward to.



I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about techniques and various tips for editing and revising that seem to work for those who have shared them on various blog sites. The one thing that each seems to have in common with all others is that the task of editing and revising is arduous, to say the least, and calls for close and careful reading and examination of each and every word and sentence in order to make the prose read so well that the reader will have no doubt about what is intended.



Without a doubt, it is paramount to make our characters come to life and behave in ways that are believable, realistic, and memorable. The same is true of settings, plot, and conflicts. Glancing back through my first draft, I’m not too disappointed with my characters and settings, but I do know that plot and conflict elements will need some heavy-duty revision to get my story standing up before it ever sees the light of publication. Even so, I’m confident that I’ve told an interesting story (one that is based on an actual experience I shared way back in the early 70s), and that with some concentrated efforts these next couple of weeks, I will have an even better tale to share with all those eager readers out there!



The journey of this story to where it sits at this writing began last November with the challenge of NaNoWriMo. During the busy month, I was able to reach my word goal, but the novel itself was far short of being complete. To bring it to completion by summer’s end was my goal, and I have done so. Typing THE END at the bottom of the final page of the final chapter was a refreshing thing—symbolic of so many good feelings of having reached the finish line at the end of the marathon, even though I know darned well that there remain oh, so many holes in the novel that will need that careful and critical revising and editing. But that’s the stage I’m about to step into and move it from dull and blah to something memorable and good (my personal goal).



At the conclusion of NaNoWriMo, because I reached the magic word count in time, I qualified for a discount on the writing software known as Scrivener. It has made all  the difference in my whole approach to writing now, and all of my writing (this blog included!) is done within Scrivener. It will be another busy journey these next few weeks as revising and editing take center stage, and I am eager to get started now and comforted to know that Scrivener will be right along with me, helping to get the job done.


Scrivener (software)
Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finding that lost discipline…

Have desk, will write
Have desk, will write (Photo credit: Bright Meadow)

I’ve been kicking myself lately because I have not been very disciplined in accomplishing my daily writing goals. Yeah, we’ve had some company here at the cottage, and there’s been a distraction here, a distraction there that have offered me convenient “outs” for my writing routine. But what it has come down to is I have simply been un-disciplined during the open time when I could be writing.


Our current guests were here for a couple of days at the beginning of the week, and I made a mental note that as soon as they were gone, I’d get back to the necessary “grindstone” and get that novel–The Bet–revised, edited, and ready for publication by the end of August. In fact, I even went as far as to declare that nothing else would take priority over my writing today–nothing! No trips to the laundromat, grocery store, pontoon cruises, Facebook, e-mail, etc. I would dedicate myself to spending time only on my Scrivener project, my novel.


And I must say, writing this after a full day’s worth of diligent writing, it was a wonderful–disciplined–day where I accomplished more than I anticipated. And though I probably won’t be able to emulate today’s output every day, I know that it can be done. All in all, I’m confident that my goal to have novel number two published by the end of August will probably be moved up a few weeks earlier. Now that’s a wonderful feeling!


I love writing here at the cottage by the lake, especially when I’m the only one here. Much can be accomplished–when there’s the motivation and the discipline. I haven’t thought much about that this summer, but today’s re-focusing on my writing was a good thing. And, of course, it didn’t hurt to have what I call a perfect writing morning be hanging around for most of the early part of the day.


Perfect writing morning? The summer rain and thunderstorms have been lurking about for the past few days and nights, and this morning’s dreary atmosphere was absolutely perfect to be shut up inside the cottage, be sitting at the old table, and typing away on the MacBook, writing and revising my novel. If it were possible to capture the whole atmosphere that was here most of the day, I would never have a problem being a disciplined writer….CortlandWriter


Macbook relaxation.
Macbook relaxation. (Photo credit: mlchetrit)

Learning Scrivener: It’s all good!

Scrivener 2.0
Scrivener 2.0 (Photo credit: mortsan)

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been immersed in learning the basics and the various whistles and bells of Scrivener, that flexible writing program that has become quite popular “out there” among folks who write for a living, for a hobby, or for just the fun of it! And, I must say, I’m enjoying every moment of it so far.

Each weekday morning, I log-in to the class site and download the lesson/tutorial that awaits and print out a hard copy. I then read and work through the ten pages or so and add the previously unknown skill to my base and then practice it within my current writing project—editing and revising my NaNoWriMo novel. I wasn’t too sure how that would all work, but I’ve learned how to import the Word document, split it in appropriate chapters or scenes, and add colorful icons and labels for easy reference. Of course, there’s much more that has made the writing and revising process so much easier. The cork board has become an important tool for helping me keep track of characters, plot elements, and what exactly is going on in a particular scene. And it’s all right there, easily manipulated and accessed!

I have always wanted to be a more organized writer, and Scrivener definitely allows for that. There is no more need to have an over abundance of files open and trying to work back and forth as one has to do in Word. In Scrivener there is a delightful Split Screen option that makes it so easy to look at one thing while working in another. And even though the text I’m working with was not created within Scrivener, it still is easy to change as needed.

I have even moved writing my blog posts into a Scrivener project. One more fantastic feature is the Composition Mode which allows me to shut out all other distractions. In this mode, it’s just a blank page where I can type my important words and thoughts, and a wonderful background scene of our lake cottage in winter so I’m always in the correct writing mood! The typewriter scrolling makes it so nice since I’m always in the center of the page. And while I crank out my blog posts, I can quickly look at the “floating” Target and the progress toward reaching the number of words I’ve set as the blog post’s “target.” Since I usually shoot for 500 words per post, I no longer have to guess or estimate just how many words I’ve written or need to add.

The class, Scrivener for Mac, is taught by Gwen Hernandez, who wrote the book Scrivener for Dummies. She has demonstrated great patience thus far in answering questions that we “students” invariably have. She is quite thorough and presents the concepts and functions of the program in a clear way. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve actually employed the majority of things taught these first couple of weeks, and I am eager to do the same with the remainder beginning tomorrow.

I would highly recommend this Scrivener program for anyone who is serious about creating fiction or non-fiction. It’s easy to get a copy of the program, and a free 30-day trial at that, by going to 

Scrivener (software)
Scrivener (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The price is $45 for the Mac version and $40 for Windows. Thanks to my efforts in this year’s NaNoWriMo, I got it for half price. And I haven’t looked back!

Getting past the tutorials…

Bookshelf2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


During the past several weeks, since the turn of the new year, I have been exploring and attempting to learn a very comprehensive writing software program named Scrivener. I downloaded the Trial Version after I had qualified as a “winner” in the month-long NaNoWriMo writing effort—a minimum 50,000 word novel by the end of November.

One of the perks for doing this was a 50% discount on the purchase price of Scrivener, a program I’d never heard of previously. Not bad! I could get the thing for just $22 and learn to use it effectively.


So far, I have been pretty pleased with my progress as I work through its various features, many of which I’ll probably use very rarely—if ever. But I’m hoping to gain a vast and wide understanding of all that comprises the program. Call me a drudge, but I am tackling this as a quest, perhaps to eventually know it so well that I could teach others how it works and how they can put it to use.


I have even enrolled in a Scrivener online class that begins on February 19th and have purchased the popular Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez, who, as it happens, will be the instructor for the class! She and I have exchanged comments and e-mails regarding Scrivener, and I can see already that she will be a very helpful and congenial teacher and sounding board for the many questions and issues I’m sure to have during the six-week run of the course. My goal is to finally get past the tutorials and other explanatory examples and be able to put Scrivener successfully to work for my writing projects.


At this writing, my un-edited, un-revised NaNoWriMo novel sits cooling its heels in Word (in which it was created), and I’m becoming very eager to import it into Scrivener so that I can do the real work on it in chunks and sections and then compile it all for the next step to publication. As I’m learning—and will learn more in the weeks ahead—Scrivener is an excellent tool for accomplishing this!


The company, Literature & Latte, has a winner on its hands with Scrivener! I can say this despite having only a limited bit of experience and understanding of it. But what little I have at this point, I feel awfully good about its potential and what it has to offer me. In fact, I’m writing this in Scrivener and seeming to grow with each piece of text I create.


I’m wondering what anyone else thinks about writing programs they use. Please share here. In the meantime, I’m discovering that it’s truly great getting past the tutorials!.…CortlandWriter


Birthdays and Holiday Chaos…

--- December 2006 ---
 (Photo credit: Live And Basic)


It’s a gray day, but not quite that kind of gray day, when there’s no chance for the sun to break through at any minute or the temperatures to climb up to near 40°. It’s just another one of those days, in a long string of days, that seem to be “just there!” Perhaps if I were currently working on my novel, which is “resting” at the moment from the intense month of November and NaNoWriMo, I might find this day to be one worth lots of accomplished writing.


Instead, I’ve spent the majority of the day—my wife’s birthday—doing little chores and helping her get her iPhone settings configured and up and running. That done, I was pleased that I could get it all done without creating any other glitches or problems. I must say, these iPhone things are pretty snappy!


She’s out with friends for her birthday lunch and then to do some other odds-and-ends and also pay a visit to her aunt in an assisted living residence not too far from here. That’s the kind of person my wife is, one who’d rather spend her day making others (especially a favorite aunt, her dad’s sister) feel good and cared for. She is definitely an inspiring force, and I’m damned lucky to have her along for this ride.


Tonight, we’ll go down to our son’s house and have a nice birthday dinner and cake with him and his wife and our two wonderful grandsons. I always kid my wife about her birthday falling so close to Christmas and, because of that, I can’t buy her a gift. Of course, that always is met with venomous stares, which always convey the message: That’s tough! Get over it and make sure there’s a birthday gift awaiting. I don’t care how close Christmas is!


And so it goes. I love this time of the year, not because of the necessity to go shopping (I hate it for the most part!) but because the complete chaos that begins swirling as soon as my wife’s birthday edges ever closer, colliding with all of the Christmas hub-bub. It all just adds to the boiling cauldron of the season!


Tonight will be good. Our grandsons will enjoy singing the birthday song and showering Grandma with the best wishes and for many more to come. We’ll enjoy a wonderful meal, followed by delicious cake and candles, and become fully immersed in a night of laughs and good times.


Candles spell out the traditional English birt...
Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I have enjoyed a brief “pause” in the writing life, but I’m now ready to get back to that tale I pounded out in November. I’m still not sure about the title, but I’m still liking the “working” title: The Bet, and I believe that it could work in the final product. Time will tell, but stay tuned for updates on the progress of the novel as it goes into rewriting, revising, editing, polishing, scrubbing, beating…


Now, I need to begin to get ready for the birthday dinner and the celebration that is sure to happen….CortlandWriter



Hitch-hiking Tale of Long Ago…

Sitting at the MacBook, desperately trying to make my current story “work,” I got to reminiscing  (as frequently happens as I gracefully age), and my old memory bank clicked in on one completely unrelated–and foolish–“adventure” that happened during the Christmas/New Years holiday back in 1972, when I was a student at Kent State. At the time, I was student teaching in Warren, Ohio, and living with a friend who was part owner of a bar. (The trouble that stemmed from that fact, is reserved for another post!) Suffice it to say now, all these years later, that I was damned lucky to have made it through my student teaching experience, let alone 35 years of a teaching career!

That being said, the memory involves what happened beginning the day after Christmas, in a cold and blowing snow, in northeast Ohio. A very rare and unheard of event was scheduled to take place in just a few days: Kent State’s Golden Flashes football team was actually going to play in a bowl game! And it was going to be in the sunny climes of Orlando, Florida! Anyone who is familiar with Kent State football certainly knows that even coming close to qualifying for any bowl game is as rare as members of Congress getting anything accomplished for the benefit of the people they represent. But in the fall of ’72, Kent State had some pretty good players: Jack Lambert, who went on to a Hall of Fame career as a Steeler; Nick Sabin, successful coach at many places. Plus, the Flashes’ coach at the time, Don James, would move on to big-time fame at the University of Washington. For whatever reason, Kent State simply had the players–and a good coach–and the unexpected happened.

And so it was that my friend and bar impresario came up with the idea for him and me to hitch-hike down to the Tangerine Bowl (predecessor to the Citrus Bowl) and enjoy some holiday fun and sun. Of course, I jumped at the chance, although I was a bit concerned about the distance (1,044 driving miles from Warren to Orlando…I checked it out just now!) But of course it would mean being away from my family for the holidays, and I knew that they would never be comfortable with the idea of me hitch-hiking.

With that thought in mind, I created a “tale” (LIE) that included several of us fraternity brothers traveling down to Florida in a rented RV and that we’d be back in plenty of time for the start of classes after the holidays. I was, after all, twenty-two years old and could make the decision. Call me wimpy, but I wanted–needed–my parents’ support. I’ve always felt a bit guilty and just a little sad, too, that I wasn’t able to be “up front” with them. But I think, over the years, they learned the truth about the whole adventure anyway. Well, I’m sure they don’t know all the details, because only my friend and I truly know those. And there’s material enough for a book that’s still working away in my mind. (Stay tuned for that one!)

We were ready to go early on that snowy December 26. As it happened, we were going to ride along with another friend who was returning to Duke University, stay overnight at his place, and then set out in hitch-hike mode the next morning. In my mind, I pictured us being just a hop-skip-jump to Florida. Wasn’t North Carolina just a blink away from the Sunshine State? I would learn just how far those hop-skip-jumps really were! Once it was just him and me out there on an entrance ramp to I-85, I realized that the “adventure” was on. Little did I know then that so many strange and curious things would come our way in the next twenty-four hours. Those things will be explained and discussed in the story I’m writing about our adventure.

Sitting in my cozy writing room today, thirty-nine years later, I have to smile and give a deep sigh of relief at the memory of things that seemed pretty frightening at the time: Getting picked up by a South Carolina State Trooper; seemingly freezing to death while standing alongside I-75 near the Atlanta airport in the wee hours; getting picked up by a drunk who promised us a place to stay in his small office in Macon, Georgia. Then he sobered up the farther he drove down the interstate and would eventually change his mind; delivering rural newspapers somewhere in the Georgia darkness, with some old guy in a rickety pickup, off the interstate completely! The bank of incidents we experienced is full–as I said before, stay tuned for the rest of the story!

For now, know that my friend and I made it there and back, with lots of unplanned side adventures.  And just why this particular “moment” in my many holiday memories should pop up now is a mystery this morning, especially since the weather is more November-like than late-December. It’s foggy, gray, snowless, and rather mild all over. Not even close to the cold and snow of that day long ago! It’s a most curious road I tread today. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, fellow travelers!…MLA

An Old Friend…

My current writing project is a collection of short stories and memoirs–many started and put aside years ago; some currently “under construction.” One idea that continues to bounce around in my head has to do with my many years spent building and living memories at Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox! As I fired up the MacBook earlier today, I began a “research journey” of things related to the park, surrounding spots, and people and events I enjoyed in person or through radio/TV broadcasts. My earliest memory of actually visiting Comiskey Park is somewhere in the late 50s. But it was the late-60s thru the 80s that hold the most memories, for better or worse.

I often wonder whatever happened to those fellow fans I’d wind up sitting beside out there in the left-field grandstands or center field bleachers, on hot summer days, drinking Meister Brau, Falstaff, or Budweiser. We were all in our early-20s and never really knew each other by names. In fact, very seldom did I ever see any of the same people more than one time. But there was always an undefined camaraderie, a mutual desire for White Sox success, flowing out there amongst us. And the later the game became, and the more beer we consumed, the greater that camaraderie was! It was, to say the very least, wonderful being home from college in the early 70s, spending summers at Comiskey Park so often and rooting for a team that was forever short-handed, seemingly short-changed, and always short on real talent! But there was nothing better than being one of those few fans who showed up for games–usually well before the starting time so we could take in batting practice basking in the cool atmosphere of old Comiskey! 

As I write this, and I really have nary a clue as to how I got onto this less than a week before Christmas, I think about so many things that take me back to those days and nights at 35th and Shields, along the Dan Ryan. Perhaps I’m somehow hoping someone will gift me with a Wayback Machine, allowing me to once again visit my dear, old friend. 

I can dream, can’t I? Down that road I go…MLA

Clock Set on Fast Mode…

Time Flies…

Monday night already. Where is the time going?

I’m beginning to sound like so many “old” folks I knew down through the years who were always totally amazed at the passing of time, in such a fleeting fashion, and never quite feeling too comfortable with the realization that it was literally “passing them by.” On the other hand, time always seemed to drag on and on, for the most part, when I was young and sitting in school, church, or some other place I really didn’t want to be. I guess the perspective one has determines just how time passes. Of course, none of this really matters because time passes at the same rate regardless of a person’s situation or condition.

Why all this talk about the passage of time? Perhaps now that I’m retired (4 years), I really have morphed into one of those old, stodgy folks who always seemed worried about the good years slipping away. Although I’m not too concerned about any “good years” flying out my window and leaving me in the lurch, it does seem like the days move from morning to night at a much faster clip. I know that is impossible, but I ponder it all the same. And, too, I am busily at work on my next writing project, and when I’m fully going at it full steam, the hours click off in fast mode, it seems. 

As this Christmas season gets going full tilt, I find myself taking more time to reflect on Christmases past: some that were wonderful; some that were rather disappointing for one reason or another. The central thing about all of those Christmases of yesteryears is family. So many of those relatives are gone now, or we just don’t stay in touch as we did when we were young. For better or worse, those memories drive home the point that having family around for  Christmas is a wonderful thing, if only in our memories. 

And now it’s only 5:30 in the evening as I write this, and it’s as dark as Egypt outside. Wasn’t it just a sunshine-filled morning only a few minutes ago? Oh, well…I keep writing this stuff and they’ll be calling for my lap robe, slippers, Preparation H, and a big bowl of Postum!  Time, time, time…MLA

“Time is making fools of us again.”  ~J.K. Rowling