That unexpected happening…

IMG_0140Something unexpected happened yesterday, and I’m kind of hoping that the same thing will do so again today. Of course, then it wouldn’t be unexpected. But enough of splitting hairs.

I have been struggling—for longer than I care to even think about—with the novel, Birchwood’s Secret, which I began years ago. It is to be my third book published, and a continuation of the lives of the two main characters, Rick and Karen Brenson, who performed so bravely in Black Wolf Lodge. That one came out in 2010, after many starts and stops along the way.

This current adventure in which Rick and Karen find themselves involved was actually begun long before Black Wolf Lodge. For whatever reasons, I simply wasn’t enthused about working on Birchwood’s Secret and pretty much abandoned it altogether. The rough outlines and ideas remained tucked away in the depths of a manilla folder, in the depths of purgatory in my writing file box. It was then that I plunged into writing Black Wolf, a couple of short stories, “Hobo Willie” and “Pinewood Farm,” and a very fun book titled The Good Luck Highway.

What was I going to work on next? About that time, November rolled around and NaNoWriMo reared its beckoning head and drew me in. And then it hit me that I had a wonderful opportunity to finally do something with all of the notes, scribblings, outlines, etc., still serving out their sentence in the confines of that manilla folder. Thus, the beginnings of my current work in progress began to come together.

At the end of the month, I had accumulated well over the 50,000 word target, but the work itself was scattered, unorganized, and full of problems too numerous to even mention here. Suffice it to say, I was once again ready to re-commit this whole thing to the darkness of the writing file box and some out-of-the-way abyss in a Scrivener Projects folder on my Mac.

But that didn’t happen. I actually went back to the beginning of the novel and began to rework it and attempt to develop it toward some kind of logical and satisfying conclusion. As before, though, that process didn’t go as I’d liked, and the frustration and inability to write much of anything grew and grew.

From the very beginning, I’ve always known what the main premise of the story is all about and who the main characters and the roles they’ll play are. It took me a very long time, however, to know how the thing would end. And that’s when yesterday’s “unexpected happening” happened!

Yesterday, as I try to do on most mornings, I sat down at my Mac and opened my Birchwood’s Secret Scrivener project and re-read what I’d written just a few days before. And for whatever reason, I suddenly knew that a couple of characters needed changed as to their roles in the story, and that another major character (main villain) would have to be worked in.

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Realizing this, it became clear in my mind how I could finally build things to the conclusion and outcome that has been eluding me for a long, long time. And I was able to crank out well over two-and-a-half hours worth of writing, the words seeming to flow as they hadn’t in such an extended stretch of time. And, to be honest, it was a wonderful feeling!

Now, as I wrap up this post, I will pour another cup of hot coffee, jump back to dear, old Birchwood’s Secret, and hope that yesterday’s magic shows itself once more.

As word counts rise, the story emerges!

My “window to the world” and the trusty MacBook, fired-up and rarin’ to go for another writing session…

52,660 and counting…

After posting this, I’ll be heading directly back to my Novel-in-Progress, Sandbar’s Secret, to pound out another 1200-or so words, as the days which remain for NaNoWriMo 2013 go fleetingly.

It has been an interesting November so far, and I’m eagerly anticipating the months ahead when I can actually return to the story and fix the many “holes” in the plot, develop strong conflicts, and sort out the roles for each of the characters.

As of this writing, it’s been a pretty simple matter to pile up enough words to surpass the 50,000 NaNoWriMo target. But the story is far from finished!

In many of the posts and pep “talks” I’ve enjoyed reading these past few weeks, there has been a common theme that, as we write, we should turn off our “inner editor” and not concern ourselves with re-writes and revisions—just write! Harvest those words and get them stored away!

And then there is usually something that happens after this harvesting: We discover  better ways to develop our plot, our characters, and our conflicts. This has been the case for me this time around as I began with an idea for the major plot of the story to be one thing, and one of the main characters as the shady one, perceived to be a villain.

As the words have hit the MacBook’s screen, though, the “big” plot idea has changed greatly, and that vile, pushy bad guy has turned out to be pretty cool and on the main character’s side in trying to solve the “big” mystery that is the whole point of the story.

The point here? My idea for this story has been lurking around for many years, and I’ve always known the event around which the story is centered would be a certain way, at a certain place in time. It has taken only a couple of weeks, however, for much of that to change—mainly because of the concentrated writing during NaNoWriMo.

Having already reached my goal of over 50,000 words, I feel as though I’m only getting started in the business of getting this novel off the ground. As the word count continues to grow, so will everything else about Sandbar’s Secret….CortlandWriter

Inspiration from the dental chair…

#nanowrimo fuel
#nanowrimo fuel (Photo credit: Tojosan)

I’ve read quite a lot lately about writers’ writing routines, methods of getting ideas worked into some kind of novel for NaNoWriMo, and the various places or moments where those ideas “pop up.” Like every other writer, I’m not unique in coming up with ideas for plots, characters, conflicts, resolutions, and the “happily-ever-after” ending in  the most unexpected times and places.

But perhaps this morning’s experience just may be the ultimate example of where ideas for my current novel-in-progress for NaNoWriMo flashed into my mind.

I spent well over an hour-and-a-half reclined in a surgical chair having the second part of a root canal completed. Novocaine is good, and maybe it has some magical power other than to numb the nerves, because all during the procedure I actually did some brainstorming about what the next moves for my protagonist would be. I also pretty much decided several other actions to put into play as things wind toward the big finish.

Everything I thought about—as I lay there with mouth “blocked” open and some kind of latex cover over most of my mouth, the endodontist scraping and filling and speaking in technical lingo of which I had no knowledge—seemed logical and much different from the original stuff I’d planned to use.

Staring up into the bright light above me, while the doctor and assistant worked me over (gently!), I told myself that for the new ideas to work, major rewriting would be in order. But that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo: Get the draft of at least 50,000 words completed by month’s end, and then the shaping, molding, fixing-up can begin after that. Kind of like what a root canal is supposed to do the affected tooth, I guess!

Happy writing, all. May your ideas arrive in any forms they may, even if it’s while you’re in a dental chair!…CortlandWriter

English: A diagram demonstrating endodontic th...
English: A diagram demonstrating endodontic therapy (colloquially known as a root canal) on unhealthy or injured tooth: first drilling and cleaning, then filing with an endofile, and finally adding the rubber filling and crown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NaNoWriMo…Rolling Through Week #1

For the past week, I have been firmly ensconced in this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and in my last post I wrote about all of the trials and tribulations that the month of November offers, causing me to claw and scrape to reach my target of 50,000 words by month’s end.

I am happy to report that as of now, I have nearly 21,000 words in the hopper, and I’m having fun firing up the MacBook very early each morning and wondering exactly in which direction my story is going to go.

ScrivenerI love the freedom that NaNoWriMo provides in not having to be concerned with editing and revising. Since I’m a stickler for correcting and editing and revising whenever I see a need in my writing, ignoring the inclination to do so is probably the toughest aspect of the month’s writing challenge for me. But this year, I’m finding it much easier to do so.

I think, too, that this year’s effort is enhanced by that wonderful program known as Scrivener. Not only does it allow me to write in large chunks, and then break them up into smaller chunks as needed, but it is ideal for keeping track of the Word Count for each writing session and the overall count for the entire project. I love writing in Composition Mode, without any other distractions, and having the Project Target indicator showing at the lower left-hand corner of the screen. As I crank out those words, the progress bar grows slowly and steadily, and the word totals click off, higher and higher. It was never this easy or relaxing using Word.

So, unless I hit that proverbial “wall” and simply fail to pound out the rest of the story by the deadline, I am pretty sure that I’m on course to exceed the 50,000 words by the end of the month, even though I will be cramped for regular writing time the last couple of weeks. That’s why I’m making a concerted effort in these first weeks of November to harvest as many words as I can. And, of course, it helps when I have a pretty good idea where I want my story to end up–even though just how it will do so is every day’s adventure!…CortlandWriter

Never the Easy Way!

october colors
October’s splendid colors on display at the cottage “up there” in Michigan…Helping to inspire the creative juices for NaNoWriMo in November

I never like to do things the easy way, it seems. My second “go” at NaNoWriMo is set to begin in less than two days, and I have managed to clutter my life with all sorts of things that need tending to—very soon!

Of course, I’m speaking about attempting to finish the revision of last year’s NaNoWriMo effort, The Bet, so that I won’t have that hanging over my head—forever on my mind—as the daily writing effort gears up all through a month that couldn’t be any worse for attempting such a challenge.

After all, I have had several months to be farther ahead with the revision/editing stuff, and having the thing ready to send off to Amazon for all of my eager readers to pounce upon and gobble up ravenously! Well…

Nevertheless, I’m close to having it to that stage and can putter and tinker and polish it some more at odd moments between now and the end of November, thus freeing my mind to focus on getting the next one going and developed through a month crammed with an annual weekend hunting trip to southern Illinois, our annual Thanksgiving family gathering here the week after, a dentist appointment, two book clubs and dinner, picking up the grandsons from school three days a week,  the older grandson’s basketball games every Saturday during the month, and the wife’s medical “procedure.”

Somewhere amidst all of these November items—plus the normal daily/weekly chores I tend to around here—I might be able to find time to crank out the minimum 50,000 words called for! Writing this now, I’m foreseeing many a late-night/early morning routine for the thirty days of November. Normally, I do my regular writing between 7 and 9 a.m. I have a feeling, though, that I’m in for many two-a-days in the month ahead.

The look of Scrivener–doing double duty in the month ahead!

I know that last year was equally as hectic and scheduled right to the brim, yet it didn’t seem so daunting. And then again, I wasn’t trying to finish a novel right up until the start of the new one. I guess I will get things worked out as things get going, and I hit my daily word count targets, but thinking about it all now seems a bit concerning.

But perhaps I will work best under cramped conditions and a calendar that is bursting at the seams. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s the perfect scenario for me to accomplish everything and succeed in this year’s NaNoWriMo. After all, I never do things the easy way…CortlandWriter

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)

Getting on with 2013…

OK…Lots to do now that the new year is fully underway.  The holiday decorations and lights have been removed and stowed away once more, the college bowl games are finished (I think!), and I have lots of items on my “to do” list that need my attention right away!


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


First off, I’m happy to say that I’m upgrading my skills to become a more productive and effective writer by learning a dynamic writing software program titled Scrivener. I had never heard of it before, but thanks to my involvement in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, and being a “winner” by achieving the 50,000 word total in writing a novel during that period, I was able to try out and purchase Scrivener for half the $45.00 price. And I have enrolled in an online course, taught by Gwen Hernandez, a Scrivener expert. The course begins February 19 and should provide me with the lessons and practice which I am hoping will make me a very proficient user of this powerful writing tool.


While the course is proceeding, I will be revising and editing my first draft created in NaNoWriMo using Scrivener. Should be a terrific learning and productive adventure, and by spring I should have book number two ready for publication and marketing.


Meanwhile, I am dedicating myself to being more consistent with my blog posts and staying current with the blogs I read and follow. Readers of this blog should find more frequent posts each week. I look forward to hearing from anyone who should happen upon these writings throughout the new year.


When not at work in Scrivener, I will be tackling the pile of books that patiently await me! Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Dummies will be a continuous source and trusty reference close at hand. I currently am in the early stages of Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck, another non-fiction story of strange pairings and intermingling of storylines. Killing Kennedy—The End of Camelot, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard will follow. Of course, there remains The Book Thief as soon as I can get to it. Needless to say, I’m in need of extra hours added to the normal days and nights to accomplish all of this stuff. It’s good to know, however, that I am not wanting for anything to do!


Cover of "Team of Rivals: The Political G...
Cover via Amazon


On another topic, I finally saw the movie Lincoln on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Finally finishing Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, on which most of the movie was based, I found the Spielberg film to be all that it was promoted to be. Not seeing many movies, I thrilled to the quality of this one as it was chock full of excellent performances (particularly by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln) and the sets and costuming were extraordinary! Anyone reading this who hasn’t yet seen the movie, please do so at some point. To truly appreciate the movie, it is worthwhile to be tuned in to the historic significance of the struggle that was featured in the film. That struggle, of course, was Lincoln’s efforts to get the 13th Amendment passed. Seeing 19th Century Washington politics at work was wonderful, especially when one realizes that so much toil and sweat and tears went into nearly every effort to accomplish something that would change history. Kind of makes one wonder if the same kinds of commitments are there in today’s political folks. We should only hope!

What kind of start has 2013 been for you? I’d love to hear your plans, goals, and hopes. Share them here. Until next time…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



Hey, December!

writing desk with medieval documents
writing desk with medieval documents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All right, November proved to be a month with nearly too much to handle, but I have survived!

Jumping into the interesting and challenging program called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where the challenge is to write a draft of a novel that has a minimum of 50,000 words by November 30, was just one of the items which kept me moving during the month. It required many long stretches of pounding out words at my desk here–words that needed to work for a story and not simply random stream of consciousness–and many chunks of minutes with which to hit that completed 50,000 word mark.

I’m happy to report that I exceeded 50,000 a bit and verified the word count with the NaNoWriMo folks on Thursday morning (one day early) and now have a pretty good first draft to work with–revising, re-writing, editing, proofing–during the next couple of months. I’m planning to make this my next published book. Stay tuned for further developments!

Had a weekend pheasant hunt not come into play in the middle of November, or a five-day Thanksgiving annual family event here in northern Illinois, or a three-day trip to Detroit for a football championship game and visit to daughter Laura’s, I probably wouldn’t have had to write over three thousand words at a stretch. But I’m beginning to believe that I still function best when that deadline is looming ever closer–much the way I operated through my 35-year teaching career. I don’t really recommend “seat-of-the-pants” functioning, but sometimes its the best–and only–way to get things done.

Now, I’m glad December is here and the novel challenge is complete and I was a winner. I have something on which to build a good book (I hope!) and can also now realize that the wife’s birthday is next week and I haven’t done one lick of shopping…not to mention that thing called Christmas hanging just a short hop away! Well, it seems as though I’m about to jump right back into things with time tight and a deadline staring me in the face. It never ends…CortlandWriter


The Week After…

English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...
English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


What a great Thanksgiving it was here at the old homestead! The food, of which there was plenty, was delicious and the friends and family who joined us for a few days were fun and enjoyed themselves. So, the cleanup has been ongoing the past couple of days, and I’ve spent a great amount of time trying to make up for lost writing time during the holiday. Today, already, I’ve written over 3,000 words and currently am around 36,000 words for my NaNoWriMo novel. It’s coming along, and it’s not too bad a read for a draft. Should be interesting as I push to finish it by Thursday.


I will check back in for an update as that time inches closer….CortlandWriter