in Career, Writing

Paperback Writer

Last week, I wrote about how I’m trying to focus on just one thing at a time in my professional life. Instead of tackling many projects at once — preventing me from giving my full attention to any of them — I’m instead devoting my attention to a single job. It makes me happier and more productive.

This new productivity method doesn’t keep me from dreaming, however. I still have lots of ideas on the backburner, and I’m eager to get started on each of them.

One idea that really has me excited is a return to writing fiction.

You see, I never set out to become a personal-finance writer. I stumbled into that career. And as much as I love it, there’s a part of me that still wants to write poetry and science fiction and literary short stories.

I wrote a lot of poetry during high school and college, but this urge has faded in adulthood. I think this is the last poem I wrote myself (in March 2005):

Like a Lion

The coming of Spring is a violent thing:
The tulips proclaim their riotous hues
While peas and then carrots have thrust their way through
the crust of the earth (swollen and muddy).

The apples and cherries and plums are now budding.
The camelias are flinging their petals en masse
Bright-colored habits for shaggy-haired grass.

The Earth’s in rebellion! Again has grown bold!
Has dethroned Old Winter, destroying his hold
On daylight and sunshine and the world out-of-doors.
Spring has arrived: Hear how she roars!

As my poetical self has diminished, a different sort of writer has emerged. I want to tell stories. For several years, I took writing classes intermittently at the local community college. As a result, I produced half a dozen short stories like this one [DOC file].

I used to think my writing sucked. I don’t think that anymore. I’ve been writing full-time for nearly a decade, and I’ve had a lot of practice. Sure, there’s more improvement to be had, but that’s why I’m constantly reading writing manuals, and that’s why I want to take another writing class when January rolls around.

This time, I want to try something different. This time, I want to write a novel. Perhaps a children’s novel.

I’ve always loved a certain type of book, one that describes the adventures (and/or misadventures) of a group of smart kids living in a small town. Examples include The Mad Scientists’ Club by Bertrand Brinley (holy cats! look at those Amazon reviews — 61 five-star, two four-star, and one three-star!), The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald (another five-star book at Amazon!), and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I think it’d be fun to tackle a similar world, although I’m still not clear on what sort of conflict/plot my story would involve. (I do have some characters and scenes in my head, though. And because Kim also grew up in a small town, I listen to her stories with great interest!)

So, my goal for 2014 is to return to writing fiction. I have a lot of other things that must get finished first. I have to finish my ebook. I have to start a digital magazine. I have to help Kim launch her website. I have to start a new website (or two) of my own. And I have to begin organizing a retreat with Harlan and Jim. But after all that? Yeah, I’m going to write a novel.

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  1. Novel writing is a psychological endeavour and I’ve dabbled in it for 10 years -managed to produce three unedited manuscripts in that time. Done the NANOWRIMO challenge to but never got up to 50k words in a month.
    It’s a solitary obsession and sometimes it’s hard to block out the noise.
    But nothing like plunging in….head first…go for it!

  2. The Great Brain, plus the Little Britches books are my favorite books of All Times. I always give them as gifts. You go for it! Joyce Maynard, famous child girl friend of JD Salinger, gives creative writing seminars on the west coast and in Guatemala. I have considered attending, but I strongly urge you to check them out.Joyce had a cover piece in the NYTimes Magazine when she was 18. I love nothing better than reading stories about kids that act like adults. (Why?) I also just found “The Bad Boy” by Henry Aldrich that was this precursor or model for Tom Sawyer. Ann

  3. I constantly struggle to find the right balance in the number of projects I have going.

    I just about have to have more than one, for two reasons:

    1) I find switching projects somewhat refreshing. I can work on fiction for a few hours, but then I have to switch to something else. At that point, though, I may well be able to be productive at non-fiction writing.

    2) If I get stuck on one project, and it’s my only one, then my productivity drops to zero until I manage to get unstuck.

    I still don’t manage this tension as well as I might. When to switch? When to push on? When to abandon a failed project altogether? I don’t know. If you can manage it, having just one does offer a simplicity that’s worth something.

  4. I absolutely *loved* the Great Brain series as a kid and loved sharing those stories with my sons when they were about 10. If that is your model for good writing for kids, you can’t go far wrong.

  5. that made me happy — I love the Great Brain and the Mad Scientist Club series. And I’ll throw in the Henry Reed books, too. Instead of comfort food, I go to these books for mental comfort when I’m sick in bed or overly stressed and need a good mind break. Good luck with your efforts – I hope I get a chance to read them someday soon.

  6. While at a local bookstore today in Seattle, I met an author who used to
    live in Portland. I asked her about places where new Portland writers might
    mingle with other writers and learn more about writing. She suggested
    several places that you may or may not have heard of: Writer’s Dojo, Attic
    Writers, Willamette Writers and Oregon Writer’s Colony.

    Good luck with your fiction writing–I look forward to reading your first
    novel!

  7. My favorite adventure book from childhood was My Side of the Mountain. I loved reading Great Brain out loud to my kids, and now I will have to check out The Mad Scientists’ Club books! Nice to hear you have chosen a focus for the year. Dan has a similar focus these days which he is balancing with his teaching time. Cheers to you!

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    […] but there’s always room for improvement. I learn tons every time I take a class. And since one of my goals for 2014 is to write a novel, I feel like I should take a class again […]