I think there's a zone, and I think I'm in it.

Yes, I've been very, very good about going to the gym. My next-door-neighbor Greg and I have been religious about our lifting schedule since I got back from the Bay: for four days, we go through the lifting program set up by our football coach, spending ten to thirty minutes after the lifting session doing cardio work (the elliptical for me, the stairmaster for Greg). We then take two days off, one of the "off" days being used for an additional cardio workout, and then we start the next week. And it's definitely helping. The scale's not moving much, but I'm putting on muscle and finding there's more room in the belly of my clothing, so I'm happy.

But that's not the zone I mean. I feel like I'm in a writing zone.

I decided to take the month of August off from a couple of my usual pastimes. One of them is my long-standing habit of contributing to online discussions in the Forum at, still the best $8.00 a month you'll ever spend for lively and intelligent discussion of books and book-related topics. But because I'm a fast typer with opinions on a wide variety of subjects, I spend a LOT of time typing up comments there.

The same is true of Inside Carolina, the forum for UNC fans, where I can easily be sucked into an argument in topics ranging from whether Derrick Phelps or Ed Cota was the better point guard (Phelps--Ed was a great passer who fed Vince Carter a career's worth of highlight-reel dunks, but he was a defensive liability; Derrick was a more complete player, as well as a shut-down defender who led UNC to a national title) to whether it's true that evolution is, as one poster claimed, a "psuedo-science."

With such opportunities for practicing my composition skills available, it's not surprising that I do a lot of writing at both. The problem is that when I'm doing it in an online forum, I'm not doing it for myself. Not that it was the only thing keeping me from writing. I've had an incredibly busy summer, as you may have noticed, and between the WFR course, the trip planning, and the actual trip to San Francisco and back, I had gotten absolutely no writing done during June and the first part of July. But for a week after I returned, still mildly jet-lagged, I wrote nothing that wasn't posted in an online forum. Some of it was fun, and a bit of it was probably even thoughtful, but a lot of it, in the immortal words of Truman Capote, was just typing.

In consequence, I decided to take a little time away from the forums (yes, I know, the proper plural is fora; the proper plural for octopus is octopodes, but you don't hear that one too often, either.) and concentrate on using my summer to do what I can't use my school year to do, i.e. write for myself, rather than grade other people's writing. Once school starts, I'll be more than happy to spend off hours chatting online to keep myself sane, but if the summer's not going to be my creative outlet, I'm not going to have one.

I've had an idea for a fantasy story kicking around in my head for a few years now, but I couldn't quite decide how it ought to be written--as a full-length novel, as a comic book series, as a novella, I just didn't know. I had the three main characters and the basic elements of the plot, but not the structure or the approach. It started out under the title "Eroica," after my favorite Beethoven symphony (today--ask me next week and it might be no. 9 or the Pastorale), but when I sat down to assemble a few notes about the characters and plot, I altered the title to the perhaps-less-pretentious "Student Exchange."

And on August 1, I sat down with my notes--about 1500 words' worth--and started writing it as a young-adult novel.

In November of every year, thousands of people participate in NaNoWriMo--National Novel Writing Month, an exercise in which a participant completes a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Fifty K is a short novel, but a substantial work of creative commitment--The Verb 'To Bird' was about 86,000 words--and I figured that a NaNoWriMo pace of 1667 words per day was a good mark to shoot for.

As of last night, August 9th, the manuscript of Student Exchange stands at 27,800 words. So I'm averaging not quite twice the pace I was hoping to manage. And most of it is good stuff, if my own judgment and Kelly's occasional comments are to be trusted. I keep planning to wrap up for the day, then looking back at a scene and tinkering, and then suddenly having a new scene explode out of me. I hadn't planned to have Dennis and Jude menaced by skinheads or sent on a shopping spree, but the scenes just happened that way. I even feel like I'm mixing dialogue with action in a reasonable balance, which is not something I often do. (Hint for anyone who's ever talked with me: which do I do more, talk or act?) But whatever is happening, it's happening fast, and it seems to be happening well.

I don't know that I have any call to imitate Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and yell "Hibachi!" every time I let a shot fly, but if I'm really in that kind of zone, I might have a book to sell by Labor Day. Here's hoping.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 10, 2007 3:42 PM.

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