Steve Dullum

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Odyssey of the Abecedarian – Part Two

Hello again.  If you’re reading this second installment of my first ever multi-part blog, then I must assume Part One left you stunned, awe-inspired, thrilled, and desperately wanting more.  I try not to make too many assumptions in life, but I think I’m safe in assuming my assumption is correct this time around.  I really can’t blame you.  I felt the same way after reading it, and I, too, wanted more.  Which is why there is now a Part Two for your reading pleasure.  I will once again do my very best to leave you breathless and wanting still more.  If I fail to do that, please write me and lie through your teeth. 

I can only accept enthusiastic acclaim.  I don’t think criticism of any kind—especially constructive—can ever provide any benefit or value whatsoever.  So, if after you finish reading this (and again, I’m making an assumption that you will, in fact, read to its conclusion) you have plenty of breath in reserve, and are in no way panting, gasping, or feeling even remotely lightheaded from lack of oxygen, please keep that to yourself and instead sing unto me a trumpeting chorus of accolades. 

So there I was with what soon developed into an opening paragraph, and by the end of that first night of writing, I had nearly a single page finished.  The main character, Alan, had climbed out of bed, stared at his reflection in the mirror (don’t most characters in books do that?), showered, dressed, and went downstairs into the kitchen.  Okay, certainly not great, but not bad, so now what?  Well, he should probably do something, thought I.  Hmm…he could drive into town!  Yes, good, good, keep it going. 

Since I’ve always had a fascination with California and also with mysterious coastal towns, I figured why not have the town be a small California coastal town?  Excellent.  Hey, thought I, he could stop and get gas on the way into town.  Yeah, this is getting good now.  Okay, he’s back on the road with his dog again, and now he’s driving through downtown.  The lights could turn red and he’d have to stop. Yes, that’s it.  I’m getting pretty excited at this point, because the story is really taking off. 

So Alan (his name was Glenn in the first couple drafts) is now at the stop lights.  I’m looking around the intersection thinking…hmm, I wonder what could happen next?  And then in my mind I see a girl standing at the crosswalk, and the first snippet of an idea pops into my head.  I won’t say what happens next, because if you haven’t read the book, I do know you’ve already added it to your Christmas 2018 wish list and I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Needless to say, I had a great time writing the scene from that moment forward, and I must confess to feeling a little cocky.  By the time I was done and moving on to the next chapter, I had a pretty good idea of the direction the novel might take. 

It took me a number of years to finish the first draft.  I mostly wrote from 7-9 p.m. maybe three nights a week.  It wasn’t much, and the pages accumulated at about the same rate as dust inside a vacuum sealed room, but I felt encouraged that I could write even a little bit somewhat consistently.  I’d light a candle on my monitor for mood, and despite sounding cheesy, it really did help relax and focus my mind on writing.  So I kept at it for a couple months at a time, slowly but steadily increasing the page count and finding new plot twists and characters along the way.  But then I’d hit a slump and not write for a week. 

Then one week would become two weeks, and soon months had gone by without doing any writing.  And then the doubt would creep in.  Would a real writer stop writing for six months? And why did I stop?  What brought that on?  Was I losing interest?  Was my creative well already dried up?  Was 75 pages the best I could do?  The guilt over stopping would start gnawing at me.  A few times I’d attempt to resume, only to stare at the screen for an hour and give up.  I think part of it was numerous bouts of unemployment after getting laid off from several IT jobs.  I had a bad string of luck there in my thirties.

During those periods, which usually lasted about three months, when I had all the time in the world to write, I couldn’t find the motivation to get a single word on the page.  I wouldn’t call it writer's block, just a malaise that weighs you down after weeks of having no real reason to get out of bed.  Yeah, being out of work sucks.  It’s a persistent anxiety that keeps you pacing the floor and imagining worst-case scenarios of financial destitution.  Physically and mentally, it just wears you down, and it’s not conducive for the creative juices, which are hard enough to squeeze out even when life’s outlook is good.   

But then I’d find another job, get back on my feet, and find the inspiration once again to try picking up where I’d left off, and those relatively brief periods of inactivity would come to an end.  I’d manage to sit down, light my candle (don’t use scented, as they can get the mind to wandering), and surprise myself with half a page of decent writing.  Then the next night I’d try again and manage to do another half page or so and my slump would be over and the excitement for what was now developing into a novel would spark again. 

It went on like that for a long while, but by the time I’d hit the 200 page milestone, I had no doubt I would finish it, even if another slump eventually found me.  I’d come too far to stop now.  I’d been bit by the writing bug, and for the first time I was allowing myself to dream of one day actually becoming a writer.  I had no false illusions by any stretch, and still don’t.  But I began wondering if writing was what I was meant to do (I’d considered selling acorns to squirrels, but after looking into it, I realized that squirrels can pretty much get them on their own for free).  And whether or not I ever had any success, it felt good knowing that perhaps I had a talent for something other than sucking air. 

Stay thirsty, my friends.

SD

Part Three coming soon (or when I get around to it)

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