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So how did last week go for you? Did you sit down with your inner Jedi and have a little discussion about productivity and positivity? Did that trickle of consciousness turn into a river, burying you in a mound of first draft pages, and a clue to where your end goal actually resides?

If you scored some success with the five pages a day plan than “Hurrah!” for you, I am so feeling your energy and excitement. If not…go back to the Yoda video, figure out the difference between trying and doing, then start over. You have it in you; you know it, I know it…Hell your cat and dog know it from the amount of time you have spent bitching about it for years.

Never give up hope, get back to work, and put out your five today. Any work will begat better work; a short story you finish and hate this week might end up a big fat ruby in your treasure pouch come summer.

Finish it, put it away, and then come back later.

If there was one valuable thing I learned in college it was “finish it, put it away, and then come back later.” I don’t have a lot of positive things to say about my college experience; I waited too long to go back and missed out on all the positive social aspects of collegiate life. I did, however manage to meet two people that made a massive difference in my life as a writer and surprise, surprise…they were both English professors.

My initial experience with academia was not a success. A grizzled old man; who just happened to be the most respected member of the English department at the University of Cincinnati, Herr Professor made up his mind about my skills as a writer within the first two weeks. So convinced of his own opinion on my ability, he went so far as to pull me out of the class and away from the other students to politely let me know there was no chance in the world that I would ever be a real writer.

In his words, “It was time for me to start seeking out a new profession.”

This devastated me and to be completely honest was the main reason why I dropped out of college in 1996. What was the point of going through the motions trying to get a degree in a field that I had no capability to succeed in?

Then a strange thing happened…

Yes, I walked away from academia. Yes, I walked away from my dreams. Life was all I concerned myself; the working, partying, and general monotony of making it though every day filled the majority of my waking hours. To my surprise, despite being humiliated in front of my peers, despite having all my confidence ground under the boot heels of authority…I couldn’t put down the pen.

I still needed to tell stories.

Over the next decade I finished a novel (which was terrible but I still finished it!), and began to love the creative process again. By the time I made it back to college the second time, I had no illusions about what I was in for. I wasn’t there for old men to judge me for my dreams, I was there to get that piece of paper that could get me a job that might afford my family the time and finances we needed to be comfortable while writing. Didn’t quite work out the way I wanted it to, but that’s life right?

What I did find in those tiny classrooms was the man who would open the gates to my confidence reborn. I had finished all my required course load, including almost every class you could take in history, before facing off with the dreaded English classes. I literally broke out into a cold sweat and could feel the bile rising in my throat waiting for class to begin when the professor walked in.

He was a tall lanky guy with no pretensions and a splash of silvering blond hair, the very vision of a journeyman english teacher who worked wherever he could get the gig. He slung his beat up leather messenger satchel on the desk before taking a seat on its edge, engaging all of us with his sharp graying eyes and piercing stare.

As a writer I have had very few mentors. A million influences and muses have come & gone in my creative life but real mentors are rare. This man would become the most influential; this “ordinary” guy with his witty personality and straight from the cuff style brutal honesty would help me pick up the pieces of my shattered confidence and turn me around as a writer.

If it was crap, he told you; just like if it was a home run, he would give you respect. Most importantly, over the course of the next year he taught us the tools we needed to objectively create and edit, to give our work a break on the creative front, and made the concept of believing in ourselves a priority.

One theme he expounded on at least once a week was that most struggling writers make the same mistake, we do not look at our own work with objectivity.

This is why it is so important to put it away and come back to it.

Putting away your story after finishing the first draft in order to concentrate on something else before editing is like clearing ones palate. All the irritating plot holes, character flaws, and tongue tripping run on sentences are replaced with new problems, creative crises, and fantasy waiting to happen.

Once you have successfully moved on to the next project and enough time has passed (I have to wait at least a week before going back and looking at a first draft) then the hard part begins. The key to a great first draft edit is to “Read like a writer and then write like a reader”.

You have to separate yourself from the work after you finish and read your own work like someone else wrote it. If it bores you when you read through it or you trip over it in your mind, then you have identified things that need to be worked on.

There cannot be any feeling in this process; remember this is not your work anymore, you are the reader. It doesn’t matter that you spent two days trying to create this really snappy intro for a secondary character you think is the heart of the story. If your brain can’t wrap itself around what you wrote during that initial read through then its gotta go back to the forge and hammer.

Once you have identified the problems, let the reader in you solve those problem. It’s in there…You have read enough great stories, watched enough brilliant television & movies and played enough games to know what you want in a good tale. What you expect as a reader is exactly what your neighbor, buddy at work, and random cab driver in Savannah, Georgia wants.

Whoever buys your book and/or story has probably exposed themselves to the same stuff you have been reading and watching for years; they know the ending to IT by Stephen King sucked and got the goose pimple shivers the first time through Event Horizon, so trust your gut on the re-write.

You can smooth it out and make it come together but only as long as you are honest with yourself as a reader as well as a writer.

Personal Moment of Accomplishment Last Week: While working on S.P. I put together a working Table of Contents and was greeted by the warmest feeling of accomplishment. It almost looks like a real book!

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