Saturday, May 5, 2012

Let The Past Be The Past.

It was absolutely gorgeous here in the Cuse Friday night. Mid-70s, sunny, not much humidity....just one of those great spring days that make you wish school ended in early May as opposed to June. After dinner, the family and I sat down on the back deck. Now, I live in the city. Granted Syracuse isn't NY, Chicago or anything like that, but I do want to clarify that I actually live in the city....not the Syracuse area. I have a small house and a small yard, but I have a very nice back deck that faces the middle school that is practically my backyard. We don't use the deck as much as we should, but last night, we decided to sit on the deck. I brought my Kindle out on the deck and sat watching my daughter riding her bike under my wife's supervision. It was very Norman Rockwell. (Well except for the Kindle maybe!)

My wife rummaged through a garbage bag in the garage that was from my car, filled with stuff that wasn't all garbage, but wasn't important enough that I missed it. In the bag was one of my coaching hats. Every year from my second year teaching, I was an assistant coach for the school where I work, so I had a couple of hats kicking around. (My favorite, a tan hat with orange "N" on it, was chewed by my dog and ruined.) My wife threw it up to me on the deck and I put it on. She laughed and said, "Now, there's the John I knew."

It got me thinking. I used to wear hats all the time. It was my trademark, so to speak. I used to have a pretty impressive collection of hats. But those days are gone. I don't wear hats much anymore. I don't like them anymore. But it did get me thinking about the "old" vs. "new" me.

Old Me

This is my "Dirty" Johnny phase. I couldn't tell you exactly when this was, but it was some time in the mid-90s. I dreamed of being a writer and thought that I would be a writer just because I thought I was going to be a writer. I didn't know nearly as much as I know now about the craft and the business. I look happy in this picture, mostly because I was immature and carefree but underneath I was a seething, angry mess. I would tell anyone that listened that I was going to be on the NY Times Bestsellers list by the time I was 26 and that I would write these meaningful literary books about 20-somethings while writing my big, sprawling epics on the side for fun. I was delusional to say the least. Can't say I blame no one from believing in me at the time. This also happens to be one of my favorite pictures of me, I think it's actually the closest to representing my personality, though I'll be this one is close to what I really am:

Angry, probably glowering at a relative thinking they were funny. Still the old me: feeling entitled. I wanted to be a writer...why did no one recognize my greatness? Oh, yeah, cause I was more in love with the idea of being a writer than the act of being a writer. I was too busy spending time reading books about writing and not writing. Not studying the craft by practice. Not reading and studying what other writers did. Instead, I relied on "The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction" and books like that.

New Me
Slightly more together. Nice tan. A little less hair, not that you can tell because I'm wearing a hat in all my other pictures. I look content. Life is good. Outside distractions are fewer. I'm reading the works of my chosen genre. Studying them for my "how tos." I'm concentrating on writing now. Just writing. And that is making me a better writer. How can I tell?

My writing is pretty good. No, really. My friend (and ALPHA beta reader) Neil pointed out that I had "matured" as a writer in the time that he's known me. We've never met face to face. Never talked over the phone. (There's a blog post about "internet" friends coming at some point.) But he's read almost EVERY word of writing that I've ever written. And without his input, I don't think I'd be where I am. I'm gushing. But, back to my point.

Last summer, I took a couple of characters from a trunk novel I had written about 10 years ago and took the characters back to their teenaged years. In the trunk novel, they were in their early 20s. I thought what if I could write these characters as teens in a YA tone. And I wrote it. It was a project that took a long time to get moving after several starts and stops over the course of a year. Last summer (June, July & August) I wrote 90,000 words of the new draft, then put it aside. I hadn't looked at it since the end of August.

After discussing "what's next" with my agent, I settled on rewriting that book before banging out another summer project. This evening I poured over the draft. And damn, it's good. I think it's darn good. Needs a good polishing, that's for sure, but the story itself is solid. The Old Me wouldn't have had this success. The Old Me would still be talking about being a writer, not actually writing.

One more picture and funny story for you all:
John Popper-esque right?

A buddy of mine at school mentioned me to his class. When working through a question in response to a reading passage one of the answers was: "All writers live interesting lives." My buddy then says to the class when they agree that the statement isn't true: "Look at Zeleznik. Comes to work every day on time, goes home at the end of the day, plays with his kid, makes dinner and eats with his family every night, puts the kid to bed, writes late at night and goes to bed....BORING. Nothing interesting."

No, my friend, much more interesting.

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