The Writing of Martin Brennan

The Weekly Proclamation IV

How much writing can I get done in a full day without any interruptions, as if I were writing as a full-time job? The answer, it turns out, is a lot.

So fell Lord Perth, and the countryside did shake with that thunder.

— Roland, The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

The Express Train The Express Train, by Charles Parsons

Last weekend, I got a couple of days to myself when my wife took our sons to visit grandma for the weekend. I won’t deny that I spent much of this time playing Total War: Warhammer II. Though that was not the sum total of my rare weekend of solitude. I decided that it would be best if I actually did something productive that furthered my writing and got me closer to the end of the current chapter of The Thaw which I have been working on for quite a long time now. So on the second day I sat down at the kitchen table, put a record on, and wrote for a solid five or six hours.

This is the most I have ever written in one day, the longest uninterrupted period of fiction writing I have ever embarked on. Now I can truly see how someone like Stephen King, or any other full-time author, can write two thousand words per day. All up I wrote thirteen pages of longhand. I counted, and I write ~250 words per full longhand A4 page, so that’s ~3000 words give or take. I knew that if I was able to write for a whole day I would have a high output, but it still surprised me. I was pretty worn out by the end of it. I still did not complete the current chapter of The Thaw, but I got damn close.

Now I am in the phase where I type up what I have written longhand. This actually generally takes more time for me to do than writing the thing in longhand does in the first place. First of all, because it is simply not as enjoyable to simply transcribe the written word into the computer. And secondly, because I use this transcription as an opportunity to take a first pass editing the prose. A lot of the time when I am writing longhand, I know I want to say something more eloquently or in greater detail, but I simply press on because it is more important for the story to proceed than it is for the whole thing to be correct on the first try. I also quite often have two rambunctious little boys making a racket in the background which makes dreamy artistic concentration quite impossible.

Generally these passages pretty obviously need work when I go to type them up, or I remember I rushed over them when I was handwriting. I also make little margin notes along the way to insert sentences earlier, or to introduce certain things or expand on others. In this way, my longhand draft is my first draft, and my transcription is a rough second draft. From there the edges become a little less defined. I am not the greatest at editing my own work beyond this initial transcription, and it is something I need to work on. Some days the stars align when I am writing longhand and I get into a comfortable flow state where the ideas flow freely and my writing pleases me, but these are rare and not to be counted on.

The Gardeners have finally reached the Golden Lions stadium in The Thaw. The group split up at Lake Saracen, and one half of the group was ambushed and captured by men of low moral fibre, the lowest on the totem pole of the raider camp that had been left behind to keep watch. Sam, my protagonist and leader of the group, Pat, a successful farmer and businessman before The Fall, and Eric, a high-school aged boy being trained as a scout were the ones left to rescue the captured members of their group. Well, that was a mistake on the raiders’ part, because my merry band made short work of the poorly trained and inattentive cretins. It is always fun to write savage and stupid characters, that was what made writing Bottom Feeders so fun!

I had originally intended that the Gardeners would make their way into the stadium to save their friends and also rescue another captive of the raiders, but the story did not lead me in that direction, and I couldn’t think of a compelling character that was just waiting to be saved. It became clear that if the captured ones entered the stadium, they would never come out, so a speedy liberation of the captives became a priority. Now Sam and his group of Gardeners is free to move on to the old paper mill, and beyond that to the Pine Bluff Arsenal, which is just chock-full of wonderful incendiary weapons. Though they must be careful to avoid the main body of the raider group returning from patrol, some new toys of their own in tow.

On the reading front, I finished The Waste Lands. From the moment Jake was brought forth through the door in the speaking ring, the novel was much more engaging. The encounter with the people of River Crossing hinted at Roland’s past and his role as a wandering knight and quasi-holy man, revered by the common folk of Mid-World. Gasher’s appearance on the outskirts of Lud and Jake’s kidnapping gave Roland time to shine, while Eddie and Susannah headed toward the Cradle, shooting plenty of Pubes along the way. I loved Gasher’s horrible character, and the enclave of the Grays led by the Tick-Tok man. The broken, ruined, mad city of Lud and its endless war drums, psychopathic denizens, and high tech machines haunted with ghosts was a chilling setting. I got super excited by the appearance of Randall Flagg and his mention of an old friend who used to say “my life for you!”. And finally, the insane ghost in the computer Blaine the Mono and his love of riddles and toxic gas. This was one of the better King novel endings, as the ka-tet found themselves hurtling across the real waste lands towards Topeka at the mercy of Blaine. Gee, Blaine really is a pain.

Overall I liked The Waste Lands much more than The Drawing of the Three, but it still fell short of The Gunslingers succinct and mesmerizing story. I am counting down the days until I see my friend and he can lend me Wizard and Glass, which I know goes deep into Roland’s past with his old companions, Alain and Cuthbert. I need more Roland content!

Don't ask me silly questions
I won't play silly games
I'm just a simple choo choo train
And I'll always be the same.

I only want to race along
Beneath the bright blue sky
And be a happy choo choo train
Until the day I die.

— Charlie the Choo-Choo, The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
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