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Grow your snowball
Success is a cycle and not an event
I shared my first draft of the first scene of my first-ever attempt at writing a novel five days ago in "Is this what a first draft character should look like?"
Since then, I've used a finely crafted combination of the Story Grid, Story Circle, and Three Story Method to plot a large chunk of the tale I have fermenting in my brain. And, by "finely crafted," I mean I got overwhelmed by all the plotting information I read and started smashing my keyboard with my face.
Fortunately, new information and ideas revealed themselves despite the face flagellation, or perhaps because of it. For example, I realized that while my second scene, "Details through dialogue," worked, my first scene didn't. At least not the way I wanted it to. So, I've spent the past two days revisiting and improving it. I'll share my changes below so you can compare and judge whether I've improved the chapter or merely smudged it around on my plate, like so many canned peas, to make it look like I made progress.
Anyway, You'll run into the same thing as you try to build a profession for yourself. Some resumes won't work, and some cover letters may fail to impress. That's OK! Building your career, or any skill, is like rolling a snowball. It is a cycle of creating, testing, and tweaking; your professional snowball will grow with each iterative layer. Each time you revise your resume, for example, you'll pull out something of lesser value and add something greater. You'll learn with each modification, and your resume will grow. Before you know it, you'll discover you have a new, marketable skill that impresses people and gets their attention.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with a well-known and highly successful author (I have yet to ask permission to mention his name, so I'll refrain from doing so until I have). He has published dozens of books in his career, so I imagined him as a guy with a gift from God who casually writes books and flings them into his yard, where publishers have flocked in eager anticipation atop dump trucks full of money. Instead, he told me he constantly tests story ideas, book covers, marketing strategies, etc., with various focus groups. Everything he does is a cycle of modifications and enhancements to maximize his readership, even after years of successful publishing.
I'm grateful for this author's reminder because I got comfortable and complacent for a while and neglected my professional snowball. It's time for me to start pushing again.
This repetitive process is how I started my career. I began with a goal and took measurable steps toward my target. I failed. I learned. I grew. I tried again. Little by little, those efforts snowballed into something far greater than the nothing I started with, and they'll do the same for you, no matter where you are in your journey.
O . . .K . . . Let me step off that soapbox now and share my revisions.
Chapter 1: Preparations
"It'll work this time, Chess," Alex muttered, opening the door. "The Nguyen kid was just bad timing."
Alex leaned into the back of the vehicle, unlatched the two locking mechanisms of a heavy-duty dog crate, and creaked the metal door open with a tug.
A Calico kitten with a black-orange checkered face mewled to its feet and yawned, poking its tail stiffly into the air. Alex lifted the kitten from the fuzzy, sun-colored cushion at the bottom of the cage and scanned the street, stroking the kitten's head.
"Come on. Let's get this over with," Alex said as Chess nuzzled its face closer and started to purr.
Alex tugged on the crate, ensuring the come-a-longs binding it to the floor were secure, then closed the vehicle. Then, after glancing around again, Alex headed down a narrow alleyway between two houses that connected the back corner of Washington Elementary School's playground to the street.
Alex's heart thumped. Dropping off unmarked packages for Jacket had crossed a barbed line, but Alex desperately needed the money. With each delivery, Jacket had angled Alex closer, twisting the cords of consignments into strings of shoplifting, then braiding those strings into ropes of robberies. The more Alex complied with Jacket's demands, the more treacherous they became.
The Nguyen boy hadn't been Alex's fault. His dad had shown up and honked just as Alex moved in. Fortunately, Alex's lure that day had been a bouquet of colorful mylar balloons, and handing one of the tethered orbs to the Nguyen child and a few other nearby children had diffused the situation. Mr. Nguyen looked suspicious but hadn't called the cops.
The failure hadn't sat well with Jacket nor stopped him and his punk parade from driving their disappointment home by shooting Alex through the foot with a nail gun. Alex could still feel the sting of walking three miles out of the industrial district before prying that lesson from foot and shoe with a pair of rusty Craftsmen pliers.
"Jacket," Alex said, scratching Chess between the ears. "His name's probably something plain, like Ted."
Chess mewed and tried to nibble on Alex's little finger.
"Isn't that always the case with psychopaths?" Alex said, stopping before the end of the alley.
As it had when Alex cased the area earlier, the Doberman Pinscher in the yard to the east started running along the fence, barking and growling. The dog had marched the grass down to bare dirt on its side of the diamond-mesh fence running this daily patrol.
Alex fished a spicey Slim Jim from a coat pocket, gnawed the packaging off, and stabbed the peppered meat through the fence. The Doberman barked several times and then sniffed at the beef stick. Finally, satisfied with the scent, the dog tugged the treat through the chain-link with its teeth and wandered further into the yard to enjoy its prize.
"I hope you get the squirts, damned dog."
After silencing the dog, Alex walked to the end of the alley and leaned on the galvanized railing that prevented people from riding motorcycles through the passage. The playground was still empty. Alex checked the time and figured the school would ring the bell to release its students in a minute or two.
Alex walked back a few steps, even with the windowless side of the house to the east, where no one could see. The Doberman had inhaled the Slim Jim but sat quietly in the yard, still tonguing the corners of its mouth.
I should run!
Alex stood, both feet nailed to the cement, mind fleeing through a maze of options. Left. Left. Right. Back.
I should run.
Each revision ended with an image of Jacket pissing on an impromptu grave.
Should I run?
Alex impaled the thought of escape and buried it beneath a mountain of terror as the school's dismissal bell peeled in the distance.
Alex jumped to the other side of the alley and dropped Chess into the narrow bed of spurge and goosegrass that had grown between the chain-link on this side of the student passage and the sun-peeled wooden privacy fence enclosing the yard to the west.
Chess twisted both ends of his body awkwardly against each other on the way down and landed on his feet in the strip of fall-dried weeds with a distressed meow.
"Sorry, buddy. It's just for a sec."
Alex rechecked the time, tugged the coat's zipper against the Halloween breeze, and waited for the grade-school groups of plausible deniability to arrive.
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