How to Proceed with my story

 So I started NaNoWrimo, this November 2016. The first day was great. Almost got my 1667 words for the day. The next day got another 500 or so words in. Then, about November 8 I went dry, but let me backtrack. I am pretty good at setting parameters, the historical setting, and what I call, the technical components of my book: A Drop in the Bucket. The parameters are the timeframes, theme, and locations. The timeframes are dictated by the locations and the theme. The theme is water and how it is used in different cultures. The timeframes are determined by what is happening at the various locations. The technical components are what I use in the various locations, and concerns mostly in agriculture, water engineering, floods, precipitation or the lack thereof.

I start with farming and water conditions plus its uses in the Sacramento valley during the 1970s. One of my characters came from Holland, and as the story unfolds, he compares water management in California with water management in Holland. He refers back to the 1953 flood in Holland and how that is managed to this date. In the third phase, his water engineer brother comes over and wants to see the consequences of Katrina in New Orleans, which took place in 2005. He also used to live in Bangladesh, working on water projects there. Notice that all four locations are part of a delta from one or more rivers that culminate and flow into the ocean; different oceans, which in turn dictate how these water flows are affected. 

So far so good. This is where the MS writing group comes in. Each Wednesday we go to Sacramento, have lunch together at the Carlton Senior Center rest home, then go to the library where we write for about 1 ½ hours and read our writings out-loud. Len writes pieces on how MS affects him, and some detective-like stories. John, in Oregon, writes about a theme in what I call exaggerated tale form, but right-on. David often writes light-hearted stories. Harold writes short stories and Irene wrote a very nice piece about her mother-in-law last week. Marise is expanding on her life story, and John can write much to the point about characters. It is all about characters, for each one of the team. That is what I like. That is what I need to flesh out my characters and to make the story more interesting. To make the story a story. I also need some drama such as the mis-use of water policies, policies developed for selfish reasons by its authors. And I need some intrigue, which I notice in all of the other team’s writers. How do I do that? That is where I am stuck. What are the questions I should ask?




One California, Two Water Philosophies

California started out as a Spanish colony. Spanish law permeated the area; California, Mexico, and all Spanish colonies. Spain developed laws over its history, including those pertaining to water. Spain is a semi-arid country, where water is at a shortage, many years. The main philosophy has always been that all residents shared the royal patrimony in common. “We have ordered that the pastures, woods, and waters be common to the Indies,” proclaimed the monarch in 1541 in a decree reaffirming an even earlier pronouncement, “… and the foregoing shall be enforced where no title or grant of ours orders differently.” To the missions of California, grants of land and water were strictly temporary. Title remained with the crown and missionaries as trustees for the Indians. Civil pueblos  had title to approximately 27 square miles, which became permanent if the residents met certain prescribed requirements, but they could not obtain title to water. Under Spanish law, water in a municipality did not belong to separate individuals, but was passed on from the monarch to the entire community. “Pastures, woods, waters, hunting, fishing, stone quarries, fruit trees, and other privileges shall be for the common benefit of the Spaniards and Indians residing therein.     (Source: The great Thirst, by Norris Hundley Jr.)

When there was a limit of water, Spanish legalisms took on great significance.  Water remained under rule of the Spanish crown. 

Moving forward to 1846, when California was taken over by the USA and two years later gold was found, just outside of Sacramento. The whole philosophy changed. People came in hordes to go for the gold. Those were all free-thinking people, wary of Washington government intervention. They wanted local control, somewhat similar to the Spanish law which acknowledged that land use should be controlled locally as much as possible. But to the new locals that included water rights. Gold diggers need water, but soon water was becoming limited in California, like it always had been in Spain. What about newcomers, who would prospect between you and the water source?  The law did not really address that yet. Soon the locals created their own law: First in time, first in right. That became law, and to this day people in California defend that position. That is why we see two farms side by side; one lush with fruit trees, row crops and big barns, while their neighbor barely gets by with dry farming. One inherited water rights, his neighbor was not as fortunate. 


In later years, California law distinguished between surface water and ground water. Surface water is regulated, but ground water is not. A farmer can dig as deep as he wants to pump water, no matter that such water was not limited to the area under his own land. That is why the Colorado river appears to be providing less and less water. Water gets sucked up by adjoining fields pumping out ground water, which then gets replenished from Colorado river water. 

Today, Governor Brown is trying to control groundwater as is surface water, because the San Joaquin valley is dropping!

Deep Work


Blacksmithing may not interest you, but the underlying focus on craftsmanship is what attracts you. The blacksmith focusses on his work, hammers where it is needed, re-heats the iron to make it more plyable. You are fascinated by the work that goes into it.

Compare that to going through e-mails. Anybody can do that. Everybody does that. How productive is it? No one really knows because there is no measurement tool. It is like an assembly line. Each time you run out of a part you are instructed to just go to the parking lot and get another piece. You have people going back and forth to the parking lot. It is a lot easier, than having someone figure out what is needed, how much, and by when. The latter is much more efficient, but takes deep thinking, or, as the author Cal Newport names his book: Deep Work

Train your brain to be bored, like when you are playing with the kids with LEGOS all the time. Instead, do you use that time to catch up on your e-mails…? Productive meditation is when you go for a walk and take a challenging math problem with you. When your mind wanders off, bring it back to the problem. Do this for a few months and you’ll get to the point where you can do a lot of mathematics on foot. Boring, but you train your mind and you become more efficient. 

My son would sit there, doing nothing, and his mother would ask: "Isn’t there something you can go and do?" 
“… but I am, I am thinking!”, he would reply. It even goes back further: My mother would get irritated when I tried to fix something and spend an hour or so on it, while it would have been a lot cheaper and easier to just get another one. “Why don’t you do something more meaningful?” I can still hear that ringing in my ears. Sometimes she would have a point, but now I realize that often it was my way of becoming proficient at a task. 

Going through emails can look good in that I get questions answered or meetings organized, but in the end it is not gratifying. Not as gratifying as watching a blacksmith at work. At the same time Deep Work can be boring in that you are not going to have some stimuli in your life for some period of time because you are concentrated on just one thing. If my mother would not have been nagging me, would I have become more proficient in some areas of my life?

Having access to Facebook, your e-mails and other social media keeps you informed and up with your profession, right? It’s all lies.  Press on, and commit to training your ability to focus. It has to be practiced. You need to fight and protect your time to support getting good at something valuable. It also reduces stress and helps you to understand a difficult piece better and quicker. 

Oh, and leave your phone in the car when you get home.

Are you an Outliner or a Pantser?

Economics has fascinated me for some time. I even started a blog on it, until I came to the conclusion that there are hundreds of blogs about economics. I started to focus more on "water", driven by the drought I encountered, upon return to California in 2009. But just writing about the drought, or "water" in California was also a subject that was overdone, and only of interest to Californians. Other states in the country heard about the drought, but could not grasp its intensity. Even in California people felt it was not that bad and could be legislated out of existence, if the government would get their act together. 

The waterway from the harbor of Rotterdam to the North Sea. Rotterdam used to be world's largest port for many years.

I like the big picture, so decided to incorporate economics, politics, geography, history, and culture into the equation. But to what could I compare it? The first thing that came to mind was how water is managed in Holland (the Netherlands). First there was the Afsluitdijk, a dike built across the Zuider Sea in 1932, making it a lake. Then we had the big flood in 1953 and how after that plans were solidified more quickly to protect the country from it happening again. Then there was hurricane Katrina in the Mississippi delta in 2005, just as Holland is a delta. My brother, who was a water engineer, put projects together in Bangladesh, which is a humongous delta where the snow melt from the Himalayas streams into the ocean.

So here is how my story is developing now: 

Theo migrated to Missouri with his family. His dad started a dairy farm in the early to mid 1800's. Theo is the oldest son who would be expected to take over the farm, but is not so inclined. He will move to California, following the gold-rush crowd. Not so much to dig for gold, but to get involved in the politics of water management. His grandson will meet Ben, who immigrated from Holland with his new bride. Ben is also interested in water and the two get together to share notes about water management in California vs. Holland. Ben's brother, Rudolf, visits his brother in California, but is also interested in the ramifications of hurricane Katrina, being a water engineer himself and having worked on rebuilding the dike systems in Holland after the 1953 flood. His company sent him out to Bangladesh to engineer water projects there. He also was sent out to Israel to maintain and raise the levees around the Dead Sea for potassium winning. 

Fascination comes into play, to see how different politics plays out in each of those developments, and how the geography and economics play a role in each. It will become a novel for which I need to develop personal challenges for my characters, yet. 

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM? HOW ARE YOU DEVELOPING THAT DREAM? 

TO GET STARTED, YOU NEED TO MOVE INTO ACTION FIRST. HAVING WRITTEN SEVERAL BLOGS AND POTENTIAL CHAPTERS GOT ME TO THIS POINT. MAYBE FOR YOU IT ISN'T WRITING BUT SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT, YET THE PROCESS IS THE SAME. 

   Move into action. The note-taking, list making, and research has to end at some point. Your plot comes one of two ways: from outlining or from diving directly into the writing and engaging in a process of discovery. Either way, you’ve got to start getting words onto the page.

Are you an Outliner or a Pantser?

You know what an Outliner is. Pantsers are the opposite. They write by the seat of their pants, by process of discovery. Like Stephen King, they try to put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens.

Let the fun begin with whichever style fits you best. It may take some experimenting, but most novelists are one or the other. Neither is right or wrong, and whichever one you are, at times the other seems preferable. But pick one and run with it.

Outliners carefully map out the story before they write the first word, sometimes even developing a detailed plan for each scene. They find they can’t write a novel any other way.

Dostoyevsky wrote eight outlines of The Idiot, changing his conception of the story dramatically each time. Henry James wrote detailed scenarios of his novels before he began his first drafts; his scenario for The Ambassadors ran 20,000 words.

Pantsers believe that if they can be surprised, delighted, disappointed, horrified, or moved in the course of writing, the reader will be too. I happen to be a Pantser. author: Jerry Jenkins

I have referred to "Outliners" and "Pantsers" before. The above quote is from Jerry Jenkins Fiction Jumpstart course.

These are the basic two forms a writer uses, depending on his / her personality. I think I am also a "Pantser". My characters develop as I write, and as I "need" them to make a flowing story. Theo's personality comes from the Dutch book Soldaat van Oranje's main character. When I wrote my first book, my memoirs, I used more of an outline writing it in chronological order. 

Let me ask you again:

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM? WHERE ARE YOU WITH YOUR RESEARCH ON MAKING IT HAPPEN?

Onze Groote Rivieren

All white area would have been sea without dikes

Onze Groote Rivieren, by Dr. Jac. P. Thijsse. What does that mean? Only a Dutchman (or woman) would understand. A Dutchman, younger than, say 25 years, may not know the whole story of what it means, but will understand the title of the book, at least. 


Onze Groote Rivieren, translated into English is: Our Big Rivers. Maybe Our Large Rivers fits better, as opposed to the smaller rivers in the delta of which Holland is comprised. When you talk to a Dutchman and ask “Which are your large rivers?”, he probably understands you but not with the same feeling, or emotion, as if you would have asked it in Dutch. The word large, or groote, in itself can mean anything, but in this setting, Dutch geography and history give it a special meaning. Also the spelling dates the title of the book. A 25-year old may point out that the spelling is outdated: We now write “grote” with one “o". Just like when we talk about the gold rush in California. There have been many gold rushes, but this one has its own meaning to Californians and Americans in general. If we say “goud trek”, the Dutch translation, you would get a blank stare and need to explain further what you mean. If the Dutchman knows you are from America, he may make a stab at guessing. 

We can describe stories about how water is pictured in various cultures in different translations. We can describe the water engineering principles and why certain ones apply in one situation, but other principles in another.  But then there are the historical and cultural issues behind it. We may know how to funnel a river to meet the objectives, but what kind of safety features have to be implemented to funnel that river in the right direction? What are the economical implications? Or are there more pressing survival issues to address? Take Bangladesh, for example: It depends on the sediments that come down with the run-off from the Himalayas, flooding the delta, in order to maintain world’s most productive rice production. Should those floods be dammed in for the safety of a town, when those floods redirect the water trajectory?   

Then there is the author: Dr. Jac. P. Thijsse. A young person in Holland may remember that name from their history class, and that he was a well-known author about nature and biology, especially plant biology, in the early 20th century. In 1938, when this book came out, most of the current water technologies that have been implemented, were only a dream.