Tuesday, July 31, 2012

typos we know how to spell

L.A. Times front page
This is something I don't understand and I need to know if it's just me or if it happens to other people. I make typos as I type. Normally it's just the error of trying to type as fast as my brain is going - my hands can never hope to keep up. That's no big deal - spellchecker gets those. But there are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, they're the tricky ones and it's their spelling that messes me up. Whenever I see an email or article or anything where the author is using the wrong word I cringe. I mean, they are completely different words, right? Couldn't be more obvious. I've never once been unsure about when to use which word.

But then I type something and go back to read it and the wrong word is their (I did that one on purpose just to prove my point). When I was thinking, and typing, the word there was in my head. But the word their comes out of my fingers. Again, I have no confusion over the correct meaning and use of the word. My hands just type the wrong thing. It's like they are dictating my thoughts but have no connection to the brain - they just type out what they hear. But shouldn't my hands know better than that? If I'm thinking of the word 'there', shouldn't that be what they type? Why do my hands want to screw me up like that? And it's not just there/they're/their, it's also its/it's, and two/too/to too. All of those sound alike words.

So I end up having to go through my writings (even my emails and blog posts) to make sure I didn't type the wrong word and make myself look like an idiot. After all, I'm trying to claim to be a writer here. So am I the only one who has this particular typo problem? And how do I get my hands to stop typing phonetically and just do what I'm thinking? Any help wood bee appreciated.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

An Editing Primer

Writing and editing are two different things. But they both need the other: writing without editing is (generally) bad writing; editing requires something have been written in order to be edited. So what, exactly, is editing? It's actually several things.

There are different types of editing and different levels at which it can be done. I'm sure there are several ways to break it down, but here is how I like to think about it. Proofreading is the simple check for typos/grammatical errors. It's what word processors try to do. Copyediting (or line editing) is a more thorough proofreading that also tries to improve grammatical style, checks for consistency, and overall readability. Story editing (or structural or developmental) is big picture stuff: plot points, theme development, characterization. All three are needed to make a book the best it can be. But when are they needed? And who does them? And how?

It's a common question from writers: should I edit my work as I go? or just keep writing and edit afterward? There's no right answer - it's about finding what works for you. The advantage of doing some editing as you go is that you will end up with a cleaner manuscript when you are done. The disadvantage is that you might never get done if you spend all your time editing and not writing. Try it different ways to see how it goes, but make sure that you are always moving forward at a pace that will allow you to finish within a reasonable time frame (reasonable is open to interpretation). Personally, I don't go back over my writing to edit until I've finished the whole thing. But I do edit while writing to try to make the first draft fairly readable. It's a fine balance.

There are professional editors out there; people who just edit other people's writings. But, being professional, they cost money. If your book is purchased by a publisher they will have an in house editor to work on your writing. But your book will only get accepted if it has already had enough editing to make it decent and readable. If you can't accomplish that on your own, then getting professional help might be a necessity, not a luxury. What you need to ask yourself is the same about hiring anyone to do anything: Can I do it myself? How much time and effort will that take? Is it worth the money to save me the time and effort? And possibly create a much better result?

Here's what I do (and why). Maybe it will work for you. Maybe not. But it works for me and it seems to be a good middle ground on the options. First, I don't pay for professional editing. I'd like to, but just can't afford it. And I've found I can do a decent job on my own and with some help from friends. But it does take a lot of time, time I would rather be writing (or doing anything else). So hiring an editor is high on my list of goals when the money comes rolling in (anyone know when that will be?). Until then, I will keep doing this:

I start by writing my rough draft. Version 1. I pay attention as I write to grammar and whatnot, but I don't go back to previous sections to proofread. I grammar feel I have enough good as write I do :-) This allows me to focus on the plot, the characterization, the ideas and the narrative. I guess you could say that I do some Story Editing as I write, but not much else. When I'm done with version 1 I have a story, but I don't let anyone read it. I first go through and edit some more.

In my first round of editing I still focus on Story Editing. I make sure that the structure works, that the overall flow is good, that it all makes sense. I do this by reading the book as a book. And while my focus is the big picture, I also tend to pick up a number of typos and such. So I end up Proofreading as I go. But I try not to focus on the little things because I know I might change them entirely. Why edit a chapter if you are going to delete it? So I don't do much Copyediting yet. But I do catch most major errors. So at the end I have version 2, which should be pretty close to the final story and very readable. But definitely still with many errors.

Version 2 will get shared. I'll let people read it and give me feedback. Mostly I look for the big picture on the feedback as well. So I'm basically asking for Story Editing from folks who might not even know that's what they're doing. They also tend to pick up on some of the Proofreading items as well, so that's a bonus.  At the same time I tend to be Copyediting version 2. I start looking at the wording and phrases I've used. Try to make the writing tighter, more compelling. Just plain better.

Once I've gotten enough feedback I may rewrite some things (or I might not). I generally settle on the book as it will be in its final state. This is the start of version 3. Once I've done any rewrites I begin my Proofreading and Copyediting. But I keep them separate. I start with a thorough Copyediting of the whole book. This gives me the book I want: the story I want told the way I want it told. After that is the time for a final Proofreading. This is one of the hardest things to do, proofreading your own work. But I've found a way to read without paying attention to the story. It's a mental disconnect thing, to read only for the technically aspect of the words. By separating this out it no longer becomes my work but just text. This isn't a fun way to read, but it does seem to allow me to find and correct a lot of little mistakes. And I end up with version 3.

So version 3 is the 'final' version. It's the full story, the best writing I can do, and without errors. In theory. I don't think it's quite at the professional standard. And I'm sure I could take more time and improve things. You can always improve things. But eventually you have to call it done and put it out to the world. And I think my process gives me something that I am ready to share. We'll find out shortly when I self-publish my first set of stories. Then you can tell me if my process works or if it's better to leave the editing to the professionals.

Here's a version 1 from one of my soon to be published stories, The Cost of Life. I think I got a little carried away with the analogies.

The Arrarian court is a living creature, a gigantic beast that devours its young and sheds its skin every year. For those who make up the extremities it is a constant struggle to climb towards the heart before getting shaken loose in the mad thrashings of the creature. For those already in the body of the beast it is an intoxicating ride across the land with the spear of the hunter always at your heels. For the common people it is a danger to be avoided because it cannot be tamed. For everyone it is the center of attention, the only constant being change. That is the way of the court today and the way it has always been.

And here is version 3. Same idea, different execution. Often, simpler is better (but it's been changed a little more for the final cut).

The Arrarian court is a large and complex creature, with a heart of princes and a body of royalty, arms and legs of lesser nobles, all covered in a skin of politics and feasting on the common man. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012


My last post talked about how making things up needs to be based on truth. So where does that truth come from?

Now, I've been told that people wrote books before the internet existed. Before there was Google. And I think I believe it - they were reliable people that have told me this. But it often boggles my mind as to how that could be done. You see, I research on Google. A lot. More than ever expected I would need to. Because you really need to know a lot when you write.

In some cases this is obvious and expected. The first book I wrote was set partly in Africa. I've never been to Africa. Chances are my readers have (mostly) never been to Africa. But my description of Africa still had to be realistic. It had to look like Africa. The people had to be African - and that includes a huge variety of people. The people had to eat the right food, practice the right religion, wear the right clothes. Even if the reader doesn't know what right is, they can figure out wrong. So I went to Google. I read articles, found websites in the appropriate country, looked at picture of the clothes and architecture. I studied history, politics, conversion rates and future forecasts. I Wiki'ed my little heart out (Google often leads me to Wikipedia). And I did it all from my desk in my bedroom. I suppose I could have gone to a library, but I'm confident it would take far longer and be less productive. I could have gone to Africa, but I'm sure it would take far longer and cost more money. So I used Google.

Now, I'm sure I'm not doing Africa justice. I'm sure I'm missing something. But it's okay. My book isn't about Africa. Stuff just happens there. My Africa doesn't need to be real, it just needs to be realistic. And it is because it's based on truth, even if it isn't wholly accurate. It has 'truthiness'.

Steven was in the World Medical Co-operative’s office in N’Djamenah. The building that housed it was a tan colored colonial affair, the kind found throughout the heart of the city. Such structures were built in the fifties in an attempt to make the capital feel more a part of the French empire. But now the crumbling arches and stonework served as a reminder of the country’s current disconnection from the West. The office itself was on the second floor – it was rare for any building other than a hotel to have more than two stories – and it had a small balcony that overlooked the street. It was on one of the main paved roads in the capital, with the whir of taxis and motorbikes coming in through the open window. In the late afternoon the sound of children flooding into the streets added to the din. It was a hot day, hot even for Chad.

This also goes for locations that you completely make up. Completely imagined worlds also need to have a truthiness to them. If it's a world of swords and magic it should still have building materials that are appropriate to the technology level. If it's in the future, the laws of physics still need to hold (or new ones need to be explained). Any planet that orbits a sun will have seasons. Any planet with an atmosphere will have colors. Any person in a cold environment will need clothes of some style to keep themselves warm. If you make things up without reference you will lose the kernel of truth that allows you're reader to believe in what you have created.

But there are other cases where Google has proven invaluable that were more of a surprise to me. Because even characters need to have truthiness. I know, as writers we all like to think that we understand the human psyche. That we can just create people and they will be whole and complete. But we can't. No one has that wide an experience base. While I know a lot about my characters based on my own life, I need to know more. What's it like to be abused as a child? What does it feel like to get shot in the shoulder? Is passing a kidney stone really as painful as giving birth? Luckily, I don't know any of those things. But my character might. So instead of playing with dangerous objects, I turn to Google. It's amazing how quickly you can find a blog or story or study that will give you some insight. Not the whole it of, but enough to combine with your personal knowledge to make a realistic person on the paper.

When I started writing it was all about the imagination. And that ability to create is awesome. But the ability to learn, to create something that has meaning and that others can believe in - that's even better. So for those writers who had to do that in the dark ages (anything before 1990), I salute you. For me, I say Thank God For Google.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Write what you (don't) know

Write what you know is one of the great maxims in the writing world. Take your own world experience, your life as a unique individual, and write based upon that. But what if you're boring? Where you live is boring? The people you know are boring? What if you've had an easy and simple life that has brought you happiness and contentment? No one wants to read about that. (Unless you're writing a self-help how-to book but who believes those?)

Now, I don't think my life has been all roses. And I've done some interesting things and lived in interesting places. But truthfully, it's all kind of boring to me. I mean, I lived it. I already know myself. It may have been new and exciting at the time, but I don't want to live in my past. I like learning new things. So that's why I like to just make sh*t up.

This may not be useful advice for everyone. And we've gotten a lot of great literature from our writer's of experiences (Hemingway, London). But I freely admit that I write about things that are well outside of my personal knowledge. But there are a few different ways to go about this that are useful.

First off, I do believe in research. You don't have to experience everything but it really helps if you know some of the truth about it. You don't have to be a marksman to write about someone shooting a gun, but if you have the character shoot off fifty rounds from their revolver you will lose your reader. If you set a story in Seattle and the weather's always sunny, it doesn't ring true. And it's not just physical facts that you can research.

What does it feel like to suffer heroin withdrawal? What type of upbringing is likely to create a shallow and thoughtless antagonist? You can study these things as well. Learn a little physiology, psychology and societal trends. All of this helps to make whatever you write more consistent with reality, the reality that the reader lives in. Regardless of how fantastical your world may be, the reader needs to connect with it and understand it in order to believe in it. And that all starts with the world we all share. So get that stuff correct and you can go from there.

But what about the stuff that research just can't tell you? For instance, I don't know what it's like to lose a child. Never happened to me and I certainly hope it never will. But that doesn't mean I can't write a character who experiences it. Will I get it right? Well, maybe there isn't a 'right' to get. Everyone experiences life differently and there is no single response to a situation. The question is whether or not my character is realistic. If their responses and emotions are consistent to the point where the reader believes them. And that's what is interesting to me: trying my very best to imagine the situation and character and create something that is realistic. That is the mental exercise that allows me to explore things that are not a part of my real life.

Of course, I have to draw on the experiences that I have had in order to have a basis for everything else. And it's that truth that holds the lies together. I have known death. I have known love. I have been young. I have gotten older (in spite of my best intentions). I can put those things together to make something new and different. But without putting yourself into your characters, without starting from your own truths, you will end up with empty and false stories. As writers we have the ability to create, but we must build with solid materials to end up with a stable structure.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Getting Published - a beginner's guide

And by beginner's guide I'm referring to myself, not the potential reader. I've never been published, so obviously I don't really know what I'm talking about. But that's never stopped me before so I will share my understanding of the process. Maybe it will help others. Maybe they will point out where I'm wrong. Maybe it will just amuse you.

Let's first talk about what publishing means. Publishing generally gets broken down into two categories: 'mainstream' publishing and 'self' publishing. Of course, there are lots of vagaries and sub-categories and arguments that can follow. But let's keep it simple for now. Self publishing is when you do the publishing yourself (I know, kind of obvious). That used to mean you paid for the printing of books. Anyone could self-publish anything, they just needed the money. These days, we have lots of great technology and the ever present internet. That means you no longer need to have money. You can basically upload any document to several different sites and wall-la, you have an eBook. (Smashwords is one of the big ones and explains the process fairly well). And other sites actually let you upload a file and they will print a physical book when someone orders it. (Lulu's a good example). The key thing is that there is no gate-keeper. Anyone can publish anything, and now it's free.

There's nothing wrong with self-publishing. I plan to do so myself shortly. But it also means little by itself. Only if people actually buy (or download or whatever) your book does it prove anything. But getting published by an actually publisher; well, that means something. It means that someone else, at least one person, believes that what you wrote is worthwhile. And their opinion is suppose to matter since it is what they do for a living. It means you really are an author. That you have achieved something. That you'll get paid for your work. At least, that's what we writers like to think. Truthfully, it can mean all that or it can mean nothing. But it's still the goal for most of us. It's still the validation we seek. And I'm no more immune to that desire than anyone else. (Aside: ultimately writers write because they want to and validation comes from within and from your readers. No one else really matters. But that's just philosophy.)

So how does a writer go about getting published? Well, it depends on what you write. If you write short stories, the kind of stuff that gets published in magazines, you can often go directly to the publisher. Submit your work and some poor schmuck of an editor reads through the pile of offerings and picks yours out. It's direct and simple, though hardly easy. There are hundreds of articles submitted for every opening. And these days there are lots of places looking for stories - even though actually print magazines are dwindling, web e-zines are constantly sprouting up (and disappearing). It's a bit of a crap shoot, but if you're writing is good, and you submit it to the right place, and you keep working at it, you will get published. You might not get paid much, but at least it's recognition. There are many sites out there that will help you find a market for your work, some general (Duotrope) and others specific to genres, like Fantasy (Ralan). This is where lots of folks start since it's faster to write short stories and a quicker process to get published (though the actually time it takes may not be quick at all).

But that's not the big goal for most of us. The classic goal of writers is to get a novel published. To be a true author, a contributor to the world of literature. To be special. For that you generally need a little more help and have to pass through more gatekeepers. You can't go directly to most publishing houses. They only work with agents. So you have to start by getting an agent. Someone who will represent you. Someone who believes your work is worthy of publishing and will try to convince the publisher of that fact. A great thing to have on your side, but how do you get an agent? Them you can still go to directly.

Agents can be found many places, but the good ones, the big ones, will be members of the Association of Authors' Representatives. Honest agents work on commission and only benefit when you do. Don't trust any agent that somehow costs you money. There are also sites that help you search for agents (QueryTracker) and sites that inform you about agents (Predators & Editors, Absolute Write). Most agents take direct submissions, called Queries, and each has their own preference for format and content. Many also attend conferences or workshops or pitch sessions; ways to get a more direct audience with a potential agent. Again, it's just a matter of impressing the right person with your work to convince them to represent you.

But once you've gotten an agent you're still not done. That agent needs to sell your book to a publisher, the people who will actually print it. That means convincing someone that readers will pay for your book (quality is a different standard altogether). If the publisher believes in it, then they will generally offer an advance to buy the rights to publish your work. But even then, you're still not done. Publishers will ask for more editing on the book. And that editor, or maybe a more senior one or even a panel of people, will ultimately decide when and if they feel your book is ready to go to print. So it's a small group, a cabal of agents, publishers, and editors that decide if you will be published. Only then have you reached your goal. Then you are a published author. But what will you have to show for it?

Once in print, it's up to the potential reader to actually make the purchase. It's their money that drives this whole process. Part of that money goes to the seller, part to the publisher, part to the author (royalties). That's what allows the whole cycle to continue. So ultimately it is the reader that matters. That's whose approval and support we need as writers. That's who we want to please. That's who publishing is for. It just takes a lot to get to them. Self-publishing avoids the middle men, but takes much more work to reach the reader directly. Publishing houses already have the channels to reach readers, so that is where most writers head. And that is still where most of the money is to be made. And don't lie - money is what most of us are after. For no other reason than the fact it will allow us to keep writing, to write more and to get more published. Because getting published is the goal, but not the finish line. It's actually the start.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Where do my ideas come from? I don't actually get asked this very often. Maybe no one really cares. But the answer fascinates me so I'm going to talk about it anyway.

I have lots of story ideas. A good dozen novels outlined and waiting to be written. Many more vague story ideas that never quite proved worthy to be put down on paper (or, actually, in a .docx file). I am confident that I'll have ideas to write about for the rest of my life. I just hope I have the opportunity to write them. Or at least the good ones. And while I'm making wishes, I hope I have to insight to pick out which are the good ones. But where do they start?

I have to admit, many of my ideas are reactionary. I read something, or watch something, that I think is not as good as it could be. I think: I could do better. It happens a lot with mainstream media. A lot of very successful and popular media is crap. I could list many examples, but don't want to offend anyone. (but here's a few that I don't have to worry about offending the authors: Moby Dick - crap; Les Miserables - crap; Catcher in the Rye - not that good). So I look at the basic idea behind it and think of how I would do it, what I would change to make it better. (yes, I realize I just said I can write a better book than Moby Dick. Time will tell :-)

My first novel was a love story. It was in response to several incredibly popular books that made true love out to be all-conquering, the only thing that mattered. That's not what I saw in my life or with my friends. It was always much more complicated than that. So I started a story with two people falling in love and then followed them for ten years as they went in and out of each others lives. Of course, I understand the appeal of the idealized true love. People want to read a fantasy - something that they haven't experienced. But it was far more interesting to me to make it complicated while keeping the core of true love the heart of the story. It was more realistic, something I could learn from something that applied to my life. Maybe I want something different out of my writing than most people want out of their reading.

Another story idea I got was in the middle of watching the Return of the King. During Aragon's battle speech near the end, the 'not this day' speech. It's not bad, but I thought I could do better. Or at least different. Sitting in the dark in the theater I came up with my own battle speech. Ultimately I created a whole novel idea around it. But when I actually started writing it, it didn't pan out. And my speech never worked. I liked the idea behind it but couldn't perfect it. (and I then went back and watched the Henry V 'St. Crispin's Day' speech and realized we are all just writing poor imitations). So sometimes trying to create a better mousetrap doesn't work and it's time to get out of the mousetrap business.

But I also get ideas from the great things, things I like. Books that are far better than anything I hope to write (see, I do have some humility), movies and legends that have lasted through the ages. Another of my stories came about from the idea of Elric of Melnibone (a GREAT character) and tracing it back to Faust. I didn't try to improve them, but look at it from a different angle. Follow the idea further in time. What happens to your anti-hero when he stops trying, stops caring about who he was in the past or about right and wrong. How do you make that interesting? That's the challenge that excited me and launched a series of stories that ultimately make my second book.

Those are reactionary ideas, but I do also come up with original ideas of my own (or so I like to tell myself). And those come to me in different ways.Sometimes it's as simple as an image. A man and woman standing by a lake in the woods as the sun sets - that led to one of my first short stories that I really liked. Sometimes it's a concept and where it would lead. The idea of a prophecy that says those who attempt it will have to die in order to succeed - who would accept such an endeavor? The idea of the first discovery of a wormhole - how would that realistically take place? Sometimes it's a character and the fun of spending time in their head. A forklift operator who becomes the god of war. A retired FBI agent who runs a fly fishing shop in Montana. These ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. All it takes is something that is interesting. Something that I can explore and play with, something that makes me want to see where it goes.

That's how it starts. Normally I just let it percolate in my head for a while. If it stays and grows, then I'll ultimately write it down to save it. If not, it will fall by the wayside. Though sometimes I'll wake up in the middle of the night and just have to write it down. Those can look bad in the morning but sometimes they are worth holding on to. So I end up with a large collection of ideas. And then I have to choose what to complete. What do I actually want to write. That's a whole other topic, but it normally comes down to my life. I write what connects the most with me in the moment, because that connection gives me the insight and knowledge necessary to bring the idea to life. That's why I like to have a sandbox full of story ideas to play with: one of them is likely to fit my need. If not, I'll just create more.

So I'd be curious to hear what inspires other people. Where do you get your ideas? Do they just pop into existence or does it take conscious work and effort? Do they start with something you like or something you don't? And once they're there, what do you do with them?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Where'd that come from?

My last post talked about the planning process. And I do believe I write best with a plan. But I also know I shouldn't force myself to stick to it. Some of the best things come as a surprise. And it always surprises me that I'm surprised by myself.

The first manuscript I completed was meticulously planned (at least by my standards). I had a full chapter by chapter outline and was sure that it had everything covered. As I started writing I added a chapter within the first five. I didn't plan it. I just finished one chapter and before I started the next one on the outline I wrote a different chapter, one in between the two I had planned. And after writing it, it was obvious that the new chapter was necessary. Not for the logistical details - there wasn't any necessary action. But it revealed more information about the characters. Information that was necessary to make the connection to the following chapter. Otherwise it would have been going from A to C. The surprise chapter was the necessary B. Obvious after the fact.

Wen I finished the book, I realized that it was missing some more chapters. Again, it wasn't the action. Everything that needed to happen was already in there. But only upon reading the whole thing did it become clear that the flow wasn't correct. There was a stretch where the pace had settled into a rhythm that got boring. There needed to be something to change things up and force the reader to pay attention. Again, it was obvious when you read the whole thing, even though the outline never revealed it. So the plan was revised and the work improved.

Surprises also come in the middle of writing, often in dialogue. I have my chapter outline to follow and I normally have a conversation worked out in my head before writing it. I know where it's supposed to go, even if I don't have the words chosen. But once I start typing, I try to choose the words that the character would use. In doing that, the character often ends up leading the conversation in a different direction than I intended. It always surprises me when my characters don't do what I tell them to do.

But invariably this is the way to go - follow your characters, don't force them to follow you. When you try to force it you lose their voice. And ultimately you will lose the reader. I've had to revise my plan for several chapters based on a conversation that went sideways. It's frustrating, but always seems to end up an improvement.

So I will continue to plan my books. And I will continue to revise that plan as things change. For the surprises are often the best part of the writing process. We learn things we didn't know we knew. We get the joy of discovery right along with the joy of creation. The joy of reading and writing. The best of both worlds.

Friday, July 6, 2012

What's the plan?

First, you have an idea for a story. But that's not really worth much. Some people will just start writing with that, and if you have enough experience maybe that will lead to something structured. But for most people that will lead to a rambling mess. If you just want to write, that's fine. But if you're goal is a book, something that other people can follow and enjoy, and maybe be willing to pay to read, then you need to have structure. There are different levels of planning that will allow you to write to a structure and it's important to know what you need.

For me, it works like this. I have an idea. That can mean a lot of different things. Sometimes it's a character. Sometimes it's a scene. Sometimes it's a deep philosophical concept that tugs at the mind. Though I often find my stories come from a reaction to someone else's story. I read something and think that it would be more interesting if approached from a different viewpoint. So I'll start with that viewpoint and see where that leads me. For instance, there's a classic fantasy convention of the kitchen boy becomes king (King Arthur). The idea is that you start with a character who is unsure and unlikely and over the course of the book, or trilogy, or Robert Jorden never-ending continuum, they develop. Characters that develop are interesting. And most readers can identify with a character who starts as an everyday person. If you start with a king, someone who has the power and keeps it, someone who has everything figured out and doesn't need to change, well, what's interesting about that? That's what's interesting to me: how to make a hero interesting when he starts as a hero. Based on that simple concept I have an entire fantasy epic worked out (though not the time and patience to develop it at the moment). But it's the idea that starts it.

But how do you work it out from there? For me, it's an outline that keeps getting filled in. I'll outline the general concept of the book. Two or three sentences that sum it up. Then I'll think about it in terms of acts. There's a reason most plays have three acts and it's a solid structure to build around (though not necessary). Once I have the acts, I'll try to break it into parts. The number of parts in an act will vary, but the idea is to have a sense of how the act will flow. From there I'll break it into chapters. Each chapter will get a paragraph summation. So at that point I will have a chapter by chapter outline of the novel, but built from the outside in. I've tried starting with the chapters but normally end up missing something (you only see that when looking at the whole). And once I have the full outline I summarize it. For me it's invaluable to have a simple one sentence per chapter outline that really shows me the whole story at a quick glance.

And that's what I'll write from - my chapter outline. It turns a long, complicated story into simple pieces. Pieces that I can accomplish, that don't overwhelm me. By focusing a piece at a time I can dig in to each one and lose myself in the moment. But by planning the whole I know my piece will be part of something much more complete. A lot of the unpublished stories I see and read have fine writing, but they roll and ramble through a series of interconnect events that somehow doesn't satisfy. They drag in places and rush through others, ideas pop up and disappear, there's no sense of completeness that readers ultimately want (whether they know it or not).

Of course, many great writers and great stories throw this all out the window. Some people just start writing and greatness comes out. But greatness is something different. I don't have the skill to aspire to greatness (not yet). I simply want to create a good story that others will enjoy. Maybe I'll stumble upon greatness one day, but I don't think you can plan for it. So I plan for goodness and go from there.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I've seen many authors share their advice on a writing routine, with most starting with the idea of 'write every day'. I'm sure that's good advice and all, and I don't have any counter argument against it, but I've found it interesting to note what actually works for me.

When I started to write seriously I dedicated time for writing. I had a 'regular' job so I would try to write for an hour or two before heading in to work. Even though I would have more free time at the end of the day, I was normally mentally tired from the day and unable to focus after getting home, making dinner, cleaning dishes, etc. That every day routine helped me develop discipline and proved (to myself) that I could finish things and produce a large quantity of words. But it wasn't always the best stuff.

Now that I have the whole day free, the mornings are still the most productive. My mind is fresh and my energy high. And once I start going I can keep going as long as things flow. And that's an important thing. Writing is very much a endeavor of rhythm, and if you have to break that rhythm with something like a job, it can slow you down considerably. So I now find myself more productive without the time limit on my writing sessions. I force myself to start in the morning (by 9am at the latest) and work while the working is good.

But I normally run out of steam by mid afternoon. Or earlier. And then it's time for a break. I'll often keep thinking about the story, but stop writing. Have some lunch. Go for a bike ride. Work on website development. Anything to change the mental gears. The break may be for an hour, or maybe four. Sometimes that's it for the day. But if an idea hits, or the words come to mind, then I'll get back to the writing. Quite often it's after a full break and late in the evening that the keyboard will beckon. And then I'll resume writing as long as the rhythm is there.

So that's a writing day. But I actually think it's good to take some days off completely. Don't write at all. Don't even think about it (that one's hard). Don't just switch to some other story (I can't work on multiple stories simultaneously - if I switch thoughts it's for at least several days). I find the more I rest the more energy I return with, the more things flow when I start typing. The difference in quality between forced writing and natural writing is quite obvious when I look back at it. So it's worth it to find your own rhythm. But that 'write every day' thing is a good place to start..

Monday, July 2, 2012


So here's a little bit of the story of what has led me to this point. It's incomplete, but you'll get the general idea. And it only is about my writing, since that's all that matters here.

When I was a kid I was always creating stories in my head. I think we all do that. And I never bothered to write anything down. I had my writing assignments in school and enjoyed it, but I was generally too busy out doing things to sit at a desk and write. When I got to college I didn't have time to write for fun, nor did my classes involve much creative writing. I didn't think much about it.

After grad school I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Never quite nailed that one. So I ended up teaching in various capacities. And I was pretty good at it. My professional career has been a mix of teaching/training/managing/administrating. But I never stayed at one thing too long, and never saw any of my jobs as my future.

Along the way I kept creating stories in my head. And I started writing them down as well. Not whole stories. That would take too much effort and discipline. I mostly jotted down the outline of the story, even if I had all the details sorted in my mind. Sometimes I would write scenes, something particular that interested me. And I always thought that writing would be my ultimate future. Someday I would actually start doing it.

And about two years ago I decided that the future was now. But I didn't just jump into it. I decided to start looking into it. Investigating it. Researching it. And most importantly, working at it. I started writing complete stories. Short ones at first. Never my forte, but good exercises. I started working on character development, dialogue and narrative. I had plenty of ideas and outlines that I had built up over the years, but I needed to learn how to develop them.

At the same time I started figuring out what a career as a writer entailed. And what it might take to make it happen. Writing can mean many different things, but I knew I wanted to be a novelist. And while there are a lot of steps on the way, the first thing you need is a novel. So after a year of working on stories and technique I started The Novel.

It was from an idea I had several years ago. A modern love story that I thought had good commercial appeal. It took a month to outline it. Two months for a rough draft. Several months of revisions and editing with feedback from a few select readers. But I ended up with a book that I really like and am proud of. It was time to try to get it published.

I'll probably go more into the pursuit of publication in more detail at some point, but suffice it to say that so far my novel is unpublished. Not that I've given up, but I needed to pursue other things. To keep writing. On a break from my editing The Novel (breaks are very necessary to get away and give perspective) I expanded on a previous story I had written. It was a short story that had turned into a novella, and now it turned into a second novel. Now I had two books with no publisher (and no agent). So while I had not made any progress on the professional side of writing, I had satisfied myself that it's something I can do. That's really where it starts: I believe I can do this.

All of this happened while still working my day job. Now was the time for the leap of faith. I had been saving money and was close to my target: enough to live off for a year. So I quit my job. And I officially became an unemployed writer.

And that's where we are now. I have a new book planned. The writing has started. I am still searching for an agent and looking into self-publishing options. I have a year and we will see how it goes.