The other day my daughter was on my desktop computer and complained it was hard to use it because the letters were rubbed off in places.
I have two main computers I use for my writings, and both of them have K350 wireless Logitech ergonomic keyboards like this one…
I like ergonomic keypads and have used different types. I think my favorite is the Microsoft version but the one I like is a wired keyboard versus wireless and I prefer the wireless version, as I like to sometimes kick up my legs and type while its on my lap. To do so, I need a full, robust keyboard like the one above, one that can -natch- fit comfortably on my lap. With the wired version, I can only pull it so far!
Anyway, this is what my daughter was complaining about, the current state of that keyboard on my desktop computer:
As you can see, the letters S, D, F, C, L, and N are pretty much obliterated because of my heavy typing.
As I said, I have a second computer, a laptop, which I’ve also paired up with a K350 keyboard. I use the laptop in another room, away from everyone, so that I can concentrate on my work and not distract/be distracted by my family. Here is it:
I know the photos look about the same and the same letters are essentially missing: S, D, C, N, and L. Unlike the desktop’s keyboard, though, the F key is still visible and, showing the laptop’s keyboard has seen less use, you can still see a little of the S, C, and L buttons, though not enough to actually read ’em.
Worth noting, too, is that if you look closely at the pictures, you see that the letters M and V, while still visible, are also showing signs of heavy use. In the desktop picture at the top, both letters are quite chipped away while for my laptop the M is going but the V is still relatively intact.
I point this out not to denigrate the Logitech keyboard, though I would say that maybe the letters should last a little bit more, but it is intriguing that those letters, S, D, C, F, L, and N seems to get the most wear… at least when I’m typing, with the M and V being the next level of most used letters.
It’s Tuesday the 15th, the middle of September 2020 and I’m sitting here before my computer feeling pretty exhausted.
It’s a good kind of exhaustion, but an exhaustion nonetheless.
I’ve spent an awful lot of time of late working on my latest novel and, now that its nearing its end, I’m beat by all the intense work but happy because its coming to its end.
If you frequent this board, usually I’m much more active about posting, and of late it seems I’ve only been able to do on average one every week or so… Well, it seems that way, anyway. Further, because of my focus on this novel, many of the posts have involved Book #8 in my Corrosive Knights series.
I tend to write about what’s going on in my life and/or my current interests and at least for the last couple of months I’ve been focused like a proverbial laser on this novel and getting it done.
Which brings me to something I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll note again: I’m always amused by the way authors are depicted on TV or in the movies. I often have these visions of Angela Lansbury as the fussy Agatha Christie-type mystery writer who seems to write in her spare time while solving mysteries in her other spare time.
Or there’s the Hemingway-type author, the great outdoors explorer/great white hunter who also seems to have so much free time to engage in his manly activities while also seemingly writing books and stories in his spare time.
Then there’s the intellectual type, with a pipe in hand and thick glasses on their face, who at least seem like the type that would spend hours before a typewriter/computer creating their works.
There’s also the crazed/weird author, perhaps exemplified by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe (though tragic) or H. P. Lovecraft. People who are misfits yet brilliant when they set pen to paper but are otherwise looked upon as oddballs by society in general.
The other day I saw the opening to a Colombo episode that featured author Mickey Spillane (of Mike Hammer fame) being offed in the show’s opening minutes. Spillane is presented as a famous author who has the time to go to bars and have himself a good time, then record his fiction so that his secretary can transcribe it later.
The bottom line is the act of writing is often presented as something done on the fly, quickly and without much effort by the authors themselves or the focus goes toward the personalities rather than their actual writing.
I’ve noted before that for me writing can be excruciating. I’ve noted the quote one author -whose name sadly eludes me- that they “don’t like writing, but love having written.”
In other words, when it all comes together and you hold the completed novel or see your story in a magazine/online, you’re proud of your work, immensely so, but the actual process of getting there can be very hard.
Mind you, I’m not asking for some sympathy here or saying “poor me”.
The fact is that while I don’t love the actual process of writing, its in my blood and I couldn’t imagine spending those hours doing anything else.
But it is hard stuff.
Just as an athlete spends countless hours practicing before reaching the big game (and I can imagine many athletes love the game but aren’t quite as enamored of the training involved to play it), authors like me -because I’m sure there are others with different techniques- spend countless hours working on our stories and moving pieces this way and that, cutting out sections or realizing we have to do something completely different… and throwing away what may turn out to be months of work in favor of going into a different direction.
With Book #8 in the Corrosive Knights series, I wound up doing just that. The novel began as one thing but after months –months!– of toying around with different ideas, I slowly came to the realization that I needed to go in a different direction and that’s what I did. I had some 20,000+ words written by that point and most of it was now useless.
I very much doubt, too, that any of it can be used in the future and for some other work!
So that’s the way it goes with writing. It’s not this casual thing that I do then solve mysteries on the side with my beautiful sidekick, who we make eyes with and might get involved with.
Neither am I always out in the wilds, canoeing or mountain climbing or (heaven forbid) hunting. Nor am I a weirdo (at least I hope not!) who society looks upon as an oddball.
What I am is a guy who spends a lot of time before the computer or before printed pages, near constantly thinking about what I’ve written and where it is I want to go. Looking for rough edges and softening them, looking for bad grammar/descriptions and fixing them.
In time, the work goes for this amorphous with some ideas in it, say a beginning and an end, maybe some idea of a middle section and certainly vague ideas of what the characters are and what they’re doing, then slowly I mold those disparate ideas until they start to make sense and, once they do, work them more and more, cutting out the fat and focusing like that proverbial laser on what needs to be in the story and what does not.
If I’m successful, I hope my novels -which sometimes can take as many as 2 years to complete- can nonetheless be read in one longish sitting.
In fact, I consider this a great success: That I’ve written something which has drawn a reader in so well and so quickly that they are willing to spend their precious hours breathlessly working their way through the book, whether it takes them one prolonged sitting or a couple of days.
Regardless, I don’t want to waste any readers’ time. I want to present, with each new novel, the very best I’m capable of. I know that my works may have flaws and hopefully they’re nothing more serious than a silly typo here or there.
I want to entertain you, and I truly, sincerely, don’t want to waste your time.
Yesterday I posted that I was finished reading and pen/ink revising through my latest novel, the 9th draft of the book, and was looking forward to putting those revisions into the computer.
Last night, I slept really hard.
Lights out and goodbye.
Though it may not seem the case, writing is a very stressful, time consuming job. Job as in work.
I’ve stated it before but it bears repeating: Writing is WORK. At times very, very hard work.
I started this latest book in the Corrosive Knights series, believe it or not, waaaaaay back in 2014. I wrote some notes and sequences, amounting to maybe 10,000-15,000 words, then let it go while working on, among other things, Foundry of the Gods (Book #6 of the Corrosive Knights series).
When Foundry of the Gods was finished, it was back to Book #7, the conclusion to the Corrosive Knights series, and for nearly two years now I’ve been working on it and, incrementally, brought it closer and closer to its conclusion.
The first 4-5 drafts of the book were very incomplete, as most of my novels are in those early drafts. There are some segments that I have well thought out and write. There are other segments that may be presented as nothing more than an outline. Perhaps no more than one or two sentences!
Which brings us to the heading above: Persistence.
With each read-through, with each putting revisions into the computer, I move the proverbial ball forward. Sometimes the ball “moves” many miles forward. At other times, perhaps it doesn’t move forward nearly enough.
With each revision and if I’m paying attention -and, trust me, I try my very best to do so- the novel slowly emerges.
There are “a-ha!” moments, where you come up with some clever bit or sequence or dialogue that improves everything around it. But more often than not what you’re doing is realizing this doesn’t work or that sentence is bloated or that sequence is a repetition of a sequence that came before.
Rather than simply cracking open your cranium and letting your thoughts spill all over the page, what I tend to do as a writer is incrementally build my book over time. I’ve mentioned before that when I’m writing, a day doesn’t pass where I’m not thinking about some part of a book I’m currently on and how do I improve this or that.
This goes on for, on average of late, two full years as I write my latest work.
For some writers, the process is certainly quicker. Stephen King, as I’ve noted before, stated in his book on writing that he will write a book, put it away in a drawer (to, as he put it, “cool down”), then do a revision and off it goes to be printed. If he’s to be believed, that means his first run through a novel is very close to what he eventually releases.
Clearly what works for me may not work for others. I suspect if Mr. King took two full years to write a novel he might have given up the career.
But for me, as much of a pain in the ass as it is to so slowly, incrementally create a book, the fact of the matter is that this is how it works for me, and when I get to the end of this particular road I look back at all that hard work and the persistence needed to create it…
…and I’m proud of the work. So very proud.
And I finally, finally get to have a good night’s sleep! 😉
Bloat: unwarranted or excessive growth or enlargement; to make turgid or swollen
As I jump into draft #9 of my latest Corrosive Knights novel, I’m particularly interested in finding -and snipping away- anything within it which could fall under the above definition.
I’ve talked before about how difficult it is to write -and it is- but as one reaches the stage where I’m at, where your story is pretty much set and you’re moving away from creative writing and to revisions involving grammar and spelling, one should also try their best to see which sections of your book require pruning.
It’s not as easy as it sounds.
Let’s face it, authors fall in love with their works. Hell, they wouldn’t spend all that time on them if they didn’t love what they were doing, but the danger is that they get to the point where they may not realize parts of their beloved works, be they something as small as a sentence or two to as large as several chapters, would be better left out.
When I was writing my very first novel, Haze, I very much fell into that situation. Originally the book featured a very long opening section which served to acquaint the reader with the protagonist. It went on for way too long before we got to the “meat” of the story.
As I was very much a novice to the whole book writing business at the time, I simply was not aware of this bloated opening act. Luckily, I didn’t publish the work then and there and instead revised and re-revised the work over and over again and gradually developed an understanding of what worked and what didn’t.
I was also helped immensely by the fact that I put the novel away for a while -perhaps a little over a year or so- before getting at it again. It was at that point that I realized how much I could get rid of from that opening section without hurting the reader’s understanding of the protagonist and while getting that same reader that much quicker to the “good stuff”.
It was an important lesson for me and I’m fascinated to find book reviews where readers say something to the effect that a book needed “a good editor.” Usually the comment refers to a book being too long and featuring material that was unnecessary and should have been eliminated.
You know, bloat.
So, in the interests of brevity, here I go into my own novel.
Been a while since I posted some personal thoughts on the writing process but, as I’m not elbow deep in the 7th Draft of my latest Corrosive Knights novel, I realized it was a good time to go into at least one very important -perhaps THE most important!- element in writing:
Make every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter count. Trim the fat and, even more importantly, be on the lookout for it.
Authors are like any other people: You’re -quite understandably- proud of things you can do. This goes for things you do on your job to things you do in your free time and can take the form of many things. Whether it be cooking a meal, cleaning your home, setting tile, building a dog/tree house, running a personal best mile, etc. etc. etc. one takes pride in one’s accomplishments and creative writing, in my case specifically, is what I absolutely live for.
I love the act of writing a book, even when its a freaking pain in my ass and things don’t seem to be quite right and it takes too long to get through a certain section or you bemoan all the time spent before your computer or reading through the printouts.
The satisfaction comes at the end, when you know you’ve done your best and created something you’re proud of and, even more importantly, you’re certain its something others will enjoy.
But here’s the thing: You can’t fall too much in love with your work and get to a point where you’re blinded to potential weaknesses.
When I was elbow deep in Draft #6 of the book, there was a section in it toward the beginning that, frankly, wasn’t all that exciting to read through. I would go even so far as to say I found it something of a chore to read.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, figuring I was either exhausted (as I frequently am… I fear sometimes I work myself a little too hard even as another part of my mind berates me for not working hard enough!) or too concerned with other sections of the book that needed work or… whatever.
So here I was yesterday in Draft #7 of the book and I get to that same part and… its boring me.
This time around I put the draft down and decide to take a bathroom break. As I do so, I think about that section of the book (a chapter, really), and recall my similar feelings when I read that particular section a while back.
I have sudden, blinding insight and realize, perhaps one draft too later (but better late than never!) that if I’m feeling bored reading this particular chapter, and its my own freaking work, then how will others react to it?
So I think some more. The chapter is important to the story so eliminating it entirely is out of the question. No, I realized, there was a need to take another careful look at it and read it yet again and try to see why it wasn’t working.
Though I was past that chapter, I returned to it, resolved to unlock this mystery.
With that mindset, I realized the chapter had more bloat than others. I simply went into too much description of things that ultimately didn’t matter all that much to the story, even though the events in the particular chapter were important to the overall novel.
And I became a surgeon and carefully went over the chapter line by line by line and cut all the things that were not necessary while keeping all the things that were. In the end, I suspect the first half of this chapter will be roughly half the length it originally was, but readers will move through this chapter much quicker and the points I was trying to make will be made that much faster.
The late author Elmore Leonard had a fascinating list of 10 Creative Writing Do’s and Don’ts (you can read the full list here). My favorite bit of advice is his very last point:
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. My most important rule is one that sums (this) up: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
I love that first line: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. In other words, when writing a novel or story of any kind, the author should try their best to keep the stuff people want to read and remove/delete/eliminate the stuff they don’t want to read.
Sounds simple but, of course, it isn’t quite so simple. For six drafts I had a chapter in my latest book which bothered me yet, dense as I am, didn’t see it for what it was: Bloated. It was only on the 7th pass that I recognized there was a problem and addressed it.
This is why I work through as many drafts of my novels as I do and take great pains to make sure they’re released when they’re ready. While it may take a reader a day or two to read one of my novels, it takes me of late two full years to write these works. But that’s the time needed and that’s the time it takes.
The last thing I want to do is write something that bores people… especially me! 😉
Now, it’s damn tempting to think that reading a few books like these mentioned above will help your writing. I suspect that if you study them, you will likely help yourself to some degree.
As someone who has considered doing an “On Writing”-type book (I’ve given my advice here and there on this blog), let me be the first to say this: There is no one advice book that will suddenly make you a superb writer.
Yeah, big reveal there, I’m sure.
The fact of the matter is that each author or potential author has their “style” of writing. Shadow author Walter Gibson was able to produce a mind-boggling amount of words on a daily basis. I recall he noted how his very last Shadow novel (these novels tended to be between 50-60,000 words so they could be considered novellas) was written in a single long sitting and sent out to the publishers of the pulp magazine the next day.
Stephen King, at least according to what he wrote in his On Writing book, stated he writes a book in roughly three months or so, puts it in a drawer to “let it cool down”, then comes back to revise it and its out. I suspect that since releasing that book, he’s streamlined his writing habits even more. I wonder if he revises his books much at all, or leaves it to editors.
Then there are authors who take up to ten years plus to create their work. Clearly and unlike Walter Gibson and Stephen King, they sweat all the details. Perhaps a little too much!
Me? At first I was able to release roughly a book a year but of late I’ve found myself taking two years to write a book. Though I wish I could release material more quickly -oh how I wish I could!- it takes a while to get all the details of a story together, much less present it in a way that I feel is exciting and interesting to a potential reader.
The thing about writing is that you have to have something of a vault of information in your head regarding stories. Not only the ones you admire for their success, but also those you look back on and learn from their failures.
Mind you, I’d be the last person to say all my books are magnificent, earth-shattering triumphs (though over at Goodreads.com my books have earned a cumulative average of 4.10 out of 5, something I can’t even begin to say how much I’m humbled by and appreciate).
However, I’ve tried to be a sponge with regard to stories. I’ve been that way since I was old enough to read. Whatever it may be, comic books, novels, stories, TV shows, movies, etc. etc. I’ve taken in, enjoyed, then mentally taken apart. I’ve examined what worked and what didn’t, where the author/actor/director really got me as a viewer/reader and where they didn’t.
Again: What worked and what did not.
And this sort of examination helps me, I feel, as a guide when I’m writing my own works.
Why does it take me 2 years to write a novel? Because on average I go through 12 drafts of a novel before I feel it is good enough to release.
12 drafts, ladies and gentlemen.
12 times I go through a book, the first 5 or 6 drafts usually being a gradual build up in the story, to the point where I feel I’ve gotten all the elements needed in their proper place. The next 5-6 drafts tend to be about the storytelling itself, to make sure the book is lean and mean and doesn’t feature any repetition or awkward phraseology.
One of my favorite horror films is the original 1979 film Alien. I suspect most people out there know of this film, if only because this summer we’ve had the release of Alien: Covenant, the third sequel original director Ridley Scott made of his first film (the second being Prometheus).
I love, love, love Alien. There is almost nothing about it that was wrong, including the excellent -and super-creepy- theatrical trailer…
As much as I loved Alien, and also loved the first sequel to the film, James Cameron’s Aliens, unfortunately the films that have followed, including Prometheus, have left me wanting. In fact, so bummed out was I by Prometheus that I was hesitant to see Mr. Scott’s Alien: Covenant. After reading what he does to the character of Elizabeth Shaw, the protagonist of Prometheus, I have very little desire to see the film indeed.
However, this post is about writing and rather than dwell on the negatives of the more recent Alien films, I wanted to focus on the first and what a clever bit of writing the movie presented.
I’ll be getting into SPOILERS here, but I suspect most people by now have seen the film or know what its about.
Still, SPOILERS FOLLOW…
So in Alien, a group of “space truckers” carry their latest load to its destination. The ship they’re in is massive but the crew of the ship consists of only seven, plus one cat.
The crew are asleep for the long trip, in hyperbolic chambers, but are awoken well before their destination when the ship’s computer receives a strange signal coming from a planet they are flying by.
The crew is awoken and a decision is made to investigate the strange signal. When the landing party arrives planet side, they discover an eerie, massive spacecraft and a large, mummified occupant. They also, tragically, discover that within the ship’s cargo bay are hundreds of eggs.
One of the crew is attacked by the thing inside one of the eggs. It melts through his space suit’s face mask and entwines itself around the crew-member’s face. However, he’s still alive and the others bring him back to the shuttle.
It is at this point that I think the most brilliant bit of writing within the film occurs. What makes it so brilliant is that its a wonderful bit of misdirection, making us feel one way when we should have felt another. It lays out so much and we realize this only in retrospect, when the film is done.
Basically, the ship’s Captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt) tries to bring the stricken officer, Kane (John Hurt), along with the rest of the exploration crew, back into the shuttle. Kane is still alive and he needs immediate medical help and orders those within the shuttle to let them in.
However, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), noting that Kane has been infected by an alien presence and therefore may well be a danger to the entire crew, refuses to allow the landing party back in. She notes that protocol dictates that Kane cannot be allowed back into the ship until he is deemed “safe” from any alien infection. To allow him in at this point, she states, could endanger everyone.
Meanwhile, science officer/medic Ash (Ian Holm), who is within the shuttle, can barely contain himself. He is anxious to see/deal with Kane and, realizing the stand-off between Ripley and Dallas will remain, breaks protocol and allows the crew, including the infected Kane, back into the shuttle.
The scene, as played out, makes audiences root for both Dallas and Ash and boo Ripley. While she is following protocol, it seems incredibly cold and inhuman for her to have the crew out there in the cold. Especially when it seems at least possible that Kane can be treated and saved rather than being left outside to die.
Yet that scene is beautifully realized because it is only in retrospect that we realize there’s far more going on than it appears.
First off, Dallas, we find, is a very weak leader. He’s one of those “good guy” bosses who wants everyone to like him and is too lax in following protocol. Ripley, it turns out, is the no-nonsense firm one. She knows protocol and, though her actions may be outwardly cold, she’s right while those who are following their emotions are wrong. Finally Ash, who appeared in that sequence to be following his emotions and choosing to “save” Kane, is revealed to be not interested in him at all. His actions carry their own dark motivations.
I point this sequence out because it is so (pardon my french) fucking brilliant.
We’re given three characters and their three reactions to this highly stressful situation. We’re presented with the very human emotion of trying to save a fellow from a fate that seems worse than death. We’re presented with a cold, too-regulated person who doesn’t seem to understand we’re dealing with human lives here. Then we have the third person, the one on the fence -we think- who decides for being “human” and saving the stricken officer.
And it turns out all our assumptions of that scene are wrong.
Dallas, while certainly wanting to save Kane, may also be wanting to save his own skin. He purposely ignores protocol and orders Ripley to let everyone into the shuttle even though this may well endanger everyone else.
Ripley, seemingly an automaton beholden to protocol and therefore a cold-hearted person audiences root against, turns out to be completely correct in her assessment of the situation. Yes, she may not approach this situation emotionally, but if Kane had been kept from returning to the shuttle as she wanted, none of what followed would have happened.
And Ash, who we thought was anxiously weighing both sides before ultimately siding with Dallas and hoping to save Kane, was doing anything but that. When it is later revealed who/what Ash is and how he already knew of the alien creature, audiences can’t help but think back to that earlier scene and realize whatever anxiety Ash showed was not because he wanted to save Kane. Kane, and the rest of the crew of the ship, were eminently expendable to Ash. What he wanted was the alien creature, to bring it back to his masters so they may use it for their own dark goals.
As I said before, this is a post regarding writing and in that sequence within the film, the writing is terrific, all the more so when the rest of the film plays out.
Too bad the same couldn’t be said of the writing of Prometheus.
The article is pretty much self-descriptive, though it seems Mr. Moore had a lifelong animus regarding guns that first developed when he was a very young man.
There will certainly be those who point out Mr. Moore was a hypocrite. After all, the most famous character he portrayed, James Bond, often was presented like this…
I believe you get the point, no?
Among many other things, James Bond is known for the weapon he carries, a Walther PPK. Along with romancing beautiful women, high wire escapes, a Martini “shaken and not stirred”, and sophisticated gadgets, the Walther PPK is one of James Bond’s trademarks, the gun the fictional secret agent carries.
I find it fascinating that Mr. Moore, while certainly not slamming the James Bond role that made him a world-wide superstar, nonetheless was quoted as stating:
I regret that sadly heroes in general are depicted with guns in their hands.
Now, as the headline above indicates, this is about “writing”, so how does this relate to my writing?
Because I had something of a same experience with regard to the first novel in my Corrosive Knights series, Mechanic.
When I first envisioned the story, we were just coming off a decade of some very macho -and heavily armed- heroes. You had Rambo. You had The Terminator. You had all the other action roles played by Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenneger.
These were next level action heroes who, it appeared, were influenced by Clint Eastwood’s action heroes of the 1970’s, particularly the Magnum brandishing Dirty Harry Callahan.
But as these things go, the spectacle has to be bigger and bigger and therefore the action/violence in many of the films released in the 1980’s and into the 1990’s were bigger and bigger as well…to the point where they made the original Dirty Harry film look positively quaint.
Into that time I first came up with what eventually would become my Mechanic story and the hero of the piece, the tough as nails Nox.
When I first envisioned her, it was through the veil of those heroes and their big guns.
But a curious thing happened on the way to writing the novel itself.
Yes, Nox carries a gun on the cover of Mechanic. She also carries a handgun on the cover of the fourth book in the series, Nox. But the character uses a gun very little in either novel.
In fact, the conclusion of Mechanic (MILD SPOILERS!) has Nox taking down those who she’s fighting against without “blowing them away” via heavy gunplay (to be fair, she does shoot one person down with a single shot).
This was done very much on purpose.
The fact is that, like Mr. Moore, when I got down to the business of writing Mechanic I’d developed something of a distaste for the idea of heroes wielding massive arsenals of weapons and engaging in equally massive shootouts.
Though there remain some shootouts here and there, after writing as many books as I have it occurred to me that I’d rejected using this type of resolution.
First, because its been done so many times before and second because I’m just not that into guns and it seemed silly to go there when I can try to be a little more clever with how villains get their just rewards.
I’m not saying that those who love guns and/or are writers/filmmakers/what-have-you who love to do elaborate shoot-outs are somehow creating works I feel are “inferior”, only that my particular creative writing path has taken me elsewhere.
I suppose the bottom line is this: If you’re a writer, write what you feel works for you. I’ve made many action/adventure novels and the temptation to have elaborate shootouts became, to me anyway, something I didn’t want to dwell on.
I feel the end result was something better, certainly in Mechanic and hopefully in other works as well.
It seems an obvious thing, but if you’re interested in writing something, what do you write?
The obvious answer should be similar to everything else regarding you as a person: Write what you like.
If you’re into science fiction, write science fiction. If you’re into mystery, write mysteries. Ditto with romances, biographies, young adult, children, or how-to tomes.
Having said that, I suspect there are those who pursue genres or book types which are popular, as well. I’m hopeful they’re a minority, but who knows.
So you want to be a writer of, say, mysteries, and you wonder what you need to do to come up with your story.
The first step in the process, should you have reached the point where you want to write mystery novels, is to read plenty of mystery novels. You see what works and, sometimes even more importantly, what does not work in other mystery novels/stories.
You analyze what excites you about them, what, for lack of a better term, “tickles your fancy”.
The next step is to start writing. And you write and write and write and, eventually –hopefully!– you’ve written that first novel.
There is a story, very likely apocryphal, that upon writing his first novel Ernest Hemingway threw it in the trash and got to work on his next book.
The fact of the matter is that whatever you write first, whatever it may be, is likely not going to be all that great.
Understand, there certainly is a possibility the novel or story you write is a good one.
But let’s be real here: Just because you decide to go to the track one day and run a lap or two, it doesn’t mean you’re suddenly the heavy favorite to win the 500 meter race in the next Olympics.
So write that first novel as best as you can. Pour your heart into it and revise it and polish it and try to make it the very best thing you can.
Then, you have to find the moment to abandon it.
I’m not saying you should throw it away and use the experience gained to write your second novel. What I’m saying is that as important as starting a novel is, it is almost just as important to find the time to finish your work on it.
I know what I talk of!
Haze, wasn’t the first story I wrote but it was my first attempt at an honest to goodness novel.
Writing the book proved a brutal but ultimately very rewarding experience.
Of all the books I’ve written since, one of the biggest lessons learned from writing Haze is that you need to focus on what is important in the story and not get too consumed with page or word counts.
In the book’s early incarnations, there was an awful lot of stuff going on in the book’s first act, stuff that over time I realized didn’t add much to the story and, worse, kept readers from getting to the good stuff.
The writing of this novel turned from my finding how to create a story to my learning what was important in telling that story versus what was extraneous.
It took me years to figure this out.
In between, I left the book for a while and devoted time to writing other stories and plotting other novels. I worked and worked while Haze sat in a drawer and on my hard drive. Now and again I would return to it, having gained more experience over time, and revise it.
I can’t say how many times I’ve revised that book, but I suspect it was far more than my usual 10-12 revisions of a novel.
And that’s another thing that experience teaches you. I’ve come to realize that my first 1-3rd draft of a novel is usually where I’m putting ideas down, sometimes out of order or presented in a word salad. If I have a notion for a scene and I’m not certain about where it will go in the book, I may just write a description and highlight it and go about writing whatever else needs to be written.
In time, I have that first “full” draft of the book and from that point on the polishing starts. I go over the novel to make sure I’ve accounted for every action, that I’ve explained why things occur and how. I make sure everything is clear.
The last three or four drafts of my latest novel are inevitably devoted to grammar and syntax. I make sure everything is spelled right and that there be as few typos as possible.
And once I’m done, it’s off to the next book.
I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it again: Writing is not an easy thing to do. It requires considerable work and, as should be obvious by what I wrote above, considerable patience and effort.
Yesterday I wrote about the ingredients needed to make a novel a blockbuster success.
Of course, the various ingredients are as follows:
1. Who the hell knows?
2. There is no #2
Having said that, there are things one can do to ensure they at least have the chance of succeeding in the writing business. But be aware, the dreams of being independently wealthy off your writings must be met with the cold hard reality of the number of books you’re going to be competing against.
According to Bowker, there are a little over 1 million books released each year. Want to get even more depressed? Steven Piersanti, president of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, offers the following depressing…
I won’t go over everything Mr. Piersanti writes, but suffice it to say there are two very big truths regarding books today: 1) The market is oversaturated and 2) Because of this your novel will face very long odds getting any –any– recognition.
So what’s a poor book writer to do?
Keep working… at least as long as it is economically feasible. Look, I’m like most writers out there. My dream was/is to be successful at what I do and, hopefully, be able to live off my work. In the years I’ve been doing this I’ve managed to sell books and have had positive reactions to them but, like everyone else, I’m competing with a tremendously large market. I happen to have enough financial security -and whatever free time I can carve out of the day- to work on my novels.
However, if you’re facing financial difficulties, you absolutely need to take care of that first and foremost. If it means putting aside your writing dreams, you have to do this. Find the free time to follow those dreams after you work and after you get money to pay rent and groceries.
In other words, set your priorities straight. If things change and you’re able to live off your writings, then you can focus on them full time.
Now here comes a bit of very hard news: If and when you get your novel done and you manage to get it released, either through a “professional” imprint or independently, DO NOT expect the world to beat down your door and proclaim you the next Stephen King. In fact, you should expect the exact opposite, that the world will by and large ignore your baby.
Don’t be angered by this reaction!
Again, you’ve just released one novel of over a million released in a year. What you should do is figure out a strategy to advertise the book, do this, and then get to work on your next novel. Then your next, then your next.
I suspect new readers feel far more comfortable investing in an author with many works -and hopefully some positive reviews of said book(s)- under their belt versus someone who releases a single book.
Again, don’t be discouraged but approach the writing business realistically and soberly.
You may be that one in a million writer who shatters that very high ceiling and your book becomes a sensation. This is possible and it has happened to others.
But please, don’t count on it.
Writing is hard work and success, like in so many other fields, is not guaranteed.