So earlier today (as I type this), I had some students who wanted to take a portrait of me with my books (I haven’t received a copy of it yet). As I lugged the physical editions of my work (seven items), I couldn’t help but smile. One of the students asked about how one publishes so much.
This is really the crux of a lot of questions:
How does one become a writer? How does one get published? How does one find an agent?
The simple truth of the matter is that none of that happens if you don’t write.
Every time I’m interviewed, every panel I go on, I come to this defining moment. The only way a book ever gets written is if a person sits down and commits to writing it. That commitment is the thing that matters.
I understand time constraints. I’m at work for about nine hours in a day (one for lunch). I have a beautiful wife I love and three sons I enjoy teaching and spending time with. I love spending time in God’s word. Those things all take time.
Then I find time to write. It might be about 20 minutes during my lunch break. I do my marketing and blogging after everyone has gone to bed.
The more you write, the more you will write. It’s a true correlation. However, even if you’re super busy, just find a few minutes. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’ll have a full length novel done in three months. Even if you only write 300 words a day, you’ll have a book finished by year’s end. If you want the book done sooner, find more time to write.
This isn’t the first post I’ve done about finding time to write, but it is essential to hear again and again. The number one reason you probably haven’t finished a novel is because you haven’t started one.
Sure, it’s hard to get an agent. If you self-publish, it’s incredibly hard to market and become successful, and forget about how hard it is for anyone to find that rarified air status like a Brandon Sanderson. But you have no hope of finding that air if you’re not committing at least some time to the craft.
I’ve been at this longer than it feels. Six years is a long time, but 12 titles in six years isn’t half bad. My message to you, reader, is that it starts with the first step, and then you take another.
So just start walking, and keep walking. Before you know it, you’ll end up somewhere you never thought you’d be.
I think it’s important to talk about disappointment. For about a year now, I’ve averaged about eight sales a month. One person may scoff at that, and I can’t really argue. Selling less than ten books a month isn’t impressive, is it? But I worked for that same year to bring that average up. About two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised when I sold a book at all.
So you see, that was an improvement. Sure, what author doesn’t want thousands of sales per week? But one has to start somewhere.
May started off slow, but then I had about three sales in two days. Surely I was going to meet my eight-sale quota! I might even do more! After all, Betrayed came out, so that should only increase my sales right?
Wrong! I sold those three books, and that was it.
This is not a post about how to complain. This is a post in how to handle disappointment.
Hopeful authors, take measure of your determination.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Brandon Sanderson, my favorite author, did a video about how hard it is to make it. The dream is easy enough to understand. We want to write stories and sell millions of books and have movie producers beat down our doors. Allow me to summarize what Sanderson said in the video: “Making it has nothing to do with talent.”
Writing a book is hard. It takes dedication and determination.
Getting an agent is hard. I don’t even try these days. It takes a force of will and many, many rejections. Just search authors who got turned down by agents and enjoy the reading.
Even assuming you get an agent, only about one percent of the authors out there reach the financial success every author dreams to attain.
Does the above depress you? Does it make you decide not to write? Should you give up?
Well who am I to tell you what to do?
By now you may be wondering how this does anything to help an aspiring author deal with disappointment. Some of you may even think this post is more likely to say I’m fed up, and I quit. I assure you, that’s not the case.
You see, the way to deal with disappointment is to remember why you started writing in the first place. If you started writing to make your millions, you probably made a mistake. Those who did make their millions did so through time, dedication, and effort filed by something far more powerful than the desire to amass wealth.
You have to love writing.
You have to love writing so much that you don’t even care if you ever sell a single book. You have to love writing so much that if an agent tells you (in very unkind words) that you have no business writing, you shrug and say, “Maybe not, but I’m going to keep doing it.”
Every time I even thought (if only for a moment) about giving up, one very simple thought came into my mind: “There’s no way on earth you’re going to stop writing.”
You see, I’m about 80% through my next book, and I’m already frustrated because I can’t wait to finish the one after that, and I. So excited to start Mercer my Urban Fantasy Police Procedural series. I have a mountain of stories in my head dying to get out, and I’m writing them because I want to read them.
Yes, I want to earn money. Yes, I want to be a best seller. Yes, I want tv shows and movies made from my books, but I write them because I love writing.
I love writing g so much that I market for two hours a day just to reach new readers. I love writing so much I sneak in about 1,000 words during my lunch break because that’s the best time for a follower of Christ, husband, father, and teacher to sneak in a bit of writing.
If you started a book to make millions, I wish you luck, but your odds are crap.
But this post is for you, that person whose mind is flooded with ideas and worlds and characters yearning to be unleashed on a page. You write because you love it, and that’s enough.
If you love writing that much, just keep at it. It’ll feed your heart with joy, and maybe, with effort, time, patience, work, a mountain of luck, and the will of God (without whom nothing is possible), you’ll find yourself successful. Indeed I hope one day to write a post where I can say, “Just look at me!” Clearly, today is not that day. But every day is a chance to write, and I love it.
So writers deal with disappointment by realizing that whatever happens, you can always write another book, and that’s enough. I hope it’s enough for you.
Every now and then, one of the students at the Defense Information School where I teach will approach me to write a feature about my writing. I typically get the same sorts of questions, and one of the more common ones is about where I get the ideas for my stories.
I have to admit that this is a very hard question for me to answer. You see, I have ideas all the time. I’m more baffled when people tell me they have trouble coming up with ideas. That gave me the idea (see what I mean?) to do this blog you’re reading.
For me, ideas are very natural. Even when I was trying to think about what I was going to blog about today (I spent about five minutes thinking), I was more considering options than I was trying to think of just one.
Idea Generation Method 1: Let your life inspire you. This is probably my primary method. I have a very active imagination, so when I see something, I sometimes take it to a fantastic degree, and that leads me to a story idea. Bob Drifter came to me while watching my dad and his dog interact. There are some other childhood trauma things I won’t get too far into, but I’ll only touch on them by saying there were people who left my life, and I had trouble dealing with it, so I created this world where souls were passed on. This isn’t remotely Biblical, and I acknowledge that as a Christian. However, it was a lovely thought for a 17-year-old who wanted to feel more connected to the people around him. I really loved the idea that people can leave pieces of themselves to other people they’re close to, and, in a way, we do.
I’m struggling between going into where the ideas for all my books came as examples of this process and offering other methods. I’m actually articulating this so you see how my mind works as well. So the happy medium is to give you another example of letting life inspire you before moving on to other techniques.
Stealing Freedom came to mind when some riots were happening a few years back. The details are fuzzy in my memory, but what I remember is a person drove a car into a crowd. There was a lot of debate about protesting and how people respond. I worried that people would start to discuss “limiting” free speech for the “protection” of others. I had a mental picture of a little girl wearing a shock collar. Then I thought about one of my sisters being that girl’s mother. “She’d burn the world down before she let that happen,” I thought to myself. And there it was, the opening chapter to a new story.
The method (if I try to explain it) is to look at something happening in the world around you and then try to add fantastical elements to it. You can try it now. Look at one thing that happened to you today and then apply some strange or even just ridiculous element to it. Then start trying to come up with ways to rationalize that element. This will form a situation if not a full blown story.
This is easily my primary method for coming up with ideas, but there are others I’ve either heard others talk about or offered to others.
Idea Generation Method 2: Combine and Twist: What are your two favorite books? If you were going to write fan fiction and try to combine these worlds, how would you do it? If you can follow this line of thought, you’re halfway to coming up with an original story. All you need to do then is come up with your twist. Ask yourself what you can do to put a new spin on the two worlds or magic systems. Because almost all of my stories were used with the above technique, I can’t point out any one of my own stories. Neither can I name a Combine and Twist story I’ve seen off the top of my head. So we’ll have to come up with something together.
I love Dragonriders of Pern and Wheel of Time. What if owning a dragon gave you powers, but your will was always at odds with the will of your dragon? (I actually love this idea, but I promise I have enough books to write). Let’s go with this a bit further. Say we live in a world where dragons exist, and a select group of people could mentally connect with those dragons. However, if one took over a dragon contrary to one’s will, they’d have to constantly maintain control of the bond lest the dragon take over the human’s mind. That gives me an idea for a main character. What if my main character had the idea to find and bond a dragon who actually agreed with his line of thinking. How much more powerful would both become if they worked together rather than engage in a perpetual mental battle for access to the powers the dragons provide? If you like that idea, feel free to write it. Just give me a nod in your acknowledgments page (and maybe buy and recommend a guy’s books?).
Idea Generation Method 3: Fix A Broken Story: What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen or book you’ve read? Why was it bad? I’m actually currently reading the worst book I’ve ever read (I feel obligated to finish it). Now, I have that opinion of this book because I’m at a loss as to how I would even go about fixing it (it’s that bad). But, this is a great way to come up with ideas. I actually do have a personal example of this. You see, I don’t really like YA fiction. I think that there are some very overdone aspects of it that just make it predictable and unrealistic. When I had a life inspiration moment for Repressed (people were debating the right to let others legally immigrate), I knew that Kaitlyn (originally from Caught) would be perfect for that situation. However, Kaitlyn only fits two of the list of things YA characters have. She was (she’s 19 now as I’m writing the end of Oneiros) young, and she’s a compelling character. I didn’t like the stories of the young girl who meets a dangerous boy and falls in love trying to change him. That’s putting it mildly. I’m not at all against people meeting and falling in love. I’m not at all against young people of either gender wanting to find love. What I hate is what I see as the glorification of toxic relationships.
So that’s the part I changed. Instead of a girl meets bad boy plot, I had a young girl who was driven to a different goal. Can YA be about young people learning about themselves rather than falling in love with the worst possible person? The plot and writing of Repressed was easy after that.
So those are three things you might try if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, but I leave you with a different challenge. Is it possible you don’t actually struggle coming up with one idea? When I talk to students, the struggle they have is that they’re waiting for that “perfect” idea. I don’t have that problem at all. My recommendation more than how to find ideas is this: Once you find an idea, write that book. It doesn’t have to be the greatest book ever. It doesn’t even have to be that good an idea. What doing this does is train you to ideate and then create. This way, when you do have that one great idea, you’re already practiced at writing and developing it. Don’t get stuck. Don’t wind up never writing anything because you’re chasing after a better idea. It’s a fool’s errand. I sincerely hope each idea you have is better than your last one, but that doesn’t actually mean the first idea was bad. So have ideas and then write them. Practice that positive habit, and you’ll find a whole bunch of books you’ve written ready to evaluate when you’re done.
I play cards with my wife’s grandparents every Thursday. Today, the wife’s cousin (who lives there) asked m how the business was going. I told him I was happy at how it was growing. Then he asked me a question that stumped me, and I’d like to share my thoughts with those of you who wish to become authors.
He asked me what the hardest part was.
Is it the writing? I don’t think so. It certainly isn’t the hard part for me. Whatever I’m doing from day to day, I have to think I type somewhere between 1-3 thousand words a day. Now only a portion of those words are for my career as an author, but I don’t think it’s hard to write (at least not the way that I think of it). Now I don’t want to go off on a tangent about why some people may struggle with writing, but I want to establish that writing isn’t actually that difficult.
Is it the editing? Well, I hate it, but it’s not actually hard. It’s tedious. It always feels like I’m just looking at evidence of how bad a writer I actually am. However, when I sit down and get to it (after I’m done moping), it works out.
It’s not the designing. It’s not the marketing (though I still have a long way to go).
So what, then, is the hardest part.
I realized the hardest part is the grind. I affirm I could take any hopeful writer and help that person get a book published on Amazon in less than a calendar year. I would only require that individual promise to spend at least two hours a day on said book. Outside of that, I could help anyone. But hidden in there is another example of the grind.
I’m aware of at least a dozen people who started a book. What happens though is people start out with a burst of inspiration and ambition. It’s like a person who just chugged a Red Bull. Sure, you start off hot, but you eventually burn out, and that’s my point.
The people who start a book and the people who finish writing a book are only separated by one factor: They keep going.
The people who finish a book and the people who get published are only separated by one factor: They keep going.
The people who don’t sell any books and the people who sell hundreds of books (or more) per month are again only separated by that same factor: They keep going.
I can personally attest to the first two above assertions. Several people started writing books when I had started writing my books. I kept writing, and they stopped. They had their reasons and excuses, and I’m not here judging them for those decisions. I’m only stating that, with the blessings and by permission of God, I finished my book because I kept working on it. I got it published because I kept looking for ways to make that happen.
Now, I currently only average about eight sales a month, so I’ll understand if you don’t think much of this little motivation blog I’m writing. However, when I first started selling books, I was amazed whenever I sold a book. I’d go months without selling a single copy of anything. Then I started working on my marketing. I started studying and acting on what I learned. This has lad to a small, but steady, increase of my sales per month average.
The tough part about being a writer doesn’t actually have anything to do with the difficulty of any one task. Even if one argues editing, writing, or designing is hard (even if I respectfully disagree), it’s still not that difficult. But writing every day, day after day, for years. That’s hard. The commitment it takes is ludicrous.
I’m here to tell you it still works. The effort usually reaps equivalent rewards in time. Now I’m still limited to the time God allows me to be on this Earth, but while I’m here, if I keep working toward a goal, it usually happens.
Determination, I propose, is the only real distinction between people who accomplish a goal and people who don’t. This isn’t an absolute. I can train every day for the rest of my life, and I’m not making the 49ers roster. Talent and genetics plays a role in some areas, but not writing. Over the long haul, almost anyone can do almost anything with enough time and effort.
This is my message to you all today. You can choose to give in to despair or disappointment, or you can choose to keep going. You can accept that what you were doing is no longer intrinsically motivating and decide you don’t want to do it anymore. You have that right, and I won’t mock you for it. I just don’t want you to feel like you will continue to fail just because you have failed. Indeed, you will fail if you stop trying simply because you succeeded once.
I have to finish the Oneiros Log. I have to finish Images of Truth and revise and publish a whole bunch of other novels. They can’t be purchased if I never make them available for sale. So if you’re discouraged, please consider this motivation I offer to you. If you still want that goal, keep pushing. Keep working. If you stop, you’re guaranteed to fail. But you might succeed if you just try one more time.
We’re still quiet on the Weech front in terms of announcements, so that gives me an opportunity to just talk about the craft.
If you read any of my book reviews, you’ll see that I evaluate a book on a specific set of criteria: Character, Worldbuilding, Dialogue, Description, and Exposition. I’m of the opinion that if you’re really good at just one of those categories, someone will be interested in your book. The more you improve your ability in all of those categories, the more readers will appreciate your work. Sure, genre plays a role. Frankly a romance author could knock all those categories out of the park, and I’d never know because I just don’t like the genre. But in a world of averages, I feel my theory is true.
I’ve spoken about character before, and as I was brainstorming on what I wanted to write about, description popped into my head.
I affirm that description is critical, but it must be enough to help activate the senses, but not so much to notice. Therefore, description is the most important characteristic of a book that must never be noticed.
So I want you to do an experiment. You can follow along with me if you wish. Start by pulling up your current work in progress. If you don’t have a work in progress, write a couple hundred words.
Here is a scene from Images of Truth, the first book in the Perception of War saga:
The Var’lechen seemed to be the antithesis of Volition ideals. Where a Volition would only die to protect others and only fight so others didn’t have to, Var’lechen seemed to be willing to kill anyone so long as they drew blood. True, Var’lechen and Volition were equally willing to die, but the Var’lechen seemed to be willing to exchange death if only to increase the destruction.
“Barrick,” Bani said. “I have an idea.”
Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige listened even as ships passed by so quickly they seemed like only streaks of light to him.
“I’m open to ideas,” the human pilot grunted.
“I want you to fly straight at one of them.”
The silence matched Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s thoughts. Was he seeking a sacrificial death?
“Trust me,” Bani said. “Go straight at one of the bastards.”
Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft shifted, and the thrusters behind him flared as he headed directly toward an enemy.
I come to you willingly (MOON GOD).Please let this death be worthy of entrance to your hallowed halls.
The enemy craft’s thrusters burst to life to charge at Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s fighter. I fought for my comrades. I die so they don’t have to. I don’t know how to protect Barrick and Zango. Forgive me for that.
With 4-1 odds, the Var’lechen was more than willing to sacrifice himself in exchange for one (SNAKE).Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige considered trying to fire, but freighter was still right behind the enemy.
The Var’lechen charged. Netriod,I will miss you, my friend.
The enemy fighter burst. Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft zipped through a quickly fading ball of fire. For an instant, he as washed in light, and then it faded.
“Figured they’d be willing to fly right into you,” Bani explained. “So we took advantage of their suicidal focus to shoot them down while they were focused on you.”
So it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t a truly worthy death anyway, Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige thought, trying to tamp down his disappointment. I’m glad my death didn’t require Zango and Barrick’s. That much was true. A true Volition would never want others to die with him. But am I cursed to live forever?
A strange thought entered Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s mind. He pictured the crew laughing and sitting together at the fire on (GYPSY PLANET). He thought of times he and Netriod played (SPACE CHESS) together. (MOON GOD) help me! Could I truly be wanting to live?
Hopefully, you have something up in front of you. Now, what I want you to do first is just read your scene.
Things to note: This is a discovery draft. There are details here that are buried in my notes somewhere and notes to myself that I need to address. I don’t let any of that get in the way of my writing. I make the notes and KEEP DRAFTING! I’ll address the issues in the next draft. I recommend you do the same.
Back on track. After reading your draft, ask yourself:
What do I see?
What do I hear?
What do I smell?
What do I taste?
What do I feel?
I’m going to go back to my segment and do that for myself.
What do I see? Ships creating streaks of light. An enemy fighter burst. There’s a freighter in there somewhere (behind the enemy). A ball of fire.
What do I hear?
What do I smell?
What do I taste?
What do I feel?
Now you may say, “I’m aware of more than that!” True, but it’s all exposition. I’m TELLING you all the things that are happening. However, you’re standing in the gunner’s seat with Adobrym (that’s what I call him). You’re not a camera, filming the action. Also, in this current draft, I’ve done nothing to activate the other senses.
This is actually very common for one of my discovery drafts. I’m all about “what happened.” I skip a lot of details and information. That’s fine when you’re burning through a draft. But when you edit, you need to do a pass for description, and you really want to be brutal. How can you change the “telling” to a “showing.”
Now go through your draft again (I’ll do mine) and point out those opportunities. Here’s a smaller segment of my section, and the notes I’ve left to myself or edits I’ve made:
“Trust me,” Bani said (What does Bani sound like? Accent? Tone?). “Go straight at one of the bastards.”
Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige felt the ship tremble as it shifted, and the thrusters behind him flared as he headed directly toward an enemy. The thrusters wrapped him is a bright white light.
I come to you willingly (MOON GOD).Please let this death be worthy of entrance to your hallowed halls.
Dots of light appeared behind the (DESCRIBE THE SHIP) as its thrusters burst to life to charge at Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s fighter. I fought for my comrades. I die so they don’t have to. I don’t know how to protect Barrick and Zango. Forgive me for that.
With 4-1 odds, the Var’lechen was more than willing to sacrifice himself in exchange for one (SNAKE).Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige considered trying to fire, but freighter was still right behind the enemy. Black scorch marks covered the boxy freighter. Its exterior lights flickered.
The Var’lechen charged. Netriod,I will miss you, my friend.
The enemy fighter burst. Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige’s craft zipped through a quickly fading ball of fire. For an instant, he as washed in light, and then it faded. In his exosuite, Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige didn’t feel the heat of the blast even as he soared through it. The pressure of the explosion made his ears clog, and then the blast, with no air to keep it alive, faded, and Adobrymanzorishadivongapazuzutige once more heard his own breath in his helmet.
There are probably more opportunities in there. This is just a brief example. Ideally, you’d do this for a whole chapter.
Now, don’t overdo it, and don’t be overly repetitive. The trick is to add cues that are designed to activate the imagination. Don’t bombard your readers with the IMAX vision in your head, instead, provide them with a few moments that allow the IMAX theaters in their heads to come to life.
I hope this little glimpse into how I do things (I’m positive there are other methods that work) helps you with whatever project you’re working on.
If you have another technique, feel free to drop a link or post a comment.
I want to share a frustration I have with people sometimes. People can let one obstacle beat them. I can’t go to the gym, so I can’t work out. Really? So lack of access to a gym prevents you from doing pushups or sit ups?
I don’t have any ground beef, so I’ll order out. Why? Does ground beef constitute the entirety of your food options?
That doesn’t mean that people don’t face obstacles. It doesn’t mean that those obstacles aren’t frustrating at times. However, we as human beings choose. We choose to let our circumstances defeat us, or we choose to endure our circumstances and move forward in the ways God provides.
As a nation, America is face with more restrictions on their lives that they’ve ever face. The malls are closed. There are no sports. And, for me, all the conventions I had lined up were cancelled. That’s a huge bummer!
Since conventions are my number one method of sales (and not profit), this means I’m at an extreme disadvantage. The hardest hit is that no sales means no income, which means I can’t save up money for edits on Betrayed. I can’t save for a cover. Even the money I had been budgeting is set aside because we want to be prepared for any true financial issues.
So the challenge question: Does this really mean I can’t do anything as an author? No!
You can too. First, for you hopeful authors who constantly say, “I want to write, but I just don’t have the time!” What, exactly are you spending your time on now? Maybe you’re blessed to still have some form of employment. That’s great. However, it’s not like there’s a game you “need” to catch anytime soon. It’s not like there’s a new movie you “just have” to see.
You can write that book right now.
What about people like me? Well, the first thing I’m doing is working hard on the outline to Discovered (which looks to be a big one, by far the biggest of the trilogy). The other thing I’m doing is working a bit more on marketing. I’m building more campaigns for Amazon Marketing. Even if no one is buying now (and they are, even I sold a book or two this week), when things start moving forward, I’ll have a new armada of advertisements ready to go.
I’m blessed to be able to telework during this time. I’m still working. Heck, I might be doing more work than I would be doing if the building were open. This means time is still an issue. It might still be the biggest issue. However, what time I do have to myself, I spend on some form of writing. I might also do something else, but I chip away.
In the Navy, a common phrase you’ll hear is, “I don’t care what you can’t do; tell me what you can do.”
This attitude, this frame of mind, is essential. This time in our lives is definitely a challenge. We’re all worried. We wonder if we’ll get sick. We wonder if our finances will hold up. However, if we focus on our problems, we turn a blind eye to the solutions that are out there.
The challenge I offer you is this: Whatever you do, make sure you understand you’re making a choice. Even refusing to do anything or “failing” to make a choice is still a choice.
Naturally, you have the right to choose whatever you want. My problem would be if you try to avoid or lament the consequences of that choice as an excuse for why you can’t do something.
The guy who says, “I could write that book, but I’ve been meaning to watch the entire ‘How I Met Your Mother’ series for years now,” will get no beef from me. However the guy who complains about how he never has time to finish a book while watching that show may get a different reaction from me.
So here are a few things you can do if your finances prevent you from buying a cover or paying for editing services:
Draft another book.
Make revisions on another manuscript.
Work on building your marketing plan.
Build your email list.
Send your readers an email (man I’m terrible at that).
This period of stress in our lives does create problems, but it doesn’t mean we have to give up on our goals.
I wanted to share these thoughts to motivate you to get moving in some way. This isn’t unique to writing either. Maybe spend some more quality time with your kids. Maybe turn this into an “in home” second honeymoon. Chip away on those home projects you’ve “been meaning to get around to.”
This time is stressful and challenging enough. Let’s use it to look for opportunities.
Betrayed is coming along. I’ve started the Alpha Draft, which is the draft I do after my alpha reader (in this case) has had a chance to look at it.
First thing’s first. I want to take a moment to thank Grace for taking the time to read this rough draft and provide the feedback she did. For us self-published authors, finding readers is hard enough, let alone finding a reader who’s willing to read a rough draft.
Now is the time I take her feedback into consideration and do another chapter-by-chapter pass on the book. This cleans the mechanics of the story up, but more importantly it gives me a chance to locate plot holes and timeline issues. This trilogy spans something in the neighborhood of seven years, and there are a lot of things that happen that have to time out correctly.
The other issue is character development and plotting. Kaitlyn and Kira in particular have some critical areas of growth. There are a lot of foreshadow elements that should pay off in Discovered. So while I work on this draft, I’m looking for ways to establish critical character development aspects without being heavy handed.
I felt a touch of discouragement as I started the Discovery Draft exactly a year ago (as you read this Dec. 7). The truth is, writing is a war of endurance. When it’s not full time, you sit down and take what time you can. I’d expect to get through the Alpha Draft sometime in January. Then it’s off to Sara for the Developmental Edit. Assuming she gets it back to me in two weeks or so, I can start that draft in March. Then it goes off to Beta Readers. They get a month to read it and provide feedback, so I should work on my Beta Draft in June. That means I get Sara another crack at it for proofreading in July, and so September or October 2020 is a likely neighborhood for the official release.
Things could go faster as I get time here and there, or they might slow down if finances make it hard to send the book out to Sara for either of her two rounds of edits. I feel confident that those dates are pretty solid.
While I’m waiting for feedback, I’ll keep plugging away on Discovered. I’m still outlining it at the moment. Using the timeline above, I think I could maybe get the Discovery Draft done around when Betrayed comes out. My math says there will be about two months where I can’t move forward with Betrayed because I’m waiting on feedback. That’s way less certain than Betrayed’s fall 2020 release.
I know this is a big slowdown from the eight titles I’ve released in the last two years, but a lot of those releases were portions of other projects. I have other projects that are further along, but I’ve been trying to get the Oneiros Log finished for years now, and I owe it to those readers to get that finished before I start bouncing around as I’m want to do.
I promise I’m working as hard as I can, and I’ll keep putting out the best stories I can in hopes that you will find them entertaining.
I’m not sure what post it was in, but a few posts ago I mentioned my wonderful life and how that life has altered my schedule. I had been and remain adamant that anything in life deserves a level of commitment. That level of commitment should reflect the importance you give it in your life. I’d advise anyone to take a serious look at the things they say they want to do in their lives and evaluate how much effort they make to do those things.
It’s a good way to put things in perspective too. If you keep investing your time in other things, maybe those things are actually more important to you. This isn’t a judgment. It’s your life, and you’re free to spend it doing whatever you want. If you look at that life and realize you spend a lot of time doing X, then you can either realize that X really is more important or change your habits.
Being married has been a huge adjustment. I’m about 10 months into my marriage, and we’re still figuring things out. It’s not just me. My kids’ lives are very different than they were before I showed up, and they’re even more different after I became their father. My wife’s life is different. We’ve talked several times (Julie and I) about what we want to find time to do and how we can pull it off.
So I offer this bit of rambling to you who say you want to write but can’t “find the time.”
First question: Do you really want to write? Really? Do you want it more than sleep? Do you want it more than football? Do you want it more than video games? Do you want it more than time with your wife? I’m not saying you have to sacrifice everything. However, there are only so many hours in a day, week, or month. You can’t give time to something unless that time comes from somewhere. If the things you’re already doing are more important than your desire to write, it’s no shame on you. I think you should simply think about other ways to find time. Maybe take a vacation day here or there. Maybe do some sort of writing retreat. Maybe look at the situation and say to yourself that you’re happy with your life the way it is. If you can’t let writing go, then don’t. But that means working to find that time. Before moving on to any step be aware that finding time means investing time. If there’s nothing in your life you’re willing to do less of, then writing isn’t that important to you, and that’s OK. But if you do this seriously, and you’re heart is set on writing, then you’ll find the thing you’re currently spending time on that isn’t that important.
Things more important to me than writing: God. My family. Being a good employee. Those are areas of my life that I won’t give up to find time writing. I love writing. It’s been part of my life forever, but I won’t take time from those things to find more time to write.
Things I really, really like: Football and video games. Those are things that I’ve found can compete. However, when I realize I’ve spent more hours playing video games than I have writing, it’s usually a convicting moment for me. Football is a fairly seasonal thing, and commercials are awesome! They let me do social media things or work on a cover. I wouldn’t necessarily tell people to write during commercials. I think that divides too much of your attention, but there are somethings you can do that will let your dedicated writing time be all about writing. If I’m up against deadline, video games are usually the first to go, and I can reduce my football. I love my 49ers most, so I tend to want to watch that game, but the rest of the games are things I can set aside if I need more dedicated writing.
Easier said than done: So above, I mentioned my family. That’s a lot of time. Homework time. Dinner time. Family time together. Bible time (at least in my house). Laundry. Cleaning up. Bed time (at least in my house). This takes up the better part of most evenings and every other Saturday. So time at my house is such a premium.
I don’t get a ton of writing done at home these days. I usually get a bit on Saturdays. Most of my writing time is done during my authorized lunch time. Rather than what I used to do (enjoy a mindless hour on Youtube), I use that time to write. After we get the kids to bed (my wife an I alternate bedtime), I might have to not play video games so I can get more writing done.
My point is, the time is there. When I feel myself getting frustrated at the amount of time I have to write, the first thing to do is make sure I’m not wasting time I could be writing. However, I’m not a crazy person. Those video games are usually how I calm my self down (animated though I may be during the games) before going to bed. Who doesn’t need relaxation now and then. Writing is actually pretty relaxing on one end, but it activates my mind. When I used to try to go to bed right after writing, I found I couldn’t shut off my brain. I still have my normal goal of 1,000 words (of something) a day. That might be editing like I’m doing now with Betrayed. It might be outlining, like I will be doing with Discovered. I love drafting most. Tuesdays and Fridays are set aside for blogging right here. No, I don’t have nearly as much time to “write” as I used to, but I still managed to find the time I’ve always believed I “need.”
Other places I find time: My wife drives. First, she likes it, and I hate it. So while she’s driving, I can get social media done or even some drafting or editing if the trip is long enough.
Stay up a “bit” later. Honestly, I’m 40 now. Man my body needs way more rest than I’m used to. I used to be able to be pretty much good to go off maybe three hours of sleep. Not any more. I need five. Five is probably pushing it, but I have to get five hours of sleep to have a hope on Earth of waking up on time for work or church. On an occasional time or two (or Saturdays if I’m being honest), I pull of four hours of sleep, but I usually hate myself. However, I can probably find an hour when I need to after everyone else has gone to bed.
Wake up a “bit” earlier. If I’m being honest, this would probably be the more feasible option if I needed it. I’ve found that no one in the house likes going to sleep alone, but no one in the house gives two toots who wakes up first. My bias is I hate waking up regardless of the hour. If I could sleep for a whole day, I would. However, it’s an available option to me.
I wanted to share this to help anyone out there struggling. If one were to ask me, “Do you feel like you get enough time?” I’d probably say, “Not as much as I want, but at least what I need.” Still, before I was married, I wrote a bunch and had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. It wasn’t fun. It’s way more fun having three wonderful sons. It’s way more fun having a wife. So I take the lunch hour I used to waste on videos and get the 1,000 mandatory amount, and then I carve out other blocks if I feel I need to.
It’s really just about taking a good, hard look at your schedule and making a decision about what you’re willing to give up, which is why that first question is the most important.
So, busy authors who are more successful than I am, what do you do to find time? What ideas have you had that I haven’t mentioned above?
I’m writing this post on my phone because for some reason, my computer has decided it hates WordPress. I’d rather post something as opposed to not. I think it’s important I post on schedule, so here I am, but I do ask for some leinency for lack of pictures and any other errors.
A while back, I posted about chracter sliders. I mentioned that characters need to grow, but today I want to warn against characters who only have a high value in one category.
I don’t think charaters like this work. If you have a character who is amazingly competent, it won’t matter if he’s unsympathetic or not proactive.
Some may argue characters have to be symoasympat, and I like those characters, but sympathy alone isn’t enough.
I wanted to try and explain this with a character study, but I simply can’t think of a character who only has one high-value characteristic. I’m honestly atill thinking, and I can’t name one.
So let’s assume you all agree with me that characters need to be sympathetic; what else should they be? Well, that’s the luxury of choice.
A proactive character would, I think, inspire characters and motivate readers to keep trying. This would be a character like Naruto.
A competent character would challenge the reader. He would force the reader to keep up while simultaneously frustrating readers with his tendency to not act. Doctor Strange is a good example here. He’s totally motivated by selfish reasons. By choosing to take action and help defend Earth, the reader is satisfied and excited by his involvement in the fight.
Why are two mandatory?
Well, let’s again assume most feeling characters just be proactive.
If he doesn’t do anything, the reader will lose interest, feeling as though the character won’t ever answer the call to action
If the reader is also incompetent, the reader will put the story down because even if that character decided to take action, he’d probably fail.
My point is a character can’t just be sympathetic, proactive, OR competent. There needs to be a second element to create tension during the rising action and satisfaction during the climax.
What are your thoughts? Can you name any one-dimensional characters?
The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.
By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.
There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.
However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.
Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”
I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.
I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.
What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.
What I recommend:
Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.
Discovery draft: get the story written.
First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)
Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)
Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)
Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.
Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.
Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.
Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”
I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.
However, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.
This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)
A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.
What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.
I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.