Be willing to kill your babies

When I was in high school, typing was a required course. We used IBM Selectric typewriters rather than computers. By the end of the one-semester course, I was the fastest in my class, banging out 90 error-free words per minute. It was the most useful thing I learned in high school.

Since moving to computers, I can edit as I type. I still type close to 90 wpm, but thanks to the backspace key, I type backwards even faster … clickity clickity clickity WHACK WHACK WHACK clickity clickity clickity, etc.

Where am I going with this?

I’m working on my second book, the sequel to Ohlen’s Arrow, tentatively entitled Ohlen’s Bane. The first weekend I worked on it, I cranked out over 12,000 words. I typed a lot. Since then, my word count is up to 15,000. I decided to read over what I had so far, and although it was interesting, it wasn’t engaging.

The last thing I want is for my book to require the reader suffer through to the fifth chapter before anything good happens. One of the things going for Ohlen’s Arrow was its pace. It started with action and maintained an engaging level of action with few pauses throughout the story.

I am now killing my babies. As I read through my first four chapters, I am looking for sections that can be rearranged to maintain a better pace. I’m also looking for sections that aren’t important at all. When I find them, I kill them. I’m not tied to the words I created. I can remove them and write new ones, better ones. The story also has sections that take far too long to get across what can be conveyed either indirectly or simply.

Because of my technical background, I tend to be rather verbose in my descriptions. I am learning to adopt a more compact and dense writing style, conveying an equal or greater amount of information in fewer words.

My goal is to write 100,000 words for Ohlen’s Bane. I’ll probably write more than that, because I know that during the revision and editing phase of the project, I’ll be whacking the backspace key a lot more than any other.

I am willing to kill my babies.

Are you a writer or a follower?

When I write, I don’t read other people’s works. I know that a lot of authors are also voracious readers both within their genre and outside of it, and I like to read as well (when I have time). When I’m writing my own new works, I don’t like to be tainted by the voice and style of others.

I am a writer, not a follower. I write my own story.

Imagine trying to write a song while listening to the radio. Intentionally or not, your song will be influenced by whatever you’re hearing whether you realize it or not. My writing is the same way.

I have read articles that ask the question, “How would ____ write this?” They often refer to famous authors, such as Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway. Although it’s worth gaining general knowledge of the mechanics of writing by studying famous literary works, asking the question, “How did ___ write?” is the better way to approach it.

Every writer has their own method, their own approach, their own voice. I’m no different. I have tools and processes and quirks that work for me, and they may work for others, but they may not. At the end of the day, I am writing my own books, not rehashes of something written by J.K. Rowling or R.A. Salvatore.

When I find myself struggling with a certain passage, I don’t ask, “How would ___ write this?” I am a writer, not a follower. I write my own story.

When writers cheat

Writers cheat. I’m not talking about blatant or even subtle plagiarism. I’m referring to taking short cuts when it comes to plot devices. How often have you read, “It is written…” or “It has been prophesied that…”? I see this technique as a way to explain away why something happens without really explaining why it happens.

There’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.

As I begin writing the sequel to my first novel, Ohlen’s Arrow, I have imposed upon myself the requirement that I answer “Why?” for every character motive in my story. My process involves making a plot event list, which is nothing more than a sequential list of events that occur in the story. Each event is a single sentence that translates into a scene in the book. I then organize those scenes into chapters.

When I state, “The monsters attack the castle”, for example, I must answer the question, “Why did the monsters attack the castle?” What is their motivation? Simply declaring, “They’re monsters, that’s what they do!” is nowhere near good enough, and would easily come across to most readers as transparent and cheap. If a character gets promoted to a position of power, how unoriginal would it be if I declare that it was prophesied by the mystic elders of the First Millennium? This makes it sound inevitable, and there’s nothing less exciting for the reader than inevitability.

Answering “Why?” requires that I do some backstory research, which can be described as Iceberg Tips. Even though a great deal of the backstory behind my character’s motives won’t actually appear in my book, there will be hints of it and the discerning reader will glean why Argo the Orc hated Prince Ruprect with every fiber of his ugly hide. Without the iceberg, there can be no tip.

How edits feel

Elmore Leonard once said, “Write the book the way it should be written, then give it to somebody to put in the commas and shit.” This is a good viewpoint to hold when you’re a writer, because when you give your work to a copyeditor and they take their red pen and bleed all over it, you can’t take it personally.

Otherwise I would have stabbed myself in the heart with a rusty nail weeks ago.

As I’ve received edited chapters from my copyeditor, I got a brief sense of panic when I noticed the sheer volume of suggested changes. It makes me feel like I just started learning English a month ago. I also wonder what went through her mind as she reviewed my work. “This guy thinks he can write a book? What audacity!”

It has helped me to realize that this is part of the process. No writer, no matter how skilled or successful, produces flawless prose on the first try or even the 30th. As Elmore Leonard pointed out, it’s not really the writer’s job to do so, either. Focus on the creativity, the tone, the emotion, the description. Get the basic mechanics of your writing down, then allow someone else to do the editing, to put in the commas and shit.

I only have three more chapters to review from my copyeditor, then I need to read through Ohlen’s Arrow, cover to cover, one more time before I put it up for sale. I’m very excited about this as you can imagine, but it has been a very long, tedious process. The editing and revision phase of a book project is far more difficult and tedious and time-consuming than actually writing it; I am really looking forward to getting it finished.

The mechanics of self-publishing a book

I have written Ohlen’s Arrow and am finished with all editorial changes. It is now in the final proofreading stage. In fact, I hope to only have one more go-through to catch any errant spelling or grammatical errors before I call the text golden.

The cover design has been approved and is now in the hands of the illustrator for the final proof. She’ll next work on the world map that appears in the front of the book.

Meanwhile, I have purchased 10 ISBNs, enough to handle each publication channel. Initially, I intend to offer the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple iTunes book store. There are no plans to print the book in a dead-tree edition, but I’m not opposed to that happening down the road.

I am also currently working on creating the book’s tagline and blurb. For such short pieces of text, they are remarkably difficult to create. They say you should never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice. Well, try summarizing an entire novel in less than 10 words. Better yet, try doing it in a way that makes people want to buy the book while simultaneously not giving away the plot or the surprising twist you gave it at the end. That’s a challenge!

My goal remains to have Ohlen’s Arrow ready for purchase on-line by June 1st. So far I think that deadline is still feasible. Stay tuned.