Process

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Articles about the process and activities of writing.

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.

Hiatus, and my return from it

I apologize to my readers and followers for my lack of communication in the last two months. I bought a house and moved, and that has taken up all of my free time since mid-October.

The weather where I live has also been a factor, disrupting schedules and plans and being downright inconvenient.

Now that things are settling down and getting back into a routine, I will be re-engaging in writing activities. I have a fourth book to write, and two existing books to release on paperback. Stay tuned, and thank you for your patience.

Writing and Playing Dungeons & Dragons

As those who have read my books may know from my author profile, I was exposed to the fantasy genre back in 1980 when I played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons. Not to date myself too much, but I was still in grade school. The game was a big part of my life until I was 25 or so, and for various reasons I won’t mention, I gave it up. The next time I played D&D was Christmas of 2013, when I ran a short one-off game for my family as a group activity.

Dungeons & DragonsThat game had a big impact on me. Although I hadn’t intended for it to be so, it inspired me to write my third novel, and even provided some plot events that made it into the book. I didn’t play again until just a few months ago, when I picked up the 5th edition Starter Set and the three core rule books (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual for those unfamiliar with D&D).

I walked into Goin’ Gaming, a game and comic store in Troutdale, Oregon, bought some miniatures and got to know the owners, Alan and Becky Schmid. (See other posts about the store and the owners and how that factored into my writing career.) They host D&D games every Thursday evening, and the group needed more players. I showed up at the next game session and was warmly welcomed.

Other walk-ins saw our enthusiasm and the group has grown to seven players, all of whom I now consider to be my friends. We play at least once a week. After our current campaign wraps up at the end of June, I’ll take over as Dungeon Master, and that gets me to the point of this post.

Once I read through the 5th edition rule books, I began to get ideas for the plot of my fourth novel. My vision is to write three trilogies in the Taesia world, of which The Taesian Chronicles is the first trilogy. The fourth novel will be book one of the second trilogy. (Forgive the seemingly strange logic for the way I’m structuring the series; there’s a method to my madness.) I brainstormed the plot and am very happy with it. But, that plot would also make an outstanding D&D campaign.

With the group’s permission, I will switch from being a player to being the DM. Our current DM, Joseph, will become a player, and the group will run through my new campaign. In a sense, we will be play-testing my plot idea. I don’t anticipate the game campaign directly translating into a novel. That was done with Against the Giants, and what was one of the best modules ever written failed horribly as a novel. However, as what happened with my one-off adventure played by my family over a Christmas holiday, I think there is some wonderful inspiration to be generated by the game that can feed into the novel.

It is my intention to run the D&D campaign first, at least for several weeks, before I begin work on my fourth book. The creative energy required to write a campaign and the amount of time it takes to flesh it out severely limits my available bandwidth for novel-writing. I can do one or the other, but not both. I don’t usually write much during the summer months anyway, so work on the book probably won’t begin until autumn. At that point I will have a pretty good idea if my plot idea holds water, and I will hopefully also have some great source material from the game itself. Players often come up with dialog or creative solutions to challenging problems that make excellent material for books.

We’ll see how this goes. Stay tuned.

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.

Efficient Fiction — How To Be a Productive Fiction Writer

Writing in a notebook
Writing in a notebook

This article describes the methods I use and the steps I follow that have proven to be very effective at avoiding writer’s block and at meeting deadlines. This process is efficient, methodical, and productive. If you follow this approach, it is very reasonable to expect that you can write an 80,000-word fiction novel from concept to publication-ready in less than five months.

Prepare to be Creative

When the muse hits, be prepared. Keep a notebook or note-taking app handy (personal preference) at all times. Jot down even the smallest ideas that come to mind, whenever they happen — don’t rely on your memory alone.

I keep my notebook nearby when watching movies or listening to music. These activities give me ideas for character names or traits. I also find my muse when traveling. Seeing diverse scenery and meeting new people often provides inspiration for my biggest and best ideas.

Find your muse and keep your notebook handy for when creativity strikes.

Allow Creativity to Happen – Creative Place and Mindset

Find a place where you can focus on creativity without distractions. It’s not as important to find a particular day or time, as that is often out of your control. If you know that you only have an hour a day, or a few specific hours on a weekend, allocate that time and keep it sacred.

Get into your creative space and remove every distraction possible. Are you familiar with the way your brain says “Let’s talk!” as soon as you crawl into bed at night? That’s because your brain has your undivided attention. Use that technique to let your creativity be in charge. Simulate (metaphorically) that state of being under the covers, the lights off, comfortable — and free of distractions.

If you get your best ideas lying in bed, keep your notebook nearby. It’s not uncommon for nocturnal ideas to disappear by morning; don’t rely on being able to remember them.

Write down what comes to mind. Don’t filter yourself. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling or anything formal. Just get your thoughts down on paper. Use position on the page to your advantage if the juxtaposition between ideas means something to you. Draw doodles if that helps. The whole point is to get a raw capture of what’s in your brain without imposing the distractions of formality.

Tip: I prefer a quiet room with a paper notebook rather than a computer, because it’s too tempting to check email or social media.

Give Shape To Your Ideas

The next step is to go back into your creative space but be ready to be slightly more organized. This will be a bit more of a problem-solving session rather than a purely creative time.

Read over your captured ideas and start to think about these things:

  • Characters — Who is your protagonist and who is your antagonist?
  • Events — What are the key, high-level events that will happen to your main characters?
  • Locations — Where will these events occur?

Spend a bit more care writing down your ideas. Don’t be afraid to use short sentences or even paragraphs if the mood strikes, but avoid being completely random or needlessly verbose. The point of this session is to give your raw ideas some initial shape and flow.

The whole purpose of this phase is to flesh out your raw ideas, with the end goal of turning it into a plot event list (an outline).

Define your Characters

This phase of the process is reiterative. I will often spend a few sessions focusing just on character development. I want to really get to know my characters and will write 1-2 page biographies about them. These bios will include physical descriptions, noteworthy events from their history, and personality traits. I’ll define their fears, ambitions, passions, aversions, likes and dislikes, enemies and friends, relatives, etc. Any detail about my character that might come up in the story ahead is noted, as well as anything that will inform how I write them — their mannerisms, way of speaking, etc. This character development is much like an actor getting into the head of the role they will portray. The only difference is you are creating that character from scratch, not mimicking an existing person.

Location, location, location!

Locations are like characters. I write descriptions of where they are located in my world and any pertinent or likely facts that may come up, such as population, elevation, climate, and prominent historical facts. I also like to define the location’s character. Is it lawless or does it have authoritarian policing? Does it have the smell of nearby swamps or industry? Are the residents matter-of-fact or carefree and joyous? Great writers let the environment their characters dwell within have a personality of its own, taking on its own character. It’s like the seasoning you add to a dish to make it taste that much better.

What Happens to Whom

Events are the things that happen to your characters as they move about in your environment. It also represents the order of things as they occur. Not every story is linear in how events are presented, so pay attention to the order of events as they actually happened. It’s okay to reveal events in a non-sequential order if you have a reason for it — does it serve the story? See the Tarantino film, “Pulp Fiction” for an example of non-linear storytelling.

Continue to flesh out your characters, locations, and events until you have an adequate amount of detail for your story.

Plot Event List

The purpose of this phase is to create a plot event list. It is a series of statements that describe each scene of your book, listed in the order they will appear in your manuscript.

Review your notes from the previous phase, paying special attention to your events. Write each event as a single sentence with a brief supporting paragraph to provide a little extra detail.

These sentences and paragraphs will become your scenes. You will write your book one scene at a time, helping focus your mind on what is at hand without being distracted or intimidated by the overall scale of your story.

Each scene statement and supporting paragraph should contain enough information to get your brain focused on what needs to be written. The scenes you write can end up being as short as a few paragraphs or many pages. The point is to keep each scene self-contained and about a single event as much as possible. It is reasonable to have between three and eight scenes per chapter, but don’t sweat it too much if you intentionally go above or below that number if it makes sense to do so.

The primary purpose of scenes is to break the book into manageable chunks as an aid to writing.

The final step is to organize your scenes into chapters. Although you may not have a specific number of words or pages per scene, try to accomplish these two objectives:

  1. Keep chapters at roughly the same length.
  2. Phrase or arrange your scenes in the order that makes the most sense for the story.

Primary Composition

Once you have your plot event list completed and organized into chapters, it’s now time to start writing the book itself. You should already have bios written for each of your main characters, your locations are well laid out and adequately described, and you know all the key events that will occur and the order they will happen — and the order they will appear in your story.

Start with your first scene. Read your scene statement (single sentence) and supporting paragraph. Read the bios of the characters that will be acting in this scene and review them. Like an actor preparing for a scene, get into the mindset of the characters and understand their motivations.

Without trying to edit on the fly, begin writing the scene. Don’t worry too much about the overall story — you already have that figured out.

A great tip is to compose the first scene of the book to be something that is short, snappy, and catches the reader’s attention without being overly informative. Raise questions but provide no answers, only hints. Give the reader a reason to read the next scene.

Now that you’re started, you will discover how all the prep work and processes really help you become a productive writer.

Hone Your Process

Find specific days and times during the week when you can write. Be as consistent as possible. I personally write on weekend mornings before the rest of the household is awake. I am focused, not distracted or worried about things, the house is quiet, and I don’t run the risk of other events during the day ruining my schedule.

If you only have an hour to write every other Thursday evening, so be it. Do what works for you, but be consistent. Set that time aside and make sure everyone who might take you away from it knows that you are unavailable and not to be disturbed. Period. Non-negotiable.

Even though you are properly writing your book now, this phase is equal parts creativity and production. You’ve already done a great deal of the legwork on your story. You know what’s going to happen to whom and where it will take place. All you’re doing now is filling in the details.

Because you are only writing one scene at a time, you’ve taken a huge undertaking and broken it down into manageable, easy to chew tasks.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Avoid the urge to edit yourself as you go. It’s not uncommon for writers to spend a needless amount of time writing and rewriting their opening paragraphs over and over again, spending more time working the backspace key than any other. Don’t do that. It’s like driving with the emergency brake on.

Our brains work in different ways depending on the circumstance. You will learn — if you don’t already know — when you are most creative, when you are most productive (they aren’t always the same), and when you are the most critical. These can take place at completely different times of day or days of the week, or even in different locations. I like to take a notebook to pubs and jot down my brainstorming ideas, but would never take my laptop to the same place for primary composition or editing. It just wouldn’t work for me.

Write in one session, and set aside another session to go back and read what you’ve written and give it a brief edit. Make them separate efforts. I’ll usually spend Saturday morning writing, often 2,000-5,000 words, sometimes more. I’ll then spend Sunday morning reading over what I wrote the day before. Sometimes I’ll review and edit on weeknights, but not often and not usually for long periods of time, typically an hour or less.

The following writing session, skim over the previous scene or two just to get a sense for where you left off. Read your next scene’s statement and supporting paragraph, read your pertinent bios and location descriptions, and start writing.

This is a highly productive process and you’ll be amazed at how many words you can write per week. It can be easier to produce six scenes of 8,000 words total than a single chapter of the same length. It’s a psychological thing, where you get mini-rewards throughout your sessions rather than bigger but delayed gratification at some seemingly distant point on the future.

Editing and Post-production

You have an editor, right? You’re not editing your own work, are you? Sure, you’re reviewing your scenes as you go along and making changes, but that’s not what I mean by editing. An editor is another person who’s sole job is to help your writing be the best it can be. They don’t write for you, they refine you.

Editing is a different skill than writing. The best athletes don’t always make the best coaches, and the best coaches aren’t always the best athletes. Editors are similar to coaches in that regard. Writing the story is your job. Making sure your story is conveyed in the best way possible is your editor’s job.

There are different types of editors, and there are different ways to work with them.

I break down editors into two types, and yes, they can exist in the same person. I call them story editors and line editors. I’ve been fortunate to work with an editor that performs both functions remarkably well.

A story editor makes sure your character development maintains the best flow and pace, and they keep you from changing the rules without realizing it. For example, a good story editor might say something like, “In chapter 17, scene two, you have the main character wielding their sword in their left hand, yet back in chapter 3, they held it in their right. Are they right- or left-handed? Ambidextrous?” They keep you on track. (This may seem like a trivial detail, but readers pick up on little things like that and will ding you in reviews for it.)

Story editors will also let you know if you are being overly expository (you’re telling the reader what’s going on instead of showing them) or if you need to expand what’s happening in a scene. They have opinions about what’s lacking, what’s glaring, and areas that could use improvement, but they often leave it to you to figure out how to solve these problems. Remember, the story is your job, they’re just helping you make the expression of that story the best it can possibly be. You won’t always agree with your story editor, but never do or say anything that might discourage them from being able to be honest with you. You’re paying them for their honesty. Value it.

Quick note: Editors are people, too, and some people are jerks. There’s a difference between giving honest feedback and being an asshole. Make sure you get along with your editor and don’t compromise your emotional health over it, even if they’re technically good at what they do.

Line editors will review your grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and other mechanics of your words, but won’t get involved in story or plot or how things feel.

Now that I’ve described the two types of editors, and hoping that you can find both skillsets in the same person (it’s cheaper that way), how you work with your editor is important.

Writer+Editor Workflow

There are two main ways to work with your editor. You can work a few chapters at a time, or write the whole book before your editor sees a single word of it.

As I mentioned previously, I write on weekends. I compose on Saturday, then review and refine my work on Sunday. I then pass along to my story editor everything I’ve completed over that weekend. They have the week to review what I’ve written and give me feedback. They often will send me a Word document with annotations noted within either through Track Changes functionality, or color coding/highlighting. They don’t correct my spelling or grammar, unless I am using an odd spelling or capitalization for something, in which case they might ask if it’s deliberate.

I’ll either spend an evening late in the week making any changes based on their suggestions, or I’ll spend the first part of my Saturday morning on rewrites if their suggestion warrant it.

This often equates to one to three chapters being written, reviewed, edited, and revised per week.

There are some benefits to this stepped approach. If my story editor has strong feelings about where things are going with a character’s development, or a side character has a lot of unfulfilled promise, they’ll often point this out. It can make me stop and think about my original story idea, and based on their feedback, I may decide to alter the planned events or character development points. I’ve also dropped entire chapters before because, based on my story editor’s feedback, they either weren’t adding anything to the story, or they just didn’t make sense. Changing the order of events can come up, too.

It’s important to keep in mind that I don’t share my plot event list with my story editor ahead of time. I want to get their feedback as a reader of the story, with their opinion fresh and untainted by me spoiling the story ahead of time.

“I really look forward to seeing what happens between Jane and John in the next chapter,” is something you want to hear from your editor.

Remember, give your reader a reason to turn every page and see what happens next.

Final Editing

Congratulations! After repeating this process chapter by chapter, you have completed the first draft of your story. You should not anticipate any significant rewrites, only minor revisions that don’t affect the plot much, if at all.

Once I have iteratively worked with my story editor through all the chapters, I will often leave my book alone for a week or two and not look at it or touch it. This is to give myself a sense of fresh eyes. I will then begin reading through my completed draft from page one. If I see misspellings or weird grammar, I’ll fix it, but otherwise I’m trying to get a reader’s perspective of the story as a whole.

Pay attention to the song, not the notes. Does it make you tap your feet or want to dance?

I will make notes about character development and key events, and decide as I go along if I feel they are serving the overall story that I wanted to tell. Is the story eliciting the emotions I hoped to create in my reader? Is it boring me? During this read-through, you should get a sense for parts that drag or go too fast.

Sometimes removing something can be just as useful as adding something new.

Once I have read through the entire manuscript, and made any revisions that I felt were necessary, I’ll turn the book over to my story editor for their full read-through.

I’ll review their suggestions and make any changes I feel necessary, and will communicate any things I disagreed with and why. They often give suggestions or feedback that can help me find a better approach to further improve the story.

Once those changes are completed, I’ll hand the entire manuscript over to my line editor (or the same editor if it’s the same person). This is where they fix all the typos and grammar and make the story mechanically sound. They will not be giving advice about plot, character development, or anything like that. Unless you have a very specific and deliberate reason not to, accept their edits. It is their job to focus on the notes and make sure a B-flat sounds like a B-flat; they won’t be focusing on the overall song.

Publication

Converting your story into an eBook or formatting it for paperback publication is beyond the scope of this effort. But, I will remind you that once you’ve got your book into Kindle or Nook format, or get your first proof copy in paperback, give it another read. Pay the money to get your line editor to review it in those formats as well. Trust me, you’ll still find a typo or two, and you don’t want a stranger who paid to buy your book to let you know in their Goodreads or Amazon review.

Tip: Hire a cover designer. Unless you’re a graphic designer, don’t cheap out by designing your book cover yourself, even with those widgets offered by Amazon and the like. Cheap covers make readers think the book is unworthy of their time.

Summary

Using this process, I have written four novels between 65k and 105k words in four months, each. I spent roughly the same amount of time in the three phases of planning, composition, and editing/production. In one case, the primary composition phase was the shortest, taking only 30 days.

I want to point out that I am describing here the process that has worked best for me. Everyone is different and you should expect to find your own changes and tweaks to this process to make it work best for you. If you’re one of those people who write on a daily basis, you can expect to reach your goal of a completed manuscript in a shorter amount of time (depending on the availability of your editor, of course).

Be open to various ways of working, but ultimately do what works best for you. Find your own rhythm and path. Writing a book is hard. Selling a book is even harder, but that’s another topic for another day.

Good luck!

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.

And So It Begins… Part 5

New Book
I am beginning another book

I have begun work on my fifth novel.

That is a phrase I never anticipated uttering until recently. I’ve always wanted to be an author, even when I was a kid. But it had been a sort of lofty dream without real expectations, kind of like hoping to win the lottery or being able to fly like Superman.

That dream came true, though. And it wasn’t that difficult, either. How?

“Putting a man on the moon wasn’t a miracle, we just decided to go.”

Tom Hanks

Me writing a novel — or five — wasn’t a miracle, either. I just decided to do it.

This fifth book continues my Taesia series. As a reminder, my vision is to write nine books, all connected, in the form of three trilogies. The first trilogy, The Taesian Chronicles, is completed. This new book will be the second book in the second trilogy (“The Pillars of Taesia”).

Confused?

Don’t. Just read the books in order and you’ll be fine.

My goal is to get this book completed and available for sale by summer of 2020. Stay tuned.

Are you a writer or merely someone who writes?

Arnold Palmer once said,

There is a difference between a golfer and someone who plays golf.

It sounds like pedantic semantics (say that ten times fast!) but there is a fundamental change that occurs when you go from doing to being.

The boundary between being a writer and someone who merely writes is hard to define, but it can be recognized by a few different characteristics. The most obvious difference is a writer gets paid to do so, and probably — hopefully — makes a living doing it, although there are a great many successful, published writers that hold down full-time day jobs to pay the rent despite having one or more books on the shelves. Someone who writes probably isn’t cashing very many royalty checks or buying second homes with the advance on their next novel.

Money isn’t everything. Where the financial side of writing ends, the matter of attitude picks up and this is probably where writers separate themselves from the rest of those who merely write. Let’s say you are attending a cocktail party and someone asks, “So, what do you do?” Your answer will say it all. “I am a writer.” Or is it something more like, “I sell insurance,” followed 10 minutes later, buried in the midst of idle chit-chat, “In addition to being a soccer Mom, I’m also writing a novel.”

This brings up another point of contention when defining what constitutes a writer vs. someone who merely writes: have you been published? Some, perhaps many, would argue that you cannot call yourself a writer until you’ve been published. “I’m writing a novel” doesn’t cut it. “I just published my novel,” does. No one cares what you’re going to do, only what you’ve already done. It’s sad, but many people feel that way. There are exceptions, however; see the previous paragraph regarding attitude.

The significance of labels only matter so much, however. It doesn’t matter if you’ve yet to be published, and it doesn’t matter if your works don’t earn you a six-figure annual income. If you have the drive to write, if putting words to paper is your passion and is your default activity — it’s what you’d rather do than anything else, then you may be a writer after all.

Are you a writer or an actor?

Over the years I have written many stories that included characters with personalities I couldn’t personally relate to, doing things I would never do. The reasons for this are as varied as the characters themselves, but ultimately it came down to one goal: serving the desires of my readers.

When writing fiction, I am often tasked with the need to step outside of myself and write about things that I may not directly understand or care for. Every character is my creation and I take pride in how I present them, but in order to serve the needs of the story I sometimes have my characters behave in ways that I personally find distasteful. Some characters I actually despise. But that’s kind of the point. That’s what those characters are supposed to do. Their actions and personality serve the needs of the story.

As I get into the minds of these nefarious fictional people, I find myself feeling more like an actor than a writer. Mentally I am portraying someone I’m not. As I write I play out different ideas in my head and experiment with scenarios and dialogue to get a rough idea of what I’m trying to achieve before actually writing it down. This is an uncomfortable feeling sometimes, because I am forced to role-play things in my mind that I would never contemplate otherwise.

I doubt all fiction writers feel this way, but for me I think it helps to have some acting skills. To get inside the heads of my characters and understand their motivations helps me give them life in my stories. If I write about them in the abstract, keeping a mental and emotional distance between the real me and the fictional them, how can they have any life or energy that will engage the reader?

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.