This ongoing essay is designed to assist others in their quest to write. I'm not an expert, just providing some of my observations based on my own experience. It may or may not be helpful to you.
My method is most likely not the preferred one. I started writing the first novel with a general concept in mind, a setting, some characters, but no real plan of how to bring it to a conclusion. I just followed a stream-of-consciousness approach, going where any stray notion took me, until I got toward the tail end and thought, “Hmmm....I’d better wrap this up in some logical fashion.” That I was able to do so and get it published still astounds me.
Even more astounding is the fact that I’ve done it twice more. The sequel to First Case of Beers is now in the hands of my editor. I am hoping for a 2015 release. I figure about a book a year is a good pace for this series.
I am currently writing installment No. 4. For this one, I decided to be a little more practical and create an outline of the story before I began writing. Mistake. I was never good at outlines in school. To me it’s more difficult than just free-form writing. When I look back on that outline now, 3/4 of the way into the book, I can see that’s it’s only a suggestion of a general direction. The specifics have long since been sidetracked.
So, in summary, don’t write like me. Find your own way of doing it. Some folks start at the end and write backwards. In other words, figure out a logical conclusion, then fill in the details leading up to it. Again, not for me. The nature of my writing is going off on tangents, which seems to suit my characters well. Time will tell whether this is a worthwhile endeavor.
The discipline of writing is like any other—you have to do it consistently to get any good at it. It’s like weightlifting to build muscles. You can’t go in the gym one day, lift some barbells, then come back 3 weeks later and expect to be all pumped up.
My writing momentum only took off after I forced myself to writing something every day. One thing that helped was a blog, which I began in 2007 and continue to this day. I don’t write on it every day now, but often enough to keep it going. What I do write every day is some aspect of the work-in-progress, or editing of previous works in the pipeline.
When to write is just as important. Designating a set time to write is crucial for me. For example, my time is early in the morning, when I just wake up and am having coffee. My mind is refreshed and can focus on stringing words together into sentences, or sentence fragments at least. Sometimes this is aided by dreams, or inspirations that come to me as I’m waking up. I’ve written whole passages in my head before getting up to commit them to electronic paper.
Every now and then, I get writer’s block, when no ideas flow and I’m at a standstill. This is the most important time to force yourself to write something, anything, even if it’s only a sentence. The block will be temporary so you don’t want to get out of the habit of putting your fingers to the keys.
Setting a target for daily output is a good way to “force your hand,” so to speak. I try to write at least 300 words a day on my current manuscript. If I go beyond that, it’s gravy and I feel really good about my efforts.
Start with a good idea
The most important part, I would imagine, is having a good idea. And executing it. Some ideas are better than others. I rejected the first couple of ideas I had for books. I mean, who wants another “on the road coming-of-age” novel? Been done to death. I started one and dropped it almost immediately.
There’s another book I started writing, completely different vein, but also dropped, at least for now. At some point in the future, I may take it up again but the idea is too fuzzy to develop right now.
Someone asked me how I decided to write this novel about this store and this set of characters. I don’t know how. I just started writing it one day and it seemed to flow out of my fingertips. The idea grew. I thought I could develop it into a whole book, then into a whole series of books with the same setting and characters.
Another person wanted to know when I worked at a department store. I have never worked at a department store. All that stuff is made up. It helps to have a very vivid imagination, then you can picture your characters acting out their personalities in inventive situations. Whether I have done this sufficiently will be decided by the reading public.
Editing is like writing your novel all over again.
It helps to have a thick skin about your writing. I had no delusions that I was another Rex Stout (my favorite author) and was willing to accept constructive criticism of my writing.
The first novel went through umpteen edits over the course of several months before it was publication ready. It helps to have a good editor, and my guy at Forty Press, Nick Dimassis, is a good one. He had pages and pages of questions and suggestions on how to fill in the gaps, round out the characters, add the background I knew in my mind but had failed to put to words.
These are the things that mold a rough manuscript into a publishable work. For the sequel, I’ve had multiple readers look at it and find glitches before I even submitted it, in hopes of shortening the editing time frame.
Unless you are already an established author with a string of best-sellers, you can’t be tight-assed about your prose. The goal is to make it so other people will want to read it. Good editing is essential