Last year when I went to Dragoncon, I took a series of seminars with a pair of established fantasy/sci fi writers on How They Write Books. It was something I had always wanted to do, and by that time the timer had already started on HOLE, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I wasn’t certain what to expect, typically whenever you ask any creative for advice on following their career the first thing they say is “don’t”. These two writers (Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston) were generous, very open, full of amazing advice, and seriously lit a fire under my ass about this writing thing.
I knew basically what I wanted to write about, a family story set in Lesser Earth, but I was short on particulars. Then one night something clicked, and I got up out of bed and ran downstairs to scrawl out the outline of what would hopefully become my novel. Once HOLE officially stopped producing, I went into research mode. Books, the internet, and Terry Jones historical DVDs became my best friends. Eventually, I actually started writing.
The first several chapters had been floating around in my head more or less whole for months, and I blew through those pretty quick. Subsequent chapters started taking a little more thought. I had picked up a couple of characters I hadn’t anticipated, and a wrinkle or two had popped up that needed to be worked in. Halfway through chapter six I realized that my “outline” was really more of an advanced story concept. I needed a time out to do some serious plotting.
Some few lucky authors are able to simply sit and write, letting the story unfold as it will, and just sort of sitting in the writer’s chair as a passenger to wherever it goes. These writers are in the minority, and I am not one of them. My next step was to do a bit more research on what a proper book outline is supposed to look like. I found two articles that really caught my eye. The first was a bit about what kind of outlines work for most authors. The one I saw that I liked the most was pretty simple, just paragraph or so covering the main topics of each chapter. I liked this so much because my plotting muscles are apparently different from my dialogue muscles, and it’s difficult to do both effectively at the same time. (At this stage of the game, anyway.) I set to outlining my plot, which allowed me to very naturally and organically create a tight, fun story without being too bogged down with the details. Then I was able to go back and start really writing once more, and do so much more freely and more attention to the characters, because I already knew exactly where the scene was going.
The second article I found was written by a woman who used to work as an editor for a major publishing house. The piece was written as a funny but (intentionally) mean spirited diatribe against stupid authors who spend months or even years writing a book and then can’t even be bothered to follow submission guidelines. She described a process by which she commonly whittled as many as 200 submissions down to as few as 5… all without having actually read anything yet. For me the article was nothing short of revelatory. I have no illusions about my ability to get published, but it is sobering to consider that I could place myself in the top 2.5% simply by following directions.
So now I’m back to writing my book, which has already proven to be an enormous amount of fun. Once that is done, I’ll go back over the whole thing, tightening dialogue, fixing holes and rewriting whatever seems necessary. After that I will send the book out to my test readers, who will hopefully tear it up and point out all the flaws… so I can do more rewrites and fixes. Once all of that is done… (whew!) I will finally be ready to start sending the book to potential publishers. After a year or so of rejections, I’ll put the book online as an e-pub, and hopefully be able to take Lena out to Taco Bell with the proceeds.
At the moment I’m planning three books with these characters, whom I already like a lot. Regardless of what happens with the publishing thing, whatever I write will eventually become available to everyone. Publishing is a difficult world, and if you can get noticed, you can actually do better on your own than you can with a big company, and provide an equal product at a much lower cost. Of course if you can get noticed, you can do pretty well for yourself with a publisher too. But publishers don’t really help you get noticed anymore. That’s all you, and if you’re lucky, your agent. And that is quite a ways down the road!
So now that I’m done writing this, I’ll get back to writing that. But I look forward to bringing all you with me for the trip, and cracking open a virtual beer (metaphorically speaking — I’ll be drunk for reals) when we get there.
Milf on a stick!