The Thursday Blog: Hey Y’all, Watch This… I’m Writing! Edition

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!

30 Responses to The Thursday Blog: Hey Y’all, Watch This… I’m Writing! Edition

  1. Badass Kevin! When you need a boost of confidence pick the coolest thing off that top 10 display in the airport. It hurts to read but suddenly your stuff feels a million times better.

  2. I would be interested in the two articles you reference (outlines and submission guidelines). While I’m much further away from sitting down and writing a book than you are, I’ve got a series of novels in my head, too. I’ve started the high-level concept and driven down into a top level outline, but I haven’t gone much further than that. I have a former classmate (FB friend that I converse with often enough) who *IS* published and working on her sequel []. Even though she’s in a different space than I would be, I do get to leverage some of her insights but it never hurts to have additional information.

  3. Of course, nowadays, you should be able to self-publish for Kindle and such fairly easily…I’m assuming you can set it up with Paypal or something

  4. Kevin I am thinking you fail to realize that you Are already published. Only fame and fortune await you now.

  5. So maybe we see Bunker again as the friendly barkeep from around the corner?

    Lagerons Blessing on you!

  6. I’d be lying if said I wasn’t excited at the idea of reading your book/books Kevin. I realize it may be a while off, but I enjoyed the bejeezus out of your comic, and I love your blogs, so I’m really looking forward to you writing a book. Here’s hoping all goes well with the whole process. It won’t, but you still have my best wishes for it.

    • Thanks a LOT, Tim. It’s a strange sort of feeling, the only thing I can think to describe it is like walking a balance beam with a blindfold on and having no idea when it may end and you’re going to fall off. I’m really enjoying the writing, and I think it’s going well… but none of that actually translates into anyone else liking it at all. The truth is I’ll have no idea whether it’s any good until someone else reads it.

      They say the first million words you write are crap. I’m hoping I’ve already gotten that out of the way. 😉

  7. Reminds me of the fact that in the time of Shakespeare, copyright (which already existed back then, especially in England) was all about the right of *publishers*, not about the rights of authors.

  8. I’m very pleased that you are doing something creative again. It would have been entirely understandable if you had said “Well, I did that”, at the end of H.O.L.E., and settled with relief into your day-job. I would break my ‘buy-no-more-new-books’ rule, which 1) avoids the cost of more books, 2) protects me from buyer’s remorse and 3) most importantly avoids the cost of a new book case, since mine is full almost to overflowing. I literally don’t know where I would put another book. My only plans for acquisitions had been the next Neal Stephenson, whenever it might appear and the next Kim Newman Anno Dracula offering (also whenever it might appear). I would buy a Kevin Pettway novel, however.

  9. *signs up for test reader*

    It’s nice to know you have found the next outlet for your creativity. I am looking forward to see your progress. I really don’t have any good advice, except always have a…whatsamajiggy…dictaphone or scrap of paper nearby whenever you have an idea and jolt it down when inspiration strikes.

    • Funny thing is, and I mentioned this to Lena last night, I think I’m having more fun writing a book than I did creating the comic. (Which was a lot of fun, BTW.) I’m hoping that will translate into a quality bump too!

      • Well with a book, you don’t have to come up with an illustration for Every. Single. Thing. That. Happens. Whether the book has illustrations or not is completely optional.

      • That reminds me something that happened to Gary Gygax. He asked a boy whether he favoured TV or radio and the boy answered “Radio”. When asked why, the boy said “You get better images with radio.”

        As of having more fun writing the book, maybe now you can just write down the story as it unfolds in your mind and don’t have to worry about making a strip out of it. Although there is pacing in writing, it is not as set as a comic.

        Btw, how is your healthy living progressing?

        • Much agreed, Elfguy. A book moves MUCH faster because of it, too.

          The book’s pacing is a lot more natural, Alrek. It doesn’t have to be “set-up, gag, snare drum” every page. Kind of liberating.

          The healthy living is going well, although it has been temporarily suspended (well, cramped, anyway) by the kitchen work we’ve had going on over the past week or so. That’s practically over though, so we’ll be back on all the home-cooked goodness any day now.