Writing Process

Get a Job

I often joke that writing is less a hobby and more an affliction. Many writers will tell you that they feel compelled to write, that if they were no longer able to write, their heads would explode or something like that. In truth, it does sort of feel that way. So I guess it makes sense that a lot of (non-writer) people would ask me, “Why don’t you get a day job where you’re writing? Like for a magazine or something?”

I think I’d sooner beat myself in the head with a hot iron.

Apparently, that can be arranged.

I do love to write. But I don’t like being required to write something. It’s like being forced to read a book in school that you might otherwise enjoy, but don’t, simply because it’s required reading for a class. Besides, if I’m writing all day long for the day job, the last thing I’m going to want to do afterward is to work on my novels.

That’s the irony of writing professionally. If you don’t write, you don’t publish. If you don’t publish, you don’t make any money. And if you don’t make any money, you’re stuck in your dreary 9-to-5 for the rest of your life. So even though you’re writing what you want to write, you’re having to force yourself to do so with more frequency than you might naturally desire.

In the end, if I have to have a boss, I’d prefer it to be me. I’m my own worst critic, after all. And I can’t get into trouble for cussing myself out behind my back.

And I’m a real bastard.

Posted by vmwales in Writing Process

Why I’m Not More Successful

About a month ago, I appeared on a live TV broadcast of Good Day Sacramento. It was just for a few minutes, wherein I answered some fairly general questions about my latest book. One question, however, I wasn’t expecting. But I should have. Because it’s a question that non-writers seem to be obsessed with: What do you do about writer’s block?

I’m hesitant to buy this…

I have to admit that the question annoyed me. I wanted to talk about the book I’d written, or even just about writing. I didn’t want to talk about not writing. I handled the question well enough, I suppose, but I’d be happy if I never had to talk about it again.

People seem to think that writer’s block is the the writer’s main nightmare. They think it’s the result of running out of things to say. I suppose for some writers, that’s the case. But I think it’s more often the result of having too many things to say, the ideas getting log-jammed in your head. The problem is, therefore, not knowing which thing to say. I also think writer’s block is something that happens less and less frequently as you become a better writer, because you learn what to do when it happens.

So writer’s block is not an issue for me. It isn’t what has prevented me from being more successful. Nope. That would be because of one specific thing.

Marketing sucks.

I hate marketing. I don’t think I’m very good at it, and I don’t like taking time away from writing in order to promote. I suppose I’m just hoping for the sort of viral success that can only come by word-of-mouth. I know I have fans out there, just not enough yet to reach critical mass, where it’s inevitable that my work will sell well.

I guess it’s not too different from waiting to win the lottery. As they say, you’ve got to play to win. With publishing, you’ve got to promote to win. And just as I’ll happily accept any lottery tickets given to me, I’ll gladly welcome the efforts of volunteer marketing people! Any takers? For either?

Posted by vmwales in Marketing/Promotion, Problems, Writing Process

The Value of Test Readers

One thing I cannot stress enough for writers is to have a reliable group of test readers who will tell you the unvarnished truth. And I don’t mean just one or two. Have as many as you can. (Of course, quality over quantity… make sure they’re good.)

Recently, I had one such reader go over my latest book. At least a dozen people had read the work or parts of it. So imagine my surprise when she mentioned something about the third chapter that no one else had. She made a comment about the actions of a pair of minor characters and I thought to myself, “Wow? How did she get that out of it? That’s not what I meant at all!” And since no one else had ever mentioned it, I was inclined to think she’d simply not read it carefully enough.

Wait, what?

But in reading over those scenes later, I could see how she came to that conclusion. And since it was most certainly not what I wanted any reader to think, I had to make some changes… in the process of which, I came to realize I’d overlooked something significant that needed to be addressed… something that may have been part of what caused this reader to come to the conclusions she did.

The irony here is that this chapter was one of my favorites in the entire book, one that I regarded as being as solid as could be. The reason, though, is that I knew exactly what I meant. But no one else does, of course.

Wait, what?

So have your cadre of readers. And take what they say seriously. They’re not always right. But then, neither are you.

Posted by vmwales in Editing, Writing Process

Erase to the Finish

As a young writer, having been told how wonderful my work was since I was in elementary school, I developed the mindset that just about everything that fell out of my head onto the page was good, if not great. Beyond spelling and grammar corrections, and the occasional tweak here and there, I didn’t really do much in the way of editing.

My first novel was published more than eleven years ago, as I write this. And though I think the book still holds up pretty darn well, I certainly could have had a heavier hand when it came to edits. There are entire subplots that could have been extricated without damaging the story at all and doing so might very well have improved it. At the very least, it would have resulted in a tighter plot.

Hi, I’m Del! Get to know me!

I don’t know that I’ll ever be as good at cutting material from my work as I should be, but I do know that today I don’t hesitate to erase half a chapter if I don’t think it’s working the way it should. In the past, I would have tinkered with it until it was passable and called it a day. Recently, it’s been common for me to sit down at the computer, look over what I wrote in my last session, delete maybe a third of it, and continue forward. And I’m actually pleased by this.

If I could pass on only one bit of advice to young writers, it would be this: Praise can be a good thing for a young writer, but if we’re serious, we should never believe all of it. We must be our own harshest critics and never assume that what we’ve written cannot be improved by the judicious application of the delete key.

Posted by vmwales in Editing, Writing Process

Wrap It Up

Yesterday, a friend remarked to me about how she’ll often be reading a book and can’t conceive of how the author is going to tie together all the plot elements and wrap it all up. I told her that sometimes the authors wonder that, themselves. I know I do. And that’s where I am right now.

It has just hit me just how complex I’ve made the climax of this story. I’ve complicated matters by having the climactic scene take place in a location that, by its nature, adds several obstacles to the success of the protagonist. I could change this, of course, and that would make things significantly easier on me. But that’s the lazy way out. The more challenging it is for the writer to pull off, the more rewarding the payoff for the reader.

Today, there won’t be any new writing. Today is plotting and planning, weighing all the possible avenues, not just for the big finish, but for how each approach to the finish will affect the first sequel.

Too… many… choices…

Am I sure I can pull it off the way I want to? Actually, no.

But that will make it all the more satisfying when I do.

Posted by vmwales in Endings, Plot, Writing Process

Writer’s Cul-de-Sac

As an extension to my last entry, “Writer’s Detour,” I thought I’d mention another hazard on the road of writing. See, I have a tendency to get tripped up in my own plots. I seem to write myself into a plot corner at least once in every book. Writing my way out of it is sometimes easy, sometimes not, but never is there a clear way out.

I’m unclear… What are you trying to say?

When I was writing the previously mentioned unpublished first novel, I’d written myself into a doozie. I was utterly stumped. I had an event that absolutely had to happen, or else there was no story. In order for this event to occur, two other events needed to take place. Problem was… one of them couldn’t happen.

One evening, a friend and I were sitting at our local restaurant hangout. I had the manuscript with me (written in longhand, this being before I even owned a computer) and was fretting over the problem, staring at the offending pages. My friend was an avid reader, so I thought I’d voice the problem to him. I pointed to relevant lines of text as I described the problem, finishing up with, “But that event can’t happen…” My voice trailed off as my finger traced a line under a few words on the page. I blinked stupidly. “…unless I delete this sentence.”

My friend nodded sagely and said, “Glad I could help.”

In my most recent day of writing, I realized I’d unwittingly set myself up with a seemingly insurmountable barrier to the plot moving forward. It was something I’d (obviously) never thought of before. Damn that pesky thing called factual accuracy!

Maybe I’m getting better at this whole writing thing, because – after less than two days of fretting over it – I had one of those moments of inspiration where the solution came to me. And I’m pretty happy with it, too.

And remember… If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.

Let’s hope my next dead end is so easily escaped.

Posted by vmwales in Inspiration, Plot, Writing Process

Writer’s Detour

Writer’s Block is something every writer deals with at some point or other. There are a lot of theories as to what’s really going on when a writer experiences blockage. Many seem to think it’s because they just don’t have any ideas. More accurate, in my view, is the view that you have too many ideas, and are just not sure which one to pick.

You know you want one.

But recently, I’ve come to realize that Writer’s Block, for me, often is my brain telling me that I need to deviate from the course I’ve been on. It’s as though I have a Writer’s GPS telling me I took a wrong turn and is re-routing me.

Yesterday, for example, I struggled with the direction of a particular scene, trying to choose between two different endings to it. When it was still unresolved after an hour, I knew I was experiencing Writer’s Detour. Sometimes, this results in a scrapping of the entire scene. In this case, it took the form of pushing me to consider taking the scene in a direction I hadn’t thought of before. And though I won’t know for a while, I’m confident this new direction will be a good one.

Sometimes detours come from external sources and not my own brain. When I was writing Wish You Were Here, for example, a friend of mine insisted that I make her into a character in the book. Now, I could have created a minor, walk-on character for her. But I saw some interesting potential for what could come of it. For those of you who’ve read the novel, I’m referring to the character of Sianon. Her inclusion added a depth to another character who needed a more prominent role in the story. I’ll always be grateful to her for giving me a way to do this in a fashion I never would have thought of, otherwise.

Answers… That way.

Writing is a lot like life, this way. New people in our lives take us in directions we never would have expected. And when we’re unable to choose between A and B, we need to consider C. In writing, as in life, embracing new ideas usually results in a more interesting experience. Detours give us new scenery to appreciate.

Enjoy the journey.

Posted by vmwales in Writing Process