Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Writing is a perilous journey. What can you write about that hasn't already been said by someone else, more succinctly. By the way, isn't that a cool word, "succinctly"? I don't get to use it much. There's a reason for that.

Words are like fine liquor or the curl of a big wave or the breeze in the evergreens or snow falling on cedars  (see what I mean about things having been said?). Or words can be like a four dollar bottle of Vodka, a stagnant pond, a whiff from the dump or the draught in Texas. Words like succinctly, a dreaded adverb, conjure up all sorts of images.

"Now he won't bother you anymore," she said succinctly, dropping the still smoking gun into her handbag.

What kind of woman is this? Probably someone from a pulp fiction novel, but you get my drift. Any editor would gag at a line like that. "Sweetly" would be better, but it's still an adverb. Got to watch out for those little suckers.

Then there are adjectives, endless lines of them. Every struggling writer seeks the right one, the only one that will convey just the right feeling and tone.

Fageddabout it.

Write what you want. You can change it later, if you must. Making something more complex or descriptive may not be the answer.

How about "said" for attribution? Everywhere, aspiring writers are sternly warned to avoid this dreaded word, as in "he said" or if you like, "she said succinctly."

Have you read anything by Lee Child lately? He only happens to be one of the very best around, selling millions of books, as well he should. They are damn good. You might notice that "Reacher said" is a common phrase in his books. Didn't seem to hurt him any.

It's true I was blessed by an excellent education and strength in the English language. That has made it easier to be a writer. It didn't help much when it came to editing, though. That is a whole different animal, as they say on the airline with the wolf on its tail. If you don't have an editor, editing is something you have to learn the hard way. Most Indie writers don't have one, a reason many Indie books fail to reach the writer's potential.

I recommend Stephen King's memoir On Writing to everyone for openers. I also recommend that you don't burn yourself out on all those books and courses telling you how to write the Great American Novel or short story. There's only so much of that you can absorb, much less put to use. I don't believe Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe or Steinbeck took a lot of writing courses or read a lot of books on how to write, but I might be mistaken.

If you are serious about writing I refer you to the Nike philosophy: Just Do It.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Independent Writer: Part Two

This is a new blog, with only a few posts as yet. So, in order not to confuse the hundreds of thousands of followers sure to come I've changed the name of the blog before that happens. That way only a few of you will be confused. What? You didn't notice?

I'm not going to blog just about writing. That would get boring. But today I'm going to follow up on the last post, where I mentioned the dreaded "R" word, revision. Then I'll move on, I promise.

For me there are two parts to revision. The first part is revision of the draft. That's where you go back through everything, fix plot glitches, make sure all the characters are consistent, make sure chapter numbers are consistent, etc. etc. For me that's an ongoing process as I write. Each time I sit down at the computer I revise what I wrote the day before. That brings me back into the stream. It makes it easy to pick up the thread. Many writers don't do that, but it works for me. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a line or a scene or a new plot twist or improvement. I put that in before I get on to the new bits.

A rule of thumb I picked up somewhere is second draft equals first draft minus ten percent. You have 80,000 wonderful words? Toss out 8000 of them (I feel your pain). As Stephen King says, "kill your darlings." His memoir On Writing should be every writer's companion. It's a true gem, full of things writers need to know, as well as a fascinating personal story.

Okay, you did that. The second part of revision (again, it's ongoing) is editing. Unless you are lucky enough to have a good, professional editor, you have to learn to do it yourself. Since Indie writers are self-published, it's essential to figure it out. Study books you like and learn from them. Unnecessary adjectives, almost all adverbs, long obscure sentences, unclear attribution, punctuation mistakes-they all have to go. Organizing and developing the characters' thoughts in a clear cohesive manner. Description that conveys sense and feeling. Smooth transitions from scene to scene and chapter to chapter. Believable dialogue. Knowing when to end a chapter, when to begin one, the sequence of the chapters (not always what you thought). That's some of it. I'm still learning, which I expect will continue until I fall over onto my keyboard and shuffle off this mortal coil with just one more revision in mind.

Oh, good. It's revised. Now print it out. Oh, oh. It looks different on the printed page. Revise and edit.

Then, after you've done all that, do it again. And again. And again. At some point you will realize you've done all you can. That's when you put it away for a month, take it out and do it again.

Still want to be a writer? I hope so.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Independent Writer

Are you a writer? Frustrated with the agent/publisher quest, the endless advice about query letters and all that? Become an indie writer. You won't get an advance, but it gives you a shot. After all, that's what you want--a fair shot. Even if you got that bricks and mortar contract, you'd still have to do the things indie writers do to sell their books. I know, because I've done it both ways. Now I'm an indie writer. I write thrillers.

The good of indie publishing is that writers have control over the entire process, start to finish. The bad is that the learning curve is steep to get a professional result. The ugly is that many indie books aren't very good. It's easy to tell, though. Most of the time when a book appears you have some kind of "look inside" feature. That allows you to decide if it's a buy or good material for the landfill. Agents and editors can tell at a glance if a book is any good. Or maybe not.

Having an agent doesn't guarantee publication. I had an agent for White Jade and a pass through from a senior editor at a major company called (REDACTED) who liked the book. He turned it down because I wasn't former CIA or NSA. No credibility. Tell that to Steve Berry, who as far as I know is a lawyer, not a scret agent. Of course I couldn't tell the editor the truth because then I would have had to kill him. And anyway, White Jade isn't about spies. It's about problem solvers. Solving problems sometimes leads to noisy explosions and vicious firefights, but hey, problems need solutions.

Everybody has advice for independent writers. It's big business, with hundreds of ebooks being promoted that tell you how to promote ebooks.  

From time to time I'll post something here that might help if you are one of those folks who just has to write. By now I've figured some of it out. So here's the first tip:


And when you've done that, put it away for a month. Reread it. Revise again. It helps to remember what the Dalai Lama said: "Never give up. No matter what, never give up."