Third date…?

This weekend I will hold the third meeting of my new writing group. The group is something I’ve been thinking about and working on for a while. And I think there’s some real good to it. But, then again, this is the third meeting. Will it be like a third date? You know, the time when those horrible secrets come out…

Depending on who you listen to, writing groups can be the best thing we do, or the biggest mistake we can make. Being me, I’ve listened to both arguments and made my decision (you should make your own decision too).

What I’ve realized is that a writing group is just like any other group or project. You’re going to get out of it what you put into it. If you gather a group of people who really want to be successful, published writers and will support each other in getting there, then your group will produce published writers. If you gather a group of people who love story, you’re going to sit around talking about story (which isn’t wrong!). if you gather a group of people who sit around whining about how hard writing is, then… Well, you get the point.

I’m not saying you have to gather a group that all think alike, or even a group that has an equal level of experience. I’m saying you need a group that comes together for a purpose and actually works toward that purpose. There are lots of things you can do in a writing group (or any other group). The group that will actually help you is the one heading for the purpose and providing the support you need.

So, step one before joining or building a group figure out what you need the group to do. Based on that, you can gather some people, set some rules, and create a group that leads to success.

Note that in that last paragraph I said you can gather some people. One of the biggest mistakes is expecting the group to do things for you. And by the way, you shouldn’t be doing everything for them either! A writers’ group needs to be a place of give and take. Every member of the group contributes positively toward the goals of the group. With my group, those duties include participating by putting up work to be critiqued and critiquing each other’s work from a reader perspective and sharing information and experience that will help the other members of the group toward their success.

Again, not everyone has to have the same skill level or even the same skill set. In fact, it’s probably better if they don’t. Sure, the old hand has more experience in submitting work to publishers. But the “new kid on the block” may see a problem in a story that all the “old hands” have missed. The point is everyone is contributing and working toward the goal of the group (be that publication, a better story, or just getting away from the daily rat race and having a lovely beverage with some like-minded folk…).

A lot of writing is a very personal, internal, and often lonely business. But you can’t do it all alone. After all, you won’t sell a million copies of your book to yourself! By creating or joining a writers’ group, you can surround yourselves with others who share similar struggles and goals. But you need to make sure the goals of the group actually go where you need them too (sitting and whining doing nothing to improve your situation gets you nothing!).

How’s this week’s meeting going to go? No idea. But it’s going to be fun finding out! If something really interesting happens, I might even talk about it here. Until then dear reader, good luck with your own work and I’ll see you next post.

The danger of acceptance

I’m waiting to hear about a novel I submitted. I’m also working on the sequel and a couple of non-fiction projects. Getting the book accepted will be exciting. I’ve been wanting to work with this publisher for a while and good things will come out of them accepting the series. But there is danger in the book being accepted.

The book being accepted is going to be a big step for me. This is true. But I can’t stop growing as a writer just because the publisher likes the book. It would be easy. Acceptance means they think my work is “good enough” to publish. But is “good enough” really good enough?

Most people I’ve met know ‘that guy’, the one who achieved a goal (won a championship, served a mission for his/her church, got married, graduated college, etc.), and then just sort of gave up. We can’t do that. Not as people or as writers. As people, the moment we stop growing is the moment we start dying. As writers, if we don’t keep learning and improving, our audience will tire of reading the same old stuff and move on to someone or something else.

I’m really looking forward to hearing my book is accepted, but I can’t let acceptance stop me from making the next one better. Everything we try, whether we succeed or fail, provides us with lessons we can learn (if we pay attention to them).

No one on this earth is truly perfect. That means we all always have the potential to be and do better. Sometimes we have to struggle to find that potential, but it’s there.

The moment we stop growing, we start dying. If we think we’ve done the best we can (especially if we think our work is perfect) we need to search for what we can do to improve (or we need to set it down and come back when we’re smarter…).

It’s a choice we have to make dear reader: keep growing and learning, or be the person sitting around talking about what used to be. I intend to be the guy talking about what I’m doing next!

I wish you success dear reader. I don’t want you to stop at “good enough”. As usual, I’ll see you next post.

And then there were three…?

This month I started editing Identity and Birthright a sequel to Names and Secrets, the book I submitted for publication in October. This week I made a hard decision about the book: I’m splitting it into two manuscripts.

During the editing of Names and Secrets, I made the hard choice to leave several chapters on my desk because the natural endpoint of the book occurred earlier than the chapters did. If I kept them in the first book, it would either be too long for my audience or too rushed to tell a pleasing story. So, I left them on the desk and put the end of that story where it belonged.

In November, those rushed chapters gave me source material for the second book, and I felt better about the story I was telling. Except, again, I felt like things were getting rushed. When I started editing the manuscript, it felt rushed. I could develop things, but I was still struggling to give everything the attention it needed. And there was another natural break point, about halfway through…

The hard part is that the ‘natural break’ in this book was about halfway through a 53,000-word manuscript instead of roughly 50,000 words into a 60,000-word manuscript. So, I told myself, “this is just the first ½ pass of the first 1 ½ pass edit, let me work up to that ‘natural break’ and I’ll decide then.” It was a good, but scary, decision.

I started the deeper ‘full pass’ part of the edit, and sure enough I could identify a three-act structure within the first half of the book. And I have good reason to believe there’s another three acts hiding in the second half of the manuscript.

The first ‘half’ of the book (at least the first act of the first half…) got longer as I added some detail that had been skipped in the rush to get moving and get to where I thought the book was going. But I if I broke things up, I would still be dealing with a 33,000-word manuscript and a 28,000-word manuscript. Since I want 50,000+ words in each (and don’t want a lot of filler) that felt like a lot of work.

The next question, the real question all along, was “what’s good for the story?” I really was rushing. I was pushing toward where I thought the story ended and allowing things that should have taken time to build up to ‘just sort of happen’.

There was a two-day lag between books (in the story there are two days between the books). Sometimes a time gap between books makes sense. Noir detectives and police investigators might want to stop off at the bar between cases (or at least go home and see the kids…); classic fantasy adventurers probably want a little down time too. There are a lot of reasons for a time break between books. But not in this case!

My hero and heroine are 11 and 12 years old respectively, have just lived through an exciting adventure, had significant life changes they’re trying to come to terms with, and are currently living in a nomadic camp on the brink of war! Two days would feel like an eternity in that situation (at least to me…). So, I picked up the new story the next morning.

I then realized one of my villains could even start earlier, creating an overlap. I also discovered this villain should have more backstory knowledge on the situation that my heroes don’t have, or at least haven’t noticed, stuff that can help the reader understand what’s going on and get them invested in the story (and maybe feeling like they know more than the characters do…).

So, is splitting the story scary? Yes.

Does it mean a lot more work for me? Yes!

Should I do it? YES! In this case (but not always!)

It all comes back to that question, “what’s best for the story?” As authors, we should write things that people will read, stories that entertain and works that teach. If we’re not doing that, then why are we doing this?

Anytime you’re working on a first draft, there are things that need to be refined. There are places where things need to be added and things that need to be removed. There are things you want to include need to be removed, and places we might not want to go (places we didn’t go in the first draft) that we have to go. Often, those places are the ones that make a story interesting for the reader.

Consider this a bit of a case study dear reader. As writers, we all face hard decisions, eventually. Our solutions to manuscript problems can make or break our stories. So, we have to ‘go there’ even if it isn’t easy.

Good luck with your writing decisions dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

“It’s like riding a bicycle…”

“It’s like riding a bicycle…” the phrase usually implies that once something is learned, it’s learned and you’ll remember how to do it forever. But it’s not entirely true. Your skills get rusty if you stop riding for a while. Your muscles weaken, meaning you remember riding as being easier than it is when you do it again. The same thing happens with writing and editing…

Over the last three months I’ve sent a book off to a publisher, written a first draft for a novel, and taken a month off to deal with family/holidays/covid/etc. This month I’ve started at the very beginning of editing the first draft novel I wrote in November. Editing a first draft differs greatly from the last pass before sending it off edit (if it isn’t you might want to rethink your process). It takes a lot of work.

First draft editing is somewhere my “1 ½ pass” method really helps. First draft editing isn’t just cutting extraneous words. It definitely isn’t just a spelling and punctuation check. First draft editing means dealing with those themes that should have started earlier but didn’t, the stuff that’s out of place, and the things that need more attention and development; in addition to the things that need to be cut, polished, and spelling/punctuation checked. First draft writing can be a mess.

But you have to start somewhere (it’s not a cliché it’s a reality…) and you’re better off getting the big pieces in place before you spend too much time polishing the trim and dotting the ‘T’s and crossing the ‘I’s (I know what I said…)

First draft editing is necessary, even though it’s hard. It’s a place to be ruthless with your work but forgiving with yourself. Yes, you made errors, but you’re fixing them. There’s a lot of work in a first draft and you won’t see everything as you’re writing it (that’s what editing is for). Making mistakes is part of the process. While you’re editing “suffer ye not an error to live”, learn from the mistakes you’ve made, fix them and then move forward.

Editing that first draft is something you have to do if you want a readable product (or if you want to avoid looking like a complete a$$ on screen or in print). Sometimes we need a break, but remember to come back to your edit. Sometimes we need help, this blog and other resources are here to help. But ultimately, we have to do the work. Every time we go back to the beginning and start work on a first draft, it feels hard. But it gets easier with work and practice.

That said dear reader, I should get back to my editing (and you should probably get to yours…). See you next post.

Playing through…

One of the things I’ve heard from athletes and other ‘physical types’ is that you need to play through the pain. On the one hand this is true, sometimes you need to push through the pain in order to achieve. On the other hand, pain has a purpose, it’s there to tell us something’s wrong and potentially damage is happening to our bodies. As I’m planning for the year ahead and looking around at the world, I see an even bigger point that the coaches and athletes missed… You need to play through your fear! Yes, there are scary things out there, but we have to get past our fears to achieve anything, whether we’re in pain or not.

So dear reader, my message today is that in spite of all the noise in the world, our first step in succeeding in anything is pushing past our fears, and that’s definitely true for those of us who want to see our thoughts in print.

It’s been a while, but I’m back and looking forward to talking with you about this and many other things in the year to come. I’ll see you next post.

Nano and beyond

One of the most important things I’ve learned is “don’t forget the regular stuff, but don’t let it impede what you need to do.” It’s a hard balance to strike, but it’s important.

With NANOWRIMO coming up and a couple other major projects needing attention, I’m stepping back from the blog for a little while. I may or may not post again before December, but I’ll be back after the new first draft is done.

In the meantime, good luck with your own adventures, dear reader. And. I’ll see you next post.

It can be done!

This week I submitted my book Names and Secrets for publication. The first draft was written as a NANOWRIMO project last November, meaning the total time from first word to last gasp was 11 ½ months. So dear reader, you really can create a book in less than a year.

Now, the time from publisher submission to copies on Amazon is still in front of us (and will probably be another year if the book is accepted…). But that’s a new adventure (the minute publishing a new book isn’t a new adventure I quit…).

To get from wanting to write a book to having a published book is a long road. There are many steps and terraces along the way. Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we have setbacks. But the key thing is to learn from every step, every sticky spot, and every setback; and then keep going. Nobody knows it all right away. Not even Steven King hit a home run with his first submission. It is a learning process.

As you may know (I’m sure I’ve mentioned it at least once…) NANOWRIMO is coming quickly. I know there’s a lot going on in the world. But the writing and discovery process teaches us about ourselves and helps dreamers fulfil dreams. I’ll be working on a sequel to Names and Secrets this year, and I can use the company. So please, if you want to write a novel, give it a shot and join us for NANO this year. It can be done.

Good luck with your dreams dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Fox Boy

I’ve already said I’m doing a sequel for NANOWRIMO this year. This week I finished the submission draft of the first book! And I’m working on a non-fiction project, which has just gotten restructured (for the second time…). I’m dazed and confused at the moment.

So, instead of trying to hammer together something pithy and meaningful while not quite here, I thought I’d share more from the first book (and a character who may have grown since this chapter, but definitely has some growing up to do in book two…) As usual, the writing presented is my work and protected by my copyright.


Chief in training

“Mother,” Fox Boy said, “Father said I had to stay inside yesterday. He didn’t say anything about today.”

Lana Ka Mana’olana kept one eye on Fox Boy and the other on Faun, who was gathering up the breakfast dishes. She’ll get to go out again…

“Fox Boy,” his mother said, “Your father said you are to remain in the tent until called for.”

There was no point in arguing. He did say that. He said I have to stay in the tent. Fox Boy blinked. “Mother?”

“Yes, Fox Boy?”

“Can we tie the tent flap open?” Fox Boy asked, “And get some air in here?”

His mother watched him as she thought. “Will you be able to keep yourself inside if we open the flap?”

“Yes.” I’ll stay inside. But no one said I couldn’t sit at the door. Then I can at least see part of what’s going on.

Lana Ka Mana’olana sighed. “I’ll open the flap.”

“I can do it,” Fox Boy said.

“Fox Boy.” His mother smiled at him. “We both know that when you tie the tent flap open you have to step out of the tent. I’m already being nice enough by letting you sit at the door and look out.”

I tried. Fox Boy waited until his mother had the tent flap open before moving.

“Remember to stay inside the flap,” his mother said.

“Yes mother.” At least I can see out now. Fox Boy sat cross legged at the mouth of the tent and looked out. Too bad all the interesting things are happening on the other side of the camp.

Fox Boy sat and watched.

One of the hunters walked past, not even noticing him.

A gaggle of girls passed by. Two detached from the group. Morning Cloud and Berry Flower… They stopped right in front of the tent.

They looked at him and smiled. Morning Cloud whispered. Berry Flower shoved her. They giggled, then ran to catch up to their friends.

A woman with two braids passed by as if he wasn’t there. I think she’s from the Secret Valley band. So, at least that’s something interesting.

One of the camp dogs stopped to sniff the air. It shook itself, then sniffed a tent peg.

Maybe I should just shut the flap and be bored. No. That would feel too much like mother won. She sort of did already. She knew I wanted to sit here and look out. Fox Boy almost stood up.

“I’m telling you, that’s the rule!”

What’s Elk Chaser angry about?

“No it isn’t.” Hammer Stone’s voice was a little deeper and even louder than Elk Chaser’s.

He’s never been good at staying quiet.

“That’s why I said we should ask Fox Boy,” Rabbit Skinner said, “He’ll definitely know.”

“That’s true,” Hammer Stone said.

“He’ll tell you I’m right,” Elk Chaser said.

“We’ll see.”

The boys hustled into view, trading glares and snarls. Rabbit Skinner pointed at Fox Boy and the others turned to look.

“Tell Hammer Stone I’m right,” Elk Chaser demanded.

“Tell him I’m right,” Hammer stone said.

Hammer stone wasn’t as tall as Elk Chaser, but he was thicker and had more muscle. Both boys were almost twelve and looked like they were twelve already. The last traveling merchant through here thought Elk Chaser was thirteen.

“Fox Boy,” Rabbit Skinner said, “These two are arguing over the horse rule.”

Again? Fox Boy sat up straighter. He folded his arms and tried to put on the face his father wore at council fires, the one that reminded others that Alaka’i Kupa’a was high chief, the one that reminded them Alaka’i Kupa’a was in charge.

“What’s your disagreement,” Fox Boy asked.

Hammer Stone pointed at Elk Chaser and said, “He says my father can’t give me a horse after I get my name.”

Elk Chaser nodded. “Once he has his name, Hammer’s a man of the tribe. And we all know a man of the tribe can’t ride another man’s horse.”

“It wouldn’t be another man’s horse if father gives it to me,” Hammer Stone said.

Rabbit Skinner shook his head.

“You can’t just give a horse,” Elk chaser said, “Nobody can, that’s Raven law.”

“Your father and mine traded horses just yesterday,” Stone Hammer said.

“Traded,” Elk Chaser said.

“Traded.” Stone Hammer nodded a big nod. “They each gave the other a horse.”

“No, they exchanged horses,” Elk Chaser said, “That’s different. Tell him, Fox Boy.”

They all looked at him, expecting an answer.

Fox Boy took a long breath before speaking. Father waits before speaking in council. So does Old Storm Cloud. “Your fathers,” Fox Boy said, “traded horses. They each had one to start with and swapped.”

“Exactly,” Elk Chaser said, “That’s different from giving a horse to someone who doesn’t have one.”

Fox Boy nodded.

Hammer Stone turned slightly and curled his nose. “So how am I supposed to get a horse?”

“You know that,” Elk Chaser said, “You have to be fast like me. Or smart like Fox Boy and Rabbit Skinner.”

“Being fastest doesn’t always get you a horse,” Fox Boy said. Not unless you run faster than horses do. “Hammer Stone could take one from the city folk. They tie their horse up at night.”

Hammer Stone and Rabbit Skinner both nodded.

“The City Folk are trying to steal the valley lands,” Fox Boy said, “So it’s fair.”

“So, all I have to do is find some city folk,” Hammer stone said, “Then sneak in and take one.”

“That’s what Elk Chaser’s planning to do,” Rabbit Skinner said, “So am I.”

“But I sneak better than you do,” Elk Chaser said.

“We’ll see.” Hammer Stone smiled. “We’ll see.”

“We will,” Fox Boy agreed, “But we’re going to have to get our names first.

“Uh huh…” Hammer Stone smiled and frowned at the same time. “When do you think that will be Fox Boy?”

Fox Boy felt his mother’s eyes on him.

Father and Old Storm Cloud never said they were going to call us to the council. Got to say something. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked mother to open the tent flap. Fox Boy grouped Elk Chaser, Stone Hammer, and Rabbit Skinner together with his eyes. “That’s a decision for our fathers and the shamans.”

“And they’re meeting right now,” Rabbit Skinner said.

“They are,” Fox Boy said, “And we’ll have adult names as soon as they decide.” Whenever that is…

Nano success, it can happen!

October 2020 is an important month for me, the NANOWRIMO project I started in November 2019 will go to the publisher this month, just in time for me to start the sequel as my NANO project for 2020! While this isn’t my first NANOWRIMO project to see print, it is the one with the shortest transition from idea to ready for submission. And this one is headed for a bigger publisher than my first success with Johnson Farm.

A lot of credit for the book being ready to submit in (slightly) less than a year goes to the effort I put in to learn and develop my writing skills and process. It takes time to develop your workflow, your editing style, and your understanding of how to do the work. It takes experience to recognize mistakes and to fix them, or to avoid making them again. My fifth NANOWRIMO project is going to a publisher this month because of what I learned in writing and editing the last four books.

And, with this book safely on its way, I can use my experience with this book to go back and improve the previous ones. Late last year I decided I should do a reissue on Johnson Farm. I couldn’t leave things alone and felt the need to do a sequel and a parallel series. So, it makes sense to go back and ‘true up’ the original book with the things I’ve learned since. My 2018 project led directly to the idea I’m submitting this month and is a related (but so far unpublished) story. After completing my 2019 project, I know how to help that one on its way to success.

If you’re new to NANOWRIMO (or just to fiction writing…) writing a 50,000+ word manuscript can easily feel like the hurdle in the project. Those of us who’ve gotten that far realize it’s just the first hurdle in publishing a successful book. it’s not the end of the road, but it’s somewhere you have to go. And there are things you can’t learn about yourself and your process until you succeed in that step.

Writing that first draft is a challenge. And it’s easy to lose hope along the way, or even after you’ve finished the draft. Your first draft doesn’t look or feel like a finished book yet. Don’t expect it to! There’s more work ahead and more to learn. But by getting through that draft, you’ve taken a big step. You’ve beaten a barrier that keeps many people from succeeding. And now you can take the next step.

It’s all about learning. And sometimes you need to get a couple first drafts under your belt before you’re ready to move on to the next step (but keep trying in the meantime…).

As I mentioned earlier, I’m writing a sequel for this year NANO project. Next week I’ll introduce one of the characters who’ll be adventuring with me in this new book (I am relatively sure he survives this one…). In the meantime, dear reader, good luck in your own writing and editing and I’ll see you next post.

NANO is coming…

I know. It’s still six weeks out. But the time to prep for National Novel Writing Month is now, while it is six weeks out. Writing a novel is a serious endeavor. It takes effort. For many of us, it takes planning. Even if you’re a “pantser” who’ll start on November 1st with a blank page and an idea (or even just a blank page…) you need to do some planning for the time and resources you need to write 50,000+ words in a month.

In my case, I’ve got most of the people around me trained not to bug me during November (at least until Thanksgiving (I usually have the draft done by then though…)). I have my idea in place and know most of the main characters. But I haven’t announced my story yet, I should really get my home office cleaned up (I’ll be living in there for a few weeks…), and I need the local bottler to deliver at least a pallet of my favorite writing fuel.

I’ve ‘won’ NANO five years running and I’m convinced that a major reason for that is the prep I do before November starts. Having plans in place for how and when I’m working and having things in place to execute that plan is at least as important as having an idea or outline. If you haven’t put in the work to have the time and space to write you won’t do it. And if you don’t write, you can’t finish.

Well, dear reader, speaking of finishing… I should get my plans shored up and make sure I’m ready. Good luck with your own writing. And, I’ll see you next post.