Is Your Book Missing Something?

Have you ever finished a short story or novel and after reviewing it thought hey, wait a minute, it’s missing that thing. You don’t know what that thing is. It’s just not there. And it can be as frustrating as a strange smell in your house that you cannot locate or understand what is causing it. Then you remember the banana your two year old walked away with the other day and you don’t remember it being in their hand when they came back in the room.

Anyway, the thing, let’s come back to it. After pouring over your recent masterpiece you realize it has no flavor or omph or the secret ingredient that old Italian lady knows for her marinara sauce. It just does not explode on your literary taste buds or get the vote of confidence from your peers you hoped to receive.

I’ll tell you what was missing from my book. Tension and conflict.

Shadow
Get back here!

I’m sure some of you reading this have felt the same way. And knowing what it is and weaving it back into your story can be as painful and annoying as Peter Pan trying to catch and sew his shadow back on.

If you cannot tell what your book lacks, my guess is that it is probably some mechanical piece of storytelling. My advice to help you find this elusive thing is to ask someone you trust to read it. If you don’t have a writers group, I’m sure you know someone who is an avid reader intelligent enough to understand what needs to be sprinkled in. Be brave. Someone has to read it someday if you are going to be an author.

If you find yourself in this position don’t despair. Don’t give up. Keep reviewing and keep digging. Don’t look for the easy way to publish. You won’t be satisfied with that ending. Put it aside if you have to and come back to it later. After all, a simple steak can be great. But a steak marinated for two days, rolled in a spice blend, and then grilled to perfection will always be better.

Cheers,

Bob

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3 Things the Prepublished Novelist Should Keep in Mind

As the drafts of my current novel get perilously close to the double digit mark, there is ample time to reflect on what went wrong at the beginning. If I’m honest things were really foggy at first. I didn’t know how to craft a story, I just liked words. Now, I feel as if a good percentage of the fog has cleared. I can tell when a scene stands on its own and when it is time for it to die.

Below I’d like you to consider three things while you work on your unpublished novel so you are not overwhelmed and give up.

Be fair with your comparisons – If you are just starting out, know where you are. You are not the next Rowling, Hardy, or Dickens. At least not at this moment. Do not pick one of the greats in your genre and think, “Well, I’m never going to be this good, time to try woodworking”.

Do people who want to lose 30 pounds do so in a week? How about someone who has never run a marathon? Could they just wake up the next day, put on their running shoes, and sprint to victory? Be realistic writer. You are still trying to figure it all out. Be okay with that. Your first draft probably won’t be magic. But the fifth one might, so keep at it.

Early Rome
Yes, this was not built in a day.

You are in the learning phase – Sadly, one does not write a book and immediately get published. But this can also be a very good thing. Books published without going through the crucible of a severe and honest edit have given the perfectly viable industry of self-publishing a terrible name.

Before you try to publish, learn about the publishing industry. Learn about agents. Read magazines on writing. Find people to give honest feedback that will help you understand what went wrong. Do not go to someone who is ruthless. After all, is it okay to tell a baby how awful they are at walking and never to try it again when they are taking their first steps? I do hope you said no.

Writing is hard – Writing is a slow plod, not a sprint. Even those with dynamite first books spent years learning the craft in school or otherwise. So when you spend three hours on a paragraph and are tempted to scrap the whole thing, take a deep breath. Go for a walk, refill your creative well, and find a new way through the thicket of your book.

Writer, if your find yourself in deep despair or overwhelmed at the blank page or your latest draft, relax. Remove the belief that something has to be great, immediately. Free yourself from unrealistic expectations, learn all you can, and then get to work.

If you’ve published a novel what would you say to a first time writer for advice or encouragement?

Write 500 words TODAY!

Cheers,

Bob

Motivational Monday

I was going to start off today with a quote. This quote would set the tone for our week. It was going to be a springboard to great achievement and the key to our lackadaisical effort we give to our books. It might even act as a profound subliminal message and cause you to turn, grab your laptop, and finish it.

Pizza
Not every day. But every other day?
-Wikicommons

Unfortunately, the love of writing cannot be turned on like a switch. It’s not something that can hinge on emotion and wait until we feel like it. Why? Because I feel like pizza every night for dinner and that would cause some health problems.

Writing is about showing up everyday. Whether you write well or poorly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is coming to the desk or table or wherever, and doing it again and again and again.

I work best when I have a plan. Not a super detailed one, but one that helps me not get ambushed by a really good TV show and two hours later think, oh no! can I have a do over? Can I go back to where I saved my life last and relive those last few hours like this is some sort of game? I write better and get less distracted and am less cranky when I see that time to work on my passion is coming. Also, it helps prepare my mind.

This week, don’t wait to write until you feel like it. Don’t write because someone else told you to do so. Write because that’s what is in you and that is what you do.

Cheers,

Bob

My Recent Publication

Yesterday my fellow Weakling Josh Mosey wrote a blog mentioning his article in a online magazine called Catapult. I don’t toot my horn often but I wanted to mention mine. You can read it here. It discusses the shuffling of priorities that occurs when you become more serious about a passion. Hockey is a big love of mine that is now regulated to watching the Detroit RedWings a few times a week. I used to play all the time and I loved it. I hope to again someday.

Olde Hansa. It’s in Estonia so it has to be Olde.
– Courtesy WikiCommons

However, when it comes to having kids, serving God, and wanting to be the best husband I can be – all while trying to begin a writing career; there is only so much time in a day. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I don’t want to follow the olde adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none”. Yes. Olde is spelled with an ‘e’ when you mention olde adages. Or at least it should be.

Thanks for reading. Look ahead to your weekend and elbow out some time to write. If you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. Though writing can be a thrilling and energizing task, in the end, it is simple hard work.

Cheers,

Bob

Daddy No Sleep

Nearly every morning my kids wake up early. When one does, they all do. It’s sort of like a really fun game. Only now when I think about it, it’s not really that fun. There have been times were I’ve stayed up late writing the night before and then get woken up by screams of “MAMA DADDY MAMA DADDY!” Followed by our oldest saying “Mama, I think Clara wants daddy.” I flop out of bed and rescue our middle child from the confines of her crib and head into the dark living room.

I wanted to write this post not because I am a terrible father and want to complain about sleep deprivation, but because I realize I sometimes set myself up to fail with my writing goals. I blame this on Robert Downey Junior, Guy Ritchie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even a little bit on Margaret Thatcher.

Let me explain.

Margaret Thatcher
She does look a wee bit tired.

Before we had kids, there was a time when I woke up at 5:30 to write every Saturday morning. Think about that. I had a good three to four hours all to myself where my thoughts were clear and my mind raced with one brilliant plot line after another (or so I thought). So, when I watched the first Sherlock Holmes film by Guy Ritchie starring Robert Downey Jr., I was immediately enamored by his ability to cast sleep aside and finish a task with a flourish. I thought this must be the best way to produce a novel – write with a feverish, reckless abandon.

The problem with this is obvious. That is Hollywood. That is not real. No one can repel sleep for days while sorting out a problem. They’d go insane. Right? Well, then theirs Margaret Thatcher. Ever read her biography or watched the film Iron Lady? She was a real person (obviously) who supposedly slept four to five hours a night and still ran a country. I’m having trouble with this blog post. Perhaps we are on different plains of brilliance and I need to be OK with that. Or, maybe I am dead wrong with the method that works best at this point in my life.

I find I write best when I am awake. Strange. When I am well rested and have accomplished things during the day I can go downstairs to my desk and write something. My creative well is full from a life lived and a decent amount of sleep. I realize now that instead of staying up late for a few days in a row and then crashing, its best if I sleep for several days in a row then stay up late once. Burning out is not an option. I have a wife to love, children to raise, and a day job.

This might sound simple to you, like a math problem, but I hate math. Reading and comprehension I can do. And to do them successfully, I must be well rested.

How about you? What have you done with your schedule to improve yourself as a writer? Have you ever tested how you work best? Do you stay up all night or do you conserve your energy for a controlled writing burst?

Write 500 words today.

Cheers,

Bob

Why I’m Not Giving Up On My Novel And You Shouldn’t Give Up On Yours

I’ve been working on the same novel for nearly eight years. Yes. Let’s let that sink in for a moment. After considering that statement you might draw two conclusions. One, that I am slow and not intensely dedicated to the craft or, two, that I am not very good. These assumptions have some merit in one degree or another. Kids and family take precedence (as they should) so I set my book aside every once in a while. And, I’m still learning.

Though I have drafted several short stories, had blog posts or nonfiction articles published in blogs, websites and journals, I keep the Tale of Caelum as my main project. I have written draft after painstaking draft only to realize I need to roll up my sleeves and go through it again. So why do it? Why keep at this same project year after year after year? Why not give up and start something new? Why should you keep going on yours?

It has my/your name on it. I don’t want to create sub-par fiction. I don’t want to complete something and self publish it (I’m not against this. Just get a few professional opinions first). I want to keep writing and refining to become a master of the craft. This way, when I get to one of the other hundred story ideas I have, I do not recreate the same mistakes.

It’s a great set of stories. I’ve been told so. Not just by my family and friends who don’t want to hurt my feelings but by an agent and an editor. It is a good idea, a great series, and that is affirmation enough to keep working hard. Has someone you respect said this to you? That’s reason enough to keep going.

I/You have passion for it. At one time you thought about this book and forgot where you were going or what you were doing. You carried a journal with you and fleshed out ideas and problems for your characters to get into and out of only to find more problems. You talked with friends or family members about this great book. Getting back into it can be hard but that’s no reason to quit anything worthwhile.

Are there bad story ideas? Sure. Are there books better off not written? Of course. I am not talking about these. I am talking about your baby. Your STORY.

My challenge to you? If you’ve set down that work in progress, pull it out. Dust it off and set it down in the middle of a room. Walk around it with pen and notepad in hand. Think about it. Consider the problems and write them down.

Then get to fixing them.

Don’t give up.

Cheers,

Bob