Tag Archives: novel

Abandonment Issues

Someone smarter than me (And probably richer too, so why should I bother to look up his name?) once said, “Novels are never finished. They are only abandoned.”

Unfortunately for us tortured penmonkeys, that does not mean that we can just give up in the middle of writing our book and expect someone to pay actual money for it. What it does mean is, “Your book is never going to be perfect, and you can only do so much revising, so eventually you’re going to have to learn to be happy with what you have and just put it out there, bucko.”

It’s a reality that every writer who ever plans to publish anything must face. And earlier this month it stared me straight in the eyes.

I was putting the finished touches on The Mulch Pile. I had done multiple edits on my own, in addition to farming out proofreading work to people nice enough to do it for free. (Speaking of which, huge thanks to Creste Meyer and Ellie Soderstrom for volunteering to help me make my work as pristine as possible.)

I was coming into the home stretch, reading through the story one last time, applying some final edits, when I was struck with a stunning realization:

The Mulch Pile I had written nearly two years ago was not the story I would have written today.

Okay, so maybe it should have been all that stunning. But it was somewhat disconcerting. After all that hard work, writing, rewriting, tweaking, rewriting some more…all of that and yet somehow looking back over it my current writer self was saying, “I could have done this better.”

It’s possible that’s just wishful thinking. It’s possible that everything I’ve learned in the past two years wouldn’t have improved the story of The Mulch Pile at all. But somehow I doubt it. I feel in my heart that if I had it to do over again, I could have created a better, more focused story and crafted a plot with better structure.

And yet The Mulch Pile went live a week later, largely unchanged.

Why? Is it because I’m a lazy bum, and I’m sick and tired of looking at this thing, obsessing over every little word, every turn of phrase and every hidden symbolic clue that no one’s likely to pick up on anyway?

Well, yes. But also, it’s because I’m not the writer I used to be.

The writer I used to be wrote The Mulch Pile. And it’s a good story. Not perfect mind you, but good. And if I let the writer that I am get pulled into constantly trying to improve and rewrite, I could get bogged down with this one story for the rest of my life.

Because the truth is, I’m getting better. I’ve been getting better over those two intervening years, and I plan to continue getting better over the years to come. The writer I am has his own stories to write. And the writer I’m going to be may very well look back on the stuff I’m doing today, and think, “I could have done it better.”

But he won’t. He won’t, because he won’t have time. He’ll be working on his own projects. Because life is about motion. It’s about moving forward.

The Mulch Pile was the best story the writer I was could have written. And with that I am satisfied.

How about the rest of you? Ever have to let go of one story so that you could move on to another? Share your tale of abandonment in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

How to Write a Book

The other day I was considering doing another round of search term bingo, so I did a quick scroll down through search terms that have led readers to my site. I found some real gems including, “Alien coming out of a space ship,” “White lima bean pills,” “Is it ok to eat larger lima beans after you run for the daty for dinner?” and my personal favourite, “I’m not paid enough to answer stupid questions.”

(Incidentally the single search term that brings the most readers to my site from Google is “Clockwork.” What is up with that?)

But then I came across one that read, “How to write a book”. And it got me thinking. Because I’ve never done a basic bare-bones rundown for someone looking into getting into this whole writing thing.

What would I tell someone like that? How would I advise them?

Of course the obvious answer would be for me to scream at them to turn back, that this whole writing thing is an emotional drain and a waste of time. I would try to tell them that they’re not going to get rich off of this. No, it doesn’t matter what they heard about whatever famous author getting paid truckloads of money for his first book, that isn’t going to be them. They’d be better off playing the lottery.

Except I know better. Facts aren’t going to deter this person. They’ve got stars in their eyes. They’re special. They’re not like all these other wannabe hacks.

So instead I’d tell them this:

‘You want to write a book? Here’s what you do. You sit down and you write the freaking book.

That’s all.

No. Really. There is no magic formula. I mean, I’d suggest maybe having some kind of plan for where you want to go with this thing (we call these little jewels “outlines; do not disregard them) and reading books about style and story can’t hurt, but writing at it’s core, especially at the start, is just sitting down, setting some kind of goal for the day, and doing your best to hit that goal.

For anyone who’s interested I tried to write a thousand words a day when I started. If you want to do more or less, that’s fine. But I’d say keeping a schedule is important.

Odds are pretty good you’re going to have some missteps along the way. That’s okay. You’re not the only one. My good friend Ellie Soderstrom just had to scrap two years of work, because it just wasn’t working out right.

Maybe now would be a good time to bring up that whole, “Get out while you still can” thing? No? Still determined to write a book, huh? Then keep writing.

And while you’re writing keep reading. Pick up whatever writing books you can, and do your best to absorb the wisdom of those who have walked this path before you.

And one day, you’ll write “The End.” And you’ll prop your chair back with your hands laced behind your head, and think, “Well I’m glad that’s over with.”

And we’ll come in and push your over backwards and laugh, because you are so not done. There’re rewrites, and edits, and looking for an agent, and dealing with the crushing despair of rejection and….’

So yeah, that’s what I’d tell them. Not the most upbeat and encouraging bit of advice, but then if you’re looking at writing a book your life isn’t going to be upbeat or encouraging. Writing is work. It can be fun work from time to time, but in the end work is still work.

And here’s the thing. I’m not sure you can teach someone to write a book. I mean there are things they need to know, but writing and all the mess that goes with it is something you have to learn for yourself.

You have to learn to discipline yourself to write consistently. You have to learn how to deal with the depression that can come with rejection, with fear and self-doubt, and no one can teach you those things. You just have to go through them. You have to build up your strength and endurance a little at a time until one day you can look back and say, “Wow, I was kind of a loser back then. Good thing I kept at it and got better.”

And that’s the key. Keep at it. Never be too proud to learn something new. Never stop growing.

That’s how you write a book.