Posts Tagged ‘novels’

I’ve always been what they call a “pantser,” which is to say I write by the seat of my pants. Now, I know, from one experience in writing in someone else’s universe, that outlining can increase my output dramatically, but it never seemed to work for me. I tried it to a degree in The Cosmic City, and it helped keep me moving, but it didn’t achieve the results a true outline can bring. And so far as writing short stories is concerned…forget it.

But I’ve been blocked lately from writing much of anything, so much that when a couple of my friends asked me, a week apart, if I was writing anything I had to admit that, no, nothing specific at the moment. (Although yes, I was and am still writing.)* Okay, I thought, I was going to concentrate on shorts this year, but if you’re not writing, you’re not writing. Even writing something that may never turn a dime is better than sitting around feeling like a lump.

So I grabbed an old idea I had, a sequel to The Choking Rain, and I started noodling with it. I thought, outlining is easy, and it counts as writing. If I get stuck or inspired by something else, it’s easy to put aside. On the other hand, if I could create an outline in say, eight weeks, I could probably have a book written before Halloween. That’s about half what it usually takes. Not a bad use of my time whatever happens, and I can still spend the last two months of the year writing short stories (which have a better chance of selling).

An outline for a 60,000-word novel means (given my typical chapter length), setting up 40 chapters. If I were shooting for an eight-week schedule, that would average five chapters a week, or one a day. (I don’t work weekends.)

In two days’ work, I have outlined eight chapters.

Now, they will get harder. I haven’t created any real characters yet, only cut-outs, and characters are hard. But then again, they don’t need to be fleshed-out at this point. And if I can even approach four chapters a day, I can finish the outline in two weeks.

That means I could be writing a new novel by the end of the month, and finished before Labor Day. My previous record is just over a year (albeit that was 85,000 words).

I’d better start designing a cover.


*Why do people who have known you for decades, and have always known you as a writer, ask if you’re “still writing”?


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It’s one of those times when the ideas just won’t come. I finished The Cosmic City a few weeks ago and gave myself some time off (well, I edited and formatted and published and promoted it, if that’s what they mean by time off). Then I tried to get back into writing, and I wrote a little vignette and immediately shelved it because it wasn’t really what I was trying to say. So I rewrote it as a completely new story over a couple of days, and now it’s incubating before submission.

So now what to do? I’m happiest when I have a project, a direction to go. (That’s the nice part about writing novels, but then you only have one product to sell, and if it doesn’t, you’re out of luck.) I thought this story would give me a direction for a few days, but it wrote itself too darned fast and now I’m afloat again. And it’s hard.

It’s hard because I’m hard on myself. I’m in the “you should write every day,” camp, but I don’t. Even the waiter at dinner tonight at our favorite hang-out was talking about how he’s worked on his screenplays for 50 days straight. Fifty days in a row of at least three pages. I admire him. I envy him. I want to slap him. (Lousy so-and-so, how dare he make me feel so bad?) I left him a big tip.

The truth is, sometimes you can’t write. Sometimes you have to extend that vacation a while. If the ideas aren’t there, they just aren’t. (I actually have a couple, but they’re so embryonic I have to leave them in the neonatal ICU until they’re stronger.) And until then, or until something else comes along, you need to do something different, change your routine: you need to relax.

Finishing and publishing The Cosmic City–the conclusion of a trilogy, no less–was a peak. You can’t jump from peak to peak. You have to cross the valley between them first. There will always be another peak to climb, even if right now it’s hidden by the clouds.



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While the excitement of finally bringing a new novel into the world is energizing, it tends to fade a little while you’re waiting for it actually to come out, and in the case of an e-book, that means while you’re formatting and prepping and ordering the cover, etc., etc. This means that at some point, even though you’re not really finished with your massive project, an unwanted thought is going to invade your brain like an insidious virus sent from your Overmind:

What Am I Going To Do Next?

For some, this is not an issue. Some writers routinely juggle two or three projects at once; for them, finishing one simply means focussing on another (and maybe starting something new, but there’s always a list of those). For others of us, though, starting a new project is a daunting task. We can postpone it by saying, “Oh, I’m still editing,” or “While that cover is on order I’ll make sure my e-book is formatted,” or even the time-honored “I deserve a vacation,” but eventually the Overmind rears its massive head and thunders: “You Have To Think Of Something To Write.” (Yes, the Overmind always speaks in capitals.)

Guess where I am in the process?

Often when in this bind, I have taken the coward’s way out, and simply started another novel. Novels are easier: You have only one story to tell, and it takes a long time, so starting something new is a problem you can put off for months. But I have consciously decided to concentrate on short stories for 2017, so that option is barred. And now I am almost done with formatting The Cosmic City, so that’s no help, either. What’s boy to do?

Well, to start, he can write a blog post so he feels like he’s being creative…

The world right now is ripe with subjects that lend themselves to a science-fictional slant, problems that can be addressed through a speculative lens, making them seem less political because they aren’t happening in the here-and-now. I’ve done it before. But it’s very easy to become pedantic and transparent, which in turn makes the work hard to sell. I was hoping to focus more inwardly, touching universal truths by exploring personal truths. This, however, involves much spilling of blood all over your screen (or page, if you’re a Neanderthal like me), and we just vacuumed the carpets. So there’s that.

In the end, this is a question that I’ve faced (and answered) many times. I have developed various mechanisms over the years to deal with the issue. Most involve reading–a pastime which has suffered greatly of late–but all involve sitting down in a chair and writing.

You know, the kind of thing I’m doing right now, Mr. Overmind! This is over 400 words right here! And then there’s my tweets, they count, and I still haven’t finished formatting my book…


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My trilogy, “The Stolen Future” (or at least the first 2/3) is featured today on File770.com. This is a huge honor and I am surprised and gratified.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!


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It is a common theme among writers, although we dislike admitting it to outsiders, that most of us suffer from “imposter syndrome.” Now, this is hardly unique to writers (nor, I expect, to artists of any stripe, all of whom probably suffer from it), but we tend to have it bad. I have seen authors of several highly-praised novels suffer from it because they had not sold anything recently, or because a short story was rejected. Was it all just a fluke? Am I just a one-trick pony? Have they found me out?

Thankfully, I am having my best-ever year in terms of sales and publications, so the syndrome is not having its way with me at the moment. (It keeps trying, though. It does not give up.) But I recently (like five minutes ago) had an epiphany about imposter syndrome and what it takes to fight it.

I know now that although big sales and lots of them are the best way to stave it off, that isn’t the only way. The other day, I was writing my latest and it suddenly occurred to me (as it does) that various of the tidbits I had thrown into my scene partly because I thought they would enhance the mood and partly because I was just trying to keep writing, were coming together in a larger picture. I needed a big event to headline my chapter, some grave danger for my heroes, and I suddenly realized that if I combined all these little facts I had tossed around, they gave me what I needed. They formed, literally, an eco-system that explained how all the things I wanted to put into the story could work.

I was exceedingly proud of myself, not only for creating something out of nothing, but arranging it so it made sense. And I did it with pieces of my story that I didn’t have any idea fit together. Tonight, I had another of those moments. I had various dangers (okay, monsters) that I wanted to throw at my protagonists. How cool would it be, I wondered, if I could throw them all at my protagonists–at the same time? Put them in a bad situation and make it worse, right? That’s how you build suspense. But how to do it? How to make it make sense?

And I figured out a way. I sat down and relaxed for a couple of minutes and worked it all out. How to pit the monsters against my heroes, how to pit the monsters against each other, and how to resolve the problem so my heroes could continue their journey. It was simple, neat, and it worked.

And that’s what writers do. They tell stories that work.

So take that, imposter syndrome! I’m going to bed.

We can fight again tomorrow. But watch out–I kill monsters for a living.



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It is my mantra that “timing is everything.” Ironically, however, while timing is “everything,” perspective is  worth “a lot.” Consider: You’ll spend an hour cutting coupons before grocery shopping because you can save $30. But you spend five minutes when you’re shopping for a house, trying to decide whether to raise your bid $10,000. An hour to save $30, but five minutes to spend $10,000? It’s all in perspective, in this case, how much is ultimately at stake.

This occurred to me because I am just past what is likely the half-way point of my latest novel, which I am planning to finish in the next two months. That will require me writing about 5,000 words a week, which should present no problem greater than whether I can type that fast.

But wait, let’s put this into perspective. Five thousand words is a good length for a short story. That means my goal for the rest of the year is to write the equivalent of 8-10 short stories. But writing 40,000 words of a novel is one thing; writing eight short stories is an entirely different proposition, a view from a different perspective. That’s why I can blithely take on one with every expectation of success, whereas I wouldn’t even attempt the other without a truckload of money waiting for me.

The difference in perspective is even more pronounced when you look at the relative outcomes. If you’re a writer of some ability, there’s a good chance you could sell one of 8-10 short stories. On the other hand, selling a novel, even for a good writer, is really hard. So from one perspective, writing short stories leads to greater rewards. And yet, if you do sell your novel, the amount of money in even one of today’s average advances is light years ahead of what you can reasonably expect from a short story. (It’s more than you could make from all ten of them.) So from that perspective, writing a novel is a better bet (even allowing for the time it takes to produce a novel, which varies widely).

Of course, even if you write a great novel about nine vampires seeking to throw a ring into a volcano, if ten others have beaten you to it, your efforts are  doomed. So, remember what I always say: “Timing is everything.”



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I saw Roland Emmerich being interviewed on TV, and he said, “Films are not finished. They are just abandoned.” And boy, is he right.

When they were building the pyramids, they could never stop because it would be in poor taste to say to the pharaoh, “Hey, most exalted dude, your tomb’s ready any time you want to, you know, head on in there.” Sounds like a good pitch for picked as the advance scout for that job; if he’s not ready to go, you don’t want to argue with him. It’s not quite the same with a writer, because we want to be finished–but you wouldn’t know it to watch us.

I don’t know that any written story, novel, short, screenplay, poem, whatever, is ever as good on paper as it was in your head. Of course, in many ways it’s a lot better, because you’ve been able to write and revise and rearrange the words, but the story never seems to come out like you imagined. It always has more impact in your head–which is understandable, when you’re only dealing with an audience of one.

And that’s why we have such a hard time letting go. There’s always something that can be improved. A sentence can be shortened to greater impact. A character can be expanded through the addition of a single comment. And does the ending express exactly what I want the reader to take away? Could it be clearer?

Yet on the other hand, if you don’t “finish,” you don’t publish. Now, there are stories that never get finished, and for good reason. Some stories don’t go the way you want; stories (especially novels) have a tendency to get away from you, and while they may know where they’re going, it might not be the best place for them. Usually this is early in your career, and all writers have efforts that will never see the light of day because they’re just not good. But sometimes a good idea simply goes awry. I was discussing one such with friends the other night. A neat idea, a fertile market, a “finished” novel, but somewhere it went off the tracks and I don’t know how to pull it back. So it’s in a box, and there it will likely remain.

But even that novel was shopped around before I trunked it, because the simple fact that I think it derailed doesn’t mean the Market will think so. (Unfortunately, the Market agreed with me.) Still, it is a tenet of our faith (in ourselves) that one does not “self-reject.” We are poor judges of our own work. I have sent stories to markets that I thought were a bad fit, but they conformed to the market’s requirements so I sent them. And they sold. You can never tell.

Unless of course you adopt the ancient practice of never finishing because you’re afraid of the reception you’ll get. But I can tell you the reception you’ll get: Complete silence. A watched pot never boils, and an “unfinished” story never sells. Not even a pharaoh would argue with that.

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