I HAVE MADE IT AS AN AUTHOR

You can’t tell by book sales. I’m not on the best-seller lists. I’m still able to safely walk through airports without being flagged for autographs.

But the other day I walked into my eight-year old daughter’s class (I was there to volunteer as a writing coach), and I had to wait. I was happy to wait, because Read-Aloud had gone late, and no one wants to interrupt Read-Aloud. Especially WHEN THEY ARE READING YOUR BOOK.

Can Stephen King say that? Has he ever walked into an elementary classroom and watched a whole room of children laugh at his words? Has he waited breathlessly while they try to guess whether Cleo is helping Timber or leading him into a trap, as one child so astutely summarized? (Wise students of literature, these third graders are.) I think not.

I have arrived.

"Fortunately, she was the kind of lady who liked to go first. She hopped in and nipped at a string attached to a single bulb. The pathetic incandescence did little to reassure Timber, especially when he could now see spiders crawling the walls. And . . ."

“Fortunately, she was the kind of lady who liked to go first. She hopped in and nipped at a string attached to a single bulb. The pathetic incandescence did little to reassure Timber, especially when he could now see spiders crawling the walls. And . . .”

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Some things are worth waiting for–my experience with a professional editor

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Timber Howligan is a silver and gray Maine Coon…just like this one. He’s formidable, not fluffy!

There are so many good things about being a writer—author Katey Howes captures most of them in this post: http://kateywrites.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/an-almost-objective-look-at-choosing-a-writing-career-illustrated/.  I happen to agree with all of these, especially the part about showing up to work in pajamas, and loving it so much you sometimes forget to pick your kids up from school (although, strictly speaking, that is not a good thing if it happens too often).

Over a year ago, I decided to “be” a writer. I wish I could say I’ve forged ahead, guns blazing, conquering all obstacles in my way like my secret agent cat hero, Timber Howligan. Russian spies? Vicious guard dogs? Wily rabbits? No problem for Timber Howligan.

Oh. You haven’t heard of Timber Howligan yet? Er, that’s because the book isn’t published yet. It’s not, um, actually done.

My path has been more like the novel that gets rewritten seven times.

Not for lack of trying, mind you. More for taking a hard look at the first 65,000 words I ever wrote, and realizing…

Wow. That needs work.

Back in November, I thought the book was done. Almost signed, too—with a local independent publisher, but a publisher nonetheless. Obviously there would be one more round of edits, but according to the publisher, they’d be quick—she promised to have the book out within six months of signing the contract.

Except she didn’t want to sign the contract right away. Okaaaaay….I told myself I wasn’t the one in a hurry. She told me when she would call.

In the meantime, I started having second thoughts. As an independent publisher, she offered little in the way of marketing and not much more in the way of services beyond self-publishing, except she took most of the royalties. I did my homework—I talked to some of the authors who had published with her. I read some of the books she’d published.

I decided that when she called, I had a lot more questions to ask.

However, she never called.

So my “publishing” deal fell through, but to be fair, I kind of let it. I wanted my story not just to be published, but to be good.

In December, I hired a professional editor—Mary Kole, of kidlit.com.

This was by far the best thing I have ever done for my writing.

That book I thought was almost done? Major plot surgery. Serious character work. Right now, it’s on life support. I’ll do my best to stitch it back together—hopefully retaining some of the voice and style and humor that I loved about it to begin with.

They say you have to kill some darlings along the way. This edit may have murdered my baby. But not every first novel is going to see the light of the bookstore shelf.

Then why did I write it? I created a character—Timber Howligan, secret agent cat—who will live forever in the hearts and memories of those who have already read my book. Including my eight-year old son, who stayed up late to finish it and laughed at all the right places. My kids dressed up as Timber Howligan and Lester McMuffin (Timber’s best friend) for Halloween. I WROTE A NOVEL. I know how to do it—and because of the patience and professional help of Mary Kole, I know how to do it better next time.

I’m not giving up on this book—Timber deserves everything I can give him. I love this story. It still makes me laugh out loud. Sometimes I cackle while I’m typing. By the time I’m done with it, it will be a lot better than it would have been before…

And worth waiting for.

A Word About Word Count–Inspiration Grab Bag #3

A Word About Word Count

But before I start, let me pause to swoon:

Dean Wesley Smith. There, it’s out. I’ve got a writer’s crush. Is it the cowboy hat? The prolificity? Or the fact that the man just wrote a 70,000 word novel in 10 DAYS?

(And to my husband, who I know is secretly worried: It’s the hat. You can buy one of those, and you’ll look awesome in it.)

DWS recently blogged about his experience. For anyone who has ever struggled with daily motivation to write, meeting word counts, or wondering if they have it in them to write a novel, these 11 blog entries (10 days of writing plus the day after) are eye-opening and well worth your time. If he can find the time to write them (and respond to all the comments!), you and I can find some time to read them, or at least write a few thousand words, or at least write my spy kitties out of that metaphorical hole I’ve gotten them into this time.

In one of my favorite “How to” books, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them), by Jack M. Bickham, there is a marvelous piece of advice, so important that he places it at number one in his list: Don’t Make Excuses.

“At the end of each day, write down…the number of hours you spent…working on your fiction project, and …how many pages you produced. For those days when you don’t have anything in terms of work to report, type one double-spaced page of excuses.”

Today, I only managed about 160 words. Because….The kids are on summer break. I had a headache. I slept in because the kids slept in. My husband was working in the garage on a wood-working project and I had 12 cups of mashed strawberries that just had to be turned into jam. I thought I should finally cook dinner, for once. The laundry was piling up taller than we were. I secretly feel guilty when I ask my husband to do too much housework, even though he’s always cheerful about it and we have always shared parenting responsibilities (and sometimes he’s carried more of them). And when I did finally sit down to write, I chose to edit a short story (easy) than put more words on the blank pages of my novel (hard).

John Bickham is right: You’ll soon get sick of writing excuses. To write 7,000 words a day, there’s no time for them.

Don’t Kill Your Own Dream

Don’t Kill Your Own Dream

(This is the first installment in my “Inspiration Grab Bag” series, where I’ll share some of the  advice I’ve stumbled upon in my quest to undo the creative atrophy that occurred during 15 years of medical training and being a doctor.)

Jim Butcher, author of my favorite paranormal detective series “The Dresden Files”, says about writing:

“Writing is a LOT of work. Breaking into the industry is a torment worthy of the fifth or sixth circle of Hell. Face that. Expect it. Deal with it. It’s going to be difficult.

“It’s difficult from the get go … There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get in …. You’ll probably have more than one person say or do something that crushes your heart like an empty Coke can. You’ll probably, at some point, want to quit rather than keep facing that uncertainty

“In fact, the vast majority of aspiring authors (somewhere over 99 percent) self-terminate their dream. They quit. Think about this for a minute, because it’s important:

“THEY KILL THEIR OWN DREAM.”

This is one of the first things that made me think: Wait I minute, I used to dream about being a writer. What happened to that?

Oh yeah. I gave it up in college, because all those English classes involved writing papers, which involved (for me), staying up all night to finish them before the deadline. Then I had to face the inevitably personal and negative feedback that resulted from such work habits.

Biology, on the other hand…was easy. I could stop studying at midnight, get a good night’s sleep, and still do fairly well.

Ultimately, that choice landed me in medical school (after three years working as a technical writer, ironically).

It turns out, in medical school, and as a doctor, you have to stay up all night a lot.

Jim Butcher’s, and many other wise and experienced authors’, solution is simple and elegant, even if it does lead to lower back pain: BUTT IN CHAIR (BIC) time. Nothing can replace it, unless you can write standing up, or sitting on a yoga ball. Just. Keep. Writing.

And be grateful that most aspiring authors do kill their own dream, because it thins out the competition.