Having written five books, I have naturally developed a vast catalog of practices that work for me. Perhaps sharing a few I can help shorten someone’s path to publication. Someday I even hope to have one of mine published.
Number one: organize your material. I keep mine in plastic garbage bags. Then my research, drafts, and yes, even manuscript are set to file (curbside) when the project is done. Almost as critical is the skill of outlining. I call it outlaying. In the early stages of a book, I’ll spend many hours outlaying in the sun. Sometimes I combine this with another proven technique, mind-napping.
With fiction, pre-develop your characters. I write the names of mine on the back of my hand. That way I think of them wherever I go. Sometimes I draw little eyes on my hand and ink lips around my thumb and forefinger. Then I ask them questions and get them to speak: “s’alright?” “S’alright!”
Free your characters. Encourage them to have lives of their own. Meet them at parties, then follow them, pen in hand, on adventures you could have never dreamed of. The hero of my last novel left me, wrote his own book. A bestseller. Oprah called him. Not me. Him. I answered the phone: “Hi, Oprah! Sorry, Dirk Blowhard is indisposed. I just drowned him in the tub.”
Choose subject matter carefully. My first book idea, about the Wright Brothers’ earliest plane, didn’t fly.
Then I wrote about sexual bondage. The editor liked my submission, but couldn’t get the chain stores to stock me.
Know your subject and market. I wrote a book about car engines and then couldn’t find a distributor.
Be controversial, but not overly. While living in England, I wrote an expose on the House of Windsor. Three agents in black suits appeared at my door. They weren’t literary agents. They told me I wouldn’t be getting any royalties.
Stick with it. My first novel, ‘SNOWMAN IN SPRING’ ended up in a slush pile.
I wrote a guidebook, “How to get Married”. The editor rejected my proposal. I must have misinterpreted her advances, (which, it turns out, were for another writer). It was all starting to have a familiar ring.
Sure enough, when I proposed a book on antique firearms, she shot me down.
In the publishing biz, rejection happens. Take it in stride. It’s not personal, though it can feel pretty personal, right? I sent an article to a horticultural magazine, on farmstead flowers and fowl. The editor called it poppycock. Said the section on composting was pure crap.
For a barbering journal I penned, “The Race Against Hair Loss.” The editor called it balderdash. Even the part about selecting a toupee. Said the whole thing was a ‘bad piece’.
To get serious, establishing a routine that works is really the most important aspect of writing. People often ask me what specific techniques I use. Actually I would like them to.
I stand on my head for twenty minutes before writing. Blood rushing to my head sets off a neuron frenzy, prompting right brain left brain intercourse and an overall spiking of metabolic function. Then prone I utter a secret Jedi incantation that ends with “best seller come to da, Dah!” From there I go straight to the kitchen, cram a quick snack, rich in iron—raisin bran, maybe a donut. Then I might get lured by the tube for a few minutes, some old sitcoms… But soon, neural activity positively peaking (or more often starting into a post-sugar-high nose dive) I leap to my keyboard, and write!
Words flow from thoughts pent up in my mind as ideas crystallize, as in perfect mid air simpatico my fingers fly. Then, after a bit, usually I remember to turn on the computer.
A few tips worth sticky-noting to your forehead:
Index cards can be useful for outlining your plot. If your plot is in a cemetery that is windy, use rocks to weigh the cards down.
If you are subject to excessive distraction (as I am), consider wearing blinders when you are at your computer. They are available and can be custom fit at most tack shops. Just tell them you like to play ‘horsey’ around the house. Reward yourself after a particularly good write with sugar cubes and carrots.
A word on plagiarism. With today’s web research and computer cut and paste tools, plagiarism can occur almost inadvertently. This doesn’t make it any less wrong. A good rule of thumb is, you can freely ‘borrow’, without reproach, single words from other works. “Plethora” is one of my favorites—it’s not mine, but I often grab it.
Tell me! What works for you?