Ruminations on writing…

As I sit here staring at a blank screen once again, I come back to a conversation from dinner last night…

Why do we write? I do, because I can’t afford the bar bills…

Writing is, by it’s nature, a solitary endeavor. It’s you against the blank screen, or piece of paper. It’s trying to get that one ember of an idea to blossom into something the muse can use, either to generate an idea, something to research, words or a chapter, that will make it to paper…

You can’t do that if you don’t sit in front of the computer or writing pad and do it. My ‘goal’ is to spend 6 hours a day at it, and write at least a chapter a day, which for me, is 2500-3000 words a day.

So, if I meet my goal, I should be writing a novel in roughly a month, right???

Not so fast, Sparky…

There is research, which can take hours, yet never actually make it into the book. There is re-reading, to spur that pesky muse, to go to the next chapter. There is thinking about where you are in the story arc, outline, or character development. Are you on or off them?

And then there are the distractions… Blogs, book of face, news feeds, mowing the lawn, cooking, cleaning, pre-reading for others, etc… And travel… Take a trip to do research, that’s three or more days of NOT writing.

I tend to read a few blogs everyday, and check others every day or so, and TRY to stay off the book of face, that is a damn time sink I DON’T need.

The other issue is when you get hung up, either where a chapter doesn’t fit, or the characters do a left turn, or any of a myriad of things that take you out of the story. My way of dealing with that is to have two or three works in progress, in my case, it’s currently The Grey Man– Twilight, the sequel to Rimworld- Into the Green, and a yet unnamed western. In addition, I’ve written two short stories, and submitted them for anthologies.

Some people write to music, I’m deaf enough that I just run news in the background, to provide a ‘noise’… But to each, his own.

I do consider myself VERY lucky, in that our little group allows me to throw out ideas, get them shot down, poked/prodded/viewed from multiple angles, or modified. And it’s pretty much ‘instant’ feedback.

My ‘other’ problem is, I’m a lousy writer. I spent too many years writing technical documents, briefings and other things where punctuation was less of a ‘requirement’ if you will. And I’m also a lousy roofpreader of my own work. I can read write over errors, because I know what I meant to write.

Editing is the bane of my existence, as I believe it is for most authors. It takes longer to edit a book, than it does to write it. When you add in the alpha and beta reads and fixes, realistically it’s around six months from starting the novel to actually having something ready to go to print.

There is also the ‘fear factor’… What if people don’t like it? What if I do all this work and it flops? What if x 1000… The Grey Man series is a niche series, written for those who care about the guns and details being right, and who like realistic characters.

I was really worried about switching genres, especially dipping into science fiction. That’s all made up! One of our weekend conversations was over that specific issue. Readers have options, and likes and dislikes. Some folks will follow an author if they like what he writes, others, if it’s science fiction, forget it. Don’t read it, not interested. Or you may piss off readers, who are waiting for the next book in the series, and here you went heading off into the unknown, without even a by your leave…

My sales of Rimworld are noticeably lower than the Grey Man series, but I expected that. Thankfully, the reviews are good, so far, but I have been dinged about when is the next Grey Man coming.

I don’t think I’ll ever get to a four books a year model, but I think I can reasonably write two a year. Would I like to write more? Sure… Can I? Maybe… After all, my income depends on you, the reader. I’d rather put out two GOOD books a year, than four formulaic churned out books, just to get money.

That was another point of discussion, the quality of books vs. the backlist vs. the quantity of books published. I’d much rather have a short, but well done backlist, betting on the long term returns, rather than a large number of mediocre books on the backlist.

And this was an hour that could have been spent actually writing on the novel… Sigh…



Ruminations on writing… — 27 Comments

  1. My experience – primarily turning out technical documentation, but there’s been a few “first person accounts’ and a couple short fiction stories – is an 8:1 ratio of “everything else related to the writing” and “productive, complete and final text.” On some of the tech stuff it ran almost twice that because when one is depending on “some idiot’s manual” at 0300 5,000 miles away, in a rainstorm (figurative or literal) that manual had damn well better be absolutely, completely correct with zero errors or ambiguity. Verifying all that crap to total 100% accuracy is one hell of a time sink.

    On a related topic, I’d like to know why Michael Connelly’s books all refer to magazines as “clips.” He’s a good enough writer, and gets everything else right, that repeating the labeling error throughout a couple dozen books has to be deliberate, not ignorant.

  2. I respect what you and other authors go through to get the stuff out of your head and put it on paper is a way that will entertain us. A feat I could never do. Now I can sit with my pals and tell a lie with the best of them, but to put 1,000 plus words in a coherent manner is beyond me. I am reading Rimworld now, but anxiously look forward to the next Gray Man rendition. Thanks for your efforts.

    • Me too about the respect. I wrote minor league magazine articles about ‘stuff’ I was interested in and knew a little about so writing about it came naturally. Making up a story that spans several books – I don’t have that sort of imagination and not going to pretend to be that talented.

      It was said that J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter author) started with how she wanted the book to end. She had no idea the book would become as popular as it did.

      I’m not a SCIENCE fiction sort of person, I prefer more down to earth story lines. The ‘Grey Man’ series has been an enjoyable read, mainly because I reside in Texas and the vernacular sounds natural.

      Whatever you are doing, I think you are doing it right. :^)

  3. Speaking of reading over your errors, you showcased that pretty well “I can read write over errors, because I know what I meant to write.”

    Thanks for talking about the process and the goal – it is nice to have a window into the writer’s plan.

  4. Years ago I saw an interview with Danielle Steele about how she churned out so many books. She had a room with many large stand up white-boards lines that represented chapters. All had copious notes. She did not write linearly but as a thought popped up she wrote it and stuck it on the white-board. Had multiple books going and at some point she said it all came together and she could fill in the holes and finish a book. I remember being amazed at the process. So far different than I had ever imagined. I know nothing about guns, don’t own one but I love the Grey Man series. About half way through Rim World and enjoying it. Back when science fiction was fiction it was my favorite genre until it became fantasy fiction. I think all of will be here for the next book regardless of the time it takes. So if a white screen stays white go plant some flowers or go shoot at something.

  5. Loved the Grey Man series, even though I read mostly sci-fi. Really liked Stranded and Into the Green. I noticed a lot of errors in the Grey Man books, especially the earlier ones. Mostly name chages and different weapons from one ‘page’ to the next. Into the Green had far fewer of these, continuity errors(?).

    No matter. Loved the books and look forward to reading more.

  6. Started “Rimworld-Into the Green” yesterday evening, stayed up until after midnight reading it, then up at 0500 hours this morning to continue reading it before heading to work. Very enjoyable story! Ref your point above about readers following the genre or the author, I follow the author; a good writer can make almost any story entertaining.
    So…I would prefer 2 great books a year from you versus 4 formulaic books. Two would be plenty because I still have a job to perform and chores to complete; pretty much everything comes to a halt when I’m reading your stories.
    And in Rimworld, I’m curious to see how the 1894 Winchester and M1911 Colt will affect the arc of the storyline. I’m off work at 1700 hours and back to reading your book again.
    Thanks for taking the time to put such great story down for the rest of us.

  7. I like all of your writing.
    You and Bayou Renaissance Man are my first exposure to sci fi.
    You can hold my interest, which ain’t easy for this ol’ country boy.

  8. I read pretty much everything, altho’ I don’t seem to have as much free time as I used to. Rimworld looks like a good one – at least it does, to me – but I’m several books behind schedule. Planned to read while on vacation, but that didn’t happen.

  9. I just left my review for Rimworld, and you are at all 5-star reviews right now, Congratulations!

    We can wait for the next installments of Grey Man and Rimworld, and I want to see your take on a Western after reading Peter’s offering.

    I just have two questions.. Does a certain medic in Rimworld go by “AD” in real life, and is it just a coincidence you and Peter both have Gurkas in your stories?

    Thank you for putting words on the screen for us, it is nice to have living writers to support.

  10. Writing is an art. That, and it will surprisingly give you moments of amazement, when you later read something you wrote before.

    While you can express yourself daily with words, writing seals expressions for as long as your writings exist. Over time, while most people fade away forever, a moment of your time can still be examined, as though you spoke only moments before…that’s a good thing.

  11. Comment – quit writing such tight pacing, dang it! I started to nibble “Into the Green” and had to break off because I was getting sucked in and the class-bell was about to ring.

  12. A writer writes because he must. He’ll be unhappy if he doesn’t write, and he won’t know why, but once he starts writing again his sense of well-being returns.

    Not everyone will enjoy your writing. I offered a chapter for group review of a local writer’s club that I unofficially belonged to, and learned how to deal with negative comments. Unreasonably negative comments by SJWs with an agenda, in most cases. I think it was the third or fourth person who said that he “didn’t enjoy stories in the first person and so stopped reading about a third of the way through.” My rejoinder?
    “Oh, okay. Next!”
    Clearly the man had more to say, but I cut him off again, citing that he clearly wasn’t a member of my intended audience.
    Which, unless someone is correcting your spelling (what, you don’t have a spell checker?), trying to help you with your grammar, or offering help formatting your work because M$ Word sucks pond scum and everyone knows it, ignore ’em. Move along to something or someone else, and don’t be a bit shy about being brusque or insensitive to their thin little skin. If all else fails, tell them they’ve committed a microaggression and you don’t appreciate their lack of sensitivity.

    I’ve got to go organize my basement. Keep writing. You’re good at it.

  13. Oh, yeah….the “research” part.

    I’ve done a lot of Technical Writing, and make sure sure you have everything as close to 100% correct as you’re able to takes MUCH longer than actually writing the document.

    It took me six months to do an installation/operation/basic theory manual for one product, and it was one I helped design!

    Making good sketches to give the draftsman to turn into proper technical illustrations, and then approving his drawings took about 30% of that time.

    I’ve written one or two page magazine articles that took a month to do, and that was when I was up against a deadline.

    Many late hours for those!

  14. I’m split. In some ways I really grocked to Rimworld more than TGM. Like them both, obviously.

    I suggest perhaps getting a black beret and turtle neck. That might help. Or, pull a Hemingway and go to Africa for a Safari.

  15. I admire anyone who puts themselves out in public. Takes courage.

    Many years ago my ex, who is 120% talent and 5% followup spoke to J.J. Jance at a book signing asking for “tips”. The ex was highly offended by Ms. Jance’s use of a four letter word, “work”.

    Around that same time I wrote an instruction manual. The draft was passed around and one of my peers made an observation I will paraphrase as memory serves. “This is excellent, this is what we have needed for a long time. What we need to do now is give it to a professional writer so it is understandable”. Faint praise but hard truth.

  16. Alien- Agreed! Having written a few of those (NATOPS and SOPs)

    CP/JR- Thanks! And I hear what you are saying…

    Jon- LOL, yeah, it happens… sigh As for a plan? Well… 🙂

    Margi- Everyone of us does it differently. Obviously that works WELL for her!!! 🙂

    Clayton- Guilty… sigh… I didn’t catch those, and that is embarrassing… But those ARE all on me, no one else.

    BB- Thanks! I ‘like’ that I’ve hooked you enough that you want to finish it!!! The 1873 and 1911 will play parts down the road.

    Skip- Thank you sir, I’m honored.

    Rev- Hawaii… There are BETTER things to do than read… sigh…

    Rick- Thanks! And ‘maybe’… 🙂 Re the Gurkas, that is coincidence.

    Jess- NOW you’re scaring me…LOL

    TXRed- But… But… That’s the only way I ‘know’ to do it!!!

    WL- Thanks, and noted. Thankfully, ‘my’ group is a bit different…LOL

    drjim- Oh yeah… Try doing it for test articles…LOL

    SPE- Ummm… Expensive! On my profits I ‘might’ make it to Dallas… 🙂

    WSF- Thanks, and yes, getting the ‘technical’ details is important, but so is readability/teachability… sigh

  17. I have reread your Grey Man series twice and I won’t read your teaser until the book comes out because I am willing to wait and enjoy it all at once. Living in the Texas Hill Country a few hundred miles east off of I-10 your descriptions are masterful. A pet peeve of mine is gun errors and I have yet to find one in your books. Keep them coming and as for the Rimworld series I am not a Sci Fi reader any more but keep that stuff going and those folks happy.

    If you need a get away or a chance to visit some interesting gun locations come down here to Boerne and see the oldest gun club in the USA or go to Bandera with me and see a great red neck gun range. We have an extra bed room and bath in our little retirement house and I am a better than most people cook. Come on the first Saturday of any month and shoot steel targets with us.

    Any thank you and I do respect your writing, I used to write a little bit for fountain pen collector magazines and know that’s about my speed.

  18. More years ago than I care to think about my dad made his living off of writing. Writing advertising copy to pay the bills and histories because that is what he enjoyed so I know how hard writing is first (well maybe second) hand. I read science fiction for the most part but I have read all of the Grey Man novels simply because I really like how you put words together. Even though I have a relatively good memory I still reread parts of your books, again just because of the skill you show telling the story. Quality over quantity every time. Thanks for showing us your skill with words, I really enjoy your books.

  19. Hey Old NFO;

    I have enjoyed the Gray Man series. like I have said in my reviews, the Gray Man series are like Old Friends that are comfortable together and there is a certain familiarity together. It is like people that you know in real life that if you asked them for help, they will say “sure” from either buying some stuff your kid is selling to helping you bury the body and hiding the evidence. I have also enjoyed the “Rimworld” book, it shows depth of character of the main protagonist that only a what I call an “accomplished writer” like Clancy or Bill Baldwin or Terry Brooks have been able to do. Your writing style is kinda plain not full of flowery prose, better suited for a what I call a “realistic” story. and that is the joy of the writing, you are able to tell a good quality story that people will buy and you don’t have to get a grant from the National Endowments for the Arts to make it.

  20. Old Texan- Thank you, sir. I’ll keep that in mind! 🙂

    Ed- Thank you!

    Bob- Thanks, I try… 🙂

  21. NFO,

    First, thanks for the brain candy. Picked up the first Greyman book when you first put it out there, the style caught me off guard but I liked it. I really enjoy rimworld even though you’ve stolen (great writers steal ?) quite a few concepts from other series and mashed then together for the technical background of your book.

    I plan to write a review for it, which I don’t normally do. That said, I struggled with the continuity a bit in rimworld. I’m not sure if the Kindle version is missing a bit of connective tissue or if it was just written that way. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone but the psi stuff could use an in character explanation even if it’s just clarifying the levels. The love interest connection feels like it comes out of left field a bit (well telegraphed but the pay off is sudden) and the epilogue… Ends. With a sentence that feels like there’s at least a paragraph missing. That said – I had similar issues with the first greyman and everyone after has improved so I think Rimworld will too.

    I look forward to the next adventure you take me on.

  22. Inch- Yep! :-0

    Jon- Thanks! I understand what you are saying, and yes, the connectivity comes in the following sequels. I couldn’t put ‘everything’ in the first book, and yes, the epilog just. Stops.
    I couldn’t think of a better way to do that, without giving too much away, or basically giving away the first chapters of the next book! Sigh…

  23. I call my method “20 Minutes a Night”. After the boy child is in bed, the wife has had time spent with her, the dishes, laundry, and house are beaten back enough that they won’t kill anyone, and I’m done preparing for the next day, I get a little quiet time before I drop into bed. That’s 20 minutes a night for story boarding, writing, proofreading, reading, research, or whatever.

    Of course, when I finally start getting moving on something, I think about it whenever I can all day, like in the shower and traffic. Lunch periods are spent reading for research. The wife is learning that when I don’t answer, I’m not there anymore and she is invited to leave a message.

    Output varies. Sometimes I’m lucky to get a few paragraphs in a sitting, sometimes I can pump out a couple thousand words over a day or two.

    My goal is to get out one to two novel-length works a year, with a few shorter works to fill in when the longer works get stuck. So far, so good.

  24. One of the things I tell my students during the editing phase: read it backwards, last line to first. You don’t see what you meant to write, that way, but what you actually wrote. I use that, myself, and it works to a point.

    You are improving to a massive extent, though, so don’t get discouraged.