Planning to Write: One Dude's Approach

At a recent education session of the Grand River Writing Tribe, our merry little band of literary miscreants enjoyed a brief sidebar conversation about planning-vs-pantsing in light of the impending NaNoWriMoPocalypse.

pants. Vt. 1. To write a book without meaningful preparation, letting the story and its major elements evolve as the author drafts them. 2. To “fly by the seat of one’s pants” while writing a work of (usually dubious) literary merit. Colloq.

I’m a planner. I have to be; I tried pantsing it, many years ago, but failed miserably. Suitably chastened by that traumatic ordeal, I’ve honed my planning to the point where I think I’ve got a system down that’s worth sharing.
But first: As a publisher, I can usually tell after the first few pages whether a submitting writer is a planner or a pantser. The biggest tell comes from conflict. Insofar as there ain’t no conflict, hoss, in pantsed stories. Very many pantsed stories rely on plots that consist of one event after another, with pacing mimicked by the introduction of new events in a linear cadence, until a word-count goal illuminates the finish line and the final event stumbles, sweaty and mildly incoherent, through the denouement victory ribbon. Alas, these new events are not tied to a core conflict linked to the eventual identification and resolution of the protagonist’s frustrated desire. They’re just one damn thing after another until “the end.”
The sublime editors at MiFiWriters honed my sensitivity to conflict as the primary driver of plot. I can still hear Sue Ann’s voice echoing in my head: “What does the main character want, and what’s stopping him from getting it?”
With a question that meaty, how can anyone start with backstory?

Pick Your Purpose

One question must set the stage: Is the story intended for private, creative purposes, or for publication? If the former, then to some degree, the sky’s the limit. Writing for yourself offers myriad opportunities to experiment with forms and techniques. But if you think you’d like to shop the manuscript, stop. Don’t ask yourself what story you want to write but rather, what story you want to sell.
Writing for yourself frees you of the rules of genre conformance, word-length targets and whatnot. Do what you want! Shamelessly incorporate whatever silly, tangential writing prompt lands in your Twitter account that morning. Hone your craft by stretching your limits. But if you’re writing for publication, you must pick a genre, strictly plan for that genre’s conventions, and execute with disciplined precision. Otherwise, no editor or agent will pay you the slightest bit of attention.
Earlier this month, I spoke with USA Today bestselling author Zoe Blake. She writes dark romance, and like any genre writer, she knows that if you’re writing to genre, agents and editors welcome very little deviation from the script — especially by emerging authors. (Her insights into this part of the process made our October Get Pressed! event, which she attended, a much richer conversation.) So if you want to write for publication, follow your genre’s standards with religious fervor.

How I Plan

Every author plans a major work differently, so if you’ve seen one approach, you’ve seen one approach. I encourage you, as you review my approach, to recognize that some parts of it might work for you and some of it might not. I’m not suggesting you should do it my way; I’m merely sharing my well-honed process for the benefit of those pantsers out there who’re lost like a fart in a whirlwind on the subject of novel planning.
Let’s begin, then, with the assumption we’re writing a novel-length work of fiction intended for publication.

  1. Identify external constraints on the final work product. If you’re writing for a contest that features a word-count range or a mandatory subject or theme, those parameters control everything else that follows. In the absence of any word-count constraint, investigate average counts for your genre. Research from a few years ago suggests that the “average” debut author’s work clocked in at roughly 85,000 words. Put differently: That 55,000-word NaNo novel won’t cut it unless your genre generally supports that small of a manuscript.
  2. Catalogue the attributes to be interwoven into the story. At this stage, I don’t know what I want to write, but I’m starting to get ideas about what I want to write about. For example, in one piece, I wanted to work on character development, so I decided that a primary character needed to be bisexual. In another novel, I set the story in Grand Rapids. In yet another, I explored the concept of regret at various stages in a person’s life. In a recent prototype novel, I wanted the protagonist and antagonist to have wildly divergent childhood experiences that shaped their response to the story’s core conflict.
  3. Settle on a person, story archetype, genre and targeted word count. Think of an archetype as a meta-story, or a story scaffolding. Lists of archetypes vary; a common one, developed by Christopher Booker, lists seven: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Author Ronald Tobias lists 20 “master plots” that go even deeper into the archetypical weeds. Identify the right genre for the work. A single genre, mind you; hybridizing a story into several genres — a process called fusion — is a kiss of death for metadata and is likely to render your story unmarketable. For the purpose of this step, we’ll consider literary fiction to be a genre in its own right. This is the spot, too, where you’ll pick a voice for the narrative (e.g., first person or third distant or whatever).
  4. Generate a thesis statement of not more than three sentences. This part is tricksy. You’re summarizing the story as if it were a short paragraph in your cover letter, but you’re doing it before you’ve developed any characters, plot or conflict. That’s okay. At this step, you’re still working through a high-level concept. You’ll need to address the basics of genre, archetype and market differentiators while remaining sensitive to the external constraints you’ve identified and the attributes you intend to include. For example:
    • Magellan Ascendant is an 85,000-word classic science-fiction quest in which a 300-year-old colony ship from Earth arrives at its destination only to discover that humans have long-since colonized it. The crew of the Magellan must make sense of their new circumstances while forging new alliances with their now-exhausted homeworld and keeping peace among a crew still on edge from tensions that predate their launch. 
  5. Wait two weeks. Let the thesis statement percolate a while. Come back to it in a fortnight with fresh eyes.
  6. Re-evaluate the thesis statement. Tweak the statement and your various required attributes as you like. Then ask yourself: Is it done? Are you happy with it? If you’ve made changes you deem to be significant to the structure or the content of the statement, wrap up your work and return to Step 5. If you’re satisfied that your changes were minor, proceed to Step 7.
  7. Wait two more weeks. Even when you’re satisfied with your high-level concept, you’ll find value in waiting another fortnight before beginning the next, crucial phase of planning.
  8. Sketch a mind map of the characters. You don’t yet know the plot or the people, so start with the people in light of your thesis statement. I like to work with a whiteboard — a physical whiteboard with dry-erase markers. Then I start mind-mapping. A character starts in the center. I don’t know who it is, yet. Then I draw circles around it for other primary characters. Then I start to give the circles names and roles. And then they get lines connecting them in some way, with the nature of the relationship documented on the line. By the time I’m done, I still don’t know what the plot is, but I have a high-level sense of who the characters are and what conflicts simmer among them — in effect, the state of the universe as of Page 1 of the manuscript. The finished work product from this step in the process includes:
    • Brief bio — No more than a sentence or two for each character, often just a name, occupation, age, body type, etc. Remember, no one’s impressed with complex names that are spelled in goofy fashion.
    • Role in the narrative — What does this character do for the story? A main character? Secondary? Does the character warrant a POV perspective?
    • Relationships — How is each character related to every other character? What’s the relevant historical backstory for the relationship?
    • Motivation — What’s the character’s main (and perhaps one or two secondary) goals or motives within the narrative?
    • Conflict — How do these motivations and relationships engender conflict? Do several conflicts arise? A preliminary whiteboard sketch, without the bio/motivation/conflicts explicit, looks like this:
  9. Solidify the period and setting. Identify when and where the story takes place. If you’re inventing a fictional world, jot some basic notes (you’ll flesh them out later) about the mechanics of the universe, including rules of magic, social relationships, levels of technology, etc. If you’re writing contemporary or literary fiction that’s not tied to an explicit place, pick a place anyway just for your own purposes.
  10. Sketch the plot arc. Stick with your genre’s norms. Readers generally expect a three-act story with the first act setting the stage, the second act increasing the tension and the third act leading to resolution. I’ve found that starting the arc with conflict — i.e., starting with what the main character wants, then unfolding how he or she overcomes the obstacles to achieve it — makes the “events” part of the process significantly easier to work through. So with a sense of period, setting, characters, relationships, motivations and overall thesis, I return to my trusty whiteboard to sketch a plot arc:
  11. Create relevant computer files. Now it’s time to use the computer in earnest. I generally write in plain text with Markdown using Visual Studio Code and my own private GitLab CE repository. Most folks will likely use Microsoft Word or Scrivener. Regardless of your tools, a few base files will likely prove handy:
    • 00_metadata.yaml — A small file consisting solely of a YAML block with technical metadata about the project. Mostly of interest to self-published writers who incorporate metadata into their ebooks the old-fashioned way. If you’re writing in Word or Scrivener, skip this one unless you know for sure you’re going to self-publish an ebook.
    • 01_chapter-title.md to nn_chapter-title.md — I allocate one text file per chapter, naming it with a standard logic of a two-digit chapter number offset by an underscore with a hyphenated chapter-title slug. The contents of each chapter go into each file. (A slug is a journalism term; it’s a one-to-three-word abbreviation of a longer title, hyphenated. For example, if Chapter 3 were titled “The Messenger Speaks at Midnight,” a slug might be something like messenger or midnight or messenger-midnight.)
    • 98_reference.md — I create a single text file with reference material, including character sketches, scene sketches and facts about the universe. Because I use Visual Studio Code and my files are written in Markdown, VS Code presents a handy foldable outline of the file, so I can jump anywhere with no searching or drama.
    • 99_control.md — This file holds the project’s table of contents (annotated at a scene level, in the next step) as well as a manual record of word counts and to-do items.
  12. Translate the plot/conflict arc into an annotated chapter-and-scene structure. With the files in place, it’s now time to go into 99_control.md (or, if you’re using Scrivener, the Binder/Outliner tools) to set up the chapter-and-scene structure of the novel. My goal in this step is to plot to the scene level, with a paragraph describing what happens in the scene as well as context like who the POV character is, how long the scene is, what’s the status of the scene, etc. Keeping the synopsis at about 1/35th of the scene length (e.g., a 2,000-word scene should have a 57-word synopsis) means you can aggregate the scene synopses into a unified traditional novel synopsis without incurring extra development work. #ProTip
    • Because scenes are generally self-contained units of narrative, I’ve taken to dividing my project target word count (e.g., 85,000 words) into 10 to 15 chapters of roughly 5,500 to 8,500 words, with two to four scenes per chapter. Keeping scenes relatively compact yet balanced, length-wise, helps to not only keep the action going, but also to facilitate productivity. It’s easier to write a planned 2,000-word scene in a day than to just “sit down and write.” Put differently: Plan the novel’s structure not just to facilitate your content but also to match your unique style of writing.
    • In addition to a scene synopsis, I’ll take notes in this file about plot points that must or must not occur in that scene, and enter a placeholder for follow-up tasks that I should address “later” but which I shouldn’t lose track of. When I write, 99_control.md is always open in a panel next to the chapter file.
  13. Develop relevant contextual notes about characters and settings. Just as the plot/conflict file found its expression in 99_control.md, your various character, setting and universe sketches should find a home in 98_references.md — or, if you’re in Scrivener, as cards in the Research folder of your project. I generally put in some bare-bones basics here (mostly around characters), then I augment the during the writing process so I don’t contradict myself later. For example, I might include a paragraph of description and history about an important character, and then in Chapter 5 when the character references that she’s afraid of spiders, I’ll add a bullet to her character sketch that stipulates that she’s afraid of spiders, so that in Chapter 9 I don’t misremember her arachnophobia as agoraphobia.
  14. Wait two more weeks. Don’t start writing as soon as your prep is done. Give all this literary goodness ample time to percolate ‘twixt your earholes.
  15. Revise. Look at all your notes: Check your files, re-examine pictures of your whiteboard, whatever. Think about the project in its entirety. Does the conflict make sense? The plot? Are the characters compelling? Do you meet genre norms? Most importantly: Are you excited to write this book? Answer no to any of these questions, revise then return to Step 14.

When you’re done with Step 15, you’re ready to write.
My flow works for me. It won’t work for everyone. But I hope you’ve found something to take away that will help you grow your craft.

On a Book-Makin' Tear!

Deep, cleansing breath.
Folks, it’s been a crazy two weeks. Crazy in a good way. I took a five-day weekend over Labor Day to focus on Caffeinated Press stuff (as well as this past Friday). I managed to get done:

  • Advance review copy of Ladri, a dark urban fantasy novel.
  • Interim and final copies of Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers — an anthology of essays by published writers, about the craft of writing. (Which will be released this coming Friday!)
  • Advance review copy of Isle Royal from the A.I.R. — an anthology of poems, short stories and art by people who have previously served as the artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park.
  • Contracting and editing assignments for the third installment of our annual Brewed Awakenings anthology.

These things take time. Lots of details. Lots of cross-checking. Lots of back-and-forth with the author. It’s a double-buttload of work, but it’s great to see such wonderful material being prepared for readers in West Michigan and beyond.
I have a few more projects to wrap up over September and October: An art/poetry collection. My contributions to issue 3.1 of The 3288 Review. Production for the third installment of the Brewed Awakenings anthology. Two other novels need ARCs by October. Fun stuff!

On a Book-Makin’ Tear!

Deep, cleansing breath.

Folks, it’s been a crazy two weeks. Crazy in a good way. I took a five-day weekend over Labor Day to focus on Caffeinated Press stuff (as well as this past Friday). I managed to get done:

  • Advance review copy of Ladri, a dark urban fantasy novel.
  • Interim and final copies of Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers — an anthology of essays by published writers, about the craft of writing. (Which will be released this coming Friday!)
  • Advance review copy of Isle Royal from the A.I.R. — an anthology of poems, short stories and art by people who have previously served as the artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park.
  • Contracting and editing assignments for the third installment of our annual Brewed Awakenings anthology.

These things take time. Lots of details. Lots of cross-checking. Lots of back-and-forth with the author. It’s a double-buttload of work, but it’s great to see such wonderful material being prepared for readers in West Michigan and beyond.

I have a few more projects to wrap up over September and October: An art/poetry collection. My contributions to issue 3.1 of The 3288 Review. Production for the third installment of the Brewed Awakenings anthology. Two other novels need ARCs by October. Fun stuff!

Growing as an Author: A Reflection

Picture it: Sicily, 1942. Marne, 1992. As a student half-way through my high-school years, I indulged the fantasy of being a writer. Much of what I wrote in those days was, believe it or not, snail-mail correspondence, primary to my aunt who at the time dwelt in Oregon. But I did other writing, too. Mostly flash fiction about powerful wizards, as I recall, inspired by the Lord of the Rings, with my content consisting mostly of scene descriptions and almost zero dialogue. That summer of ’92, as the calendar inched toward September and the resulting issuance of my driver’s license, was my final big rural summer-vacation hurrah before I started working and thinking about what happened after I graduated. It was the last time I experimented with creative writing for more than a quarter century.
In the early ’90s I wrote on a then-innovative Brother word-processing system, the WP-3400, the kind with a daisy-wheel electronic typewriter attached to an amber CRT monitor, supported by a 3.5-inch drive for storing documents. The unit is long gone, but I still have the little cube I bought to store my disks, complete with a description of which of the dozen floppies contained specific types of files: On the back, in pencil, I noted which slots held my disks dedicated to correspondence, school papers, mail merges, “author stuff,” and my diary. The Brother unit was the successor to my first typewriter, a 1930s-era Royal KMM, the kind that so enchanted me that last year I bought a replacement KMM on eBay that now sits on my living-room desk and occasionally gets pressed into service for envelopes and checks.
In college, I didn’t spend much time doing creative writing. Much of my work as a writer either focused on Latin translations (if you’ve never studied a foreign language deeply, you’d be surprised at how translating original works to and from a different tongue sharpens your sense of syntax) or journalism. By the time I resigned my editorship at the Herald, I could write an 800-word editorial in about 20 minutes, with the resulting product solid enough to go directly on the page with very little editing on its journey.
Corporate life after grad school and newspapering led to corporate documents, rendered in corporate prose using corporate fonts. Then I experienced a brief period wherein I feared that corporate life might prematurely cut me loose, so my evenings pivoted to freelancing for online service journalism websites, mostly generating short-form how-to content related to finance, technology or careers. When you write, and then later edit, 400-word freelance articles in sufficient volume, you learn even more about what does or doesn’t work with English usage.
But non-fiction and fiction are wholly separate beasts. I recall — still with a sense of wide-eyed astonishment at my own inflated sense of self — the way I dived into my first experience with National Novel Writing Month in 2011. I remember Duane telling me the details of NaNoWriMo on Oct. 30. On Nov. 1, I began to write a detective story I only sort-of thought through. But I had believed that because I could churn out near-perfect non-fic prose in large quantities in short periods of time, it couldn’t be all that hard to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.
I fell short of my 50k goal that year by roughly 48k words. Try as I might, I couldn’t wrap my head around the right way to tell my story. The following year, I tried again, with no creative writing exercises between events to hone my craft. Again, I fell short, but by only roughly 30k words. The year after that, after dabbling with different short stories, I eked out a “win.” Last year, same deal.
None of my NaNo novels are truly complete. Sanctuary — my 2013 victory– is fundamentally solid, but Chapter 4 vexes me still and fixing it will requires a stem-to-stern rewrite. Last year’s Aiden’s Wager stands around 60k words and is targeted for 85k when it’s done. I know how to finish it because the blanks have been fully plotted, and I think the story has real legs, but I also need to strip a lot of the graphic depictions of what amounts to torture porn from the middle chapters before it’ll be safe for polite audiences.
And I’ve been published as a fiction writer, with this year’s Providence, a novelette included in the Brewed Awakenings anthology.
Now I labor as a publisher, receiving queries from authors and editing selected works. I find I’m writing more things — fiction, non-fiction — but also thinking more carefully about how those pieces are presented. I also recently perused my own writing archives to uncover various trends. Such as:

  • My personal blog has moved away from short essays on a given cultural or political topic, to more occasional but longer essays interspersed with factual updates about what I’ve been up to. The trajectory points to longer, more substantive pieces submitted less regularly.
  • I’ve grown more precise about English style even in my informal work, mostly as a reaction to the frequently committed style errors I’ve seen in some of the service-journalism editing I’ve done over the last few years. Many English constructions are common enough that most people don’t think about them, but which still get a “substandard” label by the guardians of linguistic orthodoxy. Increasingly, I default to more conservative usage.
  • I’m more acutely aware of the mechanics of long-form fiction than I used to be, and such knowledge colors how I approach a new fiction story of any length.

Let me share my evolution specifically related to the production of long-form fiction.
At first, I did what so many writers do: I sat down and started typing, tabula rasa, into Microsoft Word. Admittedly, for my first NaNo try, I did possess a vague sense of what I wanted to accomplish, but it was a back-of-the-cover blurb instead of a fully fleshed plan. I had some names and a sentence of two of demographics for my characters, but that was about it. I started the first chapter with no sense whatsoever about who the murderer was or why he (or she) did it, despite that the first chapter opened with the murder. My core learning is that I’m not good at turning on a spigot, transcribing the result and arriving at a product that looks like a coherent novel. Some writers can do it, but I’m not among their number.
With my second stab, I tried writing with Scrivener, to rely on its additional bells and whistles to keep my writing notes organized. I had a much better sense of the story arc; I knew, chapter by chapter, what the main plot sequences entailed. I also had some more fleshed-out character descriptions before I started the work of writing. What derailed me, though, were two problems. First, I aimed too high; I planned the first volume of a sci-fi trilogy instead of a stand-alone story, so when I filled in the chapters, I had to think about not just one work, but two other works that weren’t even well-considered skeletons yet. Second, I obsessed about little things far too much for a first draft. I spent a week on my opening chapter (which, I still think, was awesome, but too polished for the early drafting phase) and I spent several hours researching minor details, e.g. the physics of what happens when a grain of sand hits a person in a space suit at half the speed of light. In short: I mostly fixed the planning problem from the year before, but I got tripped up in trying to be too perfect the first time around.
With Sanctuary, I got the formula right. I planned the plot in detail, with scene-by-scene descriptions of the major plot movements or points I had to cover to keep the story straight. I walked into the story with a clear sense of who my main characters were, and I included a major subplot specifically to advance one character’s emotional development despite that the story was developed as a crime thriller. By Nov. 30, I had a complete novel in hand. And because I didn’t obsess about the details, I left myself occasional notes to fix things on a second read. One big fix requires a subplot rewrite, but … that’s the point of writing. You never let it go after a first draft, ever.
By last year, Aiden’s Wager built on my previous improvements and I fell into the rhythm much more quickly. I thought less about plot and character from a big-picture perspective, and more about nuance. It mattered to me that I got point-of-view consistent and appropriate for certain scenes. I cared that some characters changed as the story unfolded and others didn’t, and that certain characters demonstrated specific mannerisms or verbal tics. Instead of focusing on an event-driven plot, the story revolved around the main character’s rapid slip into Stockholm Syndrome and how he couldn’t quite break himself out of it without help from the family he rejected. So telling the story of the main character as he progressed from cocky rich boy to angry rape victim to willing submissive — and how he found the path back to wholeness — required more character development than plot twisting, and much more dialogue both internal and external than I was accustomed to writing. In particular, I had to write the main character’s girlfriend very carefully so that her demeanor in the early book hinted at, but didn’t telegraph, her later betrayal and then remorse.
I still have a long way to go as a writer. My “novelist voice” is solidifying, I think, and that’s an exciting place to be. I’ve already thought about what my next novel will cover — no spoilers! — and with the notes I’ve committed, I’m confident this one will be my best one yet.
Rare is the author whose very first novel gets published. Many successful writers admit to having drawers of early manuscripts gathering dust in a corner, because the craft of novel writing comes with practice. Every new manuscript that gets put into the drawer is stronger than its predecessor. Every new manuscript teaches the author a lesson about what does or doesn’t work for how he, as an artist, executes on his craft.
I know I’m a planner. I write only when the entire plot is graphed, the characters are fully fleshed and each scene has a purpose. So I have largely mastered the basics as they relate to a writer with my procedural biases. Now I’m working on more complicated things: Voice. Consistent and appropriate POV. Nailing a scene description with verbal economy. Obscuring didacticism with skillfully rendered dialogue.
I think writing is much like building a house. If you’ve never done it before, you stress over pouring the basement walls, framing the studs, running the plumbing — the basic stuff that’s second nature to a typical contractor. The more you grok the foundations, though, the more you stop thinking about the basic infrastructure that you’ve already mastered and jump ahead to the detail of the cabinetry or the shape of the marble on the countertops. The best architects looking at a field during a groundbreaking ceremony don’t think about drywall or concrete; they think about what vase will perfectly complement the leather sectional they’ve planned for the living room. So also should good authors progress so the fundamentals become instinct and they spend their creative time on the ornamentation that elevates a craftsman-like story into a work of transcendent art.
Writing coaches scold their charges: “Just write every day,” on the theory that habituation leads to success. It doesn’t. Learning from your mistakes to grow your skill matters much more than mere volume even will.

Recent Writing/Publishing Posts of Note

I’ve been doing a bit of blogging to flesh out the content on the Caffeinated Press site, mostly about writing/editing and the business of publishing. Synopses of my recent posts follow.

  • How Much Scene-Setting Is Too Much … Or Too Little? – Scene-setting isn’t easy. There’s no magical paint-by-numbers approach for getting it right. When done well, a perfectly described scene can make a story; when done poorly, the story collapses.
  • 21 Books That Moved Me – The world benefits when authors tell their stories. But the stories that move us the most are informed by a deep understanding of the trends and ideas that undergird them. This understanding comes from reading or otherwise experiencing each individual plank on the scaffold of our story.
  • On the Effective Attribution of Speech in Fiction – Balancing diction and tone and rhythm to generate a character’s authentic voice makes for tough work for any author. But perhaps even more important than a character’s voice is the structural framework into which that narration sits.
  • Points of View – One of the most common structural reasons a person’s manuscript may receive the cold shoulder from an agent or publisher follows from the apparently random admixture of narrative points of view within a story.
  • Reflections on Fusion Genres – The technical term for a novel that blends more than one genre or sub-genre into a single story is fusion genre. Very many fusion books are good. But because there’s a higher barrier to market than with straight-genre work, very few publishers are willing to take them on, and in the crowded self-publishing world, the sheer volume of available works means that any one story almost assuredly will be lost in the crowd.
  • Every Voice Matters – Few would deny the truism, but the underlying lesson is observed more often in the breach: That every voice matters and deserves a chance to be heard.
  • Handling Feedback with Grace – Good writers know that the trial-by-fire from beta readers or professional editors is what brings our newborn manuscript through its long, painful adolescence known as “rewrites” until we finally have a mature product ready for the market.
  • How to Query Like a Pro – To find a publisher, you’ll need to perfect your query package.
  • Tips for Robust Self-Editing – Before you submit your work for a peer critique, give yourself a robust self-edit. Look for common punctuation or grammar challenges that often burden less experienced authors.
  • The One Mistake That Thwarts Aspiring Writers – Before you submit your work for a peer critique, give yourself a robust self-edit. Look for common punctuation or grammar challenges that often burden less experienced authors.

Send me your ideas for post topics related to writing, editing and publishing — I’d be happy to draft something that answers your questions!

What It Means To Be "A Writer"

Yesterday my friend Duane launched an inaugural podcast dedicated to the craft and business of writing. He did a great job with it, sharing some of his own experiences and then riffing, briefly, on what it means to be a writer.
Prompted some thought.
From my vantage point, a writer is someone who:

  • Consistently pushes out work product, even if it’s not intended for widespread readership
  • Writes for compensation but nevertheless aims to release polished and useful prose
  • Loves the craft

You know who isn’t a writer? Someone who merely intends to write, or someone who pushes out paid work product with no regard for the feel of the prose (i.e, a hack).
To be a writer means more than just putting words to paper. The concept requires something more — a desire, deep down, to either tell a story, or to relay information with elegance and with an ear for the ebbs and flows of the language.
I know a lot of people who’ve never been published, but still put in the time. They’re writers. I also know a lot of people who get paid to write but don’t much care about what the final product looks like — these people aren’t really writers. They’re more like hired guns.
As a writer, I’ve seen my fair share of successes ($200 articles for 30 minutes of work, woohoo). I’ve seen my share of failures, too. Like rejections by editors who clearly didn’t understand the subject matter. No worries. I keep plugging away, just like Duane does.
Writing isn’t a glorious profession. Nor is it a functional description. Rather, it’s an avocation, a way of thinking and acting that recognizes that words mean things and that stringing them together requires inspiration, not just perspiration or aspiration. It requires a willingness to grow your craft, to learn and to advance and to experiment. It requires you to write.
Don’t let the bastards get you down. Then again, don’t let the bastards within stop you from starting in the first place.

What It Means To Be “A Writer”

Yesterday my friend Duane launched an inaugural podcast dedicated to the craft and business of writing. He did a great job with it, sharing some of his own experiences and then riffing, briefly, on what it means to be a writer.

Prompted some thought.

From my vantage point, a writer is someone who:

  • Consistently pushes out work product, even if it’s not intended for widespread readership
  • Writes for compensation but nevertheless aims to release polished and useful prose
  • Loves the craft

You know who isn’t a writer? Someone who merely intends to write, or someone who pushes out paid work product with no regard for the feel of the prose (i.e, a hack).

To be a writer means more than just putting words to paper. The concept requires something more — a desire, deep down, to either tell a story, or to relay information with elegance and with an ear for the ebbs and flows of the language.

I know a lot of people who’ve never been published, but still put in the time. They’re writers. I also know a lot of people who get paid to write but don’t much care about what the final product looks like — these people aren’t really writers. They’re more like hired guns.

As a writer, I’ve seen my fair share of successes ($200 articles for 30 minutes of work, woohoo). I’ve seen my share of failures, too. Like rejections by editors who clearly didn’t understand the subject matter. No worries. I keep plugging away, just like Duane does.

Writing isn’t a glorious profession. Nor is it a functional description. Rather, it’s an avocation, a way of thinking and acting that recognizes that words mean things and that stringing them together requires inspiration, not just perspiration or aspiration. It requires a willingness to grow your craft, to learn and to advance and to experiment. It requires you to write.

Don’t let the bastards get you down. Then again, don’t let the bastards within stop you from starting in the first place.