Time to Stick my Sequel in a Drawer

Well, it took a year and a half (the same amount of time it took me to write the first book, coincidentally) but I’ve finally finished writing the sequel to Baby Grand. Woo hoo! Cue confetti!

What’s the next step? Stick the manuscript in a drawer (yes, I’m showing my age), or, perhaps, on the back burner of my life, and refrain from looking at it for at least a month. Why? It’s important to get some distance from your work, and that’s something that only time can achieve. Even when I write feature articles, I can go an hour or even an overnight between reads. Time has a way of revealing all kinds of typos and issues. My students at Hofstra University always hear me say that just because you can write “The End” on a manuscript and upload it to Amazon the same day doesn’t mean that you should. Like my mother-in-law’s chili, manuscripts need to marinate a bit for maximum flavor.

So, a month from now, I’ll go through a round of editing, and I’ll have a better idea of where things stand, because I’m sure there will be more to work through (there always is), but for the moment I am breathing a sigh of relief and giving myself a little pat on the back. My book may not yet be ready for prime time, but the first step of the publishing process is completed, and that certainly is worth celebrating. Yay, me! :)

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Can’t Turn It Off

If you’re anything like me, you spend much of your time listening to characters talk inside your head. Particularly when I’m winding down a novel, as I am now, I find that the chatter is constant. When I’m driving or I’m in the shower or I’m just lying in bed, their voices get louder, their circumstances more vivid. I can’t turn it off. (Not that I’d want to, really, but sometimes a girl has to sleep.) Jodi Picoult calls writing “successful schizophrenia.” I would tend to agree, at least about the schizophrenia part, for sure. But successful? For me, it depends on the day. How about you?

Be a Badass

We talk a lot on this blog about just doing it — getting that novel written, setting aside time and energy to sit at your computer and peck at that keyboard until your fingers blister. It looks easy — you know, just type words and stuff — but anyone who’s tried to write a book knows that it’s damn tough. Kind of like parenting: You forget how tough it really is until you take the plunge again.

Raising Men Cover FinalRecently, I had the honor of collaborating on a parenting book with former Navy SEAL Eric Davis titled Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons (St. Martin’s Press, May 2016). The collaboration was everything I always hope a collaboration to be — fun, interesting, and challenging, a project that pushes my limits as well as my collaborator’s in order to produce the best book we can. And I think we did that. (And to think, we wrote that puppy in 90 days!)

Eric recently wrote about the experience in a SOFREP blog post in which I had the honor of being called a “badass” (does it get any better than being called a badass by a Navy SEAL, the ultimate badass?). But that’s what you have to be in order to write a book. A badass. A person who doesn’t give up when the going gets tough, when the right words are elusive, when the editing never seems to end. As Eric says: Identify your objective; stalk your target, even when in doubt; collect intel; and convert that action and info into mission success. Whether it takes you 90 days or 9 years. (I added that last part.) He did it. I’ve done it. And you can too. Because you’re a badass. As Eric likes to say: Get some.

Point of View & Narrative Voice

When I was in grad school, my long fiction professor used to say that she really, really wanted to teach a course on point of view and narrative voice — topics, she said, students seemed to find troublesome. These days, as I work with students and clients, many of them new writers, I find that she is right.

I never found point of view/narrative voice to be particularly confusing, but I’m thinking the uncertainty has to do with the excitement and enthusiasm that comes with telling a story — authors want to tell readers absolutely everything that everyone in the book is thinking every step along the way.

And you CAN do that. Sometimes. Not all the time. There are some decisions that have to be made about how you, as the author, want to tell your story:

  1. Decide which character’s point of view you want the reader to experience your story through. It may be one character. It may be many. In Baby Grand, I have something like 10 main characters, each of them with several chapters devoted to his or her point of view.
  2. Once you decide on a point of view, STICK TO IT. If a serial killer is your narrator, then the reader should only be experiencing the book through that person. Readers will know what he sees, what he feels, hears, smells, and tastes, as well as his or her thoughts, plans of action, etc. That serial killer will take readers on your journey.

I find that writers have the most problems with #2. They often run into the danger of what’s called “head hopping” — they’ll suddenly switch point of view in the middle of a scene in order to write what’s going on in another character’s head. Here’s an example. In this case, “Janet” should be serving as our narrator for the entire book:

There he was again.

Janet saw the tall, dark stranger at the far end of the frozen yogurt counter, filling his overflowing styrofoam cup with Oreo pieces and chocolate sprinkles. This was the third time he had come into the shop this week! Janet was determined to work up the nerve this time to do more than smile at the guy. She was going to speak.

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Should You Ever Scrap Your Book?

I’ve often heard authors say how thankful they were that their first attempts at novels had never seen the light of day, how happy they were that those books had been rejected again and again by publishers, how first novels should never be read by anyone. I find comments like these to be so curious. If a writer had the diligence and patience to finish a book, even a bad one, I can’t imagine why he or she wouldn’t want to see that book through to the end and have it reach an audience?

I mean, bad books can be fixed, made better, transformed. Can’t they?

And while once upon a time, writers had no choice but to give up on a book when the only pathways to publication were forged through agents and publishers, nowadays, with self-publishing, anyone can publish anything. Is there any reason to leave a book in a drawer?

When your manuscript is rejected — from agents, publishers, beta-readers, creative writing professors — you really have three choices:

1.Scrap it, and start something else.

2. Ignore the advice, and keep querying or self-publish.

3. Fix the book, and then either keep querying or self-publish.

In my mind, authors should always strive for #3. Listen to what agents and beta-readers and publishers have to say, They know their stuff. But YOU know your story. If you have to, chop the manuscript into pieces and put it back together in a new, more creative, more concise way. Don’t let their comments diminish your excitement. Don’t be afraid of some more hard work — and good editing can be the toughest work of all.

So often, publishing a book is compared to parenting: Would you ever give up on a child? Would anyone even THINK about telling you to leave that one behind and start from scratch with another child?

Don’t give up. Make it work, as Tim Gunn of Project Runway likes to say. Remember your passion. Keep it with you as you make the tough choices.

In the end, whatever happens, whether you’ve created a best seller or turned a one-star book into a three-star book, I have to believe it will have been worth it.

5 Reasons You Should Write Right Now

1. Because time has a habit of going by. If you don’t make your writing a priority — on the same level as your job or your family — it will always come second or third, and you’ll find that valuable days or weeks will go by in between writing sessions. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

2. Because you have a unique story to tell. As creative writing instructors (myself included) tell aspiring authors across the world, no one can tell your story but you. So get cracking.

3. Because it’s an exciting time to be in publishing. A chorus of new voices. A variety of formats. A slew of new author services. Seemingly infinite ways to reach new readers. What are you waiting for?

4. Because you ARE good enough. Silence that self-critic, but good! And even if you think you’re not, write anyway. You might surprise yourself.

5. Because somebody has to be the next Stephen King or JK Rowling. Why not you?

Just. Do. It.

At the beginning of this month, I announced I would finish the first major edit of In the Red, my current work-in-progress, by April 1. And, lo and behold, I’m still on schedule. I’ve been editing 25 pages a week, so by tomorrow I’ll have edited 125 pages. Thrilled doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel. There have been so many stops and starts with this book that I had forgotten the secret to getting things done: Just sit your butt down and do it. Commit. Commit. Commit. Make writing/editing your book just as important as feeding your kids or working. That’s it. Just. Do. It. I knew this when I wrote Baby Grand. I’ve always known it, but somehow lost my way. Well, I’m back. And determined. I know the next 100 pages will be the toughest — the middle always is. That darn muddy middle. But my hope is that I’ll report at the end of February that I’ll be at 225 pages and ready to hit the homestretch.

In other news, my nonfiction book Daft Punk: A Trip Inside the Pyramid (St. Martin’s Press) was published on January 21. Daft Punk - Mech_croppedVery exciting! You know how people talk about the summer of 2013 being The Summer of Daft Punk? Well, it was doubly so for me, as I spent those three months, as “Get Lucky” raced up the charts and broke records, researching and writing this book. When Daft Punk won Album of the Year at the Grammys last Sunday (among other awards), I was smiling to myself as I recognized all their collaborators who were standing up at the podium with them: Paul Williams, Todd Edwards, Nile Rodgers and DJ Falcon, among others. I had learned so much about them that I felt as if I knew them. :)

What are you up to these days? Tell me what you’re working on. Together, we can get our WIPs done and toast our successes.