Monday, December 31, 2012

The New Year’s Resolutions of a Neurotic Writer….

Well, it’s December 31st, my dear imaginary reader! Happy New Year’s Eve!! 

I hope that wherever you are—you are safe, happy, and surrounded by the people who bring you joy.

Like many of you, I’m a big goal-setter. Every day, I get up and develop a list of goals that I want to accomplish before I go to bed.  I have lists of goals for everything…my personal life, professional life…short-term, long-term….

I need goals.

Without them, I feel out of sorts…like I’m sitting in a restaurant without a menu. I simply HAVE to have lists of goals. Goals make me feel good!

How else am I going to measure the depth of my failure? Eh?

So, for me, New Year’s Eve is kind of special. It’s the day for goals and resolutions! It’s a day where I can set the standard by which next year will be judged. 

Will it be a spectacular success? J  Or a dismal failure? L

As a writer, I have three goals for 2014.  If I can accomplish most of them, I think it’ll be a pretty good year.

Here they are….

New Year’s Resolution #1: I want to read more bad books.  Every self-help writer’s guide says the same thing; in order to be a writer, you have to read a lot and you have to write a lot.

Thanks to, I listen to two books a month. 

I also go to the library and randomly select books to read.

The problem is, if a book doesn’t IMMEDIATELY capture my attention (and I mean IMMEDIATELY. I’ll literally give a book three sentences to hook me), I put it back on the shelf. 

This is bad. 

As a new novelist, I need to learn from ALL books—especially the ones I don’t like.  How else can I figure out what works and what doesn’t?  Further, there are a lot of books that start off crappy, but turn out to be brilliant.  Look at the Fellowship of the Ring!

So, for New Year’s Resolution #1, I want to try to read three books a month. Further, if the book starts out bad, I want to stay with it for at least a hundred pages.  After that, back to the dusty bookshelf!!!

New Year’s Resolution #2: I want to stop resisting people’s criticism of my work.  I just got the proofs back for my novel, Riddle in Stone.  The copyeditor tore it apart.  Rarely did I have a page without at least one comment or change. 

Seeing this, of course, was painful. 

I thought I had written a fairly solid manuscript. I edited it several times before I sent it to the publisher.
And here this nameless person had audacity (AUDACITY, I say! AUDACITY!!) to change my brilliant prose!!!!  For example, on several occasions she stooped so low as to change “there” to “their” and “clinched” for “clenched.”


Maybe I WANTED to misspell those words! Maybe I was trying to be creative and use some sort of literary juxtaposition or something!  Maybe I was trying to convey something deeper to my reader than your tiresome correctly spelled words!! How dare she question….

Yeah, I know….

She was right.

Page after page of corrections. She was right on all of them. 

Even so, I made the revisions kicking and screaming. Every time I pressed the “accept” revision button, a little part of me cried out, “Yeah, but….”

But nothing.  Her edits made the story better.

If I am going to become a novelist, I need to stop resisting other people’s feedback. I made a ton of mistakes on my manuscript. The wonderful copyeditor was good enough to find them. I should be thankful.

I also need to be thankful for the feedback people give me about my characters and plot. I need to be open to the fact that I can learn from others and that I don’t always get things write.  I mean right.  DAMN IT!!!!!!!

New Year’s Resolution #3: I need to be happy with who I am. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I need to be happy with what I accomplish. 

Over the past thirty years or so, I’ve been trying to get published. It’s been a lifelong dream.  And, thanks to a great many people (including my agent, Joelle Delbourgo, and my publisher, Diversion Books), I’ll be an author in February. 

I should be happy.  Ecstatic, even!

But I'm not.

I’m terrified. 

I’m terrified that people won’t buy the book. Or, worse yet, they’ll buy it and hate it!  HATE IT!!!  I have this vision of me asking my wife, “So…what did you think of the story?” And she responds by saying, “Let’s have stir fry for dinner. You like stir fry, don’t you? We haven’t had stir fry in awhile.  Let’s have stir fry!”
I’m not going to be a bestselling author.  I’m not going to be Tolkien or King or anybody of literary merit.

But I wrote a pretty good story.  Not brilliant…but good. 

I want to be happy with that.  Good is okay....  

I'll work on brilliant in 2014. 

Hopefully 2014 will be wonderful for all of us.

Happy New Year, dear imaginary!  I hope to see you in 2013....

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Writing and Mental Health

Hey everybody!

I hope you are all having wonderful holidays. And if you’re in the Midwest of the United States, hopefully you aren’t digging out of too much snow.

Before I begin, I want to thank all of you who have helped me improve this site and my facebook account ( (friends are always welcome, by the way).  Everybody has been so incredibly supportive, it’s been amazing. Thank you all very, very much.  If you have any other suggestions or feedback for me, I’m all ears.

I also want to thank zombiestat and adsensewatchdog for visiting so often!  Evidently, I’m a big hit with canines and the living-impaired. Half of my visits come from them.  Thanks!!

Now, over the past couple of posts, I’ve been trying to finish the story about how I was able to get my manuscript published.  But I have a bit of a cold and can’t stay long. So I think I’ll hold off on that for awhile.

Instead, I want to talk about something else.

            As I said in my first blog post, I firmly believe that there’s a high correlation between writing and neurotic personality types.  Whether one causes the other, I don’t know.  Maybe those of us who perceive the world differently are drawn to writing in the hopes of creating imaginary friends or a world that suits our irrational needs.  Maybe years of rejection from publishers and agents make us nuts.  I don’t know.

            At any rate, the other day, I had a nice conversation with a fellow writer who was feeling a bit down about her writing.  She knew that I suffer from depression from time-to-time and asked how I handled the often cruel world of writing.  In a nutshell, this is what I told her.  Perhaps it’ll help some of you.

            I keep trying to remind myself these six things:

1.      I’m not Hemingway, King, Rowlings, Tolkien, or anybody you’ve heard of.  I love writing. And I think I do some fairly good work once in a while—but I’m not brilliant. And that’s okay. I try not to beat myself up over the fact that I’ll never be a bestselling author. It’s okay to be who I am. There’s a place for me on somebody’s shelf.

2.      I make mistakes.  Huge mistakes! Stupid mistakes!! (I once started a manuscript, “It was a dark and windy night….” Thank god I didn’t say “stormy.” I’d have no self-respect left.)  And I will make more mistakes in the future. However, I’ll learn from them and I’ll get better.  I’ll never be Hemingway or Tolkien (see point 1).  But that’s okay.  I’ll keep trying to improve and be whomever I’m supposed to be.

3.      There’ll be pain.  Lots and lots of pain.  Writing is painful. Excruciatingly painful!  More painful than listening to my undergraduates explain why they “deserve” A’s and that I’m not being “fair.” More painful than dating in high school. There’s tons of rejection from publishers and agents.  People will post mean reviews about my work.  It hurts.  But I’ll deal with the pain when it comes and I’ll try not to dwell on it all other times.

4.      First drafts suck. So do the second, third, and tenth drafts.  That’s to be expected.  The fact that I can recognize what sucks is a big improvement from where I was a year ago.  My job as a writer is to see the suckiness and de-suckify what I can.  As they say, writing is rewriting.  I won’t get down on myself because I didn’t get it right the first time…or even the first ten time. (However, by the eleventh time I’m going to start getting really pissed.  I mean, come on! Get it right, damn it!!)

5.      I’m writing for myself.  If other people dig my work, great!  Wonderful!!  I’ll be delirious!!!  In fact, if my book sells more than a hundred copies the first year…I’ll be drunk on success (and whatever $50 in royalties can buy me). But I know I can’t please everybody.  And I’m not going to try.  Some people will hate everything I write (see point 3).  I can change that.

6.      Sometimes I’ll forget.  Sometimes I’ll forget all of these things and get down on myself.  I’ll cry and feel like crap and wonder why I even bother trying to write.  And those moments will pass.  Slowly, maybe.  But they’ll pass and the sun will shine again (unless it’s a dark and windy night…).

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Becoming a Writer (part 2)

All righty!  I’m back!

Before I finish my story from last time, I want to thank those of you who have stopped by, read my ramblings, posted kind comments, and so forth. I really appreciate your support!  It means a great deal to me. Thank you very, very much.

For those of you who are new to my blog and aren’t imaginary people…last week, I started telling a story about how I got published.  Or, more precisely, how I’m getting published.

 I have a manuscript called Riddle in Stone scheduled to be released as an e-book by Diversion Books in February. If you like fantasies, you might want to get a copy.  It’ll only cost $2.99 or so during the first month it’s out.  So it’s reasonably priced. But no pressure! My kids need braces…but…don’t worry about us. We’re fine.  We’ll manage—somehow.   

Anyway…to summarize the tale thus far, ever since reading Tolkien in fifth grade, I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  It’s a burning passion for me.  Some people have to run or workout or shop, I have to write. It’s a compulsion.  I simply HAVE to write! 

Can you dig it?

Unfortunately, I started story after story after story, but I never finished any of them.  I’d get really excited about a character or a plot, and then…eh? I’d lose my focus and start something else, something that I thought was going to be even better that what I had been working on!

Even when I had publishers interested in what I was working on, I couldn’t finish the damn manuscript. I’d try for several weeks, but then the motivation would disappear like smoke in the wind. 

Consequently, I always felt like a worthless loser. 


With the encouragement of my wonderful wife, I finally became determined to finish an actual novel-length manuscript, which…after about a year of working on it every day, I did!!  I finished the manuscript, sent out query letter to agents, and received a TON of interest!  Seriously! Nearly every agent I queried wanted to see my work. MY WORK!!!


But none of the agents who requested my manuscript wanted to take it on as a project.  According to their generic letters, they “liked” what I had written, but didn’t “like it enough” to undertake it at that time.

So I was feeling like an even bigger loser. I spent all of this time and effort, but nobody wanted to represent my manuscript.

Ugh!!!  What a failure!


Finally, the last rejection letters came back. 

It was one of those Xeroxed form letters that started, “Dear submitter.”  Nice, eh?  I mean, how hard is it to put my name on a damn rejection letter?  There’s something call a computer, you idiots! Just type in “Rob” after dear.  Three little letters! How hard would that be? 

Dear submitter…

Bite me!

Anyway, this letter really changed my life.

Written across its bottom, in big letters, were the words, “Terrific idea, poorly executed.”

If I thought I was depressed before, I was really despondent now.

Here I thought I was going to be a writer, and ACTUAL WRITER!  I worked my ass off for an entire year, had what I thought was a good (if not great) manuscript…and then I learn that I sucked as a writer.


I sucked!

Sucked, sucked, sucked, sucked, sucked…SUCKED!

Now…if you don’t know yet, I’m a bit of a nut. I have to do things a certain way. I have my little rituals, like I HAVE to kiss my wife on the back porch as she’s leaving for work (it can’t be in the kitchen or living room.  It has to be on the back porch!).  I only feel comfortable in either grey or navy blue sweatshirts. And so forth.

I’m a depressive.

I worry.

I obsess.

I get really stressed out and down on myself at the drop of a hat.

I’m a nut!

And, as I said, I have to write. I just have to. If you aren’t a writer, you probably don’t get what I’m saying.  If you are a writer, you’re probably nodding your head.  I simply HAVE to write.

After the final rejection, I tried to give up writing. Vowed that I would never put myself through that hell again….

…but I couldn’t give it up.

I’m a writer.

A sucky writer…but a writer.

So, after a few weeks, as the sting from the rejections and the knowledge that I sucked (SUCKED!) as a writer began to fade somewhat, I did something I never thought that I’d do— something that I always laughed at whenever some of my writer friends brought it up.

I bought some books on writing.

You see, my dear imaginary friends, I was always resistant to buying such books because I thought I already knew how to write!

I mean, I knew how to form sentences. I knew about verbs and subjects and adverbs and all that fancy stuff!  I always got A’s in English (that is, when I actually turned in the work).  Further, I thought that…for all my many faults…I am a fairly creative storyteller.  I’m pretty good about putting twists into a story that will surprise and delight readers.  What the hell else is there to learn?

HOLY CRAP was I wrong! Horribly, horribly wrong!

I bought a bunch of books, but two of them in particular really made all the difference in the world.

I bought “Stein on Writing: A Master Editor Shares His Craft, Techniques, and Strategies” (by @Sol Stein) and “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (by @Stephen King).

Both books changed how I approached writing, changed it completely.

In the future, I’ll try to blog about what I learned from Stein and King.  But there’s so much that I could tell you, I just can’t go into it now. Suffice to say, I realized three things:

1.   I DID suck as a writer. Truer words were never spoken.
2.   There were a lot of things that I could do to become better. And…
3.   If you want to become writer, you have to STUDY THE CRAFT OF WRITING.

If you want to become published, re-read that third point.  


Writing is an art.  An ART!  Just like painting or dancing or teaching.

Yes, some people are naturally gifted.  They can run really fast or can hit a baseball far…but even those freaks of nature still have to study the art of playing football or baseball. You can’t just walk onto a stage and be a ballerina. Or walk into a classroom and be a terrific teacher. You have to work at it. You have to study what’s been done. You have to learn to be better.

You probably agree with that.

Yet…people seem to think that everybody can write.  Everybody has one good story in them! All you have to do is start typing, right?


You have to study. You have to learn what works and what doesn’t. 

Writing isn’t about just words on a page.  It’s about so much more.

So, that’s the “trick” that I learned to get published. I realized that if I wanted to be a serious writer, I had to take writing seriously.


There’s a little bit more to this story.  But I can’t do it justice right now.  Besides the Packers are on and I need to get going.

Before I go, I want to say it one more time…if you want to be a writer, if you want to get published…you HAVE TO STUDY THE CRAFT. 

We’ll talk more about what "studying the craft" means next time.  I’ll tell you how I study and what changes I made. I’ll also tell you how I approached my agent and so forth.
If you’re interested, please come back.  Your company, real or imaginary, is always welcome.

Until next time….

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Becoming a Writer....

            Hello again, my dear imaginary reader.  Thanks for stopping by!

Since being offered a publishing contract for my first novel—Riddle in Stone (due out February 2013 in e-book and audiobook format at…Plug! Plug! Plug!), my fellow writers have been asking me how I “did it.”  How did I become one of the chosen people?  Who did I know to break into the biz? What “trick” did I use? And so forth.

I’ll be really honest with you…there was a “trick.” 

Seriously!  Something happened to me that enabled me to become an author. Something that I think could happen to you—if you want to become published.

But let me start at the beginning.

You see, since reading Tolkien in fifth grade, I’ve always loved writing…absolutely LOVED it!

I wrote story after story, filling my bedroom with three-ring binders and spiral notebooks.

I even had reoccurring characters like “Buck Evert”—a rip off of “Buck Rogers” (except my character zoomed around the universe on a yellow Schwinn with a banana seat).  There was also “James Rich”—a private eye who solved the mysteries of the playground.  And “Mickey the Magic Pencil”—who did people’s homework and then killed them in their sleep (my teachers suggested that I get therapy after reading those stories).

I wrote and wrote and wrote.  It was (and is) a compulsion. 

I simply HAVE to write. 

If I go a couple weeks without working on some story or manuscript, I feel all out of sorts…like my insides get itchy or my skin gets too tight. Salmon have to swim upstream.  Lemmings have to throw themselves into the fiords.  I have to write.  That’s just part of who I am. 

So from fifth grade on, writing became who I was. 

Even in elementary school, I was trying to publish. It was a dream….this overwhelming, passionate dream. I felt like I would simply DIE if I didn’t get published!  DIE I tell you! DIE!

When college came around (GO PURDUE!) the drive to get published got even stronger and I started to be more sophisticated in what I wrote. For example, I wrote “Thunderstorms and Undying Love”—a smutty romance story where two young people meet at a party, fall head over heels in love with each other, and then die in a horrible car accident on their way home. DIE I TELL YOU!

Believe it or not, a couple of publishers were actually interested in reading it!

Which brings me to my biggest problem as a writer…I’d never finish anything that I started.  I must have over two or three hundred half-started novels on various hard drives around my home and office.  I’d come up with an idea, start writing, get really excited, and then—meh….  Something would distract me or I’d forget about it or I would think of something even better to write about!

Does any of this sound familiar, imaginary reader? 

Even when I got some interest from a publisher or agent, I couldn’t seem to finish a story. 

For instance, in my early twenties, I pitched an idea to some big publishing house about a historical fiction piece set during the Civil War.  I submitted one query and I got a personal response saying something like:

“Although we don’t usually accept unagented submissions, I would really like to see this manuscript.” 
“Really” might have even been underlined. That’s how interested the publisher was.

However, even with such interest, I was never able to finish the damn manuscript.  I started it and….  Well, you know how it is. The excitement waned and I started something else…something “better.”

As a result, I always felt like an unfulfilled failure.  Each file folder with a half-started idea would mock me and call me a loser.

“Loser! Looooser!!!”

Jump forward twenty years…. 

One day, driving home from work, an idea for a fantastic story hit me.  It was as if I suddenly knew everything about the plot and story and setting and characters…all I had to do was sit down and put it on paper!  Easy as getting out of bed, right???

Of course, I dropped the story that I was previously excited about and decided that this… THIS new story was going to be my magnum opus. I was going to finish it come hell or high water! Nothing was going to stop me!! As God as my witness, I’d never go hungry again!!!

So, with the encouragement of my wonderful wife, I spent at least a half hour every day working on it.  Rain or shine…. Whether I felt like it or not…. I opened up the word file and typed!  Maybe I’d only get a sentence or two. Maybe I’d get a dozen good pages.  It didn’t matter.  I forced myself to type something every day.

Baby steps….

After a year or so, I finished it.  I actually finished it! 

I typed “the end.”

And the clouds parted.

And the sun shone.

And the angels sang! 

I finished it, damn it!  I finished my first novel-length manuscript! Finally!

All I needed now was an agent.  How hard could that be? Right?

That week, I sent query letters to eighteen agents.  And, wouldn’t you know, twelve of them wanted to read my story.

HOLY CRAP!  Twelve out of eighteen! That’s incredible!  Usually you’d send twenty letters to get one mildly positive responses. You might send twenty letters and not get any replies at all. Twelve agents wanted to see MY work! MY WORK! My first completed novel! HOLY CRAP!

So I sent it to them.

However, as the rejections slips started trickling in, my hopes began to sink.

“Loser! Looooser!!!”

Then one day I got the typical Xeroxed rejection letter saying, “Although I enjoyed your work…” bla bla bla! But this one was different.

Across its bottom, written in blue ink, were the words, “Terrific idea, poorly executed.”


I didn’t know what to think.  Evidently, I had a wonderful idea that a lot of agents wanted to check out but...I sucked as a writer. 

I sucked….

I was depressed.  I cried.  I read and re-read my story.  I thought it was pretty good. Maybe not brilliant, but certainly better than a lot of the crap I had read at the library!

"Terrific idea, poorly executed.”

I sucked as a writer.

After all these years, after all my writing…the secret was finally out.  I sucked. Sucked. Sucked. Sucked. Sucked. SUCKED!

“Loser! Looooser!!!”

I thought about quitting writing. I'm sure I even tried. But, what could I do? I was a writer. That's who I am. Unfortunately, I was a sucky writer.

Still, a little corner of my heart thought there was something positive in the agent's. Something to take hold of....

“Terrific idea, poorly executed.”

Those words made me do something that I never thought I’d do. Something that I always laughed at, scorned even! But it changed my life.

However, the rest of the story will have to wait for another day.  I have to go tickle my sons….

Until next time, imaginary reader....