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….


  1. Hi there. One thing I'd suggest is adding a Followers Add-on to your blog, because a lot of us out here only follow blogs when we can click on that to add ourselves to its feed. I use a few other add-ons that I consider useful as well, so you could check my blog to see how I use them. Also, if you use a word verification, that keeps a lot of people from bothering to comment, so I'd shut it off. It's only useful for people who get a lot of spammers, and I've never seen anyone who wasn't famous who had to deal with that.

  2. Thanks, Ted!! I've added some things along side of the blog. Does that help? I'm not sure if I added the right do-hickey!

  3. Your story sounds much like mine...and On Writing is the best. I also thought I was a really great natural writer. I'd gotten all A's in writing through high school and college. I was considered to be the one really good writer at work. It took a bit of studying online to realize that writing fiction was a whole different ballgame. I had to learn a LOT more, and it's still a work in progress, of course. The hardest part for me is overcoming my natural tendency to procrastinate. That's something I'm not sure if I'll ever manage. I tend to write in spurts, where I pound out ten or fifteen chapters in two or three months, but then I go half a year or more without writing any more.

  4. That's the key, isn't it? To write and write and write. But if you aren't already a famous author, where do you find time to write??? It's kind of a catch-22.

    Like King suggested, we got rid of our television. That really saved a lot of time. And you know, I really don't miss it at all.

    Of course, I've been goofing off at work. That frees up a lot of time to write as well!!!

    Thanks for stopping by Ted. I hope to see you around.