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 www.audible.com…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....


  1. Great post! I laughed about Mickey the Magic Pencil killing people in their sleep... haha! That reminded me of a comic strip series I wrote and drew in middle school... about an anthropomorphic banana peel that wore a top hat and carried a cane, named Mr. Banana Man. He got into various adventures, one of which involved Darth Vader.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the story! :)

  2. Thanks Jenny!!! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Maybe we should write a series about Mickey and Mr. Banana Man!! Sounds like a Bob Dylan song!:)

    Thank you very much for visiting. I hope you come again and often!

  3. I just found your blog, and this was hilarious! And so me. Except I haven't gotten to the actually -finishing- a book part. But I'm working on it and getting close (for once). I am the same as you - I have a million journals filled with beginnings of stories. Congratulations on your publishing contract! Hopefully I can join the club soon, too. Or at least get to the stage of even -getting- a rejection. :D

    1. Hey Wish! Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you dig the blog. I'll try to keep up with it.

      If you need help with your work, just let me know. I'm trying to use this blog as a way to walk new writers through what happened to me. I'd really recommend that you read Stein on Stein and On Writing by Stephen King. Terrific books!

      Gotta run! Thanks for stopping by! See you soon?

    2. I was thinking about picking up one of those books, now that you mentioned it. I haven't - not because I think I'm too awesome to learn more xD - but because I wasn't sure that reading about writing would really make a difference. But I suppose it can't hurt to try, and if it worked for someone else...