Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Habit of Writing

Every successful writer I have talked to or read about has said basically the same thing, “You have to get into the habit of writing.”

In his wonderful book, On Writing, Stephen King talks about the need for aspiring writers to make a point of writing at the same time every day and that doing so reduces writer’s block.  He says that the “muse” is more likely to come if it knows where you are.

I completely agree with this.

I wasn’t able to finish an entire manuscript until I began making time to write each and every day.   I rarely have a lot of time available, but even fifteen minutes helps.  In fact, I wrote the entire first draft of my first book in fifteen minute increments.  It took forever—but I finished it!

But writing every day is only part of the writer’s habit.  There are so many other habits that are helpful and, for me, necessary.

For example, in the morning I work out.  I HAVE to work out.  HAVE TO!  My wife won’t let me go a day without exercising.  Apparently, Robbie isn’t pleasant to be around when he hasn’t burned off some frustration.

So I work out for an hour after I get up.  No big surprise there.  You probably do the same thing.

However, for whatever reason, I can’t listen to the radio after I work out.  I can listen to it while I’m driving TO the health club.  But I can’t listen to it while I’m driving from the health club to my office.  Why?  I haven’t a clue.  I’m a nut.

But I think it helps me write.  You see, as I’m leaving the health club, I’m relaxed and my mind is calm.  If I listen to the radio, my mind starts to get agitated again. I start to hear the music in my head, or the two sports guys arguing about last Sunday’s football game. 

I need to have a clear mind when I approach the computer.

Here’s another odd ritual I have with writing. I can’t just turn on my computer and begin working on the manuscript.  I have to do things a precise way.  I turn on my computer, open the file containing my manuscript, and then . . . I have to look at the internet.  I HAVE to look at a series of websites.  I have to check my e-mails, scan ESPN, MSN, CNN, check to see if there are any cool jobs available in my field… and then, THEN! I can turn to my manuscript. 

What is odd is that I have to do it in that order.  I can’t turn on my computer, surf the web, open my manuscript, and then start writing.  God only knows why, but I can’t.  It is as if my manuscript has to warm itself on the glow of my computer screen before it is ready to bend to my evil will.

Interesting, I can surf the websites in any order I like.  So I’m not a COMPLETE nut!

I also have to have hot tea when I write.  And the tea usually has to be either green tea or Tea of Inquiry.  I can’t seem to write when I’m drinking anything else.  Further, the tea HAS to be in a certain mug.   And the mug has to be in a certain spot on my desk.  (Last year, the custodian broke my favorite mug and I couldn’t write for several weeks until I got “used to” my new favorite mug.)

Maybe I AM a complete nut. . . .

Additionally, I have to have my office a certain way.  It has to be as dark as possible with a lone light (preferably a full spectrum bulb) shining on my keyboard.  I have to have my back to the wall.  And my desk has to be cluttered.  I CAN’T WORK AT A CLEAN DESK! I don’t know why.  That’s just how it is.  Cleanliness distracts me.  Clutter…good!

By the way, I just started using a desk that I stand at and it’s WONDERFUL!  I highly recommend them. You’d think standing for three or four hours would be literally a pain.  But it isn’t.  Further, I find that I can concentrate longer standing than when I’m sitting. Go figure!

I used to burn candles when I wrote.  The slightly flickering flame and subtle smell of melting wax really relaxed me.  But one little fire in my office put an end to that. Honestly, people over react to everything in academia!

Anyway, I have to have all of these things in place in order to have a good writing session.  And once I realized what I needed…it became much easier for me to write.

How about you dear reader?  Do you have any writing rituals or habits?  Or am I the only nut out there?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Drafts

Hello everybody!

First off, I want to thank all of you who helped me with the cover!  I REALLY, REALLY appreciate your feedback.  You’re wonderful! Thank you so much!

I’m terrible at making decision, but – thanks to your assistance – I have selected the third version for the cover of Riddle in Stone. 


Second, I want to recap why I’m blogging. 

The main reason is because my publisher and agent told me to.  Robbie does what he’s told. 

Good Robbie!

But I’m also hoping that I can help any of you who want to become published.  I’m not an expert or anything by any means, but I’ve learned a few things over the past couple years and some of it may be of use to some of you.

So what I want to talk about today is “the first draft.”

You see, I think one of the biggest issues new writers (including myself) have is that we get discouraged easily.  We write something one day, read it the next, and think, “Holy crap! This sucks!”

And it does.  

That’s where most of us give up. We throw the paper in the recycling bend and vow never to write again!!!

Sound familiar my dear reader?

I think it was Hemingway who said, “First drafts are shit.”

No matter who you are or how long you’ve been writing, your first draft is going to stink compared to the final draft.  That’s just how it is!

Writing is rewriting. 

And rewriting….

And rewriting….

And rewriting!

I have to remind myself of this now because I’m beginning the third manuscript of my series and I keep getting very discouraged whenever I go back and read the pages I’ve written.

They’re horrible!  Absolutely HORRIBLE! I can picture my incredible wife reading them and saying, “Honey, I love you. But this is all crap. Please move out.”

But first drafts are supposed to be horrible. That’s their function.
The first draft is a skeleton. It’s where you put the bones of the story.  The second, third, fourth, and tenth drafts will be where you flesh out the story, adding details, correcting spelling errors, and so forth.

I’ve written about fifty pages of my third manuscript and there are incomplete sentences all over the place. There are scenes that are half finished.  I have characters who are named “X” and “Y.”  I introduced a character and I have no idea what his purpose is. I don’t know what he’ll do in the rest of the story. He just popped in!  If he doesn’t do anything worth doing, I’ll kick him out. Most of those fifty pages will be deleted by the end anyway!

And that’s okay….

First drafts are shit.

The joy of first drafts is that you get to see, in rough cut, where everything is going and who turns into something unexpected.  Maybe this strange character who popped onto my page will be brilliant and steal the spotlight.  Maybe he’ll deserve his own story. Who knows?  That’s the magic of writing!  

First drafts are the creation stage. Everything after that is the “fixing” stage.

Please don’t give up because the first draft is beyond bad.  Keep writing and fix it all later. Follow the stream and find out where it takes you!

Well, that’s my two cents worth for today.  Thanks for stopping by. And thanks again to all of you who have helped and befriended me over the past month or so.  You’ve made my writing, and life, much better. Thank you all very much!

See you in a few days.

Friday, January 11, 2013

OR... Option #3?

The publishers changed things up a bit and sent this version of the cover.  Better than option 1 and 2?


Book Covers!!!

I got the covers for my book.  Which version do you like best?

Version 1

Or Version 2?

As always, your thoughts are very welcome and appreciated!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Slaying the White Page Monster!

Well, a couple of days ago I blogged about my difficulty starting a new manuscript.  But, thanks to a strategy that I kind of stumbled onto, I’m currently on page 39!  Yippee for me.
Of course, they’re 39 of the worst pages you’ve ever read!  Honestly, I bet I’ve used the phrase “and then” at least twice each paragraph.
But…I am on a roll!

I have beaten the dreaded white page monster, thank you very much!  And this is how I did it….

I just started writing.  And this, I think, was the key—I didn’t write about my manuscript!


Picture this…. 

I’m staring at the computer.  The words “Riddle in Stone: Book Three by Robert Evert” laughing at me. 


Every few seconds I’d say something like, “Okay! Let’s get started!” or “Alright! All I have to do is buckle down!” or “This is it! I am starting right…now!” 

And each time, I’d check my e-mail.

DAMN SPAM! Where are you when I need you??

So what I did was just start writing anything that came into my mind.  It wasn’t going to go into the manuscript. I knew that. But I needed to cover the page with words.  And I needed to get into the right “mind set.”  I had to easy myself into my fantasy world, like somebody sliding into a hot bath.

I started writing something like this:

Edmund (my main character) and the Undead King (my main antagonist) pull up two chairs in a crappy roadside diner.

“So, what are we supposed to do?” Edmund asked, looking around.

The Undead King wiped up a glob of ketchup hardening on their table. He tucked his handkerchief back into his vest pocket, flames and shadow rippling off of the expensive fabric.

“I don’t know,” he said, shifting in his wobbly chair. “I think Rob’s having a nervous breakdown or something.”

“Quite possibly.”

A waitress emerged from the crowd, pad of paper in hand. “What can I get you two?”

“A clean table?” the Undead King suggested, his shadowy fingers sticking to everything he touched.

“Don’t mind him,” Edmund said. “He’s the Lord of the Nether Regions.”

“And even there we have something called Clorox. Honestly, can we have a damp towel or something?”

“Could we have a few minutes?” Edmund asked, grimacing an apology.

“Sure honey. I’ll check on you in a bit.” The waitress smiled and walked away.

“Seriously,” the Undead King said, trying not to touch anything. “Why are we here?”

Edmund shrugged.  “Haven’t a clue.”

The duck in the third seat quacked.

“There’s a duck?” the Undead King said, shaking his head.

“I thought he was with you.”

“Mental. Absolutely mental.”

“At least Rob’s tenured. He can do whatever he wants. Crazy probably helps in academia.”

“I don’t think he’ll ever finish this damn third book.”

“Quack!” agreed the duck.

“It’s a shame,” Edmund said, wishing that the jukebox would stop playing ‘Call me maybe.’ “I hear that I’ll get to kill you in the end.”

The Undead King snorted. “If I eat here, I’ll probably die a lot sooner. Come on, let’s leave.”

“We could just start killing people,” Edmund suggested, eyeing the teenagers dumping quarters into the jukebox. “We can do whatever we want.”

The Undead King stood up, his carefully pressed pants peeling away from sticky chair. “Come on! Let’s get to work. Where were we before? At the end of book two? Something about you and Molly?”

And then I started writing the real stuff!!  Though I miss the duck.


Monday, January 7, 2013

The Terror of the Blank Page...

So a few days ago, I sent the final version of Riddle in Stone: Book One to the publishers.  They’re working on it, getting it ready for publication next month. 

Riddle in Stone: Book Two is more or less finished.  That is, I have the entire manuscript written, but I’ll probably need to edit it a couple more times before it’s released in August, 2013.  I should be working on it…but after spending the past couple months editing, and re-editing, Book One...I’m really tired of looking at words.  I want to get back to the big picture! I want to get back to CREATING!!

There’s just something about writing a really good scene or creating a character who surprises you.  It feels wonderful!  Absolutely, wonderful!


So, rather than working on editing the second book, wrestling with each word and punctuation mark, I decided that I’d start working on Riddle in Stone: Book Three, the final book in the series. 

Excited about revisiting my characters and seeing how things were developing in their world, I got a hot cup of tea (Tea of Inquiry, if you want to know), opened a brand new word file, typed “RIDDLE IN STONE: BOOK THREE by Robert Evert,” and…


And that’s all I have so far.


Good start…but it needs a little something.  What is it?  Hmmm? Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe… I don't know.... sentences?

I want to blame part of my failure to write on the football games going on.  I’m rooting for Green Bay and Indy.  And how my boys want to play.

But, to be honest, I’ve always been terrified of the blank page.  It sits there, all white and clean…mocking me.


Curse you blank page! Sitting there so smugly on my computer screen…taunting me….


Even as I sit here and stare at the nearly blank page, I wonder—How the hell did I do this before?  Not just once, but twice!  How the hell did I get pass this horrible monster?

I suppose the first thing I need to do is blog less.  And play less online.  After all, I should be focusing on finishing the series!  I should  just buckle down!  Put my nose to the grindstone!  Hitch up my belt and start kicking ass!


Maybe I should play another game of solitaire.  THEN!  THEN I’ll start writing!!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Becoming a Writer (Part III)

Well, I just sent the publisher the final version of my manuscript.  No going back now!
Boy, I hope I didn’t miss any typos or spelling errors. 

I’m a nervous wreck.  Seriously, I am literally sweating…worried that I screwed up somehow!  What if I accidentally sent them an earlier draft with all kinds of horrible mistakes? What if I forgot all the verbs?? Or vowels! Holy crap, where are all the vowels???

Breathe!  Breeeeeathe!!

Okay…. Let me finish my story about how I got Riddle in Stone published.  Perhaps that’ll keep my mind off of my pending humiliation and failure….

If you recall from the first two installments of this story, I always wanted to be a writer. Since I was a kid, I wrote story after story, but even when I had publishers interested, I never finish any of them. Finally, with the encouragement of my incredible wife, I finished a 500-page manuscript. However, when I pitched it to agents, they basically said that it was a good idea, but I sucked as a writer. 

Sucked!!  Those were their exact words!  SUCKED!!!

At that point, I did something that I always made fun of…I started reading books on writing.  Specifically, I read (among others) Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Sol Stein’s “Stein on Writing.”  Both books are fantastic.  If you want to get published—get them! 

More importantly, if you want to be a writer, you have to STUDY the CRAFT of WRITING.  That’s really important! Extremely important!!

Everybody seems to think that they can be a writer.  After all, they got an “A+” in College English!!!  Right?  How hard can writing a novel be??


There’s far more to writing than throwing words on a page.   A TON MORE!


Anyway, after reading King and Stein (and re-reading my manuscript that I thought was so good), I realized that I had several issues with my writing.  One of them was creating interesting and effective dialogue.

You see, in my first manuscript, I tried to write like how people actually talk. I tried to be “realist.”

But that’s completely wrong. People are boring. Nobody wants to read a book with “real” dialogue.  Why would they?  They could just listen to people on the street.

What I learned from King and Stein was that dialogue isn’t just characters talking.  One character says something. Another replies. The first says something else….

Good dialogue moves the story along. It creates emotions in the reader. It also helps develop the characters. 

We learn about the characters by what they DO and SAY.  I had the “doing” down, but I didn’t have the “saying.”  My dialogue was not only boring, but it didn’t show us who the characters were.  My dialogue was “flat.”

Let me put it this way…. If you take out all the dialogue attributions (“he said,” “she said,” etc.), you should be able to tell who’s speaking by what they are saying and how they are saying it.  Just like you and your friends use different phrases and speech patterns, so too should our characters.

My first manuscript didn’t do this.  All of my characters sounded the same.  They all spoke like … well … like me. 


Once I realized this, I vowed to get better.

So I joined a website called  (It’s a Tolkien fan site. If you love Tolkien, come join us! It’s a good group of people.) and I began writing little stories on their writing threads.  I wasn’t interested in writing anything cleaver or meaningful.  I just wanted to practice writing dialogue. 

So I started with this character named Edmund the Scholar who st-st-stuttered.   Edmund literally got up from the Prancing Pony and started walking down the road out of town.  I had no idea who Edmund was or what would happen to him.  I just wrote.  Every day, I wrote for 15 minutes or so.  Again, all I wanted to do was practice writing dialogue.  Nothing fancy. 

Well, to draw this incredibly long story to it’s boring conclusion… those 15-minute writing exercises on the threads of www.the turned into a story…a story about this lovable loser type who wants to be a hero, but finds that being a hero isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

I pitched the story to three or four agents.  And one of them, Joelle Delbourgo, loved it.  Even though she didn’t usually represent fantasy (I’ll tell you more about how to pick and approach an agent later), she wanted to represent my work.   She loved the character…and the story’s ending.  Thankfully, Diversion Books loved it too. 

So that’s how Riddle in Stone got started.  It was simply a stupid writing exercise.  

But the key here is that I had to learn how to write.  I’m still learning.  I'm still working on everything.  Read a lot, write a lot…learning from what works and doesn’t.  I have a long way to go.  But, I'm headed in the right direction (hopefully).

Well, that’s it for now, dear imaginary reader.  If there’s anything you want me to talk about—the craft of writing, what else I learned from King and Stein, writing agents—just let me know.  I don’t know everything, but…together…we can become better writers.

Until next time….

Thanks for stopping by!