Posted in Uncategorized, Writing

One Small Step. . . .

Potential cover for "The Texas Stray"  Writing even a decent story takes time, especially when writing is the thing you do because you love it, the thing you do when you have finished doing all the tasks required of you for the job that pays the bills.  Even when you put the final period to a manuscript over which you may have slaved for definitely months and, more often, years, your work is far from done.  I would argue it is at that moment that the really hard work for your writing actually begins.

It is difficult to be one’s own editor, but the best of writers do just that.  Being a good editor means first giving yourself time between finished first draft and beginning revisions.  You need to be able to hold your finished work at arm’s length to view it, not still be in the stage where you are cuddling your words to your breast like a new-born child.

Once you have given your work a good three- or four-time-critical eye, it’s a good idea to have some test readers before you unleash your latest jewel on the unsuspecting public.  These test readers are ideally not your grandmother, who loves everything you do, or even your best friend.  The best test readers are people just like the ones you wrote your book for in the first place.  If you can manage it, a quick critique form to go along with your test book might offer you some very valuable information about just what your book needs to take it to that next level.

But still, your job is just beginning.  While others are perusing your work, you should be writing up the cover material for your work, the synopsis that will give the readers an idea of what your book is going to be about and that will make them want to read it.  What is the gist of your story?  What is the main thing readers will get out of reading your book?  Does your main benefit actually appeal to your target audience?

Next, you get to become a marketing expert as well as a writer.  You need to design cover art that will appeal to people flipping through ebook lists or scanning shelves at a physical bookstore.  Are the images you are using legal for you to use?  Again, does the art work convey a message that meshes with what happens between the covers?  Will it appeal to your audience?  How many possible great reads have you passed up because the cover did nothing to compel you to read more about it?

Besides the visual appeal of the cover, the actual title of your novel needs to be catching.  It is your hello to potential readers.  A dull title gets you ignored every time.  Titles are a bit easier to test than other aspects of your book.  People in your church, a survey of your friends on Facebook, even a few phone calls, can give you a pretty good idea if your title makes people interested, confused, or bored.

Of course, all this action has to proceed as you also strive to live your life.  You still have to earn a paycheck, wash the clothes, feed your family, clean your house, work on your blog and other outreach vehicles, keep up on paying your bills.  And, probably, you’re also already beginning the next, great project–for who among us doesn’t always have at least two or three ideas rumbling around in our heads that we want to finish some day?

As you might have guessed, I am finally reaching the point where I am closer to publishing my second novel, The Texas Stray.  The picture above is my second cover.  I’m not sure it will be the cover.  I still need to write up a decent sales pitch, and I am just beginning my third serious edit.  So, now is the time for me to practice patience.  I want to offer fiction that is worth reading and that gives a positive message about living a Christian life, even as it looks at the challenges every Christian faces.  Just because it is easy to self-publish these days does not mean that I should jump so quickly into publishing that I actually offer an inferior product.

So, here’s to all of us trying to grow an audience of readers who enjoy what we do, wearing all the hats in the publishing spectrum while we do so.  Thanks to all of you who support this blog by reading it each week.  I hope that your experiences are enhanced by what you find here.  I know my writing and life journey have been greatly blessed through the gift of having the opportunity to do this–on my own terms and in my own time.

God bless.

Posted in Writers, Writing

Fish or Cut Bait?

I am working on a short story collection, among other things, and in doing so, I have dredged up some of my former “masterpieces” to consider. I have begun by typing up one of the older ones that I no longer had a text file on, at first just typing what was on the page and doing some small edits here and there.
But, as I came to the conclusion of my previously written story, I realized that I hadn’t done quite as good a job as I thought at the time. In fact, I might even have written a total bomb. I can only say that my creative writing instructor at the time must have taken mercy on me, or given me a pass for the totality of my work.
So, now is the time to make the decision ever writer has to make at some point in the process of most works. Do I have something worth fighting for as a final product, or should I file this one in the round cabinet, where so many of my lost hopes have found their final resting place?
For this story, I find that there are several elements in the original story when it comes to the characters and even the action that I just failed to fully develop. I, being much younger and less experienced in the world, simply let the ball drop. The problems and conflicts and possibilities of the characters and plot, I find, do still intrigue me. And, I know that I am more qualified than I was at the time to further explore the relationships that I barely skimmed the surface of on my original attempt.
The downside to my story is I have a central action that needs to take place that I know very little about and have very little interest in personally. So, I have to get the discipline to study this area enough to make the details of the action believable, or I have to decide to change the setting and circumstances of the story to avoid having to do the research to ring true. How important is the original central conflict to the true conflict I find developed as I drafted the piece, the conflict that I think I could develop into something much more fulfilling?
These are important issues to any story re-write. Becoming a good writer is so much more than just dreaming up a storyline and characters. We have to also be winnowers, shifting the chaff from the wheat. And that is always a bit easier to do the longer it has been since you first wrote something. Even Ernest Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is trash. That’s so hard to take to heart when you are in the early drafts of anything new. But, when you have the luxury of time to reflect on your writing, it’s actually so right.
For now, I’m going to keep fishing on this short story. Only time will tell if I should truly let all or part of the story go.

Posted in Writers, Writing

Time is a powerful editor

If you ever wondered who your best critic may be, don’t plan on your present self for your most recent work. Also, don’t plan on your mother, or favorite uncle, or even your meanest aunt. For one thing, people who love you will always see your work through that love filter. For another, chances are these loving people also share a big cache of the same experiences you do. They can, in other words, read into what you may have actually failed to convey to an audience that hasn’t seen you in your nappies.

You can be your best editor, eventually. When you have just finished the first draft of something is not the time to be that editor. When you have just written something, it is still too new and fresh, your baby, cuddled in your arms and loved. Put it away for a time, as long as you can and still make your deadlines, before returning to it with an editor’s eye.

I was reminded of this advice, heard so often from experienced and successful writers, as I was digging through my old short stories this week to begin working on a collection to publish. Some of the stories are so old, I have somehow managed to lose the original files. In all honesty, some of them may have even been typed up on the old electric where I began to learn the keyboard in my high school days.

The point is not my age showing, but that, as I have begun to look at these stories afresh, I am seeing the nuances I failed to offer in language and structure the first time around. I can also see how much I have grown as a writer through the years, as real-life experiences have tempered my abilities to paint pictures with words.

Time can be the great healer, then, of hearts and wounds, and words.