Tag Archives: early writing

The secret beauty of bad ideas

Writers never kill their darlings.

We just lock them away…in a dungeon…indefinitely…

Even when we expunge plots points from the pages, old drafts linger long after their expiration date, haunting hard drives and battered binders for years. The same goes for ideas that never even had a chance to thrive as well as stories that don’t survive a full draft.

I keep my little failures in a folder called “Ideas and false starts,” a literary gulag whose inmates date back to the turn of the century.

What makes an idea bad?

Bad is in the eye of the beholder. Most ideas start out as precious—too precious—so if the author passes harsh judgement on his/her own work, it’s probably really bad. Some common culprits are ideas that are too unrealistic, convoluted, or clichéd. If an idea doesn’t serve—or can’t support—the story, it has to go.

Then there are the ideas that might have made it to those two little words if only they had kept the author’s interest. Boredom aside, ideas also can lead writers down dead ends. Writer’s block has murdered many a storyline.

And here’s a tragedy: a perfectly adequate idea can perish before it reaches its full potential when a shiny new one shows up, usurping an author’s brainpower and priorities.

Can two wrongs make a write?

Abandoned ideas don’t really rest in peace. I, for one, occasionally visit their proverbial prison, poking and prodding to see if there’s any life left in them. Better to have many ideas waiting in the ward than too few to fill one’s time.

I admit very few people to this freak show. Family members, writers groups, beta readers—they alone get glimpses at the grotesqueries. However, after watching a certain movie and playing a somewhat related video game recently, I can’t help but wonder if there could be beauty in the bad.

The LEGO Batman Movie and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 both feature D-list characters from comics past and present. If Condiment King and Chipmunk Hunk can star in successful stories, what about some of my own castoffs?

The Bad Idea Club

Supposing there’s validity to the theory that mixing up a bunch of bad ideas can result in something good, here are a few mostly forgotten characters of mine that could conceivably band together:

Digger (circa 1984)

Likely the first instance of my unfulfilled fiction, Digger’s Days would have recounted the adventures of Digger, a robot equipped with a drill and a number of other tools to do…stuff. I’m pretty sure this prototype didn’t make it past the drawing board, literally, since I was all of five years old when I sketched him. Still, what story couldn’t use a mechanical sidekick?

The Ultimate Crusaders (circa 1991–1993)

Drawing robots eventually led to illustrating massive battles. I flirted with the miserable (and trademark-infringing) G.I. Joe: The Next Generation before inventing cringe-worthy acronyms for my elite soldiers. Once my interest switched to comic books and their super-powered characters, I invented the Ultimate Crusaders. Many of these heroes and villains they thwarted were Marvel rip-offs (e.g. The Mutant Flame and Electra); others were just plain terrible (the Quarter Note and Herron, whose helmets were as groan-inducing as you might imagine). However, Mr. Mysterious did get reincarnated for a short story I wrote in college.

Yalte Dark Elf (fall 1994)

After months of building my own fantasy world, I decided to attempt a novel. While Altaerra would live on and eventually serve as the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, the original cast of “The Maltaken Experiment” did not. There was an elven bard, a gruff dwarf (of course), a warrior woman, a pixie, and a barbarian guy. Leading the pack, however, was dagger-flinging Yalte Dark Elf, whose only saving grace was that he wasn’t inspired by Forgotten Realm’s Drizzt Do’Urden (like most dark elves), but rather DragonLance’s Dalamar the Dark.

Tarreth (spring 2001)

An attempt at co-writing a fantasy series with a fellow college student quickly fizzled, but not before I wrote a scene introducing Tarreth, a half-immortal child adopted by a creepy old wizard. I think she was going to eventually destroy him and meet up with a delusional “Chosen One.” Alas, her quest was over before it began.

Benedict Strong (fall 2006)

When I stepped away from Altaerra to take a stab at a fantasy novel set in the real world, I conjured up Benedict Strong, who was one of only a handful of true wizards remaining on Earth. He learned from Merlin, I believe, and so did his rival/counterpart, Pandora, who used her arcane talents to perform true magic on stage—unbeknown to her Vegas audiences. Rasputin would have made a cameo. I know: hard to believe this one flopped.

Persephone (fall 2010)

Some ideas are enticing solely because they are something other than what you are currently working on. While up to my elbows in dream drifters, editing If Souls Can Sleep, I began mentally exploring a story where a teenage Wisconsinite named Persephone gets possessed by her unborn granddaughter, a time-traveler comprised of consciousness-preserving nanobots. Of all my bad ideas, Sunny’s story is most likely to orchestrate a jailbreak.

Ysa (spring 2013)

It turns out that writing a story about an alien anthropologist isn’t all that new. Ysa, a genderless extraterrestrial from a mostly lifeless universe, would have been one of three interplanetary delegates to travel to Earth, where the anthropologist would use his/her woefully incomplete knowledge of humankind to forge a lasting friendship between worlds. Naturally, Ysa would have discovered a conspiracy on one side or the other and then foiled it.

The Later Gator (fall 2013)

A few years ago, my wife and I penned a children’s chapter book. The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers had a very limited run for complicated reasons, but the story foreshadowed a sequel in which the titular heroine would square off against an anthropomorphic alligator whose tide of chaos causes tardiness wherever he goes. The Later Gator still hasn’t shown up.

A song for the unsung heroes

My abysmal mashup may never come to be, and there’s an excellent chance not a single one of these characters will ever escape my digital dungeon. But even if bad ideas can’t be reformed, they serve an important purpose.

Bad ideas take the brunt of punishment from an author’s inner critic. For example, if Benedict Strong hadn’t been such a bore, I might never have given Vincent Cruz a chance, which means The Soul Sleep Cycle would never have happened.

Once a bad idea is banished, we turn with fresh eyes to a new idea, our sadism sated…for now…

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Coming soon: Renegade Chronicles compendium

An editor of mine once said, “No one wants to know how the sausage is made.”

He was referring to journalistic processes—the hoops reporters jump through in order to research, interview, and write stories as well as edit, paginate, and publish them. Readers care only about the quality of finished article, not all of the work that went into it.

That might be true of newspapers, but as a lifelong fan of fantasy, I know that those who venture into fictional realms often appreciate additional glimpses into the wider world, including supplementary explorations of characters and cultures and even the author’s method for creating them.

Think of them as travel guides.

In the spirit of giving fans a more in-depth look at the people, places, and peculiarities of The Renegade Chronicles—and an excuse to return to Altaerra—I’m in the process of creating a (FREE!) compendium called Capricon and Beyond.

While I put the finishing touches on the e-book, please enjoy this excerpt. It’s a character profile I composed for a certain rogue knight prior to writing the first draft of Rebels and Fools.

Black and white sketch of Dominic Horcalus, Knight of Superius

While I’ve never been more than a dabbler in drawing, I occasionally made time to sketch the natives of Altaerra.

Dominic Horcalus

Horcalus comes from a long line of Knights of Superius. Like his father and his father before him, Horcalus stands tall—about 6’2”—and keeps himself in excellent physical shape. The muscles on his arms, legs, and chest are well-defined, and there’s hardly any fat on his body. His eyes are gray; his hair, brown. A full, neatly-trimmed mustache graces his upper lip. Despite a rather hawkish nose and sharp chin, Horcalus is a reasonably handsome man.

Horcalus’s usual garb consists of combination plate-and-chainmail armor, a shield of some sort, an open-faced helmet with a nose-guard, and his trusty longsword.

Horcalus presents himself with an air of quiet dignity. He acts and speaks proudly, though not haughtily. He has excellent posture, looking comically stiff at times. He doesn’t fidget, and maintains a composed, stoic exterior unless something has him greatly discombobulated. His tone tends to soften, and he is more likely to smile when interacting with women and children.

Horcalus’s speech is the epitome of proper. He’ll almost always use two words in lieu of a contraction. He may use an outdated or archaic phrase or expression without realizing it.

Horcalus’s childhood was not so unlike many other boys borne of Knights. His father was stern but loving, making sure his son was well-disciplined and teaching the boy everything he knew about life and the Knighthood. Horcalus became his father’s squire at a remarkably young age and then went to Fort Splendor to train as a novice when he was fifteen years old.

Horcalus loves a challenge and delights in a hard-fought victory, though he is ever a gracious winner. He spends much time engaged in mock-combat, honing his skill, teaching others what he knows as well as learning from their techniques. Aside from physical trials, he likes games that improve his intellect and sharpen his wit (e.g., solving at riddles and playing chess). He has little interest in games of chance and shuns gambling.

Horcalus is not quick to laugh, but that is not to say he is devoid of humor. He’ll laugh at clever joke but seldom at another’s expense. He hates lies and engages in a lie only when it’s unavoidable. He’s a very bad liar, actually. His conscience holds a tight reign over his actions.

Like most Knights of Superius, Horcalus is extremely patriotic, but Horcalus does his best to accept people of every nation. Like many humans, he has his misgivings about the other races, but he is never less than polite to the occasional half-elf or gnome who crosses his path. He distrusts magic-users, but his greatest prejudice is against people who foment disorder and take advantage of their fellow man.

Horcalus is a stalwart optimist. He became a Knight to help make the world a better place. So long as he is fighting for the side of peace and justice, Horcalus enjoys life. Conversely, when he becomes a member of the Renegades, the disgraced Knight finds life nearly unbearable.

Horcalus serves Pintor the Warriorlord by adhering to the virtues outlined in the Knighthood’s code of conduct. He knows several prayers by rote. More often than not, when he prays, he is asking for guidance or forgiveness. Horcalus also honors the other Gods of Good, though he doesn’t really address these other deities by name.

While Horcalus did have a childhood sweetheart, he won’t fall in love until many years after the Renegade War. Horcalus thinks love is important, and he wants a wife and family, but the quest for a soulmate is far more difficult than anything the Knighthood has ever asked of him. He always figured the gods would provide him with a capable woman when and if they see fit. Horcalus wants children too—particularly a son to follow in his footsteps as a Knight of Superius.

Horcalus made many friends while in the Knighthood. His best friend and mentor is Chester Ragellan. He develops relationships with Klye Tristan, Arthur Bismarc, and Lilac Zephyr during the Renegade War.

More details about the release of Capricon and Beyond as well as other exciting news for The Renegade Chronicles will be released soon. Until then, may the Warriorlord watch over you!

It’s here! Download Capricon and Beyond: The Renegade Chronicles Compendium for FREE.

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A glimpse into the (possible) future of augmented reality

Pokémon GO is only the beginning, people.

While Google Glass never really caught on, cell phones are finally poised to bring augmented reality (AR) into the mainstream thanks to a certain catch-’em-all mobile game. By leveraging GPS and overlaying computer-generated images on a real-world environment, Pokémon GO has taken a big, bold step forward in a technology that, prior to now, had taken a backseat to other advancements like 3D and virtual reality.

By Gieson Cacho [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gieson Cacho (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Even as I write this, developers, executives, and marketers are seeking out new ways to exploit AR.

Perhaps ironically, a game populated with brightly colored and sometimes cute creatures has already raised serious concerns—from at least one automobile fatality to insensitive Pokémon destinations.  Then there are instances of trespassing, distracted pedestrians, and lures that attract human victims in addition to the in-game prey.

It’s not all doom and Gloom (Pokémon pun intended), but as with any new technology, the good will inevitably be accompanied by the sinister…and the silly.

While pondering the Pokémon GO phenomenon—and admittedly participating in it—I was reminded of a short story I wrote a while back about a future where AR has penetrated every facet of society, including entertainment, commerce, and even face-to-face communication.

For all of our sakes, I hope “Ghost Mode” turns out to be an inaccurate prediction of what is to come.  It could be a cautionary tale.  Or maybe it’s just the musings of a closet technophobe.  In any event, I hope you enjoy this story of a near-future star whose search for excitement goes horribly, horribly wrong.

“Ghost Mode” was published in the One Million Project Fantasy Anthology. Buy it in paperback or for Kindle at Amazon.com.

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Reblog: Pantsers vs. Plotters

Once upon a time, the stories poured from my fingertips.

Back in the early days of my Quest for Publication, I was equipped with naught but a trusty Pilot pen, a five-subject Mead notebook, and a plethora of ideas. Eventually, I upgraded to a keyboard and computer.

After transcribing tome after tome of intertwining fantasy storylines from my neat (read: girly) handwriting to single-spaced Times New Roman, I typed up additional supplemental materials. I sketched out maps, chronicled centuries of history, invented religions, drafted character profiles, and crafted the very rules of the universe.

I was world building, damn it, and every fantasy author worth his sword needs to know his setting inside out.

I wrote this blog post for nyareads.com. Read the entire post here.

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A different class of writing

Spending time with young people can make you feel old, but it can also make you feel young, too.

I had the pleasure of talking with students at Waupun High School yesterday. My mission: to share my educational background, professional writing experiences, writing advice, and tips for getting published with the fledgling writers—in 45 minutes or less.

waupun-warriors

Despite my best efforts, I might have uttered “when I was your age” at least once.

In all seriousness, it was a very casual environment, and even though I did most of the talking, I couldn’t help but be a little inspired as we went around the circle, and the students told of their current projects and future ambitions.

Because I’ve been up to my (pointed) ears in editing a certain fantasy trilogy, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a shortcut here by repurposing my notes from yesterday’s spiel—quasi-transcripts, if you will.

Hopefully, you’ll find a nugget or two of wisdom regardless of where you are on the path to authorhood.

My story

I started writing in earnest in high school. My fantasy tales bore a resemblance to the books I was reading at the time: DragonLance, Forgotten Realms…you know, books with dragons on the covers. Mostly, I engaged in world-building exercises and episodic storylines, though there was at least one false start to a novel

By senior year, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. At UW-Fond du Lac, I signed up for an independent study writing course. It turned out to be a one-on-one with a professor, where I delivered a chapter for her to critique each week. This was one of the most valuable college courses I ever took, and I learned an awful lot about the basics of storytelling, the importance of word choice—and how to meet deadlines.

In those two years, I wrote two-thirds of what would come to be Volume 1 of The Renegade Chronicles. When I transferred to UW-Milwaukee, I completed the first draft and then rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch senior year since my writing style—not to mention skill level—had dramatically changed since freshman year.

I submitted chapters of my book for various writing workshops, and peer review also proved incredibly valuable. (Though in one class, I had to convince the professor that genre fiction had merit before we were allowed to present fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc.)

Meanwhile, I took as many literature and linguistics classes as I could. Beyond English courses, I signed up for philosophy, psychology and a ton of history courses. An all-too-common adage dictates one should write what one knows. Ergo, the more you know, the more you can write about.

I somewhat regret I didn’t take any journalism, marketing, or radio/TV/film classes. At the time, I wanted only to write fiction, so none of those related disciplines appealed to me. Then again, I picked up many of those skills later in life.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, I taught for a year in China, where I had my favorite job title to date: foreign expert. While overseas, I wrote a sequel. I also tried to publish a short story I had written in college (to no avail) and researched agents to represent my fantasy novels.

When I returned to the U.S., I got cracking on Volume 3—while racking up rejections for Volumes 1 and 2.

I was fortunate to find an entry-level position at a newspaper. As a news clerk, I mostly was responsible for formatting lists, such as marriage licenses and school lunch menus. (Have you ever questioned the proper spelling of “tri-tater”?) I typed up letters to the editor, too.

But I also got to do some proofreading and wrote an article here and there. In less than I year, I was promoted to entertainment writer and editor. I picked up a slew of skills in the newsroom—writing and proofing using AP style, headline writing, lead writing, pagination/layout, the basics of photo editing.

Most importantly, I learned the virtues of brevity.

After a few years, I went to the “dark side”—public relations and marketing. At UW-Oshkosh, I wrote press releases, coordinated interviews with faculty and staff, wrote articles for the online news publication and the alumni magazine, became a wiz at Word Press and other content management systems, taught myself project management, and supervised student interns.

I learned even more when I became an account executive at BrownBoots Interactive, including more website skills, search engine optimization (which injects a lot of science into the art of writing), writing for TV and radio commercials, managing multi-channel marketing campaigns, estimating on projects, blogging, and much more.

That’s right, the guy who couldn’t care less about journalism, public relations, and marketing in college grew to appreciate them and, if I do say so myself, excel at them.

But my dream has always been to be a novelist…

About 10 years ago, I joined Allied Authors of Wisconsin. Because I couldn’t get an agent to bite on The Renegade Chronicles, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and wrote a sci-fi novel that got very good feedback from my beta readers. An agent, who is also a member of AAW, elected to represent If Souls Can Sleep.

And because I didn’t learn my lessons with The Renegade Chronicles, I wrote a sequel before selling the first one.

My wife and I wrote a children’s chapter book to test the waters with self-publishing. (More on that here and here.) But between a full-time career and family obligations, I always felt as though my fiction got short shrift.

Earlier this year, I decided I to take a chance and put my fiction on the front burner. I transitioned to a new role at the agency to allow for larger pockets of time for writing and editing fiction. I created a business plan and am committed self-publishing The Renegade Chronicles in 2016.

My long-term goal—my dream—hasn’t changed remains the same: I want to make a living writing fiction.

Writing advice

There’s no shortage of writing advice out there (and sometimes tips contradict). But here is some advice my mentors gave me “back in the day”:

  • Margaret Weis: “Treat your writing like a job. Write on a schedule.”
  • R.A. Salvatore: “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.”

I’ll add a few of my own observations to the mix:

  • Embrace a variety of life experiences—everything is fodder for your writing.
  • Learn as much as you can about the industry and gain related skills. Even traditionally published authors have to be business-minded marketing experts.
  • Write as many different kind of things as you can because you might be surprised at what you’re good at…and what you might enjoy.
  • Don’t turn your nose up at any writing gig—even if it’s the company newsletter—because everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Get feedback from others (e.g., writers groups, online forums) but realize that not all critiques are created equal. Not everyone is your target audience, and ultimately, it’s your story.
  • Always write what you love and do whatever you can to hold onto that passion.
  • Most importantly, don’t give up.

Tips for getting published

A lot has changed since I was in high school. Back then, you were supposed to write and publish short stories (which I sucked at), and you couldn’t hope to publish a novel without an agent. Also, self-publishing was for losers, and vanity presses that preyed on amateur writers made it expensive, too.

Today, self-publishing is both respectable and profitable. Print-on-demand means publishing a book is relatively inexpensive, though there are outside costs like proofreading and cover design. The biggest challenge is getting noticed above the noise.

As someone who is still on the path to publication, I don’t have any surefire secrets for becoming a bestseller. I do, however, have a couple of tips:

1. Don’t publish before you’re ready. After more than a decade between drafts, I’m now hacking apart The Renegade Chronicles, and they’ll be much better for it. And do your homework to avoid wasting your time…or getting sued.

2. Don’t be afraid to take chances. By the time you’re ready to publish a novel or a comic book or your memoirs, a lot is going to have changed. It’s never been a better time to be a writer, but it’s also the Wild West of publishing right now. If you want to get noticed, you have to experiment.

If you follow the crowd, you’ll always be behind.

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Pondering my next writing project

My favorite questions tend to start with “what if.” Lately, however, this writer has been asking himself, “What now?”

intersection with many signs and directions

Source: Ernie & Katy Newton Lawley, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lawley/59402926/ via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I started plotting out If Souls Can Sleep nearly nine years ago, I’ve had a clear path in front of me when it came to my fiction. The road wasn’t always a straight line by any stretch—for instance, my wife and I wrote a children’s book in between the first and second draft of If Sin Dwells Deep—but I always had more tasks than time to complete them.

Until last week.

With the first two installments of The Soul Sleep Cycle in my agent’s hands, I find myself at an unexpected crossroads, where past, present, and future compete for my attention. And for the life of me, I can’t decide which path is the most prudent.

Option 1: The Past

Once upon a time, I wrote a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I couldn’t get agents or publishers interested. Rather than invest more time in fixing it, I decided to try something completely different. The result was If Souls Can Sleep.

For many years, I’ve had the notion to go back and self-publish the TRC. After all, just about every article I’ve ever read about becoming a profitable author espouses the virtues of having a large number of titles for sale. Some of those same sources heavily imply that quantity trumps quality…

Then again, just as many advice columns say that an author’s No. 1 marketing tool is a well-crafted manuscript—in other words, the best story you can write.

(And what to do when writing tips contradict?)

Last week, I reread the first third of Book 1 of the TRC to see just how much dust had collected over the past 14 years. While it wasn’t as cringe-inducing as a feared it would be, one thing was clear: that book, along with the other two, would need copious edits.

The best-case scenario would be a performing a series of substantive edits on all three books, cutting out superfluous text, fixing awkward words and phrases, and eradicating all types of typos. In addition to removing excess, I detected a dearth in setting and sensory details throughout. The prologue was rubbish, too.

Pros for revisiting the past

  • Repairing something that’s already written is bound to be easier than starting anew.
  • This is the fastest way for me to publish several books in one fell swoop—and, hopefully, start generating revenue.
  • I invested seven-plus years in TRC, so dedicating another six to twelve months seems like a small price to pay in order to potentially profit from all that work.
  • If TRC finds an audience, I have a slew of storylines saved up for that particular universe.

Cons for revisiting the past

  • After so much time away, I’m not particularly passionate about this project.
  • Even with substantive edits, the final product will not reflect my current skill level.
  • Therefore, it will take an awful lot of willpower to refrain from completely rewriting the series, which would be quite time consuming.
  • More editing? It’s been more than three years since I wrote a new book—or, more precisely, co-wrote The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers—and I’m itching for the chance to jump back into the more creative aspects of creative writing.

Option 2: The Present

With at least one book left to write in The Soul Sleep Cycle (and hopefully a few more), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to wrap up the major story arc that I started back in 2006. However, I’m reluctant to invest the time in Book 3 before I see whether the first two garner any interest—and sales—either via traditional publishing or indie publishing.

To forge ahead or take a break from the series—that is the question.

Pros for living in the present

  • I already have a pretty good idea of what this book will be about and what needs to happen before the end.
  • Having just finished major edits to If Sin Dwells Deep and minor edits to If Souls Can Sleep, the complexities of the story are still fresh in my mind.
  • I’m still very excited about this series, and, honestly, I can’t imagine not writing this book at some point—if only for closure.
  • If traditional publishers don’t buy the trilogy, I’ll have three books ready to self-publish simultaneously. (Hey, it works for Netflix.)
  • I’m confident that the project would push me creatively and that I’d be proud of the final product.
  • While not as easy as editing TRC, writing Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle would still be simpler than coming up with a completely new idea for a novel.

Cons for living in the present

  • If ISCS and ISDD don’t prove profitable—regardless of whether I or a traditional publisher sell them—then spending time writing the next book in the series would be rather pointless. (See also: The Renegade Chronicles.)
  • Even with my new writing schedule, it could take me a couple of years to plot out this story, write it, and then edit it.

Option 3: The Future

I don’t know about other writers, but I always have a slew of story ideas rattling around my gray matter. I jot down some of these story starters in a Word file. In most cases, a few paragraphs are enough to placate that which is threatening to distract me from my current project. Such was the case with a young adult time-traveling tale, a twist-filled take on a traditional fairy tale, and a book about zealots bent on triggering Armageddon.

But then there are stories that can’t be so easily exorcized. For more than a year, I’ve found my mind wandering to a new novel—or series—codenamed “Changelings.” Last week, I finally relented and wrote a few pages about a potential plot and the people to populate it.

Could this be my next novel?

Pros for embracing the future

  • Jumping into a brand-new book would be undeniably energizing, not to mention fun. (I haven’t written a first draft a story since “Ghost Mode” in 2013!)
  • I already have a viable avenue to explore: Changelings.

Cons for embracing the future

  • I have no idea whether any of my ideas, including Changelings, will bear fruit.
  • Even if I were to write a complete manuscript for Changelings, there’s no guarantee it would be publishable.
  • Planning aside, starting afresh will surely be the most time-consuming approach. If my goal is to publish something pronto, this option is out of the question.

Of course, there are other possibilities. I could focus on non-fiction, repurposing some of my old Generation Why? columns or mining this blog for writing-related topics in order to make my self-publishing debut. Or I could give into one of my friend’s urgings and try my hand at a biography of some fascinating historical figure.

But the fact is my passion for writing has always focused on fiction.

“What next?” has almost never been a problem for this writer. Perhaps I should spend a little time exploring past, present, and future—each in turn—and see which project captures my soul. Then again, I suspect I already know where my heart lies.

Perhaps that’s another advantage of “living the dream.”

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It’s important to look back occasionally while on the long road

Yesterday morning, WordPress congratulated me on my blog’s third anniversary. There was even a fancy little trophy icon by the announcement.

Never mind that I hadn’t posted an article in nearly three months—or in this calendar year.

TrophyIt’s not that I had given up on One Million Words; I simply have prioritized the heavy editing/rewriting of my novel, If Sin Dwells Deep, over blogging. I knew I’d come back to this blog at some point, and I almost broke down last month and wrote the clichéd I’m-taking-a-break-but-stay-tuned! post to let all of my readers know that I’m still alive, but to be honest, I didn’t think anyone even noticed my silence.

After all, I know most (if not all) of my author’s Facebook page’s 85 “likers” on a personal level, so they’ve probably seen my non-writing-related comments on my other account. And the majority of my 58 followers on Twitter have hundreds, if not thousands, of other tweeters to fill their feeds each day.

Also, no one really reads this blog.

Well, that’s not entirely true. According to WordPress (the content management system upon which my website is built), I have 127 followers. Now, I can’t say with certainty that any of them actually read my posts (except those precious few who take time out of their busy schedules to comment on them), but they cared enough at one point to click the “Follow” button.

Delving into my site stats, I also find that there have been 357 comments over the past three years, and even if I estimate that half of those were mine (in reply to others’ comments), that still leaves more than 170 times someone read and replied.

While these aren’t big numbers compared to many, many other blogs, I take some solace in them nonetheless. I’m a big fan of measurable goals. I’m also a progress junky. Every now and then, I need to take stock of what I’ve accomplished, even if they are small successes.

Because most of the time, I’m terrible at acknowledging my accomplishments, especially modest ones. Every silver lining has a storm cloud and all that…

For example, while reviewing my early notes on my current project, I noticed a timestamp that caught me off guard. My very first ideas about this novel—the sequel (maybe) to If Souls Can Sleep—was dated 7/14/10.

Sweet sassy molassy, I’ve been working on this book for more than four and a half years?!

What’s worse is that I still have a ways to go with the editing, which means it could end up being five years or more from inception to completion.

To prevent myself from hyperventilating, I reminded myself that I tackled a number of other projects between July 2010 and March 2015: starting and populating this website, editing and publishing a children’s chapter book with my wife, writing a new short story (“Ghost Mode”), attempting to get that and another short story published. Oh, and real life happened somewhere in there too.

Perhaps it was a bit masochistic of me, but after seeing how long I’ve been working on Book 2, I opened my notes file for Book 1, did the math, and discovered that that novel took me four and a half years to plan, write, rewrite, proof, and submit to my agent. That means, when all is said and done, I likely will have pumped close to a decade into the first two books of The Soul Sleep Cycle.

And I still have at least one more book to go!

Then there are the four sword-and-sorcery novels I wrote before diving into a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid world of The Soul Sleep Cycle. Add in the experimental children’s book, and I’ve written seven novels. None of them are available for purchase.

I doubt there’s a word to describe the combination of emotions I experience when I consider the situation. I’m at once impressed with what I’ve done, amazed at how much of my life I’ve dedicated to this project, and disappointed that I don’t have more to show for it. “Impressamazappointed”?

If nothing else, the fact that I’ve put so much time and energy into my fiction without a significant return on investment indicates I have the thick skin and tenacity it takes to make it as a writer.

Or maybe it just proves that I am a masochist, after all…

Some aspects of my writing are quantifiable. As for this blog, I can easily conjure up this statistic: Over the past three years, I have published 51 posts (not including this one). And while that’s not a ton of content compared to some other sites out there, that’s 51 posts more than I would have written if I hadn’t overcome my prejudice of the medium and decided to add my perspective on the topic of fiction writing to the Web.

Other attributes are not so easily quantified, such as the satisfaction of transforming an idea in my head to a full-fledged story on the page or the frustration and guilt I feel when I go too long without a writing session.

If this were only a numbers game, I wouldn’t have much to show for my 17 years of being a dedicated writer. But every experience within that span has made me a better writer and wiser when it comes to the publishing world.

Were I to keep my eyes fixed solely on the destination, which always seems just beyond the horizon, I probably would have swerved off of this wonderful and terrifying road by now. But even when I’m enjoying the journey for the journey’s sake, I know I need to look back at the milestones I’ve passed along the way, if only to remind myself of the distance I’ve already crossed.

Even if that reminder comes in the form of a cheesy trophy graphic.

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