Once your first book is published, you become an expert–and perhaps a bit of a celebrity–in the eyes of the world concerning this mysterious world of writing. Everyone believes they have a story to tell. They just don’t know how to go about getting it done. I get asked all the time, “How do you do it?” “How do you put all those words down into a semi-cohesive form to make a book?” “Where do you even start?” “Is there a twelve-step program?”
My nephew, Adam Jackson, who is a staff sergeant in the Air Force currently serving stateside, has expressed an interest in writing and told me a little of his story ideas. It’s always doubly gratifying when someone close to you shares your passion and a bit of natural ability. Adam has a few stories in his head he’s been wanting to put into written form for quite some time. Christopher, it’s your type of book, so someday I might send him your way for a little advice.
Adam has been hashing away at this idea of his for a few months and feels like he’s running up against a lot of brick walls. I told him that his ability to identify his weaknesses and his willingness to get help is the first sign that his writing is more than a hobby and will probably someday come to fruition. His problem he says is in the details. After re-reading what he’d written, he went to my website and read a page or two of my latest book.
Here’s what Adam wrote in his own words(used without his permission, btw):
Ok, So how did you get better? I know the short answer is just to sit and practice… I sat here, and I’ve pounded out probably 40 or so pages, but there is NO DETAIL. I know I’m not painting the picture of exactly what I want the reader to see in their mind.
There are plenty of Adams in the world who’ve read the writing books and attended seminars and still aren’t able to convey their message to the reader in the way they see the words in their heads. Let’s spend the next few weeks helping them out. As published writers, we’ve all been asked these questions a thousand times. What’s the first bit of advice you would give an aspiring author?
Let’s remember to K.I.S.S. Keep it Simple, Stupid and focus on one topic at a time. Since we’re all Christian writers here with compassionate hearts and meek spirits, I’ll put on my best Bogie impression and change that to Keep It Simple, Sweetheart.
I’ll go first. I gotta tell you I fight this battle every time I sit down in front of my computer. Getting my message across to readers in the way that I want never comes easy. Sometimes when I read through something I’ve written, I’ll think, “What drivel! This will never sell. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t even know what I’m talking about, how can I possibly make the reader understand.”
My first bit of advice is to forget about details. Get your story down on paper. Don’t edit yourself. Don’t re-read. At least not yet. Just get the story down. You’ll have plenty of time for editing and censoring yourself later. The first draft of a manuscript, be it short story, novel, or haiku is very freeing. Enjoy the freedom. Just sit there, shut off your inner critic, and write the blasted thing. Then after you’ve written those two magnificent words, THE END take a deep breath, go buy yourself a milkshake or a CD, read someone else’s book or watch a movie…and relax.
Let a few days, or weeks go by. Then and only then, take out what you’ve written and read it through. You might surprise yourself. Your plots may have a lot more twists than you realized. Your characters may actually be interesting, and that message you wanted to get across to your readers may have morphed into something else entirely. That’s the thing about writing. You’re not in control. The book is. You’re just the tool. But that’s another lesson.
For now, don’t sweat the details. Just get your story down on paper. Or your hard drive. And most importantly, enjoy the process. It can be fun. Of course, if you’ve written more than five consecutive words you know it can also be aggravating, frustrating, and lonely. But that’s another lesson as well.
Stay tuned for more writing lessons from yours truly and the rest of the Tsaba House authors. I can’t wait to see how they answer these questions.