Strike Me, Lightning! Dexter, Dreaming, and Jeff Lindsey

So who wrote Tarzan?

You don’t know?

I’ll give you a hint. He’s the same writer who wrote A Princess of Mars.

You know, John Carter, Dejah Thoris, Tharks. Yeah, you know! Disney and the director of Wall-E did a movie called John Carter, which was awesome, no matter what people may say. People. Sheesh.

So many of you know about Tarzan, if not everyone. Fewer know about Barsoom. And fewer probably know the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He’s the author who brought Tarzan to life. And really, he’s one of the reason why I became a writer.

Okay, next question.

Who wrote Darkly Dreaming Dexter?

You don’t know?

I bet you know about the hit TV show which season after season thrilled a generation. Until the last five minutes of the finale which totally killed the spirit of the wholes series. But I digress. For those of you who don’t know, Darkly Dreaming Dexter is about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers. Genius, I know. I told the author, Jeff Lindsey, I kind of hated him for coming up with such a great idea. I got to meet him and hear him speak. Great guy. He referred to himself as the avatar of self-doubt. I'm totally stealing that.

He also talked about how everyone knows Tarzan, but no one knows ERB. And everyone knows Dexter, but no one knows Jeff Lindsey. Good and bad, that.

But as Jeff Linsdey talked about the history of Darkly Dreaming Dexter, which of course had tons of rejection and had tons of “suggested” re-writes, he mentioned something that struck me.

He said the writing game isn’t about talent, and it’s not really about luck, and it’s not about networking, or any of that. He said he didn’t want to seem too precious, but he thought writers were like people under a pristine blue sky waiting to get hit by lightning.

Not sure what he meant by seeming too precious. I thought it was a great analogy.

I might have the best, the tallest, the most magnificent lightning rod in all of creation. I might be wearing steel underwear. I might have done all of my research on the best place to sit in the field of writers to improve my chance of being hit by lightning. But the fact remains—the sky is blue. A storm is not in the forecast. It’s not research, talent, or luck that’s going to get my testicles zapped.

So what is it? Why do I venture out into the field and sit under a blue sky waiting to get struck by lightning?

Because I am pulled there. Well, I’m half-pulled by my vocation, my sacred duty to write stories, and I’m half-pushed by a deep desire to succeed.

Regardless, I’m choosing to walk daily into the field and sit down, open my laptop, and write books. Lots of books. I want to be in that field. I love writing books and hanging out with authors.

Why? Because when I write, I am doing what I was made to do. Not everyone likes reading and writing. Some people adore NASCAR. That is their sacred calling. I don’t get it, but not everyone is going to get me. Which is fine.

In third grade, I read Edgar Rice Burroughs and it changed my life. Reading about John Carter meeting Dejah Thoris on an alien world electrified me (Ha, funny, get it?).

My entire life, I have wanted to be a writer. My entire life.

Why would I walk away now? Because it’s too hard? Because I’ve failed? Because I’ve been ignored?

Dudes and dudettes, the hero is supposed to fail and struggle before they succeed. I’m in the right place at the right time engaged in the right activity. I’m doing what needs to be done.

Jodi Thomas, another wonderful author, talked about those who succeed in writing are the ones who can endure the most. Which means I will succeed. Might take a bit, and success might not look like I think, but the lightning will strike me.

And if it doesn’t?

Goddammit, I’ll make my own lightning.

Lessons From Ten Years of Writing

Yes, the lessons I've learned in ten years of writing. This is not to be confused with David Morrell's excellent book, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing.

So on my own personal blog, I’ve been meditating on the last ten years. In January of 2006, I joined an RMFW Critique Group in Evergreen (with Jan Gurney and Diane Dodge) and later that same year, I went to my first writers workshop in Big Sur, California.

So it’s been ten years since I got serious about this writing gig. If you want the full Ten Years of AMR experience, you can hit my blog. http://aaronmritchey.com/the-blog/.

So I’m going to bullet point the lessons I’ve learned in no real order. The first one is good, though.

  • Write the books you love. There is no guarantee that if you write the most marketable book in the world that it will go anywhere. Write what you love and excites you. Try to only work on projects that move you emotionally. That’s where the rich stuff is.
  • Know enough about the market to be dangerous and don’t be afraid to write stuff that defies the market. Be bold.
  • It’s more fun to write books people can read than to write books no one but you can read.
  • It all changes. The game changes. The market changes. Strategies change. It all changes.
  • A lot of this game is luck. Play the game a lot.
  • Know your enemy. The enemy is not the industry or other writers or any of that. The enemy is your own laziness, doubt, and fear. Fight that enemy by writing books.
  • Every writer writes in their own way. Embrace your way but stay open to change. If you ever get your hands chopped off, you might need to dictate your books. Or if you're a slow writer, contracts might force you to speed up. Stay flexible.
  • Holding your own book in your hand, your book, your words, never gets old.
  • Don’t comment on reviews. Don’t comment on good reviews and certainly don’t comment on bad. When your friend leaves an iffy reviews, don’t pester them for more details. Let it all go.
  • I can write more and revise less if I plot out my story. I use a Save the Cat outline. Use lots of tools.
  • Be gracious. If you are rich and famous, or if you are poor and struggling, be gracious.
  • Most writers are very nice. Most writers are completely fascinating creatures. The few who aren’t are easily avoidable.
  • Not everyone who has been supportive of you on your rise to fame will be supportive once you get published.
  • Books need to be crafted and they need an outside eye to cut, to smooth, to polish. Find trustworthy people to help you craft both the book you are writing and your writing in general. There is a number of ways to accomplish this: a critique group, a critique partner, beta readers, professional editors, et cetera.
  • A good critique makes you excited to improve the work and a bad critique doesn’t.
  • Embrace the awesome responsibility of being the final judge of your work. Don’t give away your power to those who might not care about your project, who might be jealous, or who might be blind. It’s your book. Be willing to fight for it.
  • Love writing, love your characters, love your worlds. Allow yourself to get lost in the process. Chris Devlin taught me that one.
  • When in doubt, fake it until you make it. If you don’t feel like an entrepreneur or a sales person? Fake it. Stretch. Pretend. The world doesn’t care about how you feel. It cares about what you do.
  • Find a community of authors to support you. When the industry drops an emotional bomb on you, call three different people and talk about it three times. The negative feelings will disappear. If they don’t, find three more people and tell them the story. We heal through our mouths.
  • Read contracts. Don’t sign them if you don’t have a way out or if you lose rights to your book forever. In the words of Prince, forever is a mighty long time. Avoid contracts where your soul is a line item.
  • Fight for what you believe in. Believe in yourself and your books. Fight for them, but not to the death. Life is better than death.
  • Don’t bash and critique other writers or their books. Unless they ask you to. Then ask them if they want the full-on spicy kung-pao critique before you unload.
  • Published books don’t need your critique. It’s done. Over. Be supportive and if you can’t be supportive, be silent. As a writer, avoid leaving scathing reviews. What’s the point?
  • Finish projects. There will always be a shiny new idea wearing red lipstick and a short skirt. Stay with your current project and finish it before you start buying the new idea drinks.
  • Plan the book, write the book, revise the book, query the book. If no one touches it, publish it yourself. And move on to the next project.
  • Do things that make you uncomfortable. Do things that scare you. Be heroic and remember, the dark moment always comes before the grand victory. We are blessed and damned as artists in this world. Embrace the journey. Because it will all be over soon enough.
  • Holding your book is holding the minutes of your life in your hands. And the best part? The books will live on, maybe quietly, maybe loudly, but they will live on. Writing books is cheating death.
  • Training to be an author should entail the following: torture (learning to handle pain), sales (learning how to sell anything to anyone), and taking holy orders (learning the discipline of an ordained monk). And maybe writing lessons. Maybe.

And so, those are some of the lessons I’ve learned. It’s been a good ten years, but do you know what? I’m looking forward to the next ten. I’ve never been stronger, I’ve never been wiser, and though much is taken, much abides.

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

Saul Goodman Wants Your Book

I was going to call this blog “Saul Goodman wants to review your contract” but then no one would read it because contracts are boring. And everyone knows that Susan Spann is the lawyer you want to work with. Duh.

Who is Saul Goodman? Come on, guys, he’s the lawyer in Breaking Bad. And if you don’t know what Breaking Bad is, it’s one of the most electrifying television shows ever produced that will devour the soft parts of your soul and leave you gasping like a meth addict overdosing on linoleum.

Better Call Saul is a spin-off/prequel to Breaking Bad and I’ve been watching it. At first, I wasn’t going to even bother because I like new content and Breaking Bad left me both satisfied and scarred. I had to seek PTSD counseling after that brain-spilling final season.

I can dig a good spin-off. I followed Joanie and Chachi to their own show from Happy Days. What’s Happy Days? It’s exactly like Breaking Bad only set in the 1950s and deals with soda jerks instead of meth addicts. Compare and contrast Tucco and the Fonze for homework.

While watching Better Call Saul, I pondered what I could learn about storytelling. What follows are my insights. In pseudo-legal document/outline form.

  1. In which, Aaron Michael Ritchey, hereafter known as the party of the first part, declares that voice trumps story.
    1. Part of the thrill of Better Call Saul is that it uses the same vision and voice of Breaking Bad. Even though the story is less intense, part of the reason why I like Better Call Saul is that I get to step back into the crime-ridden sleaziness of Albuquerque’s underbelly. The desert, the filth, the desperation, the violence, it’s like going home. If your home is San Quentin. But that was part of the wonder of Breaking Bad. This is one of the reasons why Roger Ebert gave The Godfather Part III a favorable review…it wasn’t that it was a good movie, but it felt like visiting family. In this way, voice can trump story.
  2. In pursuant to section one, the party of the first part, points out the importance of a “stakes character.”
    1. So as an audience, we know that the hero isn’t going to be killed. They are safe. Yes, a bunch of horrible things might happen to them, but they won’t be killed. And in a prequel, this is doubly true since we know Saul and his cronies live long enough to be in the next show. However, a stakes character is a secondary character that we like, that is in danger of dying, and that the hero loves.
    2. In Breaking Bad, the lives of Walter White’s family and friends were at stake, and in some ways, you could argue that Jesse Pinkman was a stakes character.
    3. Saul has his mentally ill brother, and really, the whole show seems to be revolving around Saul and his relationship to his family. It’s powerful and makes the show work. Saul might not die, but his brother? Well…
  3. Without any extraneous words, the party of the first part, hereafter known as the blogger, points to the power of the franchise/series.
    1. Better Call Saul wouldn’t have been made if it hadn’t been for Breaking Bad.
    2. That’s not to say Better Call Saul isn’t a good show on i’s own, but it relies so much on the built-in audience of Breaking Bad that I don’t see anyone jumping right in without watching Breaking Bad.
    3. This might have meant death for Better Call Saul in past years, but now, we have Netflix and other streaming service so if you are curious about the new show, you can watch the old show in a massive binge.
    4. People like to lose themselves into other worlds, however vile and troubling the world might be. The more content available, the more people can binge and the more they want. That is why I’m working on The Juniper Wars Series, which will have a massive amount of content, including short stories written by other authors set in the world.
    5. And since I’m working with WordFire Press, we are nimble enough to release books as close together as possible. Notice, Netflix releases their own content in one lump dose do people can binge watch. I don’t watch shows until I can watch as many as I want. Weekly? Please, girlfriend. This isn’t the days of Joanie loves Chachi.
  4. The blogger posits that spin-offs are powerful because if you have good characters, people want more of that character.
    1. So in essence, write good characters, and if people like that character (Who didn’t love Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad?) write more stories for them. We now have so many platforms for fan-fiction as well as the ability to publish multiple books and multiple stories whenever we want.
    2. Well, hopefully. If we own the rights.
    3. Be careful of contracts that limit you. And if you are signing away your characters and world, your intellectual property, make sure that the contract includes Auric Goldfinger amounts of cash and make sure they will provide you minions.
    4. I have a minion clause in all my contracts. But no one ever signs them so I never get minions. Dammit!

 

So yes, I’ve been enjoying Better Call Saul. And when I’m either drawn or repulsed by a story, as a writer, it’s my duty to ask why. Why can’t I stop watching? What is going on that has me hooked?

Then I try and use those same techniques in my own work. Funny, though, seeing what other writers do (or don’t do) is a hellluva easier than putting those techniques into my own books.

But that’s the challenge, people. If it were easy, anyone would/could do it.

Devil Baby – Louisa May Alcott’s and George Lucas’s Love Child

I’m sorry! I’m sorry I can’t stop talking about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I’m sorry that so many people either love it or hate it or both and shake their fists at the firmament and there is the wailing and the gnashing of the teeth.

I loved episode VII. I was transported to that long time ago and that galaxy far, far away. And yes, it’s not a perfect movie (wow, those star systems are really close together to be able to see the super-duper doomsday weapon in the sky with the naked eye). However, none of the Star Wars movies are perfect. Perfect is not the game here, people. If it was, perfect would so stupidly easy to do.

Remember that scene in Dead Poet’s Society, where the textbook claims you can map the perfect poem on a graph? Well, let me tell you, when it comes to art, throw your graph away and yeah, tear that textbook apart.

From Luke’s whining in episode IV, to C3PO’s constant (and annoying) chatter in episode V, there are a myriad of issues. However, Star Wars works at a gut level. Except for maybe episode II, but I won’t go there. The prequels are…different. They’re not like other boys.

How does this tie into Louisa May Alcott? Or is this just click-bait? Hmm, click-bait. Yum.

What is the devil baby (take it to mean unexpected and diabolically good) in the title of this blog post?

Duende.

Duende (sounds like a gynecological term) is actually a Spanish word for that special power some art is blessed with. If nothing else, the new Star Wars has duende as did episode IV. You can argue about all the others, but why else would people go see it numerous times? My wife, who is not a Star Wars fan, wants to see the new movie over and over. Because it has a passion, a sparkle, something undefinable (and ungraphable).

Can you plan duende? Can you map out the perfect story arc and the perfect character arc? You can try, but I don’t think you can. I think duende happens, sometimes by mistake by a newbie, and sometimes on purpose by a weary rofessional who got lucky.

I’m forty-five years old and I’m reading Little Women for the first time. I’m reading it to my daughters before bed, and we are loving it. However, I see all the flaws. It’s unabashedly preachy and the dialogue/dialogue tags are awkward and repetitive.

For example, here is what LMA loves to do:

“Long bit of dialogue goes here and it goes on and on and it really doesn’t do much except make you fall in love with the characters,” she said, followed by a long description of activity which doesn’t do much except make you fall in love with the story, not that there’s much of a story.

Louisa May Alcott wouldn’t do well in my critique group. We’d demolish her pages because her prose is so easy to pick apart. Like Star Wars is easy to pick apart. When I started Little Women, the book read like one of the stories my daughter wrote in the first grade. It’s four sisters talking and not much is happening and it’s sweet, yes, but um, not the most thrilling first chapter I’ve ever read.

However, Little Women has duende. I am astonished it was originally published in 1868 because it’s so accessible and I can relate so much to the family and the characters. I feel like I’m a part of the world of the March family, maybe like some crazy uncle.

How can that be? How can this old book have so much power? How can it break rule after rule and still work? I don’t know. All I can say is that I feel blessed to be reading Little Women, and I’m glad it survived the whims of time and the cruelty of the publishing industry.

So, as an author, what am I to do? I can try and craft my novels and aim for perfection, but at the heart of the matter, I don’t believe I can imbue my work with duende. I think it either all comes together or it doesn’t.

The only thing I can do is sit down and do the work. Maybe the book will shine, and maybe it won’t.

In the end, I think it’s a matter of courage and vision. Do I have the courage to pursue my unique vision of a story?

I think that’s where duende comes from—when the passion and love of the author shines at the heart of a story. George Lucas wrote a story he clearly loved. I think Louisa May Alcott did as well.

So, write the stories you love! And if you are lucky or blessed (or damned, arguably) that passion will shine and bedazzle billions!

Is Writing Getting in the Way of My Life?

So I have a spiritual adviser. I know that can be off-putting, but If it helps, you can picture me talking to Yoda. I mean, after all, Yoda was a spiritual guide for Luke and various other people who never listened to the green-skinned guru. Oh, well, we are a headstrong bunch.

My little green spiritual adviser asked if writing was getting in the way of my spiritual development. He’s unimpressed by me, which is good, because I am so damn impressive.

Is writing getting in the way of my spirituality?

Well, it makes me miserable, and since I’m a third Catholic, it counts as being beneficial. As my friend Jason Evans says, “All suffering is redemptive.”

To be clear, I’m not someone trying to get into heaven. I’m a guy whose natural inclination is to find a nice corner of hell and set up shop. I choose my suffering, and my spirituality is about me trying to suffer less.

Does writing help me suffer less?

Ouch. No. But let me continue…

You might have heard of a small film that came out in December of 2015. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I know, weird title, right? I think it might have something to do with Yoda, but I’m not sure.

I can’t tell you how much fuller my life is because of this one movie, which I’ve not seen at the writing of this blog post. It it fills me with a dreamy kind of hope, an excitement, a wonder.

I had to accept, early on, that writing stories is a selfless act and the world is better for the stories people tell. Even when the stories are sequels spun out of a story machine who’s only aim is to make as much money as possible. Even those stories matter.

When I write and publish books, I am adding stories to the world and I don’t know what will happen. And I can’t just write books and keep them hidden. I spent twenty years doing that, and those days are over. Lucky you, my practice books won’t see the light of day. But the practice is over, and it’s show time.

Writing doesn’t help me to suffer less. That’s not the point. The writing makes me strive harder, work more, and to really push myself to the very limits of my endurance, which makes me seek a power greater than myself.

The world is better for the stories we tell. And if I have stories to tell, I have a sacred duty to tell them.

I’ve had to pray and meditate more than ever because of the writing game.

I’ve had to reach out for help because of the writing game.

I’ve had to swim through frigid oceans of screeching fear because of the writing game.

Writing has made me a better human being, but that doesn’t mean it’s made me happy. Happiness is such an American ideal. Part of me is old school, yo, as in, I’m here to do my duty. Happiness may or may not come, but honor, courage, discipline, those are what I should focus on.

So I told my Yoda all that, and he was unimpressed, as he should be, because he knows I’m clinging to the writing business.

The real danger is that I have spent a lifetime, thirty years, in pursuit of this dream. Could I let go it now? If the divine muffin came down and told me to put the pen down, could I?

Our Buddhist friends would say attachment leads to suffering. And I’m not just attached to writing, I’ve superglued it to my soul. My query letters have been etched on my bones.

So, no, I can’t let go of it. It’s too late for me to stop, even if I wanted to. Even if I could.

But this is my calling, my vocation. I’m committed, for better or worse, even when it makes me suffer and I hate it so. Even when the dreams of fame and fortune flutter away and I’m left with an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,426,891 Paid in Kindle Store and even worse, an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,552,680 in Books. And no, I don’t want to see the Top 100 in books, thank you very much.

So, I’ll keep writing books. I’ll continue to suffer, since I like it for some odd reason, and I’ll continue to fight fear.

Because I am Jedi, like my father before me. And the work of writing stories matters more than my own happiness.

May The Force be with you. Always.

The Heartbreaking Timeline of a Normal Writing Session

10:00 PM (the night before) – I set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. I will write tomorrow. No matter what.

1:01 a.m. – I wake in a panic. Did I oversleep? Did I set my alarm correctly? What about my first chapter, will it grab people?

3:15 a.m. - I remind myself it's not time to plot my epic fantasy trilogy or fret about my puke-inducing Amazon ranking.

5:30 a.m. - Alarm goes off. But I didn’t sleep well I need to sleep, because they've done studies, and lack of sleep can lead to obesity, and I need to look my best for the Today Show. And yeah, I'll be first author to host Saturday Night Live. If I only I could sell more books.

5:33 a.m. - Thinking about my dismal sales makes me want to go back to sleep--sleep, perchance to dream of a better world where I sell E.L. James amounts of books.

5:45 a.m. – It’s too late to write. I need at least two hours, and I won’t get them because I didn’t get out of bed in time.

5:55 a.m. - My jaws hurt from clenching my teeth. My mind is racing. I'm sweating. E.L. James. She's a zillionaire, and what am I? Dang it, I swore I would write. I swore on my mother's grave, though she is alive, reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and the thought of Moms reading about bondage finally gets me up and away from the chatter in my head.

6:15 a.m. – At Starbucks, I order my drip coffee with steamed soy because I'm trying to stay lean for the Today Show interview. I then order a donut because...because...because...donuts.

6:26 a.m. - I've eaten the donut and worked through the guilt. I’m halfway done with my coffee. My laptop has booted up, and I'm ready for magic.

6:48 a.m. - Facebook is magic, right? I needed a cat video. I've had a rough morning.

6:49 a.m. - I open my novel. I read the first sentence. I shudder and reach for a cat video. Just one more cat video, then we'll talk.

7:01 a.m. - I read the rest of the chapter. Hey, this isn't bad. Actually, this is pretty good. Dang, I just might be a freakin' genius. I am swept along by the characters, and oh, that one line, I'm so witty. I titter. People look at me. Okay, fifty-nine minutes left. I start on the next chapter.

7:45 a.m. – Oh, I’m so loving this. Why did I wait so long to sit down? The words are flowing, and in this chapter, my hero’s dog dies. Oh, it’s so sad. I’m weeping. People look at me. I want to tell them that life is short, they should love their dog, even when it barks at people, because soon, soon, poor Fluffy will be dead and gone  in her cold, cold grave.

7:48 a.m. – I get up to get a napkin because snot if sprinkling my keyboard. It’s just so beautiful. However, I have to stop. I promised my wife I’d be home at 8:00 a.m. I can’t be late.

7:55 a.m. – I’m late. It’s official. Even if I packed up my laptop, it’s still a five minute drive home. Maybe she’ ll understand. Maybe I can write something extra nice in the acknowledgements thanking her for her patience.

7:56 a.m. – Uh oh, I realized I accidently changed the dog’s name. How could I do that? But I like the dog’s new name. I’ll change it really quick. Find/replace.

7:57 a.m. – I need to make sure I changed all the nicknames for the dog as well. Back to chapter two, I know the dog had a nickname there. Oh, chapter two, it’s such a great chapter. I love the dialogue near the end. Dang, but let me read that section really quick.

8:07 a.m. – Chapter three is good too. Maybe I used the dog’s nickname there as well. I better check. I know I’m late, but this will be quick.

8:17 a.m. – Text the wife. I’ll on my way. She’ll understand, right? Right? I just had a great idea on how to end the dead dog chapter. It’s so poetic.

8:31 a.m. – The wife is calling. I’ll call her back once I’m in the car. If I end the dead dog chapter like that, I really should set it up in chapter four. I’ll do that really quick, while it’s fresh in my head. Then I’ll leave. I promise.

8:49 a.m. – Okay, I’m really leaving this time. I wrote for two hours, as promised, only it took me a bit, to um, start. And the wife is gonna be mad. But dang, did I do some good work today. I save, backup, do another backup, save to Dropbox, and while it’s saving, another great idea hits me and I open a notepad and write the very cryptic – dogs are just bats without wings and you should work that in as a metaphor. Plus? Superheroes.

8:54 a.m. – All saved, out the door, in the car, driving home. Had a great time. I’ll have, um, domestic issues to handle, but I did some really good work.

Why did I drag my feet? Why did I have such a hard time starting?

I don't remember. But tomorrow, I'll get up a five a.m. and really get some work done.

The “Next Day” Critique Group Apology Letter Template – Blank For Your Convenience

So it’s happened. You brought pages to your critique group, it didn’t go well, and you exploded, making an ass of yourself.

You know what RMFW’s own Mario Acevedo says? He says the only appropriate response to a critique is “thank you.” And in our group, he says thank you a lot. Because Mario insists there is only one rule for writers and that is to be gracious.

Well, I try to be gracious and say thank you, but sometimes I crack—out spills my insecurity, hatred, and self-loathing. Darn, I hate it when that happens.

I always print out the pages I submitted and jot notes on them. If I’m writing comments, I’m less mouth, and that’s always a good thing.

But even now, after nearly a decade of being critiqued, I still have issues sometimes, and I find myself drafting the post-critique group apology email. I figured all of RMFW might benefit if I gave them a template to use. So here is it is. I added some parenthetical suggestions.

Dear __________________ (Critique Group, Critique Partner, Writing Buddy, or You Bunch of Illiterate Jackals),

I’m writing to apology for last night’s ___________ (outburst, chainsaw massacre, uncontrollable sobbing, sarcastic gales of laughter, shameless name-calling).

As you know, my life has been very stressful lately with _______________________ (wife/husband problems, divorce, death of a close relative, my son/daughter, day job, frenemy drama, buttloads of rejection, crushing self-doubt). Still, that doesn’t excuse my behavior.

I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into your critiques, and I know sometimes I can be _________ (sensitive, combative, feloniously violent) about my current work in progress. I just ________ (love it, hate it, want to burn it, want to win a Pulitzer) so much.

Writing _________________ (fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, high literary) novels is a challenge, and I recognize that I have issues with ____________________ (POV, verb tense, long passages of exposition that expose the inner workings of the character’s mind through tons of back story and internal dialogue, cheap hooks, histrionic characters, facile plot points, unabashed genius), but I’m trying to improve.

Next time, I will try to be less ______________ (criminally insane, judgmental, defensive, offensive, vomit-y, loud, weepy)  and more ___________________ (socially-acceptable crazy, understanding, offensive, defensive, iron-stomached, passive aggressive, even tempered).

Thanks again for all your time and for including me the group.

Yours ______________ (truly, in Christ, sarcastically, literally, bookishly, in hellish pain),

 

_________________ (name, pen-name, Aaron Michael Ritchey, socially security number)

 

So there you have it. The next time you need to apologize to your critique group, you now have the perfect template for your apology letter.

On a more serious note, if your critique is bashing you week after week, and if it’s slowly killing you, it might be time to either find another critique group or look for edits by other avenues. We have a lot of options—beta readers, freelance editors, mothers, lion tamers, et cetera.

For me, the perfect critique is one that makes me excited to revise, which is why I love my current critique group. Someone says something, and suddenly the spark of the story explodes in my mind, and I can’t wait to incorporate the changes.

If someone says something I completely disagree with, or if someone triggers me, I don’t argue, I don’t scream expletives (most of the time), I try and simply nod and thank them.

Because in the end, if you have people reading your stuff and offering suggestions, you need to thank them. They could be doing a bunch of other stuff with their time, and yet, they are using their precious minutes to try and improve your work.

So be gracious, say thank you, and keep at it.

Good luck!

 

How Many Drafts Does It Take To Get To the Gooey Chocolate Center of a Bestselling Novel?

So recently, in the writing community, we’ve been a-buzz over a blog post that warned no writer should ever write four books in one year. I won’t paraphrase, but issues came up over quality and care and other such fears for people who write fast.

I thought I could write a big long blog post defending the slow writer, or villainizing the fast writer, or saying nasty things about political candidate, but naaaahhhhhhh.  Other people who are smarter than me have already done all that.

I wanna talk about drafts. How many drafts does it take to complete a finished novel? And then there’s how many drafts do I WANT it to take to get a finished novel.

I might be a bad person to talk about this. I mean, I was pantser for a long time. My first novel took four years to write. I can’t tell you how many drafts I had. It was re-write city and I was the mayor. I then turned around worked on a book for seven years. Again, playing dice the story. Paper cuts, man, nearly bled to death because of paper cuts.

Then I discovered story structure by reading Robert McKee’s STORY. And I started outlining. And while that helped, it’s still taken me years to write books.  Several. Years.

I’d be lucky to get one book every four years let alone four books every one year. But I’ve been talking to people. I’ve been looking to see what other writers do.

It seems Stephen King writes a book, puts it aside for six weeks or six months, picks it up, goes through and reads it for big stuff (in one sitting if he can), does that second draft, and it’s off to his editor. He incorporates the edits into a third draft, it goes through line edits, and bam, four drafts and he is out the door. But that’s Stephen King. He’s been at this for a bit.

Other writers I talk do something similar though. They do this:

  • Rough draft
  • First draft
  • Beta reader’s draft
  • Editor’s draft
  • Copy edits draft
  • Line edits draft

And out the door. So that’s still six, which is a whole lot less than what I’ve done in the past. Now, most of the novels I’ve written were practice, working on my chops, getting my sea legs under me. But others, well, I didn’t want to give them up out of fear.

What if I sent a bad draft out and no one loved me anymore? I’d die alone.

So I’d go over the words again and again and again. Out of fear.

Notice in the bullet points above, there’s no entry for “Edit Out of Sheer Terror Draft”. Nope. That’s not up there because the brave warrior writers I know get their books done and out into the world. Bam. Fearlessly!

I think people can write successful books and publish multiple a year. I believe that. I also believe that books need several drafts to be tightened up and beaten into shape. In the end, it’s how much time do you want to spend on this?

And the other thing?

There are no rules. Crappy, unedited books do really well sometimes, while golden books of platinum-level editing go unnoticed. No rules, baby. Do what you want.

I’ve been lucky. Well, I’ve been lucky and I’ve been smart. I paid a copy editor to go over my last draft even though I’ve had publishers edit my stuff. RMFW’s very own Chris Devlin is a great copy editor, and she’s saved my books.

But in the end, no matter how much editing you do, you’re not going to please everyone. People will find stuff. A million people could read your book, and the one million and oneth person would find a typo, or find a plot inconsistency, or notice your character probably wouldn’t have eaten the English muffin on page fifty-fix.

I’ll leave you with an example. I was talking to a Star Wars fan, and he pointed out that it was quite the coincidence that you had a Skywalker on Tatooine after the Anakin became Darth Vader. Wouldn’t someone had called up Mr. Vader and said, “Hey, kind of a funny story, but there’s this kid named Luke living on Tatooine and his last name is Skywalker. Is he a relative of yours?”

Yeah, editors missed that one. But it’s pretty safe to say Star Wars did pretty well however imperfect it is.

I’m thinking six drafts, multiple readers including a professional editor, will do for me. I don’t know about you. Find your own path, Padawan learner, find your own path.

 

I’m Better Than You

So in this writing game, part of the currency authors are paid in is status. Money might come, but even more important than fabulous cash prizes, in some circles, is status.

And how do you get status? Oh, the status game has many markers.  Who is your agent? Oh, that’s your agent? Wow. You get a hundred status points.

What is the name of your publisher? Oh, you signed a book deal and got a huge advance? You get two hundred status points. And since you earned out, you get bonus status points!

Friends on Facebook? One status point for every friend. Each like above one hundred likes gives you a status point. Traffic to your blog? You have to get at least five hundred hits a day to start accruing status points.

Twitter, Instagram, Wattpad, all work similarly. Email me privately and I’ll let you in on how status points work on those platforms.

A good review in the Publisher’s Weekly? That’s fifty status points, and if they like it, more bonus points. A starred review gives you the gold star bonus. I’ve heard you get special powers if you get the gold star bonus.

A good Kirkus Review? Well, that depends. The Indie Kirkus review only gives you twelve bonus points, but if you get a “real” Kirkus Review, well, that’s forty-nine points.

Are you an Amazon bestseller? Well, in what subcategory? You see, if your book is in the top 100 across all of Amazon, that is a thousand status points. If you are a bestseller in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic > Coming of Age>Judaism>Horror>Golems, well, you get an honorary five status points, but not much else.

Are you a U.S.A Today bestseller? Impressive. I’ll give you forty-eight status points.

Are you in the “real” game? Are you a New York Times Bestselling author? For realz? If you are, I bet you don’t use the word “realz”.

For every spot on the list, you get exponentially more status points. If you’re like fiftieth, you get X amount of status points. If you are #1? You get X to the fiftieth power. You can use your status points to buy the following: purse dogs, private jets, a date with Kanye West (to convince him to read novels), and a spot on Oprah, which I know is so over, but we have a time machine for you.

If you are #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks in a row, your bonus points quadruple, and you transcend status points. Now, you can count your status in chits.

One trillion status points equals one chit. And one trillion chits equals a Schrute buck. Google Schrute bucks. I love The Office.

I know what you’re thinking. That Aaron Michael Ritchey (three names gives me one status point automatically) is stomping around in his own sour grapes. You are totally right. I get jealous. I have a few status points, sure I do, but not as many as I want.

In the end, I had to really think on this issue. Is status my end goal? Is that why I’m in the game?

To be honest, at first, yeah, that’s what I wanted. I wanted the golden ticket. I wanted to be intrinsically better than you. I wanted you to bow down before my genius and kiss my ring.

And then, the status didn’t come like I wanted, and you know, it might not come.

Which makes me wonder why I’m writing?

I have my answer. I want to write books. I want to write a lot of books. I want to write books with people, and I want to write books alone. And since I already wrote for twenty years without publishing my work, I want to spend the next twenty years publishing what I write because for me, if I don’t get my work out in the world, it loses its meaning. For me, writing must be a selfless act, and for it to be selfless, I must let go of my fear and publish books, by any means necessary.

The status may or may not come.

But the books? The time I spend writing?

It becomes something you can’t buy with status points, chits, or Schrute bucks.

The time I spend crafting novels becomes priceless. And when I’m holding my books in my hand, I’m holding the minutes of my life. After all, I only have a few precious minutes alive on this planet, and I want to use those minutes to write.

However, for every comment on this blog post, I get one status point. Hurray! And for the record, I don't think I'm better than you.

Everything I Learned About Writing I Learned From Mountain Biking

By Aaron Ritchey

I know what you are thinking.

When I first started blogging for RMFW I wrote that I learned all about writing from Johnny Cash. Well, that is true, but a blog entitled “I learned a little about writing from mountain biking because I didn’t learn everything from Johnny Cash” is kinda clunky.

The mountain bike rides I do can be divided into two equal parts—the sweaty, grinding, heart-puking climb up and the fast, glorious, soar of the ride down. Not a lot of flat, and I think in the writing life, there isn’t a lot of flat. It’s a struggle, but it’s the struggle that strengthens us.

As my friend Jason Evans says, all suffering is redemptive. So, that’s number one on the list, and you just know I was gonna do a list.

  • WRITING IS THE CLIMB – The climb is hard. The climb requires perseverance, and with mountain biking, constant pedaling. I’m a write-everyday-type of guy because if I stop, it’s too easy to stay stopped. If you don’t pedal while you are climbing, you will abruptly stop moving and fall.
  • FALLING IS PART OF THE GAME — When I was learning how to mountain bike, I would come home bruised and bloodied. Writing books and publishing books is just as bloody a business. There will be cuts, bruises, and injuries, sometimes to your very soul. It makes the successes all the more dramatic and heroic.
  • GOTTA UNCLICK — I would show my mountain bike guru my wounds, and he would say, “Gotta unclick, man. Gotta unclick.” You see, my shoes click into my pedals so I am one with my bike. If I ran into trouble bouncing up (or down) the rocks, or if I lost my balance, I had to quickly unclick a shoes from its housing, or I would land on my leg, thigh, side, arm, uvula. If I clicked out of my pedals before I fell, I’d set my foot down and avoid physical damage. In the writing game, when I fall, I have to learn to unclick. I have to learn to let go of bad reviews, a finicky editor, or terrible sales. I have to unclick, get my balance, and keep on biking up the hill.
  • GOTTA GET A GURU — Lindon Weibe was my mountain bike guru, and he taught me everything I needed to know. In writing, I’ve had many gurus—Linda Rohrbaugh, Andrea Brown, Laura Rennert, Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, and many, many, many others. Find people to talk to. Listen to their advice and observe their lives.
  • LEARN TO LOVE THE CLIMB — So I bike Deer Creek Canyon, the east entrance of Mount Falcon, a little bit of Red Rocks, and the Apex trail near Heritage Square. All of these are a sharp elevation gain to the top, and then a swooping thrill ride down. I love downhill. It’s easy, exciting, no sweat. But to get to the downhill, I have to climb, so I taught myself to love the climb. It’s the joy of the struggle, it’s the self-discipline of figuring out a time to write, and then using that time to write. Even though the new season of Orange is the New Black is on. The good stuff is in the grit, baby.
  • DOWNHILL IS AN ILLUSION — When I’m climbing the east entrance of Mount Falcon, which I have dubbed MFE, Mount Falcon East, baby!, I am thinking, “Oh, the downhill is going to be so sweet.” And when I get to the top and turn around, yes, the downhill is fun, but it’s not as good as I thought it would be. I have a mantra, “There is no downhill. There is only the hill.” I think what happens to a lot of successful writers is that they get the fame and success and suddenly the writing game is like biking downhill. It all just comes, and it’s all so sweet. Humans were made to struggle and challenge their limits.
  • STOP AND LOOK AROUND— So we're climbing up the hill, sweating, or we're soaring down the hill, enjoying our successes. Either way, stop, look around, breathe. The writer’s life is a good life. Not an easy life, but a good life.

The biggest difference between writing and mountain biking is that writing doesn’t burn very many calories. Actually, writing is terrible for your physical health—carpal tunnel, back pain, weight gain from stress eating. Yeah, not good for you.

So remember, write a little, but put a little time in on your bike, mountain or otherwise. Gotta stay fit to write them books, partner.

Enjoy the climb. There is only the hill.