Getting faster all the time… Not!

I’ve been writing fiction for almost 25 years. You would think in all that time it would get easier and the writing would go faster. But this is how it really is:

I begin my book. Three lines in, I start to agonize. Am I starting in the right place? Is this a dramatic enough opening? No, that sounds too passive. I need action verbs.

Eventually I move on. But, is there too much backstory? Is this description immediate enough? Am I using all five senses?

A few paragraphs more. Am I showing rather than telling? Oh, there’s an extra that. And you’ve already used really. Sheesh. Caught in your usual bad habits. But moving on, is there too much backstory here? It feels like an info-dump. Maybe you need to tell the character’s story through flashback. But that could interrupt the flow of the narrative.

I struggle through a few more pages. But are my characters likeable? Are they going to be able to change and grow enough to satisfy readers? And what’s the motivation in this scene? Their goal?

I finally reach the end of the first chapter. Am I in the right viewpoint? Can the reader really envision this scene? Is it dramatic enough? I can’t end the chapter here. I need a hook to keep them reading.

It goes on. I tell myself I can fix everything in the revision stage. But more and more I find myself going backwards, rewriting the previous scene and trying make it at least tolerable. Then I start worrying, are you trying too hard? Maybe you’re turd polishing, trying to shine up what is actually unredeemable crap.

I grit my teeth and move on. Just get the story down. Let it flow organically. Remember how you used to do it when you didn’t know all that stuff?

Admittedly, it was a lot more fun in those days. My first book I wrote without a critique group or any self-censoring/editing. I felt like if I could just capture what came to me, get down on paper what my characters were feeling and doing as I watched their phantom selves act out the story on my internal screen, it would be magical. I know now that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The magic is in my head. Getting it on paper requires hard, grinding work.

And every year I learn more, and it slows me down. At exactly the time when I need to be more productive. Because to be a successful writer these days, (everyone says) you need to publish a lot of books, as quickly as possible. And here I am, writing slower than ever.

But the other thing that’s happened in the last 25 years is I have a different perspective. Some of the people dearest to me are no longer in this life. Their absence is a reminder that simply being alive is something to celebrate. And if you get too focused and obsessive, you might miss out on some of the joy.

So back to the story. Which seems to get a bit better all the time. I’m starting to like my hero. And my heroine’s not too bad either. And about all those passive verbs, don’t worry so much. You can fix them later.


I remember one of my first writers conferences. I pitched a project to one of the visiting agents or editors, and I remember being so thrilled when he asked to see the first three chapters. Later, one of the more seasoned conference attendees asked me how my pitch went and in my excitement I told her. Instead of being excited for me, she said, "Oh he asks everyone for the first three chapters."

Sad PuppyI don't know what was in this person's heart, what the intent was of the remark, but I know the effect. I was instantly deflated. I was being told, whether in mean spirits or total thoughtlessness, that I ought not be so excited, that I was not so special after all, and that in spite of having an actively acquiring New York publishing professional ask to see an excerpt of my manuscript I was in truth no closer to being published than I had ever been. It was a cruel thing to say, whether it was meant to be or not.

For several years after that, when asked how a pitch went, I always dodged the question, whether the pitch went well or not. It is easy to dodge such questions, just ask the person something about their work and they forget all about the question they asked. Whether a request for pages, or even the entire manuscript, meant I was about to be represented or not, I preferred the boost it gave to my inspiration to think so, than to have someone again poke it with a pin.

We are so often thoughtless in our comments to others that we often aren't mindful of how it may affect the listener. Especially new members or first time conference attendees. So let me set the record straight.

Happy DanceIf the agent or editor you pitched to at September's Colorado Gold conference, or any conference for that matter, has asked to see pages, never mind how many, that is rare. Don't pay attention to how many others he or she may have requested from other people. The fact is each agent/editor will never request pages of something in which they are not interested, they just don't have the time for such foolishness, even to spare feelings. Remember that the agent/editor you spoke to was at the conference for a reason. They want you to be a good writer, they want your project to be the one they pick for representation, they are there to find the next great novel for their list, and they would not have requested pages from you if they didn't want you to be the author of that novel. They are actually rooting for you.

Be excited. Be very excited. And don't let any off-hand comment from anyone dampen that excitement. Enthusiastically polish that excerpt and kiss the screen before you email it out for good luck. Then, don't sit by the phone with baited breath and wait for that phone call. Use the energy from your excitement to finish the project, or start another one. Take the inspiration and run with it. If an agent/editor asks to see pages, you are that much closer to getting published. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Is It Enough To Simply Tell An Entertaining Story? … by Glenn Rogers, Ph.D.

Glenn RogersIs it enough for a writer to simply tell a good story? No. In the process of telling an entertaining story, a good writer, even if only implicitly, deals with important ethical, social, relational, or personal concerns. A good writer helps readers think about important things while they are being entertained.

There is a long and proud tradition in the Arts and Literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece, that utilizes stories as a way not only to entertain, but to teach and to provoke consideration of and reflection on important issues and concerns. Being born in 1951, one of the cartoons I grew up with was Rocky and Bullwinkle. One of the regular segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle was Aesop’s Fables, a collection of morality tales designed to teach important concepts. Aesop was a Greek storyteller who probably lived between 620 and 560 BCE. His stories were meant to teach lessons about good character and proper behavior. They were designed to make people think. Why did the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle use these ancient stories in a cartoon program meant to entertain children? Could it have been that they believed that it was the responsibility of those who have the attention of people, even children (or maybe especially children), to say something meaningful, to provoke thoughtful consideration?

But even before Aesop and the ancient Greeks, tribal peoples utilized stories not only as a way to entertain but to teach. Anthropologists who work with tribal peoples know that this is still the case even today. Through storytelling, tribal peoples taught their children about their origin as a people, their religion, their culture, and wise and moral behavior. Storytelling has always been a way of teaching and provoking insightful reflection.

Good storytelling—in our Western tradition, good writing—has always involved more than just entertainment. A good story has to be entertaining. But it must also provoke insightful reflection. Consider Shakespeare’s work. He writes about moral corruption, social interaction, politics, love, and desire. He provides contrasts between virtue and appetite, sobriety and revelry, being trustworthy and untrustworthy. And in what may have been Shakespeare’s last work, The Tempest, at least one scholar believes him to have provided a theodicy, that is, a justification of God’s benevolence in a world filled with evil and suffering. Shakespeare did not simply write to entertain.

Later in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. One of the reasons the TV and movie franchise has remained viable may be due to the fact that Roddenberry’s approach to exciting and entertaining storytelling, an approach that has remained foundational to the franchise’s success, was the use of morality plays. Episode after episode of Star Trek, especially the original TV series, deals with important human issues or concerns.

Those who are considered great writers today have adopted that same approach. Consider a few examples:

Jane Austin, in Pride and Prejudice, deals with the status of women and the institution of marriage in eighteenth century England.

John Steinbeck, in Grapes of Wrath, addressed the economic challenges faced by the rural class during the depression.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, wrote about conspicuous consumption, the generation of wealth by questionable means, and a deplorable general lack of interest in the social concerns of his day.

Ernest Hemingway, in For Whom The Bell Tolls, wrote about the brutality of war.

Upton Sinclair, in The Jungle, wrote about the dangers and health risks of the food industry of his day.

Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird, wrote about the coexistence of good and evil and the moral nature of human beings.

George Orwell, in 1984, wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Rogers_THE IMMORTAL AlabasterWhat made those writers great? Was it that they got the grammar right? Probably not—though getting the grammar right is important. Was it that they knew how to construct an intriguing story? That was probably part of it. But each of those authors has a distinct writing style and their books have a different feel. So what made those books great books produced by great writers? While there was likely not one single thing that made their work great, I suspect one of the things was that they wrote not just to entertain, but to provoke thoughtful reflection. The fiction of these well-known writers (all of it, not just the stories mentioned above) helped readers think about important issues. They (and other authors like them) didn’t just write. They wrote about something, about something important.

Could it be that too many writers today have lost sight of this important component of good writing? Is it enough to simply write an entertaining story? No, it is not. The good writer finds a way to touch on some important human issue or concern. The good writer not only entertains, but also provokes thoughtful reflection.

The important human issues or concerns don’t always need to be huge issues such as the status of women, the brutality of war, social equality, or health issues. Things that might be considered lesser concerns by some can still be important. Issues such as personal integrity, self-control, loyalty, friendship, kindness, discretion, moderation, courage, trustworthiness, and the like are important concerns for human life and interaction. Think about what J.K. Rowling did in her wildly popular and influential Harry Potter books. While she entertained us with a wonderful world of magic, she wrote about the struggle between good and evil. She wrote about courage, friendship, loyalty, determination and sacrifice. And while some critics might say that Rowling is not a great writer, maybe it is possible for a good writer to write a great book … or two or seven.

Writing that focuses attention on important aspects of human existence, even if only implicitly, is, I believe, better writing than that which simply entertains without provoking any kind of thoughtful consideration.


Dr. Glenn Rogers is Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa. He is the author of twenty-six academic books on cultural studies, theology, and philosophy. Dr. Rogers is also a novelist, writing mysteries and thrillers. His fiction includes a frontier thriller trilogy: The Colemans The Reckoning, The Colemans The Journal, and The Colemans The Knife. He has a mystery series featuring a private investigator named Jake Badger: Family Secrets, Love and Lies, and Abducted; and another mystery series featuring an immortal detective named Aaron Archer: The Immortal Alabaster, The Immortal Betrayal, and The Immortal Carnage.

Glenn is a movie buff and a dog lover. His favorite author is Robert Parker. He especially enjoys Parker’s Spenser series.

Glenn’s fiction can be found on his website:

Fear, Failure, and Respect by Terry Banker

“There are three types of hooks used to open a book: fear, lust, and curiosity.” This is what Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina, told me after we slammed our shot glasses onto the bar*. She added, “…and curiosity is never enough.” Ever since then, Dorothy’s words haunt me.

I have a confession. Like a good hook, my writing days are filled with fear.

As a novelist, the one thing I fear the most is not a book’s hook. I fear I will run out of time, money, energy, that I will lose my health, faith, or my luck, etc.—all before I can complete the book I’m working on. I worry that as my life changes, so will my writing, and that what I believed important in the beginning will be different by the time I finish.

To summarize: on the bad days, fear of failure leaves me paralyzed.

I have good reason. Out of every writer I’ve ever met, I am the slowest, the least intelligent, the pickiest, the weirdest, the worst speller, the most eccentric, the most regimented, and the least patient writer I’ve ever encountered. Sometimes, I forget what I’ve written, or worse, I’ve forgotten what I’ve edited out. Sometimes I call characters by the wrong names. Sometimes in the middle of a book, the object of importance magically transforms into something else—and I have to go back to the beginning to rework the entrance. After months of work, only Ariadne’s Thread can help me find my way to The End.

How could this be? I used to be smart—well, smart enough. When I was a “new” writer and had yet to write millions of words, writing came effortlessly.  I wasn’t bothered by making situations worse or by what technique to use to tell a story. Point of view and perspective came naturally. I didn’t worry about First versus Third (and never 2nd)—but since then, writing has become more complicated. Now, I think long and hard about using Henry James’ effaced narrative in the simplest of paragraphs.

Something happened to me.

After 10,000+ hours of writing, I became hyper-aware of the many different story elements to select from, and my day-to-day production began to slow. Had I lost my way? More importantly, was I the only writer on the planet who felt like this? The subject seemed taboo. Was it just me or did famous writers fear failure, too? I asked a few.

Dani Shapiro writes memoirs and fiction that Anne Lamott calls “rich in honesty and intelligence.” Dani told me fear of failure never leaves her side. She compares writing to leaping into a pool without water. Every day she stands on the diving board.

It gets worse.

Akhil Sharma wrote over 7000 pages that he edited into his 220-page, bestseller, A Family Life. He explained writing 7000 pages was the equivalent of writing 32 books. The New York Times named A Family Life one of the 10 Best Books of 2014. Akhil told me he feared death (or the haunted house in his head) would take him before he could finish his 12 ½ years of edits. His book was so big, he told me he regularly got lost in his personal history. Even after the book’s immense success, he remains afraid to approach a blank page. The lesson he shared? “Learn to abandon things quickly.”

Andre Dubus III told me to “Always respect fear.” Without facing his fear, he added, he would never have become an author. Andre’s father is the great poet and short story writer, Andre Dubus. Andre III almost couldn’t write a word out of fear of his father’s constant presence. Yet, he was a National Book Award finalist and Oprah beneficiary for his 1999 novel, House of Sand and Fog. Andre is tough. For every hour he works, he hopes for 20 good minutes of writing. Over beers he confessed: more often, he gets less.

And then there’s Richard Russo, who told me he was once lost in fear—despite his 2002 Pulitzer for Empire Falls. When he worked on his first book, Mohawk, he suffered from a “crushing sense of self-doubt and loathing” and was ready to “make a pact with the devil” to pull him through. (He too admitted to forgetting his characters’ names.) What he learned? “I, the author, don’t matter. Only the characters matter.” This fuels his writing to this day.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only writer afraid of failure. Oddly, this didn’t make me feel better. I polled my writer friends for suggestions. This is what we came up with:

  1. BIC – Butt in Chair. Without BIC, nothing gets done. You must be present to win.
  2. Guard your time. It’s all you have. You have the same amount of time as anyone else, from Aristotle to Russo to Zora Neale Hurston. (Get. Off. The. Internet.)
  3. Failure is imminent. Budget your emotional energy.
  4. Not getting what you want is often better than getting it.
  5. Failure at one (paragraph/page/book) is not failure of You—as a writer or a person. Experiment with your eyes, ears, and heart open.
  6. Know your strengths and make them stronger.
  7. Know your weaknesses and learn from them.
  8. Be a kind and generous person.
  9. Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

Most importantly,

  1. Be your own voice.

Easy to say and hard to do, right?

One final confession: sometimes I fake it.

To get by, I look at the many successful people around me—in the writing community and in my life—and I emulate their confidence. I pretend that every day in my office is a good day, and that every word I write takes a reader to a magical place. And when I fail, I pout—then I return to work and move on.

Writing is a solitary sport. This world doesn’t need another damn book, yet we continue to write more. Writing is who we are—and we are an obstinate bunch. Success comes when least expected. Remember J.K. Rowling’s final effort to publish a book about a young wizard? Recall a young Stephen King, whose wife pulled his first book, Carrie, from the trash to launch him into living-legend status?

“Don’t fake it until you make it; fake it until you become it.” (Attributed to many people.)

To summarize: on the good days, anything is possible.

No one ever said life is fair. Now get back to work.

Respect the Fear.




Terry Banker

Novelist, Ghostwriter, Creative Consultant

*Regarding Dorothy Allison: Okay, we were drinking coffee and didn’t slam our mugs, but what’s the drama in that?

50 Shades of Happy: How an RMFW “Failure” panel brought this topic home

Welcome to the third installment of my happiness series. If you’re just joining us, you can read the first two installments:

The Happiness Advantage - To write better novels, lighten up!
The Happiness Advantage – Don’t set a goal without it!

As promised, I’ll ask, did you try the “Three Acts of Gratitude” exercise? The Fun Fifteen? If so, did these simple strategies nudge you up a step on the happiness scale?

I tried it. It didn’t launch me into euphoria, but it did instill a quiet happiness inside me, an inner strength that made each day a little easier, a little brighter.

When happy, our creativity triples. Be grateful for the simple things in life, recall specifics about them, and this daily practice will retrain your brain to see the world in a brighter light. Think of one positive experience in your last 24 hours, day after day, and it will empower you to find new meaning in your life.

Simple but powerful stuff.

I started this happiness journey because my life was feeling flat. I felt my options slipping away, as if I had been given X number of days left to live and that all the pleasant surprises and opportunities I would ever receive had already been sent—and there would be no more.

These exercises (Gratitude and Fun Fifteen) reminded me that the joys and pleasant surprises of life were still gracing my days. Once I started focusing on happiness, some sunny and cumulative effects began occurring.

First, I noticed the proliferation of “happy” articles in the media, as outlined in the first installment. Second, I noticed tips on how to regain happiness.

Then Mary Gilgannon, who is always so generous in sharing some of the more frustrating details of her writer’s journey (not just the triumphant moments), spoke on our RMFW loop about writing journeys gone bad. She announced that a panel of published authors would discuss failures and frustrations at this fall’s RMFW conference.

Being in the happiness mode, I was fascinated. How can we sustain happiness after we’ve been flattened by circumstances beyond our control? That’s exactly what Bonnie Ramthun, Mary Gilgannon, Shannon Baker and J. A. (Julie) Kazimer revealed during the discussion launched and moderated by Jeff Seymour.
First, kudos to them all for being willing to share the failures hidden from view by an exterior curtain of traditional “success” --

  • First contract with a reputable agent.
  • First publishing contract with a Big Five Publisher.
  • First multi-book contract.

Who among us, seeing such success, would approach these authors and say, “Oh, poor you!!”

Yet each of these authors suffered a punch in the gut that would floor most of us.

Bonnie Ramthun. Landed first contract, followed by a series contract. Series cancelled. Random House, landed new contract. Sold well but not enough for a sequel. A stunning FOUR-book contract with Grosset & Dunlap in 2012, followed by a nightmare when Penguin Putnam acquired them, her editor left, and Bonnie became an orphaned author.

Mary Gilgannon. After a Cinderella beginning when she was first published 20 years ago, her career became a nightmare of four different editors, three pseudonyms, six agents and a ten-year drought filled with dozens of rejections.

Shannon Baker. Her Nora Abbot series was picked up by Midnight Ink, but never made it past the third book. She was so overwhelmed by defeat after the first book’s release that she didn’t even promote her second book. Now? She recently signed a multi-book contract with Forge.

J. A. Kazimer. Julie collected a record one thousand rejections prior to her selling her first book in 2010. She’s now at 8 traditionally published books and ponders how many more it will take for her to make a living from her writing.

One of Jeff’s most interesting questions of the panel was this: How did you turn things around?

Shannon just kept writing. Those who know Shannon also know her wicked sense of humor, and it has been a valuable tool for her as she navigates the more treacherous waters of publishing.

Mary used her sense of humor, also, when she told us she vented and indulged in whiskey and chocolate. What Mary did instinctively each time she suffered a setback was to come up with a new plan. This gave her a sense of direction, a modicum of control, a way to get through the tough times. “Exercise. It makes you feel better. And write.”

Bonnie recommended that you move to a different direction. Don’t keep butting your head against a blocked path. Try a different route.

Employ your good sense of humor. Use your creativity to create new paths. These women all used their own assets to weather the storms.

They also reached out by venting with their fellow writers, who understand.

Returning to the topic of the first installment of this series, first find happiness in yourself, and then go forward to claim success. Don’t wait for “success” to make you happy because, as these experienced published authors can attest, publishing success can be erratic, punitive, unpredictable or nonexistent. Be happy, and then go forward with your dreams.

Some new releases on the topic of happiness:

THE GRATITUDE DIARIES: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life by Janice Kaplan—how living gratefully leads to a richer, more fulfilling life.

BROADCASTING HAPPINESS: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change by Michelle Gielan

RISING STRONG: THE RECKONING. THE RUMBLE. THE REVOLUTION, wherein social scientist Brene Brown takes us through the process of getting back up after stumbling and falling.

Finally, a pretty blonde took me aside at the RMFW panel discussion and recommended a series on happiness. Hopefully, she is reading this blog, and will respond with the title to that series, which sounded very good, also.

Wishing you all much happiness in your writing journey!


Kay Bergstrom and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Kay BergstromI joined RMFW before it was for Fiction Writers. The original group was affiliated with national RWA (Romance Writers of America), there were a handful of members and the only published author was Maggie Osborne. Yada, yada, yada, I sold my first book, Tongue-Tied, to Harlequin Temptation and realized exactly how much help I needed.

Hence, the critique groups. Jasmine Cresswell had just moved to Denver and joined our little RWA group, and we started doing critique in people’s homes. I loooooove critique, especially in the RMFW style. The idea is to give a couple of nice strokes in the beginning (good kitty!), then the actual criticism (kitty sucks!) and a happy ending (still a good kitty!). I still remember the day when Jasmine said the writing was elegant...not my writing, but I was happy for the other person.

We moved critique to Capitol Hill Community Center. It grew. Many other genres of writers were appearing, which made it a little creepy to read sex scenes. I do, however, believe that it’s helpful to have men do critique on romance. (Really? You think about sex that often? Really?) And we decided that these thoughtful, gentle, fiction-writing men (and women) shouldn’t have to become members of the national Romance Writers of America. We disaffiliated and split into two groups.

Colorado Romance Writers and Heart of Denver Romance Writers are terrific resources for romance writers and others as well. I’ve found that romance writers are incredibly generous in sharing their time and expertise. Because RMFW came from the romance genre, I think the tone of the organization is unique. RMFW is more welcoming to all genres—from erotica to literary. Very seldom have I heard an RMFW member bad-mouth the romance genre. On those rare occasions when remarks are made about trash, pulp and/or smut, the snotty pseudo-intellectual who spewed such venom is generally corrected in such a way that they never denigrate the Big R again.

As for Colorado Gold? It’s the best opportunity to stick my head out of the rabbit hole and find out what’s going on in the world of publishing. Hell, yes, I was there. I love to meet new people.

My New Venture

Partly because I enjoy playing with plots and partly because it’s easier than robbing a bank, I’m getting ready to start a plotting and editing service. I’m still figuring out the important stuff, like how much to charge and how to do it.

I’m still figuring this out and would love any sort of feedback.

Right now, my thought is to offer three services: Developmental Editing: tangling my fingers in the plotting of your fiction manuscript when you’re getting started or when you have a synopsis or if you’ve started and gotten stuck. (This is the fun part I would really enjoy). Page Editing: reading with a wider scope, if needed suggesting major changes, cutting scenes, a more hands on approach. Copy Editing: sticking with the script and making mostly stylistic and choreography changes.

Still getting my act together (finishing a book under contract), but I have set up a new e-mail for this: kaybedits (at) goodle (dot) com and I’m hoping I’ll have my Facebook page operational very soon.

I am trying to think of what to call this endeavor. For now, it’s Plots&Edits, mostly because “plots” is a fun word to say. Plots, plots, you’re such a big, old plots.

Same Old, Same Old

In addition to the New Venture, I will continue writing (for as long as they’ll have me) for Harlequin Intrigue. Though I’ve written other types of romance and even did a couple of straight suspense books, I keep coming back to Intrigue. These books are just about everything I want: They’re fast-paced, not too long (55,000 words) and they pay real money.

I like writing Short and Fast (my nickname in high school) because I can pretty much keep the whole story in my head. I would need to do brain push-ups to do longer books.

My worst habit in writing is procrastination. Putting things off until the last minute isn’t cute, and I MUST stop doing it. In the spirit of “do as I say not as I do,” my advice to all writers is write every day and don’t fall behind.

My practical writing advice: Practice Deep Viewpoint.

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I was going to be an actress. I studied the Stanislavski Method and read An Actor Prepares, which could easily be re-titled A Writer Prepares. The idea is to lose yourself entirely in your viewpoint character so that you can really tell their story. If it helps, surround yourself with objects they would have, eat the food they like, etc. Use caution in writing villain viewpoint, i.e., it’s not necessary to use real blood. The main idea: Take yourself (the author) out of the picture, and focus on the character.

Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art. –Constantin Stanislavski.


For those of you who don't know Kay, she writes the romance novels under the name of Cassie Miles. Her books can be found on the Harlequin Intrigue website as well as bookstores and online booksellers. Find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

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.


Life Work Balance

closeup view of golden scales on whiteYeah, I know, it’s backwards. Everyone always says Work/Life balance, right? Well, after Colorado Gold this month, I can see how we’ve had it wrong all this time.

I mean, really, which is more important: Life or Work? (Hint: this is not a hard question to answer) Yes, most of us need to work to make money to pay the bills, put food on the table, and keep a roof over our heads. But we can do lots of things that accomplish that. Some might not be all that fun, but it’s not called funning, it’s called working.

What does this have to do with Colorado Gold? We’ve heard from a lot of people, including the incredible writer of the year Susan Spann, about how great Colorado Gold was. And it’s all true. But what I really took away from it, besides the (OMG/Yea/Holy Cow) requests for pages/full reads, was that writing fits into the “life” part of the equation above, not the work part. I am not one of the stupendously lucky people like Jeffrey Deaver who get to combine the life and work parts and write for a living. But I can still write. And I make a little money doing it. Enough that I can almost say it pays for itself (OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but who the heck cares!).

Being surrounded by other writers, agents, editors, drinks, food, drinks (hey, it helped counteract the smoke in the air from the California fires), was like what I imagine a Prius feels like when it gets plugged in. My life, love, and pursuit of happiness batteries were recharged. All the way home (and it took 5 hours!) I was thinking of new and improved scenes, a kick-ass ending, and having a bunch of other writing-related epiphanies (and let me tell you, those epiphanies make it damn hard to keep from getting a speeding ticket!).

Those of you can’t see a good reason to fork over the money, or take time off from your job (see above equation!), or are afraid to admit that writing is more than a hobby for you, are missing out on something that can make your whole life a better place to live in. I know a bunch of you out there are saying, yeah, yeah, it’s just a bunch of people sitting in rooms listening to a bunch of other people talk blah-blah. But until you are there, soaking up inspiration, motivation, craft and just having the opportunity to talk to other writers who have been there/done that JUST LIKE YOU, you have no idea what you’re missing. It’s not “What happens at Gold stays at Gold.” It’s “What happens at Gold sticks with you for the next twelve months.” Really.

So start saving your milk money, hang on to a couple days of vacation, and make plans to attend in 2016. While you’re at it, check out the submission guidelines for the RMFW Anthology. Maybe you have “THE” short story inside you that gets you published along with some other really great writers. Go for it…and Write On!

Where to Begin: A Review of Sharon Mignerey’s Workshop … by Samantha Ross

The story is … off. There is something wrong with it, and you don't know exactly what it is. How do you fix it? Something went wrong somewhere. Not sure where. Or what is wrong. You’re stuck. It’s a huge tangle. How do you even start to fix it?

You start at the beginning.

Oh, wait. You tried that. That is where you’re stuck. The attempts to rewrite it, cut out parts, add parts, none of it worked. You made it leaner. Made it juicier. Tried this, tried that, and so many other things. And then you started to doubt the whole story. The whole thing is just one muddy mess.

Go back to the basics. And go to the beginning. Unmuddy the waters.

Sharon Mignerey reminded us of this at her Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers event “Sucked in from Page One - Beginnings.”

Where does your beginning begin?

You, the author have the story in your head, all jumbled in there, parts of it on paper, parts of it still floating around in the universe waiting for the ink. The backstory is done. We know her goal, motivation, conflicts, the obstacles she has to encounter and overcome, both external and deep within her. We know all these things about our story.

Here we are at Chapter One. We need to set the scene up, show the ordinary world so the reader can see the change. Start with the main character dreaming about apple pie, and the hidden meaning of home and safety? Do we add all the back story of her loving, yet somewhat dysfunctional family? It’s all going to change in a moment. Show her everyday life with all the things she has woken up to on past mornings, or all the things she wished she had woken up to, because what wakes her up today is a huge moment of change. The reader has to be aware of her stressful job, and why it is so stressful that she usually sleeps in on the weekends to recharge. That explains why being awake so early is odd today. And, of course, we want the reader to care about her. Show that she feels guilty about arguing with her best friend, how she is unsure of her relationship with her boyfriend; so when she has to team up with her coworker, it’s ok that the sparks fly.

This is where we start, right?


Jump to the problem with their day - the change. Why start there? Because that is where the trouble starts. It’s the inciting incident. That inciting incident is the moment that her life is different from what it normally is, or different from her expectations. It doesn't start with her dreaming, and then being woken up by a frog. You start with the frog dressed in a cowboy outfit sitting on her pillow aiming his shotgun at her forehead informing her in a slow drawl that she has to get up to save her coworker, George. Because if she doesn’t, George will come back as a werewolf, and eat everyone under the age of four on the next full moon.

That’s great you say, but why does the reader care about this character? Where is her character arc? The reader gets to know this character by how she reacts to the frog. Then the reader keeps caring about her as she changes due to the decisions she makes, the actions she takes, and the external and interior struggles as she strives to reach her story goal.

The beginning needs to get to the point. On the first page you need to let the reader know who is telling the story, where they are, what’s going on, and why it is important. And it should give the reader a hint at the story problem - both the external and the internal, and how that can alter the characters life. Don’t dally around with the past. Get on with it.

Begin with the frog. That is the change. The call to action. The moment the character steps onto the road that changes her life. That change gives her a goal, motivation and conflict. It clarifies your story. For the reader, and for you.

Now you are both sucked in.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

Learn more about Samantha and her writing at her website/blog.

For more information about Sharon Mignerey's workshops, please visit the workshop description page on her website.

Finding Your People

The Viking says I need a new travel agent. This business of flying into Spokane at 11 pm and then traveling home over dark, deserted highways filled with suicidal deer has got to change. I tell him if it is the price I must pay to engage in a conference like Colorado Gold, then I am willing, even if it does leave me shuffling around for days like a zombie with a big, red, "recharge battery NOW" sign blinking where my brain should be.

This year, as usual, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers crew put on a fabulous conference: great classes, wonderful speakers, along with opportunities to talk to industry professionals and get books signed by awesome authors.

But for me, what made the conference spectacularly awesome was hanging out with other writers. I skipped interesting and informative classes to talk to writers. I stayed up way past my bedtime and functioned on minimal sleep in order to spend time hanging out with writers. I even skipped coffee once or twice in order to talk to writers.

I'm a full on introvert, and this is not my usual modus operandi. My forays into social events tend to be infrequent and brief. Not because I'm shy, but because I usually find gatherings of people draining and exhausting. Besides, my life is bursting at the seams with writing and other things I need to get done.

I tell myself I don't have time for anybody outside of my immediate family.

This is a comforting little lie that allows me to feel like a better human.

The truth is, I don't have time to hang out with people who want to talk about shoes and clothes and kitchens and the latest reality show on TV. And I don't really care which movie star is cheating on his spouse or which singer just got pregnant. Sometimes at a party I'll catch my eyes glazing over as I realize that I'm terribly, horribly, bored.

But give me people who want to talk philosophy, writing, personality typing, how to get things done, book ideas, character development, publishing industry news - and I light up like a prairie sunrise.

Where I'm going with all of this, I guess, is that it's important to find our people. Even those of us who are hard core introverts need a tribe – or a herd, as Susan Spann so eloquently put it during her Writer of the Year speech at Colorado Gold. We need people to spark new ideas for us, to believe in us, to support us. We need people to encourage us when the publishing industry looks like a Sharknado, or when the book we're writing sucks so bad we can't bear to even look at the page.

And we need the experience of being the person who offers support and encouragement, along with the understanding that even our seemingly boring little lives can be a catalyst and inspiration to somebody else.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait for conferences to be a part of this experience. Check your social media feeds and find the writers who are interesting and supportive. Or, for that matter, non-writers with whom you share interests. And remember that you have the power to shape your own social media world – you can let in the members of your tribe and lock out the others. Life's too short to spend it either bored or alone.