Tag Archives: writing life

(Not So) Quick-Tip Tuesday: Ups and Downs in the Writing Life

I’ve published nineteen novels, written lots of short stories, and (for those who like their cautionary tales with a dollop of irony) even co-authored a book on writing. And here I was, totally enamored of a manuscript that had deep structural issues. I should have known better.

Writers tend to want to share on social media when things are going well. We love to trumpet our happy news, and I’m certainly no different.

There are sound reasons for this. One is purely professional: It helps our careers to focus on the good stuff, to show the world new cover art, or to announce an upcoming release, the sale of a book to a publisher, an award nomination or great review from a major journal. Publicizing these things contributes to what the industry refers to as “buzz.” We want people to talk about us, and about our work, for the right reasons.

There is also a purely human reason: As I have said many, many times, writing is a difficult way to make a living. It can be frustrating, even demoralizing. We do much of our work in isolation, struggling with story lines and character arcs, and it can seem, at times, as though those tidbits of good news come all too infrequently. So, when things do go well, we want to shout it from the rooftops. And when those disappointments come, we tend to keep them to ourselves.

Which is why this is such an unusual post for me.

I’m dealing with a professional setback, and I believe it’s worth discussing publicly, because it represents, in many respects the very essence of what a writing career is like. Now let me be clear: In the larger scheme of things, this is a minor reversal, a tiny blip in the course of my career and something I will address and overcome quickly. But it certainly knocked me on my butt for a few days.

In December, I turned in a manuscript to my agent. This is a new project, the first volume in what I expect will be a time travel/epic fantasy trilogy (or more). In my excitement, I announced on Facebook and elsewhere that I had completed the book. I’m pretty sure I said at the time that it was the best work I had done to date. I’ve since been working on the sequel, and just last week I announced, again on Facebook and elsewhere, that I was 50,000 words in to book two.

The day following that most recent announcement, I received editorial notes on the first book from my agent–the terrific Lucienne Diver. And she tore the book to shreds. Poor pacing, lack of tension, slow development of my plot, flaws in the logic of my narrative that seemed to make things far, far too easy on my characters. There was more, but I’ll stop there because, you know, pride.

As you might imagine, I was devastated, and here’s why: A) She was right in just about everything she said; and B) I had thought the book was great and I couldn’t begin to imagine how I could have been so wrong. I’ve been writing professionally for over 20 years. I’ve published nineteen novels, written lots of short stories, and (for those who like their cautionary tales with a dollop of irony) even co-authored a book on writing. And here I was, totally enamored of a manuscript that had deep structural issues. I should have known better.

I wallowed in self-pity and woe-is-me histrionics for a couple of hours, and then called my wise and wonderful friend, Faith Hunter, who basically said, “Yup, happens to all of us. Get off your ass and fix it.” Which was perfect.

Because it does happen to all of us, and it points to several lessons that every writer, at every level, should keep in mind.

First of all, every manuscript has flaws. Actually, I would go further: Every published work has flaws. I have yet to read a perfect book, and I doubt very much that I ever will. This is why we revise and edit. This is why we send our books to beta readers and friends and agents for feedback.

This is also why every book needs a good editor. I don’t care who you are: J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, the next World’s-Best-Novelist, or the next Self-Published-Sensation. Whoever you are, or think you might be, you need an editor. I fancy myself a pretty decent self-editor, and with some books and stories I am. But I can only see so much in any of my own work. I am too close to my own creative process, too close to my own narrative assumptions. I can’t possibly anticipate every potential issue.

Yes, it’s hard to hear from someone we respect that our book, as it stands right now, is not yet ready for publication. Lucienne’s notes hurt. Each criticism felt like a kick to the gut (or a few inches lower); taken together they left me bruised and bloody. (Figuratively speaking–my agent is tough, but not quite that tough…) But taking such criticism and using it to improve the work in question lies at the very heart of what it means to be a professional writer. If we can’t abide critiques of our work, if we can’t step out of ourselves enough to see and accept and correct the mistakes we’ve made, we don’t deserve the privilege of telling stories for a living.

Even in those first couple of hours after I received Lucienne’s notes, as I cursed and flailed and did more than a bit of whining, I also started to ask myself the questions that would move me beyond this setback.

Do I still believe in the novel? Yes, I do.

Do I still love the characters and the world building? Yes, I do.

Am I still satisfied with the prose? Yes, I am.

Can I do what’s necessary to improve my story and make it worthy of those elements that remain sound? You bet your ass I can.

I already have ideas that will allow me to correct much of what my agent found lacking, and I sense the stirrings of additional ideas that will overcome the other problems. I know I can do this. I’ve fixed flawed novels before. Nineteen times, to be exact.

I’m eager to repair this book because I do love elements of it so much. I want to see it in print. I want all of you to read it. And you’ll have that opportunity, because I have no intention of giving up on the project.

I’m a writer. This is what writers do. We write, we revise, we polish, we publish. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Keep writing. Enjoy the process, in all its frustrating, harrowing glory.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.

The Passing of a Writer

Writing is a business and an art. It is a hobby and a way of life. But more than anything else — whether in the hands of an established professional or a weekend dabbler — it is a gift and a balm, a way to confront and cope and transcend and heal.

Later today I’ll be heading to the funeral of a friend. We weren’t very close — I actually know his parents better than I knew him, and therein lies part of a many-layered tragedy.

Reid was only thirty-seven when he died. For the past nineteen years, he had been confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down after an accident as an eighteen year-old. I don’t deny that he had a rough time of it in the first few years after the accident. Hell, he was eighteen. But . . .

But, but, but . . .

He attended and completed college, then went on to graduate school. He taught at a private high school, counseled at a treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction, volunteered at several local organizations. And he wrote. He wrote prose, he wrote poetry. He wrote.

Writing is a business and an art. It is a hobby and a way of life. But more than anything else — whether in the hands of an established professional or a weekend dabbler — it is a gift and a balm, a way to confront and cope and transcend and heal.

As I say, I didn’t know Reid well. He had a hundred friends who meant more to him than I did. People will want to respond to this post by saying they’re sorry for my loss. Please, please don’t. My loss is just a shadow of the loss suffered by Reid’s family and the people to whom he was closest. Save your prayers and condolences for them, as I will.

Still, for years Reid and I shared a common passion and that meant something to me. I would like to think it meant something to both of us. I admired his spirit and courage, but most of all I respected the internal alchemy that allowed him to spin personal challenge into something powerful and creative and true.

The world is a darker place for his passage.

Quick-Tip Tuesday: Mapping Out the New Year

What can I say? I have a bit of an OCD streak. Okay, maybe even more than “a bit.”

But setting work goals and making up a work schedule for a new year is not just about me being the writing equivalent of Felix Unger (kids, ask your parents). I find that mapping out my professional year improves my chances of meeting whatever goals I might have for the coming months.

I have always been one to make New Year’s Resolutions and to set goals for the coming year as one wall calendar gives way to the next. Probably it’s the same impulse that leads me to outline most of my books, and to organize my book and CD collections alphabetically by artist. What can I say? I have a bit of an OCD streak. Okay, maybe even more than “a bit.”

But setting work goals and making up a work schedule for a new year is not just about me being the writing equivalent of Felix Unger (kids, ask your parents). I find that mapping out my professional year improves my chances of meeting whatever goals I might have for the coming months. Because at the root of the exercise is the creation of self-imposed deadlines, which, as I’ve mentioned previously, I treat as immutable, just as I would a deadline given to me by an editor. If I keep my deadlines realistic, and I commit myself to meeting them, I should have a productive year. And as writers, we really can’t ask for more than that.

So, that said, here are my goals for 2017:

1. I have just sent off to my agent the first book in an as-yet-uncontracted new series. I love the book and look forward to writing the rest of the series. My next step in working on this project is to write a synopsis of book 1 (which will help my agent place the book with a publisher) and to write as well brief descriptions of books 2 and 3.

1.a.  Once I’ve completed those preliminary steps, I want to dive in and write the second book. The first book took me a while and I have a feeling this second one will, too. I would guess that I’ll be writing the first draft of Book 2 through the end of April.

2. The next thing I have in mind to do is write a new Thieftaker novella about Ethan Kaille’s early life. (For those who are fans of the Thieftaker books, I plan to write the story of the Ruby Blade mutiny, which led to Ethan’s imprisonment.) I believe I can get this done in about 6 weeks, which will take me to mid-June. Once this is complete, I will gather all the Thieftaker short stories, of which there are about 8, and release them as a collection. I hope to see that in print by the end of the year.

3. Around mid-June I will also begin work on another new project that I’m undertaking with a couple of friends. We’re not yet ready to talk about this publicly, but essentially I will be writing a new novel of approximately 90,000 words. I should be able to have that written by the end of the summer.

4. During the summer, I will also begin editing for reissue the five books of my Winds of the Forelands series (originally released 2002-2007). As with my LonTobyn books, which I re-released in 2016 as Author’s Edits of the original books, I will be polishing and tightening the prose of these books without changing any of the plotting or character work. Since I’ll be working on item 3 at the same time — interspersing writing days with editing days — this will take me past the end of the summer and probably well into the fall.

5. Finally, I will also leave room in my schedule for the unexpected: editing work on the new project, assuming that we place it with a publisher some time during the year; short stories that I might be asked to write for anthologies or the like; travel for family stuff, or for conventions.

Those tasks should take me through much of 2017. If I can get all of that done — and I believe I can, meeting all of my self-assigned deadlines — I’ll consider it a successful year.

What about you? What are your professional plans for the coming year?

Quick-Tip Tuesday Post on Breaking Out of Routines

I have a process that I tend to follow book after book. I’m stubborn, and a creature of habit. Having written all four Thieftaker and all three Fearsson books largely by following my regular creative routine, I fully expected that this book would behave and let me write it the same way. But like children, not all books are the same; some listen better than others.

Quick-Tip Tuesday has rolled around again, and I have my usual post up at Magical Words. This week I’m discussing the value of breaking out of our creative routines in order to infuse our work with something fresh and new. You can find the post here. I hope you enjoy it.

And keep writing!

Another Stop on the Blog Tour

Overtelling, pointing out the already obvious, undermines our writing. In a sense, “Trust your reader” is another way of saying “Trust yourself.” Err on the side of telling too little. Let your story speak for itself. And if your Beta readers or your editors don’t understand something, they’ll let you know and you can bolster the narrative with a bit more exposition.

Today on the blog tour, I stop by to visit with the wonderful Melissa Gilbert. My post on Melissa’s site (The Enchanted Alley) is on things I’ve learned in my years as a professional writer. You can find the post here, along with more information about my LonTobyn Chronicle, which I have edited and re-released . I hope you enjoy the post, and I hope you’ll check out the books!

A Quick-Tip Tuesday Post About Deadlines

“But,” you say, “what if an editor asks me to make that two month deadline?”

Be honest with her. Tell her that two months won’t work, but you can get it done in three, or three and a half. When it comes down to it, the editor is going to get the book at the same time no matter what. You can only write so fast. Faced with the choice between A) an honest assessment of your writing pace and a book handed in when she expects it, or B) a book promised on an unattainable schedule and then handed in a month late, just about every editor will choose A.

Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post is up at the Magical Words blog site. Todays topic: Deadlines! We writers hate them, but meeting deadlines is part of being a professional. My post offers a few tips for setting realistic deadlines and sticking to them. You can read the post here. I hope you find it helpful.

Keep writing!

Two Stops on the Blog Tour!

I’m pushing myself to take all sorts of creative chances, following bolder storylines and developing exotic characters. I’m writing leaner, sparser, the way I wish I’d written the old books. In short, I’m trying to make this next project something that the younger me would think was totally cool and the older me sees as an expression of all I’ve learned through my career about writing and storytelling.

Today I’m pleased to direct you to two stops on the 2016 Fall Blog Tour (formerly known as the 2016 Summer/Fall Blog Tour). First, Bea’s Book Nook has (very positive) reviews up of the Author’s Edits of Children of Amarid and The Outlanders, the first two books in my LonTobyn Chronicle. You’ll also find excerpts from both books. You can see the reviews and excerpts here.

I also have a post up at the Beauty in Ruins blog spot. The title of the post is “A Creative Dialog with Myself,” and it’s about the challenges and rewards of going back to edit the LonTobyn series, which was my first published work. Visiting this site also gives you the opportunity to enter a contest to win copies of the books. You can find this post here.

 

Another Day, Another Post!

This bond allows them to draw on the power within the birds to heal, to do battle and protect themselves, and to cast a host of other spells. The birds themselves are characters in the stories, and to this day people who can’t remember any of the titles will talk to me about how much they loved the books by saying “You know: the ones with the hawks and owls.”

The blog tour continues today with a post at Book Whispers about the magic system in my LonTobyn Chronicle, which I am re-releasing this year in edited form. The magic for these books grows out of my lifelong interest in birds and my love of birds of prey: raptors and owls. You can find the post here.

The Author’s Edits of books one and two, Children of Amarid and The Outlanders, are now out and available in ebook and paper formats. And the ebook of Eagle-Sage, the final book in the trilogy, is now available as well. The paper version should be out soon.

New Post, Old Stop on the 2016 Blog Tour

I didn’t want to change anything with respect to plotting, character, world building, magic, setting, etc. Quite the opposite: I wanted to be faithful to the original story. The LonTobyn books had — and still have — a lot of fans, and I didn’t want to change things that those fans might remember fondly. My purpose in editing the books was to clean up the writing so that the other elements of the story could really shine.

The Outlanders, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)The 2016 Blog Tour has returned to the site of my friend, Ken Schrader, who has been kind enough to host me for another short interview. The last time I was with Ken, the Author’s Edit of Children of Amarid, the first book of my Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, had just come out. Now we’re marking the re-release of the second book, The Outlanders. This is also an Author’s Edit (think “Director’s Cut”) and this book, which has long been one of my favorites, reads better than ever. You can find the new interview here.

Eagle-Sage, book 3 of the LonTobyn Chronicle, by David B. Coe (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)And it’s worth noting that the third book in the series, Eagle-Sage, has just been released in ebook format. The paper edition should be out before long. That’s right, the whole series is available, and just in time for the holidays. Woot! Check them out. And thanks so much to Ken for welcoming me to his blog.

Keeping On With a New Quick-Tip Tuesday Post

It would be so easy to give up, to set writing aside for a while. Because when we write, by necessity we access emotion, and that’s not a place I particularly want to go right now.

To which my inner voice says, “Too fucking bad.” Emotion informs art, and art is what I do. It hurts a little more at the moment. So what? Given the shit I do to my characters, I really have no right to complain.

Today’s Quick-Tip Tuesday post is up at Magical Words. It’s been a tough fall for many of us, and this is a post about soldiering on, taking stock, moving forward. It was helpful to write, and I hope you find it worth reading. You can find the post here.

Keep writing, friends.