A History in Three Parts

It's been a few weeks since I posted, my apologies for that. I'm continuing my revision on the book, I still have a few dozen percentage points to lob off in this read through, but I'm encouraged by what I'm reading. Amazingly, the newest material I've written is cleaner than much of the old material. I credit some of this to writing in Scrivener and not on my iPad. I'm a much more accurate typist on a laptop than I ever was on the iPad. I also I think, have to credit some of it to where I am with my writing now. I have a much firmer grasp on my characters and my story than I did even six months ago, let alone a year or more ago. The difference is showing.

This post is all about the past, and three instances of it.

First of all, I recently listened to a story on NPR about a rejection that Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House books, received. What was to be her first novel, was finally published decades after her death, and it's selling out like crazy. This book, unlike her others, wasn't written for children. It was a much more accurate memoir. I find it difficult to think of someone like Wilder as a novice writer, but it just goes to show, that not only does everyone start somewhere, even things that are rejected today might very well wind up a best seller. Eventually.

Next, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to attend a genealogy seminar hosted by a local chapter of Sons of Norway. I don't have any Norwegian blood in me... at least I don't think I do, but my wife does, and one of her co-workers put on the event. It was actually incredibly interesting, not only when thinking about working on my own family history (which is admittedly from other countries) and as a writer.

In Norway, there are many traditions that are quite different than modern American record keeping. For example, the date of birth was not actually the date of birth. It was the date of baptism. Many other records centered around the confirmation date in the local church. While both of these examples happen to be tied up in religion, I think they are both great examples of how a culture can be very different than the modern one that we are aware of.

Another example I found interesting was the naming structure. It's a Given Name, a Family Name, and then a Farm name. I actually, inadvertently started following a similar naming schema for my book, where people's last name is based not on their family lineage, but on the location of their birth.

You and I certainly won't be the first (or the last) authors to pull inspiration from old histories, so I'm not suggesting something novel here, but it might lead you down an interesting path. Besides, aside from writing, you might stumble across something cool about your own family.

Finally, I finally watched the first episode of the Outlander television show this evening. I don't typically read a bunch of historical fiction/fantasy, but it seemed like a really well done adaption. It's shot well, I'm super impressed by the acting, and honestly, more than anything it gives me hope. With Games of Thrones' success, this could well be another SFF television show that helps define the genre in a way we just don't usually get on TV. It also makes me hope that the upcoming Shannara television show (being produced by MTV of all places) is well done so that it survives more than a season.

OH, and I also discovered that my favorite production team is behind Outlander. Ronald D. Moore (of such awesomeness as the SciFi channel's Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek Deep Space Nine) created the show along with Ira Steven Behr. These gentlemen have done amazing work in the past, and they even brought in Bear McCreary to do the soundtrack for the show. I don't listen to a ton of symphonic stuff, or even soundtracks anymore, but I can just turn on Bear's music and listen for hours and hours and hours...


Destiny came out today, and if you aren’t a gamer that’s ok. Suffice to say, I’ve been waiting for this and I’m pretty excited. As I sit and play the game, it reminds me of doing similar things with Halo (Bungie’s previous franchise) in college. Something I’ve struggled with a lot over the majority of the last decade… wow that’s scary, it’s really been almost a decade since I got my bachelors… is transitioning from ‘college writing’ to ‘novel writing.’

For instance. In my creative writing workshops (and I took a TON of them in school), our assignments were to basically write two short stories in a semester. That accounts to a lot of reading and critiquing for others and not a lot of writing for yourself. Short stories were usually in the 20 page ballpark, somewhere to the tune of five thousand to ten thousand words. I didn’t spend a lot of time prepping for my stories. I would get an idea, I would write them, I would clean them up, and I would turn them in. I really enjoyed writing and I knew it was something I wanted to do. People generally liked my stories (when the professor wasn’t complaining about me writing genre fiction in a literary fiction class, whoops). However, looking back, I realize that I wasn’t really being prepared to be a writer.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to write a book for a lot of years. First, I had an idea for a book. Then, I realized I was being unsuccessful at writing that book, and that maybe I needed some distance from it. So, I tried writing what would have been the second book in the series by my original estimations. I did several early drafts of this novel, but again I found myself not being successful.

Looking back now, I had pretty much the perfect storm of failure stacking up against me.

I had no concept of where my story was going. I was so used to writing just off the cuff based on concepts that I wasn’t really thinking about my characters, wasn’t thinking about my plot. I am still very much a discovery writer, but I’ve learned that you can’t discover your way through an entire novel. You have to have some sort of framework.

Every time I would write a chapter, I would immediately go back and edit it. Then, when I wrote the second chapter, I would go back and edit the first and second. And so on with the third, and fourth. No matter who far I got into the book, I was constantly stalling all forward momentum by going back and trying to make the book align perfectly together. I’ve probably written the prologue for that book over a dozen times, and I’m not sure I ever got past the twelfth chapter of the book (that’s a major issue).

Finally, I didn’t write every day. Well, I still don’t. That’s something I’m working on. See, I’m writing this blog post today instead of revising my book. I would work on my book every couple of weeks. And, since I was constantly revising, I was only actually writing new material maybe once a month.

All of these things totally stalled my ‘next’ book project. It killed it for me, and I never made any progress. When I started working on my ‘third’ book project, the one I just finished my second complete draft of, I was very careful to make sure and write forward. I had specific writing days at first, to get into the habit. I will talk more about the habit of writing in a future post.

If I can reflect back on this experience of successfully finishing a book, I think it’s that I now know that my experience in college prepared me to write, but didn’t do a very good job of preparing me to be a writer.  I wish, in retrospect, that I would have approached those first two books I tried to write in the way I approached my third one. I feel that those failures weren’t completely wasted, because they’ve helped me to get where I am today. I know I still want to write those books, and I hope to someday in the future. They are, after all, related to the story I’m telling now. Maybe it makes sense that I wrote the one I did first and I'll get back to those others some other time. Maybe you could almost call it destiny.

I’ll be talking more in my next couple of posts about how I started to change my writing habits, and some of the tools I now use in my writing to help me stay organized and on track. And, let’s be honest, I love gadgets and fun apps and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it fun along the way.