When your first work isn’t your best work, hone your writing as you go.


Floating Donut by Scarce at Wikimedia Commons

Hi there, Readers.

Have you ever hit the send button to submit your work, but then only moments after uttered a Homer Simpsonesque, “Doh! What have I done?”

Few authors will admit it, but I’m going to be honest here, trot out on a limb and present my “Doh!” moment for your perusal. It comes with highs and lows of what worked and what didn’t.

After sending my MS off to the publisher I realized that things were missed here, could have been structured better there. Timeframe might have been made clearer, etc.. Not to mention that my story strayed from the style of conventional books on the subject. I took a risk writing my novella, Stealing Time, in a non-traditional fashion, and wasn’t sure it would play out.

Formulaic lessons of writing generally call for a tidy wind-up in true Spielberg style; hero leading everyone safely over the top of the mountain, sun caressing shoulders, planes flying past in salute, and everyone beaming smiles down on a shining end.

Well, I didn’t want that.

My original goal in writing Stealing Time was to craft it with content and ending that you might find in the comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the original Watchmen. Their work left much to the imagination, some things hidden and simply not explained, and therefore open to delightful speculation.  A current example of the cliff-hanger style I wanted to replicate is Dirke Tiede’s manga-styled, Paradigm Shift. The author keeps me anxious to grab the next copy to see how it ends–or begins–come to think of it. Consider adding his series to your shelves.

But I digress; the desire to write in a way that was familiar to me as a reader, was harder to create as an author. I  ploughed my way inexpertly and inelegantly through my manuscript with plenty of “Doh!” moments. And yes, comments after publication on Amazon reflect those mistakes. Fortunately, most folk who read it liked it, but more importantly, they voiced complaints. What readers had to say provided a place to start in terms of improving my writing, even if it was after publication. So, what did I learn from the “Doh!” factor?

I practiced my art, writing to their demands to bring them an improved experience in the sequel. The readers  became my guides in bringing secondary characters into play, having them better developed, digging deeper into the plot, etc.. But, stubborn to the last, I kept true to my original vision, tried various techniques to explain just enough but not too much, because I remembered something else that shone through those reader comments.

Most of them wanted more.

Though my fledgling novel had holes in it, my goal to create a cliffhanger, something I haven’t often come across, succeeded because my readers liked it. It drove them crazy that it ended where it did. They were startled that not everyone had been saved, that questions went unanswered, that the plot thickened only to come to an end. The outcome? Mistakes of my first book were balanced by its success of keeping the readers engaged, turning the pages, and wanting more.

My point is, your early efforts might not be your Magnum Opus. Perhaps they fly in the face of traditional thought or style. Whatever your personal experience, consider a few questions: Can you know what your best work is if you haven’t yet written it? Moreover, how can a work with mistakes possibly be a success? By all means edit, and edit voraciously, but until you risk sending your book out into the world, how can you know if it will fly with your readers?

The answer lies in how you perceive success, and I have a theory that every book has an audience anxious to turn its pages, even through “Homer” moments.

*If a reads your work, even leaves a negative comment, if they point out where the author lost them, you have a map for your next efforts to impress Mr. Tough-Reader. That leads to working harder and smarter, which leads to higher knowledge and better acceptance from a tough audience.

*When a person takes the time to read your work and leave a comment, even if the comments are mixed, consider how many other books they might have read, and perhaps not commented upon. A great or mediocre response to your book means it is worthwhile to that reader, and their comments are an open invitation to hone your skills and delight them further in future.

*Finally, a book’s influence can be measured by what a reader takes with them when the last page is turned. You may not consider it your greatest achievement, but someone else may have an entirely different opinion. One of my favorite comments for Stealing Time, though not written on Amazon, was relayed to me through a bookclub. The reader said, “It angered me that it ended.” What a great compliment! Why so great? Because it touched off an emotional connect to the story and the characters and left him wanting more.

That’s more than enough encouragement for me to continue pounding the keys.

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Welcome Autumnal Equinox 2012!


Photo of Napa, CA Vineyard:Brocken Inaglory

Bring on leaves in their gaudy-best colors

Let the air cool lungs from summer’s sear;

Break out the scarves and soothing hot toddies

Kindle a fire, bring loved ones near;

Rejoice in jacket pockets, savor the season

Autumnal Equinox 2012 is here!

And the Blog played on…


Coffee Break!

This weeks Blog is dedicated to Tunny, who gave me props for focusing more on the Writing of my manuscript and less on my Blog.  So, it is a little ironic  that I’m here blabbing to all the world about it, but it got me thinking about all the ways in which I procrastinate about hitting the keys.

If you are like me, it’s really hard to make yourself write more and visit with folks less.  There always seems to be one more person you can share with, one more funny email you can respond to, eight more things you could Blog about, someone who needs an answer to a text message, etc., right?

However,  all the texting, visiting or emailing with any of those wonderful people are sucking up time you could be spending on your manuscript.  You wanna get those idea down on the page?  You need to detach a little from your electronic umbilical cords, and tell everyone to sit tight, you’ll get back to them after you’ve written the next chapter.

Now that I know I can begin a story, craft a middle, and have a notion of an end, from where I’m at now, the point is to COMPLETE my manuscript .  Completing my manuscript needed to become, and has become more important to me than socializing.

If I spend a majority of time Blogging, my manuscript writing time suffers for it, period.  But, because it is my Blog about my writing, it’s okay to take a break now and then and Blog for a little while.  Did y’all catch that, NOW & THEN .

I am Blogging now because I took a bit of Writer’s Break.  I was on a writing roll for the last several hours, body starting to grow sore and stiff, and my eyes feeling a bit dizzy.  Good time for a break and a cuppa Joe.  So, I decided to check my email and I noticed a comment on my Blog.  This being my break, I allowed myself to follow it, and here’s why:

I’ve a new rule about breaks:  During a Writer’s Break, all socialization and attachment to the electronic umbilical cords must be solely to people who are Authors or Writers.

I know that other Writer’s understand the need to be mostly absent from the world so you can write, and you don’t expect me to Blog or contact you every day.  You expect me to have my nose to the proverbial grindstone, churning out the pages and mixing my metaphors.  I expect the same of you…except the part about hashing up the metaphors.

One of my favorite Authors, Seanan McGuire said, “Writing a book is a solitary exercise, actually finishing it is not.”

She is referring to all the people who helped her in getting her manuscript through all of the stages of proofing and the many people it took to read and reread and hack out the stuff that she couldn’t see through to edit out herself, along with those who hosted her when she was writing abroad, and folks who simply listened to her whine.  Notice that even on the home stretch there is still a lot of writing to do?  I highly recommend McGuire’s Blog  50 Thoughts on Writing for her best Writing tips.  Check it out.

So, our writing Blogs are important for us as Writers aspiring to be Authors.  They are a place where we can get writing advice when we are crumpling up the 20th false start.  They are a safe venue for venting our frustrations and cheering ourselves and each other on when the going gets tough and the tough want to quit and take an aspirin and a shot of whiskey, or to offer the same to another Writer in need.

All of this until the day we become an Author.  That’s when our Blogs become part promotion and part lesson, where we answer questions about how we got there to our fans, and why we didn’t off ourselves instead to our worst critics.

Right.  Time to get back to my manuscript, folks.  Thanks to you all for reading this Blog, and may you get right back to your manuscripts; my coffee is finished and this Writer’s Break is over!

What?  Are you still here?  We’ve got work to do!  Ciao,  C.K. Garner  😀

Get into Character!


What a Character!

Do you start your story with all of your characters already written out?  Do you know how they will act, what they might say?

I am a person who sucks at dialogue; but now, because I’m dabbling in character creation, I feel like I’m learning, or they are teaching me… it is as if the characters, once created are speaking for themselves, each with a distinct voice to suit his actions.

The fun part of writing is pushing the situations just little bit, or a whole shove from the norm, at the same time as  trying to keep it real.  The characters can help you along, or you can create a character grid, and make sure to follow closely.  What might a character do?  How far should you push them?

For Example, if I think a character is vain, I really get silly with that vanity, i.e., I try to take it way beyond what a normal person might do.   I’ll have them missing conversation, irritating people, and losing weight because they are so engaged in their reflection in the dinner plates they forget to eat!  If a person is clumsy, I have them tripping all over the place.

Are they an evildoer?  They are going to take a shot at your baby sister’s baby bunnies, drag the key down the side of someone’s car, blow up pigeons for fun and chuckles, and generally wreak havoc.

Same goes for nice.  Made of sugar, but sometimes spice is the answer there.  As for the middling ones, it helps to shove them over either edge to see how they will handle the drop.  Sometimes a character will grow if you push them, this is especially true if you shove each into the other!  The characters will tell you what they will and won’t do along the way once you start getting them down on the page.

I like to take them to extremes because it makes the story better, even if I tone them down later.  It’s just fun to have a character go beyond the bounds of what is the accepted “norm”.  The lengths to which you can manipulate your characters into a twisted tale are endless, and even impossibilities are, well, possible if you decide they are real enough to write them down!

For the rest of the month I’ll be catching up on all of the possible goofs I have missed in adding the new characters.  I want a seamless blending where I have added them in, which means line by line editing.  I take the time when doing this to catch dropped punctuation, spelling errors, grammatical no-no’s, etc..

It is also a good time to check and see that your characters are showing, speaking, and acting it out rather than you telling the story.

Believe me, no matter how many times I go over it, I catch a couple more errors, and kill them off, hiding the evidence, so that by the time I get to the end, I will be ready for the next batch of revisions from Friends, Beta Readers, Agents and Editors.

I recommend you  try adding a couple of characters and see what happens with your story.  I’ll bet it grows in ways you didn’t expect.  Have fun playing in your world, the company is great!

C.K. Garner

More On Audience:


Don't know who your audience is? Find the perfect fit using character and content!

I commented to a recent blog:  Foetal Positions in an attempt to explain why I blog to an audience, but it got lengthy, so I decided to expand on the manuscript portion of my answer here.  For me, content  and character are  high on the list in choosing my audience,  and you might consider examining this for yourself if you elect to have an audience at all.

I thought I was writing a fantasy novel for adults, but it may be a young adult novel instead, or perhaps a young adult dark fantasy book, due to its content and character development leaning in that direction.

Though the situations may be a bit dark,  young people live in a much harsher reality than society gives them give them credit for understanding.  By the time they are teens many are exploring darker imagery.   However, beyond the darker side of life and pushing boundaries, my manuscript is growing into a coming of age story on its own, but I think that it can be enjoyed by adults, too.

Now, this was not really my initial plan, but rumor has it there is an audience for YA fiction, and lets face it, who amongst us wouldn’t want to have our scribblings published, perhaps be successful enough at the game that we can, if not quit our day job, ease up on those hours and devote more time to writing?

I have another manuscript started, a horror novel.   This second enterprise is definitely adult in content, moreover involves murder, sex and violence, and it is already holding steady in the adult audience position of its own accord, the characters dealing with adult situations more graphic than in my fantasy novel, even as they grow through solving the mysteries and murders, and evolve in their character arc.

My audience with the first novel, when I’m published, will likely be adults at first; those who have guided me on my journey, and those friends who will buy one to show support, but I’ve a feeling my young adult audience will trickle their way through to find my bit of work, and with any luck, come back for more.

The second novel will pull in a mature audience, and have a following in perhaps both the horror and dark fantasy genres.

Here is one thing to keep in mind when writing to your  audience, and your intentions and responsibilities toward them:  This quote by agent Jon Sternfeld“All genres are mysteries…” 

What this means is that you, as a writer are attempting to engage your audience, your readers in a play of, “Hey, there’s a mystery to solve here,” or a dilemma to overcome, etc., and you promise, as an author to give them a bit of a peek, a chance to anticipate, participate, and unravel the clue, to care about the characters, and solve the problems presented, regardless of genre.

http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.comblogAgent+Jon+Sternfeld+On+Engaging+Your+Audience.aspx

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