Not much grass here!

A Glimmer of Light? (Crashcourse, Days 8, 9, 10)

Welcome to Days 8, 9, & 10 of Crashcourse!

Not much grass here!

Some local street art, spotted during yesterday’s Memorial Day Parade

A few days ago, I wrote about how work on Crashcourse had slowed to an excruciating crawl thanks to major amounts of self-editing. So, how’d I do over the weekend? Did I manage to speed things up? Let’s find out!

A Path Forward, Perhaps

I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I edit constantly as I write, massaging the text over and over again. The result is polished, close to publish-ready. However, the process is exhausting and often feels antithetical to creativity. Which makes sense when you think about it. My creative voice is trying to let loose, to explore my subconscious, to tell a brand new story. And yet, it gets shifted to the back burner by all of these edits. I’ve been writing this way for a long time and I think my stories have suffered for it. I vowed to take a different path this weekend. So, how’d I do?

Well, I spent most of the Memorial Day weekend with family and friends. In fact, I only managed to squeeze in one writing session, and that was for just twenty minutes on Sunday morning. Doesn’t sound like much, right? But get this … I wrote 584 words in those 20 minutes. That works out to 1,752 words/hour. Wow. I mean … just … wow. That’s a record for me and it’s not even close.

Now, here’s the thing. Those 584 words are … imperfect. They’re unedited and extremely raw. Honestly, I’m not even sure they make sense. A part of me is strongly tempted to edit them, to massage them like I always do. However, I’m going to try to keep that urge in check. The whole point of this is to learn to trust my creative voice, to give it room to speak. And editing right now seems like a good way to sabotage that effort. So, I’m going to try to keep writing this way, with no editing, for the duration of the book. Crazy, huh? I’m curious to see how it works out. Part of me worries I’ll end up with a unintelligible mess that’ll require months of heavy editing down the road. Part of me thinks my creative voice will settle down and the end result will surprise me. Hmm … I guess we’ll find out.

Crashcourse Totals

Weekend Total: 584 words in 0:20. 1,752 words/hour

Total: 2,542 words in 9:10. 277 words/hour

Ahh, well … there's always tomorrow!

The Perils of Self-Editing (Crashcourse, Day 7)

Welcome to Day 7 of Crashcourse!

Ahh, well … there's always tomorrow!

This is my “well, that was a crappy day of writing” face!

Crashcourse continues onward, slow and steady. Okay, reallllllyyyyyy slowly. Cripes, my self-editing is out of control. It’s time to break this habit once and for all.

Crashcourse Slows Down

Today, I wrote 456 words in about two and a half hours. That’s pretty abysmal. Worst of all, the story feels like it’s just ambling along for these first 2,000 words. I mean, it’s not terrible. It’s just kind of … blah. I lay a lot of the blame for this on self-editing, so let me tell you what I mean by that. I’ll write a sentence, then another sentence. Then I’ll combine the sentences. Then I’ll take this new sentence and edit again. I’ll move it to another paragraph, then another one. Maybe I’ll break it apart again or delete it altogether. Or maybe something else.

I’ve been writing this way for years and I’ve never really liked it. It slows me down, saps my creative energies, and keeps me from really immersing myself in a story. I keep promising myself I’ll change it, but I never get around to it. Why is that, you ask? I think it’s because the problem partly self-corrects. After a week or so, I usually cut back on the edits (not fully though) and return to my normal rate of 500/words per hour. That’s okay, but it also keeps me from solving the bigger issue.

Part of the reason I started this blog series was to take a closer look at how I craft stories. And upon reflection, I don’t like my editing process. I do like the idea of using edits to move a story forward (I talked about this yesterday). But I’m tired of trying to make every sentence perfect, over and over again. This weekend, I’m going to make it my mission to completely change the way I edit my books. That is, I’m not going to edit unless I’m using it to gain momentum. Wish me luck!

Crashcourse Totals

Today: 456 words in 2:27. 186 words/hour

Total: 1,958 words in 8:50. 222 words/hour

Now, all I need is some inspiration.

Valedictorians are … Failures? (Crashcourse, Day 6)

Welcome to Day 6 of Crashcourse!

Now, all I need is some inspiration.

Drawing pad and pencils are ready to go!

Are valedictorians failures? In a word, no. But research indicates they rarely, if ever, change the world. Dropouts, on the other hand, sometimes do change the world by becoming great artists and innovators. Why is that? Could it have something to do with school itself?

Crashcourse Forges Ahead

First things first. Today was my second day of writing Crashcourse, my upcoming young adult fantasy novel. It was a slow day. Faster than yesterday, but still slow. In total, I managed 917 words in 3:19. By the way, you might notice that I’m running short on my four-hour writing blocks. Sometimes, especially in the early going, I find it hard to keep up momentum. Which is kind of weird when you think about it. The first few days with a new story should be the best ones. After all, that’s when everything feels new and fresh. But that’s not usually the case for me. I think it’s because I spend that period in heavy self-editing mode. After a couple of days, I loosen up and start to write a bit more freely. That’s also when I tend to start drawing more often as well (note the empty pad over there!). It seems that the more I edit, the less I enjoy the creative process.

One of my goals for Crashcourse is to cut my editing down to the bare bones. It’s difficult to have fun telling a story when I’m so busy massaging each sentence to perfection. Ideally, I’d like to use editing solely as a way to drive the story forward. In terms of trailblazing, that means forging ahead into the darkness of my imagination until I run out of light. Then backtracking and starting forward again, lighting additional torches along the way. Those extra torches—light edits, if you will—provide more illumination, allowing me to continue past the previous stop point. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, self-editing is a deeply-ingrained habit for me. But hey, habits don’t break themselves, right? I’ll give less editing a shot tomorrow and see how it goes.

Why don’t Valedictorians Change the World?

This article caught my eye today. It refers to a study done on 81 valedictorians and salutatorians. These high-performing students, by and large, achieved a good deal of success in the real world. And yet, it seems that none of them went on to make an outsized impact upon the world. In other words, they didn’t disrupt industries or develop new technologies. Why not? Well, success in school requires obedience, discipline, and “coloring within the lines,” so to speak. These skills might make you a desirable employee. But they also make you less likely to challenge convention.

Now, I can’t vouch for the study. And really, how much of a conclusion can you draw from just 81 subjects? I mean, how many people really change the world anyway? Regardless, I found it interesting because of Crashcourse. Crashcourse, as you know, is about a dropout. A guy who couldn’t handle the demanding curriculum of a famous magic school. In other words, the exact opposite of a valedictorian. I suspect he’ll go on to do great things, like many other dropouts throughout history. Why? Maybe because he’s not the kind of guy who kowtows to authority and colors within the lines.

Crashcourse Totals

Today: 917 words in 3:19. 276 words/hour

Total: 1,502 words in 6:23. 235 words/hour

The First Day of Writing! (Crashcourse, Day 5)

Welcome to Day 5 of Crashcourse!

Hey look, I'm finally smiling!

Here I am, relaxing after the first day of writing.

Today, I started the actual writing of Crashcourse by trailblazing my way into the dark recesses of my imagination. So, how’d I do, you ask? Read on to find out!

First Day of Writing is DONE

Today was a tough day. I started out with a lot of nervous energy, as is common for me with new stories. I hoped it would be enough to carry me through a four-hour session with ease. Instead, I labored slowly before finally quitting around the three-hour mark with just 585 words. Ouch, right? Right. But let’s look on the bright side. Namely, I’m trailblazing! This is a brand new book, never told before in all of history. Oh, it might share similar elements to other stories, although certainly not on purpose. But since it’s told by me, by my voice, it can’t help but be original.

Let’s put that 585 words in perspective. Remember how I told you that I’d be editing along the way? Well, this impulse kicks into overdrive whenever I start a new book. I think it’s because my brain is trying to find the right feel for the story. Randy Wolf, as you recall, is a kid. I’ve never written a book from the perspective of someone so young. It’ll take time to get into his head and see how he thinks. On top of that, I’ve never written in this genre before. So, I’m doing a lot of experimenting.

While in the midst of a book, I usually average about 500 words an hour. I’ve written faster than that, but not very often. I’d love to tone down the editing and maintain a better flow.

Story Progress

I like to start with a good hook, something to pique the reader’s interest. I didn’t have any good ideas so I just put Randy Wolf in the field, performing his Orienter duties. He’s about to meet a prospective student for his school, which I named the Roderick J. Madkey School of Magical Administration. Quite a mouthful, huh? There’s a story behind that name. Some time ago, I graduated with an MBA from the William E. Simon School of Business Administration. Of course, nobody called it that. We just called it the Simon School. But we were instructed to use the full name for all correspondence, includes resumes. And that name is, of course, a mouthful. I understand they’ve changed it to the Simon Business School. Much better, don’t you think? Anyway I always thought the original name sounded unnecessarily pretentious, which is kind of how I view Madkey right now.

After I finished writing for the day, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my beginning was way too slow. I walked to my gym and an idea hit me out of the blue. What if Randy was racing other Orienters from other schools, all for the same prospective student? Kind of like a recruitment race? Ahh, much better. Lots of tension and it gives readers a chance to see the uniqueness of this world. Best of all, it’ll hint at Randy’s true underlying greatness. So, that’s what I’ll be working on tomorrow!


Today’s Writing: 585 words in 3:04. 191 words/hour.

Yeah, yeah … I know. But remember, I don't know this character yet. That will change soon.

Introducing our Main Character (Crashcourse, Day 4)

Welcome to Day 4 of Crashcourse!

Yeah, yeah … I know. But remember, I don't know this character yet. That will change soon.

Meet Randy Wolf!

Yesterday, I sought to create a situation for  Crashcourse and ended up with a premise instead. Already the trailblazing method is yielding unexpected results! Today, we’re going to take a closer look at our premise, specifically the role of our main character.

Who is Randy Wolf?

Before I get started, let’s revisit our premise:

Crashcourse Premise: After the world’s foremost magic school falls to a ruthless villain, a dropout must discover his inner magic in order to save the institution that once scorned him.

Hmmm … I still like it! That isn’t always the case so we’re off to a good start.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I believe this story, characters and all, is already buried in my imagination. In order to find it, I have to do a little trailblazing. So, where do I start? Well, I’ve got a premise in mind and now, a character is starting to form as well. It’s just the bare essence for the moment. But as I write Crashcourse, this character will begin to take shape and eventually, become a full-fledged person with thoughts, dreams, opinions, secrets, and the like.

Meet our hero, Randy Wolf. He’s that stick figure guy over there. He looks a little … skimpy? That’s to be expected since I barely know him. So, why is he a guy? Hmm … no particular reason. It just feels … right? Why is his name Randy Wolf? I actually thought of this name awhile back and it was the first thing that popped into my head. So, we’ll go with it for now.

We’ve already established that Randy is a dropout from an exclusive magic boarding school. But why? What happened to him? Many people drop out because they want to do something else. Others drop out due to financial concerns or personal tragedy. Do one of those reasons work for our hero? Hmm … no. I don’t think so. In fact, I see Randy as an exceptionally poor student. The kind of guy who couldn’t hack it. Ultimately, he was given a choice: expulsion or become a dropout. He chose the latter.

Now, a typical dropout might return home or at the very least, move on with his or her life. But not Randy. No, I see him as the sort of guy who really wants to be a part of the school. He doesn’t have a ton of confidence and being associated with the place makes him feel important. So, after dropping out, he begged to stay on …

… as an employee.

Ahh, that’s interesting. Can you imagine facing your former peers everyday? Ignoring their smirks, their whispered insults? Yikes. And Randy’s troubles don’t end there. After all, he’s got a job now. What sort of job might a failed wizard take? Hmm … I see him as an Orienter. I just made up that name, by the way. So, what does an Orienter do? Simple … he goes out to meet prospective students and test them for magical prowess. If they pass inspection, he helps orient them to the school. He takes them around, answers questions, etc. I used to do something like that back in high school, which might explain why I thought of it just now.

As an Orienter, Randy will be forced to help promising new students adjust to the school. A school that is, unfortunately, beyond his abilities. So, is that it? Is that enough for me to start writing this book? Hmm … not quite. As I think more and more about Randy, I realize he’s unsatisfied with his position. In fact, I think he’d like to return to school someday. Maybe he spies on classes or studies in secret. Regardless, he just isn’t cut out for academics. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a great wizard …

This is a good start. Of course, Randy will change and grow over the coming weeks and that stick-figure drawing will change and grow as well. But for now, let’s sum things up …

Crashcourse Main Character Analysis: Randy Wolf is a magic school dropout. He’ll do anything to get a second shot at an education, even if it means helping new students succeed where he once failed. But while he’s not cut out for academics, he’s far from helpless. And when a ruthless villain conquers the school, he’ll discover his inner magic is the only thing that can save the institution that once scorned him.

Not too bad! Well, that’s it for today. Be sure to come back tomorrow when I start writing Crashcourse … see you then!

I really need to start smiling soon!

Creating a Situation From Scratch (Crashcourse, Day 3)

Welcome to Day 3 of Crashcourse!

Hmm … I really need to start smiling soon!

Here I am, walking and deep in thought!

So, I’ve decided to build Crashcourse out of thin air, trailblazing a path through my imagination without an outline or plan. I’m going to do this by creating a situation, sticking characters into the thick of it, and watching as they try to work their way to freedom, success, happiness, whatever.

Making Something Out of Nothing …

Here I sit, trying to think of a high-concept idea. Something that will really knock your socks off. And … I’ve got nothing. I was really hoping my subconscious would bail me out here, but no such luck. So, let’s see if we can come up with an interesting, unique situation in some other manner. Walking around tends to stir my creative juices, so I’ll give that a try. Back in a moment!

Okay, I’m back. While I was out, I got to thinking about school. Modern schooling is a peculiar institution, isn’t it? We’ve got time blocks, separated by bells. Everyone is grouped together by age. Cramming is a time-honored way to pass a class, before forgetting everything you “learned.” Pep rallies prepare you for “war” with the school across town. The choosing of prom king and queen is considered a very big deal. I could go on and on. But I think I’ve made my point. School is indeed strange. So, we’ll use a school as our setting for Crashcourse. And since this is a young adult fantasy novel, we’ll make it a famous magic school, hidden from the outside world. I know what you’re thinking. BORING. Good lord, a magic school? Hasn’t that been done to death already? Yup. But don’t despair. We’re not finished yet.

Hmm … what kind of headmaster and faculty would you expect to preside over this school? Great wizards and witches, right? Right! Magicians capable of, well, just about anything. Now, imagine a villain arriving at the front door, ready to attack this venerable institution. The headmaster and faculty go out to face him or her and …

… get crushed. Pulverized. Utterly humiliated. And all in front of the student body.

Were you expecting that? Maybe. Regardless, let’s say the headmaster and faculty aren’t as great as everyone thought. But why? It might have something to do with the school itself and how it chooses to teach magic. It doesn’t really matter right now. What matters is that they’re easily outmatched and the school falls under the villain’s control. So, this is a story of occupation.

You know, I was going to stop with a situation. But let’s see if we can take this a little further and come up with a basic premise. How? Well, we need a hero to face down this threat. What kind of hero? The best student in school? A “chosen one?” Hmm … let’s go in the opposite direction. Let’s make our hero the worst student imaginable. In fact, let’s make him or her … a dropout! Oh boy, I like that angle a lot. You know, some of our most renowned thinkers, inventors, and artists are/were dropouts. Why is that anyway? I’m not sure, but it’ll be fun to explore some possible reasons in Crashcourse.

At some point, we’ll need to figure out why the dropout would be motivated to help the school. But that can wait. For now, let’s sum up our premise.

Crashcourse Premise: After the world’s foremost magic school falls to a ruthless villain, a dropout must discover his inner magic in order to save the institution that once scorned him.

Obviously, that’s pretty bare bones. But I think it’s got a ton of potential.

So, we’ve got a premise. Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at our main character, the dropout. See you then!

Trailblazing vs. Outlining (Crashcourse, Day 2)

Welcome to Day 2 of Crashcourse!

Which can only mean it's trailblazing time!

Hmm … it’s pretty dark back there …

I’m itching to get started on Crashcourse, but there’s a few things I need to do beforehand. Today, I’m going to pick the type of book I want to write. Then I’m going to decide on my approach.

Choosing a Genre

I’ve written seven books. Five of those books—the Cy Reed Adventures—are treasure hunting novels. The other two—the Apex Predator series—are a mixture of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction. I like to think of them as Jurassic Park meets Wayward Pines meets The Walking Dead. Both series have their fans but there’s not a lot of crossover between them. I imagine that’s because most readers prefer sticking to certain genres. Regardless, the choice seems clear. To reach the maximum audience, I should write Cy Reed #6 or Apex Predator #3.

But where’s the fun in that? Let’s do something new, something different. But what? Well, both of my series are geared toward adults. And yet, I’m pretty much a wide-eyed kid at heart. I love swashbuckling adventure, lost treasure, forgotten lands, good vs. evil, following your dreams, and … well, you get the idea. So, let’s make Crashcourse a young adult novel. And let’s steer away from treasure hunting and science fiction, too. So, how about a … hmm … how about a young adult fantasy novel? Ahh, now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve never written in the fantasy genre so this should be interesting. Maybe something along the lines of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Or maybe something a bit older and more grounded in reality. We’ll see.

Now, I should point out that this isn’t exactly the best business move. Cy Reed and Apex Predator are proven brands with devoted followings. Veering into a new genre may cause me to alienate loyal readers. I hope that isn’t the case. Regardless, this feels like a good creative decision to me.

Writing Approach: Outlining or Trailblazing?

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I need to decide how I’m going to write this book. Most authors, I suspect, prefer to outline. And that’s perfectly fine. But outlining never really worked for me. I wrote my first four books that way and while I’m proud of them, I didn’t exactly enjoy the journey. These days, I prefer to use a different technique. It goes by many names … writing by the seat of your pants, pantsing, writing into the dark, etc. As for me, I’ve come to call it trailblazing. Allow me to explain.

Imagine the vast blackness of your imagination. You’re standing in front of it, wielding a torch. Meanwhile, a restless audience waits behind you, ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Your job is to forge a pathway through that blackness, lighting other torches to help the audience follow suit. Some routes are short, others are long and meandering. Some lead to magnificent castles and glory, others to distant mountains and romance. The point is that everything is already there. It’s buried in the darkness of your imagination, awaiting discovery. Your job is to shine light upon it.

So, I’m going to write this book via trailblazing. I’m not going to outline or plan ahead. Instead, I’m going to create a situation, put a bunch of characters into it, and see what happens. At first, the characters will be faceless, blank slates. The situation will be basic and uncomplicated. But as I move forward, all of that will change. The situation, whatever it is, will begin to grow, to twist in knots. The characters will gain depth, texture, and personality.

I should also mention that I’m not going to do rounds and rounds of rewrites. Instead, I’ll edit Crashcourse as I go. The way this will work is simple. If a character suddenly needs a tool on page 50, I’ll go back and add that tool to earlier pages. If I decide to make a house into an office building, I’ll go back and make the necessary changes. And if I decide to just cut off part of the story and go in an entirely new direction, I’ll do that too. Going back to the trailblazing analogy, it’s akin to backtracking to an earlier part of the route. Maybe you shift one or two torches to allow for better lighting. Or maybe you go off in an entirely new direction altogether.

One last thing to decide in regards to my writing approach. That is, how much will I do per day? Some writers use daily word counts, other work for a certain number of hours. Still others only work when inspiration strikes. Frankly, I’d prefer the latter although I’ve never done it before. It seems the most creatively-driven and in that respect, ideal for trailblazing. Hmm … for now, I think I’ll start with an hourly schedule. Let’s say four hours per weekday and half of that on a weekend day. At that rate, I’d expect to produce about 12,000 words per week. By the way, I know that schedule probably seems pretty easy. Unfortunately, the writing business entails more than just writing (and now includes this blog series!). Also, I think good stories require lots of downtime in order to let the subconscious do its work. So, for now we’ll stick to the above schedule and see how things go.

And So It Begins … (Crashcourse, Day 1)

Welcome to Crashcourse!

Creative juices don't fail me now!

What am I getting myself into here???

The most common question I get from readers is: Where do you get your ideas? Well, guess what?

You’re about to find out.

What is Crashcourse?

Crashcourse is the working title for my next novel. It has no special significance. It just popped into my head and I’m going with it. It’s almost certain I’ll change it prior to publication.

This blog series is my attempt to document Crashcourse’s development. Right now, I’ve got nothing. No ideas, no characters, no settings. I’m going to start from scratch with nothing more than a fake title. So, this series will depict my entire creative process from beginning to end, laughs and tears alike. You’ll see how I create and develop characters and settings. You’ll watch as I work without an outline, driving the story forward and backward, dreaming up new ideas and dropping old ones. I’ll try to keep it visual too, with character sketches, photographs, maybe even the occasional movie. In short, you’ll see everything EXCEPT the actual book. Fair warning … spoilers are likely. Heck, they’re practically unavoidable since I won’t even know what’s a true spoiler until after the fact. Still, I’ll try to keep them limited so I don’t ruin your enjoyment of the final product.

Why Should I Care?

If you’re a fan of my stories, that question should be easy to answer. But even if you’ve never read one of my books, this should still be a lot of fun.

Most, if not all, writers work in seclusion. We spend a lot of time alone, thinking up ideas and pounding away at our keyboards. Plus, we’re a cagy bunch and protective of our work habits. As a result, the art of writing a book is often seen as mysterious, even mystical. This is your chance to see how one particular writer crafts a story out of thin air, with no planning or outlines.

Thanks for joining me on this journey … I hope you enjoy it!