Friday, January 4, 2008

0. Lessons learned from two years of hard knocks experience

Michael W. Davis

(a.k.a Big Mike)

Author of: Tainted Hero (Champagne books, 12/07), The Treasure (Golden Acorn Publishing, 12/07), Forgotten Children (Champagne books, 6/08)


It’s been two years to the day from when I dove into the quagmire of the writing profession till I actually stuck my head about the swamp and got my first novel published. Along the journey, I learned a lot of things, some work, some don't. Over the next year, I'll post articles aimed at sharing what I've learned. My intent will be to provide a candid reflection, but of course, the opinions will be my take on the ride to date. Courses are taught in this stuff, so what I offer are strictly my newbie opinions. I plan to discuss the following topics:

1. Dark side of fiction writing

2. Fiction writing realities - the uphill climb

3. How stories evolve and take on a life of their own

4. Where do stories come from?

5. What was the biggest surprise to writing fiction?

6. Why write - the expected return

7. Success - what does it take?

8. Watch out for the extended hand

9. Creating a completed Manuscript –What is the process, how long does it take?

10. Things that define a good script

11. How do you create characters?

12. Where do scenes come from?

13. Introspection - the key to enveloping the reader

14 The importance of research, factuality, and detail

15. POV – the unyielding path

16. How to recognize when your script is honed enough?

17. The submission process - what to expect

18. Self promotion – why do it? The promo plan

19. Self promotion- Your choices and their relative merit?


Before discussing what I learned across a two-year journey into the frustrating (but sometimes rewarding) fiction-writing world, we need a little background on who the heck this big guy is. Roughly two years ago I retired from 35 plus years in support of the military and intelligence establishment. I was left with the quandary, “What in the world do I do with myself?” At first, with all the free time, I re-initiated my predator/prey chase routine of following my mate around the room like a love struck hound dog. Unfortunately, not being the young stallion I once was, this burned out quickly (especially when she started carrying a sidearm around her waist).

I had always wanted to write fiction, but never had time because of the numerous family crises, or emergencies at work. Given I had written probably ten thousand pages across my career in the technical world, I made the arrogant self assessment, “Of course I’m qualified to write fiction. No big difference. I’ve written technical articles, reports, even had a book published by Prentice Hall, piece of cake.” Not! How naive I was. I had the ideas, the drive, but I was missing a critical recognition, namely; writing something that draws people away from their lives, creates stories/characters that are real to them, makes them feel good if only for a moment, it’s different, and its harddddd. It is a shift from anything most of us have done, and it is a learned skill, something that takes time, and patience to cultivate.

Of course, it requires inherit abilities that are built upon. For example, there’s no way I will ever have the basic resources to be a Victoria Secrets model. No matter how many hours I spend on the runway, or what courses I take, I don’t have the natural core assets. It just isn’t going to happen (if you saw my butt, you’d understand why). But taking raw words, making them flow gently through the mind, engulfing the reader into the story, making him/her go “Oh”, “Ah”, or “damn”, now that is a learned skill, something many of us can evolve, if we don’t get frustrated, truly listen to the feedback of others, and let our abilities develop over time. True, just like I’ll never be a VS model, some will never be able to grow the skills, but many can, if they allow themselves to adapt and be patient. Need proof? If you decide to venture into the painful world of writing, save all your initial drafts from the start. You will be amazed how your writing will change, evolve, mature, at least I was. Does that mean we all can be Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, well of course not, and why do we have to? We don’t. If people truly enjoy your words, if they escape for the moment; what more can we want?

That brings me to the thrust of why I pull myself out of the writer’s dungeon in my isolated lonely back room to write these articles. I’m sure that everyone that has struggled through the newbie process has awakened to certain realities about the writing playground. For those entering the arena, my intent is to share lessons learned pertaining to certain epiphanies about trying to write fiction. Accepting these key axioms can help endure the bumpy ride into the field of fiction writing. Let me offer two just for this post: Axiom 1 – There’s a mega difference between being a good writer and getting someone to want to publish your work; and Axiom 2 – Your personal return may be significant, but your expected financial return is likely negative. Why? Expected return deals with the likelihood of financial reward, and its monetary value. I read somewhere a few interesting stats: about 6 million stories are circulating in the USA literary ether at anyone time, but only about 100,000 to 150,000 books get published; (2) greater than 99% of people that submit stories never succeed, and (3) the average return on a published fiction is 2000 to 6000 dollars.

I don’t profess to be an expert by any regard, but I will share what I’ve learned thus far, in terms of what I "think" works or doesn't work, at least in my opinion. My next post in four weeks will provide an interview pertaining to my latest work entitled TAINTED HERO for which I just got a "Top Reviewers Pick" 5 out of 5 star review (yeap, I was riding high). Starting in my third post, we're off to the races with "The dark side of fiction writing". See ya then.

Big Mike