Tuesday, November 30, 2021

My Mantra for First Drafts: Low Expectations


                       (From my book on writing: Be The Dog), which will be out by this weekend.)


                 My process is a bit discovery and a bit outlining. I use both.

The first draft still gets messy, of course. It’s just the way it goes with first drafts. It’s like a construction site. Messy. Messy. I have a mantra. Say it with me. LOW EXPECTATIONS, LOW EXPECTATIONS, LOW EXPECTATIONS.

Extra: Don’t let the mess stop you! You have to keep going. You neat-freaks, bothered by disorder, will struggle most with this. Just keep reminding yourself that revision is just a draft away. You will have many chances to bring order to your unruly creation. 

That’s how I begin a novel.

ExtraA lot of writers begin with gusto. They write that first chapter like a racehorse exploding out of a gate. They go to the next. But they hit some headwind. All of a sudden it’s a hurricane strength headwind. They’re running in place. They reread their first pages. Maybe they even go back and rework them. They tell everyone they know how great their idea is and how good their first chapter is. But the problem is that on page 15 or 20 or whatever, they are suddenly stuck in place. They won’t finish. They won’t even get close. 

You need more than one idea. You need many. You’re going to need to be able to flesh them out. You’ll need characters and a story. You need to be projecting where your story will go. One or two scenes is short-sighted. 

But if you find yourself in this place, try some of the outline ideas in #6 of this section. It’s OK to outline as you move along. Sometimes it can help you quiet the headwind enough to take a step forward.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Creating Character: Use the yearning and the fear


A Characters Heart

More from my book on writing, Be The Dog, available in the first week of December.

The way to a character’s heart (and isn’t that where we, as writers, are trying to get?) is through the things he or she wants/needs/desires and the things he or she fears or the things that get in the way of what he/she wants. The things that the character does in order to get what he or she wants and the things he or she avoids to be successful in getting what they want are at the heart of many stories.

Extra: Look at fear. The character wants something. What he/she wants comes with a fear that he/she won’t get it. Say the character, male or female, wants to protect his/her family. That’s the driving force of the character. But there is a powerful enemy and by trying to save his/her town she/he is putting his/her family at risk. His/her greatest fear is he/she won’t be strong enough to protect her/his family and town. This gives you, as an author, a lot of possibilities. Maybe the enemy captures the child of our MC. They have to make a choice: save the town or save his/her child. That’s just one way this could go. You can spin out a lot of possibilities from a powerful fear.

Friday, November 19, 2021


   My dog, full grown. More from the my book on writing coming out in the first week of December.


Extra: One bit of starting advice: Don’t let that voice of doubt stop you from writing. It will try. You aren’t smart enough. Who do you think you are, trying to write a novel? You don’t have a story to tell and you don’t have any art in telling a story. You aren’t special. You will never be a writer. Almost every writer hears this crap from themselves. I know I have. You have to quiet this voice and in the quiet that follows you begin.






                                    Write In The Moment: Be The Dog

Let me elaborate on writing in the moment a little more. One thing that was important for me to learn is that writing fiction is juggling many things at once and not thinking about any of them while you’re in the act of writing. There are just so many areas of concern: voice, character, plot, setting, language, and on and on. If we think about them while we’re writing, there’s a good chance we’ll freeze up or go into a kind of stiff, forced writing, or maybe make the wrong choices. And the wrong choices can be deadly in a novel. The wrong choices can lead you to other wrong choices and then you’re halfway through the novel and you’re thinking, HOW THE F**K DID I GET HERE? WHAT AM I DOING HERE? THIS ISN’T MY BEAUTIFUL NOVEL. THESE AREN’T MY BEAUTIFUL CHARACTERS (and before you know it you’re in a Talking Heads song—sorry, off topic). 

So--you can't think—not consciously--about writing while you're writing. You can think all around it, of course. When you're driving your car (this does raise safety concerns but we all must make sacrifices for our art), taking a shower, walking the dog (one of my favorites). I'm constantly turning over aspects of what I'm working on when I'm not actually working. However, when writing be in the moment.




Saturday, November 13, 2021


                        I will have a new book on writing out in a few weeks, first week of December. It will be on all the major online retailers. The book covers the topics I cover on this blog but in a more organized way. Some of the content even comes from this blog, revised and edited. But there's whole lot of new material and a lot of content from the class in Creative Writing I taught for many years.  Below is the book's introduction. That's my pup in the picture when he was just a pup. He's 125 pounds now.                                  

                                           BE THE DOG  



Welcome Reader, 

Dogs live in the moment. It’s one of the great things about dogs. They are Zen without knowing what Zen is. You have to Be The Dog when you’re writing the scenes of your novel; you have to live in the moment of your scenes. Like a martial artist or musician or painter, you can’t be thinking about all the art and craft you’ve learned when you’re doing what you do, but it all has to be there when you create. You need informed intuition. The informed part will be all the craft you can learn. There’s a ton of craft advice in this book.



The sections in this writer’s guide have titles like Story, Language, Characters, that sound convincingly practical, and they are in the sense that there is plenty of nuts and bolts craft talk and also some attempts at discussing the more airy aspects of artistic endeavor, but the information and advice are offered in bite-size segments rather than point-by-point instruction.

Additionally, there are Extra entries that offer commentary on my commentary, sort of a spoonful of meta.

Admittedly, this is not your typical writing manual. It is more like the disreputable cousin who sneaks his way into the family reunion uninvited. 

A little about me: I’ve written over a dozen novels. Five of them were published traditionally and two won awards from the Texas Institute of Letters. I’ve independently published three urban fantasy novels. I’ve had over a dozen stories published in magazines like Glimmer Train and Literal Latte. I also taught a college level creative writing class, off and on, for over a decade. 

I’ve written a lot of words and I plan on writing a lot more because I love to write and I love to have written. It took me a long time to get published. I hope I can shorten your road to whatever your goals are as a writer by using my mistakes and my experiences writing and rewriting novels to help you along your journey. To do something you love (sometimes even be paid pretty well for doing it) is a gift. I’m lucky to have found it. I hope I communicate my absolute and unconditional joy for the art and craft of writing. Maybe you will be lucky, too, and discover you have a similar passion. Good writing.

Thanks for reading.