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004Just after 3 a.m. today, I typed two beautiful words on my manuscript: THE END.

It’s not the end, of course. First, I need to take a break from it. Second, I need some people I trust to read it and expose its holes. Third, I need to recast and revise much of it. Fourth, I may need to recast and revise one more time after that.

But, for now, I’m basking in the glow of a finished draft.


Unless I’m brought back here by some breaking news (always a possibility), I’ll be shutting off the lights for a few days while I make the last hard push on the first draft of my current project.

With luck and a minimum of chaos, I should finish it up on my weekend (Sunday-Monday). And by “finish it up,” I mean, of course, that I’ll have a beginning and an ending and that only several more weeks, if not months, of revising and rewriting will remain. That’s why it’s called a first draft.

(Quick digression: I’m reminded of a long-ago interview with Paul McCartney about his film “Give My Regards To Broad Street,” truly one of the heinous movies of the century past. He defended himself by saying that he had written but one draft and had no idea more was required. Now, I’m a McCartney apologist from way back, but doesn’t that just say everything that needs to be said not only about his horrid little film but also about some of his half-baked solo work? The answer, of course, is “yes.”)

So, then, to recap:

Craig = very, very busy, and therefore, Craig’s blog = quiet for just a little bit.

Your forbearance is appreciated.

I’m on the finishing stretch of the first draft of my new novel, a spot in the narrative that involves some wrenching, emotional scenes. In many ways, what I’m attempting to do with this story hews to the three-act model (foundation, conflict, resolution). But the moves aren’t seamless; the conflict first occurs in the first few pages, the pieces of the foundation come in throughout the story, and the resolution is akin to a series of right hands across the bridge of the nose.

That’s where tension comes in. Tension is difficult to write well. It’s counterintuitive; the moment the storyline gets hottest is the moment that the author must cool off his prose. If you, as the writer, have made readers care about the characters, you need not interfere with that by over-writing the scene.

Under normal circumstances, I’m a pretty restrained writer. Even so, tension-filled scenes challenge me to ratchet things back even more. I spend a lot of time on them in the first draft, and I’ll spend a lot more in subsequent runs at the manuscript.

Here’s a brief stretch from my current work that I think illustrates the heightening power of restraint in a conflict-laden scene:

Dad hung his head. The words, when they came, had nothing behind them, and they dissipated into the space between us.

“I know.”

Here we have something delivered in the first person. It would be all too easy to have the POV character render a lot of judgment here, to be overwrought in describing the conflict with the father: “Dad hung his head, because he knew what I said was true. When he finally spoke, it was in a whisper. ‘I know.’ “

This takes us back to ground we’ve covered before: What you don’t write is as important as what you do. You don’t need to draw readers’ conclusions for them. Contrast the scene-setting of the excerpt (“Dad hung his head”) with the exposition in the italicized bit above (“… because he knew what I said was true”). The first gives the reader a visual and plenty of room for interpretation; the second takes a bit of the story away. It’s a small slice, yes, but writers who steal from readers tend not to be one-time thieves. Over the course of a book, the small cuts add up to a big wound.

… and, I should add, I look forward to the day that I have a pink pony with a marshmallow mane who poops candy canes. In other words, I look forward to a day that’s not likely to come.

The debate: the efficacy of self-publishing. A friend of mine is developing a true-crime book that he is intent on self-publishing, for reasons that he has thoroughly researched and is thoroughly comfortable with. He is confident that his chances of making a go with it as a regional success are as good as, if not better than, they would be through a small press (the kind that would be most likely to take on a project like his). And the potential rewards — financial and personal — are much better. And you know what? I’m equally confident.

My friend has managed to annoy some of his friends with his aspirations. All too often, the blowback comes in the form of broadsides by what I’ll call establishment authors and editors — that is, the ones who have reached their station through the traditional publishing means. And that’s where I get annoyed. I think the traditional publishing establishment needs to decide where it really comes down on indie publishing. If the traditional houses and traditionally published authors are so above it, why all the low-level sniping at a bunch of ankle-biters? If the establishment isn’t above it all, then come out and acknowledge it: Savvy (an important word) indie publishers represent a threat to the status quo. If I’m to judge from what I read — big houses cutting editorial staffs and scaling back acquisitions (particularly of new authors), throwing more and more of the financial onus for marketing and publicity on writers and whiffing on books that can nicely satisfy niches rather than masses — it’s little wonder that authors new and established are giving the indie route an increasingly close look. And don’t fool yourself: They are.

One of the tired refrains I hear against indie publishing is that the quality is low. I might be willing to accept that argument if the same weren’t true for vast sectors of what passes for traditional publishing. I will concede that the barrier to entry is low in indie publishing, and thus there is a lot of noise out there. On this, you have to trust the market. One of two things will happen with the folks who jump over the smallest possible fence: They’ll not have the slightest idea what to do once they’re in the great current of publishing and will drown. Or they’ll figure it out and do better (been there, seen it, buying the time-share). This is not altogether different from a band that works up its sound and self-releases a few crappy albums on the way to becoming more proficient and more marketable. Slapped-together CDs, by their presence, don’t have much impact on your enjoyment of somebody good. What possible difference does a slapped-together book make to you, the discerning consumer? You’re not going to buy it anyway.

That’s why I look askance at the vehement arguments against indie publishing. If the crap books are the objection, the critics make too much noise for too small a problem. If the objection is that an author, if he’s any good, should prostrate himself before the traditional means, then I’m left to ask: Why do you care, really?

I’ve written about this before, and my stance is the same now as it was then. I welcome someone’s putting me out of the book business. Until someone does, however, I have as much right to enter the marketplace as anyone else, and I have enough pride to do it the right way (submitting to editing and peer review, commissioning a top-notch cover, forming partnerships with printers and distributors, working hard for reviews and other publicity, etc.). I am a bit different from my friend in the sense that I’m not likely to crow about the means of publishing — indie or traditional — when my next book hits the marketplace. It’s a secondary, perhaps even tertiary, issue. The question will be: Is it a good book? That’s where more of us should be focusing our attention. 

In the meantime, some links worth considering:

A primer on the economics of publishing:

Attitudes toward self-publishing:

A publishing person self-publishes:

I had a lot of fun this morning on the Hot 101.9‘s Big J Show. To hear a clip of my interview, go here. Many thanks to the show. (By the way, if you’re a Twitter-phile, you can catch up with those guys at @bigjshow, @hot1019 and @McLovin1019.)

Also, if you’re out and about on the West End of Billings tomorrow, drop by Borders (2833 King Ave. West), where I’ll be signing Six-Hundred Hours of a Life between 1 and 3 p.m.

A weekend’s worth of writing-related chores:

* Saturday, I put down nearly 700 quick-and-dirty words — just enough to launch me into a scene that is going to be difficult to write. Then I took the rest of the day off and spent it with my sweetie. Time well-spent.

* Sunday, I did a breezy copy-edit of the manuscript’s 50,000 words so far. “Breezy” might seem an odd word, given the bulk, but what I’m trying to differentiate it from is a probing, hard edit. That will come later. I don’t like to do major overhauls while I’m working on the first draft, unless I’ve boxed myself into a corner I just can’t escape otherwise.

The edit amounted to equal parts shaving words here and there and amplifying a few scenes that struck me as a little naked. In sum, I gained about 300 words on the manuscript — not a lot. I’m fortunate in that my natural writing style is pretty lean. I know some authors whose first drafts are massive mind dumps, which they then pick through to find the story. It doesn’t work that way for me. I mention this only to point up that there’s no right way of doing things. The right way, I suppose, is whatever gets you through.

* One of the canards about writing is that adverbs should be avoided. The thinking is that a well-chosen, expressive verb or adjective can much more efficiently do the work of a verb-adverb or adverb-adjective combination. This is fine advice, as far as it goes. Unfortunately, in the hands of doctrinaire editors and writers, it comes out as “don’t use adverbs.” This is silly, of course. Adverbs are part of the language and exist for a reason. It rather reminds me of the “don’t use passive voice” nonsense. An over-reliance on anything can be wearisome, but passive voice and adverbs have a role in writing.

All of that said, I did find myself trimming a goodly number of adverbs during Sunday’s edit. Here’s one such instance that I jotted down.

Here’s the original passage:

“Dad, I have to go pee.”

He looked impatiently at his watch.


On the edit, I trimmed the “impatiently.” The father’s reply — “Hurry” — conveyed the time-is-running-short nuance. “Impatiently”  was unnecessarily expository. Its removal made a better sentence and a better passage.

It’s a small thing, but it’s through such details that good writing is achieved.