As I wrestle with my inner critic and half a dozen other voices in my head (sure is crowded here—where did all of you come from?), approaching the close of my latest round of edits on my novel, I’ve decided to let my writer readers (reading writers?) in on my secrets. I know you’re all wondering, “How’d he finish it so fast?” and “Gosh, I wish I could write something that easily,” and “Why are there cat toys on his desk?”
Well, here it is, for the first time ever, Tom’s Guide to Writing a Novel in a Mere Ten Plus Years.”
Step One: Get idea. Mull it over a while. Forget to write it down.
Step Two: Get idea back. Write it down. Plink down a few ideas. Go play World of Warcraft.
Step Three: Write in journal, full of excitement about starting a novel. Don’t actually work on the novel, just talk about how excited you are in your journal. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Four: Tell friends and family and all the people at your coffee shops how excited you are to be working on a novel.
Step Five: Play World of Warcraft.
Step Six: Tell wife, husband, life partner, significant other, benign alien, or therapist about your novel.
Step Seven: Play World of Warcraft.
Step Eight: Weekend getaway to work on book. Write a few short, short scenes at the beginning, then perhaps something near the end, then a battle sequence because battle sequences are cool. Write non-sequentially because you have the attention span of a…oh, look, there goes the kitty…
Step Nine: Begin keeping backup files of your work. Make backups of your backups. Count this as writing time because it had to do with your novel.
Step Ten: Fired up, you’re ready to dive in. Unable to remember which copy is the correct copy, spend your writing-session time comparing, copying, and pasting from one file to another. Save on a floppy.
Step Eleven: Find correct copy, reword battle sequence because battle sequences are cool.
Step Twelve: Join critique group. Get positive feedback, but battle sequence needs work. Charged up, you go home, make another copy, save it on another floppy. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Thirteen: Work, work, work on the battle sequence. Reorganize files. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Fourteen: Return to critique group. Have them critique battle sequence again because battle sequences are cool.
Step Fifteen: Wife/husband/life partner, etc., says it’s time to write other parts. Try to write other parts. They all suck. Play World of Warcraft.
Step Sixteen: Try to write other parts again. Writing sucks. Swear you’ll never write another word again, ever.
Step Seventeen: Tell friends, family, etc., you’re never writing again.
Step Eighteen: Take a day, week, month, year, or several years off from writing, but the idea won’t leave you. Keep playing World of Warcraft.
Step Nineteen: Return to writing.
Step Nineteen, part A: Write blog posts instead of novel…oops…
Step Twenty: Repeat steps eight through eighteen numerous times until wife/husband/life partner says, “Just start writing.” “Oh. Okay,” you respond.
Step Twenty-One: Write, write, write as though your hands are on fire.
Step Twenty-Two: Look at the mess of files you have on multiple floppies, CDs, flash drives, emails, scattered papers. Swear you’ll give up writing.
Step Twenty-Three: Wife/husband/life partner dons the muse/editor/hero costume and wades in to all the mess you’ve created, as said wife/husband/life partner is capable of following a sequence of thoughts sequentially in—and here’s the amazing part, because you are not a sequential thinker—chronological fashion, and actually organizes your seemingly random randomness. “What?” you exclaim. “You mean this stuff actually connects together?”
Step Twenty-Four: Renewed, you charge in, astounded that, somehow, there just might be a story here.
Step Twenty-Five: Exhausted after your first dash in, swear you’re going to give up writing forever and ever. Play Angry Birds.
Step Twenty-Six: Wife/husband/life partner says, “Stop playing Angry Birds. Set a timer for half an hour and write. When the timer goes Ding! you can play Angry Birds.” “Oh. Okay,” you say.
Step Twenty-Seven: Using the timer/Angry Birds technique you, somehow, exhausted, neuron-fried, and limping, cross the finish line, walk upstairs and announce that the first draft is complete.
Step Twenty-Eight: Celebrate with a Guinness. A very large Guinness. Draft. Nothing canned or bottled. This is a proper celebration. Guinness is writer fuel.
And that, my friends, is how to complete a rough draft in a mere ten-plus years. Easy, right?
Y’know what, though? Once this first one’s out the door I’m gonna do it again. And maybe this next time I can shave it down to just five years….
Tom Zumwalt Bio:
Tom Zumwalt is a writer from Lexington, Kentucky. He lives a writerly life with his wife and two cats, and has completed his first novel, DragonFox. Tom writes a blog (http://writefromthegitgo.blogspot.com/), and has written articles for Kentucky Monthly magazine, Collecting Toys magazine, and movie reviews for the Georgetown News-Graphic. Also, he was a finalist in the Licking River Writers Writing Competition. He loves reading the Arthurian legends, anything by Poe, and comic books. He likes dragons as long as they don’t pursue him.
Here we see the writer at work. A breakdown of the writing process. Rewind the tape, please:
Arrive home, ready to write.
I’m thirsty, so get water first.
Nope, that’s not what I wanted. Get flavored water. Yes, that’s better.
Cat wants to go outside. Open door. Cat doesn’t want to go outside.
I want something hot to drink. Put tea kettle on.
Cat wants to eat. Other cat wakes up to sounds of other cat eating. Feed other cat.
Now I’m hungry, but I don’t want a full meal. Get low-fat snacks. Hot water’s ready.
Gather snacks, flavored water, and tea. Head downstairs. Turn computer on.
Cat wants to go outside.
Cat doesn’t want to go outside.
Now I have to go to the bathroom.
Those weren’t the snacks I wanted. Go upstairs to get other snacks. Want coffee instead of tea. Fix coffee. Cat wants to eat. Feed cat. Cat doesn’t want to eat.
Come back downstairs. Forgot napkin.
Nails need trimming. Can’t type with long nails. Hunt for nail clipper. Trim nails.
Need handkerchief. Find handkerchief.
Need writing music. Find appropriate music.
Time for bed.
Keep writing, friends.
Follow Tom Zumwalt’s entertaining blog!
Stuff I Write — Welcome to a place of writing. I hope this will be an interactive blog, where all of us who write, want to write, or have ever thought about writing, can share ideas. Enjoy.
Sir Terry Pratchett was undoubtedly my greatest inspiration. He’s not as well known in the US because he is British but the man was a master of his craft. In his lifetime he sold more than eighty five million books in thirty seven languages. He was best known for his Discworld series which included forty one published works. His style was often called parody but I think it was much more than that. His wit and wisdom were unparalleled. His characters had the feeling of being real people. He had a knack for weaving multiple plotlines together seamlessly. Finally, beneath all the humor and the silly characters, he knew how to tell compelling stories.
For me, the books that highlighted The Watch stood out from all the rest. They combined my favorite two genres, mystery and fantasy. I couldn’t get enough of them. Since it was a series of books, I got to see the characters evolve over time and it felt like I really knew them. They were much more than just characters to me. They became family. “The Watch” grew from a ragtag group of misfits to a large force that struggled to reclaim the streets of Ankh-Morpork. It felt like I was actually there, experiencing those changes myself.
There are many interesting characters that fill out this world. Ankh-Morpork, the city these stories are based in, is a character in itself. Lord Vetinari, the ruler of the city, reminds me in many ways of the vampires in the old black and white movies. Commander Vimes, the primary character, is cynical and jaded but he lives to uphold the law. Sergeant Colon, an old war horse with a military past considers himself the ideal sergeant. He spends the majority of his time avoiding trouble. Corporal Nobby Nobbs, is a man so ugly and small that he has to carry papers that prove he is actually human. The wizards of Unseen University often make appearances as does the head “man” of the library. The Librarian was accidentally transformed into an orangutan and found that he liked it so he refused the wizards when they offered to correct the mistake. His characters feel like real people, having all the character flaws you can imagine and they make his books come alive. The thing is, no matter how oddball the character might be, Pratchett creates characters you can still identify with. I even identify with the orangutan librarian. I hope that someday I can create at least one character like that.
I don’t even remember where I first heard of Terry Pratchett but he changed the way I think about writing. I love the way he intertwines humor even in the most serious situations and I often laugh out loud while reading his works but the biggest thing is that I find it near impossible to put them down. I do my best to emulate him in my own writing. I’ll never be a master of it the way he was but I will never quit trying. It would have been my fondest wish to have met him face to face but I am too late. On March 12, 2015, he passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. It pains me to know that the “City Watch” died with him.