16 Lessons in 25 Years: My turning points as a writer.

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#1: Age 8. I want to write stories.

My 3rd grade teacher got me started on it and I have never stopped.

#2: Age 11: Ditch the ever-evolving daydream.

I kept starting and restarting the same story idea with whatever I was daydreaming about at the time. This went on for years. It was a really long time before I finished a book.

#3 Age 14: I’m only writing fanfic. That’s not how I get where I want.

From Power Rangers in elementary school to Beast Wars in middle school, I was only putting twists on other peoples’ stuff. I needed to write my own. So I quit doing fan fiction.

#4 Age 15: This is how the great ones steal stuff. I shall do the same.

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Let’s pretend I said that. More to the point, I figured out how to start making my own stuff, even if it was based originally off of other things I liked. (Writers start this way all the time.)

#5 Age 18: I finished! And people like it! Feelsgoodman

I finished a teenaged cyborg story (based entirely-too-closely on my senior year of high school). A friend-of-a-friend read it, and heaped praise on it. That was…really really cool.

#6 Age 21: There is a such thing as over-writing.

One of the first stories I wrote after my mission was about 25,000 words long, consisting entirely of a dude fighting robots on a train. This is…not necessary. But I got it out of my system. Mostly.

#7 Age 24: I can edit patiently.

For the first time, I ponied up the cash to print off a book I wrote, then bought a red pen and made the whole thing bleed. This was where I realized I liked to edit much better than I liked drafting.

#8 Age 25: I am prolific, and I suck at it!

I tried writing a sci-fi one month, a fantasy the next month, and a paranormal the month after. Each one was garbage because I didn’t get the necessary genre bits right. I was just trying to prove I could “write anything.” I wasn’t ready.

#9 Age 26: I know how to get rejected a lot.

And sooooo many agents helped me learn. Then I finally landed one.

#10 Age 27: Dangle the right carrot, and I can do anything.

My agent was close to getting one of my books placed with a Big5 publisher. I just needed to rewrite the entire damn thing in a month. That month was December. And I was a production manager at a website business. Caffeine became my surname and I worked myself into a bedwetting stupor. But I finished the book on time! The publisher rejected it.

#11 Age 28: Message fic sucks no matter who is writing it.

The book that lost me my agent was a “message fiction” book, or a social message thinly masked by a story and characters. Right wing, left wing, or anywhere in between, these kinds of books suck. Even if the message is good, message fic is not.

#12 Age 29: It’s possible to reboot an idea successfully.

And I did, by combining a few scrapped projects, wrapped around the right concept. That’s where Engines of Liberty came from, staring with REBEL HEART.

#13 Age 30: Sequels are hard.

Until I wrote SUICIDE RUN, I had never finished writing a sequel. Holy cow, it’s a different animal. But now I know how!

#14 Age 31: It’s easy to kill yourself at this.

I was working 50-60 hours a week at my day job, then coming home and getting revved up on caffeine so I could draw for several hours each night to illustrate PATRIOT’S GAME. I’m not proud of this. Caffeine might not be a hard drug, but I was very much addicted and it affected my health both physically and mentally. This made me a hazard to myself and others while I was at work. After a few hard crashes on weekends, my wife helped me realize what I was doing to myself, and I dialed it back. Not worth it.

#15 Age 32: Now that I’ve done this three times, I can streamline my process.

Once I was done with the Engines trilogy, I knew what I was doing. I knocked out KILL THE BEAST in a whole 3 months.

#16 Age 33: It’s not supposed to get easier.

In many ways, THE HERO NEXT DOOR was the hardest book I’ve ever written, and the artwork didn’t go any faster than it did for the other books. In fact it went a lot slower. That’s the price you pay for quality work–it takes time. I’m still working on getting faster at that. Maybe that will be my lesson at age 34.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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