So, You Wanna be a Writer?
Well, What Happens Next?
In my time in this writing world, I’ve come to learn that a lot of readers and reviewers have a simmering desire burning deep within. They have a longing to create something bigger. And you know what? It’s not surprising. And it’s not silly. It’s natural. Those of us in the game started out in exactly the same place. Reading is what brings us to this place.
I would consider myself in the category of those that have no right to be an author. My problem is, I don’t give a fuck what I’m supposed to do. I just go for it.
Why do I feel like I had no right? Let’s go back to my start. In my early grade school years, I was in the high reading classes and groups. I loved it. I thought books were awesome. I cried, I smiled, I felt fear…mind you, these were all kid books. In my teens, I discovered Guns N’ Roses and wouldn’t read anything but metal magazines for the next five years or so. I no longer cared about school. Then, my parents got divorced and I really didn’t give a shit about school. At 16, I decided I didn’t want to be with either of my parents. My older brother took me in. After staying a freshman for multiple years, I dropped out of high school.
It was around this time that a friend gave me a copy of Stephen King’s The Dark Half. Ahhh, my first adventure into adult horror fiction. It truly was amazing. I immediately wanted more, but at the time, I was kind of drifting in real life. I moved from my brother’s to my friends, back in with my mom, to back in with my friends, to my own place, to back in with friends…I had no home. Reading wasn’t a high priority when you were constantly drifting.
Eventually, I met a girl and moved in with her. That started a four year stretch of semi-stability. And I started buying books! Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual and Dreamcatcher, and then the first four books of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series. I loved all of these.
During all this time, I played in punk rock bands and wrote about fifty songs. It was like I was writing these mini-stories. At some point, I picked up King’s On Writing. There’s an exercise or an assignment in that book where he gives you the gist of a story and sets you off to write a short story of your own with the basic components or characters of the idea. And I, like many others, did.
When I was alone and my girlfriend was at work, I started trying to scribble short stories of my own. I had zero intention of anyone ever seeing these, I was just having fun.
I’ll zoom ahead here.
Those short stories were in about 2003 or 2004. Shortly after that, I got married and divorced and started playing in more bands and moving around again.
Fast forward to 2011. I’m remarried and have two beautiful daughters. My last band broke up and my work closed down. So, I’m sitting around, and I have all these notebooks full of song lyrics (I never throw any of these out, even though most of them stink). In a number of these old notebooks, I find my early attempts at short stories. In an attempt to do something creative and productive, I decide to try typing up a few of these stories onto my computer (a machine I also never had before). There was one story about a werewolf attacking a man on the side of the road that stood out. I typed it up, cleaned it up, and actually liked it. I shared it with a few friends that liked horror books on Facebook. They loved it. Then, they asked the magic question: what happens next?
I ended up answering that question for the next three and a half months. When I was done, I had written the first draft to my first novel. That book would eventually end up turning into Blood and Rain.
But I remember thinking when I finished, I’m an author. That didn’t mean I was any good, but I had done something huge–I’d written a book.
Here’s where my writing advice comes in…finally.
I was a high school dropout. My grammar was garbage, and is still something I continue to work on, and my understanding of writing rules was 9th grade level. At the time, I didn’t think college was an option, so I went to Barnes & Noble and started buying books on how to write, on proper grammar and writing rules. And I let the dream in a little more…I bought a book on how to get your book published.
I believed this werewolf book was worthy of my time and effort. I thought it had heart and excitement and, beneath its writer’s ugly presentation, offered a pretty good story.
It was still three years before I sold Blood and Rain (to the now-defunct Samhain Publishing), and another year before it was published, but it happened. And if it can happen for me, it can happen for anybody with the will and desire to go after it.
My tips for you, the aspiring writer with no right to be a writer:
1. READ You must love reading. You must love stories. You must keep reading and writing and reading and reading and reading….
2. HAVE FUN You have to let yourself enjoy the slow and steady process of writing a story, whether it’s a short story, a novella, or a full-blown novel. No one is going to see this but you. No one will judge you. Just write. Don’t worry about detail and research, just write. Have fun. Get that initial idea to slowly come to life. You can worry about how it looks and the details later. The most important thing is to have fun going for it.
3. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? This is still the question that runs through my head on a near-daily basis. Thank you Facebook friends! When you get stumped, when writer’s block comes after you (and it will), just fallback to this question. And guess what? Wrong answers are completely acceptable. The main thing is to keep writing. At this point you will need to listen to your guts. You can always go back and change things or delete entire chapters. Don’t be afraid to do that.
4. TRUST YOUR GUT If you’re writing and writing and your story is getting bigger and bigger, you’ll eventually begin to know these characters you are creating. If you get stuck and ask the question What Happens Next? And you answer with something that isn’t quite right, you may get a tingling spidey-sense that tells you I’m not sure about this, or this feels off. TRUST that feeling. The thing I did writing my first book was take it one word, one line, on paragraph, one chapter at a time. I would then just clean up that chapter the next day and share it with my trusted friends. It was during the 2nd day clean up that I would know if I was on the right path. Sometimes, it just wasn’t right. And I’d go back to the end of the last finished chapter and ask myself What Happens Next? Again. Don’t be afraid to delete and try again. Or if you want to stash the iffy chapter, toss it in a file and open a new one and try again. That’s what I did (did I mention that I never throw anything out?).
5. YOUR NEW TEMP JOB The last bit of advice here is for my friends that really want to complete that first large piece. If you have something in-progress and you think it might be okay to pretty good, commit. Commit to the work. Treat it like a new temp job. Make up a schedule. For me, I told myself I was going to work 3-5 days a week, 2-4 hours at a time, with no less than two days off each week from even looking at the work in progress. I usually wound up working 9pm to 1 am or 11 pm to 3 am. It’s what worked for me and my family’s schedules, but I had to commit to my new temp job in order to get where I wanted to go.
From May of 2011 to mid-August of 2011, I started and worked my ass off at this new temp position, and one hot and sweaty evening, I typed THE END. I had fun, I answered What Happens Next again and again, I learned to trust my gut, and by committing to this new position, I finished the job. The first job. And it felt amazing. There was much work ahead of me, but I’d achieved something no one in my real life had ever done. I’d written a book. And I know YOU can, too. Just remember to keep reading!
I hope this helps some of you. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me here or on Twitter @Grolfehorror
Blood and Rain is being re-issued in hardcover and mass market paperback November 15th from Poltergeist Press. It is also available now in eBook from Cemetery Dance Publications.
Pre-order or pick up your copy here: Blood And Rain