Tag Archives: Author

HOW TO WRITE A BOOK: JERRY B. JENKINS TELLS EVERYTHING IN 20 STEPS

Great stories—well told—really change the world. No one understands this better than Jerry B. Jenkins. Over 40 years, he’s authored story art. Jerry Jenkins’ messages have life-shifted millions because he speaks the truth—in fact and in fiction. An insatiable learner, Jerry’s passion for prose astonishingly rendered 186 books (and counting) including the best-selling Left Behind series. 21 of Jerry Jenkins’ books hit the New York Times bestseller list. 7 debuted at number one. Here, Jerry B. Jenkins tells you how to write a book in 20 steps.

Jerry Jenkins is a prolific writer—right across the spectrum. He’s written stand-alones, biographies, adult and children’s fiction as well as Christian education, devotion and documentary works. Jerry’s even penned mysteries and thrillers. Jerry Jenkins now devotes time to helping others improve their craft and realize full potential. He’s a mentor to many—a role model to all.

I was flattered—actually astonished—getting a recent unsolicited email from Jerry Jenkins’ marketing team. They recognized DyingWords as a credible blog and writing resource. We had a great exchange. This led to a mentoring inclusion in Jerry’s Writers Guild. It’s a phenomenal club with sound writing guidance and top resource people including personal online time with Jerry Jenkins. And Jerry graciously shared his newly-published writing guide as a DyingWords guest post.

Here’s Jerry B. Jenkins’ fascinating guide originally published on JerryJenkins.com. It’s called How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps.

*   *   *

So you want to write a book.

Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention give you the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people. However, writing a book is no cakewalk. As a 21-time New York Times Bestselling author, I can tell you: It’s far easier to quit than to finish. When you run out of ideas, when your own message bores you, or when you become overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the task, you’re going to be tempted give up.

But what if you knew exactly:

  • Where to start…
  • What each step entails…
  • How to overcome fear, procrastination, and writer’s block…
  • And how to keep from feeling overwhelmed?

You can do this—and more quickly than you might think, because these days you have access to more writing tools than ever. The key is to follow a proven, straightforward, step-by-step plan. My goal here is to offer you that plan.

I’ve used the techniques I outline below to write more than 180 books (including the Left Behind series) over the past 40 years. Yes, I realize averaging over four books per year is more than you may have thought humanly possible. But trust me—with a reliable blueprint, you can get unstuck and finish your book. This is my personal approach to how to write a book. I’m confident you’ll find something here that can change the game for you. So, let’s jump in.

Part One: Before You Begin

You’ll never regret—in fact, you’ll thank yourself later—for investing the time necessary to prepare for such a monumental task. You wouldn’t set out to cut down a huge grove of trees with just an axe. You’d need a chain saw, perhaps more than one. Something to keep them sharp. Enough fuel to keep them running. You get the picture. Don’t shortcut this foundational part of the process.

1. Establish your writing space

To write your book, you don’t need a sanctuary. In fact, I started my career on my couch facing a typewriter perched on a plank of wood suspended by two kitchen chairs.

What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do. And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career. Naturally, the nicer and more comfortable and private you can make your writing lair (I call mine my cave), the better. (If you dedicate a room solely to your writing, you can even write off a portion of your home mortgage, taxes, and insurance proportionate to that space.)

Real writers can write anywhere. Some write in restaurants and coffee shops. My first fulltime job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering. Cut your writing teeth in an environment like that, and anywhere else seems glorious.

2. Assemble your writing tools.

In the newspaper business, there was no time to handwrite our stuff and then type it for the layout guys. So I have always written at a keyboard. Most authors do, though some handwrite their first drafts and then keyboard them onto a computer or pay someone to do that.

No publisher I know would even consider a typewritten manuscript, let alone one submitted in handwriting. The publishing industry runs on Microsoft Word, so you’ll need to submit Word document files. Whether you prefer a Mac or a PC, both will produce the kinds of files you need.

And if you’re looking for a muscle-bound electronic organizing system, you can’t do better than Scrivener. It works well on both PCs and Macs, and it nicely interacts with Word files.

Just remember, Scrivener has a steep learning curve, so familiarize yourself with it before you start writing. Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it.

So, what else do you need? If you are one who handwrites your first drafts, don’t scrimp on paper, pencils, or erasers. Don’t shortchange yourself on a computer either. Even if someone else is keyboarding for you, you’ll need a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents, editors, publishers. Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed.

Try to imagine everything you’re going to need in addition to your desk or table, so you can equip yourself in advance and don’t have to keep interrupting your work to find things like:

  • Staplers
  • Paper clips
  • Rulers
  • Pencil holders
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Note pads
  • Printing paper
  • Paperweight
  • Tape dispensers
  • Cork or bulletin boards
  • Clocks
  • Bookends
  • Reference works
  • Space heaters
  • Fans
  • Lamps
  • Beverage mugs
  • Napkins
  • Tissues
  • You name it

Last, but most crucial, get the best, most ergonomic chair you can afford. If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine. There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative and immerse yourself in writing while you’re in agony. The chair I work in today cost more than my first car!

If you’ve never used some of the items I listed above and can’t imagine needing them, fine. But make a list of everything you know you’ll need so when the actual writing begins, you’re already equipped. As you grow as a writer and actually start making money at it, you can keep upgrading your writing space. Where I work now is light years from where I started. But the point is, I didn’t wait to start writing until I could have a great spot in which to do it.

3. Break the project into small pieces.

Writing a book feels like a colossal project because it is! But your manuscript will be made up of many small parts. An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Try to get your mind off your book as a 400-or-so-page monstrosity. It can’t be written all at once any more than that proverbial elephant could be eaten in a single sitting.

See your book for what it is: a manuscript made up of sentences, paragraphs, pages. Those pages will begin to add up, and though after a week you may have barely accumulated double digits, a few months down the road you’ll be into your second hundred pages. So keep it simple.

Start by distilling your big book idea from a page or so to a single sentence—your premise. The more specific that one-sentence premise, the more it will keep you focused while you’re writing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can turn your big idea into one sentence, which can then be expanded to an outline, you have to settle on exactly what that big idea is.

4. Settle on your BIG idea.

To be book-worthy, your idea has to be killer. You need to write something about which you’re passionate, something that gets you up in the morning, draws you to the keyboard, and keeps you there. It should excite not only you but also anyone you tell about it. I can’t overstate the importance of this.

If you’ve tried and failed to finish your book before—maybe more than once—it could be that the basic premise was flawed. Maybe it was worth a blog post or an article but couldn’t carry an entire book.

Think The Hunger GamesHarry Potter, or How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleThe market is crowded, the competition fierce. There’s no more room for run-of-the-mill ideas. Your premise alone should make readers salivate.

Go for the big concept book. How do you know you’ve got a winner? Does it have legs? In other words, does it stay in your mind, growing and developing every time you think of it? Run it past loved ones and others you trust. Does it raise eyebrows? Elicit Wows? Or does it result in awkward silences?

The right concept simply works, and you’ll know it when you land on it. Most importantly, your idea must capture you in such a way that you’re compelled to write it. Otherwise, you’ll lose interest halfway through and never finish.

5. Construct your outline.

Starting your writing without a clear vision of where you’re going will usually end in disaster. Even if you’re writing fiction and consider yourself a Pantser* as opposed to an Outliner, you need at least a basic structure. [*Those of us who write by the seat of our pants and, as Stephen King advises, put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens]

You don’t have to call it an outline if that offends your sensibilities. But fashion some sort of a directional document that provides structure and also serves as a safety net. If you get out on that Pantser highwire and lose your balance, you’ll thank me for advising you to have this in place.

Now if you’re writing a nonfiction book, there’s no substitute for an outline. Potential agents or publishers require this in your proposal. They want to know where you’re going, and they want to know that you know. What do you want your reader to learn from your book, and how will you ensure they learn it?

Fiction or nonfiction, if you commonly lose interest in your book somewhere in what I call the Marathon of the Middle, you likely didn’t start with enough exciting ideas.

That’s why an outline (or a basic framework) is essential. Don’t even start writing until you’re confident your structure will hold up through the end. You may recognize this novel structure illustration.

Did you know it holds up—with only slight adaptations—for nonfiction books too? It’s self-explanatory for novelists; they list their plot twists and developments and arrange them in an order that best serves to increase tension.

What separates great nonfiction from mediocre? The same structure! Arrange your points and evidence in the same way so you’re setting your reader up for a huge payoff, and then make sure you deliver.

If your nonfiction book is a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography, structure it like a novel and you can’t go wrong. But even if it’s a straightforward how-to book, stay as close to this structure as possible, and you’ll see your manuscript come alive.

Make promises early, triggering your reader to anticipate fresh ideas, secrets, inside information, something major that will make him thrilled with the finished product. While you may not have as much action or dialogue or character development as your novelist counterpart, your crises and tension can come from showing where people have failed before and how you’re going to ensure your reader will succeed. You can even make the how-to project look impossible until you pay off that setup with your unique solution.

Keep your outline to a single page for now. But make sure every major point is represented, so you’ll always know where you’re going. And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the basics of classic outlining or have never felt comfortable with the concept. Your outline must serve you. If that means Roman numerals and capital and lowercase letters and then Arabic numerals, you can certainly fashion it that way. But if you just want a list of sentences that synopsize your idea, that’s fine too.

Simply start with your working title, then your premise, then—for fiction, list all the major scenes that fit into the rough structure above. For nonfiction, try to come up with chapter titles and a sentence or two of what each chapter will cover. Once you have your one-page outline, remember it is a fluid document meant to serve you and your book. Expand it, change it, play with it as you see fit—even during the writing process.

6. Set a firm writing schedule.

Ideally, you want to schedule at least six hours per week to write. That may consist of three sessions of two hours each, two sessions of three hours, or six one-hour sessions—whatever works for you. I recommend a regular pattern (same times, same days) that can most easily become a habit. But if that’s impossible, just make sure you carve out at least six hours so you can see real progress.

Having trouble finding the time to write a book? News flash—you won’t find the time. You have to make it.

I used the phrase carve out above for a reason. That’s what it takes. Something in your calendar will likely have to be sacrificed in the interest of writing time. Make sure it’s not your family—they should always be your top priority. Never sacrifice your family on the altar of your writing career. But beyond that, the truth is that we all find time for what we really want to do.

Many writers insist they have no time to write, but they always seem to catch the latest Netflix original series or go to the next big Hollywood feature. They enjoy concerts, parties, ball games, whatever.

How important is it to you to finally write your book? What will you cut from your calendar each week to ensure you give it the time it deserves?

  • A favorite TV show?
  • An hour of sleep per night? (Be careful with this one; rest is crucial to a writer.)
  • A movie?
  • A concert?
  • A party?

Successful writers make time to write. When writing becomes a habit, you’ll be on your way.

7. Establish a sacred deadline.

Without deadlines, I rarely get anything done. I need that motivation. Admittedly, my deadlines are now established in my contracts from publishers. If you’re writing your first book, you probably don’t have a contract yet. To ensure you finish your book, set your own deadline—then consider it sacred.

Tell your spouse or loved one or trusted friend. Ask that they hold you accountable. Now determine—and enter in your calendar—the number of pages you need to produce per writing session to meet your deadline. If it proves unrealistic, change the deadline now.

If you have no idea how many pages or words you typically produce per session, you may have to experiment before you finalize those figures. Say you want to finish a 400-page manuscript by this time next year. Divide 400 by 50 weeks (accounting for two off-weeks), and you get eight pages per week. Divide that by your typical number of writing sessions per week and you’ll know how many pages you should finish per session. Now is the time to adjust these numbers while setting your deadline and determining your pages per session.

Maybe you’d rather schedule four off weeks over the next year. Or you know your book will be unusually long. Change the numbers to make it realistic and doable, and then lock it in. Remember, your deadline is sacred.

8. Embrace procrastination (Really!)

You read that right. Don’t fight it; embrace it. You wouldn’t guess it from my 190+ published books, but I’m the king of procrastinators. Surprised? Don’t be. So many authors are procrastinators that I’ve come to wonder if it’s a prerequisite. The secret is to accept it and, in fact, schedule it.

I quit fretting and losing sleep over procrastinating when I realized it was inevitable and predictable, and also that it was productive. Sound like rationalization? Maybe it was at first. But I learned that while I’m putting off the writing, my subconscious is working on my book. It’s a part of the process. When you do start writing again, you’ll enjoy the surprises your subconscious reveals to you.

So, knowing procrastination is coming, book it on your calendar. Take it into account when you’re determining your page quotas. If you have to go back in and increase the number of pages you need to produce per session, do that (I still do it all the time). But—and here’s the key—you must never let things get to where that number of pages per day exceeds your capacity.

It’s one thing to ratchet up your output from two pages per session to three. But if you let it get out of hand, you’ve violated the sacredness of your deadline. How can I procrastinate and still meet more than 190 deadlines? Because I keep the deadlines sacred.

9. Eliminate distractions to stay focused.

Are you as easily distracted as I am? Have you found yourself writing a sentence and then checking your email? Writing another and checking Facebook? Getting caught up in the come-ons for pictures of the 10 Sea Monsters You Wouldn’t Believe Actually Exist? Then you just have to check out that precious video from a talk show where the dad surprises the family by returning from the war. That leads to more and more of the same. Once I’m in, my writing is forgotten, and all of a sudden the day has gotten away from me.

The answer to these insidious time wasters? Look into these apps that allow you to block your email, social media, browsers, game apps, whatever you wish during the hours you want to write. Some carry a modest fee, others are free.

10. Conduct your research.

Yes, research is a vital part of the process, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

Fiction means more than just making up a story. Your details and logic and technical and historical details must be right for your novel to be believable. And for nonfiction, even if you’re writing about a subject in which you’re an expert—as I’m doing here—you’ll be surprised how ensuring you get all the facts right will polish your finished product.

In fact, you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve researched a fact or two while writing this blog post alone. The last thing you want is even a small mistake due to your lack of proper research.

Regardless the detail, trust me, you’ll hear from readers about it. Your credibility as an author and an expert hinges on creating trust with your reader. That dissolves in a hurry if you commit an error.

My favorite research resources are:

  • World Almanacs: These alone list almost everything you need for accurate prose: facts, data, government information, and more. For my novels, I often use these to come up with ethnically accurate character names.
  • The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus: The online version is great because it’s lightning fast. You couldn’t turn the pages of a hard copy as quickly as you can get where you want to onscreen. One caution: Never let it be obvious you’ve consulted a thesaurus. You’re not looking for the exotic word that jumps off the page. You’re looking for that common word that’s on the tip of your tongue.
  • WorldAtlas.com: Here you’ll find nearly limitless information about any continent, country, region, city, town, or village. Names, monetary units, weather patterns, tourism info, and even facts you wouldn’t have thought to search for. I get ideas when I’m digging here, for both my novels and my nonfiction books.

11. Start calling yourself a writer.

Your inner voice may tell you, “You’re no writer and you never will be. What do you think you’re doing, trying to write a book?That may be why you’ve stalled at writing your book in the past. But if you’re working at writing, studying writing, practicing writing, that makes you a writer. Don’t wait till you reach some artificial level of accomplishment before calling yourself a writer.

A cop in uniform and on duty is a cop whether he’s actively enforced the law yet or not. A carpenter is a carpenter whether he’s ever built a house. Self-identify as a writer now and you’ll silence that inner critic—who, of course, is really you. Talk back to yourself if you must. It may sound silly, but acknowledging yourself as a writer can give you the confidence to keep going and finish your book.

Are you a writer? Say so.

Part Two: The Writing Itself

12. Think reader first.

This is so important that you should write it on a sticky note and affix it to your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write. Every decision you make about your manuscript must be run through this filter. Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-first, agent-first, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner circle or critics-first. Reader-first, last, and always.

If every decision is based on the idea of reader-first, all those others benefit anyway. When fans tell me they were moved by one of my books, I think back to this adage and am grateful I maintained that posture during the writing.

Does a scene bore you? If you’re thinking reader-first, it gets overhauled or deleted. Where to go, what to say, what to write next? Decide based on the reader as your priority. Whatever your gut tells you your reader would prefer, that’s your answer. Whatever will intrigue him, move him, keep him reading, those are your marching orders.

So, naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Loves? Hates? Attention span? When in doubt, look in the mirror. The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees.

13. Find your writing voice.

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be. You can find yours by answering these quick questions:

  1. What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  2. Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  3. What did you sound like when you did?

That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged. That’s all there is to it. If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf—and you’ll quickly master the voice.

Here’s a blog I posted that’ll walk you through the process.

14. Write a compelling opener.

If you’re stuck because of the pressure of crafting the perfect opening line, you’re not alone.

And neither is your angst misplaced. This is not something you should put off and come back to once you’ve started on the rest of the first chapter.

Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that. But settling on a good one will really get you off and running. It’s unlikely you’ll write a more important sentence than your first one, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Make sure you’re thrilled with it and then watch how your confidence—and momentum—soars.

Most great first lines fall into one of these categories:

Surprising

Fiction: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nonfiction: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man

Dramatic Statement

Fiction: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nonfiction: “I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison.” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand

Philosophical

Fiction: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Nonfiction: “It’s not about you.” —Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Poetic

Fiction: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Nonfiction: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours.

Here’s a list of famous openers.

15. Fill your story with conflict and tension.

Your reader craves conflict, and yes, this applies to nonfiction readers as well. In a novel, if everything is going well and everyone is agreeing, your reader will soon lose interest and find something else to do—like watching paint dry.

Are two of your characters talking at the dinner table? Have one say something that makes the other storm out. Some deep-seeded rift in their relationship has surfaced. Is it just a  misunderstanding that has snowballed into an injustice? Thrust people into conflict with each other. That’ll keep your reader’s attention.

Certain nonfiction genres won’t lend themselves to that kind of conflict, of course, but you can still inject tension by setting up your reader for a payoff in later chapters. Check out some of the current bestselling nonfiction works to see how writers accomplish this. Somehow they keep you turning those pages, even in a simple how-to title.

Tension is the secret sauce that will propel your reader through to the end. And sometimes that’s as simple as implying something to come.

16. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.

Many of us are perfectionists and find it hard to get a first draft written—fiction or nonfiction—without feeling compelled to make every sentence exactly the way we want it. That voice in your head that questions every word, every phrase, every sentence, and makes you worry you’re being redundant or have allowed cliches to creep in—well, that’s just your editor alter ego.

He or she needs to be told to shut up. This is not easy. Deep as I am into a long career, I still have to remind myself of this every writing day. I cannot be both creator and editor at the same time. That slows me to a crawl, and my first draft of even one brief chapter could take days. Our job when writing that first draft is to get down the story or the message or the teaching—depending on your genre.

It helps me to view that rough draft as a slab of meat I will carve tomorrow. I can’t both produce that hunk and trim it at the same time. A cliche, a redundancy, a hackneyed phrase comes tumbling out of my keyboard, and I start wondering whether I’ve forgotten to engage the reader’s senses or aimed for his emotions.

That’s when I have to chastise myself and say, “No! Don’t worry about that now! First thing tomorrow you get to tear this thing up and put it back together again to your heart’s content!” Imagine yourself wearing different hats for different tasks, if that helps—whatever works to keep you rolling on that rough draft. You don’t need to show it to your worst enemy or even your dearest love. This chore is about creating. Don’t let anything slow you down.

Some like to write their entire first draft before attacking the revision. As I say, whatever works. Doing it that way would make me worry I’ve missed something major early that will cause a complete rewrite when I discover it months later. I alternate creating and revising.

The first thing I do every morning is a heavy edit and rewrite of whatever I wrote the day before. If that’s ten pages, so be it. I put my perfectionist hat on and grab my paring knife and trim that slab of meat until I’m happy with every word. Then I switch hats, tell Perfectionist Me to take the rest of the day off, and I start producing rough pages again.

So, for me, when I’ve finished the entire first draft, it’s actually a second draft because I have already revised and polished it in chunks every day. THEN I go back through the entire manuscript one more time, scouring it for anything I missed or omitted, being sure to engage the reader’s senses and heart, and making sure the whole thing holds together.

I do not submit anything I’m not entirely thrilled with. I know there’s still an editing process it will will go through at the publisher, but my goal is to make my manuscript the absolute best I can before they see it.

Compartmentalize your writing vs. your revising and you’ll find that frees you to create much more quickly.

17. Preservere through The Marathon of the Middle.

Most who fail at writing a book tell me they give up somewhere in what I like to call The Marathon of the Middle. That’s a particularly rough stretch for novelists who have a great concept, a stunning opener, and they can’t wait to get to the dramatic ending. But they bail when they realize they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the middle. They start padding, trying to add scenes just for the sake of bulk, but they’re soon bored and know readers will be too. This actually happens to nonfiction writers too.

The solution there is in the outlining stage, being sure your middle points and chapters are every bit as valuable and magnetic as the first and last. If you strategize the progression of your points or steps in a process—depending on nonfiction genre—you should be able to eliminate the strain in the middle chapters.

For novelists, know that every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. The shine wears off, keeping the pace and tension gets harder, and it’s easy to run out of steam. But that’s not the time to quit. Force yourself back to your structure, come up with a subplot if necessary, but do whatever you need to so your reader stays engaged.

Fiction writer or nonfiction author, The Marathon of the Middle is when you must remember why you started this journey in the first place. It isn’t just that you want to be an author. You have something to say. You want to reach the masses with your message.

Yes, it’s hard. It still is for me—every time. But don’t panic or do anything rash, like surrendering. Embrace the challenge of the middle as part of the process. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

18. Write a resounding ending.

This is just as important for your nonfiction book as your novel. It may not be as dramatic or emotional, but it could be—especially if you’re writing a memoir. But even a how-to or self-help book needs to close with a resounding thud, the way a Broadway theater curtain meets the floor.

How do you ensure your ending doesn’t fizzle?

  • Don’t rush it. Give readers the payoff they’ve been promised. They’ve invested in you and your book the whole way. Take the time to make it satisfying.
  • Never settle for close enough just because you’re eager to be finished. Wait till you’re thrilled with every word, and keep revising until you are.
  • If it’s unpredictable, it had better be fair and logical so your reader doesn’t feel cheated. You want him to be delighted with the surprise, not tricked.
  • If you have multiple ideas for how your book should end, go for the heart rather than the head, even in nonfiction. Readers most remember what moves them.

Part Three: All Writing Is Rewriting

19. Become a ferocious self-editor.

Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether your manuscript is worthy of further consideration. That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s also reality, so we writers need to face it.

How can they often decide that quickly on something you’ve devoted months, maybe years, to?

Because they can almost immediately envision how much editing would be required to make those first couple of pages publishable. If they decide the investment wouldn’t make economic sense for a 300-400-page manuscript, end of story.

Your best bet to keep an agent or editor reading your manuscript? You must become a ferocious self-editor. That means:

  • Omit needless words
  • Choose the simple word over one that requires a dictionary
  • Avoid subtle redundancies, like “He thought in his mind…” (Where else would someone think?)
  • Avoid hedging verbs like almost frowned, sort of jumped, etc.
  • Generally remove the word that—use it only when absolutely necessary for clarity
  • Give the reader credit and resist the urge to explain, as in, “She walked through the open door.” (Did we need to be told it was open?)
  • Avoid too much stage direction (what every character is doing with every limb and digit)
  • Avoid excessive adjectives
  • Show, don’t tell
  • And many more

For my full list and how to use them, click here. (It’s free.)

When do you know you’re finished revising? When you’ve gone from making your writing better to merely making it different. That’s not always easy to determine, but it’s what makes you an author.

And Finally—the Quickest Way to Succeed…

20. Find a mentor.

Get help from someone who’s been where you want to be. Imagine engaging a mentor who can help you sidestep all the amateur pitfalls and shave years of painful trial-and-error off your learning curve. Just make sure it’s someone who really knows the writing and publishing world. Many masquerade as mentors and coaches but have never really succeeded themselves.

Look for someone widely-published who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers.

There are many helpful mentors online. I teach writers through this free site, as well as in my members-only Writers Guild.

Want to save this definitive 20-Step Guide to read later?

Click here to download a handy PDF version.

WHY WE LOVE GETTING SHIT-SCARED

A3We’re fascinated by monsters. Violent horror movies. Psychological crime thrillers. Blood, guts, and terror are blockbusters. They’ve been bestsellers for generations. Something’s buried deep in our collective subconscious that craves fright—something hard-wired in our brains that physiologically reacts in a fight-or-flight response when facing horrific, brutal, and shocking creatures and events.

A1We know lots of fictional monsters. Freddy Krueger. Norman Bates. Hannibal Lector. They’re household names. We love watching them perform—from a safe distance. But most know nothing of real-life monsters like Michael Oros, Billy Ray Shaughnessy, Esa Raasanen, and David Shearing. I guarantee these creeps will scare the living shit out of you because I know who they are…what they’ve done…what they can do…

I’ve investigated them. I’ve written about them. And I’ll tell you about these true-life monsters in a bit.

So, why do we love fright? Because fright gives us pleasure.

A4My internet friend, Lisa Cron, wrote Wired For Story. This was a game changer for me. As a crime thriller author, I wanted to know what makes psychological crime thriller readers tick—why so many are fascinated with death—so I could write better stories.

Particularly murder stories.

Lisa explained shock is the triggering mechanism for releasing our brain’s chemicals that active a fight-or-flight response. Our brains are lightning fast at assessing threats. Shock stimulus shoots adrenaline, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine re-uptakes through our neurotransmitters. This mentally and physically prepares our neuromuscular systems for a drastic response. It shoves us to the edge of the mental cliff.

Ready to run. Or fit to fight. But not to fall.

These natural chemicals are also responsible for giving us pleasure. This shock rush is like crack to the brain and it craves a repeat—provided we know we’re in a safe environment—subconsciously reassured when we’re at home, quietly watching TV or reading a book.

Lisa says more about why our brains crave fright. Ultimately, our brain has one overall responsibility for the rest of our body.

To ensure our survival.

A5Our brains evaluate everything we encounter with a simple question. Is this going to help me or hurt me? Not just physically.

Emotionally, as well.

From the start of a story—from the very first scene—our brains crave a sense of urgency that instantly makes us want to know what happens next. It’s a visceral feeling…seducing us into leaving the real world behind and surrendering into world of story. Our brain’s goal is to predict what might happen so we can figure out what to do before it happens.

This is where shock value comes in. And where the monsters come on.

A7Storytelling’s master of monsters and sheik of shock is Stephen King. He’s scared the shit out of millions and his audience is massive. They love it and keep coming back for more. It’s because Stephen King gives readers pleasure.

I’ve repeatedly sent emails to Stephen King asking permission to republish an outstanding article he wrote years ago. It’s called Why We Crave Horror Movies.

I don’t know if the master’s too busy or if I’m a small pupil, but Stephen King ignores me. Nerve of him, after all the money I spent on his stuff.

So I said “Fuck Stephen King.” I’m tired of waiting.

A8Stephen King’s piece on why we love getting shit-scared is just too good not to share. Therefore, I evoke the “doctrine of fair use and open source domain in accordance to the statutory and common-law allowances of the country of publication”. Besides, you can download and read the pdf here.

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Why We Crave Horror Movies–By Stephen King

I think that we’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better—and maybe not all that much better, after all. We’ve all known people who talk to themselves, people who sometimes squinch their faces into horrible grimaces when they believe no one is watching, people who have some hysterical fear—of snakes, the dark, the tight place, the long drop . . . and, of course, those final worms and grubs that are waiting so patiently underground.
When we pay our four or five bucks and seat ourselves at tenth-row center in a theater showing a horror movie, we are daring the nightmare.
Why? Some of the reasons are simple and obvious. To show that we can, that we are not afraid, that we can ride this roller coaster. Which is not to say that a really good horror movie may not surprise a scream out of us at some point, the way we may scream when the roller coaster twists through a complete 360 or plows through a lake at the bottom of the drop. And horror movies, like roller coasters, have always been the special province of the young; by the time one turns 40 or 50, one’s appetite for double twists or 360-degree loops may be considerably depleted.

A9

We also go to re-establish our feelings of essential normality; the horror movie is innately conservative, even reactionary. Freda Jackson as the horrible melting woman in Die, Monster, Die! confirms for us that no matter how far we may be removed from the beauty of a Robert Redford or a Diana Ross, we are still light-years from true ugliness.
And we go to have fun.
Ah, but this is where the ground starts to slope away, isn’t it? Because this is a very peculiar sort of fun, indeed. The fun comes from seeing others menaced – sometimes killed. One critic has suggested that if pro football has become the voyeur’s version of combat, then the horror film has become the modern version of the public lynching.
It is true that the mythic “fairy-tale” horror film intends to take away the shades of gray . . . . It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites. It may be that horror movies provide psychic relief on this level because this invitation to lapse into simplicity, irrationality, and even outright madness is extended so rarely. We are told we may allow our emotions a free rein . . . or no rein at all.

A10

If we are all insane, then sanity becomes a matter of degree.
If your insanity leads you to carve up women like Jack the Ripper or the Cleveland Torso Murderer, we clap you away in the funny farm (but neither of those two amateur-night surgeons was ever caught, heh-heh-heh); if, on the other hand, your insanity leads you only to talk to yourself when you’re under stress or to pick your nose on your morning bus, then you are left alone to go about your business . . . though it is doubtful that you will ever be invited to the best parties.
The potential lyncher is in almost all of us (excluding saints, past and present; but then, most saints have been crazy in their own ways), and every now and then, he has to be let loose to scream and roll around in the grass. Our emotions and our fears form their own body, and we recognize that it demands its own exercise to maintain proper muscle tone. Certain of these emotional muscles are accepted – even exalted – in civilized society; they are, of course, the emotions that tend to maintain the status quo of civilization itself. Love, friendship, loyalty, kindness — these are all the emotions that we applaud, emotions that have been immortalized in the couplets of Hallmark cards and in the verses (I don’t dare call it poetry) of Leonard Nimoy.
When we exhibit these emotions, society showers us with positive reinforcement; we learn this even before we get out of diapers. When, as children, we hug our rotten little puke of a sister and give her a kiss, all the aunts and uncles smile and twit and cry, “Isn’t he the sweetest little thing?” Such coveted treats as chocolate-covered graham crackers often follow. But if we deliberately slam the rotten little puke of a sister’s fingers in the door, sanctions follow – angry remonstrance from parents, aunts and uncles; instead of a chocolate-covered graham cracker, a spanking.

A11

But anticivilization emotions don’t go away, and they demand periodic exercise. We have such “sick” jokes as, “What’s the difference between a truckload of bowling balls and a truckload of dead babies?” (You can’t unload a truckload of bowling balls with a pitchfork . . . a joke, by the way, that I heard originally from a ten-year-old.) Such a joke may surprise a laugh or a grin out of us even as we recoil, a possibility that confirms the thesis: If we share a brotherhood of man, then we also share an insanity of man. None of which is intended as a defense of either the sick joke or insanity but merely as an explanation of why the best horror films, like the best fairy tales, manage to be reactionary, anarchistic, and revolutionary all at the same time.
A12The mythic horror movie, like the sick joke, has a dirty job to do. It deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized . . . and it all happens, fittingly enough, in the dark. For those reasons, good liberals often shy away from horror films. For myself, I like to see the most aggressive of them – Dawn of the Dead, for instance – as lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.
Why bother?
Because it keeps them from getting out, man. It keeps them down there and me up here. It was Lennon and McCartney who said that all you need is love, and I would agree with that.
As long as you keep the gators fed.

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There. That’s the best explanation of why we love getting shit-scared.

A14So where am I going with this monster, fear, and pleasure thing? Well, I’m doing shameless, self-promotion for the stories I write.

I write about human monsters because I’ve met a bunch and I try explaining how I think these extremely dangerous, fascinating, social-rejects operate. I also try portraying how police investigators behave—how real cops use creative and technological aids in modern-day monster-catching.

I believe an author’s storytelling job is to entertain, educate, and enlighten—and I believe there’s an intense reader interest in psychological crime thrillers. Here’s a snapshot of what I’m up to.

KushtakaNo Witnesses To Nothing is based on the true story of Michael Oros—a deranged bushman, terrorizing the frozen Canadian north and murdering people. Legend said Oros was the monstrous manifestation of a mythical shapeshifter who hunts people, kills them, and steals their souls. It’s also an intertwined, true story of two police informants who were murdered in apparent police-ordered hits. Deep down, No Witnesses To Nothing is not really a crime thriller. It’s a serious search for the science and spirituality behind our human existence. The soul.

Get No Witnesses To Nothing here.

NoLifeUntilDeath8No Life Until Death is the black-market world of international human organ trafficking. It parlays characters from No Witnesses To Nothing and continues the series of Sharlene Bate Crime Thrillers. No Life Until Death follows paths of two families whose daughters are targeted by a monstrous pair of abductors harvesting human organs in North America and shipping parts to the Philippines. No Life Until Death‘s tagline is Desperate People Do Desperate Things.

Get No Life Until Death here.

InTheAttic2In The Attic is the true story I investigated where Billy Ray Shaughnessy, a monstrous psychopath, hid in Maria Dersch’s attic with an ax. He climbed down at 3 a.m., slaughtering Maria and her new lover. It’s told in first-person with me, as the detective, narrating the story before and after the murders, as well as in Billy Ray’s homicidal thoughts while he lurked eight feet above. In The Attic‘s dialogue comes from actual transcripts and notes of my interviews with Maria and Billy Ray.

Get In The Attic here.

UnderTheGround8Under The Ground is from another factual case—the story of Esa Raasanaen and Kristen Madsen. It’s a monstrous tale of murder where Kristen disappeared and Esa was suspected of killing Kristen, disposing of her body. Under The Ground follows a highly-complex, psychological undercover sting where Esa was sucked into a fictional organized crime group. He confessed to the undercover operator and turned over Kristen’s body. What Esa did to Kristen…where he’d hidden her…was horrific—shocking to the most seasoned homicide investigators.

A15From The Shadows is my newest crime-thriller. The manuscript is underway. It’s based on the shocking true story of the worst monster imaginable. David Shearing murdered six members of the Johnson-Bentley family—three generations—to fulfill his psychopathic and pedophilic desire in capturing two pre-teen girls as sex slaves. From The Shadows follows the discovery of an unspeakable crime, the frustrating two-year investigation, and the final psychological break-down of Shearing during an outstanding police interrogation.

No Witnesses To Nothing, No Life Until Death, and In The Attic are currently available on Amazon.

Under The Ground is readying for publication. From The Shadows is close behind. I’m looking for ARC (Advance Reading Copy) readers for these two stories, so if you’d like an eBook file of either/both, email me at garry.rodgers@shaw.ca and I’ll ship you the monster stories.

…provided you love getting shit-scared.

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P.S. — Please comment, share on social media, and – if you’ve read the books – I’d really appreciate if you’d take a moment to leave a short review on Amazon. And thanks for your support in my writing and for following DyingWords!
~ Garry

MINING THE MINERS

A1Self Publishing is the book-writing gold rush for indie authors. There’s money in them thar words and that’s no lie. A lot of people are making a lot of money outside the Big-5 print publishers and good for them. But most of the money is made by people selling stuff to gold-stricken writers.

The ones who made good money off the gold rush sold shovels to the miners. That’s right. They mined the miners. They also sold food and packs and clothes and toiletries. They sold eggs at a dollar a piece and whiskey at five bucks a shot. They sold a shave & a haircut for two-bits, baths for fifty cents, and women for whatever the gal could command.

A2The miners did mine, and some got quite rich, but most got frustrated and gave up.

Indie writing is no different. There has never been a better time to be a writer and I believe that. There is a fortune of information available on line, in print, and in person which you can turn into golden words.

Thing is, you have to pay for most of it.

And a lot of it is good stuff.

A3In the three plus years that I’ve taken writing seriously I’ve spent hundreds, no, thousands of dollars on author services. I’ve got over fifty books, print and electronic, on the craft of writing and the business of marketing. I’ve taken webinars and seminars and sat in bars reading about writing. I’ve paid for editors, formatters, and cover designers. And I’ve given away gobs of information to others.

It’s paid off.

Not in gold – yet. That’s to come.

A4It’s paid off because I’m starting to figure this game out and it’s been because I’ve paid for the help from others. I’ve made tremendous on-line acquaintances. Some actually personal. Some are ether mentors. Some are those who struck it rich.

Here’s an example of someone from my home town who hit the motherlode. I met Chevy Stevens (pen name because her real name is hard to pronounce) when she was a realtor showing a house for me. She aspired to be a writer and she sold the farm to succeed. Literally.

A6Chevy so believed in herself and her craft that she quit the realty business, sold her own house to survive, and sat down to write. She paid a lot of money to have Renni Browne of The Editorial Department work her first book, Still Missing, into a New York Times BestSeller. Now Chevy’s on her fifth BestSeller and internationally known. She’s the first to admit that it wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t pay for good help.

Good help is not hard to find.

I see a lot of online bashing of Author Solutions – a division of Penguin Random House. Now there’s an example of mining the miners. These clever bastards saw the indie gold rush not as a threat to print publishing, but a new vein to be tapped. Author Solutions has some great outfits for sale and they’ll upsell the shit out of you. Draining your wallet is their aim. But if you take the gold dust out of your eyes, and know what you want, there’s value in their pack.

A7An interesting new outfitter is Booktrope. Rachel Thompson, who I highly respect (Rachel in the OC / Bad Redhead Media), referred me to them and she’s now heading one of their imprints called Gravity. This is an interesting concept where you can get published without spending any money. Yep, it’s for real.

Booktrope is a cooperative of writers, editors, designers, and marketers working together to produce quality books. All you have to do, as a writer, is to provide quality content. They’ll help you to get published and, in their model, no one makes money till they all make money. It’s an interesting concept and I hope they succeed.

A8They say that those who can’t do, teach. I’m not so sure about that, but here’s some free dirt from someone who’s still digging a shaft.

For gold on the craft of writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing.

For gold on grammar, read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

For golden motivation, read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

For the gold on scientific storytelling, read Lisa Cron’s Wired For Story.

For a pot of gold on everything writing, go to Joanna Penn’s TheCreativePenn.com.

What have you dug up that makes a better writer?

I’m dying to see your mine.