So you can read my books

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Ghost of Samuel Clemens here --
So there I was making the ghost of Nikola Tesla chuckle as I used his static electricity gizmo

to make the hair of the sleeping Roland first stand on end and then ripple like a stormy sea.
Hey, we're his friends -- we get to amuse ourselves at his expense --
it's what friends do to  one another.
Nikola, "eavesdropping" on the boy's email --
What?  You think Nikola can't make passwords sit up and beg to be broken?
Anway, Nikola says,

"Samuel, perhaps Roland should go to this convention of which this email speaks?"
"I don't know, Nik.  Roland's not all that conventional."
"No, no, man.  It is a gathering of fellow authors learning how to be the next J K Rowling, that woman who is in all the headlines recently for wearing a man's name."
I raised an eyebrow, and he read from Roland's email:
"What do J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and Lee Child all have in common? They all wrote bestselling novels that were then turned into feature films!
If you can visualize your book as a film or television series, then take advantage of this convention!"
 I frowned, "That pretty gal, JK, and those other authors going to be at that there convention?"
Nikola read further and sighed.
"No.  This announcement only lists speakers of whom I have never heard."
I snorted,
"Well, if they had the know-how as to how to write novels that would be made into fandangled 3D messes, you and I would have heard of them!"
Tiring of my little hair game with Roland, I sat down next to Nikola, lighting up a ghost cigar. 

"Tarnation, even that JK gal is clueless as to how she got struck by lightning."
Nikola straightened behind Roland's laptop.  "Really?"
I made a face. 
"That Rowling gal!  Why I read what she replied to a reporter asking her how a writer could get published today."
Nikola asked, "What did she say?"
"Her answer? Lord, if she didn't have such pretty legs, I'd strangle her!"

Nikola smiled wryly,
"Which means you cannot remember what she said."

"Oh, I remember what she said all right: "Why, they should write something that the publishers wish to publish."
I sputtered, "You think?!

That reporter might as well have asked a man hit by lightning how to predict the rain.

I was a reporter long before I was a writer, and a reporter learns:

Don't pay no mind to what they say, study on what they do.

So let's study on the 4 things that Rowling gal did write, ah, I mean right :

1.) Planning

This is by far the most underrated of the steps in the writing process. And in the final wash up it is absolutely the most important.

It was 1990 and Jo Rowling was on a train between Manchester and London.
Harry literally strolled fully formed into her mind while she was gazing out the train window at a field full of cows.
(I am too much a gentleman to use the line that occurs to me.)

She spent the next four hours (the train was delayed)
imagining Harry,
the world he inhabited,
the friends and enemies he had there
and the dangers and joys he might encounter there.
She had nothing to write on so had to be content to play this all out in her imagination.
By the time she got off the train in London, the central cast of characters were already cemented in her mind.

But did she go home and immediately begin scribbling a story with these characters?

No, she didn’t.

She spent five years,
yes that’s right FIVE YEARS
creating and developing every last detail of the wizarding world, including government and education systems,
how the wizarding world stood shoulder to shoulder with the muggle world,
and she devised a highly sophisticated system of magic that would eventually form the backbone of her own special brand of writing magic.

On top of this she sculpted out the entire story, planning the details and events of all the seven books, before she put pen to paper to begin writing the first.

Would you set sail on the seas without a compass?
Well, children, writing is as rough a sea as I've traversed!

JK Rowling planned the Harry Potter series for five years before she put pen to paper on the first book.
 She wrote the entire first book,
and felt as though she were “carving it out of this mass of notes”.

All the planning was worth it.
She was able to devote herself to the actual task of writing, knowing that all the story and character elements she needed were covered.

2.) Writing

When you are writing, you are just writing.
You are not planning, you are not editing.
You are writing.
Once you have planned your story,
it is time to sit down and write it.

She was able to devote herself to the actual task of writing, knowing that all the story and character elements
she needed were covered.
When you do that, children, the words just flow.

3.) Rewriting

Jo Rowling rewrote the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
a total of 15 times.

Her mother died just 6 months after her first attempt at Chapter One of that book,
and that sent her into a frenzy of rewriting, essentially changing everything.

The Potter books are about death,
there is no doubt about that,
and they are driven particularly
by the death of Harry’s parents
and his miraculous survival.

When Jo Rowling experienced such a major turning point in her own life, she rewrote the story to reflect and process her own pain.

Ernest Hemingway keeps telling me that you only write to rewrite.
DH Lawrence even said that he wrote his entire first draft, threw it away and then started again from scratch.

4.) Editing

Editing is the process of refining and polishing your manuscript.
This part of the process may be done by you,
or by a professional editor.
It is often wise to have an editor look over your work
before submitting it for publication
as it is extremely difficult to get the distance you need
from your own work to see where it can be improved.

Writing a book is a process, never forget that, fellow dreamers.
 Each step in the process is unique but necessary.
Don’t mix 'em,
and certainly don’t attempt to skip any steps.
Do that at your own peril.

J K Rowling, bless her heart,
meant well with that reporter.
But before you attempt your next novel,
don't listen to the little lady.

Follow the four steps she took in her own writing process:

planning, writing, rewriting and editing,
and be sure you give each step its due.

Who knows? The lightning may strike you!

To read how Roland and I first met
(Only 99 cents!)


  1. Some people are better at doing the deed than they are at dispersing that knowledge.

    JKR: "Why, they should write something that the publishers wish to publish." Does this really tell us anything that we didn't know?
    It sounds a bit arrogant.

  2. D.G.:
    It is an actual quote, and made me and Sam feel as you do. Sometimes people who have achieved their dream forget what it was like in the throes of their struggle. I hope it was taken out of context or there was more to her answer than just that sentence! :-)

  3. My own work has been turned upside down as well by the two deaths I experienced in the past months. They always say pain makes for good writing. Maybe it's true :(

  4. All of those steps take time and effort. And five years? My five months doesn't seem so long now.

  5. Vanessa:
    I hate that death has touched your life twice recently. Words are empty comfort in such time.

    Yet, you are right: when your mind and heart, bruised by death, looks upon your old prose, you often see where more depth and empathy could be added. I will pray that your sorrow is ebbed and healed over time.

    Yes, five years is quite an investment!! I am wishing your next book the highest sales! :-)

  6. I didn't know about the first one. Makes me feel better because the ms I'm working on now has been in my head since 1993. It's morphed, changed, and grown.

    I'm down deep in #'s 2 & 3!

    Hope you have a good weekend!

  7. Words Crafter:
    Ah, I'm working solo this weekend, while being on first call both days!! Whew! Maybe the ghost of William Faulkner will look over your shoulder as you wrtie. :-)