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Writing Advice (at the bottom)

by Dennis M. Myers, 09/21/2019

I first got the idea to write when I was in high school. About 15 or 16 years old, I read a book by a well known, and actually quite respected author. I thought it was crap. I didn't like it at all. Being young and quite full of myself, I thought I could do better. So I came up with a world, populated it with humanoids, and started writing a story. I had an entire trilogy plotted out in my head. I wrote the first page, and was very proud of myself. I let my Grandmother read it. She liked it, told me to keep writing. Of all the advice I've managed to ignore in my life, that was probably the one I think I should have taken. But life has a way of turning your head and making you focus on other things. A new girlfriend, a new school, home problems and a sudden shift in which parent I was living with... Soon I was a year out of high school (the third in three years) and packing my things away because I was leaving for the Navy. I had one box that I put all of my important papers into. My mother's short stories, my amateur drawings, notebook covers I had doodled on that I was still fond of, and of course, all my notes and that first page of writing for the story I started. I gave it to an uncle to keep safe.

Five years later when I asked about the box, I was told it had been tossed out. So, that ended that storyline.

In hindsight, it probably wasn't that great. It certainly didn't sound as plausible after gaining a lot more experience in the world and a better understanding of certain scientific principles.

But the reason I had asked about the box was because I had gotten the itch again. I wanted to write. So I started with a new story. This time, it was more of a fantasy. Zombies. They were fun. I wrote about 10,000 words in that story. It was my first experience where the plot I had outlined changed because of the characters themselves. Specifically, a particularly decrepit zombie, missing both legs, who was never intended to be anything more than a part of a conversation, jumped in and declared he was coming along. Mainly because he thought the quest was so gobsmackingly stupid of them that he wanted to come along for the entertainment value. Loved that character. Hagis was his name. His legs were out on loan to two others who had lost theirs. Zombie parts are interchangeable, you see. Even now his lines make me laugh.

So of course this was right before my divorce, and that whole mess. So at 10,501 words of rather stilted prose, I tucked it away, and only recently started looking at it again.

As a side note, the dialog does make me laugh, but the way I wrote it is so hard to read, I'll have to tear it apart and rephrase everything outside of the quotes. But yes, someday I think I will start that one back up, and slide it ever so gently into the science fiction universe I am working on. (Yes, I can do zombies in my universe. Hold my beer and I'll show you.)

I did have a couple of adventures published in Challenge Magazine for Traveller. Or, more specifically, MegaTraveller. I even made the cover of issue 45. I have a copy framed on the wall of my office. That got me invited to science fiction conventions, for the first time as a guest. I sat on panels, and felt quite important. Yay. It's also how I came to meet Allen Wold. He holds writing workshops at conventions all up and down the east coast. I attended one. There were about six of us, and he had us write the hook for a story. Just the hook. A paragraph or two.

Well, I sat for a moment and pulled an idea out of the air and wrote it down. When he started having people read their work, he started on the end furthest from myself. The person read their work, and then Allen asked something I hadn't expected. "How long have you been working on that?"

I hadn't thought about that. The answer surprised me even more. A couple of years. Same for the next. Eighteen months, a year, five years... then he got to me. I smiled and told him I had just made it up. There was nervous laughter, of course. By afterwards Allen caught my arm and told me to finish it. He would be sure it was read by his agent.

I think, more than any other moment in my life, that is when I realized that I could do it. I realized that I could actually be an author.

Naturally, I didn't follow his advice either. I mean, if I was going to ignore my grandmother, I certainly ignored him. And there was that whole divorce thing going on again. That became a recurring nightmare. By this time I was out of the Navy and flat broke. It took me a long time to work through all that.

I ended up in the Richmond area. Close enough to Norfolk that I could have my kids every other weekend, but far enough that my ex-wife never knocked on my door. Plus, I had broken into the IT field. I was finally making some good money.

I continued to write down story ideas, and even a page or two here and there. I've got some interesting things in my head, I'll tell you that. Over the course of another decade I even managed to find a wonderful woman and convince her to marry me. That's an adventure story all its own.

In early 2017 my cousin and I were talking about our stories, as he is also an author. When I described the number of story ideas I had, he dared me to put them all into one timeline. One universe. So I did. For the most part, they all fell into line in one spot or another, except for one story that had a technology that I have since decided I didn't want to use. Artificial gravity. There just doesn't seem to be any scientific evidence that you can bend spacetime enough to create an artificial gravity field that wouldn't also have a huge number of side effects that popular science fiction just loves to ignore. Remember that story I wrote for Allen? Yeah. The entire premise hinges on artificial gravity. So it's the one thing that doesn't fit into this particular universe. Not yet, anyway.

Then in late 2017 my position was eliminated. I was given a very nice severance package, and walked to the door of the company I had thought I would spend the rest of my career at. After the shock wore off, and after I had put the check into the bank and started smiling, I created a database table and put in all the different story ideas I could write, I put my nearly dead business in there too, along with a few other things I thought I could do. I set the weight of each one from 1 to 10, and wrote a procedure to pull one at random, taking the weights into account.

Now, I did talk this over with my wife, and given that I didn't need to find a job right away, I made the commitment to myself that whatever was chosen by the procedure was what I was going to jump on and dedicate my time to for three months.

The story that popped up was a short story idea about this woman who lived on the moon. I had several pages already written, and I had some general idea what could happen. Then I consulted my timeline. Remember that? That's when I realized that this story took place right at the point where the Corporate Federation was coming to an end, and the first phase of the Automated Empire was about to form. Now, on the timeline, it's a hard stop, but that's just a generality. Suddenly I had this much larger story to tell and an interesting new angle to throw in. At the end of three months, I had a whole book. I went back to work, or course, so my writing pace slowed, but I hired an editor to look it all over. We split that first book into two, and I expanded them into two full books.

The first one has been submitted, and I am now working on a story that comes a bit later, and in a different place. That way, either what I have submitted, or what I am currently writing can become a starting point into my universe. I want to make it a long term goal that I will write in series, with no more than three or four books in them, all in the same universe. That means I have the history. I have that timeline to work from. Yes, it will change and be adjusted as I go, but it's a great tool to refer to so that I can have the bigger picture in my head.



I know this is a long post just to get to some writing advice, so I'll make them bullet points below.

  • If someone reads what you wrote and tells you they want more, go and write more.
  • If a published author reads what you have written and says they liked it and will have their agent read it when you finish, go finish it.
  • If you have a story where everyone who reads it likes it and wants more of it. make more of it.
  • Not sure I can make another iteration, but I hope you see the point.
    • You cannot sell a story that you have not written.
    • You won't sell everything you write, but you will only sell stories that you have written (I think I am paraphrasing Allen Wold on that one).
  • Read. Read a lot.
    • My personal experience is that the more I read, the more I write. Seems counterintuitive, I know. But it does grease the wheels, so to speak.
  • Once you are near your goal in size, hire an independent editor.
    • Let them rip your babies apart and help you make the story better.
  • Read Christopher Vogler's book, The Writer's Journey.
    • If you are a plumber, you need tools. Same if you are an auto mechanic. You need tools. Vogler's book is an excellent toolset for writers.
  • Research publishers. Find those who publish books like yours. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Romance, Pumpkin Carving... whatever it is, you can find it. You don't want to try to convince Pumpkin Carving Press to publish your Cyberpunk Romance.
    • Most want you to go through an agent, so research agents too.
    • There are a few, very few, who do not require you to go through an agent.


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