I’ve run out of time to write a lengthy essay this morning about my fourth book, so I’ll resume that series of essays next week. Today I thought I’d draft a brief note about another writing matter that’s been a challenge to me for years: word count.
Like a lot of writers, once I got a steady writing gig I began to fret about my daily word count. It was always smaller than I wanted it to be. Some days I could get 4 or even 5 thousand words and occasionally much higher, but more often it was 3k or a little less. I last wrote about this in 2016, when I had realized that the overall weekly or even monthly word count was much more important than the daily word count.
That was an important realization, because it helped me stop getting frustrated every day when my words weren’t coming as fast as I thought they were supposed to arrive. I went so far as to read a number of books on writing faster to see if I could glean the secrets. I gleaned some, but I knew at that point that few writing tips are absolute. What works for one writer may not work for another — you have to be willing to try of course, but there are many different ways up the mountain.
I’ve known Nathan Long for many years and I happen to think he’s long been one of the finest sword-and-sorcery writers active today, which is why I invited him to submit a tale for the second issue of Tales From the Magician’s Skull, and why I’ve been telling people — for years — that they really need to read his Blackhearts books.
Nathan was kind enough to answer some questions about his work and the life of a writer, and I’m kind enough to share them with you.
Why don’t you give us a little background about yourself and your work?
I grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Los Angeles after college to be a screenwriter. Though I had some minor successes, the Hollywood life grew less and less appealing, and when I was offered a chance to write novels for Warhammer, I jumped at the chance. Turned out novel writing was much more my speed, and I had a blast working in that world.
A few years later I managed to sell an original sci-fi novel and a sequel, and I thought I was on my way to a career as a novelist, but I had difficulty selling anything else, so I sought out other opportunities. Now I have the job my twelve-year-old self would have wanted, had it existed at the time. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I write stories, dialog, and other bits and pieces for computer games.
The only downside is that I don’t do as much of my own writing anymore, but when your dream was to make a living as a writer and you’re making a living as a writer, you can’t really complain, can you? Read More
Yesterday I had to run a bunch of errands on the far side of town. I grabbed my writing notebook just in case… and when I took the wife’s car in for an oil change saw that I’d be waiting a loooong time, because there were so many customers ahead of me. No worries, because I had the writing notebook.
Even better, I had some index cards. I got more plotting done there waiting for the oil change than I’d managed in the last month. Sometimes you have to have the right tools at the right time.
This is my first time mentioning The Black Hack, one of the MOST streamlined of fantasy role-playing games. Creative, intuitive, and short, The Black Hack took a new spin on the old D&D stats and settings and did very clever things with them. It inspired an entire movement of streamlined games, from pirate themed to space themed to horror themed to low-priced expansions and so on and so forth. It’s a great little system and can be had cheap ($2.00) through rpgnow right here. If you don’t believe me, read some reviews, or take the word of William King, creator of Gotrek and Felix, who was singing its praises to me earlier this week.
Bill’s also the fellow who pointed me towards the Kickstarter for the new, expanded edition of The Black Hack, which you can find here. Looks pretty groovy, and it, too, is stunningly affordable. I mean, look at the price for the complete PDF edition!
If you’re a long time gamer you really owe it to yourself to check it out. I’m going to sell off some stuff I’m never going to play again so I can “splurge” for the print edition. (I use “splurge” lightly, as the print edition before shipping is still only $40.)
Three weeks ago I mentioned that it had taken me a year, writing in my spare time, to create the first Dabir and Asim novel, The Desert of Souls. Well, when it came to its sequel, it took just as long, even though I was writing full time. Sadly, it proved one of the most challenging books I’ve yet written, even though up until the most recent, unpublished novel, For The Killing of Kings, it was my favorite and the one of which I was most proud.
What went wrong? Well, that’s where the lessons come in.
First, I thought that my skeletal outline method was the way to go. It turns out that worked just fine for the first book, which was an origin story. I wanted to do something more complex with the second book now that my main characters were brothers in all but blood, and a wiser man than me should have realized that meant he needed a more complicated outline. I sure wish I could talk to that guy, because he would have saved himself and his poor, long suffering wife a whole lot of anguish.
You see, I ended up writing The Bones of the Old Ones no less than three times from almost start to finish. That certainly wasn’t my intent. Nearly everything about the plot changed apart from the general concept and the first three or four chapters. I had a strong beginning scene, but I cut it early on, and it took my wife and my editor, Pete Wolverton, some serious convincing to get me back to that start when I began it the third time.
Second, I only had a vague idea about my villains. I THOUGHT I knew them better than I did, but I was so eager to get started that I hadn’t thought them through very clearly. As a result I didn’t completely know their powers, or even their motivations. That was, frankly, an idiot move, because the middle got really muddy when I didn’t have an idea how the bad guys would be reacting to what was happening.
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