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November 2013

Dean Wesley Smith on books as (non-)events

Skater.cover.smallBack in the old days, before the Continental book tour, before Skater in a Strange Land, even before computers, I wrote a short story.

It was set in Anvoria, a neighbor nation of Borschland and Bearland and my next destination on the book tour.

I can hardly remember what it was about, but I'm pretty sure it involved musical instruments.

I was a sophomore in college at the time, and I showed it around to some people to see what they thought.

A couple of people liked it, but there was one who said it wasn't right and I had to rewrite it.

So I ignored the people who liked it, threw out the old draft and rewrote it, and I hated it. I showed it to the people who had liked it before, and they agreed with me that I had lost the spirit of the first draft. The reader who thought it wasn't right hadn't "gotten" it, and so I explained it, and in the explaining, I lost whatever there was of a story.

Problem was, I didn't have the first draft on disk. There were no disks then. The old draft was in a landfill.

I learned that day that you should never throw away your first drafts.

More recently, I learned from Dean Wesley Smith that your first draft should be your only draft.

In this post, he introduces the radical notion that you should think of your stories and novels not as "events"-- that is, a momentous, significance-laden work of art that needs to be labored over for years in tortured solitude-- but as entertaining tales to be told for an interested audience.

In other words, write the thing, publish it, and move on to the next story.

Smith is a genre writer with over 100 traditionally-published novels under his belt. He is currently on an ambitious campaign to write a magazine containing a full novel plus a bunch of stories every month. He's been blogging about writing a novel in 10 days, 15 days, crazy short periods of time.

I don't exactly know why he has decided to go this route, but he is very successful with his sales. People like his stuff. He doesn't have to write and rewrite.

What about the rest of us?

My second novel in the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, "The Skater and the Saint," is set to launch on November 16. I will have spent a little under a year writing and publishing it. That's very fast for me. But I like this book and I think if you liked Skater in a Strange Land, you'll be thrilled with this one.

Even a couple of years ago, I never would've thought such a thing possible. I was still in the write-and-rewrite-crowd. Heck, I was in the traditional-publishing-or-die crowd.

Now I'm leaning towards DWS's camp. I am big devotee of Malcolm Gladwell's axiom that once you've spent 10,000 hours on any one skill, you are a master regardless of your "talent" level. I've definitely reached 10,000, I feel I have finished my apprenticeship, and I am writing faster and better than ever before.

I don't know that DWS's advice holds for beginning writers. I've spent a good amount of time online this year checking out indie writers, and I don't see a whole lot of skill in storytelling. I see a whole lot of poor style as well, but that's not as important as telling a good story. I may be jaded-- and I may be thinking too much of my own storytelling skills-- but I think there are still a lot of writers out there who could use seasoning.

In other words, I still believe in apprenticeship.

DWS thinks that even beginning writers should at least self-publish, on the off-chance that they'll sell. Yes, probably true. Why not?

At the same time, I'm still enough of a devotee of the literary crowd to value a gorgeous sentence for its own sake. DWS doesn't think your novel is a work of art. I think it can be. English, written well, is a beautiful thing. And good storytelling is a learned skill.

So what would my advice be for beginning writers? Don't throw away your first draft. It may be your best. But spend some time on learning how to tell a story in a way that doesn't make us English afficionados cringe.

And yes, you may need to completely rewrite your story. You may need to rewrite it from another point of view. You may need to completely recast your opening. You may realize that you don't have a story at all, just a bunch of people talking. You may have enormous plot-holes that emerge only when careful readers show them to you.

When do you know that something's good enough to publish? That's the beauty of it. If you keep apprenticing, you will learn. In the meantime, get the opinion of someone who's spent 10,000 hours writing.

And if you can't tell, go ahead and publish it as DWS suggests. He's right: the worst you'll get is ignored.

If you do go the apprenticeship route, I think you'll look back on what you published with a lot more pride and sense of accomplishment-- even if you sell millions of that first draft.

Extreme Book Tour: Day 2, Waterbrownbear

Author D.W. Frauenfelder has embarked on a book tour of the Continent, the here-now, gone-tomorrow piece of land on which his novel, Skater in a Strange Land, is set. Braving long flights to and from the Continent, and the risk of phase shifts, Frauenfelder will be reading from his novel in three cities in Bearland, two in Anvoria, and three in Borschland before flying home November 11, just in time for the release of the second book in the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, The Skater and the Saint.



That's the word to use after my reading at the auditorium hastily arranged after it was clear that the bookstore my publisher had scheduled was not going to handle all the bears who wanted to come here an author from the "wide world" talk about his book about them.

I've never seen so many bears in one place, and it would have been overwhelming except they were so polite, I couldn't help but be one hundred percent charmed. 

I lost count of the little old lady bears who came with jars of homemade honey. Just about every house with a yard in Bearland has hives behind it, which is why in some places in Bearland you can't sit down without a honey bee lighting on you. 

The bears recommend not to wear bright colors.

And the flowers. Everywhere it's planted with them, for the bees.

And fruit trees, of course. Everything happens to be budding right now, because here in the Southern Hemisphere it's spring.

Bears are happy in spring. They can get a little depressed in winter, due to cutting out hibernation when they became civilized, but everybear goes bonkers in spring. 

The cubs especially. They are also very polite, but after a while, if you're not careful, they climb on you like monkey bars. They have human dolls just like we have teddy bears, and they can act like you're one.

The reading: phenomenal. Officials said there were probably a thousand bears in the room, and they paid admission to get in, plus a lot of them bought Skater in a Strange Land. Not in dollars. I made a lot of "bnoas," which is their currency. I have a feeling it's not going to translate into "wide world" money.

But that's okay. The bears were very inquisitive. They are not big hockey fans, but they were endlessly interested in the bear character Linus Black Jr., who is modeled on a real bear from Bearland, and many of them wanted to talk politics. What is your position on this and that. I had to tell them I was just glad that they had a democracy again, which they did not have when I was writing the book.

My favorite question was, "When are you going to write a book about sockey?" which was from a teenage bear with a pin of his favorite team, the Brownbakikio White Wings. 

Sockey is a Bearish game that combines soccer and field hockey, and is their favorite warm weather game. I told them I would have to learn a lot more about Bearland before I could do that, and he said, "I could help you if you want." Which was just priceless. It got a big laugh. 

We had dinner afterwards with a lot of bigwigs, and I would've fallen asleep if I hadn't been so well taken care of. They had about a dozen she-bears constantly saying, "We should let the man have his rest." And then someone else would want to tell me a story or ask me a question.

I think I could probably sleep about 24 hours, I'm so tired, but I am also so jazzed about being  here that I don't know if I'll sleep at all.

In any case, thanks to Breakfast with Pandora Books and the administration of the Associated University Presses of Borschland (Bijbehorenden Ootgeverij Drukperse van ter Universitejte-Borschland) for sponsoring this trip. Tomorrow it's on to Brownbakikio and official meetings with politicians and another author event. Eventually I will get to Borschland.

But I'll have to get through a big crowd of bears first.

Author's Note: I am exhausted, but not because of being in Bearland. I'm doing these blog posts as an exhausted nights-and-weekends writer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy the thought of reading my book in front of a thousand upright bears.