By Sparky_Buzzsaw 24 Comments
I wasn't sure I was even going to write this blog. It feels vain, a bit like I'm patting myself on the back and looking for attention. If that title and the first sentence or two makes you feel that way, go ahead and move on. I sure can't blame you - I think I would too.
But the reality is that I don't want to write this for me. We've had a number of amazing bloggers and writers here on Giant Bomb, some of whose work has been recognized (like moderator @thatpinguino and his awesome work on his series of guest articles), some of whose work continues to be great (@mento, @gamer_152, and @zombiepie) without the professional recognition it sorely deserves, and some of whom we just haven't seen enough of lately (@dankempster, I'm looking at you, buddy).
The sad fact of the matter is that I think the efforts of a great many writers will remain unrecognized until there's a severe shift back to the great focus we used to have on blogging and the community here on Giant Bomb. Blogging here used to feel rewarding. It felt like we were reaching a readership, not pissing away our words in a sea of insularity and a vague promise of future site revamps. It's ironic that even as professional games journalism bemoans the death of the written word in favor of Youtube-style Let's Plays and short firebrand videos that they're not taking proactive steps to ensure the next generation of writers actually want to continue creating.
I say that in the vain hope that maybe I ruffle the right kind of feathers. We should and used to be a home for some of the Internet's best gaming bloggers. Now we've got a few old guard continuing to do good work without a bit of recognition apart from the ZombiePie cultivated Spotlight - and his name doesn't even appear on the byline. As great as his work is, it shouldn't be the only bit of recognition these writers get. And I know for most of them, they'll probably get a little pissy at me and say they're not doing it for the recognition, but they do deserve it.
Now, that's not the reason I decided to write a book. It wasn't even a factor. But in the months since I wrote it, it's made me realize that with just a couple of months worth of effort, I've been happier with the results of my writing than I have been in years of blogging. That's not to say I don't appreciate the hundreds if not thousands of comments from everyone who's read my hot garbage on here, but it makes me realize how empty those years of effort left me.
There's a golden rule among writing that I want to reiterate before I get any further, especially after that paragraph - if you're writing for any other reason than to satisfy yourself, you are almost certainly bound for disappointment. There was a stat a creative writing professor used to say at the beginning of her courses, that 99.9% of people who set out to write for a career will fail. And it's the hard truth - none of us are assured success as writers, no matter how much our vanity wants it to be otherwise. Cream does not always rise to the top and I'm realizing you have to be downright crafty to market a book. It's a lesson I want anyone who read those last few paragraphs to remember - even if I'm not pleased with Giant Bomb's continued lack of community support for its dying blogging enthusiasts, I also recognize none of us were entitled to jack shit.
So my recommendation to all those creative writers on here? Keep doing what you're doing. Keep blogging, if you like it. But maybe keep on reading and think about writing a book of your own. Here's how it went down for me.
First, I want to iterate that this is not me shilling my book. I have no intention of writing down its title here. This is solely about the process, a bit of cathartic bullshitting if you like.
Back in December or January, I popped in the shower, just doing my usual thing and preparing for bed. As is usually the case for me, I zoned out and started drumming up little bits of conversation in my mind between imaginary characters. It's sort of like the people-watching creative exercises your teachers might have had you do back in high school or college, wherein you invent stories and dialogue for random people you see. It's not something I do on purpose - it's not a meditation, just a way to amuse myself when I'm alone or lost in thought (which is pretty much always).
Anyways, I got to thinking to myself about a local bar and how it looked back in the early nineties. It was this wood-paneled, very Western bar complete with animal heads on the wall and cheap lights that sort of gave the place the feel of a low-rent apartment. I don't know how or why, but I lit upon the idea that the bar was frequented by ghosts (an idea that was later cut from the novel). Then my thoughts turned to what the ghosts would be like if they really were stuck here in the afterlife, because if they were stuck here, wouldn't that theoretically mean they were neither good nor bad, but kind of just assholes?
And there it was, my first line. "Ghosts are assholes."
I liked it. I latched on to that son of a bitch like a pug on a gopher carcass (something I'm now an expert on thanks to my Curious George of a dog and our local gopher problem). I couldn't quite figure out the specifics. I didn't really have a plot, or characters, or a good set of villains. But I had a good line, a great idea for an opening scene, and I had to get the idea down on paper.
Except I didn't. I sat on my ass for a month, played video games, and watched movies. I did nothing of importance, just like I've been doing for something like seven years now.
Things didn't need to change. There was no great lightning bolt from the sky, there was no health scare, there was nothing that would make this into a great romantic Hollywood story. But I was bitter, depressed (not in a clinical way, just bummed about my lack of forward movement as a thirty something), and anxious to do something, to feel better about myself. No one was going to help me with this and I couldn't do it for someone else anyways. If I was going to start to make changes, I needed to do it for me. I had to get in a healthier mindset.
The plan was and is two-fold. First and foremost was to get myself right physically. I am grossly obese - I was pushing nearly 380-390 pounds when I started all this, and I couldn't walk around a store without getting sweaty and exhausted. I hated waking up alone. I hated knowing I'd let myself go this far. I knew I had the willpower to change things, I just needed to focus and do it.
That part's still rough, but I'm happy to say I'm improving. I've dropped thirty some odd pounds, I'm walking a mile every day, and I've begun to really enjoy working out with dumbbells. I feel good, if not great. I'm not doing some crazy fad diet, just reducing the amount I eat, drinking more tea and less pop, and in general just trying to make smarter decisions about my day to day lifestyle. It feels good.
But while I'm pleased with how the physical stuff is going, I'm downright fucking astounded at how well the writing aspect is going. That brings me to the second part.
I still had that first scene. I knew how I wanted to write it backwards and forwards, but I was losing the specifics, the things that gave it heart. I had to put it down on paper and I obstinately refused until I started to get my shit together in February.
I'd written a draft for a novel before. It was a garbage horror novel, the sort of thing I pushed on and finished just to say I had written something of length in my lifetime. I wanted this to be different, but I knew it was going to be rough. I've written a few stories over the last few years, one of which was published in an anthology, but it had been half a decade since I attempted a novel. I wasn't sure if this was going to be the one or not.
Turns it, it was. I started slowly. I must have wrote and rewrote that first chapter five times, at least, and later again after the first draft of the novel was finished. I forced myself to finally move on, to develop the central two protagonists and see where they went, what they'd do. Turns out they like to fight criminals and act like a modern day Robin Hood, if that Robin Hood was slightly emotionally crippled and mildly homicidal.
About halfway through February, I had a chance to housesit for my folks, something I thought would clear my mind and help me get a better perspective on what I wanted from this novel. It was a great time - my folks have six dogs and together with my pug, I was surrounded each night by a sea of snoring pugs, Sschnauzers, and chaweenies. During the day, I hammered out pages feet away from a deck overlooking one of Montana's most beautiful mountain ranges, armed with a plethora of K-cup cappuccinos and a growing desire to do nothing but write. That sounds like hyperbole, but it's slowly becoming more and more truthful.
In that week, I must have written about thirty or forty thousand words, which is roughly about a third of what the novel wound up being. It wasn't great writing - hell, half of it ended up in the bin on the second draft - but it was forward motion the likes of which I hadn't made in years. I went home happy, exhausted, and completely ready to get up the coming days to return to a normal writing schedule of about a thousand words a day.
Turns out, I didn't want to just do the bare minimum anymore. While there are days that I do struggle to get out those thousand words, almost every day since then I've pounded out between 3-6k words a day. It's becoming easier to focus, to find myself lulled to that daydreaming state where my fingers do the work while my brain is a thousand miles away, not focused on anything but the work in front of me.
Within a month and a bit of change, I had the first draft finished. It was hilariously bad in spots - there was a occult-like undertone to a great deal of the book that I liked in theory but which read like a 70's horror acid trip. Some of it, though, I was really proud of and I realized I had something on my hands I wanted the world to see eventually. That was exciting. I hadn't had that feeling in years.
I've done a lot in my life I'm proud of but nothing stands remotely close to that first draft. It was shitty and hastily cobbled together, but on those pages was my heart. I am all the elements of my novels. I am the main characters, the villains, the decaying city, the lovemaking, the fighting, the fear. It was, all of it, me in a way nothing I'd ever written was.
And then I threw it all away and started over again.
The Second Draft
Writing is a lot like the human body. A heart and lungs are the very basis of your life, but without the ribcage, without structure, you're just not going to fit together very well. That first draft? It didn't fit together very well.
I had to start over, go smaller with the plot while going deeper on the details. The book badly needed fleshing out. Most of what I'd written was dialogue. Given that I have a history and deep love of the stage, that's not surprising, but it needed more action, more description.
I tried to rewrite the novel from the draft I had originally. That notion was stupid and I wound up pitching the whole thing about a week later. There were elements I really liked, and a great many scenes in rewrites are essentially the same, but in order to fix everything that was wrong, I needed to start over. It was very much the right decision.
What I learned mostly about myself is this - I'm okay at shooting from the hip, but I'm not great. Eventually the lack of structure starts to add up and the whole thing comes apart in the latter half. I stored that little nugget of new information away for my second novel (which wound up getting a thirty page chapter synopsis before I started writing it - great decision), but for this one I had the basics of where I needed the novel to go and just had to get the innards to all fit properly.
It took some doing, and it was a lot slower going than the first draft. I scrapped the idea of my villains altogether and started over with a fresh batch, ones that weren't so mustache-twirly. That draft wound up being about 30k longer than the first draft, eventually topping out at just over 120k words, which felt about right for the story I wanted to tell.
That draft took about another two months. By May, I was ready to edit my novel and get it out to my beta readers. Unfortunately, that's where I got impatient and started pushing things too hard, too soon.
Editing, or the Lack Thereof
Let me get this out in front now. I realize I make a shitload of errors in every blog I write. I try to edit the worst of them out, but I'm not great at catching my own typos unless I'm reading the work out loud. Imagine the number of typos I make in a blog and multiply that by about a hundred, maybe a hundred thirty.
Yeah, that's a lot of fucking typos.
Here's the thing about hiring professional editors - they're really expensive. For someone to have edited my book professionally, it would have taken $750 for someone with experience who I trusted. Nearly a fucking grand before I'd even released the thing. There was no way I could afford that, so I figured, hey, I'll do the work myself, get it out to beta readers, and let them find the rest.
Not a bad plan, except for one thing - I got impatient.
By the first of June, I hadn't heard back from my beta readers. I really wanted the thing out in time for E3 so I could focus on my moderation duties (and enjoy all the amazing nonsense here on Nuke dot com). Two of my close friends helped me with formatting the book for publication and making a cover, and too early, I punched that publish button on Amazon.
It was a mistake. I realize that now, but it was a minor one. I've only sold a marginal number of copies to date - online advertising will be my big draw and I won't be starting that until next month - but here's the thing about publishing ebooks on Amazon: your updates will only affect future copies of the book. You can request that they push out updates to older copies, but the process can take months and without substantial changes, you're not guaranteed that they'll do it. It's crazy, but when you consider all the possible copyright infringement stuff they must deal with, it makes a lot of sense.
Anyways, there are a lot of readers out there now stuck with copies of my novel with an absolutely stupid number of typos. With the help of more responsive readers, I've since fixed most of them and future readers will get a cleaner copy of the book, but damn, that was embarrassing. Lesson learned.
The Next Book
I'm about halfway through writing the first draft of the next book, which I started in late May, I think. It's going well, especially thanks to that chapter synopsis I mentioned earlier. If you decide to write your own novel, try writing one of those to go with it. It helps streamline the process and keeps you focused. I'm going through chapters like shit through a goose.
Will I be a popular writer? Fuck no. I'm not even all that mediocre. I just got my first review yesterday and I'm happy about that, but until they start coming in from the wild and not from people I babysat twenty years ago (true story), I won't really know how successful that first book will be. Probably won't sell much more copies than what I have now, but I'm okay with that. My family has copies. My closest friend does. My entire hometown, which has been hugely supportive of me throughout the years, has seen my name on an advertisement in a local paper. It's pretty cool and it's rewarding in a way that writing should be. Can be, if you're willing to take the chance and write something yourself. Discipline and focus, that's all it takes. Sit down, write out an idea, and you'll be surprised at how quickly it grabs hold of you.
As I write this, I don't know what my plans are for blogging here on Giant Bomb entail. I've played fuck-all for video games this year, limiting myself mostly to Rogue Galaxy and Fallout 4. If I do continue blogging here, it's likely to be on stranger stuff, more blogs like this and less about gaming. I was really proud of my Doctor Who series on here and I have a vague plan to continue that with other shows (maybe Battlestar Galacitca?). I have a personal blog for random, spur of the moment writing thoughts, but I'd like to continue to encourage the blogging atmosphere here as much as I can. i think the right solution is to work from within, try to get the people here who write so much quality stuff better recognition, and try not to get so moody about these things, but I can't honestly say what the future holds for me here as far as blogs go. I'd like to talk more about the advertising process once I've had some experience with it, and once I've finished up the planned trilogy of novels, I'd like to do up more tips for aspiring writers.
With that said, with all my earlier negativity, I want to encourage all of the great writers here on Giant Bomb past and present to keep working. I've been lax lately in supporting you folks by commenting on your blogs and I apologize for that. We gotta stick together, and we need to encourage newer writers to join our ranks.
For now, I'm going to end this monster of a blog. I don't know if this helped anyone besides me, but know if you're a writer out there struggling with the idea that the world is turning away from the written word, you're not alone and you shouldn't have to be. Keep being creative, not just for you but everyone who's going to follow in your footsteps.