The third in this series of Writing Tips this year are from J.P. Jackson.
By day, J.P. Jackson works as an IT analyst in health care during the day, where if cornered he’d confess to casting spells to ensure clinicians actually use the electronic medical charting system he configures and implements.
At night however, the writing happens, where demons, witches and shape shifters congregate around the kitchen table and general chaos ensues.
His other hobbies include hybridising African Violets (thanks to his grandma), extensive travelling (a religion I also practice) and believe it or not, knitting.
Here are J.P’s tips which he aptly has titled – Do the Damn Things!
Kevin stopped by my Twitter account a while ago and asked me if I could come up with some writing tips. He was going to post a series of articles on his blog and thought maybe I would have something interesting to tell you all.
I still find it a little weird to say “I’m an author.” I mean, sure…okay, by definition I suppose I am. I have two novels and two short stories published, I guess that means I’m an author, but, you know, it’s not like it’s my DAY JOB.
(By the way, I have a huge amount of respect for people who can do this day in and day out and earn a living at it. My god, one thing I’ve learned is that Writing Is Hard. And being good at it, I mean really good at it, is damn near impossible. Still, I try.)
Here’s the thing. I’m a hobbyist writer. I write the stories and make shit up because I find it fun. And because this is a hobby, I don’t write every day. I’d like to, but my schedule just doesn’t allow for it. Now, just because this is a hobby for me doesn’t mean I take it any less seriously. I’ve learned a few things in the last couple of years being steeped in the literary world, if even only on the periphery of it. So, I’ll pass along what I’ve picked up, and you can choose to use it or not. My top 5 “Do the Damn Things.”
1.) Read all the damn books
Please, for the love of everything that’s holy (or unholy if that’s your bent – it certainly is mine), you have to read. I saw one writer on the social media webs purport, “I don’t have time to read. I’m too busy writing!” Right. Okay. So, listen up: Reading everything you can get your paws on is doing research. Read the best sellers, read the local authors, read the self-published and the traditionally published. Read your neighbour’s son’s short story they wrote for a school assignment. Read. It. All. The good, the bad, and the “OMG, what is this?” This is how you find great examples of what, and how to write. It is also how you stumble across examples of “don’t ever do this”. If you have a preferred genre you write in, you should probably be fairly well versed in:
a. The classics of that particular genre
b. The popular reads of the day for that particular genre
c. The tropes that are commonly used in that genre
And then when you’re done with that, go find other books that look fun and interesting that are outside your genre and read those. I try very hard to read 40-50 books a year. Doesn’t always happen, but I try. I read once that Stephen King reads upwards of 80 books a year. Hmph.
2.) Just write the damn thing.
It’ll be crappy. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to be crappy. Also, write it for yourself. Put the all the words down. FINISH THE STORY. A half written book is not going to get you a publishing contract or a literary agent. You have to have a finished product. So go write your first draft, and make sure you’re happy with the story. Oh, and DO YOUR BEST. That doesn’t mean make it perfect – nothing is ever perfect. I mean, do your very damndest to write the bestest story you’ve ever told. And give every single project you work on that same level of dedication.
3.) Now go edit the damn thing.
Better yet, go hire an editor. DO NOT under any circumstances, go to your best friend and ask them to do it – I don’t care if they got honours in High School English. You need to set your baby free out into the world and this is a huge and very scary next step. But you have to give your ugly baby to someone who is going to go through your first draft and their job is to point out all the things that make your baby ugly. They are supposed to do that. Your best friend with Honours in English from High School isn’t going to do that for you. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. Feedback that isn’t constructive and honest isn’t doing you any favours.
I’ll tell you a little story – after I finished writing my first novel, quite by accident, found an editor online who took a liking to my writing style. She wanted to work with me and help me get my novel all polished and looking nice so that I could flog my book around like a cheap hooker and see if I could snag a literary agent or publishing contract.
Thing is…this is my hobby, remember? I didn’t have the funds to pay this lady what she was really worth. She made me a deal when I was upfront and honest with her about my budget. I desperately wanted her to edit my novel because hey – I didn’t know what the hell I was doing! But she did. Damn. She knew how to use a comma. I still don’t. To this very day, I stick, them, everywhere.
This was the deal I made: We went through the book chapter by chapter. Slowly. I gave her a chapter, she edited it, she billed me, and I paid her. Took me two years to complete the entire book with her. It also cost me just over a thousand Canadian dollars. My very first novel took me 3 years to write and two years to edit. But in the end, guess what? I had a very professional, shiny manuscript that was ready to be sent off to agents and open calls to publishing houses. Then guess what happened?
I got a publishing contract. See? It worked.
4.) Listen to your damn editors.
They know better than you. Remember I said I don’t know how to use a comma? I still struggle. Thing is, I think (or I’d like to think) I can come up with some really great stories. But technically writing the English language is fucked. Truly. There, I did it. I dropped the “F” bomb. The rules are ginormously stupid. But, they’re there for a reason, and sometimes you just have to throw your hands up to the Editorial Gods and give in to their demands and wishes. Here’s another thing you should know: Editors aren’t trying to be arseholes, they are attempting to make your story better than what you wrote down. So stop arguing with them and listen to what they are telling you.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have some say, I mean, after all, this is your creative work, and ultimately it belongs to you. But you are doing yourself a disservice when you ignore your editor (or Beta Readers – they fall into this role too) as they tell you, “Hey, so…this chapter. I don’t think you really need it.” Trash the damn chapter. It happened to me. Four thousand well-crafted words, some of my finest work, all went by way of the Delete key. Guess what? Yup – that’s right – a publishing contract.
You know the expression, “Can’t see the forest for the trees?” This is you. After creating your ugly baby, we are often too possessive of it. We lack the objectivity to hold it up to the light and see it for what it truly is. A thing of ugliness that our editors are going to help make gorgeous and beautiful.
So, get an editor. And then listen to them.
PS – before you hire anyone though, do your due diligence in making sure you’ve hired the best damn editor you can afford for your budget.
PPS – when you hire that editor, make sure they are skilled in the genre you’re writing. You don’t hire a plumber to redo your roof. Right? Don’t hire a Non-Fiction Cookbook Editor to edit your Urban Fantasy Detective novel.
5.) Do your damn research.
Remember all those books I read each year? Nothing pisses me off more than reading a story where I’m more of an expert in the subject than the author. If I can spot holes in the facts from two chapters away, we have a problem. As an example, I read a book that was situated in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Now, just so happens that I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Calgary is a short, three hour drive away from me. So, I know a little bit about the city. Not lots minds you, but clearly more than the author did!
In this story, the main character was working as a Ski Instructor on a Ski Resort, in Calgary, you know, like, on the side of a mountain, with mountain Chalets, Ski lifts, a minute’s walk from their apartment, etc. etc.
See, here’s the thing. Calgary is in the Foothills of the Rocky Mountain Range. It’s still a three hour drive out of Calgary to reach the actual mountains that you might want to ski down. Research Fail. Kinda like when my stepson came home from school and called my orchids parasites. I asked him why he thought the plants were parasites, and he said, “Because my teacher said so. They live in the rain forest and burrow their roots into the barks of tropical trees and choke out the trees, and therefore are parasites.” Wrong. I grow a lot of orchids. Orchids are epiphytes (mostly).The science teacher and I had a little chat. Research people. Do. Your. Research.
So, don’t be that author. Get your facts right. Do your research. Expect that someone else who is reading your book might know more than you. Make sure they can’t do that.
My Google search history would terrify most people, and I’m most assuredly on several watch lists. But hey – I gotta know what kind of incense will actually get rid of ghosts, and there are more than half a dozen ways to summon demons and otherworldly creatures. I gotta be fluent in that stuff – right? Look it up.
There you go. A few writing tips. Things you might want to do if you’re writing. But, as they say, advice is cheap. Hope this was helpful.
Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
Cheers and Bear Hugz,
I always love J.P’s sense of humour. You can find his books at the NineStar Press site.
And you can say hello to him on his socials-
For the next instalment of Writing Tips – CLICK HERE