Apparently 80% of Americans want to be authors. Today I have a guest post from Martin McConnell. Marty is a writer and first-class motivator and he’s here to convince you (if you’re one of the 80%), that you can “Finish the Damn Book!” And if you read to the end, there’s a little treat for my blog reader.
First of all, I want to thank Madeleine for allowing me to write this post. In case you haven’t engaged with her directly, she’s a terrific person, and someone any writer would be lucky to count among their friends. Even though she’s an ocean away, I’m glad to have the honor of regular communication with her.
I’m here to talk about writing, maybe for those of you who have thought about writing a book someday, but are having trouble finding your muse, or maybe you think that you don’t have what it takes.
Well, let me start off by saying that “what it takes” is probably very different from what you think it takes. I have no formal writing credits to my name, just a handful of people who have paid me to write for them, either prose or web content. I didn’t get to the position of being paid for my words because of a fancy degree (my degree was in Physics). I turned into a writer after churning out half a million words, maybe more at this point.
You don’t need to know what you’re doing, you just need to write.
I’ve cranked out half a dozen novels, most of them still in some phase of the editing process, dozens of short stories, and I have an ever growing collection of flash fiction. When I started, I didn’t think I could be a novelist. I never was much of an English person, but I liked to write.
When I was a kid, I would make these wonderful little comics. I found one a couple weeks ago. My drawing was almost as bad as my writing. In high school I played with some poetry and prose, but I went for shock value over creative content, and sometimes got quite a response from my peers. I used to make web-comics, and I had frequent misspellings in the talk bubbles.
My writing career started with an idea for a graphic novel. I did all the story research I could on the late 8th century in the North Sea, piled everything together, and headed to another long hitch on a floating oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, my day-job at the time. I couldn’t draw on the rig, as the travel arrangements alone would have destroyed anything I created, even if I could find the time.
I read a badly written couple of chapters the first night, a book someone had left in my bunk. I thought if that writing could be published, maybe I could give it a try, and I wouldn’t need to worry about oversize comic drafts. I could write a “regular book” instead.
That book, The Sword of Valhalla, never went anywhere, but it taught me something important. I could sit down and write everyday. All I had to do was force the words out. There were days when I got on a roll and added 4000 new words, and others where I only got a few sentences, but I wrote, every single day, until my 47-day hitch was over. When I got home, I had the first draft of my novel done, working 13 hours per day on the rig.
How I did it.
I didn’t have any compass. I didn’t know anything about the writing process. What I did have was a wonderful website I found through Google, which convinced me that I should be able to finish a first draft in 100 days or less. I ignored any advice that said it should take longer, and I forced myself to write, every single day, until the draft was finished. I already had plenty of outline material (a scattered stack of drawings and historical notes, and a story idea). I just had to write it.
I realized also, that if I could do this, working 13-15 hours per day, then anyone could do it.
I went through some rough tides after that. I switched jobs, got divorced, and my story was rejected by over 100 agents. It was a dark couple of years. I even started wondering if it was a fluke.
When I started writing again, I tested that idea. I was on a land rig this time, much busier, and I smashed out the first draft of CORP in 28 days. I think I started in April that year, and by the end of December, I was pitching CORP to agents, and I had two more books finished and waiting on revisions. I even had other writers telling me how much they liked CORP.
That was it. Through editing that original book so many times, and reading blog posts about writing, my style had improved to the point where I was getting attention, and my writing has improved with every piece I write. Now I give writing advice to others, I get paid to write blog posts, and I briefly had three novellas published by a start-up publishing company (that went south too, but it got my writing seen by almost 1000 readers).
The secret sauce
If there is one secret to writing, it’s this: you get better by writing.
There are English MBAs who can’t tell a story to save their lives, and people who can barely construct a sentence that go on to publish books with compelling stories. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages, and from every possible demographic. They all have one thing in common though, they like writing, and they do it a lot.
I wrote my last work, “Finish the Damn Book!” because I wanted to make it clear how someone like me came to be a writer. It wasn’t some innate talent. It wasn’t mastery of grammar and syntax, or story structure (my speculative fiction is a little too speculative for some, and it has a unique style of short endings without excess fluff). It was feeling driven to put out a little bit of story, every single day.
I’m a little older now, and much wiser than I was when I started, and I’m far more convinced that anyone who really wants to can be a great writer. The biggest hurdle isn’t grammar or syntax, or even making stories compelling. Write thin plots for a while. Write cruddy sentences. Just learn a little bit as you go, from blogs or books. That isn’t what you need to be a writer.
The one thing you really need is drive. If you want to write, then start writing everyday. Set aside some time to tell stories. Start drafting a novel. As Steven Pressfield says, “start before you are ready.” If you write everyday, and learn a little every week, then you will end up writing great things, I promise you. You will learn your craft, and your words will begin to inspire others. All it takes is that motivating drive.
That’s why I wrote “Finish the Damn Book!” It’s a toolkit for ANYONE who wants to be a writer. It’s a doctrine that applies to all of the artistic community. It’s a mindset. And everyone is capable of developing it. Whether it’s painting, or playing an instrument, or sculpting.
Whatever that thing is that you wish you could do greatly, start right now, today. Get some basic tools and start experimenting. Your first pieces won’t be great, but don’t let that deter you, just keep doing it, and work on it a little every day. That’s where all great artists, poets, writers, and even scientists begin their journey. They tinker with something until they get good at it.
You don’t have to wait to start doing the thing you dream of, you can do it a little at a time, and whatever it is, you can start today. Just find one little thing that gets you an inch closer to your dream, then another, and then another. I believe in you, and I’m sure that Madeleine shares my sentiment.
You are the main character in the story of your life, so start driving your own plot forward.
Thank you for your time, and thank you again Madeleine, for letting me give my little spiel.
If you liked what you’ve read, Marty is kindly giving away the first 7 chapters for free.
Martin McConnell holds a Physics degree from SIUE, and when he isn’t writing speculative fiction and working as a Content Creator, he’s motivating other authors, stargazing, reading, or playing Kerbal Space Program. He avidly encourages everyone he meets to seize control of their dreams by driving their own plot.