Writing = discipline, Big Red Car? Tell me more.
Big Red Car here on a lovely Monday morning, waiting for the painters to show up. House getting painted, not the Big Red Car. Alas.
So, The Boss is doing some writing. He’s been a writer for a long time, but now he’s out of the closet. Had a few things published and is working hard.
Learned it takes about five years to find one’s voice and to find a focus which is worthy of one’s talent. You have to become a story teller.
But, here’s the big thing — writing requires discipline and there is both art and science to it.
You have to write about what you know. The Boss knows some stuff. He grew up on Army posts, went to military school. Served in the Army overseas. His first published story dealt with … wait for it … the military.
He writes about a lot of different things, but the military is one he knows.
He built high rise office buildings, built a few companies — so he writes about complex business undertakings with a focus on entrepreneurial endeavors.
Through his Wisdom of the Campfire CEO advisory business, he gets to meet and advise lots of startup CEOs.
The Boss has written a series of stories about a legendary venture capitalist, Henry E Cates, The Gray Haired Eminence. The cover is from a different story than the one I’m going to share with you today.
One of The Boss’s writing group critics said the term “Gray Haired Eminence” was trite and a cliche. Hmmm. The series is a set of stories which demonstrate themes relevant to growing into a CEO at a startup. Like all stories, somewhere deep within there is a truth.
Here’s a story which is at that stage where it is going to the editors. I wanted you to see it because maybe I’ll show it to you again when it’s finished to see if you can detect the changes. Read the story and tell me what you think. See if you can spot the theme.
Seat of the pants v structure
The first lesson one confronts is whether to outline a story or to run with it. There are arguments on both sides. The Boss is an outliner, not a pantser (seat of the pants).
If you’re an outliner, you lay out the plot, the characters, the setting, the time period, the conflicts, the bad guys, the climax, and the denouement. Grossly simplified, but close.
You want to create characters who are more interesting than people you meet in the line at the grocery. The bad ones have to be real, real, real bad. Hannibal Lector bad.
The heroes, these days, have flaws. No more John Wayne riding into the sunset on his horse, with the loyal dog having won the heart of the pretty girl. That is over. Now, our heroes are momentarily heroic and live an otherwise flawed life.
The conflicts have to be a series of disasters for your protagonist. Every time she gets clear, she gets thrown back into the briar patch.
Never, ever, ever let your family read your stories. Too much profanity. Sex? People have sex? Who wants to read about a venture capitalist?
You will go to writer’s groups and they will savage your stories. So much so, you will want to go to a restaurant supply store and buy an ice pick to deal with their tires.
Then, you find the right/write group and it clicks. You want this savagery. You need this savagery. You cannot live without this savagery.
You want this criticism because you have blind spots and a fresh set of eyes will locate them. [Still want to ice pick their tires, but you have grown beyond that.]
When you write, you will self-edit — rewrite — every story five times before you think you have a First Draft. Haha. Sorry, it’s true.
You write it. You edit it on the screen. You print it. You read it and edit it with a red pen. You do it again. It is a continuous process.
The Boss uses a piece of software called ProWritingAid which for $40 will find your excessive use of adverbs, sticky sentences, overly repeated words, grammar mistakes, and other identifiable flaws. It is cheating, but it works.
After you go to your writers’ groups, you will make more revisions.
Then you will send it to a professional editor who will make up to three developmental edits. After you receive each one, you will revise the story again and resubmit it.
When your editor says you are through the developmental edit, you will receive a copy edit, and a proofread.
Then you have something to work with. Only then. Until then, you have warm clay looking for a furnace to harden itself up in.
A week later, the story having marinated in a plastic bag filled with Italian dressing, you will read the story and find a new crop of weeds.
You will read that same story a year later, and you will revise it further.
Getting a story published is like begging at a street corner with a hand lettered cardboard sign. The first acceptance The Boss received came in the company of thirty-three rejections.
You will find out there are a million journals out there — none of whom need your story to fill their pages, but you submit (byzantine, arcane and different submittal rules for each pub) and wait for the rejection notes.
The rejections come on pre-printed, chain saw cut forms. “Not what we’re looking for.”
Every 50th one has a comment: “Great story, but we received six unicorn stories this month. Well written. Loved the surprise ending. Keep it up.”
You can exist for another month on that note.
Then, you get an acceptance and think, “Holy shit, I’m a writer.”