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Man Overboard

The ship was floating along so beautifully. Willow and I had enjoyed watching the dolphins running through the ship’s waves their silver bodies surfacing and then disappearing in the foam. We had been at sea for over four months and were just starting to get into a routine. The ups and downs of the sea’s flow had become a familiar sensation and we thought we had finally gotten our sea legs.

Then we were hit by a violent storm, a tempest that we had never thought possible. It rocked our boat so violently I thought there was no way we could survive the furor of this mighty gale. Then the worse thing happened. I went over the side.

Hopefully you understand that this is an analogy. If not, then just follow along anyways.

My Muse,Willow, and I were steadily writing my first novel. We have been at it for four months and have written over 70,000 words; which equates to roughly 400 pages. Now that I am semi-retired (only working one day a week), I hoped to speed up that process and finish the First Draft within a month or so as we developed a post-work routine. That does not mean the novel would be completed. There is a whole process called Revision, after the First Draft is completed, that could take several months to accomplish and is where all the hard work really comes into play.

As you can see we were sailing along smoothly. Yes we had gone through a few rough seas now and then, but we quickly steered through these into calm seas once again.

Then the Tempest. Actually like any good storm it wasn’t just one thing but several. First was that when I started this project I had read many times that an average adult length novel was approximately 90,000 to 100,000 words. Okay, no problem I thought. But as it turns out, the way I write involves a lot of character development and build up for each major event. Really kool you say. You can really get to know the character in-depth. Yupper, except it really makes for a long book. As I mentioned I am over 70,000 words into the First Draft, but I had been scoping out what recently what still needed to be written for this first book. And I just realized that maybe another 5,000 to 10,000 words (around a total of 80,000 words) and I would be about halfway where I thought the story should be for Book One. Now I know that this will get cut down in Revision, but if this is halfway then I have another 60,000 to 80,000 words to write to finish the First Draft.

And thought of writing as much as I have already written JUST to get through the First Draft is daunting at best, crushing at worse. Especially when I was thinking up until now Hey just another 30,000 words to finish the First Draft. I also found out, as a rule, that in many Series Book Two is longer than Book One and Book Three longer still. Looking at G.R.R. Martin’s Series The Song of Ice and Fire, his first book The Game of Thrones (from which the HBO series was created) was almost 150,000 words long. Humongous, but then the second book in the Series was around 200,000 words. Now he does tend to go on quite a bit, but even so, the rule applied in his case.


Then right after that the second typhoon size wave beat down on me.

I recently started taking a second writing course at the same time as I am taking the How To Think Sideways (HTTS) course – a really good class on how to write a book. I am nearly through with it and since I am writing a Series I started the How To Write a Series (HTWAS) course. As you can imagine it probably would have been good to take the HTWAS course a while back, before I started my novel. But It Is What It Is and I had not. Regardless going through the first HTWAS Lesson I read a line that felt like I had just struck the Titanic’s Iceberg. I was near the end of the lesson, and there is a lot to cover in each of the lesson, I ran across The Beginners Rule. It states that If you’ve never sold a book and you’re writing a series, the first book MUST stand alone. In other words the first book must come to a conclusion such that if that was the only book published in the Series it would be satisfying to the Reader (so they would read other books from you) and bring to closure all the issues raised in the first book. The idea is that a Publisher isn’t going to buy the first book in a Series from you without a track record. They have no idea if your book will really sell well or not; and as far as they know you might flake out before you finish completing the Series. What this rule is saying is to publish a book that can be self-contained, but also make it such that if a Publisher would like to see more about the world you created in the book, you could offer up Book Two, Three, Twelve – whatever you felt would complete the Series.

Well, that sucked. After reading this I spent a lot of time thinking about the rule and the novel I was working on and figured there was no way that I could end Book One in this way. I have five different story lines, so far, in Book One and two of them will have the characters still traveling when Book One ends and the others will still have quite an uphill battle that they need to overcome. And that is even considering the book would be around 130,000 or more pages (think approximately 650 or 700 pages). And to add to that, many publishers are hesitant about publishing such a large first book by an author as the cost to publish a 700 page book then say a 500 page book is a lot more risk for the Publisher.

So the second wave dumped me over the side of the boat. I was bobbing up and down in the horrific waves, the salt penetrating my entire body. Staring back at the boat I saw Willowjust standing by the rail shaking her head from side to side. I could almost make out through the sleeting rain her going tsk, tsk.

Without a life jacket I was going under more often than staying above the surface. I don’t know if it was real or my imagination, but in the lightening flashes I swore I could glimpse ten foot high fins slicing through the water and circling me.

Now the one thing you need to understand is that I am SCARED to death of sharks. My youngest daughter and grandson love them. Poor children…they are evidently insane. Why you ask (not that they are insane, but that I am afraid of sharks)? Even if you didn’t ask here is the answer. When I was a preteen I was on the East Coast and having a great time floating pretty far out in the water with two friends. After a while we saw a lifeguard blowing his whistle and waving crazily at us. We thought he was just giving us a hard time for being out so far. Then my two friends start swimming like wild men back towards the beach. I laughed and taunted them until I looked to the side and saw a fin the size of theEmpireStateBuilding. I don’t remember if I peed myself or not, but should have. Still on my raft I paddled as hard as my little hands and feet could move. The whole time I knew there was a maw as big as the Harbor Tunnel behind me and any minute I was going to feel the bite of razor sharp teeth in my back. When I staggered up on the beach all three of us got a stern lecture from the guy in the red bathing suit. When I looked back out at the water, along with everyone else on the beach, the fin was moving back and forth across the beach line. What I found out a little later was that a large shark (in my mind the largest ever seen – probably the granddaddy of all Great Whites) had gotten trapped in a trough between two large sand bars, or whatever you call them in the water, and it was swimming back and forth until the tide came in.

Now did this give me any trauma? Well, back during Vietnam I enlisted in the military (not that I felt a patriotic calling, sorry to say, but I didn’t want to wait until I was drafted and have someone else decide where I would go), and when I looked at my options I immediately eliminated the Navy. Why? Because they go out in the water where sharks live. Have I never gone out on a boat after that? No, I went on a Caribbean Cruise for my honeymoon (many moons ago). But being at war in the water (read some of the stories of ships sunk during World War II – SHARKS).

I went through all this (and it was a lot), to explain why my analogy above was so frightening to the point where it nearly petrified me. Now back to the story.

While I was floundering out there, getting ready to go down for the last time and sharks working their way closer to make sure I was finished, I did the only thing I could do…I put the life saver ring around me and threw the end of the line towards the end of the boat. I realize this is backwards, but I think most of you know me well enough by now. In essence what I did was put up a couple of Post in the Writers Forum I belong to, whining and crying about how I was doomed.

To my great fortune several Authors grabbed the end of the line and started to pull me in. They told me that, yes it was true that most Traditional Publishers would not purchase a new author’s Series out the gate, but that there were so many alternatives to Traditional Publishing nowadays that it probably wouldn’t be a big concern. I could even ePublish the first book myself and then see if any Traditional Publishers or Agents might be interested in the rest of the Series. That seemed to be a trend becoming more popular. Many established Authors, who have had a lot of books published through a Traditional Publisher, are self-publishing now. For one thing there a lot less of the big Publishing Houses around anymore. Also there are alternative boutique Publishers that might be willing to give a new writer a chance. Regardless, this made me feel a little better. Yes, maybe I couldn’t get picked up by Baen or one of the others at first, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t become published. Though I was told that I better have Book Two much ready to go when I publish Book One as I might have to produce it quickly if a Publisher requested it. So a little pressure there in that I really need to have Book Two nearly finished when I try to shop around Book One or self-publish it.

The other thing that I was told; which I have been told many, many times by a ton of different authors, is that you just need to write the story you have. If it is 50,000 words or 200,000 words, you just have to put it down on paper. Who knows how long it will be after Revision, but the First Draft just needs to get written. Advice I knew, but keeps getting lost in all the different various work involved in creating a viable story.

Needless to say I was pulled out of the water. I know another second and the giant prehistoric shark was going to pull me under. The rain ended, the skies started to clear, the ship settled into a soft rhythm as it continued to chug its way towards our destination, First Draft Finished Island.

I stood there staring at Willow still shaking her head.

“Why didn’t you save me?” I demanded as I  toweled off.

“You don’t understand.” She sighed and pushed blond hair off her face.

“Okay, I’ll bite.” I understand perfectly well. I was shark food and she was just tsk, tsking at me. “What don’t I understand?”

“Writing is the joy itself. Not how long it takes or even if you get published.” She leaned back against the rail, her eyes closed as she sucked in the warmth of the sun.

I stopped and thought about what she said. My first thought been told that a bunch of times also, but thought it was more a rationalization that people used when they couldn’t get published. You know like when people lose a game and they say, oh it wasn’t about winning or losing. BS, you either win or lose. But maybe there was truth in what she, and man other authors, had told me. It doesn’t mean that I won’t feel like dying if I don’t get published some day, but maybe it means that it will take a little longer than I wanted and maybe not how I thought it would be, at least initially. I could live with that.

I had to give her credit for that one “Okay, I can buy that.” But I was still furious, “That doesn’t explain why didn’t you try to save me?”

Her eyes still closed she leaned back on the rail letting the wisp of ocean spray cool her face. “I figured you come to your senses and save yourself some how.”

“And what if I didn’t?” She was going to turn my fury so easily.

She straightened back up and looked me dead in the eye, no smile or anything other than pure seriousness. “A story about a character in a dire situation, with little hope of survival, and if you couldn’t figure out a way to save them. Then I didn’t want to be your Muse because you wouldn’t need one. You would never be a writer.” Then she strode off down the deck leaving me standing there, mouth hung open and eyes wide. But she was correct. Either I am a writer or I am not. And if I am, then come hell or high water (even shark filled water) I was going to write and keep on writing!

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