Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Never quit

What lessons did you learn from your first (perhaps, failed) attempt at a novel?
by Dietrich Kalteis
The main thing I learned from that first attempt was to just keep going. 
And I’m still learning and fine tuning the way I write. What I didn’t realize at first is it’s not about getting a story finished and published, it’s about finding a voice, a rhythm to the words. That’s what makes each writer sound distinct, and that didn’t come until I put quite a few more words on paper. Most of what I wrote early on just made for hoop practice, the balled paper I tossed at the trash can. I’m not sure who wrote it first, but I heard about ‘the million word’ rule, how you have to write that many just to get into the foothills of being a writer, and hearing that helped.
Other things I learned: coffee is like writers’ rocket fuel. One cup of dark roast can propel me through hours of writing. And that didn’t take nearly as long to learn.
After that first attempt at a novel, I tried writing some short stories, and that allowed me to play around with different genres and writing approaches and to find out where my writing fit. While I was playing around, I submitted some of the stories. Getting one accepted does a lot for a writer’s confidence, and it sure taught me to deal with NO THANKS when the stories weren’t accepted. From the rejections, I learned which stories were worth reworking and which ones to use for hoop practice. And occasionally, I’d get some constructive feedback from an editor or publisher, and their words were like gold, even if they weren’t what I wanted to hear at the time.
Reading while I’m working on a novel can be inspiring, so I always have a stack of good books waiting to be read, usually reserved for the opposite end of the day from my writing time. I like just about anything well written, and a lot of what I read is in the genre I write. If I do start a book that isn’t lighting me up, I’m quick to put it down. As Annie Dillard says in her book The Writing Life, “He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”
While I haven’t read a lot of books on the craft of writing, there were a couple more that I got a lot from: Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; and Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing. His best advice, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Keep what works, adapt it and make it your own.
I also learned that my best time to write is in the morning, so I start early and I write until noon. And I learned to avoid distractions and set certain things aside until I finished writing: phone calls, opening mail, social media, catching the latest news, and any other business relating to writing like: blogs, marketing, promoting, and arranging events and tours. 
And since I mentioned promoting: my next one is Zero Avenue, and it will be out on October 3rd. It’s being called a crime novel set to the cranking beat and amphetamine buzz of Vancouver’s early punk scene. You can check it out at Also, there are advance copy giveaways in June at netGallery and Edelweiss. 

The links are:


Paul D. Marks said...

Good stuff, Dieter. I agree with everything you said. But what I found most interesting is this, "What I didn’t realize at first is it’s not about getting a story finished and published, it’s about finding a voice, a rhythm to the words." And so true. And I can't stand when an editor or a reader wants to change a writer's voice.

Good luck with the new book!

RJ Harlick said...

I agree with finding a voice too. And once you have it, you don't lose it. Great post, Dieter.