What do Swedish meatballs, crime, and an alcoholic charter boat captain have in common?
Nothing! And that’s the beauty of my first attempt at a novel. You never saw it coming.
Naturally, after about seventy pages of that train wreck, I came to my senses and filed it away in that hinterland where lost socks and dreams go to die. It was—let’s call it an attempt, and leave it at that. I didn’t know how to write a novel, and I certainly didn’t understand the arc of a story. In short, writing books, or other long form fiction? It’s a muscle. It’s a grotesque, caffeine-fueled, angst-addled abnormal muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. Add to that a healthy dollop of doubt, worry, and frustration that other people seem to cough novels out like hairballs, and you’ve summed up portions of the glamorous life of a writer.
About four years ago, I got serious and decided to write professionally. I received some excellent advice from a writer who was better dressed than me, and wrote down a Three Year Plan.
To my surprise, I’ve stuck to said plan, and it seems to be working. Now, there are other elements (don’t discount luck) and then there are the qualities within you that advance your writing in fits and starts. One such nudge is to realize that no matter what else is happening, you sit down and you write. I have five dogs, a giant nudist child, more cats than I can count and the ability to fall asleep in the middle of a nuclear war. With those details in mind, I make damned certain that, rain or shine or cat puke or migraine or hideously overcooked pasta—I write. It might only be a paragraph, but more often than not that small handful of lines will be stellar.
If you write, another thing to consider—and this is nothing short of magic—is to set a timer for twenty-five minutes, clear your head, and go. This tactic has allowed me to write 750,000 words of fiction in three years. Now, there are timers that cost eighty bucks and are shaped like adorable vegetables, but if I’m wasting eighty bucks on anything, it better involve a lobster the size of a dinosaur. I simply use the tools at hand (my phone), and in one to three sessions per day, I can write a minimum of two thousand words.
And these are good words, too, not the literary equivalent of “Terry was screaming at the football game on TV while writing” words. These are words and lines produced when you’re in that delicious state of flow, where there is so little hesitation in your hands that it seems like you’re channeling a second voice. That kind of words.
I’m a proud Indie. I publish my ninth novel on September 1st, and it’s already sold more than my first three novels together. Did I get smarter? At my age, no. My next significant birthday will give me a discount at Denny’s and nothing more. No, my books got better because I was willing to take advice and write as much as possible, always pushing myself to grasp plot, structure, and character a little bit better with each page. You can and will see drastic improvement from one book to the next; it’s in our nature to defend that which we create. For me, that gets easier as my library gets larger. The proof is in the story. The results are in the work.
And coffee at midnight doesn’t hurt. I’m just sayin’.
Left-handed. Father of an apparent nudist. Husband to a half-Norwegian. Herder of cats and dogs. Lover of pie. I write books. I’ve had an unhealthy fascination with dragons since the age of– well, for a while. Native Floridian. Current Tennessean. Location subject to change based on insurrection, upheaval, or availability of coffee. Nine books and counting, with no end in sight. You’ve been warned.
Find out more about Terry and his books here.