How to Write a Book

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“I’m a writer.” “I wrote a book.” “I write mystery novels.” No matter how you choose to phrase it, that revelation has some interesting results. In fact, over the past year of being a published author, I’ve learned fascinating things about people. One of the main ones is that about 1 in 3 of them “want to write a book someday.” It’s an unscientific statistic, but the number of times someone has said that to me over the past few months is pretty staggering. Usually, they share their dream, then their idea, and finally the reason it hasn’t happened yet. If there’s time, they’re likely to also ask how I did it.

Today is D-Day as far as my second novel is concerned. I’ve now approved the final proof and cover of The Detective, The Woman, and The Winking Tree, and I have only to wait for the book to reach me prior to its February 13th, 2013 release date. Today seems like a good time to answer the question all these aspiring writers keep asking me.

How DO you write a book?

First of all, there’s certainly no foolproof way that works for everyone, and I’m simply going to share the things that I think go into a successful writing experience. Second, there are no hard and fast rules for writing. For every maxim that seems etched in stone, there’s a successful author waving from a position of cheerful, creative nihilism.

(This is about writing fiction. I haven’t written a full-length nonfiction book, and I’m certainly not qualified to speak on the process.)

That said, here we go:

1) Have an idea.

Most people who want to write a book already have an idea, of course. That’s usually what is catalyzing them to want to put thoughts on paper. The important thing at this stage is to pick one specific idea and stick with it.

When you start writing, you will have other ideas (plot bunnies) jump around in your head. As lovely and fluffy as they may be, you can’t afford to let them distract you from the one you’ve chosen to pursue. Write them down for later, but don’t let them dominate your thinking.

2) Refine your plan.

This step can be interpreted as broadly as you like. For some, it means detailed outlining of the plot and writing character studies. I, however, am on the other end of the spectrum. I start with a beginning and a general idea for the ending, and that’s it. Either way (or somewhere in between), you need to take some time to physically or mentally tally where you want your idea to take you.

3) Set yourself a deadline.

This may be controversial, but I think it’s very important, especially if you’re trying to write a book for the first time. I wrote my first book in less than a month, and the bulk of my second was written in a similar timeframe. It doesn’t matter if your deadline is a month in advance or a year in advance; just set a goal, some point at which you’re absolutely determined to have a rough draft (even if it’s the roughest draft ever seen by human eyes).

4) Stick to it.

If I could pinpoint one reason why I think most of the people I talk to haven’t finished the book they want to write, it’s this one. It’s no sacrifice to start a book, but it’s definitely a sacrifice to finish one. I think some people have the idea that writing can be a charming hobby that never occupies more than about 7% of their attention, and then, voila, one day, a book will magically appear.

Nope.

Writing is hard, and writing takes time. If you write, enough to actually finish a book, you will have to temporarily sacrifice other things you want to do. Writing a book requires wanting to finish more than you want to do other things.

5) Don’t revise while writing.

This is strongly related to #4, because one of the biggest reasons for bailing on a book prematurely is the highly unpleasant (and sometimes very persistent) feeling that it’s not good, terrible, stupid, unoriginal, or all of the above. Again, you have to want to finish more than you want to temporarily feel good. You have to assimilate the idea that there’s value in just finishing a full-length book, no matter how terrible it seems. As bleak as that sounds, it’s just reality. At some point, you will hate what you’re writing.

At that point, if you start second-guessing yourself and editing as you go, you’re in danger of getting lost in the slough that entraps a huge number of the people who actually get a book going. They’re the ones who are always writing a book and never finishing.

The point is, everyone feels like their book is going to be terrible at some point, and that’s not a signal to stop or go backward. It’s a signal to go forward, because the only solution is to keep writing until inspiration returns. It will. I know because I’ve been there.

6) Be open.

I know I said to choose an idea and stick with it, but be flexible within your plan. Sometimes the creative part of you brain will have ideas that are outside the box of what you expected. Both of my books have elements I never planned to include, and they’re both better because of it. Stick to what you’re doing, but don’t be so rigid in adhering to an outline that you sap the joy from the experience and burn out mid-course. You can edit later if you decide you don’t like an idea after all.

7) Stay humble.

Once you finish your first draft, you will have a lot of work left to end up with a polished manuscript. Don’t hold too tightly to what you’ve produced, and know that a lot of things will probably change through the editing process.

8) Celebrate

I believe there’s inherent value in writing a full-length book, even if you never publish. It’s an exercise in creativity, persistence, and self-discipline.

When you’re done, you’re done, and no one can take that away from you. When all those other people say, “I want to write a book some day,” you can say, “I did.” And that’s pretty awesome.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo. Grab it before the sequel launches February 13, 2013!

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Canon Thursday: First Holmesian Act of 2013

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It’s a new year, and Mrs. Hudson is looking over your shoulder to make sure you don’t neglect your Sherlock Holmes obsession. The question is, what was your first Holmesian act of 2013? If you haven’t done anything Holmesian yet, get with it! (And tell us your plans.)

My first real Holmesian act of the year was working on the editing process for The Detective, The Woman, and The Winking Tree, my second Sherlock Holmes novel, which is coming out February 13th.

How about you?

 

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo. Grab it before the sequel launches February 13, 2013!

Year in Review: Holmes on Screen

Sherlock Early Years

As the title says, this post is going to be a quick review of the major adaptations of Sherlock Holmes that graced (or insulted, heh) screens in 2012. I’m only going to talk about the Big Three: Sherlock, Elementary, and A Game of Shadows. I know there were others, but the post has to end some time, and these were the ones that made an international splash.

To start with, I think I should elucidate where I’m coming from. I have a Theory, folks (definitely meant to be capitalized). This theory has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s just my personal way of approaching adaptations, be they visual, print, or any other medium. I believe Sherlock Holmes has two major original components (it’s an oversimplification, and it’s meant to be–we’re talking Big Picture here). Those components are: Setting (including Victorian time period and all the associated moods and tropes) and Characters (including plotting style, because the way the stories are framed, the characters are responsible for that).

My Theory of adaptations is this: You can do one of three things with Sherlock Holmes and have something that works.

1) You can use both the original setting and the original character conceptions, and you’ll have a purist adaptation like the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett. I’m not going to spend time on this, since none of the three adaptations I’m reviewing went this route.

2) You can retain the spirit of the original characters and lose the setting. This seems to be the most acceptable to Holmes fans, adaptations that modernize or change the context of the stories, but give us the Holmes and Watson we know and love.

3) You can retain the details of the setting and lose the exact fidelity to the characters. This is harder to pull off, and it’s always going to irritate some people. If you’re not going for something entirely purist, however, it can be very effective.

Ok, more on all of that in a bit.

Sherlock Holmes

A Game of Shadows, the second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law actually came out in December of 2011, but it had a major effect on the Holmesian world in 2012, so I’m including it. As with the first film, it was a stylized Victorian romp in which Holmes and Watson were thrown into constant action.

For me, this movie works because of Principle #3 in my theory of adaptations. It’s quite free with the characters of Holmes and Watson and much more broadly comical than anything Conan Doyle penned; however, I find the unrelenting, lavish Victorian settings and tropes pleasingly atmospheric. The Holmes and Watson Ritchie presents are graphic-novelized versions of the originals, but they’re running around in the stylized London I see in my head when I read the stories.

My final verdict on A Game of Shadows is that it’s fun. Nothing more, nothing less. I didn’t expect purism, and I didn’t get it. It has context, though, and a massively Holmesian mood that drew me in and gave me a good time.

JLM_Elementary

Ok, I’ll admit it. The main reason I went to the trouble of explaining my adaptation criteria above is because Elementary, the late-year CBS drama based on Sherlock Holmes, well, isn’t my mug of Earl Grey.

I wanted very much to love a drama that promised a gender-bent Watson and a Holmes played by one of this generation’s finest actors. I know people who love it, close friends, even dyed-in-the-wool Holmesians.

For me, though, it fails the test. As I stated above, for an adaptation to work, I need it to retain either character or setting fidelity, if not both. In this case, CBS is presenting Holmes and Watson in an entirely new context–the United States at the present time. That would be fine, and it could be brilliant, if they gave us the Holmes and Watson we know and love. Instead, my trial run with the show introduced me to a cold, clever Watson, and an impulsive, erratic Holmes. Nowhere did I find the detective and the doctor invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, there were Holmesian references and Holmes tropes. That didn’t change the inherent qualities of the show.

I’m not saying Elementary is a bad detective show or even a bad Holmes adaptation. The word adaptation itself has as many meanings as there are people. For me, however, it’s just too far, something that uses recognizable names without enough real Holmesian qualities to be something that works for me.

For the record, I think Lucy Liu as a gender-bent Sherlock Holmes could have been absolutely brilliant. I’d still love to see it some day.

My final verdict on Elementary is that it’s a pass for me, but I certainly won’t complain about other people’s enjoyment of a show that relates to Sherlock Holmes, however loose the connection seems to me.

The Hounds of Baskerville

Did I save the best for last? I might have done 😉

After a long enough wait that I felt my hair turning gray, the BBC finally released Series 2 of Sherlock, the show (or miniseries, if you’re anywhere other than England) that puts Sherlock and John in present-day London.

This series works for me according to Principle #2. The modernization of the setting works because the characters (and situations they get into) are straight off the pages of the Holmes canon, with the quirks, virtues, and spirit of the originals.

I did in-depth reviews of all three of the episodes of Series 2, so I won’t go there again. Sherlock isn’t a perfect show, but the showrunners managed, with the second series, to not just equal the brilliant first outing, but even to top it. This series proves that sometimes, less really is more, especially when we’re talking about three cinema-quality episodes crafted with a respect for the source material that is truly exceptional.

My final verdict on Sherlock is, well, I’m sitting here drumming my fingers waiting impatiently for Series 3.

This concludes my on-screen year in review. Stay tuned for a review of the past year’s Holmesian print offerings.

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo. Grab it before the sequel launches February 13, 2013!

Canon Thursday: New Year, Same Holmes

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It’s 2013 (whutttt?), and like many people, I’ve spent time over the past few days thinking about 2012. When it comes to Holmes, what a year I had!

New Year’s 2012 saw me joining the Baker Street Babes, an international, all-female podcast that discusses everything from Sherlockian scholarship to John Watson’s jumpers. As the months went by, I had a chance to help interview the composer of the score for the BBC’s Sherlock, the authors of a racebent Holmesian comic, and lots of other fascinating people.

Oh yeah–my first book was also published, The Detective and The Woman, the Holmesian mystery pastiche I penned during NaNoWriMo, in which I sent Holmes to south Florida and rekindled his friendship with the enigmatic Irene Adler.

Along the way, I met countless Holmesians of all ages and creeds and nationalities, and I came to realize what a hilarious, exciting, and ever-changing world we Sherlockians inhabit. It was, in a word: Epic.

It’s hard to imagine 2013 being as fabtastic as 2012 was, but Sherlock Holmes is always the same, and that’s why Holmesians always have something to look forward to. On Baker Street, the year is eternally 1895. We Sherlockians pen pastiches, draw pictures, argue, and laugh, like planets in orbit around a sun. Our world and interpretations change, but the amazing canon of 56 short stories and 4 novels remains ever the same. It’s a new year, and the world’s only consulting detective is waiting with a pipe and a slipper full of tobacco. Bring it on, 2013!

Oh, I also have a second book coming out this year. 😉 The Detective, The Woman, and The Winking Tree drops February 13, 2013. Grab The Detective and The Woman–You’ve got a month and a half to catch up!

The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.