Today I passed 100,000 words on the first draft of my fourth novel, an alt-history/sci-fi story that I superstitiously don’t want to pitch right now (let’s just say I hope Romans + nasty alien viruses = profit). I figure I have about 30,000 more to go before the first draft is finished.

Getting to 100,000 words is always a great feeling (my two fantasy novels were around 120,000). Not only is it a nice round number, but it means I’m almost done. I’m in Act III, the pace is quickening, and I have a pretty clear picture of how it’s all going to end.

Which means I’m already thinking about my “reward” — a medium-cooked filet from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, with au gratin potatoes on the side and a lobster bisque to start. For dessert, the chocolate sin cake is calling my name…

What? Sorry, drifting off again.

How do you reward yourself after a big accomplishment?

Music to write by

I don’t know what I’d do with out Pandora. It’s essentially free internet radio where you can pick the genre you want to listen to by entering the name of a band or artist, and then Pandora builds a play list with similar music. I bought the Pandora One subscription so I can listen all day at 192Kbps without commercial interruptions. Not a bad deal for $36 per year.

When I’m working at my day job (i.e., web designer/e-learning developer), rock n’ roll is my music of choice. I typically start out with my “Def Leppard” station. For some reason 80’s hair bands wake me up and help me focus on my coding. But by the afternoon I’m in an epic rock mood, so I hit the “Dream Theater” channel.

When I’m writing fiction, the type of music I listen to depends on the genre I’m working on.

Fantasy requires classical music. Russian composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovitch have epic pieces that blast my creativity. I tried listening to film scores, but then I’d simply picture the film scenes in my mind rather than scenes from my book. Too distracting.

Science fiction — at least my current project — requires electronica and techno, but nothing with too many lyrics. My “Massive Attack” station (theme music from House) usually fits the bill.

While writing my contemporary mystery novel, my main character was a Neil Finn fan, so naturally I listened to a lot of “Crowded House” for that book.

What kind of music do you listen to when you write and/or work? Or do you like it silent?

My internal editor is a jerk

I can write about 1000 first-draft words in an hour.

How? Easy — I don’t think about it. I don’t think about it before I sit down to write, I don’t think about it while I’m writing, and I don’t think about what I’ve written after my one-hour session. I just do it.

Because if I did think about it, I’d be paralyzed.

You see, my internal editor is kind of a jerk. He’s never in a good mood when he looks over my work. He makes me change things while I’m in the middle of a writing session, he laughs at my word choices, and he threatens to kick my cat if I don’t do a bit of research right now. I’m lucky to get a sentence out while he’s looking over my shoulder.

So that’s why I lock him away when I write my first drafts. Oh, sure, he complained at first and threatened all sorts of dire consequences if I didn’t take his advice while I wrote, but he soon quieted down when he realized I was ignoring him.

And once I finish that first draft, I unlock the door and let my internal editor out with a smile. He gives me a surly look and then immediately starts polishing the novel/story/article, etc., I wrote without him.

Because that’s what internal editors are for. First drafts should not come from your internal editor — they should come from your heart. Your heart is where you dreamed up your story in the first place, drawing on your hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows to come up with characters you love and a plot that compels you.

So let yourself go in the first draft. Don’t think about it, just write.

Your internal editor will clean up the place later. He can’t help himself.

D&D Night!

It’s Dungeons & Dragons night tonight — or as my 3-year-old daughter calls it, “Candyland Fighting” — and I’m looking forward to continuing the indiscriminate slaughter of marauding giants and cave trolls. My two 11th level fighters — Sturm Endrang and Tim of Krod — are doing quite well, though Sturm took nasty a beating in our last battle with two fire giants and four hill giants. We got an high-level cleric in our party, though, so no biggie.

I plan on doing some live Tweeting during the action starting around 6:30-ish, or whenever we finish gorging ourselves on our customary junk food feast. If you want to see how true nerdy 30-somethings geek out, then by all means check in.

Outlining vs. Wingin’ It

I’ve written three novels, and for each one I wrote detailed, chapter-by-chapter outlines. You could argue they were my first drafts. All three outlines were in the 40-50 page range, even the one for my contemporary mystery novel, which turned out to be 70,000 words.

The reason I wrote such huge outlines was that I was afraid I’d start the first draft and have no idea what to write. So I added lots of world building, dialogue, and any other piece of information I was afraid I’d forget when it came time for the first draft. I spent months making sure everything in the outline was correct and that there were no plot holes. In many cases, I had to limit my words for each chapter so that the outline wouldn’t grow too large.

But as it turned out, the three books I ended up with looked nothing like the outlines I wrote for them.

Characters were killed off, plot holes were discovered (so much for “perfecting” the outline first), whole new chapters added, and completely different endings materialized that were so much better than the outline endings.

Whenever I deviated from the outline, I’d adjust it and then rewrite it to maintain consistency throughout the rest of the outline. Towards the end of each book, however, I simply ignored the outline and plowed ahead to the finish.

Needless to say, after following this process on my third book, I decided that detailed outlines were a waste of time for me. So when it came time to write my fourth book (an alternate history sci-fi novel), I decided to wing it.

Well, not entirely.

Instead of a 50-page chapter-by-chapter outline, I wrote a three page list of plot points and characters I envisioned in the book. Only took me a few days. I figured that if I had to limit my words in my last three outlines, then I’d have no trouble letting go in the first draft. I’d simply use my three-page summary to guide me.

And you know what? I’m 3/4 of the way through my fourth novel and the book looks nothing like my origional three-page summary.

But that’s okay. I have a good ending in mind, and I seem to be making good progress toward that ending. I’m discovering who my characters are as they progress through the story, not through detailed character profiles written before I begin the novel. I’m able to produce the same amount of words in the same amount of time per day as I was with the detailed outline.

Except now I haven’t wasted months on an outline that always changed.

I know which process I’m going to follow for my fifth book.

So outlining vs. wingin’ it. Which works best for you?

Story Behind THE LAST KEY

I finished THE LAST KEY in 2003 and found an agent for it in 2005 (Dr. Uwe Stender). Over the next five years my agent sent it to almost every fantasy editor in the business. We got lots of “positive rejections,” but no bites.

So after five years of shopping it around, I had decision to make — continue sending it to smaller and smaller publishers, which could mean several more years of waiting…or make it an e-book, publish it to Kindle and Smashwords, and see what happens.

I chose the e-book route. I’m a pretty patient guy, but after five years even I was getting antsy to get my book into the hands of readers.

So THE LAST KEY is now available on Amazon Kindle. And no, you don’t need a Kindle to buy or read the book. You can easily download a free Kindle Reader for your PC, iPhone, or Blackberry. It only takes a minute to set up.

Or you can go to and download the book in an electronic format you prefer.

My goal is to (hopefully) give readers a rollicking good adventure story at a cheap price. I don’t plan on pursuing a print edition, but I’d certainly love to hear any offers from a print publisher.

So I hope you enjoy the book. If you read it, shoot me an email. I’d love to hear what you think. Better yet, leave a review on Amazon or Smashwords, but be honest – point out the stuff you liked and the stuff you didn’t like. Honest criticism will help me become a better writer, write better books, and maybe someday make a living in this business.