It took nearly 25 years for me to publish my debut novel.
I’ve been a professional writer my entire life.
I wrote for my high school newspaper. I was an editor of my college paper. I edited a weekly paper and wrote for daily papers. I worked in radio and public relations. I’ve written news releases, displays, menus, brochures, blogs, non-fiction autobiographies and radio, television and print advertising.
For years, I didn’t write fiction because I had in my mind the wrong belief that I couldn’t write dialog.
I overcame that mindset simply by deciding I could write dialog. I started with very short fiction and several screen plays. Then more scripts. Eventually, I wrote a feature length script about an Amish teenager who plays baseball.
Then I rewrote it. And rewrote it.
Once I turned the “Amish Baseball” screenplay into a novel, I rewrote it easily a dozen times. To ensure that the dialog was realistic, I read nearly the entire novel out loud.
“Good writing is rewriting,” novelist Walter Mosley told me. Advice I took to heart.
An agent suggested an additional character. A year or two later, the father became the uncle, and the protagonist’s relationship with his father became a significant plot point.
Another agent gave me a page of notes. I spent more than a year making all of his changes.
I pitched my novel on Twitter’s #pitmad online pitching party. An Immortal Works representative liked it, liked my manuscript, and almost a year later, my novel was scheduled for a June 23 release. The novel is the completion of a work that began nearly 24 years ago when I saw a postcard of Amish kids playing baseball.
Some readers complained that the main character was too good a baseball player, and that he wasn’t realistic. I made changes accordingly, but I also maintained my belief that he is a larger than life character and his super human baseball prowess was intentional. If some readers didn’t understand that or didn’t like it, well, that’s okay.
Mosley told me his process is rewriting and rewriting until he can’t improve it anymore and then it’s done. I tried to do the same thing, rewriting and revising every section, until I couldn’t improve it any more. Very similar to the way P.G. Wodehouse revised his work.
In The Salmon of Doubt, Douglas Adams writes about the rewriting process of British author P.G. Wodehouse:
“It is the next stage of writing—the relentless revising, refining, and polishing—that turned his works into the marvels of language we know and love. When he was writing a book, he used to pin the pages in undulating waves around the wall of his workroom. Pages he felt were working well would be pinned up high, and those that still needed work would be lower down the wall. His aim was to get the entire manuscript up to the picture rail before he handed it in.”
When I was in high school, I read all of John Irving’s novels and an essay he wrote where he explained how his dyslexia makes spelling very difficult.
I have a learning disability that makes spelling difficult for me, too.
A dozen years later, I had the opportunity to thank Irving for inspiring me with that article. He was part of the reason I became a writer, I told him.
“What do you write?” Irving asked.
“I’m a newspaper editor,” I said.
His expression demonstrated that he didn’t hold newspaper editors in high regard.
Finally, 23 years later, John Irving, I’m a novelist.