Do You Know Where Your Child Is (Mentally)?

The topic of mental health is one that has long been important to me. As someone who regularly struggles with his brain deciding to act out in ways which don’t appear to make any sense, as well as a family history of a wealth of different mental health issues, I find it a topic which crops up in my thinking all too often.

Obviously, the biggest concern many have when it comes to the topic of mental health, is about those who choose to take their own lives because of their struggles against their own minds. This is huge, for sure. Although I’ve been lucky enough to not lose any close loved ones due to such a tragic event, there have been too many times in which loved ones have made the attempt, only to (fortunately) fail at the endeavor.

Due to my loved ones failures in their fatal efforts, many of them have wound up in what appears to be a better place. They’ve been forced into treatment, finally getting that attention to their mental health they so deeply needed. But for those of us who haven’t gone so far as to try to make an exit from our own lives, well, a lot of us need a pretty hefty shove to get to the point where we actually seek out help.

The WASP-y nature of our culture means that it’s not acceptable to show our emotions in society. It’s not acceptable to show weakness, or anything less than being awesome. For a culture who has a custom of asking each other how we’re doing, we’re exceptionally good at not expecting a real answer.


I mean, I know why we don’t get real answers. It’s because it feels like no one really wants to know how we’re doing. Besides, the idea of burdening someone else with the truth that you’re currently spiraling into a deep dark pit of despair and can’t find happiness with any of the things that used to bring you joy, well, that feels like it’s a bit much to tell the gas station attendant at eight in the morning.

I suppose that’s why we don’t really expect a real answer when we ask that standard greeting as well. Because who wants to open up with their current distresses when you wish they would all just go away. And who even has the time to sit and unleash a torrent of the items that are currently stressing them out in your life. And really, how does one express of being in a state of ennui which doesn’t feel like it has any particular cause, but just sits there, hovering over us like some sort of dark demon devouring our very happiness.

Honestly, this is probably the number one reason therapy can be so helpful for those who have mental struggles. While good therapists will give their patients the tools and coping mechanisms to aid their mental health, the picture of the patient on the couch simply talking about their life is such a strong one because of how important it is to simply have a time in which we talk through all the things in our life, and maybe find out if any of them are the reason we’re in this place, or perhaps find something which makes us feel a little bit better about things.

There is at least a small portion of the mental health crisis which comes about due to us holding our emotions inside, so the world can’t see what’s troubling us, because we have to appear strong at all times. Showing weakness isn’t an option. For the few times I’ve actually made it to a therapist, and gained a pretty good relationship with the professional I was talking about my life to, I found myself on a number of occasions backing off from talking about things as I started to feel the emotions well up. So, even in the moment where I’m actively working to try to find the things that cause me the most trouble, I had to hide from them because I didn’t want to feel weak by bringing myself to tears.

As a parent, I find myself struggling with this exact issue all too often. My kids, well, two of them anyways, absolutely refuse to let anyone see their weakness. One of them will bury their head in a pillow if even a single tear pops out and will grin and bear through it until they’re able to get it to pass. The other has gained my amazing ability to take on a strong stoic gaze, refusing to even show the weakness of having to hide their pain, but, instead, becoming purely emotionless.

It’s difficult as a parent to see your children go through any sort of pain. But when it’s physical pain, there are usually some indicators available to help you identify at least a part of what’s causing the pain. If they’re bleeding from their knees, it’s a good possibility that they fell off their bike again and skinned them. Even internal issues, like intense abdominal pain can be diagnosed with a few simple questions like where the pain is coming from.

But also, in those moments, we’re all a bit more willing to show weakness, right? If we have a headache, we will straight up tell people we have a headache and that’s why we’re not necessarily acting like ourselves.

But when we’re struggling with depression or anxiety or any of the wealth of mental illnesses we struggle with, we will absolutely refuse to open up, even to our closest friends and family. My wife and I managed to come up with a bit of a short hand for each other to let the other know that we’re in a bit of an off mental state, which is usually to simply say, “Hey, I’m feeling off today.” Because, really, that’s kinda what its like. When you suffer from mental illness, you don’t necessarily even know what’s up. But you probably know something’s not right.

And I think this is probably the most important first step toward getting a better grasp of mental health, is simply having a better language about it. When we talk about being mentally ill, it has such terrible implications. While you’re just wanting to admit that you’re feeling off, others could take it to mean that you should be locked up in a psych ward somewhere.

And this becomes even more important with our kids. Because our kids learn how to express themselves through us, and so if they see us grinning and bearing through the pain of an episode of our mental illness du jour, they’ll be even more likely to do the same, instead of simply coming out and saying the thing you already know you should be saying, which is: Something feels off about me and I don’t know why.

I’ve been terrible at this…but I hope to get better. Mostly so my kids can get better at it as well. This morning, one of my kids told me that they had never seen me cry. As someone who struggles often with feelings of despair, he’s certainly seen me in a sad state, but apparently never quite to tears. And while I guess I don’t feel like it’s important for them to see me cry, the implication of him bringing this up (seemingly out of nowhere), means that somewhere inside his own mind, he feels its important to not let anyone see him cry. Which is made evident by the way he hides whenever he has a tearful reaction to anything. Which also probably means that letting him see me cry might help him become slightly more emotionally healthy, instead of feeling like he has to push all those emotions down inside himself.

Maybe. Who knows? Parenting’s a whole lot of experimenting and hoping what you do works out in the long run, isn’t it?


The State of Writing

Now that you’ve gotten a glimpse of my start as an author, I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into my current state as an author.

First, I’m going to admit, it’s been a bit of a struggle to get much time writing as of late. But, a part of that is because I have so many different projects in motion at the moment. For instance, I’ve been working on being the social media mogul of our bakery. Sure, it might be a small part of my week, but it’s also a wholly different form of writing than I’m accustomed to. Second, I have a few plays which have been commissioned that I’ve been working on. I also have a few plays which were workshopped over the last few years that I’ve been putting some finishing touches on. And then there’s the fun mind-bending webseries I’ve been writing.

And there’s the books. I’ve actually got three different books in different levels of production at the moment. One is completely in the mostly-done-but-never-done-until-published mode, where I go through and make some changes from time to time as I come up with new ideas. Another one is in the brainstorming mode, where I’ve got 10,000 words written, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to do what I want to do with it. And then the other one is actually swimming along fairly well, but is the bottom of the barrel for what I actually put my focus on because it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to write.

In other words, as opposed to the days where I was focused on self-publishing, I have reached a point where I am creating for the sake of creating. And it’s pretty darn cool.

That’s not to mean that I’m not actually putting things out. My throughput might be a bit slower than it was at one point, but I was also getting a little exhausted with what I was making, not seeing the excitement from myself to continue working on them. That’s what led to Moonshine Monarchy being such a large departure from my previous works, as well as being something which took so dang long to get into an actual state I could consider complete. Because I don’t want to write just to write anymore. No, I want to write to challenge myself, to do things I haven’t done before, and to create things I think are truly unique, even from my own work.

And that’s been pretty awesome.

It’s also why I changed the title of this space a year or so ago from “Adam Oster, Adventure Novelist” to “Adam Oster, Unfocused Creative”. Because I don’t have one way in which I wish to express myself creatively any longer. I have so many. I’ve been making music, I’ve been drawing, I’ve been doing all of these things which truly allow me to challenge how I express myself across different mediums. Because the act of creation is what I absolutely love.

Would I like to make money? Sure. Would I focus on one particular craft if that’s where the money was? Yeah, with the caveat that I would still continue exploring these other items simply to keep testing my own limits.

But right now, since this isn’t my money-maker, and it really has become more of a hobby once again, I’m allowing the creativity to guide me. Which also means that if I’m in a bad mood, I don’t have to try putting my energy into the comedic projects I’m working on, or if I’m out of words, I don’t have to write. I’m allowing the muses to guide me a bit more than I have in a while.

And that has been fun.

In all honesty, the only thing that has me down about my current artistic situation, is that I don’t have more time to focus on it, which I guess will either have to wait until retirement, or if I can get someone to pay me for my efforts.

Either one is fine.

Or neither.

Just as long as I get to create. It’s been really nice to be in this headspace again.

SYWTBAW X: Go Your Own Way

While there’s a whole segment of the getting your book out there story that I can’t give you a whole lot of insight into (as in: landing an agent and getting a publisher the good old-fashioned way), the reality for most of us is that after writing a book, we’re going to end up publishing it ourselves. That’s not to say there’s no chance you’ll ever find an agent/publisher. I have several friends whom I came up with in the writing world, back when we were still trying to figure out how to get the words on the page to do the things we wanted them to do, who have found themselves on the more traditional side of the publishing industry.

However, many/most of them have found themselves transitioning over to a self-publishing model over time, simply so they can control their stories and their own creative processes better. Which means, even if you find some success within the realm of traditional publishing, there’s a very high likelihood you’ll still wind up becoming your own publishing house.

Now, I’m not going to go into too much detail regarding how to publish your own books. At least not right now. If you’re looking for some advice on self-publishing now, however, I’m always willing to lend an ear and some info. You can send me an email at and I’ll give you all of the advice I have which can help you, too, become an author who once had his own Google sidebar…which is my greatest claim to fame as an author, I guess…

So, for most of us, the sheer insurmountable process of trying to get published through traditional means becomes something we simply don’t see as being worth our time (or maybe we’ve determined that we simply can’t figure out how to crack the code to get in). For myself, I spent some time reaching out to publishing houses and agents and found that I was spending a ton of time doing that, and not nearly enough time writing.

While I say this, I want to be open and note that I still send things out to agents. My most recently completed book, Moonshine Monarchy, is still technically on submission. I 100% believe in there being a positive side to partnering with the professionals in getting your book in the hands of readers. I long to be able to go that route, in fact, feeling that the path of self-publishing can be a rather lonely one, even if you have (as I suggest you find) a group of other authors to partner up with and work together on promoting each other.

But, I’m also, from time to time, a rather impatient man. And especially when I was first writing my books, I wanted them out there more than I wanted to spend my days trying to market myself to agents and publishers.

But there’s a pretty huge downside to self-publishing, especially if you’re hoping to avoid the whole attempting to sell yourself aspect of going the traditional route: you still have to sell yourself. Or, more particularly your book(s). If you want to get readers, you have to make sure people know your books even exist, and you have to give them reasons to want to read your books. You can’t just hit the PUBLISH button and expect the sales to start rolling in. You have to do something to make sure people know that book is even available.

There are approximately 3,000 new books published daily in the United States. DAILY. That means that you are literally one in three thousand on your book release day. Day two, you’re in a pile of 6,000 books that have been newly released to the wild since you hit that publish button . There’s simply no way for readers to even know your book exists if you don’t tell them about it.

I absolutely love the concept of self-publishing. In an industry that has long had a huge gatekeeping process for new artists to even get their art seen, we now have a world where literally anyone can get a book out into the world. This is the realm that musicians and visual artists have been for forever. Anybody, with absolutely zero platform, can get their art printed and bound into book form, or published onto a digital marketplace as an eBook, making it actually possible for authors to be seen, even if they couldn’t get a publisher to back them.

My 13-year-old has classmates who have books available on Amazon. Self-publishing has truly opened the world of writing for anyone and everyone.

But that also means there’s a ton more work to be done. Just like a musician can’t simply write a song and record it and put it on a CD, expecting the sales to come, self-published authors (as well as traditionally published ones, obviously, although in a different manner to some extent) have to market themselves. And with the fact that literally anyone can release a book, that also means that readers are now more discerning about what they are going to read. Because, let’s face it, not all books are good. Even when looking at books that have been traditionally published, there are certainly books that are far better than others. But when you look at self-published books, authors can get anything published. It could be riddled with spelling and grammatical mistakes, or, just plain boring rubbish.

And as a self-published author, you’re lumped in with all other self-published authors, just like a traditionally published author is lumped in with the other authors published by the same publisher.

So, you have to hustle. And there are so many resources out there for what you can do to help bring your book to the top of the pile. To help people be aware of what you’ve done. To help people actually be aware that the art you created exists.

But you have to do it. At least if you want anyone to read what you’ve written outside of, maybe, your mom and dad.

Back when I was first publishing my books, I spent time daily, sometimes hours daily, making sure to do some promotion for my books. And it paid off. I was exceeding my sales goals, I had an official Google listing when you would search for my name, I had sales all across the globe. People I didn’t know were reviewing my books within days of them coming out.

But the second I got too busy to keep that up, it all stopped. Keeping that momentum up is hard. It takes a ton of work. And you have to be willing to truly hustle, because when you decide to self-publish, you really and truly are doing it all on your own. And if you’re not, you’re paying someone a fair amount of money to do it for you.

It can pay off, but you have to be ready to make that your focus.

Or, just work on the next book, and enjoy knowing that there are still a few people who have found you, regardless of how much money you’re making off your art. Self-satisfaction is a great part of self-publishing, after all.

And with this, I’m ending this series. There’s a ton more I could probably talk about, and I’ll probably dig into this self-publishing aspect a little bit more, but the reality is, this is the process I went through with my first book. This ten step program of ultimately giving up on my dreams of billions of book dollars simply so I could enjoy the creative part of it.

Because, let’s face it, that’s the reason any of us create anything, right? Because the act of creation is purely amazing.


Alright, so, you’ve got a book, and you’ve sent it around to a few folks to try to get them to help you sell it to the masses, but you’re in the terrible waiting phase of hoping to hear something back. And, honestly, your anxiety about the whole process couldn’t be higher. You’re probably at a point right now where you can’t stop thinking about whether anyone will ever want to help you publish your book or not. Maybe you spend far too much time stalking the agents/publishers you’re waiting to hear from on Twitter, wondering if the comment they made about a “great story” they found in their slush pile is yours.

In my experience, and in talking with other authors who have been in this same spot, this is common. You have found yourself in the terrible position of wanting something to happen so badly, but having to wait in this place of uncertainty and insecurity for a length of time that you simply won’t know will ever end.

And, being in that headspace for any actual length of time simply isn’t healthy.

You need to do something.

Sure, you could go out on walks, take a vacation, maybe spend some time with your family whom you haven’t really paid attention through during this whole process of trying to craft your first novel, but the reality is that none of these will actually get your mind off of hoping and dreaming that some person in the publishing industry will come down from the heavens like an angel with a message of love and acceptance.

And you already know what will get your mind off the waiting. Deep down, you’ve always known. While you sit there and hit refresh on your email client, hoping for that email which will change your life forever (because, of course it will), you’re also already spending a ton of time thinking about what you know you should be doing during all this time you’re sitting in front of your computer.

Working on book two.

Remember that period not too long ago where you were writing your first draft and your mind was consumed with all of the ideas of plot lines and character developments and little pieces of world building which you came up with that were oh so clever? That period of time where you couldn’t stop talking to everyone you saw about all the cool things you’re doing in this first novel of yours, and, well, honestly bored everyone to death about vague discussions about your book because you don’t want to spoil the ending for people who probably won’t ever actually read it in the first place?

That’s right, buck-o, now’s the time to get back to writing. After spending all this time editing and preparing marketing materials for agents and slowly trying to build an audience, it’s possible you’ve forgotten what it was like to actually sit down and write a book. In my experience, you’ll find that it comes back to you incredibly quickly. Sure, if you haven’t been writing during this period, you might struggle at first to force it back into your daily routine, but give it a week of daily word quotas, and I guarantee you’ll fall right back into step.

Even if you got into book-writing for the fame and money which every single author gets, (and the babes, of course) the reality is that at least some small part of you got into it because you’re passionate about writing. It is nigh impossible to put all the time and energy into writing a whole freaking novel without being at least a little passionate about it. It’s an act of absolute love, because it’s not something you can simply crap out in an afternoon. It’s a long, drawn out process of plotting and planning and writing and rewriting and reading and scheming and, well, just being completely consumed by a story you feel needs to be told.

And, if you made it to the end of your first book, more than likely, you finished it with some ideas for a second, whether its set in the same world or a completely different one.

And even more importantly, it is the number one absolute best way to keep your mind off the terrible waiting you’re doing.

AND, it also gives you yet another book to sell. Which, on the surface might sound terrifying because you’re already struggling with selling the first one, but, from what I’ve seen, there’s nothing agents like more than an author who can actually write more than one book. Well, there’s actually probably tons of things they like more, but one-hit wonders are incredibly low on their list of things they like.

So, take this time, write some more, get back into the creative piece of things.

It’ll be a fantastic outlet for yourself while you’re still in the administrative side of trying to convince someone to help you sell your book.

And, it’ll give you a little more patience to try to work with agents and publishers before you fall victim to the somewhat inevitable final conclusion when you can’t handle rejections and waiting any longer…Self-publishing.

SYWTBAW VIII: The Hardest Part

Once you’ve finished a book, regardless of what you intend to do with it, unless you’re just planning on filing it away in some hidden corner of your house for it never to be seen by anyone, you’re going to have to face the hardest part of the entire writing process. Even harder than marketing yourself.

That’s right, the waiting.

Books are long, and whether you’re trying to sell it, or just get your friends to read it and tell you what they think, someone is going to have to take the time out of their day to actually make their way through your magnum opus and that’s not often something which happens quickly.

Choosing novels as your art medium means that you chose a medium which can’t be enjoyed quickly. There’s a significant time investment for anyone who attempts to appreciate your art. And, in most cases, your book will not be the highest priority item on their task list.

When dealing with agents or publishers, this timeline expands exponentially from dealing with friends or family. People in the publishing industry get countless books sent to them on a daily basis. They have something they call the slush pile, which is the pile of mostly crap (their words not mine) they receive from novelists which they have to slog through to determine if there’s any value in the books submitted to them. The timeline for just getting an agent or a publisher to determine whether or not they want to give your book a read ranges from a couple of weeks to over six months.

Let me say that a little more clearly: From the time you send an agent an email telling them about the awesome book you want them to help you sell, it could be six months before they even ask you to send the actual book to them. And even then, it might just be the first fifty pages.

If it takes that long for them to get to reading your email, just think about how long it could take for them to get around to actually reading your book. In my experience, agents typically put books they’ve asked for into a process which goes a bit faster than their slush pile, but you’re still looking at at least a month before they will get back to you on whether or not they have any interest in what you’ve done.

Which means that you, the person who just spent countless amounts of time trying to craft the most perfect book ever written, are now involved in a process which could take years before you actually find someone who is willing to do something with it.

Because, of course, even after an agent reads your book, and decides to sign you on, you then have countless edits to do for the agent, the submission process to publishers (which can also take as long as the submission process to agents) and then, if you’re lucky enough to get a publisher, you move on to another phase of edits before they actually put you onto their calendar for release.

When I finished my first draft of my first book, I was in this uninformed headspace where I just assumed my book could be released within months, and out in the world on bookshelves everywhere. The reality is that even if things all go in your favor and on a relatively quick timeline, you’re still looking at at least a year before your book sees the light of day.

And between all of that are those countless months of waiting to hear if anyone appreciates what you’ve done.

So, not only are you waiting, you’re waiting on the edge of your seat to hear of any sort of acceptance. And while you’re waiting, you’re more than likely receiving plenty of people sending you messages that they simply aren’t interested in even reading the first sentence of your novel.

When I say this is the hardest part, it’s only partially a reference to a famous song by Tom Petty. The reality is that this is truly the hardest part.

You have to find ways to not only keep selling your book as a priority object in your mind, but also figure out a way to completely ignore the radio silence you’ll receive from the people you’ve been attempting to sell to. For months you have to ride the line of making your book the most important thing in your life, while also pretending it’s not anything because you’ll drive yourself insane if you keep refreshing your inbox hoping to find a message back from that agent or publisher you’re hoping will be a part of selling your book.

This is quite literally the hardest part, and it’s often the one thing which causes my books to sit on a hard drive for far too long because I simply haven’t come up with a useful coping mechanism for it.

It’s also why I’ve found myself typically deciding to go with the self-publishing route.

Which we’ll get to talking about soon enough, but first, maybe I have a strategy for what you could do during this indeterminable amount of waiting…For next time.


Alright, so, you’ve written a book, you’ve edited (I hope you’ve edited it!), you’ve done everything you can do in your own power to make the book as amazing as you possibly can, and you’ve put down the red editing pen feeling confident that this is the best book you can possibly create.

The question that you have now is probably the same one you’ve been asking yourself since before you even started writing the darn thing: What do I do with it now?

While I’ve long been someone who has enjoyed doing a bit of writing, when I actually sat myself down to write a full-length novel, I’ll admit I didn’t do so out of pure enjoyment of the craft. I wish I could say I started writing books purely as a hobby, but the only thing that actually kept me moving forward on my path to becoming an accomplished novelist was the idea that I’d be getting all that good old book money right after I finished the darn thing.

This is part of the reason I considered The Legend of Buddy Hero completed right after I finished its first draft. I had entered the world of writing novels with the idea that it would be what would change the trajectory of my career and I had very little patience for my effort to pay off. While I’d play it off with family and friends that I just wanted to write, the truth of the matter is that when I finished that book, I immediately expected all the money to start flowing in. As well as some of those good old movie adaptation offers.

This, of course, is not how writing books work. I have a hard time believing that if you’ve managed to find this blog series, you haven’t heard the story of J K Rowling, and how she was rejected countless times by different publishers before finding someone who actually believed her book was worthy to be printed. It’s a well recounted message of the need to stay firm in the face of adversity, of how even those who have achieved great successes had their roadblocks. I remember at the time finding it incredibly inspiring. Heck, if the first billionaire author received rejections, I shouldn’t take it so bad when I get mind. Looking back at her story now, the miniscule number of rejections touted in the tale have an opposite effect. While she may have had some folks say they didn’t think her book was publishable, the numbers of people she had tell her that are nothing compared to my own numbers, or the numbers I’ve heard from my fellow authors who have written books I consider far superior to those containing one particular group of young wizards.

I’ve been asked a fair number of times by young aspiring novelists what they should do to prepare for their career as an author. And I’ve always found myself giving a rather pessimistic answer. That’s difficult for me, because in general, I find myself quite the optimist. But the reality is that life as an author is filled with far more rejection than acceptance.

I’ve been trying to change my perspective a bit on this, even amid my own struggles with finding that Harry Potter money. Because the truth of the matter is, although I’ve fought hard against my own insecurities when facing the sheer numbers of rejections I’ve faced in attempting to sell my art, I also considering writing an incredible experience, and wish for everyone who has any sort of inkling, to make the leap and just plain do it.

But you’ve already done it. You’ve finished your book. You’re just in the position of trying to figure out what to do with it now. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who finished it just to be able to say you finished it. Great. Way to strike something off your bucket list. Writing a book is no simple feat, and if you could do it for the simple joy of actually doing it, I’m incredibly impressed.

If, however, you’re hoping to find some sort of compensation for your time investment, you’re in for quite the battle for yourself and your art.

If you want to strike gold, you’re more than likely going to need to find a literary agent. Lucky for you, there are quite literally thousands of them out there. Unlucky for you, there are over ten times as many novelists seeking their attention. Add onto that the fact that the publishing industry at large is rather fickle, far more focused on specific trends at the moment than just simply finding a good book, and you’re in for a ride simply trying to find an agent who is interested in the type of book you’ve poured yourself into.

In fact, looking back, I’ve realized I probably should have written my first book after determining which trends were big at the moment, and trying to match that. Or, at least, that’s what going through the process of finding an agent feels like.

The truth is, it can feel like a literal crap shoot to even find an agent who will be interested in reading the type of book you’re written, much worse then to find one who is interested in actually working to sell your specific book.

Which leads me to my personal greatest hurdle in the whole process of attempting to sell a book, whether through finding an agent or going the self-publishing route: marketing yourself. You see, when reaching out to agents, you aren’t just simply putting a book in their lap with them eager to read the whole thing regardless of what it is. No, you have to convince them that they want to read it. You have to sell your book to this person who you’re hoping to convince to help you sell your book. That means, you have to come up with a legitimate reason why anyone should want to read it.

If you’re anything like me, this might be one of the most difficult things possible. While I’m pretty good as supporting my friends and family and the things they’re doing, heaping all the praise and coming up with all of the ways to recommend what they’re up to, when it comes to myself, I’m quite a bit more self-conscious. I have a difficult time believing this isn’t a similar issue that any other artists face.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my friends who have found success with agents, it’s that you have to toss that self-consciousness away, and focus 100% on convincing these people that your book is the absolute next best thing and that they need to be the one to sell it for you so that you can both get in on some of that Harry Potter money.

This is where I typically fail. But, you don’t have to. There are plenty of literary agent fish in that publishing sea, and honestly, I believe that if you market yourself well enough, even if your book isn’t that great, you’ll probably find someone who is willing to try to get your book printed. Heck, look at all the books out there that you can find sitting on the shelf in your local bookstore, and I’m sure there are more than a few you instantly recognize as stinkers. This means that it should be possible for anything to get published, you just need to know how to convince someone to help you get there (we’ll jump on the self-publishing conversation later).

However, regardless of your successes with agents, you’re going to have to deal with quite possibly the most difficult trait for any writer to need to possess. Patience.

Which…we’ll get into next time.

SYWTBAW VI: The Real Work

Alright, so, you’ve got a first draft. Maybe you went off to write a second book instead of editing the first one, maybe you felt done and it’s been years since you wrote the first draft and you’re finally at a point where you want to see what you can do with it. Maybe you have a publisher who wants you to make some changes.

Regardless of how you got here, if you’re actually working on putting out a piece of quality literature, you will, at some point, enter the editing phase.

For me, it took a lot of effort to get to the point where I could mentally deal with the editing of my first book, The Legend of Buddy Hero. I not only wrote an entirely different book to separate myself from it, but several months of absolutely nothing (except probably some hefty depression) as I dealt with the fact that I knew I had poured my heart and soul into creating something that, at this point, I absolutely hated.

Now, I can’t say that all writers hate their first drafts. I’m not going to tell you that you might be at the point, after finishing your first draft, where you feel like you should quit this whole idea of being a writer because of how bad that first draft is. I’m certainly not going to declare that every single writer reaches a point in their early attempts at writing (and consistently throughout) where they question the idea of whether they have what it takes to be a good writer.

What I am going to tell you is that I stared down the barrel of editing a book that I absolutely hated.

I wanted to throw out The Legend of Buddy Hero, just get rid of it completely. I was so totally disappointed in myself for how it had turned out, and how it wasn’t the book I had envisioned, and how it felt so pedantic and plodding and simply meh.

But at the same time, I had poured so much of myself into it. Although the book wasn’t at all what I had initially envisioned it to be, it wasn’t the funny, thoughtful reimagining of a superhero origin story that I had intended, it was still something that I felt had a lot of heart, and, basically, some good bones. But ultimately, I couldn’t throw it out because it was a story that was incredibly important to me.

And so, after literally having to pull myself off the floor in my attempts to procrastinate ever having to look at the book again (I can’t express exactly how much I hated it at this point, so much so that every print copy I could get my hands on was burned), I finally settled in to do the real work.

And so, I dug in, and started doing the real work.


I didn’t know this at the time, but if you’re a writer, you spend far more time editing that you do actually writing. Like, you really shouldn’t consider yourself a writer as much as you should consider yourself an editor.

And the really hard part about being an editor of your own work is that you have to be critical of every single choice you made when you first wrote the damned thing. All those things you thought were absolutely brilliant when you wrote the first draft, you have to look at from a different perspective, from outside yourself, and really be honest with yourself about whether or not its working.

It is so much harder than you could ever imagine to be that self-aware and be able to determine if the things you think are clever really are that clever, or if they’re just another lame trope in a series of lame tropes.

I remember writing my first draft and laughing at the idea Hollywood gives us of writers as they lament over word choices for each and every word in a sentence. And then I got to the editing process, and I found myself spending hours on trying to figure out the precise best way to word something to get the idea out there.

And then I’d realize that I had 1000s of “that”s in my book, and would literally hunted for each and every usage of the word “that” throughout the entire thing, spending hours trying to determine if there was a better word to use (and then having to go back through and review the 500 “which”s I used to replace them) or if I could get rid of the word from the sentence entirely without impacting the meaning or comprehension of it.

Editing is slow, painful, and, well, after years and years of working at it, I’ve found it to be one of my favorite things. Well…sorta…

Like, I love the creativity and creation of a good first draft, but when you actually get into the flow of editing, there’s a certain amount of pride that can come into a perfectly worded sentence. When you can change a one-dimensional character into someone who is the star of the whole book. Or when you force yourself to sit back and attempt to describe a sunrise in a forest.

Buddy Hero is a solid example of an edited book that looks almost nothing like the original, but even my most recently completed novel (not yet released, as I attempt to figure out how I want to release it), Moonshine Monarchy, showcases how some great editing can completely change the overall tonality of a story. My first draft was really focused on characterization and action. My second and third drafts were focused on the technical aspects of writing. It actually probably wasn’t until my fifth or sixth run through of the book, after I had my first beta readers give thoughts on the book, when I actually went back and created the visual aspects of the story. The book now is almost unrecognizable from what it was when I first sent it out to beta readers. So much so that one of the people I had read the newest version didn’t even actually place it as being the same book as the first version they had read. They realized a lot of similarities, but since the prose was so different, it took them a while to realize they had already read the book. To their credit, the titles were different for the two versions as well.

While editing can really feel like a chore, I’ve found it’s also the point in which I can truly flex my writing muscles. And so, even though I get to these points when I’m writing books where I’m eager to simply be done with it, when I find myself focused on a strategy for an edit of a book, I find myself in a place of even greater creativity than when I wrote the first draft, locating places where additional scenes could be crafted that better highlight this aspect of a character’s journey, or how they might not actually say that one thing because of how it implies this other piece of their background didn’t happen.

So, this is what I have to say about editing: It sucks…but it’s also pretty awesome.

And the one thing I learned about the writing process from day one of having readers to even my most recent works is that if there’s anything about your book that you’re not completely happy with, like, for instance, you say to yourself that you aren’t a really big fan of one specific piece of dialogue, well, that’s going to be the exact piece of dialogue someone’s going to come back to you and say felt off. Because you’re right. You know this story better than anyone. And if someone comes back to you and says something you already had a feeling was a problem, well, it’s one of the worst ways to be proven right.

Fix it.

And then go back and fix it again.

Every time I do an edit of my book, I have piles and piles of notes that I write to myself as I do yet another read-thru. And I’ve found that I can really only consider myself done with editing the book if I can get through a read without those notes, which are often very little more than “Does this make sense?” or “This is worded weird” or “Why is this guy doing this thing right now?” or the ever more important “Why don’t I know what this place that’s so important looks like?”

Edit. Rinse. Repeat.

That’s the writer’s life.

SYWTBAW V: The Cycle Continues

So, you’ve finished your first book, and it’s in some state of completion. Perhaps you’re like me and you finished the first book, got to a point where you can’t look at it any more, and left it as little more than a first draft, while you try to find a corner to hide in as you eat countless pounds of ice cream and chase that creamy goodness with a few bottles of whiskey.

Or maybe you’re one of those focused individuals who has gone through the process of actually editing and polishing that book and making the turd nice and shiny (we’ll get into this process a bit more later).

The reality of the situation is, in my experience with authors, that you’ve already got yourself set up for writing the second one. For all of the pain and torture writing the first book can be, it seems that people who take that initial scratch on the writer’s itch seem to have the same trouble that actual itches have: You simply can’t stop scratching it.

For me, I struggle with having all sorts of new ideas for stories while I’m in the midst of writing a story. It takes a whole heckuva lot of effort for me to keep from dropping the story I’m working on to work on a completely new story. Sometimes that effort doesn’t work, which is evident by the 13 different stories in different levels of completion sitting on my Dropbox as we speak. They’re all stories I hope to complete at some point, but ones that I inevitably put on hold as I began working on something else.

It makes sense to be more inspired while you’re actively creating. Your brain is already swimming in those creative juices, constantly thinking up new ideas, so, why wouldn’t it continue to work outside the constraints of the story you’re currently trying to tell.

What this means, however, is that no matter how much pain you’ve gone through to get that first story out, there’s a certain part of you ready to write the next one already. This oddly masochistic element of creation seems to proliferate among all artists. The concept of bleeding for your art isn’t a metaphor to take lightly. It can cause pain to create, and yet those who do, will continue to do it, even if they aren’t receiving any sort of material rewards for it. Heck, there are plenty who aren’t getting anything out of it, outside of personal satisfaction for completing something, and yet they continue.

For myself, my second book was a whirlwind. Where it took me over a year to write the first draft for Buddy Hero, I wrote the first draft to The Agora Files in exactly 30 days. I had learned a lot about how to get a story to the page while writing Buddy, that once it came to writing my second book, I didn’t spend nearly the time on trying to figure the basic stuff out.

This isn’t something to take as a guideline for second books. I’ve never written a first draft that fast since. Something about that second book was different, and it certainly boils down to feeling a particular inspiration for the story while, at the same time, being at a moment in my life where I could dedicate an extortionate amount of time on my writing. But there was also a certain drive to prove myself as being better than what I felt about myself after feeling the disappointment in what I originally released for The Legend of Buddy Hero. This is why the two books are so completely different. I noticed the issues in Buddy, and went a completely different way, focused more on action and emotion and energy than intricate attempts at development. I had created a giant back story for The Agora Files, like I did for The Legend of Buddy Hero, but almost none of it when into the book itself, deciding that the intrigue was better for that story, and allowing the action to drive things forward.

Regardless of the details, I flew through that second draft like it was nothing, avoiding all of the pain I dealt with on the first one.

Only to then be left with two books that needed some love.

Which meant that flying through that second book put me quickly back to where I had hated being just a month prior. Facing the fact that I had a book I needed to put some attention toward past the fun of just creating a story.

And…I literally didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew, based on my issues with The Legend of Buddy Hero, that I needed to step away from The Agora Files for a bit before getting into editing it. Let it mellow, so to speak. But I didn’t want to write yet another book, only to find myself with three first drafts and nothing I could truly be proud of yet.

Which left me with the decision to go back and attempt to fix all the problems I saw with Buddy Hero.

Which, is what we’ll get into more next time.

SYWTBAW IV: Patience Padawan

One of the most amazing moments I’ve ever had in my entire time as an author is the moment I finished my first first draft. When I put those final words to the page for The Legend of Buddy Hero, I quite literally couldn’t contain myself. I had done it. I had written the great American novel. I had succeeded in this thing I had spent so many months thinking was absolutely impossible. And I was pretty happy with how the story had wrapped up. And I was excited for people to start reading it. And I was ready to make all that book money and begin my new career as a writer, and never have to go back to my day job ever again.

So…yeah, I was obviously a little overly excited, and a whole lot of overly naive.

To my credit, I did do an immediate read-thru/edit of the book after I finished the first draft, but, well, I wasn’t that focused. In my mind, after finishing that first draft, I simply needed to fix up the grammar and look for any typos, and anything else that might be glaring. Surely when I get and agent/publisher, they would do all the work in helping me identify where the story was lacking.

It was less than a month after I finished that first draft that I started looking for agents. Because I had spent so much time working through that first draft thinking about how excited I was to make money as an author, I didn’t really ever think about what I needed to do to make money as an author.

And one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an author is to think that your first draft is good enough. We talked about this yesterday. For all of his bigotry and racism, Hemingway was right on one thing, first drafts are shit.

A part of me knew it then, but was unwilling to listen. I remember going through the first read thru of my first draft and cringing at certain details, but just thinking that it would be good enough. In my own defense, I had certainly read worse books which had somehow managed to be published, but, this was not a good book.

However, because of my lack of patience, and my lack of thinking about how I wanted to present myself to the literary world, I started looking for agents with what was basically a first draft. And, I actually received some positive responses. No one actually wanted to take me on as a client, but, well, amidst all of the rejections, there were a couple of people who actually had some interest in what I had written.

But they all ultimately rejected me.

And I took those few pieces of random praise, and decided that meant I should self-publish. And I did. I crapped together a cover and put my stuff up on CreateSpace (a self-publishing platform for print books that has now been swallowed up by the Amazon whale), and almost 11 years ago today, I received my first proof of my book, which I looked at, made some incredibly minor changes to, and then had a dozen copies printed for myself while also releasing the book for sale.

I had a couple of sales, mostly to family and friends (if not all), but nothing too spectacular. The cover was ugly, and I didn’t really spend much time on coming up with a blurb to use to sell the thing, and this book was ultimately just crapped out and put on the market without any real forethought.

And then, the following Thanksgiving, a few months after putting the book out, I gave out a few copies to some family members at the family Thanksgiving meal. And then I heard one of the family members reading a section of the book out loud.

And I was immediately mortified.

This was definitely one of the sections I had thought wasn’t the greatest during my read-thru edit. It was something I knew was a trouble spot. But I put the book out like that. And, I’ll be honest…while it was definitely the stupidest thing I’ve done in my career as an author, it was also the moment that I learned the most about myself as an author. It has stuck with me. It has caused me to be far more critical of my own writing and not want to simply rush something out.

And, it taught me an important point that I already knew, but at that moment in my life didn’t want to realize: There are no quick successes in writing.

I mean, sure, I’m guessing I could have used some shady tactics to get my book up into the top ranks and made all sorts of money off of something that was terrible. There are plenty of terrible authors who manage to make plenty of money. But, I wouldn’t have been proud of what I had written. And I guess that’s what I learned most at that moment in which I heard my book read out loud for the first time: I wasn’t proud of what I had written. I was proud that I HAD written something, but I didn’t actually care about the book I wrote at all.

And I went into another one of those despair spirals.

I didn’t know what to do. I knew I needed to give the book a full edit, but at this point, I was absolutely done with this book, and I couldn’t, in any way shape or form look at it ever again.

While I immediately removed the book from sale, I then spent months trying to figure out what to do with this thing I had spent so much time on. I was absolutely gutted that I realized I had something I thought was crap, and the very basic concept of having to sit through re-reading it and then actually fixing all of these problems, while also recognizing at this point that I wasn’t going be handed wads of cash as a reward for simply finishing a book, well, it broke me.

And then, out of the blue, I received an inspiration for a new story. And I absolutely needed to write this new book.

And…that’s the problem with actually being an author. Even in the midst of your despair spirals, you’ll find there’s yet another story to be told.

SYWTBAW III – But Should You?

About halfway through writing your first draft, you’ll probably reach a point in which you’ll really start to question whether or not you are able to make it as a writer. Part of the reason for this is because you’re going to find that you somehow became completely lost in what you were writing. Like, you don’t know what you were doing. You don’t know where you were planning on going. And no matter what, you absolutely don’t think you have any way of possibly getting anywhere further in this story that you’ve already been bleeding yourself dry in order to get out there.

I remember when writing the first draft of Buddy Hero, I reached a moment in which I literally had no clue of anything that was going on in the story any longer. And I remember going backwards in re-reading what I had written and not remembering half of it, and also thinking that I needed to completely rewrite the whole thing from the start, even though I had spent months getting to this point already.

And I broke down.

I literally got to such a level of frustration that I couldn’t possibly continue any further and tears started falling because I had put so much of myself into this thing so far, and I felt no connection to it any longer, and I knew that I simply needed to throw it all away because it wasn’t what I had thought I was making.

I’d love to tell you that this was the only time I felt this way in my history as an author, but the truth is, I feel this way quite often. This feeling of absolute distress because something I’ve put so much energy into just isn’t quite what I had expected it to be and I either don’t have any idea of how to get it back on track, or am terrified about the amount of effort I’m going to have to perform in order to get it back on track.

This feeling of despair is, from what I’ve seen talking to my friends who are authors, as well as my own experience, common.

How couldn’t it be? This is an expression of yourself. Whether you’re simply working on your own memoirs or something involving space cyborg-unicorns (or is it cyborg space-unicorns?), it is an expression of who you are. That means that any time that self-expression doesn’t feel right, or isn’t received in the way you expect/hope it to be, it can be a significant blow against yourself.

Writing, like any artform, is a process of making oneself vulnerable, of showing parts of yourself that you would never show to anyone otherwise. In my books, I’ve tackled things such as my issues with religion, my issues with politics, my issues with family, and the story I’m working on right now is basically me dealing with the possibility of my wife dying. These are all very dear and personal topics that I typically avoid talking about, and here I’ve put them all to the page in one way or another, typically through a few filters of abstraction, for people to read and comment on in whatever way they see fit. Heck, some of those comments even come from people who haven’t read the story at all, but just want to give a negative review for the sake of giving a negative review (speaking of a relatively recent review I got where the reviewer obviously skimmed through a few pages, saw a name, and decided that was the protagonist even though they appear infrequently, and based their entire review around that).

Which means that even after finishing a book, I can get hit out of left field when someone reads my book and simply doesn’t like it. While a part of me definitely knows that my books aren’t for everyone, another part takes it as a personal attack.

I’ve never been great at dealing with emotions, and I’ve been even worse at dealing with people not liking me, so, these are two things I’ve traditionally attempted to avoid in my adult life…

These are not things that can be avoided well as an artist of any type. Sure, you can attempt to develop a thick skin, or ignore the Internet comments, but the truth of the matter is, you’re going to be your harshest critic, and you will get down on yourself the most about anything you feel isn’t quite right and whether it’s in the midst of your first draft, or during the editing process, or simply while thinking about what to write next, you will reach that point of despair where it becomes almost impossible to function. Where you will shut down a part of yourself that you feel is dear to you.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. We have to be warriors, ready to battle against all who would dare to tell us we’re not good enough, even if it’s ourselves we have to battle for that. And sometimes that battle is almost impossible to win.

So, should you write? Yes, I absolutely believe you should. But be prepared, because there’s a ton of heartache ahead of you if you do.