knew exactly what the writing life would be like: I’d have a cabin in
the Rocky Mountains or somewhere up in Vermont. I’d wake up with a cup
of coffee and maybe a blueberry scone. Then I’d spend my days crafting
beautiful, gripping, life-changing prose while it lightly drizzled
But I was wrong.
This is nothing what the writing
life is like (except for the blueberry scones, those are a must). The
biggest misconception I had about the writing life was that the writing
would be all there was to life.
In the last few years I’ve
written three novels and currently I’m working on a screenplay
adaptation. But much to my disappointment, life did not stop for me to
create masterpieces of American literature. I’m a husband and a father
of two incredible and very active daughters, Julianna and Claire, four
and two years old, respectively. (Somebody please tell me that they
don’t run around like this forever. Do they?)
Once they’re off to preschool, I
spend my days working as the Creative Director for a great church where
I direct short films, promotional videos, and theatrical pieces like
our Easter and Christmas productions. Our Easter production alone is
massive affair, taking months of rehearsal, and plays to a crowd of
about 30,000 to 40,000 thousand people each year.
Finally, when everything at
church is set and the kids are in bed, the writing begins. I wish I
could say that I was unique, that I was doing something superhuman and
most writers have massive log cabins where they seclude themselves to
create best sellers. But as it is for most published writers, my story
is a common one. Family and work crowd in on those coveted writing
moments. So I’ve learned that when I have time to write, I’d better
make the most of it.
All authors have their own
writing rules. Following are five I implement whenever I carve out time
to write. Sticking to these rules has helped me craft novels that I’m
proud of and have done well critically and commercially.
Rule #1: Know Your Voice
I’m bad at being Stephen King—even worse at being Karen Kingsbury. I
learned early on there already exists a James Rollins, a Stephanie
Meyer, and a Donald Miller—and they write their books much better than
I ever could. This is why whenever I sit down to write, I make sure
that I’m crafting a story that I’m uniquely qualified to write.
For example, my newly published
novel Homemade Haunting is part thriller part
allegory about an agnostic “method writer” who quits his day job to
write a horror novel and turns his home into haunted house. However, my
novel doesn’t play like a straight Dean Koontz story. The narrator is
self-aware and there’s a comic tone at times as the narrator encounters
the ghosts and his guardian angel for the first time. Homemade
Haunting reads as if it were This Present Darkness
narrated by Dave Eggers.
It’s this a unique? Yes. Is this
crazy? Probably. But for me it’s important not just to carbon copy Ted
Dekker and Edger Allen Poe but rather create fresh perspective on the
classic haunted-house tale.
Rule #2: Listen to Your
I have this theory that my gut is right 70 percent of the time. I like
those odds. So when I’m writing and I feel that a passage is too long
or a character is not fleshed out enough, usually (but not always, see
rule #3) I’m right.
when I’m writing a scene that hits me as particularly great or
especially bland, I listen to my gut and build around the great scenes
and I tear apart the bad ones. Now this sense is something that I’ve
developed over the ten years I’ve been writing professionally. When I
first started, I’m sure that my gut was at about right about 30 percent
of the time.
Rule #3: Find an Editor
You Trust, and Then Actually Trust Him or Her.
When something isn’t working, I find someone whom I trust to read my
material. Early on this may be friend or a
group. Once you get
a book contract, you’ll have an editor. For me I need all the help I
can get so I have an editor and a writer’s group.
important thing is to find
someone who understands what type of story you want to write and helps
push you to create a book you’ll be proud of.
Once you find that voice you can
trust, listen closely to his or her praise and even closer to the
criticism. When you get a note that says this passage isn’t working,
don’t defend what you were trying to do. You have to trust the notes
that you’re getting. Ask questions. Try to understand why what you’ve
written isn’t working. Sometimes the person giving the critique will
give you specific ideas on what you can do to fix the problems in your
story, but usually you’ll know the best answer. The editor will find
problems with your story, scenes, and dialogue, but you’re the writer
so you must come up with the solution.
Rule #4: Tortoise Mind
Not Hare Brained
I went to a lecture John Cleese gave on screenwriting. He talked about
one of the best time management writing ideas I’d ever heard. He
explained that whenever we sit down to write, we’re thinking with our
“hare brain.” This is the part of us that thinks in to-do lists—PTA
meetings, dry cleaning pickup, weekend plans—it’s nearly impossible to
write from this stressed-out part of ourselves.
When I sit down to write, I have
to take a little bit of time to get into what Cleese called “tortoise
mind.” This is the dreamy part of our brains that puts aside the
mundane day-to-day activities and lets us imagine great prose. I often
hear writers saying the number one key to writing is setting aside time
to do so—but don’t just set aside time, give yourself enough time to
let your imagination roam free.
Rule #5: Keep Your Desk
in The Corner
At the end of Stephen King’s book On Writing, he
says that one of the keys to the writing life is to keep your desk in
the corner where it belongs. The idea is not to let your life become
consumed by writing—it’s a piece of your life, but not the most
I couldn’t agree more. Now that
I’ve been writing for a while, I’m glad that I’m not trapped in a
cabin, forced to watch it rain while trying to come up with stories
every day. If that were the case, I’d have nothing to write about.
My family, faith, and friends
are at the center of my life—they are what inspire ideas. I love
writing, but when I shut down my laptop and leave my work in progress,
I try not to think about it anymore. Then I get to look forward to
jumping back into my fictional world once everyone else is asleep for