Becoming a published author and taking a simple idea and creating something brand new from it has been a great experience. Another interesting experience happened this past week when I was invited to speak to 300 middle schoolers on Thursday about the writing process.
Despite my social anxiety
, I jumped at the chance at talking to LOTS of kids about Sherlock Holmes. Being a teacher, I usually get to plant seeds of interest with my 25 students per year and hope something grows from it. 300 kids? Well, hopefully I was able to get a few more kids interested in Holmes and Watson.
Here's what I had to say:
Your principal asked me to come here today to talk with you about the writing and publishing
process. Writing is a creative outlet,
just like music, drama, sports and any other hobbies you have. And for
anyone who says playing sports isn’t creative, I challenge you to watch what
some of the top tier athletes can do in their profession and tell me they
aren’t creative. Adam Wainwright pitched
a game this season where he couldn’t throw anything over 87 miles per hour and
still got the win. You’re telling me
that didn’t take some creativity?
games can be a creative outlet.
Minecraft isn’t as cool as it used to be, but that was a huge creative
outlet. And how you complete missions on
Call of Duty or some of the junk plays you try in Madden are creative in their
own way. So even if
writing isn’t your thing, bear with me.
Because my hope is what I have to say about the writing process can be
applied to whatever your interests are.
If you’re not a writer, just consider this talk about the creative
process instead. They’re not too far
removed from one another.
we’re all familiar with the steps to the writing process from all of those
awesome five paragraph essays you’ve had to write in your life, right?
Writing, Revision, Editing and Publishing.
the writing process in a nutshell. Now,
let’s talk about my book.
My book, The
Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, takes the character of Sherlock Holmes,
the world’s greatest detective, and turns that concept on its head. Instead of Holmes being a detective solving
crimes in Victorian London, I’ve made him into the criminal genius behind the
crimes in Victorian London. Sound
interesting? Great. Make sure to order your copy from Amazon when
it comes out this month.
little idea to turn Holmes into a criminal is all it took for me to start the
prewriting process. This little idea is
the spark that starts a brainstorm.
Whether you have a writing prompt or a research project to complete,
brainstorming is your first step. From
there, you can let your imagination run wild. JK Rowling,
JRR Tolkien and Suzanne Collins all created whole new worlds for their
characters that all started from a single idea.
I am not the
world’s most creative guy, but you don’t have to be overly imaginative to
create something exciting and worthwhile.
Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Shark Tank knows that it just takes
one small idea or a twist on an existing idea and you can take off from there.
an important part that no one ever talks about.
When those ideas start coming, write them down! How many of you have ever had an awesome idea
and then can’t remember it twenty minutes later? This is where outlining comes into play.
of those ideas out of your head and written down somewhere is the first step,
and then you put them in order. And once
you have the outline of what you want to create, you’re going to see the areas
that need more attention. This is where
you can push yourself.
research was one of the best parts of writing my book. I learned about the Tibetan mountains, French
wine and Victorian cuss words just because they fit well into my story. Is that information I’m going to use every
day? Probably not, but it’s cool to know
some of that stuff.
I do most of
my writing at night after my daughter goes to sleep and my wife is watching
Teen Mom. I can’t stand to be in the
room when Janelle is on TV, so it’s a good motivator to get to work. A lot of
these nights were spent researching topics I knew a little about, but not
enough to sound like I really knew what I was doing if I put it in a book. You guys, have you heard of this internet
thing? It’s amazing! I spent one whole night reading Mongolian traveler’s
journals from the Smithsonian collection.
I ended up learning way more than I needed for the two sentences I ended
up putting in my book, but the research part was pretty rad.
Okay, so now
you have your ideas, the order they go in, and the information you need to make
an awesome story. Oh no, now you have to
actually write this thing! Staring at
an empty screen or a blank page is daunting.
There’s no better way to start than to just start. The first chapter of The Criminal Mastermind
of Baker Street is titled, Begin at the Beginning, and that’s just what you
have to do. Just start writing. And keep writing. And then write some more. Don’t worry about making it great on the
first try, because you won’t.
saying, Don’t let great get in the way of good.
made it this far in creating something, you obviously think it’s pretty
good. Get that goodness written
down! And here’s a secret, first drafts
stink. That’s why first drafts are
called rough drafts. Because they’re
rough. Do you think John Green just sits
down and awesomeness flows right out of him?
Well, probably. But his first
drafts still get changed and reworked along the way.
example of that. If you’re familiar with
Sherlock Holmes, you probably also recognize the name Irene Adler. She’s a pretty important character in his
story. When I got to Irene’s chapter, I
had a vague idea of how I wanted to write it.
I got it down, and was not happy at all with how it turned out. But I kept
on writing. I had other chapters to
write. I ended up rewriting that chapter
at least three times from start to finish, but if I tried to do that during my
first draft, it would’ve thrown off my entire flow.
A lot of
that first draft is going to get changed.
Another big change was a whole chapter that I ended up deleting after my
first reread of my book. After spending
a couple days working on it, I realized it was garbage. Delete! One of the
biggest pieces of advice I can give you about writing or any project you care
about is to keep at it.
going to be days you don’t want to mess with it. Keep at it.
you’ll try and try and nothing seems to work.
Keep at it.
you’ll sit down and realize you need to completely redo the previous day’s
work. Keep at it.
minute you start to get lazy with your project, all of your forward momentum
you’ve built up starts to slip away. And
forward momentum is the best thing you can have working for you.
up. There are going to be some days when
whatever you’re working on just isn’t clicking.
But there are going to be more days when everything flows. You’ve got to push through to get to those
write The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street took me about five months. The revising and editing process took another
seven. But writing isn’t a solitary endeavor. Recruiting
someone to read your first draft is a great way to get early feedback. These are called alpha readers. In the gaming and computer world, they’re
known as beta testers. Their main
purpose is to run through an early version of a project and point out things to
that are wrong. Things to fix.
This is an
important difference. Things can’t be
wrong on a first try. They just don’t
click yet. When you’re creating
something, everything makes sense in your own head, but those ideas don’t
always get conveyed when you put them out there. The purpose
of the revision process is to evaluate what you’ve done so far and fine tune
it. These are what team practices and
band rehearsals are in real life. You
try something, and then try it again and again until it’s great.
reader caught a big mistake in my first draft.
A character I’d killed off in the middle of the book showed back up
three chapters later. Whoops! It had been a few weeks since I had written
the chapter where he died and it wasn’t on my mind when I plugged him in
later. That would’ve been a big problem
if it made it to the final copy. It
wasn’t something wrong. Just something I
needed to fix. I worked
over the actual storyline of my book start to finish three times, each time
finding things to tweak and streamline.
Each time, I felt that the story was getting stronger and stronger.
will be things that are wrong with your creation. And the editing process points all of those
I go into teacher mode and tell you that you should be double checking all of
your work. Whether it’s a homework
assignment, code you’re drafting, or story you’re writing. There are going to be things that are
wrong. I guarantee you’ve all gotten
tests or assignments back and double checking your work would’ve caught some careless
Editing is a
real life skill.
If you don’t
think I double check my work before I file my taxes, you’re nuts. And I sure hope someone edited the medical
textbook that anyone who operates on me read in college. Editing not just saves your grades, it can
also save money and lives.
And here we
are at the final step: publishing. This
is putting your finished product out there for the rest of the world to
see. This is where you post a video to
YouTube, put your fan fiction on a site, turn in that research paper you’ve been
slaving over. This is what people will
judge your work on.
All of those
other steps prepare you for publishing.
You’ve worked out all of the kinks, fixed all of the errors and made
your project look great. Come and get
stuff out in the world also means getting rejected and ignored. I’m not going to lie, it stung when I got
rejected by publishers and I got down right mad when other publishers ignored
my queries. But keep at
it. I found a publisher who was awesome
to work with and I wouldn’t have gotten there if I let my bruised ego stop me
after my first few rejections.
get a lot of hits on your blog, or that play you’ve been drilling on works
perfectly in a real game. This is where
all of that hard work pays off. You have
accomplished something and no one can take that away from you. We all know
there are trolls out there who are going to try and bring you down. You did not work this hard to let some troll
have a negative impact on you. If you
like your final product, then other people will too.
Go look at
the ratings for your favorite YouTuber or app.
I bet there’s a lot of negativity in those ratings. Does that stop something you like from being
awesome? If you can enjoy someone else’s
product that other people want to hate on, others are going to like your
stations are full of people calling in who think they know better than the
players and managers. Guess who doesn’t
listen to the negative feedback? And
guess who’s making a whole lot more money that those callers? Players and
managers. Because for
every troll who blows you off or tries to make you feel inadequate, there are
more people out there happy for what you’ve created.
are a true gift to the world and people really do appreciate them, even if
they’re not overly vocal about it sometimes.
As a teacher, I promise you we appreciate the hard work put into big
projects or seeing an improvement in your schoolwork. And your friends and fans appreciate the work
you put in, too. They care because you
you love writing or your passion lies somewhere else, look at each new endeavor
as a chance to create something awesome out there. Push yourself to be better. Because the more you push yourselves, the
better you’ll be. And if you get to be
really awesome, you just might get to speak in a middle school auditorium someday.