Random Rambles: Confessions of a Developing Author

EyeOfGodCover_ideaSketch1b-CJHWhen I released my first novel, my target goal as ‘good enough.' I'm not sure if I'm ashamed of this, in retrospect, or proud of the fact I had the guts to go forward despite not being the best I could be.

This post is a ramble, where I will discuss my development as an author and the things I've done to improve my writing quality.

The ‘good enough' I described above is not good enough. It was a start, not a finish. I've talked about how I progressed as a write up until the point I released The Eye of God. I haven't, however, discussed very much about what I've done to develop my skills as an author.

There's a difference–a very real and frightening one. In a way, I feel like my writing was like the image above: a sketch, a concept, or a basic guideline for the author I am now–and hopefully a starting place for the author I will be as I grow over the years.

I'm not there yet.

When I read The Eye of God now, I often find myself wincing over what I had once been quite proud of. Maybe my eye has gotten more discerning. The reality is that I have improved thanks to my editorial staff, and thanks to my personal efforts. I cringe a bit admitting this because it isn't a humble statement. It is the truth, though, and I'd be doing myself a disservice if I didn't acknowledge that I have been putting a lot of effort in improving my writing.

Storm Without End by RJ BlainI noticed the first jump in quality when I wrote Storm Without End. The writing was just smoother. It wasn't perfect, though. I had some bad habits that I didn't start addressing until I wrote Inquisitor. However, I have adjusted some tiny things in Storm Without End. Each time I read over one of the old novels, I make small changes and fixes to try to bring the quality up to my current standards–without actually changing the story.

I swore I wouldn't rewrite a novel out from under my fans' noses, and I intend to keep that promise. That said, the next time The Eye of God does update, there will be some substantial differences, including smoothed out writing, some tweaks to action sequences so they read better, and inclusions of expanded characterization (in terms of immediate thought processes.) I have no idea how long this will take me, but I want to bring The Eye of God up a little higher. I'm not happy with it.

But that's a price I pay for improving. What was once good isn't any more. It's also my burden to bear. It didn't just happen, though.

Reviews I received on The Eye of God played a part. I want to be better and better and better. That's just a part of who I am. I want to tell stories people love reading. That means I can't just be happy with acceptable or good enough. I want to get better.

Experience really helps too, but a great deal of my improvement is thanks to my editors, who keep forcing me to try to make my writing even better.

Storm Surge - RJ Blain - Cover ArtIt wasn't until I started inputting Storm Surge into my computer and passing things over to my editor that I noticed a significant difference between Storm Without End and Storm Surge.

My editor noticed, too. My writing quality has gone up; it's harder for her to pinpoint things to improve. There are significantly fewer errors before the file gets to her. There are a lot fewer awkward sentences. This is making the work a lot easier on both of us.

My proofing editor hasn't gotten back to me yet, but I'm holding hope there are very few errors in what is sent over. I've maintained for a long time that it's impossible to write a perfect book. There will always be a better way I could have worded something. There's bound to be a stray comma or period somewhere. I have a poor relationship with stray spaces. They usually crop up at the end of a paragraph, which drives my editor positively batty.

It's having interesting consequences for Blood Diamond and Project Zeta as well. My drafting quality is improving, and I've been far more careful with readings than I was before. The way I write has changed. I'm far pickier for certain things.

I've discovered that my quantity doesn't really change if I slow down and fix things as I go. If anything, my quantity goes up overall, as I don't have nearly as many self-esteem issues. By fixing the problems I know are there, I'm able to concentrate on the new words a lot better. It's very strange. Once upon a time, I couldn't do that. If I tried to edit while I wrote, I would run in circles chasing after my own tail.

It has now become an integral part of my process. It doesn't cost me a whole lot of time as I transcribe… and it saves me a great deal of time later.

All I can do at this point is hope that I haven't reached the top of my mountain. I want to get better… and I want to tell stories people fall in love with so much they tell their friends about it.

Yeah, I want to be one of those authors, and I'm totally not ashamed of it. I don't know if I'll ever succeed, but I'm going to give it my all.

That's the only thing I'm willing to do. If I fail, it won't be because I didn't try. It won't be because I didn't put in the effort. I can live with bad luck.

I can't live with sitting on my laurels doing nothing.

And since I promised confessions, here are a few for your amusement:

  1. The cat puked on the floor this morning next to the bed and I left it for my husband to find. His cat did it, okay?!
  2. I splurged on red hair dye and girlie nailpolish today. If I'm not careful, people might suspect I'm actually a woman.
  3. I don't want to give my friend's car back. I've named her The Beast. I also call her the Manning Mobile. I love her dearly. She's a part of the family, yo. She's the older sister of my baby Corolla.
  4. I failed so hard at quitting sugar this weekend that I'm hungover from sugar today.
  5. I talk to other drivers, giving a running commentary on how well they drive. Sometimes I do this with passengers in the car with me. Sometimes I will critique myself when I do something stupid.
  6. When I don't have people over, clothing is optional. My house, my rules!
  7. I think I'm ugly, no matter how often others tell me I'm full of shit. Self-esteem issues, yo.
  8. If the amount of time spent singing in the bathtub was equal to skill and talent, I'd be a rockstar, baby. I'm not.
  9. I like sleeping more than almost anything else in my life. If sleeping were an Olympic sport, I'd be a gold medalist.
  10. I hate tripe. When tripe enters my mouth, I spit it out. If I was midway through swallowing when said tripe was discovered, I throw up. Yuck.
  11. I have an irrational love of sour cream. And tacos. And onions. And garlic. If it's a gassy food, chances are I love it.
  12. Regarding point 11… I've made the cats and my husband leave the room before. I considered this a crowning moment of my marriage and life.


Leave a Comment:

Cy Wyss says March 3, 2015

Hi RJ, thanks for your post. Wow, do I ever love your book covers. They’re definitely ace quality. And it’s clear what’s inside is getting there, too. I don’t think one is ever “an author” in a closed sense, to say “I’m an author” is more like saying you’re on a journey that never ends. As you noted, there’s always a stray comma or an awkward sentence, although these things get smoother.

A couple quick questions: first, how much do you write? I know the answer is probably “a lot,” but I mean in terms of schedule. For example, I try to write first thing in the morning (new stuff) for a couple hours, then spend a lot of the day revising, marketing, doing everything else. Do you have certain hours, or a certain wordcount you try to stick to?

Second, I find books on writing are addictive. Do you have any favorites, or ones you’re studying at the moment? For example, I love James Scott Bell and his books on writing. How do you read them—do you do all the exercizes or take notes?

Curious, curious. 🙂

    RJBlain says March 3, 2015

    Thanks so much! Chris Howard and Brooke Johnson always do such a fantastic job with the covers. I’m always worried my books won’t live up to their covers, so I’m always trying to improve my writing… hah.

    I tend to write, in hours, 8-12 a day, except Saturday and Sunday. Sunday I get in closer to 6, and I don’t tend to have time to write on Saturdays. That can equate to anywhere between 2k and 10k of words, but it really depends on what else I need to do. I have to edit for myself (and sometimes others, depending…)

    I tend to be working whenever I can. I’m a bit of a workaholic. I don’t do set hours, but I definitely try to set word count goals for projects. I always work one specific project as the main, and I MUST finish my quota of that for the day no matter how long it takes.

    As for books on writing, I have Chicago Manual of Style. I have a collection of other books I’m currently not reading. I improve skills my editor(s) say I need to improve. Beyond that, I write… because the best way to learn is to do. When I do read books about writing nowadays, I glean what I need to learn from it and cross reference with the internet to expand knowledge on that specific issue.

    I don’t do the exercises and I don’t take notes. I try to apply what I’m learning in my writing right away.

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