Mike E. Miller

Author of The Timekeeper's Son, available at Amazon.com Follow me on Twitter: @MikeEMillerBook

Homepage: https://mikeemiller.wordpress.com

More about the Rough Draft

Okay, first things first. I’ve been doing a terrible job on this blog. But… I do have to admit that I have another blog. Or at least I have for a month or so. I know, I know. You may have seen my last post where I said that I wanted to write about more things than I had been writing about. I’ve really agonized over that though, because I don’t want to dilute this blog too much. I want this one to be about my books and, more generally, about writing. That blog is all about what I think about things, particularly about things like psychology and human nature, and about my faith. Or anything else I feel like writing about, really.

But that isn’t really why I’m writing today. I’m working on the follow up to The Timekeeper’s Son, and it is taking me forever. I mean, like forever. I’ve never really stopped working on it, but it has been really slow going. It has been slow, because, well, it is hard. Getting out this rough draft is so much harder than it was with the first book. The first book is told completely and totally through the eyes of Andy Meyers. If he doesn’t know it, then you, the reader, don’t know it either. That makes the world very, very small. It means that the apparent conflict in front of him is the conflict of the story. As a recent reviewer pointed out, as soon as the conflict is resolved, the story ends.

Well, the next book covers the same timeline, but it is from other peoples’ viewpoints. There are two characters you’ll meet, Alison and Derrick. Neither one of these two show up in the first book as far as Andy knows. In this book, the world is way bigger than Andy realizes, and there is way more going on than he realizes.

Sound cool? I hope so. But I have to be honest. This wasn’t on purpose. I really didn’t set out to write a science fiction book. That’s why many of the reviews say that it is light science fiction (and this book will be, too). I had a really cool idea that was sci-fi, but I was more interested in the suspense and drama of the story. And so I didn’t give the science fiction part of it, I didn’t give the world, as much attention as I should have. And that is a theme that shows up pretty consistently in my reviews.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great story (I average 4 stars), it just isn’t finished.

So, the reason it’s been two years and I’m still working on my rough draft (only about 25K words in) is because I’m trying to fix that. I’m trying to paint the bigger world that Andy dropped into. I’m bringing much more clarity to the reason he ripped. Not the science fiction reason, mind you. It is still the dramatic reason. I’m still more interested in the story than the science fiction. That may still bite me, but I hope not. I’m hoping that I clear up enough of the questions that were raised in the first book. And I’m hoping that the readers will love it as much as they love the idea of it.

But that isn’t really why I’m writing either.

I have said before that the rough draft is hard. And it is. Hard. Super hard. I’ve been writing for two hours this morning, and I’ve written fewer words than this point in this blog post. I get into the manuscript and I slow to a crawl. I have to think about where I’m going and how to get there. In a much earlier blog, I likened the process (based on another writer’s analogy) to hacking your way through a rainforest. The goal is to get to the other side. That was the problem with my first book. I hacked my way to the other side and then made it look pretty. I didn’t really develop it the way that I could have, but that’s okay. I really think this is going to work. It is a risk, but then again, my readers rank in the hundreds or maybe thousands, but certainly not tens of thousands.

Anyway, if you find yourself in the position of writing your rough draft, and you find yourself thinking, “This can’t be this hard. I must not be any good at this,” stop. Stop right there.  Shut it.  Writing fiction is unbelievably hard, particularly if you are any good at it.  Not all the time, though. Sometimes, a scene catches fire and you take off, writing five or six thousand words in a sitting. Other days, it really is like trying to squeeze blood from the proverbial turnip. Two hours in, and you’re off to blast out 1,200 words of blog post in one quarter the time it took you to push out 600 words that you aren’t particularly thrilled with. But it doesn’t matter, because they are 600 words of skeleton, which, for me, could translate into as much as 2,000 words of finished prose.

See, that’s really the point. Understand your style. I had to write an entire book to really figure out my style. In the first book, I kept rewriting chapters as I went, and it took me forever, and it kept me from creating the depth that I wanted to. It kept me from it, because I never really saw the story from the 20,000 foot level. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good story. And I think telling it from a different perspective is really going to work, but that doesn’t change what I learned from it.

Stephen King once said that he tries to write between 1,000 and 2,000 good words a day. I don’t agree. I know, I know: Mr. Unknown disagreeing with a guy who has sold more books in the last half hour than I have ever. But that doesn’t change the fact that my style is different than his, and that it is okay. For me, writing fiction is like creating a sculpture. First, you hack at it, getting the general shape. To look at it when you finish the first cut, you can barely tell what it will look like when you are done. But then you go at it again, adding shape. And then again, and again, and again. Each time, it becomes more refined. You start to add depth and character. You start to flesh it out – literally. You literally start to add flesh onto the bones of your story.

That is really the moral of what I’m trying to say. Let your style be your style. Trust yourself, but know when your work isn’t finished. It can be well written, but not finished. Be patient, and let it be what it is. Let it suck if the first draft needs to suck. Let the dialog be rough or cliché or straight up dumb. Let the scene transitions be jarring. Let the descriptions be nonexistent. Write the skeleton, and put it in a drawer (so to speak). Don’t touch it until you forget what you wrote – for the most part anyway. Then, and only then do a full reading, taking notes like crazy.  Those notes become the flesh of your story.


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A Different Season

It’s been a busy time these past couple of years. I haven’t written much. Not like I want to, not like I’d like to. And that’s a funny thing, you know? We say that writers write. If you’re a writer, you don’t just want to write, you do write. Maybe that’s true. We generally follow our passions. If your passion is really writing, then you’re probably going to find a way to do it.

So, why haven’t I been writing? It isn’t because it isn’t a passion. But I guess you could say that it hasn’t been the biggest thing. It hasn’t been the most important thing. When I wake up in the morning, it isn’t the first thing I think of. When I go to sleep at night, it isn’t the last thing I think of. So, I guess you could argue that I’m not being passionate about it. And I guess that would be okay.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I am working on the next book in the series, it is just going much more slowly than I would like. But the detours have been… necessary.

The past three years or so have been revolutionary for me. I have been on a journey to discover who I am. I have been like an archeologist digging away the earth to reveal the identity buried beneath. I have been scooping away the dirt and brushing away the dust and wiping away the grime. I have been revealing things that have been hidden – hidden from others and hidden from myself. It is a long and arduous process. It is painstaking and painful. But it is indescribably rewarding both to myself and to my family.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because my blog is changing. If you look through the paltry number of posts, you’ll see that the vast majority has something to do with writing. That’s okay, I suppose – except that it isn’t really what I think my blog should be. I mean, even at the very top, it says, “See the writer’s life. In real time.” Well, writing tips aren’t my life. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they are in the forefront of my attention because I’m learning some lesson or figuring something out or making some mistake. But they aren’t all of who I am. And I want my blog to be about who I am and what I think about things and about how I feel about things.

I guess you could call this a rebirth. It is the beginning of something new. You are going to see things that weren’t there before. You’ll see my faith, and you’ll see my struggles. In short you’re going to see who I am. Maybe no one will read it. Maybe no one will care. I need to be okay with that. I need to write it for myself, even if no one comes.

Does this mean that I’m going to be a dutiful little blogger? Probably not, even though I’d like to be. That’s another problem I’ve got: I’m not the most disciplined person in the world. But it is an opportunity to do things differently – to begin again, so to speak.

Speaking of change, that is almost certainly a topic I will explore. But I digress. I’m not here for that, at least right now. My goal for this moment is just to draw a line in the sand. And I did. So here goes.

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What does a Rough Draft Really Look Like?

Okay, first things first. I’ve been a bad writer. Not bad as in writing bad stuff, mind you. I’ve been bad because I haven’t been writing much. No blog posts, no books, and little in the way of even marketing the book I do have out there. Isn’t that a cardinal rule or something? Writers write. Ahem.

Although, I have been writing the next Timekeeper book. I’ve got a bit over 11,000 words of the rough draft banged out. Writing it got me thinking about the whole process of creating a rough draft. I have no idea how many posts I’ve seen about rough drafts, but they all say pretty much the same thing. Writing a rough draft is hard. It is akin to banging your head on the desk until blood starts to trickle down your face and drip onto the keyboard, creating magic. Or I’ve heard people say that it’s like hacking your way through a jungle of endless possibilities. The rough draft is the first path you cut through the wilderness.

I’ve also heard people say over and over again that you need to give your rough draft permission to suck. Some even call it the zero draft. It isn’t even good enough to be called the first draft. And all that is true. It really is. Writing your first draft is hard. You write, you delete, and you rewrite. Right now, I have five different versions of my story and each one is longer than the last. My first version is the first chapter and part of the second. The second version has a complete rewrite of the second chapter and a first cut at the third and fourth chapters. You get the idea. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s been forever since I’ve posted anything. What can I say? Sometimes life gets in the way. And it certainly has over the past couple of months. But, it’s really more than that, I think. It seems like forever ago, but I posted a while back about my adventures in marketing. Well, these past couple months have shown me what happens if I don’t market my book. Nothing happens. Absolutely nothing.

But, that’s actually good in a way. That will give me a chance to see what individual channels do. Before, I was trying to market every way I could. I was doing Facebook, the Goodreads thing, and, of course, my blog. There was some other stuff, but those were probably the main channels. This time, I’ll take a little more structured approach, I think. Maybe just start with one, add another one in, and so on. Remember, as much as I (might) sound like I know what I’m doing, I’m still figuring this stuff out.

And that point brings me to what I really wanted to post about today. I was having a conversation with a guy the other day who wants to be a writer. I’ve known the guy for a really long time. I don’t know him well, but… Okay. I guess you can say I’ve worked with him for a really long time. Anyway, we were talking in the hallway, and he started drilling me with questions about writing. He’s got a gazillion ideas floating around in his head – more than he knows what to do with (I wish I had that problem), but he can’t get any traction with an actual story. Actually, it might be better to say he gets traction for a few chapters and then stalls.

So, he wanted to know how to do it. He wanted to know how to get from the idea to the finished book. Never mind publishing and marketing and all that junk, he wanted to know how to bring order to the chaos. His biggest challenge is to not jump ship to another story when he gets stuck. As a result, he has scores of unfinished stories and books, and he has no idea how to start finishing them.

So, I remembered my blog. That’s exactly why I created it. Because I believe there are lots of people out there with a genuine talent for writing, but without the confidence or know-how to move to the next step. So, here I am, writing another post. This one doesn’t have any grand words of wisdom (as if any of them do), but it’s a start.

And that’s the best lesson I can teach people like my colleague. You have to start. Then you have to keep taking steps, and stay on course. Refuse to listen to the Siren Song, calling you off to the next shiny thing that is surely going to be easier than what you’re working on.

Until next time…


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A Series Dilemma

When should a book be part of a series? For some authors, it seems like the more appropriate question is when shouldn’t a book be part of a series? Everybody and their uncle has one these days. You know what I’m talking about. It seems like half the books on Amazon have the parenthetical A Bobbaloo Buttkiss Mystery or the like. And then there are the trilogies. Hunger Games, Insurgent, Fifty Shades, etc., etc.

I don’t think it’s a secret that this is a marketing technique for many authors. Not all, but many. If people like the first book in the series, then guess what? Chances are good that they’ll buy the second book, the third book, all the way up to the eleven-teenth book. It’s a little hard to fault this logic if your primary goal is to increase your sales. After all, book marketing occurs over the long haul. Very, very few authors can earn a living off a single book.

But this does raise a question. Is it a bad thing to write a series? Even if the logic is sound from a business perspective, we’re authors. We make stuff up for a living. Is it wrong to take the easy path and produce a bunch of sequels? Read the rest of this entry »

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Hard Lessons in Marketing

I have a confession to make. In the month since my book launched, I have been obsessing over its performance. I was extremely excited when my book first launched. My launch day giveaway yielded over 1,200 downloads with 20 to 30 sales a day for the next few days. But it didn’t take long for everything to change.

As the days and weeks wore on, I started watching my Amazon sales and rankings with a keen interest, feeling almost sick as I watched them plunge into nothingness. I felt discouraged and helpless as my sales dried up and my rankings dropped. I went from 7,000 to 15,000. Then I dropped from 15,000 to 30,000 to 50,000 to 80,000, and so on. I found little solace in the idea that a sales rank of 80,000 is still in the top 8%. You see, I had the unrealistic expectation that my sales would at least stay flat, if not increase a bit each week.

What made it even worse was that nothing I tried worked. Tweeting about my book didn’t help it recover. Neither did Facebook or Goodreads ads. New four and five star reviews didn’t help either. It seemed that nothing could slow my ranking’s steady decline and it just didn’t make sense. Scores of people on various Kindle boards felt the same way about their own books: surely, something is wrong with Amazon’s reporting. We can’t possibly have dropped off a cliff into obscurity, could we have?

The simple answer is this: Yes, we could have, and we did. Of course we did. You see, the real problem is that I didn’t understand how book marketing works because I’ve never done it before. But now, I’m smarter. I know more than I did a month ago. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Timekeeper’s Son is Free Today

Just a quick blurb today.  I wanted to let everyone know that my book is free today for Kindle.  If you haven’t downloaded it already, give it a read.  And, of course, reviews are more than welcome…

You can get it on Amazon.

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