It’s great to be back with all of you in Seekerville. Can’t believe it’s been almost a year (the last time was back in July, 2010). Thanks, Tina, for the invitation. Shortly after my latest novel, The Deepest Waters, released in April, my publisher (Revell) did a blog tour with over 55 bloggers participating. They all reviewed the book and several interviewed me. I’ve visited at least a dozen other blogs besides that. But coming to Seekerville is always a special treat for me.
For one thing, you may have the busiest, most active blog in the writing world. And you’re such a caring, generous, responsive bunch. With most blogs, you’re lucky to get 5-10 comments. It’s not uncommon to see 60-70 comments on a single post here, sometimes even higher. And it’s amazing to see how God has rewarded your faith, diligence and support of one another. SO many of you are published now, compared to when I first visited 2 years ago.
Much has happened in my writing life since last July. Two big things in September for starters. I retired from pastoring after 25 years to write fulltime; then at the ACFW conference my first novel, The Unfinished Gift, won 2 Carol Awards (Best Debut Author & Best Short Historical). I was stunned. Through this, God has opened some wonderful doors.
I was asked to audition for a writing team for a new book series by Guideposts, called Miracles of Marble Cove. Bestselling authors Melody Carlson and Leslie Gould are part of that team. Guideposts liked what I sent in, gave me a contract, and I just finished that novel in May (book 5 in the series).
In April, I turned in my 5th and final contracted book with Revell (it was a challenge, writing two totally different books at the same time). Thankfully, Revell made it very clear they wanted to resign me. And they did―for 3 more books! I started my 6th novel for them a few weeks ago. And something even bigger is brewing (can’t give any details yet). In short, Revell has asked me to sign on to an even bigger project that will involve 4 additional books. That means I’ll be contracted to write 7 books with them over the next three-and-a-half years.
This is a major answer to prayer (none of this was clear when we made the decision to retire from ministry back in August). God has been so good to us.
When Less Is More
On this visit to Seekerville, Tina suggested I share whatever God has put in my heart. I prayed a while and one thing keeps bubbling up. It’s about how writers tend to write too much, but don’t see it when we do. Most writers are also avid readers. We know what we like in the books we read but, often, we can’t see when our own writing misses the mark.
One clear example is the area of Wordiness. That is, taking too long to say what we want to say. How many times have you begun a book, started to really like the story, but were soon aware the writer keeps adding details you don’t care about? They take too long describing a character or setting up a scene. Maybe you’re reading a good section of dialog, then all of a sudden there’s a lengthy paragraph stuck in the middle. As you read it, it doesn’t seem to add anything essential.
It’s bla-bla-bla. Maybe well-written bla-bla-bla, but still….
What do you do at times like this, as a reader?
I know what I do. I skip past it till I find where the real story picks up again. If I do this too often with a book, I usually set it aside. Here’s a sticky question…do you think I’m likely to tell others about this book? Not likely.
Every book on writing I’ve read says the best publicity a writer can ever hope for is the word-of-mouth kind. First of all, it’s free. And friends usually listen to another friend’s recommendation, far more than they will an ad or a review from someone they don’t know.
Because of this, here is my favorite writer’s quote:
"In your writing, try to leave out the part readers tend to skip."
―Elmore Leonard, NY Times bestselling author
Are We Like Emma or Miss Bates?
One of my favorite Jane Austen stories is Emma (my favorite movie version is the one with Gwyneth Paltrow). Obviously, the character we’d like to be in the story is Emma, with all her beauty, charm, witty thoughts and observations. Everyone wants to be around Emma; everyone loves to hear what she has to say. If you’re a guy, you’d like to be Mr. Knightly, so handsome and wise. He always seems to know the right thing to say and says it exquisitely.
We probably like to think our writing more resembles these characters, Emma and Mr. Knightley. But I think, in reality, we’re more often like the sad and frumpy Miss Bates (at least when we finish our first draft). You remember Miss Bates. She rattles on and on and on. Those around are feel almost trapped once she starts talking.
Miss Bates doesn’t know that she talks too much. She can’t tell that over half her words come out as bla-bla-bla.
Poor Miss Bates. But what if….
What if Miss Bates knew she had a problem, and knew that she couldn’t see it or fix herself by herself? What if she humbled herself and said to Emma, “I know I drive everyone crazy when I talk. I go on and on, adding a dozen details to everything I say that no one cares about. Would you help me, Emma? I need someone like you to start pointing this out to me, and I need this help desperately. I promise, I won’t get hurt or offended when you do. Please Emma, please say you’ll help me.”
Of course, Miss Bates doesn’t do this. But we can.
Does It Work?
I actually do something very similar to the idea I’ve suggested here for Miss Bates, with each of my novels during the editing phase. I’ve got a small hand-picked group of “Emmas” and I’ve asked them to be ruthless in their observations with my manuscript, to help me see any place where my writing gets bla-bla-bla, or even tempts them to want to skip. I’ve also read everything I can about wordiness and self-editing. I’ll even re-read some of my favorite chapters on this before I begin to edit a book, just to sharpen my own blade.
I seem to be having some success with this. I’d say my #1 compliment from reviewers and readers with all three of my published novels is: “I couldn’t put it down.” Here’s actually a sampling of recent feedback I’ve received for my 3rd novel, The Deepest Waters:
• “Thank you so much for writing The Deepest Waters, which I read in one day over this holiday weekend.”
• “I finished reading the book about 2:30 this morning. I couldn't put it down once I started.”
• “Finished your great book in one day. Made me weep. Didn’t want it to end.”
I was pleasantly surprised to read the following in an email from Christy-award winning author, Athol Dickson: "I stayed up all night to finish The Deepest Waters, which is something I have not done in years.”
As a writer, really, does it get any better than that?
But I have to tell you, slicing and dicing your manuscript is painful. Sometimes I’ve worked for hours on a paragraph, trying to get it just write. When I think I’ve succeeded, I sit back and smile. “Now that’s good writing,” I tell myself.
Then I find out, when I get feedback from my “Emma’s” that this very paragraph to everyone else is bla-bla-bla. What? How can that be? It’s the essence of literature itself.
No, it’s not. It’s bla-bla-bla. It’s the part my readers will likely skip. And I want to get rid of those parts before they ever see them. So…I put the cursor at the beginning of the paragraph, select it…hit delete. And I do this over and over and over again.
Until Miss Bates starts sounding more like Emma.
So…let’s hear some of your painful editing moments. How do you handle them? How long do you grieve as you watch some of your best work lying there on the cutting room floor?
Dan Walsh is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). His first novel, The Unfinished Gift won 2 ACFW Carol Awards for best debut author and best short historical fiction. The sequel, The Homecoming, released last year in June. His third novel, The Deepest Waters, has just released and his fourth, Remembering Christmas, comes out this September. For those who haven’t read Dan’s novels, reviewers often compare his books to Nicholas Sparks, Richard Paul Evans and Jason Wright. He writes fulltime in the Daytona Beach area, where he lives with the love of his life, Cindi, his wife of 34 years. They have two grown children and one grandson. As they await more grandchildren, they enjoy the company of two mini-aussies, Bailey and Darcy.
My Website: www.danwalshbooks.com
(People can follow me on Twitter or Facebook by clicking Icons on my homepage, or read my blog, updated every few weeks)
Seekerville is giving away a copy of The Deepest Waters that Dan was kind enough to donate. Thanks Dan! Winner announced in the Weekend Edition~Tina