The path

Reprinted from my blog at :

I remember the moment like it was yesterday.

I’d ordered the book after stumbling across the sequel in my college library. The sequel was titled THE MIKO and I loved it, but I found that there was a first book, THE NINJA, and I knew I had to read it. So I ordered it from a local bookstore and it arrived. I opened it and the first line stared back at me.

In darkness there is death.

I remember reading the book and when I was done, I spent days thinking about what I’d read. Martial arts, sex, a murder mystery–everything that captivated a geeky college kid. I searched for more titles by the author and came across BLACK HEART. A different protagonist but still deadly and some of the best scenes of unarmed combat that I had ever read sent me into fits of sheer amazement. But it had started with that one sentence.

In darkness there is death.

I began to think a lot. This character had been in my head. Orphaned at six, raised in Japan by his uncle, taught the ways of the Japanese. Special Forces trained, John Logan had been rattling around in my head for months before I picked up Eric Van Lustbader’s books. And those books got me thinking.

Oh, I had found other books years before that had inspired me. Don Pendleton’s THE EXECUTIONER series had caused me to spend a lot of money in my early teens reading about Mack Bolan, the soldier who declares a one man war against the Mafia for the murder of his family. I can still recall the opening chapter of Book #13 Washington IOU as some of the best paperback prose I’d ever read. It caused me to begin my writing as a kid, although at that time it was just a hobby. Pendleton caused me to fall in love with words and writing, but Lustbader–well, THE NINJA and BLACK HEART caused me to start looking at John Logan and thinking a crazy thought:

That I wanted to write a novel, a novel with John Logan. That began a journey of learning, of writing scenes. The dream was still there in my military days, using a spiral notebook to jot down scenes and short stories. My first attempts at trying something serious was amateurish, awkward, and just plain bad.

Then came the day when I picked up THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING FICTION by Barnaby Conrad. I devoured the book in one sitting and it changed my life (I still have the book on my desk). One day, after being challenged by my daughter (“Are you ever gonna write that stupid novel?”) I sat down and began for the hundreth time, an attempt to get John Logan on paper.

And I knew I had it. In three months the first hideously rough draft of what would become SURVIVOR’S AFFAIR was done. Ten years later and countless drafts later, it got published. My first book.

You never know what path your career will take. All those scenes, all of that work–do I consider it wasted? Not at all. It was practice, learning the craft. Remember that no writing you do is ever wasted. All of it–the good and bad–is part of the process of learning the craft.

In darkness there is death.

Such a good line. Wish I had thought of it.

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Commiting Murder

A lot of times when you’re a writer, you have to commit murder.

I’m not just talking about your characters. I’m talking about your writing.

There is an adage in the profession, supposedly said by a writer: “Kill your darlings.”

You see there will come a time in your writing when you will write a scene that is, in your opinion, the best thing you’ve ever written. The images will leap off the page and the prose will flow perfectly and you will sit back and read it again and again and think, wow!

That’s happened to me before. You write something and, oh, perhaps it was just one of those times when you were really “on.” Everything in the universe came together at that moment and you created the best writing of your life.

Sometimes you have to kill it.

If the scene doesn’t add to your story, if the chapter you just finished, slows the pace down or contributes zip to the plot, you have to get rid of it. Cut it, edit it. Kill it.

God, it’s a tough decision. To sit there, reading something that you created knowing that it’s GOOD and also knowing that it doesn’t belong. It can hurt. I mean physically.

Sometimes you luck out and can rework some minor things so that it can stay, but those times are rare. Sometimes you just have to realize that no matter how good the scene is, it has to go.

Just did it. Deleted half a chapter because it didn’t belong. It was taking the story in a direction I didn’t want it to go. So I wrote another chapter.

And I don’t like it, either. This one has all the excitement of a bowl of pudding.

So here I sit at the keyboard, finger on the button, ready to kill my creation. It hurts. Kinda.

So how can I do it, Rick? How can I cut something I’ve written?

You have to keep in mind several things:

One: No writing is ever wasted. Every word you write is practice, making you a better writer. Whether anyone reads it or not, it helps to mold you, sculpt you into making you the writer you need to be.

Two: It’s not about that scene or that character in the end. It’s about the quality of the overall project. I killed a lot of scenes, lots of words before Surivor’s Affair was published. But it’s a better book because of it (and the reviewers have agreed so there!). I killed some more in THE AFFAIRS OF MEN to get it the way I wanted it.

It’s easy to compromise when you’ve put weeks, months, even years into this novel that just slogs along and you wonder if it will ever get finished. It’s easy to compromise for the sake of getting it done, or sparing you a long rewrite. Believe me, I understand. Anyone who’s written a book can relate.

Kill your darlings. Mold those words, that scene, that book, into your vision and don’t compromise because it’s easier. That’s the mark of a weak, amateur writer and you don’t want to be that kind. Hit the button and put it out of it’s misery and start again.

One day, you’ll be glad you did.

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