Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Storytelling is part of our social fabric, a natural extension of the communication process. Most people love to tell stories. It's a way of connecting with each. I've written stories for most of my life. But they've been the non-fiction variety—news, sports, articles, and marketing materials. Once, however, I wrote an article that I thought might serve as the core for a novel.

Since I did have a wealth of other kinds of writing experience, I figured maybe it wouldn't be all that difficult. I think anyone who writes dreams of producing the so-called Great American Novel. The temptation hangs out there like a big curveball waiting for you to take a swing. But, it's the part before the swing that counts:

• Preparation.
• Realization of how vast the creative canvas
• Organization
• Mental Toughness
• Implementing the idea

My novel, Last Stand At Bitter Creek, was the first attempt at fiction. I learned a lot of lessons along the way. The creative process differs for everyone, and sometimes in amusing ways. For example, my idea for the novel came about based on a single paragraph I had written about the main character. Yep –one paragraph.

And I really fell in love with this paragraph – about six-lines long – and had planned to use it as the opening to the story. Try as I might, I was never able to shoehorn those six lines into the lead of the novel, no matter how hard I tried. It just didn’t work. One of those lessons I learned was that word's can't be forced. They have to flow in a natural progression so they reveal, and illuminate, the internal struggles, and external influences, of the characters we're writing about.

Writing a novel can be intimidating because there are so many elements involved—

• Character
• Setting
• Scene
• Sequel
• Viewpoint
• Motivation
• Core story idea

There are other components at play, too, depending on the complexity of the story. A novelist, in my opinion, has to be one-part jigsaw puzzle solver, and one-part orchestra leader.

Someone once asked why I didn't start by writing short stories, rather than tackle a novel. The question always brings to mind a story about when I decided to run my first marathon, many years ago. Among the world-class runners participating was Bill Rogers, who had won the Boston and New York City marathons four times each. I had arranged to interview him at the airport. On our walk too baggage claim, he asked me if I was running in Sunday's marathon.

"Yes, I am. It'll be my first marathon."
"First one, huh. How many 10ks have you run?"
"A 10k? What's a 10k?"
Rogers turned to me, a slight smile on his face.
"What's your goal? What do you hope to accomplish?"
"All I wanna do is finish, man. Just finish."

Writing a novel is a little like a marathon. But you gotta finish.

I'm giving away a digital copy of LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK to one commenter today. Yep, all you have to do to be entered to win is leave a comment, and your contact information. If you just can't wait to see if you won, then go here to grab your copy:

Thanks for joining me today!


  1. Definitely a marathon. No one was as surprised as I was when I finished my first book. (Not that anyone will ever see that book, but I did finish it.)

    One thing that gets lost in all this marketing buzz is writing craft and the whole act of creating the book. I'm glad you addressed it. People forget that without a quality book to peddle, there's no reason to promote.

    And I had to laugh (painfully) about your six sentences. That is one sorry state of affairs we just have to accept--killing our darlings. Just had to do that again two days ago. I'm not brave or ruthless enough to make a clean kill, though. I paste my darlings into a scrap folder. Have never yet used one in another book, but they're all there. Waiting.

    Best of luck with Last Stand at Bitter Creek. Great title!

    1. Tom is having problems replying to our posts, so I'm going to copy and paste the answers he sends me.

      Jacquie, I'm glad to hear you're not into "clean kills" when it comes to those compelling passages of prose we adore. he idea of pasting them into a scrap folder is brilliant. I realize you haven't used them yet, but - someday, somewhere - they could be called upon for front-line duty. And, you are so right about writing vs marketing. No book, no marketing.


  2. Hey, Tom. Understand the Marathon Man completely. People ask me how I write novels. I tell them 500 words at a time. That's my minimum goal for a day, sometimes more. But it gets the novels done.

    Look forward to Last Stand at Bitter Creek, even if the title does remind me of my favorite western movie, Last Stand at Saber River (book by Elmore Leonard). As I'm never the winner in these things, I'll probably end up getting a Kindle copy. At any rate, hang in there. Finishing the marathon is where it's at. And not just one, either.

    1. FROM TOM:
      Chuck, Your comment is nothing short of brilliant - well, no, let's say brilliant. I've always seen discussions where writers are trying to whip out a couple of thousand words or more each day. The thought of doing that is staggering. But your approach - a minimum of 500 words a day - makes so much sense because it's manageable, opposed to monumental. And, doing the math, it represents an incredible output, especially on a monthly basis. Thanks for sharing your "secret" to writing novels.


  3. Tom, I teach writing private group writing classes and you would be amazed at the people who come in there to class and expect to write a novel "in my spare time" or "on the weekends" or expect to "have it finished in 6 months with movie rights optioned within a year"--none of these people understand what goes into writing a novel, and most of those types drop out within the first 3-4 weeks of the 6 week class. Persistence is something we have to learn, just like a baby has to persist in learning to walk to ever do it. This is a great post--I love it, and it something people need to think about, just finishing it.

    My first novel was HUGE. It's shoved under the bed. LOL I hope at some point to go back and resurrect it, but I know it will need a full re-write, so it's going to be a big undertaking, but the story is one I truly love so I will try it one of these days.


    1. FROM TOM:

      Cheryl, It's amazing so many people have such high expectations even before knowing what goes into such a challenge. I love the part about having "movie rights optioned within a year." Alert Central Casting, quick! As you mention, persistence is the key --not giving up and dropping out, just grinding it out to THE END. Even if some of it is tucked under the box springs. Thanks.


  4. Great post, Tom. I agree with both Charlie and yourself. I also am a 'segment' writer. I have written a weekly newspaper column every week for 30 years. That size of column is now pretty visceral for me and I write at least that every day, fiction and non-fiction, although as deadlines loom it extends, by necessity, quite a bit.

    And I agree with you about a novel being a bit like finishing a marathon. You've got to get there. We have a guy over here who ran the London marathon in an antique diver's suit. He finished it in 6 days. He had, apparently, finished it in about 3 hours 10 as a younger man, but all he wanted to do was finish. And that's the thing about the novel. You are not competing with anyone - not in the writing, at any rate - it's just you and you own goal. Well done.


  5. Tom, that marathon run was interesting. I was told long ago that I should be writing novels instead of plotting and scheming out short stories. I've only recently attempted to switch over to a novel. It certainly does require persistence.
    Jerry Guin

  6. Dang, I posted a comment at 3am or so, and was all self-congratulatory about being the first person to do so... and it disappeared, somehow. Anyhow, the gist was- that first novel of yours was one darn fine book.

  7. FROM TOM:

    Keith, I think a lot of people underestimate the important of "writing every day" - fiction or nonfiction - as you do with your newspaper column. As a former reporter, I do believe that self-imposed deadlines are effective, as well. I can only imagine the sight of a man running the London marathon in an antique diver's suit for six days. Now, that is an inside (pardon the pun) story that speaks to the real power of persistence. And, you make an excellent point about writing not being a competition, but only about your and your goal. Thanks.

  8. FROM TOM:

    Jerry, I think no matter which form you write - novels or short stories - persistence is a given. I'm the midst of writing a few short stories, and I'm finding the going difficult because the stage for storytelling is so much smaller. You'll probably do well with a novel, I'm betting. Thanks for the comment.

  9. FROM TOM:

    Troy, It's nice to know I'm not the only one having issues. Thanks for the kind words, no matter what time they were written.

  10. As a retired track and cross country coach (42 years) I loved, "All I wanna do is finish, man. Just finish." This was always the first goal I tried to get my runners to set, just finish man. Our second running goal made sense after the first- run all the way. As for writing that is also a terrific goal, I have half a dozen, given up on novels. Maybe I need to run all the way and finish.
    As far as the great paragraph, that doesn’t fit the start, I love reading along and finding something so good I say, “Wow,” and reread it.

  11. FROM TOM:
    •old guy rambling, running all the way makes sense to get to the finish --in track or writing. The trick, I think, is not to break stride, and run at a nice even pace. That's why I like Chuck's idea so much of 500 words a day because I can see the finish line, no matter how distant. And, I agree, it is fun to find something that WOWS you and demands a re-read. Thanks for joining in.

    FOOTNOTE FROM CHERYL: OGR, you are my winner of Kane's Redemption--if you'll e-mail me at fabkat_edit@yahoo.com it's your choice of print or digital--just let me know and give me your info.

  12. Tom--the word persistence is perfect for all things related to writing. Sometimes, we also have to go against what someone else says about our novel. My first submission and release-a couple of local friends advised me not to submit it--not at all. But I liked it, and knew it worked. So I went ahead anyway, and that was a huge step for me, being new to the fiction writing crowd. (I had only written science research papers.)
    This was a Mt. McKinley sized learning curve.
    That first submission--I had a contract within two weeks, and I have not slowed down. Too much fun!
    Wonderful blog and thoughts.

  13. FROM TOM:

    •Celia, from science research papers to popular fiction is a huge step, and one you made without following the advice of local friends, thank goodness. Most serious writers, I believe, know instinctively whether the stuff we've written is good, or needs more work. Others may not care for it, but they're probably not the real target audience. We all have sort of a built-in credibility meter to gauge the quality of our writing. What counts is realistic self-assessment of our work, along dogged persistence. Thanks for the comment.

  14. Great post. Marketing also reminds me of a marathon (in the rain).

  15. FROM TOM:
    •Thank you, Fiona. Marketing deserves a marathon category all its own --rain, or otherwise.

  16. FROM TOM:

    My winner for the drawing for a pdf copy of LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK is ....(drumroll please!!!)

    CHUCK TYRELL!!!!!!

    Chuck if you will please e-mail me at tom@tomrizzo.com I will be glad to get your Smashwords coupon code for your FREE copy of LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK to you.

    Thanks to everyone for coming by today despite the problems we were having with Blogger.

  17. Humbled to win Tom's book. It's in my computer and will soon by reviewed by YT.

    You must do lots of things in writing a novel. I find that having a good first scene in mind and knowing where you want the story to end gives you enough to keep going 500 words a day. And, and this is important, if you're writing every day, your subconscious is mulling over the story and when you get down to the keyboard or notepad or whatever, the story moves forward very smoothly.

    I want to let everyone know that I don't coach or teach or do any writerly stuff like that. I still ain't got the art down pat enough to tell others what to do.

    Nuff said.