Thursday, January 26, 2012

A writing plan: guest post by Stephen Legault

This week's guest blogger is Stephen Legault, an author published by Touchwood Editions and NeWest. He contacted me via Twitter about self-editing, and agreed to tell us about the best and the worst he does (as a writer). In return, I've contributed a post to his blog on StephenLegault.com, where I tried to write about the writer's place in the political world.

Please let Stephen and me know what you think about either issue through the Comments.

The best and the worst of Stephen Legault

My thanks to Scott for hosting this guest blog. It’s a new experience for me to swap blog posts; I hope readers enjoy.

I’ve been writing for more than 20 years, having started with angst-ridden teenaged poetry penned under a street lamp, and proceeded to angst-ridden personal columns for my local newspapers. Five years ago, most of the angst out of my system, I started publishing books on activism and eastern philosophy along with three separate crime series with an environmental or historical theme.

The best thing I’ve done when it comes to writing—besides developing the discipline to rise very early each morning and pound out a few thousand words before the rest of the world wakes—was to develop a plan for where I wanted my writing to take me.

For a number of years, I was a consultant helping businesses and non-profit organizations develop communications and strategic plans, so the notion of business planning was familiar to me. If you have a plan for where you want to go, it’s easier to get there. If a business trying to sell organic coffee, or a non-profit trying to end homelessness would benefit from a plan to achieve success, why not a writer?

A writing plan needn’t be elaborate: for me it takes the form of a couple of charts. What books to I hope to write, and by when? Which do I have publishers lined up for? What do I need to do in order to find a publisher for those I’m not already under contract for?

Most importantly, how many books do I need to sell in order to make writing my day job? I love getting up at 5 am to write before the kids are up and my full-time work begins, but some time, I’d like to clear the mental clutter and dedicate myself full-time to scribbling. To do that, I figure I have to sell around 25–30,000 books a year. What do I need to do to reach that number? What does my backlist look like, and how many titles do I need to my name to reach that goal?

I plotted this all out in Word, and ran the numbers in Excel, and then went for a stiff drink.

But knowing what my goal is, and what I have to do to reach it, keeps me focused.

The worst thing I’ve ever done as a writer is to not learn from my own mistakes. Over 20-plus years as a writer, I’ve made plenty. The one I keep making may seem common-place, but it’s a serious threat to achieving my game plan. I suck at self-editing. In fact, my story editor sent me one of Scott’s blog posts as a not-so-subtle hint to get on top of the editorial process, and that’s how we came to be swapping stories.

I get so caught up in the story, the plot, the dialog, that I miss important grammatical mistakes. I make them again and again. I also use crutch phrases and clich├ęs too often. Finally, I tend to add unnecessary description, such as the 156 times one of my character’s “nodded” in a recent manuscript. I went through and cut 152 of those in the seventh draft. After a while, the reader just gets dizzy.

To achieve my goal of writing for a living, I have to write the very best books I can. To do that, I have to be mindful of the mistakes I make over and over again, and keep my eye on my goals.


Stephen Legault is the author of four books, with two more set for publication in the next nine months. His novel The End of the Line is a historical mystery set in the Rocky Mountains in 1884 during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway; Don Graves of the Hamilton Spectator called it “a whopping good tale…a riveting and winning mystery.”

Visit Stephen at http://www.stephenlegault.com/ or follow him on twitter @stephenlegault.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent, Stephen. Nice insight into your process, and some very useful info that other writers can take away and use. Much appreciated!

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  2. Very intense, Stephen, but well said and informative.

    Thank you,Stephen, and Thank you, Scott for this post.

    Patricia
    P.S. To Stephen ("Stef-an", correct?)
    We have met - your book signing at A Different Drummer in Burlington - my husband and I live two doors down from Bob and Mabel. Hope all is well.

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