How’d you get started writing?
I always had an interest in writing, but when I was younger I really never explored writing beyond what was required in school. It wasn't until my senior year in high school when my English professor pulled me aside one day to talk about a movie project that I turned in. In the movie I played a silent assassin without any speaking lines. It wasn't very original I thought, but he told me how I played the part so well. It was in this conversation he also made a point to tell me how I really expressed myself creatively in essay assignments based on the book Slaughter House V. To be honest I didn't see what he was talking about at the time, but I never forgot this conversation. I kept this moment with me for years, and dabbled in writing from time to time never taking it to serious.
During my early college years I didn't write much, but about halfway through I started a journal. This was my first real creative outlet in writing. From the journal I started writing pilot TV episodes, and even wrote several pages of various different movie ideas I had. I showed some of my friends what I was working on not knowing what to expect. To my surprise most of my friends liked my work, and this little spark helped drive me forward. At this time I had met my future wife, and she also really supported what I had created. Unfortunately because of playing football full time, and working on graduating in computer science. I never really put the necessary energy into completing any of these early works.
It wasn't until after graduating I started on my first serious attempt to write a novel. I worked on this novel for a couple weeks not knowing what I was doing or where I was going with the story. This realization lead me to a pivotal point in my journey. In the entire time I was in college I didn't read a single novel. I had buried myself up to my nose in computer science literature, football play-books, and completely drowned in programming books. I had forgotten what it was like to read something for fun. How did I expect to write a novel if I never read them? I stopped writing putting down my pen, and reached for my first novel in years.
I read everything Tolkien related I could soaking up his amazing world. I completely immersed myself in his books, and still do to this day. His writing style was a huge inspiration for me, and I studied how he structured his books. Shortly after Tolkien I read the entire Game of Thrones series before the show started. In a strange twist of fate a good friend of mine (who will remain unnamed) had a little to much to drink one night, and he ordered the first few books in the series for me. To my surprise one day I came home from work, and I found a Amazon package at my front door with them in it. I thanked my friend, and I quickly fell in love with the first book. I was blown away at how complex a story George R.R. Martin had crafted.
It was during this time period I knew I wanted to express myself but I didn't want to wait. There was one thing I was good at, and that was expressing my emotions. I started The Philosophical Photographer so I could practice my writing with a true audience. I also picked up photography capturing the world around me, and using the captured details in my writing. After about a year of running my website I finally started on a new novel. Several months later I attended a book signing event for the New York Times Best Selling Author Brad Meltzer close by in DC. I had heard him on the radio that morning, and something told me to go see him. I went with my wife, and we had a great time. What I really loved that I learned from Brad was the enthusiasm he had for exploring his novel's content. Mixing fact with fiction to create a perfect mix for entertaining novels.
From this point forward I spent three years working on my novel one paragraph at a time. It was grueling at times and very stressful, but there were also days when I loved every second of writing. Writing a novel as I found out was no easy feet. My wife was an instrumental source for inspiration for me, as was the birth of my son, and my parents love. I looked to my dad during this time thinking of how he started his own company and the many nights I would go asleep before he got home. Almost every ounce of my book started late one evening, and carried into the early morning hours of the next. I began to fully realized the sacrifice my father had to make to support the family, and I knew if my first novel was going to be a success it was one I had to make too.
For anyone who has been told they are too short, too slow, not smart enough, or anything else doubters feel the need to say remember this one thing. I have always been told why I can't do this or why I can't do that, but to be a successful person you need to filter out the noise. attach yourself to the special few who tell you yes you can instead of no you can't. I don't have a secret formula on how to find these people, but I do know one method that can attract them. Work harder then anyone else around you, and when you think you can't work anymore continue on just a little longer. It is these fractions that happen after your best when the greatest successes really occur. Just when I thought I couldn't go any further, or write anymore I put my head down just a little bit longer. When you enter this special zone that's when the people who say yes you can come out.
So when I am asked how did I get started writing; the answer is that I have been working on it my entire life without ever knowing it. Writing a book takes incredible discipline, hard work, and true perseverance. If you are reading this aspiring to be a writer remember being successful in anything takes the same hard work. What is truly amazing is that everyone has their own unique ability to be successful. Don't waste your time comparing yourself to others. It took me years to write my first novel, and there is nothing anyone can say to take that from me.
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
The short answer is no. I always excelled in sports when I was growing up, and I actually struggled a lot in school. I would put in hours of studying just to get a C or worse on tests and quizzes, but I only had to put a fraction of the effort in to excel on the playing fields or courts. I found when I put the same effort into my sports that I really had a special gift in athletics. I always assumed that I would become a professional athlete one day, but what I hadn't accounted for was the fact that I would stop growing before I was six feet tall. As I got older I unfortunately fell into the category of being an athletic versatile athlete, but all that really means is that I don't quite fit into one specific role well. This fact compounded when I got into college football, and I had to work ten times harder then I did in high school just to get onto the field a little bit. It was during these college years when I began to realize that I would not be playing professional sports. After I accepted this fact the creative world of writing started to flood my mind. I took this new found energy and eventually focused it into writing novels.
Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from literally everywhere. Family, friends, children, work, movies, novels, nature, TV shows, video games, music, etc... you name it and I have been inspired by it. I also make sure that when I write something either it being a story or a blog post I make sure it's something that I would like to read. If I don't find it entertaining, or it doesn't grab my attention I know it probably won't be that good. Often times I will have a small seed of an idea that pops into my head, and I cultivate this idea in my day dreams. I don't grab a pen as soon as I have an idea, but I like to build it up in my head before writing it all down. Once I write an idea down I will come back to it over time reading it, and becoming inspired all over again. From here new ideas will form and I will mix it the latest sources of inspirations I am currently having. From repeating this method over and over again I begin to form a unique narrative. Each story or blog post I write are like a finger print in their uniqueness. I eventually write everything down because I know that the ideas I am having are fleeting moments. If I miss my opportunity to write them down then I know they will be gone forever.
How long does it take to write a book?
This is tough question to answer because each book is different in scope. I currently don't write exclusively full time as a career so I don't have the same time an author who writes fulltime does. I have to squeeze in the time when I can, and as a result I don't always write everyday or even every week. My first novel has taken three years to write, and I would say that each book would take anywhere from one and half to three years to write as well.
Do you know the ending when you start?
Yes I do. I tried taking a write and see approach on my first book, but I eventually sat down one day for about a month story boarding the rest of the book. I needed this structure to help me fully flesh out my ideas, and it allowed me to become a better writer. I knew what was going to happen on each chapter, and I put in the time before writing to plan everything out. Once I start writing it is hard to remember every detail so it is important for me to have done my homework before starting. This method envokes a type of freedom I previously didn't have. It allowed me to free up my mind to focus in each chapter. It is during this process when story starts to dictate where it is naturally going to go, and when this happens I can then go back and update my outline without much effort. I always keep in mind where the my story is going, and having the ending finished allows me to know where to go next.
Do you outline?
I do outline my stories. I start with outlining my basic story without much detail expect for the main idea that inspired the story. From this original outline I will continuously build it up as I research and develop the plot. I generally like to outline each chapter with as much detail as possible, so when it comes to writing each chapter I really have already developed it. Doing it this way allows me to focus on each moment in the chapter instead of trying to remember where I am taking the story next.
How do you edit?
As I write and finish each chapter I usually go back and re-read it out loud. This allows me to hear what I wrote, and put a new perspective on the story. I often times will think faster than I can type so I will omit words frequently. Reading the story out loud helps me pick up these lost words, and also it helps with sentence structure as well. After I am done writing a chunk of the novel I will have my editor go through it critiquing the story until it flows effortlessly. This process is critical to any good book especially because I am not a great editor. I need a voice of reason and I like it brutally honest when it comes to my books. If it's not good then I need to know it. This process makes me a better writer, and ultimately makes each book better as well.
What do you like to read?
I don't have one particular genre of books that I exclusively read, but I really enjoy a diverse range of books. It really just depends on my mood and what my current interests are. I love sitting down with a great novel just as much as enjoying a great autobiography. If I find that a certain author really captures my imagination, or if the topic of the book does my next several books will be by the same author or topic. When I first read The Game of Thrones series I couldn't stop reading them until I had ready every book. There was also a long period when I read several books on Leonardo da Vinci. I am a bit of streaky reader and right now I am currently just finished The Martian.
Advice to other authors?
Be prepared to completely dedicate yourself to writing and finishing the book. I have met so many people in my life that have had the intentions to write a book or start some great project, but the one thing they have all had in common is that they never do. Being an author takes as much time and dedication as being a professional, a parent, or any other vocation. Think of writing a book as the same way as working another job. Also plan your book out so you can set reasonable goals for you to achieve. Research the books material, outline, research some more, outline again, consult with your editor or closest friend, and continue this process until you have a fully fleshed out book.
Once you have this done you will start to have metrics like how many chapters you have to write. I personally can write about one chapter a night so I can plan to finish about 3-5 chapters a week. This is much more realistic goal versus planning to write 7 chapters a week until you are finished. It allows for some wiggle room, and I give myself a deadline with a couple week margin of error. My most recent novel ended up being about 5 days past my original deadline. The goal is not to become overwhelmed in the writing process. Life happens and you need to prepare for this as well.
I professionally work as a project manager which has helped me with time management and setting milestones. I prepare a project charter plan which lists all of my tasks with dates associated with them. This work can seem overwhelming at first, but it gets easier as you start to see a plan on paper. The most important thing is that it becomes real, and not just an idea like many people fall victim to. The more work that you put into your book the better it will be. If I just sit down and try writing a novel without any planning it will never compare to the one that I did right by planning it out.
Why do I do it this way? It's simple, because I have tried all of the other ways and failed. Part of becoming an author is finding yourself, and what works best for you. That is the greatest challenge about the first book. You have to work twice as hard, and be prepared to fail and start over. I had to restart my first novel a couple of times from scratch because I didn't take the time to plan it well or consult with my editor. I don't regret these early mistakes because they all ultimately helped me to become a better writer.
So don't sweat the small stuff. You are going to fail, mess up, write terrible chapters, have misguided ideas, and all sorts of other issues along the way. These events are what cause most authors to give up their dream of writing a book. The idea of writing a book can seem romantic, but the reality is ugly and dirty. Surrounding yourself with a great support system is key to pushing through these hard times, but remember to keep it a closed small group. I leaned on my wife a lot for support, and just her being there for me when I needed it made all the difference. I also picked a couple of close friends as well that could give me honest feedback. If your group gets to big you'll start to talk about writing a book more than you actually spend time writing it. This is a deadly cycle once it gets started because you will constantly be feel pressure to finish the book, but when you get asked about the book's progress talking about it makes you feel temporarily better. Keep the support group small, keep your head down, and follow your plan. Just remember this final thought when the urge to quit hits you next.
You're never too young or old, it's never too early or late, there's never a more perfect time then now, and you'll never have the time if you're waiting. Dreams are accomplished during the most difficult times in your life when everything and everyone is against you. Working on your dreams is a grueling process that will beat you into the ground. Dreams never tell you to keep going; they're always whispering in your ear telling you that it's too hard, that you're too tired, or that accomplishing them is something other people do. They are tricky nasty things just below the surface, but they shine bright on the outside and fill your soul at their core.
Do you get the plot…then the characters, or do the characters create your plot?
I almost always start with an idea first when writing anything. In my early thoughts I will have some vague idea of a character, but it is more of a hazy image then anything concrete. It is the idea that is vivid and I will day dream about this idea intensely for while before writing everything down. If I can create an analogy; it starts like a small seed, and after a while it starts to grow taking roots, limbs, and leaves. Like a gardener you have to prune the tree keeping it healthy until it is finally ready to be planted in the world.
Pretty zen like right? In fact I think that I might have given myself an idea for a short story!
What’s a typical day like for writing?
A typical day of writing for me starts late in the evening. I get up in the morning and go to work like everyone else. Depending on the day I will come straight home and either: work some more, go the gym, or wait for my wife and son to get home from daycare. After dinner my wife and I will start our sons night time routine until he goes to sleep. Usually once this is done I will start working on my novel anywhere between 9-11 PM. I often work late at night until the early morning. Yes I am always tired, but it is worth it to me. I feel very satisfied knowing that I worked hard, and made one step closer to finishing the novel. I don't write every night on my books because I also have other interests, and I also love spending time with my wife so it is about achieving balance. If my wife is tired or goes to the gym then I will write. If she wants to watch a movie then I will either write a little bit longer the next night, or I might start writing after midnight when she is asleep. As I have said before, life happens, and you need to be flexible and set realistic goals for yourself.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently in the process of editing and preparing to release my first children's book. There is a lot of work that goes into this process beyond just writing the book, and I am working on making it all happen. After writing there is a business side to it all, and I have very much enjoyed this process as well. I'm starting a brand that I want to be successful, and it is very important to me that I see all of the processes through until the end.
Are you living your dream?
In short I am, but living a dream is also a lot of hard work. For me the true realization of my dream will happen when my book is finally released. I truly cannot wait to share this experience with everyone who reads my book, and just know that my dream will only be a reality because of you! For that I will be always be grateful.