Some Writing Advice


My advice will be particularly worthless here. In the field of nonfiction the way it is supposed to happen is that you research and write and polish (or at least get the idea down solid). Then you do exhaustive market research either looking for an agent or a publisher. You put together a killer cover letter; a tight, brilliant synopsis; your most fantastic example chapters and then you mail them off.

I sent an early draft of Meditations on Violence out to a very small number of readers- friends who were either good martial artists and familiar with real violence or experienced at violence and familiar with martial arts. It was more of a fishing expedition than anything: "This is what I see, what am I missing?  What have you seen?"

Kris Wilder called back the day he received it, "Oh, kiddo, by the way I was on the phone with my publisher when it came in. He said he'd like to see it. I sent it on to him. Hope you don't mind."

Don't mind? I can stand alone in a cell with a 300 pound inmate screaming threats without a trickle of adrenaline, but I felt a cold shot down my spine when Kris said that. It's good. Left to my own devices, Meditations probably would have been something that I just passed on to my students and martial colleagues. It would have never seen the light of day.


Writing is like money. It's also like fighting. And like driving. It is one of those things where the people who deal with it professionally don't think of it the way that amateurs do. Raised as a poor kid, I assumed that money was a zero-sum game, that if you had more, someone else had less. Professionals see money as something that can be used, harnessed and managed and as inexhaustible as thought.

A tactical team doesn't look at confrontation or violence or fighting the way a martial artist or a martial sport competitor does. It is not a test or an adventure or an opportunity for personal growth. It is something to be avoided or ended as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.

When my wife first introduced me to her writers group I was shocked to discover that professional writers approached it as a craft. It wasn't inspiration. It wasn't a gift from the gods. It was a skill that you spent hours of practice on. It was learning the tools to get a thought from your brain into others’ and having it be received with the effect that you intended.

Writing for yourself is fun. Putting the world in your head down on paper so that you can revisit it and enjoy it is good. But if you want to publish, it's not enough. You have to put it on paper so well that it creates the image in other people's heads. That's a skill, and it takes practice. It also takes a dedicated listening to your good first readers. If you have to explain your story it's not because they "didn't get it" it is because you failed to give it to them.


I have a process to publishing a book. I find when I get stuck, it's usually because I'm thinking about the wrong step. For instance, trying to edit while trying to write. Or anticipating the readers.

So, in case anyone is interested:

•Outline. I don't think I'd do this for fiction, but for nonfiction it is very easy to go off on useless tangents* or get repetitious or create a circular mess that no one can follow.

•Intro. I write the introduction first, mostly for myself. This becomes the mission statement-- what I intend to write, why I need to be the one writing it and what the reader will get. This becomes the promise I have to live up to for the rest of the book. And I really like under-selling and over-delivering. I want an awesome intro but an even better book.

•Write the book. Write the damn thing. Finish it. When I give this list to other people I skip the above two steps because this is the important one. Nothing happens with a manuscript unless it is finished. Mental trick-- I don't think of writing as a creative process. It is vomiting onto paper. I get stuff out of my system that would be toxic inside. I can make the vomit pretty later. But I have to get it out.

•Run through. This is not a rewrite. This is a quick read to see if you left out big ideas or have big grammatical errors or missing words or pages. Frequently in a manuscript I'll type XXX and a note on something I need to add, change or research XXX. Triple X is easy to search the document for. I can't emphasize enough that you do not rewrite the manuscript at this stage. You are too close to see it.

•First Readers. I have a small group of mean friends or honorable enemies who I trust to read the manuscript and tell me honestly where I screwed up. Things that are unclear, where I went off in my own private language. Connections that don't make sense. In fiction, at this stage, you are too close to the story to see plot holes. Your mean friends and honorable enemies will point them out. DO NOT have nice people or people who really like you in your reader pool. That's great for stroking your ego, but useless for improving the manuscript. And don't have too many people who "desperately want to be writers someday" because they will be critiquing the manuscript in their heads, not the one on the page. Best are smart people with a mean streak who love to read in the field.

•Rewrite as necessary. Once you have your first reader's input. Remember you don't have to take all of their suggestions, but if all of them say Chapter Six and Chapter Nine contradict each other, that's good to know.  You may have had some other ideas during this wait and the wait time is usually long enough to get over being too close. So if you want to add some stuff and can make it blend, go for it. But there's no problem with saving the new stuff for the next book either.

•Send to a proofreader. You can't proofread your own stuff. If you knew the right spelling and grammar rules, you would have got it right the first time. Send it to a pro or a friend who is really good. Friends are cheaper, so you can send it to two, but proofreading is tedious as hell so don't go through all your friends too quickly. Make sure 'track changes' is on.

•Accept or reject changes. There are grammar nazis and comma queens out there-- people with advanced degrees in english who couldn't write to save their lives. A lot of those become editors or proofreaders. That doesn't mean they are right. Evaluate all changes. Syntax (meaning) trumps grammar (form). There has never been a great work of literature that was grammatically perfect.

•About this point you want to create or commission someone to do the cover. I use Kami:

•Front and back matter. Add legal notices, disclaimers, acknowledgements, bibliography, about the author, back cover copy if you're doing a paper book. **

At this point, prep for publishing. You will do things slightly differently for different formats.


•Formatting. Formatting for e-books is weird and I have slightly different flowcharts for Draft2Digital, SmashWords and Kindle. One of the biggest issues is that if you have already created a Table of Contents, especially a linked one, it will screw up Draft2Digital's automatic ToC generator.*** Make sure to change the notices in the front matter to reflect the publisher. Embarrassing to have 'This Kindle version..." in your Smashwords stuff. Be sure to go to and download the free formatting guide.


•Review (Smashwords has an automatic review as well)

•Change as necessary. Repeat these steps as necessary


•Add to your author profile (automatic at SmashWords, not necessary for D2D)


Print Books (I use CreateSpace)

•I have Kami do the interior design for print books. If you want to do it yourself, you need to understand a lot of things about font (e.g. which are public domain and can be legally used. I didn’t even know that was an issue); book design; spacing. It’s technical.


•Order proofs


•Change as necessary (you always find errors in the paper version you missed on your laptop.)

•Repeat as necessary


•Add to Author Central on Amazon


* A lot of my useless tangents I just cut and paste to the bottom of the manuscript because I might use them later. Or if I get an idea. Usually, at the end of my first draft, the bottom of the manuscript has pages and pages of concepts, ideas and things to work in. That way I can concentrate on getting it done without worrying about forgetting an idea or detail that belongs somewhere else.

** Somewhere about here is where you start asking people for blurbs for the back cover, if that is something you want to do.

***Strange that in one area of my life, ToC means Table of Contents and in another it means Totality of Circumstances that justify a use of force.