Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing a novel in a year - setting goals

Greetings fellow writers. I read a lot of success books. Meaning, books about becoming successful. Successful at whatever your heart desires. And of all the books, from Napoleon Hill and Earl Nightingale to Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar, they all stress the importance of setting goals.

Goal: write a first draft of a novel.

Seems easy, doesn't it? Well, for those who've never done it, it can seem like a daunting task. Let's break it down, shall we?

Oh, I'm forgetting something. You also need to put a timeline on it. Timelines can change, and they will as you go along. That's okay. Give yourself permission to do it. There is a famous saying that "there are no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic time frames." Not sure who said it, but it's true. Okay, here we go . . .

Modified goal: write a first draft of a novel in . . . one year (365 days).

How does that sound? Terrifying? Exciting? Both? It can be done.

Now that you have your larger goal of writing a novel in 365 days, let's break it down into daily tasks. Let's say . . . write one page a day. "Okay, Mark, I can do that. No problem."

Day one: write that one page. When it's done, look at it and pat yourself on the back. You are one page closer to getting it done. If you do that for a week, you'll have seven pages. Phew! Holy cow! After a month, it's thirty pages (yes, you'll be writing on the weekends too). You are thirty pages closer to getting it done.

But how long is your novel going to be? Who knows? Let's say . . . 400 pages (note: none of my novels have I really known ahead of time how long they'll be but we had to pick a number so just go with me).

"But, Mark, at that rate, I'll never finish the 400 pages in a year."

Ah, ha!

Let's say after thirty days you've started to get a good rhythm and you do two pages in a day. Wow, two pages! If you do that for a month, you'll have sixty pages. All total, ninety pages. Very impressive. Now it looks like you'll finish that novel in a year.

But wait, there's more. You'll find as you go along, there will be days where the one or two pages will just flow and the next thing you know, you've written somewhere between five and ten pages. This doesn't give you permission to take the next few days off. No way! Keep writing. And before too long, if you keep this pace up, constantly writing more and more pages as you go along, three or four months have passed and it'll be done.

Then, comes the next phase of writing: editing.

But that's for another day, fellow writers.

Final note: write down your goals. Post it where you can see it everyday.  In fact, even get a calender and write how many pages you write in a day. You'll be surprised how many you can do when you set a goal, write it down, see it, and execute.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

To outline or not to outline . . .

To outline or not to outline is a definite question.

It was the consensus of today's writers' group meeting, when the subject of outlining came up, that outlining stories is . . . a complete waste of time. For us, that is. I must stress that too. For us.

I know, I know, there are those of you out there who just can't seem to start a story without detailing every minute piece of it before starting your "Once upon a time . . . " If that's you and outlining works for you, by all means do it.

Every author does some sort of planning, in varying degrees, before they start their story. I'm reminded of a Chevy Chase movie called Funny Farm where Chevy plays a sports columnist-turned-author. For some reason, a publisher gave him an advance towards writing a novel (and he hadn't even started it yet - sorry, this would never happen in the real world, for a first-time novelist). Anyway, after Chevy sets up his writing room in their new house, which is in the middle of the New England countryside, he types the title page on his typewriter (yes, a typewriter - not a computer or a laptop or some other electronic do-hickey), then inserts another page and types out CHAPTER ONE. Proud with himself at this point, he inserts the third page, types a "1" at the top, and starts writing . . . "The" he writes and then he draws a blank. Okay, this may seem a bit extreme and one should have a plan, but it doesn't mean you need a mega-detailed outline of each and every chapter, etc.

Bottom line: I do not outline, save for some vague notes on characters and other plot points that I don't want to forget (because I most certainly will, if given the chance). In fact, as of this writing, I have five completed novels and well over a dozen other novels I've started, and none have been outlined. In fact, how I write is a lot like excavating an archealogical dig: who knows what I might uncover, which is half the fun of writing - I never know what comes up the next time I sit down to write.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


What is the purpose behind "Views From The Outhouse?"

The purpose is simple: to offer my thoughts on writing (either my own or writing in general, including what I've learned in my research) and books.

There will be no politics here, and certainly no current events (unless it has to do with the literary community). There's plenty of that out there, people offering their feable, slanted opinions, and I don't want to contribute to that. I used to be an avid news-watcher. But lately, when I'm trying to improve my life and the life of my family (wife and three kids), I try to avoid watching the mind-numbing news. Instead, I use my focused intensity to write, write, and write.

I may offer, from time to time, a thoughtful criticism or two on a certain book, but those will be far and few between. There are also plenty of people out there who seem to spew with rage at another person's success. I will try not to do that here. And if I do, it'll be for a damn good reason.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Better late than never

It's been over a month now and I've been meaning to supply a second post for quite some time. Oh, well. Better late than never, as the oldtimers used to say.

What have I been doing?

Writing, writing, and more writing. I love it. One day, I will do this full time. For now . . . I write whenever the kids are in bed and the usual (and unusual) housework isn't nagging at me.

What have I been writing?

At this moment, I have two short stories that I'm putting the finishing touches on. I am part of a writers' group in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, called Permanent Ink and our next meeting is the 28th of July (two days away), so one of those short stories is going to be shared. Also, I have a thriller that I'm currently querying out to literary agents (hint!) and I am editing an 800+ page fantasy epic. This fantasy novel, which will remain unnamed here until I am ready to reveal it to the world, is one I am extremely proud of. I first started writing it around 6-7 years ago (although the story idea is one that has been culminating for many years prior) and I am amazing at how complex of an adventure my little friends go on. Complex, yet noble . . . but how would you know unless you read it? In three weeks, I will start to offer tidbits of this novel to the writing group.

My goal at the beginning of the summer was to work on nothing but short stories, perfecting about a good dozen or so for publication, then go back to editing my thriller novel. However, after a literary genius by the name of Ian Graham Leask came to our little library on Wednesday, April 14th, and offered much advise to all of us in attendance about the literary world, I decided to charge on full speed ahead with editing the fantasy novel instead of one of the other ones. Why, you may ask? There is an axiom in the writing community that one should try to publish your best work first. Well . . . the fantasy novel is that one.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Welcome, everyone. My name is Mark S. R. Peterson, writer extraordinaire, and this is the premiere blog of "Views From The Outhouse."

For years, I've loved Stephen King's stories (and still do), and one of my favorite parts, besides the stories themselves, was when he would talk to his fellow readers and share his thoughts about the story, about writing, or even about life in general

When I started writing novels, I wanted to add an Afterward where I would spill my guts and talk about the story, just like my 2nd favorite author (yours truly, of course, is #1). I also wanted to have a unique name for it, something that would fit whatever novel I was writing, be it a horror novel, thriller, fantasy epic. Then, I thought of where I did my best thinking . . . the bathroom! And, since I live up here in the wilds of northwestern Minnesota, what better place to be than in my very own . . . outhouse!

Hence, "Views From The Outhouse" was born.

I didn't really know if I wanted to start a blog or not. I read many pros and cons . . . then, after reading The New Writer's Handbook Volume 2 by Scarletta Press and edited by Philip Martin, and found many interesting articles on blogs and how they can be used as a great marketing tool, I decided to jump headfirst.  But what to name it? Why, "Views From The Outhouse" of course.

So, here it is. After reading this you may ask, "Great, Mark, where can I buy your books?" Well, I have five completed novels, one of which I feel is in decent shape for publication (I hope, crossing my fingers) and it is a thriller based in Minneapolis, MN. The rest are in various forms of editing, some with a wee bit of fine-tuning and others with major re-writes on the horizon.

This has been fun. We'll do this again real soon. Stay tuned.

P.S.  Today is our wedding anniversary--not sure if that was planned or not.  Probably not, but isn't it weird how life gets aligned?