Coping: Writing a 2nd Novel, Writing Tips

Ever thought about writing a novel or your life story? Good – you should!

If you enjoyed my first novel DreamOver, you may be pleased to hear that a second novel is on the drawing board. Come to think of it, so is the third novel.

I frequently run into folks who want to know how to write a book. Everyone has at least one good book in them.

Not that I am any good at it, but I’ve got a couple of them done and over the past 18-years, my personal word-count is around 10-15 million words, or so.

Along the way, I’ve learned a few things you might find useful. When you get the urge to write, follow it…and keep my list of tips at-the-ready.

Tip 1: Write from your “inner television.”

The way I write may not work for you, but it sure does for me.

The process begins by plopping-down at the computer, closing my eyes, and pretending I just sat down in front of the big-screen. The credits roll past and then the opening scene reveals itself….

Now: All I have to do as a writer is to watch the screen , capture it in words (which are like paintbrushes to the word-slinger), and if there are characters, describe them as best you can and jot down their dialog as it is spoken. You can rewind at will.

I know it sounds simplistic, but if I wasn’t writing UrbanSurvival, Peoplenomics, doing lots of personal correspondence, keeping up the property, being a hus….well, you get the idea: I can write a 100,000 word novel in a month. Two at the outside.

Take DreamOver, for example. The first half of that book took about 10-days of concentrated writing. Then something came along – projects around the ranch – and the urge took a vacation.

When it returned, the second half of the book materialized in 3-weeks and that was while doing all the other writing (Urban, Peoplenomics and whatever).

During that time, I didn’t turn on a television, I barely paused for meals, but the book got done and most who have read it, enjoyed it.

Tip 2: Metrics Matter

A dear friend of mine says “You place too much emphasis on word counts…

I respectfully disagree.

Once you start to write, keeping track of your daily word counts will mean a lot.

Business-school mantra: What gets measured gets done.

When I’m writing complex technical documentation – where everything has to fit just so, or when documenting how microprocessor menus work – then a good day of writing is four to ten pages. Since good technical documents have a lot of white-space, figure 4,000 words per day is really good if error-free. 1,500 words is a micracle if programmers haven’t commented either code. Good documentation hides “spaghetti code.”

On the other hand, if you don’t have anything else on your plate and you’re into a sequence of scenes on your “internal big-screen” the words just fly out of your fingers. My peak writing day ever was around 18,000.

Was it perfect? No.

Tip 2-A: Capture First (then edit)

You go back, clarify your descriptions, thinking, and (occasionally) spelling and grammar. The main thing is to capture first, then refine.

18,000 words is a lot. A solid week of that and you have written a 126,000 word novel.

Yeah…sounds tough, doesn’t it?

Not really, though. Let’s say you can type 45-words per minute. 18,000 words is only 400 minutes of actual writing at that speed. A bit more than six and one-half hours per day. It is not impossible, at all, you see?

Tip 3: Your first novel is for fun.

DreamOver was great fun to write. The reason? Each of the characters were new so they could be fleshed-out in the details however I felt like.

The problem doesn’t come until the second book. Since the second (and third) will be part of the David Shannon adventure series, I need to a build a “character database.”

I only had one error in character consistency in DreamOver – spotted by my older sister who is a retired librarian and a better/harsher review you won’t find. One of the side characters in the book is a naval officer and his rank changed as the story evolved. Damn!

That problem can be prevented by writing down the character “deal points” in a database. So if character David Shannon’s wife (Laurel) has a pilot’s license (which she does, BTW), all those quals and details have to be captured so in the second and third books, they can be reiterated correct or expanded upon.

First novels are extremely forgiving this way: Consistency for readers (and sisters) is less critical.

There are several pieces of novel-writing software available and I may look into using a commercial package. Or, it can be done in ACCESS or even an Excel spreadsheet. So long as it’s sortable and fast. You don’t want to get too bogged down in the details.

I am leaning toward Microsoft’s OneNote since I write on three different computers: One in the office, one in the house, and one for travel.

Synch me, baby.

Tip 4: Read a number of good authors. Learn Templates

We’re really back to writing analytics here. I happen to like Clive Cussler’s writing so I have read all of his “main character” novels, which is the Dirk Pitt adventures and the Isaac Bell series.

For each of these, Cussler has a pattern. I won’t got into all the details, but the “typical” Dirk Pitt adventure begins with an historical event of some kind. The event ends badly, but that sets up the “jump cut” (to use the film term) into the present day.

If you ever saw the movie Sahara (Cussler’s lone movie that I know of, with Matthew McConaughey) remember how the movie begins? War between the iron-clads in the U.S. Civil War. A Southern ship slips to sea in the fog…


Now we’re on a present-day undersea exploration ship, part of Cussler’s National Underwater and Marine Agency…

So that’s his basic template. His character is trademarked to keep other writers from infringing and (in short) he has done just about everything right.

So that’s one measurement you’ll need to get your “big-screen of the mind” dialed in: Your own templates and the way you want your stories to fit.

But there’s one more piece…

Tip 5: Dialog to Narrative Ratios

Yeah. More metrics crap.

This one is a little different. Once you see how an author works (you understand their template(s)) you can then delve into chapter/action and work on the one last point that really matters:

How much of the book is description and narrative and how much of it is characters engaged in dialog?

I haven’t run these numbers out for DreamOver yet, but before I start slamming keys for the second and third books, it needs to happen. One of the joys of Cussler is the book story is not predictable, but the template is great and fits like a comfortable slipper.

I expect that differences could be found by chapter in the dialog-to-narrative ratio so that’s another thing to be considered.

Tip 6: Exhaustive Research

Somewhere along in here, you’ll figure out that one of the two novels I have yet to write will deal with anti-gravity and a chance discovery in a workshop that leads to….

(Further hint: Remember the book The Fog?)

The other book has to do with historical crowns and breastplates, but in a very technologically current way.

For the past several weeks, I have been mulling and after half a dozen books on topic, I’ve finally gotten my “research associates” (think of it as a Master Mind Group) started on gathering the last batch of critical facts.

Cussler’s books are excellent – and very well-researched. If you’re going to set a standard for yourself as a writer, it might as well be a high one.

There…now you know, as late radio commentators Paul Harvey used to put it, the rest of the story.

No, George tinkering with anti-gravity ideas is not pointless, nor is in depth research into regal headgear….

Or, did you miss the report on dual-use business models?

Tip 7: Use a MINIMUM of Two Monitors

I use four.


The left monitor is for graphics or search, the right monitor is for email/OneNote depending on mission for the time. The lower middle monitor is the word-smithing unit. Top is a 32-inch for reference maps and charts.

Windows-10 Sticky Notes move to any of the four screens, so you can snag what you need easily.  Copy from anywhere,paste anywhere.  You need four monitor outs and a worthy computer, but don’t you need it?

The other key thing is don’t write in a simple program like Notepad. Write in Word and make sure it is flashing a backup every five minutes and you have a good uninterruptible power supply (or you’re on a laptop, which is what Elaine uses for her writing).

That way, you never lose more than a few minutes work if power goes down.  Don’t ask how I learned that one…

Send me a review copy when you’re done.

Write when you get rich,

9 thoughts on “Coping: Writing a 2nd Novel, Writing Tips”

  1. One thing I might suggest is to ‘capture experiences’ – what I mean is to see and do as much as possible, so that when you need to think up an idea, you have a ‘store’ of memories to choose from. I like to write on fan fiction sites because it is fun . . . I won’t say that I am any good, but many people apparently just parrot the same stuff over and over again.

  2. I would add one more point; “Know your craft.” All good stories, whether in the form of novel, short story, screenplay (my area) or other have certain structural elements that indicate if someone is dabbling or really striving for a professional level of work. Protagonist/antagonist, unique character “voices”, catalyst event, character flaws, conflict, conflict, conflict, defeat and victory, story beats. Look at any great story, ancient or modern, and you will see common elements because they work. I love screenplays because the visual tells so much of the story. However, knowing the craft does not make one a good writer any more than knowing how to use a paint brush makes one a good artist. Best wishes for your next novel.

  3. Having authored and had published 18 historical and contemporary romance novels (Random House, St. Martin’s Press, and Tor)…. We are in my general area of expertise here so allow me to pass on some observations from the former career….

    There are only two basic plots in all of literature… Someone takes a trip, a stranger comes to town. Pick one and develop from there. The various genres have their specific formulas for how you deal with the story elements; you can bend them a bit, but you can’t break them completely or it’s a beast to market.

    There are a number of ways to kill the joy of writing a book, but the surest one is to hold on to the “plan” with white knuckled resolve. Writing is an organic process and every good writer I know has had moments where they’ve leaned back in the seat with wide eyes and whispered, “Well, I didn’t see THAT coming.” A good writer is flexible; the universe can give you incredible stuff—if you’re open to listening.

    Narrative vs dialogue…. The more dialogue, the faster the story moves. Given attention spans these days, speed is of the essence. Personally, I always wrote the dialogue first, making it carry as much as the character and plot development as possible. Tags and narrative were added only for a pacing break or because the scene required introspection/ description to move it all forward.

    Research…. Most writers are mental sponges; we love to read, we love to learn. As kids, looking up one thing in an encyclopedia invariably led to hours of reading. Google and Bing are ever more efficient but just as deadly for writing. It is way too easy to get wrapped up in researching. Most of what you compile in the “fact file” ends up being unused if you’re writing fiction. (Even Tom Clancy didn’t use most of what he knew.). Research only when you need to, and only for what you need in order to move on to the next plot point.

    Watch your vocabulary. The average American reads at a sixth grade level. Conceptual complexity is a victim of education levels as well. Keep it simple or resolve to be happy with only a half dozen readers.

    When the muse leaves you or pulling words out of the ether becomes torturous, go back to where the pain began and throw out everything since. If you’re being honest with yourself, the difficulty began because you failed to listen to the universe and did that white knuckle thing with the plot you have so carefully planned.

    There’s more. There’s always more. But this has been enough to give you some notions to ponder.

    Good luck, George.

  4. Re: Cussler movies.

    I believe they did ‘Raise The Titanic’, although I have never seen the movie and therefore don’t know if it followed the book or not.

    I always felt they should have done more of his Dirk Pitt stories as movies.


  5. Hi George,

    Regarding writing, and thinking: Many of us are not visual thinkers at all, and don’t even have “inner televisions”. We can’t visualize anything, not even a simple circle to save our lives! I’ve tried hard to acquire this skill. Those who actually can visualize are blessed, and are a subset of humanity. The rest of us think in concepts or words divorced from pictures entirely. This changes the dynamic of writing anything from your approach to something else. It’s possible, though I personally don’t find any joy in writing fiction.

    I did enjoy DreamOver, and I do look forward to the next novel. And I completely endorse the idea of using multiple monitors, though it’s a bit tough with the laptop.

    • 1) Most laptops have a second monitor port though, so it’s not THAT hard.
      2) Since you mentioned the brain-lock, there is a greatr book on drawing called “Drawing on the Right-Side of the Bain you can get at Amazon.
      Remember, all you need to do is focus on remembering what a circle looks like. Once you have that, any shape becomes tracing your recall ouot on paper. Anyone can join the club.
      From there it’s a bit of work to get the btrain to doing NAPLS graphic (North American Presentation Level Standard if you weren’t part of the Halt and Catch Fire era like I was) but it can be done with work aqnd focus.
      It’s just remembering graphics and then manipulating those.
      I know a number of hard-left brain people who claim they don’t dream and can’t draw to save their souls, butd trust me, they can. We’re all wired the same, just a matter of putting in the right keywords and hotfixes to get it playing

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