5 Things I Learned Writing The Book Man

Let’s take a break from our regularly-scheduled (okay, erratic and rarely-scheduled) Chosen Grandma talk to take a look at a shelved work I plan on returning to once the Chosen Grandma story is out for query.

The year was 2012. The celebrity was Brad Paisley. The quote was this:

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book - Write a good one - Brad Paisley Quote
Image from Michael Schmid on ADaddyBlog

Admittedly, by the time I came across this quote, it was already several years old: Paisley tweeted it on New Year’s Eve in 2009. But it made the rounds again on New Year’s Eve, 2012.

Whatever. Not the point.

The point is, I was inspired. In an admittedly uninspired way. What if I took this quote literally? What if I decided to write a page a day for 365 days? I’d have an actual 365-page book at the end of it!

You know. Adjusting for formatting and whatnot.

I’m sure many writers actually decided to take this quote this way. Maybe there was an official event. I don’t know. At any rate, I challenged myself to writing a page a day for 365 days during 2013.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clue what I’d write about.


Image may contain: 1 person

I don’t know what it was about this photo. To be honest, I don’t even know why I took it. I was at the Renaissance Festival for the first time, and I took…a picture of a fairly generic Greco-Romanesque statue.

Okay, Past Me. You do you.

Anyway, inspiration hit: I was going to write about a garden statue who comes to life. I made a Tumblr (now defunct) and got writing.

The story ended up being about wholly other things. The garden statue is in it, and she comes to life, but the MC in the first draft was a bookish and socially anxious young man named Christian Abernathy. It was called The Book Man, because I am nothing if not consistent in my simplistic first-draft titling choices.

The Book Man is the first more-or-less novel-length first draft I’ve ever written (a solid 68,000 words); it’s the first novel I’ve ever seriously revised (something like 7 drafts or half-drafts); it’s the first novel I’ve ever seriously had an eye toward querying. It went through several iterations, morphing until The Book Man was no longer an appropriate title. Totally on-brand for me, the title of “main character” was eventually split between the shy, bookish Christian and an older married woman in her sixties, Liza, who felt stuck in life.

But I tend to call it “the Book Man” anyway, because I’m trash at titles and I’m going to hold onto that one until I start querying.

It’s been shelved since not long after I started work on the Chosen Grandma story. The Chosen Grandma story has its plot problems, but The Book Man, as I always sort of knew and eventually accepted, needs a total overhaul.

That said, The Book Man gave me mad experience. Maybe it’s because I worked on it over the course of so many years, but this project really developed me as a writer. Here’s some stuff I learned working on The Book Man.

1. How to Write Description

Description is something I’ve always struggled with. The Book Man was the first time people complimented my description, particularly setting descriptions. There was a magical circus and a sentient garden hidden in a walled municipal park. There was a fantastical other-world with a cranberry bog, an iron forest and a glass forest, and a palace on a mountaintop. I like to say this skill didn’t transfer over – in the Chosen Grandma story, I struggle remembering to describe anything at all – but at least I broke away from the too-detailed, boring, listlike descriptions of my past. I learned to describe settings through the most interesting details and characters interacting with setting.

2. How to Write Character Arcs

If description is something I struggled with, character arcs are something I never really gave (give) a thought to. To some extent, I think they happen naturally in writing: we know people grow and change, and, unless we’re writing Perfect People, we tend to throw our characters into situations that require a change.

But the character arcs in this story were a lot more solid and, eventually, more thought-out than any previous character arcs I’d written. Christian didn’t stop being shy and bookish, but he learned to step outside himself, to form relationships, and to take the lead. Liza emerged from the identity of her marriage and found herself – which aligned somewhat with my divorce and my attempt to do the same things.

3. A New Way to Write Fantasy

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but if you read my earliest fantasy “novels,” it’s pretty clear what my influences were: The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Evil villains were always trying to take over the kingdom, or maybe the world. Magical beings tended to be your typical Tolkienesque Elves and Dwarves and Men.

I’d tried my hand at urban fantasy before, but The Book Man was the first time I did something really different with my fantasy (though not as different as the Chosen Grandma story): a standalone book, a whimsical world, and a locale and group of people who were endangered by a grayscale villain with a narrow focus. No taking over the world here.

It was also an odd combination of whimsical urban fantasy and portal fantasy, which…is one of the reasons it’s shelved for right now.

4. How to Revise

All of my “revisions” prior to this were…line edits. I mean, I actually did change my stories a lot, too, eventually, but it took ages and there was no system to it. I just sort of changed things as ideas occurred to me. With The Book Man, I realized I needed to approach revisions with something at least vaguely resembling a plan. Honestly, this is probably the most important thing I learned, or at least the one that’s helped me most. I’m three drafts deep in the Chosen Grandma story, with an idea of what I have yet to do to it, and it’s thanks to the path forged by The Book Man that I’ve come this far.

5. How to Write Through Pain

2013 was the year my grandpa died. My page-a-day challenge went kaput, along with everything else.

But The Book Man is the story that dragged me out of my funk. Aside from the fact that I’d issued myself this challenge, aside from the fact that my grandpa was a writer and I knew he’d want me to keep going, I was really enchanted with this story and these characters. November 2013, I worked on The Book Man as part of my NaNoWriMo – and worked on it more or less continuously until the end of 2017.

The Book Man was a labor of love that ultimately went nowhere. But it taught me a lot. And I hope that, when the Chosen Grandma story is finally out for query, I can take what I’ve learned from that story and use it to revamp my beloved problem child.

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15 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned Writing The Book Man

  1. I always hope that I learn a little each book and hope that each story is better than the others.

    You’re right about your Grandpa and keeping the writing gene alive. I’m sure you honor him by continuing to write stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The Book Man was a labor of love that ultimately went nowhere.” Boy, I think we all have a skeleton like this in our writing closets. At least I do. Thank your for your reflections. They have given me something to think about with my own writing.


    1. Thanks! I definitely enjoyed writing it – I’m just very, very bad at plotting, mostly because my general attitude is “pffft who needs plot when I can focus on these shiny characters and their feelings and relationships.” So for now it’s shelved, but I hope I can get back to it eventually!


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