- In one paragraph, can you give us some highlights from Finish Your Book in Three Drafts
It’s not just marketing, I swear! You can Finish Your Book in Three Drafts whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, whether you’re an outliner who meticulously scripts every writing session or a pantser who pilots solely by feel. Because you don’t want to be writing the same book for the rest of your life.
Three drafts. That’s all you need.
- The messy draft: which is all about getting it down.
- The method draft: which is all about making sense.
- The polished draft: which is all about making it good.
You can Finish Your Book in Three Drafts provided you approach each draft in the right spirit, and know what action steps to take between drafts. And that’s what I can’t wait to talk about at Mt. Diablo!
- Describe your most memorable moment as an author.
I’ve now completed over 80 tour dates throughout North America in the past four-plus years. But no matter how exciting life post-publication has been, it has never gotten better than those champion writing sessions where I was achieving the height of my flight. When someone says, “Your books are so original; I have learned more from you than anyone else” — I am happy, of course — but it is like I am hearing about a trip they’ve taken when I got left home.
Nothing will ever beat those rare nights when I knew I nailed it. When I had prepared for a writing session, and executed, while welcoming the unexpected. And then went to go smoke a cigar in the heart of Providence. I might have been thinking about the people who inspired me, but sitting there it was just me, myself, and I.
So my point is that we need to take writing and separate it from publishing. What writing has done for me exists outside of what has been published, and far exceeds it in value.
- What authors have most influenced your writing?
This is a hard question to answer. I mean, it probably numbers in the hundreds, right? I will just say when I saw a bibliography and my name appeared between Hesse, Hermann and Kafka, Franz, I thought. I am ready to die now in peace. Except for the kids I still have to raise and not wanting to leave a widow, that kind of thing.
- What are the biggest mistakes you see in author’s manuscripts?
This is a big question! I’d say the following five are the biggest structural mistakes I see — as I spend a lot of my time thinking about structure:
- What you’re writing isn’t what you think you’re writing.
Not that it’s that far off, necessarily. Let’s say you’ve set sail—to use an extended marine metaphor—heading for an island. Everyone needs some “sea room,” and now you’ve landed on some neighboring coast. Writing is a largely unconscious activity. At some point, we need to become conscious enough to see how we might get the reader and ourselves safely home. Some writers don’t want to be made conscious at any point during their process. In my experience, more often than not, they drift.
- You have not generated enough material to begin revising.
One of my clients was delighted with her first assignment, which was to generate fifty pages of crap. Her next assignment was to generate another fifty, making a hundred pages of crap. There is no substitute for not having generated enough material before you begin revising.
- You want to put too much stuff in.
A chef whose cookbook I worked on called it the “kitchen-sink” syndrome: a beginner makes a marinara sauce by using every vegetable in the refrigerator, and every spice on the rack. They use seventeen ingredients when there really should just be tomatoes, garlic, and like four other things. You want to be able to taste the parmesan shavings.
Writers think, How am I supposed to fill up a whole book’s worth of pages unless I include everything I can think of? Unity, the sense that your book is only about one thing—that the reader can trust you know how to drive this thing—cannot be achieved by trying to make things comprehensive.
- You let too many people read it before it was ready.
Why is this a structural problem? Because when you involve beta readers (people who read your draft when you know it isn’t done), you are far more open to feedback than you will be at a later stage. You may lose time and focus by pursuing a direction that someone else recommended rather than discovering the path which you really want to travel.
- Your narrator is too much like you.
In fact, basically, it is you. This is not as much a problem in certain non-fiction genres (like a blog), when it is considered great to sound as much like yourself as possible. Sounding like yourself while opening out to universal experience, is called “finding your voice.”
In fiction, however, you need maximum flexibility to explore emotions and imagine events that will embody those emotions. If your narrator is bound by only who you think you are, as opposed to who you might become, your writing can go stale.
- Who is your idol?
My idol is my cat. He recently got in a fight with a fishercat — vicious animals that live in the Northeast that are like wolverines, and he had to have an eye removed.
While the procedure was going on, he was licking the doctor’s hand, giving him love because he knew the man was trying to help him.
Me? I come from a family where when we have a fever of 99 degrees we’re “in bed with a little something.” So I want to be more like my cat.
P.S. He has been getting along tremendously well without an eye and his hunting skills have not diminished in the least. Except every now and then he bangs into a chair and then makes off across the room like nothing happened.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Stuart Horwitz. To learn more visit his website: http://bookarchitecture.com where you can sign up for his newsletter.