There’s a lot more to the writing of stories than readers ever see. There’s the research, of course, and character development, and outlining. Most people could probably understand that much if they sat down and thought about it. But there’s so much more below the surface.
In December, well-regarded story consultant Nick Macari wrote to his social media followers that he had “been working on character arcs for a story last three days,” and repeated the “three days” for emphasis.
Mr. Macari explained that he had “tried to help someone with some story consulting this year and on the third day of wrestling with her Master Theme, she gave up and said she wanted to move forward without one.”
This got his bile up. “Folks … [i]f you don’t spend the time to develop it[,] what makes you think anyone will spend the time to read it (and enjoy it?),” he asked.
“Story discovery takes crazy time,” the story consultant warned. He concluded, in all capital letters, but I’ll spare you from that: “The writer’s lion share of work is at the beginning, before a single word of the script is written.”
Many people who don’t realize how much work goes into writing just dive into it and realize that pool is filled with Jell-O. Others do have an idea of the mental mountain they have to climb over and say, “never mind!”
“Write Like a Beast: Optimize Your Productivity and Conquer the Blank Page” just might be the remedy. Adam Lane Smith has written a book for both those who get stuck and those who view the whole writing process as too much.
Why, Mr. Smith, informs us that his first book, the novel “Making Peace,” was “conceived, outlined, wr[itten], edited, proofread, and [self] published” in just “thirty-six months.” He then asks, on behalf of still-skeptical readers, “What? You’re not impressed?”
The author went through a long learning curve on that novel, refined his process and took good notes. So while first book took three years to incubate, he put out seven books in 2019, including this one.
He gives us a preview of his process in action: “Now I can outline a book in two hours and write it in about one week. With another four days of editing and two days of proofreading, I can churn out a book in the rough equivalent of two weeks.”
Also, he writes everywhere he goes. He carves out only one long writing day a week, Saturday, when his wife “wrestles our [two] savage beast children away from my workspace” for 10 hours “to give me time to write.”
In the gap times and on his writing day, Mr. Smith writes both novels and self-help books. The novels run the gamut from serious to silly. His most successful yarn is probably “Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger.” The self-help books, with titles such as “Exhausted Wives, Bewildered Husbands,” are informed by his practice as a marriage and family therapist.
He has run successful crowdfunding campaigns for several of his books, and delivered to readers (including this reader). Several more books — some crowdfunded, others just sprung on us like this one — are on the way this year.
“Write Like a Beast” is two books in one small volume. It is a guide for writers packed with useful tips drawn from Mr. Smith’s own growing body of work. It is also a pep talk. He argues that if he can do all of this with a growing family and busy schedule, you can too!
Some writers will find the pep talk more helpful. But for those of us who already have enough pep in our keys, the tips are the thing.
You know all of the work that goes into writing before you can really start writing? Mr. Smith has some useful ideas for how to jumpstart that, including designing your antagonist before your protagonist, choreographing not just fight scenes but all lengthy scenes involving significant social interactions, and how to write through the more mellow scenes between the points of high action.
Mr. Smith shows us how he designs a literary apparatus to organize and keep within easy reach all the information he needs to inform the first draft of his book, so he can simply focus on writing it. And he offers up another strategy that can help motivated-but-scattered writers get it done.
“We are essentially addicted to our phones. Make that work for you,” by downloading an app such as Evernote, he advises. Which is what this author-reviewer will be doing next.
• Jeremy Lott is creator of the comic book “Movie Men.”
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WRITE LIKE A BEAST: OPTIMIZE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY AND CONQUER THE BLANK PAGE
By Adam Lane Smith
Amazon, $4.99, 61 pages