Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I’m a writer with a terrible secret. I’ve written more than 20 books and I have never shared this shameful fact with anyone. That secret? I can’t type. Really. If only I had taken Mr. Duffy’s Business Education/Typing Class at Hempfield Area Senior High School in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. But I didn’t—and have since been condemned to write all those hundreds of thousands of words using a mere five fingers—sometimes six, I think, but it’s hard to watch myself type and count at the same time.
And our school had just gotten brand new IBM Selectrics!
I know . . . the horror . . . the horror.
(I had to look that up. I wasn’t sure if it was horror or horrors. The wonderful Pandora’s box, this Internet device is.)
One question that I have been asked more than once—other than “Have any spare change?” is “Where do you get your ideas?
Now that I have become a best-selling author—I know—it was as much of a surprise to me as it was to you—I have another secret to share with you. It’s about good ideas for books. For only $29.95, I will send you the secret formula for developing truly wonderful, saleable ideas that the public will simply go crazy over.
(I wish I had written that book. Then I actually could retire to Palm Beach and play competitive shuffleboard.)
Here’s the secret: There is no secret. There is no magic formula. And what works for me . . . will ABSOLUTELY work for you. Just send me the $29.95!
Seriously . . . I get ideas all the time and I discard most of them very quickly. My advice to aspiring writers: Get a dog. I have a dog. A dog needs a long walk twice a day, morning and night. Both times are quiet. Leave the cell phone at home! Seriously. You will sound ridiculous talking with your agent while picking up dog droppings. Well . . . at least you will know how your agent sometimes feels.
But I digress. The idea for my previous book, The Dog That Talked to God came while I was walking the dog. All dog owners talk to their dogs. Every single one of them. And remember, I go out early and late when there are no witnesses. So I give my dog a voice so he can answer my questions. I started to wonder what it would be like if a dog could actually talk. Then I wondered who would really need a dog to talk to them? Someone in pain—someone who has suffered a loss. A widow. And the story snowballed from there.
For my most recent book, The Cat That God Sent . . . well, we happen to have an ill-tempered cat at home as well. You can’t take him for walks—but you can imagine what he’s thinking. Who might a cat deem as lost and hopeless? A pastor who has lost his faith. Yes. Perfect. And the story started there.
So the advice on ideas is this: Spin up lots of them. Don’t self-censure right away. But also—don’t fall so much in love with an idea that you can’t take advice. In the first draft of the Dog book, my dog character was too all-knowing. My editor said to make him more of a spiritual pilgrim. And she was dead-on. That advice changed the complexion of the dog—and made the story much, much better.
I have encountered writers who hold on too tightly. Soon enough, no one will offer advice because you defend your words too well. Not to say that you make every change ever suggested. Hopefully, you will recognize the good advice, from the chaff advice. Listen, smile, nod, and use discernment.
Another question I get is about plots.
Once I have the opening scene I also have the ending scene in mind. I don’t plot every detail out exactly, but I know the arc of the story. I know what will ultimately happen at the end. In my humble opinion, if you don’t know where you are going with a story, how will you know when you get there?
In my last 50 words, I will also tell you that you should write while listening to classical music, matching the scene to the music; never let writer’s block stop you—write something; don’t get all enamored over Facebook postings and Twitters and the rest—they just seem like you’re writing, but you’re not.
And keep trying. With the Dog book—and the Cat book—both my most successful books to date—I gave up trying to write for a genre—and wrote a story that I would have wanted to read.
So keep working. And believe in yourself.

Jim Kraus grew up in Western Pennsylvania and has spent the last twenty years as a vice president of a major Christian publishing house. He has written more than twenty books and novels, including the best-selling The Dog That Talked to God. He and his family live outside of Chicago with a sweet miniature Schnauzer and an ill-tempered Siberian cat named (of course) Petey. www.jimkraus.com 


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