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How I Tackled Such A Huge Task

Feb 7, 2008
When I set out to write my book, A Place to Belong, I didn't have the slightest notion as to how I was going to approach this task. I had never written anything in my life that extended beyond a normal letter or reports that I had to submit for my job or school. Now, I'm sitting down to write a story about my life? Oh, Lord, I need help! Lots of help!

Thirty-five minutes staring at the computer and thumping my fingers on the key board, I said to myself, "Okay Paul, here is what you're going to do. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar or anything else right now. Just get the words on to the paper! I'll edit the whole thing later." And, that is exactly how I approached this immense task. It took me three months to get the story on paper and six years to correct it. That's right, six years.

As I read over the original story, I laughed, felt very humiliated and rather stupid. I used urine for urn, many times to for too and too for to, quite for quit and several more. One item that made me gasp for air was, one paragraph ran on for ten pages. "Oh Paul, what have you done to the Queen's English?"

My seventeen-year-old daughter was a senior in high school at the time and I had her read what I wrote each night. She would come back and tell me I needed to sign up at her school for an evening class in English writing and grammar. (Got her sarcasm genes from her father). She returned the manuscripts to me full, and I mean full, of red marks where she had made corrections. I knew she was right, but I just wanted her to read the story and I accepted her corrections freely.

I was introduced to a young lady, through a mutual friend of ours, who edited material for the University of Georgia on a part-time basis. I asked her to read my story and give me her thoughts, feelings and ideas. I was stunned! She loved the story and committed to helping me do the editing. Said I needed 'lots of help', but that she thought in several areas, my writing was very good and I had a unique touch for describing scenes, actions and characters to the point that the reader gets to feel, see, taste and experience the scene. Her comments gave me solid confidence in my role as an author and great expectations for the book. I felt very fortunate.

We would meet every other Tuesday at a coffee shop and discuss the homework she gave me from the previous week and how I felt it related to the book. She would give me more homework to do for the next meeting. Sometimes I felt like a ninth grade English student. But her assignments, as I came to learn, gave me meaningful insight and a larger scope of usage of all my characters, my motives, and the direction I was going, and ultimately, gave the story better continuity.

For example; she made me write a minimum of one page on each character. When writing about my Dad, I had to describe his walk, smell, and any daily habits or routines that came to my mind. How does he reply to my questions? Does he grunt, groan, no answer, a look, ignore me completely or what? How does he eat, fast, slow, chew excessively, chew little, burp when he is done and does he say excuse me or nothing at all? How does he sleep? On his left side, right side, stomach or on his back? Does he snore? Sleep silently, talk, mumble, grunt or groan? I was astounded how much this helped me to place each character in perspective within a scene or a specific situation. By knowing them now, so well, I was able to deduce whether they were excess baggage or they were very necessary.

I admired her willingness to listen to my objections to certain words or phrases she wanted me to use. If she felt I was wrong, she would tell me so. Most of the time I took her advice, for I felt she was the pro and I was the student.

I owe much to that lady and acknowledge such in my book.

Once she and I felt every period was in its right place, every paragraph justified and every chapter was where it belonged, I set out to find a Literary Agent and/or a Publisher. I thought the writing was a huge task, but getting your work noticed by the publishing world was like writing, only now it's times ten to the tenth power.

I have a stack of rejection letters eighteen inches high. If your name is not Brown, Patterson, Albom or Silva, agents or publishers do not want to talk to you. You are not a money making machine for them. And at my age, they figure he's not going to be a very good investment anyway. So, you get slips that say; not interested, not our genre, not for us, sorry, needs lots of work, you don't start off a story at a party. (I still don't understand what that agent meant by that remark) looks good, but try someone else. There were many others that implied the same message.

It's demeaning, frustrating, irritating and down right depressing. What really upsets one is that you know that the recipient has not read the book. I have heard stories from agents and publishers that claim the office staff of most publishers and agents developed a procedure whereas a minimum wage clerk opens the package, dumps the manuscripts/books, takes your SASE, if there is one, inserts a piece of paper that states; "Sorry, not for us." How do they know that they didn't just toss away the book of the decade? They don't and they don't care. They receive so many requests that they can't possibly read and reply to each one. Somebody, somewhere, sometime has to address this problem. The man picking up the trash is going to have the bestseller one day.
About the Author
Paul Miller is the author of A Place to Belong. For more information, please visit his website: A Place to Belong.
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