How To Write Dangerously ~ Christopher Koehler: Outside the Margins

Join us as Christopher Koehler goes Outside the Margins.

Chris-Koehler-OTM In April of this year, Dreamspinner called all of its authors to Portland (Oregon, not Maine). Dreamspinner does this, calling us to conventions. These are part group hug, part state of the publisher, part get excited about writing.

They also include challenges, these Dreamspinner shindies. I do not recall what I wrote down, probably something trite about another novel and maybe a short story, but for me, my challenge turned into so much more and yet it started before the meeting in April.

My challenge to myself is to write dangerously for a year.

How, you ask, does one writer dangerously?

I will explain how I will write dangerously. Only you can discover how you will write dangerously.

A month before the Dreamspinner confab, I submitted a book I called Poz, a novel about teens, risky behavior, and HIV. Rates of new infections of HIV are skyrocketing among our youngest and there is not a single excuse. Suggestions for reasons range from easing off on safer-sex education or fatigue with same to the perfectly nonsensical notion that the current crop of protease inhibitors are a cure. Cough cough bullshit cough cough.
Late in the fall of 2013 I ran the basic idea for Poz by Elizabeth North, the publisher of Dreamspinner, and she green lighted it. Poz started my year of writing dangerously.
Some writers are pantsters, meaning they write by the seat of their pants. Some are plotters, meaning the plot things out. I fall into that latter camp, and may in fact be the arch-plotter. I’ll spare you the gory details of my plotting, but it’s thorough. I have a plot structure that has served me well for five novels.

There was only one problem when it came to Poz. That structure bored me to tears. How could I shake it up and do something to get me back to how I felt when I wrote my very first m/m romance, Rocking the Boat? The writing of that book scared me to death. I questioned myself at every step.

I started writing Poz in deep first person and I had never been so afraid of writing a book in my life. It was magical! It was fantastic! It was the answer.

It filled me with doubt from beginning to end. I second-guessed myself with every word, every decision I made, but when you meet Jeremy “Remy” Babcock you will be right there inside his head with him as he navigates the shoals of high school, rowing (duh—it’s me), dating, and some very risky activities. I also hope you fall in love with him, because I did. Well, him and his eventual boyfriend Mikey “call me Michael, dammit” Castelreigh.

Two books will follow Poz: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air and Finding Solid Ground. You’ll hear more about them and writing to scare yourself in coming months.

So here is my challenge to you: write in a way that scares you. Take risks. They’re just words. They can’t hurt you.

If you’re not a writer (yet), why not try? I saw some Facebook posts in a conversation between writers and readers recently, and a number of readers said they had ideas, but they couldn’t possibly put them on (virtual) paper because they never came out right. How do you suppose most of us got started? We didn’t start out writing like this, that’s for sure. We threw our first million words out; I certainly did. It’s a tough slog, but believe me, there is nothing like it in this world or any other. Won’t you join me?

Write dangerously.

~ Christopher Koehler

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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11 thoughts on “How To Write Dangerously ~ Christopher Koehler: Outside the Margins

  1. What a great article! I loved Poz. It was not a comfortable book to read but that’s what made me love it. Your dangerous writing is edgy and important. Keep going! And thank you.

  2. Very interesting and positive, Christopher. Your words are quite encouraging for those with said ideas that are afraid of jotting them down for fear of rejection or ridicule. The question is, who would one turn to to have your words edited/get opinions/or even approval if they only have eFriends?
    I’ve been editing two novels I wrote a couple of years back. I sent them to a few people and everyone complimented them, saying they were very good. On one of them, been the first thing I wrote and not having any schooling, I have a mess of POV’s that still need fixing (a couple of authors have started edits on it but eventually have abandoned it 🙁 ). On the second one I did much better, having read quite a bit about writing and also reading a lot of books from several authors of M/M. I have gotten bored with the editing so the books are just sitting here, in my computer, collecting eDust ;P I do want to publish them but I’m lacking motivation. NaNoWriMo is coming soon and there will be a third novel by me. Let’s hope that I at least finish edits on one of them before NaNo comes along. (I need a Royal Kick In The Ass to get me going!! LOL)

    • Thank you, Rush. I do try to encourage people with ideas, because some big names in other genres did the same thing for me. As a small name in a small genre, I may not be able to do much, but I can do this much.

      I just want to say that we all fear rejection. As for ridicule, all I can say is go read some of my reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, or, if my Google alerts lately are any indication, any number of pirate sites. One of the first things you have learn when you’re publishing is to develop a thick skin. I’ve honestly stopped reading reviews. No good comes of it.

      At this stage, the best thing I can suggest for you is to join a writing group of other writers-aspirant. Meet-Up is a good place to look. Some groups meet online and share work that way, some meet in person. I’ve also found one through my city’s Art Center. One thing to check for is that they’re not structured around stroking the ego of one particular member or already-published author. Run–don’t walk–in the other direction if that’s the case. Don’t be afraid to bail when you feel you’ve outgrown a group. Writing may be an art, but it’s also a business.

      ***and money flows to the author*** There are legit times to pay someone, like professional editing or for entering a contest held by a recognized publisher but you must never pay an agent or the like just to look at your work. That’s their job and they make their money by selling your work minus a commission that shouldn’t be more than 15-20% minus expenses like postage, copying, legit office expenses.

      *climbs back down off of soapbox*

      Obvs you need input, and the more critical the better, but take the input of friends and–heaven help you, your parents–with a grain of salt. I’m at the point that between family obligations (special-needs child) and my own writing that I read the work of new writers only rarely and even then only 10 pages. I edit deeply, meaning I’m never insulting but I pull no punches, either.

      So. Your novels gathering e-dust (love that). Learn to conquer your boredom. Unless you can afford to have every draft professionally edited (I don’t know anyone who can), learn to love catching your typos. Ooh, just remembered–many computers have text to voice options. That’s a great way to catch errors if reading your manuscript makes your eyes glaze over. My editor begs her writers to do this.

      You say you lack schooling but you’re very articulate and your post is error free, so I’m going to assume you mean schooling in writing…MFAs in creative writing are useless. My degrees are i history. One of my favorites authors–Posy Roberts–has degrees in counseling. In fact, thinking of some of the best m/m authors, none of them are educated in creative writing and several of them haven’t completed college. Amy Lane used to be an English teachers, so there’s that.

      Head-hopping, yes. That does tend to annoy readers, but isn’t necessarily a bar to publishing. Unfortunately. Ooops, did that slip out? Look, I’m a stylist, so maybe you’re asking the wrong person, but in m/m generally the number of VP characters is limited to two or fewer: the two love interests, or a narrator and his love interest, or if you’re writing in Grand Russian Third (please don’t), an omniscient narrator telling us about the two star-crossed lovers. I’ve been experimenting with first person, so we’re deeping inside someone’s head and we experience everyone else, including his love interest, through his eyes. Unless he’s in a coma, which happened in Poz, and that got dicey. We’ll see what my editor does with it.

      What happens most often is switching back and forth between one viewpoint or the other, each one pushing the plot further along. You get two. Make them work. Of course you can violate all these rules, but you have to know and understand the rules before you get to do so, if that makes sense.

      As for motivation and getting bored go, how badly do you want it? How hungry are you? That’s something no one can answer but you.

  3. Big hugs, love. I had to do something to shake things up, to keep me on edge so I feel that creative tension. I think we’ve all read stories by authors who were phoning it in. I’m deathly afraid of that showing up in my writing. JP Barnaby’s a great one for staying on the edge. Of course, she does that by regularly ripping my heart out…

  4. Great post, Christopher!! Good advice too. Esp. the part about throwing away the first million words, I wrote 5 books before I even tried to get published. Thanks for telling people to learn to write first.
    Love ya!

  5. I wish I could say that chucking the first million was original to me. I want to say it was Hemingway’s advice, but I’m not sure. I have written no fewer than 12 drafts of a steampunk novel that I hope to sell, but my problem is that I’m writing m/m stories that *are* selling. It’s hard to put those aside to work on something that *might* sell. Okay, so that’s not really a problem, is it?

    See you in Chicago, doll 🙂

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