Re-Post: Four Tips to Make Editing Better (and More Fun)

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Medium.

In some ways, editing a manuscript can be even more stressful than actually writing it in the first place. It’s no coincidence that a lot of writers I interact with say editing is, by far, their least favorite thing about being an author (particularly the independent variety).

(My least favorite part is marketing, but that’s a completely different essay).

On its face, editing can feel utterly daunting. A massive task that needs to be tackled, yet feels never-ending.

It was one thing to churn out 100,000 words the first time through, but to then traverse through those caverns of literature, over and over again, with little more than a pickax and the vain hope of keeping the demons of self-doubt at bay — even as you wrestle with the imperfections of your first draft…

Still, there are ways editing can be a less cumbersome, less intimidating process. A process that might even be fun.

These are by no means universal tips — after all, one size does not fit all when it comes to writing — but in my experience, these tips have helped me the most.

Tip #1: After you finish, walk away.
As soon as you type “The End,” save your work, back it up (preferably in multiple locations), and close the document. Leave it to sit for at least two weeks.

No, really. Don’t even read it.

I understand it can be tempting to dive right into the editing process, to simply get it out of the way. But consider a two-week break your vacation after having put the effort into writing the first draft. Writing a book is an exhausting, time-consuming task, and you need the time off once you’ve hit Save for the last time.

The time away will also let you return to your work with fresher eyes. Some writers will wait months at a time, but two weeks is my sweet spot.

It gives me the distance I need to return to my manuscript with fresher eyes (reader’s eyes, one might call them), but I’m not so far away that I forgot what I was writing in the first place.

In fact, I use the two-week break between every step in the process. That time away is key for a number of reasons (not the least of which is avoiding creative burnout).

Tip #2: Break it all down into parts.
The editing process can seem daunting because of how multi-faceted it is; you’re not only on the lookout for spelling and grammar errors, you’re also checking for plot holes, character inconsistencies, story issues, so on and so forth and the list seems never-ending.

Trying to tackle all those things at once would be enough to turn any writer bald.

Break it all up into sections. By which I mean: make your first pass-through about nothing but spelling and grammar. The first time you turn your editor’s eye on your own work, make that your sole focus. Then take your two-week break and when you return, make your second pass-through about plot holes.

Do this as many times as you see fit. Each pass-through should have a specific focus. That way, when you’re editing, you’re not overwhelming yourself with all the things you have to fix (and if one of your pass-throughs ends up being a re-write, you’re at least prepared for that). Every time you finish a pass, you feel like you actually accomplished something and made some progress.

This sounds like a pain, and in terms of time spent, that many passes through your manuscript can take longer than tackling it all in one go. But editing is not something to be rushed, and focusing each pass-through on a specific task will make your work better in the long run — with the added benefit of not stressing you out to the point where you want to quit.

(A note here: if you find yourself becoming bored with reading your own work over and over and over again, take heart in knowing you’re not alone in that. All authors face that because we’re seeing words we’ve already read several times over. Rest assured that anyone reading your work for the first time will never be as bored with it as you are.)

Tip #3: Know when enough is enough.
Give each pass-through focus one pass (except for maybe the spelling and grammar — that one you might need to do twice). Plot holes get one pass-through. Continuity errors (especially if you’re writing a series or a trilogy) get one pass-through.

The last thing you want to do is analyze your work so much, you freeze.

Once you’ve finished every pass-through, now is the time to find another editor. Yes, you need an editor other than yourself (yes, even if you are an editor yourself). Another pair of eyes is invaluable, and if cost is an issue, there are options at your disposal.

While my editor has my manuscript, I use that time to tackle other things that need to be done before my book’s ready to be published. I secure my cover artist, I write my back blurb, and I begin working on formatting — because while the content itself might not be ready, I find turning my manuscript into something resembling an actual book at this point will help push me through the rest of the process.

By the time I’m ready to apply my editor’s notes and suggestions, my manuscript resembles an actual book. That visual shift helps motivate me — because sometimes, this part can drag the most (and sometimes, editor’s notes aren’t fun to deal with — even if the editor is nice and, more importantly, right).

At this point, the finish line is visible. Like Olympic sprinters leaning into the proverbial tape at the end of a race, this is where you push through as hard as you can and lead with your chest as you cross that line.

Tip #4: Always take advantage of proof copies.
Whichever service you use to publish your work — whether it be Amazon’s KDP or Draft2Digital or something else — likely offers a chance for you to proof your work in actual book format before you hit Publish. Whether it’s an actual hard copy or an ePub/Mobi file, always take advantage of this.

This way, you get to see your work the same way your readers will see it. You get to see whatever formatting errors there might be, whatever issues might crop up if you’re offering print copies.

Yes, you should again check spelling and grammar (because those are pesky little buggers who will find a way to sneak through repeated edits), but seeing your work in the format buyers will also see it in is just too valuable to pass up.

Never pass up the chance to grab a proof copy. It’s better to find any issues that might arise before you hit Publish and not after someone’s spent their hard-earned money on it.

In conclusion:
The last thing I want is for a writer to put all their time and effort into crafting a manuscript, only to abandon it out of frustration because the editing process overwhelms them to the point of quitting.

Even if you can’t learn to embrace the editing process (which I get), hopefully, the above tips can at least help you understand and accept the role editing can play in making your writing shine.

Think of editing less as a way to fix what’s wrong and more a way of bringing what’s good to the forefront. It’s like mining for gold: you know it’s in there, you just have to chip away everything around it to find it.

Editing your manuscript is the same way.

I understand these steps might not work for everyone; as I said, writing is not a one-size-fits-all exercise, and what works for me might not work for you. But I have found the above steps (especially breaking down each part into one specific focus) make the editing process far less burdensome.

I might even occasionally call it fun.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

April 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last 30 days.

Another short post, because I have once again underestimated my own energy levels. Specifically, how I spend April recovering from March.

So, About Those Book Reviews…
They’re finally here!

In this installment, I review Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot, A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer, and Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen. I really enjoyed all three books for various reasons; read why here.

Speaking of Ace

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Remember?
That post I mentioned in the March month-in-review, that I had submitted to Writers’ Blokke on Medium and it was just sitting there? I submitted it to the ILLUMINATION page instead, and it posted! Check out The Theory of Creativity.

I Like Indie Books and I Cannot Lie
Since people like lists so much, I made one of my own: my favorite indie books.

Because indie books are cool. Indie authors are really cool, and the more we support them, the more really cool books these really cool people (full disclosure: myself included) will write.

Work, Work, Work…Day After Day…
Like most writers, I have a main source of income outside of my books. Yes, the dreaded “day job.” Does said day job actually help my writing, though?

It can. But not always.

It’s…complicated. Read why here.

I Was Told This Would Get Easier
Most things get easier the more often you do them. Writing? Not so much.

*Insert Stevie Wonder Singing Happy Birthday Here*
April 14 marked the two-year anniversary of Betrayal‘s release. That’s right, the fifth installment in the Jill Andersen series launched right as we were in the first throes of COVID-19. Worst timing ever aside, it was a successful launch.

Check out Betrayal here.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
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No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

BOOK BIRTHDAY: Betrayal

Two years ago yesterday–April 14, 2020–I released by sixth novel: Betrayal, the fifth entry in the Jill Andersen series.

Cover by Sarah Anderson

Yep, I released a book in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oops.

It wasn’t on purpose, just a really unfortunate case of timing, but the launch wound up being relatively successful. I managed a couple preorders and actually had a few ARC reviews in-hand come launch day (making Betrayal the first book to have a successful ARC campaign). All told, I sold 52 books that April (my second-best month ever), and I followed that up in May 2020 with another 38 sales.

Whatever I did back then, I need to get back to doing.

The hope is to have book six in the series, Bitter End, out within the calendar year. I’ve secured both an editor and a cover artist, so we’re officially in what I call “pre-launch” territory.

Hopefully, no renewed plague this time.

Betrayal (Jill Andersen #5)
Someone is killing Baltimore’s heroes.

The ones with badges. The ones who put out fires. The ones who debate laws designed to make the citizens’ lives better. None of them are safe, and their deaths amount to little more than public spectacle. A mysterious band of militants called The Collective takes credit for the killings, but the origins and identities of its members are unknown.

Jill Andersen now has an FBI badge on her hip. She is tasked with bringing down the cult, and she must make sure she doesn’t wind up in their crosshairs in the process. All of her theories and leads come up empty – none of the usual suspects are behind these ghastly murders. They might just be in the line of fire themselves.

With those closest to her now targets, Jill must race against the clock to determine who’s killing the best Baltimore has to offer. But along the way, she’ll discover a jarring secret – one that threatens to make her question everything that has happened in her life to this point.

Assuming it doesn’t kill her first.

Betrayal, the gripping, hard-hitting fifth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (BountyBlood TiesBehind the BadgeBehind the Mask), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

Betrayal is available in paperback and all major ebook outlets.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Practice Makes…What, Exactly?

Most things in life, the more you do it, the better you get.

Apparently, that’s not true of writing.

You know the saying practice makes perfect. While I don’t quite think that’s true–because in many ways, perfection doesn’t exist–practice can make you better. Practice can make whatever you’re doing at least seem easier. Whether you’re a painter or an athlete or a public speaker, repetition begets confidence and success.

But writing…it almost feels like the opposite is true. Six novels in, it seems like writing has gotten harder. The more I write, the harder time I have starting projects, maintaining momentum, and ultimately, finishing stories.

When I started on this indie author journey, when I had just published Bounty and was working on Blood Ties and Notna, it wasn’t nearly this difficult. Words came much easier. When I wanted to sit down and write I actually could; the proverbial muse wasn’t so fleeting. The blinking cursor wasn’t nearly the taunting bastard it is these days.

But why is that? Why does writing seemingly not follow the same practice-improve-practice more-keep getting better pattern as practically every other activity in the world?

I think, in this case, I’m my own worst enemy.

Creatives as a whole are often our own worst enemies. We’re harshest against our own work, and we often don’t see the qualities that our fans often point out to us. Specific to me, I think my own library holds me back. By which I mean: every time I sit down to write a book, I feel like I have to live up to what I’ve done before.

The next book has to be at least as good as the last one. If it’s my series, it has to be better.

I can’t get worse. I have to get better. That self-induced pressure–coming from someone who’s already a bit of a perfectionist–can be downright maddening.

I know I’m a capable author. I have the backlog to prove it. I can glance at the middle of three bookshelves to the right of my bed, see the spines of my already-published works, and know without a doubt that I can do this. I’ve done it before. People have bought by books. And enjoyed my books. And told me they enjoyed my books.

One doesn’t just wake up one day and forget how to write. Right?

One other reason is…sometimes, I look at my sales chart, notice how many sales aren’t there, and wonder to myself–however briefly–what’s the point? Why go through all this effort to write and edit and market a new book when no one’s grabbing the ones already available?

Maybe the lesson there is to stop looking at my sales chart. Maybe the lesson is the next book is the best marketing tool for your last book (I’ve made that argument before, and several others have, as well). Maybe the lesson is, since I’m not a great book marketer, I’m better off focusing on the one part I am good at:

Actually writing the book.

Now, to get that voice of doubt to shut his yap for five seconds…

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

My Favorite Indie Books

With Indie April now upon us, what better time to re-visit this Medium post from February?

Anyone who’s followed me for any length of time knows I’m a strong supporter of self- and independently-published authors.

Not just because I’m self-published myself, but because so many of my favorite books over the past several years have come from indie authors. Fighting back against the stigma indie books face means shouting from the proverbial rooftops about the books we love, so consider this my bullhorn.

NOTE: Where appropriate, I use a slot for an entire series; that way, entries from that series don’t overwhelm the list.

The Judah Black series by E.A. Copen
(Guilty by AssociationBlood DebtChasing GhostsPlaying with Fire)
I’m a sucker for female protagonists, particularly those who are in jobs where one would traditionally expect to see a man. Enter Judah Black, federal investigator who specializes in the paranormal. Oh, and she’s a single mom. This is a police procedural with werewolves and other such creatures, but whatever you think you know about the genre, there’s more character depth than you might expect. The monsters and the lore are just a backdrop; the real story is Judah and how she balances being a single mother with forging a relationship and dealing with the realities of her job (and I don’t just mean the monsters). Copen is quite the prolific writer (I think she published two more books while I was typing this), and I hope she returns to this series one day.

Floor 21 (series) by Jason Luthor
(Floor 21Floor 21: DescentFloor 21: Judgement)
I’ll admit horror isn’t normally my cup of tea, but this post-apocalyptic first-person trilogy was certainly an exception. Told, at least in part, through a series of audio recordings in a building that’s long been abandoned, but not really, Floor 21 is every bit as intense as it is gruesome. The violence comes in short bursts, and the true horror is developed in the quiet moments, when you realize how the characters got to where they are and how, at least on the surface, everything seems so damn hopeless. It’s not the fear of the monsters right in front of you, it’s the ones lurking around in the dark, in the inaccessible lower floors. What you can’t see is far more dangerous than what you can, and this is a trio of books you’ll be reading with the light on.

Untamed (series) by Madeline Dyer
(UntamedFragmentedDividedDestroyed)
More intimate in scope than most other dystopian novels, Dyer’s Untamed series rightly shifts the focus from the macro storyline (end of the world, possible human conversion that erases all negative human emotion) and puts it instead on the small ragtag gang of characters facing seemingly impossible odds. The series gets darker and more intense with each passing installment, but the focus on Seven and those closest to her never wavers. Most authors would fall into the trap of world-building at the expense of everything else, but Dyer never does — and the result is a quartet of books that never grows stale, never slows down, never relents.

Starstruck (series) by S.E. Anderson
(StarstruckAlienationTravelerCelestialStarboundEarthstuckInalieableDreadknot)
I’ve made it known several times that I think sci-fi as a genre takes itself far too seriously. There’s a place for the grim and the apocalyptic, no doubt, but sometimes, sci-fi needs to be goofy. Laugh-out-loud funny. It’s possible to be intense and action-packed and still bring in the laughs. Enter Anderson’s Starstruck series (which, as of Feb. 22’s release of Dreadknot, is eight books deep). Very much in the vein of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this series gives us something different each book. One’s a murder mystery, another’s a time-hopping adventure, the next is a coming-of-age…Sally is very much out of her element in each installment, and the result is a slapstick and adventurous romp through the galaxy, one I think every sci-fi fan would do well to have on their shelf.

Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
As vibrant and evocative and intense as many of the dimensions its characters inhabit, Dangerous Ways does for high fantasy what Virdi’s Grave Report series does for street-level thrillers. Virdi writes with a free-flowing, quick-witted first-person style that makes the pages fly by, so a book as large as Dangerous Ways doesn’t feel all that large. It’s not just a fantastic exercise in world-building, it’s also the perfect example of how vibrant, memorable characters can elevate a narrative. Mainstays Hawthorne and Cassidy are a delight on their own, but the supporting cast they encounter through several different worlds makes this book feel like a world all its own.

Aix Marks the Spot by S.E. Anderson
One author claims two spots on this list, and Aix Marks the Spot is every bit as worthy of its inclusion — even if it’s night and day from Anderson’s flagship series. This book is emotional and charming and funny and heartfelt in ways big and small. This is mostly a light read, a love letter to Provence, France, but there is a dark undercurrent throughout — one that in the hands of a less capable author could come across as forced or unnecessary. Anderson is at her best here, weaving a personal tale with luminary prose. The coming-of-age story isn’t my first choice — unless there’s superheroes or magic involved — but Aix Marks the Spot is the exception, and it’s one of the more surprisingly emotional books I’ve read.

A Country of Eternal Light by Darby Harn
This book is a masterpiece. It’s crushing and deflating and grim and it will gut you seemingly every other chapter — but it’s also the perfect encapsulation of the stubbornness of the human condition, and you’ll find yourself unable to put the book down. A Country of Eternal Light is spec fic that doesn’t feel like spec fic. It feels more like an exhaustive, raw study of the human condition — constantly asking the question “Why?” Why do humans keep pushing forward, even when things seem completely hopeless? Why keep going when there’s no longer any point? Harn’s focus on the people, not the disaster, makes for a book that’s impossible to put down.

Edge of the Breach by Halo Scot
A gripping, disturbing read that is as enthralling as it is uncomfortable, Scot’s series debut follows Rune and Kyder, who are more or less opposite sides of the same coin in a post-apocalyptic world where freedom and power are often illusions. It’s dystopian spec fic that focuses on the two protagonists and their relationships (…such that they are, in Kyder’s case), and Scot showcases a deft pen while taking us along on a tale of violence, debauchery, heartbreak, rage, and pushing forward no matter how bleak things get. Because things are bleak. But Scot is a capable enough writer to not only handle it, but make it impossible to turn away. There are three other entries in the series (and on my TBR), and I don’t see how they won’t be every bit as engrossing (or just gross) as the original.

March 2022: Month in Review

An end-of-the-month look back at the last 30 days.

This might be a short post, because March is, by far, my day job’s busiest month. And I always overestimate my ability to do book stuff while also juggling the madness.

The only dance I know how to do.

Where’s the Beef?
No book reviews this month, because with the aforementioned March Being A Thing, I didn’t finish any of the books I’m reading. But I am in the process of reading Echoes of Blood by Halo Scot, Dreadknot by S.E. Anderson, and A Dangerous Game by Madeline Dyer. All are potential five-star reads.

End of an Era?
Don’t tell 20-year-old me, but I am giving serious thought to giving up video games and selling off my collection. I barely play anymore, and the industry has devolved to the point where none of the new machines or games interest me (even games like Gran Turismo 7, and I’m a lifelong GT junkie!). Spare time is precious to me anymore, and I find myself devoting less and less of it to gaming (and when I do game, it’s almost always the older stuff).

Ad Time
I tried another Facebook ad for Notna in March, since Facebook gifted me a $50 credit for a boosted post. I tried the same post I did back in January, but this time, I changed the Buffy comparison to Supernatural (to test my theory) and ran the ad for nearly two weeks (March 6-21), targeted a strictly US audience, and added target filters to include fans of adventure fiction, fantasy books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural.

In all, I reached 4,135 people and got 60 clicks (both increases over the first Facebook ad). The mobile app news feed and suggested videos feed gave me the bulk of my clicks, and almost 70% of my reach was men (…why, I have no idea). Texas and California were the states where I had the most reach, and the effect on sales was…negligible.

So, it’s looking like, while Facebook ads are great for getting eyeballs on my FB page, it doesn’t really do much sales-wise.

Your Mileage May Vary
Are books on writing worth the paper on which they’re printed? For the most part, I say no. Feel free to agree. Or disagree. But don’t use any adverbs, or Stephen King will come after you.

Where Are the Haters?
I was convinced this article would lose me followers, but it seems to have just been…largely ignored. On Medium, I wrote about why I write about the police in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yes, There’s a Difference
I recently wrote about the difference between inspiration and motivation. Yes, those are two completely different things, and they are often mutually exclusive from one another. It’s one of the more maddening aspects of being an author.

Is This Thing On?
I had written another essay for Medium, one where I examine creativity in a theoretical sense, and submitted it to the Writers’ Blokke publication. But…it’s still there. I know they’ve said they’re swamped with content over there, but this is by far the longest it’s taken one of my essays to get posted. Shame, too, because I was really proud of this one.

From the ‘Out of Your Comfort Zone’ Department:
I’ve written a children’s book. You can’t buy it, but you can read about what I learned through the experience.

You Like Free Stuff, Don’t You?
Have you subscribed to my newsletter yet?

No?

Did you know that if you do, you’ll receive a free novella? Specifically, the Bounty prequel Boundless?

So. I Wrote a Children’s Book.

Don’t go looking for it on Amazon. It’s not for sale, and it never will be.

See, this children’s book was a gift. A bit of backstory…

Artwork by Mateo Astronauto

Last June, my boss at my day job announced that he was retiring. After nearly 20 years in his post, and in a decades-long career that was now seeing him inducted into seemingly every Hall of Fame known to man, he was hanging it up as of Dec. 31. When he was inevitably asked what he planned on doing once his life no longer revolved around football games and conference championships and meetings upon meetings upon meetings, my boss said he wanted to give back to school children.

Early childhood education, specifically. He was looking to volunteer his time to school children. So, when we as an office began planning a big get-together to celebrate his career (we settled on a roast), the idea of potential gifts came up…and one of my co-workers, knowing I’m an author, suggested a children’s book detailing our boss’s life and accomplishments.

I agreed, even though I’ve never attempted such a thing before–and at the time, we didn’t have an artist. Those are important when writing children’s books. Essential, even.

Still, I took on the challenge. Knowing full well this was never to be mass produced or made available for public consumption; this book was to be nothing more than a thoughtful gift celebrating everything our boss had done in his illustrious career. In the process of writing what ultimately became known as Little Dennis, I learned a lot about myself, creatively speaking.

First of all, writing a children’s book is not easy. It requires a completely different skill set than novels. Or even short stories. All prose is not created equal, and in the case of children’s books, it has everything to do with the target audience.

See, children’s books aren’t 75,000-word tomes. They’re not giant blocks of seemingly endless text. They’re not an exercise in people trying to impress others with what they think is a massive vocabulary.

Children’s books are short. Colorful. Dramatic. They’re vibrant, quick and to the point.

There’s rhyming. You have to keep the art into consideration (not unlike my first creative love, the comic book). I had to make sure I wasn’t using words small children wouldn’t understand. I wanted to make sure my lines rhymed (even though I know that’s not a requirement for children’s books, a lot of them I know of do rhyme), so in a sense, I was flexing poetic muscles I didn’t realize I had.

And I had to do it all to sum up the life and career of a man who’d accomplished a great deal in almost 50 years.

Amazingly, I had a draft in three days. A draft that, miraculously, didn’t require many edits. We found an artist in short order, and before I knew it, I was looking at a full-fledged art and all draft of Little Dennis. I had somehow managed to check children’s book and biography off my book-to-do list, in one fell swoop, and the reception to the book was overwhelmingly positive.

My former boss loved it when we presented it to him at his roast. Those in attendance also received a copy, and they were as effusive in their praise as he had been.

Don’t look for me to ever write one of these things for the purposes of selling it–writing children’s books is a specific artform, one I don’t think I possess the tools for. This was an exciting challenge, the rare opportunity to stretch my capabilities as a writer, and while I’m proud of the finished product, I don’t think I have anymore of those in me.

Especially when I still have so many ideas that need my attention in the world of novels.

If nothing else, I’ve come to appreciate children’s authors even more. They are magicians with words, in ways those of us who write for adults are not, and I am in awe of anyone who can churn out more than one of those things at any given time.

If nothing else, I get the satisfaction of knowing that every time my former boss reads Little Dennis to a classroom full of schoolchildren, he’ll be showing them my words.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go back to my superheroes and fight scenes.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Inspiration vs. Motivation

NOTE: This piece originally published on Medium.

On the surface, inspiration and motivation might seem similar.

While they share some qualities, the two words are actually completely separate things, particularly when it comes to creativity. Inspiration is more big-picture…macro, if you will. Which makes motivation more laser-focused, micro in nature. This also means having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the other.

Inspiration is the driving force that leads you to creating in the first place. A book you fell in love with, a movie that triggered something within you. Whatever unseen force sparked your creative fire and led you to a life of making things up — regardless of your medium of choice — is your inspiration.

Comic books are my inspiration; discovering superhero comics in middle school was the inciting incident that led to me becoming a writer. There have been other sources of inspiration over the years, but the first, everlasting stroke of inspiration came at the hands of Jim Lee and Chris Claremont.

Inspiration is lifelong and nebulous, and it can mean different things to you at different times. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton inspired me, but not in the I-want-to-write-a-musical or I-want-to-write-about-a-Founding-Father way. Instead, Hamilton inspired me to renew my creative efforts as a whole. Not just because Miranda himself is a prolific creator who almost always seems to have at least one iron in the proverbial fire, but also because the musical itself tackles the issue of productivity.

After all, Alexander Hamilton was, among other things, a writer.

The line “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” was key here — because frankly, I haven’t been writing like I’m running out of time, and it felt like Miranda was calling me out for it.

Let this be an example of inspiration hitting any time, from any source — even a piece of art from a genre or medium you’re not necessarily familiar with or a fan of. Plays aren’t my thing, and I don’t have a musical bone in my body, but every time I watch Hamilton or listen to Miranda speak, I’m inspired to grab my laptop and type away.

Which leads us to that pesky thing called motivation. If inspiration is the impetus for the overall desire to create, motivation is the day-to-day manifestation of that. It’s possible to be inspired, but not motivated — just as it’s possible to be motivated, but not inspired (i.e., “I want to write today, but what?”).

Think of it like this: if you wake up and decide you don’t want to do anything— like, say, go to work — you’re lacking motivation that day. Some days, I’m motivated to write. Others, I’m not. I’m still inspired, but for whatever reason, that particular day, I can’t be arsed to sit in front of the keyboard and peck away.

Some days, I wake up motivated to write. But real life gets in the way, and by the time I’ve taken care of my responsibilities, that motivation is gone. Replaced by exhaustion or frustration (or an ever-so-annoying combination of the two). I’m still inspired; I still want to create. It’s just not happening that day.

In my experience, inspiration is easier to come by than motivation. Maybe it’s simply a lack of discipline on my part, but I find I can’t simply conjure motivation out of thin air. If I’m not motivated that day, I’m not motivated, and trying to change that fact just makes things worse.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is everywhere. I’m inspired whenever I read a really good book (or sometimes, a really bad one). I’m inspired whenever one of my author friends completes a project or has a new release (I think E.A. Copen wrote and released a new book in the time it took me to write this blog post). I’m inspired whenever someone questions my creative bonafides.

I was even inspired when I was browsing the shelves at Barnes & Noble several years ago and saw a copy of Richard Castle’s Heat Wave sitting there. Because if a guy who doesn’t even exist can write and publish books in our world, then why can’t I?

(Never underestimate the inspirational and motivational power of incredulity and spite.)

When it comes to motivation, my only advice is two-fold:

  1. It’s okay to take days off if you’re not feeling it. Forcing it can make things worse, and there’s no hard and fast rule saying you have to write every single day.
  2. Think about what inspires you. Ask yourself why that inspiration still resonates, or if it doesn’t, examine why. Think about what else inspires you. Sometimes, taking a step back and questioning yourself will tell you all you need to know.

Creativity is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always easy. Understanding what inspiration and motivation are, how they relate to each other, and the role they both play in your creative life can make things so much easier for you.

Just remember to go easy on yourself if things aren’t flowing like they normally are; it doesn’t make you a failure and you’re not the only one struggling with it.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Books on Writing: Worth It?

Before we begin, a disclaimer:

The following is my opinion and my opinion alone. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay.

Now, with that out of the way…

I’ve said it before, but for the purposes of this essay, it bears repeating: books on writing, en masse, do nothing for me. The vast majority of them either bore me to tears or make the act of writing sound so intimidating that part of me wants to never see another keyboard.

There are a few exceptions—Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story and Stephen King’s On Writing are personal writing bibles, tomes I revisit when I need a creative boost—but for the most part, this sub-genre of the ‘how-to’ is a waste of space.

In my experience, most books on writing suffer from the same flaw: they typically act as if whatever writing wisdom they’re imparting is gospel. As if whatever they have to say is the only real right way to do things. Which…no.

Writing doesn’t work that way. No creative endeavor does.

You would never tell a painter there’s only one right way to paint. Same for a sculptor or an actor. The artist’s process is as personal as it is vital, and those who act like they know the one true way how to create are, more often than not, trying to sell you something. Something you’re better off without.

Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey is guilty of this, on top of being a slog of a read. Remember what I said above about these things being boring? Same goes for Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey. I won’t begrudge anyone who gained something of value from these books, but they suffer from the same flaws in my eyes.

One of the reasons I enjoyed Damn Fine Story so much was because Wendig made it clear—early and repeatedly—that the vast majority of writing advice is bull. Even a lot of what he has to say. Wendig’s goal in Damn Fine Story was less telling you how to write and more getting the gears turning in your head.

Think less how-to and more make-you-want-to.

On Writing is largely the same way. Sure, King has his hard-and-fast rules—no adverbs (I disagree) and writers need to be readers (wholeheartedly agree)—but much of what he says about his own writing, he couches in terms of “this works for me, but it might not necessarily work for you, and that’s okay.”

The cardinal rule of writing is that there are no cardinal rules of writing. Aside from this:

Get the words on the page.

That’s it. It doesn’t matter how you do it. How often you do it. How well you do it. As long as you’re sitting in front of your manuscript, putting one word after another, your process doesn’t matter.

Writing isn’t a math equation. It’s not some paint-by-numbers or connect-the-dots exercise where you’re supposed to go from Point A to Point B to Point…you get the idea. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing, and you’re better off wandering with one of those old-school folding maps than your smartphone’s GPS.

There is some value in books on writing that focus more on the structure, the nuts and bolts of writing. Story structure, character creation, the three-act format…there is educational value in that, but at the same time, I find most writers already know those things. Intrinsically. Without even realizing they know it.

Whether it’s something we absorb in reading or watching TV shows and movies, most writers already have some deep-seeded understanding of how stories are supposed to work.

Still, there is value in seeing those “rules” laid out (even if it feels occasionally intimidating). Especially if you’re one of those writers who likes to play with convention and subvert the reader’s expectations. After all, you have to know what the rules are before you break them, right?

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether books on writing are worth your time. Most of us are strapped for time, what with day jobs and writing and other interests…you should never waste your time with a book that doesn’t speak to you. And that includes this particular sub-genre.

Ultimately, these books are largely unnecessary, because the answer to the question “How do I write?” is deceptively simple:

You just do it.

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

2022 Writing Snippet #5

A periodic look at some of the passages and lines I’m most proud of. For this one, a passage from the forthcoming Bitter End (Jill Andersen #6). Pretty proud of this character moment for Det. Stevens.

Earl Stevens couldn’t remember the last time he was this angry.

Maybe when he was a linebacker at Nebraska and had been called for a facemask penalty that cost his team a spot in the Big 12 championship game (well before that nonsensical decision to join the Big Ten). It had been third-and-long late in the fourth quarter, with the Cornhuskers leading by two. He had sniffed out a slant route and tackled the receiver two yards shy of the first down — but his fingers had gotten tangled in the other player’s helmet, and he had twisted his head just so to give the refs the visual of the ball carrier’s head yanking to the side.

Whistle.

Yellow flag.

Fifteen yards and an automatic first down.

Seconds later, the football sailed through the uprights and Nebraska’s hopes for a national championship were done.

That night was the only time Stevens had ever felt the need to hit someone outside the confines of the gridiron. It hadn’t been his proudest moment, even as he did and said all the right things in the immediate aftermath. But merely thinking of lashing out against the referee had embarrassed Stevens, even though no one else ever knew what had been in his head. He had carried that memory throughout his law enforcement career, using it to keep him calm when dealing with uncooperative suspects or departmental red tape.

But right now? There was a dead body in a hospital within his precinct’s jurisdiction, and someone with the FBI wasn’t letting him by.

The FBI was keeping Earl Stevens from doing his job.

That was unacceptable. He didn’t care if federal law enforcement was around. He didn’t care if the body in question was an FBI agent, as was rumored. Stevens was a homicide detective, and the burly agent standing in front of the hospital room in question was not letting him through to do what he did best. He wondered how many years he would get if he simply drove the guy to the floor. His knees were shot, but Stevens figured he had one more tackle left in him.

What was that song Juanita said reminded her of Stevens? I ain’t as good as I once was…

“See this, hoss?” Stevens smacked his lips and waved his badge in the FBI agent’s face. Again. “This means I get to go in that room and poke the dead body.”

The agent, whose own badge read Bryant, stood motionless. Bulging eyes were hidden by black sunglasses, and his upper lip curled into a sneer. His shoulders lifted, then fell, and he stretched out his hands, fingers interlocked, until knuckles cracked in unison. “See this?” he asked, smacking his large thumb against the badge protruding from his breast pocket. “This means I’m FBI, which means I outrank you.”

“Yeah, but see…” Ramon Gutierrez seemed to appear out of nowhere, placing a gloved hand on Stevens’ shoulder before he could respond. “I’ve got one of those too, and as the lead investigator here, mine says the good detective here can poke away.”

Writing Snippet #1 | Writing Snippet #2 Writing Snippet #3 | Writing Snippet #4