Guest Post by Jared Garrett
Jared Garrett is a family man with a lovely wife and six delightful kids. He has written fiction, user manuals, radio scripts and textbooks and has won first place in the Mayhew writing contest at BYU and received honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest. He is a recent transplant from Utah to Seattle. He was born in Chicago in the seventies, grew up in New York City, Dallas, Denver, Washington DC, and several other big cities in the 80s, finished high school in the 90s, and traveled the world during the first decade of the 2000s. Highlights: Music from the seventies was the best. Music from the 80s was rad. Music from the 90s was intermittently great and awful. And modern music? Don’t get him started. He loves movies, books, hiking, bicycling, Thai food, and cookies and cream ice cream. Also marshmallows.
Jared self-published a novelization of his childhood, called Beyond the Cabin, in December of 2014 and his debut YA scifi novel Beat came out in June of 2015, published by Future House Publishing. Beyond the Cabin follows a young man who refers to himself as a cult orphan as he deals with abuse, neglect, and shattering tragedy and has to ultimately decide which he longs for more: escape from the cult or love. Beat is the story of Nik, who doesn’t believe the Bug is around anymore. The Bug killed 90% of humanity and the powers that be say the Bug is still in the air, but after Nik proves it’s not, he is forced into a race to find and reveal the truth before he’s killed and the rest of humanity faces extinction.
Writing words isn’t, when you think about it, all that difficult. Anyone can put words on paper, or at least electronic paper. Desk. Ninja. Key-lime pie. Wet alpaca slippers.
See? Putting words on paper isn’t that hard. Telling stories—especially stories that transport and delight and move—is another thing. I’ve been trying to tell great stories for most of my life and sadly have only recently learned just how powerful and critical deep, thoughtful rewriting is in telling wonderful stories.
Take my first book, for example. It started as a short story that featured my oldest two sons as young men transported to a world of magic, swords, and evil creatures. That story was short, consisting of a battle scene that built some world between swipes at a giant pill bugs legs, along with some fun humor.
And it was fun to read. My wife liked it. Our babysitter read it and said she wished it were a whole book. So I figured I’d write the entire book. I’d been thinking about the two characters, the world, and what their story was for a few months by then.
So I put fingers to keyboard and wrote the story. I had a grand old time. I spent my time drawing maps, coming up with cool languages and cultures, and turning some fantasy conventions on their heads. I had a middle point in mind and had been chewing on a really great final showdown scene and was anxious to get it down.
Pushing through, I finished the draft of that book after about five months of steady writing. I loved it. It was perfect. The story was powerful, unique, and engaging. The characters and the world resonated and the magic was a tasty hybrid of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar magic and my own ideas. The boys followed the hero’s journey to a ‘T,’ with a lady sorceress for their mentor, crossing thresholds, ordeals, and rewards. Action scenes were breathless and awesome and side characters were real people with their own goals. I even had a sub-plot and envisioned the book being the first in vast epic series along the lines of the David Eddings’ Belgariad.
David Farland read some of it at a conference and said I had talent, that it was good stuff, and that I should keep at it.
So I sent that sucker out. Manila folders and query letters became my second job for the next few months. Strangely, nobody was interested. It didn’t stick anywhere. I moved on, built my day job into a career and kept writing.
My second book was awesome too. Man, did that draft come out great. It took me nearly a year to get it done, but when it was complete, it sang. Full of high drama, complex characters, and spots of truly magical prose. I actually teared up in some of the more emotional scenes and my family members who read it loved it. Again, I sent it around and this time I had a little more interest, given the rather marketable subject matter (fictionalized autobiography of childhood in a Scientology splinter-cult).
But no real traction again. I kept writing, landing several small deals to write stories for big education publishers. I wrote another book too. I went back and did some grudging editing on my second book and submitted again.
Still nothing, despite my desperation, to get published. I was in my mid-thirties and I’d been writing for twenty years—I needed something to give. But after getting skunked for the third time in a writing contest, I deliberately quit. I needed to let go of that and just tell great stories. I had plenty of ideas, so it was time to tell them without pressure.
So I went back and rewrote the second book from the ground up, trying to find the story I really wanted to tell. During that rewrite, I finally got to know the main character. I truly understood what was driving him and why he did what he did. So I went back and did another rewrite to make sure that was clear from the get-go. After that, I set the story aside, wanting to stew on it and then I wrote another book, my fourth. Then I wrote another book while rewriting my third and fourth books. I began to marvel on how much better my third and fourth drafts were. Goals were clearer; plots were sturdier and more character driven; worlds were more carefully revealed. I learned how I have word crutches, like ‘looked’ and ‘just’ and incessant ‘took a slow breath.’
The message that countless writing teachers at conferences like LDS Storymakers and LTUE had been hammering into me finally penetrated my thick skull: rewriting is when you really tell your story. Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” And by extension, subsequent drafts are you telling your readers the story you meant to tell.
I admit: I think I write pretty clean first drafts. But rewriting is a gift I love today. Shannon Hale recently said on Twitter: “When writing a first draft, I have to remind myself constantly that I’m only shoveling sand into a box so later I can build castles.” This struck me as a perfect statement on the power of rewriting. Now, working on the first draft of my sixth, seventh, and eighth books, I can’t wait to get my sand shoveled so I can start sculpting some awesome sand castles.
Two months ago, I picked up my first novel and reread it. It’s pretty good. The final scenes are actually great. Maybe I’ll get back into that sandbox and see how great I can make that sand castle.