Lance Butler is an organizer of the Charlotte Writers Group and regular attendee of Wednesday night write-ins. We picked his brain to find out a little more about him for our Interview with a Writer series.
Question: What role has Charlotte Writers Group played in your writing journey?
Answer: Feedback. Growth. Confidence. Feedback received from having my work critiqued has given insight on how my stories are perceived outside my own little head but the real benefit is reading and critiquing fellow members, watching their stories develop, learning how to interrogate the pages objectively and break down elements of a story. When I use those skills to critique my stories, I see my own growth. From growth comes confidence.
Question: What propelled you into the world of writing? What/who was your inspiration?
Answer: I’ve been a story teller since childhood, sometimes as a means to get myself out of trouble. Life happened and storytelling became something I’d return to when a moment of clarity emerged. My wife caught me writing a short story and asked what I would do with it. I hadn’t thought of anything past clicking save. She’s been my encouragement to keep writing. I could list multiple writers I’ve read and teachers I’ve ignored—I mean learned from—but if not for that nudge, I’d still be wondering how my story ends.
Question: Describe your writing process. (How do you begin? What comes first—character or plot? Do you outline? Is your process the same for every project?)
Answer: I’m usually plot driven then allow the characters to trash everything I’ve planned and create their own story. I outline, usually in One Note, so I can make changes on my phone when an idea strikes. Usually, when I’m about five to ten thousand words in, I find my direction, sit back with the outline, and uncover the real story. If it’s not working by then, I move on to something else, but when the characters and story and emotion and voice all come together… well, that’s why we write.
Question: Describe your routine as a writer. (Is it daily or weekly? How do you structure your day/week? How many hours of writing versus research? How much time is spent on “business”—queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?)
Answer: Recent events and job changes allow me to block out one hour each morning to plot, write, or stare at the keyboard. I try to keep research to the weekends so I’m not wasting that precious morning hour.
As for the business side, if you were limping through the desert and came across my bottled water stand, I’d tell you there’s probably another guy on the other side of the dune with colder water. Besides, my water probably tastes like sand. That’s not a good way to sell water or books. I’m a work in progress.
Question: What resources are essential to your writing process (software, writing tools, research sources)?
Answer: I’ve tried Scrivener but I’m just not comfortable writing there. Give me Word to write, One Note to hold outlines and research, and Excel for plotting (I know, that sounds strange, but it works for me). Google Earth is a wonderful tool to walk the streets of a story.
Question: Talk about your perspective on representation (pros and cons of having an agent) and any attempts you have made at securing representation.
Answer: I’d prefer to have representation. I keep a spreadsheet of all agents and publishers queried, both to keep track of who I’ve approached and as a reminder that I’ve got a lot of work to do. Writers who know the business and can sell themselves are well suited to go it alone. I probably need someone to remind me my water doesn’t taste like sand and can help attract thirsty readers/publishers.
Question: Share your experiences interacting with publishers (query letters, the editing process, cover design, marketing/sales). If you have self-published, describe the pros and cons to this process.
Answer: I have self-published and I’d say its biggest pro is also its biggest con. Ease of publishing. I thought I was ready. I believed in my story. I worked with an editor, found a cover, and researched how to format, publish, and promote an ebook. I was wrong. My first attempt should be buried deeper than the Star Wars Holiday Special.
One experience I will share is about the query letter. Edit, rewrite, critique, and edit some more. This is your job application. This is how a prospective agent/publisher will know you and your work. Refine. Cut. Revise. It should be in present tense, even if the story isn’t. It should carry the emotion and voice of your story without summarizing. Your first ten or twenty attempts will not be good enough. Research other queries. Find what makes them work. Keep tweaking (not twerking, that’s just gross and won’t get anything sold). Don’t stop until you can honestly, objectively say, “This is my story.”
Born and raised in South Georgia among pre-Civil War plantation homes, Lance brings a bit of the old south into his writing. He currently lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife of twenty-five years and two children. Lance’s interests outside of writing include baseball, travel, and visiting various emergency rooms across our great country. He is a co-organizer of the Charlotte Writers Group and hopes to one day have a story published, but until then is enjoying the ride.