Chopping Wood is Better than Shoveling Sand

The only job I ever had that I really disliked was doing chores for my Dad. Long story, probably should involve a qualified therapist. But when he set me to the task of cutting wood as a sophomore in high school, I thought I’d really hit bottom. Not just cutting up logs- cutting DOWN trees in the first place and then scoring them up into cord-lengths. My partner had a chain saw for the second part, but I did the first (getting the trunks down- “timberrr!”) as well as the third segment, chopping the log-rolls into nice splits for the fireplace. I had blisters on my hands the size of quarters and really knew what it meant to be bone-weary, especially those first few days.

But I loved it. Hey, no one was more surprised than me. But being outdoors, away from city-sounds, and working just as hard physically as I could manage was one of those character-building experiences I always hated to admit I’d had as a kid. When the job is huge, daunting, but fun, I think about chopping wood.

Writing my first novel, “Judgement’s Tale” was chopping wood. It was an enormous job- my first reviewers screamed at me about the length and it’s over 200 thousand words (not that long for epic fantasy, but, for a reviewer, well LONG), but I just loved doing it. I could see the pile of unwritten chapters shrinking; I cut down the trunks myself (as I synopsized each one), then whacked away with first and second drafts until they seemed right. Now I’m coming back to it and asking a set of “beta” reviewers to look, and the chore is again peppered with joy as well as hard work.

Trying to hawk this novel, fresh off completion back at the start of this year was probably one of the most depressing experiences of my life. Form rejection after form rejection, varied only by no-responses; I felt like I was back in high school again, trying to get a date for the prom. Hey, maybe that’s why I didn’t mind chopping wood in the middle of the forest. It was like… like… I finally pictured it (writers need to picture things, yeah?). It was like shoveling sand from an enormous beach through this darkened doorway into, nothing. If you’ve ever shoveled sand, or snow, you know how the exhaustion overtakes you. It’s still bone-weary work. But the darkened doorway, that was the key. I sent letters and asked and searched boards on the web for more clues, I sharpened the query over and over, tried again. Nothing. You can never tell what it’s going to ultimately require, how much sand has to go through the doorway before you’re done. Maybe it was just another beach through there.

So I gave up. Don’t care who knows it, either. I don’t know what to do with my enormous novel “Judgement’s Tale”, or whether it will ever see the light of paper or e-pub. But I always knew I enjoyed the writing (and revision) for its own sake.

And I remember the difference between chopping wood and shoveling sand.


About Will

I'm the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales, available at all the major online retailers.

Posted on September 7, 2011, in about writing, Authors - Will Hahn. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I used to love chopping wood too, but we got the trees delivered to our front door. It does have its advantages having a forester for a father. 😀

    Also, I’m very much looking forward to reading your story, and I’m not even a real epic fantasy fan. I guess you could consider me a fan…

  2. Thanks Cat, I do consider you a fan, and a very loyal one! Your stories have different settings and much younger protagonists, but the essential action is still quite heroic.

  3. Dear Will,

    I enjoyed reading your blog post and wanted to respond. Have you thought of breaking your 200,000 story into two volumes? You could e-publish it as part 1 and part 2. If you go ahead and self publish, then you wouldn’t have to bother with query letters, etc. I know what you went through. I sent out so many queries and only one person was even interested enough to ask to read the book. I may not be a great success, financially, but at least I can get on with writing more books without spending all my time trying to get an agent to accept my work. No more shoveling sand into a dark hole.


    P.S.Holly Lisle is doing a course on self-publishing that looks really good.

  4. Thanks Sue! I search for, but don’t believe I’ll find, a break point for the novel. And 200k is not that long- after all this is called EPIC fantasy, not flash fantasy (which come to think of it is a pretty suggestive genre…).

    On the other hand, I originally thought “Judgement’s Tale” was going to be just the first HALF of a story; then I realized I did indeed have a break-point and sketched out a second novel (“The Eye of Kog”) which I’m sure I’ll get to someday. So hope springs eternal (Ar Aralte!)


    P.S.: One thing you CANNOT do on Smashwords is e-pub something that is incomplete. I don’t know how far you can stretch the rules on that… but I’d need a real story, in my view, not a cliff-hanger, to be legit with JT. I don’t think I could get away with “part 1, 2” etc.

  5. Oh, don’t call it Part One and Part Two. Do like Tolkien did. Each book of the Lord of the Rings had a separate title, but they were really one story divided into three books.

  6. Hah! But notice that WITHIN each book of JRRT’s trilogy, there was this enormous clumsy division between, guess what “Book I and Book II”. As the action shifted from Frodo/Sam/Gollum to any of the others. I always found it so hard to make those transitions, I wanted to stay with the characters I had.

    But now we’re much more used to character-hopping, especially in my genre. Don’t know if you could claim Tolkein started it all- but I can’t readily think of anything in modern times that did this switching of PoV.

    And of course initially I didn’t think I’d have a book called “The Eye of Kog” so as I say, hope springs eternal. Maybe something will come up.

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