If there’s a book you want to read, then write it.
– Toni Morrison
My foray into fiction began with an idea for a story. An amazing story that I believed I would query or publish, then repeat with another hit—once all the press had died down from the first one, of course. Thankfully, I attended my first writers’ conference before I sent out a single query letter or uploaded the story to an online retailer. The conference was an eye-opener that demonstrated how little I knew about the craft and business of writing. I left that conference feeling humbled, overwhelmed, and questioning whether I was cut out to be a twenty-first-century author.
Understand Your Why
If I’d understood the amount of work, humility, and effort—did I mention humility— involved in writing a novel, I’m not sure I would have undertaken the task. But the thing that’s kept me going over the past several years has been my why.
I began writing fiction because I wanted to tell stories about imperfect love in a way that I hadn’t seen done before.
I wanted to tell stories that reflected the diversity of the world around me.
And, I wanted to make a living doing something I loved. A great living.
So, on the days when my critique group suggests I scrap a scene and start over, I remember my why.
When people quote stats about how difficult it is to become a successful author, I remember my why.
And on the days when a successful career as a writer seems more like something out of a futuristic novel than my real life, I think about my why.
Your why has to be strong enough to propel you through those times when the learning curve seems insurmountable, and the last thing you want to do is write.
Write a Lot. Write Often.
Write a lot and write often. It’s the one piece of advice you’ll always hear from successful authors.
As new writers excited to gain traction with our first books, our response to hearing the above is usually something like, “Okay, okay, I know that, but what about finding an audience? What about Twitter, and Instagram, and what in the world is a Snapchat? And since we’re hurling honest questions at each other, what if my writing is no good? What if I’m no good?”
Take a moment to fully grasp this fundamental truth: it all comes down to the writing.
Writers have active imaginations. It’s a job requirement, a skill that’s necessary to create our characters and our worlds. But that active imagination can lead us down roads long before we’re ready to take them. So, before you start worrying about how you’ll juggle a press tour between your family life and other obligations, take a moment to fully grasp this fundamental truth: it all comes down to the writing.
If you maintain a long-term view of your writing career, you’ll likely need more than one book to even start gaining traction. Some say the number is three. Others say six. The consensus is, the more the better.
There are exceptions. Andy Weir’s The Martian for one. New Adult phenom, Colleen Hoover, began hitting bestseller lists a few months after publishing her first novel. But these are exceptions. Exceptions are awesome, and maybe some of us will hit that winning mix of magic, luck, and good writing that lands us on bestseller lists and snags movie deals, but I propose a more measured approach to thinking about your writing career.
If we can create an environment where we’re constantly writing, thinking about writing, or reading about writing, then we will begin the work of establishing a strong foundation. The marketing and publishing must come, but for now, fellow writers, write a lot and write often.
Photo credit: Pixabay
In a previous post I wrote about stepping away from your WIP as an integral part of editing your own work. What’s fast becoming one of my favorite quotes about writing is this one by Zadie Smith: The secret to editing your work is simple: You need to become its reader instead of its writer.
As a proponent of quality self-publishing, an essential part of my publishing plan is hiring a great editor. But even then, I want to edit my book to the best of my ability before I send it to her. That means becoming its reader instead of its writer. One of the ways I’ve found to do that is to send my pages to my tablet and read it using my Kindle app. There’s just something about reading those words the way I read just about everything else that almost fools me into thinking I’m reading a finished book. One that I didn’t write. Trust me, it makes a big difference.
If you’ve got the Kindle app on any device, it’s easy to send your novel to that device. Here’s the proces.
1) Sign into your Amazon account
2) Click on the “Your Account” link at the top right of the Amazon home page.
3) Once on the “Your Account” page, navigate to the “Digital Content” section and click on “Manage your content and devices”. Enter your Amazon password when prompted.
4.) Click on the “Your Devices” tab. You’ll get a list of all of your devices that are running the Kindle app. Click on the icon of the device to which you want your document to be sent. Your kindle email address will be shown in the second column.
5.) Now head to your email account, attach the document as one of the file types listed below, and send it to your kindle email address. Make sure you’re connected to the internet so that your device syncs and your document is uploaded.
*Bonus tip: If you’re a Scrivener user, insert a cover image via Scrivener, save the document as a mobi file and email that file to your Kindle address. Your book, with the cover you’ve created, will be sitting in your carousel will all the other published book covers. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.
A few things to note from Amazon:
Amazon supports the following file types:
- Microsoft Word (.DOC, .DOCX)
- HTML (.HTML, .HTM)
- RTF (.RTF)
- JPEG (.JPEG, .JPG)
- Kindle Format (.MOBI, .AZW)
- GIF (.GIF)
- PNG (.PNG)
- BMP (.BMP)
- PDF (.PDF)
Reading from your device is a great way to read your work as a reader and not as a writer. It’s also a helpful way to send your book to beta readers.
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Five of the most interesting blog posts and resources about writing and publishing I’ve found on the web this week:
1.) The website Brain Pickings dissects author Zadie Smith’s 2008 lecture at Columbia University’s Writing Program in the post, Zadie Smith on the Psychology of the Two Types of Writers. It’s worth the read for this gem alone, “It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.”
2.) Co-founder and publisher of Scratch magazine, Jane Friedman, wants you to ask yourself three questions about your new novel: Why make this? Why make this now? Who cares? In her post Friedman says if you plan on selling your work you need to ask the questions editors and agents will be asking, and you need to have the right answers. You can read her post, How to Tell If Your Story Idea Is Mediocre, here.
3.) Aerogramme Writer’s Studio’s November & December list of contests, competitions, and publications includes awards such as the John Steinbeck Short Story Award for a work of fiction up to 5,000 words and publications like Diverse Voices Quarterly which aims to be an outlet for “every age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.” Click here for Aerogramme’s complete list.
4.) Publishers Weekly reporting that New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford landed a seven-figure book deal for her debut novel, Everybody Rise, a story about a female striver in Manhattan, circa 2006. St. Martin’s Press acquired the novel which has already been sold for film to Fox 2000. Read more about Clifford’s deal here.
5.) The app, Write or Die, “aims to eliminate writer’s block by providing consequences for procrastination.” These consequences range from playing an annoying sound when you stop writing to actually deleting your writing, one word at a time, if you don’t keep typing. Write or Die is a little too stressful for me, but for you kamikaze writers out there, it might be the ticket to increased productivity. You can try Write or Die for free, or purchase the app for Mac or PC for $20.
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I ran into a little writing wisdom last week that made me sigh.
I sighed because I knew it was true.
I sighed because the nugget of wisdom focused on what’s probably one of the hardest things about the entire writing process.
Here’s the wisdom delivered by English writer, Zadie Smith. Smith’s novel, White Teeth, was included in Time magazine’s 100 Best English-language Novels from 1925 to 2005 list. In other words, Ms. Smith can write. Yet, this is what she had to say about the writing and editing process:
“When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you do not need to sell it at once or be published that very second – put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal – but even three months will do…The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”
Smith goes on to say, “ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat backstage with a line of novelists at some festival, all of us with red pens in hand, frantically editing our published novels into fit form so that we might go on stage and read from them. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your novel is two years after it’s published, ten minutes before you go on stage at a literary festival. At that moment every redundant phrase, each show-off, pointless metaphor, all of the pieces of dead wood, stupidity, vanity, and tedium are distressingly obvious to you.”
If Zadie Smith is “frantically” editing her novels even after they’ve been published, then what hope do I, unpublished and untested, have?
Well, actually, it’s not hopeless. You see, as much as I’d like to hit “publish” on my story right now, I don’t need to be published this very second. I want to be, oh how I want to be, but I don’t need to, and that offers me a little breathing room. Breathing room that some writers just don’t have.
As I write this post, I’ve got first drafts of two novels sitting in a draw. I started writing my current WIP (work in progress) about a year ago. The first version of that story differs so greatly from what I have now, that it’s surprising even to me. Setting it aside for weeks at a time helped that story immensely, in ways that probably only stepping away from it for long periods could have.
I recently attended the Georgia Romance Writer’s Moonlight & Magnolia’s Conference. New York Time’s Best Selling author, Marie Force, was one of the speakers. Her talk was both motivational and fear inducing (more on the fear inducing in a later post.) One of the things Force emphasized was taking the time to produce your best work. Particularly if you’re working on a series (which I am.) If you’re working on your series, the first in that series has to be the best thing you’ve ever written (until you write the next thing.)
Readers don’t come back for writing that’s “just okay.” They come back for great. And for most of us, being great will take time. Lots and lots of time.