Part 6 – Writing your novel
The long awaited post…dun, dun, duuun…!
You followed my advice. You thought about an idea and found one you liked so much you wrote it down. Then, you wrote a few short stories, and all the while, you engaged people on social media. You talked about the latest action flick. You talked about what a buzzkill the latest book was. You praised the newest video game, and you told people you’re writing.
People came and peaked at your short stories. Some downloaded them. A few commented, for better or worse. You blogged, you connected, you even wrote a whole fanfiction novel. Maybe, you hired an editor or found some beta-readers. Maybe, you didn’t, but some people know you now, and some like you. Others don’t, but hey, you haven’t written that novel yet, so it’s no big deal. You even went back, and edited your earlier work, and re-released it. Maybe, you even hired a good cover artist.
Of late, all that swims through your mind is that story, that novel. You’ve even tried to get away from it, writing other, short stories, just wondering if you’re ready. You’ve asked yourself, can I do it? What is it gonna’ take? What if I can’t figure it out? What if people don’t like it?
Take a big breath and relax. Now, you are ready to write your novel. You have a feel for the process. You know you can do it because you did write, and you did release short stories. You even wrote an entire fanfiction, so yeah, you know you can do it.
You have the idea. You’ve thought about your novel so much, you can see the characters, hear the pitch of their voices. You know their mannerisms, and how they act in the world, react to the world, and interact with one another. You know the plot. You know the problems. You know the solution. Take a big breath, and start writing.
Writing is the easy part after all. Writing is just the process of transferring thoughts to paper (screen?). At this point, you know that you don’t have to worry about the fact that your beginning is shaky. You don’t need to worry that there’s no middle. You don’t need to worry that you have two or three different ideas for the ending.
At this point, you know that the only thing that matters is transferring your thoughts to paper. Write what you have. Don’t stop. Don’t fret. If you need to, go back, and read what you wrote to make certain you’re still on the same train of thought, but if you run into a roadblock, take a detour.
You have your introduction, but your dialogue is sketchy. Maybe, your dialogue is great, but you have a tough time writing action scenes; whatever the troubles are…well, they aren’t really a problem. Just write what you have, and if you need to, skip ahead. Your book is not etched in stone. It is not a published novel out for sale. Just write. Just keep writing.
Treat every chapter like a mini short story, and maybe, by the time you get to the middle, you see a different ending, but the beginning has to be changed. No biggie; you’re just writing. This is just a draft, and no one has even seen it yet.
Maybe, you can tell there isn’t much to say about the actual writing process. Contrary to what so many people believe, writing a novel is the easiest thing in the world. Nothing really matters; it’s just a draft, so draft away.
There are no rules in writing. None. There are certainly some very important rules when it comes to editing a story, but there are no rules involved in writing that story down. Did you know that you don’t even need to break a novel down into chapters? Nope, at least not until the editing process. You can just write, and write, and write until you have everything you want.
It’s a draft. It isn’t etched in stone. It isn’t a published product released to the public.
Write down absolutely everything you want to write. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s senseless, useless, crazy, boring, or even out of sequence. Just get as much down as you can. This is your time. This is the process you should be enjoying the most. While you’re writing the story, you are writing for you. You are writing something you want to read. You are unburdening your creative mind grapes and writing down all the things about your story that you want to experience.
This is certainly going to be a long process, and you will change almost everything you write by the time you’re ready to publish, so just don’t stress. Don’t worry about a routine. Nothing kills creativity like routine. Don’t turn writing your story into a job or a chore; enjoy the process. You want to write? Write! You don’t feel like writing one day? Don’t write!
Don’t ever worry about hitting a certain word goal every day. Don’t waste your time with writing exercises; they only help you do better at the exercise. That’s why you practice exercises before you write your novel. When it’s time to write your story, you just write the damned story down!
Go back. Read it. Read it again and again. You’ll see plot holes. You’ll find inconsistencies. You’ll laugh, cry, cringe, and cheer. Add everything you want to the story. Cut everything you don’t like. If it comes up short, it comes up short. If it comes out long, and it drags ass, cut the fluff out.
I’m telling you, writing the novel is the easiest part of the whole successful writer thing. All you gotta’ do is jot down what you’re thinking.
There will be times wherein you’re going to come across sections where you feel stuck. You’ll have point A and point C, but won’t know what point B is. So? Who cares? Nobody but you knows this. Just write down what you have and move on.
This is like the whole can’t see the forest for the trees thing, or maybe I have it backwards. It doesn’t matter. The point is that you cannot possibly know everything about your story until you’ve written it down.
Maybe, that sounds crazy or backwards, but I’m telling you, if you go into this process believing that you must know every, single, little, tiny detail, you’re out of your mind. You’re fooling yourself. This is precisely why people fail, or they succumb to fear; they think they must know every word, sentence, action, event, scene, whatever before writing the story.
Just get as much of your story down as possible, and when you get stuck, read what you have, and spend some more time thinking about the world, the characters; let the story tell itself. What you think your story is going to be is not what your story will choose for itself. If nothing comes to mind, jump ahead! Write the end then go back and re-read from the very beginning. So, you get stuck for a day, a week, a month, no big deal; go busy yourself with something else. That worked for Einstein.
I know it sounds crazy, but I’m telling you; just write. It’s that easy. It really, truly, is that simple. Anyone who writes an entire novel from start to finish in a month, two months, three, four, and then releases it is releasing crap. Now, that crap might sell. There are certainly people out there who like crap, but writing, releasing, and selling crap won’t lead to long term success.
Anyone who becomes a peddler of crap may be successful, very successful, at the onset of their career, but if they don’t begin releasing quality content, they won’t get very far, and at this point, if you’ve followed the advice in these posts, you’ve already set yourself up to sell your book, so you don’t want to release crap, and that means taking the time to write a great novel, but writing a great novel doesn’t entail doing it perfectly on your first attempt.
Again, just write what you have, what you know. Skip ahead if you must then, when you see more of your story developing, you can go back, and fill in the blanks; you can restructure, or you can even re-write the whole thing. It’s what the guy who wrote Jaws had to do. All that matters at this stage is that you have fun.
When The Godfather was submitted to the production company, the screen editors and directors thought the book was atrocious. The reviews on the Rambo books, you know the Rambo movies are based on books, right? Those reviews are pretty bad, because the books are terrible, so crap does sell, but it usually only sells after it gets turned into an awesome movie, and if it doesn’t become an awesome movie, who will buy it? What saving grace will there be?
As usual, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. You aren’t staking your entire life on one novel, but it is important to make your first novel great, not because it’s the only way to become successful, but because you want to start off the right way and save yourself the torment. You also care about your fans because they are paying you, and they are selling for you, so give them something they can enjoy.
Now, editing your novel is a totally different story, but you can’t edit or get feedback until the whole book is written, right? So get it all down then take a break because the hard part is about come up and blindside you.
Yup, before you know it, you’ve actually written down your whole novel. Yes, some parts are shaky. Yes, some transitions aren’t that great. Some of your chapters feel short and rushed. Other chapters feel long, and they tend to get boring before reaching the end. No big deal. Now, you will do one of the most important things you will ever do for your novel. You will leave it alone.
Get away from your novel. Forget all about it. Dive into something else. Write another short story. Play a new video game. Go back to playing DnD with your friends. Whatever you do, do your best to forget as much of your novel as you can. Spend at least two months away from your novel.
This is a great time to get back to everything you were doing before you wrote your novel. Get back on Google+ and Goodreads, and discuss other topics with your reader groups. Download some more short stories from Smashwords, and give ‘em a read through. Give your fans, the ones who dropped by your blog to read reviews, something new to read; a new review of a game, book, or movie.
Here’s why; you’ve been thinking, eating, breathing, living your novel for months, maybe even years. You know everything about it, all its intricacies, and you’ve done the best job you can to lay it bare for an audience, but an audience is not in your head, and there may be some thoughts, actions, or correlations that seem self evident and truthful to you, but to an audience, to a reader who has never been in your head, all of those ideas which seem logical and self evident may very well seem muddled and confusing.
This is the perfect time to do one or all three of the following:
One, post your whole book to your blogs one or two thousand words at a time two or three times a week, thus giving your fan base a chance to read it without a great commitment. Naturally, they’ll also be able to comment and discuss it. (You will eventually delete these posts before releasing the book.)
Two, kindly let people know that you are looking for beta-readers, people who are interested in reading a draft for the specific purpose of helping you better connect with your intended audience. (Assuming you are not releasing the entirety of your book to your blog. You may also do this after having released your book to your blog, gotten some feedback, edited, and then deleted those old posts.) Beta-readers are usually readers, though some are also writers, but the great thing about beta-readers is that they love rough drafts. There’s just something so much more personal, more intimate, about a draft; it’s bare; it’s the soul of the writer, but no one wants to spend money on a first draft, so do not release an unedited book to the public!
Three, hire an editor.
The first two suggestions are great, simple, easy, and free. Do not pay anyone for beta-reading. At this point, I also do not suggest peer editing with other writers anymore. This isn’t a matter of fearing intellectual theft; this is a matter of building your own, distinct voice. Teaming up with other writers is great before you write your first novel. After you’ve written it, it becomes imperative to distance yourself from other writers, so you’re better off with beta-readers, some of which will be other authors, but some are just readers and bloggers who love raw, indie work.
A lot of writers fail at this point in their careers. They’re so excited they’ve finished writing a book, and they show it to all their author buddies, and of course, being nice, supportive people, the author buddies praise the book. After all, they know the difficulty in finishing a novel, so they say it’s great, and then, the debut author releases an unedited, debut novel, and it tanks. Perhaps even worse, the book sells extremely well for two months, and then the scathing reviews come in, all of which point out the horrible typographical, grammatical, and punctuation errors—the slogging pace, the redundant information, the info dumps, the stale characters, etc. etc. Hire an editor before you release that book.
Another occurrence at this stage of the game involves the excited, debut novelist who turns to their author, support groups. Then, they get stuck trading reviews of each others’ books. That’s all well and good, but none of them are reaching readers. They’re all only reaching one another, tweeting, retweeting, or auto-tweeting, to one another. They are only promoting their books to other writers.
There are no readers in those groups. No readers, people actually looking for a new book to buy and read, have ever heard of any of those groups like ASMSG or IAN. Hundreds of thousands of indie writers have banded together, and that’s a great concept before writing your first novel, but these naïve folks have done this in an effort to find readers, but they are only finding each other. Some actually think that they can each bring a few hundred new readers to those groups, believing that if each person brings in a hundred new readers, there will be millions of people all buying the books; this is precisely what the mainstream publishers count on, but the mainstream publishers each have specific presses with specific authors with specific voices for specific genres, so yes, Penguin Random House counts on the authors published by Bantam to entice Bantam fans into buying Bantam books by other Bantam authors, but the indie, support groups aren’t following this business model. The indie groups have all kinds of writers of all qualities, genres, and voices.
It doesn’t work, not the way they’re doing it. First of all, so many of the members have no fans because they are either aspiring writers with no published books, or they are debut writers with one or two books out, and no sells or fans; they have not begun their career correctly. Second, some members write romance, others paranormal, some steam punk, so none of the steam punk readers are going to go searching for a group like ASMSG in the hopes of finding an indie, romance writer. So what happens? The group members just trade books with one another for reviews in the hopes of selling books via Amazon by way of a review bombardment. Lastly, what happens is they try to sell books to each other.
Think about it, though: if one author buys one of each book written by each author, and even if every other author does the same, in the end no money trades hands, right? If I buy all of your books, and then you buy all of mine, no money has been earned. No new fans have been found, so what do these groups do? They say stuff like: give an indie author a good review. Reviews sell books, and authors gotta’ eat, too. Well, that’s a dishonest practice.
Give a good review if the book is good. Give a bad review if the book is bad. Why? Because the review is not for the author. The review is not there to trick a reader into a buying a book. The reviews should only be given by a reader for readers. As a matter of fact, once you become a published author, you may want to stop reviewing books completely. Why? Because at that point, you’ll find yourself reviewing as a writer rather than a reader.
You know what happens then? An indie author begins racking up numerous, glowing reviews, and then a reader will buy the book only to find faults with it, and the problem then is that the skewed reviews anger the reader. They feel tricked, and so they feel compelled to provide a scathing review in order to exact vengeance, and here’s the thing; if those good reviews sell books, and the readers end up feeling shilled because of the skewed reviews, they are going to tell everyone to stay away from that book, and a book that will have started off selling well, suddenly starts losing sales, and then the writer begins to build notoriety for releasing terrible content. They lose credibility. It’s why “writers” like Gary Lindberg go around making fun of readers for posting bad reviews.
Fortunately, these posts have been designed to help you prevent such a thing. As a matter of fact, these posts are here for two reasons.
One, I personally love reading and writing so much that I want everyone with even an inkling of an idea to feel comfortable writing their idea down, and subsequently release a great book.
Two, I love readers so much that I want them to know that there is an alternative to the dreck spewed by the mainstream presses, but to that effect, what the indie writers release must not be dreck, and so it becomes imperative to teach indie writers the importance of editing, of hiring an editor, a competent editor, but indie writers must take it a step farther and start their careers off properly in order to counter act the fluff released by the mainstream press, and the fluff released by other, indie writers.
I want indie writers, or even new writers who want to go the mainstream route, to be successful, and not just sell well, but sell quality content often. It’s what the readers deserve. Are we not writing for them? Perhaps, it is more appropriate to say that we are trying to release quality content for them.
Please, please, please, even if you decide not to distance yourself from other writers, you must hire a competent editor because you are not writing and selling your books for the other writers, you are publishing for readers, and if you reach even one reader, and you turn them into a fan, they will tell others about your book, so if you’re going to find an editor, and you really do need to find one, do some work and find a competent editor, one who willingly explains and shows the editing process on a regular basis.
They are few and far between, and you might get burned once or twice, but do not let that frighten you. You need an editor, someone who understands how to read a book as a reader, someone who will look for plot holes, suspension of belief, inconsistencies, discrepancies, lack of character development, pacing issues, all kinds of stuff, and will help you to understand what those issues are and how to resolve them.
In the end, you might end up hiring a crappy editor. It happens to all writers who take the time and make the effort to hire an editor, but even a crappy editor can be helpful. If nothing else, they are a fresh pair of eyes, and when they edit your manuscript, they will pass on to you their new perspective; use it. Take what you like, and discard the rest. Then, go back, and re-read your book, and I promise, you’ll find all kinds of stuff that requires more attention.
You’ll find normal mistakes that your mind missed because it was reading what it was expecting; the mind does that; it formulates that which it already expects. You’ll find some sentences which will make you wonder just what it was that you were meaning to convey. You’ll find redundancies you hadn’t noticed before. You’ll notice that some sentences work better in a different order within the paragraph. You’ll find all kinds of stuff.
It’s very important to get away from your novel. It’s almost like making your eyes the fresh pair of eyes, and you will have to get away from your novel over and over. There should be no rush, though. As proud and excited as you are, and you should be, you must keep yourself in check. Do not release a crummy product to your audience like I did (four crummy products) because it will really hold you back.
Everything I’m telling you, no matter how crazy, I’m telling you for a reason. I absolutely want you to release a perfect product to your audience, so that they will start off loving your work. It is important to me that you are successful for a number of reasons, and you will come to understand those reasons more deeply as we progress, so you may need to step away from your novel a number of times, and you may need numerous beta-readers, and you may need to hire two or three different editors, and you may need to get away from your writer buddies, and you may well spend an arm and a leg throughout the process, but it will pay off.
Try to keep your end goal in mind. If you are striving to achieve major publication then you need to land a literary agent. To do that, you need to write a perfect query letter, and synopsis, and you can’t rush through those either; they are as important as your title, cover, and blurb. Then, if your presentation is accepted, the agent will want a part of, or the whole, manuscript. Then, if it’s up to snuff, and they think it’s marketable, they’ll help you to land a publisher. Just keep in mind that not all agents are cut from the same cloth.
If you intend to go the indie route, and you want someone like Baen or Rocking Horse Publishing to publish your work, you do not need an agent, but you still have to present your book in a professional manner. Regardless, these two avenues require a great deal of sitting, waiting around, and just going bonkers. They do not want you to submit your book to multiple publishers or agents, and they may never reply, or they may take a year to reply, and just to say, “Nah, we’re good, bruh.”
If you intend to self publish, and there are numerous reasons to do so, it’s up to you and you alone to produce a product of the highest quality. This does not mean that you cannot work with others—cover artists, proof readers, beta-readers, and editors—it just means that you are in charge of everything. The reason self publishing gets such a bad rap is because most self published authors don’t hire editors, or they hire crummy editors, and the number one complaint by readers is that the book read like a first draft.
No one wants to pay for a first draft.
This says nothing of the creativity, beauty, or complexity of the story, but you must come to understand something that’s been pointed out numerous times: if the mainstream publishers employ teams of editors to clean the works of King, Martin, and Rowling, doesn’t it stand to reason that you should also hire an editor?
Thanks for reading. I had said this was going to be the last post of this series, but I’m actually going to release one more, so stay tuned, and don’t forget to check out my Editing Services Tab.