Tag Archives: Writing

Terrible Writing Advice From Bestselling Authors

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I have a tendency to research on to the Internet. From investigating how to write to dissecting other authors’ works, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the vast, conflicting amount of writing advice that exists. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had moments where you glared at your computer screen, because you’d read so much clashing advice that you developed writer’s block.

From Elmore Leonard’s belief that adverbs are a “mortal sin,” Mark Twain’s statement: “When you catch an adjective, kill it,” to Anne Rice’s idea that there aren’t “any universal rules,” it’s easy to get lost in the massive pile that is writing advice.

I could choose to not go onto writing blogs. I could ignore the Internet, but I keep searching for that piece of advice that will be that perfect kernel of wisdom. After all, bestselling authors should know how to delve out writing advice. They are successful authors.

However, like so much else in life, writing advice is subjective. Take Kurt Vonnegut. He states that the first rule for creative writing is “Do not use semicolons.” Numerous authors use semicolons. It’s challenging to find a novel that doesn’t at least use one semicolon.

If you use a semicolon, does that mean you’re not a good writer?

Claire Messud, Virginia Woolf, and William James would disagree.

Another one of Elmore Leonard’s beliefs is that writers shouldn’t “go into great detail describing places and things.” Many of my professors demanded more detail in my work and that of my cohorts. They wanted to have a pristine image of what was going on.

While the rest of this particular Leonard quote explains why writers should avoid too much detail—it may bring the action to a standstill—nit-picky advice can cause substantial harm.

Too often writers get bogged down with the rules of writing. We’re supposed to study and learn from the greats, but at some point we have to distinguish ourselves. Find our voice. Writing is mysterious. It’s a process unique to each writer. What works for one person, may not work for another.

Advice that shuts a writer down isn’t beneficial. You want advice that inspires you. That motivates you to write. More than that, you want to have something that resonates with you.

If you pay too close attention to what others say is good writing, you may lose your distinct voice. The most successful writing, is writing that doesn’t sound identical to anything else. And while some writing advice is reassuring, it’s important to realize that you can step off the well-worn path of writing and chart a new course.

What’s some of the worst writing advice you’re received?

(Photo courtesy of Byron Barrett.)

7 Blog Posts Sure to Wash Your Rainy Day Away

 

17207988968_9ca58cbdc4_oEveryone has those days where nothing seems to go right. Lady Luck is nursing a hangover. Karma decided to kick you in the butt. All you want to do is crawl under your covers and start anew tomorrow.

Let’s face it. Writers probably have a good number of those days, whether it’s because we wrote ourselves into a corner or got yet another rejection from a literary agent.

But, since hiding out under the covers isn’t feasible, here are seven links to blog posts that inspired me. I hope they inspire you too.

  1. The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s your broken idea of fairness

This article reaffirmed what I knew to be true, but didn’t want to admit. Life isn’t like what you were told when you were little. Just because you work hard or are a good person, doesn’t mean you’ll get everything you want.

However, once you master the real rules of life, you’ll be able to accomplish your goals. This article helps you toward figuring out and taking control of life’s rules.

But what’s almost more interesting than the article, are the comments that follow.

  1. Compatibility and Chemistry In Relationships

If you’re like me, you’ve used compatibility and chemistry interchangeably in the dating world. But compatibility and chemistry are two different concepts. This article delves into the differences between compatibility and chemistry, and why both concepts are necessary for a happy, loving relationship.

  1. The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes

This post comes from the blog, “zen habits.” A minimalist-style blog, zen habits tells it like it is, and then offers ways to increase life satisfaction by providing an alternative perception of the world.

One of my favorite aspects of this article is how the inevitability of change is presented in both a painful and beautiful light. Without change, stagnancy occurs. Change is necessary to evolve. Yet, most people resist change, and therefore create suffering for themselves. Through change, life can improve, but only if you embrace the change.

  1. 12 Lessons of Waking Up at 4:30 a.m. for 21 Days

I don’t know if I’d be able to do this, but I give props to Filipe, and to his new world view. This article is about more than waking up before the sun. It’s about eliminating obstacles and committing to a plan. The consequence of which is becoming more productive.

If I woke up at 4:30 a.m., I could get in a morning workout, or write for two hours before work. One of my professors told me that it’s good to write before your brain fully turns on, because when your brain is fully awake, your judge—that critic within you, who nitpicks your work—makes it harder for you to be creative.

  1. Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

All of these articles apply to writers in some way, but this one showcases how necessary it is for writers to write what they’re passionate about. As Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy; all you have to do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”

  1. Fear is the Root of Your Problems

This article ties into the next. Many times in life we find ourselves up against something we fear. Often times, we don’t consciously recognize that the problem we’re currently having is based in fear. In this post, dealing with fear is addressed.

One part of this post I enjoy is how fear isn’t seen as the enemy. Fear is an integral part of us. Seeing fear as something we must destroy only harms us.

  1. Finding Peace with Uncertainty

I put this last because uncertainty is a huge part of a writer’s life. In this article, learning how to be okay with and even look forward to uncertainty is explored.

In the literary world, where less than one percent of writers become traditionally published authors, we have to learn to coexist with uncertainty. It’s the only way we’ll persevere.

What are some articles that have inspired you?

(Photo courtesy of john mcsporran.)

Why You Write

 

I’ve always been interested in why people write. Words have the power to transport people away from the mundane. But that power takes work – a lot of work. Work that is hard, strenuous, and time-consuming. So, why do writers persist?

Ernest Hemingway said, “From things that had happened and from things as they exist and 8670899788_9760142056_zfrom all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.”

Author of The House At The End Of The Road, Ralph Eubanks, stated, “There’s something both emotionally satisfying about it [writing], and something that is very physically satisfying when you finally see your work when it comes out in a finished book, or when you see the pages at the end of the day.”

Lord Byron said, “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

14519245613_ff8909e294_zWilliam Faulkner stated, “The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed, so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling ‘Kilroy was here’ on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.”

Cynthia MacGregor, author of Everybody Loves Bacon, said “It’s who I am. It’s what I love. I even write for fun on top of writing for a living. I couldn’t NOT write. I need to write like I need to breathe, to eat, it’s vital to me.”

Georges Simenon stated, “I think that if a man has the urge to be an artist, it is because he needs to find himself. Every writer has to find himself through his characters, through all his writing.”15413112213_f50271ca5d_z

Author of Band Fags!, Frank Anthony Polito, said, “I write because there is nothing else I can do – well. For many years I was an actor.”

Joan Didion stated, “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want…but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is a tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

Didion also said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Anne Rice stated, “Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw those cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”453831774_06c67eb3aa_z

She also said, “I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Gloria Steinem stated, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

Neil Gaiman said, “The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising…and it’s magic and wonder and strange.”

I write for so many reasons; it’s a mishmash of the quotes listed above. But in my own words, I write the stories in my head that won’t leave me alone. They’re ever-present, and will only quiet once they’re down on paper and satisfied with the way they’re written.

Why do you write?

(Photos courtesy of Thomas Hawk, Visit Mississippi, MaxGag, and Stephen.)

What Makes a Book Good?

Ah, the ultimate question for writers. We spend so much of our time crafting our writing: plotting, character sketches, writing that first draft, editing and revising, rewriting, getting our work critiqued…the list goes on.5780584814_b5b11f73d8_z

Yet, say two people, Person A and Person B, have spent equal time working on their writing, why does one story come out better than the other?

Let’s rule out different genres and say that both Persons A and B are writing adult science fiction, and that both of their stories take place in space. Their story plots may even be very similar.

Let’s go with the premise of a young woman, stranded in space, who runs across an ascended being. This being winds up as part of an ancient race that has acted as various gods throughout human history, and who is now bored and feels like it’s time for the human race to end and another life form to rise to prominence.

Both stories sound interesting, however after reading the stories, Person A’s is the clear winner.

Why?

For both objective and subjective reasons.

Let’s go with some of the more objective ones:

  • 3086655956_201ab2b89e_zAttention to detail plays a huge role in how well a story turns out. It’s basically an umbrella phrase for the following reasons, because if you don’t pay attention to the small things, your readers won’t be able to picture what’s going on, and then they won’t be invested in the story.
  • World building is an aspect of writing that I’m seeing less and less of in fiction, especially young adult fiction. This is tragic, because the environment in which your story takes place is vital. It’s where everything happens. Some of my favorite books have such detailed environments that the place becomes a living, breathing character.
  • Internal Consistency is a key component as well. You can’t have a plot that jumps all over the place. I once read a book, where, on page 100, Character 9 was one of my favorite characters of the story, and then suddenly, on page 101, Character 9 was a complete jerk, who ended up being the villain of the piece. This switcheroo made no sense. I felt that the author realized readers liked Character 9 more than the main characters, and so the author had to make Character 9 evil. That novel lost all credibility.

Another example (and this one happens to be popular in young adult fiction): the main 4496975747_1e0b661a31_zcharacter is supposedly the chosen one/the one to save everyone, however the protagonist trips over her feet during every fight and must be saved by the handsome, yet jerk of a romantic interest. This is ridiculous because, unless you’re writing a comedy, how can someone be elite or the epitome of something, if she constantly needs saving?

  • Well-developed characters can make a story. As I stated earlier, world building is utterly important to the story. However, sometimes you can get away with poor world building, if you have phenomenal characters. There are multiple books I’ve read, where I knew the world building was awful, but it didn’t matter because I was invested in the characters. Granted, most of these novels were in first-person, so that the view I had of the overall story was narrowed to one character.

A problem with these type of stories, is that if you don’t like the main character, then nothing is holding you to the book, and you’ll most likely put it down and never look at it again.

  • No little misspellings or poor grammar. Readers will notice a lack of editing. They’ll pick up on all the bad punctuation, poor spelling, and grammatical mistakes. If there are too many linguistic errors, readers may get pulled out of the story. They may not return. (I once saw a novel with a misspelled title; I didn’t go past the title page.)
  • Originality. While it’s difficult to be completely original, you can take a well-used premise and make it your own. It’s too often that I see one book or book series get popular and suddenly there’s a flood of copy-cat novels, and each one seems to be worse than the predecessor.

Back to Persons A and B. Now, while most people preferred Person A’s story, a few liked Person B’s more. Though Person A’s work had better world building and more developed characters, not everyone liked Person A’s story for subjective reasons. Let’s say that one person didn’t like the story because the protagonist reminded him too much of an ex-girlfriend he had back in college. Another individual enjoyed Person B’s writing style over Person A’s.

There’s nothing Person A can do about these reasons. It’s like asking someone if contemporary art is really art. The answer will vary according to each individual.

I’ve read novels where, if I hadn’t been in the right mood, I would have greatly disliked them. I probably would have ranted to my friends about them, because, in reality, they were horribly written. But since I was in the mood for some light fluff that would make me laugh at the ridiculousness of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed those novels.

Ask me to read them today and the answer would be “no.”

What makes a good book to you?

(Photos courtesy of Stefano CorsoRob, and David Urbanke.)

Thinking About Self-Publishing? Here’s A Quick Reality Check.

Self-publishing seems to be all the hype right now. Whether you first try to get an agent or go straight to publishers and are unable to get their attention, or decide to skip attempting the traditional route altogether, you’re looking into self-publishing.

It seems like a good deal. You don’t have to mess with any of the middle men, who take the majority of the money your novel makes. You have the freedom to choose how you want to represent your work. You even get to select what you want your book cover to look like.3407402643_7d11d2717f_z

You’ve heard the success stories:

  • Andy Weir’s The Martian was originally self-published in 2011. It’s now been re-released through Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, and was made into a movie directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James was not only first self-published, but also was based on fan fiction. The rights for this novel were obtained by Vintage Books, a subdivision of Random House, in 2012. Selling over 125 million copies, this book was made into a movie that earned over $571 million worldwide.
  • Mark Dawson’s self-published John Milton series has sold over 300,000 copies. And while that in itself is impressive, Amazon pays for Mark to speak at seminars and workshops, sort of like their poster boy for the self-publishing world. To learn more about Mark’s success story, click here: “Amazon Pays $450,000 A Year To This Self-Published Writer.” 
  • Amanda Hocking self-published out of a need to make some desperately needed money. Over a period of about 20 months, Amanda sold 1.5 million books and made more than $2 million. To learn more about her story, click here: “Amanda Hocking, the writer who made millions by self-publishing online.” 

What you don’t hear so often are the hundreds of thousands of people who self-publish in the hopes of making enough money to quit their day jobs and end up not finding success.

Talking Writing’s article “Three Money Lessons For Starry-Eyed Authors” discusses the truth of self-publishing.

In this article, three lessons are addressed:

  1. “There’s Way Too Much Competition”
    1. It’s really easy to self-publish. Therefore, everyone and their grandma feel like giving it a try. On one hand, it’s great that people have the freedom to see their work published. On the other hand, most times the work wasn’t ready to be published, or in some cases, should have never seen the light of day. (I’ve seen multiple self-published novels that have misspelled titles.) It’s this other hand that causes a lot of problems because (1) your work gets lost in the noise and (2) a stigma forms about self-publishing.
  2. “Literary Fiction Is Still the Ugly Cousin”
    1. Literary fiction, as opposed to genre fiction, has never been all that great at selling books in the traditional publishing world. Literary fiction sells even worse in self-publishing.
  3. “You Can Drive Yourself Insane Tracking Sales”
    1. Having the ability to check real-time sales is both a blessing and a curse. When your book is selling well, you get a positive boost every time you check your sales statistics. However, when your book isn’t selling, the real-time sales can become a black hole that takes over your life.

These three challenges aren’t meant to deter you, if you’re interested in self-published. They’re here to show you that you most likely won’t get rich quick with self-publishing and that self-publishing involves a lot of work (potentially more work than traditional publishing because you are responsible for doing and paying for everything). But, like with everything, self-publishing presents opportunity, and with opportunity, there’s always a chance of phenomenal success.

Have you ever self-published or been interested in self-publishing?

(Photo courtesy of khrawlings.)

Being Happy as a Writer

6941440367_53fbc30754_zHappy Leap Day! Hope everyone is enjoying their extra day of the year. (My grandma and great aunt get to have a birthday this year.)

Writing is challenging. It’s time consuming and frustrating. It’s also amazing. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you’re finally satisfied with your work can seem miraculous. That feeling can safeguard you against all the ups and downs that are inevitably tied to the writing process.

If you enjoy writing as much as I hope you do, then it can make you happy, whether you’re published or not. However, in order to truly experience happiness and satisfaction from your writing, your work must have some significance to you.

I recently read an article titled How To Be Happy: 5 Secrets Backed By Research. This article isn’t writing specific, but I found it informative and intriguing. Plus, it’s filled with links to other science-based articles, books, lectures, etc. that back the information Eric, the author of the blog, states.14209441301_c2a017cf72_z

The articles delves into five ways to be happy. I’ll briefly include them here, but check out the article for more detailed information.

Five ways to be happy:

  1. Pursuing pleasure in life is not enough to be happy. Your life needs meaning. It’s only when you combine pleasure and meaning that you find happiness.
  2. Write down what you do in a day. It’s easy to lose track of time. You hop on the computer for a quick Facebook check and end up spending an hour scrolling through your feed. Did that hour make you happy? Fulfilled? Evaluate how you spent your time by looking at how it made you feel. You’ll discover which activities generate happiness and which ones don’t. Increase the time spent on activities that make you happy.
  3. Happiness is more than just doing things that make us feel good. We must enjoy the process of doing those things. When we enjoy what we’re doing we create a “flow.” In other words, we’re able to focus on the present, and though we may end up working very hard, the work doesn’t feel painful.
  4. Answer this question: If no one could see what you were doing, and therefore couldn’t judge you, what would you do? By answering this question, you’ll discover which activities you truly enjoy doing and which activities matter most to you, instead of which ones are more impressive or acceptable by your peers.
  5. Similar to saying versus doing, or showing versus telling, it’s one thing to know what makes us happy; it’s another thing to do what really matters to us. Therefore, we must make a habit out of doing what makes us happy.

Here are some habits to help increase happiness:

  1. Physical exercise. It improves both physical and mental wellbeing.
  2. Hang out with friends. Those intimate relationships make all the difference.
  3. Be grateful. Show gratitude to others and yourself.
  4. Meditate. This helps you to focus. No more monkey mind.

One of the most important realizations about being happy is to know that you’re human, and by being human you won’t experience happiness all the time. Without the dark times in our lives, we can’t recognize happiness, gratitude, compassion, love, and all the other wonderful emotions we, as humans, come to understand and appreciate.

What do you think? What makes you happy?

(Photos courtesy of Bob B. Brown and Vladimir Pustovit.)

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

The year is almost over. A new year is about to begin. These next days before we say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015 are a time to declare resolutions for the coming year. Some will resolve to lose weight or save money, but as writers, our New Year’s goal(s) tend toward writing.

341866875_a0e8c69f1e_oHere are some common resolutions for writers:

Make time for writing (consistently).

This is easier said than done. As writers, we know what we have to do to get a novel or short story written. We have to sit down and write. But, since most of us have jobs, families, various chores and errands, pets, other interests, trying to stay fit – not to mention needing sleep – it’s easy for our writing to get pushed to the side.

However, there is time to write. We just have to realize it. Even if it’s only for fifteen minutes on some days. Set goals for yourself. Maybe try to get 250 or 500 words written a day. Or work on outlining. Writing isn’t just about getting words down on paper. It’s also about doing research for your work, outlining your story, etc. There are some days where the time I allot for writing is all research!

If you write everyday, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, you’ll find yourself accomplishing a lot more than putting off writing for a month and then spending seven hours in a writing fury. Not only will you have to remember what you’ve already written, but you’ll have to get back into your story. Both of which take up valuable time.

Finish or start your work.

Whether it’s a novel or a short story, you are determined to finish what you’ve started or begin putting that great premise down on paper. It can be frustrating to have an unfinished work laying around, but it’s easy to put off continuing working on it. The same applies for beginning a novel or short story. Why not write your goals down on a calendar or tell someone about your goals? Find a way to make yourself accountable to finish or start your work.

If you make the resolution to finish your work, that includes editing and revising. Make the work as close to perfect as you can. Then, reward yourself and work on a new goal: submission to agents.

Edit your work.

A fair amount of people think writing the novel is the hard part. That part is challenging, but what takes longer and is more demanding is revision. As the author, you get to a point in your work where it’s hard to see what needs to be improved. This doesn’t mean to stop revising. It means to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your work, unless you are one of those lucky few who can step back and look at their own writing from an objective point of view, as if they had never seen or heard of the story before.

(I only know of one person who can successfully take an objective view of his work, which is why I’m in a critique group. I don’t catch all of the little things (and the occasional plot hole) missing from my work, and I very much appreciate those people who take time to review my work. Without them, my writing wouldn’t be as clean as it is.)

Submit your work.

Don’t submit until your work is ready. It can be tempting to submit to magazines or literary agents before you’ve finished editing, or sometimes before you’ve completed the first draft, especially when most agents take at least four weeks to get back to you. Resist this feeling. By waiting until your work is ready, you have a better chance of getting accepted.

Get involved with other writers.

Be supportive. Writing isn’t easy and it tends to be solitary. Not to mention how writers tend to be harsh on themselves. I don’t know about you, but there are times where my negativity gets the better of me. The way I help overcome that? Knowing other writers, talking to them, and supporting them. I know I’m not alone with the emotions and negativity I sometimes feel, and it helps to both encourage other writers (and be genuinely happy for them when they get published) and hear other writers encourage me to continue pursuing my goal of getting published.

Call yourself a writer (and believe it).

This one seems deceptively easy. But saying, “I write,” is different than saying, “I’m a writer.” Writing is more than a hobby. If you want to get published, you have to commit, and one of the most important things you can do to help yourself commit to writing is to admit that you are a writer.

It’s a little scary to admit that, especially if you’ve never been published because you may fail and never get published. That’s something I think about a lot. One thing is certain though. If you don’t call yourself a writer – if you don’t make that commitment to writing – you will have a very difficult time being successful in your endeavors.

I’ve talked in terms of getting published. Not everyone has that goal. Regardless of whether or not you want to get published, writing takes commitment, and in order to do your best, you have to call yourself a writer. More than that, you have to believe it.

One of the best little bits of writing on writers I’ve read is from “Story Engineering” by Larry Brooks. I first saw this piece on a Writer’s Digest blog (http://bit.ly/1c3L8ca) and liked it so much I thought I’d share it here:

We are lucky. Very lucky. We are writers.

Sometimes that may seem more curse than blessing, and others may not regard what we do with any more esteem or respect than mowing a lawn. To an outsider this can appear to be a hobby, or maybe a dream that eludes most.

But if that’s how they view you, they aren’t paying enough attention. If you are a writer–and you are if you actually write–you are already living the dream. Because the primary reward of writing comes from within, and you don’t need to get published or sell your screenplay to access it. …

Whatever we write, we are reaching out. We are declaring that we are not alone on this planet, and that we have something to share, something to say. Our writing survives us, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. Because we have given back, we have reflected our truth. We have mattered.

Enjoy the New Year. Embrace your resolutions. Write.

What resolutions are you making this New Year’s Eve?

(Photo courtesy of Naeema Campbell and Tim Hamilton)

Don’t Sweat It. Love Your Writing.

Often times writers worry about their writing. Worrying in itself isn’t horrible, but sometimes the anxiety and doubt a writer has about his writing takes over. Questions like if his novel is ever going to get published, if he’s going to be successful, or if everything he’s doing is just a big waste of time become predominant. And as those questions and doubt crowd his mind, he may never send out his manuscript or may abandon a work in progress.

Don’t stop writing. Don’t let anxiety and doubt take control. So much of the concern writers get stems from misconceptions.

Forget failure.

  • Failure isn’t the end of the world. Yes, it hurts, but you can move past failure and learn from it. Fitzgerald and Melville both faced multiple failures during their lives, but they’re considered two of the greatest writers of their age.
  • Failure doesn’t mean your work sucks. Just because not everyone loves your writing doesn’t mean you can’t write. There will always be people who love your novel, and others who don’t. Think of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Though Rowling got an agent quickly, twelve publishing houses rejected her novel. It was a year later when she got a publishing house, and even then she was told to get a day job because she’d never make any money being a children’s author.

Failure can sometimes feel like you’re never going to make it. Don’t let it stop you. Keep writing, go to workshops, join a critique group, etc.

Agents and publishers aren’t all knowing.

  • Agents and publishers like to believe they know everything. I’ve even seen some of them say they know what the next bestseller will be. The deals publishing houses make are pretty much a direct correlation with how well they believe your novel will sell. However, publishing history is filled with rejections and huge advances for novels that never sold well. Publishing houses guard their sales statistics, and tend to only share their success stories. The truth is, publishing houses lose money on books every year. And have you looked at some of the authors agents represent? Most of them aren’t wildly successful with bestsellers. If agents and publishers knew the market, they’d all be representing bestsellers.

The bottom line is that the market is unpredictable. Agents and publishers do have experience in the publishing world, but they can’t read readers’ minds and the market is constantly changing.

Every writer, at some point, doubts their work. Anxiety comes with being a writer. The key is to push through despite the worry, and to improve without letting uncertainty get in the way.

Perseverance is the key to success.

How do you deal with anxieties surrounding your writing?

10 Things You Should Do Before Writing Your Novel

You get that novel idea and you can’t wait to start writing. Your fingers are itching to pick up that pen or start typing away at your computer.

Stop. Hold up. Here’s a checklist of things to do before you sit down to write. You don’t have to do everything. Read the list and choose what works for you.

  1. Why are you writing? Why are you writing this novel? What is it about this story? The story should engage you. It should excite you and scare you. Writing a novel isn’t easy. Writing one well is even more difficult. You need to care about the characters, the story, etc. If you don’t, you’ll lose focus.
  2. Check your expectations. Writing a novel is a long process. It’s not going to be all sunshine and butterflies. There are going to be days where you want to trash everything and give up, go do something else. Remember that this is your first draft. Some parts may be fantastic the first time through. Most won’t. Make time to clarify. Make time to revise.
  3. Know your characters. You need to know your characters inside and out. They have to be real to you. If they aren’t, they’ll seem fake to readers.
  4. Plan it out. You don’t have to do an outline, though they can be very helpful. And you should at least know how to write an outline. One day you may be asked to do so. At the very least, you should know what’s going to happen over the course of your novel. Hundreds of pages, tens of thousands of words, major and minor plots, multiple characters, settings, etc. all add up. If you go in blind, you’ll end up with plot holes.
  5. Create the rules. If you’re creating a world, your setting’s in the future, or you’ve got fictional characters, you need to have rules for your story. Vampires? They drink human blood. They can survive off animal blood for short periods of time, but it’s human blood that sustains them. They can’t go out in the sunlight, unless they’re Originals, those of the first bloodline. They turn others into vampires by drinking their blood until the point of death, feeding them their blood, and then killing them. You get the point. Make the rules and stick to them.
  6. Know your ending. Know your ending before you begin writing. Why? Because it matters. Your entire story is tailored to how the novel ends. Know the ending and plan for it. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to the original ending. Most likely you’ll think of a better ending as you’re writing, but you don’t want to be left scratching your head during the last thirty pages.
  7. Research. Get some of the research out of the way before you start writing. Even if you’re writing fiction, you’ll still find you need to do research, whether it’s creating hybrid creatures or figuring out what’s most likely to happen if a hurricane and earthquake occur simultaneously. What’s the emergency plan? How will the power grid be impacted? Flooding? How will people react? You don’t have to do all your research ahead of time. You can do it as you go, but it’s good to do some early, so you’ll know what you’re talking about. Nothing’s more irritating than having someone talk about something they know nothing about.
  8. Write the query. A query letter will give you a clear image of what’s going on in your story. Aim for two to three paragraphs that explain the hook, the story, etc. Make sure to include the critical pieces.
  9. Forget about it. Forget about writing for a moment. Instead, think about your idea. Go to bed thinking about it. Ask questions. Envision problems with the story or with what the protagonist will face. Research. Let your brain absorb all you read and think about.
  10. Commit. Commit mentally and physically. Willpower has a lot to do with writing. You are going to finish this novel. It’s not a question. You’re not wishy-washy. You will complete this. No more waiting. Sit down and write. Get it all out on paper. The time is now.

What are some things you do before writing?

There Are No Rules

There are a countless number of books, websites, and classes designed to teach people how to write, including the rules associated with writing. Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Glitz, etc., has ten rules for good writing. However, W. Somerset Maugham, author of The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Elmore Leonard’s rules include:

  • Never open a book with weather.
  1. Rule: Weather is usually used as a conversational opening, when there’s not something better to talk about.
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Though weather is continued for the next paragraph, the main character is introduced after the opening line.
  3. The Rapture by Liz Jensen: “That summer, the summer all the rules began to change, June seemed to last for a thousand years. The temperature was merciless: ninety-eight, ninety-nine, then a hundred in the shade. It was heat to die, go nuts or spawn in…Asphyxiated, you longer for rain. It didn’t come.”
  • Avoid prologues.
  1. Prologues tend to be used improperly as massive information dumps, are too long, have nothing to do with the main story, can be folded into the main story, or are used to set the mood (which should be done in chapter one anyway).
  2. Prologues can be good, if used correctly: used for a critical element in the backstory or used to resolve a time gap with critical information
  3. i.e.: Garth Nix’s Sabriel and Lirael novels both contain prologues that resolve a time gap and include important background information.
  • Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  1. There are plenty of published and successful books that use more than “said.”
  2. i.e. – Veronica Roth’s Insurgent, “‘She is not my friend,’ snaps Lynn.’”
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
  1. Again, there are lots of successful novels that break this rule.
  2. i.e. – Delirium by Lauren Oliver: “‘Hi, Carol,’ Hana says breathlessly, catching up to us.”
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  1. Rule: When overused, an exclamation loses its meaning.
  2. i.e. – In Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants five exclamation points are used within the prologue.
  • Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  1. i.e. – Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants: “‘Oh Jesus,’ I said, suddenly understanding. I stumbled forward, screaming even though there was no hope of my voice reaching her. ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’”
  2. i.e. – Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories: “Funeral, he said suddenly. Going to my brother’s funeral.”
  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  1. Rule: Convey the feel of speech through expressions and phrasing, not misspellings, etc.
  2. i.e. – The Color Purple by Alice Walker: “My mama dead. She die screaming and cussing. She scream at me. She cuss at me. I’m big. I can’t move fast enough. By time I git back from the well, the water be warm. By time I git the tray ready the food be cold. By time I git all the children ready for school it be dinner time. He don’t say nothing. He set there by the bed holding her hand an cryin, talking about don’t leave me, don’t go.”
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  1. This is subjective. Some readers like description of characters, other do not.
  2. i.e. – In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, three men are described in one paragraph: “Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners…His brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien…”
  3. i.e. – In Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, it takes multiple paragraphs to describe Kennan: “…he did nothing but smile. / And he was devastating when he did. He glowed faintly all the time, as if hot coals burned inside him. His collar-length hair shimmered like strands of copper…tan and too beautiful to touch, walking with a swagger that said he knew exactly how attractive he was…he was almost average in size, only a head taller than she was. / Whenever he came near, she could smell wildflowers, could hear the rustle of willow branches…a taste of midsummer in the start of the frigid fall.”
  • Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  1. Rule: Too much description and the story’s action comes to a standstill.
  2. i.e. – John Crowley’s Four Freedoms: A Novel has long, detailed descriptions of objects and places sometimes extending for over a page.
  3. i.e. – James Joyce’s The Dubliners: The Dead: “The middle of the room was occupied by two square tables placed end to end, and on these Aunt Julia and the caretaker were straightening and smoothing a large cloth. On the sideboard were arrayed dishes and plates, and glasses and bundles of knives and forks and spoons. The top of the closed square piano served also as a sideboard for viands and sweets. At a smaller sideboard in one corner two young men were standing, drinking hop bitters.”
  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
  1. Rule: Readers skip thick paragraphs of prose, but not dialogue.
  2. This is another subjective rule. For instance, I’m not an erotica fan. I once bought a book thinking it was a fantasy adventure. It turned out that the book was more erotica than anything else. I didn’t finish that book, but gave it to a friend, who devoured it. So, where I found the sexual descriptions repetitive and rather boring, she was engrossed.

As you can see from the examples I’ve provided above, Maugham may be right. Leonard’s list of ten rules can be counted more as suggestions, observations, and helpful points than as strict letters of the law. If they were, these rules wouldn’t be contradicted.

With writing, it isn’t a linear process. There are no definite steps to follow. You move forward and backward. You write something brilliant one day and then the next you have no idea why what you wrote the previous day was so good. Eventually, if you stick with it, you finish writing a story.

Fiction writing holds no absolutes. There’s no right or wrong way to write your novel. There are suggestions and insights from successful authors. But, the only true measure of what kind of shape your novel is in is by how well it’s received by you and your readers.

Do you lean more toward Maugham or Leonard’s belief about rules for writing?

[Elmore Leonard’s rules from The New York Times “Writers on Writing; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”]