In my last entry we covered my top five tips to get you headed in the right direction:
- Write every damn day. No excuses.
- Read anything and everything you can get your hands on.
- Resources – there’s a big ol’ world out there full of ways to connect with writers. Get out there and use them.
- Putting yourself out there – conferences, contests and courses, oh my!
- Tools of the trade – things you can’t live without as a writer.
So, what else is there left to cover? Well, writing, of course.
Now, like anyone looking to master a skill, trade or craft, in order to be successful you need to learn the rules. Once you learn the rules (and understand them), those rules can be broken.
Writing, like anything else, is a skill that requires time and study. But, at the core of it, writing is (obviously) an art, and art cannot be forced.
It can be honed, tweaked, perfected and, at times, blocked, but never forced.
Without having a grasp of the mechanics, you can’t hope to possibly leap ahead into writing and be anything short of just painful.
So, here are some tips on ‘how’ to write that should help streamline the entire process.
Organization is crucial
Character outlines, plot summaries, chapter highlights, research material, snippets of creative genius your subconscious barfed out at 3am one obscure Thursday morning…all of this can become one convoluted hodge-podge if you don’t have a system in place to keep things in order.
Now, if you’re like me, you’re more of a pantser than a plotter (pantser = a writer who writes ‘by the seat of the pants’ and doesn’t take the time to plan or plot prior to writing). I know this might sound a bit counter productive because, how could you possibly know where the story is going before plotting it out? You don’t – but you figure it out as you go, and this can work for some people.
It certainly works for me.
But one thing is clear, be you punster or plotter, organization is your best friend.
Create a filing system (either hardcopy or online). There are even writing software like Scrivner that will do a lot of this for you. I did a free trial with Scrivner once, and I have to admit I was impressed, but old habits diehard and I found myself returning to my beloved, tried and true Word.
While I may not originally start out with much more than a vague idea, overtime I make a lot of detailed notes as I go, both covering what I’ve written and what I think so come down the road. At times I’ll include snippets of dialogue, character tid-bits, whatever I need that helps me on the days when I hit a wall, or can’t think where to go.
There’s no right or wrong, do what works for you, but keep things tidy, boys and girls, or be prepared to spend many an afternoon tearing through the proverbial mess trying to hunt down your house keys.
And you know you never find the damn things where they ought to be.
Don’t be afraid to hit “Delete”
Congratulations – you’ve banged out the first draft. Be proud. Pat yourself on the back, do a little happy dance and give yourself a deserved break from the screen. But understand that this process is far from over.
Be prepared for a second, third—hell, twentieth draft.
Create a plan/timeline and each day tackle a segment of your work and attack it with a discerning, critical eye (tough, I know) and decide what can stay and what should go. It’s not easy, trust me, and at times I thought hacking off a limb would be preferable, but don’t be afraid to hit ‘delete’.
I know we might think every word we’ve written is genius, but in truth, the majority of it is not necessary, and you’d be surprised how much stronger you work will be once you trim out all the excess and tighten that baby up.
It’s like seeing your abs for the first time. You’ll never want to go back to the flab.
Know when to say, “Enough is enough.”
The trouble with writing is we can write until the end of days and still never think the book is ‘ready’. That’s because as writers, no one will ever be more critical of our work than us. As a result, it’s almost impossible for us to know when to put the damn thing down and just leave it alone.
And that can be almost as disastrous as not picking it up to edit in the first place.
So set it aside, leave it alone and then come back to it after a month with a fresh eye, and if the read is fluid, easy and ask yourself can I do anything to make this better? If your gut is telling you ‘no’ – listen to it.
And if you’re fortunate enough to have someone in your corner willing to act as a Beta reader, make good use of them, but always take their opinions and suggestions with a grain of salt. This is your baby, after all.
Turn down the volume
It’s so easy to get distracted by the hype in the market.
They all achieved something that writers everywhere would give their right hand for.
Record sales that launched them into the stratosphere of commercial success. But writing for the sake of being the next ‘Big Thing’ is a losing gamut.
Your story needs to be told by you – so write it, and forget all the noise and hoopla. If you’re sincere, if the story is true then your audience will respond to that; toss in a whole lot of luck and impeccable timing—who knows what could happen.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Get your ass off the ground where you were drop kicked by life and get back at it again. And again. And again. Rejection is part of the game, and its going to happen. A lot. Each time will be as painful as pulling a tooth without Novocain, but that’s the ride you signed up for. Rejections don’t mean you’re no good, or that your work is crap. It means one person didn’t have the vision to see or appreciate what you’ve written.
One person. But there are hundreds and hundreds more out there. And I guarantee one will.
Whatever the reasons one person rejected your work, could very well be the same reasons that another person falls madly in love. It won’t happen over night, but do your homework and make sure you’re putting your book in the best hands possible.
Agents specialize in genres and markets, contests can help you get crucial feedback and perhaps even open a few doors (if you place well or even win, a publishing contract could be waiting for you at the end of the rainbow).
Keep going. Never quit.