Writing Advice 101

Recently I received an email from a college student and aspiring writer. It’s a humbling experience to have someone reach out under the assumption that I’m going to know what I’m talking about and have the ability to provide accurate advice for where that person is in their writing process. Because it is a process. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that the learning curve for writing extends into perpetuity. That’s simply something that every author has to get comfortable with if he or she intends to keep publishing. 

Therefore, it is with an enormous grain of salt that I publish my response to the aforementioned email. If you are a new writer, someone who is hoping to crack into publishing, this might be perfect for you. If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ll recognize some of the advice, because you’ve heard it and you know it works. Even for the veterans out there, this may serve as a concise but good reminder of what we must do, which first and foremost, is approach every project with a “beginner’s mind” as Goldberg famously said.

If any one piece helps, great, run with it. Possibly some will be more than you need. That’s fine, too. Same for the things you’ve surpassed. Regardless, it all comes back around, so you may want to bookmark 😉 Share widely if it resonates, and happy writing.

Response:
I can give you thousands of suggestions, but some of those depend on where you are in the process and what you need to consider. Right now, I would say that in addition to writing your novel, you should be journaling (it helps to clear your thoughts); you should be reading as many novels that match yours as you can; you should also be watching any TV series or movies that also fall into that genre and analyzing their structure (yes, you have permission to binge watch). All of this will clarify your thoughts about what you want in your novel and what you don’t, as well as help you structure your plot turns and foreshadowing and the climax. Certainly read any book on craft that appeals to you as well. On Writing, Bird by Birdand anything by Donald Maass are worthwhile.
For your novel, the best thing you can do is finish the first draft. Just write it. Do not care if it’s garbage. It will be. All first drafts are terrible, especially mine. There isn’t an author I know whose work is great in first draft form. Once it’s done, walk away from it for a couple of months. Do not look at it. Then, when you’ve kind of forgotten about it, go back and read it like you are a reader, not the author. Mark it up. What works? What doesn’t? Be brutal. Have others read. But ones you trust will provide authentic feedback, and not, “This is the greatest!” Beware of those people. They’re not being honest, they’re being kind. You want the former, not the latter when it comes to your writing.
After that, cut, revise, redo, completely unravel the novel and write a second draft. Repeat the above process for this draft.
Do it again.
Then, and only then, might you want to go anywhere with it. At that point, I could give you many suggestions for that process. However, right now, finish, and then put your writing through the process. It works.
I am currently completely rewriting a 300-page manuscript from scratch. This will be the third draft. It’s better than the other two could have ever dreamed of being. This is the work if you want it. 
Now, that’s a lot to take in, but please don’t hesitate to ask me any follow-up questions or seek clarifications. I wish you the best of luck. Writing is one of the best things in the world for me. Publishing is a business, however. You’ll know where you stand once you’ve gone through all of the above. Have fun!
Advertisements

On writing about the Subject and not the Story

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s classic, On Writing, for like the twentieth time. If you’ve never read it, and even if you have no writerly aspirations, do so. If you ever want to write for a living, then definitely read it, along with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird and Writing 21st Century Fiction.

Through re-reading King’s advice, I realized what I did wrong with my failed manuscript. I wrote about the subject matter of the story and not the story itself. That may seem like semantics, but the approach in storytelling matters. Instead of spending time with my characters, I asked my characters to spend time focusing on things I wanted them to discuss. Classic mistake.

The characters always guide.  They do what they want based on who they are as people and what motivations drive them. This makes them real, human, flawed, worth reading about.

This was not a pleasurable epiphany, but one I’m glad I had. And I bring it up because I believe in our current climate this type of scenario may happen with other writers and creative individuals. We are so infuriated with our current environment, we want to do something about it with the tools we have, words. But regardless of the skill set of the person wielding any tool, the approach is still everything.

If a carpenter built  “about a house” instead of actually building one, I’m not sure the results would be desirable. Same with writing. It’s perfectly fine to have a mental sense of what the story is about, but that’s only because of the action that’s taking place, the emotions on the page, the push and pull of characters as they move through this life they’re living.

I know you know this. I know I know this, but a little reminder can’t hurt.

And while I’m realizing things and making changes, I’ve also decided to put my YouTube channel to use. I have my book trailers there, but I also think it would be a great benefit to librarians trying to book talk my work, or to any reader who is researching who I am, to have a face with the name and stories. Therefore, I’m thinking of posting on Fridays, and for the next few weeks will cover my books, one at a time. After that, I’m open to any suggestions.

So, if you want to see where I write or what my outlines look like, or what books have most influenced my career, or how I get my inspiration, let me know. Do so here, via my email contact, or leave notes on my YouTube channel.

Additionally, there’s still time to win a copy of Look Past over at Goodreads, but make sure you enter before the clock runs out today.

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the change of the season and the beginning of new things in your life, be them old things remembered, or new avenues to travel 😉

On Letting Go

Letting-Go-Open-Hands

I’ve had a nagging problem with editing my next novel, tentatively titled, Dare Me. To properly edit, you have to be able to see your work’s failures. Objectivity is key. But I haven’t been able to achieve that objective distance because I’ve had something else on my mind: Tap Out.

My rough and tumble novel has been out for almost four months. It’s not as if the fanfare has died away, but the energy behind foisting it upon the world has been spent, and now the story is moving on its own volition, with readers finding it and posting about it and passing it along. And like a child, I must let it grow, let it walk alone, while I sing its praises and offer support.

At the same time, I must give my attention to my baby, Dare Me. For the past month, I did this, hiding out in my office while the swirl of Christmas built outside my door. I dove in with my editor’s notes in hand and cleaned up my mess and got my characters straightened out and ready for the world. And like any parent, when I was done, I needed a drink.

Still, however, that nagging was there. I knew I’d edited well, but something continued to crawl under my skin.

Because of the holidays there was little time to give this consideration during the week from Christmas to New Year’s. And then there was snow, two storms here in the Northeast. And I had to shovel.

Stephen King discusses in On Writing how writers should always be writing, but how after finishing a project they should also take a little break to recharge. I tend to heed King’s advice because he’s Stephen King, and I think he knows what he’s talking about. Therefore, I was out in the snow, not writing, not editing, just scraping away my driveway, and I came to clarity.

I love Tony and Rob and my cast of characters from Tap Out, but I have to let them go. I have to make room in my heart for Ben and his friends and the insane antics they get involved with in Dare Me.

This, apparently is the life of a writer: Love, let go, and love again.

And I do. I love Tap Out. I love Dare Me. I love the novel that will follow both, and the one after that… and on and on.

With this notion I reread Dare Me. I forgot that I’d ever written anything else and focused only on Ben and his friends and the stunts and the pressure and the conflicts. I didn’t need to edit. I just needed to read and enjoy. And I sure as hell did.

So I continue down this road with you, my wonderful readers, and your tireless support. You don’t need to let go of any of my work, but please make room. Tap Out isn’t going anywhere, but understand that the wild ride has just begun.