There are things you should consider if not practice when you decide to write. And yes, they are important. Do you have to follow them? No. But don’t bitch to me later.
Remember First Drafts are shit [even if you think they are perfect]. Until you are as famous as Hemingway, pretty much follow his advice. No matter how good you think what you just hammered out is? It isn’t. Revise Revise Revise. And listen to your Betas. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. You may let something stand they thought should be ripped out but if you have 15 betas and they all think the chapter sucks? It sucks. Trust me.
Listen to those writers who are where you want to be. No, I don’t mean the Indie who has 4 books on Amazon with 25 reviews each. I mean the writers who are Stephen King, Hemingway, Gore Vidal, Ed McBain, Tennessee Williams, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, Orson Scott Card, James Scott Bell and the like. They know how to write. You want to listen to the ones who make a living off of it because they know how to make a living off of it. They know how to make money doing what they love. Writing. Listen to them. If they tell you write every day, put your fanny in that chair or consider that you might be better off just being a hobbyist. That isn’t a bad thing to be. It just means you didn’t turn pro. That’s fine too. You can write without being a pro.
READ No that doesn’t mean grab an audiotape. That means sit your ass down and read something. Pick up a book or a magazine or something anything with print and read it. Read in the genre you want to write in. Read what sells. The reason for that is we learn by seeing. Hearing something is NOT reading. You are listening. That is a different skill. It’s well and good but if you want to write? READ. Do not depend on someone telling you a story. It won’t have the same impact. If I listen to the Evanovich books by Lorelei King, I’m enchanted. She can interest me in what would be a mediocre story if I read it. She’s damn good. If I listen to the same book by C. J. Critt, I lose interest. She has a pleasant voice but it lacks the life King brings to the stories. That tells me the books aren’t that interesting for me. It’s the reader.
Again… READ. That is the only way to see what the authors are doing.
PLOT No that doesn’t mean writing out in stone where you are going but you better damn well know where you are going or you’ll end up where you don’t want to be. Most likely the slush pile on Amazon with accompanying whines of “Why won’t anyone buy my book?” Because it sucks? The plot carries the story along. You have to know where you are going with a story to write the story. In Standing Stone, I know where Will and Joe will end up. What goes in between is what it takes for them to get there. Yes, I had a plot. No it wasn’t written in stone. Parts were dropped and parts added as I wrote and revised. You have to know where you are going or your middle is going to be pure mush. And you have to stay true to your characters. I agree with Cannell. You get writer’s block when you try to force your characters to be untrue and do something they would not normally do. We have all read forced writing and meandering writing. We usually don’t go back for seconds. You need a nice path to lead your readers down.
Regularity No I’m not talking the Ex-Lax kind. It’s putting your ass in that chair and typing, “penning” or whatever you choose to write with. If you don’t want to do this as a career or make money from it, skip this. If you do want to make money, listen up. Put your ass in that chair and write, each day, every day. I have Peter DeVires quote on writing pinned where I can see it. “I write when I am inspired and I see to it I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning”. Anything else is Artsy-Fartsy and if you are serious? You can’t afford to be Artsy-Fartsy. That way leads to “Why won’t anyone buy my books?” [Because they suck. It’s really bad if pirates won’t steal them…] Put your ass in that chair and write. Don’t hand me that crap about time. You are sitting here reading this. You could be writing instead. I am as I type this. Writing doesn’t mean working on your novel. It could be writing in your blog, writing a short story, writing a magazine article but it MUST BE WRITING.
For a week, write down everything you do. At the end of the seven days, see where you wasted time you could have used for writing. I hate to break your heart but after putting food on the table, a roof over your head, feeding the kids and spouse and quality time with them [I MEAN QUALITY not sitting in the same room watching your tv while they text] there ain’t much else that is mandatory in this life. We all have things we must do. Then we have the things we choose to do. It’s knowing the difference.
Be Honest with yourself. That one is the hard one. It’s much easier to use excuses. “I don’t have the time.” “I need to be inspired” “If only I could…” Lots of excuses. Sometimes it is real. If you work 2 jobs to keep a roof over the head and food on the table plus care for your elderly parent, yeah… you have an excuse. A damn good one. The honesty part is knowing when you are making excuses and lying to yourself. I hate to break your heart but you aren’t a special little snowflake. None of us are. What we are is human. Life sucks sometimes. We get afraid. It’s what we do from there that counts. We make choices with our lives. We always have a choice. If a guy had a gun to your head and told you to kill the person you love most in the world or he would kill you? Most of us would say “Pull the trigger.” We had a choice. The lessor of two evils but it was a choice or as the kid says “Sometimes it is between sucks and suckier. Just pick the one that sucks less.”
Unless we are total egotists [and there seems to be a lot out there], we fear we aren’t good enough. What happens if they read the book and they all hate it? If you go by the Special Little Snowflake method, you are crushed. If you understand you are human and writing is a skill? You pick yourself up. Ask where it sucked the worst and learn how to write better. And the next book will be better.
The world doesn’t owe you a “Oooh YOU wrote a book” Your job is to owe the reader a return for taking their time up. NaNoWriMo lied to you. The world does not need your book. In fact, the world could give a rats tush.
LEARN. Learn anything and everything you can about writing. It doesn’t mean take a class. There are online groups such as Writers World where you can submit your work and get critiques. Sites that help you learn. Organizations such as Romance Writer’s of America at www.rwa.org that offer classes. It’s out there. All you have to do is look. Buy Writer magazine or Poets and Writer’s [Barnes and Noble offer the magazines dirt cheap.] Use Amazon Unlimited. For one price a month there are oodles of writing books for you to read. Check your library and interlibrary loan. I joined Brooklyn Public Library [not my home state] for 50 bucks. Worth every penny. Lots of great books on writing.
It is what you make it.
If you do all this will you become a best seller? Maybe or maybe not. But you stand a better chance of survival. Heck, a pirate might even consider it worthy to steal.
There are flukes. The Shades of Grey was a fluke. But I can tell you this, flukes are rare and it is 99.99999% chance you won’t be one. I prefer to hedge my bets and learn my craft.
Now if you want to be a “Special Little Snowflake”? Go right ahead and do it your way but don’t cry when ‘They won’t buy my book.’ Being a writer is work. It is not fun, games and artsy fartsy moments. It is not glorious or glamorous. Sure you can do it your way and maybe, just maybe, you’ll turn out a 50 Shades but don’t hold your breath. I prefer to get all the help I can.
Inspired by Countdown
[Sorry for the bad link in the Romance Writers of America. For some reason the site insisted on seeing it as my URL with http://www.rwa.org tacked on the end as part of my URL. When I checked, the link was correct. It is not corrected. I’m not happy with the way I had to write it but the site was throwing a fit over me linking the name to the URL]