Writing Advice

The secret to writing a novel a month

30 March 2015

From author Shantnu Tiwari, a TPV regular:

Ok folks, so this is Week 2 of Writing with Baby Challenge.

This week, I will give you the secret to writing a novel in one month (or in my case, 20 days). But let me warn you, there is no secret.

Writing with Baby Challenge, Week #2

So this week (over last 6 days) I wrote 5317 words. I’m hoping to average around a 1000 words a day. I use iDoneThis to track my word count- it’s pretty cool. You get an email everyday, and you reply to it saying how many words you typed. Saves the I forgot to note my wordcount excuse.

At this rate, will finish my current book in 2 months, which while slower than my previous pace of a book a month, is still faster than what, 90% of the writers out there.

. . . .

So what’s the secret to fast writing? It’s my secret sauce, which you can have for 6 monthly payments for $99.99!

The truth is, there is no secret. Sure, you can learn tricks like how to type faster. I can type 2000 words an hour (only when I’m in the middle of the book and in full flow). Before the baby, I was writing for an hour and a half a day (in 2 sittings), and easily typed 3-4000 words a day. Since I go for short novels (55-60k) words, that means a whole novel in 20 days.

. . . .

[Some authors] don’t trust their creative side. Their critical side, which is the side that has been trained in school to find fault with everything, to analyse and rip apart rather than build, is the part that takes over. The critical side is never happy with anything. No matter what you write, the critical side will find a fault with it (in the voice of your worst teacher).

If you want to write fast, there are no shortcuts. You just have to trust your creative side, and just damn type

Link to the rest at Shantnu Tiwari

Here’s a link to Shantnu Tiwari’s books

How Do You Find Time to Write?

27 March 2015

From author Jamie Todd Rubin:

From time-to-time, I get asked how I find the time to write. I supposed this is, in part, because of my consecutive-day writing streak (which now stands at 576 days). But I think part of it comes from the fact that I manage to write while working a full time job, while blogging, and while raising a family. The question comes in various forms but it all boils down to the same thing: how do you find time to write?

. . . .

When I started to write every day, nearly two years ago now1, the first thing I did was test my assumptions of what I needed to write.

With respect to time, I used to think that I needed a chunk of time–a minimum of, say, 1 hour, better yet 2 hours–to get any decent writing done. In the past, I’d tried to carve out an hour or two during the day to write. Usually it was very early in the morning, and while it worked for a time, it eventually failed. It fail for several reasons:

  1. I might be able to get up at 4 am a few day a week to get in some writing, but the long days wore on my, and eventually, I’d fail.
  2. When I did fail, I felt guilty for the rest of the day.
  3. Failure one day led to failure another day.

So the first thing I did in February 2013 was challenge my assumption about how much time I needed to write. I decided to experiment. My experiment was as follows:

  1. I would write every day, even if it was only for a few minutes.
  2. I would not schedule a specific time to write, but writing would be a priority for any spare time that I found.

This experiment required that I be able to write from anywhere, which is why, beginning in February 2013, I moved my entire writing infrastructure into Google Docs. Using Google Docs meant I could write from any device, wherever I happened to be. It meant I didn’t have to worry about moving files back and forth across devices. That meant I could spend what little time I had writing instead of copying files and managing versions.

. . . .

With my challenges to my assumptions, and my automated scripts and data collection, I started to write. I wrote every day. Sometimes I’d only write for 10 minutes. Other times, I’d find 3 hours to write. Sometimes I was exhausted, but wrote for 15 minutes anyway. Sometimes, I knew what I was writing was terrible, but that the practice was important, so I kept at it.

. . . .

Over the course of my 576 consecutive day writing streak, I’ve written over half a million words, and sold 11 stories or articles.

Link to the rest at Jamie Todd Rubin

Here’s a link to Jamie Todd Rubin’s books

Writing My Way to a New Self

25 March 2015

From The Opinionator Blog at The New York Times:

I stared at the head counselor with a mixture of defiance, annoyance and heartbreak. She had just informed me that she was demoting me. Gone was the prestige position of senior counselor for a group of 13-year-old girls, and in its place, a midlevel position as a co-counselor for a group of 11-year-olds.

“I just don’t understand it,” she said. “In your letter you seemed like a completely different person.”

Of course I’d been a different person in my letter. I’d been writing.

. . . .

“What happened to that girl who wrote the letter?” she asked.

She’s in here, I wanted to respond. But she only comes out when I’m writing. You thought you were hiring Writing Me. But instead what you got was Actual Me. Big mistake.

For many years after, I assumed all writers were like me, with a secret extroverted, passionate alter ego trapped inside an introverted person who kept to the corners of rooms. A decade later, as I lined up in a university hall on the first day of my M.F.A. program, I made small talk with the woman in front of me. We asked each other politely where we were from, and then I said, “This is like a roomful of people who would all rather be by themselves.”

She looked at me with a puzzled expression.

“You know,” I added. “Writers. We’d rather be writing. Not talking.”

“Oh,” she said, and then started to talk to the person on the other side of her.

It turned out that even in a building filled with writers, I was the quietest, shyest, most introverted of the bunch. I marveled at the writers I would meet, both in the program and in the years after, who were able to write and talk to people. How were they able to quietly observe the world around them while simultaneously participating in it?

. . . .

 That’s when I turned to email. Over the course of a decade, it had shifted from being a quirky way to contact someone before you picked up the phone to being the only way you contacted someone. Now, instead of having to call editors or sources, one could simply email them. And while on the phone I was awkward and stiff, in email I was my charming inner self. The phone meant talking, but email meant writing, and writing was something I could do.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Tom for the tip.

Six Things I Learned While Writing My First Book

23 March 2015

From Lifehacker:

Writing a book will almost kill you. By the end, you’ll be exhausted, brain dead, and filled with a bubbling sense of anxiety. I recently finished up my first book, and here are a few takeaways from the ordeal that can be applied to pretty much any large scale project.

. . . .

Books are complicated things. It doesn’t matter if it’s a technical manual, non-fiction, or fiction, keeping track of everything requires a lot of effort, which is exactly why special software exists for helping you do that.

After trying out a bunch of different software, I settled on Ulysses (though Scrivener is excellentas well, as is Evernote) to get everything organized. Ulysses has an excellent exporter system where you can define how the formatting works, so it can easily be turned into a Word document with the specific formatting options a publisher needs (and they always want a specific format, regardless of the type of book).

. . . .

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what tool you use, but pick something before you start and stick with it. Be prepared for your notes, outlines, and everything else to become a cluttered, unreadable mess if you don’t create a system for dealing with them ahead of time.

. . . .

A schedule is great, but be prepared for everything you’re doing to take considerably longer than you think it will. This is especially the case at the beginning before you get into the flow of writing.

In my case, this was mostly about formatting. Learning what a formatting a publisher wants and digging through their style guide every other paragraph seriously slows you down. Until you get the hang of it, everything will take twice as long as it should.

Since my book’s a collection of Raspberry Pi projects, it also meant I had to actually make everything in the book, troubleshoot problems, and get projects working properly before I wrote anything. I didn’t think about this in my initial planning phase, and quickly realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough time. I had to redo my schedule completely to accommodate this.

. . . .

There’s a common adage with fiction that you should prepare to “kill your darlings”. It’s about deleting sentences or words you love for the greater good of your work. But it’s bigger than that. In reality, be prepared to kill off full paragraphs and chapters—I cut massive parts out before sending it off for editing.

And that’s just your own editing—your editor will cut even more. As I started getting notes back from my editor, I quickly realized how I couldn’t take any of those edits personally. Obviously a book about a Raspberry Pi is different than a work of fiction here, but the same basic premise remains: you will be ruthlessly edited. Accept it. I was so caught up in writing this book, I often wrote in a weird, privatized little language that was clearly a result of working too hard. By the end, I became the Raspberry Pi: small, low powered, and a bit closed off from the rest of the world. The later chapters made no sense, and the notes sent back to me are best summed up as, “what are you saying here?!”

Link to the rest at Lifehacker and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Prior to reading this post, PG hadn’t heard of Raspberry Pi. If you’re like PG, here’s a link: Raspberry Pi.

Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

20 March 2015

From author Harry Connolly via Black Gate:

Some writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

. . . .

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

In fact, I shouldn’t even be talking about it here.

. . . .

I’ve put off writing about my attack novel long enough. For this final blog tour entry, I want to talk about that book, why it was absolutely the wrong thing to write, and why it couldn’t be denied.

I can almost pinpoint the day that the attack novel hit me. I was finishing Game of Cages, my second book for Del Rey, when I began to think about protagonists and exposition characters in urban fantasy. They were all Buffy and Giles: young fighters and the knowledgeable elders who told the fighters what to do.

But why did it have to be that way? In the modern day, sensible people don’t solve their problems by strapping on plate armor and a broad sword. They use peaceful means. The law. Diplomacy. Compromise. And yet, ever urban fantasy novel I read — set in major cities around the world — was written as though the characters lived in a lawless world of might-makes-right.

“Only trust your fists. Police will never help you,” is the quote, right? For thriller narratives, it’s a fine thing,*** but did every urban fantasy have to be a thriller of some kind?

At the same time, I was coming across a lot of articles, interviews, and news stories about people treating older women as though they were invisible: actresses who could not find roles to play, wives whose husbands had finally made their fortunes turning them out in favor of trophy wives, and so on.

Taken together, those observations made me want to read an urban fantasy novel with an older female protagonist, a book where the character who knows what needs to be done doesn’t pass that information like a shopping list to a young character. I wanted a book where she does it herself.

Link to the rest at Black Gate and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Here’s a link to Harry Connolly’s books

Stephen King to share writing tips in new short story collection

18 March 2015

From The Guardian:

Stephen King is set to give his first major insights into the writing process since his acclaimed On Writing, in a new collection of short stories due out this winter.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, due to be published on 3 November, will bring together 20 short stories by King, a mix of new writing and work already collected in magazines. But it will also include an introduction to each story by the writer, in which he will provide “autobiographical comments on when, why and how he came to write it”, as well as “the origins and motivation of each story. His editor at Hodder & Stoughton, Philippa Pride, predicted the inclusion would “delight all his readers including those who love his insight into the craft of writing”. A mix of biography and tips on writing, On Writing was published 15 years ago, in 2000.

In the new collection, King writes of how “little by little, writers develop their own styles, each as unique as a fingerprint. Traces of the writers one reads in one’s formative years remain, but the rhythm of each writer’s thoughts – an expression of his or her very brain waves, I think – eventually becomes dominant.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

10 Things to Say to a Writer Who’s on the Ledge

15 March 2015

From author Edie Melson via Novel Rocket:

Writing often feels like a solitary pursuit. Truthfully, it’s the successful writers who know better than to try to go it alone. Writing in a vacuum is not a good idea—for a lot of reasons. It’s easy to lose perspective and either believe what you’re writing is perfect, or worse, that it’s junk. Having others who share the same struggles make us stronger.

Not to mention the fact that they can talk us down when we’re standing on a writing ledge.

. . . .

1. Success has nothing to do with perfection. So often we try to make our writing perfect. It’s fine to shoot for excellence, but perfect is never going to happen. Quit beating yourself up for not reaching it.

. . . .

4. Every writer’s journey is different. Writers are masters a comparison. We try to judge our own worth by what others have or have not accomplished. We need to look within, not without when measuring our success.

. . . .

7. Failure is an option. More often than not it’s also the shortest path to success. Learn from your mistakes, isn’t just a cliché, it’s a truth. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail, learn what you can and keep moving forward.

8.  Sometimes you have to write through the junk to get to the jewels. We all want our writing path to be a continuous, unbroken line of improvement. The truth is far from that. There will be days, weeks, and even months where it’s more of a two steps forward and three steps back.

Link to the rest at Novel Rocket

Here’s a link to Edie Melson’s books

Writing Commercial Fiction and Loving It

14 March 2015

From author Holly Robinson via Publishers Weekly:

I never meant to be a novelist, much less one who writes commercial fiction. Yet as I look back on the arc of my career, I realize I was headed here all along.

I was always an avid reader. During my childhood, every family movie began with a giant pair of adult hands snatching a book away from my face, leaving me as blinking and defenseless as a tunneling mole dragged into the light by a cat. Because my father was in the Navy, we moved often and abruptly; I read constantly because I had few friends. It didn’t help my popularity that the locket I wore around my neck held a photograph of my horse instead of a boy.

So of course I loved horse stories, such as My Friend Flicka and The Black Stallion, but I waded into swampier fiction territory early on. From my grandfather, who collected towering stacks of paperback mysteries, I borrowed books that taught me how to drop clues like honey on every page, gobbling up tales of rape, murder, and kidnappings.

. . . .

 I took my first stab at writing fiction when I was 16. I had a job that summer at a furniture factory run by Seventh-Day Adventists who put me on the assembly line despite my shaky religious views. During lunch breaks, I’d sit in the shade behind the factory with pimply teenaged boys wearing neckties who were too shy to speak to me, the blue-jeaned hippie chick. As I ate sandwiches of limp white bread and bologna, I scrawled romance stories on yellow-lined paper, convinced I could give up the factory job if I sold them to pulp magazines. I never sold a word, but I still remember those lunch breaks as the most enjoyable ones I’ve ever had.

I abandoned writing once I hit college. Determined to do good in the world, I decided to become a doctor, the sort who would travel to Africa and cure plagues. However, as I was finishing a biology degree and about to apply to medical school, I took a creative writing class and discovered that seven hours could pass like seven minutes while writing fiction. Suddenly, I wanted to be a writer. A real writer, like Virginia Woolf and Hemingway. I decided not to apply to medical school—you can imagine my father’s reaction—and instead set out to earn a Master’s in Fine Arts in creative writing, determined to learn how to write “real” literature.

. . . .

 I was devastated when, during my M.F.A studies, one of my professors announced to the workshop at large that I had turned in a short story “with about as much depth as a television commercial.” I went to the ladies’ room and cried during the class break.

. . . .

 It took me a half dozen more unpublished novels before my agent sold one. And guess what? The manuscript that sold was the first book I’d written that was commercial fiction—an emotional family mystery. Looking at it now, I realize that the novel incorporates everything I have ever loved about reading: characters in turmoil, exotic places, and secrets revealed page by page, until (I hope) the reader is racing along to the book’s conclusion, staying up all night to find out what happens next.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here’s a link to Holly Robinson’s books

8 Pro Tips to Becoming a Successful Fan Fiction Writer

7 March 2015

From Cosmopolitan:

Fan fiction is good for passing time, getting off, or — if you are an especially auspicious writer of it — earning a ton of money.

. . . .

2. Don’t spend too much time coming up with Most Original Story Ever. Just start writing.
The success of your story doesn’t depend on reinventing the wheel, it depends on you putting your work out there. “The same stories have been written again and again,” says Gardner. “How many variations ofPride and Prejudice have been brought up throughout the years? But it’s still something that people find compelling and interesting.” If you keep readers on the edge of their seats or establish an exciting alternate universe — meaning you explore what might happen if key changes were made to a character’s existing story — your audience will stick with you.

3. Prove you’re a true fan by incorporating Easter eggs.
You need to show you’re part of the “tribe” about which you’re writing. Keep up with the news surrounding your universe and slip references to those moments into your plotlines. When One Direction released a video of the band working out, for example, Todd set the next chapter of her series in a gym, that way she could describe Harry (renamed Hardin in print) looking the way he did in his IRL footage. “Those types of Easter eggs are like a secret language.”

. . . .

8. Flaunt your stats to agents and publishers.
After all this work, you’d think the sheer popularity of your fiction might be enough to attract a publisher. (One can dream!) But if not, look at who’s represented successful fan fiction writers (Cassandra Clare, for example). You can find the publisher of a book on its first page, and agents and editors are usually mentioned by name in the acknowledgements section of a book. Then what? Should you cold call or email these people? Yes, but that may not get you very far.

Link to the rest at Cosmopolitan and thanks to Shelly for the tip.

Getting By

5 March 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s an anecdote those of you who have faithfully read my Business Rusch blog or The Freelancer’s Survival Guide have encountered before. I apologize for the repetition, but the context needs to be here.

Trust me. I will bring this anecdote around to writing and freelancing farther on in this post.

One-hundred-and-fifty thousand years ago (or the early1980s, whichever makes me seem older), I got a job at a textbook publishing company. I came in as the lowest of the low, an editorial assistant—in other words, a secretary with a fancy title that made me seem more important than I was.

I was barely out of college and the best thing I had going for me was that I knew how to turn on a computer. (Seriously, these people had had a new computer sitting idly because no one could find the on-switch.) We did everything by hand or by typewriter, and for the bulk of my time there, that computer gathered dust.

I had come from freelancing. My (soon-to-be ex-) husband and I owned a failing business, and we were broke. So I got a full-time job to pay the bills.

Day one, I got trained by the woman I was replacing. Day two, I came in and did everything I had been assigned to do within 30 minutes. My boss, the wonderful Editor Greg, was startled that I finished so quickly. He double-checked me, found out I had done everything right, and gave me more to do. Still and all, I was done with my tasks by noon.

With Editor Greg’s permission, I read a book all afternoon. The book was one of the company’s textbooks, but Editor Greg thought that it might be useful if I knew the product.

Day Three, same thing.

Day Four, the other secretaries—I mean, editorial assistants—waylaid me as I came into work. They explained in no uncertain terms that I had to make my 30 minutes of work stretch throughout the 8 hours, or I would make every other editorial assistant look bad.

. . . .

After that textbook publishing experience, I stopped hiring out as a secretary for part-time work. (For a while anyway. Years later, I moved to Oregon, and was desperate for any part-time work. Then I got hired by a wonderful man [still a friend] who let me leave when I finished the tasks assigned me.) For most of my early working life, part-time work I got go augment my freelance income was as a waitress.

Waitresses in busy restaurants can’t slack off. If you do, you get fired. Or, if your bosses really don’t care, you don’t make money. Because other (good) waiters and waitresses will take your tables—and your tips. By the time I was out of high school, I could handle an entire Country Kitchen restaurant at breakfast by myself (with the assistance of someone to bus tables) and still get customers in and out of the restaurant within an hour.

And I had fun.

Why am I telling you this?

Because one of the things I learned in 2014 is that a lot of employees get by.

Dean and I own or co-own eight different businesses—not all of them to do with publishing. Generally speaking, we’re good at hiring people and for the most part, over the years, we have hired excellent folk. We have a good staff of people right now—people who work hard, care a lot, and do an excellent job.

Dean and I have hired and fired people throughout our adult lives, and also generally speaking, we tend to avoid the get-by folks. We get rid of them fast when we accidentally hire them.

How do we accidentally hire them?

They present well. They present as smart and talented and (sometimes) misunderstood. In their (excellent) interviews, they complain that they were in the wrong job. Sometimes, given their resumes, it seems like they actually were in the wrong job.

While the get-by folks talk a good game, they don’t perform well. After their training is complete, they can’t seem to meet deadlines or get work done.

. . . .

There are writers who get by.

I’ve always known that, but I hadn’t given it a lot of thought until the indie publishing revolution. Throughout my entire career, I’ve known writers who take five years to write a book (or a year to write a short story!), writers who never try freelancing because they can’t get their production up, writers who can’t seem to finish anything after the first few books.

I always thought, ah, it’s their critical voice that’s on too loud, or they really don’t want to become a writer, or they have some other interest that’s more important.

I never thought—I never realized—that a goodly percentage of these writers are simply folks who get by. These writers figure out how to game the system at their jobs. They do like my very good friend did at his job; they seem productive when they are not.

Unlike my very good friend, many get-by people seem to believe their own hype. They seem to think there’s a way around everything, that everyone else does this, and that successful people aren’t people who work hard but are people who know how to play the game well.

Does this sound familiar?

There are blogs everywhere on how to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm to make a book a bestseller. There are writers who cringe when you tell them the best way to sell your first book is to write a second. There are writers who simply do not believe that writing the next book (and the next and the next) is more important than promoting the only book.

. . . .

Expecting recognition for a minimal amount of work is a get-by attitude.

Why do I call writing one novel a minimal amount of work? Because I’m mean or a show-off or a hack or freakishly productive?

No, because I know writers who have long-term careers. Most of us never talk about our productivity. Most of us never talk about how many hours we spend at the computer. As Dean often says, we are successful because we work harder than everyone else.

. . . .

It is an accomplishment to finish your first novel. Go celebrate. Most wannabe writers never finish a novel. They may not ever finish a short story. They talk the good talk, but they don’t put in the work.

When you finish your first novel, you have taken that first step toward being a professional writer. But from the perspective of career writers, people who’ve been at it for years, you’re a baby who has toddled over to your parents for the very first time.

Yep, it’s an accomplishment worthy of cake and videos and applause.

Now, time to emulate that toddler and learn to run.

These days, most indie writers expect that first novel to be a success. I expected my first (real) novel to be a success as well. We all write because we know we’re brilliant, because the world was just waiting for our wisdom, because we have done something Mankind Has Never Seen Before.

Then those of us who want careers get over ourselves and move onto the next novel, and the next, and the next, and the next.

Right now, the Get-By People who wrote that first novel, gamed Amazon’s algorithms, and tried to convince everyone under the sun to buy that novel are leaving the writing business in droves. The Get-By People are complaining that “sales aren’t what they used to be.” They’re complaining that “free doesn’t work any more.” They’re wondering why no one is praising their (three-year-old) work.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

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