Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to get your novel started Part 2

As promised in the last post, today we're going to go over several reasons why many people think they can't write a book. We'll also go over some questions I feel it's important to ask yourself. It's always good to have a clear idea where you want to go with both your book and your future. I'll also discuss a couple of writing myths and finally, we'll get to your first writing exercise.

In case you missed the first post, here's the link:


Why do you want to write a book?

For a lot of people the answer is money. It’s true that some people can make a lot of money in this business. Like J.K. Rowling for example, author of the Harry Potter books. But did you know that when Rowling wrote her first book she was a single mom living on welfare? If that’s not inspiring I don’t know what is.

Do you want to eventually do this for a living or just on the side?

If you’re looking to make a living at writing, no matter how good your work is, you need to be able to write quickly. Say you earn only a few thousand dollars from the royalties off one book. If you could write four books a year, and market them well, you’re potentially talking about a good chunk of change.

But don’t overlook the fact that writing a book will (hopefully) bring with it the prestige of being called a published author. If you write a book about your profession, people will take you seriously. If you (for example) are an artist and write a book about painting, people will look to you as an expert in the field.

Don’t underestimate the satisfaction of writing your own book.

There’s certainly not a shortage of ideas out there. And a lot of people are intimated by that fact. No, the world doesn’t need another epic sci-fi novel or another story about vampires. It needs your epic sci-fi novel or your story about vampires.

Putting your unique spin on a story is what makes it yours and not just a copy of what’s already been done. Sure, if you’re going to write high fantasy there is a certain formula you’re expected to follow. You’ll probably need some elves, dwarves, and a hero on a quest. But aside from that, the story can be completely and uniquely your own.

If you’re thinking of writing a romance then you’ll need to plan on a happy ending. That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect by the end of the book, but you should end it on a positive or upward note. I also want to add that the main characters (hero and heroine) should have roughly the same life span by the end if you're writing a paranormal. The thought of one dying while the other is immortal is depressing and unappealing. If you're writing a series, at least end the books with hope for a HEA (Happily Ever After) in the future. That is of course, if we're talking about romance.

Right now I want everyone to write down the reason you haven’t written a novel before now.

I'm serious. Take a minute, and do this for yourself. Think it over and continue when you've finished.

The biggest mistake that people make is thinking that writers aren’t people just like everyone else. I know writers of all ages, races, and religions, in all parts of the world. And they’re just as human as you and me.

Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished this course you’ll understand that almost anyone who is willing to put forth the time and effort can write a book.

A lot of people think they don’t have anything to write about.

Sure you do. We’ve all experienced different things in life and those different things have influenced us well … differently. You could write about anything. It doesn’t have to be fiction. You could write about: Getting married, having a baby, volunteer work, how to get a date, how to survive being a broke college student, buying a house, buying a car, painting a picture, photography, grooming your dog. The list is endless.

Another excuse to not write is that everything has already been done.

That’s true. But it hasn’t been done by you.

How many of you said you don’t have time to write?

Most people do have busy lives, I’m one of them. You probably have a full-time job and a family to take care of. Maybe you could write early in the morning while everyone else is asleep or late at night? Some people even take a note pad to work and scribble down ideas on their lunch break. (I've done that in the past.)

If you want to write a book badly enough, you can make the time for it. They say that the average adult watches 7 hours of television a day. Couldn’t you spare just one for writing? Seven hours a day adds up to 49 hours a week! If you spent that much time on your writing there’s no telling what you could accomplish.

You also never know when you’ll get an idea. I keep note pads and pens everywhere.

Determine your best time to write and stick to it as much as possible. A schedule works well for many people. However, don't get upset when your plans get messed up. This happens almost every day with me, but I keep on writing.

The next excuse I hear a lot is “I’m no good at writing.”

You don’t have to make straight A’s in English to be an effective writer. Yes, you need to be literate and there’s nothing wrong with having several grammar and/or reference books handy. But the one thing you need to remember most is to write like you speak.

People enjoy books that they can really get into. And they can get into something that is on their own terms. Unless you’re trying to write something along the lines of literary classics, this will work for you.

(I’ll give examples of my work, first person vs. third and so on. I'll post this information tomorrow.)

I wouldn’t know where to start.

Many people are scared off of the project just by the size of the work ahead. A typical novel is 70,000 words or more. The key to writing a book is to break it down into manageable sections. This is where creating an outline will come into play.

Please, don't freak out when you hear the word "outline." I am not talking about one your English teacher would approve of. Ha. Ha. My outline often consists of post-it notes slapped into a manila folder. Seriously. When I say I'm not a planner, I mean I'm not obsessive about my plan. Sure, I do obsess, just not over the outline. My obsession is with the finished product.

Maybe you know what you’d like for each chapter to cover, maybe you don’t. It doesn’t matter. I never know what each chapter will be about. I have a list of points I want to cover within the book and I do so. I may add to those as I go, but the basic points are what forms my plot and that’s what I put on my outline.

Think of your outline as a guideline. If you think of something else you’d like to include, then change your outline to reflect it. (Slap another note in the folder.) The story will eventually start to tell itself. Don’t stifle that creativity. Just be sure it all makes sense.

People wouldn’t take me seriously.

The best thing you can do is don’t tell people what you’re doing. That way they can’t put you down or discourage your ideas. That might sound harsh, but it’s true. You’ve got to believe in yourself and very few other people will, at first. Maybe wait until after you’ve written the book to tell people.

When I started writing I told my husband and one close friend. The two people I knew would understand and encourage me. I told the more difficult people in my life after the fact. And the even more difficult people after I’d landed a contract.

I’m too young/too old to write a book.

Don't be silly. If you're an adult, you're not too young. If you're still breathing, you're not too old. Simple as that. Although, I'm sure there are many teens who could write a book, this is just a general answer to a question/complaint I've heard often. I'd like to add I think it's cool when someone who has lived a long life writes a book. Even if the book isn't about their life, they have so much experience to share. Actually, sharing it as fiction protects the guilty. Ha. Ha. Ha.

I’ve got a short attention span.

Well, good news, you’re not expected to write a book in one sitting. If you can stay focused for a few minutes or a few hours at a time, that’s all it takes.

I can’t get motivated.

If you keep thinking like that, you’ll never even start. Set small goals, like a page or two a day or even less if you need to. Once you see that you can accomplish smaller goals, you’ll not only feel better about your abilities, but it will take your mind off of the big goal: Writing a full-length novel.

Now that that's out of the way, I'd like to mention a few writing "myths." I call them myths because even though many people believe in these things, they are not a proven fact.

Myths debunked

There is no such thing as writer’s block.

But, life does happen. That's right, I went there. For more of my thoughts on the subject, check out my post Writer's Block? All you need is a good hammer.


Getting published by an epublisher is easy.

Seriously? Who started this one? It is just as difficult to be published by an epublisher as it is a traditional NY publisher. Standards are not lower, despite popular belief. However, new epubs do spring up all the time and many do not turn out good quality books. What I'm referring to here are the tried and true, legit epublishers that work hard and are good at what they do. If they are legit, they have standards.

Yes, there's a lot of info in this post. Now, we're going to move on to something very important. You need to be clear (at least in your own mind) when it comes to what exactly your book is about.

What do you want to write about?

Determining genre is crucial. Remember what I said in Part 1 about why a sci-fi, paranormal, comedy, romance might not be a good thing? Why is genre so important?

For one, you need to know who your audience is. Who do you think will likely purchase this book? Are you offering a valuable service or advice (self-help) or are you providing entertainment (fiction)?

Also, the bookstore needs to know which shelf to put you on and an editor or representative who communicates with distributors needs to have an easy way of telling them what you write. (Example, if I say horror or Stephen King, everyone knows what I’m talking about.)

Another quick note on romance. This isn't just because I write romance, but because the rules for this genre are different in many ways. And believe it or not, it is harder to write. I mention this here because as you determine genre (and begin to plan your story) you should have some general idea of how it will end.

If you write romance, you cannot kill off the hero or heroine – You will be crucified. Think once more about what I mentioned before. Are you willing to write a HEA?

Writing Exercise #1

Think of a topic. Any topic. Now list ten questions you’d like to ask about the topic. Once you’ve picked your topic and written your questions, try to arrange them in a way that would logically form an article, if you were going to write one.

Time yourself. You’ve got 20 minutes.

Asking questions and arranging them in some sort of order can be very effective in outlining your ideas. The same technique can be used with fiction. Which leads to brainstorming.
More on brainstorming later.

In between now and next week I want you to think about what you want to write. What genre will your story be?

Next we’ll start generating ideas for your book and work on our outline.

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