Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ya Talkin' Ta Me?

Someone asked me - earnestly, sincerely - for my thoughts on writing a book. My first reaction was - who me? I've not yet commercially published my first novel. What thoughts am I qualified to share?

If someone were to ask for my thoughts on software development, I could expound at length. How to immerse oneself in the customers' world and help define their business rules; how to use those rules to determine the best architectural approach; how to develop the application using the best fit for design, implementation, testing, deployment and maintenance. No problem - I strut that stuff.

But my thoughts on writing a book? I'm not as well-versed in the publishing industry as I could be; my degree's not in any writing related field. All I can say is that I had an idea for a family of novels and an overwhelming desire to share it. Maybe that's what I can share - my perspective on writing, as someone who is new to writing and the publishing industry.

Using that point of view, I'll creep out on the limb and share what I've learned so far:

Have Patience. Writing is a profession - at least as demanding as the one you're already in. It is best for newbies - like me - to accept that no matter how long it took to finish the novel, or how many times it was revised and polished; it should still be considered a first draft. Agents are not interested in first drafts. Reputable independent publishers will either refuse or advise against publishing one. Self-publishing an ebook is free and easy, which is why millions are doing it. It's also why readers are extremely discerning about which ebooks they will buy. My 'first draft'? Took over a year. So how to make your first draft the best it can be?

The first step - Learn. Learn patience, dedication, the framework and rules of writing, the ins and outs of the publishing industry. Use the many free resources on the Internet to get an idea of what you need to learn more about; then take online and/or offline courses to learn it. Many writing community sites have recommendations for classes. Many universities have online writing courses. Some professors freelance with online courses and/or non-university workshops.

The next first step - Write. Yes, I meant that. Writing is not second. Learning is not second. They are both first. Start a blog, write short stories, write your novel. Write something for readers everyday, each time using what you have learned up to that point. I've found that writing for others makes me work much harder than writing for myself. That's the main reason for having a blog - to post what you write. The more you write - knowing that someone will read it - the better you will get. What? You don't have the time? If you want to write - really, really want to write - you'll find the time. I found the time by giving up nightly television. Now I write instead of watching what others wrote.

Believe it or not, you must Read. A lot. Literary fiction, genre fiction - all fiction. Over time (the patience thing again), the more you read, the more you will be able to discern the construction of a book. You'll start to appreciate the artistry behind the stories and learn from it. Also you'll start to recognize an author's style and voice, and be able to recognize your own as well. Once you recognize your own style and voice, you can evolve them. It was fun to reread the post on my voice and see that I was (am) spot on. Pay close attention to the second to last paragraph. I address it later in this post. ;-)

Another must do is Participate. Immerse yourself in the writing community - offline and/or online writers' groups, critique sites, any community where you can share the journey with and get feedback from other writers. You'll find that you'll begin to offer feedback as well. Reviewing someone's work and giving them feedback hones your critical eye. Developing a practiced critical eye is very important - you'll soon have to use it to objectively critique your own work. Attend writers' conferences. You can start with local ones. They are a great resource for community and learning. Twitter is a wonderful community builder. As CathrynLouis, I have lists of authors and people in the business of writing. Are they full lists? Of course not. I don't know that there is such a thing. But they are my community. There are also Twitter story and chat hashtags you can participate in when they're live, such as #fridayflash, #litchat, #storycraft, #writechat, #fridayreads and a host of others. If you don't know what that means, it's time for the learning thing again.

Select your Guides - a very small set of printed guides that remind you of writing essentials such as plot, characters, style, etc; and keep them with your writing materials. I only have two. Why just two? Because more than two light volumes is too much to carry - for me anyway - and I've begun to carry my writing materials (in some form) almost everywhere I go. I've always got the laptop, my thumb drive, a journal, a writing pad or something I can use to record a few paragraphs should the inspiration hit - and my guides. I've even begun to make voice recordings on my phone that I later transcribe. If you've got an electronic dictionary/thesaurus, great! Take it with you. Otherwise leave the references behind and use them in your permanent writing space.

Recognize that Competition is maddeningly fierce. You're competing with a host of people who are writing books; many whose career is writing. So you've got to give it your best shot - and even then, you may not yet be publishable. What to do then? Use what you've learned and go on to the next novel or continue to rewrite and revise your first. That's what writing professionals do. Many of them aren't publishable the first time either. But almost everyone who considers themselves an author tries to publish every book they write; and sometimes, the same one over and again.

So back to that first draft. How do you turn it into a novel that is at least worthy of consideration for publishing?

Choose a developmental Editor. It is highly unlikely you will hear the words "Get a developmental editor." You will more likely hear ringing silence - as in no response. Remember - you are new to the writing profession. It is highly advisable that you get the best developmental editor who will take you on as a client. I'll always be grateful to those who gave me a (not so :-D) subtle nudge to get an editor. But whom to get? If you've participated - immersed yourself in the writing community - there are many you can ask for advice. If you haven't, it's a crap shoot and I wish you luck. Even with recommendations, you have to research the editors and choose the one who looks to be the best fit for you. Then you ask to be taken on as a client. If you are refused, find out why. If it's fit, ask for a recommendation of someone who would be a better fit. If it's quality of the work, then improve your skills (write, write, write some more, read, learn), rewrite and/or revise your novel or start with a new idea; and try again.

If you're harboring a romantic notion about dashing off a quick novel, sending it around until an astute agent recognizes your genius, then being mentored into the author you know you can be; Fagetaboutit! Ain't likely to happen. Developing your talent is your responsibility. That said, you will find help along the way. One example in my case, is the way I found an editor. I took a chance and asked an editor who is highly respected and widely known to recommend a list for whom my book was a good match. After he took a look at the book, he said he would do it himself! I was - and still am - floored. I count myself very fortunate that he is willing to work with me, and am inspired to work that much harder at improving the story. I'd like to call it validation, but I can't. It's far too early. I still have to finish the book.

There are other examples I can give; and you will also accumulate your own. Just be sincere and keep it real as you travel along the road to authorship; and always, always be willing to give back. I have found writing to be personally rewarding and I continue to work toward being commercially published. What do I advise for you? Go for it!

Note: Since I'm posting this as part of my revision journal, I should probably add something about my progress. How's it going? Swimmingly! I'm at chapter six of twenty one now for the outline and storyboard. Chapter five took a little longer than I expected. Remember the paragraph in the post about my voice?  There was a long scene of exposition thinly disguised as a character's thoughts. No wonder I couldn't figure out what to do with him while he was thinking. I ended up moving him around his condo like a Ken doll. zzZZZZ.... I've now broken that passage into three scenes; one in which he interacts with another character. I've also interspersed another two scenes among them for continuity and easier transition to the next rise in action. Much more lively now.


  1. I love your site! Excellent advice...especially the part about patience. :-)

  2. I enjoyed it too, I'm a little over 3/4 through my first draft on a SciFi novel, seems like we are at about the same place in our writing careers. I'll be following you to see how it goes. =)

  3. What an awesome post Cathryn! You couldn't be more right, if you tried! LOL

    Maria Papadopoulou: Author of the Poetry book: From Hell With Love Blog:

  4. Thanks for visiting Maria! Glad you liked the post.

  5. This is what I love about being a writer. Every day I learn something new and it's usually from fellow writers, who share stuff that they have just learned.

    And, as always, while reading your blog post, I learned something new! Thank you.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Sara. I love learning from fellow writers also. See ya on Twitter!


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