Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Question of the Week

Alright, so this 'Question of the Week' business is really very new. In fact, today is it's first day, and could possibly be it's last, as people don't often ask me questions. This morning I read a question from another aspirant who is working on their first novel. They asked:

I would like to ask you, as someone who as written not one, not two but 6 books, what advice you would have for someone still working on his first?

Great question, no? My answer mightn't be so great as I haven't had my coffee yet and I've had no time to think about it properly. Hold on a second everyone, I'll go get my coffee and then I'll be at least half-prepared for answering this really good question.


And I'm back. Hold onto your hats, people, this is a long one.

First off, a huge congratulations to you for daring to pursue your writing. I will warn you that trying to get published is not an easy road (you read that countless times during research, but it never really strikes you until you try to jump in. I've had a fair amount of emotional turmoil this past year!), but you must persevere.

My first piece of advice is persevere. It doesn't matter how many people knock you back (and trust me, some of them can be incredibly vicious), pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. Never give up.

When it comes to the writing itself, so many people do it so many different ways, there really isn't just one "correct" way to write. I myself, for example, write intuitively. That is to say, I know the protagonist, and I know the ending of any of my stories. Then I write about my protagonist until I get to the end. I don't have a set series of events. I have learnt, for me at least, having a plan/map for any story is the fastest route to writer's block there is. For me.

With the first story I had written (The Great Man series), I had initially planned everything out. Beginning, ending, and every major and minor plot point in between. It was supposed to be one book. It turned out to be four. Needless to say, the story I wrote was ten thousand times more different than the story I had planned, and as many times better.

My characters speak to me. They direct the story and it feels as if I have very little say in the matter. I had one character decide one evening to end his life in an effort to save another. I was quite fond of this character, and I argued with him (not literally, I just wasted a great deal of time trying to write a different path for him). It resulted in 6 months of writer's block. No, seriously. When I finally capitulated, and he rode of into a hopeless battle, the story moved forward. I mourned for that man for weeks!

This style of writing drives another writer friend of mine completely up the wall. He plans everything out meticulously, and never, ever, EVER strays from that plan. Unlike myself, he attended classes where they taught that this was the way to write, and that's that. We've had arguments over it (friendly, of course).

If you happen to get writer's block, as happened to me once or twice, there are two schools of thought as to what the hell to do. As I am an intuitive writer, all I have to do is have faith in my characters. I walk away from that particular scene and let my characters figure their way through. Be prepared though, some of their decisions can take you off guard! In this time between the block and resolution, write others scenes in the book (The Great Man series was written completely out of any sort of chronological order, but it still came together well, if I do say so myself) or, if you're just fatigued from writing, take some time to look after yourself. Remind yourself what sunlight looks like, or reconnect with your friends who may have thought you dead.

The same writer friend who disapproves of my writing process tells others to drag their way through a scene. Write it regardless of how crappy it might be - you can always fix it up later. That has never worked for me, but it does for him, and it might for you.

My advice for the writing process itself? Be yourself. If you need to plan everything out to the last dotted 'i', then do that. If you find your characters know what they're doing, listen to them. Most importantly, write from the heart. It knows what it's doing.

Writing can be a very lonely business. I find myself locked away in my room with nothing but music and my characters for company for hours on end. I think I'm developing a twitch... Get outside as often as humanly possible. Attend writing events. Join writing forums (but not too many or you'll spend more time online than writing, and that's not a good thing). Meet up with your friends and enjoy drinks on a patio (but not in the dead of winter... unless you live in the tropics). Socialise.

Get exercise. That is very important. There are studies that prove that in order to keep a sharp mind (absolutely necessary for writing), we need to have a relatively fit body. Get away from writing often enough that you remember what it's like to function in a society that isn't the product of your own imagination (Matrix theories aside).

When your story is done, it is important to have other pairs of eyes look it over to make sure everything you've written makes sense. Find trustworthy, dependable Beta Readers. These people will peruse your work to make sure you haven't made any silly spelling and grammatical errors. They will also tell you if your timeline is a little off, what works in your story, or not, and why. Do bear in mind though, that these are simply opinions, and if you don't agree, you can ultimately (but politely) ignore them.

When you are really beyond ready to start querying agents and publishers, do your research! Don't query an agent who deals only in memoirs if you have a Sci Fi novel. It saves everyone time and postage! Also, it helps you to research every publisher and agency out there thoroughly. Unfortunately there are some very unscrupulous people out there, and they are more than happy to take advantage of unwary authors. This can sometimes end in financial and copyright disasters with almost no recourse for the wronged author. Research is so incredibly important! There is a fabulous site called Writer's Beware that you really should go through so that you learn to recognise a scam or other complete waste of time.

Once you start querying, be prepared. Rejection happens, and it happens often. I think I have a great story, but I've yet to have an agent ask for the entire manuscript. I just cried a little tear. I do have faith that I'll make it though. No idea why, but I do. And so should you!

So, to sum up in neat little bullet points:
  • Persevere
  • Be yourself
  • Write from the heart
  • Socialise
  • Exercise
  • Find Beta Readers
  • Research
  • Be prepared for rejection; and
  • Have faith. You will get there.
I think I covered everything I wanted to say. I hope this was helpful?

Well, I have nothing to do today, since I finished editing yesterday. I might read or something. Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone!


Z said...

This is the funniest thing you've ever blogged. Many thanks!

S.M. Carrière said...

You're welcome. And a massive congrats to you for making it all the way through that monstrous post!

Genevieve Hopkins said...

That is a really lovely, well considered and informative response Sonz! I'm so proud of you and I miss you terribly!

S.M. Carrière said...

Thanks Gens! I miss you too!