Getting started at all is the hardest part. Seriously. Staring at a blank notebook page or a blank word-processing screen can be so intimidating. You make excuses not to start – I have to go to work/school/the gym/the grocery store. I’ll write better when I have more time.
But then, when am I going to have more time? There’s always things to do. I’ll only have the time to write when I make the time to write. That’s the hardest lesson I’ve learned so far.
I just finished my first novel. Over 540 pages. My second proofreader is going through it now and then I will do one last rewrite and send it out into the world, where I will find out if anyone but me (and my proofreaders, bless them) loves it.
The thing that most surprised me when I finished it is that I am glad I did it no matter what happens next. I did indeed write it to share with other people, and I want it to be published, but even if it never gets made into a real book, I feel quite happy and proud to have written it nonetheless. I thought I would feel more angst-y about the difficulties of achieving publication. Instead I feel I learned so much and worked so hard that the process itself has great value to me.
I just wanted to share that with first-novel writers. It’s quite something to finish. It’s worth all those days when you couldn’t find your way in the story and you mashed your forehead on the keyboard until you have little squares on your face for the rest of the day. 😀
My favorite part of writing has always been research, even knowing that I won’t be able to use more than 1/10th of what I find out. But after 17 years of researching my first novel (a Crichton-esque techno-thriller), enough is enough already. I have a beat outline that I’ve hammered on for probably 10 of those years and threw out within the first week of starting writing. Figures. I have lots of characters, some of whom I plan to kill off, but WHICH ones remains in flux. I have an interwoven plot that rivals bad macrame or a drunken spider’s web.
The problem for the past 10 years has been that my job of technical writing uses the same brain pathways as fiction writing (some would say that all computer software help is fiction … I wouldn’t disagree) and after 10-14 hrs of massaging computer information down to its essence, I didn’t have the energy to write fiction, too. So I’m taking a hiatus from technical writing and concentrating on getting this puppy rolling.
I finished what I THOUGHT was the prologue and sent it out to my writer’s group (not all genre readers) and a couple of friends who have been begging me to write this thing for years. While those who know our genre cold came back with cries for more and minor tweaks, those not in genre were confused by names, by the number of characters, by the slowness of the plot, and a desire to know NOW what the title means. So I’m restructuring and writing a new prologue and changing the characters a little.
It’s going to be fun to take my frustrations out here as I go.
My major problem also is getting started. I signed up for Nanowrimo two years in a row. The first year, I wrote a short short story. Which was something for me. The next year, not even that much. For a couple of years now, I’ll look at the Clarion application guidelines and the deadline will get closer and closer, and I’ll still not have even two or three stories to submit. I have characters, I have ideas, I even have a few plots, which is not my strong suit. It’s not writer’s block as I understand it. But clearly something pyschological is going on.
The advice ‘writers write’ and ‘butt in chair’ is the hardest part for me at the moment.
Kit and Alis tapped me as a sort of SysOp for this topic, so I’m jumping in here. Feel free to tell me to butt out.
Jen — There’s ALWAYS something else to do. For years, I used cleaning and neatening as an excuse, knowing I would never achieve it. I meant to. I really did. Now I know that clutter is just generic and when I’ve had enough of mess, I’ll do something about it, but until then … well … I’ll try to write.
I’ve gotten some of my best advice from Kit and Judith Tarr. From Kit — If you’re going to be a full-time writer, then treat it like a full-time job. When there’s a novel in progress, plan 2 hrs/day reviewing what you did yesterday and 4-6 hrs/day doing new stuff. From Judy — If what you’re writing isn’t flowing the way you want it to, go write on something else, or cook, or go for a walk, or read it aloud and see what stumbles. Just don’t sit there and stare at it. But you’re right. You’ve identified the hardest thing about writing — making the time.
Karen — Congrats! You’re SO much further than I am. I envy you. Now that you’ve finished this one and it’s ready for the world to take it on, what’s next? What lessons can you impart here on your process? Details, girl. We want details.
Jellyn — That IS the hardest part. I always loathed outlines and have never done a short story where I’ve used one, but novels are very different. Damon Knight said that there are two kinds of writers — methodical writers and spurt writers. Methodical writers do the “sit in chair, apply 2 hours to writing nightly, edit as you go.” Spurt writers (which he claimed to be and which I KNOW I am) mull over the ideas in their heads until they figure out what to do, then sit down, growl at anyone who interrupts them, and write as long as it takes to get the ideas out. Editing is not an option. Hell, often eating and sleeping are not options. The muse just takes over.
I would love to be a methodical writer. And for a novel, I think one really needs to be at least somewhat methodical. But my methodical was in the preparation — I have a “beat” outline — something used in the entertainment industry to keep the pacing correct. Beats are like heartbeats — slower as you’re building, faster as the crisis takes over the book. I’ve had it for 10 years. What was stopping me was one plot point that I couldn’t seem to resolve in my head. Once it resolved, I could write.
There’s nothing “psychological” (in the pejorative sense) going on for you. Your brain just isn’t ready yet. Try the outline. It really does work and there are lots of places around that describe them. Hell, I’ll bet the more senior writers here would tackle it if we asked nicely.
Hi, everyone! Welcome, and feel free to vent your frustrations here! However, please don’t vent them on each other. Remember that Barb has hidden powers, and she knows how to use them.
Getting started is indeed hard, and sometimes keeping on going is even harder. Here’s a trick that works for me when the words dry up.
Bet you can write just one. One sentence, that is. Try writing a single sentence — it can be stupid, as you can always revise later. Write the sentence, then call it a day. Next day, write another one. This time, if you feel like it, write a second sentence as well. Once you can turn out a sentence or two on demand, try writing just one paragraph, then one page, then one entire scene, and so on. Eventually the momentum will return, and you’ll be able to turn out 5-10 pages a day, a good goal for professionals.
Remember this as well. Even if you only write just one page a day, in a year you will have 365 pages, which is a good size for a genre novel. The task is not as endless as it seems.
Barb — don’t dismiss those comments by non-genre readers. A book of the sort you’re writing can sell really well if it draws in those who normally don’t read that particular thing. Consider Michael Crichton and his millions. His early works were SF, but SF tailored to the general audience in structure and “information feed.” It worked.
Jellyn, one thing I’ve sometimes done that happens to work for me is to ask myself, ‘is there something I fear that is causing me to hesitate?’ If there is, and you can identify it, then often by giving it a name you have the power to, if not banish it entirely, at least to look it in the face and keep moving forward.
This isn’t true for everyone, but it can be useful.
Heh, the ‘first’ novel was quietly trunked. The second novel followed closely. The third is waiting a rewrite. The fourth and fith are being written now.
Yes, the hardest thing is writing it, and then learning that it’s crap. I don’t necessarily mean the plot or storyline but the fact you’ve added an adverb a line, used weak verbs, used ‘as you know bob’ and every other sin known to writers. You become obssessed with ‘getting it right’ and by the time you’ve finished you end up with a novel full of generic prose, with everything fully explained to nth degree, and a case of pronounitis.
Then you ask, where has the passion gone? So you get to number six. You write it and then some wise ass says, Oh, that’s a trope, or it’s been done twenty million times before, it’s unfortunate that you haven’t read anything like it.
Number seven, and an agent wants to see it. Wahooo! great. They read it and say your plot kinda dribbles away, your characters are wishy washy and it’s a total mary sue. But it’s got some merit and if you rewrite it we’d like to see it again. By which time you have either had a nervous breakdown or you are so mad you write another one. You ask, well, if I haven’t got anywhere yet, will I ever?
The answer is. It doesn’t matter. A writer is someone who loves to write and writes with passion. It doesn’t pay the bills unless your name is Stephen King. So why does anyone want to get published? The answer to that in my case, is this wanting to share what I’ve written and I couldn’t stop writing if I tried.
Thanks to everyone for their comments! I think some of them helped. Or maybe talking about it did. I wrote something yesterday, which is more than I’ve done in a long time.
Kate Elliott said:
Jellyn, one thing Iâ€™ve sometimes done that happens to work for me is to ask myself, â€˜is there something I fear that is causing me to hesitate?â€™
I’ve thought about this before and I think it’s true. I probably need to think about it further and figure out exactly what it is. Even the idea of sitting down to try to figure out the answer by writing a journal-type entry is daunting for some reason. So I suppose that’s a clue there.
I want to thank you guys for starting this blog. The postings have been interesting already. I also found the feminist sf blog from here, which has also been interesting and has made me think about some new things.
If people are curious, I made my way here because Amazon’s front page recommended Carol Berg’s Amazon blog to me and she has a post pointing to here. I’m glad I found it.
Karen, you should be happy and proud to have completed a novel. You are definitely in the minority. What is it, 70% of people who start a novel never finish? Good for you.
And I hope that while your readers are taking a look that you are starting something else! Set that first one aside for a while, work on something else, keep learning about writing, and then go back and take another look. When I survey writers about the first step in the revision process, without fail they tell me: set the book aside for a month/two months/whatever. Distance gives you perspective. Good luck, and keep having fun!
I came here from Carol Berg’s blog as well. I do love her ‘Song of the Beast’ book.
To be honest, I feel kind of daunted posting here. I find that I tend to read more than post, and this is one of the few places where I posted more than just a couple lines within a few days, and more than once. I don’t know- I just find it a little wierd.
I’m terrible at explanations. When I try to write something, I always meander all over the place. I have a goal in mind, but it never comes out the way I need it to, be it story, essay, or just ‘writing’. It gets even worse when I try to explain something in real life.
At the same time, I still love to write. I’ve given up on trying to make my writing ‘perfect’ on the first go, hoping that when I get around to revise it that it’ll somehow fall into place on its own. I make too many notes, often have a paraphrased but disorganized version of the original plot, and secondary characters that somehow have more life than the main characters.
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the main character of my current fantasy story. He’s gotten better in the past months, and lost years of his backstory are finally becoming clear, but his character leaves something to be desired. Might be because he’s a bit too much of the ‘stay in background’ type, someone who doesn’t take direct action unless he’s forced to. The first section of the story doesn’t have him doing much, making me wonder if a character like that would turn off a random reader.
As for the, uh…science fiction story (which I posted the beginning of in 13 lines)… Uh, well. I found Kevin Murphy’s suggestions to be quite helpful, and would like to thank him for taking the time to read my terrible work. (I wasn’t sure if I could post right on the 13 lines page, so…) I wasn’t really looking at the details at the time and was focusing more on the tone, but I do understand that bad details can get in the way. I’ll fix them once I finish the rest of the short story. …because revisions are starting to scare me.
I just added a sentence to the story that has spent six months being ‘irretrievably stalled’. Two sentences, actually. If I give myself a few hours, I may be able to add a third, but maybe I’ll let that wait until tomorrow.
But the ice is most definitely cracking. Thank you.
I think it does make a huge difference ‘talking’ about writing. I don’t mean to the exclusion of actually writing ‘the novel’, but writing in a vacuum and not knowing if anything is any good is hard.
It might be a cliche but the more you write the more you learn, and every novel I’ve written some ephiphany will strike even if it’s something small like how to avoid writing passively, or how to write those seamless sentences that the authors here use.
I think, and I’d love to hear this from one of the authors here, that each book is as difficult, if not harder, than the previous one, and an author never stops learning. Personally I find the idea of that exciting rather than daunting. There’s that wonderful feeling when you know something works.
I have five “first novels” collecting dust on my hard drive, and crying at me daily to get serious, sit down, and write instead of staring blankly at the screen and hoping something jumps out at me.
My problem is that I get too easily distracted. I’ll sit down at my computer and swear to myself that I’ll write at least a page before I’ll allow myself to do anything else; it works for the first few minutes, but as soon as I look up from the screen, there goes any hope og acheiving said goal. I don’t have a problem starting novels, it’s finishing them that I can never do. I usually get just over a hundred pages, start rereading bits and pieces to see how I’m doing, and decide it’s all crap. I completely restarted the novel I’m working on now because I convinced myself I hated the beginning.
Another problem I have is the infamous “info dump.” An all-knowing character suddenly appears and gladly enlightens the main character, who then skips cheerily off to follow his Great Destiny. I can’t seem to get around it.
Racgel said : I donâ€™t have a problem starting novels, itâ€™s finishing them that I can never do.
May I make a suggestion? Write crap. I’m serious. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter how awful it is, as along as you finish it. Pick one, maybe the one you like most. Don’t worry how ghastly it is, just write, even if it’s just the outline of what you want. If you are a bit of a perfectionist you will look at that and make it much better later.
And it doesn’t matter how awful a first draft is. Who else is going to see it? We’re out own worst critics.
Each novel gets harder to write because I know more, while never knowing enough. As I gain more experience, I set higher goals for myself in my writing even if I’m not conscious of them. Therefore, each book is harder to write than the one that came before it.
And – yeah – I can procrastinate something terrible. I never thought I would WANT to do laundry.
I’ve been thinking of writing a book for years now…pretty much since i read “Palace” a few years ago..It captured my imagination and I thought to myself that few authors have captured the subtleties of a fictional society as well as Katherine Kerr did in that book.
I have what I think is a “great idea” for the novel that I do intend to write oneday but at the moment strangely I have convinced myself that it would be really beneficial to try and draw some of the characters that have sprung into my mind. Just to get the creative juices flowing.
But I think that’s just my fear of just starting to actually write. I’ve never had much experience in writing in my day to day work, as I work with my hands, so I also think that this is contributing to not starting.
The only reason that I’d like to write my book is for other people to enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed other authors’ novels over the years (well I hope that it would be an enjoyable experience to read).
So what do you, as aspiring authors reccommend?
Should I bite the bullet and just start writing and see how it goes or should i pick up the pencils and hope to inspire myself to do something about it?
jay: I do the same thing! My most recent artistic distraction was trying to plan out the cover (for a book I haven’t even written a quarter of, I might add). I draw the characters, I draw scenes from the book, I draw insiginificant things only vaguely releated to the novel at all… And I know I’m doing it, but I can’t seem to stop! Just another part of procrastination…
Planning the cover before you have finished the book is a definite no-no. (Rachel, my critique of your lines is finally up.) Anything else that helps is probably okay.
The fear of “making a mistake” or “writing crap” is, in my experience anyway, the biggest single barrier to someone sitting down and writing. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone’s first draft is crap. THIS IS WHY WE REVISE, people! How can we know what we’re saying until we’ve said it? Yes, that’s a joke, but also it’s true.
You cannot organize and perfect a heap of material until you have the heap. How do you know which of X many things is the most important until you see all X of them? How do you know where your story is going until you reach the end? Once you’ve gotten there, then you can go back and shape the narrative to make sure it arrives by the best route.
Yes, you can outline. Nothing is deader than a detailed outline, again in my experience. Other writers swear by them. If outlines are not working for you, then try winging it and see what happens. Let your characters tell you what they’re going to do. (That’s what Mark and I did in PALACE.)
The first draft corresponds, in my mind, to assembling the ingredients you need to cook an elaborate recipe. First you get everything out on the kitchen counter. Then you do whatever prep each ingredient needs, peeling, chopping, whatever. Only then can you combine them and put them into the pan. The actual cooking takes the least energy — the final polish of the words, the spell checks, and so on is the corresponding last step in writing.
Writing crap is not merely okay. Writing crap is necessary. Get it out into the phosphors or on the page if you write by hand. Once it’s out, then you make it good. To take this metaphor to ridiculous lengths, you turn the crap into gold by revising.
Here’s to writing crap [All hail the mighty Kit!]. 😉
Even what you consider to be crap isn’t always crap later. I’m always amazed when I read something I wrote years ago at how good it was, considering. It sure didn’t feel like it while it was going on.
Rachel — InfoDump is a good word for it! I do that too, knowing I’ll ax most of it later. At least I wrote it ONCE, if only to prove to myself that I knew it all. It also helps me sort out what can go into character description, what needs to be there to push the plot along and so needs to be interwoven, and what needs to go back into deep background. Drawing the cover, tho, is an exercise in frustration. IF/When the book sells, the artist who does your cover likely won’t get to see any of the bits that you think are absolutely vital to the cover. I lived witha guy years ago who fancied himself a novelist. He wrote the whole thing and then (fool) let me read it. He had actually written a decent story, with strong male characters, but his female characters were so bad it was laughable — he said they were strong, Amazon types but had them get weepy and need their men’s help at the drop of a hat. He also spent good money to pay an artist to do drawings for his cover and for inside his book. He actually believed he was going to sell it that way and get his artist well known. Needless to say, he didn’t like my critique of his female characters (we broke up not long after that) and even >I
rats. What that was supposed to say was “Even I knew (this was 28 years ago) What that trying to sell your own art with a book just isn’t done.”
Damn. Where did the rest of that post go … I said such pithy things. [Preview from now on, Barbara. Click Preview]
Jay — I took a weekend writing seminar from Donald Maas called Writing the Breakout Novel, based on his book of the same name. The book is good. So was the seminar. But I find nothing better than going to genre conventions that cater to both pros and fen — they’re rarer than they should be. There’s nothing like a meeting of like minds to get the creative juices going. I also currently belong to 3 writers’ groups, tho joining one can be and iffy proposition. 2 are in my genre and are me with one other person. The third is with 4 other people, none of whom read or write sf/f. And Kit’s admonition to me above — not to write their comments off — is totally valid. Much as I’d like to say “well, you just don’t understand” and pooh pooh them, they are who I’m aiming at. So I’m reworking.
Ah, the ever-growing discussion of outlining. Nice to know Kit doesn’t use them. I never had before now — even in school, I wrote the required outlines when I was with the paper. They have always baffled me.
Judy Tarr does paragraph outlines of her chapters. They start small — sometimes only a single sentence for a chapter — and grow as she adds plot points she wants to expand on later. And her outlines are living documents. You can’t know before you start writing where a character or event is going to take you. Writers that say they can are, imho, fooling themselves. I like the recipe imagery, Kit. Ah, the things we concoct!
I wasn’t exactly thinking of designing a cover for my book, more just a detailed colour sketch of the main characters. You’re probably right that it’s just another form of procrastination though. But in my mind it makes sense to actually do it to aid with description of the appearance of these characters.
Just reading everybody’s posts has made me more eager to actually make a start though. But I’m lost as to where exactly to start. But I’ve only learn’t to use a computer within the last 6 mths so the thought of actually using my new knowledge is a little daunting too.
Well I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands as of next weel so fingers crossed that I can find the motivation.
The last story I wrote was over 10 years ago at school. I’m in Australia and as I said I have virtually no experience in having to write anything. I don’t know of any clubs or anything which caters to people that wish to learn to write sf/f novels. But if anyone does know of any please post a little info it’d be appreciated.
You know, writing the novel hasn’t been the most difficult for me. Yes, it was damned hard, and I still don’t consider any of them totally finished, but the hardest thing after that is finding the courage to send them out. Workshops helped enormously. You get feedback and encouragement that way. Meeting other people at cons with like minds was another way to learn the craft, the business end as well.
When it comes to writing the synopsis and query letter I go all to pieces. A subconscious fear of rejection? Probably. I’ve read the agent and editor blogs, I’ve read the how tos and the samples, and yet, writing that damned letter…
I have done it though, and received my rejections. You don’t take them personally, especially the ones that are obviously form letters. The ones you remember are the ones that encourage you or ask for a re-write. They are the ones that make you think it might be worthwhile to continue.
So I’ve reached that stage again with both a fantasy novel and a sci fi novel. No, I’m not happy. I’m like that proverbial artist who wants one more brush stroke. But there comes a time when I must bite the bullet and off they go. Then comes the waiting and the over-thinking, and the omg I did a typo on page thirteen, but, you know, whatever happens, I’ll still carry on.
They start small â€” sometimes only a single sentence for a chapter â€” and grow as she adds plot points she wants to expand on later. And her outlines are living documents. You canâ€™t know before you start writing where a character or event is going to take you.
This is really interesting. I don’t outline. I just can’t grow a story in advance. But I DO need to have a short term destination before I write a scene – even if it is “they get the slave back to the palace.” This is what helps curtail rambling.
That being said, I do keep a running list of “things that might need to happen.” (along with my running list of names, odd words, and the sketch map as I introduce new places). It may have four or five entries when I sit down to write chapter 1.
Running is the operative word. The ideas are outgrowths of whatever scene I’m writing at the moment, or of new things I’m discovering about the characters (ooh, she’s claustrophobic…what if…?) And I never force myself to fill in the list until I know more about my characters and whatever predicament I’ve got them in to begin the story. Of course, this list grows longer the farther I get into the story, until by the time I am at chapter 28 of a 32 chapter book, I might have an outline:-)
Starting, as opposed to staring at the blank screen . . .
Here’s an exercise, Jay, that might help. Shut your eyes and imagine that you’re standing outside of a door. Notice what kind of door it is, what it looks like, what the wall around it looks like. Now open it. Who’s inside? What’s inside?
WRite all this down. It most likely won’t be actually left in the story you’re writing, but it mayl give you a — ta da! — way in.
I’ve had the ‘unimportant at first then suddenly very important’ situation recently. On a whim I wrote a character sending a present to the main character of my fantasy story. Next day, I decide what topic the main character’s teacher is going to teach next in class. I didn’t realize the importance of the book being about the same topic until later on in the day. Gah.
And all of a sudden, a minor character just became a major character. And the whole plot just got more complicated to write.
This is really interesting. I donâ€™t outline. I just canâ€™t grow a story in advance. But I DO need to have a short term destination before I write a scene – even if it is â€œthey get the slave back to the palace.â€ This is what helps curtail rambling.
I wish I could write like that. A lot of my stories end up with extensive backstories because of my pointless outlining and need to know how something worked before I started on it (might be part of why my sci-fi story isn’t as well written as it could be- I still only have a vague idea of how the universe works, and being kept on my toes scares me at times).
I agree that trying to make a story conform completely to an outline can kill it. I’ve, uh…tried before. And failed miserably on keeping characters in character.
Iâ€™m always amazed when I read something I wrote years ago at how good it was, considering. It sure didnâ€™t feel like it while it was going on.
I recently re-read a character monologue I wrote last year December, and it made me stop and think. Partly because of how much that character changed, but more because of what he was musing on about. The idea of considering my old writing decent doesn’t sit well with me. It makes me wonder if I’m currently doing something wrong.
Sometimes I even think it was written by a completely different person. I mean, my own writing can’t be that good, can it?
Thanks for the idea Katherine
I did kinda follow it but i kinda didn’t but what can I say, I’m past the procrastination part now. I’ve actually written a page and found it wasn’t that hard (wasn’t that easy either!) Just hope the rest comes along as easily!
But once you get started and have at least a slight idea of where you’d like to head it’s not too bad. It’s probably not all that good but there’s a learning curve to everything right?
hey just a question for everyone if that’s ok?
I’m new to writing, or trying to write a story of any description so I’m a little confused as to how to go about getting a novel on paper.
So I’ve started writing a short story. Has anyone else here written a short story, then started the story again in more detail from a different angle or whatever to actually create a novel?
Just wondering. I do like the characters that I’ve created so far but I have a whole Idea in my head which I think would make a good book. Does anyone think that it’s worth writing something twice ar just go the whole hog and write it as a novel?
Anyone with more writing experience than myself is more than welcome to answer me. I am unsure whether this will actually ruin the idea that I’ve already started on by over-analysing it..Any ideas?
Jay said : Just wondering. I do like the characters that Iâ€™ve created so far but I have a whole Idea in my head which I think would make a good book. Does anyone think that itâ€™s worth writing something twice ar just go the whole hog and write it as a novel?
From my own experience, the story is either a short story or a novel. How do I tell? A novel won’t stop running, a short story tends to encapsulate fewer ideas. Not to say that you can’t write a short story and a novel using the same characters/setting etc, but a short story tends to be more of a single scene.
The one short story I have published, one review said basically, this should have been a novel, and they were right. Even though it had a beginning/middle/end structure there were too many ideas within that were begging to be expanded, threads that needed lengthening, characters who needed more say, plot that needed resolution.
There are exceptions to everything. There aren’t any ‘rules’ only your interpretation of them. It’s a bit like saying, ‘How long should a chapter be?’ and for me it’s the same answer as a story, ‘It’s as long as it needs to be.’
That’s how I would look at it. Doesn’t mean to say I a right.
Does anyone think that itâ€™s worth writing something twice ar just go the whole hog and write it as a novel?
I haven’t suceeded at the novel part yet, but I know I write short stories to get used to the characters, setting, and the feel of the world. I’ve done the same with Fanfiction, so I figured it’d probably also work with original stories (I hope).
Sort of like taking a small step before a leap.
I don’t actually write the storyline I know I’m going to use for the novel, though. The events I usually choose occur either before or after the novel; I’d imagine it’d be fun to look at them again afterwards, just to see how much has changed.
I have been wanting to write since I was young. Like many, I’m sure, I grew up losing myself in books and always wanting to write something that someone could lose themselves in. However, there was always something lacking in my short stories that my mom stapled together for me when I was little; something different about flipping a page back versus turning a page In my tweens I wrote ALL the time. Pages upon pages. I still have stacks of white pages on my shelves that I keep as a reminder of what I’m NOT doing anymore.
When I got to college I took a lot of writing courses and I very quickly learned (and was taught in a sense) that I don’t write well and that I wouldn’t be good at writing. The stacks of paper that I so lovingly poured myself into as a child seemed empty once I graduated college and I lost my enthusiasm and even the ease of writing somehow.
In my thirties I am still trying to write … but every word and every sentence is like pulling teeth. When I was younger I had an idea, I would sit down, and just type and type and type until it was gone. Now … I sit for hours staring at a paragraph and wondering if it meets standards and rules. Is it as good as … ? Does it make you feel like … ? Does it evoke this or that?
Is writing easy and enjoyable for everyone who does it? Is it like drinking water? For me it is Listerine … and I don’t know why and yet I still really feel there is a story in me. Notice I said “a story” as opposed to many Since I only have one story to tell does that make me a writer … When I was small it seemed writers to me were fountains of endless stories flowing out of them and it had to be easy because my god there were so many books to be read!
It seems now as I outline and plan and plan and plan that nothing seems to happen. I “plan to plan” and outline my characters into frames that are so generic I start to hate them and wonder where all the … wonder went.
I don’t know any other writers so I’d hard to find advice. I thought perhaps some of you wise and accomplished ones could offer some advice to me. I would be grateful.
Note: In the preview page, about three or four characters are cut off the end of each sentence. I don’t know how to stop this happening, and I apologise if this happens in my post.
Just /”E/”, you are not alone. I write because I am compelled, not because I like it. I hate fumbling for words to express what I see in my mind, worrying about sentence structure, grammar, whether the reader will ‘get’ what I am trying to say, and so on. I loathe revising even more – I’d rather watch paint dry. So you are not the only one who finds the process like pulling hen’s teeth.
Having said that, I would like to comment on some of the things you said. I’m neither wise or accomplished, but I hope my words are of some use anyway, as one aspiring writer to another.
I very quickly learned (and was taught in a sense) that I donâ€™t write well and that I wouldnâ€™t be good at writing.
Why wouldn’t you be good at writing? Just because someone doesn’t write well now, doesn’t mean that they won’t write well in the future. I believe that a lot of the craft of writing – grammar, pacing, structure etc – can be learnt. I don’t think that it is something that writers are born with. I think that it is something they have learnt, either from reading a wide variety of books, or from their schooling, or from both. What can’t be taught (in my opinion) is the creative spark that generates ideas, and it seems that you have that in abundance. I feel that your writing courses have squashed you flat, and that makes me very sad.
I would be very interested to know what made you think that you don’t write well. I think that maybe you have misjudged yourself here, and your writing is better than you think it is. I certainly thought that your original comment was very well written.
Since I only have one story to tell does that make me a writer
Yes. Absolutely. It is a well-known thingy (sorry, don’t know what to call it) that every writer has only one story to tell. Some tell it once, and some tell it a number of times in different ways. All of these are writers. One group is not better than the other.
When I was younger I had an idea, I would sit down, and just type and type and type until it was gone. Now â€¦ I sit for hours staring at a paragraph and wondering if it meets standards and rules. Is it as good as â€¦ ? Does it make you feel like â€¦ ? Does it evoke this or that?
The best advice I can give to you is not to worry about standards and rules when you write. Just write. Get the words on the page. Once you have written a set amount (be it one page or one book), go back and revise what you have written.
I worry about standards and rules when I revise (and not before, or I’d never write anything). I generally do one revision for grammar (the bane of my life), one for spelling, one to check my paragraphing, and one extra one for sentence structure (I’m the Queen of run-on sentences). Then I put the piece of writing away for two weeks. After two weeks, I pull it out again and check for things like: Have I rambled on too much here? Have I used the correct words? Should I expand this, condense it, or leave it? Does this ‘feel’ right? Then comes the hardest bit – I post the writing up on the web for feedback (I belong to two groups for aspiring writers). I consider all comments carefully, but I don’t implement them all. Sometimes, the person writing the feedback has a point (Ok, mostly they have a point). Sometimes I wonder what drugs they were on to come up with that feedback (which I will still consider). This is where I find out if what I have written has reached my audience in the way I wanted it to (and if not, why not).
What I am trying to say here is: write first, revise second. All good writing is re-writing. The initial words on the page are only a first draft, something that you can then work with to create a story. You still have to rearrange it, add things in, cut things out, change words, rewrite sentences/paragraphs/whole scenes from scratch to get to your story.
Writing is not easy. Writing, in my opinion, should be listed in the same categories as sadism and machoism. I think that it is one of the hardest things that a person can attempt in their lifetime, and I salute anyone who is brave enough (or crazy enough) to try it.
Rosamunda I thank you greatly for your comments. I would love to talk more with you about writing (feel free to email me also).
As I mentioned … writing was such a passion for me as a child. As I write this post I’m looking over at my shelf which I’ve carted from state to state and apartment after apartment as I’ve moved over the years that contains all these stacked pieces of paper. “Books”. 200 pages, 300 pages in length that I wrote seemingly without effort when I was 12 – 14 years old. They have … plots (what could be called a plot for a 12 year old) … characters, story archs, beginning, middle, end. I mean there’s 6 of these stacks. And every now and then I thumb through them and think … when did I ever have time to do this … and hey this paragraph is really good, even by my standards now. Some is crap of course, I was a kid, but surprisingly well done. But I remember these times; sitting down and thinking out something and just pecking away at the keys … I don’t know what happened to that time – that ability.
When I went to college I knew I wanted to major in English. I knew that I wanted to write. I was good at it. It was fun. Of course that’s what I’d do. Naive was I. My first writing course was a nightmare of peer critiques. My style was different, my ideas were different, I wasn’t “well read” (god forbid I liked popular fiction and fantasy). And I just got drilled into the ground. Teacher after teacher … “This isn’t good writing. it’s popular writing but that doesn’t make it good writing…” – “It sounds like you’re trying too hard to convey meaning here, you’re forcing it …” and on and on. Even poetry class was a nightmare. We had to “write on the spot” and I was never good in a flash. Others around me could churn out a page of greatness and I could only really write at home, at my desk, in the quiet … I just didn’t have it. I couldn’t just write anywhere under any circumstance and I didn’t have endless ideas and stories to tell. I had one. One thing I wanted to get out.
By sophomore year I changed my focus to computer science (which was always more of a hobby and has since become my profession for 13 years). I still wrote but … somehow everything I wrote didn’t seem enough or well written and I started wondering if I was meant for it. I wasn’t like all the others around me who could just sit down and spin a tale in a spiral notebook on a subway on the way to work. (I remember reading how “Queen Harry Potter” wrote on her way to work on a bus or something and thinking how in the world can you write on a bus??) College really dampened my spirits or maybe just made me realize that just because I liked to write, that didn’t mean I was supposed to be a writer. I didnt seem to have the natural skill. I didn’t seem to have the background. I didn’t seem to have a fountain of ideas just bursting to come alive under my pen.
I have been working on a novel for years and I start and stop. Sometimes I’ll write a perfect page and then not write again for months. Sometimes I’ll write 50 pages in one sitting. But it’s not consistent. I’m always compelled to print and read what I have written which only makes me go back and change it a million times before I can move on to the next page. I read other peoples books cover to cover and I think to myself. How did they do that? How did they make me love on character over another? Did they know how to do that? Did it just happen? Carol Berg’s Transformation series comes to mind (so brilliant Carol thank you so much for that wonderful work) and I wondered how she created such amazing characters. Do you plan that from the beginning? Is it in the dialog? Is it in their actions? Is it just magic? I analyze and overanalyze my characters to the point where they seem devoid of any interest and become cardboard cutouts.
It seems endless for me – questions, starting, stopping – and I wonder if I will ever get the story out of my system. If I will ever earn or be worthy of that magic that seems to be in the hands/pens/computers of other writers.
The problem for the past 10 years has been that my job of technical writing uses the same brain pathways as fiction writing (some would say that all computer software help is fiction â€¦ I wouldnâ€™t disagree) and after 10-14 hrs of massaging computer information down to its essence, I didnâ€™t have the energy to write fiction, too. So Iâ€™m taking a hiatus from technical writing and concentrating on getting this puppy rolling.
As a tech junkie, web designer, programming computerhead. I hear ya loud and clear on that! Somehow, writing about 1000 lines of tedious PHP code makes me less … creative I am trying to retire from computer work to hopefully be able to write full time.
Rosamunda yes indeed a trend! I see a lot of scenes from my book as film in my mind. Probably why I tend to write in present tense. I’m probably better off writing screenplays. I use to write my friends one acts when she was in drama school. I enjoyed the direct aspect of writing for immediate action. I still think in someways this works in novels through I have not yet seen a recent application of it. Because I see things in a sense of immediate action, sound and movement are very often first and foremost in my mind. What is the person doing. How are they moving. How is it communicating something to the reader. But based on my 13 line critique I doubt my style or suggestions would be pretty helpful to you I clearly don’t have an understanding of how to communicate things at all
Feel free to contact me anytime tho via the contact form of the URL that SHOULD be attached to this post. Would love to hear from you! And thanks for your comments also from before.
I’ve been chipping away at my first adult novel – that is, I choose to count the novel I completed in sixth grade that may have been junk but I finished the whole thing as my first novel – since Labor Day 2005. I’m using R. Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist” to keep it all together with lots of input from “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. What I’ve realized is that writing a novel is not like winning the lottery, it’s growing your own food. It takes sustained effort, belief, and simple hard work. I could extend the metaphor forever – the need to keep your fields fertile, you reap what you sow, etc. Basically my point is that sometimes we think too much about end product – the big bang that novel is going to create in our life when we get it finished – but that thinking doen’t get the thing done.
I’ve skimmed the other postings here, and I’d strongly recommend checking out Critters (www.critique.org) for anyone writing science fiction or fantasy. It really helped me get serious and I learned a great deal.
Just \\â€E\\â€, your experience sounds horrible. Not unfamiliar though. I went into college with Creative Writing as one of my potential majors. The first class went all right. The second class was taught by a guy who didn’t even know what ‘pinky finger’ meant. I totally didn’t understand how someone who didn’t know English fluently enough to know ‘pinky finger’ could be conducting a creative writing course in English. That class also had a graduate student in it who was writing this horrible monolithic dreck novel. He totally didn’t belong in a workshop of undergrads who were working on short stories. Only one person in that class really had an understanding of what I was trying to write.
The third creative writing course was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The professor wouldn’t allow us to write genre fiction. At all. Bad enough he wasn’t letting me write the only thing I knew how to write and was inspired to write — sf/f — but he didn’t leave anything to write. When you cut out science fiction, fantasy, mystery, western, and romance.. what do you have left?!
English classes are not conducive to good writing. Most creative writing classes and workshops are not suitable for sf/f writing. Try to ignore anything those instructors and fellow students told you. They probably didn’t grok what you were writing. I know my classmates didn’t. They’d rather read another story of a college student shagging and/or killing their roommate.
End rant. But I did want to make a suggestion. If you’re having trouble writing a sentence because you think that sentence is horrible. Or trouble writing a paragraph because you’re worried about your grammar and spelling, then I suggest an online roleplaying game — such as a MUSH. You’re writing and interacting with people in real time. You only have a few minutes to get your paragraph ‘perfect’ before the people you’re playing with will get tired of waiting. And they’ll provide you with instant feedback if they don’t understand what you’re trying to say.
It might be a good way to get over the self-censoring you’re doing and to hone your communication skills. Who cares if it’s perfect? It’s just a game; it’s just for fun, and it can even be anonymous. Meanwhile you’ll be learning all about character, dialogue, and even plot.
Just avoid the trap of enjoying the game so much that it’s a substitute for actual writing. My hours and hours (years and years) of written roleplay isn’t publishable… mostly because I’m playing in someone else’s sandbox.
Barbara said “Now that youâ€™ve finished this one and itâ€™s ready for the world to take it on, whatâ€™s next? What lessons can you impart here on your process? Details, girl. We want details.”
I started the next novel two weeks after finishing the first one. Urban fantasy this time. It was the story that screamed “Write me” the loudest.
I used all sorts of tricks to finish my book. I put a chart on my bedroom door and I counted words and charted them each day. If I didn’t want to write I would go to a coffee shop where there was no Internet, I didn’t bring books, and I sat there with my laptop until I was so bored I HAD to write. I went on “writing dates” with my partner on weekends. And I commiserated with other writers on the Internet at least a few times a week so I didn’t feel alone when things were tough.
You know what got me really started properly though? I was chatting online with an established fantasy writer whose work I greatly admire (one of those dear authors who takes time to talk to newbies like me) and one day I realized that she wasn’t that different than me. Oh, she’s a far better writer than me, but what I mean is that she is a regular person. I think, down deep, because I love books so very, very much, a part of me (a little kid part) was quite sure that only spectacularly magical people write really good books. This despite my having met many published authors, which you would think might convince me that regular people write books. But of course it t wasn’t ever a conscious belief, nor a logical one. But somehow, as this writer talked about her leaky plumbing and her favorite breed of chicken and just . . .her life, that idea that I am too ordinary to write something good just faded away. Because she was both ordinary and extraordinary. And aren’t we all? So I started to write. And I haven’t stopped.
But I have to second the idea that writing one novel does not make the next one easier. I thought it would, but nope, this one is even harder. I think that’s because I want to do better and I learned a lot from writing the first one and so I’m trying to apply what I learned and do new things and . . .well, it’s just always going to be a big adventure, isn’t it.
Muneraven, I liked reading about what inspired you to write. My most recent inspiration came from both an article on the Deep Magic website and the comments here. I suddenly had the ‘aha’ realisation that what I had to do was just write – a little each day – and I would, eventually, become better. That was a very inspiring thought. The fact that doing this would mean finishing my piece is an added bonus.
I goofed big time today. I send in the first 13 lines of a short story to be critiqued, and as soon as I hit the ‘send’ button I realised that the last half of the last sentence was pretentious rubbish. Yi-yi-yi! Why couldn’t that moment of revelation have come a little sooner? I am going to get blasted to bits for that sentence – and rightly so. I just hope I survive the fallout.
I feel like I’m jumping in rather late here, but this has been fascinating so far, and I can’t resist.
I finished the first draft of my first novel about 9 months ago. I’ve barely looked at it since. For me the hard part doesn’t seem to be the writing (I’m 2/3 through book #2), but the revising part. Other than straight up grammar, spelling, and punctuation changes, I can’t seem to make myself start taking it apart and putting it back together.
Part of it is probably lack of practice. I’m one of the fortunate people who can turn out class-style writing by the ream, with good organization, and acceptable prose – so I got very little practice in editing while in school. Since my first drafts could be turned in straight and get A’s, I didn’t see the point of revising.
A novel is a completely different kettle of fish. Even if every individual chapter is fine, it still all has to fit together, and something that happens in chapter 48 can alter what I need to say in chapter 3, well after chapter 3 was written. I see the need to rip out sections and reorganize, and I freeze. So I’m stuck, with a novel that several people are telling me is good, and just needs some minor re-ordering to be ready to send out – and I can’t seem to figure out where to start. It was much easier just to start writing a whole different novel.
Does anyone have a suggestion for a good (preferably step-by-step) book or essay on editing a first draft novel? (Picture plaintive basset eyes here.)
There are plenty of essays around, but my problem with all of them is that they are so general they don’t really help the first timer.
My advice is this: once you feel you’ve improved it as much as you can, get an objective opinion from a workshop–but not one filled with other beginners. You need the eye of someone experienced, preferably published, because you need someone first to see what’s on the page, not what you wanted to be there. Workshop friends who’ve been over and over the story will too often see what you meant them to see, not what’s actually there. Second, someone who’s practiced in critiquing can usually articulate any problems, and is also more practiced at separating out what they’d do with the novel (which means how they’d write it, which is of course useless to you) and how you might get that reader investment more quickly and effectively.
I dunno, maybe we need a first chapter option here: I don’t know how many would have time to comment, and doing this on-line is such a pain, but sometimes a glimpse at a first chapter can at least serve as triage.
There are good books helping you to get the novel written, but you’re beyond that. Ursula le Guin is great on prose, Orson Scott Card has a pretty good book on structure and pacing. But one really learns best within the context of one’s own work, or so I’ve found.
so: workshops: well, there is Critters. What you’ll get there is a ramge of response, mostly from other beginners, but they also represent a range of tastes.
For a far better workshop, there’s the OWW–but the hitch is that they have a fee for joining.
Online Writers’ Workshop. it’s easy to find via Google–and the number of members who have made big sales within the last couple of years is very high–an impressive ratio. I’m sorry they charge money, but I really do think it’s the best on-line workshop.
I’ll have to look into OWW. I have run my novel past the crew at Rate Your Writing – but they are mostly beginners also, so they have great ideas for what needs changing, but little idea how to go about it.
Oddly enough the one published author I’ve run it by has been the one who thinks it needs the least work – but his own time constraints didn’t allow him to give me more than the roughest overview of what he thought he needed to happen – and gave me a dilemma. I have a half roughed-in secondary plot. Most readers liked it, and wanted it filled in properly (the idea occurred to me halfway through, so there’s no set-up). He thought I should remove it altogether, not because it was bad, but because he thought it too ambitious for a first-time writer. I’m loathe to remove it, because without it the book reads like a YA novel to me (nothing wrong with them, it’s just not what I had in mind), but I am also reluctant to ignore his advice.
Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll be wandering off to Google and Amazon now.
Well, one thing you can ask yourself is, why he thinks it should be removed–and is his reasoning cogent? Or would it distort your story too far from your vision? (You hint that it does.) If so, maybe the thread needs better transitions, connections, to the main, and not total annihilation.
He has no objections to the thread per se. His statement was that if this were a second or third book, he wouldn’t hesitate to have me fill it in properly. He is, by his comments, leery of my skills as a first time novelist being up to the challenge of a serious secondary plot-line.
Taking it out would over-simplify my story in my eyes, but I am also infamous in all things for overreaching my skills, so I am wary of ignoring his advice.
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