First, let me share this year’s goals. It was NOT so much to write, but to rest, reset, and learn. I think I’ve done a killer job doing that. One of the ways I’ve done that is by reading A LOT. I’ve read across genres, good writing, bad writing, absolutely breathtaking writing. And with each book, I’ve learned things I want to do better, ways to make characters more real, how to set a scene, pacing, and so on. If anyone wants to learn how to be a better writer, those lessons are as close as their bookshelf. During this time, and for reasons other than just learning, I made a decision to NOT write. Of course, that lasted until June when a book idea grabbed me by the soul and poured through me. Now I’m close to wrapping up the rough draft, though I’ve put a pause on writing until finals are done.
Now for my next year’s goal. WRITE. I’m taking next semester off school and I plan to get ultra serious about writing and publishing. Break time is over, and my honest goal is to write 3-4 books this next year. I’m super pumped about it, and ready to put to paper all the things I’ve learned from my year of reading. I also plan to be much more proactive than I ever have been about getting my author career off the ground, and that means leading more readers to my books.
If you’re a creator, what are YOUR creative goals for 2019?
As long as I’ve been able to write, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer. But as we all know, the desire to be a writer doesn’t create books alone. I’ve started writing novels, only to give up three chapters in. I’ve hidden my writing so that the world would never see my scribbles. I had aspirations of being a famous novelist, but didn’t know how to get there.
I was in my mid-thirties when I finally published my first novel. Three years later, and I’m gearing up to publish my fifth fiction novel and eight book. I can’t help wondering how many stories I missed writing because I lacked the courage sooner to write them.
Here are eight things I wish I had known as a newbie writer.
1. Don’t wait until tomorrow to start your book.
When people learn I’m an author, they usually tell me that they hope to write a book someday. Buy why wait? What makes someday a more perfect time than today? I put off writing a book for decades. When I finally started writing, it was a scary place to be. Publishing it was even scarier. But after that first book came the second, and then the third, and so on.
If you are waiting until your life gets less busy, stop waiting. There will always be obligations, a full calendar, and that 9-5 job. If something is crossed off your list, another responsibility is bound to take its place. That perfect moment to start writing may never exist. So make the time today to start writing your book.
2. Bad writing only leads to good writing.
The first attempt at anything is terrible. However, if you keep trying, things start to get better. This is true of anything in your life, including writing. I think back to the very first novel I ever wrote. It was awful! I put a lot of time and energy into that book, only to stuff it under my bed, never to see the light of day again. Without that first attempt at novel writing, I may never have gone on to write novels I was proud to share.
The same things goes for my rough drafts. I’ve stripped out chapters of books I’ve written that took days to create. While it hurt to let them go, I don’t regret having written them. They served as the bridge to the parts of the story I wanted to tell.
3. You are just as capable of greatness as the writers you admire most.
Many great writers had humble beginnings. JK Rowling began writing Harry Potter in a coffee shop, barely making it as a single mother. Stephen King initially threw away the manuscript that eventually put his name on the map. Diana Gabaldon started out as a freelance writer, taking any job that would pay her. Nicholas Sparks racked up years of debt and rejection letters before selling the manuscript to The Notebook.
If your writing isn’t where you want it to be, or your book is largely ignored, you may just be in your humble beginning. Remember this time. When you make it big, you can use your backstory to encourage other writers who are aspiring for greatness.
4. Write EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Once you start writing your novel, don’t skip even one day of writing. Even if you only write 50 words some of those days, you have to stick with that story. Otherwise, numerous obstacles are going to attempt war on your writing efforts. You’ll lose interest in the story. You’ll doubt your abilities as a writer. You’ll lose track of the storyline. You’ll fill up your writing time with other things.
To be a writer, you have to keep your writing muscle conditioned. Skipping one day may lead to a second skipped day. Before you know it, you’ll have missed a week of writing, and that novel will end up an unrealized dream.
5. Step out of the writing cave now and then.
Yes, you need to write every day. However, a great story doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Get out of your house occasionally. Visit with friends, enjoy the fresh air, and practice your communication skills. After all, you never know when an experience might make it into one of your stories.
6. Learning is a lifelong process.
There will always be things you don’t know about writing. There are writers who are more talented than you are. There are ways your novel can improve. Rather than throwing in the towel, aim to be better. Take workshops or classes. Seek advice from other writers. Read, read, and read! Never stop learning.
7. Write what you love, and stop writing what you don’t love.
There are going to be days when the story you’re writing just isn’t there. As a novelist, your job is to keep plugging away until you hit your stride again. However, sometimes the story just isn’t there. If the book you’re writing has lost its appeal for good, it’s okay to put it down and start something new. Why waste your time on something you don’t enjoy? It could be keeping you from the story you were meant to write.
8. Being an author is not a way to get rich quick.
Three years ago when I published my first book, I had visions of the mansion I would buy with my millions, the movie contracts I would sign, how my kids’ college would be paid for, the speech I would give my boss when I quit my job…. Three years later, I am still working the same hours at the same job. I am a hundredaire on the income from my books, though I still haven’t made more than I’ve spent producing them. No movie director has contacted me. And I still get excited over each sale and review.
There are times when I am frustrated that I haven’t hit the jackpot with my books. When I focus on my numbers, it makes me want to throw in the towel. That’s why numbers are the wrong thing to focus on.
As an author, you MUST remember why you are doing this. You love writing. You have stories to tell. This is your creative outlet. You are passionate about creating books.
Don’t forget the reason why you started writing in the first place, especially when success proves to be elusive. And if you started writing as a way to make millions, start looking for a different profession.
How about you? What advice do you wish you had known as a newbie writer?
Earlier this week, I had the extreme honor of chatting with a 4th grade class in Virginia (via Google Hangout from California) to discuss NaNoWriMo, and how they could write a novel in 30 days. The class will be trying their hand at this challenge, with an appropriate word goal for 9-year-olds, and had so many great questions about the experience, and about my own creative process.
One boy asked me, “Do you ever doubt yourself?”
“All the time,” I told him honestly.
And it’s more than the truth. At the time that we talked (it was Tuesday), I had 5 days left to figure out what I was going to be writing for NaNoWriMo, and nothing was coming to me. Usually by this time, I have my whole entire novel mapped out, and have been carrying on personal conversations with my characters. This year, my original plan was to write the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake. But last week, I chose to save that novel for a time when I can be more diligent and give it the detailed attention it deserves. I decided to, instead, write a novel that was more fun and carefree, not even worrying about whether I would publish it or not.
Problem was, nothing was coming to me.
So when that student asked me if I ever doubted myself, I couldn’t have been more honest by saying yes. I was currently doubting myself. I was starting to think I would never come up with a novel idea, and that I would enter NaNoWriMo on Nov. 1 already a loser.
And then, later that day, my novel idea barreled at me, tackled me, and wrapped itself around me so tight, I could barely breathe from excitement.
In her Ted talk, Elizabeth Gilbert relayed a conversation she had held with the late American poet, Ruth Stone. Ruth described how there were times when she’d be working the fields (ironically, in Virginia, where the students I talked to live!), and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She would actually feel the earth shake, and she knew she needed to get to a pen and a piece of paper as fast as she could before the poem thundered through her. She would, in her words, “run like hell” toward the house, the poem at her heels as she ran. Often, she’d make it, and was able to collect the words as they moved through her and write them on the page. But other times, the poem would barrel through her before she got to the paper, and then would continue over the landscape, looking for another poet. And sometimes, she would almost miss it, and feel it go through her just before she got to the paper, and at the very last second, she’d grab the pencil with one hand and the end of the poem with the other. She would then pull the poem back through her, transcribing as she did, so that the poem would be written from ending to beginning, completely backwards on the paper.
When I first heard this Ted talk, I thought it was utterly amazing. I also thought how poetic it sounded, but not very realistic. I mean, really? A poem chased you?
But on Tuesday, it happened. My next novel chased me as I drove into work that day. I felt it thunder down the hillside, and the air around me shake. And I was suddenly consumed with it, with no paper or pencil around to write it down. Ideas kept pouring through me, and I begged them to stay with me until I could get to my desk and write them all down. I tried to memorize each thought and idea, trying to retain everything. And while a few fragments dissipated on the walk from my car to the office, the majority of them stayed so that I could capture each lingering thought and place it on paper.
Since Tuesday, the ideas keep coming, thundering over the hillside and barreling through me. And I keep doing my part and writing them down. My notes are a mess of ideas. My soul is consumed with this new story. And last night, I finished mapping out the entire book.
I am now ready for Nov. 1.
Because we’re all friends, I’ll reveal what I’m writing here. I’ve decided to write fan fiction by retelling part of the story of Peter Pan from the eyes of Tiger Lily. Like all great literature, this has been done by a couple other authors. But I’m not worried about that. Like I said, this novel is for fun, and may never be published. Or maybe it will. For now, that’s not a decision I care about. I’m only concerned with enjoying the next 30 days as I fine tune my writing muscle with a piece of writing I couldn’t be more excited about writing.
To prepare, I’m re-reading Peter and Wendy, which has been a completely enjoyable experience. Man, I love this story! Of course, the parts about the Indians show a different sign of the times, so a few details will be changed (like the way they speak, and the name of their tribe).
During the next month, I will try to blog about my writing process as much as I can. I will be spending a lot of time writing my novel, you know. I’m also considering sharing the novel publicly as I write. The jury is still out on that one, however, as rough drafts are often terrible things. But wouldn’t it be fun to see the process of a novel as it’s being written?
Are you doing NaNo? Share what you’re writing in the comments!
I almost forgot to mention that this Sunday (Sept. 13) I will be the featured speaker at the Redwood Writers meeting to discuss NaNoWriMo, and my tips on reaching the finish line of 50,000 words. For those of you who know me, you know that I HATE public speaking of any kind. However, this topic is such a huge deal for me because it’s how I got my start as a novelist, and it’s helped me to improve the speed of my writing process and crank out books at a faster speed than I ever thought possible. Because I’m so passionate about NaNoWriMo, and because I have real tips to offer other people who want to learn to write fast, I’m actually really excited to give this talk on Sunday! Yes, I’m also a little nervous. But I’m more excited than nervous.
If you’re in the Santa Rosa area on Sept. 13 at 2:30 (note, the meeting will be in the COURTYARD rooms, not the Empire room as the flyer suggests) and would like to learn how to write a novel in 30 days, head on over to the Flamingo Resort and join me! More information at redwoodwriters.org, and on the flyer below.
About three years ago, I was in grocery shopping in a Trader Joe’s when an accident unfolded in the middle of the store. A woman was pushing her toddler in the cart, and he was sitting in the wrong part. The cart pitched forward, and the toddler fell on the ground and became hysterical. The woman dropped everything and came to him, scooping him up and rocking him right there in the middle of the produce.
I couldn’t help but absorb what she was going through – the fear that her child was hurt, the guilt that he hadn’t been sitting properly, the embarrassment of being at the center of attention, the feelings of being judged or ridiculed for her parenting skills…
And so opens the beginning of my very next book.
That year (2011), it was that very scene that planted the stage for my NaNoWriMo novel. I played a “What if” game in my mind.
What if this woman came home, and had to face her husband about the mysterious lump on his forehead?
What if the effect of the fall had terrible consequences for the kid?
What would happen to the family after that?
I began the story this way, addressing these “What ifs” with the story of Jill, a woman who loses her son after he hits his head on the slick linoleum of the grocery store. But as I wrote fast (remember, it’s NaNoWriMo – 50K words in 30 days!), another “What if” happened.
What if, as the woman ventures out in the world following the tragedy, something bad happens again?
Enter Maddie, a 16-year-old girl who is pregnant, homeless, and needs a little cash to survive. She finds this by trying to steal Jill’s wallet, setting off a whole new direction of dilemmas and consequences that unfold in a dual story of both mothers’ lives.
I finished that book at just over 50,000 words, and then set it aside to edit later. “Later” turned into years, though the story has haunted me for just as long. So a few months ago, I set aside all my other writing projects (including a book I was in the middle of writing) and picked this book back up to polish and prepare for publication.
To give this still-to-be-named book a fresh start, I retyped the whole thing. As I typed, I added in a few parts, took out a lot more parts, and did my best to make the story a little more 3-dimensional. The process gave me about 20,000 more words to the manuscript (though really it’s more, since I took out a ton of stuff!). And yesterday, I was able to wrap a bow on the rough draft of the book, typing out the words THE END.
Those are some beautiful words, right?
Now comes the fun part – editing. Yeah, I kind of already edited as I went along. But it felt more like writing than editing. So for the next few weeks I’ll be going through it chapter by chapter, smoothing out the edges and preparing it for all of you.
And eventually I’ll even have a book title to share! (<—-Why is that always harder than writing the book itself???)
For now, here’s the rough synopsis of the book you can look forward to reading by the end of this year:
Two mothers. Two different roads in life. Two unimaginable events. This is Jill and Maddie’s story about how life’s twists and turns had an impact on their identity, their future, and the lives they unexpectedly touch in between.
P.S. I have found a name for this novel! The Road to Hope. And it will be released sometime this fall. For a sneak peek at an excerpt from Chapter 1, click here.
It’s a known saying to “write what you know.” And it’s true, your very best writing will come from areas of your life that you’re most familiar with. I’ve followed this advice in my own books – from writing about the complicated process of blending a family in “A Symphony of Cicadas” to actual stories of my life in “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows”.
But if you only wrote about stuff you knew, your book topics would be severely limited. How would books like Harry Potter come about, where the magical world of wizards is completely made up? Or Twilight, where humans fall in love with vampires and befriend shapeshifting wolves? Or my fantasy novel, where the majority of it takes place in the afterlife – a place I don’t plan on going for a very long time…
While it’s important to use familiar themes in your writing, it’s probably a fair assessment that your story will include stuff you know nothing about. And that’s okay. That’s more than okay, that’s fantastic!
That’s where you get the opportunity to learn something new.
For instance, a rough draft of a book I wrote a few years ago takes the main character to a winery in Sonoma County where she must learn the ins and outs of working in the vineyards. I grew up down the road from the winery I described in the book, and adding it in was like writing a love letter to my childhood.
However, I don’t know the first thing about working in a vineyard.
To compensate, I researched my patootie off. I studied what happened at each part of the season, how to graft vines, everything I could to learn what it would be like to work the fields at a winery. I think that was my favorite part about writing that novel, learning something I might never have known about before.
As you write, don’t be afraid to throw in a few interesting things you’re not an expert on. But follow a few rules when doing so:
Find an expert – You might not know much about that particular topic, but someone else does. Buy them a cup of coffee, and then have them tell you everything they know about the subject you’re writing on.
Read books – Become the expert on what you’re researching by taking from other people’s personal experience.
Search the net – This is my favorite, and easiest, way to find out information. Of course, be careful when you do use the internet to learn about your topic. Sometimes information can be a bit…wrong. Make sure you find several notable sources on your topic to ensure the information is correct.
Do it yourself – While you can’t exactly enter a world of wizardry to learn the ins and outs of attending a school like Hogwarts, you can work the fields at a vineyard when writing about being a winery worker. Take a class on your subject, grow something, travel, do whatever you can to get closer to knowledge on whatever it is you’re writing about. Don’t quote me, but you might even be able to get a tax write-off for your “research” expenses (so you should probably explore what it would be like to travel to Bali).
If you go off the cuff and write about something you don’t know anything about, someone who DOES know something about your subject will read your book and call you on your ignorance. Your whole book will be discredited just by stating misinformation as fact. So make sure all of your facts are in sync with what the reality would be through detailed research.
Have you learned about something new when writing your novel? Share in the comments!
P.S. My latest novel, a memoir on my life as a single parent, is FREE today only at Amazon. Check it out! —> http://amzn.to/13imM4s
Through my years of writing, I have written a total of three novels. And yet, I’ve only just published my first novel this year.
So what was the difference? What made this story easier to clean up and publish than the other two?
I knew my characters.
Before I even wrote the story, I took the time to map out a loose storyline to follow. And then I made a list of every character who felt important to me in the story. I created a bio of each character, writing a first-person account of where they’d been, why they acted the way they did, their likes and dislikes, what they looked like…anything that helped them change from 2-dimensional words to actual human beings.
“My name is Josiah, but everyone calls me Joey. I like Josiah better than Joey, though I don’t really like either of those names at all. It’s like my mom was making me a dork before I was even born by strapping an old Biblical name on me. She’s not even that religious. I mean, she believes in God and all, but it’s not like we go to church.
I’m 13 years old, a bit chubby, and in 8th grade. I have brown hair that always seems too long. I’m 5’4, just as tall as my mom. I hope I grow a lot taller because the guys in my grade are already passing me up, and a few of the girls too.
I have a couple friends. My mom is always bugging me to go visit them, but she doesn’t realize I already am. Every day after homework, we all meet online to play. We’re just playing in a way she’s not used to. Right now we’re working at building a whole world on a server we created together. The more I play, the more I realize that I really want to be an architect when I grow up. Lately I’ve been paying more attention to what John is up to in his construction business. When he realized that I was interested, he let me come with him to a few jobs. I like John. He doesn’t try and make me like him by talking too much or prying into my stuff. He’s quiet, like me. He’s more like a dad to me than anyone else, besides my grandfather.
I never knew my real dad. I’ve looked him up online before and found him, though my mom doesn’t know. There wasn’t much there. He was on one of those social sites and had some photos up. He doesn’t seem to have any kids, not that I know of. And he’s still kind of like a kid himself. He kind of reminds me of a dirtier version of Sam, still partying and living it up. There are pictures of him with random girls and always with a beer in his hand. I wish I’d never seen any of the photos because it was kind of a let down. Now I can’t pretend my dad is something great.”
When I started writing, these characters were with me. They actually began to take over and write the story for me. Some of the characters that I thought were going to be important ended up with just mere mentions and nothing else. And others ended up taking up chapters of space when they were only meant to be mere mentions.
Who knows what can happen?
If you’re familiar with your characters, they might just take you on a wild ride of a story that you never planned out at all – and it might be better than what you came up with in the first place. Aaaaand….writing about them becomes that much easier because you’re writing about friends, and not strangers.
Since writing and publishing my book, I’ve had numerous people tell me how they have a book inside of them, just screaming to get out.
“I think I can write a book,” they say. And you know what? They CAN write a book. YOU can write a book.
But it’s not as simple as that.
You can’t go from 0 to 60 when writing a novel. If you haven’t been making writing a regular part of your routine, it would be next to impossible to have the stamina to write an entire book.
I mean, you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, right?
The trick is to start small.
I toned up my writing muscle years ago with poetry. Through stanzas of metaphors and similes, prose and drawn out descriptions, I worked at capturing a very small moment and making it larger, painting a picture using only words. (You can read some of that poetry HERE)
And then I focused on writing what I knew – my family. As a single mom with two growing kids, I was never out of material to write about. First I wrote these stories just for me, placing them in my blog at winecountrymom.com. Then my friends started reading, and I had an audience. And then my blog was discovered by the local newspaper I work for, and developed into the job I have now – part of it writing about families with a monthly in-print column.
I dabbled in short stories, journal entries, writing out my feelings… Anything I could write about, I did. Before it got big, my writing all started small.
And then, I wrote a novel.
Best advice I can give you is to just write every day. Every. Single. Day. Even if you only have time for ten minutes of writing, do it. Describe your surroundings, your feelings, what you ate for breakfast…. Write about anything you want, just as long as you are writing.
You want to write a book? Do it. But make sure you’ve stretched and toned up that writing muscle first. Otherwise, you might injure yourself and never get that book up off the ground.