It’s been fun reading through the comments today.
One housekeeping note: I don’t mind if you include a link inside your comments. I have my blog set up so that I moderate all posts with ANY embedded links (to catch the spammers). So if you put in a link, it won’t show up until I have a look at it. I don’t mind links if they’re relevant. I do mind links by self-serving people who are just spamming this blog to get backlinks. But people like that don’t read this blog, so don’t worry, I’m not talking about any of you.
Now, on to the topic of the day:
OK. I feel frumptious, flabbergushed and frustrated. I’m writing my first novel, so my experience level for this is low. I’m a sort of SOP that’s in need of some organization. I’m not enough of an SOP to sit and write 10K and like it. But I’m not organized enough to project what’s going to happen. So I’m about half way through this thing and can’t figure out where it’s going. So I keep going back and trying to edit what’s there with the Scene/Sequel/MRU ideas in mind, hoping that I’ll figure out what happens next. So far, I’m just muddling around in my own angst and digging myself a deeper hole. Sorry, enough complaining. I did voluntarily decide to start this project.
Doraine, you have my permission to write a bad first novel. Most people’s first novel is pretty bad. Mine was wretched and I’m incredibly thankful that it never got published. Not that there was any danger of that, but still.
All of you who are published will know what I mean here–you will never be GOOD unless you give yourself permission to first be bad. Probably bad for two or three novels. And slowly you get better. As “relevant girl” Mary wrote:
The more you write, the more you polish, the more you make deadlines, the cleaner your prose will be the first time out of the gate. It is possible to spit out clean copy and be creative. But it takes lots of BOC time (butt on chair) to get to that place.
This is Xtremely true. When I started writing, it was all I could do to churn out one page per hour. And it wasn’t a good page. But I kept at it and I got faster and my first drafts got better. Nowadays, my first drafts tend to be either very good or way off track. I have a literary assistant to tell me which is which. And I write 3 or 4 or 5 pages per hour.
That’s the result of practice. Twenty years of practice. It didn’t come cheap. My first 5 or 6 novels never made it out of the birthing room. I didn’t sell one word of my fiction until the 10th year of writing, when I sold a short story to a local computer rag for $150. If you do the math, that’s $15 per year.
I worked like a dog for those 10 years. As Mary says, I put my butt in the chair and typed. I gave myself permission to be bad, but I desperately wanted to get good, so I took it to my monthly critique group and listened. I hate getting critiqued, but I did it.
Now I’m not saying that you should TRY to be bad in your writing. I’m just saying that early on, volume is more important than quality, so you’re going to go through a stage where you write a lot of bad stuff. It’s OK! You have permission to be awful. Dreadful, even.
Get the words out. Find your voice. Figure out what works. A lot of it won’t work, but you won’t know that until you’ve typed it. That’s the only path I know of to getting good.
Judith Robl says
Loved all the comments from yesterday’s blog. Especially the one about spilled milk turning into ice cream.
My problem has always been BOC time.
When I first told my husband I wanted to write, he said he would support that ambitiom. So after the family was in bed, I’d set up a card table in the livingroom, park my trusty portable typewriter on it and start writing.
I’d maybe get ten to fifteen minutes in before he’d come downstairs, stand over my shoulder and say “what are you writing? How soon will you be done?”
That was back in the days when my Smith Corona had a correction cartridge that in and out from the right.
Things have changed. I no longer have the Smith Corona.
How do you deal with interruptions and lack of private time for writing?
Judith Robl says
“correction cartridge that popped inn and out from the right.”
Judith Robl says
EDIT AGAIN ! !
“That was back in the days when my Smith Corona had a correction cartridge that popped in and out from the right.”
Sara Thacker says
I thank God that my first Four novels never made it into print. Talk about bad. Only one of the plots is useful to me and the other three are just really bad. But I had to write those four that were bad to get to a good one. Each year I can tell the difference in my craft skills. Every manuscript is better than the last. I always want that to be the case because I know that I’m always learning.
Dealing with interruptions and lack of private time is a tough one for me too. But I wake up early, 3:30 this morning and I spend a few Saturday’s a month at the local Starbucks to get a few hours alone to write.
Charlotte Babb says
I did the HOCBIC (hands on keyboard, butt in chair) last night two write two articles for a newsletter for my writers association. both articles were based on my experiences of the week–one about web design and one about getting grant money.
I know that I can write on demand, and my daughter is a writer too, so we don’t get in each other’s way. But the fiction I want to write only seems to come in paragraph sized chunks, and there are always so many other things that I do with HOKBIC–like web design and writing papers for grad school
does anyone have ideas for clearing the mind when the body is doing the same thing–shifting gears between on demand utilitarian wriitng, and creative fiction?
Charlotte Babb says
EDIT….Sorry, the shift key did not seem to be working in my last post.
I know everyone is writing novels and I have begun one that has been brewing for some time. That is my first novel too so, like Doraine, I am struggling with that. I have also written short stories and I wondered if the MRU scene/sequence thing could be used for those.
I’m finding all the articles and the comments on this blog very helpful and encouraging.
I had bought your snowflake method some time ago, Randy and found some of it helped but that too much planning just dried me up. Perhaps a bit further down the track I can apply it again.
Thanks for this entry.
I think my ‘main’ problem is being afraid to be bad. I may know what’s going on in a story, where it’s headed and what I want… but I’m often afraid to write the next bits just in case they turn out to be rubbish. That means I end up writing very little, or rewriting till the cows come home and have their dinner and go to bed, by which time I’ve still done nothing particularly constructive.
Giving yourself permission to be bad is a tough thing.
In relation to Judith’s post… I’m going to acknowledge the truth that even though I may get surly and miffed at interruptions… I secretly deep down long for them so I don’t have to keep banging my head off the keyboard!
Carrie Stuart Parks says
No wait…I have to write something first.
I know about interruptions. It’s five AM right now and it seems that the only time I have to myself without the phone ringing and husband talking is very early. The last writers conference I attended, the final question that the hosts left us with was, “what are you willing to give up to write?”
No one seems to want my husband or the dog…
Ron Erkert says
LOL @ Judith!
I have a hard time with just putting down words without some editing as I go. The problem is that I leave essential words out, put random words in, swap words around, and even make up new words (all thanks to the gift of dyslexia). I’ve written entire paragraphs only to go back a few minutes later and have no idea what I was trying to say.
Computers and spell check have been a send. The line-by-line editing habit dates back to high school when I had to use a typewriter to type reports from handwritten copy. After ripping 2 or 3 pages out of the typewriter, mom usually took over typing duties.
Pam Halter says
It seems that many of us need more TIME. That’s especially true of us stay-at-home, homeschooling moms. But I’ve found what works for me is all the writing and editing I do in my head. I’m constantly thinking of my WIP, even missing conversations and parts of movies. HA!
Then I read Terry Brooks, who said writers are not “all there.” Meaning, part of our brain is always in whatever place our manuscript is. That’s me. Always thinking, planning and writing in my head. Then when I finally sit down and write, so much spills out, it’s hard to keep up. Editing is a major job after that because I just can’t type as fast as I think, so I always find I’ve left something out.
So, there it is for me: think, write, edit. It looks deceptively simple. It’s not.
Ron Erkert says
Modify the Snowflake Method to meet your own needs. I follow the first few steps then deviate from planning to writing and periodically update the characters as I find out new things about them. For instance, one of my characters is betrayed by his best friend who turns out to be his brother. It also turns out that one of the antagonists is their uncle. These details evolved during the writing, not the initial planning. If you find the planning to be drying you up, don’t do it to the point you lose enjoyment.
And as a post-script…I’m sick and tired of hearing about Paris frickin’ Hilton!!!!!!!
LOL. I needed that. I just received a second reject for a SS I think is pretty good. Sigh.
J.R. Turner says
I remember when I first starting wriing (gosh, going on 10yrs. ago now!) and one of the things I was told was that I would have to write a million words before I would be any good at this.
So I set out to write a million words. Not too hard when you’re writing the same 100K-word length novel over and over again–I think it was seven times, in total. But, I’m fairly certain that’s not what was meant by that advice.
My first book probably won’t ever get published–at least I hope it doesn’t. It’s really, really bad. And you know what? I thought it would just kill me not to see that baby get published–but after working on it for so long, I’m kind of relieved that I’ll never have to look at it again. That second, or third novel, was so…thrilling for me.
As I improved as an author, I really wanted to try my ‘new’ skills out on something fresh. With each new book I wrote, I wanted it to mean something to my overall skill set. I had mistakenly thought my first book (an historical) needed a really complicated plot with a large cast–to hide the fact I was an ammature, doncha know 🙂
From that starting point, I chose different challenges to expand myself:
Book 2: see if I could write a simple plot, with minimal cast, in a contemporary theme.
Book 3: see if I could write a character-driven plot.
Book 4: See if I could heavily rely on writing “what I know.”
Book 5: See if I could write a science-based paranormal thriller.
Book 6: See if I could write a sequel.
Book 7: See if I could write a third and final book, exploring the theme of an anti-heroine.
I share this because I want to tell y’all that while you’re giving yourself permission to be “bad” (and to this day, there are still portions of my writing that are atrocious on the first draft) you CAN make it fun by challenging yourself creatively in many different areas. I mean, as long as you’re not caring so much about the technicals until a later draft–why not be explatory in your writing as well? Play with it, see what you can do, push yourself into new areas, etc.
And quickly, as to the issue of time, I’ll add that the best way I can think of is to discover when you do your best writing. Are you a night owl? Do you function best at dawn (like I do) or in the early afternoon? When is the best time for you to write?
When you figure that out–become obsessed with “protecting” that time. Your loved ones will understand your need for that time if you make it clear to them how very, very important it is to you.
Sorry for the long post!
(Randy–thanks for the “link” data, I certainly didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes 🙂 )
I keep seeing authors who have written 13 novels before getting one published (like Brandon Sanderson) or who spent so many years before finally breaking in…is there a limit I’d ever hit where I’d stop trying? I may be youthfully naive to say no, but hey, if naive optimism eventually gets me published, then I’m gonna soak in it.
Lois Hudson says
Pam has the idea: think, plan, write-all in the head.
Going one further, when I was younger I was an incurable daydreamer, actually acting out in my head every fantastic idea that came to me. (Probably something psychological about that.) I felt that every idea I had was destined to become a full length novel!
Now that I am older, I have “put away childish things” to borrow a line from a famous much-published writer. But many of those original seeds (germs) have cross-bred and found their way into later stories. I still play them out in my head at times and find it helps determine/discover the direction a scene will take.
One writing guru (Randy probably knows which one-
at this hour I can’t remember) urges the writer to pour out that “first sh- – – – draft.” It surprised me the first time I read it, but by the end of that chapter she’d used the earthy term so many times I laughed out loud.
Asking the “what if” question and following that trail helps jump-start the process too.
So, away, new cohorts, to the keyboards and chairs!
Paulette Harris says
Donita tells me that seven novels is about average if you are looking to publish. I received another rejection on the third one so I promply praised God and began the fourth one!
One thing that helps me is to get my ideas down on paper. I write and write until the piece is finished, then I go back and edit. That way the creativity is not squashed. I edit and continue to edit until I feel I can’t do anymore, then I let the novel sit for awhile and go back to it and continue to edit.
I also write and publish lots of other things because it also keeps the juices going. However, novels are my favorite things to write.
Love this blog! Thanks, Randy.
As a freelance copyeditor and proofreader, I am constantly trying to polish works to perfection (or as close as I can get it!). So the idea of putting down words that are not good is extremely intimidating! My son, also a writer, has tried to encourage me to just get the stuff out, even if it’s awful to begin with. I just need a way to shut off the perfectionist in my brain. 🙂
What? My first baby may never leave the nest? So, all the homecooked meals and the pleasure of my fascinating company that my family have been deprived of since I spend every blessed minute writing will have been for NOTHING?
(Sigh) I can accept that my first novel will be bad…that’s not hard for me to do. But my family may never forgive me if it’s doomed to collect dust once the frenzy of dust has settled.
How many words did the Apostle Paul manage to write per hour? His butt was chained to his chair….
Story Hack (Bryce Beattie) says
Of course, if you want to “be published” you can always do-it-yourself for free now at places like lulu.com. Well the 4.86 or whatever it costs to get a copy. For another hundred bucks you can get it listed at amazon.com, barnes and noble, and several other online retailers…
For me the goal is to just tell a good yarn. I think learning to do that involves a lot of writing, and plenty of reading – fiction and non-fiction on writing.
Whenever I get down about it all, I read the first couple of essays in Ray Bradbury’s “Zen & The Art Of Writing.” It’s my personal pick me up.
Jannie Ernst says
I have laughed, and I have learned. All of this in the duration of this day’s blog. Thanks, Randy, and thanks everyone else for what you shared. I am encouraged, very encouraged. And Carrie, I sure don’t want your husband and the dog. I have my own……
Wonderful commentary! I am not a responder — I usually come and just read. I am one of the lowly new Freshman, and I appreciate the open thoughts of all shared.
Tammy Bowers says
Randy, I love your answer. In Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft’ he said something to the effect that for some people with writing potential they can study, practice, and become better writers. But for those who are truly bad writers, if they don’t have it, they’ll never get it. (My paraphrase, of course.) Anyway, that has always scared me. I think I have potential. I think I have “it.” I just need to develop it with lots of BOC. But what if I deceiving myself and can only go so far? Permission to be initially bad takes some pressure off and helps me to have more reasonable expectations.
Thanks, Tammy http://writesteps.blogspot.com/
Ron Erkert says
Glad I could provide you with a laugh. Remember, as they say, every time you involuntarily dismount the horse, climb back up in the saddle…unless, of course, the horse you just involuntarily dismounted is only wearing a halter and lead and is now heading for the barn after ensuring that your dismount is broken by sagebrush. In that case, just be thankful you didn’t end up in the middle of that prickly pear cactus just a couple of feet to your left. Or is that just me?
Seriously tho’, rather than looking at it as a rejection letter, look at it as a learning experience. And keep on writing. Writers, like veterinarians, are always practicing and improving their skills and arts. Has your SS been critiqued by anyone? I know I have a problem seeing trouble spots after my umpteenth time through the manuscript. Try just throwing it in a drawer and go on to other projects for a while. In a few months, after working on something else, you may be able to see it in a new light.
Best of Luck.
bonne friesen says
Wow, this has been such a pick-me-up to read, if a little shocking. I’m allowed to be bad? Really? I’m always being told that I’m a good writer by people I respect, then I get paralysed thinking I’m going to disappoint them if I write something bad!
Thanks for the encouraging perspective. Some of us just always need permission…
Doraine Bennett says
Thanks for picking me to answer. I greatly appreciate the encouragement. My day job is editor at a small magazine. I’m constantly re-writing other’s words to make them more readable. Need I say more?
So I’m working on getting into the mindset that this novel is just practice, so who cares if it’s really bad. While still at the back of my mind is the desire to write good, worthwhile, readable, fun, life-changing words!
Thanks for the help and encouragement from everyone. Jenny, I loved your list of novels. I’ve done that with short stories, but never even thought about the application to novel writing. I will now, though.
What a great community this is!
LOL again. Yes it was critiqued.
KerryK Says: I just need a way to shut off the perfectionist in my brain. 🙂
Ditto. I also work as an editor, and I find it extremely difficult to just write without “perfecting” as I go. My brain is constantly analyzing and looking for ways to improve what I have already written.
For instance, my wip is currently at 50,000 words and I am struggling to move it forward because I know there are some major character motivation issues at the start. I “need” to go back and perfect those before I can progress. That requires some major deletion and rewritting. 🙁
Patrick Hudson says
In writing my first novel, I have found that expressing myself has been difficult. I know exactly what emotions I want to convey, most of my characters journeys, and the ideas have been flowing for months to a poin where I have almost the whole story locked away in my head. My problem has been choosing the correct vocabulary to precisely convey my point. I get frustrated and can sometimes sit for hours (hyperbole of course) typing and retyping what I think is the exact meaning of the passage. This is a great encouragement to let my ideas flow and then go back and massively edit.
Carrie Neuman says
Try reading some poetry for a while. No one spends more time worrying about which word has just the right shade of meaning than a poet. They don’t have room to expand on what they’re trying to say.
My favorite editing trick might help you. Print out the scene you’re working on. Take a pencil and put a box around your nouns, a circle around the verbs, and cross out every adjective and adverb on the page.
Sometimes it’s easier to think of a stronger noun or verb if that’s all you’re looking at. Once they’re doing the heavy lifting for you, go back and put in the adverbs and adjectives you still need. Most of them you won’t since you already put in the noun or verb that included them.
Patrick Hudson says
I was just talking about poetry and about how I could never write it, so your comment is quite coincidental. I actually really like that idea, and it’s easy these days to find poetry around the internet or in a book collection. Your other idea would probably do me well too, I may do that when I begin editing where there is no fun anymore in writing (joke of course)
Thank you for the thoughts!
ML Eqatin says
I live by thesaurus.com. It’s at the top of my bookmarks. I started using this for the opposite reason from most: my normal vocabulary was way over the heads of the ESL people I was writing instruction manuals for. (And a lot of others, too). So I was always looking for simpler words, and often found more precise ones that were also uncomplicated.
Another tip gleaned from I don’t remember who: try not to use more than one adjective per noun; extras tone down the emphasis. If a character says, “It was really filthy,” that has less punch on the page than if he simply says, “It was filthy.”
ML Eqatin says
Oops! That wasn’t and adjective, and that wasn’t a noun! But you get the drift.
Enjoy the ride! -MLE
Patrick Hudson says
Thanks you MLE. I have used Thesaurus.com, but only so often. It does help quite a bit. I agree with the one adjective per noun rule, I’m not sure if I have followed it…
I’m so dumb, I don’t even know what LOL means. Would you enlighten me, please?
Thanks Ron for that advice. I will work at that and I’m sick of hearing about Paris um Hilton too.
You’re not dumb. I know of plenty of people who didn’t know what LOL meant, me being one of them. It means laugh out loud.