Are you stuck in your fiction writing? Lots of novelists are. Today, I’ll help a 15-year-old writer get unstuck with a few words of advice.
Kevin posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Note: This is quite complex, for it expresses multiple questions that may be answered by simply giving details of my predicament.
I am but 15 years old and am highly interested in a writing career targeting young adults. I currently have two ideas for novels that I would like to write, one being a lengthy dark fantasy which requires little research, and another being a shorter dark historical that would require mountains of research that may actually rue the entire concept all together. I’ve invested much more time into the dark fantasy, for it was my original idea, and I plan to create it first.
Now, I am experiencing several problems. One is that I am not writing every day, and I understand that is something which I must work on myself, though not doing so during my schooling is acceptable due to the importance of education. I also fear that I may be trying to load in too much symbolism, but I sent to you earlier about that particular situation. The problem that I do wish to be addressed at this moment is the following:
Putting the daily planning that I forced upon myself by creating such a complex idea aside (though lately these thoughts have been slipping away for reasons I suspect to be related to the core problem I am about to express), I am finding myself stuck in the very same location of the writing that I started in, the first chapter. Constantly I watch my fingers creating and destroying wordings that are meant to tell the very same scene, and this is stopping me from going forward, and, excluding those ideas that burst into the brain only when a scene is being written, I already know exactly what shall occur all the way up to the fourth chapter, as well as many other key events and situations that I must find a location for only when more writing is done. This feeling of being trapped is highly aggravating, and I can foresee immense relief when I am finally satisfied with my first chapter. So, what is your advise? Should I continue this process of constantly rewriting though I am but a beginner, or should I move on to create a larger segment (or even an entire first draft) and then bring it to be critiqued by myself and my online critique buddies (I sadly believe that only one of them, the pessimist, is actually of use, though I am in the midst of finding another). It is quite understandable to me that, in its current phase, my writing should be fairly close to absolute garbage, for I have just begun attempting to write fiction, and this uncertainty of whether my writing is indeed publishable drives me to constantly rewrite that first chapter, especially since I have only one critique buddy that was born a pessimist and is actually insightful while the others are teenagers that I believe may be congratulating my work simply because they are my friends and don’t see the work as absolute garbage, or perhaps they can’t even tell when a work is absolute garbage (For example, I can assume that most of them read and loved Christopher Paolini’s books, though I have found online sources calling them filth).
I also saw your article on the two main schools of writing. One being writing is rewriting, and the other being writing is writing. Obviously, I am finding myself in the school of writing is writing, but I am worrying that such a choice is the downfall of the beginner who is never satisfied.
Randy sez: OK, there are a lot of implicit questions in there, so I’ll respond as best I can:
1) You’re comparing a dark fantasy that requires no research to a dark historical that would require mountains of research. It’s true that historicals require a lot research and fantasies don’t. But fantasies still require a lot of pre-work, because you have to do your world-building. Some prefer to do that up front. Others prefer to do it after the story is written. Doesn’t matter when you do it. Only matters THAT you do it. Sooner or later, you gotta build your Storyworld.
2) You’re a bit worried that you’re not writing every day. No worries there. That’s something you’ll work up to. You’re only 15 years old. That should give you a fair bit of time. It’s true that school does tend to get in the way. Be aware that you will never have more free time than you do now. Once you get to college, your free time will shrink. Once you get out of college, it’ll disappear almost completely. Once you get kids, you’ll find that you don’t have enough time to do it all. Just a word to the wise.
3) You’re stuck in the first chapter. OK, this is an order: Stop rewriting chapter 1 and go write chapter 2. Don’t rewrite chapter 2; move on and write chapter 3. If you keep endlessly reworking the first chapter, you are going to stagnate faster than last month’s milk with the dead fly floating in it. Write the whole book. If you get critiques of earlier chapters, don’t fix what’s broke in those chapters. Instead, apply what you learned from those critiques to whatever chapter you’re working on right now. Don’t stop and revise until you finish the first draft.
4) You’ve got a pessimistic critique buddy. Fire him. Now. That’s the last thing you need right now. Find somebody who is mostly positive. Find somebody who can tell you the ONE thing you need to work on. A negative-oriented critique buddy will drown you unless you’ve got an Xtremely optimistic nature yourself. (See the August 2010 issue of my e-zine for more on optimism versus pessimism and how to develop your optimism if you’re not naturally gifted that way.)
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Blog of the Day: I read a terrific guest post this morning by Marcus Sakey on Jane Friedman’s blog, There Are No Rules. The title of the post is “How to Ensure 75% of Agents Will Request Your Material.” The title says it all. Read it. This stuff is the real deal.
Kevin, I think Randy is right about the rewriting part. My first novel I would not move forward until I was happy with the chapter. It drove me nuts and sometimes rewrote the chapter five or six times. My suggestion being one who likes to do everything up front, would be to do some world building while writing, the more you know about your storyworld the easier it is to write.
Nanowrimo helped met there.
This is a great way to stop rewriting, and it keeps the critique buddy away.
After a month you will have a lot of material. Then you can organise this material using the snowflake method.
You can do your pre-work now. in November Nanowrimo starts.
Morgan L. Busse says
Hey Kevin! I’m a fantasy writer and the mother of 4 young kids (and the wife of a pastor). That equals almost no time to write 🙂 But here’s how I do it: I write 500 words 4x a week. It can take me 15 minutes to one hour to do that. Sometimes if my family or other responsibilities allow, I can write more. But 500 words 4x a week is doable.
Secondly, move on. Go onto chapter 2. First drafts will always look awful (even if you’re the best writer in the world). And in fantasy (especially if your world is still forming in your head), you will most likely be going back and changing things to fit with what you discover later on in your book. So don’t perfect chapter 1 because its probably going to change.
Find a good critique partner. One that will be honest with you. Like Randy said, you don’t need a pessimist right now. You need a cheerleader. Someone who will see the gold in your story beneath all the beginning writing. When you just don’t want to go on, it helps to know someone believes in your work.
Davalynn Spencer says
Excellent advice; follow it.
Kevin, I agree with Randy and the others who have written here about moving on and keeping momentum. I’m sure you’ll get tired of people detailing their own experiences for you, but for what it’s worth, before i started on my current novel, which I have serious intent to try to get published, I also dabbled in a lot of “just-for-fun” writing, which I would post on the internet for the enjoyment (and also critique) of others. This writing always came easily to me and I progressed through even the most complex plots quickly and happily. When I started to write my “serious” novel, I hit the same problem as you. After about four or so attempts at the perfect first chapter (which I was secretly convinced would catapult me into a perfect first novel) I became so frustrated I didn’t even save the fourth. I closed the document, opened a new one, and wrote a scene from chapter three that I really liked and was looking forward to. It was easy, it flowed. Buoyed by my love for that small 800 words, I wrote the scene that lead up to it, and the one before that, and then chapter four, and etc. I haven’t tried to write my first chapter again yet, but I know how I’ll do it, and I’m sure it’ll be better than anything I could have come up with before.
Deciding you want to write something seriously can be very intimidating, but you’ve got to let go and return to why you started it: because you love to write! So write a bit you love, and go from there.
Also Kevin, you said you were sure your writing was garbage, but let me just say that from the way you wrote your question I can tell you have a very advanced grasp of language for your age, and you really should give yourself some credit.
My type of writing is just to keep on going, and review it later. It’s how I’ve always written, so I’ve never fallen into such a predicament. My first draft is usually the outline and very free-flowing, whereas my second is a lot more in-depth and interesting.
Though, I find my way to be quite awkward, because I never know the ending and I never know my characters and do character analysis. So, I do dislike my way.
But I agree, get rid of the pessimistic, especially right now.
And, just to say about Paolini; his writing was directed towards children who want to understand the book, especially without too much depth, otherwise they’d have nightmares at night. I love his books, though I agree he could’ve written it better, just think about the audience.
Kevin, i never finished my first novel because i gave it to my brother and buddies to critique.
They loved it. The critique, i mean.
Thankfully, i got over that and am now in process with my “second first novel”. And i know who i am not going to ask to critique this time around.
The only thing I’d have to add is to not let anyone read your first first draft. You almost need to go through that struggle on your own.
What I’ve found is that a beginning writer is way too much like tall grass on the prairie. He or she goes whichever way the wind is blowing and that’s a certain guarantee of stagnation.
Crit partners are great, but in order to make a first draft work with crit partners, you have to have written enough to know what your goal is with every new story and to know that goal well enough to be able to analyze crits well enough to know which ones advance you toward your goal and which ones are irrelevant.
Most first time novelists don’t have that ability.
Carrie L. Lewis
On the getting stuck in chapter 1, perhaps for being unwilling just to let something unfinished or incomplete sit on the page and move on:
I don’t have a reference handy, and someone into dark fantasy (most of us were there, at age 15) wouldn’t stumble across it in the ordinary course of their reading, but if you can find it, it’s a good example of just getting a sketch down and moving on:
It’s an partly finished work from PG Wodehouse, that I think was contained in one of the Wodehouse omnibus publications, probably one of the Jeeves publications, but possibly one of the Psmith [the “P” is silent, as in ptarmigan] or his Mr. Mulliner story collections.
I find it helpful to have a model, and this one may be worth chasing down.
And reading some Wodehouse is usually a wonderful counter to the dark, even at age 15.