All published books have one crucial characteristic in common that you must master before you will be a published author. It’s not any of the usual qualities writing teachers insist upon—showing instead of telling, motivation/reaction units, or proper character arcs.
What is the secret?
All published books are finished.
While many published books are poorly written, some to the point they’re painful to read, they are finished.
I don’t have much experience with getting published, but I have completed the first step—finishing a rough draft, so I’ll provide some tips on how to do that. Keep in mind every writer has his or her own style, so this may not apply to you. This is what works for me.
- Set goals you can reach. These goals can be daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. I’ve been using Scrivener, which tracks these goals. For example, I know that I won’t write on the two days I work at the library, and I’ll plan on having another day that I don’t write. If I get behind, I can use that extra day to get back on track.
I recently had the goal of writing 30K words on a story between January 11 and February 15. Scrivener told me how many words I needed to write each day, so I got slightly ahead, allowing me to finish on time.
Figure out what sort of goal works best for you and do it. This helps get you into the habit of writing every day, or at least every day you plan to write.
- Try to avoid editing. My rule follows: if editing is going to take more than ten or twenty minutes, I’ll make a note of the problem and fix it in the rewrite. When I write a first draft, even if I created an outline beforehand, I usually bounce around in the plot as I feel out what works and what doesn’t. Wandering around is okay in the first draft. You can fix it in the rewrite and throw out all those dead plot bunnies.
If you’re really worried about forgetting important things you need to fix, keep a document with notes to yourself about what you need to do in the rewrite.
- This goes double for rewrites. You might know your first chapter isn’t working, but this doesn’t mean you should go back and rewrite the first 10K words before you continue. Once you finish your book, you’ll probably have a better idea of what you need to put in the first chapter. If I know that something big needs to be fixed, I normally pretend I already rewrote the first part of the book. Remember, it doesn’t have to be publishable right now. It’s a rough draft. Relax and finish it.
- Don’t start writing until you know you’ve got a story. This seems to be a common beginner problem. If you start writing and you’ve have only two chapters worth of story, you might have trouble finishing. Even if you do finish, the plot may be convoluted since you didn’t know where the plot would go. This is one of the reasons I’ve started outlining. It lets me know if my idea can become an entire book. You don’t necessarily need to outline, but at least think the idea over for a while. (Some people are good enough at seat-of-the-pants story creation to disregard this advice.)
Something that may help you with issues like this, especially if you have enough time, is NaNoWriMo, an online writing program that challenges people to complete a novel (50K words) during the month of November. The challenge forces you to keep writing rather than editing. Unless you’re used to doing NaNo-like word counts, the book you have at the end of the month will probably be awful. This isn’t the point. The point is to realize you can write 50K words in a month, which was a huge confidence boost for me when I first participated.
So, now that you know some ways to finish, what if you get the dreaded writers’ block?
Identify what the block is.
The biggest block is what I’ve called LWS (Lazy Writers’ Syndrome). This isn’t really a block; it’s when you would rather watch funny cat videos instead of knuckling down and writing. If you want to be an author, you need to learn to write even when you don’t feel like it.
The second block is not knowing what to do next with the story. When I’m confused about what happens next, I don’t want to write, which leads to LWS. One way to get past this is to give your character an urgent goal since it gives him/her direction. The desire to get your character to the goal will drive you toward the finish line. Remember, the main character isn’t the only person with a goal. Minor characters, villains, and yes, even evil henchmen have goals of some sort.
Recently, I started outlining. It allows me to know what to do and write faster, as well as to make sure I’ve got a proper plot arc and some idea of the character’s goals. Remember, outlines can be very basic, and you don’t have to follow the outline if you come up with a better idea.
Research block is another obstacle. If I don’t know enough about the subject, I succumb to LWS. The best way to get out of this is to finish the research, or in the first draft, push through and worry about details later.
Another type of block occurs when an author simply runs out of ideas. This hasn’t been a problem for me, but I have heard it can help to go back and edit earlier parts of the story, listen to emotion-inducing music, or brainstorm with creative friends. Asking “What if?” is useful too, especially while watching movies or reading books. What if the evil empire won? What if no superhero came to stop the supervillain? What if the “Chosen One” got killed? These are things you can ask that might jumpstart a new plot.
Once you identify the type of block you are facing, you can attack it head on and get back to writing. Keep at it and eventually you’ll have a rough draft, then comes the scary stuff, like editing. I’ll let someone else handle that issue.
Jessi Roberts is an aspiring writer from Montana.
Here is her contact information:
Categories: Guest Post