5.17.2012

10 Things I've learned about writing a novel

My novel "One Hit Wonder" will hit the ebook world in less than three weeks and I STILL can hardly believe it. I've been trying to tone down my excitement so I can keep my feet on the ground and focus on writing my next book. For me, writing is a craft/art that one can only improve upon doing it and, while "One Hit Wonder" happened organically (and you can read about my motivation here ) , I decided to list the things I've learned in the process of writing it so my next project will, uh, be easier more streamlined. (The word easy don't really mix with me and writing)

1- Writing a novel is not just writing a story - For me, writing a story meant writing what I wanted to tell without thinking too much about it, but to write a novel you have to worry about your readers. Is it engaging? Is it clear? Is there enough conflict?
2- Create a strong vocabulary - The vocabulary we use in our daily lives might be enough to communicate with our colleagues, children, friends, husband (barely), but is it enough to write a 80K-plus-word novel? is it? IS IT? IS IT? (P.S: DO. NOT. rely on Thesaurus only, see #4)
3- Develop a director's eye - I could say that since becoming a writer (can I say I am a writer before my book is actually released?) I have watched movies (and life) with new eyes. But honestly, I have always seen stuff with an aesthetic curiosity that is a few notches above the masses (Oh, goodness I feel like wonder woman) I'm not really special (in that sense, anyways *smile sheepishly*) but I'm a trained visual artist, that gives me special powers. Study the scenes of movies as if you're going to write them down (or have pen and paper and write them down). How the camera moves, the actors expressions, body language, etc. are things that can help you set up your own scenes.
4- Read, read, read - This is a no brainer, right? Most writers have become writers because they love to read. Stephen King says on his memoir, On Writing: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." Who am I to argue with the King? P.S: He also says a writer learns a lot from both good and bad books: with good writing you learn about style, plot developments, and graceful narration; with bad writing you learn not to do the same.
5- Set a schedule/Write everyday - Creating a schedule to write everyday helps you fall into a routine. My dog goes out in the backyard everyday at 5:30 p.m. It's his routine. When it gets close to that time he gets up from his favorite resting place (my husband's leather chair) and no matter what else is going on in the house, he's at the door restless waiting to do what he's supposed to do. If we write everyday at the same time with the same props (cup of coffee and/or shot of tequila) our brain will be conditioned to get to work. (Disclosure: I have no scientific data to back this up, but I'm pretty sure I've read it somewhere, AND it has worked for me.)
6- Don't revise it until you have finished the entire manuscript  - Revising before you finish the story is like being sucked into a black hole of self-doubt and loathing. Don't do that to yourself. The King has also said "first drafts are excrement," don't worry about the mess, don't flush. Keep on going, hold your nose if you have to, but leave clean up for later.
by MarsDorian
7- Action! - This was a huge one for me! I had to demolish everything I thought I knew about storytelling and start from ground zero. Keyword: telling. Readers don't want you to tell them a story, they want you to show them. Forget about "this happened" then "that happened" bullshit, throw the reader in the middle of the battleground. They'll survive.
8- Beware of the power of stories - Chuck Wendig said it better in his book 250 Things You Should Know About Writing: "Outside the air we breathe and the blood in our bodies, the one thing that connects us modern humans today with the shamans and emperors and serfs and alien astronauts of our past is a heritage -- a lineage -- of stories. Stories move the world at the same time they explain our place in it. They help us understand ourselves and those near to us. Never treat a story as a shallow, wan little thing. A good story is as powerful as the bullet fired from an assassin's gun."
9- Don't be in a hurry to publish - Take your time crafting your story to be the best story it can be. Nurture it and cherish it like a little seed, full of life and possibilities. Don't poison it with miracle grow because you can't wait to taste its fruits. They won't taste good.
10 - Have fun - If you're sitting in front of your computer regurgitating word after word because you heard of the 20-something-year-old new author who's just sold his book to a movie studio for a seven-figure price tag and thought: "Heck I can do that." Sorry to break it to you, but your probably can't. While there is a very high degree of luck permeating through some of the stories of "instant success" we hear about, don't judge anyone's talent just because it was (seemingly) recognized overnight. Most likely, they have worked on it for years and years. Can you really slay over something if you're not having fun, if you don't love it? I'm the farthest thing from success, but when I told some of the people I know about my book being picked up by Crimson Romance, I heard countless "OMG. How did it happen? How lucky!" And, while I agree I've been very lucky, I worked very hard for fifteen months, spending so many hours writing, researching, reading, rewriting, that often I had to take ibuprofen to easy the pain on my neck and back. Fortunately, I had so much fun doing it I had to remind (and force) myself to get up and stretch. Could I have done it otherwise? I don't think so.

10 comments:

  1. What an awesome list! Very insightful, especially the dog metaphor in #5. Gave me a fresh perspective. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'm glad you liked Berinn Rae. It's true—for me. Thyla Tharp wrote a wonderful book about nurturing creativity called "The creative habit" If I'm not mistaken that's where I read that "theory."

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  2. Hi Denyse - great insights!

    You know, I've come across a few people who want to write and aren't big readers. I don't understand that. Why would you want to produce a product you don't use? You can't possibly understand it. Sadly, the lack of understanding showed in their product. So yes, I agree with Mr. King - read (a LOT) and write (a LOT). This is the most effective way I've seen to improve as a writer.

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  3. I LOVE the slogan Denise. I will use it as a mantra >>> Make Your Writing Blow People Away! --Mars Dorian

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  4. Fun article, Denyse. Forgive me for going off topic, but I must compliment your website - it's fantastic! I see you are a visual artist; did you design it?

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    1. Thanks Moriah, and yes I've designed (as much as I could with a cookie cutter template) AND I think your blog has a fantastic look.

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  5. Great tips, Denyse, thanks for sharing!

    I would add - when you finish, put the book away for a little while. A week, a month...but put it away, don't work on it. Then, when you come back you'll have fresh eyes.

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    1. This is so very true, Kristina. I agree completely, it makes a huge difference to read your work after you "rested" your eyes for a while.

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