Saturday, August 14, 2010

So You Want to Write a Book

This came out of a discussion in my writer's group. 

Step 1. To Outline or Not outline. Some writers go with inspiration, others as the cliche goes, perspiration. Seeing as I have a book which I tried write when the muse inspired without a blueprint, and now have 1/3 good, 1/3 mush and 1/3 not written (the middle) (UGH, sigh): I humbly suggest you must make an outline. It's a scaffolding to guide you on your total vision. It will change but it will give you a structure. Sweat generates more words than the writing fairy even if she does club you over the head at 4 in the morning on more than a few occasions.

Step 2. Set a writing goal per week --like running a marathon, writing a book requires daily word output training and a lot of it will be junk. 500 to 1000 words per day, or 5K a week or 10 if you are ambitious and have more time to devote to this.

Step 3. Read books of the genre you are interested in, but for structure and technique. It's like watching films to see how a director tells a story and the telling techniques used to make the mood.  You will notice Point of View, verbal tics of the writer if they are prolific, and how seamlessly or not, the writer sets the stage.Know your genre --how big first time books are (pages, word count), who the giants are in that field and what your hook that makes your book special and different, is.

Step 4. BIC BIC BIC BIC BIC BIC (For non writers, Bottom in chair) you can't write a book just thinking about it, you have to sit down and write even when it's boring, just like exercising when you are tired, it's hot and you don't feel like it and maybe you'll run two miles tomorrow extra.  No, write the 1000 words today and lo, you'll write more than that and it won't have been so bad.  No roll over word counts though, write new words tomorrow, and keep a notepad with a pen near you at all times because good stuff will tumble in your brain at the oddest moments. Then write down the stuff you wrote in the pad in your book. (I have scraps everywhere I can't throw away because I haven't added them).

Step 5. Write and write and keep going. Join a group of writers for encouragement (like a group of trainees for a marathon) or do the National Novel Writing Month (November and they have a great website) or a writer's forum (like this one) for support. Most books are between 50,000 and 85,000 words.  Most writers start to lose their wind after the first 15,000 or first three chapters.  This is why an outline helps get you through the bumpy parts of the writing marathon.

Step 6.  Find a person you trust both for writing style and advice and have them beta read a bit of what you are writing with three questions in mind: Did you want to keep reading? Did you know or not know what came next? Did you like the character or like not liking them? Be willing to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite and Edit. Edit. Edit. Let a friend, spouse read --allow them to provide commentary and listen. You don't have to revise everything, it's your book but feedback does matter so grow a thick skin.  Editors will tell you later and being used to hearing what you need to improve will allow you a better relationship with said gatekeepers of the publishing world when that magical day arrives.

Step 7. Repeat step 3 and step 4 and step 5 and step 6. Do not give up. Make a poster, backdrop, screen saver of your one day best seller to remind you of your goal.  Decorate it with the things you will be able to manage once Oprah restarts her book club just to plug your work: A beach house, college educations, no more laundry, whatever motivates you. 

Step 8.  You've finished writing the book.  Now what?  Read aloud.  Edit.  Spell Check and reread again. Repeat.  Lather, Rinse, consider going outside for some sun.

Step 9. Start shopping the agents to see who shops your genre --see what they've sold before, double check them with useful sites like Preditors and editors and Writers Beware, you don't want your baby being co-opted by an unscrupulous beast because you got over eager and jumped in after all that work without looking.

Step 10. Thank helpful friends and people generously with your success by sharing your experience and expert (if you get this far, you're an expert) advice and by financing their lifestyles in a way they are not at the moment accustomed to once you hit the big time and make more money than J.K. Rowling.

I am now going to go pound away at my middle of my book. Yes, I've started redoing all the steps I tried to skip.  And crafting that middle without the prior structure?  It's about as hard as pilates after having had a baby, but for the brain. Good luck and I look forward to reading your great American novel one day.


MightyMom said...

I wanna know how I can be a helpful friend whose lifestyle you're gonna supplement after you make more money than JK Rowling.....

I can send you that helpful enough???

LarryD said...

This is a good list. Thanks! As a "winner" of last year's NaNoWriMo, I have to do the BIC thing and keep pounding away.

What writer's forum are you referring to, btw?

SherryTex said...

Actually, pens in this house are always in short supply so that might work. :)

Thanks Larry, I am a member of the Erma Bombeck Writer's Group and Absolutewrite forum where I've garnered most of the best advice I've ever received about writing, submitting and publishing. I've never done NaNoWriMo. I probably should.

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