Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So, you want to write a book... 5 things to think about before you begin

Yes, this is me dusting off the old blog. I happen to have a very good reason for my hiatus. Don't care? Too bad, I'm going to tell you anyway. Not because I'm narcissistic and believe you need to hear about my struggles to properly appreciate how important I am, but because of one simple phrase I hear ALL.THE.TIME.

 "I've always wanted to write a book."

If you have said this, or any of the other myriad variations, this post is for you. And no, this is not a Scared Straight program. I will not discourage any person from writing a book. Ever. I love books,and I love the people who write them. So, if you have that same little itch that brought me to the excruciating twelve to twenty-four month social absence I've just experienced, I'd like to share some things I learned along the way.

1. Start with a good idea

Think you've got a super original idea for a book? You don't. Sorry. I don't mean that rudely. I just mean, it's 2015. The concept of original thought is basically extinct. Actually, if you think about it, the fact that none of our ideas is original should be quite liberating. It's all been done. So we're free to reinvent to our hearts' content. Just remember to do it in your own unique way. Got a dystopian post-apocalyptic story? Heard it. Got a romance? It's a love triangle, right? Or maybe it's the one where the MC hates the love interest in the beginning, but they end up together in the end. Or maybe you've got an epic fantasy with an MC who has a special gift that will help them save not only the world you've just built,  but also the world as we know it. He or she has a group of plucky sidekicks, and a mentor, and there may or may not be a prophecy involved predicting our hero's success or failure. Predictable. Patterned. There are patterns for a reason. They work. But if you want yours to stand out, figure out how to put a new spin on it.

2. A book is a completely different thing than an idea for a book.
 Books graphics

I don't just mean the difference between your idea and a published and bound magical form of diversion and entertainment that you and I willingly addict ourselves to daily. I mean the typed and completed manuscript that means you took your New Year's resolution seriously this time. I mean the jacked up back and shoulders, and sore fingers that indicate you committed to said idea, and then let it push you violently down a gajillion rabbit holes until your idea morphed into a semblance of a plot, which then morphed into characters that became your best friends, but sucked the life out of you like enemies, which then morphed into a storyline. There are many differences, but the biggest one is reality. An idea is cheap. You could have a million a day. Don't make the mistake of thinking your idea will sell itself without actually learning to write a book. You want a finished product? Sit your butt in the chair and finish the project. And for the love, do NOT put an ad out looking for someone to write your book idea for you and offer to pay them $50. Offer them no less than all your money, assets, and first-born child, or write the thing yourself.
3. Learn how to write a book.writing gif photo: the writing process writing_process.gif

I hesitate to write this one, because it will sound harsh, which can sometimes translate into discouragement. But it's important. When I told my mother, a very wise and well-read woman, I wanted to write a book, she said, "You should take a class." I failed to take that advice when writing my first book, and it cost me months of extensive and brutal editing, only to end up with a book that was just OK. So when she said it again on the next book, I took a class. Then another. Then bought books on writing. Then followed blogs on writing. Then joined author's groups. Went to conferences. Entered contests with the sole purpose of gaining feedback from professionals. Guess what happened? I learned how to write. And, perhaps more importantly, I learned how not to write. I learned the dangers of cliches, filter words, outdated dialogue, vague pitches, poor outlining, predictable endings, etc.  I've also had the opportunity to read and critique other writers' work. You know the difference between the works I enjoyed and the ones I rolled my eyes at? Understanding of the craft of writing, and, those willing to put in the time to gain it. Want an example? Let me know and I'll show you the difference between my 1st draft and my last draft. It's staggering.

4. Do not let the only eyes on this manuscript be yours and the agent/publisher/audience you want to woo.
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The most valuable thing you can do for yourself during the writing process is get feedback. Not from your mother, unless your mother is brutally honest and somewhat skeptical. You need to hand pick your critique group. Call for volunteers, and then select them with extreme prejudice. This subject could become a blog post on its own, but I'll tell you, finding the right beta readers made  my progress from draft to draft possible. Period. So get some. Other authors who also need betas are a great resource, and are frequently willing to trade.

5. Balance your life with ferocity.

Writing takes time. So does parenting, your day job, your relationships, and every other blasted thing you have going on in your life. Writing can and will take over your life and leave only dirty dishes, overflowing hampers, and disappointed people in its wake if you let it. Decide what portion of your head space you are going to give it, and protect those boundaries like the border police. Give it the time and effort it requires, but time is your most valuable commodity, so budget for it.

The truth is, that idea you have in your head? No one else can write it like you. So buckle up, and get it out there. We'd all love to read it.

Do you have tips for beginning writers? Please share!