So You Want To Be A Writer

If you’re thinking of writing your first novel in June but are a little daunted by the prospect, don’t be afraid! Susan Kaye Quinn has some excellent advice for new writers. Keep reading for some great tips on how to be a writer. (Originally posted here.)

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So You Want To Be A Writer …

I often have people ask how to get started in writing. Or perhaps they’ve started a novel, but aren’t sure where to go from there. Or even finished their novel and want to explore publishing. This post is a general guide to help my friends explore writing to see if it’s right for them.

If You’ve Always Wanted to Write A Novel …

…but you haven’t started yet, this section is for you. The most important thing for a beginning writer to do is simply write. Invariably, beginning writers do not believe me. Shouldn’t they take a class? Or read a book on writing? Or possibly make an outline first? After all, they have no idea where to start. The hard answer is that no one knows where to start. They just do it. This is hard to hear, because it’s like wandering out into the dark without a flashlight or a map, much less a GPS. Who on earth would do that? There’s one person that does: a writer. Every time she stares at the blank page, or he takes a leap into an unknown plot twist, the writer forges out into the dark with no idea where they will end up but willing to take the dangerous journey anyway. DO THIS. Take the leap into putting words on the page without caution. It’s the quickest way to find out if you’ve got the mettle to take on such a risky undertaking. A less frightening analogy: suppose you decided that you wanted to run a marathon. You shouldn’t start out by reading about marathons, or signing up for a marathon trainer, or even watching marathons on TV. The first thing you should do is run. Every day. When you’ve built up some stamina, you can start worrying about things like interval training and carbo-loading and even reading books about marathons. But for now, just write.

If You’ve Started a Novel, But Don’t Know How to Finish …

…don’t panic. Writing a novel is a tremendously large undertaking. It’s not something you’ll whip out in a weekend, and the first several novels will likely all be steep learning curves where you start to understand things like voicecraft, and storytelling. There’s a famous saying that you have to write a million bad words before you start writing the good ones. Ira Glass has a delightful video on beginning artists (which includes writers) needing to fight through a large body of work before they can bridge the gap between what they can imagine and what they can produce. So, you have a long road ahead of you: don’t be impatient. But the first (and very important) step is to finish that first novel. I highly encourage writers still working on their first novel to finish it, as in write it all the way to The End. It may be crap. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed to be crap (with tidbits of awesome). Here’s a secret for you: all first drafts are crap. It’s learning how to get the words on the page, then going back and reworking them into something that SHINES that separates the beginners from the less-beginners (because I swear we’re all still learning along the way).

If You’ve Finished a Novel, But Don’t Know What To Do Now …

…you’re not done. Finishing the first draft is a wonderful accomplishment, especially the first time! Pat yourself on the back, have a glass of wine, and decide if that (writing a novel) is something you ever, ever, in your life, want to do again. The answer may be “no” and that’s perfectly acceptable. But if you want to produce something you can be proud to share with others (even possibly beyond your family and friends), you will need to revise. And by revision, I don’t mean checking your punctuation or sentence structure (always good to do as well). I mean, this is where you decide, Am I serious about learning this craft and art of writing, knowing how much work it is? If the answer is “yes” congratulations! You’re a writer! Also, condolences, as you have just picked a life of misery and suffering, I mean, great artistic fulfillment! See my For Writers page with links to all kinds of posts on writerly craft. Seek out other writers in your genre and offer to swap critiques with them (first chapters in the beginning, then progress to swapping whole manuscripts). Listen hard to criticism and treat it as the gift that it is. Begin the slow, unending journey toward improving your craft and your storytelling. Find your Voice. Discover what makes you unique as a writer. And remember this is a journey of discovery of yourself as much as your story. And most importantly: write another novel. Your first novel, no matter how many drafts you put into it, is unlikely to be one you want to publish. Many writers have several novels under their belts before they have something ready to show the world.

If You Think You Want to Publish Your Novel, But Don’t Know Where to Start …

…stop. Do not leap immediately into self-publishing. Ask yourself these Seven Questions before self-publishing and evaluate your Writer’s Mission Statement (don’t have one? Make one). You need to know what your goals are before you publish, in order to have any hope of it being a fulfilling experience for you. See my For Writerspage for links to posts about publishing. There has never been a greater time to be a writer, because of all the choices that writers have, from self-publishing to small publishers to Big Six Publishers. The choices are yours, but it pays to know what you’re after and be well informed before taking the leap into publishing. If you thought being a writer was hard, trust me that being a published writer just makes everything more complicated. And rewarding and awesome, but only if you’ve got realistic and attainable goals in your sights.

Welcome to the wild and wonderful life of being a writer! I hope this post helps, and I’m always open to questions. Paying forward the many, many times that other writers have helped me … well, that’s part of my Writer’s Mission Statement. 🙂

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Susan Kaye QuinnSusan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling YA SF Mindjack series. Her new Debt Collector serial is her more grown-up SF, which she likes to call future-noir. Susan has a lot of degrees in engineering, which come in handy when dreaming up dangerous mind powers, future dystopias, and slightly plausible steampunk inventions. Mostly she plays on Facebook, in awe that she gets make up stuff full-time. You can find her at www.susankayequinn.com.

 

Be Featured on JuNoWriMo.com

Becca J. Campbell
Becca J. Campbell

I’m so glad you’re doing JuNoWriMo with us! June is going to be amazing, and it’s coming soon, so I hope you’re getting ready.

Each year, during JuNoWriMo we highlight a few of our authors. We’re big believers in teamwork and supporting writers. It’s a great way to get to share about yourself and get to know others. I can’t wait to hear about what you’ll be working on in June!

You don’t have to be published or famous to get featured here. You don’t even have to have finished a book yet. This is a chance to share a little about your WIP (or just W, since June isn’t here yet). This year we have only eight spots available, and it’s first-come, first-served. Continue reading “Be Featured on JuNoWriMo.com”

Who’s Doing #NaNoWriMo? We Are!

Howdy gang! I hope you’ve had a great summer and are enjoying the new season. Fall came rushing in on me and I can hardly believe next month is November!

Join Us During November

Anna and I are doing #NaNoWriMo next month and we hope you are, too! If you aren’t signed up yet, go to http://nanowrimo.org and do it now.

We had a heck of a lot of fun last June doing word sprints with you guys. Because of that, we’re bringing it all back during November to help support your NaNoWriMo experience. Follow @junowrimo on Twitter to join in. I’m excited about seeing all my JuNo buddies again.

Remember our word count spreadsheet from June? How cool was it to see  everyone’s daily counts? Did you have as much fun racing with your fellow WriMos as I did? I have good news. We’re bringing it back for NaNoWrimo.

We will have a post letting you know when the new spreadsheet is ready, so stay tuned. We had over a hundred people input their names this June. Let’s see if we can get even more next month. Make sure you’ve created a JuNoWriMo account which will grant you access to the spreadsheet.

The best part about this site is the accountability. NaNoWriMo is a big place and it can be hard to get to know people, but here you’ll find a smaller and tighter community. If you’re new, then welcome aboard! We’re happy to have you with us.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Are you prepped and ready for what it’s going to take to write a novel in thirty days? October is prewriting month and I encourage you to take advantage of it. Starting NaNoWriMo without a plan isn’t just difficult—it’s setting yourself up for failure. Get the bones of your novel sketched out ahead of time so that when the clock turns midnight on October 31st, you’re armed and ready.

What is prewriting and exactly how do you do it? Aaron Pogue has a great walkthrough of how to get ready to write a novel. This post is the first in the prewriting series. Follow his advice and you’ll be ready for November.

More Tips and Free Stuff

One final thing. I’ve saved the best for last. There’s a great new ebook out there called @WriMo: A 30-day Survival Guide for Writers by Kevin S. Kaiser. I highly recommend it for everyone doing NaNoWriMo. This book is full of motivation to inspire your writing journey. It’s especially useful for making you stick with it in those times you really don’t want to write. I read it and loved it. Even better, all the proceeds of the book are donated to NaNoWriMo which means that buying this book is akin to sending them a donation check.

I’m so excited about this book that I’m going to give away a free copy next week! Come back on Monday for a chance to win!

Related Posts:

Prewriting for JuNoWriMo

Prewriting: the Steps

So Many Choices, So Little Time

So Many Choices, So Little Time (Week 3 Pep Talk by Erin Healy)

Erin Healy

Today we have a special guest on the blog! I hope you enjoy this pep talk from best-selling author Erin Healy as much as I did. Be inspired and be encouraged!

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When I’m writing a book, the most common obstacle I face isn’t writer’s block. It’s the fear that of all the creative choices set before me, I might select the one that’s least effective. Continue reading “So Many Choices, So Little Time (Week 3 Pep Talk by Erin Healy)”

On Scene Lists: What Your Story Needs

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Only a few days left until June! Are you ready? Here’s Aaron Pogue’s last post in the prewriting series. Complete all the steps and you’ll be set to have a great JuNoWriMo writing experience. Good luck!

Aaron Pogue

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We’ve been talking about long synopses and scene lists this week. Yesterday I went into some detail on what scene lists are for.

Today I want to tell you how to write one. It shouldn’t be hard, but it’s definitely going to take some time and thought. So let’s get started!

Meat on the Bones

By this point in your prewriting process, you have everything you need to make a story. You’ve got a beginning and an end. You’ve got characters, you’ve got conflict, you’ve got an overview of the plot. Making the novel requires you to flesh out that skeleton, though. Continue reading “On Scene Lists: What Your Story Needs”

On Scene Lists: Building a Novel

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Hopefully you’ve been making great progress on your prewriting and are almost all ready for June. If you’ve been following the steps in this series by Aaron Pogue, you will go into JuNoWriMo prepared. It’s the best way to start!

Today Aaron talks about writing a long synopsis, the biggest weapon in your prewriting arsenal.

Aaron Pogue

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This week, your big JuNoWriMo prewriting assignment is to develop a long synopsis, or scene list.  Here is a brief description of a scene list:

A scene list is primarily useful as a prewriting or editing tool. It forces you to map out the actual structure of your story, down to the very building blocks, and then gives you an easy place to spot errors or weak points, to tinker and rearrange.

To make a scene list, you start at the very beginning of your story, and write one to two paragraphs describing what happens in every scene. When you’re finished, you’ll have your entire plot down on paper — every twist and every turn — without all that messy set design, characterization, and description.

That’s certainly how we’re using it this week. Today I want to go into a little more detail than those two short paragraphs give. Continue reading “On Scene Lists: Building a Novel”

On Narrative Scenes: Writing a Scene

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Have you been dreaming up ideas for your JuNoWriMo novel? Better yet, why not do some real, tangible prewriting you can lean on during June? Writer’s block will have no chance!

Here’s the next in our series on prewriting by Aaron Pogue.

Aaron Pogue

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This week we’re talking about narrative scenes — the storytelling elements that clarify your characters and progress your plot.

How Scenes Work

As I said yesterday, every scene in your story must move your story forward. That can consistent of character-building, occasionally, and really only in the first act, but in most genres you want to move the plot forward in virtually every scene. Continue reading “On Narrative Scenes: Writing a Scene”

On Narrative Scenes: Choosing Your Scenes

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Today in our series on prewriting for JuNoWriMo, Aaron Pogue talks about writing a scene.

Remember, you’re free to write as much of your novel as you’d like beforehand, but you can only count the words you write in June toward your 50,000 goal.

Aaron Pogue

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This month we’re reviewing all the parts and processes that go into developing a story. Our goal is to put together a complete prewriting package to do some of the heavy lifting for you when it comes time to write a novel in June.

So far, if you’ve been following along, you have Characters, you have the elements of a Plot, presumably you know your Setting, but we still have to discuss how you actually write the story. What do you do to convert that story idea we have so well documented into an actual story?

Thinking in Scenes

The answer is writing scenes. Scenes are the building blocks of any story. Whether it’s a poem, a bit of interpretive dance, a Great American Novel, or a major motion picture, a story is told in scenes. A story told without clearly defined scenes is, essentially, a synopsis. This is how we separate storytelling from summary.

No matter what time frame you’ve chosen for your story, it probably contains the potential for an infinite number of scenes. You could use flashbacks and flashfowards to give the story context, you could have a play-within-a-play, or dreams or hallucinations – you could write a thousand scenes into a narrative that only actually takes place within a single room, over a span of a couple minutes. It would probably be dreadful, but it could be done.

The point is, the story idea that you have already developed contains within it a boundless sea of scenes. A few of them are gripping, immersive. Some of them leap out at you, defining moments in the path from the Big Event to the stunning Climax. Most of them are irrelevant.

Choosing the Scenes

Your job, as the storyteller, is to choose which scenes you are going to include in your story. That’s it. Once you have a character list and a premise, most of the scenes can be extrapolated from there, but it’s up to you to choose which scenes to present to your audience.

For an excellent example of that, just consider the Harry Potter books. He’s in school the entire time, right? For the first five books, at least, he’s spending most of his time in classes, presumably, but how many scenes can you remember where he was in a classroom? They are far fewer than the scenes in the dining hall or the common room, scenes on the Quidditch field or (most common) skulking down shadowy corridors.

Of course, there are scenes that take place in the classroom – often highly dramatic scenes that jump immediately to mind – and that’s precisely the point. She could have included thousands of classroom scenes, but instead she chose just the ones that served the story best, and implied all the hours spent bent over a textbook or scribbling down notes.

When it comes time for you to convert your story idea into a story, there is just one rule you must remember: every single scene must move your story forward.

Believe me, you will write scenes that you absolutely fall in love with but that don’t measure up to that one rule. And, painful as it will be, you’ll have to cut them out of the story. That is the price writers pay. Apart from the rejection letters, it’s really the only one — having to remove something so beautifully crafted from your masterpiece. It’s necessary, though.

Writing the Scene

Before you can start cutting anything, though, you’ve got to get it written. We’ll start on that with this week’s big writing assignment.

Come back tomorrow, and we’ll move you a big step closer to your JuNoWriMo novel with a little bit of practice writing.

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Related Posts:

The Conflict Resolution Cycle

On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents

JuNoWriMo Features Authors and YOU

The Conflict Resolution Cycle

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

The last few weeks we’ve been looking at a strategy for prewriting your novel. It’s the perfect way to get all ready for JuNoWriMo and to fight off that first bout of writer’s block that threatens to strike by way of the blank page.

Even better than that, I’ve found that doing prewriting for my novels gets me all amped up about my story in a very effective way. It gets me excited about my novel and shoots me with that burst of energy to take off at high speeds when June 1st hits.

Here’s Aaron Pogue with the latest in the series.

Aaron Pogue

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Today we’re moving on to the Conflict Resolution Cycle worksheet. It’s a questionnaire/assignment I cooked up a couple years back to force a writer through the questions necessary to convert a story idea into an actual narrative.

Most of the questions explain themselves, so instead of opening with a big long introduction, I’m just going to dive right in. Continue reading “The Conflict Resolution Cycle”

On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents

***This post is one of several in our prewriting series. To read the first post, click here.***

Ready for more prewriting tips? Here’s Aaron Pogue with the next installment in the series designed to streamline your JuNoWriMo experience.

Aaron Pogue

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Okay, May is already washing out from under us like sand in the surf, right? Next thing we know, we’re going to be caught in an undercurrent and sweeping toward June without a lifeguard in sight.

(I may have gotten lost in my metaphor there.)

That’s okay. Most of the prewriting steps don’t take more than a day or two.

Today we’re going to start with the quickest and the easiest: the mock Table of Contents. All you need to write that one is a vague idea what happens in your story. Continue reading “On Narrative Structure: The Mock Table of Contents”