Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Keep To Your Writing Goal

© Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t watched the movie, “The Sound of Music?” Remember the Do-Re-Mi song that begins with, “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start ..?”
That's my challenge to aspiring authors. Start at the beginning, walk the extra mile, break out of your comfort zone, and look to new challenges. Don’t rush the writing and forget about getting an agent or publisher at this point. All in good time, my dears. All in good time!

Why? Because novels don’t materialize overnight. It often takes years of dedication, research, and a massive amount of hard work to turn that "great idea" into a polished page-turning story. Instead, concentrate on learning the craft. Learn and practice how to develop a writing voice, a good story plot, and interesting characters. Put away your worries about mapping out your journey just yet--finding an agent and publisher. So for now, concentrate on taking those essential first few baby steps toward accomplishing your writing goals. Thoughts of anything else only clutters the mind and will keep you from focusing on what you really want/need to do -- write.

Set aside a certain amount of time per day (whatever works for you) for "you time" and stick to it. Use your "you time" to do read, research, type, plot, etc. It doesn't matter how you use that time as long as it's writing related and will move you closer to your goal.

The best way to begin writing is to sit down and do it. Don't worry about making the first draft perfect. All first drafts are lousy. ;) Somewhere along the way I read that every author should write a first book as a practice run, place it on their bookshelf, and move on to work on their "real" book. I have such a manuscript. I wrote a spy suspense in 2002, haven't read it since then. I'm sure if I were to read it now, my skin would crawl because I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, I stopped because I didn't know what else to do with it. I started writing short stories and that's how I discovered my Sam Harper character and his detective series. However, writing that manuscript was a critical turning point for me because it proved that I could sit down and write at least 60,000 words that followed a plot. It also nudged me to continue to writer and eventually I became published five years later.

The important thing is to get your thoughts on paper and see where they take you.

Invest in resource books. They'll be the "bible" that will guide your path. I keep stacks of them next to me as I write and often review some of my favorites before I begin a new project. Subscribe a writer’s magazine or two and mark the articles that seem most relevant to what your needs are at the moment. Remember that all your books, subscriptions, writing supplies, etc., are tax deductable.

Get that first draft written. Print it, put it in a binder, and let it sit for several days. Then go back and read it with a fresh pair of eyes. As you read it, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is the plot believable—does it make sense?
  • Do any of the scenes that stop me? If so, mark them for edit.
  • Is there enough conflict in every scene either between characters or within a character?
  • Do you have enough dialogue or too much? Do each of your characters have unique voices or do they all sound alike?
  • How do my chapters end? Did they end it at moments of: a major decision, a rising question, an emotional point in the scene, or just as something is about to be revealed or changed (negative or positive)? In other words, do the chapters urge you, the reader, to turn the page or put the book down?
  • How’s the pace? Remember to speed the action, write quick, snappy dialogue, to slow it down, write narrative and beats.
Once you've completed the first draft, check to make sure that everything that is in the book has a purpose. Don't be afraid to cut out sentences, entire scenes, or chapters if they don't advance the plot. Check your tags and repetitive words, spelling, punctuation, and all those other things you've learned from reading your wonderful references books.

Network with other writers. There's a wealth of information out there and never stop learning. There's always room for improvement no matter where you are in your writing.

Find a crit partner you trust and who won't just pat you on the back. As writers, we're too close to the work so constructive criticism is an absolute must. In the end, the fine line between success and failure is totally up to you -- just as it should be.

* * *
Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery series published by BeWrite Books (UK)

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT – (2008) Semifinalist, 2009 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY); Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

(2007), Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival; Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)


s.w. vaughn said...

Wise advice, indeed!

If only it weren't so frustrating to follow. This, I think, is the biggest hurdle writers face: patience. We need it in buckets, especially in the beginning - but who wants to be told they have to spend years working on something before they can reap the rewards? And who hasn't thought, at least once on the writing journey: well, that doesn't apply to me. I'm special. I'm going to be one of those overnight sensations.

The truth is, the overnight sensations don't happen overnight. You just never hear of these hard-working writers until they make it - and since they are new to you, it seems they burst onto the scene overnight.

Ah, the conundrum. Thinking logically can help writers prepare to face the hard reality of the publishing business.

(But how many logical writers do you know? LOL)

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Solid, excellent advise, Marta. I still say you need to write a writing book. This marketing stuff is hard and you really make sense of it.

Sheila Deeth said...

Hmm.You mean I have to have a logical basis for my dreams as well as my stories.

Morgan Mandel said...

This is a tough business and it does take discipline. Kind of strange, because it's also a fun business at the same time.

Morgan Mandel

Kim Smith said...

Such sage words. I had a show with the great author CW Gortner tonight and he said this too. It takes time and dedication to write a book. It will all be worth it in the end!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Superb article, Marta. Great advice. I especially agree about writing without worrying about an agent or publisher. I wrote the first five books in the LeGarde series before I even came up for breath. And that was the way to go - I'd never change those first years of intense writing experience. ;o) Thanks for this!