Posts Tagged With: aspiring writers

Become a Pro Writer — One Hour at a Time!

The more you write, the better you get.  That should go without saying, but discouragement can dim our perceptions, so I’m coming right out and saying it:

Every hour you spend writing makes you a better writer.
 
I talk a lot about the learning curve of your first novel.  If you’re like most people, as you work your way through your first book, you’ll look back every so often and shudder at your earlier chapters.  It’s tempting to go back and try to polish your old writing up to your current level of proficiency.  Don’t do it!  Believe it or not, you can write a novel from beginning to end without stopping in the middle to go back and fix it.  In fact, I recommend you don’t stop.

Make notes instead.  Scrawl in the margins.  Use up a whole pad of yellow sticky notes if you must.  But don’t spend time “fixing” your old pages until you finish the entire book.  Why?  Because by the time you reach the end, you’ll be a better writer than you are now.  So save the “fixing” for later and do it all at once, rather than trying to constantly improve everything all the time.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s number-one bestselling book Outliers, he says that you need to spend 10,000 hours at something to become an expert.  You’d have to do something 20 hours a week for a decade to hit that.  But you know what?  That’s doable, even with a full time day job — if you want it badly enough.

One of his examples is the Beatles, who performed live more than 1,200 times before they made it big.  Bill Gates started programming when he was 13.  Was he a child prodigy — or did he just get an early start and put in massive effort before he became an expert?

Ten thousand hours — as a writer, that works out to a LOT of pages.  You won’t be an expert writer until after you’ve finished several books, so cut yourself some slack.  In the meantime, you can focus on learning the craft of writing.  Every day, you’re getting better.  Remember: you can write a novel — and you will — one hour at a time!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Help Fight Diabetes and Win a Critique!

That’s right, folks.  You already know you can write a novel — and now’s your chance to prove it.  Thanks to the heroic efforts of Brenda Novak and her elite team of auction experts, you have a chance to help a great cause AND win a personal manuscript critique from Yours Truly. 

And of course, there are plenty of other great prizes to be won, too!  Especially in the section conspicuously called Kristin Nelson Literary Agency Presents.  Who could pass up a 30-page read from veteran agent Kristin Nelson?  Or a 30-page evaluation from literary agent Sara Megibow?  These are top-notch opportunities, my friend.  Don’t miss out!

You could even win a personalized love scene written by author Tiffany Reisz!  And yes, it’s just what you think it is: a ten to fifteen page personalized fantasy love scene between you and the celebrity (or two) of your choice.  If that doesn’t give you an incentive to help out a good cause, I don’t know what will!

So do yourself a favor and check out Brenda Novak’s 2011 Online Auction to Benefit Diabetes Research.  You can help a much-needed cause, get a chance to score incredible prizes and maybe even give your writing a boost.  No matter what, you come out a winner!

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Win Literary Prizes and Help Fight Diabetes

Just a quick reminder that bidding starts Sunday for the Brenda Novak Diabetes Fundraiser.  This year, aspiring writers get a chance to win some incredible prizes.  Seriously, some mind-blowing stuff!  Like lunch with agents, editors and other Very Important People.  Or a chance to get your polished manuscript into the hot little hands of people who can actually get it published!

Also, this year, I’ve offered up my own humble donation:

Get your opening chapter into shape!

Get a critique of the first 25 pages of your novel manuscript, including personalized suggestions on how to polish this crucial part of your book.  (Submission must be made by November 1, 2011.)

Laurence MacNaughton is a writing coach and contributor to Writers’ Journal.  He teaches fiction writing at You Can Write A Novel .com.

Check out all the details:

http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/Home.taf?_start=1

Remember: you can write a novel — and you can help a good cause!

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Aspiring Writers, Take Notes!

You can write a novel that seems absolutely perfect to you: the dialogue is tight, the characters are richly layered and the plot crackles with energy.  But you’ll still get notes, I guarantee it.  And that’s a good thing.

Notes, by the way, are the comments you get from decision-makers (mostly literary agents and editors) about things that they want you to change in your writing.  They can be about anything.  Description (“Where’s Joe standing, exactly, when the frozen turkey falls on him?”).  Continuity (“I thought Joe suffered a concussion in the last scene.  How can he sing the Star Spangled Banner?”).  Characters (“I don’t like Joe as a short-order cook.  How about we call him Bob and make him a rodeo clown instead?”)

Some notes are pure genius, and following them will improve your story in ways you never imagined.  Then there are those rare notes that seem like they’re from outer space.  One of the most memorable notes I’ve ever heard was to an animation writer: “When the monkey takes off his underwear, please make sure he’s wearing another pair beneath them.”
Because the alternative, I suppose, is just too horrible to contemplate.  The truth is, every note is a creative challenge.  It’s an obstacle that you need to find a way to overcome.  And that, I think, is the best way to look at notes: not as criticism, but challenges.
It’s not that much different from the sorts of story challenges you face while you’re writing a novel.  How do I show this character’s true nature?  How do I plant this information without being too obvious?  How do I make this scene scarier?  Or funnier?  An editor once gave me this note: “Sorry, this just isn’t funny.”  Yowtch!

But after I was done pouting, I sat down and brainstormed a dozen or so new jokes for that part of the story, and guess what?  I came up with something better.  In the end, I was proud of the job I did, the editor was satisfied, and I’d long forgotten the tiny sting of that note by the time the piece got published.

Notes force us to grow — or at least to think fast on our feet.  They’re not exactly fun.  Not even if your best friend in the whole world tells you as gently as possible while handing you a giant plate full of chocolate cake.  But it does give you an opportunity to tackle a new challenge, think of a way to satisfy the note-giver while being true to your story, and come out a winner.

 And then, by golly, you deserve that cake!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing a book, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Behind the Bestseller: Robert Buettner (Part 3)

Meet bestselling author Robert Buettner, a man who’s not afraid to do his research firsthand — even when it involves a real-life main battle tank!  In this segment on You Can Write A Novel, Buettner talks about how ebooks have changed the publishing business, how it feels to read your own reviews and the secret to beating writer’s block.

Plus, as you can see, no book signing is complete without a visit from a ninja ape-man.  Naturally.

Laurence MacNaughton:  By my count, Overkill is your sixth novel. How is your career (and/or the publishing business) different now than when you started? Does the writing get any easier, or do you face a new set of challenges now?

Robert Buettner:  The book biz, like the world in which it operates, has been changing at an ever-accelerating rate. Based on my royalty statements, in the last year “mobile device” proliferation has finally caused e-book unit sales to take off like a firewalled F-16.

Book promotion now appears to be a matter of accumulating Facebook friends, but I remain a social media Luddite. A writing day bares my creative cupboard. I lack the wit surplus to fire off a dozen clever tweets to my followers. I still visit brick-and-mortar stores and autograph their stock. Maybe that’s the authorial equivalent of the last tyrannosaur chasing the last triceratops.

Mechanically, writing’s easier. My word processor manages a lot more proofing and backtracking even compared to what it could even a few years ago, when I started. I research via Google rather than organizing a library safari. I can’t imagine how the great novels were composed longhand, or on a typewriter. I still proof a physical print copy of my manuscripts before I turn them in, but I turn them in electronically now, which is faster, cheaper, and environmentally friendlier.


LM:
Do you ever read your own reviews?

RB:  Every word. It’s probably easier for me than for some authors because my reviews have, so far, fingers crossed, been overwhelmingly positive.

The decline of newspaper and similar print review sources has removed a useful filter from opinion, and that’s a little scary. Today any anonymous source who hasn’t even read the book can say absolutely anything about the book, and that “review” may pop up on Google ahead of more thoughtful commentaries. But so far I’ve rarely been victimized that way.

LM: If you had to pick just one personal quality that separates the would-be writers from the published professionals, what would it be?

RB:  Persistence in the face of rejection. If I could pick a second, it would be willingness to reinvent and relearn one’s craft, sometimes abbreviated “humility.”

LM:  Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? And if so, how do you beat it?

RB:  Barbara Hambly and I were guesting at an SF Con a couple of years ago. Barbara answered that question as well as I’ve heard it answered. Barbara said real “writer’s block” is an exceedingly rare clinical phenomenon.

What most writers call “block” is just a subconscious warning we give ourselves that, “hey, this chapter, this paragraph, this plot line isn’t working.” So we just sit there, dithering.

The fix is simple. Walk back the dog through your work until you encounter the last point where you’re confident that the story was working. Begin again from there. With luck, that point is just a page back. Maybe you lose a whole chapter. Maybe you have to go back to page one. But at least you’re unstuck.

The secret to efficient “block” beating is, I suppose, recognizing it before you’ve sleepwalked ahead through too many worthless pages. It works for me.

LM: Is there any truth to the rumor of an Orphanage movie? 

RB:  Well, the most interesting recent project I’ve been connected with lately is the film adaptation of Orphanage by Olatunde Osunsanmi, the rising director and screenwriter (The Fourth Kind, forthcoming Dark Moon) for Davis Entertainment (Predator, I Robot, Eragon). Thousands of books are optioned for film, but never get to a “treatment,” much less to the director-plus-adapted-screenplay stage where Orphange is already. However, Hollywood is notably longer on dreams than on reality, so Orphanage the Movie remains light years away. Therefore, I hadn’t mentioned it much. But the news popped out in the Hollywood press last October.

It’s totally Tunde’s screenplay. My input has been minimal, and that’s a gross overstatement. But I was flattered that he chose to lift more of the writing direct from the book than is usual in an adapted screenplay.

LM: We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for that!  What else are you working on? 

RB:  Amazon’s Audible.com is releasing the new series as audio books. Overkill’s already available. I’m looking forward to working again with the reader who Audible chooses for Undercurrents. MacLeod Andrews, the young (everybody’s young to me) actor who read Overkill was terrific.

I’m finishing an original short story for the forthcoming John Joseph Adams anthology “Armored.” That story will be loosely set within the Orphanage-Overkill universe.

At the moment, I’m judging the short story finalists in the National Space Society’s Jim Baen Memorial Writing contest. I’m filling in for the venerable David Weber, and following in the footsteps of such notable authors as Mike Resnick and Eric Flint, so that’s pretty cool.

Beyond that, of course, Undercurrents, the sequel to Overkill, is set for release July 5, 2011, and there will be a third book in that series.

Robert Buettner’s ‘blog

Robert Buettner’s website

Baen’s webscription page for Overkill

Amazon’s Overkill page

Amazon’s Undercurrents page

Amazon’s Orphanage page

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Bestselling Authors, Millions of Dollars, and You

Ebooks have always been a hot-button topic in the publishing business.  And that was before bestselling author Barry Eisler walked away from a half-million-dollar deal in favor of self-publishing his own ebooks.

And yes, you read that right: a half a million dollars.  Which, as you’ll see in a moment, might just be chump change . . .

So is it worth it?  Walking away from all of that money to do your own thing?  You can read his talk with J.A. Konrath here and decide for yourself.  (Many thanks to fellow writer Angie Hodapp for sending that one my way.)

Meanwhile, self-published ebook phenomenon Amanda Hocking — who had been initially rejected by publishers — decided she was tired of doing her own thing and signed a two-million-dollar deal with St. Martin’s.  Which, incidentally, is the very same publisher Barry Eisler walked away from.

So what does all of this mean for you, the aspiring author?  It means face front and keep your eyes peeled.  The ebook market is a wide-open frontier right now, and it’s changing too fast for some writers (and some publishers) to catch up.  Plus, it’s vital that we don’t confuse the issue of ebooks versus paper books with the very separate issue of self-publishing versus traditional publishing.  They’re tangled together right now simply because it’s so much easier to self-publish an ebook than a traditional book, but they are different issues.

So make sure you have all of the information available to you before you make any final decisions about your career.  As an aspiring author, the last thing you want to do is prove that you can write a novel only to publish it in a way that you later regret.  You want to explore as many options as you can — and depending on your particular career, that could mean self-publishing, or it might mean traditional publishing — or some futuristic combination we haven’t even seen yet.

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Behind the Bestseller: Robert Buettner (Part 2)

Bestselling author and all-around nice guy Robert Buettner is back on You Can Write A Novel to give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be the author of a “big” book — and he tells us how he tackled writing something entirely new on the heels of the critically acclaimed Jason Wander series.  Plus, he shares his five tips for becoming a bestselling author.

Laurence MacNaughton:  So what’s the most common question you get asked by readers? (Besides “Who does those awesome covers?”)

Robert Buettner:  Reader questions (as opposed to aspiring writer questions, which we cover below) vary as widely as readers. The most asked question is actually mundane. “What order are the books in?” Answer:

I. Jason Wander, or Orphanage, series from Orbit:

1. Orphanage

2. Orphan’s Destiny

3. Orphan’s Journey

4. Orphan’s Alliance

5. Orphan’s Triumph

II. Orphan’s Legacy series from Baen:

1. Overkill

2. Undercurrents (forthcoming July 5, 2011)

3. Title to be determined

I think the confusion may be worse because e-book readers skip some clues that physical book readers see. The physical books of the Jason Wander series now in stores have the book number, 1 through 5, on the spine, and the five books are listed in order inside, opposite the title page, under the heading “Books by Robert Buettner” The new series has a similar list opposite its title pages. But, as is customary in publishing, each publisher only lists the author’s books that IT publishes. Thus, “Baen Books by Robert Buettner” lists only the new series.

LM:  What’s it like writing an entirely new book, after the critically acclaimed success of the Jason Wander series? Was it hard to switch gears?

RB: 
Liberating, actually. The Jason Wander books were written 100% in Jason’s first person voice. The new series allowed me to see and comment on the world from new viewpoints. One viewpoint is very new. In fact, I hope, readers will find it not just new but unique.

In the same way, a new publisher, and so new editing and supporting perspectives, were also liberating.

Time Warner Aspect, which became Little Brown Orbit, publishes the Jason Wander books, and does it marvelously. Orbit’s also very much a New York Big Six imprint, and as such formal in author relations, compared to an independent.

Baen, which is publishing the new series, is very much an independent. But a unique one. Baen began as, and kind of remains, the defacto science fiction imprint of Simon & Schuster. Baen’s SF/F list is as large as a New York Big Six imprint’s list, and S&S distributes Baen books with all the clout of the New York Big Six publisher that S&S is. But Baen isn’t physically located in New York. Toni Weisskopf, Baen’s publisher, continues the late Jim Baen’s enthusiasm and hands on involvement with Baen’s authors, as well with Baen’s readers. Baen’s process is less formal than a New York Big Six imprint, but the quality, expertise, and resources are very equivalent.

Another change accompanied the shift to Baen. Baen/Simon & Schuster chose to give the new series “Big Book Treatment,” meaning the format is larger even than trade paperback, with author name prominent. The theory is that I now have a following who will buy the book not because of the covers (which are bold and striking) or the store placement (which is prominent), or even the reviews, but because (gulp) I wrote it. That’s flattering, but also high-wire scary.

LM: So, no pressure or anything.  How about sharing a common question from aspiring writers?

RB:  “How do I become a New-York published author?” There are usually collateral, accompanying questions, like, “Do I actually have to, like, write the book first?” Or “How do I make sure the publisher includes Paris and Tokyo on my signing tour?”

Here’s the answer I give:

1. Write. Don’t just think about writing and read books about writing, though by all means do those things. Do it. Until you take that step you won’t know whether you want it bad enough. And if you really expect to learn the craft well enough to be New York published, you had better want it pretty bad.

2. Write lots. They say that a writer has to write a million words to develop the skills to produce salable commercial fiction. I believe Stephen King had collected seven hundred short story rejection slips before he sold his first one. I completed seven novels of varying degrees of awfulness, now boxed up for eternity, before Orphanage.

3. Write well. Study The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, and anything Mark Twain wrote about writing. The best contemporary treatment of the art and craft of writing that I’ve seen is King’s On Writing. Find a mutual critique group of people who know what they are talking about, take your lumps, and learn from their mistakes and yours. If you write well, you will be ahead of ninety percent of the twenty-five thousand or more unsolicited slush submittals that a reputable agent wades through annually.

4. Rewrite well. There is no good writing. There is only good rewriting.

5. Last but not least, persevere. When you have written, then rewritten, a novel so good that it can’t be ignored, be prepared to reinvent yourself and your craft when it is ignored, anyway.

Wise words!  Stay tuned for the final installment of Behind the Bestseller: Robert Buettner right here on You Can Write A Novel.  And if you’re interested in checking out his latest novel, Overkill (which I had to force myself to put down so I could publish this interview), you can find it here:

Robert Buettner’s ‘blog

Robert Buettner’s website

Baen’s webscription page for Overkill

Amazon’s Overkill page

Amazon’s Undercurrents page

Amazon’s Orphanage page

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Meet a Literary Agent AND Help Kids Read — No Foolin’!

Listen up, true believers.  Think you can write a novel good enough to get published?  Find out this Sunday!

Literary agent and celebrated book genius Sara Megibow (of the incomparable Nelson Literary Agency) will lead a two-hour writing workshop open to any fiction writer.  (That means you!)  Aspiring writers from all over have benefited from her advice, and now you can, too.  Even better, 100% of all proceeds go to directly benefit the Boulder Jewish Day School.  So it’ll help your writing, and it’s a good cause!  What could be better?

Get all the unbelievable details here.  And have a great writing weekend!

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Literary Agents, Editors and You, at the Brenda Novak Diabetes Fundraiser

This is a great charity event!  I’ve been wanting to donate to this for years.  (True story: back when I worked at a book distributor, there were two pallets of Nora Roberts and Iris Johansen paperbacks I was almost able to donate, but then there was an unfortunate incident involving a blizzard, an aging forklift and a propane tank…  It didn’t end well.)

Anyway, this year I’m finally joining in with my humble donation:

Get your opening chapter into shape!

Get a critique of the first 25 pages of your novel manuscript, including personalized suggestions on how to polish this crucial part of your book.

Laurence MacNaughton is a writing coach and contributor to Writers’ Journal.  He teaches fiction writing at YouCanWriteANovel.com.

Bidding opens on May 1st.  There are plenty of wonderful prizes to be had, including one-on-one help from various bestselling authors, top literary agents and editors, all ready to help you get published in exchange for your much-needed donation to help fight diabetes.

I don’t think my modest listing has gone live yet, but when it does, I’ll put up a link.  In the meantime, you can check out this very cool event here:

http://brendanovak.auctionanything.com/Home.taf?_start=1

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What Kind of Writer Are You? Find Out!

Writers generally fall into three camps: hobbyists, aspiring professionals and working pros. The difference is not so much about your writing skills or experience as it is about your goals.

A hobby writer just wants to have fun with writing. You know what I mean: get together with friends, talk about inspiration, maybe write a few pages and share them with other people. The main goal here is to have fun and play around with creative writing. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, I imagine all of the best authors started out as hobbyists.
An aspiring pro, on the other hand, is serious about getting something published and making money at it, possibly even someday turning it into a living. This person writes something with the intention of eventually getting it in front of a literary agent and then an editor who will buy it and publish it.
A professional writer, by definition, is someone who writes and gets paid for it. The goal here is to keep a writing career going and growing.
Where you run into trouble is trying to pitch your tent in the wrong camp. If you’re a hobby writer and you try to team up with an aspiring pro, you’re both going to end up frustrated. You’ll think she’s being too harsh and not supportive enough — while she thinks you’re not “serious” about your writing.
Does any of this sound familiar?
As you learn how to write a book, ask yourself: What are my goals here? Am I trying to get published? Or do I just want to play around with writing? There’s no wrong answer. You only have to be honest with yourself.  I love cars, for example, but I’d never want to be a professional race car driver. Tuning up my carburetor and driving down to Cruise Night at the local diner is just fine by me. And that’s cool. With my writing, on the other hand, I’m focused on growing my career.
How about you?
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