Posts Tagged With: writing advice

Why I Became a Writer (And It’s Not Why You Think)

Shockingly, this is a picture of a sledge hammer.

Hammer time! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Do you ever wonder if maybe we make crucial life choices based on completely misunderstanding the world around us?

One of the most common questions I’m asked in interviews is: What made you decide to become a writer? I tend to talk about reading and storytelling as a kid, playing with an old typewriter, that sort of thing.

But really, I think it all goes back to a broken plate glass window.

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What an Editor Really Does — and Why You Need One

I first met Anita when she worked with my literary agent, Kristin Nelson. Anita is a freelance editor who helps writers bring out the very best in their novels. She was kind enough to share her editing insights, including why you should never let a rejection letter get you down, and why joining a critique group can not only improve your writing, but also save you money – and help you get published. Here’s Anita with all the insider info about editors. –L.

 

Anita, can you tell us what a developmental editor does, exactly?

Anita Mumm, founder of Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services

Anita Mumm, founder of Mumm’s the Word Editing & Critique Services

The easiest way to describe a developmental editor’s work is that it focuses on the big picture: Does the plot work? Are the characters the kind of people readers want to spend an entire book with? Is the dialogue smooth or stilted? Is the voice appropriate to the genre and audience?

Developmental editing means making sure the foundation of the novel is sound, and that all of its parts come together in a meaningful whole.

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Top 3 Questions of Aspiring Writers

Thriller Author Interview

with Yours Truly

I’m always happy to answer questions from aspiring authors. This week, I got some tricky ones:

Q: How do you know when to end one chapter and start the next chapter?

A: You end a chapter as soon as the lead character either achieves their goal or fails.

The best place to end a chapter is immediately after you raise a new question in the reader’s mind. The desire to answer that question will make them turn the page. Continue reading

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

The One Thing You Must Do to Get Published

As a writing coach, it’s my job to help people get a little perspective on their story problems.  Recently, a client asked me to help him out with his first novel.  He’d gotten halfway through and stalled out.  I put together a laundry list of ways to fix his various story problems — and then I told him to ignore my advice.  “For a little while, at least,” I said.  “First, finish your novel.  Later, you can go back and fix these things.”

That’s really the best advice I can give to anyone working on a first novel: forge ahead and finish it.  Get all the way to “The End” before you go back and start making changes to the story.  The rough draft of your first novel always seems like an insurmountable challenge.  Why?  Because you’ve never done it before.  But don’t let that stop you.

Once you finally finish your novel — once you reach the very last page — you pass a milestone that most would-be authors never see: you’ve actually written a novel.  How cool is that?

I’ve done some highly unscientific research at the local bookstore and discovered that 100% of all published books are finished.  I’ve never heard an editor say, “Well, this author only wrote the first couple hundred pages — but it was so perfect, we decided to publish half a book!” 

Doesn’t happen.

But you’re beset by fears.  What if the second half of my book is no good?  Then you’ll make it good.  What if I don’t know how to end it?  Then you’ll make it up.  Remember, you’re the creative type.  Improvise!

The first draft of anything is just that: a first draft.  You’ll make it better in the second, and in the third, and so on.  It’s like a sculpture: once you have the basic form worked out, you can keep chipping and polishing until it’s beautiful.

Plus, there’s a hidden bonus.  The more you write, the better you get.  As the pages pile up, you get more skilled at the craft.  The learning curve for your first novel is usually so steep that by the time you get halfway through, you think to yourself, “Wait, now I know how to do this better!  I should go back and fix all of that stuff I wrote earlier!”  It sounds reasonable, but it’s a trap. 

Instead, write yourself a note and keep going.  You’ll need every last bit of creative strength to reach the end of the novel.  Don’t squander your energy on perfecting things that you might delete later.  It won’t be flawless, especially not in the first draft.  So for now, just concentrate on finishing your novel. 

First, get it written — then later you can get it right!

Categories: how to write a book, how to write a novel, writing, writing a novel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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!

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What Aspiring Writers Can Learn from Instant Coffee

Anybody who has ever worked in advertising (like yours truly, natch) knows how tough it is to tell a good story while you’re trying to promote a product.  I could bring up the time I had to write about a certain brand of high-end skater hoodies (yes, hoodies, as in a sweatshirt with a hood on it), and ended up writing about both ninjas AND space aliens — but I won’t bore you with the details.

Suffice to say that my favorite example of advertising storytelling is probably the old Taster’s Choice commercials (aka Nescafe Gold in the UK).  I’m not a big fan of commercials, but there’s something to the art of storytelling to be learned here.  I’d like to draw your attention to the new tab at the top of the page: Storytelling Secrets from Taster’s Choice.  I had a lot of fun with that one.

And yes, you can write a novel using the same tricks that the instant coffee people used.  Read it and I’ll show you how. 

New media is heading this direction, I think.  We’re seeing filmmakers large and small putting out webisodes featuring ultra-short episodes of a longer story arc, each one crafted to tag you into watching the next.  Sort of like chapters in a novel.  Hmm…

Anyway, not to spoil anything, but the coffee couple had a happy ending.  Just read the book.  (And yes, somebody wrote a novel about those two.  Seriously.)

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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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Nail Your Genre in 3 Easy Steps

Last week, I talked about how you can write a novel in any genre, as long as you know exactly what that genre is.  And believe me, you desperately need to define your book’s genre. As promised, here’s a nuts and bolts plan that shows you how to do it, in three outrageously simple steps:

1)  Pick a genre.  And by that, I mean walk into a major chain bookstore and wander the aisles until you find the section where your book belongs.  If it ain’t on a sign, bucko, it ain’t a genre!

2)  Find three recent, successful books in that genre that bear at least a passing similarity to yours.  Close enough that you could tell a complete stranger, “If you like this book, you might like mine!”

3)  Figure out the single most important thing that makes your story unique and fascinating.  You want to be able to say, “My book is like this one, except…” and then point out the key difference.  Example: “My book is like Robert B. Parker’s Spare Change, only the detective is a homeless man who can see the ghosts of the victims.”  Or whatever.

If it sounds like I’m coaching you on how to eventually approach a literary agent, then (BING!) check out your big brain.  I am.  You need to have this stuff figured out long before you send your manuscript to anyone.  (Bonus tip: you can start with the agents of the books you found in Step 2.  But not until you’re ready!)

Now, if you can’t find any successful books that are anything at all like yours — and I mean not even remotely — then I hate to say it, but you’re in trouble, my friend.  Rethink your concept and rework it until you can do the steps above.  Because if you can’t, then the marketing people at the publisher can’t.  And if they can’t, then your book is torpedoed.  Dead in the water.  Boom.

And nobody wants that. So get yourself to a bookstore, toots, and see what’s what!

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Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Now Featuring Yours Truly

If you’re a Colorado writer, you owe it to yourself to check out Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a source of news, inspiration, critique groups, conferences and the occasional bestselling author. 

Editor extraordinaire Carly Willis puts together an excellent newsletter every month.  If you’re a member (or thinking of becoming one), check out the March newsletter, featuring an article by moi.  It’s absolutely jam-packed with life-changing writing advice that will make your life complete.  Or, failing that, it’s a good way to kill a few minutes while you’re sipping your coffee.

Either way, check out RMFW.org here, and join your local writers!

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I’m in Writers’ Journal again

I’m happy to report that I sold another piece to the fine folks at Writers’ Journal.  This one’s just a small piece, but it was fun to write.  If you haven’t checked out Writers’ Journal yet, I recommend picking up a copy today!  It’s chock full of writing advice on how to get published, where to find markets, and tips on poetry, prose, photography and screenwriting.

So head to the news stand and grab a copy of this magazine!  Especially the March/April 2011 issue (hint, hint).

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