There’s a lot of steps to publishing a book: getting feedback on your writing, chatting with friends on social media about your upcoming release, and of course, the less fun but very necessary editing and marketing. I’ll be covering these steps and more in future posts. None of these can happen, or will be useless, without the most important step of all:
Writing the book!
I see you rolling your eyes at me, “Of course I’ll write the book.” You say. But hear me out. When I first started I had an idea I was so excited about; I burned through my first scene, rolled happily along my first chapter, and even strolled through the plot without a care in the world. Then I hit a snag. A plot hole. The first of many, I might add. That first amazing, bright, perfect, novel was tarnished. I realized writing a book was going to take actual work. I woke up to the idea that… say it with me: writing is hard!
I still love my story, my characters are like my best friends, their world is like my home away from home. I can’t wait to go back there again, it’s just that now I know they’re gonna have a bunch of chores waiting for me when I get there. No more lounging on the beach for me.
Over the past year I’ve come to realize there’s two kinds of authors: Those who write, and those who talk about writing. Neither is better than the other, but if you want to be the kind who eventually has a finished book to hold in their hands (or digital hands, whatever), you need to buckle down and get the work done.
So here are my tips for making it so:
1. Paitence! No, really, patience. You may want to just be done with it and go publish already but is it really the best it can be? Because if it’s not you’re throwing money and time out the window. If your artist’s voice is screaming “I don’t care about money. I write because I love it.” Great. Do that. But you still want to make it the best it can be, don’t you?
Of course you do. So did I, but I couldn’t wait to be a published author. Luckily, I also wanted to do it right, so I sent it to an editor… before I had a beta reader or even a critique partner. For those who aren’t already laughing hysterically at my mistake, the order is supposed to go like this:
1.Write the book.
2.If you’re going to have a critique partner (they’re optional) they usually help during and after the writing stage.
3.Edit until you can’t find any mistakes.
4.Send it to beta readers, and use their feedback to revise and edit until you think it’s really done this time.
5.Hire an editor to show you where you are wrong and start the revising process all over.
As you can see I skipped critique partners and beta readers, and barely edited it. I just couldn’t wait to have an editor tell me what they thought so I could fix a few things and get it published. Man, was I naive.
Since there are so many steps I’ll be making a series that takes them one at a time. What you need to know now is take your time. Yes, there is a certain order which makes the process go much smoother but if you get them out of order it isn’t the end of the world. However, rushing to get your first draft published is not helping anyone.
In fact, publishing a draft riddled with mistakes could hurt you. Once people read something by you they will always assume that is your level of quality. Make sure you not only go over it until you can’t see a way to make it any better, but have other people go over it until they can’t see a way to make it any better. Um… within reason. I’ll be posting about editors and Beta readers and we’ll discuss when is it really done, but for now let’s just say don’t rush it out the door because you want feedback. That’s what betas and critique partners are for.
2. Take a time out once in a while. Yes, I get lost in Twitter sometimes too. Ok, lots of times. But that’s where the clock can be your friend. Set a timer. It doesn’t matter for how long, do what works for you; 5 minutes, 10, maybe an hour and a half, whatever. When that timer goes off then it’s back to work for you.
I was struggling though some rewrites the other day and was getting frustrated to the point of tears. I just felt like I was never going to get finished. Mr. Overwhelmed and I are NOT friends. I decided that it was better to do 5 minutes at a time than nothing at all, so that’s what I did. 5 minutes on my book. The timer went off, I went to Twitter. After a bit I went back to my book for another 5. Timer went off, back to Twitter. I didn’t get a lot done that day but I did get some done and I saved my tears for something that was worthy of them.
There are other times when I can spend all day writing or editing and be happy with a simple drive by Tweet at the end of the day. The point is, the amount of work on your book doesn’t matter. As long as you do work on your book, then you are a writer.
3. Writing is solitary, making a book takes a village. Or a clan, gang, coven, platoon, team; whatever you name your group of friends or colleagues. Sure, you could do it all by yourself and see what happens, but you want it to be good right?
See, here’s the thing; even if you write the best book in the world, you’re too close to it. You’ve read it a bajillion times. You won’t see the typos and other little details that someone who’s never seen it before will catch. That’s where beta readers come in. You’re also not a professional editor, cover designer, interior designer, or any of the other experts that went through years of specialized training in their fields.
We’ll cover those in detail later, let’s just say for now that you write and you’re good at it, let those who are good in their fields help you. While this is especially true during the final phases it can be very useful in the beginning as well.
Critique partners can let you know if the ideas are worth pursuing before you even get the draft complete. Beta readers can let you know if you’re on the right path before you invest money in a professional editor. My post on Feb 21 will go into more details on those, so stay tuned.
And here’s a painful truth: family cannot be relied on to tell you how good your writing is. They don’t want to hurt your feelings so they will say it’s great whether it is or not. It’s not their fault, they love you. Let them read your work but if you’re looking for an honest evaluation of your writing stick with strangers and professionals.
4. Outlining is not the devil. It’s just been typecast that way. I’ve heard so many Pantsers (people who swear they will never outline) say that outlining kills creativity. I used to be one of them. Then I failed at NaNoWriMo with a measly 35,000 words. The next year I did a rough, very rough, outline and won with just over the finish line of 50,000 words. (Check out my quick NaNoWriMo guide here)
If you simply can’t outline at all and you have no problem writing, great. Ignore the rest of this tip. It’s not for you. This tip is for Pantsers who struggle, who get hopelessly lost on tangents without an outline, crying that their story is a disaster or abandon it completely but swear they don’t need an outline. Are you sure?
The valuable lesson I learned from Nano is that, neither Pantsers nor Plotters are better than the other, just different. However, if you love the freedom of pantsing but need some direction you can find a balance between the two. In fact, I firmly believe you can be a confirmed Pantser and still start with a brief outline. Example of a Pantser outline:
Characters names: MC, Antagonist, Love interest
Plot, just a sentence or two.
Starting point situation, midpoint event, finale situation.
That’s not much of an outline really, but it gives you the important parts: who, why, where are they going. In the end those are what will really mess you up if you’re pantsing and get lost.
So, if you are happy with your creative process, carry on. If you’re struggling, why not try something different? You may just find your next favorite thing. Which leads me to…
5. Learning is a lifelong process. Never stop. It doesn’t matter if you went to college for years or never took a class, you will always have things to learn about writing. From where the comma goes to what’s popular with young adults, there’s always something new that can improve your writing. And lessons may not always be voluntary, sometimes they are learned by making mistakes.
For example, you may find yourself learning something which makes you completely change the structure of your book. This may even happen after you’ve finished writing it. This happened to me. In fact, I had already received my book back from a professional editor when I learned this painful and expensive lesson. Yeah. That sucked.
I could have quit. But I made a commitment to publish a book and to find out two things from it. First, did I have any potential to be a good writer, and second, did I love being an author? So, I took that first lesson for what it was: a lesson learned.
Being a writer, you’re going to have lots of lessons both intentional and by mistake, hopefully not as expensive as mine, but you might. You need to decide for yourself what you’re willing to push through to get your book finished. Seek out new things to learn. Find weaknesses in your writing and learn how to strengthen them. And when the inevitable hard lesson knocks you down, get back up and keep going. Your writing will be better for it.
6. Writer’s Block IS temporary, I promise. It may seem like forever, but it will go away. Every writer suffers from it at some time and there are so many different ways to get rid of it. It might be a good idea to get a few game plans figured out now so you don’t panic when the time comes. Just do an internet search and I’m sure you’ll hit the mother lode of articles and blog posts on how to cure writers block.
My favorite is “Just write.” It’s really just that simple. It sounds counter intuitive because writer’s block means you can’t write… right? Not exactly. Merriam-Webster defines Writer’s Block as: “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.” So, to use Just Write, you write about anything that comes to mind whether it’s your grocery list, who you want to win the playoffs, or how cute your kitten is. It doesn’t matter, you just write. You can even write about the fact that you can’t write. Eventually you will start writing about your story. It’s kind of sneaky. Probably why I like it.
In any case if that doesn’t work for you don’t freak out, there’s tons of others. Just keep looking and you’ll find what works for you.
So, take the time you need to be sure your story is really the best it can be and that you’re really ready before you go to publish. Take breaks when you need them but get back to work when you should. Seek help from friends and experts to see all the warts you’ve gone blind to and do the things you haven’t been trained for. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches, including outlining. And through all the mistakes, don’t ever stop learning.
Finishing that first draft is just the beginning of a new world of adventures. Go have fun.
Have you finished writing your first book?
What helped you get through it?