Okay, so like many writers out there, I have a lot of opinions about how the process of writing should go, what constitutes poor writing, and what works. I also see a lot of advice handed out by writers to other writers. Should you have an agent? Should you self-publish? Should you write in the morning before work or should you quit your job and devote yourself totally to writing, make or break. Should you write seat of your pants (a pantser) or use an intricate outline (a plotter)? Write anything just to get it down on the page or try to make sure your first draft is a jewel? Should you focus on characters, plot, what’s new, what’s original? Blah, blah, blah…
Okay, so let’s lay a few things out there…
First, when you read about a writer’s methods, you’re only reading about what works for them, in their situation, for the kind of books they write. Nobody has a lock on a mythical right answer or process that will transform you into a professional best-seller. That may seem like common sense, but I keep seeing sites that are selling their opinions (often literally selling) to starting writers so I have to assume that it must not be such common sense after all. What works for Chuck Wendig (bless him) just doesn’t work for me, and while I adore Stephen King, I don’t want to and probably couldn’t write like him. Success for me as a writer (by which I mean finishing books, not how they may or may not sell) has happened because I found my own way, and it isn’t exactly the same as the way my husband uses and it’s not exactly the same as what anyone else seems to use either (most writers are probably not using agile planning for novel writing, but it’s where my producer day-job shines through.) I write better caffeinated and in a coffee shop than others I know, who hate the noise and can’t concentrate. I write better when I push myself to write fast than when I write slow (which is absolutely counter to the popular opinion). I’ve been told that I absolutely must write seat of my pants if I want a good result: if I write seat of my pants, I end up with a total do-over as some detail I’d forgotten utterly sabotages my goals (it’s happened in three books now, so I can reasonably assume it’s a ‘thing’ for me). I’ve been told I have to write out-of-order to make sure I never stop, but truthfully I can’t stand to write out of order and it’s never worked for me.
My long-winded point: each and every one of us must find our own way.
I know it’s scary. I know it would be easier if I could lay out a nice set of rules about what you must do. Obviously I have opinions. I have tons of them, but they’re just that: my opinions. The only result that matters is the book you finish, not how you got there. This industry is changing so quickly that how I approached being published 15 years ago (which didn’t work) and how I approached being published in 2013 (which is going to have my book published next year) is night and day.
Okay, with this big old caveat about how even if I know things, ultimately I only know things that apply to my situation, let’s present some opinions as I see them:
- It’s worth investing time and energy to experiment until you find how you best function as a writer. It will probably be a combination of advice from various sources, and it may fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Whatever works, works. Once you’ve determined what works for you: DO THAT. If your optimum writing situation requires you making drastic changes to your life, give some serious thought to why you are or are not willing to make those changes. Personally I’ve had to try and discard a lot of advice.
- Show your book to someone who will be honest with you and be willing to critically listen to their feedback. (I say critically listen because you shouldn’t blindly follow their feedback.)
- Figure out what you want out of writing. This might be the most important thing of all. I know some wonderful authors who just want as many people as possible to read their books and don’t care about money — and therefore have put their books out there for free. If what you really want is to be in every Barnes & Noble so your Aunt Sarah can see your name on the shelves, then you probably don’t want to go for self-publishing. What your expectations are will have a large impact on where you should be aiming. Be honest with yourself and make peace with your choices.
- Be very, very careful of contracts, and take the time to both understand what you’re signing and what rights you may be giving away. Don’t be afraid to ask for explanations, changes, and if necessary, walk away from the deal. it’s not always possible, but if you can, have a lawyer help out. A good rule of thumb is that you should avoid paying for services whenever possible, so be wary of contracts that want you to pick up the tab on things.
- Write what you love, and pay no attention to what agents are asking for or whatever you’ve been told is the hot new thing. Even if you are the fastest writer out there, the hot new thing will be the old done-to-death thing by the time you bring your book to market. Write something you’re passionate about instead, and ignore how fresh, hip, original or unique you believe it is or isn’t.
I’ll add an additional observation: what I’m seeing more and more is publishers clamoring for someone who already has either a proven track record or a proven fan base. That means those authors I know who are giving their work away for free and have huge followings? Don’t think they’re hurting their careers. The most excited I’ve seen any publisher get over a book was a fellow who walked up during DragonCon and explained how many self-published fiction books he had and what his sales figures were: THAT guy had instant attention and all kinds of business cards handed to him. At the end of the day, publishers want to sell books, and to that end, it doesn’t matter what agents like, what editors like, or what people in the industry think is overplayed or overdone.
But back to the writing thing: everyone writes trapped inside their own little prison of a head, and everyone had different needs and expectations. So don’t listen to me, don’t listen to anyone: watch, read, and make your own decisions. Be skeptical of anyone who tells you there is only one magic way. There isn’t. Some people write slow and steady, some people write in massively productive week-long binges. Some people need repeated rewrites and other believe that rewrite kills your voice and should be avoided whenever possible. I mean seriously, there’s no piece of advice I’ve seen out there there that isn’t contradicted by someone else who claims that their way is best.
Listen to yourself.