Category Archives: Writing & Revising

How to Read the Classics to Become a Better Writer

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Top Three Things to Learn Before Writing a Novel

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How to Tell a Good Story

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On Being a Writer

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Filed under #OnBeingAWriter, #WritingTips, Creative Writing, Memoir, Real Life of a Writer, Self-Published Authors, Writing, Writing & Revising

The Importance of Beta-Readers, and How to Find Them

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How to Handle Writer’s Block and Other Writing Challenges

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Make NaNoWriMo Last All Year

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Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Every November, hundreds of thousands of people around the world do something that might break them spiritually, psychically, or psychologically — though probably not physically: they attempt to write the first draft of an entire novel in 30 days. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel (175 DS manuscript pages, based on a count of approximately 300 words per page) in thirty days. That’s about 1,700 words (or six DS manuscript pages) a day. Besides training for and entering an Iron Man Competition, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it’s known to participants, has to be one of the most challenging and demanding tasks anyone can voluntarily give himself.

Participants are not supposed to publish the book they write during NaNoWriMo as is. The NaNoWriMo book is the first draft. Writers have to revise, edit, get feedback from readers, re-write, edit, revise more, have some coffee, then decide whether they want to Indie publish or attempt to get an agent and try for the traditional New York publishing route.

NaNoWriMo is not about getting published or about being an author.

NaNoWriMo is about being a writer.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, you probably learned as much about yourself as you did about your novel.  Even if you didn’t manage to complete the requisite 50K, even if you only worked on an outline for your planned novel, you did something important. If you learned nothing more than how difficult it is to write full-time, then you learned the most important thing NaNoWriMo could ever teach you about being a writer. Here are some tips for helping you continue to write full-time, all year long.

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla © Unsplash

Pretend It’s Your Job

As I wrote in another post, some of the best advice I ever got about writing came from a friend when I took nine months off work to write my first novel — 9 months without pay, after having borrowed $11K from the bank (at 17 & ⅞% interest, for a total loan repayment of $18K). At that time, though I’d been writing regularly and been extensively published in literary and university journals for over 10 years, I’d only written when inspiration struck me, i.e., in short, intensive bursts every few months. I’d never been paid for writing, had never published a book, and had never done it every day, all day long, for an extended period. I’d also only written poetry, which is easier to write sporadically since poems are quite a bit shorter than novels.

After almost a year trying to write my first novel while working several jobs, I’d gotten the bright idea to borrow money from the bank to write my book. To my shock, the bank approved the loan, based on my extensive publications and literary prizes. During the first month of my sabbatical, I didn’t write anything at all: instead, I spent my time thinking about my novel, all day long, every day. When I realized how much it had cost me to think for a month, I panicked. That’s when my best friend suggested that I think at my desk, with a pen in my hand, holding my pen over a tablet of paper. Further, she suggested that I pretend writing was my job, which meant getting up, getting dressed, going to my desk, and writing at the same time every day.

Pretending that writing was my job changed my life.

Celebrity authors are not the only full-time writers in the world: all of us who eventually got published had to write for a long time before our books received contracts. Full-time writers, including traditionally published authors, almost always have other jobs: they rarely can support themselves and their families solely from writing income. Full-time writers are those who’ve made a serious and long-term commitment to writing, no matter what their day-job is, how long their daily commute, how small their writing or office space, how large their family, or how extensive their outside obligations.

A full-time writer writes like it’s his job, even if he’s never gotten paid for his writing.

If you want to make NaNoWriMo last all year long, treat writing as your job.

Photo by STIL © Unsplash

Get a Calendar and
Schedule Writing Time

When you have a job as a writer, you don’t merely write the time you have already spent writing on the calendar: you write down the time you are going to spend writing. Like it’s your job. You know what time you have to be at your job, and if you have multiple jobs, as I’ve had almost all of my life, you write down where you have to be and the time you have to be there. When I wrote for that year that I took off work, I wrote down, in advance, the times I was supposed to be writing, and I continued that practice after I went back to my paying job.

That’s how I got into the habit of getting up and writing by 5 every morning. I scheduled [Name of Book] on my calendar from 5-7 every morning. That meant I had to be at my desk writing by that time, not just getting out of bed, or lying there hitting the snooze button. I did it on the weekends, too, but scheduled my writing for at least 8 hours on weekends and holidays. Since I was used to getting up and working by 5, it was no inconvenience to continue doing that after I went back to work at my paying job.

For NaNoWriMo, you planned in advance to write the entire month, and you planned to get a certain number of words written a day. To continue the NaNoWriMo experience, get yourself a calendar and schedule your writing time in advance, just as you would your job, your vacation, holidays, or any doctors’ appointments.

Keep that scheduled commitment and be there writing.

Photo by Allef Vincius © Unsplash

Consider Writing Time
as Your Apprenticeship

You have to pay your dues in practically any job. Sometimes you have to do volunteer work in your chosen field in order to have experience. Often, people educated in a particular field have to complete an apprenticeship, internship, or residency to get sufficient practical experience to qualify for a paying position in the field of their choice. Being a writer — and eventually an author — is the same as any other field. Everyone puts in plenty of time writing without getting paid or having any guarantee of publication.

Consider any time you spend writing before publication as your own apprenticeship,  internship, or residency until you get really good at it.

If you are traditionally published after you finish your book, it is unlikely that you will get a large enough Advance to live on. You may become a bestseller, but, given how long it takes for a traditionally published book to reach bookstores after it’s sold to the Publishing House, you won’t get rich immediately. That means you’ll be writing your subsequent book with no guarantee of additional money or of another publishing contract.

Think of NaNoWriMo as the beginning of your internship.

Now extend that month of your writing internship for the entire year.

After you’ve published your first book, you will be an author, but all authors still have to write, and they write all year long, not just in November.

Photo by Andrew Neel © Unsplash

Choose to Write

You are not super-human, so you will have to make choices if you want to include writing in your life. For me, it meant delaying children because I needed all my time for college, grad school, teaching, retail jobs, and writing. If you really want to be a writer, writing should always be at the top of your list of priorities and commitments. If it’s not, stop reading this post and go do something else: you don’t want to be a writer bad enough.

Next on your list of priorities, put your paying job since you have to support yourself and your writing, which costs money even if you don’t Indie publish. Put your family or permanent relationships after that. Anything else can be considered superfluous and can be eliminated.

You need to make choices in life, especially if you want to be a writer: it is such a time-consuming career. If you want to be an author, which is a published writer, you will still have to write.

If you want NaNoWriMo to last longer than the month of November, you have to establish your priorities and make conscious choices that will guarantee you have sufficient writing time.

Photo by Arno Smit © Unsplash

Be Ready to Open the Door
When Opportunity Knocks

To unpublished writers, being traditionally published is like being in the Garden of Eden, but nobody wakes up already in Published Author Paradise. You must always be writing, revising, editing, writing more, completing your books, improving your craft, searching for agents, submitting your work to editors and agents, and writing even more. That way, when the Getting Published Opportunity knocks on your door, you’ll be qualified to answer the door with (at least one) polished, finished book in hand.

NaNoWriMo gives you a taste of what being a writer is like.

If you want to be a published author, use your NaNoWriMo experience to continue being a full-time writer, whether or not you have another paying job. You’ll be writing more than one month out of the year, and you’ll also be finishing your books so that you’ll have something to publish when your opportunity to become an author arrives.

Photo by Christine Roy © Unsplash

Don’t Expect Fame & Fortune

As any artist in any field can readily tell you, there is a very small number of celebrities in any field who are well known to everyone, get any job they want, make most of the money, get all the attention, and make most of the money.

Don’t expect fame. Don’t expect fortune. Those things cannot be controlled.

The amount of time you spend writing is the only thing that can be controlled. Expect, therefore, to write, write, write. And then to write some more.

If you’re lucky, you might get some prizes, or a big Advance from one of the traditional publishers, or an option on your book that actually leads to a big movie deal, but don’t expect or plan on any of these things because that’s just not the way the artistic world works.

Expect to be a writer.

You experienced that during NaNoWriMo, so you already know what it’s like to write.

Now, go write.

Photo by Christopher Campbell © Unsplash

Take Care of Yourself
Spiritually, Emotionally, & Physically

Writing is a taxing business. It’s much harder than any job you leave behind at the workplace when you clock out at the end of the day. For that reason, you need to exercise, eat healthily, and should probably do some form of meditation daily.

You also need to keep negative people away from you: there’s enough rejection in this business. You don’t need negative people “rejecting” you as a writer in your personal life as well. Eliminate the negative people in your life even if they are family members, friends, or spouses. Surround yourself instead with loving and supportive people who encourage you to be a writer. Additionally, find writing-support groups, reliable beta-readers, and good editors.

Rest when necessary.

Don’t forget to play.

After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to write.

Photo by Raw Pixel © Unsplash

If you truly wish to be a writer, you can’t just write when you feel like it, or when inspiration hits you, or when your muses are singing to you, or when it happens to be convenient. You have to make a commitment to writing. You have to make conscious choices to have the time to write. Despite NaNoWriMo, which I think is a wonderful idea, you cannot spend only one month a year committed to writing as a priority in your life.

Writing has to be your life.

And you have to take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically so that you can continue to write. That way, NaNoWriMo can last more than a month: it can last all year, every year, for the rest of your life.

Related Posts

Creative Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

Publishing & Writer’s Life

How to Pitch Your Book

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Book

A Week in the Life of a Writer, and a Peek Inside my Office

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How to Write a Novel Without an Outline

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 When I first decided to write a novel, I didn’t have any idea how to do it. I’d written and published poems, articles, and essays, but never any fiction. To get ready for my first novel, I read lots of how-to books on writing novels, but they said some of the silliest things, including that I needed to have characters, plot, and dialogue. Anyone who’s ever read a novel knows those things, so I didn’t feel those books helped me when I was trying to figure out how to transition from poetry and non-fiction to fiction. My first novel was historical, so after I completed all the research, and after I knew who my protagonists (both narrators) were, I wrote a detailed outline. Then I began writing the novel.

Within a month, my characters started doing things that weren’t in my outline. I was shocked. Since I’d never written fiction, I hadn’t realized that characters could do such things. At that time, I also didn’t know any other fiction writers: all my writer-friends wrote poetry or non-fiction, as I did. None of them seemed to know how fiction worked when it was actually being written, so they told me that I must have “forgotten” to include those scenes in the outline.

I redid the outline, feeling pretty confident that no character would surprise me again. Less than two scenes later, another character did something unexpected. I redid my outline again. And, once more, my characters surprised me with something I’d “forgotten.”

As you can imagine, I was beginning to get annoyed with my own characters.

Instead of trying to force them to follow my outline, however, I ditched it.

Oh, I glanced at my original outline a few times after that, but instead of attempting to stick to it, I just waited for my characters to tell me what was supposed to happen next. To my surprise, that approach worked. In fact, my characters showed me scenes that I would never have consciously thought of, so I quickly learned to trust them to guide me in writing a novel.

I’ve never outlined a novel since that initial try. Though I realize that many writers feel more comfortable writing outlines for their novels, especially if they’re writing a series of novels, I think every writer can benefit from writing a novel without any outline. Yes, it’s challenging, but it’s also very artistically rewarding.

The Importance of Conflict

If you’re not familiar with the concept of Urgency, which keeps readers turning pages, then you should read my post on Urgency for additional explanation of the term since I am only going to be discussing plot Urgency in this post.

Most readers initially read a book for its plot: they turn pages to see how the story unfolds. There are many published authors who are master storytellers — i.e., their plots are so compelling that the reading audience cannot put the books down — without necessarily being brilliant writers: their characters may not be fully developed or their writing style may not be exceptional. Good storytellers who write successful books have mastered plot Urgency, however, and that is all that matters to their readers.

Urgency is somewhat easier to develop when it is part of the plot because you must have conflict in plot, and conflict readily lends itself to Urgency. All fiction must have conflict: without it, there is no reason for the audience to continue reading. You could almost say that stories exist so that the audience can see how the characters work through the conflicts they encounter.

Traditonal Categories of Conflict

The traditional divisions of conflict in fiction have typically been divided into these categories:

man vs. man
man vs. himself
man vs. nature
man vs. supernatural

Of course, many stories, novellas, and novels have many of these conflicts all at the same time. It doesn’t matter how an author classifies his conflict, only that he include conflict in his fiction.

You should increase the plot conflicts in importance and intensity throughout the novel to maintain your readers’ interest. Some writers call this the “dramatic arc,” while some critics call this the “rising action,” which simply means that it is a series of conflicts increasing in intensity until you arrive at the peak, which they call the “climax,” meaning it’s supposed to be the “ultimate conflict” of the work.

Dénouement 

Historically, the  “falling action” or “the dénouement” (translation, “untying or unraveling the knot”) occurred after the ultimate conflict. In the dénouement,  all conflicts among characters were resolved, and all resolutions to the fictional world presented. The dénouement was meant to be a sort of catharsis for the reader, releasing any remaining anxiety and tension, while eliminating difficulties for any of the characters. In short, these were the days when readers had to be reassured that they were reading a story, and, in effect, the author had to inform them how everything turned out.

Although some authors still include a dénouement in the form of an epilogue, which ties up any loose ends in the characters’ stories and answers any remaining questions readers might have, much of contemporary fiction, especially books written in series, no longer include a dénouementInstead, authors who write book series typically end each book with plot Urgency in order to make the reader want to get the next book. In literary fiction, authors often end on Urgency because they want the endings to be ambiguous, morally questionable, or open to interpretation. As fiction itself has become more sophisticated, so has its readers — or perhaps it’s the other way around. In any event, readers no longer need an author’s reassuring dénouement at the end of a piece of fiction.

Conflict in a Series

If you are writing books in a series, remember that each book has to have its own increasing conflicts, and the series itself has to have its own separate, ever-increasing conflicts. Many authors make the mistake of writing an incredible first book in a series, with a tremendous plot, full of great conflict and Urgency, then write subsequent books in the same series where the plot slows down tremendously (the books also often get shorter) and the Urgency virtually disappears. Even if you’re using an outline, you need to keep plot Urgency in the forefront when writing your novels. Without an outline, plot Urgency is imperative.

Knock Your Protagonist’s World Off Its Axis

To begin your novel, especially if you’re trying to do it without an outline, you should write the one scene that knocks your protagonist’s world off its axis. That means you’re introducing both your protagonist and your antagonist (or, at least one of the antagonists) in your novel immediately, and that’s a good thing. Make sure that this earth-rocking event is described in detail. You want your readers to connect immediately with your protagonist: they should want to know how he will handle this event. Write it in sufficient detail to keep the readers wanting to continue your story.

Backstory

Previously, some literature or creative writing instructors used to insist that the protagonist’s “backstory” had to be presented before any major conflict was shown. If these instructors drew this premise on the board, they showed it as a flat line before the “rising action” of the plot was presented. Visually, that flat line of the backstory was very symbolic: nothing important happened. The backstory was, literally, the history of the characters before any conflict began.

As fiction became more sophisticated, readers no longer wanted to plow through endless “backstory” in which nothing happened: they wanted to jump right into the action. Writers have learned to eliminate this flat plain of backstory and weave anything of importance in the characters’ history into the main story itself. Most successful fiction now starts with Urgency; thus it begins with conflict.

Starting with characters’ backstory, even if it’s the backstory of your protagonist, is a sure way to eliminate Urgency from your novel. Start with the event that knocks your protagonist’s world off its axis, and you’re more likely to engage your readers’ interest from the first page.

Additionally, no matter how much of your characters’ backstory you write for yourself — including lists of character education, skills, or physical description — you want to avoid large blocks of backstory anywhere in your novel, as these blocks of information, which do not move the plot forward, will slow your story down. Instead, put any pertinent information from your character’s backstory in as hints or, even better, simply let the backstory, which is the protagonist’s personal history, determine your protagonist’s behavior. You don’t ever need to write several chapters (or scenes) of backstory to explain why your protagonist is behaving as he does: readers can infer that it has something to do with his own backstory, or they can, alternately, interpret his behavior for themselves.

Ask “What Happens Next?”

Once you understand the importance of Urgency, especially plot Urgency, and once you have written the scene which details the event that knocks your protagonist’s world off its axis, then you only have one other “step” to keep in mind while writing a novel without an outline: ask What happens next?

When you know what happens next in the plot, which is the main story in your novel, make sure that you write that scene fully, including any other characters that are involved, as well as dialogue. Make sure that you write the second story-plot scene completely, and make sure that it has conflict.

Bear in mind that though this may be the second scene in the main story of the novel, i.e., the second scene in the plot-conflict, it may not end up being the second scene in the novel. You may decide, in subsequent drafts, that another scene may work better after the initial scene. You may have a flashback scene or a (brief) backstory scene; you might introduce the antagonist more fully.

The second scene in the plot-conflict of the story advances the story itself with Urgency, as should each scene which moves the story forward. If you were to put them one after the other, you would have the main plot of the novel. There may be other scenes in the novel, such as those which reveal backstory, other conflicts, relationships between the characters, sub-plots which have their own stories, etc., but the major plot-conflict story — the one which starts the novel itself — should always be clear to the readers so that they can follow what happens.

Now you should have at least two scenes, both involved in the major plot-conflict of the story, both with Urgency, fully written, both of which move the plot forward toward the eventual final conflict of the story.

Now ask again, What happens next?

Each time you ask this question, remember that you are thinking of the major plot story with its increasing conflicts, which lead to the ultimate (and final) conflict (in the stand-alone book or in the entire series) in order to “answer” this question.

Each time you get an answer to this question, write the scene completely, in as much detail as possible.

Repeat as necessary.

Other Scenes

Although many other scenes and plot events may appear to you, you should write these parts of the book separately since they may not appear in the final version of the novel: they may be backstory, for example, and though you may need to know these stories in great detail to write the novel, your readers may not need as much detail about the backstory.

Also, recall that this is your first draft — which should never be published as it is — and you will have plenty of time during revision and editing to change Point of View, re-arrange scenes, insert or delete sections, add or subtract characters, etc. Concentrate on conflict and plot Urgency when writing the first draft of a novel without an outline: that will keep your work focussed.

The Great Unknown

You do not have to know the entire story yourself when writing a novel without an outline in order to successfully enjoy the process itself. Some writers know the beginning and the end when they initially get the idea for the novel. They don’t know how to get from the beginning to the end, but they’ve learned that they don’t have to. Other writers do not get a vision of the story’s end along with their vision of the novel’s beginning, but they proceed with anyway, trusting that their artistic intuition will guide them.

That’s basically how you write an entire novel without an outline: concentrate on plot-Urgency, start with the single event that knocks your protagonist’s world off its axis, and discover each subsequent scene in the story by asking What happens next?

Does that seem too easy?

That’s because you’ve never done it yourself.

Does it seem to hard to write an entire novel like that?

Depends on whether you like the excitement and the challenge of discovering your own talent as you discover the story of your characters.

Obviously, writing without an outline isn’t the only way to write a novel, but it’s certainly a thrilling way for writers to attempt at least once in their careers.

Related Posts

Writing

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

Publishing

How to Pitch Your Book

Long Day’s Journey Into Publishing My Second Book

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Filed under Creative Writing, How to Write, How to Write a Book, Stories, Storytelling, Urgency, Writing, Writing & Revising

A Week in the Life of a Writer (and a Peek Inside My Office)

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I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life, or, at least, from the age of 6. By the time I was 12, I was writing stories, making covers, stapling them into little books, and offering these limited editions for sale for 25¢. Unfortunately, I had no buyers (or readers, for that matter), and those rare first-and-only editions have been lost. As an adult, when I switched from writing poetry to writing novels (and non-fiction books), I quickly learned that I couldn’t write only when inspiration dropped down out of the heavens. I needed to write as much as possible, preferably full-time.

I was a Professor at the time, and I was already writing full-time during the summer — during which teachers do not get paid unless they divide their 9-month salary over the entire 12 months of the year — as well as on holidays and weekends. I’d been trying to write my first novel on those holidays, weekends, and summers, and it took me an entire 9 months just to get the first chapter done.

I needed to write full-time.

But how was I doing to do it?

I got the brilliant idea of asking the bank for a loan. I lived in a small village where there were lots of artists, writers, musicians, professional singers, etc., so I thought the manager at the local branch might be more likely to approve a loan that was going to support a local artist.

When I applied for the bank loan, I’d been writing poems and non-fiction articles — and getting published in prestigious literary and University journals — for almost 15 years. My Vita of publications was already quite impressive, even though I had not yet published any books.

The bank manager knew who I was, apparently, and had heard that I was a good writer. With a letter from my University saying that I would have my job after I took 9 months off, without pay, and after putting both my house and my new car down as collateral, the manager approved the loan.

I borrowed $11K at 18 ⅞% interest, totaling over $18K for nine months off work. (I couldn’t take an entire year off because borrowing my entire year’s salary would have made the monthly payment out of reach on my budget. I settled for 9 months off work, which was technically a school year, and took off from March to December.)

Of course, once the bank approved the loan, I went home and promptly threw up, cried for a couple hours, then hyperventilated for a few hours more. I guess I never really believed anyone would actually let me borrow the money to take a year off work and write.

I was scared out of my wits.

I’d already signed the papers, so there was no turning back. I deposited the money, made out a budget, and then took off work to write full-time.

You know what happened next?

The first month of writing full-time, I didn’t write a single word.

Not a one.

Instead, I spent the entire month just thinking about the book I wanted to write.

Four weeks later, after I realized that it has just cost me $2K to think about writing for an entire month, I began to really and truly panic.

My best friend listened to me whine and cry and panic, and then she gave me some excellent advice: “How about you think about writing while at your desk,” she said, “with a pen in your hand, poised over a piece of paper?”

I never once thought she was being sarcastic or non-supportive. She loved me and wanted me to succeed. Furthermore, what she said made perfect sense.

“Pretend it’s your job,” she said, “because, for the remaining 8 months, it is your job. Get up at the same time every morning, get dressed, be at your desk, ready to write by, let’s say, 9:00. Work until noon. Take half an hour for lunch. Go back to work until 5:00, at least.”

That’s what I began to do: treat writing as my job.

My full-time job.

At the beginning, I was writing (starting with an outline) only about 2-3 hours a day. The rest of the day, I was exploring my characters and doing additional research (it was a novel set during World War II and The Holocaust).

About six months later, I was actually writing 10-14 hours a day, forgetting to eat, waking up from sleep with new scenes in my head, and getting up to write those new scenes.

It was a wonderful 9 months, if only because I proved to myself that I could actually write full-time — with no assurance of any reward whatsoever from the outside world. All my reward came from the writing itself during that sabbatical. I learned, without any doubt, that writing full-time was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, the finances of traditional publishing didn’t work out in a way that permitted me to become a full-time writer even after my first book was accepted and published by HarperCollins and sold to foreign publishers around the world. I won lots of awards and got a great deal of critical attention, but I was not a bestseller. I had to keep my University job, even while I was writing virtually full-time on my subsequent books.

I constantly kept thinking that, with the next book, I could quit my University job and write full-time.

It was a lovely dream.

One that, unfortunately, didn’t come true until I retired, after 31 years of being a University Professor.

Still, it finally happened, and since the present is the only time we ever really have, the only important thing for my life is that now I do write full-time.

My writing does not support me: it doesn’t even pay the cost of my writing supplies, let alone pay the cost of software, computers, etc. (Full disclosure here: I made $604 from my books last year.) I actually live, very frugally, on my meager retirement income. (I paid off all my debts the last 10 years that I was teaching so that I could afford to write full-time.)

And that’s the important thing: I am writing full-time now, at last, for the rest of my life.

It’s not glamorous, it’s not easy, it’s sometimes frustrating trying to keep up with all the technological changes in the industry, but it’s what I always wanted to do. Writing full-time is the hardest work I’ve ever done in my entire life, and I absolutely love it.

In case some of you would like to know what it’s like to write full-time, and not as a best-selling celebrity author who can afford to hire marketers, managers, publicists, etc., I thought I’d give you some insight into a typical week of writing for me by posting this week’s writing schedule. (I think it’s dreadfully boring, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

I get my reward from the writing itself. If you want to write full-time, that should probably be the only “reward” you expect, too, since it’s the only one over which you have any control.

In any event, without further ado, but with one last warning that the rest of this post might put you to sleep, here’s what a typical week writing full-time is like in my life.

Some of the milk crate bookcases, from floor to ceiling, on three walls of my tiny office

Monday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Give cats and doggie their breakfast (canned food — dry food out for them all day), give cats who are on medication their meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer all Mentions and Notifications on Twitter while walking on the treadmill in my office. (Obviously, I’m using my laptop.)

7:30-9:30 a.m.
Participate in #MondayBlogs. This is one of my priorities on Mondays. Most weeks, I write my own blog all day on Sunday so that I can devote myself fully to the blogs I’m RTing on Monday. I read every blog that I pass along to my followers, and I try to be on Twitter on and off all day on Mondays, so I don’t miss anything important. I eat my homemade breakfast bar and have my coffee while reading and RTing #MondayBlogs.

9:30 a.m.-12:45  p.m.
Writing: Right now, I’m working on revisions for the 2nd edition of one of my books. I’ve actually finished writing the revisions themselves (that took three months), and I’m typing them in, proofreading, updating Index, getting pages correct, proofreading again, etc.

12:45-1:00 p.m.
Lunch, pet all the cats, pet doggie

1:00-1:15  p.m.
Read and answer most important email. I can’t get to it all every day: I get about 2K emails a day.

1:15-7:00  p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

7:00-7:15  p.m.
Eat dinner with my guy

7:15-8:30 p.m.
Read and RT more #MondayBlogs

8:30 p.m.
Say “goodnight” to all the cats, the doggie, and my guy

8:30-9:00  p.m.
Meditate

9:00 p.m.
Bed

My printers (b&w laser jet for manuscripts, color laser for making covers for books), on the edge of my writing desk: an 8′ solid wood door, on file cabinets. I’ve had this desk since I was 22

Tuesday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats and doggie breakfast, give cats their meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

3:00-7:30 p.m.
T’ai Chi class and Kundalini Yoga Class

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

8:00-8:30  p.m.  
Meditate

8:30  p.m.  
Bed

A few of the reference books I keep on the end of my writing desk, opposite end of the printers

Wednesday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

4:00-5:00  p.m.  
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter

5:00-7:00  p.m.  
Scheduling posts in my social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) with Buffer app. I read every blog post or article before I put it in my feed

7:00-7:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

One side of my writing desk, with journals, in which I write long-hand, my current work-in-progress. (My published books [US versions only] are in the upper left corner)

Thursday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30  a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Writing: working on revisions for 2nd edition of book

12:30-1:00  p.m.  
Answer Facebook notifications, Twitter Mentions & Notifications

1:00-1:15  p.m.  
Lunch

1:15-5:oo p.m.
Writing blog post for Friday

5:00-5:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

5:30-7:30  p.m.  
Research for my upcoming #MondayBlogs post

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

The opposite side of my writing desk, with my laptop, and currently, with financial paperwork (for taxes)

Friday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill

7:30-8:30  a.m.
My #WritingTips Friday on Twitter

8:30-10:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions & Notifications on Twitter

10:00 a.m. – noon
Researching artist for this week’s #ArtSaturday on Twitter

12:00-12:15  p.m.  
Lunch

12:15-6:00 p.m.
Research for my upcoming #MondayBlogs post

6:00-7:00  p.m.  
Answer notifications and Mentions on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter

7:00-7:30  p.m.  
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00  p.m.  
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

A few of the reference books I keep on the end of my writing desk, opposite end of the printers

Saturday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill in my office

7:00-9:00 a.m.
My #ArtSaturday on Twitter (a different artist every week)

9:00-10:00  a.m.
Answer Mentions & Notifications on Twitter

10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Research for my #MondayBlogs post

1:00-1:15  p.m. 
Lunch

1:15-7:00 p.m. 
Research for my #MondayBlogs post

7:00-7:30 p.m. 
Dinner with my guy

7:30-8:00 p.m. 
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

My computer desk, in front of the window that looks out across the porch, down Big Rock Candy Mountain into Valley: I’ve always had my writing desk in front of a window

Sunday

5:30-6:30 a.m.
Serve cats/doggie breakfast, give cat meds, meditate, do T’ai Chi, make coffee, have coffee with my guy

6:30-7:30  a.m.
Answer Mentions and Notifications on Twitter, while walking on the treadmill in my office

7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Write my own #MondayBlogs post

5:00-5:30 p.m.
Dinner with my guy

5:30-7:30 p.m. 
Mentions & Notifications on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter; start RTing #MondayBlogs on Twitter

7:30-8:00 p.m. 
Meditation

8:00 p.m.
Bed

More of my milk crate bookshelves (this wall is fuschia since I ran out of white ones)

Wowza. How incredibly dull my typical week is.

It looks even worse than I thought it would now that I’ve written it all down.

The important thing, though, is that I’m writing full-time, and that’s what makes me happy. I spend about 8-10 hours writing every day, either on my books or on my blogs, and that doesn’t count any of the time I spend on social media. That’s more than 40 hours a week, so that’s writing full-time.

When I’m actually writing a new book, or revising it the first few times, as opposed to updating a new edition of a book that’s already been published, I spend a bit less time on social media and a bit more on the actual writing (which I usually do by sleeping less).

And in case you think that social media has taken writers’ time away from them, that time was previously spent telephoning/emailing editors, agents, and publicists, and marketing your books locally (traditional publishers don’t do that).

My treadmill, in front of more of my bookcases in my way-too-crowded and tiny office

What do you think, my Lovelies?

Still want to be a full-time writer?

If you do, then just start following a serious writing schedule on your weekends and during any vacations. You’ll be writing full-time on those days, even if not all year ’round, and you’ll get to see what it’s really like.

Please do let me know how it goes.

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Filed under Authors, Blogging, Indie Authors, Memoir, Real Life of a Writer, Self-Published Authors, Tweeting, Writing, Writing & Revising

How to Pitch Your Book

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Agent: Pitch me your book.
Author: What?
Agent: Tell me what it’s about in one sentence. Make me want to read it.
Author: You have to read the book to know what it’s about.
Agent: No, you have to Pitch it. You have 4 minutes left.
Author: It’s about loss.
Agent: What kind of loss?
Author: All kinds.
Agent: Loss of life? Loss of money? Loss of love? Help me out here.
Author: It’s about all kinds of loss. And love.
Agent: What kind of love? Family love? Married love? Platonic love?
Author: All kinds.
Agent: Time’s up.

That is a verbatim interaction, and it happened at a Writing Conference. The unpublished writer kept insisting that the agent had to read the entire manuscript to know what it was about. Obviously, the author didn’t understand the all-important Pitch. Writers have to metaphorically “sell” their manuscripts to agents, editors, and readers. Writers do that with a Pitch. Even if you’ve been traditionally published before, you’ll probably have to Pitch each new book to your agent or editor — unless you’re a bestseller — so learning how to Pitch a book is one of the most important things writers ever do. It takes some practice, but you can learn how to Pitch your work effectively by following a few guidelines.

• The best Pitch has Urgency, because without Urgency, it won’t get anyone’s attention.
(If you don’t know what Urgency is, read my posts on Urgency Pt 1 and Pt 2.)
• A Pitch should ideally be one sentence.
(It doesn’t have to be short, but don’t make it too very long.)
• It should fit only one individual book.
• It should not reveal the ending.
(Though it may seem obvious that a Pitch should not give away the ending, you’d be surprised how many writers ruin their Pitch this way.)

Now, let’s analyze some weak and strong Pitches. The following Pitches are not very successful (these are real Pitches to agents and editors) because each Pitch should be concise, unique, and attention-grabbing.

It’s a rags-to-riches tale.
It’s a Cinderella tale.
It’s a coming-of-age story.
It’s about love.
It’s about loss.
It’s about my uncle the dentist.
It’s about my life.

All those are too vague.
And the one alluding to Cinderella gives away the HEA ending as well.

In Hollywood, it’s common for people Pitching a new show or film to compare the project to previously financially successful shows and films. The Hollywood people listening to the Pitches don’t have to have seen the films mentioned: all the producers have to know is whether or not the films made money. Book Pitches that mimic Hollywood film Pitches compare themselves to other successful books or authors. This type of Pitch can be either too vague or too narrowly specific. Either way, it will fail.

Love Kay Scarpetta? Missing Mitch Rapp? Do Clancy and Grisham make your day? Check out [Author]: she won’t disappoint.

This Pitch doesn’t compare authors to authors, or books to books, or even characters to characters. Instead, it mixes fictional characters with authors, but not with the authors who created the aforementioned fictional characters. Further, if a reader don’t know any of those names, he won’t read the book. This Pitch is trying to capitalize on characters from bestselling books, as well as on bestselling genre authors, but it’s too generalized, vague, and mixed-genre to work.

This could this be the next 50 Shades except it’s darker, rougher, more graphic, and more intense than 50 Shades of Grey.

This Pitch is very specific, and it might work for readers of the bestseller, but not if they don’t like “darker, rougher, more graphic” sexual scenes. For anyone who hasn’t read the original book it’s modeling itself after, the Pitch makes no sense.

He’s Dexter, if Dexter was a professionally trained covert espionage agent with a wicked sense of humor.

This Pitch mixes the character of a television show, with whom readers may not be familiar, with the unnamed “He” of the Pitch, and says “he’s Dexter, if Dexter was…” all the things that Dexter apparently is not. I’ve never seen Dexter though I’ve heard of it. All I know is that he’s a cop or detective or some other law enforcement person who’s really a serial killer. So I know absolutely nothing about this book. Worse, I don’t want to.

For fans of Nalini Singh
• If you enjoy Michael Crichton, Philip K. Dick, or Robert Ludlum, you need to read this book
• Twilight meets Outlander

These all fail for the same reasons: if the reader doesn’t recognize the authors, the books, or the genres, the Pitch doesn’t succeed at selling.

Even worse than these weak Pitches, however, is the trend among self-published authors to attempt to use subtitles as Pitches. These authors end up with subtitles that are neither Pitches nor subtitles, but merely a list of genres or buzzwords.

An Electrifying Whodunit
• A Supernatural Boarding School
• A Paranormal Time-Travel Espionage Romance
• A Compelling Action-Packed Military Adventure Crime-Thriller Suspense Mystery
• A Well-Written Cheeky Frontier Cowboy Historical Western Erotic Inspirational Christmas Romance
• Gritty Action and Heartfelt Drama Meets Alien Adventurers And Conspiracy Theorists
• Twists, Turns, Greed, Gunfights, Romance, and Espionage. What More Could You Want?
• A Gripping, Thrilling, Bang-up Financial Mystery That Stops You In Your Tracks!
• A Dark Brutal Psychological Thriller Suspense With A Twist You Won’t See Coming That Will Keep You Guessing Till The End!!!

Yeppers, those subtitles, complete with all the exclamation points at the end, are desperately trying to be Pitches because they’re attempting to “sell” the books to the readers. I think the authors are also trying to review their own books in the subtitles, but I’m not sure. I’m guessing you already know why these wannabe Pitches don’t work.

Now you’ve seen the most obvious things that doom a book’s Pitch: vagueness, lack of Urgency, unfamiliar allusions, genre lists, faux review buzzwords.

What makes a successful Pitch? It is unique: it fits only that one book, not even another book by the same author. It has Urgency, which is what makes the reader want to find out more. It’s one sentence long. It does not reveal the ending.

Here are some successful Pitches, most written by traditionally published authors or their editors, but some written by Indie authors. (These Pitches were at the beginning of the book’s back cover editorial review; I’ve edited the punctuation in a couple places.)

• When a woman’s body is discovered submerged in a crab pot in the chilly waters of Puget Sound, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself with a tough case to untangle. (The Trapped Girl, Robert Dugoni)

• In 1939 Nazi Germany, Death has never been busier… and Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing something she can’t resist: books. (The Book Thief, Markus Zusak)

• On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary: presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. (Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn)

• Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead: it’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry — until Ben vanishes. (What She Knew, Gilly MacMillan)

Here are a few more successful Pitches. I read most of these when I was teaching University students or writers at conferences to Pitch their work. I received some as an editor. (Most of these Pitches belonged to books that were then traditionally published.)

• If you knowed the truth about me, and about what I done, you wouldn’t be the first to spit in my face, and then order me to explain myself right quick.

• On a regular day that should be as uneventful as the rest, Lorena sees her business partner murdered: now who will keep her safe?

• “My name is Holden,” and you probably know me already from the famous book about me, Catcher in the Rye, by my pal JD, but I doubt if you know my most secret story.

• Conrad has spent his life looking for answers to the questions that haunt all of us: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going? Who first thought of putting a corn-breaded hotdog on a stick to deep-fry it, and why?

• Lies, manipulation, and murder are everyday occurrences in the world of espionage, but when Agent Jennifer Raye is forced to work with her former lover to stop the delivery of a weapon to a terrorist nation, she fears one of them will not survive.

• I loved him more than I loved myself, and that was why I had to kill him.

• When four rape victims come to Ben Pace — a Lakhota healer — Ben is given the task to help these women seek justice while, at the same time, aid them in their healing process. (How the Strong Survive, Newton Love)

• At Frank’s Roadhouse in Half Moon Bay in December 1930, the good life of the Roaring Twenties is still in full swing until a blackmailer begins targeting Frank’s wealthy and well-known clientele. (Roadhouse Affairs, Newton Love)

You’ve seen some Pitches that fail, and you know why they don’t work. You’ve seen some Pitches that succeed — for agents, editors, and for general readers. You’re ready to start writing your own. These tips can help you write the strongest, most marketable Pitch possible:

• include Urgency
• say it in one sentence
• tailor it for only one book
• don’t give away the ending

With practice, you should be able to write reasonably successful Pitches for your books. Be sure to try the Pitches out on family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and co-workers who have not read the entire book. Once you have a successful Pitch — one that makes people say, “Wow, I want to read that. Where can I get a copy?” — then you should memorize it in order to be able to effortlessly deliver it whenever someone asks you what your book is about. You need the Pitch before and after a book is published. If you’re querying an agent or editor, put your Pitch at the start of the query letter. If you’re self-publishing, the Pitch should be at the start of your “editorial description / editorial review.”

Want me to look at your Pitch? I’d be happy to. But please don’t put it in comments, on the twitter, or on the book of face, because all my accounts are public. Send your Pitch to me via the Contact form, and I’ll let you know if I’d want to read more of the book when it got published.

Related Posts

Urgency in Fiction: Part One

Urgency in Fiction: Part Two

No Demons, No Saints:
Creating Realistic Characters

Writing Effective Dialogue

Who’s Afraid of Point of View?

Myths About Point of View

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