Since some of our guest authors are away for a bit, I wanted to come in and talk about a specific topic. I get so many people, mostly aspiring writers, reaching out to me for advice and the one question I see the most is…
“What should I do next?”
In other words, the writers believe they have exhausted their options. Or maybe they simply haven’t read up on that particular subject. But, there is a moment, I think, in every writer’s career in which you don’t know what to do next, what steps to take. This is usually the moment I become a sponge; I try to absorb every article around and glean every tidbit I can from other writers who have been through the process.
Nothing…I repeat, nothing prepares you for the writing or publishing journey like making mistakes and learning from them. Is it a hard road? Definitely. Will I offer up some advice anyway? Of course. That’s what Writing in the Modern Age is all about.
So, what am I really discussing today? Well, it’s that moment when you throw up your hands and ask yourself if the process is worth it. I’ll never encourage anyone to give up, but we all have to decide if we’re willing to put forth the effort. If you have the determination to keep going, then you can survive in this crazy business. And that’s not to say that all writers have to be published. Some are totally content with using writing as a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You do what makes you happy.
Let’s talk about writing for a minute. You’ve poured your heart out onto a manuscript, fallen in love with your characters (or maybe not in the case of non-fiction, but you at least believe in your subject) and made that story or novel the best you can. Do you do it for the joy of writing? Or because you want a quick path to money? Maybe you want more than anything to see your name in print or to see the proof of your work in the best form possible. A bookstore?
So, what are your motivations? Figure that out first because this road isn’t easy and having that goal in mind will help you through so much. For myself, I do it because I love to write, because I can’t imagine doing anything else. Seeing my name in print? Well, that’s just a bonus. I don’t do it for money. If that was my real motivation, I think it would be an empty journey. But, I digress.
Writing should be a fun process. Is it full of work? Sure. Research is work. Though it’s fascinating, it can occasionally be hard to find the right information. And when you’re designing your story, it can be challenging if you encounter a character that is particularly difficult or a plot element that requires some finesse. Despite the random obstacles, you should love this process if you love writing at all.
I get questions related to writing such as “I have an idea for a story or book, but I don’t know what to do next. What do I do?” My advice? Write.
“Yeah, that’s pretty obvious, Marie.”
Look, I know you think it’s a challenge because of all those articles out there telling you how to write a perfect scene or what words NOT to use. But, believe me, that is something you can worry about later. You think you have an idea for the next Great American novel? That’s wonderful. Stop talking about it and write. Even if you only write a paragraph or a chapter, you’ve made progress. You don’t have time? Believe me, I understand. But, it is feasible. Read Matty Millard’s article on the blog here. He explains how you can fit writing into your crazy life. I’ve said it time and time again. The only person disappointed in the fact that you’re not writing is you. Well, unless you already have books out and then you’re just making your readers antsy. LOL. But, if you’re an aspiring writer, all you have to do is try.
There is no perfect way to start writing. If you have trouble getting there, maybe you need to break through that clutter in your brain.
We carry so much responsibility, so much worry, so much junk in our heads that it’s sometimes necessary to bypass it. How do you break through that clutter? Try brainstorming or journaling. Or, just freewrite for ten minutes about whatever comes into your mind. Break through that block and get to the heart of what matters. Your story.
Think all of that brainstorming/journaling/freewriting is useless? It’s not. I have written poems from entire passages when I went back and read them months later. I have started great stories based on one random line of text. Never think that any effort is stupid. It’s not. You just have to be open-minded enough to use it.
So start writing. Get down a paragraph or a chapter. Even just a scene would be an excellent start. Maybe you know more about your characters than what’s going to happen in the story. Great! Do a character worksheet. Here are some good questions to answer. I did a guest blog post on it once. Any effort, even the smallest ones, will get you closer to the goal. “What goal is that?” you ask. Well, in this case, it’s finishing that short story or book. Just write. You can worry about the technical stuff later.
“What should I do next?”
Yes, what do you do after your book is written? Do you look for a publisher? Nope. The real work begins now.
Become an editor. What? Isn’t that what editors are for? Hmm…yes, in a way, but don’t be arrogant enough to think that someone else will do the work for you. This is your story, which means the final call is yours now and you have to make the changes. When I say “become an editor”, you don’t have to go to school for it. By now, if you are a writer, maybe you’ve taken a Creative Writing class. And if you haven’t, we’ve certainly had English classes in school, telling us the correct ways to use grammar. Apply what you’ve learned. I imagine some of you get annoyed when you see a typo in the newspaper or even in a published book. Have you ever read something that didn’t sound quite right, but you didn’t know why? It was most likely awkward wording and it could have been improved. So, if any of this sounds familiar, you are quickly on your way to becoming a writer-editor. That’s not a word, Marie. Yes, I know. Thanks. Now I’m talking to myself, but I digress.
You need to be both writer and editor in this business. You MUST edit your own work. I recommend that you take a break from your manuscript for awhile, at least a couple of weeks or longer, before you try. If you do it sooner than that, you probably will overlook most errors because you’re too close to the text. One way to brush up on your editing skills is to offer to become a beta reader or critique partner for another writer. You’ll see more glaring errors in someone else’s work first. We are just naturally wired that way. In Creative Writing classes, workshops are done with this very thing in mind. It is also not a bad idea to start reading and bookmarking articles about how to edit your own work. I find C.S. Lakin (or Susanne Lakin) to be an invaluable resource in this regard. Subscribe to her blog/newsletter and you’ll get an email several times a week. Subscribe to other blogs that provide this kind of help.
Also, take some time to read books by other authors. Maybe that is just the key to stepping away from your own work for a bit. Pay attention to the story and the way it reads. It is always good to get an idea of voice and particular techniques other writers use. You may even find your internal editor waking up, ready to chomp at the bit. Enjoy the book, but also ask questions. “Why did this author decide to use first person point of view?” Or, “should the writer be switching point of view so much?” All good questions. There are, of course, lots of story elements to wonder about. Examine techniques used, but don’t necessarily mimic them.
You want to be true to yourself, but be open to fixing mistakes in your work. And prepare yourself. In the beginning, there will probably be a LOT of mistakes. That’s normal. You’ll receive feedback from people and you’ll quickly see the merits of this system. After you’ve gained some much needed space from your manuscript, you can go back to it with an editor’s approach. If you have to, picture the editor on your shoulder as that stern teacher you had in grade school, the one that was willing to smack your knuckles with a ruler if you stepped out of line. Okay, maybe she wasn’t that bad, but we all had a stern one. In any case, this perspective keeps you from straying too far away from editor mode. You may have moments in which you think, “Oh, that line is good! Did I really write that?” It might not happen often, but it could. Okay, bask in it for a moment, then move on. Don’t let yourself fall in love with the story as it is. Now is not the time. You have to look at the manuscript with an eagle eye.
I usually do three rounds of self-editing with some time between before I let anyone else look at my work. I don’t like to send out a total rough draft; that’s just me. But, it is courteous to get the major errors that you can find corrected before foisting your work on anyone else. And it will make you feel better too.
Where do you find critique partners or beta readers? There are some groups on Yahoo! There are also plenty of writer discussion groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where you can put out requests. Give a brief description of your work, the length and anything else you think they might need to know. Offer to proof or beta read someone else’s work. People usually want something in exchange for their time. However, I have had just as many betas happy enough to read a story. Writing classes are also great resources if you have the money. Most of the time, you won’t be able to offer an entire manuscript in those, but you can get part of it looked at. There are also some places out there that help you find local writing groups.
After you have edited your work as much as you can and made the suggested corrections, I would recommend sending that final draft to a proofreader or professional editor. There will always be something you missed. Oh, one final thing. You are not going to agree with every suggestion from betas or critique partners. You will be asked to make drastic changes, and some will make you want to scream. If you come upon this dilemma, weigh the change carefully to see if it will really alter the story’s vision or not. Perhaps it will improve the manuscript. Who knows? Just keep an open mind.
“What should I do next?”
What, you thought the real work was over? Nah. It gets more interesting. Now, you have to decide whether you’ll make a go of traditional publishing or opt for self-publishing. They are completely different animals. Maybe you want to try traditional and use self-publishing as back-up plan. If you’re going to try traditional publishing, two invaluable resources are Preditors & Editors (or P&E) and QueryTracker. And if you’re going to self-publish, finding a great cover is key. I have seen some very affordable options on GoOnWrite. They offer pre-designed covers. Of course, there are tons of other options. It’s likely I have confused you now. “What are you talking about, Marie? What are all these sites?” For more details about traditional and self-publishing, you can look at this article I did on Linda Lee Williams’ blog about the “big choice” and what to do in both cases. I would go into more detail here, but I am running out of time and space.
I hope I have helped you cut through some of those “What should I do next?” questions. As always, happy writing and I’m so glad you got to visit the blog today! :)