Why patience is particularly important for writers

I waited 10 years to get back to Scotland and it was totally worth it!
I waited 10 years to get back to Scotland and it was totally worth it!

To write a great book, one that leaves emotional impact, you need a great many tools, but one of the most important tools is patience. In fact, patience is as important as passion.

Why is patience so important? Well, I think this quote explains it nicely:

“A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.” ~Phyllis A. Whitney

Rewriting is a natural part of the process, and every book needs a different number of rewrites to be transformed from a first draft into a great novel. Even the best writers sometimes go through seven or eight rewrites. And these rewrites often take varying amounts of time. Your first rewrite might take six months and your third rewrite might only take one–it all depends on how extensive the rewrite is and how much time you devote to it.

I like to joke that I’m often impatient with people because I’ve used up all my patience writing books, and to some extent it’s true. I don’t want to publish anything less than a great novel. So the only fiction I’ve ever submitted are a couple short stories and a novella. I have three novels in different stages of editing, and I refuse to let them go until they meet my personal standards.

A great novel requires you to feel with your characters. How else are you going to make your readers feel with them? When you’re crying during a death scene, it’s probably a sign that you’re on to something. If you can’t feel the anguish or joy of your characters, you’ll have a much harder time portraying those emotions successfully in your work.

This means taking the time to learn about your characters, how they feel about themselves, each other, the world. And to do it for all your important characters, not just the main character but the antagonist and the secondary characters as well, even a few of the tertiary characters.

And that’s just the work you need to do outside the novel. You have to do self editing and at least one edit with multiple beta readers. You might even want to hire a professional editor, whether you choose to self publish or seek out a traditional publisher.

Once you’ve finished rewriting, it’s time to write a query letter and a synopsis. These pieces might only each be a page long, but they can still take you a few weeks to perfect. And if they’re your first query letter and synopsis, you might want to get feedback on these too before submission.

When you send out your submission package, you’ll find yourself playing the waiting game. This can be frustrating when your novel is with a critique writer, and it’s a lot more unpleasant when you’re waiting to hear from a publisher. Traditional publishers can take one to six months to respond, and if they want exclusive submissions–meaning you can’t submit elsewhere until they respond–this can be six months of hope crushed in a two sentence form rejection.

I’m experiencing this first hand right now: I submitted a YA fantasy novella to an ebook publisher in March and every time I think about it I start to feel restless. This is the first time I’ve waited more than two months for a response on fiction, and it’s definitely a learning experience.

So how can you cultivate patience?

Unfortunately there is no easy one-size-fits-all cure for impatience, and it’s often a struggle spanning years or even entire lifetimes. In the fast paced world we’ve built it’s easy to want everything to be efficient, to obsess over how long everything takes.

But there are strategies we can use to build patience–or at least to stop obsessing over things we can’t control:

Submit often. The thing about submitting often is that you end up waiting often. In the age of email you can get a response within as little as a few minutes, but usually you’re going to wait at least a month. If you’re submitting to a big publisher, you’ll be lucky to hear back within three months.

You’re going to spend a lot of your career waiting even after your first publication. Working on another book? That means another submission process. Even submitting short stories and poetry can involve a long wait time, depending on the publication. And once you have a contract you’ll also have to wait for edits, galleys, ARCs and finally publication.

Remember that many great novelists take years. One of my favourite writers, Hope C. Clark of FundsForWriters, took 20 years to publish her first novel. A writer I worked with at Musa took almost 40 years to find a publisher. Many authors have devoted entire lifetimes to a single series.

If you’re trying to write great books, you have to be in this for the long haul, just like these authors.

Waiting should be a passive activity. It shouldn’t take up much of your mind at any given point. You should be concentrating on moving forward. Writing the next book. Working on your next short story. Getting a few freelance clients to supplement your income and keep you writing. Taking a writing class.

If you’re always working on the next thing, it’s easy to forget about the things you’re waiting for. Stay focused on the next project, the next goal, and by the time your response comes in you’ll be a better writer and maybe even have crossed some other things off your goal list.

Are you patient enough to rewrite a novel as many times as it takes? What about waiting to hear from a publisher? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Great writing isn’t about structure, it’s about emotions

 

I read this book in London!
I read this book in London!

What separates a great novel from a good one? What makes one book stand out in your mind forever while countless others drift off to be forgotten? What keeps you coming back to an author, time and time again?

Your first instinct is probably to say something very writer-y. Something about the kind of plot, the worldbuilding, the characters.

But it isn’t really any of those things. I mean, it is–these things are all important–but these are the superficial things. What really makes a great book stand out from a good one is deeper than that. It’s emotion, the emotion being poured out of the book and into you.

The best books can make us laugh in one chapter and have us crying in the next. They keep us awake at night, afraid or excited for what comes next. When you finally put the book down you’re exhausted, because the best books are like emotional roller coasters. You feel every success, every defeat as if it were your own.

Let me give you an example: Clariel by the amazing Garth Nix. Clariel is the fourth book in the Old Kingdom Series. Most of these books have been published for a while, but Clariel only came out last fall, right around the time I started re-reading the other books.

Clariel is actually a prequel. It’s a shocking glimpse into what the Old Kingdom was like before Sabriel, when you find the kingdom in dire conditions, but it’s more than that. It’s the kind of book where a character can die only a few sentences after you realize you really do like them.

About two thirds of the way through you realize exactly how this book sets things up for the future you encounter in the other books. It’s a heartbreaking moment, and I spent the rest of the book holding onto a faint hope that I was wrong. In fact, this book is written so well that right near the end I actually believed I had made a mistake.

By the end of Clariel I was in complete shock, with about four different emotions battling inside me. I actually had to take time to process it and come to terms with it, and I read the author’s note at the end (which explained a couple things, including the next book) about three times before I processed it.

But I wouldn’t think this was such a great book if it didn’t break my heart. The best books leave you with strong emotions, emotions you’ll have again whenever you talk about them. They don’t just have good characters. They make you feel with those characters.

What do you think makes an amazing book? Let me know in the comments below!

Why I submit to small publishers first

ereadersFirst off, let me confess that I have daydreamed about getting a contract from Simon and Schuster, Random House or another one of the big publishers. In these daydreams I get a five figure–sometimes six figure–advance and my book appears in every bookstore throughout Toronto.

I suspect you’ve had similar daydreams. What writer hasn’t? We might be satisfied with making a decent living from our work, but every writer at some point imagines what it would be like to make as much money from their books as J.K. Rowling or George R. R. Martin.

And yet years of researching–and working in–the publishing industry have convinced me that a contract with a big publisher is rarely as grand as one imagines it to be.

Big advances mean lots of time waiting for your first royalty check unless you’re a big name who can sell books like candy. If you go with a big publisher you’ll also be extremely lucky to get more than 10-12% royalties.

Small publishers often offer much higher royalties. Many small publishers offer 30-50% royalties on ebooks and a 15-20% royalty rate for paperbacks. Most of these publishers won’t offer you an advance or will only offer a small advance, but that means you’ll see your first royalty check sooner.

Another reason authors used to flock to big publishers is because they used to pay big bucks for their authors’ marketing campaigns. These days the big publishers have drastically cut their marketing and chosen to focus the remaining advertising budget on books they already know will sell, books by big name authors like Stephen King.

Many small presses will put more effort into marketing your book than the big five. They often publish fewer books, allowing them to devote a higher percentage of their marketing budget to each book. With the current popularity of social media small publishers now have a wide range of free tools to market their books, allowing their small marketing budget go much further than it would have thirty years ago.

If you sign a contract with a big publisher you also give up all influence on what your book actually looks like. You can push back during the editing process, but you won’t have much–if any–influence over what the cover looks like.

Many small publishers give you some power over your book cover. Some will even let you design the cover entirely yourself if you can prove you have the skills. Some small publishers do take complete control over the cover, but many will ask you for suggestions and actually listen to what you have to say. After all, nobody knows your book better than you.

Last but not least, many small publishers have a smaller slush pile. Certain large publishers only accept queries from agents, but those who do accept unsolicited submissions are usually drowning in them. As a result, your query could sit in the slush pile for three to six months. Small presses aren’t as well known and there are less writers attracted to them, so you might hear back within a couple of weeks. Most small presses will respond to your query in less than three months.

Thanks to the internet there are dozens of small presses. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages of course, but most small presses are more author focused and many even focus on publishing debut novelists or authors near the beginning of their career. They range from tiny non-profits to fairly large for-profit companies that publish a couple dozen books a year.

Big publishers still do offer some advantages–like getting your book into physical stores all over the world–but the advantages of small publishers hold more appeal for me. I believe an author-focused small press will treat my books better than a big publisher ever would.

What do you think? Small press or big publisher? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

The first page of my novel — Care to critique?

I was having a hard time coming up with a blog post for today, then I remembered that I haven’t posted any of my personal fiction or poetry here in a long time. I debated sharing some of the background work I’ve done for the novel I’m editing right now, Moonshadow’s Guardian–I’ve actually shared some of the work done on my main character–but then I had a brilliant thought:

Every writer needs critique, preferably from writers with varying skills and experience. And my readers happen to be writers, all with different skills and experience levels.

So today I’d like to ask you, my loyal readers, to critique the first page of the YA fantasy novel I’m editing right now in the comments below. If you want, I’ll even critique the first page of your current WIP–details below.

And without further ado, here’s the first page of my novel, Moonshadow’s Guardian:

Chapter One

Riana

Loki’s dungeon stank of urine and sweat. The toilet in my cell was just a bucket which gremlins—short, green creatures with screwed up faces and pointy ears—came to dump and replace every once in a while. There were no windows. No chairs. No bed. Just a small room made up of four stone walls that didn’t care.

Still, Loki saved me from a worse fate. Nobody escaped the wrath of the demons’ Head Family physically or mentally intact. The smallest crimes were punished as brutally as the worst. I had avoided my fate for almost a thousand years, and they would torture me for an equal number of years. Demons didn’t believe in simply killing traitors the way humans did.

Loki stole me from their court room and brought me here. He seemed to be punishing me with boredom. Time spent braiding my long, black hair—my shape shifting ability didn’t work here—or pacing around the room. Pacing kept the silence at bay. In silence my mind went wild, imagining every possible punishment Loki could inflict. After what felt like several days of contemplation, I had concluded the worst punishment would be sitting in this dull room for another thousand years. My kind couldn’t exactly kill themselves easily. It would be the worst kind of existence.

Footsteps. I stared hopefully at the door. The footsteps didn’t sound like gremlins. They sounded heavier, like a person’s, a genuine person, the lady with wings who came in occasionally to offer me scraps of food, or Loki himself. I hoped it would be Loki. The woman with the wings who fed me was silent and stone faced and the gremlins just giggled to each other, as though I didn’t exist.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Any and all advice is appreciated. I can’t wait to see what you have to say!

If you’re interested in having me critique the first page of your novel–or critiquing all of Moonshadow’s Guardian–email me at diannalgunn@gmail.com. I’m always on the lookout for new critique partners.

Author Spotlight: Becky Black

DreamForMe_BeckyBlack_coverlgToday’s author has not one, but four Nanowrimo novels published. She’s also been a pleasure to work with and provided some extremely valuable insight anyone interested in Nanowrimo can find useful.

Please give author Becky Black a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your books? (Preferably with a focus on those originally written during Nanowrimo)

NaNoWriMo got me started on writing novels after I’d been writing fanfiction for a few years. I started by doing science fiction, and later moved on to gay romance – a genre that was only just appearing a few years ago, but is booming now. I first sold a book back in 2010 and since then four of my nine published novels have started their lives as NaNoWriMo books. One was a last minute substitute, the idea coming to me late and muscling its way in when I lost my nerve about doing book two of a series when book one hadn’t sold yet. I only thought of the idea late September. I usually like to think about ideas for a lot longer than that. But I rode the tide and it was written, edited, submitted, sold and published within a year of the first idea. My books are published by a digital-first small press publisher – they move faster than the big boys! Already my NaNoWriMo novel from 2013 is out and feels like a distant memory.

2. When did you first decide you wanted to become a published author?

I think I’d always had that ambition, but was frankly too lacking in the confidence and drive to actually write for many years. But I’d have to trace the decision to take the idea seriously to shortly after my first NaNoWriMo, back in 2006. I’d been writing a few years, doing fanfiction, but chose to do an original fiction novel for my first NaNoWriMo, just to see if I could. Well I could, I did, and after that I had to sit down and think, did I want to just continue writing as a hobby, or was I going to start working towards becoming published? I chose publishing. I didn’t actually write one to submit until 2009, because I knew I had plenty to learn yet! But back in 2006 is when I made the decision.

3. How did you find out about Nanowrimo?

I don’t recall the first time I encountered it. It was something I’d just see mentions of around the internet and in the writing groups I hung out in. I got a vague idea of what it was and thought, hmm, no, I don’t think that’s for me at all! 50,000 words in a month? That’s ridiculous. That was in 2005. I didn’t do it that year. In 2006 I saw mentions of it again, more of them as November approached. By then I’d been writing for another year, and I’d produced some novella and even novel length fanfics. So I decided, maybe 50,000 words in a month wasn’t so crazy after all…

4. How much planning did you do before starting Nanowrimo?

That first time I produced a pretty loose outline. I knew the start and I knew the end, and had a rough plot for the middle, and had a big list of scenes to go in the middle, but I didn’t have a nailed down order for the scenes to go in. So I did “just in time” outlining. I planned a few scenes ahead. I picked out the events that best illustrated where the characters were emotionally at that point in the story and made a more detailed plan for the next part of the story, then the next, then the next, until I reached the end. And I knew the ending. From day one I knew the final line the narrator would say to end the story. When drafting I always know the ending vaguely, and it firms up as I get closer. But that one I knew in full detail.

That kind of flexible outline has remained the way I outline most stories to this day. Some are more nailed down than others, some are more loose and flexible, but overall the method hasn’t changed much. For me it’s never a case of finish the outline and then draft. I change and refine the outline as I write.

5. What was your first Nanowrimo experience like?

A bit of a leap into the unknown. But I had a small group of internet friends who were doing it too, which helped. We urged each other on in the case of slacking off. Anyone feeling lazy would be inspired by the member of the group who was about eight months pregnant – since if she could do it, so could we. I was also strongly reminded that I am in fact ridiculously competitive. Failure was not an option once I got started. I competed against my friends, and against random people on the forums, I really had the red mist in my eyes and it made me super productive. I reached my 50k on the 19th of November. I finished my story, at 62,595 words on the 25th. Yes, I recall the exact number of words. Stop looking at me like that. I’ve done it and won it every year since. One year I only made it to 50k through sheer bloody mindedness, but like I say, once I start, failure is not an option.

6. What advice would you give people attempting Nanowrimo this year? (As much as you’re willing, maybe with a cap of 3 fairly long paragraphs)

Don’t assume you will be able to write every day. The official daily total to get you to 50k in 30 days is 1667 words a day. (Well it’s actually 1666.7 but the only time I write .7 of a word is those times I faceplant into my keyboard.) That’s the dream. But doing anything for 30 days consecutively, barring sleeping and eating is hard. Not simply in terms of the mental discipline to do it, resisting all the siren calls of the TV or the pub, or the bed, but in purely practical terms.

What are the chances you can go 30 days without some kind of domestic emergency, or having to stay late at work, or you or your kids getting ill? Or maybe you want to retain some vestige of a social life and not become a hermit for a month. So give yourself some wiggle room. Adjust your daily total for say 25 days not 30. Or take a look at your calendar and see when you can get extra writing sessions in that you can use to build up a word count cushion to insulate you against disaster. Even if you don’t plan your novel, plan the month in terms of when you’ll write.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, or says they are doing. There are people you’ll see around the NaNoWriMo forums who post gigantic word counts. They can write really fast. Don’t compare yourself to them. They don’t win harder because they wrote more than you. If you write 50,000 by November 30th you’re a winner, simple as that. And I personally think people who have won by day three or something are missing out on all the fun ups and downs of the month. On the other hand it can be very motivating to find someone on the forums to compete with. You don’t have to know the person, or indeed ever have any contact with them. But they are your nemesis. They should be someone who is at nearly the same word count as you and seems to be working at roughly the same pace – around the 10th of the month is a good time to start looking out for someone like that. Someone living in a different time zone so writing at a different time of day, is good too. You either have to chase their word count, or stay ahead of it. A nemesis is a great motivator.

Have fun! Every year the “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul” forum is one of the busiest on the site. Sure, writers always have one or more “this thing is going to kill me! I just hope I have time to clear my browsing history before I go” moments in the middle of any novel draft, never mind during a high pressure event like NaNoWriMo. But you don’t want to spend October worrying about it, and November having a month long nervous breakdown about it. This isn’t a homework assignment, or a project for work. Nobody ever has to see it if you don’t want them to. Maybe you’ll fail to write 50,000 words. Maybe you’ll get 50,000 words, but they are terrible drivel. So what? You won’t get expelled, evicted or excommunicated over it. There are no bad consequences to doing this. If it’s a failure, well it was only a month out of your life and you at least gave it a go. You’ll have learned from it. So stop worrying and start enjoying it.

Make backups. For the love of cats, make backups every single day. I don’t care how you do it, USB stick, emailed to yourself, cloud storage, whatever floats your boat. But do it. If you’ve never written a novel before you may never have put so much of your heart and soul into one fragile little document file. Protect it like it’s a baby.

7. What are your plans this coming November? (Nanowrimo or other projects, and it doesn’t all have to be writing related)

I chose my NaNoWriMo project a couple of months ago, and I’ve spent September doing a daily (well most days) 30 minutes or so of brainstorming on it. That’s a fun time, when no idea is too crazy, and nothing is set in stone. October is when I turn that into an outline. By the end of the brainstorming phase I have a good idea of the shape of the plot and – I hope, or I’m on trouble – the ending. As I type this the story is called Mapping the Shadows. By the time you’re reading this it might have changed. By the time I start writing it might have changed again. I’ve learned not to be married to titles. But I like this one. It may stick.

I try to clear the decks of other things as much as possible for November, so I shouldn’t have any other big projects on the go. I even try to get my blog posts for November set up and scheduled in October, to save me thinking time as much as anything else! This isn’t always possible. I’ve had novel edits from my publisher land on me in November before. With careful planning I still managed to get them back and win NaNoWriMo. But usually November is my time to eliminate as many distractions as possible and really refocus on writing again.

Bio

Becky lives in the UK and her writing is primarily fuelled by tea and rainy days. After spending far too many years only thinking about writing she finally started putting words down back in 2003 and hasn’t stopped since, still trying to make up for lost time.

email: beckyblackbooks@gmail.com

website: http://beckyblack.wordpress.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/beckyblackbooks

More links for places to connect with me are on my website, along with full details of all my books.

I’ve attached the cover art of my most recent published NaNoWriMo book, called Dream For Me and the buy links are all on this page:

http://beckyblack.wordpress.com/bookshelf/standalone-novels-and-novellas/dream-for-me/

Let me know if you’d like a different size of the cover art. I have a range from tiny to huge.

How Far in Advance Should You Start Planning a Nanowrimo Novel?

Every author’s approach to planning a novel is different. Some like to know their story and characters intimately before they write the first sentence. Others fill binder after binder with worldbuilding details. Still others prefer to skimp on the notes and dive into writing head first with only the vaguest idea where they’re going.

So when should you start planning your Nanowrimo novel?

The short answer is that this varies quite a bit from novel to novel, but you should probably start planning seriously about a month in advance.

Here’s the long answer:

You can only really discover how much planning is appropriate through trial and error, but you can make an educated guess based on your story, setting, and genre–or just listen to Chris Baty, who suggests that you start planning on October 1st.

Still, certain genres demand a lot of planning by nature, at least if you want to be able to keep much of your first draft. If you’re hoping to write an epic fantasy novel, you should probably be doing more intensive planning than you would for a lighthearted romance novel set in a town based loosely off your hometown.

Other genres, such as historical fiction–or anything set in a real location that you want to represent accurately–require heavy research along with a healthy amount of planning.

Usually you can assume that more planning and research done before you start writing your novel means less editing later. At least, that’s the hope, and I know that my Nanowrimo drafts are usually cleaner when I’ve done a fair bit of planning. I’ve had some years where I just sort of started writing on the first with an idea I’d had in the back of my brain for a week. Some of them have been worthwhile stories, but the amount of editing required to make them publishable… Well let’s just say I’m still editing them.

No matter how much time you choose to devote to planning your Nanowrimo novel, there are a few things you should make sure you have before you start writing:

  • Maps — At least a world map and a map of the city/town/locale your character starts in
  • A grasp of each important character’s voice — My recommendation is you do one writing exercise in the PoV(Point of View) of each main character before starting your novel
  • Factsheets — You want to make sure all the worldbuilding and character information you have is easy to find. Factsheets are also great because you can add things to the list during the drafting process, so new information is also easy to find and you’re less likely to miss loose threads when wrapping up your novel.
  • Outline — This doesn’t have to be a very complex outline, but you should know how your novel begins and have a rough idea what the middle and end will look like. The outline can be as detailed as you like–or not. Even if you choose to write a detailed outline, you should be open to some changes, because the best stories grow organically.

These four things are, at least in my opinion, the bare essentials to a successful first draft. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share a few dozen resources to help you create the best novel possible, but for now, all you need to do is start thinking about what your novel’s going to look like.

Do you have any idea what you’re going to write about this Nanowrimo? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below!

 

10 Reasons why I love Nanowrimo

10 Reasons Why I love Nanowrimo (1)Chances are you already know what Nanowrimo is–if you don’t, it’s explained quite well here–and you’re here because you’re considering participating. Or because you’ve already decided you’re going to do it.

I’ve been participating in Nanowrimo for nine years–this will be my tenth–and blogging about the experience for four. Most years around this time I write up a post about why you should try Nanowrimo.

This year I’ve decided to take a different approach. I’m not going to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. I’m just going to tell you why Nanowrimo is awesome. Maybe it will convince you to take on the challenge this year, maybe it won’t. Either way, your decision doesn’t bother me.

But if you do sign up, you should know what you’re in for. So here goes:

1. The competitive aspect of Nanowrimo inspires me to test my limits. Every year the city I’m in does a word war, usually against another city. Occasionally I race against an individual, though people rarely challenge me now that everyone knows I once wrote 300K in November.

Nanowrimo has inspired me to push myself farther than I ever thought imaginable. In the last few years I’ve focused more on telling coherent stories than creating massive word counts, but I’ve still written over 100K every year since my third year. I’ve written a mixture of things interesting and awful, and learned a lot about writing–and myself–over the years.

This year someone’s actually challenged me to a word count race, and since it happens to be my tenth year, I’m going to aim for the largest word count possible. I’ve already started planning, in the hopes that having more detailed outlines will make my Nanowrimo drafts a little less hideous than some of the early ones, despite my desire to maximize word count.

2. Nanowrimo makes you feel good about a crappy first draft. A lot of would-be writers stall at some point during the writing process because part of them believes they’re terrible writers.

You can tell yourself all you like that “The best books aren’t written, they’re rewritten”(I have no idea who said that first; enlighten me if you do) but eventually it stops soothing the mental pain of an awfully written first draft. But when thousands of other writers are writing awful first drafts with you and you’re receiving pep talks week after week, you’re constantly reminded that everybody else feels the same way.

It’s a pretty awesome feeling.

3. The Nanowrimo boards are a treasure trove of inspiration. Still trying to decide on various aspects of your Nanowrimo novel? Need some help creating characters? Hop on over to the Adoptables forum, where you can find characters, names, subplots and entire, sometimes incredibly well developed plots waiting for some frustrated writer to pick them up and breath some life into them.

I actually have a file with a handful of characters I at some point hope to adopt. It’s never quite worked out that way, but often reading through the threads inspires characters made up of bits and pieces from different posts. It’s a great way to build a side character quickly so you can move on.

Oh, and you can always go to the dares threads if you need more inspiration, but a lot of those are just ridiculous. Which may or may not work for your novel.

2013-Winner-Vertical-Banner4. You can learn about pretty much anything you ever wanted to study. The “reference desk” forum on the Nanowrimo boards is usually the first place I check when I need a few quick facts about something historical… Or anything that involves someone dying.

Writers tend to be morbid, but aside from that, one of the great things about Nanowrimo is that people gather there from all different walks of life. Which means there are experts on all kinds of things who will answer your questions. If you can’t find a helpful thread, ask a question.

The best part? The “Reference Desk” is one of the few forums that seems to stay active throughout most of the off season.

5. Want to write a book a year? Do Nanowrimo every year. At one point I pretty much spent half a year doing intense Nanowrimo-based writing challenges and very, very slowly editing old projects. Eventually I had a pile of first drafts and a few second drafts staring at me every time I opened my documents.

This year I decided I’m only going to work on first drafts during Nanowrimo. Sure, that might mean a few books for me this year, but next year I may only work on one. And either way, it means that when I do sign a publishing contract, I’ll have different novels in different stages of editing. That’s a pretty good position to be in.

It also just feels awesome to say “I write a book every year”.

6. There are well over a dozen published Nanowrimo authors. Whether they’re published with big houses or indie presses, these authors have all reached some level of success with their novels. There are also quite a few self published Nanowrimo authors doing fairly well for themselves.

I love watching the numbers grow every year because it reminds me that I can also be successful, even if I have to edit each of my novels a dozen times.

I’ve also met a few of these authors through the forums–and will be introducing a couple of them to you in the couple weeks–and had some wonderful conversations with them.

7. Nanowrimo participants are the friendliest people ever. Of course, there are some bad apples in every bunch, but for the most part Nanowrimo participants are super friendly and extremely supportive. You’ll rarely find a more supportive place than the Nanowrimo forums during November. I’d be surprised to find one myself.

Some of the friends I’ve made through Nanowrimo are my oldest friends. They’re good people, good company, and good friends. I’ve known some of them for as long as nine, ten, even eleven years. I suspect I’ll continue to know them for a long time.

I’ve never really had strong connections like that in school, so Nanowrimo’s been an essential part of my life–and my favourite time of year to socialize.

nano_2006_winner_small.336172353_std8. There’s built in opportunities to find critique partners. There’s an entire novel swap forum, not to mention that being a member gives you access to thousands upon thousands of writers. A lot of them will be looking for critiques at the end of the month, even throughout the off season.

Some of my Nanowrimo friends have turned into critique partners, and every critique partner I’ve had–wherever I met them, whatever part of the world they lived in–has at some point participated in Nanowrimo.

Finding solid critique partners is hard–most of mine have only lasted one or two projects–but it’s a lot easier when you know several other aspiring novelists. Or several dozen.

9. Nanowrimo keeps me–and other folks in the northern hemisphere–busy through some seriously depressing weather. November isn’t usually the nicest month here in Canada, but I don’t complain. In fact, I would argue that November is the one month I really love, because I always have something to look forward to.

Part of it is that I get to see friends I hardly see throughout the rest of the year. We go out, have fun, laugh a lot, and occasionally get some writing done.

Nanowrimo also helps me really focus on writing new fiction for an entire month, which is often difficult. I have a lot more trouble keeping my schedule rigid the rest of the year. During Nanowrimo, I’m all business. I’m working hard to see what I can accomplish this year, along with everyone else. And I certainly don’t care that the weather’s bad when I’m cooped up inside on my computer.

10. Free books! And cute graphics! And feeling like a boss! The best part about Nanowrimo is Winner_180_180_white.331221427_stdthat when you complete it–even if you fall short of your goal–you’re celebrating with thousands of other people who get it.

Anyone can say they get it, but people who haven’t actually tried to write a novel rarely grasp how difficult it actually is. On the other hand, everyone participating in Nanowrimo understands what you’re going through. It’s the one time you’re able to celebrate with other people who’ve survived the same process–at least until you manage to befriend some published authors.

Of course, the winner’s prizes also help you feel like a boss when you reach the end of Nanowrimo. The graphics are adorable, the annual winner’s certificate will bring eternal smiles to your face, and most years you’re also given the opportunity to see your novel in print–even if yours is the only print copy ever made.

All in all, I love Nanowrimo, and I’m excited to start writing.

Are you participating in Nanowrimo this year? Have you participated? Tell me about your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

5 Great Resources For Writers

Creativity As September draws to a close the time has come for me to really start planning for Nanowrimo–and to help other aspiring novelists do the same. Next week I’ll be diving into the subject of how to plan a novel and prepare for a crazy month of quick writing.

Of course, not every writer wants to do Nanowrimo. Some people are naturally slow writers, other people are deep in edits, and others simply don’t like the idea. And some of you will simply want to continue reading about other topics.

Since I know you all have different writing processes–and different goals–I’ve compiled a list of writing resources to keep your mind busy while I’m focused on Nanowrimo(after signing up for my newsletter  so you can be reminded when it’s over).

The Renegade Writer

Run by successful freelance writer Linda Formichelli, The Renegade Writer is chock full of great advice for writers of all stripes. It is focused on freelance writing, but the time management and productivity themed posts are useful to any type of writer.

I’ve actually been following The Renegade Writer for a long time myself, and I’ve found the advice incredible. I’ve also recently joined The Freelance Writer’s Den, where I’ve made a number of valuable connections and gained a lot of useful advice. The webinars are invaluable and the price is well worth it–even if you just stay for the time it takes you to work through the classes.(Note: I am an affiliate, and you automatically will be too if you join).

Writing-World.com

Writing-World.com houses a massive collection of articles about all things writing. Their articles cover everything from freelance writing to novels to poetry. It’s one of the most extensive article databases you’ll find where all the information is legitimate, and by the time you’ve read them all, I’ll be done Nanowrimo. No, really. Unless you have nothing else to do next month.

I’ve also been subscribed to their newsletter for a number of years and they have a great combination of useful articles and links to other resources. No matter where you are on your writing journey, subscribing to their newsletter is a great idea.

The Creative Penn

Run by successful author Joanna Penn, this awesome blog has great advice for writers of all kinds. It also happens to be home to a podcast, where Joanna talks about all manner of things, mostly related to writing and more specifically the business side of writing.

I’ve only been subscribed to The Creative Penn for a few months now, but I’m always happy to see Joanna’s name appear in my inbox. Whether or not you subscribe, I’m sure if you spend a few minutes on Joanna’s site you’ll get some useful advice.

Magical Words

I’m sure at some point in the distant past I’ve linked to this blog before. I’ve actually been following Magical Words longer than I’ve been following… Well, pretty much any blog I still follow.

Magical Words was created by a group of speculative fiction authors–primarily fantasy authors–who wanted to shed some light on the processes of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. They’ve got awesome advice and I’ve read books by some of the authors and quite enjoyed them.

Never Give Up by Joan Y. Edwards

It might sound more like a self help book than a blog, but this is actually a fantastic blog for writers–and realistically creative people of all types. In fact, if I had given more advice about how to build your self confidence, it probably would have included Joan’s blog.

Her blog offers a combination of writing tips, interviews with awesome authors, and encouragement. She’s an excellent blogger who’s truly dedicated to helping writers become authors.

There are dozens of great blogs about writing and marketing your writing work. Hell, there are probably hundreds, maybe even thousands. Each one offers its own brand of advice, and all of them have some validity.

Your search for great writing blogs shouldn’t end here. Take some time to explore what’s easily available online and discover all kinds of authors. Figure out which advice works for you and which advice doesn’t.

I’d love to hear about where your search for great writing blogs leads you.

What are some of your favourite resources for writers? Let me know in the comments section below!

Author Spotlight: Carol Browne

theexileofelindel-200Today’s author is a lovely lady who I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with at Musa Publishing. She’s also an awesome fantasy writer. I recently finished her first novel, The Exile of Elindel, and I’m eagerly waiting for the next one.

Of course, I think it’s best if you let the author–and the book–speak for themselves, so please give Carol Browne a warm welcome and enjoy her thoughts on the writing process.

 

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Exile of Elindel?

The Exile of Elindel is Book I of my fantasy trilogy The Elwardain Chronicles. It was published by Musa Publishing on 18th April, 2014 and is available on Amazon Kindle or directly from the publisher:

Elgiva, a young elf banished from Elvendom, must seek shelter among the Saxons as her only hope of surviving the coming winter.

Godwin, a Briton enslaved by the Saxons, is a man ignorant of his own inheritance and the secret of power he possesses.

A mysterious enemy, who will stop at nothing to wield absolute power over Elvendom, is about to make his move.

When destiny throws Elgiva and Godwin together, they embark upon the quest for the legendary Lorestone, the only thing that can save Elvendom from the evil that threatens to destroy it.

There is help to be found along the way from a petulant pony and a timid elf boy but, as the strength of their adversary grows, can Elgiva’s friends help her to find the Lorestone before it falls into the wrong hands?

2. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was six or seven when I wrote my first poem. I was always scribbling something or other, starting with poetry and moving on to short stories. Then in 1977 I wrote the first draft of what went on to become The Exile of Elindel.

In 2009, I decided to take writing more seriously as a career and was lucky in getting proofreading clients and finding some of them needed web content and blogs. Even earning very modest amounts of money in this way, I began to get a different perspective on writing; it was no longer a hobby. This was a turning point for me because it gave me more confidence in myself as a writer and I decided to have another stab at getting a publisher for my novel

3. How much planning/research do you do before starting your first draft?

Not doing enough research is where I let myself down with my first book. I just started writing with only a vague idea of where I was going. I had studied the period of history the book is set in, but not thoroughly, and at each successive rewrite I needed to change a fair number of the details. The Anglo-Saxon period isn’t called the dark Ages for nothing. New facts about that era are still being unearthed, while what was once established fact is often disproved. The setting of the book isn’t massively important to the story, however. I hope readers care more about the characters and what happens to them then whether or not they are wearing the right clothing or using the correct tableware. The first draft of the book was completed in 1977 and I would find research so much easier now, thanks to the Internet. I now have no excuse for not doing it properly!

The next two books in the trilogy, written many years later, were planned and plotted chapter by chapter before I ever put pen to paper. They were much easier to write and this has been a major lesson for me as a writer.

4. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

I still keep all my notes, plans and the first draft in hard copy, all in longhand. Once the first draft is finished I read it through and do a first edit. Then I will type it into Word. This process will horrify some authors but it works for me. (I love it when I get to throw yet another empty Biro in the waste-paper bin. Very satisfying!).

5. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

Finding time to write is the hardest thing for me because I have to work as well. Fortunately, I’m very organised and disciplined. I’m not a time-waster and can sort my days into blocks of time to accommodate work, life and writing. I tend to be always busy.

I frequently get an idea for the beginning and end of a story but struggle to flesh it out and I find this exasperating. My current work in progress is an example, having been on the back burner since the 1970s! It’s only recently I had one of those light-bulb moments that has allowed me to finally get to grips with the thing. Often it is when I am doing menial tasks that my best ideas come to me. I wrote a great deal of Book 2 of my trilogy while doing a client’s ironing!

6. What was it like to work with an editor for the first time?

Working with an editor is very illuminating. It taught me a great deal about writing more concise text, text that is punchy and less wordy. The editing process is exhausting too; hours and hours of intensive work. I had no idea how hard it would be, yet it is also immensely enjoyable. It is playing around with words, something I love to do. My editor is so knowledgeable about the English language and the craft of writing and I’ve learnt so much working with her.

7. Have you ever considered self publishing? Why/why not?

I have a self-published anthology of poems and short stories on Kindle: An Elf’s Lament upon Leaving & Other Tales. It’s been up there a few years and I did it originally as an experiment to see if I could do it. I would probably not do it again because I’m not technically competent enough to do the formatting. I found the whole process difficult.

8. What modern author do you admire most and why?

I guess it would have to be J K Rowling, not just because Harry Potter is awesome or even because she made reading cool again, but also because I admire her as a person. She is an excellent role model for young people and an antidote to that celebrity culture of people being famous for being famous. She has real talent and achieved success through sheer hard work and perseverance. She also remains humble and unspoilt by fame and has made huge donations to a number of charities.

9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Get a box file – or better still a box! You’ll need it for all those rejection slips. File them away and don’t take them personally. Rejection is a necessary rite of passage for writers.

10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

Readers who have enjoyed The Exile of Elindel can look forward to Book II (Gateway to Elvendom), to be released in March, 2015, and Book III (Wyrd’s End), to be released in December, 2015. Meanwhile I’m writing something completely different from my usual genre. It’s a paranormal thriller set in the 1980s and is called The Curse of Cankerfret Castle.

Carol Browne first appeared on the planet in 1954. She regards Crewe, Cheshire, as her home town and graduated from Nottingham University in 1976 with an honours degree in English Language and Literature. Now living in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her dog, Harry, and cockatiel, Sparky, when she’s not writing fiction, Carol spends her time as a housekeeper, proofreader, and ghost writer in order to pay the bills. Pagan and vegan, Carol believes it is time for a paradigm shift in our attitude to Mother Nature and hopes the days of speciesism are numbered.

You can purchase a copy of The Exile of Elindel here.

3 Solutions to hating your Nanowrimo novel

It’s more than halfway through the month and your novel’s middle is sagging, your characters are refusing to co-operate, and you wish you’d never started it to begin with. Or maybe your characters are doing exactly as they’re told, and you’ve simply realized that you can’t stand them–or your story idea.

Don’t panic. As anyone who’s done Nanowrimo a few times will know, it’s bound to happen eventually. It’s perfectly natural to get frustrated with your novel. Writing a book in a month is hard, writing daily is hard, and sometimes an idea turns out to be less interesting than you originally thought. Characters can be impossible to work with and if the wrong one decides to die it can ruin everything.

All of that is perfectly natural, and it’s part of the insane, masochistic fun called being a writer. Be thankful that you currently have all the support of Nanowrimo behind you, and make some quick decisions so you can stay on track with your goals.

No matter why you hate your novel, there are a few things you can do:

1. Finish the damn thing anyway. Most writers go through a period of time when they hate their novels, even outside of Nanowrimo, and if the story still means something important to you, you have to grit your teeth and bear it. You never know, the changes might lead to something wonderful in the end. Besides, great novels are not written, they’re rewritten.

You might want to make some small changes of your own, perhaps killing the most annoying character if you can get away with it. Either way, writing a crappy novel is still an accomplishment, because most people never write a book at all. Truth be told, most don’t even get started. So you are a champion already, and if you reach that finish line, you’ll be truly different from most people. You’ll actually be able to say “I wrote a book.” And that’s the first step towards writing a great book.

All that said, you also never need to look at it once November’s over, and if you really hate it you can print it up and feed it to a bonfire.

2. Kill all–or most–of your main characters, and start over from a side character’s perspective. If your story’s dragging, it might be that your characters are the problem. Maybe you realized the main characters aren’t that interesting and somebody else is, or maybe you just hate them. Either way, it’s perfectly acceptable to kill them all–in as many words as possible, because death is great for word count.

Once your main characters are dead, start part two of your novel from a side character’s PoV. This way you can keep all your words from before and legitimately say it’s part of the same novel–even if you end up deciding later that it’s really two books, or even that your original main characters aren’t worth ten pages. Sometimes killing off characters is the best thing you can do for a novel.

3. Scrap it and start a new book. This may seem like utter madness so late in the month, but it’ll make the rest of Nano easier and depending on your point of view, you can even keep the words from your last attempt. Or you can find some bizarre way to tie your old book into the new book you’ve realized you’d like to write. You’ll want this to be a pretty superficial connection, so you can painlessly edit away the first part if you decide to later.

Of course, this all requires you to have a totally new novel idea, so if you don’t, I wouldn’t suggest going this route.

Remember, if you hate your novel, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve always ended up using one of these three strategies when I came to hate my Nanowrimo novel, and if they don’t work for you, I’m sure there are more out there. Don’t forget to ask the friendly folks on the Nanowrimo forums for help–they’re one of the most helpful communities in the writing world.