Virgin Author Ch 2 Writing: Training & Winning
Writing: Training & Winning
In the middle of your next writing frenzy, your addled brain might be tempted to think, this is it. Oh yes, this is it. It feels so good. One word after another pounding relentlessly down onto your keyboard. Stroke after stroke from pen to page. Let it never stop. Oh, let it never stop.
But stop it does.
Someone walks in on you. Your mom calls. The cat sits on you, tail obnoxiously flouncing as only the insolent feline race can. Trust me when I say, interruptions happen to everyone. Dull days lead to lackluster writing sessions. It happens. It will happen. So anticipate it. In order to get a better time outta it, we need more than just luck or a sudden spur of passion. We need relationships. We need to actually give a shit about what we’re writing about. We need to try our best to write despite our fears.
One-night stands are fun and all. You get a wild idea one night while out at your favorite bar – you take it home… you have your fun for the evening. But then morning comes like an avenging angel. You wake up out of a writing hang-over, roll over in your bed, and find all these strange words just lying there naked next to you.
Then it hits you: All these crazy words sounded a hell lot sexier last night. What do you do now?
Look, sure, you can go the whole ‘what was your name again?” routine, then head back to the bar later for another round of catch and release, or you can adult-the-hell up and make something of this. A good general rule of thumb in situations like these is to pay attention to whether your wild story idea sticks around or not. If it does, there’s probably a decent chance there’s something there. And this is precisely why you need…
Training: Best Practices Meets Blood, Sweat,
Actually good relationships take work. They just do. Bitch and whine all you want, but if you want to be an author that’s the long and short of it. And while I can’t change the fact that writing takes regular dedication and hard work, I can save you hours of listening to speakers at various writers guilds and podcasts, as well as about $15.30 for Stephen King’s much-vaunted book (no, it’s not IT) On Writing. – Although, on a serious note, it is an excellent read. I’d also recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird as well as Ursula LeGuin’s Steering the Craft. It’s like erotica for writers (*Cues Barry White).
First off, while doing it out in public might seem classy or racy, you get more practical mileage out of writing from finding, as the experienced Mr. King would say, A room with a door you can shut. You don’t want people walking in on you when you’re trying to have happy magic cuddle time (or whatever you call it – don’t judge).
Next, try to make your special sexy time at a regular hour each day. Carve out time. Be serious about this. I wasn’t joking about that fickle Muse business (remember her?). King went on to explain how by dedicating daily time to write a thousand words or so (don’t be frightened by the size, that’s only about 3-4 pages, it’s really not a big deal) in about 3-4 months you’ll have a rough-draft manuscript. That’s it. There it is: it takes 4 months to make a book (a rough-draft book, mind you. It’ll still be messy and ugly and need help figuring out what to do with itself, but there you go. You just learned another one of Life’s great mysteries. You’re welcome.)
By giving yourself one day off a week (you’re not as young as you used to be), writing for about an hour or so a day (or until you reach your 1k) will get you to stay on track for your much-vaunted book. The first few times might be a bit painful or awkward, but you know what they say – practice makes perfect.
Which brings me to my next point. As you start this process, you’re going to really ramp up the self-hate. It’s just going to happen. It’s ok. It happens to everyone. It’s not as embarrassing or end-of-the-world as you might think. Identify your hateful inner-voice and firmly tell it to shut the hell up, because the adults are talking now. Also, join a professional writers group (not the five old ladies who lament on how your town used to be at the local arts council) – but more on all that later.
Also, keep reading! Feeding your imagination helps inspire you when the time comes to get down to business. Read widely, read well. Force yourself to read new things, too. Getting out there will help you get your groove on later. Sexy doesn’t just happen for most of us. While on one hand, you need to make sure and be intentional, you don’t want to over-sell either. You don’t need to be the next Neil Gaiman (Hi Neil! Remember that one time you responded to me on Twitter?!) – you need to be the next you. The absolute best you you can be. The you-er the better.
If you’re reading this second chapter and you’re finding yourself wondering where all the sexy, humorous allegories went, well… I am too. The truth is, this part requires a basic knowledge of the nuts and bolts behind what makes writers work. While getting lucky is fun, it takes a real pro to make it on a regular basis (don’t worry, you’re still our Huckleberry). So, when happy magic writing time comes each day, turn off your pagers and phones, put on some mood music and pour a stiff drink, then get it on. Then, let yourself finish.
Finishing is important. Too often, we’re still looking backward for Muse to show up – especially during the early days after we broke it off with her. Hit your four pages, your 1k, your what-ever-your-goal-is, and then heave a satisfied sigh, save your work, and leave. This does a couple of things for you right off the bat: A, over time, it helps give you a sense of progress; and B, it helps prevent burn out. Burn out, over time, can turn you off from writing altogether. That’s bad. Don’t do it, ok? I want to read your book, rate it, and leave a review on Goodreads for our literary overlords at Amazon to feed their pet algorithms with. (BTW, did you know Amazon owns both Goodreads AND NaNoWriMo? I know, crazy!)
A quote that keeps me writing is something Hemmingway once said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” And while I don’t use a typewriter, what he said is a constant reminder for me. Be real. Be honest. Don’t worry about trying to be original – just do your thing the best you can. Imagination is the backdoor to the soul, you know.
Winning: Writers Groups & Stubborn Tenacity
I’m going to be honest with you. I’m writing this in my little house in Hannibal, Missouri. It’s a far cry from Twain’s days here. The area is post-industrial, and despite how cheerful the brochures and websites claim it is, when the cheery facade of tourist season fades it’s typically an anti-intellectual wasteland more concerned with trucks, bud, and car racing than high-minded literary ideals and social change. Yeah, I’m knocking where I live. It’s kinda part of the reason I write in the first place. Not everyone lives in a city. Not everyone is up on which hashtag blew up last night. They barely know what Instagram is right now (I’m not making this up). In a land time forgot, it is here more than ever that places like Hannibal need new stories amplified by virgin authors like you. Things aren’t going to magically get better without the new stories you tell.
When people believe new narratives, really honestly believe them deep down in their imaginations, they believe new and different things are possible. So write. Write your guts out. Your book will happen. Keep at it. For me, it started when I finished writing my first fantasy (no, not that kind of fantasy), Rienspel. Here I was all proud of this brand-new completed story… and then I uh… didn’t know what to do with it.
Which begs the question, how does one get published, anyway?
Ideally, these are the three ways: A, Traditional, you query for a literary agent who in turn represents you at one of the ‘Big Five’ publishers in New York. B, Indie/Self, where you publish your own work on a print on demand services like Smashwords, Amazon KDP, or IngramSpark (*these are examples at the time I’m writing this). Or through a Hybrid or Mid-range publisher who accepts ‘un-solicited’ manuscripts (IE, writers not represented by literary agents). And that’s it. In a real publishing deal, you the author are being paid through an advance and/or royalties by the publisher.
A few ground rules for you here: first off, never, EVER pay to be published. It’s a scam. You also want to avoid what’s called vanity publishing. That’s where a publisher will tell you if you sign with them, they will print a bunch of your books in exchange. But here’s the thing: you’re stuck with all these books. Not only is this bad because it makes everything entirely up to you to sell every last copy or eat the inevitable financial loss (and not in a sexy way at all at all), you often sacrifice the rights to your own works along the way. Don’t do it. Don’t throw your swine to pearls, as the Good book sayeth.
Don’t have someone else ghostwrite your story, either. Do your own work, you lazy bum. Learn how to write well. You’ll be better for it. – Plus, you’ll probably learn the various differences between Your, You’re, and You Are along the way (probably).
Anyways, there I was with a brand-new baby story in my care and I didn’t know what to do with it. Thank goodness it was the Big River Steampunk Festival. Thank goodness I was watching a medieval weapons demo like the dork I am. That’s because afterward, I overheard the demonstrators talking about how they were with the St Louis Writers Guild. I scratched my cliché bearded chin. St Louis Writers Guild, you say? Tell me more… After that things really started getting weird.
Imagine, an entire room filled with writers who are into all sorts of freaky stuff. Murder, cosplay, historical murder cosplay. All with varying skill levels and professional clout. Each month, they’d even bring speakers from the professional writing and publishing world.
Needless to say, level up I did.
So, I started burning a tank of gas each month driving from down from Hannibal to St Louis. If I had questions, I could just walk right up to whoever I was pretty sure had the answer and got it. I learned. I exposed myself to new techniques, skills, insights, and challenges. It was the nitty-gritty goldmine of writing goodness and I wallow in it still. I even forced myself to go to meetings covering topics I didn’t initially think were relevant to me. More often than not, I still come away better for them. Besides, who knows what crazy thing I’ll want to write a