NR: Leave a comment for Deborah and be placed in the drawing for a copy of her book. U.S. residents only, please.
The winner of the book was Aggie Villanueva.
Does that mean you can ignore all of the guidelines about showing vs. telling, Limited Third Person POV, using active rather than passive language, varying sentence structures, eliminating as many adverbs as possible, not using embellished dialogue tags? NO, of course not. Just like a contractor needs an architect’s blueprints to go by BEFORE building a house, you need to learn the guidelines of good writing and current accepted style before you’ll be able to express your story in writing well. So do study the craft. Just think of the guidelines as a shepherd’s crook guiding you to a wide-open, grassy meadow rather than a dogcatcher’s tight leash dragging you toward a cage.
The storyteller knows that success in writing is the intangible thread that connects the reader’s and writer’s hearts through the written word.
4. Read five published novels in your genre for every one craft book you read.
So many writers, especially new writers, get caught up in “learning the craft” and they lose sight of “writing.” You can learn more from critical reading of published novels (breaking them apart, learning how/why they work or don’t work) than you’ll ever learn from reading a how-to book.
While it’s great to read books from throughout the ages, from classics to dime novels of the late 19th/early 20th century to mid-century pulp novels to 1990s experimental fiction, it’s very important to make sure you’re reading new releases in your genre and from the publishers you’re targeting—it’s called market research (thus, you can write those purchases off come tax time!) and it’s something every writer and published author needs to do. It keeps us abreast of current trends, current styles, and what non-writing readers are out there enjoying.
3. Start something new.
To help you clear your mind of the manuscript you just finished, one of the best things you can do is start working on another story. It may not be writing—it may be collecting images of characters and settings, doing research of the time period or of the careers you want these characters to have. It may be meeting with your critique/accountability partners and brainstorming story ideas. It may be reading books you’ve determined are similar to or will give you ideas for your new idea. The important thing is to move on to something new as soon as possible. Write something new.
Don’t make the assumption that finishing one or two manuscripts is going to give you the skill-set you need to become a professional author—when being a professional author requires one to be able to churn out multiple manuscripts, one after the other after the other. For example—with three books to write each year for the last two years, I had, at best, four months to write each one. I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t trained myself to immediately start something new upon finishing a manuscript before I was published.
By writing multiple manuscripts before you’re published, not only are you honing your skill at the craft of writing, you’re doing your internship at being a professional author.
2. Put your manuscript aside for as long as you possibly can after you finish the first draft.
You want to forget as much as possible about it before you start revisions—that way, you can be more objective about it. When we’re in the midst of writing a manuscript, we’re so close to it, we can’t see misused or missing words. We can’t see where we’ve used telling language instead of showing. We can’t see info dumps or excessive explanation or description. It isn’t until we’ve cleared the manuscript from our minds, until we’ve allowed ourselves to move on to something else for a little while, that we can begin to see the things that need to be addressed.
The easiest way to burn out on a story—or to completely ruin it—is to smother it with attention as soon as it’s finished. Give it some breathing room. Clear your mind. Start something new. Work on other non-writing projects. Then, after a few weeks or even a few months, come back to it, and you’ll be amazed at how much more objective you are about your own writing.
1. FINISH YOUR FIRST DRAFT.
Don’t stress out about perfecting your opening hook before you have your entire story written—because until you get to the end, you don’t really know what your story is about, no matter how detailed your outline/synopsis is. It’s all well and good if you can write great openings, three to five great chapters. It’s fantastic if you can win contests with them. But if you never actually finish a manuscript, winning contests is all you’re ever going to be able to do.
How will you know if a story has enough plot, enough conflict, to sustain an entire 80–100,000-word novel unless you write the whole thing? The only way you learn how to write a novel is by writing a novel. You’ll never be a professional author if all you ever write are snippets and snatches and opening chapters.
“Finish your novel, because you learn more that way than any other. Some writers tinker over their words endlessly, perhaps fearing the end result. It might stink.
Yes, it might. But it’s the only way you’re going to get better.
Finish your novel.” (James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers)
Yeah, me neither. I start writing at 3pm every day whether I have other things to do or not. (Please, if you have conquered that smiggley little creature, e-mail me. I’d love to know the secret.)
For the past two and a half months, procrastination has not been an option. On September 12th, my publisher and I decided the book I’d been writing during summer would be book two. Yep, my own personal version of Nanowrimo. But instead of 50,000 words in four weeks, I needed 96k in ten.
And not just words. Words I’d be proud of turning in. Words my editor could read in complete sentences. It seemed insurmountable.
I built myself an Excel spreadsheet that broke down the task into Bird by Bird numbers. (See Anne Lamott’s stellar book on writing if that reference zoomed over your skull.)
Ten weeks is approximately seventy days x 1,372 words per day = 96,040.
Yeah, I know, there needs to be editing days in there too—as well as research time—so I gave myself fifty days to write the novel (1,920 words per day) and twenty days to research and edit.
My writing pace is 1,000 words per hour so I knew if I could commit two hours per day to writing, it was doable.
Not easy, but doable.
And taking my eyes off the summit and zooming in on the number of steps I needed to take up the mountain each day made a tremendous difference in my emotional state. (I turned the manuscript in this past Sunday night and made my deadline.)
Might work for you too whether your deadline is ten months or ten weeks. Procrastination be gone.
(By the way, I wrote my first novel ROOMS in six years. My second, BOOK OF DAYS took two. THE CHAIR, my third, was finished in five months. And as you know, the novel we’ve been discussing—currently titled THE NAMELESS ONE (October 2012) was complete in ten weeks. For those of you who are math savvy you realize applying the exponential timeline outlined above to my fifth novel means it’ll be written in three days. I can hardly wait.)
James L. Rubart is the best-selling, and award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing, helping authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, water skis, and take photos. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com
“If it’s Christian literature – JUST SAY SO!”
Question: Do the reviewers have a point? Are we Christians trying to “trick” people into reading our stuff? And is this the real reason behind these negative reviews? Could there be, as some suggest, a built-in bias against Christian fiction that taints the review system? Or maybe we Christian authors are the ones getting unfair treatment, huh?
Whatever your answer, I happen to believe this controversy is a perfect window into the world the Christian fiction community has created. I mean, haven’t we brought this on ourselves? Christian fiction was forged as an alternative to secular, general market fiction. We demand certain themes, certain messages, be evident in our stories. So is it a surprise that when our “message” is spotted, some people get pissed?
Furthermore, the same system that allows readers to indiscriminately hand out five-star reviews, allows readers to indiscriminately hand out one-star reviews. Thus, reviewers have a right to pan my book simply because it’s Christian fiction. So what? Some reviewers will give my book five stars simply because it IS Christian fiction. I’ve been saying all along that we Christian writers get too cozy with the five-star reviews. We feel we’re obligated to give them and, as a result, we feel we deserve to receive them. Is it any wonder we get our feelings hurt when someone rips our previously hailed five-star wonder? If we weren’t so beholden to five-star ratings, perhaps we wouldn’t be as dismayed by one-star beat-downs.
Seriously, I think we would do well to shut up and listen to our detractors, rather than huff our way back to the country club. Sure, there’s blowhards and blockheads who have no agenda other than slamming anything religious. But not all our detractors are cretins. Take for instance this comment from a reader of the aforementioned post (you can read the entire comment HERE):
I think it’s wrong to mislabel or omit important information about ANY book, Christian or not. I’m a Christian, but sometimes I don’t WANT to read Christian fiction. (And, even within the genre, I don’t like books that make me feel preached to.) Just like any customer, I should be able to tell enough from a book’s description and category/genre that I know, before I buy, what I’m getting.
Fwiw- I have contacted Amazon numerous times, complaining about the way their search options and book descriptions fall short and make it difficult for the shopper to find what s/he is searching for–forcing us to wade through pages of listings and book descriptions–and still it isn’t clear. There should be a way to weed out what one doesn’t want from the search. The technology exists, they are simply not employing it.
I don’t think rating systems (like for movies) would work for books. They’re too varied. But listing things like: ‘This book contains foul language, violence and graphic sex’ or ‘This book contains scripture references, aspects/acts of personal faith and strong Christian themes.’ would cut way down on bad reviews from readers who feel deceived, or–at the very least–poorly informed.
I mean, can you really blame them? How would you feel if you thought you were buying a wholesome book and got a twisted tale of erotica? At the end of the day, its boils down to one, basic problem–the customer spending their hard-earned money and not getting what s/he thought s/he was getting.
Amazon does have avenues for challenging reviews, and I think readers should think twice about giving a 1-star when it’s Amazon they’re upset with and not the author. But why not avoid the bad reviews in the first place, by simply being honest about the book’s content upfront?
I appreciate the tone of this commenter. Not everyone who pans a free Kindle download does so simply because they are anti-Christian. Some do so on the grounds that they just don’t like what Christian fiction has become.
On the other hand, does Christian fiction really require a warning label? If it does, then we better start labeling every piece of ideologically-driven fiction: feminist fiction, atheist fiction, humanist fiction, etc., etc. I mean, c’mon. A warning label? Nevertheless, I believe it would help if we Christian authors and readers drew a deep breath, took a step back, and asked if this vehemence against our stories isn’t part of our own doing.
Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now and his novella, “Winterland,” is available in e-book formats. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.