Many new authors slog out that first book, editing every word to perfection, revising, reworking, redoing. When I used to be a part of critique groups, it was not at all uncommon to find writers who’d been working on the same book two, five, eight and even ten years.
Still see them at conferences, shopping the same book, getting rejected, then rewriting, rewriting…..
Great, maybe Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help took five years and 62 revisions to get her story published. Awesome for her. And yes, her book was a runaway success, but ‘One Title Wonders’ aren’t the norm.
Trying to hit big with one book is playing Literary Lottery with our careers. In the new publishing paradigm, it can be career suicide.
For most writers, it will be next to impossible to have a long-term successful career if our pace is a book or two a decade.
Go visit a bookstore, new or used and you’ll see my point. Most authors who’ve made it to legend status were (are) all talented/skilled, yes. But many were (are) also prolific. Their books take up entire shelves.
It isn’t a singular title, rather a large body of work that has made them into household names (J.K.Rowling, Debbie Macomber, Stephen King, John Grisham, George R.R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, H.P. Lovecraft, Liane Moriarty, Sandra Brown, etc.).
Does Writing Quickly Produce Inferior Work?
I’m a huge fan of Fast Draft. One of my early mentors, Candy Havens, is an amazing lady as well as a talented and prolific author. She’s who introduced me to this technique. I was initially skeptical—okay, terrified—but I hadn’t managed to ever finish a book. What did I have to lose? I gave it a try and can attest fast-drafting works.
Write your novel in two weeks a month, whatever, but write fast and furious. No looking back. Always forward. You can fix stuff later.
I’ve heard some writers criticize this method, believing that writing at this increased pace somehow compromises quality. Many writers are afraid that picking up speed will somehow undermine craftsmanship, yet this isn’t necessarily so.
To prove my point, here are some interesting factoids about writing hard and fast, some taken from James Scott Bell’s WONDERFUL book The Art of War for Writers (pages 79-82):
William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks.
Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in six weeks.
After being mocked by a fellow writer that writing so fast created junk, John D. MacDonald wrote The Executioners in a month. Simon & Schuster published it in hardback. It was also serialized in a magazine, selected by a book club, and turned into the movie Cape Fear TWICE.
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days on a rented typewriter.
Isaac Asimov was the author/editor of over 700 books over the course of his career.
Stephen King writes 1,500 words a day every day of the year except his birthday. He’s published over fifty novels, and I don’t even know how many short stories and novellas. Let’s just say he’s written a LOT. Could he have done this writing a book every three years? Every five?
While fast-drafting is NOT for everyone, I ask you at least entertain the concept. Stories written at a glacial pace aren’t, by default, superior (most are never finished).
I’ve posted on this before, and I like to explain the benefits of fast-drafting using—DUH—Star Trek.
Meet ‘Captain Kirk Brain’ and ‘Spock Brain’
Here’s my explanation of why writing faster than we ‘are comfortable’ can produce fiction just as good (if not better) than a work that’s been written slowly and deliberately. And, since all roads lead back to Star Trek…
When we write quickly, we get into The Zone and pass The Wall. We become part of the world we’re creating. Fatigue wears out the cerebral cortex (the ‘Inner Editor’ which I will call our ‘Spock Brain’).
Fatigue diverts us to the Limbic Brain (also known as the Reptilian or Primal Brain, or for today’s purposes—‘The Captain Kirk Brain’).
The Captain Kirk Brain is emotional, visceral and has no problem kissing hot, green alien women or cheating the Kobayashi Maru. He out-bluffs Klingons, outruns Romulans, starts brawls and throws the rulebook out the window.
He’s pure instinct, raw emotion and all action.
In short, Kirk is the stuff of great stories. No one ever got to the end of a book and said, ‘Wow, that book was riveting. The grammar was PERFECT!’
Captain Kirk Brain can do its job better—write fiction—when Spock Brain isn’t there saying, ‘But Captain, you’re being illogical. It clearly states in Strunk & White….’
The BEST line in the movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness is when the villain of the story (Khan) says to Spock, ‘You can’t even break rules, how can you expect to break bones?’ So, I’m going to apply this to writing.
Are you breaking enough bones?
Many writers hold back emotionally when writing. Why? They aren’t going fast and hard and so Spock takes over and he wants us to use a seatbelt and our blinkers. He isn’t the guy you want in charge if you’re going for the GUTS and breaking bones.
Kirk is Great for Action and Spock is Better for Rules
Spock Brain is a perfectionist and wants us to take our time, make sure we follow all the rules and put the commas in the right spot. He’s seriously uncomfortable with ‘suspending disbelief’ and he tries to explain everything so others don’t get confused.
The trick is to hop on a cerebral crotch-rocket and outrun Spock. He is seriously uncomfortable with speeding and you can easily lose him in the school zones or the parking lot of Walmart.
Don’t worry, Spock will yell at us later….at the appropriate time which is during revisions.
Thing is, Kirk and Spock make the perfect team, whether on The Enterprise or in our head. They balance each other, but they are also antagonists. Kirk wants to put phasers on KILL, and Spock wants to check and see if the rules for the Oxford Comma allows this.
Blogging & Writing Quickly Helps Us Learn to Shut off The Spock Brain
Blogging helps us ship and get comfortable with going FAST. No maybe every piece isn’t the quality of a New Yorker article, but who cares? It’s a BLOG. We aren’t looking to win the Pulitzer.
We’re looking to get better riding a Cerebral Ducati and ignoring all of Spock’s protests that ‘This isn’t safe’ and ‘Where is our helmet?’ and ‘Clearly the speed limit forbids you going this fast.’
When we get the stories out faster, they’re more visceral. We get more practice with more stories since we aren’t letting Spock nit-pick for the next ten years…which he will do if Kirk doesn’t go running the other way despite Spock’s protests.
Remember, you get the recording for free with purchase 😉 *dangles candy*.
What are your thoughts?
Has your inner Vulcan taken over and edited all the life out of your story? Has Kirk been allowed too much sway and now you’ve got to let Spock whip it into structure shape? Does the idea of going faster scare you?
Get your head out of your ‘but.’ Yes, that’s ‘but’ with a singular ‘t.’ If we want to accomplish anything remarkable we have to own all of it—the good, the bad, the ugly. Often fears, doubts, insecurities, and bad habits wriggle in, and they’re so sly it’s frequently tough to notice them. How do we SPOT these dream killers?
It’s all in the ‘but.’
How do you know if you need to get your head out of your ‘but’?
You might find yourself saying things like:
‘I wrote as much as I could for NaNoWriMo, but this is just a really bad time of year and so busy.’
‘I was going to go to the gym, but there were all these emails I had to answer.’
‘Sure, I thought I had it in me to be an author, but it’s impossible to sell books these days unless you have a massive marketing budget.’
I’ll stop here. Y’all get the point and we all do it. My goal today is simply to make y’all aware of your ‘buts.’ ‘But’ is a red flag that we are settling for less. You can’t get your head out of your ‘but’ unless you learn to recognize when it’s there (other than everything is very DARK).
Sorry, couldn’t resist 😛 .
What Are You Hitching Up To?
Some of y’all are old enough to remember that life-changing song *bows head in reverence*…Conjunction Junction.
*cues R&B voice*
Conjunction junction, what’s your fuuunction?
Hookin’ up words and clauses and phrases…
And! That’s additive, like this and that. But, that’s sort of opposite, not this but that...
If you remember the Schoolhouse Rock video, you’ll recall they used a brilliant visual—train cars—to help kids understand exactly how conjunctions work. The conjunction acted as the link-up, the hook-up that connected one train car (clause, word, phrase) to the next train car. Change the conjunction and one changed the entire meaning.
Change the conjunction and YES, we change the entire meaning…even in life. We often begin with a positive goal (clause) BUT here is the excuse (really GOOD reason) of why we can’t do X.
If we pay attention to our ‘buts,’ we’ll start seeing all the excellence we keep talking ourselves out of. Because here’s the deal, our subconscious mind knows the truth and that’s why we feel so icky when we cop out. Many of us seek to numb that icky feeling with Instagram, audiobooks, Netflix, cookies, or even hard liquor and crochet.
But no matter how much vodka-laced pot-holders we make? The pain remains.
We can even try to distract ourselves with GOOD activities like cleaning the house until one could perform heart surgery on our bathroom floor.
It won’t make any difference.
Deep down, our hearts and minds know the truth. We copped out. Sure, we might SAY, ‘Yo, BRAIN! I know I was going to finish that novel, BUT look how clean my house is!’
Then BRAIN looks at HEART and they both cross their metaphorical arms, roll metaphorical eyes and reply, ‘That’s great, EXCEPT your goal wasn’t to have the World’s Cleanest House. Your GOAL was to finish NaNoWriMo. Get your head out of your but.’
*goes back to vodka-induced crochet projects*
Watch Your Buts
Whenever I spot a ‘but,’ it now gives me pause because I know what it’s going to hitch to—a REALLY GOOD REASON. I declare I’m going to write so many words, finish a novel, complete NaNoWriMo, clean out the closets, finish revisions, organize the garage, locate the mythical the floor of my closet—A.K.A. ‘Floor Narnia’—BUT (insert really good reason here).
I use my ‘but’ to give me a pass, to assuage my guilt (temporarily). ‘This week, I SHALL organize my closet, BUT…
…look how NICE my dining room (we never use) looks!’
Okay, aside from the MAJOR issue that my GOAL was not to clean my already mostly clean dining room, I hope y’all spot the problem here. Sometimes our ‘but’ offers a really GOOD REASON that is a complete non sequitur. It has nothing to do with the goal we wanted to accomplish in the first place.
Or, it can be imaginary melodrama.
For instance, the image (above-above) is an actual *hangs head in shame* picture of my closet. I could say, ‘This week I am going to clean out my closet, BUT I might die.’
This is a valid fear because I could fall, break my neck, and my cat would not alert my husband something had gone HORRIBLY WRONG. Nope, Ruby would simply nap on my dead body until my corpse cooled enough to no longer be as comfortable as the clothes she dragged off my hangars.
And the thing is, I will eventually die anyway, so why not leave this earthen plane with a clean closet?
Wow, how did my Nana just speak through me? *looks around for orbs*
The lesson here (aside from the childish joy of homophones) is that we can use unrelated ‘buts’ to (attempt to) mitigate our guilt. ‘No, I didn’t go to the gym, BUT I pinned a TON of helpful workout articles on Pinterest.’ 😀
It works, but only temporarily because…
We can’t address the ‘but’ without also discussing the accompanying ‘crack.’
Lighten UP! Laugh already.
In order to reach our goals, we first have to honestly assess who’s supplying our crack.
But–>crack. They go together.
Whenever we seek to do something remarkable, such as trade a bad habit for a good one, cut off a toxic relationship, set a boundary that’s going to allow more peace, joy and prosperity, we must be wary of ‘but’ because every ‘but’ always deals ‘crack.’
‘I know I’m an excellent writer and I’d finish that novel, but there is so much competition these days.’
See the crack?
There has ALWAYS been competition. Even before the digital age, a writer had better odds of being elected to congress than being a NYT Best-Selling Author. Most writers NEVER saw their work published…ever.
According to Book Expo of America statistics, as of 2004 (before social media and explosion of digital and Web 2.0) authors had a 96% FAILURE RATE.
96% of all books published (and most were published traditionally) sold less than a thousand copies. Of that 96% half that number sold less than 500 copies.
I finished NaNoWriMo, but I’m not a REAL writer because I’m not yet published.
First of all, ditch the Schrodinger’s Novel nonsense. It’s fiction, not an existentialist debate. You wrote a crap ton of words, you are a writer. Granted you might not yet be a GOOD writer, but you ARE a writer.
For anyone who even FINISHES a ‘novel’—even a horrible first ‘novel’ that chews on the furniture and pees on the carpets like my first ‘novel’—YOU FINISHED. YOU accomplished something that 95% of those who start never finish.
Alas, the BUT deals the CRACK in your confidence. It steals your victory. The ‘but’ robs the momentum you rightfully earned, the momentum that is necessary to propel you to the next level and the next and the next.
Sure, perhaps you finished a sucky book. YOU FINISHED! In order to be a successful novelist (successful at anything actually) then we must first learn to be FINISHERS. You must get your head out of your ‘but’ to see what YOU ARE accomplishing.
Escaping Your ‘But’
First of all, learn to lighten the hell up on yourselves. I ‘joke’ that I am NOT a Type A, I am a Type A+ because I did the extra credit unlike the rest of you slackers 😛 . Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Yes, I emotionally distance using humor.
In recent months I’ve learned a hard truth. I was my greatest enemy. Every time I accomplished anything, there came the but.
Sure, you cleaned out the closet, but your garage is a public safety hazard.
Goody goody, you wrote a thousand words on your WIP but you haven’t blogged OR Wow, you wrote an amazing blog, but your novel is collecting DUST you SLACKER.
I realized I was incapable of accepting a compliment. Someone would tell me I looked pretty, then I’d say something quippy that undermined the GIFT another person was trying to GIVE ME.
Someone on Facebook: Kristen, what a beautiful scarf you made!
Me: Yeah, well thanks. It only took four years to learn one stitch.
The first step to getting your head out of your ‘but’ is awareness. Trust me, I have been here.
Pain with Purpose
If you need to get your head out of your but, odds are you’ve already been through some…okay, a lot of pain. The shame of not finishing, the guilt of slacking off, the nonstop voice in your head telling you how much you SUCK.
Time to put an end to this.
This is a trick I used and still am using. To warn you, this method is VERY high-tech and possibly cost-prohibitive. You’ll need safety goggles and three or four small farm animals. I recommend ‘ducks.’ #FunWithPuns
Get a bag of those THICK office rubber bands and apply like SO…
Then, every time you use the forces of ‘but’ for evil? Repeat what you just thought or said then, using two fingers, clasp the rubber band, draw back and SNAP THAT SUCKER HARD.
Hard enough to HURT.
If you’ve applied this move correctly it should be painful, but writers are masochists so y’all will eventually dig it.
Whenever you think some crap like, ‘I finished NaNo, but it’s just a bunch of unreadable garbage.’ Repeat that self-defeating phrase aloud then SNAP!
Then rub the red and stinging area gently and, in a soothing voice, say what you SHOULD have said to begin with.
***It needs to be something your brain will buy as truth.
For example, ‘I finished Nano, and if I finished THAT beast, I KNOW I have what it takes to finish the revisions because I am a finisher!’
Or: ‘I got to 30,000 words during Nano, which proves I am capable of writing over 7,000 words a week.’
Sure, this rubber band exercise seems silly but it works.
I was not cognizant of how negative I was in regards to myself until I learned this trick. Every time I THOUGHT something negative about myself, I snapped that band. Then, I restated the counterproductive thought aloud and, while rubbing my nearly bloody wrist, I then said what I SHOULD have said to begin with.
Oh, and trust me, my wrist HURT. I had to change wrists quite often.
Physical Pain is POWERFUL
Very often we’re already in pain, but we’re suffering in a generalized fugue state of ‘everything sucks.’ It’s amorphous and thus difficult to deal with swiftly and directly.
It was not until I did something that transformed my thought life into a physical reality that I gained awareness. That hard SNAP on my wrist made the intangible VERY tangible.
I had NO CONCEPT how cruel I was being to myself.
In a million years I would’ve never talked to anyone the way I spoke to myself (inwardly and outwardly). Every glance in a mirror was how I needed to lose weight, try harder, dress better. I’d clean one room only to berate myself for all other rooms I failed to clean. Even if I cleaned ALL the rooms, they needed to be repainted.
Any wonder why I felt like crying all the time?
I couldn’t change what I failed to recognize.
That ONE—okay 865–rubber bands changed my life. Every SNAP made me aware of a thought. Saying it ALOUD changed the pattern. Every thoughtless, nasty comment muttered? SNAP.
Eventually, my body was all, ‘YO, BRAIN! This $#@! HURTS! You and MOUTH gotta STOP!’ and my brain (and mouth) had to tap out and not only stop the defeating phrases, but replace those with productive ones. When I would hear the ‘but’ and the excuse? SNAP! Then I say what I CAN do.
A final thought if you need to get your head out of your ‘but.’
It is OKAY to ask for HELP. In fact, it is WISE. WE ARE NOT ALONE!
Trust me, you are not the only one who might have your head up your ‘but.’
Me? I recruited my family. We all had rubber bands and when we heard negative talk we called each other out. This helped a LOT…and we eventually got over hating each other.
Aside from this, not all ‘buts’ are bad. Our ‘but’ might be showing us a deeper problem that needs fixing:
‘I always have great ideas for my novels, but I never can seem to finish.’
‘My books get great reviews, but they don’t sell.’
‘I keep querying, but only get rejected.’
THESE ‘buts’ are clues we might need some help, guidance, training or all of the above. Something is going wrong in the PROCESS and if we can be honest enough to admit we need help, that’s when real growth can happen.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I LOVE hearing from you! Have you struggled, too? Do you need to get your head out of your ‘but’? Are you like me and working to be kinder to yourself? Do you struggle with beating up on yourself? Negating any progress you make? Do you need training to be kinder to YOU? Hey, I am always a work in progress.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!
Also, check out the FANTASTIC HOLIDAY DEALS we have! A lot of our On Demand classes need to be wiped from the server to make room for more training, so if you want professional training AT HOME? While in jammies during December when calories don’t COUNT? Grab you SOME! Gift it to yourself, a friend, YOURSELF!
ALSO, I’m offering my Write Stuff Special for a LOW holiday price. 20 pages of deep edit/critique for $55 and there are only 8 slots left. If you need some outside feedback to get you on the right track? Get a SPOT, TODAY! (You can use when you are ready).
In the meantime, opinions!
What do you WIN? For the month of NOVEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Maybe have a New Year’s Resolution to write that novel? Have you started far too many promising stories, only to get stuck and never finish? Perhaps you just want to learn how to write FASTER without compromising quality? This bundle is the training you need to be a lean mean writing machine.
The Author’s Toolkit Bundle is six hours of intensive training that will help you write at a professional pace while minimizing revisions.
SIX HOURS of PROFESSIONAL TRAINING all at the same time, delivered to your computer. $165 when purchased separately, but in The Author’s Toolkit Bundle ONLY $99.
***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…
Tired of writing Soylent Green? Too many unfinished books trapped in the Twilight Zone? Ready to get weird…but way faster and at a professional level of weird? You came to the RIGHT PLACE! Cait and I are professional weirdos….(that sounded way more awesome in my head).
Anyway, the Blinding Them with Science Bundle is SIX HOURS of professional level training in speculative fiction at your fingertips.
***Just promise us that when you enslave the human race, we get cookies.
Three mind-bending classes for one low mind-blowing price. $165 in classes for only $99. ON DEMAND. Meaning enjoy at home in jammies.
***Only available for purchase through 12/24/18. Get your bundle before these classes go away with 2018…
DOUBLE TROUBLE WITH KRISTEN & CAIT! Get the One-Two BAM! Two Power Classes with ONE T.K.O. PRICE!
Dangerous Dames BUNDLE. Regardless of time, place, or planet, these classes will train you to craft legendary bad@$$ females audiences can’t get enough of.
Normally $90 for both classes. With Double Trouble Bundle, enjoy BOTH classes for ONLY $75.
These classes are pre-recorded and won’t be offered again. This is the last chance to enjoy these classes before we free up space on the servers.
About the Instructors:
Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.
Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her highly acclaimed debut mystery-thriller The Devil’s Dance.
Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazineas one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.
There are SO many reasons why being a professional author is TOUGH. Much of what authors do is counter to human nature. It is NOT natural to sit still and write a 100,000 words. It’s human nature to avoid stress, pain, and trauma, while an author’s job is to inflict as much suffering as possible.
Good writers are death dealers, anguish agents, and pain peddlers (which probably is why we freak ‘normal’ people out). Yet, we know torment is necessary for the greater good. A ‘story’ without seemingly unbeatable odds, terrifying stakes, and white-knuckled tension isn’t a story.
It’s self-indulgent tripe.
The ultimate objective of any author worth their ink cartridges is to create so much pressure we might just give our readers the bends.
Yet, this is not ‘natural.’ It is also not simple. There is nothing about being an author that is easy, and thing is?
Most of us fear we don’t have what it takes.
We’re also terrified to admit this. So what do we do? We become our own worst enemies and self-sabotage. And, since writers generally are smart, we self-sabotage in ways that appear to be REAL work to the untrained eye.
Thus, today, we’re going to discuss some of the clever ways writers self-sabotage. Since I’ve been guilty of ALL of these (because I’m a ridiculous overachiever), I can speak from experience. When it comes to self-sabotage, I would have been top of the class…but didn’t study for the final until the night before.
Self-Sabotage—Give Me Liberty OR Give Me DEATH!
This writer longs to be completely FREE! No boundaries, restrictions, or rules. Total liberty. They throw caution to the wind and GO!
In the writing world, we refer to folks who write by the seat of their pants as ‘pantsers.’ Many new writers start out as a pantser, because we are dying to WRITE. We love ALL THE WORDS and want to get them down and on the page. Planning takes TIME! Ruins the spontaneity. Who needs a plot? *rolls eyes*
My story can’t be forced. Plot will reveal itself. Like, it’s totally ORGANIC.
***Know what else is totally organic? Bull$#!t. Just food for thought 😉 .
Anyway, this type of writer might (mistakenly) believe that an outline or anything remotely resembling a structure equals ‘formulaic writing.’ I know, because I claimed that nonsense at one time as well.
Truth was, I wanted to play with my imaginary friends, and learning craft was hard and boring and looked way more like HARD WORK than I was comfortable with.
Also, obviously, I was an ‘exception’ due to my superior, innately born, and gifted-from-angels ‘talent.’ Thus, the rules applied to everyone but me, because *hair flip* I was smarter.
All excellent stories have structure, because a story is akin to a living organism. It needs BONES, because guess what had no bones? The Blob. If we want a squishy creature that just keeps getting bigger and bigger by absorbing more characters, descriptions, plot bunnies and adverbs?
Meet BLOB, not BOOK.
If pantsing is your jam, that’s fine. But authors who are excellent pantsers took time to learn and understand how story structure WORKS. Sometimes this is a person who’s read a gazillion books. They’ve read SO many novels, structure is almost ingrained into their marrow.
Perhaps they wrote a crap ton of bad books that fizzled and died. After years of writing utter crap, eventually they didn’t.
These authors are like the self-taught musician who plays by ear.
Problem with this approach is a writer is more likely to give up than be successful. A creative can only endure so many stillborn stories, before we just give up.
A person who learns to play a guitar by listening to music and plucking around can possibly be AMAZING. However, classes covering even basics like finger positions and chords can help…a lot. The would-be guitarist will get to making something that sounds like actual ‘music’ far faster.
Thus, the self-sabotage is not the writer’s choice to be a pantser, rather thealmost savage reaction to any suggestion regarding learning structure.
Deep down the reason the writer won’t consider a log-line, outline, basic plot points is because of two false beliefs. First, they believe if they ‘succumb’ to *shivers* structure, they therefore lack talent.
Only amateurs need paint-by-numbers. <—me
Secondly, they might also believe they really DON’T have talent/ability. Thus, if they actually read the books and took the classes, they’d have no reason NOT to write amazing stories. <—totally me, too
Fearing authentic failure, the Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death crowd makes certain to always pick the path that leads to ‘something other than them’ being the source of failure. This could be failure to ever finish, or failure to write a book that sells (either to an agent or an audience).
I’m not writing the right genre. The idea wasn’t as good as I thought. Nobody is reading BLAH genre. My book isn’t bad, it’s ‘literary’ and agents/editors/readers just don’t ‘get’ my story.
Any excuse other than to admit fear of not ‘having enough talent.’
Self-Sabotage—The Craft Class JUNKIE
Knowing Amazon is chock full of ‘novels’—self-indulgent personal fantasy fulfillment tropes with no plot—this writer goes to the OTHER extreme. They hit the books, blogs, classes, conferences and do all the exercises. The Craft Class Junkie is a near relative of the professional college student.
This writer is perfectly okay, so long as their ‘knowledge’ is never actually put to the test. While brilliant regarding theoretical, they cave when it comes to practical application. Writers like this are always exploring various ‘methods.’
In fact, they likely never choose any method, or at least not long enough to finish and see it through. To practice with it until they are skilled.
See, writing is really, really freaking hard. Like the Give Me Liberty or Death group, Craft Junkies believe (again mistakenly) that if they were ‘good’ enough, writing a story would NOT be hard.
Which is total bunk.
Thus, the Craft Junkie might start out with the Snowflake Method, hit the inevitable second act slump, then shelve the story…because you know, snowflakes are flaky and it just wasn’t working. The story really needed this method or that method.
The Write A Novel in a Week By Channeling Your Spirit Animal! Now THAT’S the ticket.
Envision your story squirrel and merely describe what your story squirrel sees in as many words as possible.
The Liberty or Death and the Craft Junkie are two sides of the same coin.
The pantser is at least willing to write…a lot. Even if they have no idea where the hell they’re going, they at least GO. This writer actually NEEDS the craft training.
Conversely the Craft Junkie is incredibly educated, but it’s all theoretical. This author needs actual practice.
Writing is actually a trade/artisan skill which requires training AND loads of practice, practical experience, and yes…failure.
Self-Sabotage—The Background BOSS
Maybe we wrote some ‘stories’ or ‘novels’ and realized we had a bunch of paper dolls, talking heads, and kept writing ourselves into a corner. Eager to get to writing (with or without an outline) we jumped the gate. We failed to take time to really know and understand our characters.
Thus, we commit to knowing every character intimately from their favorite cereal to the name of their first kitten. We will open every psychological door!
Problem is, we can fall in LOVE with the background.
Backstory is to the novel what crossfit is to sports.
Seems close to the real thing but isn’t. We can self-sabotage with planning and more planning and adding more layers.
Backstory is fun because we have no skin in the game. It isn’t our NOVEL, which will actually test our mettle. It’s the intensive activity that permits a thrill of storytelling without any of the commitment.
Like doing crossfit, I can become extremely fit, which is fantastic if my goal is to simply be super fit.
It is only when I commit to applying this crossfit training to something else (a sport) that my ‘activities’ become more than rolling around large tires and swinging kettlebells. Application is the only place my strength, endurance, and dexterity can truly be measured.
Backstory is CRUCIAL. In fact, Cait is teaching a class on backstory I STRONGLY recommend. But if we aren’t vigilant, it can end up the writer equivalent of dragging around a tractor tire and believing this is progress. Backstory is to help make us the best at writing great novels, not number one at creating character profiles.
Backstory is IN THE PAST
Meaning it’s already happened. The true test of a storyteller is to use the past create an unknown future.
Sure, Fifi has had a bad life, but when presented with a problem that pokes her wounds, HOW DOES SHE DEAL/OR NOT DEAL?
Yet, the Backstory Boss isn’t comfortable going forward because that’s scary, and the past has passed and is safer.
Just as the crossfitter knows she can do cherry-pickers all day, she’s possibly afraid that, if she played field hockey or soccer or started doing roller derby, she might be terrible. Same with the writer who’s self-sabotage manifests in a ton of busy-work.
They’re endlessly tweaking backstories or even trashing perfectly good backstories and starting over…and over.
There is an insidious addiction to preparation and yet never enough preparation to commit to the ACTUAL GAME. Fear of failure, rejection, success all powers the self-sabotage cycle. #AskMeHowIKnow
Self-Sabotage—The Research Hoarder
Research MATTERS. Granted, some genres require more research than others. Cupcake Cozy vs. Epic Historical. Totally different levels of research, but might want to know a little about baking even for the cozy.
Trust me, I’m writing a horror set in the Old West. I can affirm that learning how to write historical has been an @$$ beating. I’ve read everything from Mark Twain to St. Augustine, to Goethe. I’ve watched countless documentaries, studied food, weapons, cooking, clothing, idiomatic expressions, medicine, global politics, *taps out*.
Yes, I HAD to research to make dead certain this story could reasonably happen. Granted, it is a Western Horror, but the speculative angle doesn’t give me a free pass on history/research.
As my coauthor (Cait) has lectured me, my characters cannot be riding train cars not yet invented or passing through towns not yet imagined, let alone established.
Yes, ma’am *whimpers and fetches ice pack*
In fact, research is critical for my world-building (I.e. the barber having a corner chair at the saloon pulling teeth while patrons eat and drink nearby).
Yet, there is a fine line between wanting the details to be correct ‘enough’ versus wanting them to be PERFECT. Perfect is the enemy of the finished. We will never write a perfect novel, so don’t try.
Remember the AUDIENCE
Yes, please research. It’s part of our JOB to know and understand the world we’re writing about. We’re also wise to appreciate that readers will gravitate to our novel because they LOVE the subject. It is prudent to appreciate our audience might even be knowledgable.
Thus, if we’re writing a mystery-suspense with a homicide detective as our MC, we BETTER know how that all works, because our AUDIENCE likely does. NOTE: Unless this is OUR professional background, our audience is probably NOT law enforcement (because they can’t watch Miami CSI without suffering an aneurism).
Much like if we write medical mysteries, medical personnel probably NOT our audience because they watched House once, and nearly died…of laughter.
Sure retired lawyers, detectives, doctors, etc. write stories that even people who share their profession might enjoy…if they enjoy reading about WORK in their free time. But even the pros must take liberties for fiction.
Our audience generally will be people who know the broad strokes of these worlds (the ‘interesting parts’), but know them very, very well. They know about blood transfer, blood spatter, ballistics, Luminol, body lividity, etc.
Suspense, mystery, thriller readers are people who’ve watched so many episodes of Forensic Files they yell at murderers on Dateline the same way men yell at football games.
Seriously? You PAID the hit man with a PERSONAL CHECK under the video cameras at Taco BELL? You deserve the needle.
Or maybe it’s just me.
Anyway, the audience will (likely) know who does what job when and where and how. This means we (the authors) should know this stuff, too.
But, in the end, fiction is NOT reality.
To paraphrase Hitchcock, ‘Fiction is life with the boring crap taken out.’ Accuracy, to a degree, draws readers into the fictive dream.
Yet, if we were completely accurate, then a murder mystery would be 400,000 pages long and detail excruciating paperwork for warrants, multiple interviews, polygraphs, interrogations, months waiting on DNA, CODIS, filing MORE paperwork, and answering every crackpot tip on the hotline.
Also gotta make sure the unit secretary Brenda Baffleghast’s retirement party is included because, you know…authenticity.
Oh and remember to include the local psychic who saw the murderer’s face burned on her toast!
Research is vital because the better we do this scouring, the easier it is to work seamlessly within our world without interrupting creative flow. The deeper the well to draw from, the richer the story, the more opportunities to create magic.
Beware of paralysis by analysis.
It is OKAY not to know everything…so long as we nail the major stuff.
I cannot have my MC traveling through the Fort Worth Stock Yards in 1860 BECAUSE IT DID NOT EXIST UNTIL 1876.
This is a major point and something I reasonably should have researched and know while plotting.
Alas, expect some research troll to appear, majorly miffed who will write a detailed two-star review saying crap like, ‘Well, I couldn’t get into the book. The railroad didn’t use the gringle-doffer-doodle-mabobber until 1875 and the author has it in 1874. After that? I was totally thrown out of the story. I mean did the author even TRY?’
Sure did. Just not nearly as hard as you tried to be a total @$$…
At the end of the day…
All these ways of self-sabotage are not in and of themselves BAD or WRONG. It took me starting and never being able to finish 27 ‘novels’ for me to get a clue and maybe read a craft book…or ALL OF THEM. I ended up going to the OTHER extreme and was terrified to WRITE until I knew…EVERYTHING.
I’m not a plotter or pantser, I’m a plotser 😀 .
I have a hard-drive bursting with fantastic backstories I will likely never use. Not to mention I’ve listened to over TWO THOUSAND hours of audio books in less than two years. This is NOT counting time spent reading paper books or e-books on my Kindle, articles, papers….or the books taped behind my toilet.
Suffice to say my ‘research’ might have gone a tad…okay completely off the rails.
But I am much better now…. *drools*
So if you’ve been hiding in any of these self-sabotage safe spaces, it’s okay. The one leaving cookie crumbs? Probably me.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I love hearing from you! Did you see yourself in any of these ‘profiles’ or maybe…ALL of them? *hangs head* Have any to add? How do you struggle? If you’ve overcome one of these self-sabotaging habits, do you have tips, suggestions, war stories?
And if the BOG OF BACKSTORY is where you get stuck, remember Cait is teaching how to do this well…without needing safety line to make sure you return to your loved ones 🙂 .
What is a brand? A platform? Why do we need one? How do we get one? Better still how can we create a brand with the power of driving book sales and still have time left to do THE most important part of our job? Writing more books.
This book demystifies branding and social media and harnesses the same passion and imagination we authors use to write books, then uses that to locate and cultivate a devoted fan base. The methods taught in this book can weather any technological upheaval, and is virtually fad-proof. The new cool social site might change, but your platform will remain.