Want to Be an Author? Finish Something

Writers write, but authors publish. If you want to go from writer to author, the first step is to finish something, then go back and rewrite it until it is ready for submission. But finishing that first draft really is key. It’s impossible to edit a blank page, and equally impossible to sell something without an ending.

Most writers starting out have written plenty of beginnings. They get an idea and sit down to write. They rush through those first pages filled with excitement, developing cool characters and describing the setting and sending everyone off on their adventure brimming with conflict. But then something happens around page fifty. Maybe page 100 if they are lucky and have plenty of momentum. The writing starts to slow down. That initial idea is no longer sufficient to carry the action forward. More is required, and the beginning writer isn’t sure just what that more entails.

And then comes the shiny new idea.

Everyone’s had them, sometimes even while staring at the computer screen, willing the current idea to shape up and get marching. That niggling thought — a weird new hero, a fantastic scenario, a compelling situation, a snippet of dialogue in the back of the brain — that sounds like the answer to everything. Because this new shiny idea feels so much better than the work in progress. It’s new! It’s shiny! It’s so much more exciting! And it lures you away from the current project that hasn’t been behaving and into its shiny clutches.

Before you knows what’s happened, you have a stockpile of beginnings. Partial novels that have never even made it to the half-way point. Because there is always a shiny new idea lurking around the corner, looking to distract you. The more ideas you have, the more ideas you get. It’s the way creativity seems to work. But there are several problems with this.

  • Shiny new ideas are not actually always good ideas. Sometimes they’re just plain ordinary ideas that, if given time, will fade completely from your mind and go unmissed.
  • Chasing shiny new ideas means setting aside current projects and never finishing anything. And you can’t sell something that’s not finished.
  • Writing the middle and the end of a story requires different skills than writing beginnings, and you can’t get better at writing middles and ends if you never actually write them. You want to hone all your skills as a writer, not just some of them.

Shiny new ideas will always pop up and wave at you, but it is vital that you set them aside and continue with whatever project is currently on your plate. That doesn’t mean forget them entirely. Jot down notes in your journal, start a computer file for the potential new project, and then get back to business. Consider that shiny idea on the to-do pile. Maybe you’ll get back to it in a year and find it’s percolated into something wonderful, or maybe you’ll wonder what the hell you where thinking. Either way, it gets its due eventually, and you get to push through and finish the project at hand.

But what about the argument that the new idea is better or more interesting than the one you’re writing? Of course it seems that way. The new idea is a mystery. You’ve spent virtually no time thinking about it, which leaves it wide open to play with. The current idea, on the other hand, is starting to come together. You understand the characters more than you did at the beginning, you’ve begun to piece together the plot, and things have moved forward. The easy thinking has been accomplished, and you need to dig deeper. Further the conflict, ask tough questions, maybe backtrack on a couple of points. You are past all the surface material and mining for treasure, and that’s work. Hard work. Of course the idea of something new and shiny appeals. That doesn’t make it better.

Writers write, and if all you want to do is write, you can play with as many ideas as you wish. But published authors commit to finishing their projects and resist the distraction of every new idea that catches the light. Of course, occasionally there are projects you find just aren’t working and you decide to abandon them, but that’s a question of the project’s merit, not the distraction of a shiny new idea. So when the next little tidbit flits along and catches your eye, tuck it into a folder for future thought and get back to work.

Friday Links: Reading and Writing in Tumultuous Times

It’s been a tumultuous week. I try not to get overly political on this blog, especially since I have no such qualms on Twitter, so I will simply say that as we watch our leadership charge forward with a seemingly endless attack on civil and human rights in this country, it’s important to keep an eye on all the reasons we’re standing up and speaking up for ourselves and the people around us. Real lives depend on the rules and regulations being tossed about, whether because they desperately require the safety net of health insurance, they seek asylum from a war-torn nation or an unsafe household, or because their words or art or music bring a bit of joy into our world. Our children deserve to breathe clean air and drink safe water. And we all have the right to speak out and hold our elected officials accountable for their words and deeds. The scope of this week’s insanity means I could easily continue listing off rights that are in jeapordy, but that’s not what you’re here to read. I’m just going to move on to this week’s links, and wish you all a safe, sane week to come. Try to take time for yourself, for some reading and writing, but understand that if it’s a struggle, you’re not alone.

Why “1984” Is a 2017 Must-Read – Orwell’s classic has been flying off shelves this week, and the publisher went back to print. Here’s a quick look at why.

Spine Design: 16 Sexy and Striking Book Spines – A little peek at the world of book design.

Writers’ Residences at Vermont Studio Center: Fellowship Applications Close February 15 – If you’re looking for a chance to get away and write.

75 Books for the Next Four Years – A list that includes politics, but also an excellent range of fiction, philosophy, history, and more.

How Screenwriter and “All Our Wrong Todays” Author Elan Mastai Writes: Part One – First segment of a podcast interview with the writer, looking at his love of science fiction, his early start in screenwriting, and his debut novel. Scroll down past the podcast itself for a transcript.

Roxane Gay Pulls Book, Protesting Breitbart Editor’s “Egregious” Book Deal – A quick look at Gay’s stand against publisher Simon & Schuster’s six-figure book deal with Milo Yiannopoulos.

Bibliomania: The Strange History of Compulsive Book Buying – I can’t help but relate, and I’m sure many of you are right there with me.

Friday Links: Reading and Writing at the End of an Era

It’s an extremely rainy Friday here in my neck of the woods, and we’re looking at more rain right through Monday. I claim gratitude, because even though we’ve made some good headway on canceling out the five-year drought California’s been suffering from, we do still need more rain. However, I will admit to being a little sick of it. My brain feels water-logged. It’s a good thing I mostly intend to stay home and read this weekend.

As for links, I’ve got a little homage to our now-former president, and his obvious love of reading, along with some other good stuff to keep you inspired through the weekend, whatever your weather patterns. I hope you set aside your writing time, and reading time as well, however much or little you can spare, and continue to put your goals high on your priority list. If you happen to be marching somewhere this weekend, good luck and stay safe. Happy weekend, and happy writing.

Considering the Novel in the Age of Obama – An interesting examination of literary trends over the past eight years.

Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books – The result of an interview with President Obama regarding his terms in office, including an internal link to some of his book recommendations.

Finalists for the National Book Award – A nice round up of this year’s titles.

Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels – A look at the recent bestsellers in the genre, and their authors.

What Being an Editor Taught Me About Writing – Insider tips from an editor at Random House.

The 59-Book Fandom Reading Challenge – Are you a fan of something? Here’s a challenge that suggests a type of book for virtually every type of fan out there. Fun, and a little different.

Publishers Don’t Want Good Books – A tough-love look at why you may be getting rejection letters.

24in48 Readathon – Read for 24 hours total out of 48. This twice yearly challenge runs this weekend, and there’s still time to sign up. Check out other 24in48 blog posts for lists of prizes, reading suggestions, and more.

Friday Links: Send Your Writing into the World

Happy Friday, everyone! Juggling about twenty different things today, trying to get them handled before the weekend, so I’m just going to do a hit and run with this week’s Friday Links. I think it’s a pretty inspirational cross section, and I hope that at least one or two make you feel like getting down with your current work in progress, or maybe submitting something for publication. A number of these are geared toward getting that work out the door. Wishing you lots of excellent writing and reading time. Enjoy!

Short Story Challenge – A fun challenge  in three rounds run by NYC Midnight. The first round is coming up fast, so check it out now.

African Game of Thrones? Marlon James Is On It – An interview with the author about his upcoming fantasy series.

12 Contemporary Writers on How They Revise – Tips from a broad range of working writers.

Opportunities for Writers: January and February 2017 – A list of deadlines for submissions, contests, etc.

The British Books Challenge 2017 – A fun, low-volume book challenge for anyone looking to change things up a (little) bit.

Remembering Octavia Butler – An interview with Juno Diaz about the revered sf writer who passed away last year.

Friday Links: Out with the Old, In with the New

It’s the last Friday of 2016, so I’ve a selection of forward-looking links for you to help you get started on those new year’s goals. You have been thinking about your goals for 2017, right? If not, check out my tips from Wednesday’s post to help you get started.

I think we call all agree this was an extremely eventful, and in some ways traumatic, year. This past week’s celebrity deaths hit particularly hard; I feel like my childhood is being stripped from me in enormous chunks. But I still plan to kick off 2017 with as much enthusiasm and determination as I can muster. Only we can create a world that helps cushion us from the inevitable heartbreaks of life — one where people can reach for their dreams and live in health, safety, and a measure of achievement. It may feel far off sometimes, but that’s no excuse not to keep pushing in the right direction.

On that note, I offer you some inspiration for the coming year. Best of luck with whatever you strive to accomplish. Happy writing!

Writer’s Digest Shop Sale – There are some great markdowns at the moment on books and webinars to help you with all your writing goals.

Submission Strategies: Advice from a Literary Magazine Editor – Some tips to get your work past those gatekeepers.

67 Best SEO Tips for Bloggers – Strategies for getting more traffic to your blog and website.

The State of Flash Fiction – A look at this very short form of storytelling and how it’s role is developing in the marketplace.

10 Overlooked Books by Women in 2016 – Catch these before the new crop of titles makes your TBR pile fall over.

Anticipated Books of 2017 – Bookriot.com shares the titles they’re looking forward to next year on the All the Books podcast.

Creative Live – Online courses across a wide range of creative fields, including inspiration for writing, marketing and PR, social media, web design, branding, freelancing, and much more. They also have some great sales going on at the moment.

 

Friday Links: Gearing Up for Next Year’s Writing

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re preparing to head off for the holiday break here at The Knight Agency, so it’s been a particularly busy week. That said, I plan to post through the holidays, if only to keep encouraging everyone who is participating in this year’s December Writing Challenge, so do check in if you have some down time and are looking for some inspiration.

We’re getting into the difficult part of the month, where events and to-do lists collide and it feels even more impossible to carve out a few minutes to write, but you can do it. Take a notebook with you on your coffee or hot chocolate break; put in a little writing time before you start your day; pause before you head to bed at night and make sure you scribble a few paragraphs if the day has gotten away from you. You’ll feel so accomplished, and also continue to build those great writing habits to help you start 2017 on the right foot.

I’m sending you off this weekend with a nice assortment of links, some of which will hopefully give you something to aspire to or plan for in the new year. Enjoy, and happy writing!

One Word Leads to the Next: Unconventional Conjunctive Devices – Some thoughts on pushing boundaries and experimenting with language.

What a Novel Looks Like Before It’s a Novel – Six novelists on their early writing process.

A Guide to Short Story Contests in 2017 – Start planning now and mark your calendar with anything you’d like to enter.

25 Days of Christmas Romances – This list will get you into the mood in more ways than one.

How to Create Art and Make Cool Stuff in a Time of Trouble – Chuck Wendig dishes out some advice for anyone struggling to focus on their writing in the wake of all the really terrible news flooding the air waves, internet, etc.

10 Things You Didn’t Know about How the NY Times Book Review Works – A peek inside the workings of this industry mainstay.

Friday Links from North of the Border

Greetings from beautiful Surrey, British Columbia, Canada! I’m in conference mode, hence the somewhat late post today. I intended to schedule something last night but it just never happened, so I’m sneaking in between pitches and dinner to leave you a few goodies for your weekend entertainment. I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. Happy writing!

12 Awesome Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the British Library – For curiosity’s sake or for adventure/travel plans.

Excellent Nonfiction about Girls for Tween and Teen Readers – Great list, whether you’re shopping for the teen reader in your life or for a bit of industry research.

Interview with a Gatekeeper: Algonquin’s Elisabeth Scharlatt – One editor/publisher opens up about the industry.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon – Read all day on October 22nd! Sorry for the late announcement but there’s still time to join in if you want.

17 Short Story Competitions to Enter Before the End of the Year – Pretty much what it says.

What the Deuce: The Curse Words of Charles Dickens – A look at how the author got around the censorship of his time.

Friday Links: Reading and Writing to Pack Your Weekend

Happy Friday, all! I’m currently winging my way to Seattle for the Emerald City Writers’ Conference this weekend, but I’ve got some links for you to keep you busy in my absence. And if you’re going to be at the conference, please say hello! I always love putting faces to names. Have a wonderful weekend whatever you have planned, and don’t forget to schedule some writing time. The end of the year is coming up fast, so tackle those goals while you can. Enjoy!

Literistic – A monthly mailing list of contests, deadlines, and places to submit your work. There’s an extensive version for a small fee, and shorter version for free.

20 Reasons Why You Should Read Literary Magazines – Pretty much what it sounds like, but the list name checks some terrific publications, so if you’re looking to expand your horizons it could be a good source.

Bookselling in the 21st Century: On the Difficulty of Recommending Books – More tales from the booksellers’ trenches.

We Need to Talk About Money: Practicality’s Place in a Writing Education – An interesting look at just where writers should acquire their business acumen.

Celebrated Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary – For anyone who might be wondering or just plain curious.

131 YA books for Your October to December Radar – A wrap up of the YA titles being released through year’s end.

Who Nominates Writers for the Nobel Prize? – For anyone wondering how Bob Dylan ended up this year’s prize winner in literature.

Friday Links: Facets of the Writing Life

TGIF! The weekend has arrived, and I hope it’s brought some time off for all of you to read, write, and sneak in a bit of relaxation. People seem to be anxious to acknowledge the end of summer, but officially we still have a few weeks to go, and even unofficially we have another week until the long Labor Day weekend. So I say make the most of it.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week of all the facets of the writer’s life. Even the act of writing itself varies enormously from person to person, by what they write, how often, level of commitment, etc. So it’s probably no surprise that several of this week’s links revolve around the lives of writers, including how they live, how they work, where they work, and so on. I think I’ve found a balance of serious, informational, and humorous, and there should be something here for everyone. Enjoy, and happy writing!

N.K. Jemisin on Diversity in Science Fiction and Inspiration from Dreams – Jemisin, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for a Novel, talks about her experiences writing The Fifth Season and with the award process.

How Instagram Became the New Oprah’s Book Club – An interesting look at the social media platform’s role in book marketing.

Five Reasons Why Writers Should Move to Columbus – Ohio, that is. For writers whose pockets won’t stretch to New York or LA.

In Order to Live: Story Structure on the Horoscopic Scale – An intricate look at all the ways writers attack story structure.

Tin House Is Accepting Unsolicited Submissions for 2017 – Details on the latest open reading period for the literary magazine.

The Spoils of Destruction – The story of Thomas Mann’s Pacific Palisades house, and its current uncertain fate.

On the Barbizon Hotel, and the Women Writers Who Lived There – A look at the famous New York City hotel where young, single women stayed when they came to make their fortune in the big city.

Antarctic Artists & Writers Program – A program that enables writers and other artists to visit Antarctica for creative purposes.

Friday Links: Short but Sweet Ideas for Writers and Readers

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m on the fly today so I’m keeping this short in more ways than one. Most of this week’s Friday Links offer up quick ideas for kicking your writing and/or career into high gear, bits of advice that have a major impact, and reads that tend to be on the shorter side. No matter how busy you are this weekend, there’s no reason why you can’t squeeze in a little inspiration. Wishing you a great one. Enjoy!

9 Tiny Letters for Writers and Readers – A list of newsletters on writing, reading, and book culture that pack a lot into a fairly short space.

‘The First This Time:’ A New Generation of Writers on Race in America – A look at the timely, important new collection edited by Jesmyn Ward.

BBC to broadcast lost Tolkien recordings – A new program on BBC 4 scheduled for Saturday, August 6th. Non-Brits can check out the BBC website for details on listening online.

11 Ways to Overcome Marketing Dread – Helpful tips on how to market your work, engage in social media, etc.

How to Build a Great Newsletter, According to 4 Freelancers – Wonderful advice that can easily be adapted by other kinds of writers.

10 Steps to a Successful Book Launch – More excellent marketing advice. For those publishing traditionally, keep in mind that you want to keep your editor and in-house PR person in the loop on your plans so you don’t duplicate your publisher’s efforts.

The Best Cities in the World for Book Lovers – Just in case you’re still plotting that summer vacation…