This week's shoutout is to Anna, who passed along a handy link for anyone who wants to write for theatre and film. Check out https://www.theaterseatstore.com/blog/writing-for-theater-film to learn about writing the words that actors perform. You'll find some basics, and a curated list of links to more advanced topics.
Most of my writing tips are about fiction. If poetry is more your thing, I recently got an email with a link to a poetry resource, courtesy of Junior Assistant Librarian Evelyn who's been helping some NaNoWriMo "rebels" write 50,000 words of poetry. Writing poetry can be an excellent way to improve your writing skills. Check out the link here: https://seatup.com/blog/sit-down-and-write-poetry-resources
If you write professionally you'll want to think about taxes, a topic on which I'm manifestly unqualified to comment. I will say that Canadian writers should give some thought to making sure Amazon and other distributors aren't witholding American taxes on your sales. Canada has a tax treaty with the US, and you'll throw away almost a third of your earnings if you don't fill out a bit of IRS paperwork. You won't like how they spend your money, either. Learn more here: https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Self-Employment-Taxes/A-Tax-Cheat-Sheet-for-Kindle-eBook-Self-Publishing/INF29515.html. Thanks to The Creative Girls Adventure Book Club for the link.
More links: Brandon Sanderson is one of the most successful and acclaimed writers of fantasy and science fiction in the world today, and he's also a very good teacher. You can watch him deliver an entire college course on writing science fiction and fantasy novels on YouTube. It's an astonishing resource, and I highly recommend it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6HOdHEeosc
Brandon and some other talented people also have a podcast called Writing Excuses, with years of juicy archives, where they deliver fifteen-minute mini-lectures about different facets of the writing process. Writing Excuses - http://www.writingexcuses.com/
I've started following a blog aimed at fairly advanced writers, primarily novelists. It's called HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com.
Randy Ingermanson at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/ has some pretty awesome resources for writers. I'm a subscriber to his Advanced Fiction Writing E-Zine. A lot of people swear by the "Snowflake Method" for outlining a novel, which Randy developed. It never worked for me, but too many people find it really useful for me to discount it. When you visit his page it looks like he's all about selling you something, but the truth is, most of it is free. He'll sell you something if you really want, but mostly he's giving away his expertise. Most of us writers got a lot of help from others along the way, and we can't pay it back, so we pay it forward. We also love having an audience, of course.
Finally, if you need to write a blurb or some back-cover copy, check out Libby Hawker's YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tf4fKJAlGFU. She also wrote a very highly regarded guide to outlining, called Take Off Your Pants: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UKC0GHA/. Don't be put off by the title. It's a reference to "pantsing", or writing by the seat of your pants, without an outline. She makes outlines a bit less scary for pantsers.
I can't claim to be a leading expert, but I've learned a few things about writing and self-publishing over the years. If you're set on traditional publishing, there are plenty of resources on the web.
Jump down to publishing tips
Obviously I'm baised, but I think this book is excellent. Writing Better Fiction is full of tips for every part of the writer's journey, from dealing with the blank page to choosing point of view to deepening the story to rising to the next level. It's available in ebook and paperback formats from Amazon and other vendors.
Writing Better Fiction on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1086454243
All proceeds support the Robyn Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest: https://ipbcontest.weebly.com/
You'll find that writers will contradict each other, so you have to take the advice that follows with a grain of salt. That being said, I can offer a few tidbits that most writers tend to agree with.
Write. Write lots. Write regularly. Challenge yourself as a writer, and try to write the kinds of things you think you don't know how to write. Start out by writing what you like, but eventually, when you've written a few things, stretch your writing muscles by writing outside your comfort zone.
Don't obsess over trying to get page 1 or chapter 1 perfect. Lots of people get bogged down on the first chapter, or page, or paragraph, and never get past it because they can't get it perfect. The best way to write a good first chapter is to write the entire book, and then go back and tweak the beginning a bit. Give yourself permission to write badly. You can fix bad writing. You can't fix an empty page.
Read lots. Read what you like, and read stuff you don't like. Read really good fiction, and read some bad stuff as well. If you only read traditionally published books, you only see things done well. It's when you read bad fiction that you see the same mistakes over and over. That's when you'll start to see those mistakes in your own writing, and you'll figure out how to fix them. Fan fiction online is a good source of terrible prose.
You'll need to develop a thick skin. You'll get terrible feedback. People will hate what you've written. If you accept that now, and understand that it's just part of the process, then it won't be as upsetting when it actually happens. There are no books that aren't hated by someone.
Feedback can be priceless. It can be very valuable. It can also be utterly useless, or even destructive. Figuring out what to listen to and what to ignore is an essential skill that takes a long time to master. I'm in a writers' group where we critique each others' manuscripts, and I hear the others contradicting each other all the time. "It's too much description." "It's not enough description." "The hero is whiny and unlikeable." "The hero is perfect. I really like him." There can be great value in critiques, but always be ready to ignore things. Some people just miss the point. An excellent book for one audience is a terrible book for another audience.
Don't be afraid to put your work out there. Submit to contests, magazines, anthologies, whatever. Self-publish. Then, forget about it. The story will do well, or it won't. Once it's submitted, let it go. All sorts of really good stories get rejected for all sorts of silly reasons, and you need to not have an emotional investment. Your attention needs to be on the next thing you're writing, not the last thing you wrote months ago.
Have fun. Writing can be the greatest job in the world. You get to make up entire worlds, you get to create something out of nothing. You get to have an impact on people you'll never meet. You may change the way people see the world, decades after you're gone. Writing can be an awesome experience, so don't forget to enjoy it.
Others have said it better, so here are a few resources I recommend before we get into my contributions.
David Gaughran is a reliable source of indie-centric information about the industry. He's also the author of some very useful books, starting with Let's Get Digital. His blog is at https://davidgaughran.com/. There's a link there to his free course on book marketing, Starting From Zero.
Joanna Penn is another priceless voice in the world of self-publishing. She's got a podcast and a blog at https://www.thecreativepenn.com/, and she wrote a book called Successful Self-Publishing, which covers all the nuts-and-bolts stuff about how exactly you self-publish a book. She gives the book away on her website. It's free at all the major ebook vendors too.
How To Approach Self-Publishing
I'm not going to get into the very basic how-to stuff. Look at the books I recommend above, or poke around a bit on Google and you'll figure it out soon enough. I'm going to share my insights at a slightly higher level.
This may be a touchy topic for some. First of all, try not to release junk. There's enough of it out there. Get someone to proofread it. Go through it yourself, more times than you think you need to. I guarantee there are typos, dumb ones, that you've missed. The kind of thing that, when you see it, makes you slap your forehead and say, "How did I miss that? Five times?" Think about hiring an editor for content, rather than just catching typos and comma errors. Now, a good content edit on a novel might cost you a couple of thousand dollars, and your novel may earn you eight or nine dollars a year. Still, you need to do the best you reasonably can. The novel as it stands when you finish writing it is almost certainly not up to scratch.
Beta readers can be priceless. If you can't find any, consider online critiquing sites like critters.org. There are good free sites where you critique other manuscripts in exchange for having your own critiqued. There is value in giving critiques, too. It'll help you improve as a writer. Now, critiques can be destructive. You need to be ready to ignore the stuff that's misguided, mean-spirited, or just plain wrong. But there will be gems in there, too. The challenge is in figuring out which is which.
Here's the flip side to the quality issue. Self-publishing rewards fast writing in a way that traditional publishing just doesn't. Especially for new writers trying to break in, there's no advantage in the traditional publishing model for writing more than a book every year or two. I can remember when I, and all the aspiring writers I knew, would fiddle endlessly with a novel, trying to find that magic combination of words that would unlock the gates to published nirvana. And writers who had book deals wrote at the rate of a book a year, because that was all the publisher would release.
These days, that seems like a real waste of time. Every writer has their own natural pace, and whatever your pace is, that's the pace that works for you. Some will write faster and some will write slower, and that's okay. You can't, for the most part, make yourself write faster (although there are techniques you can learn that will boost your productivity). The keys points are these:
- There is no practical upper limit to your productivity. Two books a year is no longer twice as many books as you can publish. Ten books a year is also not impractical.
- Quality and quantity are not necessarily as closely linked as you may believe. There are writers out there creating ten novels each year, and maintaining high quality levels. The myth that fast writing is necessarily and always bad writing is just that, a myth. (Still, strive for quality, and don't assume your first drafts are gold, of course)
- There are people - vast, vocal legions, in fact - who assume that everyone who writes faster than they do is a hack. Don't be bothered by those people. Don't become one of those people, either.