You want to be an author? 7 basic tips

writingtoolsA lot of people ask me, "I've always wanted to write a book, but where do I start?" It's a great question. There are more writing tips out there than fish in the sea, but here's seven basic tips:

1. The time is now, don't wait for the muse

I'm sure there are millions of people with the excuses: "I'll write when I have time," or "when the kids leave for college," or "when I'm working less hours," or "when I have the perfect idea," or "when I'm in the mood."

Here's a truth you won't like: You'll never find time if you don't make it. Every one of us is busy trying to fit a thousand things into each day. If you wait for the time, it will never come. You have to make time. Watch less TV, or get up an hour earlier, re-organize your chores, whatever it takes. Almost every bestselling author today wrote their first books while working a day job, or looking after two kids, or nursing a sick parent. It's very unlikely that great chunks of time will suddenly open up in your life just so that you can write.

As for that muse… again, don't wait for her. Like most good things in life, the muse doesn't just show up at your front door one morning. That perfect idea will never come if you don't sit down and tug it, kicking and screaming, from your mind. Rarely does a whole book flood into your brain, and all you have to do is sit and type it. Ideas have to be worked, grappled with, and experimented with. You have to explore them, see where the windy road takes you, and maybe back up and take another, better road.

The time is now. There will never be a better time. Stop waiting for it. "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today."

2. Start anywhere

"But I don't know where to start." "I don't know how the book ends." "What shall I write about?"

Remember that elusive muse? She works better when engaged. Just start writing. Anything. What's your main character like? Describe her situation. What is she afraid of? What horrible or dramatic thing happens that propels her on the course she will take throughout your book? Who is working against her? Ask a lot of questions and write what comes to mind. You definitely don't need to know all the answers up front. Advanced writers will talk to you about plotting and outlining, and… Forget all that for now! Learn that later. Just write something. It doesn't matter if it doesn't make it into the final book. You are exercising your creativity and that of your muse. I guarantee that once you start writing, more and more ideas will come to you

3. Write every day

You'll hear this from every author. Don't let it deter you. Absolutely do NOT think that if you can't write every day, there's no point in starting. It doesn't have to be every single day, just as often as you can. What those three words really mean is that the more often you write, the easier it will become. It's all about momentum. When you sit down each day (or every other day), you'll remember your characters, you'll remember where you left off in your book and what is happening. You'll be able to get back into writing that much quicker. If you write too infrequently, when you sit down you're going to have to re-read your earlier pages to refresh your memory. You've lost the flow. You have to kickstart your creativity again. You'll likely stare at the screen trying to remember what you planned to write next.

It's better to write only 200 words but every single day than to write 2000 words one day a week. Make it a habit.

4. Write shit, write fun

That sounds like contradictory advice doesn't it? Let's break this down, because this is a very important tip.

Write shit: Too many new writers get hung up on making every sentence perfect, every word the right word. They'll revise and polish ad infinitum, afraid to move on until everything is just right. Here be dragons! That road leads to madness. The time for editing and polishing will come – oh yes it will come – but much later in the process. On your first draft, just write all your ideas down. Don't edit. Don't stop to choose words. Don't worry if it's any good. Doing any of that is the fastest way to slam the brakes on your creativity. Writing engages the creative side of the brain. Editing uses the analytical side. During your first draft you do NOT want the analytical side pushing aside your creativity.

Don't be afraid to barf all your ideas onto the page, good or bad. Don't be afraid to write shit. The first draft is for your eyes only. Only when you've vomited your way from start to "The End" will you really know what story you have, because it might well have meandered and gone off in different directions along the way. Now you are done writing shit! Now you can switch to your editorial, analytical brain, and begin to tidy and polish, add tension, rework scenes, and improve dialog.

Write fun: You are supposed to enjoy writing. It's by no means easy, but it's not supposed to be something you loathe. Write what sounds like fun to you. Don't second guess yourself. Don't worry if people will like it. Don't worry about selling or marketing, or any of that. Write what YOU enjoy. If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong, and that's a huge clue that your book might be heading in the wrong direction. If you are having fun, it's likely the reader will have fun. Trust your instincts.

5. Study Craft

Bit by bit, you need to start learning the craft of writing. You need to learn plotting, and sentence structure, and point of view, and transitions, and tense, and… Oh, boy, there are so many How-To writing books and blog posts out there. Every author has advice, has the secrets… has a course you can take. It can be overwhelming. Don't stop your writing to embark on a study-fest. Your story (and it's a fun story, right?) is more important than the rules. Entertainment surpasses the mechanics. You will become a better author by studying your craft, but don't let it engulf you, paralyze you. Keep writing your fun shit and learn a few things at a time.

6. Read

All authors are great readers. Never stop reading. You absolutely must read within the genre you have chosen to write in, so that you can soak up the unspoken rules, the expectations of the reader, the terminology. Epic fantasy reads very differently to a crime thriller, and I'm not just talking subject matter. The style is different. The pace is different. Learn what the bestsellers in your genre are doing, but don't think you have to flat out copy them. You are as much seeing what hasn't been done as what has. Sure, there are a billion teen vampire books out there, but only by reading them will you understand what makes each different, what tricks and skills the author used to make their book a totally different read, even though you'd think all vampires are equal.

Read outside your genre. Be eclectic. You will learn different techniques from different genres. Romance seeps into most genres, so read romance books. What makes a scene romantic? Suspense is another common trait of great books, so read horror or thrillers, and study how those authors practice their trade.

Whatever books you read, stop and think about them. What made that chapter gripping? Why was that one boring? Why was I rooting for that lowly slave, and why did I hate that rich businessman? Look at that super cool way that the author skipped several months in the story without it jarring.

7. Away with you naysayer!

For some reason, many people will want to rain on your parade. Humans seem to dislike someone else being adventurous, someone carving out time in their day to be creative, to experiment. Perhaps they are worried you'll become more successful than them. Perhaps your efforts simply remind them they are wasting their own lives in front of the TV. Ignore their petty jealousy. You're doing this because you always wanted to be an author, right? Or you have that one story that just has to be written. Let no one tear down your dreams. If you set your mind to it, the only way you can fail is if YOU quit. Just smile at the naysayers and go back to your keyboard.


I hope these tips convinced you that you don't have to be an expert to write a book. All you need are passion and perseverance.

So stop reading this, sit down RIGHT NOW and start writing. The first day of your author career starts here. Good luck! Send me a copy of your book when it's done. ????



Do you have limited writing time but big goals?

Do you have limited writing time but big goals?

A guest post today, by my fantasy author friend, Autumn Birt.

Are you a writer? If so, are you meeting your writing goals?

Writing is a passion, one usually cobbled together from stolen moments and highs of inspiration. But if you get the writing bug and you get it bad, finding enough time is often a source of frustration.

Why write more?

Because fans like to read more. That is my number one answer. I’m a reader as well as a writer. I’ve fallen in love with a series that I’ve stayed with for 3 years and am now anxiously awaiting the last book – which should come out in two years. That is a whole lot of anxious waiting! And let’s not talk about another story I love that currently exists as short stories spread across several e-zines and books. I have meticulously copied all of them to one spot. I am her number one fan. She has plans to write a book … someday. I want to cry.

TypingSo yeah, keeping fans from becoming the frustrated and then jaded reader I am today is definitely a goal. When I was a teenager, a new book a year was acceptable. It still is, even though THAT was quite a while ago and long before ebooks. Now, a new book every six months is considered a professional target. More often is great. Fans want to be filled with anticipation – not angst.

And professional is the other reason to write and release more books, great books. Because let’s face it, if you have any hope of making a decent income from writing, one where you can potentially scale back that full time job to write, you either need to write and release more or have a really good retirement plan lined up. I’m not a teenager anymore, but I don’t want to wait that long to write full time!

So I committed myself to writing more and writing better because I not only love it, but want to make it a career. With a lot of trial and error, I developed seven key techniques and five writing tools that worked. How well? I wrote 4 ½ books in a year and they are the best I’ve written so far.

To be clear, I’m not talking about typing faster. Who cares how fast you typed a page if you end up deleting it? Meeting a writing goal of producing more novels in a year means creating a great story faster. And there are tips, tricks, and tools to do that. It is a paradigm shift to believe writing more in a limited time is achievable.

It is possible. I’m proof. But I want to be more than proof. I want to help other writers do the same thing. Seriously!

Writing time is a limited resource. Use it well.

Writing TimeI’m serious about teaching this to other authors. So serious that I’m launching a pilot class to not only teach the seven techniques and those five customizable tools, but also to work one-on-one with the students to make sure those same tactics work for them. Everyone is different and in a different situation. I want everyone to be successful.

Since this is a trial course with lots of coaching, enrollment is very limited. If you are interested in learning more please email me. I’d love to talk to you!


Autumn Birt

author picAutumn is a bestselling author in fantasy, epic fantasy, and war – not all on the same series though! She is the author of the epic fantasy, adventure trilogy on elemental magic, the Rise of the Fifth Order. Her newest series is Friends of my Enemy, a military dystopian/ dark fantasy tale laced with romance. Friends of my Enemy will be released in full in 2015 and will be quite the story full of strong characters, tight plots, and lots of action. Meanwhile, she is working on a new epic fantasy trilogy, Games of Fire, set in the same world as the Rise of the Fifth Order. If she stops goofing off and enjoying hobbies such as hiking, motorcycling, and kayaking, she may even be able to release the first book in 2015 too.

Stop by her website and blog to learn more about the worlds of her books at You can also find her on Facebook at or more frequently on twitter @Weifarer.



Training my Dragon


Hello readers. This post is going to be a little different, and I ask you in advance to please ignore all typos and mistakes. You'll get to see why in a moment.

a couple of years ago, I experimented with dictation for writing my books, instead of typing. I did so for about a month, and then return to the keyboard having found the dictation was too slow. Recently I have a chance to talk to other authors who were using dictation, and I learned from them that I should have persevered more to perfect the art of dictating the book. So over the last few weeks I've been trying again.

At first, like before, I found dictation frustratingly slow. Not because you have to speak really slowly, in fact you can talk at normal speed, but because it just wasn't natural for me to precinct my sentences and then say them out loud. Now, after a few weeks, I find the dictation coming more naturally. It does help to preformed each clause in my mind and then speak it, but I no longer have huge gaps between each comma, and I can continue dictating at a reasonable speed. Already I've noticed a higher word count per hour dictating that I achieve typing, and I'm not a slouch at typing either. Another discovery I made while dictating was that my back muscles became less tense, probably because I wasn't hunched over the keyboard. Now I can sit back comfortably, with one eye on the screen,. You might want to consider this if you suffer from carpal tunnel or other risk maladies.

Write about this point, you've probably realized that I am dictating this post. You can see some typos. This brings me to another point: dictation is best used for first draft, when you want to just keep going and not go back and correct mistakes. The first draft should be all about getting the story down, and you will edit it into shape later. So at this point you want worry about typos. Another relevant than point is that dictation breaks down easily if you're writing involves a lot of jargon, like sci-fi names, fantasy names, made up words etc. again, these can easily be fixed in the second, edited, draft. To stop myself going insane, I usually replace my fantasy character names with a name that the dictation software easily understands, like Thomas. It's just a simple find and replace later.

As you can see, dictation works remarkably well. I promised I haven't done any edits on this text whatsoever. This is exactly what is coming out of me speaking into the microphone, and speaking at a regular, fast, pace. For a quiet night touch typist like myself, (can you guess what I really said, instead of quiet night?) Dictation often have less typos than when I type.

There are two things you need to do before you can get stuck into dictation. First you need to train your software. You'll see this commonly referred to as training your Dragon, primarily because the leading dictation software is Dragon naturally speaking, by Nuance. Dragon software comes with training programs, Liddell versus and exercises that you can speak so that Dragon can learn the peculiarities of your voice. It's a painless process. Don't skip this step, because the better train your Dragon is, the better the results you get. As you can see, my dragon is trained to more than 90% effectiveness.

The second thing you need to train is yourself. Take the time to persevere. It will be slow and frustrating at first. Don't give up like I did the first time I tried this. Except that you will be slow in your writing, and make more mistakes, and so you begin to forge new pathways in your brain between your thought processes and your speech. Then you will achieve a much more natural flow between thinking up ideas and getting them onto the page by dictation.

There's another advantage you have with dictation: you don't have to be in your computer. Dragon has a smart phone app that allows you to dictate on the go, perhaps during your commute or on our walk, and then you can sync that digital file to your computer later, and it will create all the text at once. And as you can see, you can do a lot more things but dictation than just write your book, such as writing blog posts, or emails.

His a few techie details for those that are interested. I'm using Dragon three for the Mac, which is actually a really old version of Dragon, but it still works perfectly well, even on the brand-new El Capitan OS X for the Mac. Of course there are Windows versions too. Many authors have bought expensive microphones, claiming, and rightfully so, that better mics lead to better results. I just use the free USB headset that came with Dragon, and as you can see it does the job extremely well.

If you are interested in dictation, feel free to email me, drop me a comment below, and I can recommend a really neat Facebook group, and you can also find several books about dictating using Dragon on Amazon. I'll drop out of dictation mode in a moment and provide a link to one such book. Dictate your book, by Monica Leonelle.

I hope this post inspires you to try dictation. I promise that I have done no editing on this post whatsoever, it's entirely what came out from my dictation. Good luck, and have fun!


What I learned by going round in circles

roundabout_signEver feel like you are going in circles? Sure you do. Everyone does, right?

I'm the type of writer known as an outliner, which means I like to plan my whole story in advance and make detailed notes on every scene and every step of the plot, start to finish. It's the engineer in me. It gives me a framework. Like a building is designed by an architect long before construction.

The worst feeling in the world is when you are halfway through writing your book and it all starts unravelling. You find flaws in the plot. It's just not working the way you intended. It doesn't sound believable. I'm on my third book now, so I'm no stranger to this mid-book gloom. It's probably not possible to plan something as complicated as a novel with multiple plotlines and numerous characters, each with goals and emotions, without missing something. I had this happen on both my other books and worked through the problems to "fix" my "broken" book. I hear similar stories from a lot of authors.

Something is very different on this new book. Three or four times I hit the wall, back-pedaled and rethought the plot, before going back and rewriting the first half of the story. Each time it ground to a screeching halt.

What's going on? Why is this book different? Why can't I get it right? Shouldn't it get easier with every book I write?

I believe this is what happens when you break new ground. I'm so far out of my comfort zone that I'm not even on Earth, let alone Kansas! 

After writing two fantasy novels and a few short stories, this book is different. Way different. This is a romance. Well… sort of. Technically it's a romantic fantasy rather than a hardcore no-holds-barred romance. Worldbuilding I can do, description I can do, tension, conflict, yep. Romantic and sexual tension and emotion? Not so much!

As I wrap up re-writing the first half for the fourth… or fifth time (who's counting?) I think I've got it right this time. I hope I've got it right. So what did I do wrong?

I've always believed that storytelling is organic, that the plot and events should come from the characters themselves, rather than the author coming up with some scenes and then cramming characters into little pidgeon holes. The secret to organic storytelling is what's known as Goals and Motivations (or some variation on those terms). Characters must logically perform an action to move the plot forward, not act just because that's what the plot requires. See the distinction? Ever read a bad book or watched a cheesy movie and you scream out loud that "she would never do that," or "it makes so sense that he wouldn't have gone to the police long ago?" That's forcing a character's actions to make the plot work.

Usually after coming up with a rough storyline of what I want to happen in the book, I go through every single scene and analyze it from the perspective of each character. What does he want? What is she hoping will happen? What would they logically do here? Goals and motivations, remember? The best, most memorable stories are when the antagonist's motivations are directly entangled with the protagonist's, such that they must outwit each other again and again, with the actions of each directly affecting the life and emotions of the other.

So what am I learning from the frustrations of my romance? In a hurry to get writing, I didn't pay enough attention to those goals and motivations. I analyzed the surface layer and believed I had captured their true desires, the essence of what they sought in life. But I hadn't dug deep enough. I should have known when Leo, one of the wise members of my writer group challenged me by asking direct questions about my heroine's needs and desires. My answers were weak. I told him that I knew enough to write, and that the details would come out as I became familiar with the character.

There's my mistake right there. That assumption is the inciting incident that led to so many rewrites.

Now I get it. I'm not sure why it took me so many rewrites, but finally I'd had enough and really delved deep into the psyche of my characters. What did they really want? Not what I thought they wanted. Not the shallow surface needs, but the deep emotional ones, which seem to play a much larger role in this story because it is a romance, because love and the betrayal of love are powerful emotions. Only then did it become clear to me why my plot had gone off the rails. Even better, I can now redesign the second half of the book with this deeper understanding to make it considerably stronger.

Many authors talk of their characters taking over, that the book writes itself through them. This is their own method for tapping in to the true goals and motivations, and listening to their characters real needs. I'd never understood what they meant until now. I've never had that happen to me. Perhaps because I'm an outliner and more rigid in my planning. I find it difficult to freeform write like that. On this book, I believe my characters were doing just that, but I wasn't listening. I knew best. I'd already figured out what they wanted earlier, hadn't I?

This might be the toughest, most frustrating book of my career, but I firmly believe I have moved forward as a writer. I have learned something fundamental. I hope that I will never make this mistake on any book in the future.

Going around in circles is painful. It instills fear, confusion, frustration. It's like circling the event horizon of a black hole, the noose drawing ever tighter. Am I overreacting? Think about times when you've gone round in circles. Hurts doesn't it?

Though my spaceship is veering away from the balack hole, leaving it behind, I must remain vigilant lest the invisible grip of its gravity grabs me again.I must pay careful attention to everything that my characters think about and every action they take. More importantly, why they take that action. I think the book is back on track again but I won't breathe a sigh of relief until it is done.

What horror stories do you have of going round in circles? Feel free to comment below.



Guest Posts

Hello everyone. My 2nd Necromancer tour is over and during it I did a few guest posts. Here they are, in case any take your fancy. And, by the way, thank you all for your support of Necromancer – it continues to sell well daily.

If anyone is interested in doing a guest post on my own blog here, just email me your idea at Thanks.

Have a great weekend!


So you want to be an author…but…

writing_bookEveryone has a novel in them. Or so the saying goes. Friends and colleagues often approach me, often sheepishly, about their desire to write a book, or problems they are having in getting started. Well it’s fantastic news that you want to write a novel! Go for it.

Here are just a few of the questions I’ve been asked. I hope my answers are useful.

1. I have a great book idea but feel it’s been done to death
Most things have been done to death. There is little new under the Sun. There are only so many plots and character types. I’m generalizing, but few ideas are ground-breakingly original. Most are a combination of other ideas assembled in a new way, or from a unique perspective, or with an unexpected twist. Take romances for example, probably the most successful and popular genre ever. There must be hundreds of thousands of books about girl meets boy, girl loses boy, either to find him again or find another, truer love. Tall, dark-haired, emotionally strong, idyllic men feature in most stories, as do plenty of Mr. Darcy’s. There are sweet romances by the dozen, hot steamy affairs, love triangles, unhappy marriages, happy marriages… you name it. If you read this genre, I bet you could name several dozen examples of everything I just listed. So has romance been done to death? Not judging by the thousands of romance books published each year.

Take fantasy: How many books can you name that feature a quest for a powerful magic item, usually one that will save the kingdom or world? Isn’t there always a young farm lad who has a prophesized destiny or secret talent that he learns from an old wizard? Aren’t there always a group of men, elves and dwarves on this quest, and usually one of them is a wizard, one is a knight or paladin and there is some kind of rogue or ninja like character? Sound familiar? Done to death, but extremely popular.

In your own writing, look for ways to make these themes, or tropes, your own. Flip them, modify them, surprise the reader. What if the paladin has fallen from grace? What if the elf finds out that the dwarf killed his brother? What if the magic item is a maguffin, a decoy? Let your imagination run wild – don’t be afraid. Even if it feels cliched and well-worn as you write the first draft, once you get your creative juices flowing you’ll start having all sorts of cool ideas. Try them, run with them. Trust your instincts. Before you know, that quest or romance will be stamped with your own unique ideas and voice. Trust the writing process. I often find that my first drafts lack the depth or originality that I hoped for, but by the time I am ready to rewrite and edit, my head is buzzing with what-if’s, and wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if’s, and the story comes more alive with each draft. I think most authors go through this.

Remember too, that a certain familiarity is what attracts a reader. Why are there so many quest books? Because readers love that plot. Why does the young woman in a romance fall in love with the bad guy against everyone’s advice? Because many readers associate with that issue. Write what people enjoy reading, but make it your own version.

2. How do I start?
Woo, this is a common question and the answer is: anywhere. Trite but true. Writing a novel is an immense and daunting mountain of a task. It’s not surprising that so many budding authors cower at the foot of this obstacle with no idea how to begin. Every journey begins with the first step. Eat an elephant one bite at a time. What these cliches tell us is that any start whatsoever helps us overcome the inertia of our fears. Figure out how you want your story to start and try to write that scene. Don’t worry yet if it is the ideal place to start, or if it even makes sense. Just start writing. OK, what happens next? Then what? Then what? What problem does your protagonist have at the start of your book? Show her trying to deal with that. Perhaps she stumbles. Why? Who or what gets in her way? Who helps her?

Unless you have a firm outline of your story in your head, you just need to start – anywhere – and write whatever comes to you. You might discard these early chapters, but don’t worry about that yet. You have to get your mind into the flow of writing. You have to give it some substance to mull over, some ideas to work with. Trust me, if you just start writing, things will develop. Your mind isn’t used to playing the what-if game yet, so you have to train it. If you find yourself slowing or grinding to a halt, just ask some questions: What would she do next? Should she go down into that cellar or call her friend? What if the lights went out? Keep driving forward. Keep writing. Don’t worry about polish, don’t worry about word choice, just let it flow. Get your ideas down. The first draft is a raw dump of ideas – a giant sandbox for you to play with. Don’t fear the lack of direction. Embrace not being tied down.

3. I want to write so badly but don’t know what to say
There is a misconception about writers that they lounge around coffee shops until the muse strikes them and then they bang out a novel non-stop in a weekend. We wish. I’ve drunk way too much Starbucks waiting for my muse! Maybe she’s a tea drinker. First off, you must have some idea of what you want your book to be about, at least the genre. No? Think about the book you’d most love to read. Maybe it’s like that bestseller by ‘blah blah’ that you wish had ended differently. Why do political thrillers always go to the brink of nuclear war and then make peace, when you’d like to know what would have happened if the nukes went flying? Maybe you lament that there are too many vampire books but not enough about unicorns?

The reality is that most muses only help those who help themselves. Consider my advice for #2 above. It applies in this situation too. If you start writing anything at all, you will likely find your muse peering over your shoulder before too long, whispering you ideas. Alas, too many people never write because: “I’ll write when I’m inspired”. Flip that thought. You’ll be inspired when you write. Writing is a proactive creative process – it requires that you take action. Writers write. Writers make things happen. You wouldn’t think of sitting at home every day and waiting for your future spouse just to ring the doorbell one day. Nor would you expect the Lottery folks to just mail you a check out of the blue. You have to put forth effort to reap the rewards. Trust your subconscious. Start writing anything, even if it’s just a story about a cat walking around the garden. Exercise your creative muscles and then ideas will flow – probably faster than you can get them down!

4. I don’t understand all this publishing jargon, self publishing and formatting, so I’m scared to start writing
Slow down there, Tex! You’re way putting the horse before the cart. That’s like worrying about replacing your tires on the day you buy a brand new car, or that you might burn your bread before you even make the dough. Put those things out of your mind right now. Plenty of time to learn about such things later. Much later. When you get that far, you’ll wonder why you worried because our distant fears are always more menacing than the reality.

Trust that the writing process works. It has done for generations. Concentrate on writing the book. That’s more than enough to occupy your mind for a while, trust me. Before you finish that first draft, you’ll have gained (one way or another) the knowledge of how to revise and edit it. Long before you grow tired of editing it, you will figure out what publishing route works for you and start to acquire contacts, critique-partners, editors, agents, cover designers, and what have you. But right now, forget all that. None of that matters until you write the best book you can. Don’t rush to get to those later stages. All in good time. Right now, simply concentrate on writing your story.

5. I keep getting stuck when my writing goes wrong and I have to start over
This is usually because you are overthinking your first draft as you write it. It’s very tempting to read over your last page or chapter and wrinkle your nose in disgust. What a pile of poo. Now you feel compelled to go back and fix it, edit it, polish it, change the dialog, etc. The trouble is that now you’ve taken yourself out of the flow of writing and put yourself into editing mode, and it’s too soon for that when you are writing your first draft. Now you’re going to be nervous to continue, because you’re afraid to write more drivel like the chapter you just spent days cleaning up.

Another possibility is that you write yourself into a corner where your plot goes wrong, or your character does something you didn’t plan on, or you just don’t know what happens next, or you changed your mind and have a much better idea than the one you spent hours or days writing. So you go back and rewrite it “the proper way”, fixing your problems. Great! Except that you write a bit further and it happens again. So you go back once more and change it. I’ve known writers spend months and months rewriting the first 40 pages over and over until they get frustrated with the whole writing business. Please don’t let that happen to you!

Here’s the thing… you need to accept that your first draft will be junk. Go on, say it. Accept it. Believe it. You’ll have to one day, so do yourself a favor and accept it now. Almost every successful author will admit that their first drafts are junk. It’s part of the process. You can’t write a polished story out the gate. The purpose of the first draft is to blast down all those wonderful ideas in your head, to lay down the foundation of the scenes, roughly in the right order, with the right characters and getting as much of the plot and dialogue down as you can. It’s a framework. A starting point. Here’s another truth: You will make mistakes. You will write yourself into a corner. You will realize huge holes in your plot. You will write wooden characters, cliched dialogue, use horrible adverbs, write verbose and passive statements.

You have permission to do all of that on your first draft, because it doesn’t matter. No, really, it doesn’t. Editing and rewriting is where the real magic happens, and you can’t reach that stage until you have your story down. All of it down. As best you can. So now you understand why you must not start over on the first draft, just keep going forward. Make notes about things to rewrite, things that are broken, but don’t fix them yet. If you can train yourself to write your first draft in this way, you won’t start over and you won’t get stuck.

6. How do I find time to write? I’m so busy
Some people are lucky enough to be able to write all day, or for hours at a time. From the question, I’m assuming you’re not one of those people. Many new authors are not either. We all have families, day jobs and responsibilities. Writing falls low on the totem pole of things to get done each precious day. But you can write a novel in 30 minutes a day, even 10 minutes a day. Many writers rarely get down more than 500 words a day, but it all adds up. I’ve heard of bestselling authors who write on a bench watching their kid at soccer practice, or while their kids are doing homework. One enterprising guy wrote an entire novel on the subway to and from work. Entirely on his cellphone!

Don’t make the mistake of waiting until “one day” when you have hours to indulge on your novel. That time may never come. I bet you make time for your favorite TV show, or for that cup of Joe at Starbucks, or to walk the dog. So too can you make time for your writing. You have to make it a priority. Squeeze in time where you can, or cut out something you can do without. This may mean making a pact with your family, like “8pm to 9pm is daddy’s writing time. You can have my attention all day except this hour.” These schemes might not be ideal, but they’re infinitely better than the alternative of not writing at all. No one is busy 24 hours a day. Good luck!

If you have other questions or want further advice or tips, doesn’t hesitate to contact me. Ask away! I don’t bite.




Editors – how to deal with deadlines

writing_book First world problems for authors: Editor deadlines. How much of a stressor is this for the modern author?

Though authors have worked with publishing and editorial deadlines ever since some ancient druid told his craftsman “Finish runes on this stone before setting sun at solstice, or Gods seek revenge!”, I believe deadlines have grown tougher in recent years. Why? Since the advent of Indie publishing there are hundreds of thousands more authors seeking the help of a pool of editors that have likely not expanded so radically. Put simply – there are too many manuscripts seeking too few editors.

It is not atypical these days to have to reserve your spot with your editor up to a year in advance, to get into their busy schedule. Good editors are in demand! I’m lucky to have an awesome editor, which means I had to book ahead.

It’s great to get locked in, but then I faced a dilemma: If I book too far in the future, my completed manuscript will be sitting around, and not out earning me readers and cash. Book too soon and I’ll end up scrambling to be finished. I set a reasonable date that seemed so far into the future that we’d have those flying cars we were promised, or at least warp drive; but no – that deadline came hurtling toward me like a freight train! I’m still polishing now, just a few weeks before my hand-in deadline. Fellow author friends have been forced to put in incredible hours to meet their own punishing deadlines. It’s a big stressor on an author, right at the time we are so ready to let our literary baby fly the nest (read as “I’m tired of this damn thing, make it go away!”)

In preparing for this piece, I spoke to a handful of editors, and most of them told me they are turning authors away, so as to better serve their existing clients. Wow – what a position to be in. Sounds enviable, but remember that editors are voracious readers, and it must pain them to turn down a manuscript that sounds awesome, just because it won’t fit their busy schedule. You can bet they’re going to turn down the irritating applicants first, so:

How to be professional with your editor:

  • Never argue or push them with regards scheduling. They are unlikely to upset existing clients by rushing you to the head of the line. No, you aren’t that important.
  • Keep them abreast of your own schedule and plans. If you warn them of changes ahead of time, they are more likely to accommodate you
  • Be flexible. If one of their clients cancels and they have a free slot, maybe it’s worth a ton of extra work to get your m/s ready to fill it.
  • Similarly, accept that they might hit road blocks that causes them to take a little longer. Life gets in the way of all of us.
  • Polish your m/s to the best of your abilities first. Don’t give your editor sloppy work full of obvious typos and glaring errors. He/she might not work with you again.
  • Pay on time
  • Format your m/s to their specifications, get it to them a few days before the due date, and provide good contact details in case they hit a snag.
  • Learn to assess how long it takes you to write a book

The last point deserves attention. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to be able to measure and assess how long drafts take you, how long your beta-readers will take, how long your rewrites will take. Learn these numbers for you and allow for disruptions in your schedule, be it day job, vacations or even the mythical “writer’s block” (more on that in another post).

Your editor is your best business relationship as an author. Nurture it. Thank your editor, work with them, always be polite. Editors make our books look great – don’t annoy them. Publishing is a small industry and some editors trade blacklists, so don’t ever mistreat an editor. Or anyone you interact with.

Oh, and for goodness sake, cough up to send them a signed paperback, or a free ebook at the very least. They’re probably proud of their part in making the book shine, or at the very least they can burn the copy to vent their frustration at working with you, if you’ve been an annoying client. :)

Authors, please share your experiences with editors. Editors, please jump in with advice. The comments section is open for business…



Does a book need a villain?

Does a plot have to have an antagonist – a villain? Do you enjoy books or movies without a villain?

One of the classic plot lines for a story is a protagonist – the hero – defeating the antagonist. It’s the classic good vs. evil tale, and in most cases the hero is an underdog, someone thrust into the limelight against his or her will, and comes of age or defeats his/her fears or weaknesses during the process. Sometimes this is an iconic clash mano-a-mano, e.g. Superman fighting Zod, or Harry Potter vs. Valdemort, or Ahab vs. Moby Dick. Sometimes it is a series of encounters with minor villains, or henchmen, culminating in the big fight at the end, e.g. Luke Skywalker taking on the Empire, fighting his father, and finally defeating the Emperor, or almost every Bond movie where 007 battles and tricks his way through countless minions to confront the evil mastermind.

So do we need an antagonist? No. That said, without one, we need some other dramatic force for the hero to foil against, but this could be nature, the environment, his own fears, anything that provides tension and interest. Let’s look at some books/movies without an antagonist: 2010Wool (pre the shift trilogy), Gravity, Europa Report, Apollo 13, Deep Impact, Castaway, almost every disaster movie ever made, Flood, Ark (Both by Stephen Baxter), Love in the Time of Cholera, Contagion, Rain Man, Close Encounters. Here’s a post by David Brin.

Then there are those plots that on the face of it have an antagonist, but that isn’t the point of the movie/book. The clue here is that if you removed the villain(s) the plot would be almost entirely intact. 2001 for example: It’s a mission to find an alien artifact, the fact that HAL operates against the cast is incidental. Titanic: The husband is a villain, but the movie is about love found and lost on a sinking ship. Up by Pixar: Yes there’s a madman with an airship, but the movie is about discovering and exploring a lost world. If inclined, you could put many murder mysteries into this category. Certainly the murderer is the villain but is often only the inciting incident, and the plot is about the detective solving the clues.

My 3rd novel, that I am working on right now, falls into this category. Certainly some folks aim to stop my heroes, but the book doesn’t have a central villain. Actually, it sort of does, but you’ll have to read it to realize who it is.

What about you? Do you need a villain to hate?

[A previous post about antagonists]



Editing makes me neurotic

StressI’m sure most people think authors are a calm and level-headed breed. Our bio and PR pictures depict us as well groomed and smiling, and we try to be witty and intellectual at dinner parties. Ours is one of the few professions where glasses and gray hair can actually improve our standing and charisma.

It’s all true (not), but you should sit with me when I’m editing or polishing, like I have been this past week. It’s true that I rarely need haircuts as the final draft takes shape – I’m too busy tearing out my hair. My expense sheets tend to fill up with purchases of coffee and whisky. There is a very good reason why authors have had a reputation of being manics or drunks, or just plain neurotic.

Editing is a love-hate relationship with my book. I’ve already lived with it for over a year and the honeymoon period is over. As I work my way through the manuscript, page by page, line by line, I suffer radical mood swings from “this scene totally rocks, this is NYT bestseller material”, to “what a pile of ****, I’m a terrible writer.” As the saying goes: Feel the fear and do it anyway, right?

Some of the things rattling around my head include: Plot arcs: Is this tense and dramatic enough, does it flow properly, is it exciting and believable? Characters: Will the reader fall in love with them, hate the bad guys, laugh with them, cry with them, dream about them? Structure: Are my paragraphs of varying length, am I overusing adjectives, or adverbs, are all my sentences “he did this, he did that”? Word choice: Should he scowl or frown, chuckle or giggle, is it a chill wind or an icy wind? And my own pet bugbear: Does she look, see, gaze, study, glance, peer, gawk, goggle… or a hundred other words that just mean “she saw something, dammit”?

You might not think that every word matters but it does. So does sentence length, and knowing when to interject a feeling, knowing when not to state the obvious because the reader will get it, when to foreshadow, when to trick the reader, when to layer in backstory… The irony of writing is that if an author does pay attention to all these things, the reader will never know because they will be swept along by the story without the mechanics of the written word getting in the way. Next time you are yanked out of a book because of how a sentence was worded, stop and think about it for a moment and you’ll probably understand what the writer missed. We’re human, mess up we sometimes do. (See what I did there?)

At the editing stage it is so hard to remain objective. I can agonize over a word choice or the form of a sentence only to come back ten minutes later and put it back the way it was. I’ve been known to kill masterful art because it is too verbose or intrusive at that point. On the flip side, I’ve added in horrible and clumsy explanations because I’ve convinced myself that the reader won’t understand without it. There comes a point at which I no longer trust what I’m doing – I’m fiddling with the manuscript because I’m afraid to let it go, let it fly the nest. This is where the beta readers and professional editor save my bacon by bringing fresh objectivity.

Thankfully, I’m a harsher critic of myself than others are. I’ll beat myself up mercilessly, but if my editor or readers give me constructive criticism I will hang on their every word and happily consider their changes. I’m quite harmless in that regard. I might be neurotic but I’m not an axe-murderer, so sleep well at night.

So if you ever consider me neurotic and overly-sensitive, with a tendency to flip-flop and waffle, then you know you’ve caught me editing and polishing. Just smile, back away, and when you turn the corner, run like hell.

Oh, did I say how much I love writing? Yes, even editing. Love-hate, remember?



Stop using exclamation points!!!!

exclamationAh, the exclamation point, or exclamation mark as some call it… I believe it is seriously overused, and I like to think that most editors would agree with me. Don’t you hate reading a book where every piece of dialog ends in one? Commonly it us used to indicate a raised voice, shouting, surprise, alarm, etc. Lazy! (See what I did there?) As a writer, if you cannot show the reader a character’s emotions or tone of voice in any other way, then you aren’t being creative. Context should indicate whether they are whispering or shouting.

Am I being unfair? As a reader, do you believe that is exactly what the exclamation point is for – to indicate an exclamation? The dictionary would support this claim:

Exclamation Point
1. the sign (!) used in writing after an exclamation.
2. this mark sometimes used in writing two or more times in succession to indicate intensity of emotion, loudness, etc.: Long live the Queen!!
3. this mark sometimes used without accompanying words in writing direct discourse to indicate a speaker’s dumbfounded astonishment: “His wife just gave birth to quintuplets.” ( ! )

All right, but where does it stop? Often I see double marks, e.g. “Stop it!!” So how do we interpret this? If one mark is shouting, what does two mean? Believe it or not I have read a published book (whose author shall remain nameless) who frequently used up to 5 (yes five!!!!!) exclamation points. Now we’re just getting silly. Some authors fall into grammar traps too, such as “What the hell are you doing here?!” I do believe those two punctuation marks should never appear together.

There is even a term for the overuse of the exclamation point: Bangorrhea:

1. Overusing exclamation points in a vain and failing attempt to make your writing sound more exciting. Trying to put more “bang” in your prose, but looking instead like you have exclamation point diarrhea.

My goal is to limit myself to one a page, and then only during intense dialog. I can happily go chapters at a time without using one. In the editing stage I search for them and play a game of seeing how many I can remove and still get the meaning across. Does this mean the reader has to work harder at understanding? Yes, but I don’t regard that as a bad thing, since your writing can be more nuanced without resorting to the loud “bang”. Avoid using them frequently, or they diminish in effect. Ask yourself whether the sentence is a true exclamation or is just a statement. In doubt err on the side of the period.

The simple truth is:

If everything is emphasized, nothing is.

Let’s end on a quote from an author who knows a thing or two:

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald —

What do you think? Am I being unfair to a perfectly acceptable element of punctuation. Please share your comments below.

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