On writing for writers.
Monthly Archives: January 2012
January 28, 2012Posted by on
Finding the time to write is one thing. Finding the inspiration to write is another. This has been one of my major issues for the greater part of the last twelve months. Before that, my problems revolved primarily around the lack of time. I was a full time student and part time worker, which sucked up every hour of spare time I had available. Somehow, I still managed to write a book in 2008, one in 2009, and one in 2010.
In 2011, my writing boom came to a very abrupt end.
I finished my last book in August, 2010. The following September, my mother was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She passed away on June 6, 2011. Since her original diagnosis, I haven’t written more than a couple of pages per sitting. Mostly, I just don’t write.
That should suffice for back story. Writing, like anything else, comes in waves. You can’t force it when you aren’t feeling it, and nothing is going to dampen a writer’s will to work more than depression. Some people can write through it, but I am not one of those people.
It’s been almost eight months since Mom died, and I’ve been stuck on this strange teeter-totter between wanting very badly to start writing again and being completely unable to actually string any words together on the page. When I do sit down and get something done, I feel like everything I’m writing is absolute crap. I feel disheartened to see other writers my age, with my experience, finishing books, submitting queries, and furthering their writing careers. I get frustrated that I am not doing the same–I could, couldn’t I?
I have the time. Until recently (yesterday, in fact!), I was only a part-time employee. I worked twenty-eight hours a week and had at least two and a half hours to myself every day before my fiancé came home. I could have spent that time writing, but instead, I was sitting on my ass, taking naps, or wasting my time on the vast procrastination machine that is the interwebs. It hasn’t helped boost my morale, to say the least.
However, enough is enough. My cousin, another aspiring fantasy writer, has been talking me through my writing woes. We’ve come to the same basic conclusions. One, I am mourning, and I need to give myself the time to mourn. Two, I need to find a way to reinspire myself.
That has prompted me to writing this particular entry. Writing isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and everyone would be publishing. Similarly, finding the inspiration to write something truly profound isn’t easy, either. Many writers fall into heavy ruts of writer’s block or suffer from a down season that cuts their inspiration, their productivity, and therefore their self-confidence down by a significant notch.
So, for writers who have found themselves in the same boat as me–lacking motivation and drive from a dip in inspiration–hopefully some of these ideas will help.
1. Work on smaller projects.
The blog you are now reading is exactly this. I started blogging for a few reasons, but I would be a liar to claim that the single largest factor leading to my decision to write a blog was not simply my desire to write again. Sometimes the big picture is too much to handle. You have a manuscript outline of twenty-six chapters waiting for your revision, characters demanding your attention, and perhaps you don’t feel like you can give them any justice. You’ve been down, and your funk is affecting your writing. Instead of forcing yourself to work on the things you “should” work on, do some smaller, more menial projects to get the creative juices flowing.
Blogging is an excellent way to do this. I also have a running “role play” with a friend going on right now. For those unfamiliar, this basically means he and I take turns writing part of a story through email. It’s simple, easy, and pressure-free. Most importantly, it gets me back into a writing mindset. Even if all I have to do is think about a two page blog post or my character’s next move in a simple plot line, at least it gets me sitting down in front of a piece of fiction again. If blogging isn’t your thing, try short stories or poetry.
And I don’t mean “just read anything you can get your hands on.” My cousin and I had this conversation, too. Read things that excite you, things that make you want to write. While I was getting my undergraduate degree, needless to say I was doing a lot of “reading,” but very little (in fact, likely nothing) I read actually inspired me to do anything but either sleep or grab the nearest sparknotes available.
By read, I mean read material that genuinely interests and excites you onto the prospect of storytelling. I’ve been fighting to get through a couple of books loaned to me by loved ones. These books are, by no means, bad books, but they are not in my prefered genre and ultimately don’t suck me in. It can take me months to read these books, picking the novel up whenever I have absolutely nothing else I can bide my time with, or when I’m stuck in line at the DMV.
When I find a book that does enthrall me, my story is quite different. I can get through a book in a matter of twenty-four hours if I’m excited enough about the story. Books that capture my spirit into their pages also spur my own creative juices. “I can do this!” I think to myself. “My story can capture the hearts of my readers as this author has done to mine!”
So, if you find yourself lacking the inspiration to write your own book, pick up someone else’s instead and, for once, be sucked into a story other than your own.
3. Talk about your ideas.
This one was a particular issue for me. I have dozens of ideas but very few people to talk to about them. Honestly, this is mostly my fault. My fiancé, for example, would love to hear all about my twisted plot lines and tragic characters, but I don’t want to give away too much of the story. Part of the fun for me is watching him untangle the mess on his own and seeing if I’ve successfully landed my reader where I want to land him. In essence, my poor fiancé is my reader-guinea-pig.
Alas, this also means I can’t indulge into deep conversations about the finer points of the story line.
The friends I do have to talk to about my novel are few and far between. Recently, I reconnected with one that is my main “bouncing wall,” if you will. She knows my plot lines almost as well as I do and can engross me in conversations about my work that no one else has the knowledge base to do. She’s become an invaluable asset to my work. Unfortunately, schedule conflicts kept us from talking in quite a long time.
However, when we do get the chance to sit down and talk, she refreshes all of my ideas and makes them feel new and exciting again. Reopening old pages really helps rekindle the fire and gets me excited to write again.
4. When the mood strikes you, take advantage of it.
If you’re suffering from a major writing rut, don’t ever let inspiration get away. Carry a notebook around with you everywhere you go. When you finally catch a droplet of motivation to get some writing done, don’t miss your opportunity. They may be few and far between, and the less often you take your subconscious up on it’s spur-of-the-moment will to write, the less often those moments will happen.
My advice is to put down your other chores–laundry can wait, and order take-out if you have to–if you are hit with the urge to write. You, as a writer, should know that nothing feels better than being struck with inspiration and following it through until the end.
5. Fall in love with your own work–again.
Hopefully, throughout all of this, you’ve also rekindled your own passion in your writing and yourself. We all have those characters, those plot ideas, and those settings that have become more than simple elements in a story. They are our babies. Somehow, though, we’ve forgotten just how much they mean to us while other things get in the way. School. Work. Life in general. That’s fine, and that’s normal, but perhaps the best way to reinspire yourself is to fall in love with what you’ve already created all over again.
For me, it can be as easy as sitting down with my manuscirpt again and rereading my favorite scenes. Perhaps writing out short stories can spark it. I don’t know. All I do know is that falling in love with my books all over again makes me want to write them. It makes me want to take the time to sit down with them and develop them into the shining stars I know they can be.
Unfortunately, my stories cannot turn into shining stars until I get off my lazy behind and do something about it. Neither can yours.
Happy writing, and good luck!
January 11, 2012Posted by on
(Warning: this post has some not-very-nice opinions about The Twilight Saga and The Inheritance Cycle. If you are a sensitive soul, read on at your own risk.)
When I first started writing my novel, I fell into the common trap most new authors do. I admit it: I thought length was the proper measure of quality. In my poorly-structured defense, I started writing it when I was fifteen. At that time, the biggest books on the fantasy market for people my age were the fifth and sixth installments of the Harry Potter series, the Twilight Saga, and the Eregon series. Though I really liked Harry Potter (and to this day believe Twilight and Eregon are complete slop), I was dealing with an array of books well above the expected word count for most authors. I took those exceptions to be the rule for fantasy, and I stuck with it.
The first complete draft of my book Martyrs was over 140,000 words long. Naturally, as a first draft, it was in desperate need for some serious revision and sharp reduction, but I wasn’t really aware of just how much I would need to edit.
I had the general idea that I would need to cut it down significantly before I stood a chance at getting it published, but it wasn’t until my novel writing class that I got a better idea. My professor told us most full-length novels are between 70,000 and 100,000 words long. This limit was especially true for writers trying to publish for the first time. Ultimately, the more words your novel is, the more pages it will be. The more pages it will be, the more costly it will be for publishers to print.
I’m never convinced with clear-cut, black and white answers, though, so I did my research. I didn’t expect to find contrasting information (which is good for me, considering I found no contrasting information), but I wanted more details than my professor had given me. I stumbled upon The Swivet. They have a blog post specifically about novel word count, which seems to depend more upon genre than anything else. I’ve pulled the following information from that post.
Middle grade fiction = 25k to 40k
YA fiction = 45k to 80k
Paranormal romance = 85k to 100k
Romance = 85k to 100k
Category romance = 55k to 75k
Cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
Horror = 80k to 100k
Western = 80k to 100k
Mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = 75k to 100k
Mainstream/commercial fiction/thrillers = 65k to 100k
Science fiction & fantasy
—> Hard science fiction = 90k to 110k
—> Space opera = 90k to 120k
—> Epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k
—> Contemporary fantasy = 90k to 100k
—> Romantic SF = 85k to 100k
—> Urban fantasy = 90k to 100k
—> New weird = 85k to 110k
—> Slipstream = 80k to 100k
—> Comic fantasy = 80k to 100k
—> Everything else = 90k to 100k
The Swivet writer, Colleen Lindsay, goes far more in-depth about some of these genres and their respective word counts, so I highly suggest you check out the blog.
Anyway, this gave me a very clear idea on what I should be shooting for when working on my novels. Ultimately, it still holds very true to what my novel writing professor said: keep your work under 100,000 words. It looks like that may be the standard for even successfully published authors in many genres.
Though don’t forget: there are exceptions. Remember those series I discussed at the beginning of this post? The Harry Potter Series, The Twilight Saga, and The Inheritance Cycle? Ultimately, those can be explained away. The first book in The Harry Potter series was well below 100,000 words, and a subsequent sequal to a very successful first book is naturally able to maintain a high word-count and retain the kind of sales a publisher would want. As for Christopher Paolini, I’ve heard rumors that he got published because his parents owned or had some kind of connection in the publishing house. Believe what you will, this explanation makes sense to me considering Paolini’s horrendous writing. As for Twilight, I’m really not sure how that snuck through with the dreary story and bad writing, but it did.
My point is, there are exceptions. As a general safety net, though, it would be wise for writers to assume that their manuscript is not an exception, and these word count guidelines are a wonderful resource.
May they help you as much as they’ve helped me!