We’ve all heard it. Someone finds out we write and they say “I could write a novel”, or “I have the best idea, want to hear it?” How do you respond to those people? On the one hand, I’m a complete smart alec and prone to snark, but on the other hand, my mother raised me to believe that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. If I lived by my mother’s rules, I think my head would explode and that would be a nasty mess for someone to clean up, so what I usually do is smile, nod my head, and try to sound interested when they go into great, gory detail about their story idea. It usually goes a little something like this:
- “Really? An alien abducts a Justin Bieber look alike, falls in love with him, and helps him save the planet from total annihilation? That is an inventive idea.”
- “No, I don’t think I could do justice to a story about a vegan vampire dominant and his submissive fairy lover. Why not? I’m an extreme carnivore and don’t think I could accurately represent the vegan vampire lifestyle.”
- “What? Would I be willing to collaborate on a modern retelling of Titanic but from the perspective of Jack’s abandoned male lover? I don’t think I am the right author for that, I doubt that I could give Raul the perspective and character development he would need. I would worry that it would be an offensive caricature of him and Cuban homosexual males everywhere.”
- “Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable writing with a co-author. Although, I think your idea for a werewolf CEO and his were-leopard lover who is a baker and have to fight ninjas to stay together is amazing. My problem is that I am a massive control freak and I would be difficult to work with.”
I love that everyone is interested in my work and I adore people who want to write a novel. I will do everything I can to support their creative endeavors. I’ve found that if I encourage them to keep their ideas for themselves and mention a few things that have worked for me, books, classes, etc. then I don’t have to feel like I’m kicking them in the face and destroying their dreams. Who knows maybe vegan vampire romance novels will be the next big thing.
Here is my go to list of advice that I share with people who want to be an author.
- Learn your craft – Yes, we all took English in school and for a lot of us it’s our native language, but that doesn’t mean we write it well. Check with your local community colleges they offer some amazing creative writing courses for beginners. What? You already have an MFA in Creative Writing? Wow, I kind of hate you a little right now. On to number 2.
- Just because you have an MFA don’t think you’re special – Continued learning is key for authors. We all have areas that are weak. I know that I’m an extreme teller (as opposed to showing in descriptions) and have weak dialogue issues. What’s yours?
- Meet other writers – This one was very challenging for me. I’m painfully shy, live with an autoimmune disorder, and live in the armpit of the universe. There are no writing groups where I live. I found that there are ways to connect via the interwebs. That’s right ladies and gentlemen find some groups online. Facebook has hundreds, I could probably list a thousand different websites designed for writers, but I’m not going to do that here. I will post some sites that I consider absolutely critical at the bottom of this post.
- Learn to take criticism and rejection well – This one is critical for anyone who has the dream of writing. If you can’t take criticism you’re screwed, and not in the good way. As a writer, we need beta readers, editors, agents, etc. to read our work. If we don’t improve, we’re going to end up in the round file. An outcome which won’t help us achieve our dreams. I don’t mean you should be spineless. You need to understand the criticism and know when changing something will wreck what you have sweated over.
- Books, books, and more books – Go buy books! Lots of them! Some about the craft of writing and some by the most prolific and consistent authors in your chosen genre(s). A good author is also a good reader. Consider this part of research. You need to learn what works, what doesn’t, and read reviews. Reviews of other authors’ work will help you see where they nailed it and where they failed. What? You’re broke? Sweetie, that’s why they invented the library, instead of buying go check them out.
- Try to complete NaNoWriMo at least once in your life – This was one of the most critical things I ever did as an author. Last November I forced myself to complete NaNoWriMo. What I wrote was fifty thousand words of the most God-awful dreck imaginable. It was pathetic. It still gives me nightmares. Every time I turn my computer on I have to see that awful file sitting on my desktop. Why don’t I delete it? Because I learned more by that one horrifically bad writing experience than I had learned in the previous thirty years! We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I was able to learn enough from that nightmare to complete seventy-five thousand words in April for Camp NaNoWriMo and I will publish it in August … I consider that success!
- Take online classes – While this may seem like part of number 1, they are actually very different things. My personal favorite is “A Novel Idea” facilitated by YA author Shaunta Grimes. I cannot say enough good things about this program. She offers it twice a year and it costs $62.50 a month ($750 for the year). If that’s too rich for your blood, don’t worry I’ve got your back. Not only does she offer two free workshops several times a year, she also has an amazing website that offers the ninja writers academy for free every Saturday. Go! Join! Now! Be amazing and learn something while you’re at it. Join her Facebook groups as well, you’ll see me there, as the real me. Oh wait, pretend I didn’t say that. If Shaunta’s classes aren’t your style (I hope they are because I’m working on a whole post about them) look for others. There’s a million (exaggeration, I know) out there, one is bound to be the perfect fit for you.
- Make the time to write! – This is another of Shaunta’s big ideas. She calls it 10 x 100. She believes that small goals are key to creating new habits. Ten minutes of writing every day (no excuses) for one hundred days and you’ve created a habit that will last a lifetime. Pfft, ten minutes is nothing right? I didn’t start with ten minutes, most of us don’t, I started with an hour and now I’m up to five hours EVERY DAY! No matter how much I hurt, how awful I feel, or how much other drama I have to deal with, I write every day for FIVE WHOLE HOURS! Yes, I’m spoiled and I know it.
- Join conferences – Okay this one is the thing I haven’t managed to do yet (did I mention I have an autoimmune disorder that requires me to keep my body temperature in a very narrow range?). I am hoping that next year I will be able to go to my first conference and I would love to see as many of you there as possible. I’ve been told it’s a great way to network and make friends who actually understand how difficult writing can be. Plus, you might meet and be able to pitch an idea to an amazing agent and become a big time author!
- Have fun! – That’s right writers! Authors need to have fun once in a while. Characters fight us, research is a drag, plots develop holes, such is the life of a writer. If you don’t learn to let it go (unintentional Frozen reference), you’ll burn out and then no one will be able to read your magnum opus. That would be bad … very bad.
I hope you enjoy the ten things that I think every newbie author should know. As promised the list of books and websites that I think all authors should have/bookmark are below. Some are free, some cost money, but they are all amazing!
V. L. Cooke
Ninja Writers/A Novel Idea – This is the website of Shaunta Grimes, I cannot recommend this enough. I promise I’m going to have a whole post about this amazing woman in the next couple of weeks.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and Camp NaNoWriMo – November is National Novel Writing Month and twice a year in April and July the same organization runs camps. In November, everyone has the same goal of 50,000 words. In April and July, you get to set your own goal.
Scribophile – Online writing group with information on writing, authors, critiques, etc. Basic membership is free you can upgrade to premium if you desire. Also, they are one of the big sponsors for NaNoWriMo and offer discounts to participants and winners during those months.
Writers Helping Writers – Also has a free membership, but you can go premium and get a discount on classes that they offer. They do pitch events and other events regularly and their blog is awesome!
Fiction Writer’s Group – This is a Facebook group. It has almost 10,000 members and the majority of them are self-published. There is a great group of traditionally published authors who share information regularly. There are strict rules for members so if you join make sure to read them so that you don’t inadvertently violate the rules.
Writer’s Critique Circle – This is a small group of authors who share critiques. It happens to be my baby and I love it. We’re quiet, but when you need questions answered or a critique there’s always someone willing to help.
Self-Editing For Fiction Writers – Every author should own this book. It talks about the biggest pitfalls that we all seem to have in our writing.
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – Shaunta recommends this book to all her students and I completely agree. It has helped me learn about different types of characters and how they relate to my protagonist.
On Writing by Stephen King – Every author should read this book. Stephen King’s insights are amazing.
Pro Writing Aid – You can cut and paste pieces of your work into their website and receive a detailed analysis of your writing. If that sounds like too much work you can buy it for a yearly fee and have it added to your word processing program like Word.
Edit Minion – Similar to Pro Writing Aid this is only available online and offers some of the same features.
Scrivener – This is my writing program of choice, although I freely admit I keep copies of my work both in Word and in Google Docs. I use a Windows based PC and this is one of the few programs for authors that includes Windows. Most are based on the Mac OS. This one works for it too.