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writing your first novel

7 Reasons Your Novel Isn’t Working

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You’re Just Not That Into It
When you start writing a new novel, it’s like the honeymoon phase of a new love affair. Everything about your story is soooo interesting. You could sit for days and just stare into your protagonist’s eyes. By the time you’ve written the first one-third of your book though, the bloom is off the rose. If you’re not truly compatible with the book you’re trying to write, this is the time you’ll get those red flags loud and clear. Everyone hits that hump in the middle, but if you only dread writing your story and you’re never excited to see it again, it’s time to seriously reevaluate this project. Continue Reading

The Next Step

SAMSUNGIt takes a while to write your first novel.

And it takes so much energy, enthusiasm, and old-fashioned hard work, that most writers can think about nothing else but the finish line until they achieve that glorious goal.

But what happens after the euphoria has worn off? What happens when you’re finished editing and revising and now you want to do something with your book, like put it out there into the world for other people to actually read?

It’s time to take the next step.

The challenge is that, in this modern world, it seems like there are about a bazillion next steps a writer could choose to take.

To make the most effective Next Step, consider the following 3 areas:

Publishing
Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to go the traditional route with a literary agent?

Presence
What social media platform(s) do you want to use and what kind of image do you want new readers to have of you?

Creativity
What is the next book you’re going write? What’s your next creative project?

When you decide on anything in each of these three areas your choice is going to lead you to more questions, more decisions to be made, and more learning and research to do. But you have to start with the big choices first in order to start building the roadmap of where you want your career to take you.

If you make thoughtful choices in the realms of Publishing, Presence, and Creativity, the three areas will integrate into a dynamic, effective whole that serves you and gives you back tenfold of what you put into it.

Think of it this way: If your writing career is a highly successful human being, this is how it would break down:

Publishing – Body
This is the physical product of your labors. The paper manuscript, or digital Kindle edition, of your book.

And even if it is digital, it’s still a physical manifestation of you as a writer out there in writing space. While you’re writing your first novel, you might tell yourself no one will ever see it but there comes a time when offering it to readers (no matter what form you choose) is the healthiest thing you can do. Just like you wouldn’t keep your body locked up in the house your entire life, your book needs to get out there for a little fresh air and sunshine too.

Next Step
Choose how you want to publish and then go after it full force. Google “how-to” guides and “how do I?” questions. Research how to write a query letter. Take notes. Then research some more options. Throw everything you have at it until you figure out what it is you need to do to get published.

Presence – Mind
Your presence is going to be the primary way you connect with new readers. People who have never heard of you before will see your Facebook fan page, or your blog, or reader reviews on Amazon, and based on those brief accounts they’ll decide if your writing is a match for their tastes. It’s very similar to when you meet someone new in real life and connect through conversation. If you hold similar views, or even just opinions the other person finds interesting, the likelihood of connection is much greater. If you make thoughtful choices about cultivating your Author Presence, those other great minds that think alike will be drawn to your flame.

Next Step
You may end up doing a book tour or speaking engagements to build your Presence, but in the meantime, our world is an online world. Research social media for writers and then get out there and play! Choose one or two ways to connect online that you feel comfortable with and start building your Facebook fan page, blog, or whatever it is you want to use to connect with your readers.

Creativity – Soul
It is really awesome that you finished your book…but you can’t take a break from writing. Not for more than a week. The fountain of your creativity has to be exercised on a regular basis to keep up a good, strong flow. Your creativity really is the soul of you. That’s why you’re a writer, an artist. Yes, it’s important to tend to your career and get your ducks lined up in a row, but you must never sacrifice the actual writing. You’re not going to be able to do much of anything without your soul.

Next Step
It’s okay if you don’t have an idea for your next book yet, write a short story in the meantime. Or some poems. Or try your hand at songwriting. ANYTHING. Just keep writing.

When you finish writing that first book, the next step can seem daunting. That’s because it is. Being a writer isn’t like showing up for a regular job every day. It requires extraordinary amounts of courage, patience, faith, and guts. But at the same time it’s like anything else in life, one step at a time. The key is to make the big decisions first—decide where you want to go and how you want to travel—and then take start taking your journey step by step.

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5 Lies Writers Tell Themselves

SAMSUNGI Don’t Have Time to Write
This is probably the biggest lie writers tell. To be fair, most people tell themselves this lie at one time or another to make excuses about why they’re not following their passion.

The writer who stays up all night writing the Great American novel surrounded by crumpled balls of paper is a popular image, but it’s not very accurate. Some writers do stay up all night, but you don’t have to.

The Truth
All you really need is 20 minutes of focused, concentrated writing time each day.

It’s astounding how little time you need to practice writing. If you can make time to take a shower or drink a cup of coffee, you can make time to write.

I Need a Good Idea Before I Begin
I hear this one a lot. Some writers expect the plot of the Virgin Suicides to fall into their lap, with Kirsten Dunst signing up to play the lead role included.

Sometimes writers do get those brilliant epiphanies that come in flashes or dreams, but most of the time our ideas are shadowy and vague. We see a character, or the ending to a story with no beginning and no middle. Or a message we want to convey, with no clue how to express it. And we’re lucky if we even get these fragments. So how do writers like Stephen King do it? How do you get to the place where you’re cranking out novels every few months?

The Truth
You don’t need an idea to begin. You only need to begin.

If you really and truly don’t have one tiny fragment of an idea sit yourself down and write, “I don’t know what to write about” over and over until your hand starts writing something else. It sounds crazy, but it actually works. The more you write, the more ideas will come to you.

Writing Is an Isolating Activity
This is where we find those myths about writers cropping up again. The writer who stays up all night stays up alone. The writer in the room surrounded by crumpled balls of paper is in that room alone.

While it is true that the actual act of writing is something you do on your own, and that solitude encourages concentration and focus, writing is only one small part of your life as a writer. If you’re constantly holing up in a room by yourself and doing nothing else, you are probably going to feel isolated. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Truth
We live in an online world and never before have there been so many opportunities for writers to connect with each other.

If social media isn’t your thing, try joining a group that meets offline, out in the real world. You can make friends and get feedback through critique groups and reading circles. And if you truly hate writing alone, join a Meetup group for writers like Shut Up and Write to get those pages cranked out while in the company of others.

I Need an Agent to Move Forward
This lie makes me cringe because it’s a lie I’ve told myself countless times. Landing an agent can be a long and frustrating process, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put my projects on hold because I’ve gotten wrapped up in waiting to hear from agencies.

Researching and querying agents takes time, but a writer’s first priority should always be the writing. Regardless of whatever else is happening in your writing career, if you’re consistently writing new stuff every single week then you’re making significant progress. And there are tons of other facets to your career that you can work on while waiting to hear back from agents—like your social media presence, best strategies for low-budget promotion, and revising those manuscripts waiting for representation.

The Truth
Telling yourself you need an agent to move forward is you setting conditions for your career goals.

Those conditions can fast become obstacles. And conditions and obstacles belong to the energy of resistance and fear. Shift into an attitude of flexibility and openness about things happening at their own pace and use the time you spend waiting to learn about the other ways you can become more of a professional.

Focusing on Money Will Make Me a Sell Out
This idea doesn’t just cause trouble for writers. If you’re a visual artist, a musician, a humanitarian—if you’re doing any sort of passionate work driven by your internal values—you are likely going to stumble on the money issue. Those of us with the artistic temperament are usually repelled by anything corporate, anything unimaginative, and anything that takes unfair advantage of others. Because big corporations and greedy higher-ups tend to embrace all of the above in the pursuit of more money, we tend to identify money with all of those things.

Money itself is neutral. Whatever we see in it are the ideas we’ve chosen to infuse into it. It is possible to do work that you’re passionate about, that expresses your gifts as a writer or an artist, and also make a decent living at it. But it’s never going to happen if you force money into carrying all this icky baggage. If you see money as covered in greedy slime, or weighed down with the pain of others, whenever it shows up in your life you’ll end up unconsciously pushing it away from you.

The Truth
Writing is work and you deserve to be paid for your labor.

If you’re able to welcome fair compensation for your work into your life, it will give you the freedom and space to create more awesome stories, and more brilliant art. Even if you’re not getting paid for what you do right now, make the resolution that your current financial situation can and will change.

To be the best writers we can we’ve got to stay honest with ourselves, even if it’s hard sometimes. What are some of the little white lies you tell yourself about your writing?

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How to Develop Characters Intuitively

SAMSUNGDeveloping a fictional character is just like getting to know a person in real life. All of us rely on our intuition at one time or another when we interact with people. Sometimes we instantly like someone, just because. And sometimes we get a bad feeling about someone, right off the bat. To dig down deep into your characters you’re going to apply that same intuitive edge to find the “tell” that any given character might display to you.

A tell is a physical sign that slips out (usually when someone is nervous) that betrays something that was hidden up until that point. Serious poker players always look for the tell of their competitors. Maybe someone has a facial tick that starts working when they get anxious, or they become instantly still and silent when they get a really good hand. Those types of mannerisms tell on them because they betray their true situation or attitude.

A physical tell is the gold ring that sparkles at you, catching your attention. When you pick it up, you find it’s tied to a string that leads into the character’s personality. Using your intuition means you spot the ring and then follow the string. You can practice this method on real people too, to get the hang of it. It’s a bit tricky at first but to hone your intuition you have to practice gathering information. When you see that gold ring sparkling on the ground, pick it up and follow the string.

For instance, a man and woman walk into a restaurant and you start observing them. The man keeps pulling at his beard and looking around. He looks anxious. Every time he makes eye contact with the woman she narrows her eyes at him. When they’re shown to their table she grabs the menus from the waiter and hands one to the man. Then she peppers him with questions about what he’s going to order. As she does, the down-turned lines around her mouth etch in even deeper. They both look unhappy.

The above is a series of mostly concrete observations about physical reality: the pulling on the beard, the narrowing of the eyes, the grabbing of the menus. If each one of these things is a gold ring attached to a string, and we follow the strings we get:

The man is anxious, unsure of himself, cowed, possibly defeated by life
The woman is domineering, angry, and has been unhappy for many years
These two probably have a relationship laced with dependence and resentment

Now, in your writing, you’re going to do the very same thing. Instead of making up things for your characters to do before you sit down to write, you’re going to sit down with only the intention of watching them. Just like with the couple in the restaurant, you’re going to be the fly on the wall. If that couple we just outlined actually were two of your characters, you could keep following the strings to gather more and more information about them. For instance:

The man is anxious, unsure of himself, cowed, possibly defeated by life
He possibly had a weird relationship with his mother, who kept him an emotional prisoner. Maybe his only consolation was the invention he worked on constantly in the garage.

The woman is domineering, angry, and has been unhappy for many years
It could be that when she met this man, he told her how he had invented a machine that could travel through time. She was caught up in his enthusiasm, and also incidentally happened to be a gold digger, and so she married him for the promise of the money that would be his once he went public with his magic machine.

These two probably have a relationship laced with dependence and resentment
Maybe after a little time passed, the woman came to believe that this man never invented anything of substance. She broods about how she’s stuck with such a loser and has no money. She takes out a life insurance policy and plots to kill him. But at the end, in a surprise twist, the man kills her and then flies back in time to cover up the crime. He really did invent a working time machine after all.

In this case we started with watching for the physical tells we picked up from the characters—the beard pulling, the narrowed eyes, etc., and we actually ended up with an entire rough summary for a story. We started with conscious observation, shifted into intuition, and ended up in the land of imagination. Stepping stones that go like this:

Observation
Watching your characters, writing down their physical mannerisms

Intuition
Drawing conclusions about personality and motives based on the observations

Imagination
Pushing your conclusions as far as they will go

Observation and intuition is easy once you get into the swing. It’s that last step to imagination that you really have to practice. A good way to push your intuition into pure imagination is to ask a lot of what-if and why. Why would someone be anxious enough to pull on their beard constantly? What if that woman is so unhappy she would actually kill someone to get what she wants? What if these two people are going to do the exact opposite of what you think? What would the situation be like then?

When you’re using this method of intuitive character development, don’t expect your results to come in nice and neat little packages. You’ll probably spend at least a few pages just brainstorming on the possibilities that arise in your mind. The goal with this exercise is to get used to seeing your characters running around inside your head as if you were watching them on a movie screen, and then trusting your intuition to fill in the blanks. It’s okay to draw erroneous conclusions, and it’s okay to use up a bunch of paper just observing them.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get at creating characters who are alive, complex, and already enmeshed in a compelling story you want to write.

And if you’re interested in learning more about intuitive writers and how we work check out my book:

The INFJ Writer