Tag Archives: writer’s block

Ten Things I’ve Learned Writing Novels

Award-Winning Author Trace Conger

I published my first novel, The Shadow Broker, in October of 2014. It was a fascinating experience. Since then, I’ve published three additional novels and numerous short stories. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about the process of writing and marketing.

Your mileage may vary, but here are a few insights to noodle:

1. Writing a novel is only as intimidating as you make it. Starting a novel is like holding your newborn for the first time. You’re a bit freaked out thinking about your newfound responsibilities of raising a living, breathing human being. Taking on a novel can feel the same way, but it’s only as bad as you make it out to be. Take it one word or one page at a time, and one day you’ll wake up with an 80,000-word novel.

2. Outlines make the process easier. Other writers will debate this, but for me creating an outline kept me on track. I create a brief outline for each chapter, including no more detail than can fit on one side of an index card. After I have the story fleshed out, I sit down with my stack of cards and write each scene or chapter. Yes, the story changes. Yes, you’ll throw away some of your ideas or characters, but having a roadmap will help you get to your destination, even if you take a few detours along the way.

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3. It takes time. I’ve heard countless stories of indie authors pumping out three or more books each year. I don’t/can’t do that. While I’m not going to insinuate that these prolific authors are sacrificing quality for quantity, I will say that if you rush the product, your quality will suffer. Focus on creating a quality product. If you can write multiple quality books per year, fantastic, but if you can’t, then don’t.

4. Your worst critic is you. I can’t remember a time in my life when I experienced more self-doubt than when I was writing my first novel. Every author has that voice in their head that tells them they’re a hack, their work isn’t any good, they’ll fail miserably, or they’re wasting their time. I haven’t figured out a way to silence this inner critic, but I have learned to tell him to get lost.

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5. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s all bull. Writer’s block is an excuse authors tell themselves when they can’t produce. Maybe it’s a slow idea day, or the words aren’t coming as fast as they did yesterday. Doesn’t matter. Put your butt in the chair and write. Even if you feel like you’re walking through quicksand. Move forward, one step (or word) at a time, and you’ll make it to the other side. I promise.

6. Marketing is hard. You think writing a novel is hard? Wait until you have to market it. Even if you sign a big deal with a publisher, you’re going to have to promote your book. Get comfortable with the idea, even if you aren’t. Get comfortable talking about it, contacting the media, researching book blogs, responding to readers, hosting signings, doing interviews, and writing blog posts (like this one) to support your work.

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7. You’ll become obsessed with metrics. You’ll spend hours Googling yourself, watching your sales, scrutinizing your Amazon author ranking, and stalking your reviews. Then one day you’ll realize you’re wasting your time and you’ll get back to work.

8. Your friends won’t buy your book. Some of them will, but most won’t. Most of your friends don’t read. Maybe because they prefer to spend what little free time they have binging on Netflix. Or maybe you just have crappy friends. Either way, don’t expect them to buy your book but do expect them to lie and say they will.

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9. You have to field lots of questions. Once people discover you’ve written a novel, they’ll throw every question imaginable at you. Who’s your publisher? How did you get your agent? Did you get an advance? What’s your book about? How long did it take you to write it? Where can I buy it? Where do you get your ideas? Can I be a character in your next book? Listen to every question, even the stupid ones, and answer with a smile. Everyone is a potential customer.

10. Authors are an incredibly supportive bunch. Maybe it’s because they’ve been in your shoes or understand your struggle, but authors are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. Two huge authors, Joe R. Lansdale and Jonathan Maberry, gave me incredible advice (even if they don’t remember doing it). Don’t be afraid to reach out to authors you admire. Ask questions and listen to their advice. You’ll be surprised at how accessible and helpful they can be.

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Bonus insight: There is a ton of horrible advice out there. I stalk the popular forums from time to time and am always amazed at some of the horrible advice that I see. One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was to publish your first draft to “get it out there” and then use reader review comments to identify weaknesses and revise your next draft. Are you kidding me? Scrutinize all advice and carefully consider who is dishing it out. I’m not advocating only looking to best-selling authors for advice (there’s great advice out there from authors at all levels) just make sure it passes the sniff test before you stake your reputation on it.

Trace Conger is an award-winning author in the crime, thriller and suspense genres. His Mr. Finn series follows disgraced private investigator Finn Harding as he straddles the fine line between investigator and criminal. Find out more at www.traceconger.com.

© Trace Conger 2017

Patrick J. Power on Writing, Writer’s Block, and Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Patrick J. Power

If you want to sail the Atlantic, single-handed, then you have nobody to blame if something goes wrong on your trip; if you are an enthusiastic amateur tennis player, or an ardent professional, then you have no fall back, no scape-goat, as it were, to point the finger at and release a torrent of invective whenever you might lose.

Much the same can be said for the writer. The writer of any written original word. You are on your own, full stop. You decide when to write; you decide what to write. You never have to clock in or out. You can take coffee breaks whenever you feel like it. You can go to the bathroom and browse your favourite magazine to put off going back to the PC. You make the rules.

This doesn’t suit everybody. Many would-be writers, are not cut out to be writers, regardless of whether or not they might have developed the greatest single most original storyline for a novel in their heads. But getting it from your brain to the computer screen is the tricky part. If only we could copy & paste! Maybe contact Microsoft or Apple and suggest that they might develop an app which burns your most brilliant ideas on to that blank screen in front of you. And of course, that app would also be grammatically and spellingly correct! Ups!

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But, (there’s always a but) writing can be good also. I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as being fun. When your fingers seemed to have found that delicate touch on the keyboard, as if they were creating magic words just like Clapton, or BB King, or some other impresario creating magical sounds on their respective sets of taut strings; that’s when it becomes so worth it. And a little later when you emerge from your happy daze and take a well-earned break from your endeavours and bask in the knowledge that one day, because of what you have just engraved onto your page, either the Man Booker judges, or the Pulitzer people will be frantically searching out your life’s details from that agent of yours who it took many heart-breaking years to find.

Am I coming across to you sounding like some facetious pompous ass who thinks he knows all about the art/act of writing?  Well, let me state very clearly, that I do not! If I sound facetious it’s probably because when all those years ago, at age eighteen, just graduated secondary school in the South-East of Ireland, I was reliably informed by my English teacher that whatever else I was about to do with my life, that I should begin writing at once and continue to write for the remainder of my life; that I did not. I thought I knew better. Live my life first and then write about it. But I don’t think it works that way. So, I took that sage advice on board and stored it away for forty years. But to my credit, I think, I carried out the, “whatever else” segment of his advice to the letter.

The following day, I took a flight to Boston with another eighteen-year-old and soon after started out on an overland trip from Boston to Buenos Aires. Following on from that memorable (and dangerous) trip I have worked as; a wheat farmer; Jazz Club manager, on the Upper-West Side of NY; oil-rig worker; construction worker in both Twin Towers in New York; an English teacher in Prague; fronted two different Rock & Roll band’s in New York and Dublin;  event manager at a major Music Festival; landed a Soccer Scholarship to Uni of ILL in Chicago; landscape designer in Boston; lived in a Volkswagen camping-bus for six months in Europe, whilst Busking for a living; studied Film & Editing in Waterford, Ireland; produced a round dozen Documentaries; lived in six different countries whilst touching my toes into the waters of another forty, before deciding to move to Belgium four years ago and begin to take my writing seriously.

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I tried every manner and means to escape the decision because I think I was afraid of failure. The greatest curse and drawback to becoming a writer, (a published writer, whether it be down the traditional route of, finding an agent/ agent finding a publisher/ publisher deciding to take you on, or, as I did, and so many more writers are doing, going it alone!) is that ever-present latent fear of failure. Those doubt ridden moments of assuming that your efforts of that day’s scratchings are simply not up to scratch! When you pick up a novel of one of your favourite authors and get that tremendous shock to your system on the realization that this person is so far ahead of you that you possibly may be wasting your time.

And this is the pivotal moment that I’ve been striving to get to over the past 800 words. This is the moment to dig deep into yourself and decide that you are not going to throw in the towel. You can handle the periods of writer’s block; the fact that your close friends become slightly embarrassed anymore to ask: How’s the book coming along? When the 27th rejection slip comes into your otherwise empty mail-box from an agent who you are most certain in your head (heart actually) has not even read your submission.

And there we are, back to that place again. Alone again, naturally! (song lyric from the 1970’s) Decision time! Are you going to stand up and walk away, or, sit back down and beat the crap out of the keys? Beat them into submission! Own them! Devour them! Write the best you’ve ever written! You know it’s true-the hell with anyone who doesn’t!

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Don’t stop! Write, write, write! Till your fingers bleed! Till the sun goes down! Till the sun rises again! And then, write some more! And love it when you’re doing it!

As an old Irish proverb goes: Live life to the full, my son (or daughter) ‘cause you’ll be dead long enough!

I don’t offer advice but I’ll repeat a piece from someone else.

Start with short stories. Hone your craft with short, sharp stories. Easier to tackle a 6th draft of a short story than the onerous task of a 6th draft of a long first novel.

Then when you have finished honing your craft, you can begin your masterpiece!

© Patrick J. Power 2017

Goodreads Author: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13955676.Patrick_J_Power

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