Jon won a $40 gift card to a local bookstore!
Adam won weird baked goods and a book!
Thanks to everyone who entered.
I love giveaways. Almost as much as I love writers and books. So on May 1st, to celebrate one year of blogging, I will randomly choose three commenters to win one of the following writer/book-related prizes:
(1) A fifteen-page critique by yours truly,
(2) A $40 gift card to a local, independent bookstore (if you don’t know of an independent bookstore near you, give me your zip code, and I will find one!), or you could win
(3) A parcel of baked goods of my choosing (Though beware: it will probably be something you’ve never heard of, like avocado pound cake or popcorn cookies) as well as one of the FABULOUS books pictured below:
So comment on this post between now and May 1st, telling me who your favorite author is and why, and you’ll be entered to win one of these prizes. What could be easier? And have no fear. Although the baked goods will undoubtedly be weird, they will also be delicious. I promise.
Childhood does not prepare you for adulthood.
In childhood, you get a rocking birthday party every freaking year, whereas as an adult, you’re lucky if your husband picks you up a cake from the grocery store. And why is this? Well, first off, your mother, the ultimate thrower of birthday festivities, is no longer impressed with your age. In fact, it kind of depresses her. You’re all like, “But Mom! I’m waaayy older this year!” And she’s all like, “Sweetie, I totally have you beat.” And then she sends you to the store for more vodka.
Second, there’s no escaping the fact that it’s weird to throw yourself a birthday party. It’s like saying, “Friends! I invite you to congregate so as to better celebrate ME! Oh, and I won’t say no to presents. And ice cream cake is my favorite. Baskin Robbins, if possible.”
Luckily, that taboo against throwing yourself birthday parties does not hold when it comes blogaversary parties, and today, dear friends, is my one-year blogging anniversary. *Cue trumpets*
One year ago today, I posted my first blog post, garnering a mere 3 page views that first month. But I kept clacking away, hoping to support writers in every way I could–through advice, encouragement, the occasional grammar lesson, and now, I’m happy to report my normal month of page views has several more zeros tacked onto that 3, which means I’m doing exactly what I hoped to do.
To celebrate the success of my blog, on Tuesday, I will be posting my biggest giveaway yet! It will be good. And a teensy bit ridiculous. And it may involve baked goods. And bookstore dollars. And a critique. (You should know this about me–I suck at keeping secrets.)
See you then!
I am a writer, but I am also an editor. You would think those two occupations require much the same skill set, but they really don’t. As a writer, my job is to expresses what I want to express; as an editor, my job is to make books salable.
A lot of anxiety comes from mixing up these two roles, the writing and the selling, and as writers, we do ourselves a disservice when we write for any other reason than to create art. In some cases, we can actually make ourselves miserable. For example, in A Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon says that the greatest depression of his life occurred not when he was young, not when he was uncertain about the future or unsure whether he could ever get published. His greatest depression came almost immediately after his first novel came out. He’d thought being published would fulfill him. Only afterward did he realize that fulfillment, the good stuff, came from the art itself.
I don’t know whether Solomon’s first novel sold ten copies or ten thousand, but it doesn’t really matter because that number–whatever it was–didn’t make him any happier or any more fulfilled. The act of writing should have done that. And if he wasn’t loving his writing, he wasn’t doing it right.
One way people can write incorrectly is to write with a commercial mindset. They think things like, “This will never sell unless I spice it up!” or “Who wants to read about another torrid love affair? I should really write about something else.” They don’t let themselves just have fun with their writing. They don’t take chances and be crazy; they don’t examine bizarre (and perhaps off-putting) plot lines. They make their characters too nice to be interesting. But the selling won’t make any of us happy; making good art will.
So let your writing be fun. Let your story be crazy when it needs to be crazy. Leave the commercial stuff to the editors (or to your future self, as she is editing). When you are writing is when you should feel best about being a writer.
And if you hate the act of writing, you’re doing something wrong.
A few weeks ago, I traveled back to Ohio, where I got together with a few old friends. When I “came out” to them as a writer, I was surprised to hear how many either wrote fiction or wanted to write fiction. These are really interesting and lovely people who really should write books. So why haven’t they?
One reason is that people don’t really know how to get started writing a book. My students freak out about a 5-page paper. How can anyone who hasn’t ever written a novel even conceive writing (and polishing) 300 pages worth of text?
So here are my top five tips for them and for anyone who is serious about writing and completing a novel:
(1) Read constantly in as many subjects as you can. My best ideas for books have come while I was reading something completely unrelated to writing. Make time for reading. Always.
(2) Open to the beginning of a book you love and copy that author’s opening. For instance, I am writing a book in third-person, which I’m not used to doing. So to get started, I looked at the first line of a third-person book I’d read recently, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which says, “The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.” So I wrote, “The event that would change the MC’s life happened before she was old enough to realize what was happening.” I ended up cutting that line, but by using it as a basis for writing, it helped me realize where I really did want to begin my book.
(3) Write longhand, at least at first. I don’t know what it is about typing things out on a computer, but it is harder to change your mind about your draft. Either you can save the file and open a new document, starting afresh, or you can delete everything you’ve done. Neither option seems ideal. But when you write on paper, you can use multiple drafts and rewrites to craft how you want to begin. I usually write the first 15,000-20,000 words out longhand.
(4) Type it out. After you’ve written 20,000 words of longhand draft, you will likely hit, what I call the 20,000-word wall. So at this point I type up everything I’ve done so far, editing as I go. This is great because, first, it gives your mind time to change gears, so your creative juices get a break. Second, it ensures that the foundation of your novel is good, which ensures that you have enough material to build off of for the remainder of your novel.
(5) After you’ve typed out those first 20k, make a schedule, and stick to it. Below is my schedule for the last book I wrote. I wrote 2,000 words a day, sometimes more. And by the end of June, I had a first draft completed.
What about you authors out there? How do you begin writing a new book?
Being a writer is freaking awesome. Especially when you don’t try to do it alone. These past few months, I’ve had so much help for which I am so, so grateful–from beta readers, to crit partners, to authors I e-mail who e-mail me back (Junot Diaz–I <3 you). In part of my effort to give back a little, I’m introducing my first giveaway. Comment on this post, and you will be entered to win one of the fabulous books pictured below (all pubbed in 2012, all read–and enjoyed–by yours truly). Or, if you prefer, I’ll give you a ten-page critique. Or both. Because I’ll probably be so excited you entered my contest, I’ll just want to give you everything.
Contest starts now and ends on February 28th!
*shoes not included.
Congrats, Jeri and Shannon, and thanks to everyone who entered the contest.
I am busy busy busy working on lots of lovely lovely lovely projects. I’m critting; I’m beta reading; and I’m doing some paid work as an editor. In all of these projects (and in published books generally), I see people making the same grammar mistakes over and over again. So here is a brief tutorial on the top five grammar mistakes I see when editing:
1. The comma splice: a comma splice is where you connect two independent clauses with a mere comma. “I ate a hot dog, it was delicious” is a comma splice.
How you correct it: You can either add a conjunction. So: I ate a hot dog, and it was delicious. Or you can add a semicolon: I ate a hot dog; it was delicious.
2. Coordinating conjunction errors: When conjunctions (represented by the acronym FANBOYS–for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) link together two independent clauses, then you always put a comma before the conjunction.
So instead of: I can make a cup of tea or I can eat ice cream. You should write: I can make a cup of tea, or I can eat ice cream.
3. Using contractions for things that aren’t contractions: The contractions she’s, he’s, etc. translate to ‘she is,’ ‘he is,’ etc. They do not translate to ‘she has,’ ‘he has.’
So this is wrong: She’s got a date tonight. And this is right: She has got a date tonight.*
4. Sentence parts that are out of order: This happens when the parts of your sentences do not appear in the order that they occur. For instance, ‘I dropped my hand from the stove when I felt it was hot.” The action of this sentence can be felt more naturally if it comes in chronological order. So this becomes: When I felt that the stove was hot, I dropped my hand.
5. Using too many words: Most people (me included) are guilty of this. It’s when what we are saying can be said much more concisely. Here are some examples.
Instead of: I watched as he folded his napkin. Write this: He folded his napkin.
Instead of: He lifts the chair off the ground and takes it to the table. Write this: He takes the chair to the table.
Can you think of any other common grammar mistakes?
*Note: The former may be correct if your goal is to represent someone’s speech as it sounds rather than how it is spelled, just like ‘going to’ becomes ‘gonna.’ So a character may say ‘she’s’ for ‘she has’ but a narrator probably won’t.
Writers come in two varieties: the kind who think that the ‘writing gene’ is something people are born with, and the kind who think that writing is something that anyone can do so long as he or she has the passion, the drive, and the desire to improve. George Saunders is of this latter view, which makes his advice about how to be a good writer all the more salient.
Here are some of my favorite lines from his interview with Charlie Rose:
“If the sentences are jangly, then I know how to proceed. … That produces plot, that produces steam, without that jangle, nothing gets produced at all. … You have to kind of follow where it leads. Even if that’s not where you want to go, you have to be like, ‘okay story, you’re in charge.’”
“[Back when I was younger] I had the idea that the artist’s job was to know the effect he or she was going to have and then to just dump it on the reader, as a kind of puppeteer. That doesn’t really produce anything. That’s condescending.”
“There’s this intentional fallacy. The author has a set of ideas, and the story is just the vehicle for delivering those preconceived ideas. But on the production end of it, my experience is exactly the opposite. You go in, trying not to have any idea of what you are going to accomplish, but praying you are going to accomplish something, and then just respecting the energy of the piece and following it very closely.”
I love Saunders’ advice for so many reasons. First is the idea that you have to listen to the sound of what you’re writing. When I was learning French, my instructor told me that I had to hear the music of the language in order to be proficient in it. I had to learn the language like a song, like an art, not like a bunch of phrases to be memorized in isolation. The same is true of writing. Saunders agrees that not only do you have to hear the music of what you’re writing, but you also have to allow that music to tell you what’s going to happen next and how the story is going to proceed.
Damn, that’s good advice.
The other thing I like about Saunders’ advice is that he denies that books about ideas have to be ‘vehicles for delivering those preconceived ideas.’ This particularly resonates with me since I just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior today, which is clearly a puppeteer kind of book. I love her writing, and I love her voice, but I skimmed through 2/3 of this latest book because I felt like I was being preached to, and there are only so many hours I’m willing to spend listening to sermons.
As you continue to pursue your writing goals, I hope you keep Saunders’ advice in mind. I know I will.
I finished this manuscript back in June, and for some months now, I have been practically vibrating with eagerness, ready to just QUERY THE DAMN THING ALREADY, but it is not time. Not yet.
I haven’t always been the patient little Padawan I am now. Oh no. For my first book, I queried before I really even finished my first draft. I know, I know! Very, very bad. But we all do stupid shit when we’re just starting out, right? So I’m here to keep you from doing stupid shit by showing you just how long it takes to edit a book. Here’s my book’s timeline:
June: Finished the book! Hooray!!
July: I didn’t touch the manuscript for all of July. Not once. This is the mandatory marinating period. And yes, it is totally mandatory.
August: Completed two read-throughs of the book. Authors normally tell you that you’re supposed to try to read your manuscript like a reader (i.e. all in once sitting), but I can’t keep my confidence up if I do that; I have to correct the prose as I go. During the second reading, I created an outline of all of the chapters I’d written.
September: I went through my chapter outline and identified those plarts I wanted to change (e.g. where the story needed help, where I could help flesh the characters out a little more, etc.). I spent the whole month correcting these meta issues.
October: I read through the whole thing twice, each time, polishing the prose and checking for inconsistencies. I fact-checked some of the areas I had breezed over before, and I tried to identify plot holes. This was about the time when looking at my manuscript started to make me sick to my stomach.
November: Off to the Betas! I worked on a new manuscript for NaNoWriMo and completely ignored this one all month. By the end of the month, I really started to miss my other manuscript (It was so polished by comparison! So developed! Wow, could I ever write like that again?)
December: No word from the Betas yet; so I took this opportunity to read the manuscript afresh. And I loved it! I was floating on a cloud of I-am-a-literary-goddess delight! And it was glorious. Still, I identified the weakest sections and strengthened them, and by the end of the month, I was like: the manuscript is definitely ready.
January: Comments back from Betas. The manuscript was not ready. I made the wall of edits (see image below), where I put chapter outlines on index cards and wrote edits I wanted to make on post-its. Every time I completed an edit, I would rip off the post-it until there were no post-its left. Then one last read through, and I am finally, finally ready to query.
February: Just kidding. Two more edits. And then we’re off!
*sigh* And that’s how it goes! And even though it takes forever, the experience was rewarding and empowering and kind of incredible. When I was finished, I realized that the process had changed me into a better, more thoughtful human being. And a part of me was glad it took so long because it meant I had this chance to grow.
What about you? Are you ready to query? Are you closer/farther than you thought? Best wishes to all you guys who are editing and querying. It takes a tough writer to stomach all of that, but as I’m reminded constantly, this is a marathon, not a sprint. And for it to be worth it, you have to figure out a way to take pleasure from the running like hell part.
Currently, I’m reading Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, a biography of David Foster Wallace. Reading this book has been very strange for me because, as it turns out, DFW and I had several pretty substantial similarities (for instance, both of us studied philosophy and only fell in love with fiction after we realized that logic really was the fool’s gold for the bright). It probably sounds really self-important to compare myself with DFW and perhaps a bit delusional; so I should probably confess that I have zero appreciation for DFW’s work. Zero. Really. I’m trying to give it a chance, but I guess I’m just a slow learner.
But even for those of us who don’t like DFW’s work, I think we can all empathize with some of what he says. This quote is to his editor regarding his book, Infinite Jest:
This next one is to his friend Jonathan Franzen, also about Infinite Jest:
I love these quotes so much because they are entirely honest about what it’s like to write a book, namely, sometimes you are just damn sick of it, and, honestly, you kind of think it’s an incoherent mess. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve written the seminal books of the 21st century. You’re so close that you’re literally blinded. In order to keep writing, in order to improve as a writer, you have to believe in yourself and your work enough to be okay going in blind. And running like hell if you have to.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and write your hearts out!