- Write when you can. You know your schedule, so work with it. If you need a set time and space to do it, then by all means go ahead and set up a sacred space. If you’re like me and need more flexibility, then invest in a laptop and write what you can, when you can. Don’t rush it, and don’t feel like you have to heed the “write every day” mantra if your schedule is such that it’s literally impossible to squeeze out a few words on certain days of the week. Remember that writing is about more than just writing. It’s also about having a life, absorbing that life, and drawing inspiration from the world around you – and to do that, you have to get your head out of the computer every now and then and actually live. So have a life, and fit writing into it accordingly.
- Write what you’ve got, when you’ve got it. Don’t wait to start until you have the entire story planned out in your head. Write what you have, and the rest will flow. And if you skip scenes, that’s alright too. Revisions and edits are for reviewing for consistency, plugging in for plot holes, and cleaning up incongruities.
- Learn the balance of timing. Take your time to write the best novel you can – but not too much time. Writing goals and schedules are fine, but remember that quality is more important than quantity. Meeting a goal of writing so many words or pages in a day is a waste if you write crap that you have to delete later. Remember that the point is to create the best story you can, and that takes time. As they say on my T25 workout videos; do the best that you can do. It’s going to take several drafts to get it right, so accept that writing a novel is going to take a long time, and get comfortable with long periods of hard work and deferred rewards. This is why it’s so important to write because you love to do it – otherwise, it will burn you out, and you’ll quit.
Likewise, you have to realize that it will never be perfect, and know when it’s time to let it go and release it into the world. You’ll always find things to fix or adjust, so eventually you have to accept that it’s ready to let go. Creating your best work is a delicate balance of knowing when to hold on, when to hold back, and when to let go. Learn that balance.
- Do your research. The biggest challenge a writer faces is the “suspension of disbelief.” Yes, you can get inventive and stretch the limits, but it has to be theoretically possible, or you’ll lose the reader. Even in fantasy, where you can define your own constructs, you need to be able to put things within the reader’s ability to “grasp” and believe. Whether it’s actually possible is moot – the reader has to believe it’s possible, or you lose them. Understand the “why” behind the “what” and you can convince your readers that your world has the potential to be as real as the one they live in.
One additional tip here: you don’t have to do it all up front. We all know that our characters tend to take on a life of their own, which causes the story to go in directions we didn’t anticipate. That’s alright. If you find yourself dealing with a red herring that surprises you then go for it, and plug in the research as you go along.
- Study basic psychology. If you write fiction, then the most important thing you can master is creating believable characters. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and it’s been invaluable in this endeavor – in fact, one thing reviewers often commend me for are characters they can relate to. A basic course in personality or social psychology can help, as can speaking to pastors or people in the mental health profession. But you can teach yourself by watching people. Every human being has patterns of behavior, and understanding these is a key not only in getting along with others in the real world, but creating characters that readers love in your parallel universe worlds. Make note of how the people you know act and react to things. Watch people in groups and study their dynamics. It doesn’t take long to learn the patterns, and see what fits together. Even the inconsistencies have a place in the puzzle of human behavior.
Also, remember that everybody has good and bad in them, and we’re all weird in some way. Don’t make the classic mistake of making your protagonist perfect, or your antagonist so flawed that they’re ridiculous. Use the quirks and flaws of humanity to make all of your characters unique, yet realistic. A hero battling a bad temper going against an antagonist suffering from anxiety disorder can have a powerful impact not only to your story, but on your readers as well.
- Own your experiences. Life is a series of mountaintop experiences and valleys, and the best stories come from mining the valleys. If the reader isn’t riding shotgun to your issues, then you’re doing it wrong. Don’t fear your demons, the ugly in life, or what you know. Face it square on and create a world where you work it out, at least symbolically. Your experiences are yours so own them, and give them back to the world so they benefit from them. Take the “what if’s” of your own life, and turn them to a tale that can entertain and inspire others.
- Keep a blog or journal of your personal experiences. Emotions are fickle, fleeting, not reliable, and quickly forgotten. That’s why it’s a good idea to document your experiences and how you feel about them, especially on a day to day basis. Memory usually only retains the “big” things that hit us hard (for better or worse), but fiction mirrors reality in the significance of the details. For example, how you deal with the “deflated” feeling after a major loss or letdown is as significant as the impact of the event itself, because it speaks to your ability to learn from experiences, rebound, and heal. The blog/journal doesn’t have to be anything fancy, or even an everyday thing. A simple “gratitude journal” or “mood tracking” a few times a week is enough to note your thought and emotion patterns, and kick start your memory when you’re trying to capture the elusive emotions of mundane and dynamic moments.
- Use symbolism wisely. I’m Lutheran, so I’m all about symbolism. Nothing in my writing is random. I even research the names of major characters I use for meanings. Symbolism is a great way to speak to your readers subconsciously and to solve part of the “show, don’t tell” problem by letting them see (or hear) what has more significant meaning in the story. You don’t want to overdo it, but symbolism used in opportune times and places can launch your story to a new level.
- CYA. It’s an inevitable fact that everybody that personally knows you is going to see you in every protagonist, and the person being the biggest burr in your butt as the antagonist in everything you write. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true – they’re just too close to you to see outside of what they know. Still, it behooves you to be mindful of an extremely important point that you have to cover you’re a** to protect yourself from those who might scream about being unfairly depicted in your work or worse yet, suing you for liable or slander. Change names, change details, change situations, change the setting – do what you must to protect the integrity of yourself and everybody you know, for better or for worse. There’s nothing wrong with putting the painful people in your novel and killing them off, as long as it isn’t overtly obvious to them that you’ve done it.
- Love it or leave it. Once the book is published, you have to live with it forever. If you want it to enrich the lives of others, then you have to get behind it to promote and push it into the world. That means that you need to love it first. If you aren’t enthusiastic about your novel while you’re writing it, then let it go and write something that you are excited about. After all, why should readers love it if you don’t?
I realize these are general, but usually the stuff that applies broadly is general. I would suggest doing research into the genre you write for more advice on how to do it and publish it best, but these tips should at least get you started on the right path. I hope it’s helpful.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great rest of the week.