Just Because You Can Write Doesn’t Mean You Should

I’ve known I would be a writer since I was in first grade. My teacher asked us to write three double-spaced pages about a class trip to the moon, and I wrote 10 single-spaced pages (which may be why she always hated me, I hadn’t quite mastered pronoun use at that stage of my life). I wrote “novels” until I was in high school, and then the more reading I did the better my writing got. My high school English teacher praised my writing and encouraged me to keep going, and I continue to improve now.

Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. If it was, everyone could do it. Writing is a skill like anything else. You don’t expect to be good at basketball the first try or for everyone to be able to swim like an Olympian, so why does everyone seem to think that if you want to write, you can?

I’m not saying that writing should be exclusive. If you want to write, go crazy. Enjoy yourself. However, know that you might not be good enough to get published. I love soccer, but I knew I wasn’t good enough to play for college (and I was only good enough for high school because we had a no cut policy and we were constantly in need of players) so now I can only play for fun. It doesn’t bother me, because I don’t need validation as a soccer player. I know I’ll never be one of the best, but that doesn’t stop myself from enjoying the game when I play.

One of the problem with self-publishing is that it’s so easy that everyone thinks they can become an author. They devalue writing with that kind of attitude. If you like writing, that’s great. Write all you like and take criticism gracefully to allow yourself to improve, but until you honestly believe that you’re a good writer and other people agree, don’t self-publish. You would profit much more from posting your writing on a free site for people to offer helpful critiques, rather than making unsuspecting readers buy a piece of work that should have never been published and making them angry over wasting that money.

I worked in the writing center of my school and let me tell you, I saw some terrible papers. One, of them was, written. Like this. And when, I asked the, girl. Why she, was using. Unnecessary. Punctuation. She said. “I didn’t know sentences could be that long.” Another person’s phrasing was absolutely terrible, and some guy’s paper was so boring and tedious it made my eyes bleed to revise it. These people knew they were bad writers, but there are some people out there who write just as bad but want to be a writer, so they convince themselves that they’re good and that other people are wrong.

Someone asked for feedback on their book, saying that it had been rejected a bunch of times and wanted to know if it was them or the publishers. I read it, couldn’t bare to finish it, and gave her my notes on what was wrong (which was a lot of things, from characterization to plot to grammar to being unrealistic). She ignored me, bashed me for being rude, and then went on to self-publish. Do you think that that book will help the author? She’s not going to make any money on a bad book, and she’s not going to improve in her writing when the reviews will say “don’t buy this book” rather than “maybe if the characters showed some sympathy in chapter five” or “the plot needs to be wrapped up better at the end.”

General Tips to Improve Your Writing:

  1. Take criticism. If someone says “your plot is weak,” they are not being rude. If they say “THIS SUCKS” and nothing else, then they’re being rude. Ignore them and seek more specific reactions.
  2. Write more. The more you write the more you’ll improve.
  3. Read more, especially in your genre. It will help you understand how plots and sentence structure works.

Now, the title of this is a little misleading. If you like writing, I’m not telling you to stop. However, I want every self-published novel I read to be just as good as the traditionally published novels. I want the stigma of self-publishing to go away. The stigma is there because of the people who think writing is for everyone. I want everyone who self-publishes an amazing novel to be able to get the pubic to read that novel, but they can’t do that if those readers first find a terrible self-published book and now won’t touch them.

This post isn’t just criticizing bad writers, it’s just some tough love. Wouldn’t you want someone to tell you that you were a terrible singer before you went on American Idol? (Although, some of those people don’t graciously accept Simon’s decision when they’re told that they’re terrible, just like some people don’t accept that they’re bad writers when they’re told.) A general rule of thumb should be that if you can’t find at least two unbiased non-friends and non-family members who themselves are writers that say you’re a good writer, you probably need to keep practicing.

Writing is a gift, just like musical talent or athletic skills. We need to keep treating it as something special, not as something everyone can do.

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Don’t Lose Momentum While Writing!

I cannot stress this enough. I wrote the first quarter of A Game of Madness then put it aside, then picked it up again this summer and wrote up to the halfway point. Now I have to start again with no idea what to write or how I should go about getting to the end of the novel. I forget what happened previously and the characters’ voices are all but lost in my head. It’s going to be like pulling teeth to get started again, and I need to finish it before November.

When you start writing something, finish it. Even if it’s only 100 words a day, that’s better than nothing. If you can’t find any inspiration to write that day, don’t wander from your story. Take a character quiz or draw a map of your world; anything to stay invested in it. I’m beating myself up for letting so much time go between when I started writing A Game of Madness and now. I need to finish it, but the spark is gone. I need to make a new spark and get my ass in gear!

I have all the time in the world, but I’m procrastinating to avoid starting to write again. I’m hoping that once I get some more reviewers, I can give a little less attention to publishing Kiss of The Fey. I’ve read that there’s no use marketing a book if it’s the only one you’ve published, so that’s why I want to write more in the first place. Once I get the ball rolling again I should be fine, but in the meantime I’ll continue trying to remember why I even started writing this anyways. :\

How To Self-Publish Your Novel Professionally – Step One: Editing

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I posted something similar to this before, but I want to go more in depth now, so we’re going to start with the first part of the story. The content. This is the simplest part, but it’s the easiest to get wrong. Technically step one is to write the novel, but we’ll pretend editing is the first step. (If you haven’t written a novel I don’t know why you’d be here in the first place.)

What you really need for this part is an editor. Freelance editors are easy to find if you have internet access, and if you’ve been blogging about writing or reading for long enough you’ve probably come across some editors in your time here. Pick someone you trust who has good reviews/recommendations that’s within your price range. If you’re not sure about them, ask if they can do a smaller chuck of your work to see if you can work together alright.

Another option is to obviously get an editor that works with an agency, but that will be more expensive and those editors are bound to be more selective. Some won’t take submissions unless you have an agent. However, once you decide to hire an editor, your life is relatively easy. You just need to work with the suggestions they make and correct highlighted mistakes. Bam, you’re done.

Note: Do NOT try to haggle down the price unless it’s $10,000 or something ridiculous. These people are trying to make a living. You wouldn’t like it if someone said, “Oh, you’re self-published, that means your book isn’t worth more than X amount” so why would you do that to an editor?

However, I know that a lot of people who are just starting out don’t have money for an editor, and you know what? That’s fine. We can’t let money stop us from being in the publishing game, so here’s how I prepared my novel.

First off, I finished writing. Then I let it stew for a while before going back and making changes on my computer. For the second draft, I printed it out and looked through for mistakes. I also rearranged scenes, cut out parts that didn’t fit well with the story, and worked on my characterizations. I typed it all up and then read through it another time, again fixing any mistakes I found. By then, it was looking pretty polished. I printed out a proof copy and gave it to my mother to look for mistakes (she’s not really the best or most observant of beta readers, but hey, I didn’t have anyone else). Finally, I printed out another proof copy for myself and am going through fixing all errors that I find, including extra spaces after hyphens, quotes that face the wrong way, saying her instead of his…. all the fun little things that can easily slip by. It will be my last run through the novel. There were other drafts with minor changes in between, but that’s the gist of it.

If you noticed, I wasn’t nitpicking things for my second draft. Or my third. The first thing you look for should NOT be grammar and spelling, though you can fix that too if you pick up on it. You HAVE to look at the content of your novel. Does the plot make sense? Are your characters consistent throughout the story? Are there things that your readers wouldn’t understand? Basically, is it a good story? Does it make you want to keep reading? Are there things you have in there that sounded good while writing, but don’t really fit anymore? It can be hard to cut out scenes and characters that you’ve grown fond of, but it’s for the best in the end.

A beta reader would be useful at this time, but they won’t always want to look at it if the grammar is a hot holy mess. Finding people to read your novel might be hard. You have to make them want to read it, otherwise how will you convince people to buy it once it’s published?

Now, if you don’t know a lot of grammar rules, Google is going to be your friend for these steps. Look up common mistakes or buy a grammar for dummies book. Ask a friend who is English-smart to look over your work (even if you can only convince them to read two chapters at most). If you’re no good at grammar, do NOT say “Oh, it’s okay, it’s just grammar, my story will still be okay.” It won’t. It really won’t.

I read a wonderful story that had little to no editing and it was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t give it a good review because I will not recommend a book that is hard to read. Bad grammar makes a book hard to get through. If on your first page you use the word “alot”, no one is picking up that book. I cannot stress enough how important editing is. If you can’t do it yourself, wait to publish. Either learn about grammar or find someone to help you out (assuming you don’t have money for an editor).

Here are some tips for editing your novel:

  • While reading through the first few chapters in your first draft, make a note of which mistakes you make and how often you make them. If you always forget to use a comma after a dialogue instead of a period, that’s something you know you have to focus on when reading the rest of the story. If you mess up affect/effect a lot, search your document for every instance of those words to ensure you didn’t miss them.
  • Don’t read it through all at once for a grammar run through. For plot/characterization this is fine, but you don’t want to get caught up in the story when looking for errors. Read one or two chapters, take a break, then come back. Each chapter should be fresh. Also, avoid editing while sleepy or drunk. You will not do a good job.
  • Don’t write in all caps, overuse/underuse dialogue, have character react unrealistically to things for the sake of the plot, use words that would be found in the verbal section of the SATs, or write a series for the sake of writing a series (as in, not because the plot calls for it, but because you want to stretch it out).
  • If you don’t have a deadline, set your novel aside for a while. Months, weeks, however long you want. Come back to it and read it again as if it was entirely new. Try to see it like a reader would.
  • Read more. Especially novels in your genre, but any reading will help (assuming it’s news articles and blog posts rather than tweets and craigslist ads). Reading improves your skill in the English language overall.
  • If you have gone through less than three drafts of your novel, it’s not enough. I don’t care if you think it’s the next Harry Potter/50 Shades/(Insert popular novel here), edit it again.
  • Do not treat beta readers as slaves. Beta readers are those people who agree to help you look over your novel. If you’re not paying them, they have no obligation to get back to you. They don’t have to catch every mistake or even read the whole thing. Many beta readers will mysteriously disappear, either because they weren’t that into your story or you were abusing them. Remember that beta readers are an asset. Cherish them.
  • Finally, only send your novel to people that you know you can trust. I’ve personally had my novel stolen (more info here) just from having it on FictionPress. The easiest way to prevent this is to only send it to those you know, but to also only send bits and pieces of it. I put it in a PDF file to make it a bit harder to just copy and paste everything. The best way to ensure that no one can steal your work is to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. To register online is like $35. It will be more once you factor in paper and ink to send in the physical copy of your work, but you have to do this anyways. Get a copyright for your work. Do it. Do it do it do it. Seriously. I’m sending mine in later this week. It’s important. Seriously. (Have I stressed enough that you should do this?)

Next up: Step Two: Cover Image.