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.

How Writing Changes Over Time

I had to download Libre Office to be able to open all my old files to make this post for you guys. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything from when I just started writing, because that stuff was seriously horrible. Here is a sample (that I’m going to make up right now) of how my writing looked in 5th grade:

My name is Beth Raymone. I’m 13 and I have long black hair. I like to wear bangs that cover my eyes because I’m a goth. I walk to the bus stop in a MCR t-shirt and see my friend Becky.

“Hi Becky!” I said.

“Hi Beth! I think the bus will be late.” She said. She was wearing a purple hoodie and torn black jeans. She had on a blue beanie and rings on every finger. She was 14, one year older than me, but we’d been friends our whole lives because our moms had been friends in high school.

“Probably.” I said.

“Let’s just skip school today.” She said.

“Alright, what do you want to do?” I said.

“I just got this letter from my dad.” She said. Becky had never met her dad. He left her mom before she was born. “He’s in a hospital dying of cancer. We should go visit him.”

And so on. I assure you, it was even worse than that.

Here is something I wrote in high school:

Abby was sitting in the common room, reading one of her favorite books, when she heard some noise coming from the hallway where the boy’s bathroom was located. Being a prefect, she sighed and closed her book, getting ready to go and break up whatever fight was currently starting. Abby had been a prefect since her freshman year, and after four years, she knew what to expect.

“Come on Logan! Where’s your smart mouth now?” Abby recognized one of the biggest troublemakers in the school, Blaze, holding a smaller boy against the wall so that his feet only brushed against the carpeted hallway floor.

“Get off of me you-” the boy was cut off with a punch to his gut.

She sighed loudly and began tapping her foot to let Blaze and the other two boys know of her presence. “Really boys?” she asked without a trace of humor on her face.

“Oh look, its little Abby Fairfield, the perfect prefect,” Blaze laughed loudly.

“And look, it’s Blaze Smith, the obnoxious little mommy‘s boy who is always getting in trouble. Mommy won‘t be too pleased to hear of your latest misdeed,” she replied with a cocky grin as his friends laughed at him.

Blaze’s face went red and he dropped the smaller boy. “Shut up you- you stupid little girl! Just because nobody likes you doesn’t mean you have to take it out on me,” she laughed along with his friends at his weak retort. Abby was one of the most popular girls in the school, and he knew it.

“Is that why you always talk about how much you love her hair?” the boy to Blaze’s left laughed. “And how you moan her name in your sleep?”

Blaze punched him on the shoulder and cursed at him. “You shut up too,” the boy on his right chuckled so he hit him too.

“Now why don’t you boys run along and try to stay out of trouble?” she waved her hand at them, as if trying to get rid of a bad smell, and they turned and walked down the hallway while muttering at her under their breath.

*Dies*

But seriously, it’s good to look back at that kind of stuff and be able to see how much you’ve improved. He’s a sample of my current WIP, Only in Whispers (formerly A Game of Madness):

“And he wasn’t too rough with you? I want to ensure that he is treating his possessions with respect.”

Wren bowed her head. “He behaved perfectly well. As you know, a lady doesn’t discuss such things.”

Lord Acton burst out laughing. “A lady? Is that what you call yourself?”

“She jests, my lord,” Collis said. She gave Wren a sharp look. Wren got the message. They were his playthings, not his equals. She knew as much. She just couldn’t reveal that Ferran would find no pleasure in her. She’d likely to be passed on to Cordell.

“Ah, a sharp sense of humor you have, little bird,” Lord Acton said. He smiled at her. “Has Ferran told you anything about me?”

“No, nothing at all. He’s barely said a word to me,” Wren said. Lord Acton raised his eyebrow at her. “We’ve been too busy for talking, you see.”

Lord Acton let out another long laugh. “Not such a lady now, are we?” He took a sip of wine. “And you, what of my brother? Has he anything to say about his Lord?”

“No, my lord,” Collis said. “Nothing but good things. He is happy with your command of Castle Sol.”

Lord Acton continued trying to talk about Ferran and Rozen, but he finally realized that the girls had nothing interesting to say about the subjects. He moved on to talk of how his lands had not been so prosperous that year. Wren and Collis listened as Lord Acton went on for hours about his land and the landholders around him. By the end of it, Wren could name each and every farmer who worked the land around the castle, but she still didn’t know what Lord Acton wanted with them. Had he gotten bored with his usual girls?

“My lord, it’s time for supper,” a servant said, appearing in the doorway. Servants had been in and out to refill the pitcher of wine twice. Wren and Collis had only sipped from their glasses, never refilling them even once. Wren didn’t know how Lord Acton wasn’t yet drunk from it all; or better yet, passed out and snoring in his luxurious chair.

“Off with you whores,” Acton said, waving them away. “Bring me my food, I have no wish to dine with the others. Bring me the purple whore to feed them to me. I don’t want a scrap of clothing covering her magnificent breasts.”

Now, this is a first draft, but so were the others, so it’s a fair change. The first one was fifth grade, the second one was tenth grade, and the third one was present day. That’s a span of 11 years. If you ever despair about never being a good enough writer, look at some of your older stuff. If you have no older stuff, shut your mouth and keep writing!

How has your writing changed over the years?

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. :\

Make Me NEED to Read Your Book

There is one specific genre that I find most compelling to read. It’s not really a genre, even, just a broad plot line. When I read these stories (when done correctly) I’m gripping the edge of my seat (figuratively) and biting my nails (sometimes literally) and reading as fast as I can until I get to the end.

One such book is Inside Out. To get an idea of how amazing this book is, it has no one star reviews on Amazon. Not a single one. There are 147 reviews, and none of them one star, even though the book has been out since 2010. I call that impressive. (The second book only has 90-some reviews, but it has only three star reviews and up!)

The next such book is Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. I might be a bit biased because I LOVE Juliet Marillner, this book has 0 one star reviews out of 102 and has again been out since 2010. I’ve reread this book multiple times, and like Inside Out, it’s one of the ones that made the trip to college with me.

So, what genre are these books? Well, they’re both young adult. Inside Out is science fiction and Heart’s Blood is fantasy, and both have romance. The main character in Inside Out is a lower-class janitor of sorts and the main character in Heart’s Blood is a traveling scribe. What is so similar between the two stories?

Well, it’s frustration. The characters make bad choices, choices you want to throw a book at them for. They don’t do what you want them to. They’re like the blonde in the horror movie who goes through the door you know has a serial killer behind it, you just want to yell, “YOU IDIOT, GET OUT OF THERE, STOP THAT.”

Not only that, but in both stories there is a distinct “The world is against us” vibe. I love stories like that that throw every single obstacle at the characters, so much so that it seems like they’re not going to make it (even though most stories I’ve read have a happy ending). George R. R. Martin is fabulous at this kind of writing, especially because you KNOW he isn’t afraid to kill off the character you’re routing for. (Here is a link to a spoiler that is only safe if you’ve read all his books that illustrates my point.)

So, here are some tips for making me need to read your story:

  • Make your character likable. If I don’t like them, I won’t care if they’re killed. (I don’t yet have a post about making a character likable, but Stephanie Meyer wrote a whole book about making a character unlikable.)
  • You don’t have to threaten to kill your character, but some kind of conflict has to happen. Not just any conflict. The more frustrating, the better. Right after A and B fall in love, A overhears B talking to C about how much he hates D and misunderstands him and thinks that he was talking about her then flies away to England and enrolls in University even though B just accepted a job in Pittsburgh and they’re perfect for each other. Just as X and Y were about to overthrow the oppressive government, Z swoops in and throws them in jail. J and H are about to pull off the big heist when they open the safe and find that it’s empty. You get the picture.
  • Be convincing when you write your conflict. As I said, most of us can tell if a story is going to have a happy ending. Romance novels, young adult novels, novels by specific authors—we can normally guess. However, you want to write well enough to make your reader forget that. You want them to be so caught up in the story that they think that X and Y are really going to be executed, or that A and B might never get back together again.

The meat of the story is the conflict, so you have to make sure you do it right. I’ve read books where I ended it with a “meh” and never picked it up again. Worse, the conflict happened too late in the story and I never got to it because I got bored in the first few pages. You want to make your readers NEED to finish the book, and if you’re really good, they’ll need to read your next book too!

What’s your favorite novel where it’s been the character versus the world?

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

pug

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.