Word count. Book returns. Agent hunting. Editor cuts. Bad reviews. Not enough reviews. Poor sales. Writers block. Procrastinating. Lack of motivating. Book cover designs. Royalties. Self-publishing. Platforms. And book pirating. There’s a lot to give an authors grief these days. And, I feel for you. I really, truly do. But at the end of the day, it’s not about the agents, it’s not about the sales, it’s not even about the word count. It’s about entertaining the reader. At least, that’s how I look on writing. So if you’re so worried about all of the above, and not having fun while writing, how is the reader supposed to have fun reading something you were agonizing while writing?
I like to look on it like actors in movies and on TV shows. I think it’s pretty clear on screen when actors don’t get along or don’t have a lick of chemistry. But if they take the time off-screen to bond and hang out together and try to become friends and goof around on set, I think it shows a lot on screen. Take the SyFy original Eureka for example. It’s set in a small town, and you really get a sense of community. I saw on a comic-con panel on YouTube that the cast really got along well and even hung out after takes. I think that’s why their character dynamics worked so well, because the cast members all cared about each other, even if their characters weren’t supposed to get along on screen. So if the writer hates the project they’re working on, or is worried about how many words they wrote that day or anything else bothering them, I think it shows in their writing if they’re not having fun on their own project.
I think when this happens, we tend not to be so open minded about where our characters can take us, and it feels a bit strained and constricted when you read this. My first few drafts suffered from this, but when I let it go and realized a lot of stuff I was worried about my editor could probably help me with later, I became relaxed when writing and my characters took the story in directions I couldn’t even dream about.
I know it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done. And I’m sure when I’m a published author, it won’t be quite as much fun as doing it as a hobby until I’m ready for agent-hunting. But let’s not forget about the fun part of writing! I’m not saying DON’T worry about all those concerns listed above, but try to save those worry for when the book is agent-worthy or ready for self-publishing if you can.
Tips on turning attitudes around while writing (as I learned the hard way):
1. Focus on Characters:
My characters are like my best friends that live in my head. I embrace them, and they often make me laugh. I know if I love my characters as much as I do, and pretend that they are real, then maybe the reader can love them and wish they were real too.
2. Don’t sweat if it’s good or not:
First draft isn’t made for being good, I think this is the most advice I hear from published writers. It’s supposed to be kind of thrown up on the word document, and then cleaned and polished later. This isn’t always easy to remember. I know I’ve been stuck plenty of times, but the best way to get unstuck is to just push through and write, even if you know it’s rubbish. I’ve had about 30ish drafts of my Time and Heart, and know how annoying it is when you’re not sure where to go in the story or if it’s too long or too short. But I stopped worrying and just let go to write. I know it takes a long time to get comfortable enough with your characters to do this. But I’m glad I did. It took a while to edit and cut myself, but it was worth it for the results by worrying about editing at the end instead of doing it while writing.
3. Don’t set word count goals every day:
Everyone writes differently. Some people have to write 1k words a day or else they feel like they let themselves down. That’s great if this method works for you. I tried doing this. But I found I was so worried about how many words I wrote and how fast I wrote them that I wasn’t thinking as much about the words themselves or what was going on in my scenes. I found once I stopped watching the word count meter on Word, I wrote better.
4. Write every day, even if it’s ten minutes at a time:
I learned to write a little bit every day. 10 minutes at lunch, a little at work during down time and before bed. Sometimes you can’t always write a few hours at a time each day. That’s okay. In fact, that’s probably a good sign you’re living a healthy life full of work and social commencements. But we always have some down time. Try carrying a steno pad with you in your coat pocket or purse and scribble down words here and there. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, you’ll be surprised at the end of the week how much that adds up. I’m doing this for my YA novel Thumbs Up, and I can sneak in a chapter a day using this method. It’s been more relaxing, because at night I feel okay to chill out with movies and call my friends and family because I know I already had written that day. Plus, it’s great stress reliever at work when I spend my breaks writing. And when I type it out in word, I kill two birds with one stone by being able to edit as I type out what I wrote that day.
5. Ask yourself: if this was a movie or TV show, what would look cool:
When I get stuck, especially in my sci-fi Time and Heart, I ask, ‘if this was a Jerry Bruckheimer production, what would look cool?’ Usually it’s adding an explosion 🙂 or a fight scene, or a heated argument. So if you get stuck, ask yourself what your favorite style of movie or TV show would look like if you were writing it. I find it very inspirational.
5.5. Not just a writer, but a director:
Sort of like No. 5, but I like to think of myself not as a writer, but as a director. I sort of set up the scene with the lighting and the stage set and everything and let my characters improvise from there. Sometimes I step in if I don’t like where they’re going, but I learned the hard way it’s best to listen to them. They know their own story better than I do, and I trust that they are awesome enough to take the story away. I look on it that if I try to “control” them, it means I don’t trust them, in other words, they are not worthy of a character. If that happens, I go to the drawing board of my character I don’t like, and flesh them out a little bit with back story to get to know them. Once I feel comfortable with them, I can usually trust them to lead the story, knowing if it’s such a good character, they’ll turn it into a good story.
6. Hire an Editor:
Get a professional editor. Yes, they’re expensive. And yes, if you traditional publish the publishing house will provide one. But I find at least for me, an editor has been incredibly freeing. I’m able to not worry so much about format and things because I know he’ll be able to take care of it when it’s ready for final edits. But above all, he’s been very helpful on story structure and stretching the story to new heights. My editor has helped me most when saying it needs more in a scene. What I like about my editor, is he doesn’t give you ideas, but rather, tells you when a scene isn’t working or should be cut. On that note, don’t be afraid of cutting scenes from your story. It’s kind of like pruning a garden, you have to kill the dead leaves and flowers so new, better ones can bloom. And when the final edits are done, I know it’ll have even a stronger chance of having an agent represent it rather than shooting in the dark without having a professional look over it. If you can’t afford an editor (I had to save up a couple years for mine, but worth it!) then at least have a few beta readers look it over before submitting or self-publish. They will tell you if some scenes are boring and slows the story down or if your story is on track.
7. Talk to your characters:
It might feel like you’re turning into a crazy person at first, and I don’t necessary recommend talking to them out loud or else people will lock you up in a padded room; but talk to them in your head. Visualize their outfits, their hair style, and their personalities and have a proper sit-down chat. At work, my cubicle is right across from the conference room. One of my favorite ways to pass 8-5 when I’m not focusing on my given task at work is visualizing my characters around the conference room. Bas is always at the head of the table, next to Mimi and the rest of the main characters. I imagine them chilling out and relaxing and just talking. Sometimes I’ll “be” in the room too, and I’ll ask them where they want the scene to go. I make sure each character has their say in what should happen, and then I leave it up to the writing. I don’t think when I write, I just let the story take it’s own way. But I think asking the characters what they want, helps for this to happen.
8. Ask yourself why you started writing in the first place:
If you’re really stressed out, remind yourself why you’re writing. What is the point of publishing this particular story? For Time and Heart, I’m really trying to give it a story about finding self confidence and standing up for yourself, something I feel a lot of teens and even adults struggle with every day – something I struggle with every day. Give your story a cause, and I find it helps pushing through the days I just too hungry, tired, lazy to write. Sometimes I picture the book cover and get really excited and motived. Sometimes I picture it on the silver screen, with actors of my choice playing my characters. The last two reasons why I write are a bit more superficial, but they are motivating and exciting and make me love writing all over again.
9. If still stuck, write something else:
It’s okay to get writers block. I disagree when some writers try to claim there is no such thing as writers block, only laziness. I disagree. Sometimes even when we ask our characters what to do, we still don’t know where to go. I used to get really depressed when this happens. And then it happened so much, I started to think maybe it’s a natural part of writing. So instead of freaking out about it, I turned to another WIP I have going on and write that. Because I find, at least for me, when you work on something else, that thing you were stuck on hits you vividly, so I stop the something else and go back to my original project. But don’t use writers block as an excuse not to write. It just means it’s time to write something else.
10. Writers, well, write:
It sounds simple, but if you don’t write and only aspire, that’s not being a writer. It’s all good and dandy to daydream, plot in your notebook and character develop. But if you don’t work on your story, or another story at least a little bit every day or the very least once a week; ask yourself: does that make you a writer? Maybe it does if your goal isn’t to publish (self-publish or otherwise) and if that’s the case than that’s okay. For the first ten years of my writing, I treated it like a hobby. I didn’t think it’d go anywhere, so I just did it just for fun. I didn’t take it very seriously. And that’s okay, because writing is fun. But if you want to make a career out of it, don’t forget in all your worry to write.
And that’s all the tips I have for now. I’ve seen a lot on Twitter and Facebook of my author friends stressing out about their book sales (positive and negative) and about reviews, so that’s what inspired me to write this. I’m not an expert by any means, since I don’t even have a book out yet. But I feel like I’m getting there. And I’m constantly discovering and learning about writing. I think anyone who thinks themselves as an expert needs an ego check, because writing develops with every story, with every character in this ever changing market.
So what are your biggest worries when writing? How have you managed to cope? Agree or disagree with any of the points above? As a reader, have you ever read a book and think to yourself if the author’s heart was in it, or if the story felt forced? If so, what was the book, did you keep reading it or put it down? I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below!