1. Stop trying to come up with a “new” idea. Everyone thinks that they’re going to come up with the next Sixth Sense or Harry Potter. The problem is that you spend your time thinking and not writing. Write a story you’d want to read.
2. Stop worrying about plagiarism. It’s great that you’re so confident in your skills that you assume your novel will be published. But if this is your first novel, keep in mind that first novels are often like pancakes. You should throw the first one out. This is your practice novel that gives you the chance to learn how to write a novel. If you get published, bonus!
2a. Plagiarism, part two. If you want to truly understand story structure, character development, dialogue and all the other ingredients of novel writing, write your book as your favorite author would. In fact, take your idea and page by page, sentence by sentence, copy your favorite novel using your plot, characters and ideas. Often, you become a master by out-and-out copying the masters. Most people’s first novel is a rip-off of someone else’s anyway. Mine was a rip-off of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. My oldest daughter Chloe’s was a rip-off of Twilight. Shhh. There, there. We all do it. Now put that manuscript in a drawer and get on with your next project.
3. Stop using yourself as a character. What happens? It’s you, only smarter, better looking and cooler than you. And in this incarnation, you’re flawless, which equals boring and inauthentic.
4. Stop trying to shoehorn a “message” into your narrative. You’ll be amazed how your writing will speak to your readers if you’ll just get out of its way.
5. Get over the idea that you have to write literary fiction. Get over the idea that you have to write genre fiction. Get over the idea that you have to write any particular type of fiction at all. Write the story of your heart.
6. Quit trying to impress people with your vocabulary (which isn’t really yours, after all…it’s dear old Roget’s); with your fierce intelligence (you’re a writer, after all); with your rapier wit. Tell the story.
7. Stop worrying that you’re going to offend someone. You’ll self-censor and it will gut your story like a trout. You’re going to offend people. Nothing you can do about it. Stop trying to control other people’s emotions and responses to your writing.
8. Do your research. Don’t write what you don’t know. Somebody will know, and they’ll be happy to point out your mistakes. Preferably in public.
9. Don’t sit around thinking about who’ll star in the movie that’s sure to be made from your novel. Don’t daydream about what you’ll do when you’re famous. Think about writing. Better yet, write.
10. Don’t worry about making it perfect the first time through. Get the story down. Then make it poetic, brilliant and life-changing.
11. Stop working on those first five chapters. Write your first draft. All the way through. Until you type “The End.” Then worry over the first five chapters.
12. Stop obsessing about the first line.
13. Stop obsessing about the title.
14. Tell the story.
15. Don’t get your dialog from movies. Get your dialogue from real human beings, who, as it turns out, speak differently from movie characters.
16. So you have a riveting scene or line of dialogue that you can’t get out of your head? Don’t base an entire novel on it. Come up with your story, your plot, then adapt your scene or dialogue to the story…not the other way around.
17. Read a lot. This is the best way to internalize that structure of a novel.
18. Read books on writing. Practice the techniques they suggest.
19. Go to writers’ conferences and conventions.
20. Join a critique group and learn to take constructive criticism. Really listen if more than one person makes the same criticism. I met a guy at a conference once who read from his manuscript in front of a real live New York City publisher, and the publisher told him that the concept was unworkable. Later that night in the bar, I heard the guy say, “That publisher doesn’t know what he’s talking about. All my friends love the concept.” Six years later I was judging a writing contest, and lo and behold, his manuscript wound up in my judging pile. It was virtually unchanged from the first time I’d heard it. The publisher was right. The writer was wrong. And the concept still doesn’t work.
21. Stop waiting for “inspiration” to strike. Saying that you can only write when the muse calls is really a way of saying “I don’t feel like writing.” If you’re a writer, write. Don’t make excuses or come up with some mystical rap about the magical process that is your writing. You want a magical process? Sit your butt in a chair, turn on your computer or pick up a pen and start writing words.
by Chloe Hawker
My mother gave me her love of cemeteries
And words—those carved into stone monoliths
As well as those scrawled across the back of
Receipt paper and notepads stained with old
Coffee drippings. She gave me skinned knees
From kneeling in front of gravestones taking
Rubbings of the names and strange symbols,
Of the stories clawing out of the stale, dead
Earth or bursting through the broken door of the
Old mausoleum. She gave me lips
Stained with letters and ears eager to
Eavesdrop on the melodic conversations of
Eccentric strangers. She showed me the mist that only
Gathers at 4:07 in the morning in late October
When the leaves crisscross the tops of graves
Yet to be dug. She taught me to hear the
Murmurs in the ground around coffee shops
And subway stations and dark clearings when the
Moon hits just right. We are words, stone, mist,
And eyes, with dirt on our knees and callouses
On our fingers from gripping the pen so
Tight we felt we might break right through
The thin veil that covers the
Graves and syllables, ghosts and symbols.
In my open palms lies my inheritance:
Death, shrouded dreams, and creation.
Conan is so sad. Why did you choose to name a product with a misspelled word? You did this deliberately, didn’t you? Because the alternative is just too terrible and stupefying to contemplate.
While we’re on the subject, Downy, who writes your web copy? He or she misspelled “freshness” as “freshess” in the Unstopables (*shudders*) text. Please. I beseech you. I implore you. I entreat you. Reconsider. Everything.
At my critique group meeting the other night, we were going over some pages from a member we’ll call the Divine Miss M. She’s writing an urban fantasy about a straight-up avenging angel, and it is going to be amazing. But as I was critiquing the pages, I found that she was using uppercase for epithets like “Honey” and “Sweetie” and “Babe.” This bugged me, but I couldn’t find any expert resource that addressed this issue. I went to the Chicago Manual of Style and first of all wasn’t sure how to search for such information. I did a Google search and found forums discussing the issue, but again, no definitive answers (mostly a lot of “I think it should be X” and even worse, “I feel it should be Y.”)
So I hit the Amazon bestseller lists and went through the books that have the “Look inside” option.
Here are the results from Stephen King’s 11/22/63.
So when you can’t find a definitive answer as to whether to use the serial comma or “all right” vs. “alright,” search the bestsellers and/or books produced by your publisher of choice and follow their style rules.