Sunday, November 28, 2010

So You Want to Write a Novel

Got this from David Kazzie's blog. I think it's pretty funny. Take a look.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

writing advice

Here’s my best advice about writing. Don’t take anyone’s advice about writing.

Not without the proverbial grain of salt or maybe a hundred grains anyway.

I love Robert Olen Butler’s book about writing FROM WHERE WE DREAM. I think it is one of the best books about writing I’ve read (there are a lot of bad ones out there it has to be said) but there are many things in that book I don’t agree with and can’t use.

Why? All writers are unique. Writing is one of the most personal, idiosyncratic activities around. What works for one writer might take the life out of another writer’s writing or at least lead them to do things that weaken some aspect of their writing.

Each writer has to find his or her way and take what he or she can from every source and leave the rest. It’s hard but finding your own way requires going the wrong way a lot.

So should you take my advice about writing to not take anyone’s advice about writing?

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Forgive me. I’m in a ranting mood today.

I’ve been out and about more lately because my book just came out. I’ve heard various versions of this a lot lately, “I’ve written an awesome novel. I’ve been writing for six months or a year or two. No one will publish it because I don’t know anyone. You know, it’s the gatekeepers. It’s a great book that would be a bestseller but I can’t get past those gatekeepers.” They go on to say everyone else is getting a big deal (but if you ask them who they know that got a big deal they will say they don’t actually know anyone but they’ve heard, they’ve read someplace—big deals, everywhere). Why not them? Why not them? I think we all do the “why not me?” thing sometimes, so I sympathize, but I also think that media attention to a few big deals skews new writers notions about publishing.

I’ve got a few things to add to that.

The first is that I read an article not that long ago that said the average published writer wrote a little over ten years before he/she published his/her novel. Now, of course that’s the average. You might do much better than that. I hope you do, but I didn’t. And it says something, doesn’t it, that it takes most writers that much time working on their craft before they publish. So, that’s one thing. Learning to write well is a slow process. If you’ve written for a year or two, even if you’ve written some good work, maybe your work isn’t quite ready to be published. Some writers do get to writing well very quickly but if you're not one of those writers, and obviously most of us aren't, you will get there if you keep writing with passion and a desire to improve.

Another thing: these deals people keep reading about are few and far between. People think there are deals being made all over the place and they’re missing out. They read about the big deals online every week or two so it seems like they’re the tip of iceberg, like there are many of these deals being made, but they’re, um, actually the whole iceberg. Those few big deals every month are in the news because they are so few. The much, much more common small deasl aren’t made a big deal about (ha) and the thousands of manuscripts that are rejected every week—you already know this—are not mentioned at all. I heard an agent speak recently. He said he got 5000-6000 queries a year. Last year he took on two new clients. I think that’s about the number of queries my agent got last year, too. Now, to put things in perspective that agent said about 90% of the manuscripts he got, he could dismiss right away for various reasons, but still. Lots of rejection out there and very few acceptances. That’s the norm. The big deal happens to someone, of course, and maybe you’ll be that person but it’s always a matter of luck and skill and the luck part, I’m afraid, is out of your control. Working hard to improve your skills though—that you can do.

Finally—are the best books always published and the others rejected? No. You may look at a published novel and think your manuscript is better than that. Maybe you’re right. (Of course, it has to be said that writers are not always the best judges of their own work). However, a number of other factors are always involved in publication besides quality. And also we all view “quality” subjectively so it’s a little hard to measure. For example, a person who hates all romance novels isn’t going to be able to judge a good one from a bad one. BUT all of that aside, I think some bad books or so-so books get published and I’m sure a lot of very good manuscripts get rejected. It’s the nature of publishing that manuscripts get overlooked and that some very good works that would only appeal to a small audience might not be published for that reason. That sucks.

BUT here’s the thing. If you let yourself get too distracted by dreams of being published to acclaim and big checks, you’ll miss out on what is most fun, most satisfying, most rewarding about writing-- the writing itself. And I believe that every writer with just a bit of talent can eventually, through hard work, through fighting to grow as a writer and writing a lot of words and reading, become a writer that agents and editors can’t ignore.

Or so I think today.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The End

I think that writers sometimes go on too long after the denouement of a story. They want to explain things and tie things up and there’s a temptation to have this go on for a few chapters beyond the point where the story has reached its true conclusion. If it’s over, it’s over. I know I’ve done this before in early drafts and had to figure out where the true ending should be. I think it’s worth being aware of this temptation to go beyond the true ending and wrap things up more neatly than they maybe should be wrapped up. Your true THE END probably comes pretty quickly after the resolution of the story.

OR so I think today.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

dream analysis

One of the things I always say about writing and remind myself when I write is not to think, not to force it, to try to find the place in myself and in the story where it unfolds as it would if I were in the story. I want to get in the zone or what Robert Olen Butler says is the “place we dream”, a kind of dream state. I go there every day when I write and I try to live moment to moment in my story. I do all that. Yes.

BUT there comes a time in revision when thinking is required, when you must puzzle over every aspect of a scene, a chapter, a section, the whole. You have to use your mind in a different way to analyze whether something is working or not working or how you might make it work better. How is what’s happening significant? How does it fit with the rest of the story? Why is it necessary? These are some questions that come to mind but there are many more and there are always those that are idiosyncratic to the manuscript I’m working on. Main point: you need that analytical and evaluative side to step in at some point and chide, advise, and order the more dreamy side that has, with luck, made the story and characters vivid and alive.

Or so I think today.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Can you select the right things to be in the foreground and the right things to be in the background? Can you focus on the important parts of the story? Can you make the less important parts but necessary parts pass at an appropriate pace, one that will make them present but not distracting?

Novels work and don’t work for many reasons. But this seeing what’s important and giving it dramatic focus and expression in scenes, and summarizing the less important, and leaving out the unimportant, is a critical aspect of structure.

Or so I think today.

Also, in case you live in Austin, I'm doing a book celebration/signing with these two lovely ladies:

Mark your calendars to Holler Loudly about Alien Invasions and Truth with a Capital T!

Authors Bethany Hegedus, Brian Yansky and Cynthia Leitich Smith will celebrate their latest books at 2 p.m. Nov. 14 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.