Practice Makes Perfect, But…

The most common mantra new writers hear is something along these lines, “Your first one million words is crap.”

Now, if you think about it, one million words isn’t all that much. If you write an average of 3,000 words a day, you’ll hit that in 333 days, assuming you have that much material planned out. Even if you only work five days a week, you’ll hit that goal around eighteen months.

There are several things you should be doing while churning out your first million words. I am not going to write “practice, practice, practice” because these points below is the assumption you are doing that.

1. Get feedback. This is critical. You need honest opinions on where you are as an author. If you ignore everything else in this post, do not ignore this one. It is quite possible to write one million words of garbage and your next million will also be garbage. There are two types of critiquers for getting feedback – alpha readers and beta readers. Alpha readers are there to look for things like plot, characterization, bad scenes, etc., but they are also there for grammar and editing. They also read the work as you craft it. They help you polish the draft in progress. A beta reader is given a finished and slightly polished draft. They are exclusively there to critique things like bad plot, characterization, weak scenes, pacing, tension, etc.

2. Emulate the style and techniques of your favorite successful author. Another mantra is “fake it until you make it.” However, as you’re writing your one million words, understand the techniques how your favorite published author approaches his craft.

Here’s an example of Robert Jordan, one of my favorite fantasy authors, on how he approaches crafting through his Wheel of Time series.

Prose – A heavy mix of purple prose on adjectives, but very little if any adverbs. Uses some adverbial phrases.

Plot – An epic arc with many subarcs and sidequests. Reads like a soap opera.

World-building – Heavy on the world-building and dialogue is immersive. Sometimes you’ll need the glossary in order to understand some cultural references.

Characterization – A ton of power players and women have full free agency. Everyone has an agenda and goals.

Style – Jordan will take the time to describe the action of the character while talking. If they get up out of their seat, even if it’s not relevant, he will describe it, but you get a full picture of what people are doing.

Voice – Active, definitely active. Had few passive verbs only where necessary in his prose.

3. Read blogs on writing. I read several authors on how they approach various topics such as describing body language (“show, don’t tell”), plots, tropes, cliches, etc. You want to do this because they may provide you with a retinue of information that changes your approach to writing. You never want to be dismissive of other writers’ approach because as you develop your own writing style, you may come across something that will vastly improve your own.

In conclusion: practice, get feedback, copy the successful strategies until you craft your own, and always research.

When Facing the Possibility of a Rewrite

You finally finished the first draft. It weighs in at a decent 90,000 words. You gather together a group of your close friends, some beta-readers, and general critics. You send it off for feedback and criticism. Time goes by and the comments start pouring in!

“Your draft has problems,” is the gist of many comments.

So what do you do? Abandon the project? Give up writing? Or rewrite the darn thing and give it another shot?

First, understand what a rewrite is versus a revision. A revision is simply editing certain scenes or plot points within the draft.  Much of the story hasn’t changed.

A rewrite is major changes to the story.  If you compare the first draft to the rewrite, it’s significant enough that the original story is unrecognizable. An example of this is when I wrote the first draft of Fallen From the Stars. My draft had the Main Character, confronting the wolves in Chapter 6. After I finished the first draft, the entire draft read flat; no tension, too many jokes, sarcasm, etc. I hated it. So I went back and rewrote it, adding a major supporting character to the story. That wolf confrontation chapter went from Chapter 6 to Chapter 22. I ended up rewriting so much that over half my original plot had to be pushed to the next book. The second draft read so much better for it; however, I revised the work again. Once I finished with the third draft, I felt it was ready for beta-readers.

The Two Types of Rewrites

As a writer, we’ll face two types of rewrites – voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary rewrites are where you as the author came across something in your story that you slammed the breaks. It could be a eureka moment in that you know if you did a rewrite, it will make your book stronger. Or it’s a moment where you scream at yourself, “What the hell was I thinking? There is no way that would have happened!” An example of this is when you realize a good twist, but it means you have to go back and rewrite a lot of chapters in order to get this twist out.

Let’s pretend you’re writing a sci-fi story about a mystic apprentice training to be a master mystic warrior. At the beginning of the story, our hero has a vision of some evil dark lord killing his father and throughout the story, he trains to hunt down his father’s killer. At the end of the story, he confronts his father’s killer, fights him, gets his butt handed to him, and will face off in the next book tentatively titled, Return of the Master Mystic Warrior.

But you have a eureka moment and decide that the father’s “killer” really is his father the whole time. Now you need to go back, delete the vision, and rewrite some scenes that don’t tip off the reader ahead of time.

Involuntary is just as self-explanatory, but more painful. You’re told your work has significant problems, and when you read the comments…they’re right. Or maybe you submitted it to a traditional publisher and they say, “We’ll buy this story, but you need to kill off this major supporting character by the middle of the book. Oh, and change the time period from 2018 to 1978.”

First thing is to breathe. The second is to tackle the easiest tasks first regarding the rewrite. Did your beta-readers point out minor problems and grammar issues? Get those fixed first. Next, identify the chapters where your significant problem shows up. From there, work on it one chapter at a time.

In summary, rewrites are typically a big ball of no fun, particularly if they are involuntary. Accept them as a possibility in this line of work. Even Stephen King’s Carrie had numerous errors, cross-outs, and corrections to his script. No one is perfect, which leads me to my next post: Practice Makes Perfect, But…

Which Genre Should I Tackle First?

Maybe you’re one of those aspiring writers where you have so many ideas in your head, you cannot sort it out. You have Kodiak bears with laser beams shooting out of their eyes. You have space vixen elves flying on the backs of giant dragons fighting against the Nazis. You have Japanese giant mechs of transformable pirate ships fighting against magic-wielding Aztec gods. Or maybe something more contemporary of just two high schoolers in a recently desegregated South who fall in love in during one of the most volatile summers in the 1950’s. So, you ask yourself, what do genre do I write?

Recognition

Ask yourself this. What do you want people to recognize you for if they saw you on the street or at a book signing? What kind of conventions do you want to be the honored guest at? Or do you want to be known as an author who can tackle any genre?

If you imagine yourself as the guest of honor at Comic-Con or a similar sci-fi and fantasy convention, then the answer is easy, write fantasy and science fiction, or any of the subgenres in those categories. If that doesn’t appeal to you, then look at what your other interests are. Do you love history? Maybe a historical fiction would suit you.

Preparation

Another factor you may consider is how much preparation you’ll have to put into your story prior to actually writing it. The expression “write what you know” is really important should you decide to write a historical romance set in 13th Century France and you picture your main character walking around with a six-shooter. If you want to write a medical thriller about a killer virus, you need to demonstrate some understanding of biology and how viruses spread, so your story is plausible. If a lot of research is not for you, then your genre choices are now limited.

What the Market Will Bear

You may have heard the expression, “Write what you want.” Unless your work falls in with mainstream audiences, if you write that furry BDSM erotica, your story is not likely to find much of an audience. This is fine if commercial success is not your goal. If you want to build a serious fan base, you need to write for the market. Writing for the market is simple. Go to all the big traditional publishers and read their open submission guidelines of what they want.  Pay particular attention of what they don’t want. By knowing what stories they are looking for, you have an idea of what the market wants because they’ve already done the research for you.

Happy writing!