Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Evolution - 5 Common Questions of Aspiring Authors

Posted by: Regan Summers
This is a post aimed at writers. Readers may find it interesting. Hell, anybody who does or makes anything may find it interesting.

I’m often asked by aspiring authors at the beginning of their journey how I do things.

How did you finish your first book?

How do you keep going when life realizes you’ve been stealing time from it and starts locking it up?

How do you get back into it when the story/muse/characters aren’t speaking to you?

How do you develop a voice?

How do I know if it’s going to be worth it?


How did you finish your first book?
In the glorious frenzy of the ignorant. It was 98,000 words, a derivative story full all my favorite urban fantasy tropes – the daughter of a mysterious father who turns out to an exceedingly powerful half-vampire who falls in love with her protector and has to fight her way through a vampire power struggle and establish her place in the world. I think the only original elements were a Funyuns joke and an adorable fight between the heroine and her bestie in the bathroom.

But I had fun writing it. I didn’t know what a query letter was or why it was important. I didn’t stare, wide-eyed and fearful, as Twitter streamed along with news of the glutted marketplace or the “death of publishing”. I’m pro-education, but I think it’s easy for newer writers to get caught up in bad news or jealousy over others’ successes. If I were starting now, knowing what I do now about the state of publishing, I would write more fearfully. But I would keep writing because I love to read and I know there are a lot of people like me in the world.

How do you keep going when life realizes you’ve been stealing time from it and starts locking it up?
This struggle isn’t specific to the writer. A lot of us have demanding day jobs and/or demanding families and/or other conditions which slow us down. Nobody ever said you had to write 5,000 words a day every day. Or, if they did, they weren’t talking to you.

Writing isn’t a race. The best stories aren’t those fastest told.

That being said, I have found that I work best when I write consistently. I do try to write every day, making exceptions for family illness and socializing (everybody loses if you don’t engage with other humans in a focused way at least occasionally). This summer was terrible for my writing productivity. The weather was fantastic so I was trying to get the family out as much as possible, and I had a massive amount of additional work dumped on me at the day job. I was managing a scattered hour of writing time a day, when I prefer at least two. I like to re-read what I’ve previously written, both to ease me out of my daylight mindset and get me back into the voice and cadence of my story.

But an hour is better than nothing, and maintaining the routine allowed me to slip more quickly into the mindset I needed to write something, even if it was only a couple hundred words. There are very few days in which I cannot find or make an hour’s space.

Did I mention that I watch almost no TV? That helps me to find the time.

How do you get back into it when the story/muse/characters aren’t speaking to you?
I conspire and scheme in a way that I rarely do in my regular life. Seriously, it's like I've become a Borgia or a de Medici, or a member of some other powerful Renaissance family. I’ve never been a high drama person. But if I lose my story’s attention, if I find myself rewriting the same scene for a week with no idea where to go next, oh – the claws come out.

I leave that document up where it can see me and I slip into the brightest, sexiest thing I can find – a shiny new idea. Just because you’ve temporarily misplaced your motivation or direction for a work in progress doesn’t mean you aren’t ready to be productive. And, often, focusing on the upfront creativity required to start a new story will jumpstart the creativity required to get past a plot hole or dead end in your first work.

If that fails, I take a shower or do the dishes. Something about the water and the mindlessness tends to get the mental juices flowing.

How do you develop a voice?
I think that newer writers are often confused about what this means. Either they’re trying – whether consciously or not – to write in a style they enjoy reading, which is actually in conflict with their natural voice, or they believe that a voice has to beat the reader over the head. Voice is, in part, your natural style – the rhythm of sentences and the tone in which the characters experience their world. And, in part, it’s stylistic. Some writers have tremendous lyrical qualities to their writing, so that their prose sounds poetic. Others write short, concise sentences and include very little description but, in that, develop a voice of their own.

My advice to newer writers is, if you’re struggling with grammar or tense or how to write beyond ten pages or ten thousand words, forget about voice. Practice the craft. Educate yourself on the fundamentals until you’re no longer focused on them. Complete writing exercises until you can stretch your mind out and see a full story or character arc. Then, simply write. Your individual voice will develop and, with more practice, it will grow stronger.

Some people have more innate talent for writing than others. A few are amazing writers from the get-go, requiring little practice or guidance. The rest of us need to practice.

How do I know if it’s going to be worth it?
Ah. Well, that depends. What, to you, makes it “worth it”? Is finishing a book a success? Yes, yes it is. For every 30 people who tell me they’d like to write a book one day, I think I know of person who’s actually done it.

Is seeing your book for sale online and on bookstore shelves a success? Yes. But I also think the pile of unsold manuscripts in the closet or the dusty files on the hard drive are successes, testaments to your creativity and perseverance, your passion and delight in the process.

So, while your metrics for success may evolve, just as your process and ability will evolve, there are many aspects to writing that make it worthwhile.

About the Author

Regan Summers lives in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband and alien-monkey hybrid of a child. She is a huge fan of the low profile. She likes books, ottomans with concealed storage, small plate dining, libraries, Corporal Hicks, some aspects of pre-revolutionary France, most aspects of current Italy, and books.

Her Night Runner series, including Don’t Bite the Messenger and Running in the Dark, is available wherever e-books are sold.

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