I was recently on Goodreads and came across the review for a book which got some pretty heated comments on a negative review. I won’t put titles here or links, but let’s just say the novel touched on a timely, very controversial topic.
(It’s actually negative reviews like these which I seek out before buying and/or reading a book in order to save myself the frustration that some of these readers felt upon finishing this book.)
I don’t think it’s too much to say that the topic was assisted suicide, and a character whose life was apparently painted throughout the book as potentially wonderful, and who had the love and support of many family members chose suicide.
Now, it’s not really important to this post what my stance on this is, or even what yours is. Regardless of the author’s stance, or the reader’s stance, and whether either is pro or con on this topic or any other topic, several of the reviewers who rated it negatively did read the entire book. Them finishing was undoubtedly partially due to the controversy arriving in the climax of the book.
Now, as I see it, this situation actually could mean one of two things:
- the author misled the reader up until the ending;
- the author wrote the book to be captivating enough that a reader who disliked where the author was going still was intrigued enough to read it through to the end;
- (because I can’t count) the reader always finishes the books he/she begins.
The first two are legitimate claims that bear a bit of discussion, I think.
The author misled the reader.
This is a serious issue, people. If your reader gets to the end of your novel and thinks, that’s the stupidest thing this character could have done, I will never read another book by this author, or that the character acted completely OUT of character by making the decision he/she did and therefore the author turned this book into an agenda which he/she pushed on the reader, there’s an issue. (Besides my run-on sentence.)
As authors, we are people. (I know, right?) But as people, we are individuals with varying beliefs, belief systems, and sympathies (among other things, but I think that’s vague enough to be getting on with). That’s not a bad thing. You will always be able to find one reader in the world who would agree with you (should he/she find & read your novel). However, when a book is written under the guise of a novel, but it is really something to ambush people who don’t have your beliefs with, you need to look at why you want to write this as a novel. Perhaps it’s best as a persuasive essay, or a tweet.
The most infuriating thing for a reader is to get three-quarters of the way through a story that they are truly enjoying, where they are loving the characters, and expecting a certain result (through being led there by the character and author’s choices), only to have the exact opposite occur. This is not a plot twist. A plot twist has to be a legitimate action of the character, not one that is pressed upon the reader simply to surprise them. Now, can that plot twist be disappointing? Sure. Controversial? Sure. But can it be completely out of line with the rest of the novel? You guessed it: no. Capital-N-Capital-O, NO.
Your reader has to be able to look back at the rest of the novel and say, “Okay, even though I don’t like this ending, and I don’t agree with the character’s choice, I can see how the first 75% of the novel led up to this decision.”
Surprising the reader at the end of a book by taking sides on a controversial topic is never a wise choice. It’s risky, it’s frustrating, and it can ostracize your reader. Are there times when it’s worth it? I don’t know. But ending your book with something that will probably ostracize a large number of readers is not wise. It WILL lose you readers. Maybe not all of them, maybe not even most of them. But you will lose some.
2. The reader realized where the novel was going (or that it had the potential to go that way) and yet still read on because it was well written.
While still annoying for the reader, and the author may lose that reader for another book, the reader at least has the ability to step away from the book partially satisfied. They may choose to dislike the ending (I have read books that I disliked the ending of, as most readers have. Read long enough and widely enough, and you will too.), but the reader should, looking back upon the book and the character’s actions, etc., be able to discern that this was the book’s inevitable end.
As I said above, I have read many books whose endings I disliked. That does not, necessarily, mean that I end up hating the book. I may have chosen to write the ending differently if I had been the author, but that could be for myriad reasons. It could be simply because I loved the character(s) enough to wish them happiness, or because I disliked the character(s) enough to wish them unhappiness, or because I preferred to give them a more realistic ending. Never do I read all the way to the end of a book and say, “This book needed more politics and controversy.” (Maybe I’m weird. Maybe this post is becoming a political rant in itself.)
3. The reader always finishes the books he/she begins.
Although legit, this discounts both of the above points I was trying to make. If someone always finishes the book they start, no matter how painful, then all the author has to do is hook them with the first page. And we all know how easy that is. After all, everyone that started this blog read through to the end, right? Hello?
What do you think? What makes you angry about the ending of a novel? When do you stop reading & put a book down?
We all want to be that writer who can boast about fifteen thousand word days or writing a full-length novel in less than a week, putting NaNo participants to shame with their 50K in 30 days.
But is there a danger to high word count goals? Or is there a danger to setting word count goals at all?
I suppose the answer to these questions depends upon your own personality, and to answer these questions, let’s take a brief rabbit trail into the nature of your goals.
In order to achieve your goals, you must first set goals. (I know, that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?) There is no point in laboring toward something if you don’t know or understand what that something is.
Now, for the sake of this blog, I am going to assume that those of you who are reading this are writing a book. And if you are writing that book, you probably have an idea of what you are going to do with it in the end. Are you writing it for an audience or simply for yourself? Do you plan on publishing, or are you just writing it to “get it off your chest?”
So when you set these goals, you probably figured out around when you wanted to be done with your story, and realized you’d have to write X number of words a day in order to finish in time.
Motivation to getting those words written is key. Some authors set word count goals, others sit down for a certain number of hours a day, others write a scene a day and spend as much time as needed on that scene that day. Others write one perfect sentence by one perfect sentence, not moving on until the first sentence was perfect, then beginning on the next and not moving on until that sentence is perfect, up until “The End.”
Rabbit trail done.
So, what happens when you set those writing goals? First things first. Let’s hope that the goals you set are attainable.
Set Your Goal.
First things first: you need to set a goal. When do you want your story/novella/novel/memoir finished?
Okay, now figure out how many words a day you need to write in order to achieve that goal. (Note that a first draft is never a finished, i.e. publishable, draft.)
High aspirations can make you push yourself to achieve better, strive for the best, and can make you into a better version of yourself.
What if you don’t succeed?
Failure is draining even on a small scale like not meeting your word count for one day. Constant failure makes you believe that you aren’t what you want to be, or aren’t what you should be. Constant failure is the sure way to destroy your aspirations and remain where you are.
If you set attainable goals, you are giving yourself the greatest chance at success. If you set lofty goals, knowing that to achieve them would require a miracle, you are setting yourself up for failure.
When I set high goals, or when I have lofty aspirations, I find that I get discouraged quite easily when I don’t meet those goals. Let’s say I wanted to write 2000 words every day for the next sixty days. That would give me 120K at the end of those days–certainly more than a full length novel. Now, that’s great and all, but if the rest of my life doesn’t make achieving that goal look likely, I’m most likely going to get discouraged when I consistently fail at achieving my goals.
On the other hand, goals which are easily attained are great for boosting your confidence and convincing yourself that you are a writer, or making a habit out of something. For example, if you are trying to get in the habit of exercise, walking for five minutes a day is a great way to start. Pretty soon, you can extend that to ten, then fifteen, and you’ll hardly notice a difference, except in the way your pants fit. Make sure though, that you are increasing your goal to push yourself if you’re finding your current goal too easy.
Increasing Your Goal.
Just as in exercise, you can meet a plateau in writing. What happens then? Say you’ve reached the hour mark, you’ve got five pounds left to take off, and your walk just isn’t cutting it anymore. Something has to change. You can keep your walk at an hour, but it isn’t going to serve you any more towards your goal. So either your goal has to change, or your methods have to.
Likewise in writing, you can keep a 100 word a day habit for years, and in 1000 days, you’ll have written 100K, if you didn’t skip a day. That’s a novel. You’ve finished it. (Now you have the unenviable task of editing it.)
Many authors like to be challenged, and writing itself can be challenging. Any author will tell you that one sentence is not as easy to write as another sentence. But 100 words a day? Almost anyone can meet that goal. If you want to be a career author (or maybe just a serious writer), then make writing a habit and increase your goals over time for maximum productivity.
Every writer has to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to start out with low goals–it’s better than discouraging yourself with overly ambitious goals.
Don’t compare yourself to other writers (like those who boast about 15K words in a day). Compare yourself to yourself–compete with yourself. But know that, some days, no matter how hard you try, life is going to get in the way of your word count.
When you have extra time in your day, don’t be afraid to write above your word count goal. If you are in a flow, go with it! Setting a low goal and constantly achieving it can give you an excuse to be satisfied with your productivity, when you could be producing much more each day (and getting much further in your writing career!).
What if you’re reading this and say, “I don’t work well with word count goals?”
Well, there are some authors who simply don’t like to count words. (I use Scrivener to track my word count each day and work toward my goals, so it’s easy.)
But if counting words doesn’t appeal to you, or simply doesn’t motivate you, try writing for a certain amount of time per day. Set a kitchen timer for five minutes and write until the timer goes off. When you’ve mastered that five minutes a day and created a habit–turn up the timer to 10 minutes. Challenge yourself, repeatedly, and you’re bound to see results!
It’s been a busy world lately, both in my mind, and in the real world. I’ve been attacked with a few new story ideas while I’m trying to edit both a collection of short stories for publishing next summer, and also editing my novel WIP with the hopes of publishing in the fall or winter of next year (I still have to rewrite 75% of it and then send through Beta readers, etc.).
But, despite this hectic life I’ve been living, I’ve also been listening to a lot of self publishing podcasts and reading up about self-publishing. I’m only partway through my TBR list, but some of the ones I’m working through are:
APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepeneur. Kawasaki, Welch
Write. Publish. Repeat. The No-Luck Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success. Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant, with David Wright
I’ve lost track of other freebies I’ve picked up and browsed. And I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts, mostly from Truant & Platt’s “The Self-Publishing Podcast” & “Savvy Self-Publishing.”
But one thing I’ve come across multiple times is the idea of 100 true fans.
100 True Fans:
The general idea for this apparently hasn’t come from writing, or even blogging. It’s developed from a business point of view, and originally started as a blogging article entitled “1000 True Fans” by Kevin Kelly. (I was unable to find a link for his article, but just search his name on Amazon and you’ll come up with his books.)
Anyway, the idea of 100 (1000) true fans is that if you develop relationships with a small number of people, they will be more invested in your success and support you by buying your product. Now, the key to this would be that they are “true” fans. They cannot be partly on board or do anything other than adore you and your work, because these are the people who will spend their money on whatever you sell.
If you want to make a living off your work, you need these 100 true fans.
I think this is the dilemma between an author’s platform and traditional authorhood of writing and only writing. Before the Internet and ebooks, writers didn’t have to worry about promoting themselves, they only had to write their books and submit them to a publisher. A few would choose the self-publishing route and it would become their business or a side business selling books from the trunk of their cars–but few could make a living from it.
These days if you want to self-publish, the best time to begin your platform is years before you publish. Heck, if you want to traditionally publish, agents and publishers are looking for the same thing (but they may take a chance on you if your book is really good. A platform can be developed after all).
But this platform business is why there are so many author blogs out there (of which I am one), trying to get their baby blog off the ground and get followers. Not only followers, but followers who are invested in you and your product.
How do you do that? Don’t ask me. I’m no blogging expert. But I think this is easier said than done. Deliver what your reader wants, how your reader wants it, when your reader wants it. Deciphering what all those things are is another matter.
The point is that as writers, we want to be seeking those 100 true fans. You don’t need all 100 of these fans when you publish your first book. Instead, you can develop them as you publish. One of the major points made in Write. Publish. Repeat. is that you must write and publish frequently. (Indeed, the authors of this book write fast and furious, and publish often.) If all your hopes are in one book, you are probably not going to do well as a self-published author. When you have 100 true fans, they want more from you, or else you’re already going to have deivered all that you can to them and they have no further use for you. To be a successful self-published author, you must treat writing like it is your career. (Hopefully, it is.)
The easiest way to make and keep those 100 true fans, in my opinion, is to write a good series. I’ve never been much of a series person. I do enjoy a few, but I usually wait until almost all the books are out before beginning the series. Therein lies an issue for an author self-publishing. If I don’t begin reading your books until the entire series is out, you have to first publish all those books–even if the first book doesn’t sell that well. So you really can’t count your success by your first book, can you? But series are great for one main reason: if you wrote the first book well, the second book practically sells itself.
Note the two keys in that last sentence: you have to write the first book well, and you have to publish again. Also, readers aren’t going to wait years in between books. You have to push out books in high quantity and quality.
I recently picked up a self-published book on Kindle for $.99 with a fantastic cover and a great premise. Seemed like a good buy. Inside, it reads like a first draft. You can write a great book with a professional cover and everything, but if it’s unedited and you haven’t put the time in, your readers (i.e. your fans) will be able to tell. Would you want to read a book with multiple typos on every page? No? Then don’t expect your readers to be willing to do that. This particular author has written two books in this series and published both, as if putting the series idea to work. Shockingly, there are many 4 and 5 star reviews for their book on Amazon, graciously forgiving the typos and praising the story. Now, I doubt she’s making a living off these books, but she clearly has some devoted fans, or at least people willing to write a review for her books. She’s doing some things right, even if editing is too low on her list of priorities.
Quality editing is also something mentioned in 100% of the books on self-publishing that I have read. Quality editing. You can’t just have a few friends read over your novel and give it the thumbs up. They aren’t editors. And they’re your friends, they are going to be kind. So is family.
If you are going to go the self-pub route, quality editing is vital. If you happen to be a great editor, perfect. But you still need to send it to someone else for another round of quality editing. You won’t catch everything–the perfect editor won’t either. But multiple rounds and multiple eyes will catch most of fit.
Why do you need a quality editor? Can’t people just forgive a few typos if they know your’e indie? Yes and no. If it’s really a few typos, sure. But chances are, where there’s one you caught, there are twenty you didn’t catch. And while people don’t really care these days if you’re indie or not, they are going to care if you’re unprofessional or not. And what quality editing tells your reader is that you’re professional.
Remember, any typo or glaring mistake takes a reader out of your story. I’ve read a lot of beginning writers’ works and helped edit a lot of them. When something published reads like a first draft, I’m in red-pen mode. And I know a lot of non-writer readers that do the same thing. So do everyone a favor, and do your sales a favor by hiring an editor.
If you’re going to make a career out of writing, then an editor is a must.
So 100 fans. Are they necessary? What do you think?
Science has suggested multiple benefits for reading, such as the obvious: increased knowledge and vocabulary, improved focus and concentration, better memory, mental stimulation, stress reduction, and the most important pertaining to a writer–increased writing ability.
I have found that reading truly is the basis for growth as a writer. When I am reading a lot, I start to write better, especially when I find a writer whose style I admire.
But over the years, what I’ve really started working on is this: Read more books, and write fewer words.
Note that I don’t mean write less often or fewer stories. But a good writer cuts the fluff and yet writes description concisely.
Why You Should Read More:
Besides the obvious things I listed above, reading teaches you a lot about the nuances of language.
Most writers are avid readers. They love a good story, but also an eloquent turn of phrase. Many writers I know will highlight a passage that especially speaks to them, or even mark favorite paragraphs to study them later. Many writers will take a favorite book and outline it, noting where the inciting event falls, where the first and second plot points are, the pivot points, etc.
As a writer, we can utilize everything we read, ponder it, and use it later in our own writing. We can learn from the masters. So read a lot, and read widely.
Why Should You Write Less:
Almost every beginning novelist’s first novel is a beast of a book, many thousands of words, many of them superfluous.
I know in my own first novel, I wrote whatever I wanted, I didn’t plot, I didn’t even think about plot, and I hardly thought about what was going to happen except what I wanted to happen. That book was for me, every last word of it. I wrote until my time with those characters ended, and then I put that novel away and said good-bye to them.
But were I to look back at that novel now, I have a feeling that much of it would be unnecessary to plot and unnecessarily telling. Were I to ever return to that novel (should I be able to find it), it would require many words to be deleted.
Sometimes good writing isn’t about more words, but about fewer words and more meaning.
Here’s an example from my current WIP.
Tate chuckled, took my hand in his, and tucked it into the inner part of his elbow. He leaned over to my ear as we descended, me on his opposite side than before now, so the wall offered no bannister for me to grab should I stumble again. I tightened my grip on him and lifted my skirt with my free hand to make sure I didn’t fall all the way down the stairs.
This is all fine and good. It’s descriptive, it sets the picture. But it is a bit wordy, a little too descriptive and doesn’t tell us much when you actually examine it.
Let’s try again.
Tate chuckled and tucked my hand into his opposite arm from before. Now I had nowhere to grab but him and, while I lifted my dress with my free hand, I almost hoped to fall so I could hold him tighter.
Which is more descriptive of the situation? Which is more interesting? Hopefully you said the second one to both questions. While the first gets the job done, the second reveals more about the character and situation.
Reading and writing are indivisible. You can’t truly love to write unless you love to read. So do both, but pay attention to all that you can while reading, and then watch how it infiltrates your writing.
Usually I post on Saturday mornings. Today, I didn’t have anything to post, and after a day’s deliberation, I feel like I still have nothing to say. In other words, nothing has inspired me to write today.
Anyway, today has led me to wonder: what do you write about when you have nothing to say? How do you get out of something usually termed “writer’s block?”
the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.
as according to Oxford Dictionaries.
Some people don’t believe in writer’s block, and claim that the muse comes to them when they sit down and write, regardless of time and place–it’s a matter of discipline. I’m usually of that camp, but this week I’ve been especially tired and this cold has given me a run for my money. For example, I laid down today to watch some TV and fell asleep, even though I got a good night’s sleep last night.
Every writer has a legitimate excuse sometimes. There are days when writing just won’t happen, and it’s okay to take a break, even if unplanned. When life gets in the way, sometimes it’s a way of saying that you need a break, even though you’re not ready to take one.
But even that is not my point for today. Writing is commonly considered an “inspired” job. But what happens when you aren’t inspired? Either the job doesn’t get done, or it’s done half-heartedly.
If you’re building a business of writing (or blogging), neither of those are really an option. Sure, no one can be 100% 100% of the time, but you need to have a consistent, good output in order to stay in business. So what do you do when you have nothing to say?
There are several ways to brainstorm, but one of them is by simply opening a journal and starting with one word. For blogging, it could be “blogs” or “blog topics.” Then draw a line from that and start writing down as many blog topics as you can think of, without stopping to consciously think. Just keep the pen on the paper as much as possible. If you have an idea associated with one of those topics, write it down with a line connecting it, and continue connecting thoughts and ideas until you run out. Then take a look at them and see what you have a lot of ideas for and if you can muster up an article out of them.
A lot of writers will keep a list of topics to write about, turning to it in times like this when you need a topic quick. I do that in my blog drafts. I have probably a dozen unfinished blogs in there, but not one of them seemed to be something I could expand upon this time. (I’m blaming the head cold for that.) But keep your unfinished drafts for days or weeks like this, when you need an idea quick and nothing comes to you.
If you’re truly out of ideas, peruse other blogs and their archives and see if something ignites your muse. Don’t steal from them–that’s plagiarism, but try to find a new twist on what they’re saying, or even disagree with them.
Sometimes, pictures really are worth a thousand words. There are inspiring pictures, sad pictures, pictures that remind you of your past or of your possible future. Don’t be afraid to use what a picture invokes to inspire your story or your blog.
Your Past/Personal Experience:
Likewise, personal experience can sometimes speak volumes to a reader. They could be going through a similar thing and need to hear what you have to say. Use a brainstorming method to come up with topics that you could “speak” on, and write from there.
Take A Walk:
Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Perhaps you see a tree and it inspires you to perfect that paragraph you’re stuck on, or maybe it’s what your entire story will center around, or maybe you see a child playing, and that sets the stage for your next scene, or … you get the idea. Sometimes it just takes letting your feet wander for your mind to wander down the right path.
If you have the opportunity, take a break by working on a different project. If you’re stuck in your novel, work on a short story, or a different novel. If you’re stuck on non-fiction, work on some fiction, and vice versa.
Keep A Notebook:
Slightly different from a file cabinet, keep a notebook on things that inspire you. Paste magazine pictures, words and their definitions which provoke you, fabrics or postcards, whatever you see and think, “hey, I could write something about that.”
Consider The Other Side:
Think about what your reader would want to read about. Could you give it to them? If there’s a plot twist you’re approaching which will make them unhappy, could you write it the other way? Or can you think of an article they might like to read that you feel equipped to write?
Hopefully some of these suggestions can help you write when you feel the muse has abandoned you!
Tell me: What techniques do you use to avoid writer’s block?