Thursday, April 1, 2010

Advice for Aspiring Authors

So much of what I have had to say lately, particularly that expressed in writing, initially comes out one tweet at a time. I'd consider this a bad thing except that Twitter's constraint of 140 characters and the fact that I sometimes receive tangible proof that people are paying attention has turned out to be liberating. Who knew I had so much to say? Well, truth is, I did. But now others, mostly strangers, do as well. An actual audience. Nothing wrong with that to go along with my slowly growing list of blog followers. For my latest commentary, this one about the writing process, see below. Responses always have been and always will be greatly appreciated, especially now that I've adjusted my blog settings to keep out the Spam. So please share your own thoughts after perusing mine. Happy reading, and for the aspiring authors who happen upon this entry, happy writing as well.

Since joining Twitter I've read countless tweets joining forces with countless snippets of advice elsewhere in cyberspace giving authors tips ranging from the rather obvious to the pretty useful.

These innumerable tips for authors have regarded how to query, to submit, to market, to promote, to sell, etc. Tons of information out there to be sopped up like gravy with a biscuit.

Whether you're self pubbed, pubbed by small publisher, or a minor author pubbed by a big publisher scarcely aware of your existence, much of the promotional work is in authors' hands nowadays.

Literary agents want authors to do their work for them so pitches to editors are made easy. Editors want authors to do their work for them so pitches to marketing department are made easy. Marketing department wants authors to do their work for them so pitches to public are made easy. Quite a lot heaped on plate of author who thought his/her work was done by completing their book. Turns out the work has just begun.

Some authors are better at promotion than others. Some have more of a temperament for it or are more industrious or more tech savvy or have more time to dedicate than others. All must play the game if they wish to sell much more than a handful of copies.

Who better to sell your sweat/blood/tears than you? Writers are no longer allowed to simply be writers. They must now be PR people as well. C'est la vie in the world of publishing 21st century style.

So it's understandable why there are so many out there advising authors on how to better promote themselves. But how about advising the aspiring on how to write?

There are all sorts of writing courses out there, but on the most basic level one can't be taught how to be a writer. Simply put pen to paper and let your words flow. Your brain and heart and imagination will determine which ones come out in what order.

As a child I decided I wanted to be a writer. As a young man I decided to write a novel. Conceived plot & characters in my head. Now what?

I knew I could get plenty of words on paper via stream of consciousness. The sum total would make a story, but would it really be a novel?

I decided this technique would not result in a real novel. It would be too raw, without the shape readers need. What I required was a template to work from.

There is no better teacher of becoming a novelist than the completed novels of others, preferably good ones of course. One problem though. Every book I had read prior to attempting to write my own was read strictly for pleasure, or for school assignment that then became pleasure.

I needed to study a novel, really study it. How do I make dialogue authentic so it doesn't read as something written, but rather, something said?

People rarely make speeches. They talk over each other, they umm and ahh. They have trouble coming up with right word sometimes or lose their train of thought in the middle of expressing it.

People think as they speak, about what they're saying, about what they want to avoid saying, about other things related & unrelated to the words coming from their mouths. They think a million times faster than they speak. Many thoughts can pass through a character’s mind in the time it takes to speak a line or two.

Convincing dialogue takes some time to master, coming more naturally to some writers than others. An author cannot stop at just mastering dialogue though. Readers need to see the characters & their surroundings. If you want to focus primarily on dialogue, write a play.

The reader needs to see what the characters observe & what the characters miss. Such description & dialogue need to seamlessly intertwine. Some do the describing in more artsy fashion than others, but whatever your style it cannot be neglected.

When I decided to make a serious attempt at writing a novel I picked a published one up to serve as instruction manual. The novel I used as my "instruction manual" was Ordinary People by Judith Guest. Not a bad choice at all.

Patches of Grey is actually the second novel I started writing. I made my first foolishly brave attempt when in high school. Surrendered a few chapters in but wrote enough (probably quite badly) to know I had a full book in me someday.

My boss at the first job I got after graduating college was a copywriter. When I told him of my literary aspirations he asked how many pages I could write in a day. Ten was my confident reply. How long would you say the average novel is, he asked next. 300 pages I supposed. Write one book per month then, he said. Easier said than done, that’s for sure, but his point was effectively made. You want to write…write.

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