I am at a signing or convention. Someone will walk up to me, tell me they have a story they have always wanted to write. It’s a really good story they feel will make a good book. The only problem is that they have no idea how to go about writing it. They tell me their issues with writing and want to know how I am able to sit and write an entire novel. Here are some of the things I am told and how I respond.
“I just don’t have the discipline to sit and write.”- Okay, you want to write a book. You have the story in your head but you don’t have the discipline to sit down and spend a few hours a day to write. Well here is the bottom line, if you don’t have discipline, you can’t be a novelist. You can disagree with me all you want but this goes for anything you pursue in life. You have to have discipline to be a writer. The book is not going to write itself because you will it to do so.
First and foremost, writing is not only work, its hard work. I cannot stress this enough. Authors enjoy writing but the process takes awhile. When you pick up a book from the bookstore and take it home, does it ever cross your mind how much time and effort is put into a novel? Every single word on the page was thought out by the author then edited many times before reaching your hands. Authors spend many hours in front of their computers and/or notebooks fleshing out stories. It takes time and patience to do this, especially in a series.
I often hear people ask “Why does it take so long for my favorite writer to put the next part of the series out? All he/she has to do is write. It shouldn’t take that long.” News flash, just like you go to work from 9 to 5 and labor, so do writers. Yes, writing maybe the only thing we do for a living (if many of us are lucky to do that) but it is still work. Some stories require months of research. Others take longer because of a pace the writer maybe working at. Sometimes, a writer may have more than one series they are working on and tend to work on what is speaking to them at the time.
“But I just can’t sit in silence and write.” - Who says you have to sit in silence? Every writer is unique in their own way. Some writers can sit in silence for hours and work. Others listen to music that inspires their work. I like to work in a place where there are distractions (i.e. work, bar, television playing). It keeps my brain active and distractions force me to focus on my story. You have to find what works for you. Once you do, you can find your rhythm
“Do I need to write an outline before I can start writing a novel?” – There is only one time I don’t write an outline and that’s when I am doing a short story. An outline is very important and necessary when writing a novel. You might have an idea for a great story but you’re going have to break it down into chapters. By outlining each chapter beforehand it helps you make the story flow better. This also gives you the chance to design the characters better by working out their back story and strengthening your plot.
Writers will tell you that a story has a nasty habit of going where it wants to go, not where you tell it. So you may start out coming up with a story and heading down one path then all of a sudden something unplanned happens and you end up going in a different direction. By having an outline written and following that, you can determine just how far off course you can go. You might find yourself coming up with a completely better story than you first came up with.
“How many hours do I need to work on my novel?” – This goes back to discipline. You should devote how many hours you feel your work deserves. I personally devote about three hours in the evening to writing and leave Saturdays and Sundays up in the air. Even a writer needs to take a day off from the voices in their head.
Even if it’s not a major piece, I am always writing something in that time frame. Just to keep the creative juices flowing.
Come up with a time frame that works for you and use it. You can write in the morning, during your lunchtime, break the time up into different points of the day. But use that time to the fullest.
"Do you need to do research if you are writing a fiction novel?" - I do. It does help to make your story more believable if you have facts tied into it. Some writers like to put fictitious characters in real world settings. A good example of that is historical fiction. John “Jack” Aubrey is one such character. The famous character from the Patrick O’Brian books (Master and Commander, Far Side of the World) commands ships on the high seas during the Napoleonic War. Though he never existed, most of his naval battles and adventures are drawn from actual Royal Navy history.
I spent five years reading about angels for my book The Dead Syndicate. Learning about their powers, their weapons, what they look like. It helped me to build a world around them that was believable.
With horror stories, I watched a lot of the Discovery Channel and followed up reading up of various animals and insect that became characters in my stories. In my book Anthorrorgy, the story called Vampsquito is based on some research I did on mosquitoes. Knowing the habits of mosquitoes and what makes them annoying to people helped make the story more realistic. That helped me to create the monster that terrorizes a town.
Even though its fiction, it still has to be believable to the reader.
“Should I go to school for writing or take a class?” – There is nothing wrong in furthering your education. Sometimes just taking a simple class can help you tighten your technique; build upon your story structure and how to create an effective plot. It all depends on what you feel you will need help with in order to make you a stronger writer. It’s not a requirement that you go to school to be a writer but every little bit does help.
“Can I just write my entire book by hand? Do I need to type it because I don’t know how to type?” – I know what you’re thinking and the answer is yes; someone actually has asked me about that. You can write the draft of a novel anyway you feel comfortable. But if you plan to print or even try and sell your manuscript, you better learn how to type. Even if you have to do it hunt and peck style, it has to be typed. No one will read it in a hand written form.
Your manuscript will go through a lot of drafts before its ready to be put out on the market in any form (publishing house or self-published) and it will be 100x’s easier to retype the work on a computer than hand writing the pages.
“I don’t have the patience to sit and write for hours.” – I put this statement last because I'm usually very blunt about answering it. It's not to be mean but I take writing very seriously. This statement is a tad bit different than the discipline one. Whereas you find it hard to sit and focus on what you have to do to write, this means you lose interest quickly and just stop doing it. There is nothing wrong with taking a break to recharge your batteries to keep going. But if being out with friends is more important or playing that video game is a must and seems better than sitting for how ever long you need to write, you’re not ready to be a writer. I tell people flat out you either do it or you don’t. Writing, whether a career or hobby, does require a level of devotion. If you can't give it the attention it needs, writing may not be for you.
Overall,if you have a passion for writing, sit and write. It's that simple. Writing is like any other venture in life. It requires time and focus. Give it that and the return will be great.
Next up I will talk about self-publishing and give tips on going down that road.
Do you have any questions about writing? Let me know how I can help.
- Marc L Abbott
- I am a self published author from Brooklyn, New York. I have been publishing my work since 2004 and currently have four titles on the market in print and ebook format. I write horror and fantasy fiction as well as books for young adult. I am also a playwright with stage productions in and around New York City. Visit my website at www.hobbcatpublishing.com