There was a time I wrote a short story in six months. I took days to write it, weeks to lovingly polish it, MONTHS of agonizing over every word. Then I sent it out. And it was rejected. (All but one, which was accepted eight times, but killed magazines and/or editors. No, I don’t know why.)
Then I attended the Kris and Dean Oregon Coast Professional Writers Workshop (the first) and in those two weeks we HAD to — had to — produce five short stories and two novel proposals. I did. Also, at this point all of those short stories have sold.
After that I launched into a year of a short story a week (while writing two novels.) It was a challenge of my writers’ group.
We didn’t succeed. I think I ONLY wrote forty short stories.
The funny thing was, recently, reading over my past stories (I was transferring things from diskette) that the quality difference, after about a quarter of a story a week, more or less, was marked, visible and obvious. I was much better after a quarter of forced production. And from that point on, pretty much all the short stories have sold.
Novels too started being much faster. Honestly, if I can stabilize my health at some point, a novel a month is neither unfeasible nor unreasonable. I once wrote two novels (Heart and Soul and Plain Jane) in a month, and finished another one, though I can’t remember which (might have been one of the Musketeer books.) In fact the main reason I didn’t write a book a month back when I was healthy was that in traditional publishing there was nothing I could do with that many books. (Ah, for a way to send my old-self a little note.)
One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.
Sort of. I’m not sure it can be taught, but it can be learned. It’s a frame of mind you put yourself in, a mental block you remove. And the only way to put it firmly in place is if you PRACTICE it and set yourself deadlines and goals.
However to the extent I can help, there are some principles to keep in mind that might help break the barrier.
1- how long you take to write a story doesn’t make it better or worse. My highest-selling book was written in two days, and the next-highest-selling in two weeks. By the standard that counts “how many people pay out good money to read this?” my faster written books are the best.
2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important. No, seriously. Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and too many adjectives and adverbs are things editors and critics care about, but most readers don’t notice, not if your voice is confident and strong enough.
3- Keeping a strong voice is much easier if you write the story fast.
So, that’s why. Now HOW to do it.
1- Write as fast as you can. If you are a slow typist, try voice dictation. Put your mind in the story and write as fast as humanly possible.
2- Don’t edit. I can’t say that enough DO NOT EDIT. Write to the end without editing. If you typed teh instead of the, it will wait till you’re done.
3- To facilitate do not edit, DO NOT read back to see what you did yesterday. For best results leave yourself a sticky note about where you are going next. That way you don’t need to read what you wrote and be tempted into editing.
4- if you’re an outliner, have a complete outline before you start, and then mark on the outline what you’re doing tomorrow.
5- if you’re a partial outliner like me, outline what you’re doing tomorrow at the end of the work day.
6- Did I mention write as fast as you possibly can? Short story or novel race to the end.
7- Once you’re done fix typos then let it sit for a week. This is an excellent time to send it to your betas, unless like me your idea changed in the middle and your beginning and end don’t match.
8- Fix continuity issues.
9- Make sure all your foreshadowing points right.
10- Make sure you got all your points in.
11- Do not revise/get caught in rewrites more than three times. Three times, and let it go.
12 – move on to the next project.
Now I can say all this till I’m blue in the face, but you HAVE to practice it. You HAVE TO PRACTICE it. But if you do, I guarantee you’ll get better.
Such valuable ideas.
In my mind it boils down to, “Trust yourself.”
Back when I used to paint a lot, I found that my very best paintings were the ones I spent the least amount of time on.
And practice is really important in any creative endeavor.
I’m a better writer today than in 2010. I hope to be a better writing in 2020 than I am today 🙂 just by writing as much as I can.
My best story — objectively, based on number of reprint requests — was one fifty minute dictation session on my morning drive to work. After first reader feedback, I spent another ten minutes rewriting the last three paragraphs.
I can keep a whole story in my head for an hour. I can’t for a month.
c4c, because really, I need to fix my health – physical, emotional and mental. I’m kind of broken.
Writing can help you heal. In a world where you have so little control over events, a daily escape in a world where you at least pretend you are in full control can be very helpful. Your characters will have other ideas, of course, and mock you mercilessly with their unwillingness to follow your plans, but the journey of discovery can be just as rewarding.
I had written off an on for ages, but finally took the novel-writing plunge while waiting to see the results of my wife’s bone marrow transplant. I was also dealing with the after-effects of an extremely difficult fostering of a troubled child and how that affected our autism-spectrum son. Writing let me leave all of that behind and, for a while each day, immerse myself into a purely escapist universe (I started out writing planetary romances, which I still write, and have branched out to space opera since then).
I won’t say writing healed me. Rather, it gave me several hours each week when my mind was fully engaged in a world of pure fantasy and imagination. Call it a miniature mental holiday from life, if you will. Whatever you call it, my writing time is the one time I’m not of this world and free from its problems. And that helps. A lot.
Good luck and get writing!
I’m realizing the outline is very important to my process. I’m getting ready to expand a short story into a novel and I’m going to deploy this advice as best I can.
Good, solid, advice here. Unfortunately, no amount of advice can help me figure out how to silence the voices that keep telling me that I can’t really write.
I’ve got the ideas, full scenes in my head, but every time I sit down to put them on paper the voices start. 😦
Have you tried dictation? I mean, if you are talking into your computer, you probably don’t have the processing power in your brain to criticize yourself also. Especially if you talk really fast.
Obviously Dragon speech recognition requires bucks and training time, but even talking into an mp3 recording app would be something to start with. And if you have to transcribe, you can obsess about how weird your speaking voice sounds, when it is outside your head, instead of the story.
Also, if you transcribe yourself you can add stuff.
We have a copy of Dragon. Either we have a wonky copy or my voice fluxuates too much – it won’t stay programed. Plus having to tell it where to put the punctuation throws me off.
I have not tried the mp3 / tape trick. May give that a try.
If you have a smartphone, it might work to use that as a recording device.
It also stops people from looking at you like you’re out of your mind, talking to yourself. =)
Also, Win 7 and later have fairly decent speech recognition built in. (good enough to kill most of Dragon;s market, which is why they really focus on their professional markets now.)
I have Win10 on the laptop and XP on the main system.
ok, try win 10’s voice rec?
I’ll poke around and see if I can find it. Thanks. 🙂
No smart phone. I prefer my phone to be a phone, not a mini-computer. 😉
Me too, but we finally joined the smart phone. Why? Mostly things like looking up something in the grocery store…
This, also, is a matter of practice. That critical voice got there by repetition, and repetition will squash it flat. Some tricks:
-Tell yourself this is just an exercise and doesn’t count. To help fool the voice, put a big title at the top “Writing exercise #37, Does Not Count”
-Give the critical voice a name, one that you loathe. Say your least favorite cousin is named Floyd. When you get the critical voice in your head, say “Shut up, Floyd.” Externalize it and exclude it.
-Write down *good* things people have said about your writing. If Floyd gets annoying, read those for a bit.
Get in the habit of short-circuiting the negativity. We all have it, but you don’t have to listen to it 😀
“That critical voice got there by repetition”
Oh yeah. One time too many of “nothing really happens” and everything came to a screeching halt. I must have said 2 to 3 dozen times in the past six months that I quit, I’ll never be a real writer, but the scenes won’t stop coming, new characters keep trying to worm their way into my brain. They don’t believe me.
“Give the critical voice a name, one that you loathe. Say your least favorite cousin is named Floyd. When you get the critical voice in your head, say “Shut up, Floyd.” Externalize it and exclude it.”
_snicker_ Like the editor of the fanzine I’ve written for? They’re one of the more frequent “nothing happens” voices.
“Write down *good* things people have said about your writing.”
Well, Papa Pat and Gary said they liked the book my sister and I did. Pat has quietly nudged me to quit stalling and bring it out.
Thanks. I appreciate that you didn’t just stop at “it happens to every writer”.
Good things people say about my writing is helping a lot. I write on my lunch break and send the results to my husband to add to the Master File.
Yesterday, I stressed at him. “It gets almost nothing doje of what this scene was supposed to accomplish, I don’t set the scene for the coming confrontation, and I don’t know if it’s realistic to have the hero whine so much about having to cut his hair.”
My husband, once he’d read it, just said, “It’s fun. I like it.” (Note: He doesn’t lie. Even when you wish he would. It’s been remarkably handy.) And then I remembered that, er, that’s the real point, isn’t it?
Book I’m reading has a number of little minutae that seem to bring nothing to the story – except it does. It entertains, and there’s a greater sense of the characters being more ‘real’ because of the little things.
Weirdly dragon can’t get my accent but the voice to text program on my phone is perfect…
That’s because Jay Ward’s last work was done for Android…
I know I can’t really write. But when there’s a story in my head, I have fun, anyway.
That’s painful. Maybe try Hemingway’s advice: “Write drunk, edit sober.”?
“Unfortunately, no amount of advice can help me figure out how to silence the voices that keep telling me that I can’t really write.”
Have your characters drag that voice out and shoot it. Use a -big- gun. Invent something special. Nuke it from orbit.
I can’t write either. I just have these crazy beeotches in here yelling they want to KILL that fricking demon over there, and the demon is yelling “BRING IT!!!” back at them, and they won’t shut up unless I write it down.
Today they’ve decided the best way to defeat the Dark Ones is to have a party. In orbit. So now I have to arrange the orbital mechanics, the landers, the artificial gravity for the punch bowl, and somebody is demanding a pig roasting on a spit. In space. She’s not the kind of wolf you say no to.
No shit, that’s what I’m writing today. Yours can’t be dumber.
I type a lot faster than I used to, let me tell you. I still can’t “write” but I’ve got Tonio K playing Funky Western Civilization on PooTube and I just don’t care. Oops, now it is Doug and the Slugs.
I’m old, don’t judge me.
Okay, now I want to see that story. _grin_
Party in Space!! Luau maybe? Do we get hula dancers too?
Now you’ve done it. You said luau. They’re going to make the wolf dance in a grass skirt.
tell them Sarah has the same voices and has written 33 published novels. Love, Sarah.
PS- this is managed by saying “Yeah, it sucks, but it’s going to be FINISHED.”
Most of the “nothing happens” complaints are coming with the short work. Novelette and longer seem to escape the problem.
“nothing happens” might be lack of foreshadowing. I had the same complaints.
Is there any way you can go back in time about two years, write this advice on a bat and hit me with it?
Thanks: 4 and 5 were what I’ve REALLY needed to know. I hope the story hasn’t gotten too stale for resuscitation.
If I could go back in time, I’d pass myself a note that said, “Dear idiot, just write it. It will eventually make you money, even if no house will touch it now or for ten years. PROMISE. Just write and put it in drawer.”
Sigh. This is one of those pros vs amateurs things. The other day, wrote about 4,000 words of a short story in 2 nights, then slowed, then stopped. Thinking about it too hard, and criticizing it prematurely. Now, two weeks later, added a couple hundred words, still a couple thousand from the end. And fretting over details that will probably not concern the readers at all, so long as they don’t jar.
Funny part: at the end of the second day, I foolishly read the part I’d written so far to my son and wife, who were definitely getting into it – and THEN I start over-thinking it.
And this is not the first time this I’ve done something like this. Got a nice pile of half-done stories.
As another amateur with a tendency to focus on the minutia… I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of literally skipping over swaths of story to get to later. Like a car chase where I know pretty much nothing about cars. I know what happens on the other side, so… why not just leave a note to write that part later?
It might be easier to figure out what goes there later, too.
I do find that I need to re-read what I wrote the day previously, before starting on the next installation. Just to keep things straight.
The best thing that ever happened to me, art-wise, was working for my once-a-week college newspaper. It may have only been published once a week, but I generally ended up with art assignments a few hours before the deadline. And some of them were damned crazy.
This is not to say that my art got good from doing this—there’s a lot of obvious last-minute stuff in my files from that. But it did keep me from fretting too much about throwing something together, and it did prove that I can do things quickly.
I will have to start doing the writing thing. (Still not a writer, but there’s options to make decent small change here and there with articles, and the odd hundred or so is a nice amount for gas.)
“One of you emailed me last week and asked me if writing that fast was some trick that could be taught.”
But just imagine how many clicks you could get with the “one ‘weird’ trick that increases writing productivity”!
“2- nine times out of ten the things you’re agonizing about on the story aren’t really important. No, seriously. Things like passive voice, overuse of to-be and-”
So, should I take it that the question to be, or not to be, is not a question that should concern the writer?
THIS. I’ve been time deprived, relatively speaking, for the past eight days or so and ohh, it is so hard to get words onto screen. And I keep trying to tweak and polish and not put new words on screen. Because when I work fast and hard, the words flow, even non-fiction (flow relatively speaking. Footnotes slow anyone).
Still struggling with speed, ten novels later. I’m going to try some of your advice on my next project, which by rights I should finish in 60 days but given my recent track record may take me five months.
I use voice to text sometimes. My novel Mistress of the Waves was in large part voice to text. One word of warning: Voice to text never makes a spelling error. It does sometimes find totally wrong words. Either watch the screen or do a read the same day you typed, or you may be totally baffled on your editing pass.
Going to have to take this advice to heart.
I’d comment, but I’ve got writing to do.
scribble scribble scribble
“I’m not a good writer,” wrote far too many people in the comments above.
It’s time to stop saying that, writing that, and thinking that. It sounds like you’ve all bought into the theory that published writers have some mystical talent that you missed out on. They don’t.
Writing is a craft. It can be learned. You learn it by writing. And then writing some more. Then, you write some more. When you finish writing a story, you start writing something new.
Yes, your early work may suck. That’s not the point. The point is that you learned something while writing it. So, stop telling yourself you’re not any good and start telling yourself, “I’m getting better.”
This. With feet on.
Also, selling has nothing to do with some mystical “good” writing. Some objectively awful writing (at the grammatical level fergodssakes!) pleases the public, and will therefore be remembered. Go forth and have no fear.
Some objectively awful writing (at the grammatical level fergodssakes!) pleases the public
*thinks about a certain novel on the Hugo short list*
Dead in the black with this one.
One of the worst insults I can make about a book/story is to say that I can do better. This one I said that I had seen better on Fanfic dot net.
I didn’t say I’m not a good writer; I said I’m not a writer. I’m an artist. That says nothing about the relative quality of either thing when I do them.
And the fact that I have a book published is beside the point. It’s sort of a side effect.
(What, like the inside of your head isn’t strange.)
kind of like I’m a writer, even when I’m working hard at art. I understand.
Great stuff. Dean’s posts a while back about Heinlein’s 5 Rules really touched a nerve with me, and I’m gearing up toward that. I’m finishing up school in May and I’m going to hit the ground running.
Thanks for a timely reminder!
“Get started. Run like hell to the end. Patch it, but not too much. Repeat.”?