Can a Writer Over Plan?

Writing coach Brian Henry once said that it takes three things to publish a book traditionally.

  1. A well-written manuscript.
  2. Perseverance.
  3. Dumb luck.

And you only need two out of three to succeed.

The only two items on that list that an author can control are numbers one and two. So how do you craft that stellar manuscript?

Many people look for the solution in worksheets, how-to books, and writers’ manuals. These are great things. I use many and have benefitted from the instruction of more experienced and successful authors. But, as I procrastinate starting my fourth novel, I can’t help but wonder if it is possible to over plan and if all those charts and worksheets can morph into a hindrance instead of help?

A Writer has Options

I am a firm believer in the fact that there is more than one way to write a book. There are probably as many ways to write a novel as there are writers, and the way that is right is the way that works for you.

I happen to blend a few methods, and I am a planner. The more books I write, the more detailed I plan. For me, plotting results in a cleaner first draft that requires fewer edits later.

But I had to question my motive when I downloaded a guide over 100 pages long on developing characters when I already had copious notes on said characters. It turns out that I had begun using charts and planning to avoid the hard work of writing that first draft.

You may think it gets easier with every published book, but for me, the reality is that the first draft is agony NO MATTER WHAT. It requires hours and hours of butt-in-chair writing that cannot be avoided by filling in the blanks on a chart.

NaNoWriMo

The right method to write is the method that works for you. But whatever you do, don’t use planning as a way to avoid writing. You eventually have to get the words on the page, and there is no better time than NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month begins November 1st. It might be the motivation you need to jump over the hurdle of planning and get that story on paper. Hop on over the website and check it out. If you sign up, let me know! Maybe we can cheer on one another.

 

Be a teachable writer

Funny story.

After publishing Write Every Day in the for writers category, I had to go back and edit out a mistake. Thirteen mistakes. I used the word everyday wrong every time. Thirteen times. All incorrect.

Quick tip:

Everyday – ordinary. Not special.

Every day – doing something daily.

Boy, is my face red.

Why am I telling you this?

Eventually, someone will tell you that you’ve made a mistake. You’ll learn a new grammar rule or an old grammar rule and recognize the dozens of ways you’ve mishandled the English language. You can be embarrassed. You can get angry (at yourself). You can run and hide and vow never to publish again. Or, you can be teachable. You can hear, apply, learn, and grow.

Being teachable might be more important than being perfect

I am not a perfect writer. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you already know that. But, I continually learn and apply new knowledge so I can improve. I lean less on editors today than I did yesterday, but I still require LOADS of instruction.

I’ve discovered that most other writers will share their knowledge with a student eager to learn. Many editors will graciously explain tricky grammar rules when the student responds to their correction and advice with a teachable spirit. It’s not always about being perfect. It’s about being teachable.

Being teachable involves learning

When I learn something new, I write it down on the white board near my desk so I can refer to it easily. My editor or writer friends do not want to continually correct the same mistakes over and over again. They want me to improve. So when someone is teaching, LISTEN. Then, APPLY their advice to all drafts before sending them back for another critique.

It takes multiple passes and multiple eyes

I don’t catch every POV slip in one edit. I don’t correct every telling scene on a first pass. However, there should be a marked improvement with each pass and it is helpful to organize your edits.

I do multiple edits, each one focusing on something different. The first edit focuses on the big picture/main plot line/ does it make sense/and do I answer all the questions. The next is an edit in the heroine’s POV. I focus on her emotional/spiritual growth and her story arc. The next edit is in the hero’s POV and I focus on his emotional/spiritual growth and his story arc. I devote an entire edit to the romance, making sure the pacing is right. I take my time, addressing things one at a time. Finally, the last edit is grammar and punctuation. My weakest area.

I do my best to ensure I send my editor the cleanest draft possible. I have friends, further along in this writing world, who graciously look over my work at various points to help me see the story with fresh eyes. They always see things that I have missed. Always.

Slow down and enjoy the journey 

After completing a first draft, I take a long break and celebrate the victory of having the bones of a book on paper. Then, after a rest, I start the long stretch of edits. If you give yourself some distance from the story, you may find yourself enjoying the edits rather than hating them.

You’ll send your best work to the publisher. You’ll send it after rounds and rounds of edits. You’ll send it after it has been critiqued by others in the writing community. You’ll send it when it is the best you can make it.

Then, be teachable when it sells and the publisher begins the editing process afresh.

 

 

Fear: Its role in the writer’s life

Before I start, I want to address my non-writing readers. You will want to read to the end of this post and learn how you can win a $20 Amazon gift card from me!

Now, to those who write, want to write, are afraid to write, or are just curious about the mind of a writer…most of us battle fear. But what exactly do writers fear? Are all fears the same? How can we overcome fear and succeed?

First, there are different kinds of fear.

Fear of failure

Fear of Failure Questions:

  • What if I try my very best and it still isn’t good enough?
  • What if I pour myself into this dream and I never publish more than a blog post?
  • What if the stack of rejection letters don’t pave the road to traditional contracts but are, in fact, just rejections upon rejections that declare I am not good enough?

The Fear of Failure Lie:

  • If I never try—if I never put myself out there—I’ll not fail.

Fear of Failure Truth:

  • If you never try, you’ve already failed.

Fear of success

Fear of Success Questions:

  • If I do my best, battle the fear of failure, actually sell a book, will anyone read it?
  • If they do read it, what if the reviews are bad?
  • Can I handle criticism of my work?
  • Can I handle not being liked?

Fear of Success Lies:

  • I can protect myself from hurt by closing myself off from others.
  • I can control all aspects of life.

Fear of Success Truth:

  • Putting yourself out there is always a risk, but sharing your work helps you become a better writer.
  • Not all feedback is negative. Weed through it, apply the truth, and discard the rest.
  • If you’re looking for praise and adoration, you’re in the wrong career/hobby. Everyone has an opinion and the popularity of social media has made it easier to share those opinions.
  • Learn to differentiate between a criticism of your writing and a criticism of you. Comments are often not as personal as we make them.

Fear of self promotion

Fear of Self Promotion Questions:

  • How do I get the word out about my book without sounding prideful?
  • How do I spread the news beyond a repeated request for everyone who knows me to: Buy my book! Because that gets old. Quickly.
  • How do I, as a believer in the Lord, a person committed to the pursuit of making less of me and more of God, do something as self-promoting as talk about me? My book? My work? My yada-yada-yada?

Fear of Self Promoting Lies:

  • A grass-roots word-of-mouth publicity plan is enough.
  • Promoting my book and promoting me are the same thing.

Fear of Self Promoting Truths:

  • Word of mouth is GREAT. But sometimes, I have to speak first.
  • If I don’t care how my book is received, why will anyone else?
  • I am NOT promoting me. I am promoting a product or message that I believe can help/encourage/instruct someone else and ultimately draw them closer to the Lord.

One core fear

All the above sub-fears share one core fear: Fear of man. What will people think of me, my work, my message? But I am not called to fear man. I am called to fear God.

Do I fear the Lord?

The bigger question is: Do I fear the Lord? Because if I do, than I know my life isn’t about me. It’s about Him. The truth is, I will get some things wrong. I won’t always say it right, write it right, or be right. But God hasn’t called me to perfection. He has called me to repentance and obedience. He has called me to develop and use my gifts for His glory.

glorious-surrender-hr_finalI’ve battled all three of these fears in the weeks leading up to this Friday. This Friday, I am celebrating the release of Glorious Surrender. Getting to this point has forced me to surrender even more to the Lord.

  • I’ve surrendered my privacy by sharing some deeply personal illustrations with the desire that my experience will point you to the answers found only in Christ.
  • I’ve surrendered my writing preferences, because in many ways, fiction feels so much safer. This book is real. It’s raw. Sharing it has put me into an uncomfortable and vulnerable position. But if being in this spot helps you in your walk with the Lord, it is worth it. Because that’s what matters. More than comfort, more than preference, I want to see you deepening your faith and seeking the Lord.

Come on back Friday, Nov 4th to this blog and celebrate a social media book launch party! I will be hosting in three places: my Facebook writer page, twitter, and on my blog. Visit any of those places and comment about surrender between 10:00am and 9:00pm EST for your chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card. See full contest rules here.

Watch this short video for a glimpse into my heart for Glorious Surrender.

Glorious Surrender from Stacey Weeks on Vimeo.

Write Every Day

Write every day. Those two words were the most repeated advice offered to me as a new writer. However, there was a huge discrepancy between what was said to me and what I actually heard.

Said: “Write every day.”

Heard: “Write novel material every day.”

Said: “Write every day.”

Heard: “It only counts if the writing is on your major writing project.”

Said: “Write every day.”

Heard: “If it doesn’t benefit the novel, it is a waste of time.”

Why Write Every Day

A new writer writes every day because it is through the practise of writing that improvement is achieved. A new writer writes every day because it develops a habit that increases ones chances of reaching success. A new writer writes every day because no one masters a craft in which they half-heartedly invest. So yes, write every day.

What I’m Not Saying

It’s amazing that two simple words could be misunderstood for so long. To prevent you from repeating my mistake from years ago, let me clarify. Write every day means write something. Anything. Novel project? Sure. Brainstorm a new project? Sure. Work on a blog post? Sure. Trade your fiction for non-fiction? Sure. Simply write.

Something.

Anything.

Write.

As you string words together it contributes to your ability to write well. You learn to tighten your thoughts. You learn to structure your sentences. You learn to present information in a logical fashion. These are all necessary skills for every kind of writing.

Enjoy it!

My best advice to a new author? Love what you do, but don’t so tightly define what you do that you fail to recognize the value in all others styles and genres of writing. Love your fiction work (if publishing a novel is your dream). But don’t devalue non-fiction, poetry, research, blogs, articles, or newspaper work. Sometimes, dipping your toe into a different pond sends out ripples of creativity.

Credit

Publishing my first novel was my dream. However, I took a break that stretched over a few years and worked for a magazine, freelanced for various small publications, and worked on writing classes. I wrote every day for years and misbelieved I was failing because it wasn’t on my novel. What wasted years beating myself up! I would not have been able to rework that novel without those years of writing non-fiction. Those years schooled me in the art of writing. Those years—those writing classes—sharpened my skills.

Write on, my friend. And don’t fear taking a break from your major project. All writing is profitable when you are doing your best to write better today than you did yesterday.

Your favourite books can HELP you get published

Yes, those favourite books lining your shelves, you know – the ones you go back to again and again because they are just that good – can help you get published. But, before we go there, let’s lay out some cautions about comparing your unfinished to work to someone’s finished, professionally edited, and published work.

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The Comparison Trap

Every author, aspiring and published, eventually falls prey to comparison. Why can’t I complete a manuscript as fast as so and so? Why isn’t my book ranking like this person’s book? Why isn’t my blog getting the same amount of traffic as that one? Will I ever write as well as [insert favourite author here]?

The problem with comparing is that it sets the bar unrealistically high, especially if you are comparing your beginners work to someone’s advanced work. Comparing tempts you to beat yourself up for not reaching those unrealistic goals. It tunes your ears into someone else’s unique voice when they should be tuned into your voice.

What if?

What if you spent as much energy as you do comparing yourself to others on finding your own writing groove? What if you embraced the limitations that come with your current season of life and enjoyed however much or little writing time you have? What if your stress about not measuring up was transformed into being the best writer that YOU can be?

Escape the Trap

The next time you close a book that stirred deep emotion, instead of immediately comparing your work-in-progress to that finished book, go back and study it like a textbook. Study like you’re a month from graduation and you need to up your GPA to graduate.

Break it down:

  • What scenes were your favourite?
  • What scenes made you cry, laugh, or feel anxious?
  • What descriptions came alive?
  • What characters did you love/hate?

Why were those your favourite parts? What verbs did the author use to convey urgency? What words created a visceral response? Did the author use many adverbs or adjectives? How wordy or tightly written was the scene?

Make lists and take notes:

  • List powerful verbs.
  • List unique words and phrasing. (Always note where they came from for future reference.)
  • List descriptors that stirred you.
  • Note pacing. What kind of urgency was in the scene? How was it conveyed?
  • List ideas that come as a result of this time.

Save those notes and refer back to them when you are struggling with a dead scene.

Benefits of Comparing

Sometimes a little comparing is good if you approach it from a healthy point of view. Did you know Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before it was published?  Your pile of rejections doesn’t look so bad now, does it? Even the “greats” struggled.

Did you know it is reported that it took Margaret Mitchell TEN years to write Gone with the Wind? Maybe taking a whole year, or two or three, isn’t as wrong or unprofessional as you thought?

If you’re determined to compare yourself to another writer, avoid the headlines that lead you back into the trap. Skip the “self-published, debut author makes millions” because the likelihood of your novel or my novel making a million is slim. (But, we can keep hoping!) Instead, read the info that encourages you to be the best writer you can. Work at your own pace. Develop your own voice. Tell your own story—because no one else can write your story.

Understanding why you love certain books or writing styles can help you improve that manuscript and earn that book contract.

All for His glory,

Stacey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Aspiring Author: turn that rejection into a contract offer

I started The Builder’s Reluctant Bride’s manuscript (then titled First Love) on my daughter’s first day of school back in Sept, 2008.

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Doesn’t she look cute?

It took one year to write and edit the manuscript and it was promptly rejected for publication from several publishers by Nov 2009. The most notable rejection was from White Rose Publishers. Here’s what they wrote:

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Why is their rejection significant?

When an editor takes the time to make specific comments about your manuscript, be teachable. Editors are bombarded with submissions and many send a “form letter” rejection. (I have stacks of those too.) I could have been offended at the editor’s advice to keep studying the craft of writing. I could have self-published when a self-publisher called and offered me a deal. I could have been cocky and wrongly believed I had nothing left to learn. Had I done that, I would have missed out on the beautiful world of friendships within the writing community.

Apply the advice!

As sad as that rejection made me feel, I did as she suggested and signed up for writing classes where I met wonderful people who share my passion. I read LOADS of books about the craft of writing. I found a writing mentor (shout out to fantastic writer friend: Sandra Orchard), and I found a writing community where I learned that I had a LOT to learn about writing for the glory of God. I set aside the manuscript to study. I worked on smaller projects, freelanced for magazines, landed a job as a reporter, and eventually found myself looking at that first story again. Could I apply all that I had learned and make this publishable?

Hold loosely and let the story change as needed.

It was a lot of hard work to rewrite that manuscript. The story changed so much that I eventually changed the characters names to reflect their new identities. Sarah became Jenna, Dan became William, and First Love became The Builder’s Reluctant Bride.

Interestingly, White Rose is the imprint under Pelican Book Group that just released The Builder’s Reluctant Bride this month. My very first rejection is also my very first publisher.

Sometimes life is funny that way…

Be teachable

My advice to you is the same advice graciously given to me by that kind editor many years ago (who funnily enough was the same person to request the full manuscript of First Love the second time around). Study the craft, be teachable to instruction from those more experienced, and write on!

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Dedication page inside The Builder’s Reluctant Bride

All for His glory,

Stacey