So that’s not exactly true. Sometimes people ask me for writing advice. I’m no Johnathan Franzen – I’m a fantasy writer, working at the intersection of art, entertainment, and commercial appeal. I enjoy what I do, and I have the pleasure of knowing hundreds of people who like it too.
These aren’t rules, exactly. They’re things that I practice. They work for me, and I want you to take the parts that connect with you and how you work and make them your own, and don’t worry too much about the ones that don’t. My experience is as a fantasy writer, so it’s written with that slant. And I’ve preambled enough. Here you are.
- If your reader connects emotionally to your protagonist, who really ought to be interesting, dynamic, and the sort who makes decisions and acts on them, they will probably enjoy your book.
- If your story is written with enough narrative tension to be intriguing enough that readers are completely invested in what happens next, so they can’t help but keep reading, they will probably enjoy your book – but be careful. There is such a thing as too much tension. Make sure you’re also satisfying the reader by releasing that tension through answering questions, showing outcomes, and introducing new questions.
- I think that a good shape for a story – not the only one, not the best one, but one I like to read and write – is like riding a rollercoaster. But I mean specifically wooden rollercoasters, in my case. They climb, they fall, but they also turn and twist.
- Use only as much worldbuilding as you need, and no more. Don’t be afraid to nail down a few things and then embark on a voyage of discovering what’s actually important to your protagonists. Take well organized notes as you go. Worldbuilding is a seductive trap. Don’t fall in. But remember that some projects need more preparation in worldbuilding than others, so one story might need three pages of notes, where another one needs a bunch of documents detailing your research and the decisions you’ve made. The key is keeping your focus on what the characters actually know, and what’s currently relevant to the story.
- It’s okay to pants it. It’s okay to outline it. It’s okay to wind up shooting off in a different direction, if you outline, and it’s okay to stop and figure out the details of the next few scenes/chapters if you’re not exactly sure how a series of events plays out, if you’re pantsing.
- Envision your novel as a work project. Plan your workflow. Set dates for completions: when you’re going to stop prewriting, world building, and character sketching, and start planning the story itself. set the date for when you must stop outlining and preparing to write the first draft. plan a regular routine where you make time to write your book. set a deadline for draft completion, and then figure out how much work you need to do in a session to finish on time. This will help you whether you take the trad path or the independent path.
- Do it. Don’t wait until you’re motivated or inspired – that’s fickle stuff that’s out of your control. instead, willfully design an environment that only happens while you’re writing – Jack Kerouac lit a candle that perched next to his typewriter. Writers figure out what sounds help them stay on track and focused – try out mynoise.net or a playlist with songs you associate with writing. Come up with a routine you always do before you start writing.
- Finish it. Even when it’s terrible. Even when a better idea has come along and you should write that instead. Finish what you start. Fifteen first drafts that trickle out at about 30k words won’t ever, ever teach you what you need to know, and that’s how to keep marching even when you’re slogging through the mud, only the mud is on fire and there are bees but the bees have telepathy and they’re droning, “this story sucks and you suck and you should give up because it’s not working and you’ll never sell it anyway.” Heck them. They should be hugging flowers, not giving writing advice.
- Writing your first novel is hard. It’s so difficult. But it’s also rewarding and satisfying. Writing your second novel…is hard. It’s so difficult. But it too is rewarding and satisfying. And so is the third. And the next one. They are all difficult. Writing one book does not teach you how to write a book; it only teaches you how to write that book. The next one will teach you too. They never stop teaching you. And that’s actually awesome.
- When you talk to someone about your writing, and they don’t really seem interested, or they tell you your wasting your time, or they tell you that you shouldn’t be writing that kind of book, but instead you should be writing something important or worthy or whatever, I want you to imagine a force field around you that keeps their bullshit vibes from damaging your feelings about your art. Protect your art. Don’t expose it to people whose attitudes will destroy it. Even protect your art from people who are eager to help you. You have a vision, and that is the most important thing. Protect that vision. Allow yourself to create without interference until you have created enough of the work that you can identify what helps your vision and what harms it.
It’s been a long time since I published a craft blog post, but I haven’t quit talking about craft. I made a Patreon account, and I have posts there about things like
- a synopsis writing guide that will help expose structural manuscript problems
- how to evaluate a scene to make sure it’s doing the right things
- how to build a story when all you have is a character
I do a new writing related post every month, available to patrons on a sliding scale basis – pick the level of patronage you can afford and you’re in!
Starting in August I am starting a Live Sessions tier, where I will explore a subject about the craft and business of writing on zoom, where you can ask more questions. Look for it then!