Thursday, March 04, 2010

The More You Know...

by Jennie Bentley

So we’re talking about writing advice, and about what keeps us motivated to write, this month.

To be honest, motivation’s no problem for me. I have contracts and deadlines, and if I don’t deliver manuscripts on time, I get in trouble. Writing’s my job, and I treat it as such. I try to write every day. Some days I can’t, for whatever reason, but other than that, I go to work. If I don’t write – i.e. actually add words to whatever WIP I’m on – I revise, or research, or proofread, or do something else related.

Of course I didn’t always have contracts and deadlines, and back then, I had to self-motivate. Basically, I wanted to get published bad enough that I found the time and incentive somewhere. Sometimes I got discouraged and didn’t write for a few days, until I got so bottled up that it was down to a choice between going back to writing or suffering spontaneous combustion.

Which brings me to writing advice #1: If you can not write, don’t write.

Note, I didn’t say, ‘can’t.’ If you can’t write, you’re welcome to keep doing it. Unless you improve, you probably won’t get published, but I’m not going to tell you that you can’t keep writing. What I mean is, if you can stop writing, you should consider not writing, because if you don’t love it enough, if you don’t have an absolute need to do it, if you don’t feel like you’re going to explode from the voices talking in your head if you don’t put things down on paper or screen, you may not have what it takes to make it through the process.

Moving past the fact of whether you should be writing or not, let’s just assume you’ve decided you are going to write. Here’s writing advice #2: Write every day.

OR write as often as you can. Like I said, I’m not a stickler. There are times when I can’t write. Stuff interferes: kids and pets get sick, cars crash, snow falls so school gets cancelled, a book is released and I get busy promoting... it’s all part of life. Bottom line, though: if you want to get published, you have to have written a book (or something else, but we’re all book writers here, so let’s just go with that), and the only way to do that, is to keep adding words to the WIP.

1,000 words a day = a manuscript in three months.
500 words a day = a manuscript in six months.
1 page a day = a manuscript in under a year.

I try for 1,000 words a day. Usually I get there, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I write 5,000 or 6,000 words in a day. It all depends.

Moving on to writing advice #3: AIC = ass in chair.

When you’ve decided you’re writing, during the thirty minutes or hour or half a day you’ve set aside for yourself, don’t get distracted from writing. If someone’s bleeding or the house is on fire, obviously you’ll have to stop. But if the words aren’t flowing the way you’d like, stay there in the chair and keep plugging. Write something. Even if you end up revising it later, you’ll feel better if you move forward and meet your goal.

(Side note: I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re stuck, it’s my belief you’ve gone off on a tangent where you don’t need to be, and you’ve written yourself into a corner. Cut back to where you know where you’re going again, and you’ll be fine.)

Writing advice #4: Finish something. The only way you’ll get published – with exceptions, because there are always exceptions – is by having a finished manuscript. Even if you’re an exception, and someone agrees to sign a book by you based on an idea or a proposal, you’ll have to finish the manuscript sooner or later. Of all the people out there who say they want to write a book, the ones who actually finish the manuscript are few and far between. If you finish, you’re already ahead of all the people who didn’t.

As for the best writing advice I personally ever got... well, it wasn’t really a nice and neat piece of advice. The best thing that ever happened to me as a budding writer was meeting the wonderful Tasha Alexander, who’s one of the nicest people in the world, and a brilliant writer to boot. And what she did for me wasn’t give me one facile piece of advice that helped me get through; instead, she talked to me about the publishing industry, and explained how it all works. She listened to my ideas and brainstormed plots with me, she critiqued my manuscript, she read my query letter, she helped me make lists of agents to send it to... she was my mentor, and my inspiration, and my sounding board, as well as my friend.

Writing advice #5: Find yourself a Tasha. Someone who knows more than you do, who can help you navigate the morass.

And while you’re at it, Writing advice #6: Find some friends who are in the same boat you are, so you can encourage one another. Writing is a lonely business, and we can all use all the encouragement we can get.

If you don’t have a mentor, someone who already knows the ropes, you’re gonna have to figure it out on your own. Writing advice #7: Do your homework. There are so many writers and agent blogs out there, so many websites with info on how the publishing industry works, so many organizations you can join, that there’s no excuse for not knowing everything you can possibly know about the business you’re looking to enter. Like the TV commercials say, “The more you know...”

So there you have it. More writing advice than you ever wanted to hear. And now you'll have to excuse me, as I have to get back to work. It's an AIC day for me.

Till next time!


Laurie said...

Great advice, Jennie!

Annette said...

Dang it, Jennie, you just blew all my blog ideas for the rest of the month in one post!

Joyce said...

Excellent advice!

You're 100 percent right about writer's block. Any time I've gotten stuck, I've had to toss that scene and start over. You can't fall in love with your words and be afraid to dump any of them. That's when you end up with so-called writer's block. I've probably thrown out more material than I've written!

Alan Orloff said...

Good advice, Jennie. AIC is so, so important. TOI (turn off Internet) also helps!

PatRemick said...

Excellent advice -- and reminders, Jennie!
Annette -- some of these are things we need to be reminded of OFTEN so go ahead and do it!

Patg said...

Great advice, Jennie, but like Annette said, now what are we supposed to say?
Oh well. I think AIC is the best advice. Just sitting down and opening that file can really get you going.