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Feel the Heat: Sex and Fiction. 8 Tips for Building Tension

Will your fictional characters, at some point, hit the sheets?

As most of us creative types enjoy a delicious romp in the sack in real life, it shouldn’t be too difficult to apply our trusty, book-enhancing observational skills to break down, scene by scene, moment by smokin’-hot moment, the escalating tension between our first horny thought and the ultimate coupling of bodies. Right?

Wait, should we depend on our own experiences, and are we willing
to “expose” our own life experiences on the page for everyone (hi mom) to see?

Dallas romance writer (and bewitching twitterati) Roni Loren  posted some effective advice for amping the sexual tension on her blog, fictiongroupie.blogspot.com. “From YA all the way to the steamiest of romances, this is a vital ingredient if you have any kind of romance thread whatsoever,” says Loren. “Even if a kiss never happens, you can have your reader sweating through a scintillating ‘will they/won’t they’ tension so that even if the characters grab one other’s hands, your reader will hold her breath.”

So how do we create this tension so that when you finally give your reader the big payoff–the kiss, the “I love you,” the boom-chicka-wah-wah?

Author Roni Loren’s advice for building sexual tension:

1. Make the attraction that each feels for the other obvious to the reader.

The characters are hyper-aware of all the little details of the person when he/she is around. Use all the senses not just sight. (Note: this is an
opportunity to illustrate aspects of your characters, whether those  are physical traits, or emotional: her Daddy issues, his preference for redheads thanks to an unexpected overture by a cherry-haired vixen in his youth, her need to learn to trust again, his tendency to rescue, etc. -RL)

2. No conflict = no tension

Make sure there are good reasons why these two can’t be together–internal and external.

3. Use internal dialogue

The hero may be clenching his hands at his sides, but tell us why: the urge to reach out and touch the heroine’s hair is overwhelming him.

4. Always on each other’s mind

If your hero and heroine aren’t together in a scene, then have their thoughts go to the other so that we know he/she can’t get the other off his/her mind.

5. Patience, grasshopper

Don’t relieve the tension too quickly. Frustration must build and build. There’s a reason why the first love scene doesn’t usually happen until 2/3 the way through a book. (Note: be true to your characters. Maybe it
has been a pattern of your character to hop into bed right out of the gate, but the reader must walk the long road with them as they uncover feelings of real love. -RL)

6. Here we go, wait, not so fast

Give you characters a taste of what they could have, then make them stop. This is the famous device on sitcoms where they start to kiss, but then someone bursts in to interrupt. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. One of the characters could be the one to stop (usually for some internal reason related to the conflict between them.)

7. It’s addictive

Once you do let the two get together the first time (be that a kiss or full-out lovin’), leave them wanting more. Instead of satisfying their need/curiosity/etc., they want each other even more. Now they know what they could have if not for all that pesky conflict. Damn those mean authors who put so much in their way.

8. When all looks like it’s going to work out, pull them apart again.

Romantic comedy movies do this all the time: The characters seem to resolve some conflict and get together. Oh but wait, there’s more! Some conflict wedges between them again.

Don’t resolve the relationship until very near the end. Otherwise, the reader will lose interest.

So how about you? Does your novel have a romance or undercurrent of one?

What author do you read that is a master at creating sexual tension?

Roni Loren’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat in January 2012! Represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @RoniLoren or visit her website at RoniLoren.com.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts

Author Teddy Wayne’s Tips for Book Publishing Publicity

I’ll be honest with you. I just wrote an entirely new scene in a different POV and tense for my novel RADIO HEAD, inspired by the phenomenal workshop I attended at UCLA with instructor Lisa Cron. She has graciously agreed to critique it for me, and so here I am, with breath held. I’m stymied because I can’t write another word of my novel until I hear from her–I want to know whether the new point of view, and the fresh tense, really work. I loved writing the scene, and would like to continue, but can’t help but wrestle with the doubts clinging fearfully to such a wildy different approach the story. If it works–please work!!–then I will begin rewrites on existing scenes, to match the intimacy and immediacy of the experimental style. Until then, I’d like to obsess further on the fine points of publicizing your about-to-be-published novel. (Think I’m not obsessing? I also posted Inara Scott’s top five publicity tips here.) An author must work just as hard on a book’s success after the deal is won, and preparing this info helps me proactively keep my eye on the prize while I await what will hopefully be a green light.

Complementing my last post on Agent Laurie Abkemeier’s tips for connection with your readers, I’m pleased to share author Teddy Wayne’s clever publicity tips learned after publishing his debut novel, Kapitoil,
last April, for both before and after your book comes out.


BEFORE YOUR BOOK IS PUBLISHED
:
 

  • Make a Web site, preferably from your name (not your book’s title—it’s a long career you’re trying to build). Author pages on publishers’ sites rarely do a good job. A decent site costs $500-1,500, depending on the designer and the complexity, or you can make one on the simple-to-use weebly.com that’s either free or low-cost (pay to use your own domain name, not one with weebly at the front). Use your book cover as the graphical theme. Teddy Wayne’s site displays review excerpts on the homepage, and has separate pages for additional press coverage, a summary of the book, events, news, my freelance articles, my biography, and contact information; you shouldn’t need much else except a blog link, if you maintain one.  Simple is fine; unprofessional-looking is not.  
  • Tactfully prevail upon any media friends and acquaintances. Ask politely if they’d like a galley, and if they accept, let them know you’re available to contribute something to their publication or do an interview down the road.   
  • Likewise, cold-email people you don’t know at media outlets with the same (tactful) offer.  
  • Pitch your hometown newspaper and alumni magazine; they’re more likely to run a profile on you.
  • Diversify. This is common sense, but print plus online exposure remains far more influential than solely online.  
  • Pay attention to the publication where you’ll be hawking your book. Do the people who read the publication also buy this type of book? A small literary website may be a better bet for promoting an avant-garde novel than a national gossip magazine.
  • Publish an excerpt of your book. If you’re lucky enough to land a well-known print publication, then doing so in advance can build up buzz. Otherwise, it’s probably best to wait until the publication day so readers can buy it immediately.  
  • Similarly, try to score a couple of other publicity mentions elsewhere a month or two before publication—but don’t burn them up before the book is available.  
  • Set up a Twitter account under your name. Since my book is set in 1999, I created a gimmicky Twitter feed for the name @TeddyWayne1999 and, for the first couple of weeks, satirically unearthed my supposedly archived Tweets from 1999 (such as “7/13/99: Stepping out for a night of swing-dance lessons in my new Hawaiian shirt.” I eventually started using it to dispense regular news about the book. Create a Facebook fan page under your name, too, but Twitter is superior at disseminating information to people who don’t already know you.  
  • Make a video trailer only if you can do so cheaply. Keep it under a minute. Be creative and, if appropriate, funny—don’t make one where it’s just you talking about your book. I put mine on my website, YouTube, and my Amazon author page, and it’s been embedded in a few other places.  


AFTER THE BOOK IS PUBLISHED:
 

  • This is easier for nonfiction, but publish essays and anything else relevant to your book after it has come out (which means pitching editors the ideas beforehand, and months beforehand for print publications).
  • Get your friends to buy from a bookstore. (Generous) friends may ask you what the best way for them to purchase your book is. Although authors like seeing their rankings shoot up, buying books on Amazon doesn’t help nearly as much as in a bookstore, since the store is more likely to reorder it and prominently place it if the book is selling. Amazon doesn’t care. And you’ll be supporting a bookstore.  
  • For Amazon, however, sign up for and use your individualized link for the Amazon Associates program, which gives you a small percentage of money back for every book ordered through it—and every other item ordered alongside the book.  
  • After you’ve reached out to mainstream media, focus on independent book bloggers who have sizable followings. Your publisher should have relationships with some. Send them finished copies; bloggers don’t care about timeliness the way mainstream publications do.  There are also places that arrange book-blog-review tours, such as TLC Book Tours. Note that most book blogs lean heavily on female readerships.  
  • Offer to go to friends’ book clubs if they read your book—and, if you’re willing, visit or speakerphone-call with strangers’ book clubs.  
  • Don’t waste money on an extensive book tour unless it’s something you want to do for fun. Traveling to a place where you don’t know anyone will result in few sales. Instead, give multiple readings in your current city and anywhere else you know a lot of people. Try to set up an event at your alma mater; they may provide an honorarium and spring for your flight, which you can use for a reading in another city. Get in on group reading series, especially in other cities. Turn your first reading into a launch party—a few bottles of wine help bring people in.  
  • Media attention begets further media attention. Overall, image, sadly, counts more than substance when it comes to publicity. Few people read books, but they do read capsule reviews and interviews and browse Web sites.  
  • Lastly, just because you have to turn into a one-person self-promoting machine doesn’t exempt you from gratefulness and humility. Profusely thank everyone who has helped you; they didn’t need to. Spread word of your achievements in the hopes that others will spread it further, but unself-conscious boasting about your success on Facebook turns people off. Karma has a way of popping up—if not for this book, then the next one, and if not for your career, then for your life. Promoting your book can be a stressful experience, but keep in mind that no one else cares as much as you do, so don’t jabber about it incessantly. Try to enjoy it, do the best you can, and remember that the point, ultimately, is to connect with readers; everything else that’s mercenary and businesslike is a means to reaching that rare moment of intimacy.

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novel Kapitoil (Harper Perennial, 2010),  which was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels of 2010 and The
Huffington Post’s 10 Best Books of the Year. He lives in New York.

Check out my recommendations for books writers should read on the topic of–what else?–writing.

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The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents

Generally, I try to spare you overly lengthy blog posts. Most writers work from home and already have enough temptation to procrastinate from our craft with lame excuses such as folding laundry or taking the cat to the vet. This post is worth a sit-down. That is, if you’re serious about writing an excellent query letter for your manuscript.

Written by upcoming author JM Tohlin–whose novel The Great Lenore will be in stores Summer 2011–interviewed 50 agents about mistakes writers make when pitching a book.

The tips he has collected are invaluable. As Tohline comments, “You’ve (presumably) spent hundreds of hours planning, writing, editing and perfecting your manuscript. Now, it is time to treat your query with the same respect.”

He also recommends visits to Janet Reid’s Query Shark page, and to Rachelle Gardner. “Google agents and read every bit of advice they are willing to share. Study, learn, and practice! You already know that writing is an art. Now, it’s time to learn that query-writing is an art as well.”

Ready to be impressed? Here are the superb agents who contributed to this post:

Alice Martell * Amy Boggs * Amy Tipton * Annie Hawkins * Bree Ogden * Brian Defiore * Cameron McClure * Caren Estesen * Daniel Lazar * Danielle Svetcov * Don Maass * Elizabeth Pomada * Farley Chase * Gina Panettieri * Heather Mitchell * Helen Breitwieser * Helen Zimmermann * Janet Kobobel Grant * Jeff Gerecke * Joyce Hart * Kate McKean * Kimberley Cameron * Laney Becker * Liv Blumer * Lucinda Blumenfeld * Lucy Carson * Marietta Zacker * Maura Teitelbaum * Michael Murphy * Michelle Wolfson * Mollie Glick * Pam Ahearn * Rachel Dowen * Richard Curtis * Russell Galen * Sally van Haitsma * Sam Stoloff * Sean McCarthy * Sheree Bykofsky * Stephany Evans * and those who requested to remain anonymous.

In JM Tohline’s words, here are the mistakes these agents mentioned most often:

Mentioned 3x
“Go to my website for a sample of my work…”
“Find my query attached…”
Querying before your manuscript is ready

Note: “Before your manuscript is ready” does not mean “before the first draft is finished.” It means querying before you have written the first draft, allowed the manuscript sit undisturbed for a month, edited it multiple times – during which time you have begun to bleed from the head, due to the number of times you have pounded it against the wall in your pursuit of perfection – and handed it out to people to read, edited it some more, removed about half the manuscript and been tempted to throw the whole thing away, taken another break from it, come back feeling rejuvenated and edited it some more, had some more people read it…and edited it some more. After all this, your manuscript might be ready for querying.

As Donald Maass put it: “Granted, it’s difficult for newer writers to judge when their novels are in final form but I can say this: for first time novelists, 99.99% of the time when they begin querying agents they’re not really done.

Cameron McClure (of the Donald Maass Agency) added this: “Most writers query too soon – either before the book is really ready to be read by an industry professional, or with a book that is a learning book, or a starter book, where the writer is working through the themes that will come out in later books with more clarity, getting things out of their system, making mistakes that most beginners make, finding their voice.

Mentioned 4x
Talking about the book’s sequel, or…
…pitching more than one book at a time
Writing a query that lacks confidence

Mentioned 5x
Writing a query that is overconfident or pompous
Sending a query that has clearly not been proofread

Mentioned 9x
Queries addressed to “Dear Agent” (or anything similar!

Mentioned 10x
Vague query letters!

Mentioned 11x
Queries with more than one agent listed in the “To” field

Mentioned 14x
Queries that have no clue what the agent represents, or…
…that have no clue what the agent’s submission guidelines are

And there you have the basic breakdown. But your pot of coffee is still mostly full. Remember, your query letter is the first (and possibly only) impression you’ll ever make on an agent. Don’t slam the door on yourself – learn everything you can about writing a good query letter.

Jeff Gerecke – who mentioned both writers who send letters to him with a “Dear Agent” salutation and who query him regarding areas he does not represent – told me about a service that generates mass queries to agents. Let’s be honest – if you have not taken the time to find out what an agent represents (let alone to find out anything about them and address them directly!), why would they assume you took the time to write a worthwhile novel? As Jeff said in his email,I do expect writers to submit to lots of agents, but not blindly, so putting my name in the query doesn’t seem too much to ask.” Sally van Haitsma echoed with similar sentiments: “We assume you are sending out queries to multiple agents, and even encourage authors to do so since this is such a subjective business, but as a first impression it’s important to customize queries so they address us by name.

More specific thoughts on this topic came from Sam Stoloff:It might be a silly prejudice on my part, but I automatically discount queries that aren’t addressed to me personally. If the writer hasn’t taken the time to find out a little about me, to make sure that I’d be an appropriate agent for their work, and to put my name at the top of their query as a gesture of professional courtesy, then I am simply less likely to take the query seriously.

Are you starting to get the picture? As Mollie Glick said in regards to the “multiple agents in the subject line” problem:We like to feel special!

Sean McCarthy even took this one step further:I think the biggest mistake that writers make when querying me is not letting me know why I – specifically – would be a great match for their project. I know that it can be time-consuming to customize query letters, but even a simple sentence that references my taste, my background or projects that I’ve worked on will go a long way towards getting your pitch more attention.

After all, writing your novel was time-consuming, right? Editing your novel was time-consuming. Think twice before you send an anonymous query letter; the extra time is worth it.

Incredibly, this generalized sort of approach some writers take stretches itself even thinner than the basic “Dear Agent” letter.

Bree Ogden’s email gave an example of this that was embarrassing even to read (Point 1), and she proceeded to give two more suggestions (Points 2 & 3) that are very important to keep in mind! Her email looked like this:

1. If a writer isn’t going to research the right agents for their project, that’s really mainly hurting them, but at least don’t publicize it to the agent they are querying. For example: When I was a brand new agent, I would get queries that would say, “I am impressed with your sales and recent projects…” It was clear they had no idea who I was. So if you’re not going to do your research (which you absolutely should) at least try to make it look like you did.

2. This may be way more of a personal preference, but I do not like getting queries in which the author bio is the first thing on the page. In my opinion it should be last. I need to be hooked by the premise of the book in order to want to continue reading the query. And frankly, author bios can get a bit insipid. Instant query turn-off.

3. Loooooooong queries. There is an art to writing a query letter. And because the letter is an author’s key to the publishing world, learn that art. Writing extremely lengthy queries is a no-no and I usually stop midway through because I either lose interest or forget where the author was going. Agents have so much going on….an author needs to grab them with a concise, punchy, hard-boiled query.

One of my favorite agents, Michael Murphy (from one of my favorite agencies, Max & Co.) put it like this:
The answer to your question is an easy one.
The single biggest mistake writers make when querying me is sending manuscripts for areas I do not represent. On my website, in all my interviews, and I believe in most websites that list areas of interest for each agent, it is quite clearly stated that I do not represent YA, prescription (How To) nonfiction, nor genre fiction (SF, fantasy, romance, thrillers). Yet almost half the queries I receive are for these very categories.

I am dumbfounded by this. If I were applying for a job as a dental hygienist, I don’t think I’d apply to Jiffy Lube. Writers need to do a bit of research before spewing their query letters to every Tom, Dick, & Harry calling themselves a literary agent.

Normally, I reply with a simple note that I do not represent their kind of work. However, as these queries pile up, I am considering just hitting DELETE. Their lack of effort is wasting my time and their own.

Sorry to come off as a miserly bastard, but in this one area I feel like a miserly bastard.

In other words: If you are going to approach an agent – as Amy Tipton said – quite simply, “Do your homework!

Furthermore, send the query to the agents! Don’t post it on your website and send them the link. Gina Panettieri said,Don’t try to cut corners by simply referring agents to your website rather than writing a well-prepared query. It’s great to let us know about your website and we can check it out to get more info about you and your book, but we’ll only do that IF you’ve intrigued us with your knock-out query!” On this subject, Alice Martell put it like this: “If you’re asking someone to do something for you that they do not have to do, but you really want them to, you should make it as easy as possible for them.

Remember, agents do not have to read your query! In fact, most of them are not especially looking to add new clients. Don’t act like you’re doing them a favor by allowing them a shot at your work – put the query right there where they can read it, and give yourself a chance!

Several of the most in-depth insights came from Helen Zimmermann, who emailed a copy of the “What Not To Do In A Query” section of the lecture she gives at writers’ conferences…. Continue to read this post in its entirety for more excellent, thought-provoking advice, including nine less-obvious mistakes contributed by agent Liv Blumer.

You can  find Mr. Tohline on Twitter @JMTohline. Learn more about him and his new book The Great Lenore here.

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10 Life Lessons from Syndicated Writer, Author, Teacher and Chef Monica Bhide

This must-read guest post comes from the impressive and always lovable Monica Bhide, author of three cookbooks, the blog A Life of Spice and syndicated columnist of SEASONINGS, distributed by the  Scripps Howard News Media to over 300 news outlets.

In addition to her writing, Monica owns and operates her own cooking school, which has been featured in Bon Appetit. She also teaches sold-out food writing classes. From where I write, her list is bittersweet and ironic.  She is living a successful, highly admirable and inspirational life. Yet, like all of us, she wrestles with her own personal obstacles. I am awed by her journey, and respectfully share her words below.

Once upon a story: What Monica Bhide has learned this year.

2010 has been a year of great learning for me; Every belief I have held that has been near and dear to my heart has been challenged. I think I have said, “It is not all black and white,” more times this year than,  “Kids, clean your room.”

I have struggled with many issues, with some people and sometimes against the Universe. As I sit here this morning and think of goals for 2011, it occurs to me that I cannot really write them until and unless I write down what I learned last year that I can apply to this new coming year:

1. It isnt the Universe that loses faith in us: When things go wrong, I, at least personally, have a tendency to look at the Universe and ask, “What’s up?” But I realized this year that I am asking the wrong question. It isn’t the Universe that loses faith in me, I lose faith in the Universe. Unless I believe that the Universe is conspiring for me, it isn’t.

2. Talent on its own is worthless: I teach writing classes, I have a ton of writer friends, I am surrounded by many people who have exceeded their own expectations and many who have not. I have said this repeatedly and I say it again: talent alone is worthless. With out the commitment behind it, talent will get you nowhere and fast.

3. People are just that: people. Good or bad is our judgement: After a year of dealing with someone who has been particularly difficult on my ego, I kept thinking why this person was doing what they were doing. I could not, for the life of me, understand. How had I harmed them? What had I done to them? And then I realized, thanks to my husband’s insight, that it really isn’t about me at all. It is all about them. People’s judgements and their opinions reflect them. I cannot allow myself to become a reflection of someone else’s opinion about me.

4. All-in-ness: People who succeed in what they do are all committed to it. ALL IN. No second thoughts, no second guessing, no beating yourself up over mistakes, no allowing others to beat you up. It is a singlemindedness that provides razor sharp focus. And guess that? What ever we focus on grows. (Apply this to all areas of life, not just work).

5. True friends are a rare breed: Love them.

6. Social Media is here to stay: I have to say this was the hardest. Sitting on my couch, reading how other people are traveling with world, while I nurse an injured eye, or some other great feat that people were performing, was very hard. I kept thinking I need to do more, needed to do something different. And then Shauna Ahern posted something earlier this year that really hit home and I am paraphrasing here – Why are so many people focused on becoming instead of just being. Now my goal is that – to be who I am, in spirit and in word.

7. Be true to your passion: For work, the only master you have to please is your passion. It will fuel all else. If you try to please anyone else – the critic, the editor, the reader, the friend, the so-called-friend, the ego… anyone else… you will fail. I guarantee it.

8. Love and opportunities abound: This is a very abundant Universe. There is so much warmth, passion, so much love and abundance. We get what we ask for. Think about it. And the best way to gain abundance is to share yours. Freely.

9. When you least expect it, life will intervene: Deaths, job losses, health issues… we all have them. We all face them and we all will get through them.

10. When you least expect it, the Universe intervenes: Readers write in with great comments,  you meet your hero, you discover a new writer who will change your life, your friends rally around you, and you believe again that the Universe, indeed, conspires for you.

This is what I will be thinking of as I set my goals for next year. What will you do? Tell me what you have learned? I would love to learn from you.

If you would like to reach Monica Bhide, or simply want to be humbled (or just have the excuse to say, “wow”)  read Monica’s bio .

Monica’s Cookbooks:

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Lit Agent Tina Wexler’s 6.5 Tips for Impressing Agents

Does your heart skip a beat when you come within pitching range of a literary agent? When you eye a coveted agent across the crowded room at the writer’s conference, are you prepared to introduce yourself with confidence? Literary agent Tina Wexler offers a bit of advice to authors anxious to make a memorable first impression.

1. Be nice. Agents, like most everyone, want to work with people who are personable. This does not, however, mean “Fawn over the agent” or “Send a bushel of apples to the agent.”

2. Demonstrate knowledge of an agent’s list. This doesn’t mean you have to read every book they’ve ever soldI leave that job to my mombut by showing them you know a bit about who they represent, you’re telling agents you’ve done your research on who to query.

3. Do your research on who to query. Period.

4. Write a really amazing query. Which is to say: take your time, try describing your work multiple ways until you find the best approach, read successful queries online and have as many people as possible read yours so that you’re certain it makes sense and is a shiny apple.

5. Write a really amazing manuscript. Which is to say: take your time, put your work through multiple revisions, read published works in your genre, and consider joining a critique group or finding a writing partner whom you trust who can help make your manuscript a shiny apple. 

6. Don’t ask me, “Why all the talk about apples?” because if you’ve read my client Donna Gephart’s How to Survive Middle School, you already know it’s because I’m constantly daydreaming about Bubbe’s Jewish Apple Cake. But do ask other questions you may have. Be a part of the conversation. Agents want critical thinkers who take this getting-published thing seriously.

6 ½. Take this getting-published thing seriously. There’s plenty of fun to be had, but remember, this is a business, not a hobby or a get-rich-quick scheme. Agents want hard workers, writers dedicated to their craft who view getting published as the first step of a long journey, writers whom they will want to be with on that journey.

 

Tina Wexler, an agent at ICM, is predominately interested in middle grade/YA fiction and adult nonfiction. Tina currently serves on the board of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature and is an active member of SCBWI.

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14 Rocking Good NaNoWriMo Tips

With an entirely out-of-control outline tipping the scales at over 12,000 words, I dove headfirst this fine November 1st on a journey to make a messy manuscript my own personal heaven. Yes,  I wrote fast and furiously, throwing editing, self-censorship and occasionally good taste out the window.

I loved every minute of it.

I wish I could remember who tweeted it this morning, but a fellow Tweep/WriMo commented that NaNoWriMo feels “like Christmas.” I heartily agree. The process of opening an unbridled vein of creativity (even armed with a well-thought-out outline like mine) is a.) the ultimate gift to yourself; b.) an awe-inspiring opportunity to uncover moments of genius you didn’t even see coming; and c.) an universal gathering of all creation called to do what we  are created to do: create.

(Follow me on Twitter @RebeccaLacko. Buddy up with me on NaNoWriMo.org–my username is RJL.)

Ready? Get ready to rock National Novel Writing Month with these tips from saucy (and often profane–you’ve  been warned) author Chuck Wendig at the terribly fabulous Terrible Minds:

Do Make Discipline Your Takeaway

You want to know how most writers fuck up? Seriously, here it is — the fatal flaw of the writer: we are lazy no-goodniks, forever hopping from project to project. We’re like meth addicts, our dopamine centers blown to ragged tatters, forever in search of the next high. Except, writing can’t be about the high. It can’t be about that one great day of word count. It also has to be about all the shitty ones. What NaNoWriMo will give you is discipline: the ability to staple-gun your shit-can to a chair every single day and pound the keyboard the same way a beat cop pounds pavement. It can’t get done unless it gets done.

Do Not Believe That Haste Is A Critical Ingredient To Your Word Soup

And yet, NaNoWriMo sets a very arbitrary pace: 50k in 30 days, or ~1,667 words per day. It’s certainly doable — I tend to write 2-3k a day. But I was only able to do that steadily after years of freelancing, and that’s when I have a deadline (and money) waiting at the end. Writing a novel can be a different creature, and it isn’t so easily boxed into the same schedule. Most novels I’ve written took me about three months to write from start to finish — still not a bad stretch of time, but certainly not 30 days. So, if you find that NaNoWriMo’s pace doesn’t fit your own — then stop caring about NaNoWriMo, and start caring only about the novel. Your goal is the novel. Your goal is not to “win” an Internet experiment-slash-experience. If you need three months, take ‘em. If you need six, take ‘em. If you need eight… well, let’s try for six, okay?

Do Take Time To Smell The Word Count (And Do A Little Planning)

Writing isn’t about writing. It’s a misnomer — a myth. The actual writing, meaning the pen-to-paper fingers-to-keyboard part, actually comprises a very small portion of the writer’s life. So much else exists between those spaces: planning, marketing, selling, rewriting, editing, researching, and so forth. Assuming that NaNoWriMo is very much about a taste of the job and the life, then for yourself and for the novel I’d recommend taking time in your day away from the writing to concentrate on some other elements. Hit your word count mark for the day, then attend to other matters your novel may require. Put your back into a little planning for tomorrow’s word count. Start writing up a sample query letter and treatment to keep yourself on task. Do up some character notes. Think in beats, scenes, sequences, acts. Then, when all that is said and done? Sit back, relax, and enjoy what you have accomplished so far. Take pride. Eat candy.

Don’t Stop Writing, Neither For Hell Nor High Water

And yet, despite this side prep, don’t stop writing. Writers can easily get lost in the prep. Lift your head from the murk! Clear your brain of the crazy bees. And always, forever anon, sit your ass down and write. This novel isn’t going to write itself. Unless it is? And if it is, then you need to tell me where you bought that awesome novel-writing robot. I seek to purchase a clone of NovelBot for a hefty sum. And if NovelBot one day goes nuclear and attacks the United States, I reserve the right to scowl at you. I’d sue you, but it won’t matter, because the entire infrastructure of our country — the legal system included — will be surely defunct thanks to the cruel reign of the word-crunching NovelBot. Damn you, robot.

Do The Work, And Realize That It Is, Indeed, Work

Surrounding NaNoWriMo is an existing giddiness, an airy and intrepid spirit — and that’s a good thing. Yes. Have fun with it. Smile now, you poor bastards because you may not be so giggly and gassy after two weeks have gone by. The reality is, writing is work. Like, work-work. It can at times be as exacting and punishing as dentistry, and sometimes you might feel like you’re a Chilean miner trapped in the deepest, darkest earth. This is, contrary to how it feels, a really good revelation. If you go into this thinking that writing a novel will be fun from day one until day 30, you’re fucked right in the ear. This isn’t a log flume ride, pal. This is a mountain climb. And climbing a mountain is a hard slog. And you might fall. Or encounter mountain lions. Or even cyborg bears. Point is, be excited for the thrill, but be ready for rectal misery.

Don’t Believe That 50,000 Words Is A Proper Novel

Writing a novel is work, and writing 50k of a novel is a lot of work — but it isn’t a complete work unless we’re talking middle-grade or young adult. For the most part, a novel is going to need to be somewhere around 70-90,000 words. Which means, uh-oh, you’ve got a lot more work to do. Now, this means one of three things — a) you create a complete 50,000 word “novel” now, then go back in and flesh it out and beef it up; b) you write 50,000 words now and realize that you’re going to, in the subsequent month, hammer out another 20-40k; or c) try to write a 70-90k novel in 30 days, which is all well and good until you pull a mental hammy and shit your brain-diapers and end up having to eat mushed-up peas and bananas for the next six months. Again, do what needs doing for the novel, not for the “contest.”

Do Consider This A Zero Draft

I consider a first draft a proper draft. It is your first completed draft, a draft that doesn’t need to be good, but needs to be utterly whole. Let this NaNoWriMo draft escape the pressures of that. Let it be a “zero draft.” It’s allowed to exist a little bit unbaked — soft in the middle, uncertain, still finding its feet like a goo-slick calf. That’s okay. Take the pressure off. You have time. Unless you’re dying from some terrible disease. And if you are, then, uhhh. Sorry? Good luck? Here, have a Hallmark card!

In Fact, Do Think Of This As A Very Powerful Outline Or Story Bible

Write this draft like it’s a very deep, intensive outline, story treatment, or story bible. Yes, yes, it’s still a novel, and it’s still a technical draft of your novel — but with the kind of haste and waste you’re going to make churning through this work, you might find yourself better served looking at the end result as a clumsy “first go.” This means it makes a truly excellent and highly-detailed preparatory tool. You take this draft, you finish it, you find the mistakes and mis-steps, then you rewrite the whole damn thing with a deeper devotion toward all those fiddly bits that make a novel truly great — character, dialogue, action, theme, mood. Oh, yeah, and plot. If one thing is going to get its head lopped off on the altar of haste, it’s plot. So, for now? Fuck plot. Just write. This is your outline, after all. A really big, really robust outline.

(Which Means You Don’t Need To Work So Hard This Month)

You say, “I’m writing a novel,” and (for me) that’s a lot of pressure. But you say, “I’m writing a novel that’s really just an outline for an even awesomer and ass-kickier novel,” then — ahhh. Woooo. The shoulders unclench. Your sphincter loosens (but not so much you make a mess on that most critical of implements, your writing chair). You let slip a few drops of happy pee. Now? The pressure’s lessened. This is just a plan. This is just really exacting prep. You’re not foolishly rushing onto the battlefield. This is a battlefield simulation! This is your own X-Men Danger Room. Breathe easy. And learn how to bring down Juggernaut.

Don’t Stop With Your Zero Draft

All that being said, don’t stop with this draft, whether you think of it as a first draft, a zero draft, or a really plump outline. NaNoWriMo is one month, but your novel cannot and should not be contained to a single month. It needs more time. Trust me, it needs more time. You’ve got more drafts to write. Possibly one, two, even ten. You don’t write until November 30th. You write until it’s good. (Or, put differently: drink until she’s pretty.) To continue the alcohol metaphor, it’s like a wine. You uncork it too early, it’s going to taste like piss and vinegar.

Do Embrace The Community

NaNoWriMo’s shining awesomeness comes in the form of being connected to something greater. You’re all embarking on a really weird journey together. Use that. Enjoy the camaraderie. Listen, a writer’s career isn’t formed just on what she can write — it’s formed on who she knows. It’s build in part on the backs of relationships. Make those relationships. Both professional and personal. It will not only give you the morale to keep on kicking, and it won’t only let you boost the spirits of others — but it’ll hopefully create lasting relationships that go well beyond November, 2010.

Don’t Rely On It, However

And yet! The writer’s life is a lonely one. Online relationships are only so real, after all, and your devotion is not to other people. Your priority isn’t social. It’s mental. Your job lurks in the words, not the words you write to encourage others but the words you write on the pages of this beast you call a novel. It can be easy to get caught up in other people’s drama, and the last thing you want to do is duct tape your novel’s fortunes to those who aren’t helping you — so, be a part of the community but know its limits. Know that the only thing that gets the book written is you writing the goddamn book.

Do Take Yourself And Your Work Seriously

Once again I’ll point out that the motif of NaNoWriMo, the prevailing mood, is one of fun — it’s a challenge! It’s a game! Hoot! Gibber! Eeeee! Well, okay, that’s very nice. But my assumption is that you’re serious about wanting to be a write. Otherwise — why do it? If you’re doing it “just to see if you can,” well, hoo-hah for you. Except, I’m not talking to you. You can go now. Shoo. Go on, skedaddle. You, glib dilettante, will soon learn that writing is a devotion, a discipline, a craft (and to some, an art), but it is not a throwaway piece of cake left on the counter for the ants. It’s serious business. And so those engaging in NaNoWriMo, I encourage you to take this seriously and more importantly, take yourself seriously. You are an ass-kicking, neck-throttling word jockey. You command the powers of the verbal elements. You make characters dance, fight, fuck, eat, love and kill. You can set the mood of the room the way most people set the temperature in their house. You are a god here. Accept that mission for what it is: a responsibility.

Do Not Take It So Seriously That You Start Sending It Out To Agents And Editors Immediately, Because That Makes Word Jesus Turn Evil And Doom The World

The one flaw in NaNoWriMo (and why it sometimes earns the ire of professional writers) is that it kind of floods the marketplace a little bit. November 30th rolls around and suddenly you have a world with thousands of new novels birthed screaming into an unkind world, and while that remains a truly sublime act of creation, it also means that you have a lot of writers who don’t have the sense of a tree grub, and these writers decide to abdicate their own sense of work and responsibility by throwing their unformed fetal drafts into the world. They choke the inboxes of agents and editors with their protoplasmic snot-waffle novels and they think, “Gee golly gosh, I’m a real writer now!” Except, they’re not. They’re rosy-cheeked, empty-eyed shitheads. Don’t be that shithead. Don’t just loose your garbage onto an unsuspecting world (which creates more work for agents and editors who already have a hard time finding diamonds in a sewage tank). Take time. Polish your work. Give it six months. Give it a year. Give the novel the air it needs to breathe. Give yourself, as a self-serious novelist, time to realize when this book is ready to roll or (a bigger and more mature revelation) that this book just isn’t “the one” — and that it’s time to write another better book, a book that doesn’t beg to be written only from November 1st to November 30th, a book that can be written whenever your fluttering wordmonkey heart so desires.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, Fiction Novel Writing, For the love of writing, Guest posts, Who is Writing What?

18 random thoughts about creativity – Not just for writers

What can we say about creativity? Joel Friedlander, a self-published author and book designer who blogs about book design, self-publishing and the indie publishing life at The Book Designer spends a lot of time being creative… and thinking about creativity.

“Where do ideas come from?” he asks. If you don’t know, that’s okay. Friedlander asserts, “nobody else knows either.”

But he does have 18 thoughts for you; please add yours in the comment box at the end of this article..

  1. You are absolutely unique, and what you have to offer the world cannot possibly be duplicated by someone else. Don’t minimize this.
  2. Other people may not understand what you’re doing, and this can sometimes be a very good sign. The trick is knowing when.
  3. Learn when to share an idea with a friend, and when to guard it like the most precious secret in the world.
  4. If you don’t take credit for good ideas when they simply happen to you, you won’t have to take the blame when you find out your idea won’t work.
  5. No one else can see what you can see, or has ever seen what you are seeing right now. This scene has never existed before and will never exist again.
  6. My father told me, “Never be the only one in a room doing something.” I believe he was only partly right.
  7. Let what you’ve created speak for itself.
  8. If you don’t believe in your work, support it with passion, champion it bravely, why should anyone else believe in it?
  9. Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Being productive in the world requires compromise somewhere along the way.
  10. Doing something worthwhile takes time—and training and preparation and resolve. You need to have some steel inside to see a big project through to the end.
  11. Being able to say “yes” to yourself is just as valuable as being able to say “no” to yourself.
  12. The letdown or “anticlimax” of completion never happens if you are present during the process of creation.
  13. Tools have never created anything. People create with whatever tools are available.
  14. Inspiration is beautiful but overrated. Persistance is at least as important, especially if you want to be a professional. Albert Einstein claimed he was no smarter than his colleagues, but that he worked at problems far longer than anyone else.
  15. Realize that most of the models we have of creativity are media depictions designed to appeal to our fantasies. Really being creative rarely looks the way you think it will.
  16. There’s nothing more common than “good ideas.” There’s nothing more satisfying than a good idea transformed from a possibility into reality in the world.
  17. You don’t need wild invention to be creative. William Shakespeare did not invent any of the stories he told in his plays, yet he is regarded as the greatest writer of all.
  18. If you imagine you can do something extraordinary, you’re more likely to take the steps necessary to achieve it. It’s taking those steps that sets you apart.

Go and create.

Joel Friedlander is also the proprietor of Marin Bookworks, where he helps publishers and authors get to market on time and on budget with books that are both properly constructed and beautiful to read. Subscribe to Joel Friedlander via RSS or E-Mail to get updated with all of the latest content from The Book Designer.

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Filed under Best Writer Tips, For the love of writing