Tag Archives: novel

Quitting – A Guest Post by Nicholas Ruva

A guest post by Nicholas Ruva.

When I was asked to write a guest post on quitting, I wasn’t exactly sure how to react. I am a journeyman writer. I’ve completed several shorts, and two novels, but nothing has seen the light of day outside of writing groups and Editor’s slush piles. As someone who has tried my hand at this craft for the past decade, after finally giving in and finishing a minor in Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, I should probably take a hint and throw in the towel. After a decade, if you’re still toiling away, trying to form writer groups, and producing content that gets polite, but definite, rejection letters, well… Shouldn’t I quit?

It’s been a topic on my mind for the last year. After a hellish turn of personal events, a sick dog, stress at work, the dog sick again, bills piling up, and the internal thrumming of a voice that says, “Make this happen, or move on,” yeah, I feel this topic through and through.

However, I don’t think that’s exactly the point of this series, and this topic, and let’s be honest, the majority of you reading this are probably wearing similar pants, and have also been rut-writing for nearly a decade with little to show. It comes with the territory, and eventually you get to this point and you say, “This is who I am. There is no real quitting this.”

So, Okay, fair enough. Let’s not all collectively quit writing for the new year. Let’s bury our nose into that old manuscript. Let’s hammer out that short that’s been sitting unwritten for a long time. Let’s send that submission out to Clarkesworld, Glimmer Train, the Atlantic, the New Yorker. Let’s put butt in seat and fingers on keys and finish that opus!

Well, maybe. I’m guilty of that too. The albatross. The chain wrapped so taut, and so heavy around the neck that it is hard to even make it to my desk. Maybe, just maybe, this is the year you put that old manuscript down. Maybe this is the year you say to yourself that the story in your head will never make it to the page, and you free yourself to do something new, something amazing. Maybe.

That’s hard advice. I have a book, two in fact, that I’ve lugged around for the past decade. The first is complete, but it’s terrible. It’s woefully bad on a level that I wouldn’t share even with my closest friends, though I was giddy to submit it to my writing class at USC. I was so sure they would recognize the brilliance that lay untapped. I was shocked when only one person in the class could even follow my magnificent work.

It was horrible. Going back to it now it’s painful to read, but there’s a glimmer there. The story idea is still strong, and sticks with me to this day. I know, given ten years of experience and a hell of a lot less ego, I could really do it justice. I want to do it justice, but sitting down to it is hard, so it sits.

The second work I should quit is more recent. I started a novel three years ago, and it was a fever-pitch writing session. I tore through fifty thousand words in a little under three days. I brought the rough story to workshops, and it gathered praise from students and instructors alike. It isn’t a big idea story, and probably won’t sell worth a damn, but it is a good story and it deserves to be finished. Still, the longer it sits, the harder it is to bring myself to conclusion.

I know how the story ends. I know exactly where I’m going from here, but sitting down to it is complete brain paralysis. All of that fever and excitement is gone, and it sinks into my creative conscious like a cork, bottling up any desire to move forward, and keeping me from tackling other larger works.

I’ve completed several short stories during the time I’ve been working on this novel, and come up with a few great ideas for other full length works. One idea in waiting I am almost certain will become a series of books, and that excites me completely, but when I go to sit-down and work on it, my WiP haunts me and taunts me from the depth of my creative consciousness.

In my head, I hear the advice Brandon Sanderson gave us at the Out of Excuses retreat in 2013. He warned of the same exact problem I suffer from today, that if you have this great work you’ve been trying to tell for a number of years, a story that you’ve carried with you afraid to finish due to not having the skill, or wanting to perfect over and over until it’s paralysis. If you have such a story… Kill it. It’s better to put that one in the ground then to allow it to weigh on your writing.

It’s solid advice that I can’t take. I feel invested. I feel so close to finishing, but I know it’s the right advice. I know the power spontaneity can bring. Over the past year, I’ve released three full albums of new music, most of the tracks completely improvised and then reworked, not unlike how I approach my writing. The experience is exciting, and I am often shocked at the results. Even my current work in progress novel was a completely spontaneous writing session that turned into a blistering paced seed of a novel. Allowing myself to remove the shackles of my previous work would free me to be more creative.

I am a computer programmer by trade. An odd one that specializes in automation, and removing manual steps from mission critical processes to optimize and standardize work. That’s a really long and drawn out way to say I am successful at my day job if I am able to remove myself from the process. To me, nothing is more satisfying than letting the gears move freely and getting out of the way of the collective machines so they can run at their best.

Although writing is, of course, wholly different in approach, the idea of clearing away obstacles and creating an environment where things run optimally is basically in my genes. I have no problem excessing legacy routines, rewriting bad code, or completely throwing away an entire way of thinking in order to ask, “What am I really trying to solve here?”

If I was to take that same approach to my writing, I’d have pulled the plug on this novel years ago, but it’s a part of me, more so than the code I write, or the job I do every day. The characters speak to me, and through me, and demand to have their story told. These darlings are damn hard to kill.

My monitor is rimmed with sticky notes for daily tasks, a product of the Agile development method. I use various colors for various tasks, but pink is set for personal goals. In all capital letters, stuck to the left side of my monitor, directly at eye level, a pink sticky note reads, “WORK ON THE NOVEL.” It is joined with other pink items with less urgent capitalization, but it’s there to be a constant reminder, a constant goading. It’s tough to quit on something so personal, especially when you know where it goes from here, and how freaking awesome that payoff of an ending will be. So, the novel sits, and I try and convince myself that this is the year things move forward with the work.

When I was approached to write about quitting, I didn’t know it would trigger such a response from my collective writer subconscious. I thought, maybe I will talk about buckling down and getting through it, but I’d be a phony if I did. I know how hard this can be, and maybe you are in a similar situation. If you are, I can’t offer you any advice other than you should probably quit on the work. I know I should have quit on this story last year, or even the year before, but I didn’t, and I likely won’t this year either.

Maybe, eventually, the guilt of it will spill over into another three-day-binge-session that sees me through to the story’s conclusion. Maybe it will be wholly mediocre, but cathartic in all the right ways to finally free myself. If this hasn’t happened to you. If you are the type that finishes everything they start, I envy you. I’ve met folks like you before, and their productivity was nothing short of awe-inspiring. I hope that’s you. Me, I’ll offer myself the advice I know I won’t take: Sometimes it’s alright to move on. You can quit and still be successful. Sometimes quitting is exactly what you need.

I wish I could take that advice, but, then again maybe this is the year I finally finish that novel.

 

About Nicholas Ruva

Nicholas Ruva is a writer, musician, and DevOps Engineer living in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not creating, he’s likely in the kitchen working on a new recipe, or in front of a keyboard trying to complete a catering job in Cook, Serve, Delicious. If you’d like to follow him on his publishing journey, you can find him on Facebook, Instagram, or toss a few fractions of a penny his direction by listening to his music under the name of Lake Onondaga on Spotify or pretty much anywhere music is streamed.

K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel, Part One

*Please note that this is part one of a two part series. The second part of this series will be posted on Thursday, December 17th.*

 

It never fails. I sit down, Scrivener doc open and ready. And I’m terrified and completely unsure of where to begin. Luckily this year, I’ve discovered two books that have forever changed my writing process from here on out.

Many people will tell you to just sit down and write. Some will say to have an overall plan, but the important thing is that you sit down, every day, and write, no matter how painful it is. I offer you an option three: plan. And plan carefully.

In K.M. Weiland’s book Outlining Your Novel, she writes:

K.M. Weiland

“Each author must discover for himself what methods work best for him. Just because Margaret Atwood does X and Stephen King does Y is no reason to blindly follow suit. Read widely, learn all you can about what works for other authors, and experiment to discover which methods will offer you the best results.

My own writing routine is a constantly evolving process. What worked for me five years ago isn’t necessarily what works for me now, and what works for me now isn’t necessarily going to work for me in another five years.” (Page 18)

Indeed, you should do exactly what works for you, even if a famous writer says it’s the worst advice she’s ever heard. You should do it if an author you don’t necessarily like also adheres to the same advice as you do.

So, if you’ve decided outlining is for you (and Weiland goes through pros and cons in the very first chapter to help you decide), where do you go from there? In the rest of the book, Weiland overviews every pre-writing method I’ve ever seen, from crafting your premise to writing your pitch, character sketches to character interviews.

What I love most about Outlining Your Novel is that you don’t have to do every single exercise in the book. You get to choose what will be helpful for your process. But Weiland doesn’t skimp on giving you ideas about how to think about your novel in the conceptual stage, as she shows you how to approach shaping your creative ideas into a tangible game plan.

One of the items I found incredibly helpful was in chapter four. Weiland encourages you to look at all possible outcomes, all possible conflicts that could arise with the characters you’ve chosen or in the situations you’ve dreamed up.

“Even when you think you have a plot problem all figured out, push a little farther by asking a few more questions. What if something else happened in this scene? What would change as a result? Would the resultant shifts be for the better or for the worse?” (Page 69)

 Sometimes we get so married to an idea that we don’t even want to consider other ideas. You aren’t doing your story justice if you could dream up an excellent side story, a secondary conflict, or a great additional character to make the world richer. Ask yourself what’s expected, and then what’s unexpected.

At first blush, I’ll admit I questioned if I really needed Outlining Your Novel. I’ve been writing for over a decade. I have my degree in creative writing. Is this book really going to help me? I wondered. And the answer is a loud, enthusiastic yes. From me to you, yes, this book will absolutely help you. Some of the knowledge is common. But I found that I was pleased to have a reminder of that knowledge. K.M. Weiland digs deeply into the pre-writing process, deeper than I have ever gone. This is an incredible resource to have in my library when I’m dreaming up a new story, and I think it could be for you as well.

On Thursday, look for part two of this series when I go over K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel.

The Terror of Goals

A guest post by Patrick Sullivan.

One of the biggest struggles a writer can face is against oneself. It can lead you to either not write at all, or if you do write a piece, to never let it out into the world to find an audience. When it comes to resolutions, this can lead down one of two paths very easily. Not making them to avoid any chance of failure, or making a resolution so easy that no growth comes from its completion.

With the onset of a new year, there is a chance to look deeper and find where improvement can happen. Has enough time been spent optimizing writing productivity? Or perhaps more time could be devoted to the craft at a sentence level. Unless every word put down gets its turn at being polished and seeing the light of day, there is always room to grow when it comes to seeing your work go out into the world.

Until fears are faced, they can never be overcome. Once the things that are shied away from are known, it is possible to figure out how to face them, defeat them, and grow in the craft, as well as the art of writing. This is why regular introspection is always key, be it as part of a New Year’s resolution or simply a regular part of your growth as an author.

Personally, I know I need to improve my craft at the sentence level a great deal, improve my output by dedicating more time to putting words on the page, and get my work out there so it can have the impact it is meant to. Therefore, I have set a number of goals for myself. Will I fail? Possibly, but I have to have the courage to risk that failure, and to own it.

My first goal: to write three brand new novels this year. The best I’ve done previously is a novel and a half, but that tends to be accomplished over a short period of time. If I dedicate enough time to preparation and putting down words, I can do this, and if I ever intend to reach where I want to with my craft, I have to learn to accomplish this.

Secondly, I will write one screenplay this year. I believe that spending time exploring other types of writing can improve different parts of the craft. Screenplays can allow a strong focus on dialogue and focused scene setting without all the other prose being there to hide those aspects. This means focused practice while gaining another skill.

Thirdly, I will write twelve poems this year, one per month, across multiple styles. This will force me to work on imagery and focused word choice, things that can be applied to novel-writing.

Finally, I will submit my work. There are two parts to this. One is polishing and submitting at least one novel to agents and editors, and thereby facing the fear of letting my work face critique and risk it being found wanting. The other half is writing two short stories and submitting them to Writers of the Future, with its prestige and knowledgeable judges making another excellent test to see where I am in my craft.

Will I fail at some or all of these goals? Possibly, but unless I try, I won’t know what I am capable of, which would be a foolish mistake for me to make. What are your goals for the coming year, and how will they help you grow as a writer?

Guest Writer Bio:
PatrickPatrick Sullivan is an explorer of ideas across many forms, from digital data and code to stories. He grew up in southern Arkansas, but found his true home in Denver, Colorado where he now lives working in the software industry while writing tales he intends to someday share with the masses.

Jump-start Your Writing Routine with NaNoWriMo

If you told me that I’d write my first book in a month, I’d say, “Thanks, and here’s the beer I promised you for saying that.” Because, in truth, I had already worked on one book for three years, and in that time, I’d given it more treatments than a Beverly Hills housewife. And I hadn’t even finished writing it.

If spending three years writing one thing sounds a little nutty to you, imagine how I felt, especially being an impatient person.

It occurred to me that I had been looking at this writing thing all wrong. Well, wrong for me.

So I wiped the slate clean. I postponed writing short stories, put the labor of love novel on hold, and started outlining a new story. By piecing the new story together as a YA novel, I realized it would be easier to cut my teeth on than a dramatic literary fiction piece (which will be The Next Great American Novel… just give it time).

Instead of slaving through paragraphs, scrutinizing word usage and generally trying to make the labor of love perfect, I put all of my energy into preparing my new story. I used National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as my diving board– no more dipping my toes in the water.

I wrote approximately 57,000 words in 28 days. More importantly, I finished writing a book.

But I couldn’t have done it without a game plan.

How to Jump-start Your Writing Routine with NaNoWriMo

Realize what writing a book in a month actually means.

Yeah, sounds like a doozy. I know. But lets do some MATHS (even though we hates it, the filthy mathsies).

Let’s say you’re planning on writing a young adult novel. The average young adult book is between 50,000 and 60,000 words. This isn’t a rule, and you’ll find plenty of books that aren’t. But it’s easier to do the MATHS if we just say 60,000.

    •  There are 30 days in November.
    •  If you write every day in the month of November (spoiler alert: you should), then you need to write 2,000 words a day.
    • Don’t worry, dude. You can do that.

Realize what writing a book in a month means for you.

Clear your calendar, bro. Do not agree to take Taekwondo classes with your boss in November. Do not schedule voluntary surgical procedures during this time. What I mean to say is: make writing your top priority (or one of your top priorities). Let your boss know what you’re going to be doing. Tell your family and loved ones. Buy lots of snacks and make a little squirrel stash at your writing desk. Create a good headspace for yourself. For example, I didn’t drink alcohol during the entire month (I missed you, beer! We had a tearful reunion at the end of November).

Realize what writing a book in a month means for everyone you love.

You may daydream about November – you, all hunched over a laptop wearing your sexy, hipster bifocals with two fingers of scotch in a glass next to you while you brood at the screen. Or, this may just be you. In any event, this is what your family and/or loved ones will see: an angsty hobbit creature J.D. Salinger-ing it in its office.

You may think, around the 10th of November, that you are still speaking clearly and concisely to your wife. To her, your words are nothing more than animal-like grunts, and when you look at her, your eyes are a permanent, gazed-over haze. This is why the planning phase is so important: tell loved ones you’ll become a hobgoblin in advance. Make them promise they won’t get mad at you, leave you, call the cops on you, or burn all of your clothes.

Plan for everything.

Some important things to consider before November rolls around:

  • What time of the day will you sit down and write? If you don’t make that appointed time, when is your Plan B writing time?
  • Your in-laws are visiting? This is your one opportunity to say (and mean) “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Okay. We all know that’s not going to work, so instead, explain that you’re writing an entire friggin’ novel in a month, and you’ll need some quiet and alone time every day for at least an hour.
  • Crap. You missed a day. How will you make up for those 2,000 words? Write 4,000 the next day? Spread it out over a couple of days?
  • Outline your entire novel in September and October. Take as much time as you need on your outline. Know the story you are going to tell so you don’t get stuck during November.

Use the tools that are available to you.

Take advantage of the NaNoWriMo website, which sends you helpful tips as the month goes on, provides tools to help you track word count, and connects you with other crazy writers NaNoWriMo participants.

NaNoWriMo may not work for everybody. But if you’re looking to jump in to your first book, finish writing a book, or set up a daily writing routine, it’s an extremely efficient practice. Remember, it’s never too late to start, and it’s never to late to try something new. You may find that concentrated bursts of writing help you complete projects and help you establish a routine that works for you.

 

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Kristin Luna is a Marketing Consultant by day and writer by break of dawn. She sings to one of her cats, but the other cat doesn’t care for her voice. Kristin, a descendant of the 74350infamous Dread Pirate Roberts, is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy trilogy. When she isn’t contemplating marketing campaigns or writing, she’s designing handbags for gerbils, playing board games, tasting craft beers, teaching her cats sign language, reading, or getting in cabs saying, “To the library – and step on it!”. She is kidding about only two of those hobbies.