5 Steps to Take Before Writing a Novel

There are so many tips about how to write a novel. And there are even more tips on what to do with that novel once you’ve finished it. But, what about the things you should do before you start writing a novel?

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Okay, I can already hear some of you out there saying, “Sometimes you can’t think about what you’re doing. You just need to jump in and go. Write, write, write!” Yes, I agree. However, if you’re serious about doing something with your novel after you finish it, then there are some important steps to take before you go full throttle.

5 Steps to Take Before Writing A Novel

1: Fall in love

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It’s not always easy to know if you’re in love with a story until you begin developing it. However, you should be in love with the idea. Novels are no picnic. They take months (or, more often, years) to write, invite criticism, and get rejected–again and again. If you don’t love yours from the very beginning, then you’re probably not going to make it past the first obstacle (which could come as early as the first draft; heck, maybe even the first chapter).

So, before you begin writing a story, ask yourself, “Do I love this idea?” If the answer’s, “No, not really,” then you might want to consider another idea.

2: Sell it!

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You came up with an idea that you love. Excellent! But, wait. Don’t start writing yet. Just because you love an idea doesn’t mean the rest of the world will. To others, it might sound dull, or confusing, or similar to a story they’ve read before. So, swallow your nerves (and pride) and go talk to your most trusted–and honest–friends/family/writing pals. See what they think of the idea. Note their facial expressions, read their body language, and listen to their words. It’s hard for many of us to accept criticism, but if someone finds a flaw with our work, even in its earliest stages, we need to consider it.

Now, if your idea gets a lackluster reaction, don’t automatically throw it in the trash (if you do, you probably didn’t love it as much as you thought you did). Talk to your critics first. Ask them why they don’t like it. Is it because it sounds like another story they’ve read? Is it because they’re not a fan of horror (or whatever genre your story is)? Is it because they started daydreaming in the middle of your pitch? Remember, your friends and family are human. Therefore, they’re subjective.

My best advice: pitch your idea to at least three people (preferably those who will, without a doubt, give you their most honest opinion). Then gauge their reaction before you fully commit yourself to a project that could consume years of your life.

3: Research the market

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Say you have a dream about a world where love is outlawed. You wake up and think, “Hmm, that was weird, but it could be a cool book.” So, you mull it over and decide you love the idea. But, instead of outlawing love, you decide to make love a disease that needs to be cured, and your main character needs to prove to the world it isn’t. It’s a gift!

Ooh, that’s good. Really good.

So, you roll up your sleeves and begin writing your story. You mention the concept to a friend, but they’re not a big reader, so they think it’s great, too. Encouraged by their positive reaction, you write and write and write. Finally, you have a presentable draft to send to your beta readers. Three of the four tell you, “I’d be careful. This story is really similar to Lauren Oliver’s, ‘Delirium.'” You frown and Google “Delirium.” Your jaw drops. The plot is nearly identical to yours.

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Don’t let this scenario happen to you! Before you dive into an idea you love, find out if it’s been done before. Ask Google, talk to your bookworm friends, get input from your trustworthy writing pals, chat with a librarian, etc. If your idea is popular enough, someone is bound to give you a head’s up. And then you can decide to either alter it, drop it, or continue to write it knowing it’s already been done before.

4: Pinpoint your target audience

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You have a cute idea for a romance that you really like, so you pitch it to your friends. They think it’s cute too (yay!). You sit down and begin writing. You don’t really think about what type of romance you’re creating (you don’t really know there are different types of romances out there, each for a specific audience). So, you write in happy bliss until you finish and send the novel off to a handful of beta readers. Their feedback trickles in. Most are positive and think it just needs some tweaking. One, however, is confused. They can’t figure out if your novel fits in rom-com, erotica, or women’s fiction. It has a little of everything. But, you decide to ignore them because they’re the only one who complained, and polish the manuscript up. You send it off to agents, nervous and excited, confident you’ll have a request for your full manuscript within weeks.

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Crickets! Why? Because you had no defined audience. Instead of narrowing your focus, you tried to appeal to three different markets: Women who wanted a lighthearted, funny story. Women who wanted hot, steamy sex. And women who wanted an emotional, soul-searching journey. As tempting as it is to reach far and wide with your story, you have to zero in on a specific group. Not only will that help an agent sell it (or yourself if you’re self-publishing), but it’ll help you put together a stronger, more cohesive story.

Now, I understand figuring out your target audience might be difficult before you start writing a novel. However, you should have a decent idea of who you’re writing for before you type the first word. Children? Young adults? Women? Men? Both men and women? As you write subsequent drafts, narrow your focus to a specific group.

5: Set goals

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“I guess I’ll write today.”

“I’m not really sure what I want to do with this book.”

“I’ll just go with the flow and see where things lead.” 

If you enter a project feeling aimless, then chances are you’ll never finish it. Or you’ll stop and go, stop and go, and it’ll take years to reach the final chapter. Trust me, I’d know. That’s why I strongly urge you to create goals. They become the backbone of our success. Personally, I like to set three before I begin a novel.

  1. An ultimate goal. AKA, what to do with a story once it’s finished. Get published by one of the Big Five? Self-publish? Or write purely to write? There is no wrong answer.
  2. A deadline goal to help reach the finish line in a timely manner. Circle a date on your calendar and aim to finish your first draft by it. Or present a copy to your beta readers. Or send your first batch of query letters. Or hire an editor to evaluate the story. Whatever! The type of deadline is up to you. Just try and be as specific about it as possible.
  3. A daily goal to keep you on track to meet your deadline. This should be a quantifiable objective, like word count, timed hours, or completed chapters.

Sometimes when we sit down to write, all we want to do is write. No plan, no concept, no long-term commitment. Just write! And that’s great. However, once we make the decision to commit to a novel, finish it, and do something with it, we need to consider each of these steps. You might not come up with an exact answer for each, but you should at least consider each before embarking on your writing journey.

Good luck with your project!

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 Photo credits: giphy

Confession: I Fear Sharing My Stories

Ever since I posted my first round story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, I’ve been a bit of a mess–anxious, queasy, stressed. Perhaps you find this reaction surprising–maybe even a little unbelievable–because I’ve always acted like sharing my work with you is no big deal. But, to be honest, it terrifies me.

Last week, when I hit the “publish” button on my blog to post Inevitable, I had a moment of pure panic. A million “what if” questions flew through my mind: What if people hate it? What if people laugh at me? What if this is the stupidest story I’ve ever written? What if I didn’t push myself hard enough? What if I offend someone by accident? What if. What if. What if…

 It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m sharing my story with a friend, a beta reader, or a complete stranger, I’m always petrified I’ll be judged, ridiculed, and/or ripped apart. The minute I put a story on my blog, or I hand chapters of my manuscript over to a beta reader, I experience a sharp twinge of anxiety, and my heart does a pitter-patter–stutter–halt!–boom-boom-boom! dance.

You’d think this fear would go away after years of sharing my work with others, but it hasn’t. I always experience a sickening sensation, followed by a silent chant of, “Oh God, oh God, oh God…”

Part of my fear stems from the worry people will read my work and think I’m someone I’m not. Let’s face it, many of my stories are on the darker side: Tragic. Morbid. Whacked out! I’m so scared people will read them and think, “Wowza, this chick is messed up!” Or, “Poor thing, she must have a terrible life.” Or, “Yeesh, this writer scares me.”

And, who knows? Maybe people do think those things about me? Maybe people see me as this:

When, in reality, I’m like this:

The only thing I can do to manage this particular fear is to explain to people my writing process. I like to tell them, “When I write, I’m not there. I’m pushed into a cage and locked up while my characters hijack the story. They’re the ones writing it, not me.”

Hmm, maybe I am a little crazy–ha!

But it’s the truth. When I sit down to write, I check “Jenna” at the door and let my characters orchestrate the plot. They tell me how the story is “supposed to go”. I do my best not to interfere as the outsider.

For example, when I started writing my short story, Chasing Monsters, I planned on telling a story about a little boy who’d witnessed a murder in the forest. But when I arrived at the murder scene, my characters said, “Um, no. That’s not going to happen. This is!” And they yanked the plot out of my hands and twisted it into something completely different and unexpected…It was horrible and beyond terrifying, and I did not want to write it.

I think I almost threw up when I posted Chasing Monsters on my blog. If there was ever a story people were going to judge me for, it was that one. Thankfully, nobody did–at least not to my face.

Truthfully, I’ve never been outright slammed for any of my stories. Of course, that’s not to say I’ve never had negative reviews, or had my feelings hurt by less than tactful individuals. Just this past weekend, I had someone send me feedback for Inevitable. They point blank said, “I didn’t like it at all.”

Yeah, that one hurt. But it’s okay. One of the things I’ve learned from sharing my work is not everyone will be a fan. Even if I have pure gold on my hands, someone out there will think it stinks. The best thing I can do is move on and let it go.

…Easier said than done, right?

The bottom line is I will always be afraid of sharing my work. Even if I become a New York Times bestselling author, I’ll struggle with the knowledge there are people out there reading my work and judging me in one way or another. And there will always be critics and, well, insensitive meanies who will tell me, “I didn’t like it at all.”.

But you know what? I can’t let my fears stop me. Even if I have an anxiety attack every time I press the “publish” button on my blog, or sit and stare at my email until my beta readers return with their feedback about my manuscript, I need to be willing to share my work. I need to suck it up and take the terrifying plunge.

If I don’t, how else will I discover my strengths and weaknesses? How else will I become the best writer I can be? There’s only so much I can learn on my own. Without constructive criticism from a variety of sources (friends, family, strangers, bloggers, other writers, etc.) I’ll never reach the next level.

And, really, I need to get used to people reading my stories if I want to be a published author. That’s kind of the point of all of this, isn’t it?

So, how about you? Do you fear others reading your stories? If so, why?

Related Articles:

What are you afraid of, dear writer?

Purging Your Writing Fear

Fear of Writing – 3 secrets of writer’s block

Photo Credits:

http://gifbuffet.tumblr.com/post/9431389021

http://imgfave.com/view/1351342

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20629796-fighting-for-you

http://seeyouinaporridge.blogspot.com/2014/07/confessions_30.html

http://silverscreenings.org/2014/04/25/day-6-the-great-villain-blogathon/

http://setsunajikan.blogspot.com/2012/08/34-ways-that-you-can-be-remarkable.html

http://borg-princess.livejournal.com/95677.html?thread=1791677

5 Things to Know When Pitching to Literary Agents

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! So, today’s gem is a bit broader, and perhaps many of us have heard some of these tips before, but I wanted to share them anyway. When it comes to literary agents, it’s always good to be aware and knowledgable about the big do’s and don’t’s.

literary-agentIf you’re interested in pursuing a literary agent someday, be sure to check out this post from author, Mila Gray:

5 Things to Know When Pitching to Literary Agents.

1. Make sure you’re pitching to the right agent.

Buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook (in the UK). Identify those agents that rep your genre. Google them and find out what their submission guidelines are.

Check out who their clients are. This will give you an idea of how big a player they are — how much influence they have in the publishing world.

An agent with lots of high profile authors might not have as much time for you as an agent with fewer clients. On the upside a bigger agent will have more influence with publishers and be able to get your MS onto desks quicker.

Don’t go overboard with contacting every agent in the book. I contacted 12. I had 7 responses, two of which were very polite no thank yous, three of which were ‘we really think this has potential but we have no room on our list’, and 2 who wanted to sign me immediately.

I signed with the agent who I felt I had the best rapport with but she also happened to be very established with a great client list.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Mila Gray on Twitter!

Related Articles

What Does a Literary Agent Want to See When They Google You?

New Literary Agent Alert: Soumeya Bendimerad of the Susan Golomb Literary Agency

Advice For Writers From Literary Agents

Photo credit: http://www.jeffcalloway.com/how-to-land-a-literary-agent.html

Friday Funny with a Flash and a Big Breath

You know what that means.

Yup! It’s FRIDAY!

…Go ahead and cheer. I know you want to 😉

So, my week wasn’t quite as productive as I would’ve liked it to be on the writing front. I had to take some time out of my regular scheduled programming to apply for a substitute teaching license. I wasn’t planning on doing this, but…

Okay, so long story short: My sister tried to convince me to apply for a teaching post in the Marketing Department at a local high school. For a few days, I seriously considered it. Then I realized teaching isn’t a job change. It’s a career change, and I’m not looking for a new career. I have one as a writer and a pursuer of full-time authorship.

I explained all of this to my sister and she completely understood. But she still urged me to apply for a substitute license, just in case I needed some extra cash or suddenly found myself without a job. I agreed and decided to go through the nitpicky application process.

Yeah, that was a blast. But, I’m glad I did it. It’s always nice to have some kind of cushion in case things fall apart unexpectedly.

 Another thing that stole some precious manuscript time this week was on the sillier side. As most of you know, I’m an avid participant in the NYC Midnight writing challenges. Tonight at midnight, the Flash Fiction Challenge kicks off.

To celebrate, one of my friends/fellow competitors decided to make a funny “Flash” themed video to post on the competition’s forum. It’s mostly a fun way to get writers pumped up and excited for the challenge, and to create a sense of community. A few days ago, my friend emailed me and asked if I’d like to contribute some silly/beautiful/clean “Flash” type photos and videos.

Being the “Yes Girl” that I am, I said, “Sure! No problem.”

Yet, as I began taking photos, I realized something: I STINK at making come-hither eyes and sultry expressions and anything else of the sort. Worse, I kept bursting out laughing at myself, so most of my shots were useless.

After a solid hour of trying and failing, I finally gave up and sent my friend what I had. Most of them were of me puckering, trying to look alluring (haha!), and cringing at myself. Yeah, I’m awesome.

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IMG_2566Go and laugh. It’s cool. I’m still laughing at myself.

Anyway, as I mentioned, tonight the Flash Fiction Challenge 2014 kicks off. At midnight, I’ll be assigned a genre, location, and object, and then I’ll have 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story.

*BIG, DEEP BREATH*

To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ll fair. My brain is so wrapped up in my manuscript right now, I’m afraid I won’t be able to snap out of that story and jump into another. If I receive a difficult genre like political satire, comedy, or–God forbid–romance, I might just curl up and surrender…Okay, that’s a lie. I never surrender without putting up some kind of fight. I guess I’ll just cross my fingers and pray to God for the best. Of course, your positive vibes will be much appreciated too.

So, in honor of my terrible fear of writer’s block striking this weekend, here is today’s Friday Funny. Enjoy!

MjAxMy00NjI4MWVhZjgxMmNlMDM4How was your week? Is anyone else participating in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge? Let me know! We can cheer each other on 🙂

Jen’s Weekly Roundup

In case you missed my posts from earlier this week, here you go!

Music Monday – You Give Love A Bad Name – Bon Jovi

One Year Blogiversary – How My Blog Saved Me

Sympathy for a Good Villain

Photo credits: 

http://rebloggy.com/post/my-gif-gif-funny-glamour-party-humor-new-years-retro-nostalgia-1920s-classic-fil/71786318384

http://mrwgifs.com/jack-black-salutes-with-passion-in-school-of-rock-movie-gif/

http://gifstumblr.com/cool/get-outta-my-way-1250

http://www.someecards.com/usercards/viewcard/MjAxMy02YmNiNDFhY2MwM2Q0MDQ4

http://www.theredheadbaker.com/pizza-ground-lamb-leeks-rosemary/

25 Steps To Being A Traditionally Published Author

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Although I’m still months away from sending out query letters for my YA manuscript, I like to read and learn all I can about the publishing industry. I want to be as prepared as possible for when the next step in this arduous journey begins.

Today’s gem, courtesy of literary agent, Sara Megibow, is a goldmine of advice about the publishing process: 25 Steps To Being A Traditionally Published Author. In this article, author, Delilah S. Dawson, shares her experiences in a funny, honest, and inspiring way. I strongly urge all writers to check it out. Even if you’re contemplating self-publishing, you’re sure to take something away from this awesome article.

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6. OH MY GOD YOU FINISHED A BOOK! FIRE THE CUPCAKE CANNONS!

Congratulations!!! And BOOMCAKE!!! And you should definitely go out to celebrate with shrimp tacos and margaritas. Hell, I used to go celebrate every time I passed the 100 page mark. Finishing your first book is a major victory, and you shouldn’t let the fact that there are 19 more steps terrify you. Even if you put your book baby in a drawer and throw the dresser into the Grand Canyon, you will still spend the rest of your life knowing that you are capable of writing a book, and that is A Big Deal.

So celebrate. Look at your book. Stroke the screen. Tell Twitter. And then, like a hot steak in a cast iron skillet, let your book rest for a while by itself, preferably with a slab of butter melting on top. Because getting some distance from your work is an important part of this process.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Sarah Megibow and Delilah S. Dawson on Twitter!

Photo credit: http://bakermarketingservices.com/2012/04/can-i-reuse-other-peoples-blogs-on-my-own/

My First Draft of My First Story Ever

So, I have a friend right now who’s working on her first manuscript ever. It’s a story she’s been wanting to write for a long time, but just hasn’t. After some gentle–or not so gentle–encouragement on my part, she finally decided to bite the bullet and participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this month.

As my friend has been working her little booty off, I’ve been reliving the early days of my own writing career; back when I too was a closeted writer. Back when I worked in secret because I was too scared, too embarrassed, too overwhelmed to admit to anyone I wanted to be a published author someday. Back when I had no idea what I was getting myself into, or how tough my road ahead was going to be.

Or so I thought.

Last week, while talking to my friend about her first draft of her first story ever, I decided to run upstairs and dig out mine. Purely out of curiosity. Just to see how far I’ve come in the 6-ish years since I wrote it. Just to laugh at how oblivious I used to be to the grim realities of becoming a published author.

This was what I found:

10442564_253303068195582_1205584036698614734_nI almost cried when I saw what I’d taped to the cover.

10484484_253302801528942_4987265418950671251_nAn empty Dove’s chocolate wrapper with the quote: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

It appears I wasn’t so naive or oblivious as I thought. Even back then, I knew the road to getting published was going to be a bumpy one, filled with pothole after pothole of failure. And, geeze, I’m glad I prepared myself. Because, yes, my journey HAS been bumpy, and it HAS been filled with failures. But, it’s also been building towards success. With each failure, I’ve begun anew, more determined than ever. With each “no” and rejection letter and harsh criticism, I’ve picked myself back up, brushed off the sting, and started over.

So, to all you newer, closeted writers out there, remember this: “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”.

AKA, Never give up!

Be ready to pick yourself back up, brush off the sting, and start over. If this is your passion, your dream, then be prepared to fight for it.

10 Tips To Get You Revision Ready

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! Today’s gem is one I think every writer should read, especially those of us in the midst of revising our manuscripts: 10 Tips To Get You Revision Ready.

Let’s be honest, revisions are a pain in the you-know-what. Personally, I experience many moments of “AHH! I’m gonna rip my hair out! And then go jump off a mountain! And then eat cookie dough ice cream until I feel better!!!”

So any tips that might help reduce my stress, or simply make my manuscript the best it can be, I’ll take. And I’ll happily take these awesome tips in this article. Thanks, @ShellyThacker for sharing this information.

10 Tips To Get You Revision Ready

4) Don’t be afraid to cut. Many of us act like hoarders with our little pieces of language. “But what if I find a use for this can of broken zippers?” I get it. I like to keep a document called “scraps with promise” for those pieces of language that I can’t seem to let go of. The more you cut, the more the heart of the piece will become clear.

7) Enlist an outside reader. A second set of eyes views your writing from a different perspective. If you work on something on your own for too long, you start to lose sight of how a fresh reader might approach it. You may have edited out something crucial, the absence of which only a new reader can recognize. You also run the risk of editing the thing so thoroughly that it loses its original inspiration/spark/magic.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Shelly Thacker on Twitter!