This past weekend marked my 11th round of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to compete. I’m currently immersed in the latest draft of my novel, and shifting gears pained me. It pained me even more when I received my score for the first round of this year’s contest.
Okay, okay. That’s not horrible considering I’ve never attempted to write pure comedy, and comedy is one of the most subjective genres out there.
Low score aside, I still had fun this weekend. Well, mostly…
As a quick reminder, NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. All competitors get to compete in two of the four rounds. This past weekend was the second round, which kicked off at 10 p.m. (MST) Friday when prompts were released.
First impressions of my group’s prompts:
Location: Waterfront esplanade
Object: Animal horn
When I saw my prompts, I went through a myriad of emotions all at once: horror, amusement, irritation, confusion. I mean, seriously, what the heck is an esplanade? I had to google it before I could do anything else. (FYI, an esplanade is “a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk.”)
Once I had my location prompt figured out, I turned to the main matter at hand: brainstorming a plot.
Per usual, I talked things out with my favorite writing critic: my mom. For the first time ever, we didn’t banter back and forth on how to approach the prompts. I already knew the general direction I wanted to take.
Yeah, yeah fantasy lovers. I know Gollum isn’t a goblin. However, I decided a long time ago that if I ever received fantasy in this contest, I’d write about a Gollum-goblin-like character. So, I did!
Next, I had to figure out the “animal horn” prompt. Obviously, my first thought was, “Unicorn!” I’m sure it was everyone else’s too, so I stayed far away from that and brainstormed other possibilities. As I did, my seven-year-old nephew curled up next to me with his tablet and watched one of his favorite videos: “Giant God Warrior” (a Japanese short fantasy monster action film). I stared at the creepy creature on screen, studied its horned back, and voila! I had an idea!
Well, sort of.
I packed up my computer and went home. By this point, it was approaching 1 a.m. and I’d been up since 4 a.m. So…yeah. The second I got home, I collapsed in bed and stayed there much longer than I usually do during these contests.
Once I found the motivation to get up on Saturday and start writing, my internet crashed. GAHHH! That threw me for a loop since I needed to do some much needed research on goblins.
[Cue twiddling thumbs, cleaning house, texting friends…]
An hour later, the internet returned, along with my focus. I sat down and spent the rest of the day hammering out a first draft. Mid-afternoon, my mom showed up to read what I’d come up with and help me chop over 600 words (doh!).
My favorite part of the contest occurred when my mom and I tried to think of names for my characters and the fantastical world they lived in: Letchmo. Catastrafo. Fodhopper. Evilgore. Mcnasty!
After we pulled ourselves together (and found a few serious names), my mom left and I sent a draft off to my beta readers. On Sunday morning, I awoke to their feedback. To my surprise, they liked it–much more than I thought they would.
I fixed the big problems, chopped the remaining 200 words I needed to chop in order to meet the word count limit, and submitted my story.
Was fantasy my favorite genre? No. Did I like the story I came up with? Yes. It’s not my favorite NYCM entry, but I’m proud to present it to the judges, my competitors, and, maybe someday, a publisher.
For those interested, here’s my title and synopsis:
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Zili, a gentle goblin, wishes to walk in the light as a man. A horned creature grants his wish . . . and more.
If you’d like to read my entire entry, let me know and I’ll send you the password.
Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!
Photo Credits: giphy
Lat weekend I competed in my 5th Flash Fiction Challenge. Yep, I keep coming back year after year to punish myself with sleep deprivation, lots of hair pulling and crying, and heart palpitations…Okay, okay, it’s not that bad. Well, it used to be when I was still figuring out how to handle this mad-dash writing contest. But after 17-rounds, I think I’ve finally figured out my process. (If you care to, you may read about my full experience here).
As a reminder, I had 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story based on these prompts:
Location: A bartending school
Thanks in advance for reading, and thanks for any feedback you might have!
By Jenna Willett
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A millennial needs a job to handle life’s necessities, like yoga, Netflix, and Starbucks. He decides to try bartending (#thestruggleisreal).
A flashing advertisement caught Jax’s eye as he skimmed through his Facebook feed:
CALLING ALL WANNABE BARTENDERS!
Intrigued, he clicked on the ad:
Looking for a career in bartending? Bottoms Up has an EXCELLENT opportunity!
Learn the tricks of the trade, gain real-life experience, and walk away with a job.
No experience necessary. Paid training. Good work ethic a MUST.
Where: Bottoms Up, 1932 Blake St., Denver, CO
When: Every Sunday until filled
Time: 9 a.m. – Noon
Belly up to the bar and chug down this opportunity. Chug, chug, chug!
Jax snickered at the cheesy ad, but bookmarked it anyway. In less than a week he’d be a college graduate with zero job prospects. His parents had offered to let him move home, but he wanted to make it on his own. He only needed help with his phone, car, groceries, rent, and utilities. He could handle the real necessities like yoga classes, Netflix, and Starbucks. He couldn’t go a day without a green tea frappuccino with hazelnut (grande, extra whipped cream).
Inspired to bartend, Jax pulled up his Twitter app.
Found a job! Go me! #workingman #showmethemoney
The next morning, Jax arrived at Bottoms Up at nine o’clock on the dot. Well, close enough to the dot. Juggling his frap, he stepped into a dim interior and smelled stale beer, perfume, and a trace of weed. Lipstick-smeared shot glasses and empty beer bottles lined a mahogany bar; and peanut shells, glitter, and other debris littered a checkered floor.
Jax swiveled around. An older woman with ice-blonde hair, Khaleesi red lipstick, and a tight-fitting tank top emerged from the gloom. Behind her trailed a thirty-something man with bubbly green eyes. Another trainee?
“Uh, yeah. Hey.” Jax sighed. “I’m here for the bartending school—job thingy.”
The woman crossed her arms. “The ad said nine.”
“It’s almost ten, pup.”
“Hmm.” Jax sipped his frap.
The woman rolled her eyes. “That’s strike one. When you hit three, you’re outta here.” She marched over to the bar.
The thirty-something man grinned at Jax, then pranced after her. A perky poodle happy to obey its master.
Jax, however, remained rooted to the spot, shocked by the woman’s biting disapproval. He’d only been an hour late. Big deal.
He pulled out his phone and tweeted:
Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed. #bitchboss #newjobsucks
“What’s your name, pup?”
“Jax.” He shuffled across the room, one eye on the messy floor, the other on his Twitter notifications. So many likes and retweets!
“I’m Bobby and your boss if you make it through training.”
Jax’s face fell. “The job’s not mine?” How could that be? He’d driven here. He’d walked through the door. He’d shown up! By tonight, he planned to be a bartender. By tomorrow, promoted to manager. By month’s end, part-owner. No, owner!
“As I’ve already explained to Rififi, you’ll need—”
“Rif-what?” Jax snorted.
“C’est moi!” Poodle Man beamed. “Ri-fee-fee. C’est français. It means . . . er, how you say, trooblah?”
“Oui!” He winked at Jax. The same coy wink Jax usually reserved for girls, though he refused to identify as a cisgendered straight male. He hated labels.
He smirked at his phone and tweeted:
Good news, co-worker LOVES me! #hottyalert #solit #singlelife
“Strike two.” Bobby grabbed a broom and thrust it at Jax. “Put that dang thing away, and start cleaning.”
“Cleaning?” Jax gaped at her. “I thought this was a bartending school?”
“It is. But if you wanna work here, pup, you’ve gotta start in the trenches.”
“The what?” He’d never—Why would he even—He was about to graduate college! Sure, it had taken him six years to complete a degree in University Studies, but so what? He deserved everything he wanted.
Jax’s phone dinged. A text from his mom:
How’s the new job? You’re a superstar!
He relaxed and took another sip of his frap.
“If you wanna stay, get to work.” Bobby vanished through a swinging door behind the bar.
Jax glared at his phone and tweeted.
New boss is such a hard-ass! #feelingannoyed #fuckher
“Alors.” Rififi clapped. “Zee faster we clean, poop—”
“—zen zee faster we drink!”
Jax frowned. “You mean, the faster we get to learn how to make drinks?”
“Oui, oui!” The Frenchman scooped up beer bottles. “We make zee drinks, zen we drink zee drinks. Many drinks. Oui, oui?” Another salacious wink.
“Uh, sure. Wee-wee.”
The Frenchman giggled and began sweeping random objects off the floor: a high heel, a strip of sandpaper, a pair of swimming goggles, and a feather duster.
“Tres intéressant!” Rififi flicked the feather duster at Jax’s nose. “Nudey, nudey.”
“Ah, oui, oui.”
Jax shook his head and reluctantly dragged the broom across the floor a few times. Too bored for words, he gave up and snapped a selfie holding a beer bottle.
Need a drink? I do! #workshardforthemoney #thestruggleisreal
He took a seat and admired all the likes. Five, ten, twenty . . .
“That’s strike three, pup.”
“Hmm?” Jax hardly glanced up.
“That means it’s time to go.”
“Why?” Twenty more likes. Awesome!
“Look,” Bobby sighed, “I don’t need another lazy, entitled, self-centered millen—”
“Lazy?” He looked up, dumbfounded. Hadn’t she seen him sweep? He should get a raise!
Rififi flounced past with the feather duster and a knotted trash bag.
“What about him?” Jax pointed at the buoyant Frenchman.
“He’s enjoying himself while he works. And he’s proving he wants to be a bartender. You, on the other hand…” Her eyes drifted to the front door.
Heat rushed to Jax’s cheeks. “This is bull! I can’t even—ugh! I don’t deserve this. It’s not fair!”
Bobby tilted her head.
“Screw it. I don’t need this.” He grabbed his green tea frappuccino with hazelnut and stomped to the door.
“Au revoir, poop!” Rififi waved.
Jax slammed the door shut, and tweeted:
Fuck it! #iquit #whatevs
Greetings, blog followers! Yes, it’s me. And, yes, I’m still alive.
As you’ve may (or may not) have noticed, I’ve been absent from the blog world the past few months (er, maybe longer). I made a New Year’s resolution to put all of my attention and free time into finishing my novel, which I almost have! By the end of summer/early fall, I should have my manuscript and query letter ready to go for literary agents (eeks!).
This past weekend, I decided to reward my good, focused behavior by participating in my 5th NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I signed up for this writing contest a couple of months ago hoping my novel would be in my betas’ hands when the challenge kicked off…Wrong! My betas returned their notes a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been revising ever since. So, it was really hard to shift gears on Friday night.
But, I did. And I had so much fun!
As a quick reminder, the NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. It never fails to stress me out, but it’s always worth it.
Round one kicked off last Friday night at 10 p.m. (MST). I prayed and prayed the prompt gods would give me comedy. Why? Because 1) it’s the complete opposite of what I usually write, and 2) it’s one of the few NYCM genres I’ve never been assigned.
Well, guess what? The prompt gods finally answered my prayers! I was put in group 40, which had to write a comedy that took place in a bartending school and incorporated sandpaper.
I literally squealed when I saw comedy as my assigned genre. It’s taken five years and 17 rounds of NYC Midnight contests for me to get this genre (I don’t count rom-com or political satire, because those are very specific comedies that push you into a smaller realm of the comedy world). As for my other prompts…ugh. The location threw me. I’ve never been a bar-kinda girl, and I don’t drink much, so finding inspiration was tough. The sandpaper prompt didn’t faze me. I’ve had much, MUCH weirder objects to incorporate, so I pushed it to the back of my mind.
My process with these contests has become fairly streamlined: Friday night, brainstorm/plan general gist of story. Saturday, write. Sunday, edit/beta read.
So, as usual, I brainstormed on Friday night and went to bed with a solid idea. I planned to sleep in on Saturday because I had a really rough week at work and needed the rest, but my body refused to listen. It’s been hardwired for pre-dawn workouts in preparation for a half marathon I’m running in August, so I ended up waking up, bright and early, at 4 a.m. Which meant I only got about four hours of sleep. Which meant I was exhausted all. Day. Long.
Somehow I managed to find my groove and dig into my story by noon. As I wrote, my original concept changed quite a bit. I discovered comedy is different from other genres because you have to let the humor evolve organically. If you find something funny, then you have to keep going with it and play up the joke. My joke ended up revolving around millennials.
*cue millennial eye rolls across the world*
Sorry not sorry, millennials. But, hey, I’m partly millennial too, so I was the butt of my own jokes.
By 3 p.m., I had a rough first draft that was 500 words OVER the limit. Blerg! I decided to let it rest while I attended my brother’s 30th birthday bash (yes, I was a fantastic social butterfly at that event.) When I got home later that evening, I rolled up my sleeves and began revising–er, chopping. I successfully hacked about 200 words before crashing for the night.
The next morning, I had to get up early for my pre-dawn workout. Thankfully, I felt pretty calm about my story. Still, I was eager to get home and back to writing. I only had until 4 p.m. that day to finish and submit my story before I had to leave for yet another event. (Yeah, it wasn’t the best weekend to participate in a writing competition.)
As always, my wonderful, patient mother came over to my house and helped me edit. I was more nervous than usual to get her opinion on the story because it was so far out of my comfort zone. And because I had NO idea if it was actually funny. But, thank the Lord, she laughed a lot. So did the six other beta readers who helped me chop my comedy down from 1,200 to 996 words. Phew! I whipped together a synopsis and submitted my story eight hours ahead of the official deadline.
Yeah, despite the lack of tears and heart palpitations this round, I was exhausted. But, I genuinely like what I came up with, and I’m really proud of myself for tackling a genre so completely out of my comfort zone.
In the past, I shared my story publicly. However, I’ve begun sending my work to publishers, so I’m no longer posting them here for any and all to read. Sorry! If you are interested in reading it, please send me a message and I’ll provide you with the password. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A millennial needs a job to handle life’s necessities, like yoga, Netflix, and Starbucks. He decides to try bartending (#thestruggleisreal).
Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!
Photo Credits: giphy
Around this time last year, I wrote a blog post regarding beta reader etiquette, all from the perspective of the writer. Today, I’d like to turn the tables and discuss beta reader etiquette from the perspective of the beta.
Yes, believe it or not, there are basic etiquette rules to follow when you volunteer to read another writer’s work. You don’t get a free pass to act however you please because you kindly offered to help out. Certain guidelines should be followed to not only ensure your feedback gets taken to heart, but also to maintain healthy, productive relationships.
Every beta reader is different. Some are brutally honest, others are overly sweet. Most try to land in the middle. Whichever direction you lean, you should be as tactful with your words as possible. No, this doesn’t mean those of you who like to cut straight to the chase have to sugarcoat everything. It simply means you need to choose your words wisely.
For example, do you hate a character? Well, don’t tell the writer, “I hate Character A.” Or, worse, call them a crass name (yes, I’ve had a beta call one of my protagonists the “C” word.) When you take this blunt, zero-filter approach, you risk losing the respect of the writer (no matter how thick their skin might be). They won’t care why you hate the protagonist. They’ll be too offended to take anything you say seriously.
Instead, consider voicing your dislike in a direct, but helpful way. For example, “I admit, I wasn’t a fan of Character A. They lacked emotional depth…” and so on. You can still be honest (to the point of giving the writer a little slap in the face), but you won’t knock the writer out. They’ll shake off the sting and read the rest of your feedback.
Of course, there are exceptions to this “rule.” Some writers beg their betas to be as blunt and cruel as possible. (I’ve had writers ask me to say exactly what was on my mind, however horrible it might be.) However, the majority of writers react better to negative news when it’s presented in a tactful manner.
When a writer asks you to beta for them, they might request a certain type of feedback: Big picture, character arcs, pacing, grammar, etc. If this happens, listen to them. Don’t nitpick grammatical mistakes when all they want is a general first impression; and don’t nitpick the plot when all they want is a proofread. Focus on what they ask for. Give them the answers they seek.
If a writer doesn’t give you specific instructions, then I suggest you ask them. Many will respond, “Any and all feedback would be appreciated.” But others might clarify. If they do, follow their directions. Listen!
Give REAL Feedback
Beta reading is a tough job, especially for those who are sensitive and don’t like to hurt other people’s feelings. But, when you volunteer to beta, you volunteer to point out the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are no rewards for being Miss/Mr. Congeniality. If you tell a writer you absolutely LOVED their AMAZING, INCREDIBLE, AWARD-WINNING MASTERPIECE, then you aren’t doing them any favors. You need to help them find their story’s flaws, however big or small, before the rest of the world does.
Does this mean you should only look for flaws? Absolutely not. Telling a writer what you enjoyed about the story is just as important as telling them what you disliked about it. It’s all about balance. You need to be honest, but constructive. Encouraging, but realistic. Explain to a writer why you loved their concept, but disliked their characters. Explain how the beginning and ending worked, but the middle grew murky and slow.
Remember, even the strongest stories have flaws that need to be addressed. Don’t be afraid to address them.
Think Before You Commit
Everyone is busy nowadays. We all have jobs, families, chores, writing projects, etc. Therefore, before you volunteer to beta for someone, find out what you’re committing to. How long is the story? 1K words? 10K? 100K? How quickly does the writer need your feedback? A couple hours? A couple weeks? A couple of months? How much feedback is the writer looking for? A few sentences? A handful of paragraphs? In-depth notes in the margins?
These are important questions to ask. Why? Because you don’t know what the writer expects from you. You don’t know if they’re on a deadline, taking a long break between drafts, or staring at their computer every second of every day, anxiously awaiting your judgment.
Although you’re doing the writer a favor, you’re still working on their watch. This is a fact. Every project has a timeline. You must stick to theirs, not yours. So, before you volunteer, make sure you can deliver. If you can’t, that’s okay. Be honest with the writer. Tell them why you can’t help out (“I have too many projects on my plate at the moment.” Or “I could get my notes back to you in a month, not a week.” Etc.). They should be understanding. Or, if they really, really want your opinion, they’ll adjust their timeline to fit yours.
Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
If you critique another writer’s story, then etiquette dictates that writer offers you one in return. Beta reading is and should be a two-way street. You give, you get. You get, you give. Easy-peasy.
However, not every writer follows this rule. In fact, I’d say at least a third of the writers I work with don’t return the favor. I’ll admit, it’s frustrating, but…what can I do about it? Beg? Bribe? Guilt-trip? That’s not how things work. When you offer to beta, you can’t expect to be rewarded for it. You just can’t. You have to enter the process with the intention to help someone else (not yourself).
With that said, I urge you to resist getting used, again and again. Apply a Three Strikes policy to every writer. If you do not receive a return critique from them after reading three of their stories, then stop offering to help. I know it can be hard to do that, but there are plenty of writers out there willing to give back. Don’t choose the ones who only worry about themselves. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, and it most definitely isn’t proper.
Beta reading is a hefty, responsible task. But, if you do it right, and do it well, you should come away from the experience satisfied. Not only have you helped a fellow writer improve their story, but you’ve likely made connections that will help you improve your own work in the future!
How about you? What are some of your beta reader etiquette tips?
Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running! If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.
Photo credits: giphy
In the late winter of 2013, I came to a screeching halt with my writing. After failing to secure a publishing deal during a two-year option contract, I lost more than my confidence. I lost a piece of my heart.
After my dreams crumbled before my eyes, I spent the better part of six months drifting around, unsure what to do next. Write? Don’t write? Every time I thought about picking up a pen, I cringed and threw myself into a different activity or hobby. The gym became my favorite place in the world. I signed up for all sorts of fitness classes (even Zumba, which shows you just how desperate I was to keep myself occupied).
As time trickled by, I grew more and more certain I’d never write again. Then, out of the blue, a co-worker suggested I sign up for a writing contest. At first I balked at the idea (and probably ran off to the gym for another Zumba class). But, after I danced away my crippling doubts, I decided to give it a whirl. That whirl transformed into a whirlwind of revived passion. I started a blog, began working on a new novel, and participated in more writing contests.
Write, write, write! I couldn’t get enough.
Ever since, my writing whirlwind has continued. For the past three years, I’ve split my focus into multiple projects: Two novels, 20 short stories, 365 blog posts, seven writing contests, and dozens of editing jobs. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work, but I don’t regret any of it. I needed every single project to learn and grow, and to become a better writer.
But now it’s time to narrow my focus. Dramatically. I can’t keep up the pace I’ve set for myself and expect to achieve my dreams. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my goal for 2017 sweet and simple: finish my novel and send it to agents. Period.
Sounds easy, I know. And, theoretically, it should be achievable. If I maintain my current pace, I should have a beta-worthy draft to send to my first readers by the end of January. Depending on their reactions, I should have my next draft (or two) done by late spring/early summer. From there I should be able to spend the summer revising and sending subsequent drafts to readers for feedback. And, by fall, I should have a polished manuscript and my first batch of query letters ready for agents (ahh!).
Yes, I should be able to get all of that done. But, I’ve had the same plan the past two years and failed miserably. Hence the reason I’m making my novel my main priority this year. Besides blogging and accepting the occasional editing job (because, hello, money!), I won’t work on any other projects. Enough’s enough!
To be honest, the toughest part of this will be giving up writing contests. I absolutely adore the adrenaline, ideas, and friendships I get from them. Unfortunately, the contests I like to participate in eat up TONS of time. Not only do I write a story, but I also get sucked into a forum where I critique hundreds of other people’s stories. During the past three years, I’ve critiqued at least 1,500. That’s roughly 750-1,500 hours of work!
Or, rather, 750-1,500 hours I could’ve dedicated to my novel.
No. More! As much as I love competing, I need to put a hold on it until I finish my novel. I need to put a hold on a lot of things until it’s done.
Hopefully my narrowed focus will keep me on track this year. And, hopefully, by next January I’ll be able to hold up my manuscript and say, “There! It’s done!” Or, better yet, “I have an agent, and I’m on the road to publication!”
Let’s do this 2017!
How about you? What are some of your goals for the new year?
Photo credits: giphy
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?
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
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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
“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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