Riffing on my blog from yesterday here. It's way easier to do some creative things today compared to the past, but also much more difficult.
Consider that before Amazon and a robust internet, a writer's challenge comprised finding teachers (locally), finding editors (usually locally), relying on snail mail to send stuff, finding an agent, being rejected a lot, finding a publisher, being rejected a lot, and then if you made it that far, you could find your book on a shelf in a store and begin making a modest living.
Today, the writing of a novel is way easier. Internet, a million teachers and coaches at your fingertips, editing software, DIY book covers, Amazon for self-publishing. Yes, making the book is easier.
But with infinite digital book shelves, getting a spot on the shelf is almost worthless. The cold hard truth is that most books on digital platforms only sell a few copies (to family and friends). So there may be many more published writers these days, but very few actually make a living at it.
What can you do?
One: write an amazing story that appeals to a small but committed segment of the population (no mass appeal) so much that they tell others in that community about it. Identify as specifically as possible who you audience is, and write for them. And make that story amazing.
Two. Use social media properly to generate more interest and sales. This doesn't mean posting garbage every 10 minutes, or yelling the loudest. That's noise. That's garbage. Instead, seek permission from your audience to engage with them. Then share with all kinds of helpful, interesting stuff. This builds trust. Your audience gets to know you. If they like you and become engaged, perhaps they'll support you with a book purchase too.
Writing a novel and publishing it on Amazon does nothing. That's the easy part (comparatively speaking). Finding an audience, earning their trust and permission, engaging with them = long term success. That's the more challenging part.
Twenty-five years ago, if you wanted to write and publish your novel, you were faced with a lot of hard work, big expenses, and no guarantees.
Setting aside the actual writing of your novel for a moment, let's look at the other factors that go into putting a novel together.
You probably went to school or took some courses at the local college to learn writing. If you lived in the boondocks, no class for you. Then you needed an editor. This might have been someone at the local newspaper or high school moonlighting. You print out your manuscript, mail it out, and wait. And wait. When you finally get the edits back and make the changes, then you need to get it published. So you had to have an agent or take your chances submitting your story to publishers and that took lots of time and energy and frustration when the dozens of rejection slips show up at your door.
If you're lucky enough to get a publisher, then they'd fuss with your book for a year before publishing it and getting it on to a shelf in a store somewhere.
Compared to today, writing and publishing your novel is easy. There's software to help with editing. Cheap editors overseas who can fix your manuscript. There are DIY covers or you can make your own with PowerPoint and a cell phone. You can publish yourself on Amazon in a fraction of the time it used to take.
But, in the digital world, there are infinite bookshelves. Your novel is lost among the million other books being published this year.
So writing and publishing your novel may be way easier, but getting it noticed is today's challenge. How do you stand out from the other million stories out there in the naked (digital) city?
Another way to weave background information into your prose is using organic word triggers.
Let's say you want to establish that your main character, your hero, is fatherless. How do you get that tidbit of information in your story without imposing yourself as God The Author Making It So?
Look for a natural, organic way to introduce that information. This is easily done through dialogue, for example.
Donkey: Why are you blocking?
Shrek: I'm not blocking!
Donkey: Then why do you have a problem with everyone?
Shrek: It's not me who has a problem with others! It's everybody else who has a problem with me! (sigh) They judge me before they even know me.
Ah, see, in that scene from Shrek (that I rattled off from memory so no guarantees of accuracy), we establish that Shrek is actually quite sensitive and frustrated. He appears angry because he feels he's misunderstood.
So dialogue is an easy, organic way to introduce background information. Someone asks the questions, the other one answers.
No one likes the dreaded info dump.
Remember in grade school when you wrote a little story about Sally and puppies? Oh, it was so important back then to describe every physical trait about everything and everyone. A laundry list of pig-tailed hair and freckled faces and such.
"Hi, Mary," Sally said.
Sally was 7 years old. She had big blue eyes and red hair tied up in pig-tails. Her dress was pink and torn at the shoulder. Sally had freckles and was missing a front tooth, and she had a bandage on her knee. In her hand was a red leash. At the end of the leash was a puppy, with brown fur and...
You get the idea.
This may have led to a gold star in grade 3, but as a writer now, the laundry list is boring with a capital B. It interrupts the reader's flow, breaks the story, and offers up too much information that usually isn't necessary.
So, how do we add in character description without resorting to the list?
First, remember that your reader's brain will fill in any gaps. If I told you that Sally was a little girl with freckles, then you already have an idea of what she looks like. The brain is the great in-filler.
Second, you can drip these physical traits as you write your story, but only if they are either super important to the plot or to a character's richness. If your trait doesn't do this, you don't need it.
"Hi, Mary," Sally said. She wiped a red curl from her face and smoothed out her dress. "Do you want to see my new puppy?"
Later in the story (or in the scene), you could mention the bandage ("Hey, Sally, what happened to your knee?") or anything else that might develop the plot of Sally's richness. The important thing is to ditch the laundry list. Forever.
It's simple, really.
But not easy to do.
No one is born a master at anything. There are no overnight successes despite what our culture worships and what you may have been suckered into believing. Every skill, every accomplishment requires effort and lots of it.
Having said that, here are the 3 steps to writing an amazing novel or, for that matter, doing anything else in life.
Buy books, take classes, watch YouTube videos, talk to people in the game. All of this is easy to do. You don't need a certificate proclaiming that, just because you passed a bunch of courses and gave an instructor what they wanted, you're now an expert. Learning has never been easier.
2. Get Feedback
Video games are so compelling because they give you instant feedback. Open that door, and a zombie eats your brains. Next time? Don't open that door. Listen to constructive criticism from coaches, teachers, clients, readers, other writers. I am saddened by the number of writers coming into my workshops who don't want to share their work "until it's perfect". So they never share a thing. And they cannot improve their craft. Getting feedback is easy. Ask!
3. Do steps 1 and 2 over and over again for 10,000 hours.
This is simple, but not easy. It requires commitment, effort, showing up every day, practice and more practice, learning new stuff, sharing new stuff, learning what readers like and what they don't. But 10,000 hours? Seriously?
There are no short cuts to becoming an expert.
If you happen to be born with a bit more innate talent than the rest of us, it may take only 5,000 hours. But you still need to put in the time and effort. A concert pianist gives up sports in order to put in the time. An athlete gives up watching TV and playing video games in order to workout and practice.
Malcolm Gladwell studied the experts, the upper echelon of achievers, and learned that most if not all put in at least 10,000 hours of hard work before they "made it". If it takes you 200 hours to write a novel, and another 200 hours to revise it, that's a total of 400 hours per novel.
Not even close to 10,000. And you expect your first book to be a best-seller? It won't be. The math tells us you'd have to write 25 novels before you become really good at it. If you expect or hope your first novel to be on the NYT best-seller list, you are, frankly and honestly, dreaming. Just know that everyone goes through this. There are no short cuts at all. If you really want to write an amazing novel, then get back to work and write.
Hi, I'm David. I'm a science fiction writer, lover of Star Trek, fascinated by a potential future of hope. I write from a Christian worldview. Want to know the darker details? Click here.
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