Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Begin Your Dream, Then Finish It

Millions of people dream of writing a book.  In fact, it's said that in the U.S. alone, 200 million people want to write a book.  Only a small percentage actually do.

Maybe you're one of that small percentage who has actually sat down at a keyboard or held a notebook and pen/pencil in hand and started writing.  If so, I salute you!  It's the first step of making your dream come true.

But there's more to it than that first step of beginning.  The hardest part is to finish writing that story.

An idea springs to mind, and we start writing.  Before long, we lose interest, we hit a wall, we start to lose interest in our characters or story.  Or all of those things!  And then we quit.  We shove the story aside and wait for inspiration on a new story.

A few false starts aren't bad.  Nothing but starts isn't good.  How will you know if you're able to write a complete book, if you stop a few chapters into writing it?   Some authors do well with 80,000 to 120,000 word books.  Others aren't comfortable writing anything more than 50K to 75K   Some writers panic at the thought of anything over 30,000 words, while others enjoy writing short stories.  What do you feel is your comfort zone?

I'm here today to tell you that tossing it aside isn't always the best thing to do.  In fact, if you're a new writer, it's one of the worst things you can do.  I have everything I've ever written saved, either in hard copy or on computer (disk or whatever).  I became serious about writing with the hope of someday have my books published in 1996.  Because my focus then--and still is--romance, I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and went to my first National RWA Conference in July that year.  Kathie DeNosky and I had met briefly online, and we met in person at that conference.  Within very little time, we became friends with two other aspiring authors, Janet Lee Barton and Belinda Barnes.  The four of us eventually formed our own, small critique group.  It was Kathie who pushed me into entering writing contests.  My first entry, Contract for Love, placed Honorable Mention in the Love in Uniform Contest in 1996.

I entered more contests, each time with a finished manuscript.  After placing or winning in six more contests with three other finished manuscripts, I hit the jackpot in 1999's Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence and won first place with the first 30 pages of the book in the Unpublished Short Contemporary Category.  When the final judge, Silhouette Editor Mary-Theresa Hussey, asked to see the full manuscript of The Rancher and the Runaway Mom, it was written.  In April of 2000, I got The Call that Silhouette Romance wanted to buy my book.  (A short P.S. on this.  Every other book I'd entered in contests had been completely finished when I entered, except this one.  I was short less than two chapters when I sent in the entry, and I finished it, long before the finalists were announced.)

By the time I SOLD what later became Rachel's Rescuer, I'd written nine previous books.  Of the ten, including my first sale, half of them have been published.  Those other five?  I still have them, and plan someday to rewrite, revise, and polish.  The stories aren't bad, but they need work, and I've learned SO MUCH in the years since I first wrote them.  Cowboy Over a Barrel (original title) and published as A Saddle Made for Two, was my second Silhouette Romance.  The Cowboy and the Ice Princess (published as The Rodeo Rider, the first in what has become a 10-book series) was my second Harlequin American Romance.  Who knew they'd love cowboys as much as I love writing them?

If all that sounds like bragging, it isn't.  Admitting and patting yourself on the back or having others pat you on the back makes doing the hard work that much more special.  Kathie has by far surpassed me in the writing world.  She sold her first Silhouette (now Harlequin) Desire on my birthday in 1999.  Belinda sold in December of that same year.  Of the three of us, I came in third in April of 2000.  Jealousy never had a place in our friendships and never will.  Envy?  Yes, but along with that came admiration and Kathie kicking my backside to keep me going.  I have no room to brag.  Sharing the things I've learned (and will continue to learn) with others makes me hopeful that one smidgen of something I've shared might be the one thing needed to create an award winning book and author.

So now you know why tossing a beginning aside isn't a good thing, right?  But why?
  • Each book started as an idea.  Ideas grow into completed books, if you stick with it.
  • As a writer, each finished manuscript is a learning process.  You grow as a writer with each one.  If you're part of a critique group or enter contests, there will be people who are willing to help, to tell you your strong points and help with your weak points.
  • If a book doesn't sell, it might be perfect later.  Publishing tastes change.  Those tastes could be right up your writing alley.   
Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.  Whether you're just beginning or have been writing for much longer, but feel you're getting stuck and going nowhere with your writing, these are a few things to keep in mind and give some thought.

  1. READ!!  What type (genres and sub-genres) are your favorite reads?  Which of those do you feel you are best at writing?
  2. Study and know your market.  Always keep in mind that what's selling now may or may not be hot in the future, but it's worth a try.  Yes, some writers make it big with something completely different, but it's rare.
  3. Hone your skills.  This includes grammar, spelling, and all the mechanics of writing.  Editors (if traditionally published) will love you for this.  Readers (if you're self-publishing) will, too!  There's not much worse than trying to read a good story, while bad writing keeps pulling you out of it.
  4. Learn to plot.  It doesn't have to be scene by scene, chapter by chapter, but have a solid idea of how and where the story begins, turning points, hooks, black moments and resolutions (aka Happily Ever Afters).  If you don't understand those terms, check out some of my older blog posts and especially check out the blogs, books, and advice of other authors!
  5. Your non-writing friends and family can be a part of your pep club, but they will always love your writing, no matter what.  Get outside that circle t learn.  Join a writing group, a critique group, or enter contests.
  6. Keep learning.  Always.  Nothing is better than knowledge, not even talent.  Without knowledge, even the most talented will struggle.
  7. Don't give up!!  I was lucky enough to find writing friends who wouldn't let me do that.  Throwing in the towel was something I often considered, but they kept me from doing it.  My mantra became, If you quit now, the next book probably would have the THE ONE. Who wants to tempt fate that much?
  8. Enjoy writing, but also enjoy life, yourself, your family and friends.
  9. WRITE!!  Each time you sit down to write, whether it's been an hour, a day, a week or months, you'll learn knew things.  If something isn't working, try thinking about it from a different direction.
  10. FINISH THE BOOK!!  Because an unfinished book will languish.  Until you finish writing that first book, you'll never know the wild exhilaration of writing THE END.
One more special hint and the reason I'm blogging about this.  Write on, don't edit.  I hear a lot of "But...but..." out there, so here are two great links I found today, which led me to write this blog post.
Read them.  Think about them.  Ask yourself if you're brave.  Maybe next week we'll look a little closer at what these two blogs/articles have to say.  Why?  Because it's important.  Write on!
Never give up; for even rivers someday wash dams away. ~ Arthur Golden

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