Procrastinate, that is. Mind you, we don’t normally wake up in the morning saying ‘Hey, I know what I’m gonna …
Seriously, I’m interested in seeing the differences out there. How long do writers brew, or rather stew on an idea before they begin writing it down? How long do you normally take? A couple of days, a few weeks, months maybe, or even years?
I normally take weeks if they are novels, and a day or less if they are short stories, poems etc. I take a couple of days for short scripts and a couple of months for features. The longest I’ve sat on a story before starting to write it is a few months.
In those months, what do you do? Do you plot the whole affair from beginning to end, or just major story arcs? Do you figure out your characters?
I find that I usually focus on story arcs and character profiles, but in saying that I don’t set these as immovable before I write them down. Even as I start writing, I know I have to get from A to D to J and eventually Z, but the whole planning (and I use this word loosely) can go out the window as I write without restraints.
Well, my dilemma here is that I have an idea, a very brief overall arc of the story and the two protagonists I’ll be writing about, but I am so tied up with other projects that I feel this will have to take a backseat for God knows how long. Is it wise to lay aside a story? What has been some of your experience? I’m kind of nervous that if I don’t at least brew on it for a little while, I’ll lose the story, the spark that inspired it.
All I know is that I have the title for the story already and the characters: Ebony & Frank.
The theme: recognizing one’s true self through the eyes of others.
If you’ve found yourself clicking on this post, then I’m safe to assume that you are either someone starting out in writing and dream of being published, or, you are an experienced writer/producer wanting to see how much of a fool I’m making myself in this post and what other silly things I might write beside the title that obviously got you to click.
Well, here’s the thing. I am amongst those who dream of being a writer whose work gets picked up by a publisher/agent. An action that will mean ‘Yes, we made it!’ We have achieved the dream we set out to make reality. Despite self-publishing my debut novel and despite entertaining the notion of self-publishing my second novel, I am still in fact hoping, praying and dreaming that one day I get to sign on the dotted line. As a writer, regardless what stage of that dream you are in, I guarantee that you have dreamed of being ‘picked up’ as it were. I know I have.
There are certain things you should definitely heed if you are wanting to go down that path, and other things you should definitely consider before you make your decision.
1) Get unbiased opinion on your work:- this doesn’t mean you give it to a family member of friends, or family members of your friends and asks them to be ‘objective’. I mean, get a genuine stranger to read your work and give you an honest feedback as to the overall story, the strengths and weaknesses, characters, what works, what doesn’t etc. You can find these people in writing groups, or hire a professional.
You need this to truly gauge how strong your work is, or not. All this before you embarrass yourself by sending subpar material to agents and publishers. Don’t even take that chance.
2) Take the sound suggestions made by the said ‘unbiased’ reader (or readers):– You don’t need to and should never take every single advice from your readers. If there is a pattern, and obviousness that occurs through the feedbacks, then I suggest you take them on. If however, a suggestion doesn’t settle well with you, then remember that the story at the end of the day is your. Only make the changes that you feel surely add to the overall strength and unity. Otherwise, make wise decisions on which suggestions work for you.
3) Don’t be afraid to re-write:- Though re-writing is the bane of our existence, unfortunately, you must do it. Don’t rush it, don’t hate the process, just get on with your ego to the side and do what’s best for the story. It’s all about that story. You have to make it be what it could be. Sometime you will find that you only have to rewrite very little, a paragraph here, maybe a chapter there, but other times, you will have to completely re-write a section or the whole story. Don’t be depressed by this. All of us go through it. Just do your job, which is ultimately the coherence and cohesion of your story.
4) Don’t send it in till you are absolutely proud of it:– Until you reach such a moment, always know that every work can be continuously improved as time goes. But you must be sure there isn’t much more you can add to the work without the guidance and keen eye of a producing house. Until such moment, keep at it till you can make it as good as you can make it. Then, you are good to go. Send it out and see what comes back. Sometimes it will be nothing, just silence, but you learn. Maybe another time, you might just be in luck.
5) If you go down self-publishing path, don’t rush your trimmings:– If your story is your main course then think of your cover as your enticing appetizer and your blurb as the entree. The dessert is the pay off of having found out what the book is about. Please pay great attention to both of these sidekicks: cover and blurb. Most often I have seen pretty bad covers on what are great stories, and chances are I wouldn’t have read them if I didn’t know the person. Our readership are pretty much the same and we all inherently judge value based on appearance. There are some cover designers out there who work with indie authors for a small fee. See if you can find them.
6) Don’t let silence take your joy away:- if you haven’t heard back from publishers or get rejected more times than you can throw a pen at, don’t let it pull you down. Maybe you work isn’t ready, or maybe it’s not a fit with the house you approached. Keep trying and while you do that, keep yourself distracted. How do you do that? Just write that other story you have been meaning to write. Focus on that. It won’t promise that you current one will get picked up but at least you are preoccupied and doing something you enjoy, and at the end of it all, you may even have two stories to pitch rather than the one.
Well, I’m sure there are more things I could rattle on about, and I’m sure there is a whole array of things you and I have yet to learn. These are just the few things I’ve gone through myself and thought I’d share, in case there is just one of you who can benefit from these.
Keep writing those stories chapter at a time and enjoy.
I read the ‘Writer’s Manifesto’ on my Facebook feed today and had to share it with you. It has everything to do with what I’m talking about today, if not more.
The challenges of becoming a ‘Writer’
It’s an elusive club filled with so many members we aspire to be like. But how do we get in, and what’s playing the big bad guy in our lives that keeps making us push against the door when it says pull?
The answer to that question? I have no freaking idea. I’m one of those staring into the club through the glass door wondering how to get in. But, I have a theory. A string of thoughts rather that may have been thought by you already, about why it is that becoming a writer is harder than thinking about become a surgeon? (Which I have thought about once very briefly.) Not hard in the sense that we have to study such a complex and thorough subject for years but because at least in deciding you want to be a surgeon, or an engineer, or teacher etc (many more profession), the plan is laid out. You go through the set plan, through a University, you graduate, and you are ready for the workplace. Soon you get hired as a junior staff and then you’re in the club of your choice.
Writing. There is simply no clear plan for us to follow. Yeah, sure, we can go to university and get a degree in creative writing, but then we have to show them our work before we even get a chance to grovel for work experience.
But that’s a problem for later on. The initial problem we face is ourselves. Are we doing all we can to get qualified for this club? Are we going about it the right way? After all submitting our works we think are grand is still not going to get it picked up by a publishing house.
Firstly, we gotta write! We have to write, and not things that have already been written. Yes, pretty much every story has already been told but we have to find a way to make it new, spruce it up etc. The indicator of this is that when we are excited by the story itself, not about writing it because their must be someone out there who would want to read it. Are we EXCITED? If yes, we must go ahead and write that darn thing. If we are not, the. We must stop! Immediately. Take time, walk away and find another story that inspires us regardless of how long you already spent on one story.
Secondly, write it with dedication. We must make a promise to ourselves and give ourselves a deadline. Finish that thing first and worry about the mistakes later. If we are not good at editing (I certainly am not) that’s what other professional editors are for. Just get the story on the page, make it pulse, and then read it front to back. Yes, we must read our own work!
If we survive this process, better yet if the Story survives this, then send it to be proofread.
Sometimes, we are our own obstacles. We harbor doubts and fears that hold us back. Such was my case. I held onto a finished book for years because I feared people’s reaction to it. What if they thought it was a stupid story? What if they think I write like a child? What if? What if? So many of them. Eventually I started doubting whether I truly wanted to be an author? Was I ready to be studied and questioned by people?
The answer was not in these questions. The answer was in whether this was something I really wanted. And yes, it was. Is it for you?
Nowadays, I battle other things, like study, filmmaking, freelance work, job hunt amongst preparing the next book for release as well as writing various scripts and working on the third novel etc, all vying for my time. It’s no wonder writing is a struggle, unless you could do it full time (and what a blessing that would be). But that’s a long way away yet. Long way indeed.
The other massive challenge, one I struggle to comprehend and execute well enough is marketing. It’s a beast that’s completely frightening and fluid. My next challenge is to understand this beast in amongst all this chaos and questioning.
My target, as an author is to release my next book by late August, all done up and ready, trailing on the footsteps of any marketing strategies I might tackle. Just very nervous and wondering a whole lot of what if questions once again.
If you are trying to be a writer or are already one, you will understand this struggle. One piece of advise I can give if I may is to keep trying. Keep trying because regretting giving up ones dream later on will be a torture in itself and not worth it.
You work, then keep working but don’t let that take your writing from you. I had reached a point in life where I had made peace with the fact that my writing may only be just for me, but it still gave me joy. So I carried on. I’m still carrying on, hoping one day others will call me a writer/author and not just myself.
I think I may print out a large sheet of the manifesto and hang it on the wall my bed faces. Just something to set the mind on track every morning. So here is to stop making excuses, to stop feeding fear, but to strive for it and hope for the best… As scary and exciting as it is.
Black D. That’s what she had chosen as her call name. With a name like that, she was sure she’d be someone people would be scared of. And so they should. She had had enough of this bullshit in life. She wanted more, and if she had to turn to tricks to get what she wanted then so be it.
With this particular thought, Black D rolled down her black balaclava over her face, pulled on her woolen mitts over her hand as she didn’t want to leave fingerprints of course, then she zipped up her windshield jacket and snuck out of the front door into the quite night of the village fast asleep in their warm beds. Their warm comfy beds, with their warm comfy partners and pretty things like their mothers valued China tea pot! Ugh.
Black D shook the doubts from her mind and snuck over to the small cottage across the road. Her first target. She knew the lady of the house was away tonight for her recon works previously. She knew where the old bat stores her spare key too for good measure. A dumb gnome in her front porch missing the tip of its ceramic cap.
Black D looked around to make sure she wasn’t being watched. Then she reached for the gnome, fished out the key and let herself into the house. It was tiny. Ended before it even began. Would make things easy for her she supposed. Tiny lounge, attached tiny kitchen cum dining, then a bedroom door and a bathroom door.
She headed for the bedroom, pulling out her small pen torch and set about searching for valuables. She rummaged through the wardrobe, under the mattress, in old shoes and tiny jewelry boxes. Nothing stood out, u tip it was that an old gold pocket watch in mint condition glinted from the folds of overly large granny panties. She fished it out and admired it. Gorgeous thing it was. She slipped it into her pocket and made haste out of the house before anyone caught on. These old folks were tardy that way, waking at ugly hours of the morning.
She wasn’t entirely happy when she closed the front door quietly behind her. Where were the other valuables? In anger, she pushed the gnome over and heard a faint crack. Good. She stuffed the key back and stole across the road once more.
It was a good day later before the home owner arrived and soon the ruckus of alarming ‘I’ve been robbed’ sounded. Black D, still innocently casing her next victim smiled a small smile as she heard the cries of help. ‘I’ve lost my father’s old watch! Someone stole it!’
Black D walked up to the house and joined the huddle. ‘Was anything else stolen?’
‘Then how do you know you’ve been robbed?’
The lady stood straight and tried to peer at the crowd. Obviously trying to see what the query was from. ‘Because gnomey here is broken…. And, and I can’t find the watch.’
‘Perhaps you misplaced it.’
‘No. No. Who said that?’
By the time people were looking around, Black D had slipped out of the throng and was just another passed by. A passerby with a sinister smirk.
That night she was going to do it all over again. A new target had been found.
[Today’s prompt: a thief, and they lose something of value.]
Eric looked at the grey sky. Then his watch. Then back at the sky. It was a miserable day whichever way you looked at it, and the worst part was, there was well over 12 hours of it he had to endure. For God’s sake, how was he going to avoid the commotion?
As he stood there on top on his narrow steps down leading to the footpath, he wondered. Couldn’t he just slip back inside the house, change back into his comfy trousers and hoodie, call his work and feign contagious flu, then brew a cup of milk tea, slump on the couch, watch old episodes of Friends and pretend the world outside his door didn’t exist?
Instead, he was dragging his feet on the ground, eyes barely looking up for fear of seeing the flood of pink, or huddles of couples giddy as teens hooking up for the first time. Ugh! He thought. Stupid, silly people. Didn’t they know what was waiting for them at the end of it all? And yes, there was going to be an end. Either the relationship would die, or one of the two will go first. Either way, doomed! Just to be left with an ache in your chest no amount of binge drinking foul tasting beer, or hitting the scene will fix.
The whole 15 minutes to his work, Eric kept his head down, the music loud and angry in his ears, and a chant in his head, ‘She is dead to me. She is dead to me.’ He forgot the number of people he bumped into thus. But it must have been the effects of the day, but no one seemed to mind that he walked into them, sliced past them, or plain out spun them around. They just smiled, wished him a wonderful day and continued, bewitched.
By the time Eric got to work, the place was maxed with customers, laughing, giggling, whispering, making goo goo eyes or making out. Ugh! ‘She is dead to me,’ he muttered, causing a lady waiting in line to order coffee frown at him.
‘Hey Eric, got any plans for tonight?’ Mickie asked, rattling around the coffee bar as he spotted Eric. Eric shrugged, got behind the counter, chucked on an apron and said, ‘I think I’ll go out the back today.’
Mickie grabbed him by the shoulder. ‘Not gonna work man. I want that handsome face out here where customers can see you, today of all days. Now get on the register.’
Eric forced a smile and approached the register. ‘What can I get for you?’
‘Where can I get me I one of you?’ The old lady winked her wrinkled eye, giggling like a school girl when Eric gave her half a smile. ‘I’m only kidding. How about a cup of flat white and you for dinner tonight?’
Mickie laughed, pouring a shot into a cup. ‘Don’t do it lady, not unless you want to be a rebound.’
The lady giggled and oohed. ‘I don’t mind,’ winking once more at Eric.
‘One flat white coming up,’ Eric gave her a hard stare and her change back. Then he turned to Mickie. ‘What the hell you doing man, embarrassing me like that?’
‘Oh come on. I’m just trying to fix you up. No one should be alone tonight man.’ Mickie’s cheerfulness dropped several degrees. He handed a couple of takeaways over the counter and dropped his voice to a whisper. ‘Mrs Mackerel,’ nodding towards the old lady sitting in the corner table still smiling at them. Mickie smiled back. ‘She lost her husband of 50 years this year. This is the first time she’ll be spending today alone. Where’s the harm in trying to make her smile?’
Eric felt low. So low. Here he was wallowing in self pity over a one year old relationship. He grabbed Mrs Mackerel’s coffee and walked off.
‘Here you are, your coffee,’ he placed the cup in front of her and returned her smile, ‘and your date for tonight. What time shall I pick you up and where?’
The smile that lit her face, it was all he could see for the rest of the day. It was what made the day fly by, and before he knew it, he was knocking on the door of her granny flat. He held out the bouquet as she opened the door, wearing her Sunday best.
‘How do I look?’ She asked. ‘Wonderful.’ He replied, taking her hand in his. ‘You look wonderful tonight.’
You sit by the window staring out into nature. It’s night. The rain is battering musically on the roof of the house. It’s your down time. You’ve done everything needed doing for the day. You’ve even done all the dishes, and now, you sit by that window, your favorite relaxing spot. Perhaps you have a glass of wine to help you wind down. Perhaps you have music on, a roaring fireplace (or heater, or a snuggling blanket). It’s not even 9 on the clock. Maybe you have an hour to yourself before turning in for the night, because, let’s face it, you have a job to get to in the morning. What do you do for that hour to yourself? Perhaps you watch TV, maybe you read, maybe you do absolutely nothing, or, just maybe you write.
Now back up for a moment. Did I just describe what thoughts go through people’s mind when a writer tells them what they do, or aspire to do in life? I think I did. This is the misconception about writing that’s quite prevalent. Writing isn’t an easy thing to ‘do’.
Let me put it this way: if writing were easy to do, and something one can do simply in their down time, then wouldn’t you see a lot more people do it as a ‘hobby’? After all, how common is it to come across a person who says ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to write for years,’ or ‘I have a story that would be fantastic as a book/film/tv series’. Plenty of people.
So here is the thing. Writing isn’t really easy. In fact, it’s very hard to do, in fact, it can take anywhere up to years to write one story. Not to mention the fact that once you write it, it’s still not done. It’s got to be edited a million times before it gets published. Sadly, some never see light of day.
Writing drives you crazy! It’s not easy dealing with day to day life in reality. Now imagine having to deal with all that plus an extra set in your imagination. You have to build a world from scratch and make them believable. It’s not easy to draw in an audience and keep them till the end these days. Seems attention span is starting to shorten with people in modern time, not to mention they are time poor. Otherwise, why else do we need a 140character tweeter word count?
Writing isn’t what we do in our down time. So please don’t devalue the work and effort that goes into it. If you want to know the truth, most writers who haven’t already hit ‘big time’ as it were are probably holding day job, keeping a house, looking after family and being present in every moment that calls for it, and trying to squeeze in a ‘moment’ however small to write those precious words.
This is how I mostly write: on the train (if I’m going anywhere). Why? Because it’s dead time, and it’s mine, so I try and make the most of it during commute. That’s essentially how I finished the second half of my first novel. I used to head to work early, or stay back after work an hour or two, find myself a cafe and order a coffee, and sit there and write till that hour was up. That’s how I wrote my second novel. Or, write between ads, or chores. And these days, I write in bed, before I sleep. Why? Because it’s the only time the house is quiet and there isn’t anything else that needs to be done for the day. Then I write. That’s how I’ve now written 6 short films, a feature, couple of outlines for both features and future book ideas, and that’s how I’m writing my third novel. I manage do these by sneaking writing into my life. Not when I’m relaxing. Not by a long shot. A 5 minute here, 15 there, sometimes if I’m lucky, an hour before bed, despite how sleepy I am. And if I’m extremely lucky, I can turn it on whenever I want. It’s not easy to write. It takes a psychological strain, and it’s not something that works on a switch. Some days, I could be desperately trying to continue a piece when I’ve managed to find myself a ‘spare’ moment as most call it, and nothing comes. The flow isn’t in you because your mind is divided between a thousand other things.
My wish for today? I wish just for a moment, people wouldn’t assume anything about what a writer does to get that story on paper. Instead, ask them how do they do it? You don’t even need to listen to the answer. The question itself is enough to signal that you at least know it’s not an easy ‘job’.
If we are lucky, we will have family members and friends humor us by reading our work. If we are extremely lucky, then our stories reach a wider community. And if we are beyond lucky, we get that book deal with a publisher. And yet, most would have been writing for years and years without anyone knowing.
Having spare time as it were, 24/7 to do what you love doing and get paid for it would be absolutely a dream come true for all those who dream it, but life’s not that easy nor simple, at least getting rid of the misconception, now that’s something we can try and do.