Writing Journey – HOW many hats does an aspiring author wear?

When I decided to really get serious about my writing, I took several factors into consideration.  The idea for this novel is very timely, and will remain so for at least the next 18-24 months.  If I’m lucky, I should still have a socially relevant book to sell when I’m done pounding keys.  I’ve shown a few scenes to various groups with enthusiastic results.  I also have time to write just now, which can’t be underestimated.  Combine that with signing up for Nanowrimo at just the right time last year, and I gave myself permission to go for it.

That was last October.  Since then I’ve not only focused on my writing, but on learning as much as I can about the publishing industry.  I’m not discouraged by what I’ve learned.  In fact, I’m glad the climb is becoming more defined, less nebulous.  But this is not a climb for the faint of heart.

First: statistics.  As of a few years ago, 47% of American households could be expected to go out and buy a book.  Yes, that means 53% of all American households didn’t.  Of that 47%, 80% bought romance novels.  This leaves 20% to split between JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephen King, and the rest of us.

Wow.

If a first-time author wants to try publishing the old-fashioned way (that is, find an agent, an editor and a publishing house willing to take a chance) the first thing that author must bring to the table is (obviously) a finished product.  Finished, polished, buffed, honed and as perfect as they can get it.  While your first hat must be your “Author” cap, your second hat should be that of “Editor”.  It’s good advice to squash the inner editor during the creative process.  However, that voice is of critical importance during the polishing phase.  The word count for a debut novel should be no more than 50,000 – 80,000. If your team wants a more detailed effort they’ll tell you, but it’s likely they’ll want to hedge their bet.  Short novels have a better chance of catching a new audience, and cost less to publish.

Ok, you’ve written the greatest American novel ever.  You’ve edited it down to a nub of its former self.  Do you have a fan base?  If not, stop.  Go forth, new author.  Obtain fans.  In addition to being a fantastic writer and a whiz bang editor, the modern novelist must also excel in marketing.  Beat the bushes.  Network like mad.  Bring at least 1,000 willing and able readers with you to the negotiating table or go home.

I will NOT be intimidated! (she says, eyeing the growing pile of hats)

Right!  You’ve written the novel, you’ve polished your baby, you’ve whipped up a rabid fan base.  You’re good to go, right?  Park that right now, aspiring author!  Get measured for hats #4 & 5, movie producer.

Isn’t this putting the cart slightly before the horse?  No, not really.  There’s two ways to employ your inner director/producer/casting agent, both will serve you well.  The first really is in the form of a film.  I remember one of my favorite Ian McKellen quotes.  Coming off Lord of the Rings, moving into X-men, he was asked what it was like jumping back and forth between them.  He didn’t miss a beat.  “Darling,” he replied with a smile, “one can never have too many franchises!”  Likewise, you can never go wrong anticipating multiple markets for your material.  You’ve got a great story.  Now you’re trying to sell it.  You’ve got the readership, no problem.  But if you can throw in a potential movie, it may be one more reason to move forward to publication.  Are you supposed to contact studios before publishers?  No.  But if your project lends itself well to multiple mediums, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

unitThe second way is a “book trailer”.  I was introduced to this concept several months ago while considering “The Unit”, by Ninni Holmqvist.  It’s an intriguing dystopian novel on the subject of “disposable humans”.   As I mulled over the description, I saw a link asking me to “View the Trailer”.  What, it’s being made into a movie already?  No.  As I quickly discovered, it was a 2 minute teaser for the book itself.

According to this happily straightforward article featured in the “ProActive Writer Blog”, a book trailer is a must-have for the self-published writer.  I agree, but I’d expand that to “every single author engaged in the art of self-promotion”.  In other words, all of us.  While books are designed to appeal to a readership, a book trailer works quickly on an emotional level to promote a concept.  It also helps boost the idea that yes, your book will easily adapt to the silver screen if (when!) the time comes.

Writers are creative, or we couldn’t do this at all.  Shepherding your first project from concept to sale will require quite a bit of mental gymnastics.  JK Rowling did it.  Suzanne Collins handled it.  Stephan King makes it look easy.  I can do it!

Can you?  (the correct answer is HECK YEAH!!)

How to write: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Writers do not write because they want to. Writers write because they must. There is an idea leaping from every pore. It must be expressed! The need is so great that they often shut out the rest of the world to see the creative process to its end. If my fingers all broke tomorrow, my eyebrows would somehow figure out how to type.

So what do you do if, for no apparent reason, that tidal wave of creativity suddenly… dries up?

Writers are engaged in a very fundamental act of communication. And yet I find it is very difficult to explain Writer’s Block to someone who either isn’t a writer, or to the rare creative soul who has never experienced it. One day you are standing astride the deck of your mighty ship, easily navigating the tsunami of creative expression. The next morning you wake up…

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Not pretty.

There’s a lot of advice about what to do when writer’s block hits.   Many writers feel that it’s often a simple matter of burn out.   If you walk away from the project for a time you’ll return refreshed and (hopefully) with fresh insight.  And a lot of times they’re right.  It’s likely you’ll burn out even on the most beloved project.  A little distance is good for you both.

But really, that’s not writer’s block.  That’s “If I have to pound another key today someone’s gonna die.”  Writer’s block is looking at the screen and wondering where it all went.  And why won’t it come back?  Wanting to write, but unable to form the words.

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Assuming you’re not in a drug induced creative straightjacket (see my other blog Jubilarian for more details about that), I’ve found one way to break the block.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but so far it’s worked for me every time.

So there you are, staring at the screen, and nothing’s coming.  Nothing, nothing, nothing.  Damn.  Pull out your keyboard and type this:

“I’m looking at this stupid screen and nothing’s coming.  I mean NOTHING.  NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING!!  Yesterday I was typing 100 wpm and today I can’t think of a thing to say.  I can’t believe it!  ARG!!!!!  NOTHING!! You’d think…”

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Check it out.  You’re writing.

Keep going.  Don’t worry about your project.  Don’t think about what you’re typing.  Just get it out.  Shut down your inner editor with a little stream-of-consciousness ranting.  Nine times out of ten, that’ll break the creative logjam and let you blow off a bit of steam in the process.  When you’re done hit “delete”, then go write.  You’ll be ok.