Rookie Writer Camp, Part I: Three Important Rules Plus Tips

I've been asked several times recently if I had any good advice for beginning writers. Hence, a new series is starting to help you as a working writer grow and learn and get to that first published novel. There are dozens of things I could tell you, distilled from 25 years on this journey, but we'll begin with three important rules with a few tips thrown in for good measure. 

1.  Rule number one of novel writing:  First drafts are always crap.  

I'd pretty the word up, but it really fits. Doesn't matter if it's your first book, my 17th, Nora Robert's bajillionth. First drafts are crap. I believe Nora Roberts is the one who made this rule! Further, you have to be willing to look at every idea, every sentence, every scene and destroy it to get to the core of the idea. That means you write your first draft and then you go through it again and again and edit for content and ideas. [If you are scoffing at the moment because you read "How to Write Your Book In 3 Days and Make a Million Dollars" - go here.]

If you are new to the writing business, I highly recommend you find a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne and read it before proceeding. It's a simple little paperback, will take you about 2 hours to read (if you don't do the exercises), and will give you huge insights into the basic writing structure of a novel with an emphasis on rookie mistakes to avoid. 

2.  Having a finished first draft is not an immediate GO DIRECTLY TO PUBLISHING. 

I can't emphasize this enough. In order to provide a frame of reference, let me review my book writing process.

A. Finish first draft.  Time frame can vary drastically here, but it's always crap, remember?  
B.  I begin a comprehensive edit by reviewing each chapter with Margie Lawson's Deep Edit System and performing a thorough check of my plot.  You haven't heard of Margie Lawson?  Tisk. See below. 
C.  At this stage, I need input.  I used to post for my critique group to make recommendations, but I don't use a critique group anymore. I have a writing partner.This is a huge, important step for any new writer, though. Do an internet search for active critique groups if you don't already belong to a working group.  I highly recommend The Critique Circle.  I used them for a few years.  
D. I send to my editor (who is also my writing partner). If you do not have an editor, start looking for one - and it should NOT be your next door neighbor or your boss's wife unless they are a successful freelance editor, as my writing partner is.  [You can hire her, too!  GO HERE.]
E. I execute her changes and read again.  [We have ten years working together, and I never argue with her suggested changes. Essentially, she's proven herself to be right nearly every time. Find an editor you can develop that kind of relationship with, and you'll always have that person as a sounding board.]
F. I read again for consistency in time frame, facts presented, names, opening a refrigerator and not closing it, the many details that go into bringing my books to life.  Many times this necessitates another read through. 
G. I format to an ebook, add the front and back matter, do the interior design, etc.  
H.  Proofread.  This is not editing. They are two different things. By the time you get to this stage, the editing is finished. You should be READING for mistakes. With a publisher, this is called the galley process. You read and fix the errors, usually two go rounds before you give your approval. I only proofread once, and then I hand it off to my business partner to proofread. By then I've been through the work too much and won't see the simplest things like missing words, etc. I read what I think is there, not what actually is. Fresh eyes on a proofread process are essential. 
I.  Then I write the promotion blurb which is a whole different process to be described in another post.
J.  I do my own book covers, so somewhere in there I've usually developed one. If your talents don't run that direction, begin searching for a book cover artist or one of the many sites that offer pre-made covers.
K. Publish the ebook.
L. Reformat for print publication.  
M. Publish to CreateSpace. 

That's a good chunk of the alphabet, folks. If you think you can skip any of these steps, you're on a dangerous path to betraying your reader's expectations, and there are serious consequences to doing that. The fastest I've done a book is four months. I wrote the first draft of Cowboy's Sweetheart in 5 weeks and spent the rest of the time editing and producing it. For most of mine, the first draft stage is a bit longer and every book is different. 

3. If you do not know who Margie Lawson is, GO HERE NOW.   

I highly recommend all her workshops and she has the packets for sale for you to work independently, too. All her classes had a big impact on how I think about writing and my working routine. One class in particular fundamentally changed what I put on the page. This class is her Deep Edits System. This procedure will quickly give you a visual idea of what is missing from your writing. It is a simple process to use, and the idea is backed up with a study rhetorical devices that is worth every penny. Learning to be visual and emotional in what you write connects to the reader.  

I'll have more advice soon, but in the meantime, remember these:

1.  Read in your genre and read a lot. For instance, if you want to be successful as a contemporary romance writer, you have to hit the library paperback section, yard sales, Half-Price Books, Amazon, etc. and read Harlequins. They are going to be your direct competition as they publish 85% of this market. I've been reading Harlequins for 40 years (and have a stack of rejection letters from them in my drawer). Find an author your like and read her stuff. Read with a highlighter and examine the way she told her story and put that back into what you are writing.

2.  Start gathering writing books and read. There are many sites that offer writers workshops on various subjects. Do an internet search. One of my favorite places to take classes is the Kiss Of Death Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. I've taken many of their classes and highly recommend them for fiction writers.

3.  For indie publishing information, Dean Wesley Smith. Spend some time on his blog and go through all the articles. You'll get a clearer understanding of the professional end of this.

I never stop learning about writing. It's a huge achievement to have just finished the first draft, but don't stop there. Learn. Grow. Tell a better story. Every step gets you closer to satisfying your readers. 

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