Recently in Author Accelerator’s Membership Circle, I was asked what advice I would give to people who are just starting out and working on their first book or what things I would tell my beginner writer self if I could.
So I wrote myself a letter …
You’ve made the decision to make your “someday” a “today” by writing the first draft of your novel, Tiger Drive, during this six-months-layoff you have from work (the first time you won’t have a job in almost thirty years!) Here is what I know now, but wish you knew then:
1. Allow yourself to write a “craptastic” first draft. It can’t be perfect, in fact it will seem trite and bad, but just keep writing the book. Do not revisit any written pages until you’ve finished the craptastic first draft because the magic happens during the editing and rewrites.
2. Learn the correct definition of “Show Don’t Tell” — writers, professors, coaches, etc. don’t teach it correctly. Find Jennie Nash because she does know what Show Don’t Tell means and she knows how to explain it simply and clearly.
3. You have to show up at least five days a week to write this craptastic first draft. You’re fighting it, finding every possible way to procrastinate (you’ll clean your garage, organize the cans in your kitchen cupboards …). Stop it. Put your butt in the chair and stare at the blank computer screen or blank notebook, but show up! Set a timer for twenty minutes, do not move before the bell rings, and I guarantee the screen/paper will not be blank anymore. In fact, eventually you’ll start to ignore the timer when it rings and you’ll keep writing.
4. Find ONE class or writing book and/or ONE PROFESSIONAL writing coach that will hold you accountable, teach you, and help you start and finish your craptastic first draft. You did this right — you’ll sign up for a six-week Creative Writing for Beginners course with UC San Diego Extension. By the end of the six weeks, you will write the first five-hundred words of Tiger Drive (and by the way, you will not be a romance author like you always thought). If it were current day, I’d tell you to stop everything you’ve been doing and take Story Genius with Author Accelerator (Story Genius didn’t exist for you yet). Eventually, this course will not only fix Tiger Drive, but it will help you write In the Doghouse (and you’ll make some awesome friends).
4-B. Don’t be afraid to get to know your characters. Write their history and backstory, know what they “misbelieve” and what they want. It doesn’t all have to end up in the book, but it has to be in your heart and mind.
5. Do not ask friends to read your book, not even a writing group. Hire a professional writing coach. See #4. The more opinions you ask for, the more opinions you will get, and you will think your book is horrible and off-track. YOU ONLY NEED ONE PROFESSIONAL OPINION. Professionals help you move forward, not get lost in the weeds.
6. When you finish your first draft, read and make necessary changes from the beginning — but it still can’t be perfect. It’s now becoming your craptastic second draft. Set a goal, such as “edit two to four chapters a day.” When you reach the end, send it to Author Accelerator for a manuscript evaluation or a developmental review editor to get feedback. They will not say, “It’s amazing and perfect.” They will give you advice on how to take it to the next level. Take this advice. Start editing.
6-B. Hey, when you finish your first draft and send it to the editor, acknowledge the moment. Treat yourself. Hug yourself. Celebrate the accomplishment.
6-C. But, oh, while the coach/editor has your developmental review (usually a four-to-six-week window), you need to keep writing; start writing Book 2.
7. You don’t need the ultimate place to write. You may need quiet, or some Bose Headphones, but please don’t spend weeks setting up an office. You’re procrastinating. Spend a day or two setting up your space or finding the tools you need (again, Bose Headphones). Get a Do Not Disturb sign so your family won’t interrupt. Turn off your phone. By the way, libraries will become your favorite place to write. Oh, and do not — I repeat do not — put a TV in your space … You must resist binge-watching Outlander. You should be writing!
8. Starting your website and writing a newsletter are important ways to find your audience, but you will spend way too much time on both before you finish your first novel. Yes, a newsletter is a way to share your writing style with readers when you have nothing else to show them (your book), but you will waste so much time trying to perfect these newsletters (sometimes two full days a week) when you should be writing your book!
9. Get up and move. Exercise at least an hour a day. Take 10,000 steps a day. Stretch regularly. The writing life is a sedentary life and not healthy! It will catch up to you.
9-B. You do not need an unlimited supply of Twizzlers, Hot Tamales, and Pepsi to write your novel.