Monday, April 19, 2010

Willpower, Part Deux

I still have a lot of venting to do about lazy "aspiring" writers that I didn't cover in my last post, so I'm picking up right where I left off.

About once or twice a year, I get a random email out of the blue from a "friend" I usually haven't seen or spoken to in years. These "friends" inevitably get in touch with me only when they want something. Usually, they email me asking for writing advice, because they've decided to write the Great American Novel. (Not only that, they ask if I can hook them up with my agents and/or publisher for the Great American Novel that they haven't even written yet----annoying and arrogant to say the least.)

I'm always happy to give advice when people ask for it (though I'm not a fan of either giving or receiving unsolicited advice). But when I do give advice, I speak frankly, and sometimes rather harshly, because when it comes to the publishing business I don't think it does anybody any good to sugarcoat things.

Whenever someone emails or calls me saying that they plan to write the Great American Novel, they usually also talk at length about how they plan to write said novel. I've heard all kinds of things about their plans, which have included everything from taking vacations to the exotic places where their novels will supposedly be set, to signing up for a bunch of expensive writing classes, to trying to figure out how much time they should spend writing "character studies" and "plot analyses" (which are useless wastes of time dreamed up by unpublished creative writing teachers, but I digress).

To which I reply, "Uh-huh. But when are you actually going to WRITE the novel?"

At this, I usually get a response that goes something like---"Well, umm, but----uhhhhh----"

This is where my usual advice kicks in. I sum it up basically as follows:

1) If you want to write a novel, you have to actually WRITE. Sitting around bullshitting about it or engaging in useless (and often expensive) procrastination activities such as overpriced "creative writing" classes and "character studies" do nothing for your actual novel. The only thing you need to start writing your manuscript is a basic outline, which you can usually put together in one page or less in about an hour. (And if you write organically like I do, you don't even need to do that. Just sit down at your keyboard and begin.)

2) Write every day. Novels are indeed written one page at a time, but unless you want to spend the rest of your life writing this book, you need to write-----at absolute bare minimum----a page a day. (That's about 250 words). Most serious writers write far more than this. When I'm in full swing of writing a novel, I average about 1500 words a day (that's about 7 pages). Sometimes more, sometimes less---but it's a pretty consistent average. If you write a page a day, it will take you a year to finish the first draft of a 350-page novel. If you write more per day, it will take less time, if you write less, it will take longer (or you won't finish it at all).

3) Be disciplined. Your book isn't going to write itself, and writing is hard work that takes time and commitment. Part of being a novelist is being willing to give up some of your other favorite pastimes (in fact, most of them) in favor of writing. I don't know how many times I've heard "aspiring" writers say things like, "well, I really want to write a novel, but it's the middle of Gilmore Girls/Dancing With The Stars/LOST/whatever season and I don't want to miss any episodes." Yeah, well, boo fucking hoo. If you really want to write that novel, you will make the time to do it. Otherwise, you don't actually want to do it at all.

4) Read. This is another one I get a lot of complaints about. When I tell aspiring novelists that in order to be good writers, they first must also read other good (i.e., published) writers, I often get a shrug and an eye-roll. "But I don't have TIME to read," people often whine. Either that, or they make up some lame excuse like "But if I read other writers, it will detract from my own voice." To which I reply, "If you don't read, you won't even know what 'voice' is in the first place."

5) Check your ego at the door. Believe it or not, the mere feat of finishing a novel manuscript----and an impressive feat it is----does not make you at all special. There are thousands upon thousands of other aspiring novelists out there who have done the exact same thing, and chances are, the vast majority of them will never be published----and neither will you. Be humble and learn to accept defeat early and often. Be prepared to write several complete novel manuscripts before getting even one of them published. There's an old saying in this business---"a professional writer is just an amateur who didn't quit."

6) Don't ever expect to make any money. For all those starry-eyed aspiring writers out there who think writing the Great American Novel will lead to easy riches, I have news for you. 99% of completed novel manuscripts will never see the light of commercial publication. Of the 1% that do see commerical publication, the majority will not earn out their very modest (i.e., $5,000 or less) advances. Of the tiny percentage of published books that sell more than 5,000 copies, an even tiner percentage end up on the New York Times bestseller list----and that doesn't necessarily mean that those books are making millions, either. If you aspire to be the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, good for you----but you have a better chance of being struck by lightning or being elected to the U.S. Senate.

After I hand out this advice, 99% of the people who came to me seeking help just stare at me gape-mouthed. They usually never even write a single page, let alone complete a manuscript.

But occasionally I do run into aspiring writers who do manage to finish writing their books, then manage to land an agent and get a book deal. And most of the time, these people did it entirely on their own, and didn't need my advice to begin with.



  1. will power is the key to any success and is a part of mental health, read mental health articles on to strengthening your will power

  2. Thanks for the advice!! I am an aspiring writer (bloging about my attempt to write my book) and this really helped :D