Top 10 Writer Problems (and what novelists can do about them)

10. The Actual Writing

Quality writing is, of course, a topic that can be broken up into many categories. Entire books are written on the topic, which is one reason I’m not going to try to tell you how to write well in one blog entry. Instead, I am going to steer you toward the things I’ve found helpful in crafting my own novels.

1. Books on writing by Sol Stein and The Art of Fiction by John Gardner.

2. A great critique group.

3. Grammar references like those of Arlene Miller.

I’ve probably read 50 books (and countless meandering blogs) about writing techniques, and trust me—I’ve narrowed it down to the ones that actually help. The others made me feel motivated for about 5 minutes but gave no concrete techniques. You might find a few good tips on the internet, but after a few days of surfing, they’ll all start to sound the same.

The reason you also need a critique group is that once you get to the point where you’re saying to yourself, “Yes! I’m doing it just like Sol Stein and John Gardner,” you need someone to tell you, “Yeah, here’s where you’re not.”

9. Hating Yourself

My problem is that even after multiple readings of Stein and Gardner, and even after 5 years in a great critique group, I’m still not satisfied with my writing (or my sales). Just look at my weak vocabulary so far in this article! In a section about quality writing, “quality” is probably the most interesting word I used. No “avarice,” no “barnacle,” no “ramshackle.” When I paste my writing into those websites that tell you the grade level of your writing, mine usually says “5th.” Does it make me hate myself?

Yes.

But what I try to do is treat myself as well as I’d treat a friend. Would I tell a friend, “You’re pathetic?” No. I’d tell them that they write interesting, simple stories, and that they will never get better if they quit.

8. Scoffers

You scoff at yourself enough. You don’t need more scoffers. Are you imperfect? Is your writing imperfect? Is making money from writing difficult? Yes, yes, and yes. Are any of those reasons to quit? No. Ignore the scoffers. Don’t even waste your time arguing with them. You don’t need to justify yourself.

7. Finding Agents and Publishers

After years doubting, I have finally come to believe what speakers, panelists, and other members of my writing club have been saying all along. Self publishing is the way of the future. Agents and publishers take forever to respond, and if you finally get one and don’t happen to be the next J.K. Rowling, you’ll have to do all your own marketing anyway.

I can’t count the hours I’ve wasted reading about how to write query letters and personalizing queries and submissions. No more! Kindle and Create Space are free and easy and don’t require a lawyer to make sure I got a good contract. If my books are good enough, they’ll sell. If not, on to the next one!

6. Distractions

In order to limit your distractions, I’ll simply say that your kids are not distractions, but your TV is. You know what to do.

5. Writing Distractions

Contests, anthologies, and magazine articles can even be distractions if your goal is to publish your novel. I do all three of these things occasionally, but I have become more selective. Do you have a good chance of winning the contest? Will the anthology get your name out there? Does the magazine pay enough to justify novel-writing time lost?

Even writing this blog is questionable. Will it really help anyone? If so, it will be worth the time I invested, but if not…

4. Money

I am extremely lucky to have a spouse who has agreed to live off their* public schoolteacher salary for a while. In Sonoma County, it’s not easy. I constantly tell myself that I will never make money off my novels and that I could serve my family better by bringing in minimum wage, but I want to be present for my daughter after school, so for me it’s either a job or writing. I don’t seem to be one of those people who can do it all. I get exhausted and depressed whenever I try, and at 42, I’m coming to terms with that. If you have to have a full time job, there are other authors who talk about writing schedules and fitting it all in, but for me and my family, my dream of writing novels comes at a financial cost.

Okay, so in my title I promised I’d give solutions to my top ten problems. I’m sorry that I have nothing to help you while money is only trickling in from your writing.

Just being honest.

3. Marketing

First off, there’s little chance that a poorly written book or a book with an amateurish cover will sell no matter how much you put into marketing. Make sure that at the very least you’ve had beta readers, proofreaders, and opinions on your cover.

Here’s what I thought would work for marketing. Sharing the link to my book on my Facebook and Twitter pages. I have over 400 Facebook friends. Most of them are real live friends—people I know well. At least half of them will spend 99 cents for my 80-page fairy tale comedy on Kindle, right? And then they’ll tell their friends, right?

Wrong.

I sold about 15 copies of Littlefoot Part One that way. Fewer than 5% of my Facebook friends bought it, and only 1% shared my link on their page. That’s not even all my relatives. I’m not complaining; they have no obligation to buy or share. But I must admit I was surprised.

So what to do? You have to get a table at events. You have to read in public. You have to engage people on an individual level. (This is why Anaheim Tales has sold more than Littlefoot Part One. Not because it’s a better book, but because I’ve made the rounds with it.) You have to share other people’s books and try not to notice when they don’t share yours. You have to be persistent. It takes TIME.

2. Forgetting How to Talk to Real People

Sometimes my brain gets stuck in Writerland. I’m not necessarily even thinking about my novel, I’ve just forgotten that I’m a real person around other real people. Sometimes I have to silently tell myself, “They said something to you. Say something back!” Not kidding. So that’s my advice. Don’t forget you’re a real person.

1.  Sore Butt

Stand up once in a while.

Good luck and much love from,

M.L. Millard

*Yes, I have adopted the singular “their.” Deal with it.

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Writing Prompts for Kids

I used to think writing prompts were a waste of time. I had a book to finish, after all. However, the other day I used one just for fun and it really got my creative juices flowing. I even came up with something I might use in another story someday.

Unfortunately, the prompt was not very kid-friendly. I decided to write a few that would be good for kids or adults. Change the pronouns, names, or tenses, write a paragraph or a novel, whatever you want. Go crazy! And feel free to share your story in the comments.

1. Madi always said she had a big sister who ran off with the circus, but I never believed her.

2. The house had that empty feel, but Quinn checked all the rooms before peeling back the rug and pulling up the loose floorboard.

3. The rock is smooth and heavy in my hand. To throw it or not.

4. Behind my new school there’s a forest.

5. “Not too far,” Mom yelled. I paddled out farther anyway. If I told her the truth, she wouldn’t be so worried about me, but if I told her the truth it might start a war.