Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

Remember, Writers: Coffee is for closers.

You did it.  You got the words down.  What now?

Now you have to close the deal.  The film clip in this blog is from Glengarry Glen Ross, featuring Alec Baldwin (in an academy-awarded nominated role) giving his infamous ‘Coffee is for Closers’ speech in a David Mamet movie.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s enlightening (be warned: plenty of profanity).

How did you react?  Most people react negatively to Baldwin.  But he makes quite a few good points:

If they don’t want to hear what he has to say to him, they shouldn’t be in that room.

If they want to make money, they have to close.

If you want to succeed, follow:

Attention

Interest

Decision

Action

backgroundIn Write It Forward I teach the three steps of change:  Moment of Enlightenment (Attention and Interest), make a Decision, and then have Sustained Action.

What do you want to do with your book?  If you’re happy you wrote 80,000 words or so and you’re done with it, then you’ve closed.  Congratulations.  Go get a cup of tea.  But if you want to publish successfully, then put down that cup of coffee.  Coffee is for Closers.

Most aspiring writers aren’t closers. And most lament it’s because getting an agent is so hard, the odds are terrible, publishing is contracting, no one really reads, etc. etc. etc.  Except here’s the deal:  Agents, publishers, readers, all exist to consume books.  They’re the given.  They’re the lead.  YOU have to be the closer.

You have to be the Closer with great material.  By constantly improving your craft of writing.  You have to Close by studying and following the business, by being a professional who wants to be employed in the world of writing.  By following up every possible opportunity you get with determination and professionalism.  By shutting up about the unfairness of it all and doing everything in your power to Close the deal.

I was amazing, stunned, when I heard that less than 10% of writers who were told to follow up a one-on-one at a conference by an agent actually sent in the follow up material.  Essentially, those writers called a client who had expressed interest, talked about the interest, then hung up without closing.  They got the Attention, had the Interest, then made the Decision to quit.  To not take Action.

If you’re going to self-publish, you’ve just become an entrepreneur.  You’re running a business in a very competitive environment.  Yes, we all talk sweet, but they’ll cut ya!

Publishing is a very hard business.  It’s tough to get published in any mode.  Then it’s tough to succeed once you’ve been published.  But people do it.  They’re called Closers.

Write It Forward!

#NaNoWriMo is coming to end…what to do next?

At the end of November many writers will have 50k words, or close too it. Some will have completed a novel. Others will be close to completion. Most will need a long nap. Writing 2k every day can be exhausting, especially when the words are forced or not flowing. Producing that kind output is a full time job when many of those participating in NaNo have other jobs and families, its even more exhausting.

So now that it’s almost over, what do you do next? Most of the advice I see out there is to take a break. While I think that is an excellent idea, I think there is one thing you should do before you set aside your NaNo project. I suggest you make an outline of what you think you just wrote. Your mind has been in constant thought, producing word after word. Its time to see if those words make sense.

When I wrote Rekindled during NaNoWriMo, as soon as I was done, I took out a notebook and started labeling pages. One was for Hero. Another for the Heroine. I had a page for the best friend and ex-girlfriend’s romance. I had a page for the dead father. A page for the hero’s boss and the hero’s mother and their relationship. I had a page for the heroine’s best friend. A page for dead father’s best friend who is holding a lot of the secrets tying all the above people together. I had a page for the bad guys who were tying to kill the Heroine. Finally, I had a page for the plot line. I jotted down what I thought I knew about what I wrote WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE MANUSCRIPT. I was surprised at how much I didn’t know about what I had just written.

Then, I took a break. I didn’t work on that manuscript at all, though I thought about it and I keep a notebook with me, jotting things down.

Next, I printed it out and sat in a big comfy chair with my feet up and just read it. This was the hardest part. I didn’t allow myself a red pen. I forced myself to stay away from the computer. I did however give myself permission to take notes. They were mostly questions, like “why did I write that scene in that point-of-view?” or “who really is Kaylee’s father?” That question really hit me hard because I hadn’t planned for Kaylee to have a different biological dad than the one who raised her and who had been murdered, but it was my subconscious at work, so I had to figure it out. This process was very difficult, but very important in understanding what my brain had done while I was busy tossing words onto the page to meet my word count.

After I had gone through the manuscript, I had to make some difficult decisions. Many of my scenes were written in the wrong point of view. So they had to be changed. I had to delete two point of view characters. Also, the reason Kaylee had come home in the beginning of the book wasn’t the reason I had been working of off halfway through the book.

I honestly was so confused by middle of December I felt like I almost had to start all over again. So, I took a deep breath and went back to basics. I asked myself what the Kernel Idea was for this book. I wrote that down and one sentence gave me a lot of direction, but I still had a lot of rewriting to do, but it went much smoother after that.

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

#NANOWRIMO What to Write

Most writing is not a special gift or talent. Writing is a skill that can be taught. It can be likened to bricklaying; you can learn it one brick at a time, and you get better the more bricks you lay.

The key is to always be willing to learn, grow and develop these skills. A writer, in order to master their craft, must be willing to change.

If you talk to those who work in hospices, they’ll tell you what lessons their dying patients bestow upon them.  One word keeps coming up again and again:  regret.

When faced with death, people look back over their lives.  All the missed opportunities, the misplaced priorities, the things that weren’t done.  Only a handful of people focus on what they did do and are content.  These people have negotiated the five emotional steps of change, which are Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of Death & Dying.  The last stage is acceptance.  Kubler-Ross found that only 5% of those who were told they had a terminal illness were able to negotiate those five stages.

That number strikes a chord.  Because in my Write It Forward book and program, I refer to the 5% rule for internally motivated change.  I’ve taught writing for decades and have always been shocked at how few writers actually changed anything in their writing.  I am no longer shocked.  I have acceptance that I cannot change anyone but me.  I can assist others if they desire it.  This is based on my experiences and, more importantly, what I’ve learned from other writers, books, shows, and life.

78% of Americans believe they can write a book.  I’d be willing to bet 77% of them will die regretting they never did.  It’s not about getting published.  It’s about creating and acting instead of reacting, often, too late.

You have only one thing stopping you from writing the best book you are capable of.  You.

I call my book on the craft of writing a Toolkit because no tool is wrong.  If I need to fasten two pieces of wood together and instead of picking up a hammer and nail, but rather pick up a saw, it is not the tool’s fault.  It is mine.

In subsequent blogs, I am going to lay out numerous writing tools that will help you develop your craft as a writer. However, becoming an artist is up to you.

Point of view is the most critical style element in writing.  It is also important in following the way I teach writing.  I’ve been making a living writing for well over two decades and with each year and every new manuscript come new lessons learned.  Over that time period I’ve taught writing novels and getting published at various workshops and for numerous organizations.  I’ve attended many workshops and listened to other authors present.  I’ve read many books and watched many movies and shows, constantly analyzing the writing, to learn new ways of creating.  I’ve seen numerous ideas, stories and manuscripts in the course of teaching, helping other writers, and judging contests.  I’ve been published by six different American publishers, many foreign publishers, worked with over a two-dozen editors, and have had four primary agents.  I’ve been traditionally published by the Big Six in New York, and non-traditionally published through my own imprint.  I’ve had hardcover, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, print on demand, and eBooks across the range of possible platforms published.

Too many people lament the state of publishing and the “crap” that fills the shelves in the local bookstore.  My goal is not to complain but to explain; to tell you about the craft and art of writing so you can accomplish your goals.

The world of writing is a very diverse one and there is a place in it for just about everything and everyone.  Things are changing rapidly, faster than ever, and I think it’s an exciting time to be an author, with more opportunities than ever before.

The bottom line is I write because I enjoy it.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy.  The one commonality I have seen in every successful writer I’ve met is that they work very, very hard.  There is a large degree of craftsmanship required to write a novel.  It’s not magic; it’s hard work combined with the ability to constantly accept being critiqued and to critique one’s self.

Lately, I’ve focused on what it takes to be a successful author, not just in terms of the writing, but in terms of not only surviving, but thriving in the world of publishing.

The bottom line is the book.  I love books.  I love reading them and I love writing them.

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

 

“I am always doing that which I cannot do in order to learn how to do it.”  Pablo Picasso.

So why do you write?

#Nanowrimo Outlining Your Story

 Many theories, one concept

I have grown fonder of outlining the more I have written. A novel is very complex when viewed in its entirety, most particularly mainstream fiction. Working without an outline is sort of “winging” it. I say this after have done that for eight straight manuscripts. I think I have finally learned my lesson and have actually gotten to the point of outlining in some degree of detail (about a page per chapter) the entire proposed novel.

I’m updating the above paragraph after 45 manuscripts written and I believe even more strongly now in outlining. I think every hour spent outlining prior to starting a novel, saves you many hours in the actual writing process. It also helps to make a better novel as you will ‘tighten’ down the story in your outline before you write, rather than having to do it in rewrite.

To be honest, I only outlined my first complete novel when I had a contract that called for a complete outline to be submitted to the publisher prior to final approval for the project (and more importantly a portion of the advance was to be paid on acceptance of the outline.). You are going to have to “outline” sooner or later when writing. You can do it as you go along or you can do it before you write. Doing it as you go along often causes you to have to waste a lot of time writing material that either has to be thrown out or be extensively rewritten. It is prudent to do a lot of the thinking work ahead of time.

The major problem in working without a good outline is that you tend to get “stuck” about halfway through. When I first began writing this wasn’t a major problem. My stories were basic and relatively straightforward action/adventure and, while I didn’t have a detailed outline, I did have a good idea of where I wanted the story to go (as they were based somewhat on personal experiences) so I managed to blunder my way through. As I tried writing more complex stories, I found myself getting stuck more and more often and having to take days away from the keyboard to work out where the story was going and keep the subplots in line.

When you start your manuscript with your one sentence original idea, you have a relatively blank slate to work with. The further along you get, the less options you have. If you work without an outline, you may find yourself with no options at some point. Or at least no good options. This is, to slightly understate the predicament, not good.

If you combine many of the other chapters in this book such as narrative structure, the beginning, characters, etc. you get a good overview of the pieces you need to put together a novel. Outlining is putting those pieces into a framework. The basis of your framework is that one-sentence original idea that I beat into you early in this book. Then you decide your storyline and the characters who are going to live the story.

I cannot overemphasize (OK, I probably could) how important it is to have a feel for your characters before you begin writing. I consider getting that feel part of outlining—bringing your characters to life.

Outlining is also very critical in keeping your subplots tight to the main plot. You will restrict yourself from going off in tangents if you know at which point in your main story a subplot develops and where and how it will eventually come back and tie into the main story line.

Another advantage of outlining is that since the outline is tight to start with, as you write and add flesh to your outline, you can make the story even tighter.

One of my biggest obstacles to outlining was that I just wanted to get started writing and didn’t want to take a couple of weeks doing the outline. Now I realize how much time in the long run it saves me to stay away from the manuscript and do the outline first.

The degree of detail in your outline is personal. In fact, you may chose not to have one at all. But don’t treat it like the gospel once you do devise one. As you go along the characters will develop a life of their own as will the story. As you fill in details, occasionally these details will cause you to change parts of your story as opposed to what was outlined. None of my recent, more complex novels, turned out the way I thought they would way back in the beginning when all I had was the original idea and some research.

Also remember that outlining is an ongoing process just as the writing is. If you view a novel in the beginning as a large blank slate, then the original idea is a sentence you write at the top of the page. From there you start your outline, tracing characters and events along the timeline of your story. When you feel you have an adequate outline, you start writing. As the story progresses, you must go back every once in a while and redo the outline, tightening your story down.

I view this for me as writing in surges. I project out my story as much as I know at the time (nowadays to the very end.). Then I proceed to write. When I sense that I am losing track, I go back over my outline and fill in what I’ve already written, adding in all the details. With these new details, I redo the outline, tightening down what has yet to be written and making sure it is in congruence with what has already been written. Sometimes, I also have to go back and add a layer to the story, or take a layer away.

There are some critical questions that you must answer before you begin your manuscript. Answer these questions in writing, not in your head. To me, the bottom line on outlining is writing down everything I can possibly think of with regard to the story. You will find that the process of actually writing down those great thoughts you have might knock you up against the harsh rocks of reality. Sometimes it looks very different in black in white on paper, than in color in your brain.

Here are the questions:

  1. What is my one sentence original idea?
  2. Who are my main characters? What are their primary motivations? Do their primary motivations naturally lead them to assume the role they must, in this novel? How did they get these primary motivations? How do I show the reader the characters primary motivations?
  3. Where and when is my setting?
  4. What is the climax of my story?
  5. How do I maintain suspense/reader interest throughout the novel?

Caveat. Be careful that your writing doesn’t appear to be just a blown up outline. When that happens, the writing appears to be stilted and a little forced. Also, just expanding an outline leaves little room for creativity and allowing the characters to react and “live”. You may have outlined certain events occurring, but when you actually sit down and write your characters experiencing those events, usually you will find that it turns out not exactly as outlined. Sort of like real life. Go with it. Allow your characters to be living beings involved in the story.

Find the degree of outlining that you are comfortable with, but at least consider doing some sort of outline, even if only in your own head. There are some very successful authors who can break a novel down by sections and structure and crank out certain genre novels according to a “script” they have for that type of book. And, although many don’t like hearing it, there is a formula to some type of novels. Although we all want to be original (or maybe we don’t?), realize that if you are writing a romance and you produce something totally unlike any other romance on the bookshelves you’ve done two things: you haven’t written a romance in the first place, and secondly, when you try to market it, it won’t be viewed as a romance. You may be the trailblazer like those I mentioned in an earlier chapter and start a new field, but the odds aren’t good. If you feel strongly about your writing, don’t let that dissuade you, just be aware of the reality of the situation.

I definitely feel that updating your outline is important every day when you sit down and try to write chapters. Pick a start point and an end point for every chapter. Then ask yourself how do I get from one to the other? What is the purpose of this chapter? Also look at the chapter in terms of the overall story. Where does it fit? Is this the right time for this to happen? If you don’t have a definite end point, your chapter will meander.

Some ideas for outlining:

  1. List the date at the top, putting it in time sequence for the story.
  2. List the characters who will be in the chapter (which makes me cross-reference to my one page character summaries.)
  3. List the events in sequence, giving the major action and where it occurs.
  4. Make notes on key material that must be dealt with later, in other chapters, or already has been dealt with. This is very important to insure continuity of story.
  5. Have a definite start point at the beginning of the event sequence and a definite end-point. I have listed all important events that I need to occur in between.
  6. Perhaps most importantly, give the purpose of the chapter. Where does it fit in the overall story? How does it relate to the original idea? This will prevent having extraneous material.

This is not to say that once I start writing the chapter things won’t change. But it is a heck of a lot easier to write with all the information thought out beforehand rather than making it up as I go. Basically what I’m saying here is that the outline allows you to concentrate on the writing since you know what you are going to put down. I find my writing is better when I have a good outline.

An outline can grow out of your original idea when you start doing your research. For me, research is one of the “fun” parts of my job. Going to the library and looking through the stacks, checking magazines, videos, the computer, etc. all are interesting. Keep your eyes open. Just because you are looking for a book filed under U410.L1 E38, doesn’t mean you ignore the books to the left and right of it. I usually scan all the books that are shelved together and have often come up with goldmines of information sitting three books over from what I thought I needed.

A last word on the Catch-22 of outlining. Not to contradict what I’ve written above, but there is a problem with trying to sit down and outline your very first manuscript. The problem is that since you’ve never written a manuscript, you are trying to outline something you’ve never done.

I opened this post by saying that I have grown more fond of outlining the more I have written, but that is also a natural outgrowth of gaining more experience in novel structure and style. I have learned enough in knocking out manuscripts that I am able to outline now. I don’t think I would have done anywhere as good a job on outlining my first manuscript. This is also why I emphasize starting out writing about something you know quite a bit about and keeping the story as simple as possible.

My recommendation on outlining is simple: write down everything you think you know about your book.

Nanowrimo coverIn honor of Nanowrimo month, Cool Gus has put together a Nanowrimo Survival kit at a discount:  three books in one at a big discount (over 50% off buying them individually).  We’re only going to run this special for November, then we’ll be taking it down.

The Novel Writers Toolkit which is how to write the book.

Write It Forward which is how to be a professional author and build a career using my Who Dares Wins concept.

And How We Made Our First Million on Kindle which is about negotiating the world of digital publishing.

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