"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: May 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Many Pages Did You Write Today?

I saw this question posted on Facebook this week. Around 20 writers responded with anything from 3 to 30 pages, while quite a few bemoaned the fact they hadn't written any - and hated themselves (and the other writers) for it!

Do you agonize over your daily page count?

You really shouldn't.

It's not the page count, or the word count that matters. It's turning up that's important. As long as you're there, writing or intending to write every day, you'll do fine.

Writing success is a long term proposition. If you're a newbie and you want to make a career out of writing, think in terms of five years. From now till then. That's about right.

Writing is actually the easy bit compared to forging a paying lifestyle at it.

I know that in this Internet Age, everyone wants fast results and instant success but deep down we all know that's not how it works.

Success takes commitment. Being able to write for a living requires effort over the long term. Writing every day is a habit you need to foster.

And it's not just the writing.

I find it curious that writers who post their daily word count to the Net seem primarily focussed on new writing - fresh pages as it were. Whereas every seasoned writer knows that every hour spent writing new fiction usually requires anything from 3 to 10 hours revising and editing - the real writer's work.

Most everyone can write - but it takes extra dedication, skill and study of the art to be a writer - as in a real contender for success.

The Internet is an amazing thing, yes. We all have access to information that even just twenty years ago would have taken us an age to find - and use.

But absorbing that information is what takes time. It may take a writer twenty years to accept a simple truth he 'knew' but had refused to believe until the time it dawned on him as 'true'.

I've seen this phenomenon a thousand times.

Sure, I can teach you how to write a novel in 30 days.

Yes, I can teach you how to write a screenplay for Hollywood.

But it's what you do with that information that counts - how you let it change who you are, and how you alter your approach to writing - and constantly improve yourself in the process.

By all means work hard getting pages of writing out every day, but also spend a few moments daily assessing your goals, seeing what you do in context, and making commitments to staying the course.

If you only write 200 words a day, that's about the length of a novel over the course of a year. And that's fine - as long as you take the long view.

There's no hurry for the career writer.

My partner and I write every day. It's not a competition to us. It's just something we do.

Okay, so I wish sometimes there were clones of me that I could set to write this or edit that. Sometimes I wonder about bending time so that more hours were somehow available to me during the day.

But hey, that ain't gonna happen.

I have to take the long view. That if I want a piece of writing to be right and good, it will take time.

And if it takes a day, a week or a year, that's okay.

Doing your best is what matters.

And turning up, as Woody Allen once said, is 99% of success.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern

The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don't be Afraid of What You Don't Know

Things are fairly quiet around here at the moment, which is great because I'm working on a YA novel - not furiously, just a gentle couple of hours a day. I'm enjoying the process rather than approaching it like a competition.

I'm also spending an hour a day editing the suspense novel I'm publishing soon. Again! Just trying to make sure it's the best it can be.

I read a blog this week about a mother who was having difficulty finding time to write. I sympathize. I do understand that time is the writer's enemy. And we need to find our own ways to conquer it.

Her solution was to write for ten minute bursts in between other responsibilities (children, in other words). I admire and applaud Katherine Grubb's tenacity and commitment to her novel.

I attended a writer's workshop last Saturday night. (Clearly no rocking out in clubland for me anymore!)

The guest speaker was a successful editor for a well known publishing house. It was fascinating to have so many submission issues confirmed from, as it were, the horse's mouth.

I'll summarize here some of the most pertinent points she made.

First off, she said around 85% of all the manuscripts she received from budding authors were a waste of her time. They were clearly written by people who had never bothered to read guidelines, format correctly or even study basic punctuation, spelling and grammar.

This is a startling statistic. In essence, over 4 out of every 5 writers, in her words, deserve to be rejected simply because they don't bother to research the craft of writing before they start firing off their manuscripts.

Ironically, she said, this makes her job easier. Because, in order to save time, she never reads on if there are simple errors on page one. Why should she? If a writer can't get the first page error free, what hope is there that the writing will get any better?

Presentation is so very important.

Of the remaining 15%, the contenders for publication, the issues were more to do with story and style.

She confirmed to me that originality, though nice, was not often a consideration. Simply because the chances of a writer coming up with something original AND well written were so slim that it could never be a deciding factor.

What interested her most was 'voice' - the nebulous quality she said only the best writers seemed able to master. She said it was apparent that only after the writer fully understood the mechanics of writing (grammar especially) that the voice was able to come through with any degree of effectiveness.

Pet peeves included: the overuse of 'that' 'and' as well as 'had'. She said good writers should be able to spot their overuse and rearrange sentences to avoid relying on them.

She didn't like what she called 'filters'. This was the use of words that distance a reader from the characters. Words like 'felt', 'thought', 'decided' and 'realized' - as well as vague qualifiers like 'very', 'almost', 'nearly', which were to be avoided (read, deleted.)

Also, the old chestnut, "Don't use adverbs," she said, "ever!"

She loathed the penchant of newbies to write long compound sentences where the subject becomes obscured - and the grammar becomes suspect at best. Keep the sentences short and easy to understand was her advice, unless you know exactly what you're doing (which 98% of us don't, she said.)

Most of her job - after reading manuscripts - was editing them for publication.

Her decisions over who to publish therefore were often based upon her assessment of how easy a writer was going to be to work with.

If the manuscript was full of stylistic errors (she reasoned from experience) then the writer was probably going to be difficult. She'd heard the, "It's not incorrect, it's my style" argument all too often - and yes, it generally only came from newbies.

Contrary to myth, most professionals embrace alterations to their work. And compromise makes for a pleasant working relationship.

Towards the end of the workshop you could almost feel the exasperation of the writers. How were they ever going to be good enough for publication, one writer asked.

We were missing the point, she said.

Studying the craft of writing was something she expected writers to do - on an ongoing basis. She wanted well presented and well written manuscripts first, then she looked for good stories told with a strong voice.

Until she found them, she wanted writers to at least look as though they were writing to the very best of their ability.

"Don't be intimidated by what you don't know," she said, "but do study and research the rules of writing consistently."

To which she added, "It's the only way to improve - and maximize your chances of publication."

I agree, don't you?

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern

The Writing Academy

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