Skip to content

The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s that time of the week when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: When you’re writing a story or a book, do you always start at the beginning and work through in order to the end? Or do you ever have a flash of inspiration for a scene that you feel like you need to write out ASAP with the hopes you’ll find a spot for it later on? Similarity, what advice do you have for writers who have written a really fun, exciting, or funny scene but then find that the scene isn’t really working or doing much for the book? Ruthlesslessy cut it and hope it might work in a different story? Try to make it fit in a different spot in the story? Try to edit it until it does work? Change the surrounding scenes and story to work better with the scene?

A: I start with a loose outline and write to about the halfway point of the book, then revisit my outline, see what works and what I’m not going to have time for, and keep writing. I generally write straight through, beginning to end, but if I do get a flash of inspiration or something I will go ahead and write that part down. I also tend to skip over sex scenes until I’m finished with the section of the book it’s in. I have definitely written scenes that didn’t end up in books because they didn’t fit into the story and felt extraneous. Sometimes, those scenes happen in other books. For example, there was something that was supposed to happen to Sophie in The Ex that just didn’t happen. Then I started thinking about Baby Makes Three and realized, hey, that scene definitely works in that book. It was meant for Penny, not Sophie. I just got my wires crossed.

I would say that in general, no scene is so well-written or exciting that an entire book should be revised to make that scene fit. It just means the scene belongs in a different book.

Q: How do you feel about NaNoWriMo or other write-a-novel-in-a-month/super short time events? Do you think giving oneself that tight deadline and the necessity to write every day for a short period of time (like a month) is a good idea? I’m trying to decide if that’s something that could help me, or if I would get super anxious about not being able to write everyday or hit the word count by the end of the month. On the other hand, I’m a natural procrastinator, so maybe something like that would be beneficial. Do you have any experience with NaNoWriMo or having to write a book on a really tight deadline? Do you give yourself deadlines?

A: I am notoriously hard on NaNoWriMo, so let me say first that I do not judge anyone who uses NaNoWriMo as a tool to motivate themselves or a reason to sit down and write when they have difficulty doing so without that pressing deadline. We all do what we need to do with regards to how we work.

That said, I have some real issues with NaNoWriMo and I’m not a fan of it, personally. But since NaNo really took off, it has created communities and friendships that have helped foster thousands of new writers. That’s where it’s added real value to the writing world, on a scale that wasn’t possible before. So I think that part is fantastic, and if that’s something you need to keep yourself motivated, by all means, do it.

But if you’re afraid of deadlines giving you anxiety, then the focus on winning would probably put you off. Maybe start off slowly instead, with goals you set for yourself. There’s an app I really like called Write Or Die that lets you set micro-deadlines. You can enter in the amount of time you want to write for and the word count you’re aiming for. Let’s say you want to write 500 words in a half hour. You choose the consequences or rewards you’d like (“Kamikaze Mode” is truly terrifying), start the timer, and go. I find that I can write a ton of words that way and that I end up meeting my goal faster each time.

Another thing I encourage people to do is to set aside fifteen minutes a day and go, “Okay, for this fifteen minutes, I’m writing.” And that’s what you do. And even if you get nothing more than that fifteen minutes of writing done for that day, it doesn’t matter. You wrote. It feels a lot less hopeless when you can say, “I wrote today.”

Remember, too, that “write every day” doesn’t literally mean putting words on the paper. If you’re standing in the shower, mentally plotting out the next scene, but you don’t have time to sit down and write it until tomorrow, you still wrote today. A lot more goes into writing than just typing. Don’t beat yourself up if all you can do from, say, Monday through Friday is thinking about and mentally plan your story or scribble down some notes. You’re still writing every day, even if your word count only goes up on weekends or something.

I don’t generally give myself hard deadlines, just “this month I plan to have this done.” It relieves some of that “oh my god, time is running out!” anxiety.

Bonus Question: Hi! Thanks so much for doing this, I’ve always wanted to ask how a person gets to be an editor? I’m trying to get into publishing but don’t really know what the best way to get in would be. Any advice?

A: This is one I really don’t have a great answer for, but I’ll try. I don’t have any clue how you become an editor at a major publishing house. I edited for a small press. The way I got the job was that someone said, “Hey, this company is looking for editors.” I contacted them, and they sent me a test, which was basically a passage of text that needed a lot of work both developmentally and grammatically. I edited it, sent it back, it was up to their standards, they hired me.

Nowadays, pretty much anyone can set themselves up as a freelance editor because the rise of self-publishing created a demand. I know at least one person who freelanced for a hybrid author (traditionally published and self-published) who ended up liking their work so much, they told their traditional publisher they only wanted to work with that editor from now on. That editor ended up on the publishing house’s payroll.

None of this is helpful advice for breaking in, I’m sure, but hopefully, it’s given you some kind of idea. I’m not an editor anymore and things change so quickly that I don’t have much else in the way of practical knowledge.

No bonus question this week, as I’m busy getting ready for my amazing U.P. writing retreat!

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

Nightmare Born New episodes every Tuesday, exclusively on Radish

The cover for Nightmare Born shows the silhouette of two teens facing each other, holding hands in front of a night sky. There's a scary dracula-looking castle on a hill in the background and a full moon in the clouds. The title and two logos for the Google Play and Apple App store show beneath my name.

5 Comments

  1. Atrista
    Atrista

    “Remember, too, that “write every day” doesn’t literally mean putting words on the paper. If you’re standing in the shower, mentally plotting out the next scene, but you don’t have time to sit down and write it until tomorrow, you still wrote today. A lot more goes into writing than just typing. ”

    I am so glad you mentioned this. As a writing instructor, this is one of the most common problems I see with my new writers. Writing is a process, and a lot more goes into it than just putting words to a medium. Research, brainstorming, bouts of inspiration, and mental plotting are all parts of the writing process because writing cannot exist without them.

    A lot of people think they are epic procrastinators because they start writing their papers at the last moment. What they may not realize is that they have been agonizing and thinking about the paper for weeks already and making mental notes about it every now and then. I really do hope that this helps people feel less hopeless when it comes to their writing. Don’t beat yourself up!

    July 6, 2017
    |Reply
  2. H2
    H2

    If ‘Write or Die’ is too dark for some, there’s also ‘Written? Kitten!’ -> http://writtenkitten.net/ – write a set number of words and boom – kitten picture!

    July 6, 2017
    |Reply
  3. Mike
    Mike

    I know what you mean with having issues with Nanowrimo. The concept is neat, but, well…

    First there’s the overly forced quirkiness among some writers.

    Then there’s the lax attitude to quality some Nano-ers have. People keep saying “Don’t worry about quality; after all, this is just a first draft! You can improve later!” That’s not how it works. Sure, one must accept that first drafts are flawed. Very flawed. But it’s also important to try to write a first draft that’s worth improving on. If a side plot seems super boring, then you can’t just make it three times as long to improve word count and say “Well, I’ll fix it in my second draft.”
    There’s a big difference between saying no to perfectionism and making no effort to write well.

    Whoof! That was a long rant. And yeah, if Nano helps people write then that’s awesome! It’s just some folks’ attitude that rankles my roots.

    July 7, 2017
    |Reply
  4. JJ
    JJ

    I might be able to help with the publishing question. I’m an editorial assistant, which is how most people tend to get their foot in the door in publishing.

    I won’t lie, it was a bit of a slog. After I graduated from university, I had four different internships at various publishing houses in about eight months. I had to do pretty much anything from typing out a book to ghostwriting an article for the publicity department. It was more about logging time and experience. The only things that were really helpful on the internships were projects I led and set up on my own initiative, but obviously there were restrictions on what interns were allowed to do.

    I then had a few temp jobs (because internships are expensive, man) and got my first EA job in academic publishing. It wasn’t really where I wanted to be but it was a start. I stayed there for about a year, tried to learn as much as I could, and then moved into fiction, which is where I really wanted to be. It’s taken longer than I thought but it’s been worth it so far 🙂

    Best advice I can give is to be as proactive as possible. Even if it’s really minor, if you can point to a professional project that’s really yours that’ll go a long way. If you can’t do this on an internship, find a way to do it on your own terms, like starting a book blog or something. Learn as much as you can and see what professional support is available – networking will take you a long way. In the UK there’s the Society of Young Publishers, Book Careers, and Women in Publishing. Like most of the industry these tend to be based in London – don’t know how things are in the States but from what I’ve heard it’s mostly NYC.

    Basically, start small and go for the job you really want when you’ve got more experience under your belt. Worked for me 🙂 Best of luck!

    July 7, 2017
    |Reply
  5. Jennifer
    Jennifer

    I love Nanowrimo for getting motivated. But you have to go into it knowing you’ll have a first draft, not a finished product. It gets stressful and it’s not for everyone. Having support from internet strangers can be fun and having the forums for advice, suggestions, and reasurch is a plus.

    Padding your word count with stuff you know you’ll need to be cut is pointless, in my opinion. People are free to disagree with me. But it depends on what the point is as far as you’re concerned – to have written 50k of anything or to have written 50k of what you really want to say. If it’s the first why not write “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over. If my story concludes before 50k, which this last one did, I write a short story with the same characters as a bonus and that was more productive for me than padding my novel on purpose.

    Written kitten is awesome and you can change it to other things. I’ll do stuff like written New York (if my story takes place in New York.) I also like blindwrite. http://blindwrite.herokuapp.com because you can’t see what you’re typing so you can’t edit. YMMV.

    July 13, 2017
    |Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *