Well, this post is dedicated to IR Serious, who seems to think that I’ve become “quiet and reserved” since November.
So, I present to you, Kate’s Method:
No, I didn’t say write. I said type. Everyone wants to know how I write ten thousand words in a day, and still have both hands attached at the wrist. There are two answers to how I do it. The first is that I hand-wrote a 300,000 word novel when I was younger. Before that, I had hunt-and-peck typing skills at best. Type up three hundred thousand words, without thinking about content, without thinking about whether something worked or didn’t (and I really was too young to understand what did and didn’t work at that point), focusing only on getting it done as quickly as possible, and I’m now an excellent touch-typist. I don’t think that I use exactly the prescribed technique, but it’s probably close, and certainly works for me. It’s building in the muscle-memory of where all the keys are.
That’s the first part of it, and just like the second, it cannot be acquired without time and effort. The second is partly acquired through the first: strengthening the muscles of the hand and wrist, else you’ll do yourself a serious injury. There are tons of wrist exercises on the interwebz, plus taking regular breaks, and heating-icing during periods of particularly strenuous writing. I still go through it. First week of every November, I feel like my hands are going to fall off. By November 30th, the most I get is twitchy, not sore.
Okay, so now you’ve found something to type up. You’ve typed it up and now you’re a super-typer. Fabulous. Now you need to actually produce. Write every day. Every single one of them. That goes to the advice in the link in that post down there. You’re not a writer unless you write, and you’re never going to be published unless you actually have something, y’know, written. Seems kind of obvious, but the people who say ‘oh, I’ve got this great idea for a novel’ or ‘one day, when I have the time, I’m going to write a novel’ never actually do.
3. Be Dumb
You know that stupid idea you had? Yeah, I’m looking at you. The one you had at 3 in the morning, or when you woke up from that weird-ass dream you had the other night. Or even the thought that drifted through your mind as you were going through your day. The one that was too dumb to entertain? Go ahead and write it anyway. I won’t say the only dumb story is the one that isn’t written, because I’m sure there are plenty of dumb stories that really, really don’t need to be written – but you’ll never know if it is or not if you don’t write it. You’re never going to get that great idea just by sitting around and hoping for inspiration to strike you. There is no such thing as a muse to kiss your fevered brow and deliver to you on a silver platter a plot and characters and the next Nobel Prize for literature. Write the smart stuff too, but don’t be afraid to write the dumb stuff. You don’t have to show it to anyone, if you don’t want to, but write it. It’ll only make you stronger.
4. Oh yeah, grammer and spellins and stuff
People assume that when I’m on one of those aforementioned writing sprees, that I probably don’t pay the slightest mind to spelling or grammar. I disagree; I hate those stupid red lines in word, and will never leave an intentional typo. Yes, sometimes I miss an occasional letter which transforms the word into another word so spellchecker misses it, but I’d be willing to bet that I don’t do it any more often than someone who’s typing more slowly. I appear to have fallen in love with dangling participles (as it has been recently pointed out to me), but I think that’s more that I only know grammar by feel and not by actual rote learning (something which I probably should rectify, to be honest).
My point here is – just because it’s a first draft, don’t throw spelling and grammar out the window. Mistakes are fine; no one expects anyone to be perfect, but every mistake you don’t fix at first is a mistake you’re going to have to fix later. Get it out of the way while it’s fresh on your mind.
This goes along with step 2. I know that most people have families and jobs and pets and friends and bowling leagues and PTA meetings and, you know, a hundred other things which threaten to rob every second of every day. And let’s be honest, no reasonable individual would ask you to give those up. But stop and think really, really hard for a moment. Are you really sure that there’s not twenty minutes anywhere in your day where you aren’t doing something? Are you sure that you need to watch 2 hours of sportscenter, instead of an hour and a half? Do you really need to play that extra game of freecell or spend those twenty minutes surfing the web? That’s not to say that you don’t get down-time. Everyone needs it. But if you can’t find even a few minutes to squeeze writing in, then you’re just never going to make it, because you’re never going to produce anything, and that’s sorta the point. Figure out what your priorities are, figure out what your have-tos are, what your should-dos and your I’d-like-tos, and then see where there’s a gap in there. Stick writing in.
Goals make us feel like we’re accomplishing something. Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither was a novel. Somewhere at the beginning of the middle, it starts to look like the end will never come. Everything starts to lag, and there are suddenly new projects that occur to you which are shiny and new and don’t have these annoying plot holes or characters who aren’t moving the plot along as well as you thought they should. So start setting goals. For me, the present goal is 2800 words a day (which doesn’t sound like it should be that hard for me, but surprisingly is). Your goal can be whatever you want. A hundred words a day; a scene a day; a chapter a day; a my-god-I’m-going-to-get-this-character-from-A-to-B-tomorrow goal. Because no matter how small the goal, you’ll feel better once you’ve hit it. You’ll feel like you actually got something done. Even if it was only getting Bob onto a bus.
This one’s pretty logical, but I needed a sixth step. (9 Easy Steps just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) Rewards make people feel good. They’ll even make you feel good. They don’t have to be giant rewards. It can be something as simple as ‘write another 100 words and you can browse the web for 10 minutes’ (I’ve been using that one lately). It can be something bigger: “I’ll get that new playstation game if I can just finish this draft”. But a goal-and-reward system will get you through the days when even looking at the document seems too much of a struggle.
Stop. Go back, repeat steps one through seven, until you have a completed first draft. Only then should you continue.
This one also seems pretty logical, but sometimes it’s harder to do than it is to think about. I know that I always want to believe every word I write is awesome and will never need any changes. I want to believe it, though I know it’s not true. I make mistakes. In my WIP, one town abruptly changes its name from Newburg to Newtown because I couldn’t remember which I’d called it before and couldn’t be bothered to go back and look. And by the end, it’s Newburg again, for exactly the same reason.
This one also takes a long time. Times when you stare at a sentence and know there’s something wrong with it, but you don’t know what and can’t fix it. Times when you know that the third chapter is really the fifth chapter, but there’s no good way to integrate it into its proper place without rewriting chapters one, two, and seven. Times when the whole damn thing seems like it would be better suited in a burning fireplace than sitting on your computer. Those are the times when you step away and go play ball with your kid. Go for a run. Watch a really bad movie on late-night TV. Then come back, and try again. Repeat as necessary.
But don’t repeat forever. It’s never going to be perfect. There are never not going to be changes that could be made. Maybe they’d make it better. Maybe not. Write it until you’re proud of it, until it tells the story it was meant to tell and is as smoothly written as a book you’d pick up off a shelf. You might still cringe at the sight of it, but that’s only because you can see the stupid shitty flaws that no other normal human being would.
9. Don’t be dumb
Okay. So we’ve now got a shiny, polished novel. Sweet. By this point, you should probably have already written a query letter and a synopsis. As I’m still incapable of doing either of those things, it’s a dumb idea for me to give advice on them. There are lots of better places where you can find advice on that – I recommend google.
Speaking of that, now you need to figure out how to unleash this stellar piece of writing on the world. There are a bunch of ways of doing this. Self-publishing, small-press publishing, getting an agent, subbing to a big publishing house and hoping to get lucky, etc.
But don’t be dumb about it. Aim high. You’re proud of this thing you wrote, right? You put your time and sweat and mental energy into it, didn’t you? So do your research. This is one really, really bad time to be dumb. Don’t give someone money to be published – money flows to you, not the other way around.
And when you get rejected – by an agent or a publisher – as you almost certainly will, it’s okay to be sad. But don’t let it mean defeat. After ten rejections, it’s okay to be sad. If you’re getting form rejections, it might just be that you still have a sucky query. If they’re detailed, critique-y rejects, think about what’s being said and decide if things need to change in your story. It’s okay to admit that you were wrong and that someone else might be able to see the flaws.
Eventually, you’ll find an agent or a publisher; someone who is as much in love with the book as you are. Someone who will get it onto the shelves and get a nice check into your bank account. Then that day will come when you walk into a bookstore, walk down the aisles, and There It Is. Your Book. Right Next To All Those Other Books.
10. Rinse and repeat
Oh yeah. You’re going to have to do it all over again. Books don’t write themselves, you know.
Fine print: This method has not actually been tested all the way through, and so your results may vary. These steps will not guarantee that you become a Famous Published Author, or that you will even become a published author at all. See Ruminative Rant below to see just how full of shit I am.
(By the way, blogger says that this post is just shy of 2000 words, and was written in a bit under an hour, if we’re still keeping score. Are we?)