Ten Things I’ve Learned Working in Publishing

As some of you may already know, I am not a full-time blogger. I work in publishing as an editor, mainly for genre fiction. I’ve mentioned my work once or twice before but I haven’t really talked about it in detail, mainly because I’ve been too busy making fun of stuff. But not today! Whether you’re interested in becoming an author, an editor, or are just a bit curious about what working in publishing is actually like, here’s ten things I’ve learned from working as an editor.

 

  1. Books are a team effort

There are so many people involved in putting a book together. Aside from the author, you’ll also have an agent, an editor or two, a designer, a copyeditor, a typesetter, a proofreader, sales reps, marketing and publicity planners, rights salespeople, and production controllers working on the same book – and that’s all before it actually gets printed. It sounds daft saying it now but when I first started working in publishing I didn’t realise just how many people would be working on the same project. I guess that’s why acknowledgements get so long.

 

  1. The author has very little control over the process as a whole

When I first started working in publishing I had the idea that an author would have the final say on everything – they’d written the book, after all, so it seemed to make sense. In practice this isn’t really true unless you’re mega famous. An author might write the book but they have very little say on when the publication date will be, what the cover will look like, whether it’ll be hardback or paperback, whether it gets made into an audiobook or not – the list goes on.

This might seem unfair but most of the time this is because of the ‘team effort’ nature of publishing. When a designer draws up a cover, for instance, they do so with a cover brief written by the editor and with input from sales, marketing and publicity – this is to make sure that everyone working on the book has a rough idea of what other titles it’ll be competing against and to signal to readers what kind of book it’s going to be. The author has input at every stage of the process, but so does everyone else working on the book.

 

  1. Publishing houses run on tea

If you want to bring any given publisher to its knees, just steal their kettle. Editors must have constant access to hot drinks at all times and if we don’t, we turn into a gibbering mess.

giphy tea2
Shut up I NEED IT (image: giphy.com)

 

  1. Multiple rounds of edits are normal…

Any given manuscript will probably go through four or five rounds of editing before the book gets sent off to press. First, the agent will go through it, making suggestions before sending it on submission to editors. Once it’s been acquired there’ll be a couple of edits from the editor – a structural edit (which looks at the book as a wider whole, working out if the plot makes sense, your characters’ motivations are consistent etc.) and a line edit (which looks at sentence and paragraph-level stuff and focuses more on use of language). Then you have the copyedit, which looks for technical flaws – so spelling, grammar, syntax, consistency, and fact-checking – and after that, the proofread, which focuses more on typos, layout issues etc. The author gets to see these at every stage of the process, but it’s always important to bear in mind that once a publisher agrees to take your manuscript your work is a long way from done.

 

  1. …but the best edits are the ones you don’t notice

Don’t let the fact that your manuscript is going to go through multiple rounds of editing alarm you. A good editor isn’t going to change what you’ve written – it’s more about bringing out what’s already there. A huge part of the editing process is assessing the author’s style and making sure the editor’s involvement fits with that. It’s like with sewing – the best stitches are the ones that are the hardest to see.

giphy eh
So you’re all aware I’m using this comparison as someone who once sewed a cushion to her leg. (image: giphy.com)

 

  1. There is always cake

I have never worked in a snackier industry.

 

  1. Editors have the creepiest search history

A large part of editing is fact-checking. Every detail gets checked to make sure that it holds up – either according to the internal logic of the manuscript or according to real-world facts. The form this takes varies wildly according to genre – editing fantasy often requires a worldbuilding doc so you can make sure the magical elements make sense, whereas sci-fi requires a lot of calls to your science-iest friends. Crime editors are definitely the worst offenders here.

giphy villain
I’m going to make that pun and NONE OF YOU CAN STOP ME (image: giphy.com)

You have to check all the forensic stuff to make sure it’s accurate, as well as the parts of the actual crime, alongside checking the investigative stuff – which means that your search history can get frankly disgusting.

 

  1. It’s never a nine to five job

In theory most publishing houses keep office hours. In practice, what constitutes ‘work’ in publishing is often a weird grey area that almost never fits into a nine to five day. Editors often don’t have time to read submissions at their desks, so they have to take them home, and sometimes this can bleed over into actual editing work as well. Reading stuff that other publishers put out also kind of counts as work, because if you’re acquiring stuff you have to be aware of the competition, and going to events and ‘making connections’ can count as work too, as it’s a very social industry and you’re likely to do better if people know who you are.

The downside to all of this is that yes, while reading and going to parties can technically count as work, it’s usually not work you get paid for. You can find yourself in work mode for very long periods of time and it’s quite difficult to properly switch off. At every single one of my publishing jobs, I’ve known multiple editors who take their work on holiday with them, and that’s not good for anybody long-term.

 

  1. Your friends and family will get used to hearing some very unsettling questions

The following is a condensed version of a real conversation I had with my dad, who works in medicine:

 

Me: So Dad…

Dad: Yes, love?

Me: Hypothetically, if I wanted to keep a grown man unconscious for eighteen hours, how would I do it?

Dad: [very long pause]

Me: It’s for work.

 

I have lost track of the amount of times I have bombarded my friends and family with incredibly specific questions, most of which are invariably disgusting. But when you’re editing a manuscript and need to check a fact, the Internet doesn’t always have the answers. The best place to go is to people with practical experience, which is why everyone who knows me is constantly prepared to receive a barrage of weird texts at all times.

 

  1. No two days are the same 

Publishing is a very varied industry to work in. Some days you spend an entire eight hours on data entry, some days you spend working out if this murder makes sense, some days you try and get your head around the physics of space, and some days you will spend darting from one thing to the other like a literary butterfly. More than once I have had to fact-check a fight scene by going through the motions with a willing volunteer. You don’t really know what you’re going to get, but that’s all part of the fun.

giphy dance fight
Fun fact: it’s very easy for fight walkthroughs to turn into a dance party, or a game of Twister. (image: giphy.com)

 

And there you have it! That’s ten things I’ve learned from working in publishing. Hopefully that’ll give all you hopeful writers a peek behind the curtain and all you hopeful editors an idea of what you’re letting yourselves in for. Whichever one you are, make sure you bring tea. You’ll need it.

Advertisements

Game of Thrones: Ten Predictions for Season Eight

We interrupt your regular programming to GEEK OUT. No writing advice or musings this week – it’s time to get nerdy. The final season of Game of Thrones is coming up and just like with season seven, I’m going to have a stab at predicting what’s going to happen.

Let’s jump right in!

for-the-night-is-dark-and-full-of-spoilers
Just gonna leave the spoiler warning here. (image: memegenerator.com)

 

  1. Jon will sacrifice himself

I feel like this one doesn’t need much explaining, because Jon Snow – curly-haired darling of the North – is about two steps away from sacrificing himself at any given point. It’s kind of his thing. The show seems to be setting him up for an epic duel with the Night’s King, so I think that’s probably how he’s going to do it.

 

  1. Dany will go full Mad Queen

Quick recap for those of you that don’t have time for a binge-watch: Danaerys Targaryen is the daughter of the famed Mad King – an insane despot whose penchant for burning people alive eventually cost him his throne and the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty. Speaking of the rest of the Targaryens, they have a strong family history of mental instability, so there’s a decent chance that our girl Dany has inherited this too.

The show has been setting this up for a while now. Aside from the very regular reminders about how bad the Mad King was, several characters have openly discussed the possibility that Dany might follow in her father’s footsteps. As I said in my previous predictions post, the Mad King didn’t start out mad – just like Dany, he seemed brilliant at first, but then got worse as he got older and after a couple of key events pushed him over the edge. We’ve already seen Dany burn people alive – remember poor old Dickon –

giphy snigger
Heh heh heh. (image: giphy.com)

– and that was followed by a scene where Tyrion and Varys discussed Dany’s similarities to her father. She’s already found it much easier to just set people on fire than to resort to more conventional military strategies, so who’s to say that a serious setback – such as discovering that a certain broody Northerner actually has a better claim to the Targaryen throne than her – won’t send her down this path?

If that doesn’t convince you, then look at how Game of Thrones treats its characters’ overall story arcs. As a general rule of thumb, most of the characters start out wanting something, have a serious setback, and reassess their goals and dreams as a result. If they don’t have that moment, they’re usually the ones that get killed off – look at poor Robb Stark, for example. Dany hasn’t really experienced a moment like that, where she’s had to seriously question what she wants. She decided early on in the story that she was going to retake the Iron Throne and so far, everything she’s done to further that end has, by and large, worked. This makes me think that there’s a nasty twist planned for her story arc and that when it ends, Danaerys won’t be sitting on the Iron Throne.

 

  1. All of Dany’s dragons will end up dead

It’ll save money on CGI.

I’m kidding, but I do think that Drogon and Rhaegal are goners. Realistically, giving Dany two dragons (RIP Viserion) would make things too easy for her, so in order to keep the stakes balanced I don’t think Dany’s lizard-y friends are going to be around for that much longer. I expect they’ll come in handy in the battle against the White Walkers but I doubt they’ll survive it.

 

  1. Jaime will kill Cersei, then die

After the end of season seven, there’s a massive rift between Jaime and Cersei. She is staying in King’s Landing as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and he has betrayed her and gone to fight the undead – despite the fact that Cersei is pregnant with his baby. Regardless of that, I think that this split is going to end very badly for both of them.

This has its roots in both the show and the books – namely in the ‘valonquar’ prophecy that we geeks have been discussing for some time. To summarise: Maggy the Frog predicted that Cersei’s children would all die before her, and then she would be strangled by the ‘valonquar’ – which is High Valyrian for little brother. In the books, Cersei suspects Tyrion will play this role, which goes a long way to explaining their terrible relationship. However, as the eldest sibling, Cersei has two little brothers.

This would also tie into Jaime’s character arc too. Over the course of the show it’s become clear that Jaime is on a long and rather wobbly redemption arc. He started off as a fairly out-and-out villain, but as the series progressed he’s become a more complicated hero. Much has been made of his backstory, too, where it was revealed that his reputation as the Kingslayer only came about through necessity – if he hadn’t killed the Mad King, then the Mad King would have burned the capital city of King’s Landing, and everyone in it. However, he’s still done bad things, and when it’s all over I don’t think he’ll be waltzing off into the sunset for a happily ever after with Brienne.

tenor tormund
GET IN THERE TORMUND (image: tenor.com)

Cersei has already been giving off some pretty strong ‘Mad Queen’ vibes after indirectly causing her son’s death and blowing up part of her own city, so perhaps Jaime will find himself in the position of Kingslayer once again. The show really likes to remind us that Jaime and Cersei came into the world together – perhaps they’re going to leave it together too.

 

  1. Cleganebowl

I JUST WANT THEM TO FIGHT LET ME HAVE THIS

 

  1. Bran will possess a wight

This is actually one of my predictions from season seven, so I won’t go into too much detail – skip down to prediction number eight for the part where I show my working. I still think there’s a decent chance that this might happen, though, and not just because it’d look really cool. The show has gone to great pains to impress the extent of Bran’s powers onto the viewer, but we’ve yet to see him use them on a grand scale. If Bran can do this, he might be able to control multiple wights and turn them on the Night’s King’s own army – and that would just be sweet.

 

  1. The White Walkers will not be defeated – a truce will be necessary

The White Walkers and their army of wights are a massive threat. Even Dany’s three dragons could only put a dent in their army in season seven – and now, one of those dragons is all zombified. Add to that the fact that the Night’s King can resurrect the dead and turn them into his soldiers, and you’ve got a nigh-on unstoppable army. I don’t think one pitched battle is going to do it.

That’s not to say that the White Walkers are going to win, though – it’d be a really unsatisfying ending to the story. But the show has also made it clear that the White Walkers aren’t just mindless zombies. They are capable of wanting things and honouring agreements – just look at Craster sacrificing his sons to guarantee his own safety. There’s also more than a few hints that the Starks might have intermarried with the White Walkers at some point in the very distant past (check out this video if you want more detail on that). This is significant, because in Game of Thrones one of the surest ways to cement a truce is with a marriage.

Of course, none of this applies to the wights, who are mindless zombies that only the Walkers can control. But this ties into prediction one and my friend Claire’s theory – perhaps Jon will be the one to sacrifice himself so that this truce can happen and the Night’s King will retreat. Perhaps he’ll even become the new Night’s King. Who knows?

 

  1. Something will come out of the crypts at Winterfell

There’s been all sorts of hints in both the books and the show that the crypts at Winterfell contain hidden secrets. Parts of them are completely inaccessible and there’s all sorts of rumours about what could be hidden inside. I reckon this season, we’re going to find out, as so far the crypts have shown up in both the teaser and the show’s first official trailer.

I think this could go in two different ways. The first is that they find something in the crypts that will help the living – like dragon eggs, which were rumoured to be hidden there, or something that could be used to prove Jon’s true parentage. The second is that whatever’s down there will help the dead – whether that’s just something that the Night’s King wants or a spooky spooky monster that he’ll wake up.

 

  1. A beloved dead character will come back as a wight

This is exactly the sort of really nasty surprise which Game of Thrones just loves to spring on the viewers. Given that the Night’s King can resurrect the dead, I think we’ll definitely see a few familiar zombie faces when he descends on the living. My money is on Stannis or Hodor – not counting Viserion the dragon, of course.

 

  1. Samwell Tarly will survive and be revealed as ‘the author’ of the history of the series

I think this would be a really nice way to round off the series. We’ve already had a few scenes where it’s been hinted that Sam might record the events of Game of Thrones and it’d be a nice nod to Bilbo Baggins recording his own adventures at the end of The Hobbit. All Sam needs is a catchy title…

GoT book set
HMMM WHAT COULD THAT BE (image: theworks.com)

 

And now, just to make things interesting…

WILD CARD: The Starks will be remembered as the villains in years to come

Let’s lay out the facts here:

  • Ned Stark: Started the War of the Five Kings by meddling in Robert Baratheon’s succession. Revealing Cersei’s incest wasn’t a bad thing, but if he’d acted quickly and decisively he might have a) survived and b) overseen a smooth transition of power rather than sparking off a civil war.
  • Catelyn Stark: Made the War of the Five Kings worse by a) capturing Tyrion Lannister and b) letting Jaime Lannister go, which eventually led to the decimation of the North’s fighting men.
  • Robb Stark: Fought a protracted war in the Riverlands, laying waste to a vast swathe of the realm when they should have been preparing for winter. People starved because of his actions. Also broke his oath, which is not a good thing in Westeros
  • Sansa Stark: Largely seen as King Joffrey’s ‘poisoner’ after the Purple Wedding. Covered up her involvement in the murder of her aunt. Had her uncle by marriage executed in front of everyone, with no real evidence to back up her charges. (He deserved it though.)
  • Arya Stark: HOO BOY. Literal assassin. Wiped out an entire house (who also kind of deserved it). Carries around a bag of dead people’s magic faces. I MEAN.
  • Bran Stark: Terrifying mind powers. Literally drove the person he depends on mad through time and space (RIP Hodor). Can totally possess people, animals, and hopefully also zombies. Supervillain in the making.
  • Rickon Stark: …okay fine.
Screen-Shot-2017-09-03-at-11.37.43-AM
The rest of you are NOT OFF THE HOOK (image: fanfest.com)

When you look at what the Starks have done it’s clear that they’ve been making some pretty bad decisions – both for themselves and for the people they rule. They have basically spent the series creating a bunch of really messy drama which has distracted everybody from the much more important task at hand – preparing for winter and the coming of the White Walkers. Under their leadership, the North lost the vast majority of its fighting men, the Riverlands were all but destroyed, two noble houses (who sort of deserved it) have been completely wiped out, the Night’s Watch was deprived of men and supplies, and a massive civil war has wrecked the country. Now the North is facing the worst winter it’s ever seen and nobody is prepared for it, and this is directly because the Starks weren’t there. I expect that how the Starks get remembered will depend on what they do in this final season, but I doubt they’ll be remembered kindly.

 

And there you have it! My ten best guesses for what’ll happen on the next season of Game of Thrones, plus one rubbish guess thrown in. Let’s see how this plays out.

Everyone’s a Critic: How to Take and Apply Useful Criticism

I believe in two things: that Sour Cream and Onion is the best flavour of Pringles and that constructive criticism is the most useful thing a writer can receive. I will go to the barricades for both of these opinions but for now, let’s put the crisps aside.

tenor crisps
Haha I’m NEVER letting go of those bad boys (image: tenor.com)

There comes a point in every writer’s trajectory where you want to start sharing your work with other people. People reach this point in a variety of different ways – you might have some nagging doubts, or you might be considering sending something out on submission, or you might just want an objective opinion – but sooner or later everyone ends up getting there. But when it’s time to start asking other people what they think of your work, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. Let’s face it, it’s not usually a nice experience to send something out into the world and have a bunch of people tell you that it’s not working. It can be a real blow to a fledgling writer’s confidence. But there’s nothing like good criticism for improving your technical skills as a writer – it all depends on how you apply it.

GOOD THING I’M HERE TO TELL YOU HOW TO DO THAT, RIGHT GUYS???

The first thing to clarify is what counts as good (i.e. helpful) criticism and what doesn’t. Not all types of criticism are helpful, and it’s important to learn which criticism you should pay attention to and which criticism you can ignore. Everybody is going to have an opinion about the things you write, but you won’t be able to turn everybody’s opinion into a teachable moment.

giphy teacher
Just look at how much energy that takes. (image: giphy.com)

The basic rule of thumb I use is that the more detail, the better. Look at it like this: if somebody tells you that they thought your story was great, what has that actually told you about the way that you write? They enjoyed it, and maybe it’s boosted your confidence, but could you identify your strengths as a writer from that comment alone? No. Whereas if somebody told you that they were really invested in the relationship between two characters, or they really thought your final confrontation scene was really exciting, that tells you a lot more – you’ve identified two different parts of your writing that other people think you’re good at.

This is really important for negative criticism, too. Anyone who says “yeah, this was rubbish” isn’t going to be able to help you grow as a writer. However, people who take the time to break down the parts of your writing that aren’t working – even if it’s just identifying them by name and not going into further detail – are going to be much more useful. Basically, if you can find a critiquing partner who is willing to use the PEE method (that’s Point, Evidence, Explanation, what did you think it was) then they’re gold dust and you should treasure them forever.

Even more important is getting yourself into the right frame of mind to receive criticism. The first thing you have to accept is that if you put stuff out into the real world – whether that’s asking your friends to read through a manuscript, putting your fanfiction online, or actually starting the process of getting your book published – then you have to confront the possibility that not everyone is going to like it. People have a right to share their opinions, after all – it’s a big part of the literary tradition.

There’s two things you need to do here. The first: brace yourself. I’ve never met a writer who has only ever received positive feedback and I work in publishing, so I talk to writers pretty much every day. You’re going to hear some stuff which might knock your confidence, and even if it’s the helpful criticism I discussed above it still might hurt to hear it. With this in mind, it’s important to remember that good criticism is not an attack – and interestingly, this can apply to some really hilarious literary reviews as well. Scathing put-downs are meant for the reader, not the writer, so try not to take these to heart. Even with your loins successfully girded, it can still be pretty disheartening, so just remember that it’s completely OK to put off reading criticism of your stuff if you feel you aren’t in the right frame of mind to hear it. You’ll have to pay attention to it eventually, so don’t put it off forever, but if you’ve had a bad day it’s completely fine to just mooch about with a cup of tea instead of listening to someone list all the ways you’re doing it wrong. If you feel you don’t have the energy to stop yourself getting resentful, maybe just have a quick nap instead.

giphy dont wanna
It’s the modern way. (image: giphy.com)

The second thing you need to accept is this: you can’t please everybody. It is quite literally impossible to write a book that everyone and their mother is going to love. People have different tastes, different expectations, and what will work for one audience will not work for another. That’s completely fine. Most audiences – whether they’re readers, moviegoers or telly-watchers – can usually pick up on pandering, and you don’t want people to come away from your book feeling like it’s been designed by committee. Keep an open mind to what people are saying, sure, but you have to accept that you can’t please everyone. It’d be exhausting.

So. You have successfully sorted the helpful criticism from the kinds you can ignore. Your mind is open, your loins are girded, and you have listened to the criticism you have received. How, then, do you apply it?

The first thing I always do is to go over the criticism again and try and see where it’s come from. Are there any points in the story that I can think of (just off the top of my head) where I could see this criticism applying? Most of the time, the answer’s yes. Then, I go through the whole story again, bearing the criticism in mind, and see if I can identify a few more places where the criticism is justified. The important thing is to look at your work with an objective eye – you’ve got to see what’s actually there, rather than what you hoped you’d written down. If you can put some time between finishing your first draft and your critical read-through, this will really help.

DGEoPl3
OK not that long. (image: imgur.com)

The next step is to consider the type of criticism you’ve received. Different problems require different solutions, and writing advice is no exception. There’s a few broad areas that keep popping up in most writing advice, and they all need to be fixed in different ways:

  • Setting: If your critiquing partner is telling you your setting isn’t working there’s two things you can do: background research and working it into the story. It’s important to bear in mind that setting isn’t just a description of the scenery – it’s food, it’s clothing, it’s speech patterns, it’s jobs. It’s everywhere. For example, if your characters are having a scene in a mine, you should know what is being mined, who did the mining, whether it’s still being used, how many people are working there. How many details you work into the story is up to you, but you need to know the answers to these questions even if you don’t spell it out for the reader.
  • Plot holes: Every editor’s nightmare. If your critiquing partner has found a plot hole then you need to patch it up. Depending on the size and seriousness of the plot hole you may want to rewrite sections completely, but I’d only recommend this if you’ve got a plot hole that completely wrecks the internal logic of your story. If you don’t agree that it is a plot hole, that’s fine, but you need to make sure that comes across to the reader. Even if you have an airtight justification and it makes total sense to you, you have to make sure that’s clear.
  • Characters: If your critiquing partner is telling you that your characters aren’t believable you’ve got a serious problem. Most readers will accept outlandish situations if characters react to them in believable ways, but if they don’t, then suspension of disbelief goes right out the window. There’s two broad-strokes ways to fix this: background information (that, like with settings, doesn’t always need to be conveyed to the reader) and keeping them consistent. Always bear their motivations in mind and make sure they match up to their actions, and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Pacing: This is making sure that your story moves along at the right speed at the right moments. Make sure background information is being delivered at the right time – you shouldn’t be giving your reader a bunch of basic background information about a character right before the big climax, for example. Look at sentence length and structure, keep an eye on what information is being conveyed, and you’ll soon be able to spot the parts where you’re going wrong.
  • Beginnings and endings: The alpha and omega of writing criticism – literally, because I make great They’re some of the most important parts of a story: your beginning draws the reader in, and your ending sends them on their way. Both should be memorable in different ways. There’s a few different things to bear in mind here, such as genre conventions, pacing, and character arcs, so it can be quite tricky to get these right.

Fortunately, there’s loads of very detailed online resources to help you get the tools you need to fix any issues with your writing. I’ve even done a few blog posts on some of these myself, but even though my writing advice is obviously the bestest and most attractive writing advice, I’d recommend casting your net a little wider and looking at a wide range of resources. Here’s a few I’ve used in the past:

Online resources aren’t going to cut it on their own, though. I’ve very rarely found a blog post that I can read that will magically turn me into a better writer (and I definitely haven’t written one). This is where writing exercises come in. If your critiquing partner has identified a few consistent weak spots, such as setting or character, then try a couple of short writing exercises that focus on these. It can be helpful to try working on something completely new  when you’re trying to work on your weaknesses as a writer. It’s like warming up before a big sports thing – you need to make sure all the right muscles have been loosened up before you really go for it.

A much more fun way of working on your weak spots is to read stuff by writers who make them their strengths, and see if you can spot them in action. If you have trouble with believable worldbuilding, why not read some Tolkien? If you have trouble with providing a satisfying end to your detective story, why not read some Conan Doyle or Christie? As you read, try and identify the parts where your chosen writer is showing off their skills – there’s nothing like a masterclass to show you how it’s done.

It’s a lot of stuff. Brushing up on your weaknesses as a writer can be very time-consuming, but it’s time well spent. When you’ve done all your writing exercises, read around your weaknesses and used all the resources you can shake a stick at, you’ll have a much stronger grasp of what you need to do to make your writing work. Come back to your original project when you feel like you have a stronger grasp on what you need to improve on, and you’ll smash it.

Criticism can be very hard to hear. But sometimes the most difficult writing advice is the one you need to hear the most. If you have a critiquing partner whose advice you trust and you keep an open mind, it can be one of the best things you can receive as a writer. With a little time and effort spent working on your weaknesses, good criticism can completely transform the way you work as a writer. You’ll never be able to please everyone, of course, but you’ll have improved your skills – and that in itself is valuable.

giphy pup
And with the Learning Puppy’s blessing, you may go forth into the world and write. (image: giphy.com)

Write What You Know: How to Research for a Book

There’s an old saying that you should write what you know. This is kind of true – or rather, it’s true that you should know about what you write. Readers can always tell when a writer isn’t familiar with what they’re writing about, and if something doesn’t feel authentic then it can turn a lot of people off your work very quickly.

However, this doesn’t mean that everything you write should be a thinly-veiled autobiography. If everyone did that, most books would be about people sitting down trying to decide where to put the commas. All it means is that before you start to write, you should make sure you know about your subject.

THAT’S RIGHT GUYS IT’S RESEARCH TIME

tumblr_lys9mns8ew1qf5do9o1_400
WOO YEAH (image: tumblr.com)

Sitting down to research a book can feel like a very daunting task. If you think about it in the abstract it can start to feel much bigger than it really is, and it can be quite difficult to know where to start. However, it doesn’t have to be.

The best way to work out what you’re going to need to know is to look at your idea in more detail. Your story is going to dictate what you need to know in order to write it well, so before you start plan things out about your plot, your setting, and your characters to help you identify where to start. Your research will shape this in turn, and you may find a few of these details change along the way, but that’s just going to make the story feel more believable as a whole.

A couple of things are always going to be important: character details and setting always need to be authentic, otherwise people won’t believe what you’ve written. If your character has a certain job, then you are going to need to know how having that job affects them – particularly if it’s something intense like a doctor or a policeman or whatever. The same goes for setting, even if it’s completely fictional – even fantasy societies still need things like food and clothes to keep them running, and you are going to need to know how that society produces them.

But the genre of your story is going to affect the knowledge you need to write it well too. For example, hard sci-fi usually needs a good working knowledge of physics, technology and other scientific concepts, and if you don’t understand that when you write then all your fictional technology is going to feel a little hollow. You want your fictional spaceship or time machine or whatever to feel real – not like a cardboard box painted silver that occasionally goes ‘bleep bloop’.

giphy dino
Such realism! (image: giphy.com)

How much this technical knowledge shows up in the book is also going to depend on the genre. To go back to the previous example – in hard sci-fi, where the focus is on how the science is possible, your reader is going to expect a certain amount of technical knowledge from the off. In this particular subgenre, the science takes an important role. But for something like space opera, where the focus is more on the stories that play out, you aren’t actually going to need to explain the physics of how the technology works. In this case, broad strokes work a lot better than fine detail. It’s enough to know that it’s there and that it works in certain conditions – your readers aren’t going to expect you to get down to the physics of it. Likewise, if you’re writing a police procedural you should be reasonably aware of what it’s like to be a police offer – which covers all sorts of things including standard procedure, forensic science and the limits of police powers in wherever your story is set. But if you’re writing an amateur detective story, you won’t need to know all that, although you will need to know the basics of forensic science to make it credible.

But once you’ve decided what you need to know, what’s the best way to find it out?

Fortunately, the Internet.

1_1a5gjernvudtlyayq1tbqg
Blog post over, everyone go home. (image: medium.com)

It’s a godsend. The Internet is an excellent place to start, but as always, take what you read with a pinch of salt. As a general rule of thumb, if the site you’re referencing lists its sources and they seem legit, then it’s probably fine for you to use it. But there’s lots of other ways to find what you need as well:

  • Libraries and archives: Extremely reliable for anyone writing historical fiction, particularly anything that’s not set in the most popular historical periods (Ancient Rome, Tudors, Regency/Victorian England, and World War Two). Comes with the added bonus of lovely archivists and librarians who will answer your questions, or at least point you in the right direction. Also, sometimes they have cafes.
  • Field trips: Very useful if you are writing something that’s set in or inspired by a place where you haven’t been before, as you’ll pick up on a lot of really small details that don’t always get written about. Also you’ll get to eat lots of interesting new food. It’s not the most affordable option, however, so if that’s out of your budget I’d recommend reading through as many travel books as you can get your hands on and killing some time on Google Street View.
  • Similar fiction: This one’s great, because what do writers love more than reading? Reading well-researched fiction that draws on similar concepts to your own idea is a great way to get into the right mindset, but make sure you steer well clear of any plagiarism. Always make sure to pay attention to the endmatter, as sometimes authors will list the research books they used there, which is always helpful.
  • Speaking to people: My least favourite research tool, because it means I have to change out of my PJs, but by far one of the best. Nobody can give you better info about something than someone who’s lived through it. They’ll be able to tell you details which you might have never even thought of, so if you get the opportunity to actually chat to someone about your chosen topic, grab it with both hands. Don’t grab them though.
tumblr_nirmnzjByw1tv1iqko1_250
You must reach Santiago levels. (image: tumblr.com)

Basically, there’s loads of different places to find the information you need to make your book good and it’s not all online. There’s only one golden rule, and it is this: never rely on only one source. You wouldn’t do it for an essay, so don’t do it here.

So you’ve found out what you need to know and you’ve hit the books. Congrats on becoming best pals with all the librarians, but what do you do next? What is the most useful way of getting this information across?

Most of the research that you’ve done probably won’t make it into the final book. It’s like an iceberg – 90% of it is below the surface. So while you’ve got extensive notes and long lists of facts, your next task should be to pick out which are the ones you’re going to use. Certain basics are always going to be in there – such as food, clothing, transportation etc. – and getting these little details right is going to make your work feel a lot more authentic. If you’re writing historical fiction, for example, it’d feel a lot more authentic to get the characters’ clothes and food right than to have them stand around talking about relevant historical events. You might have researched every detail of the Battle of Hastings down to the minute, but if your characters are looking forward to a lovely baked potato when it’s all over, anyone who knows the first thing about history is going to think you’re an idiot.

peinture-g-v-honthorst-original-gf
Historians will put on their feathery hats and laugh and laugh. (image: pirates-corsaires.com)

Once you’ve done your research, it can be very tempting to wedge it all into your manuscript. After all, you’ve done all that work, and it’s nice to have it recognised. However, I don’t think this is usually a good thing. Of course there are certain times in any novel where you do need to impart facts to your reader – any type of hard sci-fi, for instance – but for me, I think the better way of doing it is to use the facts to create a feeling of authenticity. When your research informs your writing rather than dominating it, it feels genuine without being dry. It’s like a really good bra: most of the stuff it does is structural support, it makes you feel more confident, and you don’t have to show it if you don’t want someone else to see it.

I always think that research is an important skill for any writer to have. ‘Write what you know’ is good advice, yes, but if you followed it to the letter you’d end up writing the same things again and again. Don’t let the idea of it put you off – if you work out what you need before you start, and don’t put it all into your finished manuscript, it’ll be one of the most valuable tools you have.

Time to hit the books!

And They All Lived Happily Ever After: The Art of a Good Ending

There’s nothing quite like a good ending. It can be one of the most satisfying parts of a story, but it’s also one of the most difficult things to get right. It can make or break a story. I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen where I’ve come away thinking ‘it was all fine, up until the ending’.

So how do you get it right?

giphy shrug house
I mean, I could just end this blog post here. (image: giphy.com)

First, I think it’s important to consider the kind of things people expect from an ending. There’s a handful of things that keep popping up regardless of the type of story they’re in: the resolution of character arcs, the final confrontation, the big reveal. They don’t always have to be big, world-changing things, but the events of the story have to come to a head in some way. A good ending will have been building up naturally through the course of the story, thereby building anticipation for the climax throughout the plot. This can be obvious – for example, everybody knew that the Harry Potter series would end with Harry fighting Voldemort – or more subtle, like in murder mysteries where the clues are spread throughout the story but only brought together at the end.

Of course, some types of stories lend themselves to certain kinds of endings. This largely comes down to genre or structure. In a romance story, for example, people will expect the couple to get together at the end, whereas in a murder mystery, people will expect the case to be solved. Equally, if you use any kind of numerical structuring device to tell your story – for example, getting three wishes, spending seven years at a magical boarding school, or having to complete a task in a certain time limit – then people are going to expect the story to end when the last wish is made, or in the final five minutes of your deadline.

giphy typing
Just like writing my essays. (image: giphy.com)

Having these kinds of expectations can be really helpful as a writer. It’s a good framework to build your story around, and can help with both the pacing and plotting of the story as a whole as well as the ending. If your story ends with the couple getting together, then that dictates the shape of the rest of your story – as readers, we have to see them reach that point. A ‘ticking clock’ is also a really useful structural device: as well as providing a race-against-time ending, it also helps you build tension throughout the whole story. These two types of expectations tend to merge in crime novels. The conventions of the genre dictate that the murderer must be revealed at the end, and this affects the structure of the book. A good crime author will have planted the clues as to who the real murderer is throughout the book, but will have mixed them in with so many red herrings that the reveal is still a surprise.

It goes without saying that this is hella difficult.

Having these kinds of expectations about the way a story is going to end is something of a double-edged sword. It makes it easier for the writer to know where their story needs to go in order to reach that point, but readers are also aware of those expectations. It’s extremely hard to hit all the points you need without making a story seem formulaic. In some genres, readers are so aware of the conventions that it affects the way they view the story. The most obvious example of this is in murder-mystery novels. The first law of mystery novels is that it’s never the official suspect. Even if you build a strong case for that character being the murderer as a writer, the reader will discount them automatically because everyone is so aware of the genre.

butler
I did a blog post about this and everything. (image: rainybayart.com)

Of course, this can lead to a lot of fun too. Subverting readers’ expectations can be really fun, both as a writer and a reader. But it’s extremely difficult to pull this off and still have a satisfying ending. If you wrote a murder mystery where the murderer was never caught or discovered by anyone, you’d have a very tough time making sure that this was presented in a way that left the reader feeling satisfied when they turned the final page. The proof is in the pudding – if you can pull it off, it’ll work, but if you can’t, then you’re going to have some really irritated readers on your hands.

But what do you do when you’re writing something that doesn’t have an easy ending? While there are some stories that lend themselves to ending in a certain way, there are plenty of others that don’t. Your protagonist might have defeated their nemesis and completed their quest, but is that really the end of their story? Where do you draw the line?

For me, it’s just as important for a writer to know when to end a story as to know how to end a story. There’s been a real case of sequel-itis in the stories we tell each other lately, and it’s really driving me nuts. You’ll read a book or watch a movie with a really satisfying ending, and six months later a sequel is announced.

giphy restraint
I am trying so hard not to throw some very specific shade. (image: giphy.com)

I get the appeal of this from an authorial standpoint, but I have to say I can’t really think many times where this has actually worked. If an author has put a lot of time and effort into creating a world that they really love, of course they’d want to come back to it. A lot of writers will leave ‘back doors’ into their work – little plot threads that haven’t quite been resolved, just in case they want to come back to them in a fresh book. Sometimes, this can work really well, but it’s sad to say that most of the time it doesn’t. Continuing a story after you’ve properly written an ending is difficult, and sometimes it can undermine what has already gone before. If you story originally ended with your characters saving the world, anything they do after that is going to seem like a bit of an anti-climax. If you make them save the world again, it cheapens their efforts in the original story – an apocalypse should only come around the once if you want it to retain its dramatic effect. It can be really difficult to set something aside, but it’s far better to do that and write a really good ending than to just keep going until people lose interest.

Endings are hard. They’re something that a writer needs to consider in multiple different ways. Long before you pick up your pen, you should know how the story is going to end. You should also consider how people are going to expect the story to end, and decide whether you want to play up to those expectations or not. But the most important thing is that once you’ve decided on your ending, stick to it. Commit. A good ending will be building up all the way through a story, and carrying on after it’s finished will only cheapen it. It’s far better to go out with a bang than a whimper.

giphy explosion
Heh heh heh. (image: giphy.com)

And that’s it for 2018! No more blog posts until the New Year. I’ll be back in January with a bunch more opinions – see you then!

Sherlock vs Dracula: How Characters outlive their Creators

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a series runs for long enough, sooner or later the protagonists will end up fighting Dracula.

No, really. There’s a TV Tropes page about it.

There’s some characters that just pop up everywhere. These are the characters that are so embedded in the popular consciousness that, like Madonna, you only need one word to remember them by: Sherlock, Bond, Dracula. They’re giants. Their names are so well-known that just to say it conveys everything – their personality, their appearance, their genre. They’ve continued to be popular long after they were originally conceived of – and, in some cases, over a century after the author’s death.

But why is this? What exactly is it that makes some characters last for hundreds of years, and some get forgotten within a decade or so? There’s plenty of fictional characters that stick in the mind, but why is it that only a handful of these keep popping up again and again?

Let’s find out, shall we?

tumblr_lys9mns8ew1qf5do9o1_400
WOO YEAH (image: tumblr.com)

The one thing that characters like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Dracula have in common is that they’ve become archetypes. When you say ‘detective’, you might picture a guy in a deerstalker; when you say ‘spy’, you might picture a suave and besuited man with a predilection for explosions and shiny cars. Even though these characters were originally written just like any other, they have come to represent something much bigger than themselves.

This is really unusual. Archetypes are usually much more broadly-sketched – they don’t always have names attached (looking at you, ‘damsel in distress’) and they tend to represent characters in certain situations, rather than actual personalities. These are the kinds of characters that you find in fairy tales, myths and legends: in stories where it’s not always the character themselves which is important, but what they’re doing and what they represent. Fiction has, of course, moved on since fairy tales were originally conceived of, which is why it’s so unusual that characters with distinct personalities and development have been able to join this pantheon of clichés.

This is what happens when you write a really genre-defining character. When those kind of characters are written, they are not the only things being put on paper – what also gets written down are the things that eventually become the clichés that other writers will depend on. Everything that comes after these characters is, to a certain extent, a response to them. You can’t write a spy novel without people inevitably comparing it to Bond; you can’t write about vampires without the shadow of Dracula looming across the page.

nosferatu-shadow-300x232
Much like this, actually. (image: blogs.exeter.ac.uk)

Let’s look at some examples. How many detectives can you think of who are described as ‘eccentrics’, who immerse themselves in their cases so completely that it eclipses everything else in their lives? That’s Holmes. How many spies can you think of with neat little gadgets, bevies of beautiful women in their contacts list and at least three international trips per book? That’s Bond. How many vampires can you think of who swan about in evening dress, with dark hair, pale skin and a tendency to go after young women? That’s Dracula. These were originally features of particular characters, but now these characters have become so widely-known that these traits have come to define the archetypes themselves. Of course, writers can choose to deliberately leave all of these things out – that’s where we see gritty, violent spy movies, or vampire stories were the undead schlub about in jeans and T-shirts – but that heavy-handed rejection of the archetype just makes you more aware of it. When you consume these types of stories, you’re constantly being reminded that these vampires aren’t like the ones you know, or that this spy movie is nothing like the slick, suave espionage thriller you usually get. It’s like ‘Not Like Other Girls’ all over again – something like that doesn’t work unless you know what ‘Other Girls’ are supposed to be.

Characters become archetypes when they step outside the bounds of what their authors originally wrote. A certain amount of ‘placelessness’ makes this process easier. You can put Sherlock Holmes anywhere in the world – the focus of his stories are the cases he solves, and these can happen anywhere. James Bond can go anywhere he likes too – he goes where the danger is, and that can be anywhere. Similarly, Dracula can go anywhere too (although he always comes from Transylvania) – all you really need for him to work as a character is a few blacked-out windows and a steady supply of necks to nom on and before you know it he’ll be flapping through every open window and buying up all your evening wear.

f053836b3c0afd4412f405327f43dc8a
Fun fact: all of those drawers are filled with cufflinks. (image: pinterest.com)

But to a certain extent, this needs to be possible for their characters too. It can only go so far, otherwise it ends up becoming the rejection of the archetype I described above, but a certain amount of wiggle room is necessary. In the original novel, Dracula started out as an old man with hairy palms – now, he’s being played by Luke Evans. He’s become a spooky sex symbol, which is really not what you’d expect to see if you read the description of the horrible moustache he has in the book. Likewise James Bond, once so typically stiff-upper-lip, has been increasingly portrayed as suffering from PTSD. The core elements of their characters are still there – Dracula is still sinister, Bond still blows things up for Queen and Country – but the way in which we view these things has changed. Dracula is still evil, but he’s been allowed to ramp up the charm as people stopped putting so much faith in the restrictive morality that is set against him. Bond still does his duty, but we see the toll this takes.

This is where adaptations come in.

giphy unicorn money
Holla holla get that dollar. (image: giphy.com)

Everyone’s been getting a bit sick of adaptations lately, what with all the constant remakes we seem to be getting, but adaptations are one of the main things that help characters outlive their creators. Characters and stories only survive if they retain the public’s interest, and if they lose it, they get forgotten. Adaptation plays a huge role in helping to avoid that. Characters and their stories are updated for a new era, or brought to new audiences via a new medium. Being able to transcend one type of storytelling is part of the reason why these characters have lasted for so long – they’re accessible to a wider range of people and they stay stuck in the collective cultural consciousness for longer.

Let’s look at a couple of examples here. We’ll start with Dracula. He first appeared in the 1897 novel, which was rapidly turned into a play (which by all accounts, wasn’t very good). Then Stoker died, and Dracula appeared again in a collection of short stories, then in Nosferatu (which was rapidly hit with many a lawsuit, hence the vampire’s hasty name-change to Count Orlok), then another play, then several more films which may or may not have existed, then the 1931 movie with Bela Lugosi (which was actually an adaptation of the second play, which also starred Bela Lugosi), then several more Universal movies, then several Hammer movies with Christopher Lee, then more movies, then more plays, then a musical, an opera and a ballet and I haven’t even mentioned the TV shows, anime, manga, games, radio plays, cartoons and many a novel that have updated the original story since its publication.

My point is: it’s a lot. But it’s this kind of scatter-gun approach to adaptations that have made characters like Dracula stick in the mind. You can’t forget him, because he’s everywhere.

16cten
I mean, yes. (image: imgur.com)

A large part of why this was possible in the first place is because of the time in which these characters were conceived. Sherlock and Dracula had their first appearances in literary works of the late nineteenth century. These characters have had time to disseminate through the popular consciousness and really burrow their way in. A certain amount of time is necessary to see if something’s going to last.

It’s also worth mentioning that for these two particular examples, part of the reason why they ended up being adapted to Hell and back is because both Sherlock and Dracula are in a slightly unique position with regards to copyright laws. In the case of Dracula, Bram Stoker didn’t fully comply with American copyright registration laws and made a mistake on his application – therefore Dracula wasn’t subject to normal term of copyright laws and was public domain in the US. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, there was a bit of a legal grey area about whether the author’s estate had copyright over the character of Holmes or just the copyright to the stories in which he appeared. It’s pretty complicated and I can’t say I understand it well, but I’m pretty sure that without this wobblyness around the copyright, we definitely wouldn’t have had all the adaptations that brought these characters into the popular consciousness.

Of course, these days copyright and intellectual property laws have been tightened up like nobody’s business – that sort of thing can’t happen again quite so easily. The spread of characters happens a lot faster now, too. Thanks to social media it’s easier to generate a buzz about a new character or story – before Twitter, this could’ve taken years, but now it takes minutes. But whether this will stand the test of time remains to be seen. There’s so much information out there that it’s difficult to say which characters are going to last and which are a flash in the pan. If I had to pick one, my money’s on Harry Potter, but even that’s not certain. It’s impossible to tell what will be able to transcend its original story and the author’s lifetime – despite its popularity, we may find that Harry Potter is just too tied into a specific place and time to properly last in the way that Sherlock and Dracula have done. Perhaps the same will be true for all modern characters, as storytelling has evolved to the point where fixing a story in a time and place – or fixing a character with very specific situational responses and traits – is generally seen as being a mark of what makes a book good. Who knows?

giphy shrug js
Don’t ask me please please PLEASE (image: giphy.com)

There’s all sorts of things that lead to characters outliving their creators and unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that can replicate that kind of success. I’ve tried my best to sketch out the boundaries but frankly, there’s no way of knowing which characters will stand the test of time. You could write a memorable character that could easily get transferred into a range of different situations and still not come up with the next Dracula. All authors can really do is write a character they feel passionate about and see what happens. (And lock that copyright down.)

Who knows where it’ll take you?

November is Coming: How to Survive NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us. Forget Halloween, this is what autumn is really all about: finding an excuse to sit indoors under layers and layers of blankets.

giphy blanket
I cannot create unless I am cosy. (image: giphy.com)

But let’s be real. NaNoWriMo can be a pretty daunting task. The goal is to write a fifty-thousand word novel in thirty days. Fifty thousand. That totals out at roughly one thousand six hundred words per day, and the worst part is that you’ve got to make sure that they’re actually good rather than just stringing lists of adjectives together. It’s pretty intimidating, especially if you know one of those people who insists on comparing word counts.

Fortunately for you guys, I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times before and have picked up a few tips that might make things easier:

 

  1. Plan beforehand, and only beforehand

Trying to write roughly 1,600 words a day is going to be difficult. It’s a lot of words to get down in one go, particularly if you’ve only got one time window to do it in. But if you don’t know what you’re going to write it’s going to be twice as hard to actually get it on paper because you’ll be working out what you want to say as well as how you want to say it.

This is where your plan comes in. I’d recommend starting this a week or so before NaNoWriMo, assuming you’ve already had the vague idea of what you want your story to be about. Start plotting things out in more detail, including character and setting. If you do it every day, this can also help you get into the rhythm of regular writing. But when you start writing, stop planning. It’s easy to wind up with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the plot of your novel and no actual text, so don’t rely on this too much.

 

  1. Start your research in October

November is for writing. If you’re writing something which is going to require any kind of research, start it a couple of weeks before you’re going to write. Read as much as you can and get comfortable with the details before you launch into your novel. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been plodding along with a paragraph when suddenly, I’ll go “Wait, when were pyjamas invented?” and it’s off down the rabbit hole I go. If you’re writing anything historical, I’d recommend starting even earlier, but this blog post is going up with less than two weeks until November so NEVER MIND YOU’LL BE FINE.

 

  1. Writing nine to five

WHAT A WAY TO MAKE A LIVIN’

No, seriously. It’d be great. But unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have all that time just for writing. Just because you’re writing a book doesn’t mean the world will stop and wait for you to finish it. Realistically, you’re going to have to look at your schedule and try and work out when you’re actually going to have time to write. I’d recommend trying to find an hour each day, either in one go or in short chunks. Be a little flexible – if weekends are always really busy for you, try and find some time on weekday evenings. If you commute on public transport, consider taking a notebook with you and working there. See what works for you!

 

  1. Just do it

When it comes to November the first, just start. There’s nothing more intimidating for a writer than a blank page. It can take hours to come up with a first line (mainly due to all those writing advice blogs which tell you to make sure you have a good first line). But you don’t have time to dither – you’ve got a fifty-thousand-word mountain to climb. Just start, and worry about whether it’s any good later. That’s what the second draft is for.

 

  1. Get on with it

Sometimes, inspiration does strike. Sometimes your synapses are flashing, your neurons are firing and an idea comes into your head like a beautiful sunrise. You seize your pen, your notebook, your laptop and don’t look up for hours – for you, dear author, are inspired.

Ninety percent of the time, that won’t happen.

There are going to be days when you just don’t wanna. You’ll be tired. You’ll get home late. You’ll have a bad day and want to spend your writing time curled around a hot water bottle in front of the telly. But when you’re writing to targets and deadlines, sometimes you’re just going to have to make yourself do it. You have to –

– yes, exactly.

 

  1. Just keep swimming

Resist the temptation to go back and rewrite what you’ve already done. Focus instead on progressing through the narrative and get your key plot points down. This is where your plan can really come in handy (although hopefully having a plan will have helped you thrash out any potential plot holes). If you’re having some doubts about something you’ve already written, make a notes section in your plan and add them to that. That way you’ve kept a record of your ideas and you can keep going without needing to slow down. You can always go back and redraft when NaNoWriMo is over.

 

  1. Keep an eye on your daily totals, but don’t stick to them

There are special NaNoWriMo calendars you can find where the ideal word count for each day is written on them. They measure out the month in chunks of 1,667 words and some people find them really helpful.

nanowrimo_calendar_by_reapthebeauty-d31npzj
Such as this one. (image: deviantart.com)

Personally, I don’t. Some days are going to be better than others, and some days I’m going to come home too tired to do a sentence, let alone like, 160 of them. On those days I write what I can and try and make up the total another day, and I find that works much better than keeping to very strict limits.

 

  1. Details, details

Don’t be afraid to fudge some of the finer points to avoid getting bogged down. Obviously the really important details (i.e., the plot) should be in your plan, but it’s perfectly fine to put in placeholder names for minor characters and places. Just remember to replace these with real names when you’re done and you’ll be fine.

 

  1. More like guidelines

Some people are real sticklers for the rules of NaNoWriMo. I’m not. I once extended my NaNoWriMo project until the New Year because November isn’t over UNTIL I SAY IT’S OVER. I always found I got a lot less stressed about NaNoWriMo when I didn’t take it quite as seriously and that way, it was easier to balance writing with everything else going on in my life.

 

  1. It’s not for everyone

I’ve tried NaNoWriMo a couple of times now and on balance, I’ve decided it’s not for me. I could do it fairly easily when I was a student, but that was because I was on a course where I only had ten hours of class time per week.

giphy nap
It was blissful. (Image: giphy.com)

Now I have a full-time job, I find it way too stressful. NaNoWriMo has taught me a lot about the discipline required to finish a novel, and writing every day has helped me get into some really good habits, but I find the obsession with word counts kind of counter-productive. The structure was really helpful, but now that I’ve taken that framework and made it work for me I don’t find the old model quite so useful any more. I learned a lot, but it stopped being something I did every year a long time ago.

 

 

And that’s it! My advice for surviving NaNoWriMo. Hopefully some of you will find this helpful. It’s very easy to get swept up in NaNo Fever – it can be really fun, and it taught me some good writing habits which I still use. But I don’t think anyone should take it too seriously. It’s a good way to get into writing longer projects, but it doesn’t have to be the only way you write.