November is National Novel Writing Month (and National Play Writing Month too). Since I’ve written almost 20 novels (most of which are published, though I’ve still got a couple of failures in the drawer too), not to mention a buttload of plays, this time of year I always get hounded by people who want to know how they can write a novel or a full-length play in a month. Mind you, these are people who are not writers—-in fact, they often can’t even claim to be wannabe writers.
Nine times out of ten, those same people are not even remotely serious about getting started in the novel-writing process, and the ones that do start often do not finish. (And we’re not even getting into their success rates on publication, which are even lower.) So, suffice to say that I am generally pretty cynical when these Johnny-come-latelies interrupt my very limited free time asking for writing advice.
To bypass that, I’ve come up with a list of 10 tips. So, read these tips, and don’t bug me for free advice. TYVM.
1) Write every day for at least 2 hours. Bare minimum. No excuses. And that means EVERY SINGLE DAY, including holidays and weekends. You need to get down at least 1700 words per day for 30 days to have a 50,000 word manuscript (which might be a piece of crap, but at least it’s something). Ditto for a play. So get cracking.
2) Don’t bother with a bunch of writing “exercises” like outlines or brainstorms or character profiles. That kind of garbage is just stupid busy-work invented by bad writing teachers. Just write the damn novel (or play, or whatever). You can always go back and revise a first draft, but without an actual first draft, you’ve got jack nada.
3) Don’t quit your day job. Unless you already write for a living (and I highly doubt it), do not expect your as-yet-unfinished novel or play to start paying your bills for you.
4) Don’t expect to get published. It is very, very, very hard to get published. (Self-publishing and vanity publishing don’t count). The brutal truth is, the vast majority of first novels do not get published. Your first completed novel is really more of a training exercise that helps you learn how to write a novel. (Mine was.) Oftentimes, the “first” novels of published authors were in fact the third or fourth (or more) novels they actually finished. (The same goes for plays—-don’t expect your first play to get produced.) Mind you, I’ve had dozens of my plays produced and published, and I’ve still got a ton that I can’t even give away—and just FYI, the new play market is worse than the novel market, and it’s getting worse every year.
5) Be prepared to give up most of your leisure activities. That means turn off the TV, stop playing World of Warcraft, stop screwing around online, stop going to parties, stop gossiping on the phone, and sign out of Facebook. All of it. That book isn’t gonna write itself. If you’re not willing to do all of that, then you should probably quit right now.
6) Don’t bother me. I am a full-time professional freelance writer with bills to pay and deadlines to meet, I don’t have time to answer a bazillion stupid writing questions from strangers (or even friends that I know aren’t serious about writing). If I choose out of the kindness of my heart to give you some of my time and expertise, please appreciate it.
7) You are not God’s gift to literature. If you’ve never written a book or play before, then this should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people think the exact opposite.
8) No publisher is going to show any interest in an unfinished novel manuscript. So stop reading my blog and finish it! And the market for unfinished (or even finished) plays is approximately equal to the market for used belly lint, so keep your expectations well in line with that.
9) Do not ask me to introduce you to my agent and/or publisher, because I won’t. This would be in line with Tip No. 7, but given how many audacious people have asked me to do this, it merits its own tip. (And the one time I did it, I got totally burned, so I will never do it again).
10) Don’t say that you “don’t have time” to write. I am sick to death of hearing from people with half-finished manuscripts who complain that they would like to finish them, but they “don’t have time.” Bullshit. You have the same number of hours in the day as allotted to Ghandi, Voltaire, Gore Vidal, J.K. Rowling, and Jesus Christ, and look what they managed to do with it. So, stop making a bunch of bullshit lazy excuses and go write.