Wednesday, June 19, 2013

15 Things I Learned from Publishing My First Novel

Here's some stuff I learned between Stronghold's inception and completion. I hope it helps:

1. Your characters don't need to "shake their heads 'no'" or "nod in agreement". If they are shaking their heads, the reader understands that they disagree. If they nod, the reader knows it's in agreement.

2. ‘Repelling’ and ‘rappelling’ mean very different things, and the latter can only be used when ropes are involved.

3. Commas and periods at the end of quotation marks always go inside quotation marks, except when they don’t. When do they not? No one really knows; ergo, put your commas and periods inside the quotation marks if they come at the end of the quotation marks.

4. Using two synonyms in the same sentence does not imbue the given actions with more weight; it simply makes them redundant. If a character "ponders and muses” on something in a single sentence, he or she basically “muses and muses.” Just say it once and hold the other synonym for the next time the character does the action in another paragraph. This will improve your prose overall.

5. Exclamation points do not necessarily lose their power if you use them, but when you use them, you are admitting to some degree that your prose lacks the syntax of an implied exclamation point—which is a different problem altogether. If you come to an exclamation point, consider how to re-write the sentence so that the prose itself demands urgency, shock, or impact. If you cannot, then get over it and use the exclamation point. When you're done the whole book, go on a hunt for the exclamation points. If I can go from 140 to 6, you can too (and I think you should). 

6. Despite all I have said above, when it comes to grammar, syntax, and style, nothing is universal, and no one agrees on anything, ever, about anything; therefore, do your best and remain consistent within your text. Rules for dialog and grammar will melt your face and make your brain explode. Seriously, these are the worst. Accept it. Bear it. Endure it.

7. And be prepared to lose your mind a bit, especially if you are self-publishing. You will ache over whether a semi-colon’s use is appropriate or why you should or should not capitalize the first letter in an independent clause after a colon. These things will test you. If you find this process invigorating and you can appreciate having to labor over these choices, congrats--you may in the right business. If not, well, you may still be in the right business, but you will have to pay much more money to an editor to do this heavy lifting for you. Just remember: readers will disagree. In fact, as far as punctuation goes, what one reader corrects another may allow, so rather than making sure you are always correct on your punctuation, make sure you can defend your punctuation choices. That way, when you get corrected, you can at least plead your case on the basis of intent--and intent can go a long way if your content is strong.

8. The following mantra must dictate all self-editing: if you don’t like it, the reader will hate it; cut accordingly.

9. No one is as in love with your prose as you are, and that one sentence about which you are the most proud—the one that speaks to your intellect and virtuous sentence construction—is likely the one that will stop readers in their tracks and make them say, “huh?” Again, cut accordingly.

10. In tandem with the above, write for the audience, of whom you are a part; therefore, tell a story in such a way that it moves you and be confident that by virtue of your humanity, it will move someone else. Oh, and be willing to accept that it may be only one other person.

11. Every draft is an opportunity to make the work better. Yes, revisions will feel tedious, even useless after the first dozen drafts; but remember, you do not want to write something good: you want to write something honest and excellent. Every draft gets you closer to that goal.

12. On the flip side, at some point the book has to be done. You can agonize over word choices or sections of dialogue or that chapter you love but doesn’t work; but in the end, if you want to finish a novel, at some point you need to lay it down and call it finished…and mean it. And live with it. This is perhaps the hardest part of writing.

13. You cannot go it alone.  Well, you can, but you probably shouldn’t. You have talent, but it only goes so far. Others can see the weak links in your chain mail; they can find that Achilles’ heal you’ve left unguarded. Find those people. Trust them. Listen to them. Let them make your work better. Be gracious toward them; ask them to be patient with you. Do not become frustrated with their critiques or questions, and do not let your ego get bloated by their praise. Love them, value their opinion, and compensate them for their bearing with you.  You will not regret it, because you need them.

14. But you cannot expect others to value your project like you do. You cannot place expectations on them to treat your work with the same love that you do. Your book is your baby, not theirs; and you cannot expect them to have the same level of investment that you do. You must separate that from your relationship with them; you have to accept any support that you receive with thankfulness and expect nothing beyond it. This is imperative; and if you fail to accept it, your heart will be broken, repeatedly, by countless people. Don’t let that happen. Accept the reality that you have a bond to your project that no one can understand or emulate, and this is not a shortcoming on the part of the other, it is simply a reality that you must process.

15. People won’t like your book, and they do not have to in order to like you. Of course, they may not like you either.

That's it. For now. More will come to mind, probably two minutes after I publish this, but it's still a solid start. Writing is like boxing, and every project is a fight. You are putting on a show for an audience. You get hit, but you keep coming. You have folks in your corner to bandage you up and get you ready to survive that next round. They don’t bleed when you bleed, but they hurt when you hurt, and they savor your victories. So, let’s get back into the ring and take hits on our way to landing that knock out punch. Maybe the fight you’re in now knocks you out first. Try to get up. Maybe you can’t. Get into the ring with another opponent. Your next fight might be the one that makes you a champion. I hope it is, and I hope I’m in the audience to see it.

Thanks all, keep writing, 


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