June 11, 2012

Dos, Don'ts, and Doubts

I've been working pretty seriously on finishing up my WiP this past week. After our trip in May, it was a challenge to find the motivation to work on it, especially with the 2.5 week-long cold I was battling. And then sometime last week I felt that pull, that excitement about my story all over again, and butt met chair finally. But (not butt), as is often the case, seeds of doubt started to creep in again. And I wanted to scrap it.

I started blogging almost a year ago, not long after I started working on my WiP—my first attempt at writing a story. In that time, I've made great connections with other bloggers and writers, and I've learned a lot about the craft that I didn't know before. For the most part, it's been pretty fantastic. I say "for the most part" because it hasn't always made me feel better about my writing. That sounds kind of awful, so let me elaborate.

What do you do when ENCOURAGEMENT/WELL-MEANT ADVICE feels DISCOURAGING?


Say what? As you well know, one of the best things about the writing community is the tremendous amount of support and encouragement shared between writers. Unlike other pursuits, you won't find nasty competition, I'll-scratch-your-back...ultimatums, or sour grapes when other writers get agents/book deals/rave reviews/whathaveyou. Along with all of this support, there's plenty of advice to be had. While most of it is good, and maybe what you need to hear, sometimes it's exactly what you don't want to hear. Take, for example, the following. (My reactions are in red.):


• Prologues suck. Delete them. Really? I've read some pretty good ones. Statistical Probability...* anyone?
• Love triangles suck. Avoid them. Again: Really? I've read some pretty good ones. They can serve a purpose.
• InstaLove sucks, but so does InstaLoathe. What exactly is the right timeline then? Please enlighten me.
• Dystopian is so over, as is Paranormal. Really? Because people I know are still reading both. Me included.
• You'll never sell your first story. But keep at it. That really doesn't make me want to, but thanks...I think.
• Your story should be standalone even if it's part of a trilogy. That's funny, because I've read many that weren't—Divergent, Delirium, Everneath, Shatter Me, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, Daughter of Smoke and Bone... just to name a whole super heavy backpack full of books. And there are oodles* more like them.
• Do, do, do. Don't, don't, don't. All meant to be helpful, but not always encouraging or inspiring.

Because what if your story has a prologue? A love triangle? Is dystopian or paranormal? What if this is your first story? And it has a cliffhanger? What then? I know this bulleted list is mostly all opinion (sometimes I guess they reflect market statistics—I've always hated Stats). Or it's well-meaning advice. But all too often I feel like I want to scream when I read them. And then I want to go and crumple up my WiP into a giant ball (though that would be challenging considering it's 120,000 words long*** O_o) and say "screw this shiz".

And then, after QWERTY-facing and belittling myself far more than I deserve, I start to feel a little like this:


At some point, I just have to remind myself to write the story I want to tell, and if it gets published, great. If it doesn't, that sucks, but I'll just keep on trying. And all of that advice and/or opinion? That's all it is. There's no 100% definitive way to write a story, otherwise everyone could do it and every story would feel the same.

And who the heck wants that?
______________________________________________________
* The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith—I ♥ the prologue!
** Yes, I did just use the word oodle. Oodle, oodle, oodle.
*** Yes, I'm trying to fix that. Delete, delete, delete.

50 comments:

  1. Great post! I totally feel ya. Sometimes I feel like all the advice I've read hinders me - and a lot of the time it does - but I try to get over it and move forward, which I think is ultimately probably good practice for negative reviews and criticism. Best advice I've ever gotten in regards TO ADVICE is: "take what you can use, leave what you can't"

    Nuff said.

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    1. I like that quote. Great advice. :) I do try to pay attention to some advice, but sometimes the rest just discourages me, so I have to ignore it. :)

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  2. The standalone even though it's part of a trilogy is one I've seen a lot and thought really hard about. My feelings on it are give the first book a solid conclusion but have fun with cliffhangers in book 2 XD

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    1. I don't like books to be too cliffhanger-y, but I do want a really good reason to pick up the next book, and usually that has a lot to do with finding out what happens next. :)

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    2. I think the worst cliffhanger I've ever been stuck on is the one at the end of The Subtle Knife. It was SO mean!!!! And yet it made sure I HAD to come back to the final book (which I would've done regardless, but I was way more desperate :P)

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  3. Awesome, awesome, awesome! Well said!

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    1. Thanks, Juliana! I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. :)

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  4. Great post! I think being over exposed to the opinions of
    others can sometimes have a negative effect. I know it's caused me to second guess myself a time or two. I think, at the end of the day, it's better to be genuine and just "do you."

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    1. That's exactly it--being overexposed to opinions. Advice is great, but at the end of the day you need to write what feels like 'you'. :)

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  5. I think the important thing to remember, at least it was for me, is to write what YOU want to write. I was told my book was not marketable because it's not mainstream--which is true, but exactly why I wrote it! When I self-pubbed it, I felt immense satisfaction--I'd written a story I believed in and am now getting terrific feedback on building a world that isn't full of the normal vamps or whatever.

    We all get discouraged (and that's ok), but here's how I deal: I remember that I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid. I remind myself I'm not in it for the money or fame (we can be hopeful, but let's be realistic). So even if my sales are low or I read love triangles are overplayed, I know that I'm putting out the best book I can write and not just because it's what's expected.

    And when in doubt...double chocolate fudge brownie ice cream oughtta cure you for a night or two ;)

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    1. I think this is what draws a lot of people to self-publishing, and that's great! It's a good way of figuring out yourself what people are willing and wanting to read. Good for you! :)

      When it all boils down, we do it because we love it, otherwise we'd just quit.

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  6. Great to see that I'm not alone in thinking that way :) I read this list of well-meant advice on a lot of blogs, yet I keep reading books that include all of the above DON'Ts and I just want to shout "SEE?! This book still got published!!" *sigh*

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    1. I know, right? I frequently see 'rules' being broken in books, and it just reminds me that if it works for your story nothing else matters. Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. :)

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  7. For what it's worth, Jaime, here's my take on this advice (and I know what you're talking about--I've been there three times a week). As you correctly say, write the story you want to write, as it is in your head with as many prologues, love triangles, etc. as you want. When you've finished and you're reading back over it after a suitable break from the finished ms, ask yourself: does this really work as a story? If something's wrong, take another look at that prologue. Do you really need it? Examine those love triangles--do they really move the plot along, or are you just having too much fun with your characters? Does the plot really require this story to be a trilogy, or are you just following a trend? And so on. I would say, if you honestly believe your prologue, love triangle, and whatever else "they" say shouldn't be in your novel all work for you, then leave them in. So what if it's never been done before. There was a time when no-one had tried writing a vampire novel, or a zombie novel, or a wizard novel.

    If your blog is anything to go by, Jaime, your novel will be amazing, and loved by many. :)

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    1. I think that's great advice, Colin. Tell it the way you want to right now, and then honestly assess it once you're done. That's a great plan of action. :)

      Thanks for the encouragement too!

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  8. Amen, girl! <----I don't think I've ever said that before ;)

    I'm sick of it too. All the do's and don't's... You *know* your story... and YOU go ahead and write it! I know that's what I'm trying to do with my current WIP anyway. ;) It's sooooooo HARD. Keep at it. I know I'm rooting for you. 100%!

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    1. There comes a time when you have to just shut it off--the internet when it's discouraging you, the voice in your head telling you you aren't good enough--and just write the story that you want to tell. That doesn't mean that you don't take people's suggestions to heart (you do want it to be good!) to make your story the best that it can be. Thanks for the encouragement, Morgan! :)

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  9. Comments about syntax that doesn't sit right are useful. Comments about what people are reading are fairly irrelevant. What people? Where? How is that statement qualified? Most readers, if we're honest, have a type of novel that they return to again and again. It's the blonde or brunette of their bookshelf.

    No-one can write your story like you can. No-one else has had the same vision. Listen to constructive criticism. Tell the others 'thanks, I'll bear that in mind' and move on. The only critics anyone really has to take notice of are the self on re-reading the final draft, and the editor from your publishing company because that might be a deal breaker!

    Best of luck with your writing and stay positive :)

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    1. Constructive criticism is always useful to me. It's the blanket statements that bother me. And sometimes these statements are coming from literary agents who are in a lot of way the gatekeepers. If they're tired of seeing something then your book could be dead in the water, which is unfortunate. Even so, I still plan on writing the best book I possibly can, and we'll see where it takes me. :)

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  10. It's always hard dealing with the number of dos and don't sometimes, especially when most of it is subjective, evidenced by the fact that a lot of writers who seem to break many of these rules still go on to find their readers. I love prologues, and I feel they help set the stage. I can't say the same thing about love triangles though. Sorry. :(

    P.S: Heads up, you've given an award:

    michaelabayomi.blogspot.com/2012/06/7-x-7-link-award.html

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    1. You're right, a lot of it is subjective, and a lot of writers do blow a lot of these things out of the water. I guess it just comes down to writing the best book you can regardless of all of the advice and opinions. :)

      P.S. Thanks for the award!

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  11. Great post. For the writing I do, sometimes prologues are indispensable, and I'm writing a series where the novels aren't as standalone as editors might like. Thanks for sharing this, because I have many of the same feelings and doubts.

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    1. My husband was just saying that the book he reads feel like they need the prologues that are at the start of them. He's big into adult fantasy, but that doesn't mean they can't be useful in YA books as well. It's all in how it's done, right?

      Glad I'm not the only one who has these doubts and frustrations. :)

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  12. That's the thing about advice--regardless of who it comes from, because I'm sure you've realized by now that EVERYONE has something to share--if you write a kick-ass story, that is ALL that matters.

    I think the tips and rules you mentioned (plus the zillions of other ones out there) are important to know, but they're like grammar: You need to know what's standard, so when you break away from it, it's not an accident. Yanno?

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    1. You raise a great point about consciously breaking the rules. I think if you write blindly you stand to make a mess of things, but knowingly doing your own thing apart from what's expected can take a mediocre story and make it fantastic. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but in my head it did. :)

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  13. Great post, Jaime! Sorry I've been so quiet (I was away) :) I break all of those rules...except for the series thing because I only write standalones :-P (Also I updated my blog with a book review of a dystopian here-> http://rachelwritesthings.blogspot.com/2012/06/book-review-whats-left-of-me.html) :)

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    1. Thanks, Rachel! Glad you swung by. :) I do have another story I want to write (it's seriously tempting me), and it's a standalone YA historical/time travel. Ah! So badly want to work on it, but I should really finish my current WiP first.

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  14. J'aime beacoup this post. There are so many rules, sometimes I just want to break em' all!

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    1. Merci beaucoup. :) I think Sara above raises a great point: Know the rules, that way when you break them you do it consciously and intentionally (or something better worded than that).

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  15. The only rule is "be awesome" and "keep trying until you get there." :)

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  16. Great post! I have to say I've heard a lot of the same things you have and was a bit discouraged by it at first as well. Some of it I've come to understand better and even used to help improve my writing and others I don't think I will ever understand, but I think that's part of the point. You have to take the advice that works for you and what helps make your work better because at the end of the day if you aren't happy with it, no one will be. You have to write what's in your heart regardless of the "rules". Besides one of my favorite quotes is learn the rules so you can break them properly. Some rules are meant to be broken, and you have to decide which rules you absolutely need to break to write the story that's itching to get out of you. That's ultimately the only way your story will be true to you.

    Again great post and good luck with your WIP.
    Jamie

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    1. If nothing else, I suppose I could always prove some of the advice/rules/opinions wrong, right? :) I think you're right about taking the advice that I need and run with it. I agree about breaking the rules in order to do it properly too. :)

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  17. And even Jennifer E. Smith thought that her editor would cut her prologue but they didn´t :D
    All those advice don´t have the magical key to publication. Because there doesn´t seem to be one recipe fits all. And that´s the beauty of it. Sometimes it takes us down and sometimes it lifts us up.
    What I know, Jaime, is that you already have one excited reader :D (me! you know just in case it wasn´t clear :D)

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    1. I read that about Jennifer E. Smith in an interview. It was such a good prologue too. I'm glad you're excited to read my story. It definitely makes me more excited about it too. :)

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  18. This is such a good post, Jaime! It's SO true...sometimes we can get so caught up in following all the "rules" that we totally lose sight of our story. It's crazy.

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    1. Thanks, Jessica. :) I think sometimes I just need to step away from all of the advice, opinions, and so on when I know that it's just discouraging me. I think those are the times that I need to remind myself what's great about my story.

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  19. It looks like a lot of us have been writing on this topic. I think we're just very tired of hearing all the things we can't or shouldn't be doing. It really inhibits our writing if we listen to it long enough. That's how I felt when I wrote Are You Guilty of Writing No-Nos?

    My suggestion is to just ignore anything that makes you feel badly and not feel like writing. I have a prologue and a cliffhanger in my first book. AND it's a first book! I can't just toss it out since it's the first in the series and pretty needful - even when people in writer chatrooms say "I wouldn't read a book like that".

    I think Sarah's sentiment is exactly how we should all feel over unhelpful 'helpful advice'. Good post!

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    1. I think you're right about ignoring what makes me feel badly about my writing. A lot of these so-called rules are broken in books we love, so obviously they don't apply across the board. The thing to do is just write the best story I possibly can. :)

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  20. My feeling is that rules were made to be broken--but only if you understand why they're the rules in the first place, and when they shouldn't break.
    Of course that's a somewhat thorny/impossible way to look at it. I say, write the book for you! Revise it for the rules.

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    1. Great advice, Rebecca. :) I suppose it's maybe not so much the rules that bother me, but the loudly voiced opinions about some of those things in the bullet list above. Every time I read about readers's dislikes (agents included) and I've included those things in my story, I feel a little deflated. But, I do plan on writing the book for me anyway. :)

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  21. I am so with you on this. I got sick then traveled then celebrated a wedding anniversary. It's been a crazy few weeks, so it's been hard to write. Add to that the fact that I'm at my half-way point in my rewrite, and I've suddenly been bombarded with the fear that I can't finish this story and do it justice. But I guess we just keep writing, and we turn off the advice at least for a while.

    Also, I love you for posting a picture from Labyrinth.

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    1. Yeah, at some point you just need to turn off the 'you can't do it' voice and just power through. Hard, but necessary.

      Just so you know, I was wearing a Labyrinth tee while writing this post. :)

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  22. So, so true. Following all the rules would never make for a great story--write the story you want to write. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks, Meredith! I think trying to write a story 'by the book' would result in a lifeless thing that nobody would really want to read. I'm just going to write the best book I can and see where it takes me. :)

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  23. Okay, I've going to play the rule-follower devil's advocate.

    Overall, I agree with Rebecca...It's good to know the rules and why they are there: because there are professional gatekeepers who are against prologues and debut series writers, and some see love triangles, surpernaturals and dystopians as cliche.

    That way, you know when and how to break the rules in non-cliche/overdone ways.

    Yes, you have to write the story you love, but getting published is a numbers game. You want the odds to be in your favor as much as possible, which is why it's good to be aware of what the market wants/doesn't want, and what they may consider overdone.

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    1. I totally agree about breaking the rules in a non-cliche/overdone way. That's what I'm aiming to do, but we'll see what happens. :) As for me, I don't particularly love reading cliche stories. I'd hate to think I'm churning out something like that. :)

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  24. Awesome awesome post, Jaime! As soon as this cropped up in my reader, I knew I NEEDED to hear this advice. Self-doubt is such a common thing in writing - I think us writers need to give ourselves a break once in a while, and just WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ :D There's a lot of pressure on us to conform to genres and 'rules' and preferences and what-have-you, so I think your post will help a lot of people's spirits - mine included! :D

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  25. "At some point, I just have to remind myself to write the story I want to tell, and if it gets published, great."

    AMEN!!!

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  26. Your *s crack me up!

    I think the most important thing to remember is, yes, a lot of those statistics are pretty accurate, but NO, they're not written in stone. There are exceptions to every rule - many, many exceptions. I'd echo so many of those above me - write the story of your heart the way it wants to be written. If you do that, you're gold!

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