Saturday, December 14, 2013

Between the Bindings with Andrew Leon

Andrew Leon is an awesome guy - funny and very interesting.  We met on Goodreads.  One of my favorite things about that website is how accessible authors are - and how a random friend request can introduce you to a world of books that you hadn't yet noticed before.  He is the author of The House on the Corner and Shadow Spinner, which is a collection I am currently enjoying (I've read the first two parts and am ready to read the third).  You should definitely check out his blog (Strange Pegs) - he's got a lot of entertaining stuff going on over there.

The title of his author advice is: Writing Is "Easy."  Yeah, not so much, as you will soon see ...

I saw a statistic not all that long ago that said that something like 80% of Americans believe that they could write a novel, you know, if they wanted to.  They believe that in the sense that they somehow believe that writing is easy.  I have to assume that they believe that writing is easy because sitting down and writing a few sentences is easy.  Writing a novel, however, is not.

It's the difference between going out for a jog and running a marathon.  Sure, anyone can run in a marathon, but only people that have trained for it can finish.  The person who can, without training, finish a marathon is truly gifted.  One might say, "Legendary."  And he's probably named Barney.

So, yeah, it's easy to have an idea, that one bright, great idea, for a book.  It's another thing entirely to sit down and write that book.  To sit down and write it until it's finished.  To ignore the new bright, shiny ideas that come along, ideas that seem better than the one you're working on, may even be better, but, if you let yourself chase each new idea that comes along, you will never finish anything.  And, believe me, the process of writing generates ideas.  Or it can, at any rate.

Also, writing can generate fatigue.  Yes, just like running.  Sitting and working on the same manuscript day after day can get pretty tedious if you let it.  You pull out the manuscript, look at all the words, think of how many more you have to go, and it can just feel like too much.  How will you ever get to the end?  Oh, sure, right at first, it's all exciting, just like those first few miles of the marathon.  You run fast and hard trying to get to the front of the pack, but, once you get 10,000 words or so in, you start to wonder why you're not already finished, and, once you hit 20,000 words, you begin to wonder if you will ever finish.

That's when those other ideas start to seem really appealing.  You're fresh out of that first idea you had, the idea that started your general novel, and you haven't had a good idea, yet, to carry you through to the next part of your story.  Maybe if you start something new...

And, so, writing a novel is hard.  Really hard.  It's something you have to commit to.  I mean really commit to.  And there's really only one way to finish one: keep writing it.  Even when it seems like you will never finish.  Even when you think you have a better idea for some other book.

Here are two things that have helped me:

1. Keep an idea folder.  I keep mine on my computer.  If you have an idea you think you might want to pursue, write it down.  As you have more ideas about that project, continue to write them down.  By the time you finish the project you're working on, you may even have a good working outline for your next project.  Or the structure for a world and ideas for characters.  Who knows?  The main thing, though, is to not let these other ideas take you away from the piece you're working on.  Because people who constantly chase new ideas never finish anything (and, yes, I know many of those people), and, if you want to write books, you have to be able to finish them, not just start them.

2. Set for yourself a daily word goal.  Make it reasonable.  My first word goal was a mere 400 words a day.  That's all.  Why 400?  Because I read about how one famous author wrote his first novel on 400 words a day.  Basically, between working and stuff, that's all he had time for, so make your goal something you can actually achieve.  When I read that about how he had written only 400 words a day, I thought, "400 words?  I can do that!  I write emails longer than that!"  So that was my first goal.  Or 2000 words a week.  However you want to break it down.  Usually, I write more than 400, but I felt like I had accomplished something when I hit 400, and that helped me to keep going.  It let me know that what I was doing was achievable and gave me a time table.

Yeah, writing is easy; however, 80% of Americans could not sit down tomorrow and dash off a novel just because they decided to do it.  No more than 80% of Americans could decide to run a marathon and actually finish it.  Well, I suppose I could finish a marathon eventually.  If I was allowed to just walk it.  Is that allowed?  I don't actually know.  Writing a novel takes discipline, commitment and practice.  Writing a novel that's worth reading is something else entirely, but the first step is finishing.

What great advice, Andrew.  And so true!!  Thanks so much for all that you have given us today.

I hope that the advice these authors have been giving to you has been helpful.

I know that all of it has really benefited me.  Until next week, y'all, when we will have some more author advice .... :)


Jo said...

Sorry, my first comment, I had trouble reading the blue on blue. I highlighted the text and that helped.

I would think that is excellent advice, particularly for a new writer, from all I gather, finishing a novel is a very difficult concept. I used to think I would like to write a book, since I have "met" so many authors in the last year or two, it sounds like way too much work to me. Not that I have ever had an "idea" anyway.

Meghan H said...

Hi Jo. Thank you for the feedback. I will look into fixing that.

Everyone has different ways to showcase their imagination and creativity. Some people write, some paint or draw, some do crafts or make things out of clay. How do you express yourself?

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I bet that number is smaller than eighty percent for both writing a novel and finishing a marathon. It takes training for both, training that most people aren't willing to do.
And four hundred words for you is REALLY easy!

Andrew Leon said...

Jo: It is a lot of work, and, actually, most of it starts after you finish writing the book. (Thanks for coming over.)

Alex: Oh, yeah, I'm sure it is a much smaller number. I mean, 20% of people already know they couldn't write a book.

And, yeah, 400 words is easy -now-, but I didn't know that then.

Rusty Carl said...

I think novel writing is one of those things a lot of people think of like... oh, I don't know... other things that would be easy if they'd just buckle down and do it. But it doesn't mean much to me if they do. I once thought I could be a PGA golfer, despite the fact that I had never really played golf. I went down to a little par 3 place down the road, rented a seven iron and decided to put that to a test.

So, that dream ended pretty quick. Anyway, good advice. Very true.

Andrew Leon said...

Rusty: Unfortunately, there are things that no amount of training can overcome. Like my brother who spent years on basketball and was -very- good but, also, short. Shorter than me, and I'm not all that tall. It didn't matter how good he was, the coach would never play him.
And I've heard it said that anyone can learn to sing, but I've known a couple of people that that just wasn't true for.

Arlee Bird said...

Are you speaking to me? Your words certainly apply. I'm frequently off on a quest for the "bright shiny ideas" that get me distracted from my work at hand. I do keep that idea folder and it's really long now. I haven't pinpointed my writing focus problem yet, but I've written frequently about is on my blogs and in blog comments. Hmmm--maybe I'm getting closer to one of my bigger distractions. Not giving up on the social networking, but I do need to keep it in check.

Tossing It Out

Pat Dilloway said...

Some good advice, though I think I might have burned out my retinas trying to read blue text on a blue background.

Andrew Leon said...

Lee: Well, actually, yes, I was speaking directly to you.
Not that I wasn't speaking to everyone else, too.
And, see, social media is why I'm not on twitter. I don't need another distraction.

GP: I'm glad you think so. About the advice.

Jess said...

Great advice, Andrew.

"The main thing, though, is to not let these other ideas take you away from the piece you're working on." YES. I occasionally have issues with that one if I'm having a boy-this-WIP-just-isn't-working kind of day. I haven't had time lately to set realistic writing goals for my latest idea, but I'm hoping to be disciplined about it once I get my schedule in gear. Weekly word count goals tend to work better for me than daily ones.

Briane P said...

I do these things! I'm like a real writer!

I have a list of ideas I've had, because I'd hate to think I'd forget one and like you said, sometimes you'll have a whole idea for something by the time you finish the other thing.

And I try to write each day. Back when I was focused more on writing novels as opposed to blogging, I'd write 5 pages a day -- I even had a blog titled that, for a while -- at least. That's how I finished "the After."

I don't just work on one thing at a time, though -- not anymore. I hop from project to project to keep it fresh for me, and when one gets close to finishing, I focus more on that. You're right that sometimes you run out of steam on something, but because writing is still a hobby for me, I don't feel like I should write something that feels like work to me. Plus, if the work doesn't interest me, why would it interest a reader? So I hop around.

Then again, you are the one with the successful writing career and actual books finished that have actual plot structures and stuff, so I probably should take more of your advice.

Andrew Leon said...

Jess: It can be okay to work on something else for, like, a day when you're struggling with something; it's when you let the other thing take you away completely (especially if it's over and over again) from your project that it becomes a problem.

Briane: I actually don't work on just one project at a time, either, but my projects are locational. I have whatever project I'm working on on my computer, and I have a project in my (paper) notebook that I can carry around with me.

I'm not quite sure what definition of "successful" you're using.

Meghan H said...

I am actually the same way. I switch between a novel and some short stories I'm working on. And while I'm doing one, I usually think of something that will "fix" whatever situation I feel like I'm having with the other.

And who knew blogging would really take up so much time in your life......hahaha

Remembering Grace said...

This is great advice...not just for writing, but for everything! :)

Andrew Leon said...

RG: That's probably true.

Alex Hurst said...

Good advice, Andrew. On my fourth attempt to get a first draft down, so I'd have to add, on my end, a basic understanding of how you're going to get towards your end goal before jumping into the mud. Each draft has been abandoned for un-fixable plot holes.

Meghan, this is a lovely blog! I love your layout and simplistic, yet stylish background. A nice reading experience (though I believe another commenter said it was hard to read... that may be fixed by increasing the font size a couple notes, since the font is a irregular "hand-written" style. :)

Alex Hurst said...

Ignore my layout recommendations... that font only applies to the comments! Hahaha.

Andrew Leon said...

Alex: Well, I agree with that. I think people are more successful in their writing with at least some plotting, but so many people are pantsers and swear by their pantsing that it's hard to tell people to do that.

Meghan H said...

Thank you for the compliment, Alex. :)

I had a different color at the time for the advice part - a blue that I thought was very pretty, but after looking back, I could see how people might have a problem with that. I hope that the darker color of blue has made it easier to read.