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Writing and Publishing

What It Means To Be a Writer

Writing is about focus and balance and obeying our muse

For the first time (that I recall) I don’t want to write a post for this blog today. It’s not that I don’t want to write at all; it’s that I yearn to work on something else.

This something else is a short story that has turned into a novella (a short novel). It is a YA romance, of all things. Yes, this nonfiction writer is fixated on writing a novella. I’m so into it that I’d rather work on it than do anything else. And since I have many other things that demand my attention today, this is a bit of a problem.

After I focus on this day’s critical tasks, I plan to reward myself with time to write another section. Yet I know one hour of writing will turn into more, one chapter will slide into the next, and each time I promise to write “just one more paragraph” another one will follow. This is the writer’s equivalent to reading a can’t-put-it-down, page-turner.

I call this writerphoria.

As a committed planner who outlines every long work before I type the first word, I’m mostly discovering this story as I write. Yes, I know the final scene (at least I think I do), and I am writing toward it. I also listed story beats that I click through in connect-the-dots fashion to move me closer to the finish line, but as I do my muse keeps giving me more great ideas to insert into the journey.

It’s a heady experience—and also frustrating.

My angst occurs because I’m largely winging this affair. Since I didn’t plan on this being a novella, I didn’t plan the details. I never bothered to explore my characters, to map their motivations, or even determine their last names. I just make it up as I go – and hope it doesn’t contradict something I wrote earlier. And too often it does. I worry that I’m not fixing all the prior scenes to align with the new ones I’m adding. Plus, I must get back to my story before some essential spark slips from memory and disappears forever.

This all began with a simple short story, flash fiction (under one thousand words).

I started writing short stories in earnest about two years ago. This was strategic in preparation to write a novel, which I plan to start this November as part of NaNoWriMo. Though the NaNoWriMo rules tell me I can’t start the actual writing until November 1, I can prepare and plan. I know my story arc, I’ve outlined the plot, and I’ve detailed my characters and identified their motivation. I listed my beats and know the theme. I have the title. The opening and ending scenes bounce around in my head.

Though I can’t wait to start my novel in November, I have a novella to finish first—along with living the other parts of life.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.


Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Are You a Pantser or a Plotter?

Some writers discover as they write while others plan their journey before they start

In writing, as in life, people tend to follow two modes: pantsing and plotting.

On one side are the pantsers, those who write by the seat of their pants. I prefer the label of “discovery writers.” They don’t know where their words will take them. Writing reveals an adventure as they watch their plot unfold, learn about their characters, and sometimes paint themselves into a corner with no way out.

In contrast, stand the plotters who map out their writing journey before they write one word. But I don’t like that name because it sounds too much like a plodder. I prefer the alternate labels of outliners or planners. These folks know their story arc, strategize the various scenes (or at least chapters), define their characters, and have the end in sight before they type their first word. (NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, allows writers to do this sort of preplanning, though actual writing may not begin before November 1.)

The May/June 2016 issue of Writer’s Digest had some great articles about pantsing versus plotting. And many writing podcasters weigh in on the pantsing versus plotting debate. Writers who like to plan may benefit from the snowflake method; writers who forgo planning, need no instruction. Also, see my post “Should You Use an Outline?

While each side of the debate holds firm opinions, neither is the method that will work for everyone. Each writer must determine which style works best for him or herself; there is no one right answer.

If you’re unsure which you are, look at how you live life for clues. Do you plan things out or wing it? The answer likely reveals your preferred writing mode. Though you can test out the opposite method, don’t let someone talk you into trying to be what you are not.

My default is to plan in detail, both for life and for writing. (I am, however, more open to detours when I write.) For trips, I make lists, verify details, do research, make maps, note addresses, and phone numbers, make reservations, pack carefully, and set timetables. Planning calms me; it provides the structure I need to enjoy my vacation. Encountering the unexpected is unpleasant.

Yet within this framework, I allow for flexibility to relish the journey and explore as I go. Some of my most enjoyable memories are within those moments of discovery. Yet without my planning, I would have never been confronted by those spontaneous, serendipitous delights.

Others are the opposite. They would forgo a vacation if they had to prepare for it as much as I.

So it is with pantsers and plotters. Know which one you are, and learn when you can deviate. This will provide you with the most enjoyable writing experience and the most satisfying results.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.


Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Do You Know What You’re Capable of Accomplishing as a Writer?

For the past ten weeks, I’ve been on a writing quest, a grand creative adventure. I needed to write an 85,000-word book and have it done by the end of November. I’m pleased to report that I made it. This stands as one of my most significant accomplishments as a writer (so far).

Although writing 85,000 words in two and a half months pales next to all the novelists who just finished NaNoWriMo, where they wrote 50,000 words in one month, I want to point out one difference. For NaNoWriMo the goal is to produce the first draft; editing and polishing come later. In my case I needed to have the finished version, one carefully edited and smoothly polished. I am pleased with the results.

As I considered this project back in September, I had two conflicting realizations: If I committed to this opportunity, I would surely wish I hadn’t, but if I passed on it, I would surely regret it. In the end, I said “yes,” prompted by a nudge that said, “you’ve been preparing for this; you are ready for this challenge.”

I blocked out half my day during the week to work on this project, leaving the rest of the day to do everything else. Starting around 5:30 a.m. and writing to about noon, with periodic breaks to eat, exercise, and shower, I logged about 30 hours a week on the project. I’m glad for what I accomplished, and I’m glad I’m done.

But until I actually did this, I had no idea that I could; I didn’t know what I was capable of accomplishing. So it is with all writers.

Though your writing goals may be bigger than mine or smaller, I encourage you to set a goal that will stretch you, one that will push you harder and cause you to reach for more. It can be anything, and it doesn’t need to be big. It just needs to challenge you in the place you’re at as a writer and move you to the next level.

As writers, we can all do more than we think we can. Let’s reach for it.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Can You Write a Book in a Month?

Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens each year in November. The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel, or the first 50,000 words of a longer novel, in just one month. (Why they picked November, a 30-day month with a long holiday weekend, is beyond me.)

The idea intrigues me, but since I’m not a novelist, I’ve never tried it. Some year I will.

Despite never participating in NaNoWriMo and not being a novelist, I think I understand the allure. As I mentioned last week, I’m on my own writing quest; 85,000 words in ten weeks. Two weeks into it, I’m exhilarated with my writing. I’m sure the same feeling often hits NaNoWriMo writers.

Writing a large number of words every day, without fail or excuse, requires discipline. It means grabbing every moment of my allotted time to write. Distractions are not permitted. Email and social media are off-limits. My wife gives me quiet.

It also requires focus. Keeping my eye on the goal, I write with intention. With laser precision, I type words to make sentences to form paragraphs for the various sections. Chapters birth with regularity.

My ballooning word count electrifies me. I want to write more. Even when it’s time to go to work, I wish I could keep writing.

It’s also stressful, but a good type of stress, productive, fulfilling stress.

Though I fully expect my pace to wear thin as my quest continues, knowing the prize waiting for me at the end of the road will spur me on. A finished book looms as my reward.

I suspect the same thing occurs for each NaNoWriMo writer.

What are your experiences with NaNoWriMo? Will you do NaNoWriMo this year? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

May is National Short Story Month (Sorry for the late notice)

Last week I was disappointed when I learned that May is National Short Story Month. Gee, the month was all but over before I discovered this. We could have spent the whole month talking about a short story, but I missed the opportunity. Maybe next year.

A short story is one category of short-form fiction, generally with a length of 1,000 to 7,000 words. As a person used to writing and editing 1,000-word articles, a 1,000-word short story feels right to me.

Until recently there weren’t many options for writers to publish short stories (or any fiction shorter than a novel, for that matter), but with the advent of e-readers, new opportunities have opened up. With e-readers and self-publishing, the short story has been resuscitated as a viable option for writers.

Short stories can fill many needs for authors:

  • Offer a creative outlet
  • Supply a way to make some extra cash
  • Provide a use for good fiction ideas that aren’t extensive enough to fill a novel-length work
  • Flesh out minor characters from a novel, possibly providing backstory that novel fans will devour
  • Present content for fans to fill the gap between novel releases
  • Fit nicely in a short story anthology
  • Be compiled into your own short story collection, something traditional publishers have avoided but is viable when self-publishing.

I primarily write nonfiction, but I dabble in fiction. While I feel confident in my ability to write nonfiction and to discuss writing in general, when it comes to skills unique to fiction, I feel I have so much to learn. Writing short stories is a great place to start. Let me hone my skills on shorter works before diving into longer ones.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.