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Writing and Publishing

Writing a Novel is Like Running a Marathon

Before writing a book we need to train

I dislike the phrase aspiring writer. Either we aspire to write or we actually do it. Being an aspiring writer is no more than hoping for a future outcome, one that will never happen because the aspiring writer spends all his or her time dreaming and no time writing.

Yet some people are truly aspiring writers. Then one day these aspiring writers say “enough is enough” and they sit down to crank out a novel.

This is like waking up one morning and deciding to run a marathon—that afternoon. While hardheaded determination may eventually propel the novice runner to the finish line, it’s not going to be pretty. More likely this out-of-shape entrant will realize the folly of running such a great distance without the needed training and drop out after a couple of miles.

This beginning runner vows to never run again. Or better is a decision to train before attempting another marathon.

So it is with an aspiring author. A few chapters, pages, or even sentences into the novel and the words crumble into frustration. The vision vanishes. The muse refuses to cooperate. Or the needed skills simply aren’t present.

The aspiring writer gives up and vows to never write again. Or maybe, just maybe, this novice stops aspiring and starts training. Of course some aspiring authors never do anything except train. That’s no good either.

Just as a good prelude to running a marathon could start with jogging, wise preparation for writing a novel starts with the short story.

As a nonfiction writer, I cranked out hundreds of articles before I attempted my first book. Though I completed it, the results were sad. Then I wrote a second and a third. At some point they became worthy of publication. (Thankfully the first one will never go past a couple of beta readers and a developmental editor.)

When I considered writing fiction, instead of diving into a novel length work, I begin with flash fiction: short stories under 1,000 words. This allowed me to experiment with different ideas and various techniques. If something didn’t work, I wasn’t out much. After I had several dozen finished, I stumbled onto one that captivated me. I couldn’t let go of the characters. I expanded it from flash fiction into a longer short story. Then it grew into a novella, and with later the addition of some secondary character arcs, it became a novel. Now I’m editing the sequel, with a series arc for twenty books.

And it all started by writing a short story.

By the way, May is short story month. Think about 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.

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Writing and Publishing

Should Writers Focus On One Niche?

The easiest way to build your author brand is to consistently publish the same type of content

I remember when I started taking writing seriously. I moved from simply writing to being a writer. The shift was huge.

I had so much to learn about the industry (and I still do). Of the many surprises, I encountered as I learned about writing was the importance of focusing on one niche. I didn’t like that. Don’t tie me down to writing one thing; I need variety. Yet the advice I received said to pick nonfiction or fiction or memoir. Just one. Then narrow the focus even more. If fiction, which genre? If nonfiction, what slice?

The thought that I had to pick one, and only one area, parallelized me. First, it sounded boring. Second, what if I picked wrong? Yikes! Though once I established myself in that one area, I might have an opportunity to branch out. But the idea still sounded too restrictive for too long.

Another person suggested I try all three options and whichever one sold first, that would be my niche. Though that made sense, it seemed I’d waste a lot of time and effort.

I went back to agonizing between nonfiction, fiction, and memoir. (Yes, memoir is technically nonfiction, but it contains elements of fiction writing, so it’s really a both-and pursuit.)

A third person opined that memoirs were selling, so I pursued that. I later learned this person was in error, or I had heard wrong. Writers can only sell their memoirs if they are famous, infamous, or suffered through the mother of all tragedies. As a regular guy with a normal life, I had none of these. Though I’ve written a few memoirs, none have sold.

I next moved to nonfiction and wrote a couple more books in this category. I also pitched several other nonfiction book ideas, but nada.

Between waiting for publishers to decide on my nonfiction books and book ideas, I dabbled in fiction, the remaining area not yet explored. First I wrote short stories and then wrote a couple of novels, too. Interestingly, I receive better feedback on my short stories and novels than on my nonfiction and memoirs.

In this way, I ended up writing in all three areas, and I’m waiting to see which one pops first. When it does, the wise career move will be focusing on that as my niche. But my interests are too eclectic to do that. I’ll probably end up pursuing multiple paths simultaneously. I’ll have to, or I will surely get bored. 

By the way, besides memoir, nonfiction, and fiction books, I also write for publications and am a commercial freelance writer, in addition to blogging. I like the variety; I need the variety. It keeps me from getting bored.

Yes, the best advice is to specialize in one area and build our author brand around that. But that’s not me. Don’t force me into a corner.

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

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

On December 26, 2016, my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people, I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

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

Can You Write a Novel in a Month?

Now is the time to prepare for NaNoWriMo in November

I’ve written nonfiction all of my adult life and recently began writing fiction for some variety. I started with a short story (mostly flash fiction: under 1,000 words) because it was faster to write and easier to experiment. And if it doesn’t work, I haven’t invested too much time. Recently I received some professional feedback on my short stories.

Then I upped the word count and wrote a novella (longer than a short story and shorter than a novel.) When I outlined it—yes, I’m a planner—I expected a word count in the lower 20s. It ended up at 29,000 words. I sent it off to another editor for her professional opinion on the overall content and writing.

Though I say the first draft of my novella is done, I wonder if it is. After sending it off, I had an idea to weave in a second story arc of another character. I’ve outlined her story, too, which will give me another 12,000 to 15,000 words. Now it’s approaching novel-length (at least for YA romance).

I’m doing all of this in preparation to write a novel. Since the writer’s first novels are generally bad, I want to get this out of my system and move on. Besides my story idea isn’t too marketable, so it’s definitely practice.

I plan to write the first draft this November as part of NaNoWriMo, something I’ve wanted to do for the past few years but never had the time. This year will be different—I hope. The idea of NaNoWriMo is to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in one month.

When working on my Novella, my low word count day was about 1,000 and my best day was 3,600 (the words really flowed, and I didn’t want to stop). Most days I was in the 1,500 to 2,000-word range, but that was only for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. For NaNoWriMo, I need to keep up that pace seven days a week, which I could definitely do if I didn’t have to work.

The rules of NaNoWriMo allow you to prepare prior to November 1, but you can’t do any actual writing until after midnight on October 31. I’ve done my prep work and am itching to start. Though I doubt I will achieve 50,000 words in a month, I do want to participate and see how far I can get.

One possible roadblock would be if my agent finds a publisher for one of my nonfiction book ideas. Then NaNoWriMo will go on hold for another year, and I’ll spend November writing nonfiction—and I’m okay with that. After all, I’ll still be writing, and that’s what’s important.

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

Writing in Your Dreams

Tap into your subconscious to spur creativity and inspire great stories

Last week I asked the question, “Do you dream of writing?” I talked about five fatal perspectives common to aspiring authors and ended with the admonition to stop dreaming about writing and just start doing it.

However, today I’m going to encourage you to dream. Say what? My advice is not to dream about writing, but to dream about your story. Though I never go to bed mulling over a story idea—that’s a sure-fire way to engage my mind and chase sleep away—I do deliberate creative thoughts when I wake up. As I float between daytime reality and nighttime delusion, stories take shape. Characters emerge, opening lines unfold, plot twists reveal themselves, and poignant endings jump out.

When the pieces converge into a collective whole, I hop out of bed and start writing. It’s a compulsion I dare not deny. The words flow with clarity and bursting with creativity. At least that’s my take on it.

Sometimes it’s a short story. Other times it’s a nonfiction idea. Occasionally it’s a blog post. Once in a while, it is the dream itself.

This doesn’t happen every morning, but when it does I must write my new words before my subliminal muse withdraws her inspiration. Yes, my muse is decidedly female. Don’t ask me how I know; she just is.

When my muse guides me it’s a wondrous creative adventure of words.

I wish I could teach you how to tap into your subconscious as you awake. Gee, I wish I could comprehend it myself, but I don’t understand it. I don’t know how to cultivate it—other than perhaps to train your mind to always look for writing inspiration.

I suspect sleep frees my mind to wander from the tangible into the imaginable, with the best ideas percolating to the top of my awareness and boiling over as the morning light turns my slumber to reality. Or maybe not.

What I do know is to watch for creativity to stir as I greet the new day, for my subconscious to give me words to write. Then I jump on that train and ride for as long as I can. And it’s always a joyous journey.

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.

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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.

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.