Some writers need a certain condition to boost their creative process. Many well known writers have found idiosyncratic ways to get their creative juices flowing. These literary icons have found a variety of ways to motivate themselves—from drinking copious amounts of coffee to writing in the buff—to encourage the writing genie to loosen the creative impulse.
Writing is a personal experience, and the condition that promotes the creative process is personal as well. Perhaps one of the methods described below will motivate you to establish some concentrated time working on your craft.
Getting Horizontal or Vertical
Instead of using a chair, some writers preferred standing up or lying down to write. Woody Allen, Truman Capote, George Orwell, Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton preferred to recline, while Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Roth, and Virginia Woolf preferred to stand.
Using Index Cards to Organize Scenes and Jot Down Ideas
Vladimir Nabokov used index cards, which allowed to him to reorder scenes, write on the go, or write while in bed. Today, digital tools can be used for note taking.
Select a Quota of Words
Anthony Trollope wrote 250 words every 15 minutes. Ernest Hemingway wrote at least 500 words a day. Jack London wrote 1,000 words, Thomas Wolfe wrote at least 1,800, and prolific author Stephen King has a quota of at least 2,000 adverb-less words. Norman Mailer, William Golding, and Arthur Conan Doyle each wrote 3,000 words daily.
Acting out Character Dialogues
Aaron Sorkin prefers to act out his character’s dialogues. For scriptwriters and novelists, this method might be a useful way to test the dialogue.
Writing in Your Underwear or in the Buff
John Cheever and Victor Hugo discarded their clothes. John Cheever wrote in his underwear, while Victor Hugo wrote without his clothes to discourage himself from going anywhere when a deadline was approaching.
Relying on Caffeine
Honoré de Balzac drank 50 cups of coffee a day. Voltaire was another coffee addict who drank 40 cups daily. Proust and other writers did not drink as much coffee, but many writers find coffee helps them to write.
Making Time for Exercise
Dan Brown likes to hang upside down and take exercise breaks between writing. He is not the only writer who likes to exercise before and between writing episodes.
Writing on the Go
Wallace Steven wrote while walking, Gertrude Stein and Eudora Welty wrote in the car, while Sir Walter Scott composed while on horseback. Joseph Heller and Woody Allen wrote while taking public transit.
If any of these routines are too wild for you, find your own way to create a comfortable environment that encourages your creativity. Or, maybe you have already found a personalized, quirky method that helps you work productively each day. If so, just know that you are in good company.
Inexperienced novelists are often confused about the steps that follow after the first draft is finished. Novelists who plan to go the traditional publishing route need to revise and re-edit their work before finding an agent. In this process the output should also be free of the common mistakes made by first-time novelists. Otherwise the novel will not be selected by a discerning agent. If the self-publishing route is chosen, then review and revision is still necessary, and finding an editor to review the work is recommended.
Getting to the First Draft
Often the first draft is in a clearly unfinished state that was intended to be revised afterwards. This is because writing is a hard task, and the writer needs to write something before improving it. However, some writers do not realize the first draft is the start of a new stage in the writing process. If you are at this stage then this discussion is for you.
Become an Objective Reviewer by Taking a Time-Out
Create some space and separation from your output, so you can look at your draft objectively. Let some time pass. Ways to create some space include printing a hard copy of the novel and reading it through an e-reader after converting it to an .epub or .mobi file. The draft can also be listened to by reading it aloud or having someone else read it aloud and recording it.
Editing and Rewriting the First Draft
Consider the novel as a whole, and ask yourself whether the themes and sub-themes work. Is the novel economically written, or does the content need pruning? Keep in mind that beautiful or flowery prose can overwhelm the content.
Are the characters relatable or plausible? Is the plot riddled with holes or missing some vital parts? Did you forget to tie up loose ends? Are the descriptions just right or excessive? Is the pacing right? Consider such thematic issues.
Then review the technicalities of the writing. How are the grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Do sentences flow well? Do the paragraphs support the narrative flow? If you are unsure about the technicalities then you should read a book about the technical aspects of writing, take a writing course online or at a college, or join a writers group or workshop.
Get Some Feedback
Get feedback after reviewing and self-editing the work repeatedly until it seems complete. The process of immersion eventually obstructs objectivity. Make time for this stage. It can lead to more revisions.
The writing, review, and revision process is a learning curve. Your novel should be ready for submission after this stage is completed to your best ability.
According to a Pew Internet survey of teachers, a majority thinks students are distracted easily and have shorter attention spans. However, a good children’s book will still capture their attention, even though children’s exposure to technology is a distracting factor. Kids still love to immerse themselves in stories and transport themselves in them as witnesses or protagonists. Reading takes them on adventures to captivating places in their imaginations.
As you think about your story, here are some things to keep in mind:
The Conundrum of the Target Audience
If you are considering writing for children, do not approach your work with cold calculation and write for a particular market. You need to be authentic and have a connection to your work.
However, knowing which age group you want to write for will influence how you tell your story and the words you use. Is your target audience preschoolers, kindergarteners, or elementary school students?
Is There Deeper Meaning in Your Book?
Do you want to teach a life lesson, show your readers how to do something, or are you simply a storyteller? For life lessons, you can write what you think is worth knowing about, or research topics that would be useful for your intended audience. No matter what you write about, your originality should standout. Writing what you would have loved to read as a child is one way to be an authentic children’s book author.
Capturing the Attention of Young Readers
Just because you are writing for children does not mean the quality should suffer. Nevertheless, avoiding long sentences, longwinded narrative descriptions, and sophisticated words will improve the readability of the content.
Begin with an exciting and engrossing narrative to capture interest. Engage readers with an interesting plot developed through the dialogue of realistic and relatable characters. Add humor, if it fits.
Avoid Patronizing Your Readers
An entertaining story can still challenge readers and their intellect. A story that is too simple or complex to follow will lose readers; but you can still write a creative story on subject matter your readers would not have imagined.
Get Input from Others
If you have children, nephews, or nieces, or know children in the age group you are writing for, have them read your work. Their input may be constructive and help you to improve your work.
Writing a children’s book is a rewarding experience when the work is appreciated. If your book remains a fond memory for years to come, then you have earned it by valuing your readers and working hard to earn their appreciation.
Writers need to pay attention and show respect by following submission guidelines. The best way to avoid being discarded in the slush pile is to follow the submission guidelines. The slush pile is the publishing industry term for unsolicited manuscripts or query letters sent by authors, or unfamiliar agents, to the publisher.
Submission Guidelines Vary
While submission guidelines vary, most guidelines are available on the websites of the publications. However, one standard requirement is the formatting of the submitted work. Going through the pile is an arduous task, so reviewers are not in a generous mood when they encounter obviously unacceptable work.
Some publications allow works to be resubmitted; but others reject erroneous submissions without redemption. Improperly submitted work wastes your time and theirs. If you follow submission guidelines, your unsolicited work still needs to go through the slush pile.
Do Other Submissions have an Advantage?
Solicited work is usually accepted. Submissions sent by writers, or agents, with some connection to the publication bypass the pre-editor review round, known as the “reader round” in the publishing industry. If another publication has published you, or your submission was rejected but your style was appreciated, your next submission may bypass the slush pile. But, that is not an assurance of success, as most of the non-slush pile submissions are not published.
Do Submissions in the Slush Pile get Published?
The published amount of slush pile submissions varies. Do not assume you have no chance of acceptance, if you have carefully crafted your work, and selected the publication with care.
Select the Publications Carefully
Research to find out what kind of material the publications like to publish. Good writing that is a bad fit is generally not accepted. The slush pile has too many examples of submissions that do not meet the publications’ criteria.
Since there are less readers/ reviewers than the amount of submissions, they have little time to read the material. Your work will not make its way to an editor, if it fails to grab the attention of the slush pile reader in the beginning.
Be aware that going though the slush pile is a preliminary step in the writing career of most magazine/journal writers. Do not get disheartened if you experience a rejection after your submit a story, essay, or poem you to a literary publication. In the era of online submissions, literary publications just do not have the space to publish most of what they receive. If you are confident in your work, go ahead and submit your writing to another compatible journal, after making sure you follow its guidelines.
Are you writing a literary, mainstream/general fiction, or genre novel? Did you think about genres when you started writing your novel, or afterwards? Some authors easily identify the category of their work. However, others find it more difficult.
Categorizing the fiction type is important for agents and publishers. It helps to position the marketing of the product and identify its target audience. If your novel does not fit a genre classification, it might be a mainstream novel.
Differences between Mainstream and Literary Works
Is your book literary fiction? The beauty of the writing style and the themes are more important in literary fiction. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is literary fiction. You may think literary works are highbrow; but Harper Lee’s masterpiece is engaging because it is not highbrow. It presents complex issues in a narrative style that engages readers with deceptive simplicity. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is also a work of literary fiction. It is much more than a crime novel.
Mainstream fiction focuses more on action, although it may have elements of a literary novel. The storyline hooks the reader, while the characters and plot fuel the momentum. This characteristic makes novels in this category marketable to a larger target audience. Mainstream fiction readers like to follow an exciting plot.
Literary fiction is considered a limited niche market today because fewer people spend their time reading complex, and sophisticated fiction. Readers of literary fiction like to linger over their reading material.
Identifying Genre Fiction
Genre novels have a built-in target audience that looks for books in a particular category. These novels focus on the story. Character development takes a back seat to the main plot built around the genre’s primary focus. This means in mysteries the main character’s activities are focused on solving the mystery; and in a romance, the focus is on the relationship between the two main characters.
Entertaining the reader is the main purpose of genre fiction. The linear storyline culminates with a clear resolution and satisfies the reader’s expectation. Hence, a happy ending is the culmination of the narrative arc of a romance novel’s storyline.
Mainstream fiction does not fit into a defined genre category. It is harder to market, because there is no target audience. However, it has the potential of appealing to a broader audience. The word-count requirements and style guidelines are stricter for genre novels, than they are for mainstream or literary fiction. So, it is also important to know how to classify your novel for this reason as well.
Bloggers have to engage and maintain their readers’ attention. A study has found that only 16% of visitors of a website read every word of its content. Evidence from consumer reports, polls, and experiments reveals that computer screens make the content more difficult to read than it would be on printed paper.
A blog writer must craft the content to hold the reader’s attention. It is harder for people to read content that winds slowly to its conclusion because reading online content subtly impairs reading comprehension even for higher-literacy readers. Perhaps this is also why online material is less conducive to learning than is content printed on paper.
The following tips will help you to hook your readers and hold their attention:
Write for the Reader You Want to Engage
Are you writing for an educated audience or a wider consumer audience? This makes a difference because the online behavior of higher-literacy readers is unlike that of lower-literacy readers. Lower-literacy readers are not text scanners; while higher-literacy readers scan the text.
Lower-literacy readers read each word, so multi-syllabic words should be avoided to speed the process for them. If they are your intended audience, do not present the material in a style that is too complicated for lower-literacy readers. Dense text loses the attention of such readers as they skip over it to save time and effort.
Grab the Reader’s Attention with the First Sentence
The first sentence is critical because it engages the reader while providing some idea of the subject matter at the same time. Consider beginning with a question, a statistic, a quote or use another way to hook the reader.
Do Not Waste Words and Avoid Longwinded Sentences
Use words that most people can understand. Because of the limited attention span of most online readers, a blogger has to focus on getting the point across as quickly as possible. The content needs to be crafted so that every part of the content—from words to punctuation style and arrangement—adds something to the product. Read the content aloud to gauge the pace of the text.
Make Your Text Easily Scannable
Scanning is a technique used by readers to make the content less tiring to read.
Research how formatting, lists, headings and sub-headings, and other techniques are used to make the text more scannable. Focus on making it easier for readers to remember the content.
Readers reward bloggers who write unique, engaging, and informative content. Keep in mind that according to the U.S. Department of Education 43% of the population has a low literacy level. Present your content in a way that engages both higher-literacy and lower-literacy readers, if you are writing for a general audience.
Few major publishers take submissions seriously if they are not received through a literary agent. As revealed by the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey, agented authors received substantially higher median advances and earnings. Traditional publishers also depend on agents to be reliable guides for writers.
What Literary Agents Do For Writers
The main purpose of an agent is to sell manuscripts to publishers. Agents are professional salespeople but also career and writing guides for writers. To be successful at their manuscript sales job they need to have great contacts.
Agents provide pre-submission editorial work. This means perfecting the work, not fixing a half-baked project. Afterwards, agents oversee the publication process while advising their writers throughout the process.
As part of their manuscript-selling role, agents need to know which editors are suitable for particular projects, and which publishing imprints are most suitable for the works. Agents must also be able to run auctions capably. In an ideal situation, multiple publishers will bid for the work. The agent advises the best course of action, if the manuscript is unable to attract multiple offers.
An agent must be experienced in negotiating a contract that reflects the best current practice for e-royalties, reversion clauses, and related matters. This technical aspect of price negotiations requires expert knowledge. An agent should know how to organize the sale of other rights, such as foreign language, TV and movie rights, with in-house capability or through partners.
Preparing a nonfiction book proposal or novel synopsis is an important preparatory step for the process of securing an agent.
Nonfiction Book Proposals
Book proposals take time to draft and can be 50 or more pages long. Experienced writers submit the proposal before writing their book. Novice writers may prefer to write the book before drafting the proposal. The proposals explain why the manuscript, or idea, is marketable.
A Novel Synopsis for Fiction
The synopsis reveals what happens in the novel and covers the narrative arc of the story. It reveals how fresh or interesting the story is and may reveal structural weaknesses that need to be corrected before submitting the work to publishers.
Finding an Agent via the Publishers Marketplace
The database of deals at the Publishers Marketplace provides useful information about which agents to target. The database reveals which agents have sold what books to which editors. The deal information also reveals the prices the manuscripts were sold for. The available information is useful for finding appropriate agents, and as a resource that can be used to entice agents’ interest.
Literary agents bring the value of monetary and non-monetary benefits to a writer’s career. If your book is of niche interest, such as an educational or professional work, you may not need an agent. However, you will have the advantage if you are able to obtain an agent.
Are you ready to write a book? Do you think getting your book published will be the most difficult challenge? Actually, the hardest part is writing a book, as there are more opportunities than ever before to publish a book. There are also more tools available to make the writing task easier.
Before you begin writing, you need to have your writing tools ready for use. Which one will work for you? The optimal writing tools provide the support a writer needs to become productive.
Software Tools for Writers
Will you use Word, Pages, Nisus Writer Pro, Scrivener, or something else? Scrivener is made for writers and is ideal for long projects. It can also output books directly to self-publishing services. Storyist offers an alternative to Scrivener. Its iOS version enables writing on the go. Storyist also has tools that help writers who intend to self-publish their work.
If you want to use a free tool, consider the open source Bibisco tool for Windows and Linux users. Its capabilities include character development tools and book and scene organization tools. InDesign and Photoshop are useful for creating the visual aspects of the book.
Mobile apps permit writing on the go. Word for iPad, Storyist for iOS, Pages and Quip for iOS, and Google Docs for iOS and Android are all available. OneNote, Evernote, and Pocket are all helpful for research. Trello, a project management tool, helps writers track their work and become more consistent. Go ahead and see what else you can use. Novel Factory, creative writing and other software offer writers many choices.
Self-publishing Sites for Writers
If you plan to self-publish, you have several options. CreateSpace, Author House, and Xlibris are cost-free or come with charges for more supportive services. EBook distribution choices vary with Smashwords, Draft2Digital, PigeonLab, EpubDirect, BookBaby, and eBookPartnership.
Book Proposals for Nonfiction Books
If you want a publisher to publish your nonfiction book, you will need to create a book proposal to pitch your book idea. A book proposal explains why your book, or book idea, is a marketable product. It can be 50 pages or more. Seasoned writers create the proposal before drafting the book. But, new writers may find it easier to write the book before creating the proposal. Do what works best for you.
A Novel Synopsis for Publishers
Agents or publishers want to see what happens in the novel. The synopsis contains the narrative arc of the novel from beginning to end. A novel synopsis is useful because it reveals weaknesses in the plot, characterizations, and/or the structure of the novel. The synopsis also reveals how unique or interesting the story is.
Writing is a process that begins with the basics, before the writer’s creative skills are exercised. Being organized, knowing how you want to publish the book, and preparing what is needed will make the process productive for you.
Establishing a routine is an essential tool for most writers. Routines are invaluable for writers because they provide structure and allow them to focus on writing. The difference between unrealized potential and being a published author is the commitment to make it happen. Establishing a daily routine is a part of the process.
Learning how to establish a routine that works is a personal choice and depends on the person’s daily activities. If you are a busy person, establishing a routine will make you consistently productive.
Choose a Comfortable Workspace
Writers need an organized and inspirational workspace that is as distraction-free as possible. Your workspace can affect how often and well you write. The ideal workspace will help you to be a productive writer.
Establish a Writing Time and Its Duration
Productive writers often make writing a part of their daily routine. A writer may elect to write for the same amount of time each day or establish how many words or pages get written daily. Sometimes it is better to create a space during the day, either before the daily grind begins or at nighttime before bed.
Select a Playlist for Writing Sessions
Some writers like using playlists. Music can affect the written word, inspire writers to create, and help set the mood. You can stick to the same playlist or change it up. What you choose should make you feel inspired and relaxed.
Keep a Notebook or Virtual Tool for Notes on the Go
Writers get inspiration at unscheduled moments. Even if you have an established routine, a notebook for jotting down ideas is a useful tool. A notebook helps writers make productive use of their established daily writing periods.
If you do not want to carry a notebook and writing utensil around, consider using an online tool like OneNote, Evernote, or Pocket to collect your ideas. You can write when you get the inspiration and not just during your designated daily writing period. When you are in the zone, you should keep going while it lasts.
Keep Material for Reading Inspiration
Keeping other writers’ work handy provides a ready source for inspiration when you need it.
Repetition of a set routine can mesmerize the writer into an absorbed state of mind. Writers who do not have other distractions can get in the writing mode by following a daily routine like writing at a certain time, doing some form of exercise before or after the writing period, or doing something that gets the juices going like listening to music or reading.
Nevertheless, do not become a slave to a routine that does not serve you. The purpose of the routine is to provide you with the space to write productively. If you cannot establish a routine, write whenever you can.
A query letter is a one-page document sent by a writer to his or her literary agent. Its primary purpose is to lure the agent’s interest in the manuscript. Since many writers are engaged in the same goal, a successful query letter makes for an outstanding pitch.
Each query does not have much time, or space, to capture the interest of the literary agent. Experienced agents get thousands of queries every year. This is why novice writers sweat over the challenge of writing a captivating query letter.
Creating a List of Prospective Agents
There are several resources that help writers locate agents that specialize in their genre. These include databases like the publishersmarketplace.com, literarymarketplace.com, the Association of Author Representatives, agentyuery.com, querytracker.net, and writersmarket.com. After finding potential agents, writers need to visit the agents’ websites to obtain submission guidelines, find out what types of books they are looking for; and whether they are still accepting submissions.
Following Submission Guidelines
Submission guidelines specify the acceptable method of submission, as well as what should be included in the query letter’s contents and/or attachments. Some elements do not change even when the contents vary according to the agent’s specifications, the work being pitched by the writer, and its genre.
Printed/Email Formats and Content
If the agent wants the material submitted by mail, then the letter should have the writer’s address, right justified, at the top of the page followed by the left justified agent’s name and address. If the letter is being submitted by email, the subject line should indicate it is a query and the signature should have the writer’s name, address and other contact information.
The agent should be addressed courteously; and, the main portion of a posted letter should not exceed five or 6 paragraphs. Emailed queries should not exceed 300 words because agents read and discard emails quickly.
The first paragraph should capture the agent’s interest. This is the paragraph where connection with the agent maybe personalized by for example mentioning authors represented by the agent, or any meeting with the agent, or knowing someone who knows the agent. It can include the word count of the book, its genre and title.
The following paragraphs should capture the agent’s interest by giving a vivid sense of the book. If query is about a nonfiction work, the writer should explain why the writer is qualified to write the book. If the book is a novel, then following agents on social media may provide useful information about whether the agent is the right fit for the book being pitched. Only requested attachments should be provided. The signature can include links to a personal website or blog.
Bottom line: agents want projects that publishers will accept. If you want to feel comfortable about your task, check online for examples that have worked. You can also improve the odds of being accepted by sending queries to many agents.