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Aspiring Writers Q & A

January 27, 2009

Since some of the questions I received were about different parts of the writing process, I didn’t want to make those also interested in the “after the book is done” parts to wait too long without getting a little feedback.

Do aspiring writers need a degree or courses in creative writing?

The short answer: No.

I’m pretty sure if you asked around, you’d find more published authors who haven’t taken courses in creative writing than those who have. That said, with the right teacher, a creative writing class could never be a bad thing. To me writing is a three part skill. One part natural storytelling ability that can’t really be taught (some might consider this your writing “voice”). One part technical ability (understanding story structure, hooks, sagging middles, grammar etc). And one part motivation and determination to do the best you can to constantly improve the first two.

How do I deal with self-doubt?

Make friends with it. Okay, not really. So good news first—every writer deals with it, even those with numerous published books under their belt. Bad news—it never really goes away.

I’ve written over twenty-five novels and novellas and EVERY time I sit down to start a new book I think I won’t be able to do it. That I won’t be able to finish it, the story will be dull, the characters flat or that the whole thing will just generally suck. I worry that my best work is behind me and I won’t be able to recapture the magic that I did in previous books.

No matter what stage you’re at, you’re going to have good days and bad days. Sometimes it’s easy to shove doubt back into the closet or wedge it under the bed and get on with your writing. Sometimes it’s hard as hell. I wish I could say there was a hard and fast rule for dealing with it. For me, if I can’t shake those nagging doubts, I do something that always motivates me to write. Listen to my book’s playlist and just brainstorm. Pop in a great romantic comedy or pluck a keeper from my bookshelf.

How can I improve my grammar skills?

I can’t say I had the strongest grammar skills when I started out. I used to massacre the comma on a regular basis. One of my critique partners thankfully had stronger grammar skills than I did, which helped me a lot in the beginning. After that, my editors have played a huge part in improving my knowledge base.

You can try a couple places online that help with grammar, especially if you’re worried your skills aren’t up to par. Editors expect to see some mistakes, but if every page is littered with common grammar mistakes, it can definitely influence their impression of the story and the author.

I’ll have a post in the next while about the more common grammar mistakes beginning writers can make. Until then you can check out Grammar Girl or Daily Grammar for some more tips.

I finished and polished my book, now what?

Well, it depends. 🙂 If you’ve already done some homework, you might have an idea about who you want to submit to based on your genre, the length or your dream publisher. While some people argue that you should write your book first and worry about where to submit later, there are those who argue in favor of knowing who you want to submit to and writing the book to those guidelines instead of having to revise later to make a book fit a specific length etc.

If you’ve written a shorter length romance 10,000 to 60,000 words, then you may be thinking about subbing to say Harlequin or a small press or epublisher. Most traditional NY publishers (Avon, Berkley, Pocket etc) are looking for books that are closer to 90,000 in length. I think most publishers have all switched over to using the computer word count.

It also depends on the genre. At Harlequin a lot of lines are specific to contemporary, suspense, paranormal, historical etc, so you need to make sure you’re subbing your book to the right line. Some publishers are only looking for specific genres and most have this information posted on their websites.

If you want to submit to a traditional NY publisher, then you might want to consider picking up a Market Guide. The RWA (Romance Writers of America) has a market section in their monthly magazine for members. If you’re thinking about looking at epublishers, you’ll find most submission information online, but definitely read up on that particular publisher before submitting. You can find a great article on epublishing here.

I’ll have more info on the submission process in later posts.

That wraps up this batch of questions. If I can elaborate on anything, just leave me a comment below.

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