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I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Have Faith In Your Work

Pile of library books and DVDs for research on Steampunk and 19th Century India

Sometimes the most difficult part of writing a story is believing in it. Not believing that every word that drops off your fingertips is awesome, but knowing that eventually you can make the story into something worth reading. Here are my tips on how to build that faith into your work.

I Can Fix That
Learn your craft with the zeal of a lioness after a zebra. Or a young man after the girl of his dreams. Or a monk fervently seeking to know his God. (Pick the analogy that works for you.) Learn how to craft fine sentences, even better stories, and invent characters, settings, and image systems for your novel. These are the tools of your trade, and when you have a secure handle on them, you will be able to say to any criticism or self-doubt, I can fix that.

Write a Crappy First Draft
This is my NaNoWriMo motto, and one that I hand out frequently. I just read a quote in @WriMo about Pixar, a company famous for making very high quality films. In essence, it said that everything awesome, starts out crappy, and you have to Trust your process. I have to remind myself of this every, single time I start a new story. It doesn't flow off the fingertips awesome; I have to make it that way in revisions. (See the first tip.)

Nail Down Your Fears With A Steak Knife
As I'm writing Third Daughter, my steampunk fantasy romance NaNo novel, I'm having bouts of terror because 1) I love steampunk, but I really have no idea what it is, 2) I'm writing 19th century Indian Steampunk in an alternate universe, which apparently only THREE other people in the known universe have done, and 3) I'm not feeling the voice yet. It's really the last one that scares me, but it's related to the first two. So, I sat down and free wrote until I realized my fear was that this story would take more research than I expected, and I didn't have time to do that AND write the story. I pinned that fear to the table with my pen, went to the library for some research materials (see above picture of library booty), and already feel better about the story. In other words, I trusted my process, which at the moment was demanding more research. (See the second tip.)

I hope these tips will help you get through your NaNo writing, or whatever writing mountain you're currently climbing.

I'm off to watch a DVD called Vanity Fair:
"The corsets and high waists of the 19th century meet the lush colors and visual splendor of India..."
Okay, maybe FOUR people have actually written about this before... and I believe I can be the fifth. :)

21 comments:

  1. Sounds awesome! I'm a firm believer in a ton of research when it comes to anything historical or settings. Not only does research spark story ideas but it adds so much to the authenticity of the story! Enjoy the process! ;) I'm sure it'll be awesome.

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    1. Thanks so much, Laura! I would have been sure to do the research at some point, I just wasn’t planning on doing so much of it up front! But that’s okay – I learn something new about my writing process with each book!

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  2. Sighs....belief without doubt. I wish that's the way it worked, but I don't think we'd appreciate the nuggets of self-confidence we gain with each teeny success without the doubt. Stupid human processes...

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    1. I know right? When they come up with the no-self-doubt upgrades, I'm totally going for it. :)

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  3. I know how you feel. I was having trouble with my current WIP because it had a lot of SF elements and I knew I had to do a bit of research. So, I emailed this awesome writer ; ) asked a few questions and then got the spark to keep going, and when I got stuck on a technical difficulty, I wrote a different scene, a fun one, to get me into the character's head.

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    1. Yay for creative cross-pollenation!

      Normally I know I have to do a lot of research. Why I thought this WiP would be different, I have no idea. *smackshead*

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  4. Your novel sounds AWESOME, Susan! And I totally believe you can do it, and do it well. If you have questions about India that your research doesn't cover, please feel free to ask. :) I'm Indian, and lived there for many years before moving to the U.S. I still have family there, so I can always call them or email them.

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    1. Thanks so much, Adriana! I have so many Indian friends, you would think this would be easy! (But no.) I'm enjoying the prospect of learning more about Indian cultural history though! I will definitely call on you if I have a question. :) Thanks!

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  5. LOL! Susan, you are hilarious. "I love steampunk, but I really don't know what it is"... *snort* I get that. :D

    GOOD LUCK with your new book! It's hard for me to imagine you writing a crappy first anything. But yes, we can fix whatever. <3

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    1. I think it’s important for people to know that EVERYONE writes a crappy first draft. Of course, my crappy first draft now is different than it would have been 3 years ago, but still. STILL crappy. And that’s okay, because I know how to fix it. :)

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  6. I love that you found an angle that hasn't been explored much! In a way, that opens you up to do what you want; although I assume an understanding about India and Steampunk culture is essential.

    I'm also doing Nano and have to remind myself it's a first draft. I want to obsessively research local landmarks and street names and all kinds of things, but I make a simple note and move on. IT'S SO HARD.

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    1. It really is tough to respect the process; I write down what my process is, just so I remember there will be steps ahead where I'll take care of all the things that are dogging me now. :) Go, Write, Win! :)

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  7. Hahahah you're asking a bunch of writers to have faith in their work? Authors will tweak things and see things in their own writing that no one else will ever see. I bet (and you can lie about this if you want) that you could pick up ANY one of your books, open a page, and spot one thing you would change.

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    1. Oh, this is undoubtably true! (One reason I don't pick up my books after they're published.) The temptation to endlessly tinker is HUGE. This is why I'm thankful for publishing, because it does put a final punctuation point to a work.

      (I'm neglecting the fact that ebooks allow endless tinkering post-publishing, a sin that should only be indulged in for obvious typos IMHO.)

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  8. hi miss susan!

    i love doing research stuff. problem for me is when i go researching one thing gets me jumping to the next til i forgot what i was researching for my writing in the first place. ack! mostly i dont get steampunk either but when i put on those cool steampunk goggles you gave me it gets real clear. you wanna borrow them?? ha ha.

    ...hugs from lenny

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    1. That’s what I need! If I had those goggles, I think I’d have no problems at all. :)

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  9. Nail down your fear with a steak knife - great advice!

    I'm using NaNo this year to polish LAST year's NaNo rough draft and the voice is only now coming, after a whole year of getting to know these characters. This has been my huge fear, too. A truly frightful fear because it's something you can just go to the library and do much research and fix; that certainly helps with voice, but there's also a distillation process (in my case) that just seems to take time, crazy experimentation, battering different ideas around until some of them start to stick.

    Sorry, long meandering comment but anyway THANK you for this post. And by the way, this is the book you promised earlier this year I'd get to beta for you :-) Don't know if you remember that!

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    1. That was supposed to be "it's NOT something you can just go to the library..."

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    2. I DO remember that - in fact, I have you in my Critiquers of Awesome file under "possible Third Daughter crit partners" - yay!

      Voice is tough. I think sometimes it falls right out, and sometimes we have to really work for it. For me voice DOES come out of research in a way, because I have to flavour the world (look at me, with that steampunk spelling!) before I can get a grasp on the voice.

      I'm glad you're sticking with it!

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  10. Hi. Sent over here from RaShell. Great post and the book on top in your photo really caught my eye. Research can be the scariest. Good luck and thanks.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! (I kinda fawn over that book, it's so cool... :))

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Erudite comments from thoughtful readers