Author's Note: Everything written here is actually something I believe in. I'm not going to write a rebuttal that doesn't actually hold water. Please pardon the formatting. I'm working to fix it.

It's the Story, Stupid!

(Part 1)

A Rebuttal.

Let me tell you a secret. Yes, you. If you are one of the many people who dream of becoming a writer, if you dream about finishing a novel or short story or novella or even, yes, even a poem, then you may want to sit down while you read this.

Are you sitting? Good. No open cans of soft drinks near your keyboard? No hot cup of coffee to spill on your lap? Have you closed all other applications on your computer so I can have your individual, absolute attention? Good, good, good.

If you've been anywhere online, you'll read in more than one location of the closely held secret of publication. The secret handshake. The paper ceiling that prevents novice writers from breaking through to bestselling fame. The conspiracies that hold just enough truth to make you wonder if there's something to be said about paying for publication. The sharks who want your money. The vanity presses who will publish absolutely everyone, no questions asked.

Well, although rumors and lies seem to be everywhere; although everyone and his or her sister want you to believe that there's a trick to publication that will ensure you get published (for only $19.95 a month!) and after reading quite a few claims that have no basis whatsoever in actual truth, I decided that I had to get in one the game.

Because it is a game. It's a game to keep would-be writers in the ranks of would-be writers--or push them all the way to has-been writers, because the people who claim there's a terrible, deep dark secret that they will impart to you if you, then, impart them some of your hard-earned cash,

are lying.

They are so afraid that if you actually write something good enough for publication, you may knock them off their fair white pedestal and send them crashing to the ground. The infighting between the mid-list and bottom-list authors is so bad sometimes that you can't hear yourself think over the din.

Do you want to know the
real secret to success?

It doesn't involve an advance of a million dollars, or bestseller status. It doesn't involve Amazon sales numbers or whether or not your book cover has sparkly gold foil. It doesn't involve screaming fans or a media frenzy. It doesn't even involve being in a critique group.

If you are looking for these types of things, then I suggest you stop reading now, go check out the other writers who are peddling their expertise, and see if you can learn from them.

Are you still there?


I once read an article in the New York Times or some similar newspaper that said 80% of the people who say they want to write a novel never do. They could say they want to write a novel until they are 80 years old, and they never do. Of the 20% who actually begin to write their novels, I imagine 80% of those never finish them.

But I'd bet that at least 25% of that 80% are swept up in the whirlwind of writers groups, critique groups, classes, conventions, writers retreats, and how-to-write seminars, where they are told how to do the same thing sixty different ways, where they are critiqued before their nascent story even gets off the ground, where they are stopped before they begin.

Because, writing is a solitary pursuit, and not many people can handle being alone with their novel for an extended period of time. It takes some adjustment, believe me. I've been there.

But in truth, all creative pursuits are, in essence, solitary. An artist doesn't submit half-finished paintings for review. A woodworker doesn't learn about sanding before learning about which wood is best for whatever he or she wants to create. A knitter doesn't knit a stuffed mouse before having a decent idea as to where the arms and legs have to go for it to be plausible. A baker doesn't bake a loaf of bread without a pre-arranged list of ingredients.

There are only four steps to master to be able to write a novel worth reading.

Like everyone else out to make a buck (or a living, depending on who you ask), I could charge for this information. I could charge the price of a standard advance, perhaps, or charge your credit card a certain amount a month. I could maybe give away this information to anyone who can prove they've bought and read one of my books. I could seal this information in envelopes and mail it to you for the price of an SASE.

But I'm not going to do that.


Because honestly? I think there's more than enough room in the trenches for other writers. I think that if we all worked together instead of against each other, we might actually be able to
write for a living without having an income at or below the poverty level. I think that if you really want to learn how to do something, you should learn to do it, and damn the torpedoes!

How do you paint a picture? How do you bake a loaf of good bread? How do you play Beethoven on a piano? How do you learn to play the harp? How do you learn to ride a bike?

You practice.

We are so used to convenience and instant gratification in this world that no one wants to practice anymore. No one wants to start small and work their way upwards, perfecting their craft. No one wants to spend time pursuing something just for the sake of the pursuit. No one wants to discard something that didn't work out right, fell flat in the oven, or sounds so terrible that even your dog hides from your attempts.

I'm hoping that since you're still reading (if anyone still is reading), you might be one of those rare people who do.

Are you ready?

Do you want to know the four steps?

Here are two of them:

1. Listen. Do you want to write good dialogue? Listen to the world around you. Do you want to hear what your characters hear? Listen to the world around you. Do you want to "write what you know"? Listen to the world around you.

2. Watch. How do others react in situations your characters might encounter? How do people walk? Do they stumble, strut, or stagger? What do you say when you pick up the phone to answer it? How would your characters react in the same situations that you see?

And one more:

3. Read.
Read. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, both bad and good. Let what you read percolate in your subconscious. Let it feed your muse; that part of whatever that gifts you with story ideas.

And last but not least, perhaps the most important step of all:


It seems too simple, doesn't it? Write. What a plain little word.


Write. I can't repeat it enough.

Write the best story you possibly can, using everything you have at your fingertips, using all the information you've digested over the years, using both your head and your heart.

Because in the end, it's the story that's important, more than anything. If you want readers to like your books, make them care about the story. Make them cheer on your heroes and hate your villains. Make them care.

Because the second you make them care, they are

You won't please everyone, of course. There are actually people in this world who did
not like Harry Potter, after all. (Although they might not admit it out loud.) But those readers you ensnare; those readers who wonder what happens next, who can't put your book down even to go to the bathroom, those readers are the ones you want to keep.

And the only way to get them interested in the first place is to write. Write a story they will want to read. Write the absolute best story you possibly can.

And only then will you be ready to go on to
Part 2: I Wrote a Novel, Now What?


JamiJo said…
But in truth, all creative pursuits are, in essence, solitary.

... except for music, of course ;) Although I guess solo work (unaccompanied Bach suites, for example) could be considered solitary (but then you have nobody to read them!)

And actually... Okay, a thought, maybe you can run with this and maybe not. It's the *practice* that's solitary, and for writers moreso because everything after the practice is on a relay - you send the book out to the pub house, pub distributes it to sellers, sellers to readers who then give reviews and feedbacks (which weren't generally done directly to the author pre-internet, right?) But anyway, my point is - in creative processes, there is an audience. It's not entirely alone - but you have to have a stage persona (pen persona) and presence or nobody is going to want to listen to / read you. It's not interesting listening to an aria when the soloist can't project past the first three rows and engage the entire audience.

Sorry, music is on my brain and having high-falootin' artsy discussion is oh-so-much-more-interesting than writing my psych paper at the moment... :D (okay, so I'm really not sorry at all!)
JamiJo said…
and HOLY CRAP that comment is disorganized and poorly written! My apologies!! :D
Jennifer said…
I get what you're saying. :)

And yes, it's the practice that's solitary. Okay, music probably isn't that good of an example, because a lot of people learn how to play a musical instrument *with* someone, so I probably shouldn't have put that in there.

The audience, in my mind, for writing, at least, comes later, after the novel is finished. I know that doesn't happen all the time either.

I'm practicing my crusty crazy cat lady persona. :)
Grey said…
I like this! :)

I think you're right, that many people can't start and/or finish their novels because they can't bear to be alone with their stories for that long.
Unknown said…
You mean you're going to hell for spamming your friends' friends pages? Because I don't see anything particularly sinful in the post. Though I'm wondering whether you should go into copywriting, because that read pretty darn well. :)

I do think there's something between your first three steps and your last one, but I think it may just be "practice." There are definitely people with more natural talent for translating what they hear/see/know to the page than others, but that translation is learnable (and I agree that reading is a big part of it).
Jennifer said…
Thanks, Grey!

Jenny, I had to fix the formatting twice, so I wasn't sure if it would show up three times on the friends' pages--it didn't, so everything turned out ok. :)

Thanks for the compliment. Maybe I'll look into copywriting. :)

In my opinion, it's mostly practice. I think I didn't actually pick up a 'how to write' book until I had written six or seven novels, and it really messed me up.

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