Tag Archives: fiction

Writers Must Balance Education with Experience

Wordsmiths need both knowledge and a growing word count to achieve writing success

Writers Must Balance Education with ExperienceI’ve run into writers who work in a vacuum. Committed to writing all they do is write, but they don’t study the craft. They don’t read books or magazines about writing; they don’t take classes, attend workshops, or go to conferences; they don’t participate in writing groups, have a critique partner, or use beta readers. They don’t follow blogs, listen to podcasts, or watch webinars. I suspect these folks are more prevalent than I realize – because they write in secret, and I run into them by accident. (By the way, they aren’t reading this post, either – unless you email it to them.)

The opposite extreme are those who read extensively about writing and often quote their favorite gurus; they attend every writing related event they can afford to squeeze in, often traveling far to do so; they join online writing groups, are active in writing discussion boards, and confidently give their opinion on every piece of writing they encounter. There’s one problem: they don’t write. They’ve put writing on hold until they learn more. They have been talking about writing a book for years, but they’re not quite ready to start. They feel they need to figure out one more thing first.Writing without knowledge is futility, while studying without application wastes time. Click To Tweet

The balance between these two extremes is to pair writing with learning. Yes, we need to put in the time and write, but we need to do so in an informed way. Writing without knowledge is futility, while studying without application wastes time.

To pursue this balance I start by writing every day. Then to inform my writing I read writing magazines, follow a few blogs, listen to (too many) podcasts, participate in critique groups, attend two writing conferences each year, and read books (though I have bought more writing books than I have read).

As a long time nonfiction writer, in the past few years I’ve delved into fiction. I started with short stories, recently completed a novella, and will start a novel in November. I’ve also done a lot of studying to prepare me to write good fiction, yet I fear that recently my education has outpaced my experience. I currently have enough writing theory stuffed into my brain to paralyze me. Instead of thinking about writing a compelling story, my preoccupation with systems and formats and conventions and expectations has bogged me down.

My solution is to sit down and write more fiction. This will restore the balance. I can’t wait.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Can You Write a Novel in a Month?

Now is the time to prepare for NaNoWriMo in November

NaNoWriMo: Can You Write a Book in a Month?I’ve written nonfiction all of my adult life and recently began writing fiction for some variety. I started with 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 its approaching novel length (at least for YA romance).

I’m doing all of this in preparation to write a novel. Since writers 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.The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write the first 50,000 words of a novel in one month. Click To Tweet

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 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.

The 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.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!


Why Should You Pay Others to Help You Improve as a Writer?

When you want to advance as an author, the cost-effective solution is to hire outside help

Why Should You Pay Others to Help You Improve as a Writer?Tip #7 in my post “10 Tips to Improve as a Writer” is to not be afraid to pay for help. As a financially frugal person this was a hard lesson for me to learn. When I entered the publishing industry in 2001, by purchasing Connections Magazine from its founder, I approached my new business with entrepreneurial zeal and no publishing knowledge.

One of the first things I did was pay an established industry consultant to point me in the right direction. At $200 an hour, I had to make every minute count. Though expensive, his advice was golden, helping me to avoid costly errors and dodge common traps. It was one of the best investments I could have made.

To save money, though, I did all the editing myself. This was a mistake. Every issue had errors. In one column I lauded my designer as a “creative genesis” instead of a “creative genius.” Another time I contrasted a shotgun to a riffle, not a rifle. Readers who knew me would laugh at my errors. To ease my embarrassment I hired an editor to do proofreading and copyediting. Though I still do all the substantive edits (macro editing, as I call it), I defer the minutia of details to someone who is able to pick out typos and knows grammar and punctuation.

Though I’ve learned much in this area and now do my own proofreading for online content, I would never print something without the seasoned eye of a professional proofreader first reviewing each word and scrutinizing every sentence.

I have also paid people to provide an assessment of some of my books. Sometimes this is to point out weakness in the work or identify writing habits I need to correct. Other times the goal is simply to answer the question, “Is this work viable?” and if not, “What do I need to do to fix it?”

Most recently I hired a former college writing professor to provide feedback on my fiction work, starting with short stories. With ease and confidence he answers questions that have perplexed me and caused my writing peers to equivocate. He confirms what I do well and shows where I can improve. His tutelage is invaluable. Paying for expert writing advice is like designing our own, personal writing course. Click To Tweet

Whenever I hire someone to help me with my writing, I view it as designing my own, personal writing course, one to provide direct, tangible assistance in the area where I need it most. This saves me from trial-and-error discovery of what works and what doesn’t. This keeps me from wasting time and helps me to get better faster.

Yes, nothing can replace the lessons learned when we just sit down and write, but seeking professional help when we need it, makes our time spent writing less frustrating and so much more effective.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Writers Need to Learn By Doing

Knowledge about writing has value only when we put it into action

Writers Need to Learn By DoingAt the risk of offending all writers who are pursuing or want to pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree in writing, let me share some concerns. Yes, I look at writers with MFA degrees with admiration, even through the eyes of envy. And as a person who has earned the right to hang letters of accomplishment after my name, I understand the heady allure and practical benefits of doing so. Yet I have also wondered if an MFA degree is worth the effort and the cost, both in terms of time and money.

This week in listening to one of the many writing podcasts I follow, the accomplished guest (sorry I forgot your name; I can’t even check because I don’t recall which podcast it was) put things very clearly for me. He (yes, I remember that much) said something to the effect of “Don’t waste your time on an MFA degree, where you will spend years writing one book. You’re better off spending that time writing many books.”

That makes sense, especially given that most authors have to write several novels before they pen one that’s marketable. That’s a big reason why I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo this November to write my first novel. I want to get it out of my system. I need to move it from my head onto the page, inching me closer to authoring a book that is worthy. Of course if my first novel is good I won’t complain, but I’m not expecting that outcome. But by the time I finish the series (two sequels and a prequel) I hope I’m ready.

I’ve been moving toward this for a couple of years: reading fiction, receiving instruction, opening myself to critique, and writing fiction. I started with short stories. Though each of these steps is essential, the final one matters most, the actual implementation. During the practice phase, theory becomes real. When we apply head knowledge, it becomes art.We must practice: most authors write several novels before penning one that’s marketable. Click To Tweet

I often run into wannabe writers who have stuffed their heads with theory but have never bothered to apply it by actually writing. Their ideas mean little and their critiques carry questionable merit because they lack the practical experience that turns education into work that matters.

Yes, learning is critical – and writers who refuse to learn are not really writers at all – but working out that head knowledge as we write is even more critical.

Writers spend their time writing and poseurs spend their time learning.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What It Means To Be a Writer

Writing is about focus and balance and obeying our muse

What It Means To Be a Writer

For the first time (that I recall) I don’t want to write a post for this blog today. It’s not that I don’t want to write at all; it’s that I yearn to work on something else.

This something else is a short story that has turned into a novella (a short novel). It is a YA romance, of all things. Yes, this nonfiction writer is fixated on writing a novella. I’m so into it that I’d rather work on it than do anything else. And since I have many other things that demand my attention today, this is a bit of a problem.

After I focus on this day’s critical tasks, I plan to reward myself with time to write another section. Yet I know one hour of writing will turn into more, one chapter will slide into the next, and each time I promise to write “just one more paragraph” another one will follow. This is the writer’s equivalent to reading a can’t-put-it-down, page-turner.

I call this writerphoria.

As a committed planner who outlines every long work before I type the first word, I’m mostly discovering this story as I write. Yes, I know the final scene (at least I think I do), and I am writing toward it. I also listed story beats that I click through in connect-the-dots fashion to move me closer to the finish line, but as I do my muse keeps giving me more great ideas to insert into the journey.

It’s a heady experience – and also frustrating.

My angst occurs because I’m largely winging this affair. Since I didn’t plan on this being a novella, I didn’t plan the details. I never bothered to explore my characters, to map their motivations, or even determine their last names. I just make it up as I go – and hope it doesn’t contradict something I wrote earlier. And too often it does. I worry that I’m not fixing all the prior scenes to align with the new ones I’m adding. Plus, I must get back to my story before some essential spark slips from memory and disappears forever. I write short stories in preparation to writing a novel. Click To Tweet

This all began with a simple short story, flash fiction (under one thousand words).

I started writing short stories in earnest about two years ago. This was strategic in preparation to write a novel, which I plan to start this November as part of NanNoWriMo. Though the NanNoWriMo rules tell me I can’t start the actual writing until November 1, I can prepare and plan. I know my story arc, I’ve outlined the plot, and I’ve detailed my characters and identified their motivation. I listed my beats and know the theme. I have the title. The opening and ending scenes bounce around in my head.

Though I can’t wait to start my novel in November, I have a novella to finish first – along with living the other parts of life.

Isn’t being a writer grand?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!



Writing in Your Dreams

Tap into your subconscious to spur creativity and inspire great stories

Writing in Your DreamsLast 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 burst 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.Train your mind to always look for inspiration. Click To Tweet

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.

What stirs you to write? Are you able to train your muse?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!


Do You Dream of Writing? 5 Aspiring Writer Personas to Avoid

People who say they will one day write seldom get around to it

Do You Dream of Writing? 5 Aspiring Writer Personas to AvoidWhen I tell people I am a writer I get various responses. Aside from a blank look of incomprehension or the dreaded question of “Have you written anything I’ve heard of?” they usually tell me about their own writing aspirations.

Here are five common personas:

Someday Sally: This earnest lass yearns to write, but she isn’t in a good season of life right now. Once she emerges from this crisis, this transition, this grueling job, or this financial situation, then she will start writing. Not now, but later. The problem is her next season of life will be no more conducive for writing than her present one.

Procrastinator Paul: Like Sally, Paul has plans to write. He has an idea, he’s done research, and he’s made an outline. He’s going to start next week. But next week he doesn’t. He needs to develop better characters first; he’ll start next month. Next month he realizes his plot won’t work, so he redoes that. Then it’s the holidays, which he reasons is always a bad time to start. Next week becomes next month, then next year, and he never writes one word.

False Start Fiona: This idealist just sat down and started typing. She worked hard for a couple of days, maybe even a week, but then she stalled. Things weren’t working so she gave up. Her computer holds dozens of started projects but not a single finished one.

Retirement Ray: He’s always dreamed of being a writer, but right now he is too busy with work. When he retires he’ll have time. Yeah, right. He won’t have the time then either, and besides he won’t be ready.

Romantic Rhonda: This visionary sees her finished book, flattering reviews, royalties rolling in, and an abundance of accolades. The problem is she doesn’t want to write; she merely wants to have written. She will never put in the hard work required to write a book, so she has no chance to see her fantasy unfold.Do you dream of writing or do you dream of having written? Click To Tweet

I’ve met many aspiring writers like this quintet. Maybe you identify with one or two of them. All five have visited me in the past, but I sent them packing – because I stopped dreaming of writing and just did it.

What gets in the way of you writing? What will it take to move forward?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Sometimes Rewriting Our Old Work Isn’t Worthwhile

The amount of time required to rework a piece is often too great, and it’s best to let it go.

Sometimes Rewriting Our Old Work Isn’t WorthwhileI once read the debut novel by a YA author. I was quite taken by it. I loved her humor and writing style. I wanted more, but since it was her first published novel I would need to wait.

I later learned something surprising: she had written five other novels, all unpublished. True, few novelists land a publishing deal on their first novel. Or their second or their third. I understand it typically takes four or five before they find their voice and hone their craft. I heard of another author who wrote nine novels before he sold one.

Since I don’t write novels (yet), I wondered why authors give up on their initial attempts. Just fix the flaws in their back material, and it’s good to go. However, this may be naive thinking.

I recently pulled out a short story I wrote several decades ago. It is the oldest one that I still have. I read it. The premise was good. I grabbed readers with the opening, surprised them at the end, and had an interesting arc in the between part. All it needed was a simple edit to incorporate what I now know.

It wasn’t that simple.

First, I had written it in third-person omniscient. This was fine in 1977 but not acceptable for today’s market. Publishing’s gatekeepers now deem head hopping verboten. I picked a point-of-view (POV) character, the mom, which required I rewrite all the scenes that included the dad’s, daughter’s, and boyfriend’s thoughts; this accounted for most of the story. Plus it took too many false starts to home in on the right POV character. Third-person omniscient writing is no longer acceptable. Click To Tweet

Next, my narrator’s voice was a juvenile’s, which makes sense because I was a teenager when I wrote it. I needed to update that as well. Last was the pleasant reality that I’m a much better writer now and had scores of novice errors to fix.

After several rewrites and the investment of too much time, my once unacceptable short story was now acceptable: good but not great. An editor told me as much in his rejection email when I submitted it for publication.

I suspect I spent four times the work trying to fix this old short story as I would have spent writing and polishing a new one. I should have thrown it away and focused on new material.

Now I understand why some first novels aren’t worth the effort to fix.

What is your experience trying to breathe new life in to old work? Do you have a first novel that isn’t worth fixing?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

May is Short Story Month

Celebrate the resurgence of short-form fiction this May: write, read, and share

May is short story month. It even has its own Twitter account: @ShortStoryMonth, which often uses the hashtag #shortreads.

short story monthAfter falling out of favor for a time, interest in short-form fiction is rebounding. Fueled by e-readers and online publishing, the resilient short story has freed itself from the word count shackles of traditional book publishers. Length no longer matters. Additionally, time-strapped readers enjoy a work they can consume and enjoy in one sitting.

Long live the short story.

As a longtime nonfiction writer, I’ve recently embraced the short story, too. I pursue the art of short story creation as an effective way to learn how to write fiction, to experiment, to hone my craft, and to develop skill in the art of storytelling. One day I plan to apply what I’ve learned to novels.

My friend Susie Finkbeiner once embraced the short story art form in a big way. She took a month and wrote a short story every day. But that wasn’t her plan when she started.

She put out a call to her blog readers, asking them to provide a protagonist, a setting, and a conflict, she recounts. “I promised to write a story for each idea submitted. I anticipated getting three or four responses but ended up with thirty-two!”

So in one month she wrote thirty-two stories and posted them on her blog. Each one was up to two thousand words long. Imagine that, writing a couple thousand words a day, every day for a month. Not just the first draft but an edited, polished piece. That’s enough words for a short novel.

“My goal,” she says, “was to be challenged and to grow as a writer. I sure did! I learned so much about how story is constructed and how to feature just a snapshot, which is what short stories really are.”

Susie admits it was fun but also “extremely hard.”

Yeah I get that, both the fun and the hard aspects. Though I write my short stories in one day (usually mine are under one thousand words, though), doing one every day is daunting. Some May I see myself doing that, but not this year. Maybe next year.The purpose of short story month is simply to embrace the art of short-form fiction. Click To Tweet

But the purpose of short story month isn’t to write a short story every day. It’s simply to embrace the art of short-form fiction. Whether you are a writer, a reader, a publisher, an editor, or an educator, join me in celebrating short stories this May.

As for Susie, she says that “One day I hope to have the time to edit many of those stories for a collection.” But for now she’s writing novels: Paint Chips, My Mother’s Chamomile, and A Cup of Dust. I’ve read all three. Her fourth novel is on its way.

I suspect her earlier embrace of the short story was a key in making this happen.

Join me in celebrating May as Short Story Month.

What is your experience writing and reading short stories? What will you do to celebrate Short Story Month? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Is Writing Fun?

With some creativity and planning, authors can hang onto their joy of writing

Some writers hate to write, but their love of completing a book spurs them on. I understand the ecstasy of a job that’s done. I love finishing a writing project, be it a book, a ghostwriting assignment, an article, or a post. But I also enjoy the actual writing. I can even say I love to write. This is a good thing because I spend a lot of time doing it.

Is Writing Fun?What’s your attitude towards writing?

Do you enjoy it? Think writing is fun? Look forward to it? Love to write? I hope you’re able to say “yes” to at least one of these questions.

Or do you find writing hard? Need to force yourself to write? Would rather do anything but write? Is the allure of finishing a project no longer enough to motivate you? Though I occasionally find myself in this place, it is infrequent and short-lived.

The key for me is variety. I’m never working on just one thing. I’m always going in different directions, with multiple projects. And occasionally when I really don’t want to write what I’m supposed to at that moment, I just switch to something else.

Here are some of the projects that give me variety:

  • A monthly column: Currently I have two magazines and a couple of newsletters. Each includes a column from the publisher, me.
  • Weekly blog posts: I have too many blogs and write too many posts, but I do enjoy it. Soon I may cut back, but I can’t envision ever stopping completely. (Every post is eligible to be repurposed or become part of a book.)
  • A book: I am always writing a book as my primary focus, but I also give thought to the book that comes next, along with follow-up work on the one just finished. This makes three books at once, sometimes more.
  • Freelance work: I write for clients: content marketing, website content, marketing copy, presentations, interviews, and so on. Each project excites me.
  • A short story: Though I write nonfiction and memoir, I also write one short story a month for fun and experience. Maybe I’ll one day find a novelist inside me.

What do you do to make your writing fun? Click To TweetWeekday mornings are for writing my book. Weekend mornings are for my blogs. Weekday afternoons are for my columns and freelance work. However, I must squeeze in the short story somewhere.

The benefit of this variety is the diversity it provides. While this scope of writing may be overwhelming or not feasible for you at this time, the key is to break up your writing by working on more than one thing and having more than one interest.

For me, this helps make writing fun.

What motivates you to write? How do you keep your writing fun? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!