7 Tips for Shaping Your Writing Career

7 Tips for Shaping Your Writing Career

Seven tips that have helped shape my writing career—and may help you with yours too!

1. Engaging passion

To be an author you must have something to say, a story you believe in, passionately. Nothing less than passionate belief in your subject will carry you through periods of self-doubt and dejection. Once you have decided to tell your story, remember it is important. Both criticism and praise create false perceptions. Have confidence: you are the one writing this book, not your critics, not your best friend. Be patient. Books take time, concentration, and care.

2. Following a routine

Create a routine. Sit at your desk every day, six, seven days a week. Get something written even if you erase it the next day. These “Habits of Order” will eventually produce something interesting. Routines vary. For me, morning hours are more productive, as long as there is a cup of coffee within reach. I try to avoid reading anything, even the papers, before I start to write. This helps keep my mind focused.  After three hours, creative energy starts to flag, and my mind wanders. Then I stop, before fatigue sets in. My usual output is about 500 words. Usually, I edit for two or three hours in the afternoon, unless there are bills to pay, emails to return, books to read . . .

3. Listening to your subconscious

Fictional characters must take on a life of their own. Writing a novel isn’t paint by numbers. Sooner or later, the contents of your subconscious will infiltrate your novel. Characters, like life, can get messy and veer off in unintended directions. So take care  to have a structure, a formalized plan to contain them. Remember, you are the author, the alpha dog; you are in charge.

Half way into Halide’s Gift, my first novel about Ottoman Turkey, one of my characters was destined to drown herself in the Bosphorus. Troubled and unhappy, she wandered to the water’s edge in the midst of a raging storm, and tossed her veil into the air. It flapped away like a giant bird. Then she took another step towards the churning water . . . To my amazement, the ticket seller suddenly materialized and pulled her to safety, saving her from the fate I had in mind.

Any author will tell you: during the writing process, your book never leaves you; it’s always there, nagging, pulling, urging you on. Last thing at night, reflect on your problem: a character weakness, a phrase that doesn’t make sense. When you wake, a solution (or maybe two or three) will emerge from the dream state. Even problems related to structure and plot can be resolved this way.

4. Rewriting

Write and rewrite . . . the first draft is just a beginning. Even though you may have planned the story, it’s only when you have a first draft you can tell if your plan works. If you work on a computer, print your manuscript before editing. Computers make you wordy. Cut, cut, cut. Less is better. Edits are easier to see on the printed page.

5. Showing others your work

Only show your work-in-progress to either your editor, your agent, or a trusted colleague. It’s tempting to seek opinions. Writing is solitary, and it’s hard to judge how work is progressing. I know a successful author who belongs to a writers group. For her, their reflections are a touchstone, a way forward in the dark.

I wrote my first novel Goodnight Little Sister as a thesis for a degree in English literature. Every week, I met with my supervisor. Our regular schedule helped me create a routine; I had to have something for her to read. Since she was a published author, her advice was invaluable. The book would not have been written without her. It’s tempting to seek approval from friends and family who will want to be supportive, but everyone will have a different opinion, and confuse you.

6. Knowing your story world inside out

Especially if your write historical fiction (as I do), know your period inside out, like a method actor. Every detail is important to bring  the novel to life. Know what your characters ate, what they wore, what their cities looked like, whether they were ruled by a king, a chieftain, an emperor. Were there roads or railways, or did most people travel by foot? Telling a human story and getting the context right is crucial. Without it, your story will sound false.

When researching my recent novel The Dervish, I needed to know if my characters ate breakfast. If so, what did they eat? The question was surprisingly hard to answer. History tends to ignore the minutiae of everyday life. Finally, I discovered the Ottomans usually ate two meals a day, and, yes, most ate a hearty meal in the morning.

7. Absorbing my advice

Absorb my advice . . . then toss it away. Just do it. Write your book.

Tell me your opinion: What has been the greatest lesson you have learned in shaping your writing process?

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About Frances Kazan

English-born Frances Kazan is a writer, lecturer, producer and arts supporter. Her latest novel The Dervish (Opus Press, New York, 2013) is an adventure story set in Istanbul and Angora (modern day Ankara) in 1919, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire World War One. Visit her website.

Comments

  1. I think the one I’m struggling the most with right now is trying to create a proper writing schedule. School, church, sports, family and free time tend to get in my way. Even when I do get a good chance to write, I’m not always in the mood so I sometimes have to push myself. Thanks for the good post!

  2. I have been learning to let the process lead me rather than try to control or force the process. I am researching an historical individual for a biography and have found the research tossing me to and fro like waves in an ocean, many times just washing right over me! I’d get an answer to one question only to have 10 more questions being posed! I was having such a good time that I just decided to go with the flow. One day a line came into my head and I found myself madly scribbling in my notebook (which I rarely do, I usually go to the computer) and I had the beginnings of the introduction. Once I got to the computer, all the pieces began falling into place. This beast which I had been wrestling with, trying to make sense of all I was learning, suddenly lay down passively and allowed me to explain what I was trying to do. I was even able to lay out the basic structure of the book which I had not been able to do before. All this just reinforced the idea of trusting in the process to lead me where I need to go. Oh I structure my time and discipline myself as best I can but it’s good sometimes to just let go.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Frances!

  4. I am currently working on a writing project (historical fiction) for my masters degree in writing, and I think being forced to establish a routine has helped tremendously. I also find myself completely absorbed by the characters and the world in which they live. I love that my supervisor doesn’t look at me like I’m insane when I talk about my characters as though they are real. I think that is part of what makes fictional characters believable. The characters really start “talking” to you. It’s amazing.

  5. Lauren Miller says:

    This is great advice! The biggest thing I am struggling with right now is rediscovering my passion. After working on the same project (in different incarnations) for a few years now, passion is flagging and my mind tends to wander longingly towards greener fields (read: new story ideas!). Structure and developing a routine are absolutely important but if you’re struggling with #1, everything else I think is secondary.

    • Everybody including me will get unfocused or distracted when there is too much work going to just one story idea, but I think your overall passion is fine if you are at least thinking about story ideas. I’ve never actually read anything from Madeleine L. Angle, but I love her advice on how to build stories. She has several ideas in the back of her mind that naturally develop as she focuses on one, and that’s what I’m trying to do (although I struggle to stay focused on my current project at times too). Keep daydreaming!

  6. These points constitute good advice. The one I don’t particularly agree with is #5. The sci-fi author Orson Scott Card advocated a controlled approach, which worked for me (everyone is different).

    What OSC suggested was “training” your readers to give you useful feedback. He recommended staying away from English majors and grammarians for this (but I figure, that’s up to the writer) and using friends or family. The trick was, to give them a brief set of instructions/questions to guide them in providing useful feedback. The questions should not lead these readers to diagnose problems or prescribe fixes. Instead, they should guide them into describing their *experience* of reading your story. Questions, for example, like: “was there any point in the story where you had to reread a section to understand something?”

    I found that this idea of guided sharing helped me with a few things. First, sharing helped pull me out of my ego shell. In the beginning, I didn’t think I needed to share my concepts or writing. I had been extremely successful in high school and college, winning all kinds of accolades and awards and dominating creative writing classes. I’d never written a novel, though. My early attempts were pretty rough–and that was revealed when I shared with friends and family. It was rough, too, but it helped.

    Second, answers to those questions often pointed out where I needed to focus not only my rewriting, but my personal skill development. It’s how I found you and your wonderful advice. 🙂

    Third, seeking opinions of my fellow (non-writer) geeks really helped me hone concepts and plots. I write speculative fiction with a pretty heavy geek-factor, and my fellow genre fans have a huge combined mental database of concepts, facts, premises and plots. I feel blessed to have this resource and they are all so supportive. 🙂

    These are just some alternative thoughts. Working this way has helped me tremendously, but every writer is wired differently. 🙂

  7. Thank you to everyone for reading my essay and posting your comments. I appreciate feedback. Keep writing! All the best wishes, Frances

  8. As always, wonderful advice 🙂 Thanks so much, Katie!

  9. Great advice, thanks! I agree with following a routine. I write in the afternoons. If I have to go out during my usual writing time, I get twitchy.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Same here. My chosen writing time is between four and six in the afternoon. Except for a last email check and a few social media odds and ends, it’s the last bit of work I do all day. Gives me something to look forward to! 🙂

  10. these are great tips! I’m always interested to learn what other authors end up writing in word count every day. Does your 500 words count as actual words in the manuscript outside of plotting, or outlining, or what have you? Is that strictly 500 words of writing? I find that in 1-2 hours, especially on a first draft, I can write out 1,000 words. I’m sure that varies with different people. My word count goes down drastically if I’m plotting or brainstorming in that time frame, however.

  11. I really love all these tips. This phrase particularly stuck out: “Any author will tell you: during the writing process, your book never leaves you; it’s always there, nagging, pulling, urging you on. Last thing at night, reflect on your problem: a character weakness, a phrase that doesn’t make sense.”

    I couldn’t sleep last night for two hours before I got up and wrote the part that was nagging at me. Once I went back to bed, I fell asleep instantly!

  12. It takes one word to describe this post, Wow! this is amazing, i really appreciate this because it is all about writing and stuff. i love each tips and i learned a lot.

  13. Thanks. Just learned your advice No.5 the hard way 🙂
    But from now on, I am going to religiously follow it.

  14. I’ve written short stories all my life, but it’s only when I started following a routine (NaNoWriMo taught me that, of all things) that I was able to plan and write, not a novel, but I trilogy of novels.
    I was shocked myself. I never imagined that writing a little every day (my avarage is 1000 words) would produce such amount of work. Really, it takes very little to write a lot 🙂

    I write historical fiction too and research takes up a lot of time and work, but you know? I love it. I think here’s go the same advice you gave in the opening: love and belive in your story, and also enjoy the researching process. This is the best chance to get it right, in my opinion :;-)

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