“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

5 Questions New Writers Ask

The other day I met a woman who wanted to be a writer. We were at a birthday dinner, where our mutual friend mentioned that I was working on getting a novel published. The woman immediately peppered me with writing questions (and fears), and I actually had some answers (and words of encouragement).

writing questions

Common Writing Questions

I thought, why not share what I said with all of you?

1. How do you find time to write?

I don’t always find time to write. However, I was able to accomplish the task of completing a draft of a novel by writing every day for about six months. Many people write in the morning, but I chose to write at night because a) I hate waking up early b) I tend to feel more inspired at night, and c) I don’t have to stop writing if I don’t want to.

Of course there were days that I missed, but that was after daily writing had become a habit. I also didn’t chastise myself for it when it happened—I just tried to write twice as many pages the next day, and then let it go.

After the six months, I took a break and then started revising regularly. It was hard work, but I didn’t feel the need to place the same daily requirements on myself during this phase. I was excited to make my novel better!

2. How did you even start writing a novel?

One day I decided it was time to write my novel. I had a story inside of me and knew I was ready, but some important things were missing—like a plot.

Still, I didn’t want that inspiration and motivation to write to go away, so I started a blog, www.illegalwriting.com. I told the whole world that I was embarking on a journey of writing a novel while maintaining a full-time job, which was both terrifying and amazing. I blogged consistently for a while (at least once a week) about the writing process and the publishing industry. Writing that blog taught me more about writing and publishing than I could have ever imagined.

After blogging for a few months, I planned my novel using the Snowflake Method, which I’ve discussed in the past and highly recommend. I returned to those original notes throughout the process. I found them grounding because they helped me keep the big picture in mind. It was definitely worth putting in extra effort up front before I sat down to write.

3. I’m scared to workshop my writing—what if people hate it?

Ha! This question made me laugh because I remembered the first time I ever had my writing workshopped. The series Girls depicted the experience perfectly—everyone sits around a table and discusses what you wrote like it is an assignment in your college Lit class.  Meanwhile,  you just stay silent. It is terrifying, and each week of my writing class I would ask whoever was in the hot seat if they were OK. After all, we were basically criticizing their soul.

Please tell me a book that has never been criticized. It doesn’t exist. I don’t think criticism is something you can avoid, so instead, I recommend embracing it. Seek feedback on your work and listen to it (good and bad). As hard as it was to share my work, I never regretted it. The more intense the feedback, the better my story got.

4. How did you go about finding a publisher?

I think you have three options for publishing your novel:

  1. You can self-publish, which requires you to be a writer and a marketer, publisher, etc. That said, you have complete freedom and make much more money off each book sold.
  2. You can send query letters to a hundred agents who represent authors in your genre. Should you find an agent to represent you, he or she will work to find a publisher (possibly one of the top ones) to publish your book. The publisher takes care of marketing, etc. You’ll probably receive an advance.  The agent gets a cut of everything.
  3. You can find a niche publisher or small press who is willing to take on authors without representation. You won’t get an advance, but they will handle marketing, finding an editor, etc. You’ll see higher percentage of book sales than with a traditional publisher, but less than if you self-publish.

I tried the query-sending route. It took forever to get responses, but I did get responses and useful feedback. A number of agents asked to read 50-100 pages, or the entire manuscript, but I haven’t signed with an agent. In the middle of it all I met a niche publisher at a conference, who is interested in working with me on my novel. I will most likely sign with them, but I haven’t yet.

5. I want to a write a Romance novel with minority characters because the only ones I’ve come across are trashy.

That’s a great goal, but don’t be so quick to judge what’s already out there! Novels written by women are often given covers and/or marketed in a way that don’t match the depth of the story. The same book written by a man and woman may be pitched and marketed in completely different ways. Are you sure you aren’t just judging books by their covers?

As for publishing a Romance story with minority characters, specifically, I have lots of thoughts about that, many of which I have discussed on my personal blog.  Let’s get coffee to discuss. (Write Practice readers—I think that’ll have to wait until another post.)

What advice do you have for novice writers? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to write about whatever you want—but share it in the comments section! Don’t be afraid. Alternatively, share something in the comments that you’ve already written but have been scared to have others read.

 

About Monica M. Clark

Monica is a lawyer trying to knock out her first novel. She lives in D.C. but is still a New Yorker. You can follow her on her blog or on Twitter (@monicamclark).

  • AC Cooper

    Hi Monica, great blog.
    Best wishes on your book, btw.

    I just wanted to share a great resource for writers, especially beginning writers: deanwesleysmith.com and kriswrites.com – husband and wife writers who have been in the “biz” for many many years. Kris mostly writes about business stuff – including publishing stuff – and Dean mostly covers writing topics.

  • Gary G Little

    Wow, what ever I want huh? Courage have you ma’lady!

    Oobleck. Know what oobleck is? Yeah, well I don’t either.

    Is oobleck red? Is oobleck dead?
    I don’t know, oobleck could be something else instead!

    Is oobleck green and oozy,
    or blue and glumpy?
    It could just as easily be purple and stumpy.

    Maybe oobleck is soft and black, or white and and full of spite.

    Is oobleck a basket full of puppies that spill out and run all over you and lick your face and lick your toes. Who knows?

    I think in the end, that oobleck is whatever you want it to be, and never what you intend.

    • D’vorah

      What a fun twist!

  • Mike Roberts

    I’d say write what you like to read, because it is the interest in that which will be the thing driving you…..As well, as hard as it is, don’t judge your first draft….One of the hardest things I found to do was NOT judge my first draft against the polished work of published writers….They were once beginners as well…And, most of all, have FUN with your story…let it go where it wants….

  • Great post! One question I had when I started (and I still have most of the time) is how do you know if your writing is any good? I think your answer to number three answers this to some degree.

    • You never know. Writing is an act of faith. If you are writing to be admired by others you are going to be disappointed. I write because there is nothing else I can do and be happy. Write for yourself first.

  • Annie

    World of Silence
    Her ashen face was nothing striking. Just like everyone else, she was not beautiful by any means, just plain. Her grey eyes were sullen, her jaw sharp and defined, set in a permanent frown. Her thin lips were barely pink, pale, like the rest of her unblemished skin. The thin peak that was her nose set in the dead center of her narrow face. The only thing out of the ordinary was the blank expression her face constantly held.
    It wasn’t a look of anger, though not a look of contentment or excitement either. It was…just a look. Her grey eyes stared off into the distance, unseeing. Her mind sat in that perfectly symmetrical head, uncomprehending. But her heart sat in her chest, beating and giving her limp body life. She was blind and deaf, mute and paralyzed. With no way to communicate or move, she was isolated in her own little world. Though, her world was only silence.
    Her ears were useless appendages, their purpose destroyed sometime before her birth. Her mouth sat in its appointed position, never having any need for movement. While her mind was active, her body remained unmoving, unyielding. Her position was unknown, her surroundings a secret. Thanks to her drawn lot in life, she had no way of knowing if anyone was close to her, or even if it was nighttime or daytime. Time rattled along, a rundown old train car on uneven tracks leaving her behind. Her internal clock had long ago been smashed, no need for it when she could do nothing with her time. For a while, she had wished she were dead, but time caught up with her and the death wish dried up like withering flower.
    And so she sat, rejected and alone, with no one to comfort the miserable soul that resided somewhere deep within her. She didn’t know words, couldn’t do sign language, but she could live. And she would live. She would live and defy all expectations. She would live and beat her cruel fate. She would live in her world of silence.

    • D’vorah

      Wow, Annie! This was amazing! I love how you were so descriptive! You go, Girl! 🙂

    • EndlessExposition

      There are some really nice images and metaphors here!

    • I’m determined

      What happened next? How did she defy the expectations of those around her? would she respond to the love of an undemanding hug?
      Well written – you got me involved.

  • Ryan

    Particular liked the advice about writing every day and sharing that writing with others. Consistency and transparency are key! Great post.

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  • KatSteve

    I particularly enjoyed the advice from Terry McMillan, to know your characters. I had a great story and was stumped for a long time, because I couldn’t get my characters to do anything. At all. They just sat there, unmoving blobs in my imagination. Then I found a few character maps. I answered some of the questions and finally started to see what really motivated them. Then they started doing things. Some things were not all believable, but can work that out. That’s what editing is for.

    • Aly

      You could use character profiles too. It helps to make your characters more believable.

      • KatSteve

        Do you have an example of a character profile? So far, the maps are helping me to make connections and understand their motivations, because they are getting me to think about the things they like, past experiences and their family. That sounds like a profile to me, do you mean something different than that?

        • Aly

          Not really. They are similar.

  • EndlessExposition

    This is an excerpt from my sci-fi screenplay. It’s a bit long, but I’d really really appreciate reviews because it’s a romance scene and I don’t do those a lot so I’d like opinions!

    INT. – OBSERVATION TOWER

    Tatyana emerges into the tower to find Kaya already there, looking out at the stars.

    TATYANA: Hello.

    Kaya turns around.

    KAYA: Hello.

    Tatyana comes to stand at the window with her.

    TATYANA: I had no idea this was up here. Do you come here often?

    KAYA: Mmhm. Almost every night.

    They look out at the darkness of space, at the vast expanse of stars in the distance.

    TATYANA: It’s beautiful.

    KAYA: It is, isn’t it?

    She points at a particular star.

    KAYA: See that blue star over there?

    TATYANA: Where?

    KAYA: Right there, to the left, see?

    TATYANA: Yes, I see it.

    KAYA: That’s Hesperides.

    TATYANA: It looks like a diamond.

    KAYA: Shannon used to take me stargazing on nights when I had leave from the base. It was our tradition – we’d go drinking and then we’d go stargazing in a big field outside of town. If we’d done a lot of drinking, the stars would start to spin, and that was something, let me tell you.

    Tatyana laughs.

    KAYA: Before I left Nouvelle France, I never cared about stars. Could barely see them
    actually. There was so much light pollution from the cities. But on Cheyenne, my God – I thought I was looking at the whole universe. Hesperides was always my favorite though.

    TATYANA: Leave it to you to pick the prettiest one.

    Kaya chuckles.

    KAYA: It’s the brightest one in the Cheyenne sky. No matter where I was on the planet, on whatever Godforsaken patrol, I could look up and find it. And maybe Shannon was
    looking up at it too. Hesperides, Cheyenne, Shannon – they were the first things I ever loved.

    TATYANA: Your guiding stars.

    KAYA: Mm. My own constellation. It’s funny, actually, but I didn’t realize for the longest time that constellations can only be seen from the ground. The first time I had to go off-world on patrol I started looking for the constellations Shannon had shown me and couldn’t find them. They don’t have patterns out here. They’re just stars hanging in space. Being on the ground gives everything context. When you’re planetside you’re defined in relation to the people you know and the things that you do. You’re made to be somebody. But out here, without that – who are you really?

    TATYANA: Is that how you feel?

    Kaya sighs.

    KAYA: My whole life I’ve been all things to all people. My family wanted me to be a socialite, so I was. The Syndicate wanted me to be a soldier, so I was. When I wanted to
    escape from what I’d done on Atsuko, I became a ship’s captain. I just change my clothes, put on a new face. But as for who I am – Karine Chang or Kaya Lim or whatever the hell my name is – I just don’t know. Twenty seven years old, and I have no idea what kind of person I am.

    TATYANA: I think you’re the kind of person who comes to the observation tower to look at the stars and think about how much she loves her best friend.

    KAYA: And what kind of person is that?

    TATYANA: A good one. You don’t give yourself enough credit, Kaya. You wallow in your past mistakes and don’t think about how you’ve made other people happy. About what
    makes you happy. If you’re looking for yourself, that’s where you’re hiding. So come on: what makes you happy? What do you like?

    KAYA: What do I like? Hm…I like music. Not that horrible club stuff Leia likes, real music, with strings and brass and woodwinds. I think that might be the only thing I miss about Nouvelle France. The best orchestras in the galaxy played there.

    TATYANA: Do you play anything?

    Kaya blushes and looks away.

    KAYA: You’ll laugh if I tell you.

    TAYANA: No I won’t!

    KAYA: Yes you will!

    TATYANA: I won’t! Promise!

    KAYA: Alright! Alright!

    There’s a beat of expectant silence.

    KAYA: I play the harp.

    Tatyana quickly finds herself breaking her promise.

    KAYA: See what I mean?

    TATYANA: Sorry, sorry! It’s just hard to imagine you of all people –

    KAYA: I know. I was rather good though if I do say so myself.

    TATYANA: I play piano. We could do duets sometime.

    KAYA: If you can get a piano and a harp on this ship, then by all means!

    TATYANA: Come on, tell me something else.

    KAYA: I’ve always liked puzzles.

    TATYANA: (laughing) You like being clever, you mean. Keep going.

    KAYA: I like…polishing my boots, and deserts, and dancing, and big words, and sour
    grass, and beautiful buildings, and…you.

    TATYANA: What?

    KAYA: You, I like…you.

    TATYANA: Kaya, I –

    KAYA: No, wait! Wait! Let me just – Tatyana, you were the first girl in a long time that I couldn’t just fuck and forget about, and I know that sounds like a line, but it isn’t, I swear. You stuck with me, you – I saw you in dreams and found myself thinking about you at random moments, and – and I’m not going to pretend I fell in love with you at first sight, I didn’t. There were others after you, lots of others, but it got harder to see them as just warm bodies and not people and that was because of you. I didn’t acknowledge it for a long time, because if I did I’d have to face everything I’d been repressing and I was scared. But I’m not scared anymore. It’s not worth it anymore. I’ve always wanted to be too cynical and sophisticated to believe in God or fate or anything like that but I don’t think it’s an accident that you’re back in my life. And that’s probably not how you see it at all, I must seem completely mad to you, but for what it’s worth, Tatyana – I like you.

    Tatyana is silent for a moment as she takes this all in. Then she chuckles.

    TATYANA: Well, for what it’s worth, Kaya – I like you too.

    For a moment they just watch each other. Then Tatyana closes the distance between them and kisses Kaya gently. She pulls back and smiles. Kaya laughs softly in happy disbelief. She wraps her arms around Tatyana and kisses her again, backlit by the stars.

    • Gary G Little

      “Tatyana emerges into the tower to find Kaya already there, looking out at the stars.”

      You might consider “enters into the tower”, or following the less is more rule just “enters the tower”. If you look at the definition of emerges, the current sentence is an oxymoronic.

  • Sarah Riv

    Number 5 is the question I desperately want answered but never asked. It sucks that women writers are pigeon holed into harlequinn type novels just by their cover. I can’t take anything in the romance aisle seriously even though that’s my main genre I write in.

    I know we are supposed to give novice writers advice but I’ll ask for some instead. How do you guys practice improving your writing. I’ve been looking for exercises to help improve my grammar/sentences/word choice without reading a textbook. How do you practice writing stronger stories?

    • rosie

      Well, if you write romance the biggest weapon you have is your characters. There’s obviously a female and a male protagonist, and it’s best to give them strong personalities. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett and Ashley are memorable not because of the long plotline in “Gone with the Wind” but because of their personalities. Your grammar and word choices come naturally with practice, so try to focus on content rather than style. Style comes with time.

    • I take free online grammar courses every now and then or I go over the style points in Struck and White and make it a point to use something I don’t normally.

  • LaCresha Lawson

    I like this article as I do many articles from this website. I get so nervous when writing because I have these same questions. Is my grammar correct? Will people like my writing? Even my own kids and significant other are my critics! This isn’t easy. So not easy. Ahh, well. Moving on with my writing. Thank you! Encouragement always helps!!!!!

    • I’m determined

      Sometimes people are literally having a bad hair day. They’re not going to like what you’ve written because that don’t feel good in themselves. It’s nothing to do with you, even if they disparage your work. Trust yourself. Believe in your work. If & when you’re aware that there are glitches, and you’re too close to your work to resolve them, find a writing/ literate friend you can trust, and ask for advice. Ultimately, have courage. There’s a good reason why you’re drawn to this craft. And it’s unlikely that one becomes a fully fledged writer on their first attempt.

      • LaCresha Lawson

        Absolutely. I agree. I am doing what I want and I will keep writing. Writing is a passion of mine. Like so many others, we have to believe in ourselves.

    • My family are the last people who read my work. My parents have never read my work and I don’t encourage it. My Mom passed a while ago, but my Dad is still around. I have always written with the freedom that my parents would never read it.

      • LaCresha Lawson

        Thanks. I don’t think that my extended family believes in my work because they don’t take me seriously. Or, my work. My kids are fans. And, my significant other thinks I am moving too fast with publishing books.

  • LaCresha Lawson

    I have a question. I want to write a book about personal growth and it involves family members. I don’t want to use names. But, if I do, do I need their permission?

    • I’m determined

      If you dependon getting their permission, you won’t get your book written. I’ve written – fiction – featuring particular people, and even though I got their character down pat, the plot involving these people believable, by the time I got the piece written and polished, they’d moved on in their lives, and were disparaging of my offering. So now, when I get great inspiration around (people), I write, only I’ll change names, and some other identifying details. Just to ensure that they are a/ not offended, and b/ maybe even enjoy my work of fiction.

      • It’s been my experience that if you characterized a person accurately, they don’t recognize themselves. In the case of non-fiction it is a slippery slope. I’d write it first and worry about later.

        • I’m determined

          People – us – rarely view ourselves accurately. Yes, that is my image in the photo. If i didn’t have a clear – prosaically blunt – view of my image, i’d insist that i have beautiful ash brown hair, deep blue eyes, and of course am yet to reach/pass my 39th birthday. Right? Well, while I’m aware of my physical appearance, I feel that I’m about 50, and will be for some years yet. Unfortunately, unlike those who cling to self delusions, I’m realistic. And this is why I’ve learnt that people you write into your story rarely see themselves as I see them.
          [There was a time when my hair was a beautiful ash brown …]

        • LaCresha Lawson

          I will go ahead and start working on this book. Thank you very much.

  • Write the story first, then worry about the rest.

  • I’m not so sure it’s true that ANY of the agents or publishers will market your book, not unless you’re famous or are the son or daughter of someone famous and promise that they’re in the book.
    What authors are getting promoted these days? And why?
    Thank you, though, Monica. It’s always interesting to consider these questions!
    Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
    http://tinyurl.com/klxbt4y
    Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too: