Monday, February 16, 2015

What an Intermediate Writer Needs to Know

By DeAnna Knippling 

I blogged earlier about what a beginning writer needs to know.  At least, that was the title.  Really it was a collection of what I learned (or should have learned) as a beginning writer, combined with what I observe from other beginning writers now, the struggles that they go through.

And now for intermediate writers.
writersleague.org

What makes an intermediate writer?  How do you know that you’ve moved on from beginner status?  Do you need to master everything on the beginner list?  (Even master writers haven’t mastered everything on the beginner list.)  No, what seems to happen is that an intermediate writer is born one morning when they wake up and say, “I am incompetent.  I am completely and utterly incompetent.  Although, admittedly, not as incompetent as Jane Doe over there who wants to tell me all about the novel she's going to write someday.”  Beginning writers seem inordinately cocky and arrogant.  The life of an intermediate writer is filled with rejections, self-doubt, and redefinition of what one previously thought of as strengths.

I’ve seen a lot of people stall here with some variation of “But I’m doing everything the writing books are telling me; why am I not selling?” or “I just don’t have time anymore.”

In no particular order, what I’d advise an intermediate writer to do and learn:
  1. Look up the Dunning-Kruger effect again.  Understand that a loss of confidence does not necessarily reflect a lessening of abilities.  It gets better.
  2. Deliberately experiment with different genres, both in reading and in writing.
  3. Looking at stories from different perspectives is often beneficial, both in asking other people to read your work, and in reading them out loud or in a different format or font.
  4. Heinlein’s rules are practical instructions rather than an ideal to be strived for at this point. 
  5. The focus changes from “learning the rules so you can break them” to “learning control.” 
  6. What once seemed a strength now seems like a particular weakness.  It’s all relative.
  7. Jealousy may become a serious, career-killing problem.  Several considerations:  Is this person a hard-working writer who obviously spends a lot of time putting words on the page?  Is this person being coached or edited by a much more skilled writer?  Has this person retreated from the writing world since their one big hit?  Is this person using a ghost writer?  Identify the person involved with the greatest amount of skill and study their work. 
  8. “Craft” and “skill” are excellent watchwords--at this point.  Beware of any writer who spends more time talking about art than technique--at this point.
  9. The working definition of a story tends to be, for now, “a collection of story elements that don’t suck.”  Characters that don’t suck plus setting that doesn’t suck plus plot that doesn’t suck, etc., etc.
  10. Steal from life.  You’ll rarely get caught.
  11. Focus on becoming a working writer:  work.  Everything you write should be treated as part of your profession.  Do not turn in sloppy, late, unclear work.  Blogs, query letters, synopses, stories, social media, interviews, appearances:  all your work should be done in a timely, professional fashion.  As often as possible, prove yourself reliable, agreeable, willing to learn and take feedback.
  12. Continue typing in material and testing it with various methods of analysis.  The question to answer, at least on a subconscious level, is:  Why do I like this so much?  or, from a darker perspective, Why am I so jealous?
  13. Build writing speed.
  14. Start working on releasing any dependence on editing and re-editing and tweaking and quite possibly editing again, well, a revision would be nice, there’s always another typo to find or another mistake to fix, ha-ha, of course I haven’t submitted this yet, it’s only been seven years, are you kidding?
  15. If you have not involved yourself in your local writing community, consider doing so.  Feel free to retreat from it as necessary.  You will take different things from the community at different times:  for now, focus on learning practical information and on meeting people who are as driven as you.
  16. Be kind rather than honest with feedback to people who are not begging for criticism.
  17. Beg for criticism, but do not respond to it.  Say “thank you,” even if thanks are unwarranted in this particular instance.
  18. Areas of interest:  
  • Openings
  • Closings
  • Scenes
  • Conflict
  • The wide variety of ways any given beginner’s element can be addressed
  • Atmosphere/mood/theme/emotion
  • Style
  • Finding weaknesses or missing pieces from your beginner’s journey and ameliorating them

  19.  Don’t pretend to be an expert, but people are always desperate for honest information.
  20.  Continue to maintain your health, relationships, and sanity on a daily, practical basis.  Stories are an addiction; expect nightmarish withdrawal symptoms if you manage to work up a habit.

I was constantly swamped with the mosquitoes of doubt during this period--I can’t stress this enough.  This is something that can only be pushed through by work.  If I had stopped to think about art for art’s sake, or whether I was making anyone’s life any better for having read my stories, I would have stopped writing.  Put your head down in the weeds and write:  that’s about the only thing that will get you through this period.  Be a worker, not an artist; keep dreaming of large and wonderful things, but put your nose to the grindstone, blindly and unceasingly.

Here are some of my favorite reading  and research suggestions for intermediate writers:
  • The Copyright Handbook, Nolo Press
  • NaNoWriMo
  • Save the Cat!  by Blake Snyder (the whole series)
  • 2K to 10K:  Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron
  • 45 Master Characters, by Victoria Lynne Schmidt
  • Wonderbook, by Jeff VanderMeer
  • Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain
  • Anything by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, but especially The New Well Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed
  • GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, by Debra Dixon
  • Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks
  • Hooked:  Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go, by Les Edgerton
  • Any Internet search for “craft writing books” or “craft writing blogs”
  • Books by publishing writers on how to sell work in your genre
  • The Dummies/Idiots guides related to writing
  • Duotrope.com, Ralan.com
  • The website Preditors & Editors (yes, it’s spelled like that)
  • Following or friending your favorite living authors on social media
  • Setting up your own blog, not named after your first novel
  • Make sure to have watched and studied the following movies:  The Fugitive.  Star Wars (the original one).  The Princess Bridge.  The Avengers.  Fight Club.  Titanic.  Thelma & Louise.  They will come up repeatedly in classes and discussions
What are yours?