Do not omit this step: order Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight V. Swain, published by University of Oklahoma Press in trade paperback. Study it, there is no other like it, and no substitute.
Understand there are as many ways to write as there are people. Your style, your working methods, your rhythms of creativity will be your own - this is something you must work out for yourself, seat of the pants. No one else's methods quite suit, and there are no hard line rules. One writer will swear by outlines and planning, while many discover that strict methodology stifles the impulse of creativity. Listen to your heart, learn to follow your own enthusiasm.
Writer's block - a misnomer! This is not some mystical malady that strikes and strangles your muse. It's actually (in my experience) caused by the failure to recognize that creative inspiration, and crafting draft into final art, are two separate and distinct processes.
FIRST - you cannot create and destroy at the same time! If you are drafting new storyline, you are CREATING. That means, turn off the voice in your head that wants to censor what's happening. Resist every urge that insists you must smooth out, correct, follow rules, or adhere to inflexible planning. Let the work GO. Allow all that chaos that wants to happen to creep in. DO NOT JUDGE what you write at this stage - just let the words pour out any which way, get the gist down, willy nilly. Push the passion, ride the emotion, nail down the raw concept on paper, and never mind how dumb it seems at the time.
Then take pause, AFTER you run down. Shelve the draft for a bit. Get some distance.
NOW, you have something substantial to edit. DO not at any cost, begin this stage before you've let the idea spin down - if you try to evaluate it half baked, the nasty little censoring voice in your head is going to pick faults, insist it's not good enough, and in general, tear apart what's really an idea in half baked gestation. Once it's born onto paper, THEN you can look at it with the critical eye of the destroyer - the editor - which logically examines the gist of what's there, then acts by informed choice to craft the sketched scene into tight and effective prose.
NEVER EVER try to create and edit at the same time! The two processes are diametrically opposed, and will work against each other to stifle the flow of inspiration.
Most importantly of all - YOU are the only one who can write your stories. It does NOT matter if they're good, bad, ugly, or brilliant. That's not for you to decide, but for posterity, well after you're dead. The fact you are unique, that you have a voice that is no one else's, and that you do your best to develop your craft is all that counts. If you never exercise your personal creativity, the world loses a strand that cannot be crafted by anyone else. Therefore, you must recognize the value of what you do as being unique - and if you practice, refine, sharpen your own ability as the artisan does, there are bound to be other people on this planet who will enjoy what you have birthed into existence. 100,000 books is a smashing success - and that number is a tiny tiny fraction of the world population - so the odds are in your favor that you will succeed if you never give up your self worth, persist to the very best of your ability, and keep learning, honing your skills, and reaching to the limit of your imagination.
If you don't write your stories, NO ONE WILL. That is the only failure worth mentioning. Nobody else's opinion matters. The concept of "good" book, "bad" book falls as a moot point. The critics are never the final arbiters of what's going to be loved by posterity. Great success is only a partial yardstick. Fad and fashion often dictate the tastes of the generation we grow up with, and those lenses are not going to last. So don't wait for someone else to set value on your work. You created it - that by itself defines that it's worthy. Worthy and marketable are not the same concept. So keep your wires uncrossed, and explore your own voice. The fact your idea is made manifest will let you target just where it can be placed with regard to publication, and written fiction is not the only venue.
Last - go to your library, check out the reference section for the books on writer's marketplace and on publishers. These volumes, which are updated every year, will tell you the current guidelines - how to prepare your manuscript for publication, who the editors are, and what they buy. Now, learn how to do a query letter, and submit your work!
Writer Beware is a useful resource on the pitfalls faced by aspiring writers, sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Richard McKee, published by ReganBooks is also an excellent resource on the craft of plotting, even with its focus on screenplays.
Here is a sample manuscript page (from Peril's Gate) that is set up correctly. It shows how I applied my hand edits as I worked the prose in progress.
I prefer to begin a story with characters, coupled with the concept of their hot conflict, and then let them run - if I don't know where the ending lies, I don't worry at first. By the time I've established the pace of the story, the ideas are evolving ahead of me. No book I ever wrote got more than a third of the way drafted before I knew how it ended. In the case of Wars of Light and Shadow, I started with a seed concept and let it snowball. Lots and lots of draft got written, while the ideas fleshed themselves out in free form spurts. I took notes, as the details connected. If oddities jumped in, unplanned stuff cropped up, I let it stay - trusting that, somewhere, deep in my unconscious, all those apparent loose ends knew exactly where they were going. Have faith in the imagination, it will invent for you! And lo, the story line did evolve, and deepen, revealing their significance and connection. Part of the thrill, as a writer, is watching a story mold itself - take on its momentum from that formative premise framing the backdrop and characters. For me, in the first stage, to adhere too rigidly to any formula takes out the spontaneity. While I do know the full framework of a story by the time it gets marketed to a publisher, I leave the path the characters will take to reach their known destinies somewhat loose. They spring between the fixed dots of events - this scene will happen, then that end will result - the steps in between are left open for the magic to enter and spin serendipity. Final rewrites are the place to niggle and scout for loose ends, or realign any unwanted side tracks.
Radical tangents in the story line - or, alternatively, "writer's block," for me, are sure evidence that I have abandoned my passion. If a scene won't go for more than three days, I pause, aware that it's stalled because I'm boring myself. I then step back, re-examine the situation and characters, and look at where the emotional fire is missing. Often the scene must be realigned from a different character's point of view, or, an area I thought should be telescoped in two scant lines should in fact be written out in depth - or, a detailed scene knocked back to one line, to strike past to the meat of the matter. Roadblocks in creativity - as I prefer to call them - signify a wrong turn. I don't sit and dwell on them! For me, they can't be bullied away out of discipline, but only, remolded to discover the lost track.
Such roadblocks are not to be mistaken for "pauses" - days when I can't write the scene, yet, because mentally, the angle it requires hasn't fully formed in my mind. Pauses are when I draw a mental blank, knowing where I want to go, but I'm still vague in my sense of how to get there. To work through these periods, I spend intense time thinking, then GO OFF AND DO SOMETHING ELSE. The inspiration must breathe - at some point, blink, the idea just ignites. It's there, and the work explodes forward. True roadblocks, on the other hand, are when I KNOW what I think I'm meant to write, and the words just refuse to march forward.
Odd rule of thumb, for me - if I have a stellar day, If I draft 20 pages, which is a marathon run, for me - odds on are, I'll have outleaped my own thinking. The next day may be a bust. Good time to do errands, or visit the bookstore! Knowing my personal rhythms has come through writing many books, and the cumulative store of experience. Also, writing is hard work. Not every scene goes easily, or fast. It helps to stay with the work, each day, even if just for a sentence or two. This keeps my mind focused, and keeps those ideas tumbling to find their solution.
Short stories, I use to experiment. Often I'll take three or four concepts that don't fit, toss them into a think box, and leave them to assemble themselves into a synergy. Definitely, I hate stories that can be predicted - short fiction is a challenge, this way, and by combining several unlikely factors at the outset, the playful challenge keeps me on my mental toes. The disadvantage of this sort of formative process - I end up with a lot of story fragments, or, it may take a month or so for a twenty to forty page manuscript to work itself out to a satisfactory, tight ending.
Manuscript Submission Format
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