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What did you learn from writing your last book? (1 Viewer)

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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
When I was a Silicon Valley Design Engineer I always made a point to do a post mortem at the conclusion of every project. I would look at what worked well, what I could have done better, and what ended up being a hot mess. I do the same with my writing.

I'm a plotter, so over the course of my book releases I've revised a lot my techniques for character and plot development. I've gone from everything hand written in note books, to various MS word formats, and excel spread sheets. These changes work for ME, and probably won't help anyone else - which is partly why I shun 'how-to' courses by 'best selling' authors. (Note that most of those best selling authors mostly sell how-to books.)

For my next book, I'm using excel more than I have in the past, because plots using lists inside word tend to get jumbled. Also, with excel I have have separate sheets for characters and various plot points.

So let's share what works for us, maybe it will provide a seed for something that will work for others.
 
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bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I learned that I can't seat-of-my-pants my way through a novel. If I don't outline, I don't finish. Pure and simple.

I used to think "plan" was a four-letter word, and that my stories came as great washes of inspiration. And some of them do, but equally, if I have an interesting central goal as well as a world and characters I care about, I can plan without feeling demoralised about the whole thing. Without either of those latter two things I struggle. Well, without those I simply would not write.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
That I really don't need a social life and staying in through lockdown was much better, more done at less cost :)

Also that I don't really want to write another book, I get much more out of writing shorts; that, of course, may change.

That I might have made a bit more of my characters, it would make quite a good humorous script if I did, but I don't think I have script writing capabilities at the moment, I might learn.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Belinda opened the door, and there sat on the step, it sparkled, her box from Amazon.

"Oh my goshes, 300 copies of my book, my book Heart of Loving. Who would have thought this could ever happen to me? ME, little me, and the pastor said I was no good for no writing, only cupcakes. All those years. Look at my name on the cover, includes the initial T in the center, Belinda T Jones like a real American writer. My cover, so garish. Perfect. Now for marketing youtube video, call it New York Times top #100 bestseller list because thems the rules."
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
I learned that I have to create a writing routine if I ever hope to finish a novel.

I learned that no matter how much I prepare with outlines and character profiles, I ultimately will diverge from the outline around the midpoint. But, at the midpoint, I've already locked so much of the plot that getting to the end doesn't require an outline.

I learned that I can indeed reorient my thinking and write in past tense.

I learned that past tense allows for greater play with prose in exchange for immediacy. But, that play with prose must still be managed properly timewise.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I learned that I have to create a writing routine if I ever hope to finish a novel.

[...]

That routine IMO is critical. I treat my writing like a job.

I have coffee with my wife in the early morning, then go to my office and work, a few breaks here and there during the day, then I quit work and back up what I've done at 6pm. That's my schedule pretty much everyday - today though, I did take a couple hours off to vote in person.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Wow. I could have a whole LOT of answers to this question. I decided they all boiled down to one thing.

If I'm entertained by what I write, other people will be, too.

And if you gain that confidence, you can eliminate a lot of hand wringing about the product of your work.

I've now written six novels, and I'm about 30% of the way through number seven. I'm not widely read, but I do have a very high rate of positive response from people not personally connected to me. Since I've never had the intention to be widely read, I absolutely write what entertains me. It would be ridiculous not to. From what I read, I think too many hopeful authors write what they think will please beta readers. That's a waste of time and ego.

There is another element. I'm picky about what I consider to be good reads. So if I can read back over what I've written and decide it matches up to my standards of good reads from successful authors, I feel like I'm on the right track.

This all leads into my most common doubt. I'll write a line, or a paragraph, or a scene that I really like. Then I read back over it, and my initial thought is, "Gee. That's good, How can I possibly do that again?" I always think I'm writing over my head. So, into my seventh book, I'm starting to think that maybe I can just write, and that's how it happens.

All of that came together in my last completed novel is a big way.

And then I picked back up an interrupted WIP in a completely different voice than anything else I've ever completed, so I'm back to square one on "Can I keep this up?" :)
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Wow. I could have a whole LOT of answers to this question. I decided they all boiled down to one thing.

If I'm entertained by what I write, other people will be, too.

And if you gain that confidence, you can eliminate a lot of hand wringing about the product of your work.

I've now written six novels, and I'm about 30% of the way through number seven. I'm not widely read, but I do have a very high rate of positive response from people not personally connected to me. Since I've never had the intention to be widely read, I absolutely write what entertains me. It would be ridiculous not to. From what I read, I think too many hopeful authors write what they think will please beta readers. That's a waste of time and ego.

There is another element. I'm picky about what I consider to be good reads. So if I can read back over what I've written and decide it matches up to my standards of good reads from successful authors, I feel like I'm on the right track.

This all leads into my most common doubt. I'll write a line, or a paragraph, or a scene that I really like. Then I read back over it, and my initial thought is, "Gee. That's good, How can I possibly do that again?" I always think I'm writing over my head. So, into my seventh book, I'm starting to think that maybe I can just write, and that's how it happens.

All of that came together in my last completed novel is a big way.

And then I picked back up an interrupted WIP in a completely different voice than anything else I've ever completed, so I'm back to square one on "Can I keep this up?" :)

I just finished (what I believe is) the last edit of novel #7 - publishing is waiting on my cover design (the guy I use is in demand). It should be out early - mid November.

Like you, I also write for myself - my plot lines tend to be non-standard - but they've all done fairly well; I'm retired and not writing for income, so I write what I would like to read, if I could find it.

A lot of what I learn during my most mortem is related to process. I look for ways to get things right the first time, or make the writing easier. As a plotter, sometimes I overdo the planning, and other times it's underdone. On my next book, which is in the early planning stage, I'm using Excel more than I have in the past to reduce / eliminate duplicated dialogue / plot points. Every new books ends up being an experiment, and I doubt I'll ever get the process nailed down because each project has its own quirks.

Still - I think that doing a process review is a good thing.
 

Sir-KP

Senior Member
Too many things I have learned from the first day I started writing, such as but not limited to:

1. Just because you got a full-blown movie imagined in your head, doesn't mean it will work out.

2. It doesn't have to be directly told. It can be done through other means.

3. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes less is just lacking and you need more.

4. Get it down fast. Don't dwell on polishing one spot back-and-forth. Coming back with fresher eyes will make you easier notice the dirty splotches to correct. Maybe just me.

5. When an idea pops up in your head, make a note quickly before it gets vaporized.
 

LCLee

Financial Supporter
I write historical fiction, so I’m often tied to a timeline, which has good and bad issues. The good is I move along an existing story. The bad is I have to age my characters to agree with all of it. When i make a mistake like the son should be fifteen not twelve the impact is huge. The first draft of my first novel I had my MC retiring at 66. After some research, the average lifespan for that time period was 56, so I had to move everything ten years.

Another struggle with historical fiction is I couldn’t ride a train, or catch a cab, or make a call, or a bunch of other things. So travel across country becomes a huge bore after the highwaymen and the crashed carriage—of which you can only do one of each.

My WIP is my first effort at planning a novel where each chapter is dated with a caption about the battles between the Ottoman empire and Polish/Hungarian hussars. I started it in 1675 at the battle of Lwów and wanted to end it at the siege of Vienna (1683). After putting down around 30,000 words, I decided to move the beginning forward to 1622 Now my beautiful opening is 12 chapters back and everything feels disconnected. Maybe planning just doesn’t work for me. I’m real close to deleting all the chapter headings and just write the story.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I write historical fiction, so I’m often tied to a timeline, which has good and bad issues. The good is I move along an existing story. The bad is I have to age my characters to agree with all of it. When i make a mistake like the son should be fifteen not twelve the impact is huge. The first draft of my first novel I had my MC retiring at 66. After some research, the average lifespan for that time period was 56, so I had to move everything ten years.

Another struggle with historical fiction is I couldn’t ride a train, or catch a cab, or make a call, or a bunch of other things. So travel across country becomes a huge bore after the highwaymen and the crashed carriage—of which you can only do one of each.

My WIP is my first effort at planning a novel where each chapter is dated with a caption about the battles between the Ottoman empire and Polish/Hungarian hussars. I started it in 1675 at the battle of Lwów and wanted to end it at the siege of Vienna (1683). After putting down around 30,000 words, I decided to move the beginning forward to 1622 Now my beautiful opening is 12 chapters back and everything feels disconnected. Maybe planning just doesn’t work for me. I’m real close to deleting all the chapter headings and just write the story.

For all my books I create a timeline. I can be less strict than you since I'm SciFi occurring a hundred years in the future. Still though, my last novel spanned 200 years, so the timeline helped. Doing something similar as part of your planning/plotting stage might help?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Another struggle with historical fiction is I couldn’t ride a train, or catch a cab, or make a call, or a bunch of other things. So travel across country becomes a huge bore after the highwaymen and the crashed carriage—of which you can only do one of each.

Thinking of Chaucer, weather becomes much more significant to that sort of traveler, good as well as bad. Pepys going to Deptford describes the countryside he passes through, farming methods differed and there was a much larger proportion that was 'The Waste'
 
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Moose.H

Senior Member
Wow, I have learnt so much. Firstly a fiction is soh different from a factual book.

Sitting depressed reviewing one's own manuscript at cafes does not get you laid - a cliche that is so wrong!!!

It is a journey not a destination. Probably because I can't find the exit.

Do the research on what sells a book..... There are no absolutes and the parameters change regularly with whose tastes matter now.... On Whatsapp I am currently in a meaningful discussion with a Psychologist friend who proof reads my work. I am reading Tennyson - he is Reading Dr Seuss............ So more than one opinion is necessary....
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
I realized that I stop too much on inult details.
I've found that "Cutting" often helps the story.
150 pages for a Chapter is a little too much.
To fix a sentence, just mentally translate it into another language.
 
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