The hardest part of the writing process

If you’ve peeked at my “About” page, then you know I’m polishing up my first novel. Currently I’m shoulder-deep in revision, which is ten times harder than actually writing the book was—and that’s quite the accomplishment for anyone, especially aspiring authors, who often stop before they finish.

I’m proud to say I finished, and no matter how hard the work the remains is, it won’t stop me from getting the book done.

I’m interested in knowing what other people think is the most difficult part of the writing process—be it book, poem, or short story. Here’s an outline of the major steps.

Writing — To attempt any writing task, you must sit down, leak those creative juices for however many hours it takes, and stay your hand every time it tries to edit or nit-pick. You also have to finish it, and that’s often where beginner writers get stuck. I found that following a disciplined schedule (x number of words per night, or every other night, or per week) greatly facilitates completing the work by your personal or official deadline. For example, if you’re shooting for a 60,000 word book, you can calculate how many words you should write and how often in order to finish by a certain date.

Reading and trying light writing exercises can help struggling writers power through those dreaded blank screens. Blogs—or any kind of vehicle for practicing writing every day—make it easy to stay in shape and fend off writer’s block, which is really just a poor excuse!

Revising — It makes logical sense, to me anyway, to start with heavy revision and then top it off with a final dusting of editing and proofreading. Revision involves fleshing out characters, tightening dialogue, livening descriptions, and correcting any errors in the narrative. This part takes longer to complete just because it doesn’t necessarily mesh with a set schedule or routine. At a certain point a writer must say, “Enough!” and move on from a given section or chapter, but revising devours the writer’s time and energy because so much of it is spent going over the same sentences, paragraphs, and whole chapters numerous times. Revision requires a slow progression, rather than one that involves moving from the first chapter to the last and then repeating the process several times, a troublesome strategy that allows for more continuity mistakes and increases the likelihood of missing out on those “ding!” moments—mental clicks that lend the added depth and richness your story needs.

I usually refresh by reading previously revised chapters, making small edits along the way without lingering for too long, before starting the next chapter and working on it five or six times until satisfied. Your first draft is where the magic happens; revision turns that magic into a presentable magic show.

Editing/ProofreadingA more manageable task than revision, editing and proofreading iron out any remaining kinks in the writing, attending specifically to grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Hiring an editor to assist with this part is instrumental to successful publication. Even if you’re competent in this department like me, it’s probably a good idea to consult outside help.

Sharing — Depending on how high-profile your piece of writing is, you might choose to share you writing before pursuing publication. This is a definite step for me as an aspiring first-time author: I want to ensure my novel is as impressive and reader-friendly as it can be before shooing it off to agents and potential publishers.

Honest feedback from trusted sources is key. I’ve already talked to a few people about sending them advanced manuscripts in exchange for thorough criticism. If you do the same, do your volunteers a courtesy and pay for printing and shipping costs—and give them a mention in your book’s dedications, too.

Publishing — This is one of the biggest hurdles in the process for any writer. All that hard work and time is put to the test. Either it pays off now, or you’re stuck with an unsellable manuscript. If unsuccessful, self-publishing and/or entering the e-book market is another option, but prepare to make a substantial financial investment and, if you push past that, expect lower sales than normal. I’m aiming to publish traditionally because, while my chances of acquiring a book deal are naturally slim, the return can be far greater in the long run.

Marketing — The responsibility of marketing a book rests largely in the author’s hands, and it’s good to have an established platform (online blogs, presentations, community involvement, etc.) to help spread the news of your book’s launch. Failing to secure adequate sales can hurt your chances of publication in the future. Read up on marketing tactics and form a plan early.

Did I miss any steps? What part of the writing process do you struggle with? Please share any anecdotes or advice in the comments below.

Good books for word ninjas—and a couple favorites

Amazon.com blog Omnivoracious has organized a list of six recommended books for writers—from those wishing to add style to their writing to others hoping to simply avoid writing like an arse. You heard me.

Here’s the list at a glance:

  • Help! for Writers by Roy Peter Clark — Practical advice about turning writing into a lifestyle
  • Word Hero by Jay Heinrichs — Learn how to bring art and wit to your writing
  • Microstyle by Christopher Johnson — Thoughts on how we connect with language and how to do more with less
  • How Not to Talk Like an Arse by Richard Wilson — 101 phrases that should be exiled from the English language
  • Gobbledygook by William Wilson — See if you can spot the fake word in this dictionary game
  • The Bloomberg Way by Matthew Winkler — A trusty handbook for business writers

And a couple of my favorites:

Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style by Arthur Plotnik — Spice up your writing enough to make Strunk and White cry

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss — A humorous glimpse into punctuation

What books on writing, grammar, and punctuation have you found indispensable?

Errors, formatting, and other differences between e-book and print

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the varying quality of e-books. I’m not just talking about the relative ease of digital self-publishing, which for all its simplicity and convenience makes flooding the market with low-rate books an even bigger reality. Everyone should have the opportunity to bypass traditional channels and put their story out there for the world to see, but when it comes time to buy, prospective readers of indie books have to wade through a confusing pool of releases, playing a blind game of Marco Polo with the good and the bad—nearly all of them are cheap, but not enough of them are readable, let alone well-written, and how are people supposed to know a gem from a rock? A free e-book a day is a great luxury, but what use is reading more if what you’re reading isn’t very good?

Sure, reading bad books is just as important as reading good books, but more so if you’re a writer—you learn what not to do, just like the best prose and poetry instructs you on what to do and how you should go about doing it.

One thing I can’t forgive, however, is the often shoddy quality of traditionally published e-books. Some are worse than others, but most e-books I’ve seen contain at least one of the following problems:

  • An unflattering, bereft design and layout — If I’m replacing a normal print book with an e-book, I still want the same pampering. Give me a cover, even if it is in boring black and white. Give me a table of contents, copyright information, and all the other pages you’d typically include before the actual book begins.
  • Spelling and space errors — I know programming e-books is a newfangled task, but it bothers me when publishers (or self-publishers) don’t put as much effort into producing a flawless finished product as they would normally. I routinely spot extra spaces (sometimes big, very noticeable extra spaces) in between words or punctuation, common spelling errors, and similar issues. Embedding pictures is another complication—sometimes they don’t even appear on the page they’re supposed to, or they distort the text. Not okay.
  • Missing bold, italics, or headers — Honestly, I haven’t encountered many problems with italicized words, but bold words can do a lot to differentiate lines of text—especially when publishers neglect to format actual headers that are separated from the rest of the text body, given adequate room, and enlarged for standard reading purposes.

At least the Kindle (not sure about other e-readers) has page numbers available now. Who really used those long numerical locations, anyway?

What other problems have you seen in e-books that wouldn’t ever be found dead in their print counterparts? Do you think the sudden demand for a digital format is any excuse for sloppy editing and poor presentation? Do these issues deter you from buying e-books?