Brace Yourself–Four Things You Must Do

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Thanks to bensound.com for the intro/outro music.

ASK THE AUTHOR: James Earls via Facebook: Hey you all. How many chapters/pages per chapter & how long (page wise) is a novella? I ‘ve seen them range as high as a 135 pgs. Is there hard & fast rule or specifics that publishers are looking for?

AARON: Another fine question, James. I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast rule for any of these. I’ve seen chapters as small as a page, some even less (some I’ve seen are only one sentence or one paragraph). I’ve seen some novels without chapter breaks at all. It depends on your project–what works best. Think of pacing. I like to think that chapters should be able to be read in one sitting, but I like to end my chapters to push my reader into the next chapter. Chapters are natural break points, and often serve as an opportunity for a reader to put a book down. As far as novellas are concerned, that’s tricky also. I tend to think of novellas as anything more than fifty but less than one-hundred pages. I think it really depends on the publisher. Pops, what’s your takeaway on this?

POPS: There are general guidelines for novella length, but it varies. When I was working on the Harbinger series, I was the long winded one of the four authors. Most of mine novellas in that series came about 25,000 words. Some of the other authors were around 17,000 words. Chapters vary in length. I think it’s best to keep them short in novellas, especially if the plot is action and/or suspense based. Novellas run from about 7500 words upto 40,000. A lot of these lengths are determined by literary contests.

Firsts in Fiction

Brace Yourself–Four Things You Must Do

AARON: We’ve covered many topics here on Firsts in Fiction. We’ve talked about beginnings and endings, voice, famous writers, and scores of other topics. Tonight, however, we want to talk about not what goes on the page, but what goes on in the writer’s mind. Let’s face it: writing can be discouraging and tough.

Ernest Hemingway wrote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Sometimes it feels like that, or like a trip to the dentist. Some years ago, Pops delivered a keynote speech at a writers conference called, “Brace Yourself: Four Things You Must Do.” Don’t worry, he’s not going to deliver a speech tonight. I wouldn’t do that to you. We are, however, going to chat about four things every writer needs to do to maintain a writing career (even if the career is a hobby.)

Pops, you’ve been in the writing game for a couple of decades. Surely you don’t get discouraged.

POPS: Wanna bet? Most writers have times when they want to give up. Listen to this quote. You might be surprised who said it:

“He is a man of thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him, he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak, he will be suffering from a hangover. At present, it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start, he would have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up the stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post, which brought him two circulars and an income tax demand printed in red. Needless to say this person is a writer.”

George Orwell (1903—50), British author. “Confessions of a Book Reviewer” (1946; repr. in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 4, ed. by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, 1968).

Orwell describes a bleak existence for the writer. Non-writers assume professional creatives live luxurious lives with few problems. And it is true that there are as many as a dozen such people in the world.

Most of us face hard days, rejection, frustration, characters who won’t cooperate, plotlines that dissolve before our eyes, sources the go missing a day before the article is due.

I was a pastor for twenty-two years. Every once in awhile, someone would ask, “Do you ever think of quitting?” My answer? “Every Sunday night.”

Being a writer is, for most of us, the most exquisite torture. We lay bare our backs to the whips of deadlines, small advances, comments by reviewers who have never written a book. Why do we do it? Because 1) we love it; 2) we believe it makes a difference.

Aaron: I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there. Some of us more recently than others. Some of us make more frequent trips to the “I should just quit right now” bar. I know what keeps me going. But we probably have some listeners who are wanting to throw in the towel now. What advice do you have for them?

POPS: We make four choices. I’m big on the power of choice. I believe choice is one of the greatest gifts we can receive.

First choice: Stand Firm.

  1. Like all of these points, standing firm is a choice. It is a frequent choice. It’s a decision that can’t be made once and last for eternity. It is a present tense choice. Keep on standing firm. It is a lifelong pursuit for professionals.
  2. One of Al’s Axioms: Sometimes you have to stop feeling and start thinking.
  3. Standing firm means pushing through the depression or set back, and you may have to do it a thousand times in your career.
  4. Let me give an illustration. [Juniper tree—Backhoe—There’s something you should know about men. We are not easily manipulated—unless, of course, it involves our pride, and everything involves our pride. It’s about me not the tree.]
  5. There is no ivory tower. Writing takes place in the streets and alleys of life.
  6. You must have two things: craft and tenacity. We can teach the first (craft), but we can’t teach the second (tenacity).
  7. Standing firm is choice only you can make.

AARON: Well said, Pops. We need to hear that sometimes. When I was at Antioch, one of my fellow students asked our writing mentor a simple question. He said, “You’ve seen a ton of students come and go through this program. What separates those who are successful and those who aren’t? Is it talent?” Our mentors response was simple (and this is a bit of a paraphrase, but he said,) “It’s not talent. It’s tenacity. The most successful writers are those who write one novel and then another and then another. I’ve seen too many talented writers publish once and never write again. I’ve seen many more who give up even before they’re published.”

So–we stand firm. Then what?

Second choice: Let Nothing Move You

  1.      Again, a choice

[One of the most popular photographs is a print is of a lighthouse being pounded by a furious ocean. We have one in our bedroom. It shows the wave hitting the unmovable lighthouse. Spray from the wave nearly reaches the top of the structure. It’s an effective image of this command. Be immovable.]

  1.      Things that Move Us
  2.       Outside forces—competition, discouraging words.

[When I was young, I told my mother, “I want to be an attorney.” She said, “You could never be an attorney.” Years later, I told my mother, “I want to be a minister.” She said, “You can’t make any money at that.” She was right about that part.]

  1. I have since learned that I decide who I allow to influence me. The choice is mine.
  2. Internal Force—doubt, fear.

[In 1971, Earth Day, Walt Kelly—the cartoonist who created Pogo, drew a poster showing two of the swamp characters looking over a polluted swamp. Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”] Let’s face it: we are often our own enemies.

  1. Life Issues-—children, health, work.
  2. It doesn’t take long to realize that life interrupts writing.
  3. Always remember, there are things more important than writing. But that doesn’t mean you stop writing.
  4. Know that there are forces that may interrupt your work. Your choice is remain firm.

AARON: We’re all busy, right? What was it Jack Cavanaugh told you, Pops? You have a great story about that. For me, standing firm meant to keep going, even when I heard several discouraging words, like what my mentor had to say about Harrison Sawyer. It didn’t keep me from writing–instead, I turned it into motivation. I like to think that we can take our challenges and turn them into motivations.

So, we stand firm, and we let nothing move us. What else?

Third Choice: Give Yourself to the Work

  1. You must love the work when it is unlovable.
  2. You must learn to appreciate rewriting as much as writing.
  3. You believe that what you do has value.
  4. You must remind yourself that others have made it as writers and they faced the same challenges (or greater) that you do.

[J.W. Cambell is a Canadian astronomer. For years he traveled the globe to observe a total solar eclipse. Every time, he missed it because of overcast skies. This happened to him 12 times.]

Aaron: More good advice here. Writing is very much a labor of love, but it is still labor. Giving yourself to it is important: working when you don’t want to. Tricking your mind to love the “work” part of it can be a challenge, but it’s very worthwhile. It falls under the “fake-it-till-you-make it” principle. If you hate it, pretend you love it. Look for the good parts. Then, you won’t hate it as much. You’ll come to love it (hopefully). Learning from others is important as well. Look into the struggles other writers had to overcome (King, Rowling, Melville, Hemingway, etc.). You’re in good company.

So, we stand firm, we let nothing move us, and we give ourselves to the work. What is our fourth choice?

Fourth Choice: Know Your Labor is Not in Vain

  1. Writing makes a difference in the writer.
  2. Writing makes a difference in the reader.
  3. Sometimes, writing changes the future.
  4. Writing inspires, convicts, educates, reveals, and a thousand other things.
  5. You may not know what your writing achieves, but it always achieves something.
  6. Writing is a way to leave your fingerprints on the brains of people you will never meet.
  7. Writing lives on even after the writer has died.

A choice to keep working no matter what. Another term for this is persistence.

[Thomas Alva Edison is known for many things, but what many don’t know is complete commitment to his work. He made something like a thousand attempts to invent the light bulb. When asked what if felt like to fail a thousand times he said, “I did fail. I discovered a thousand things that don’t work. Perspective. Works for the writer as well.]

AARON: In education, we use the term “grit.” That is persistence. Doing what must be done when it’s not fun. Understanding the value of our work can be a challenge. It’s easy to get discouraged. But you make a good point–we must remind ourselves that, even if we never become a best-seller, our work will have an impact on someone. Let’s make sure it’s a positive impact.

2 Comments on Brace Yourself–Four Things You Must Do

  1. what i learned from this podcast is that I’ve been writing stories right all wrong for a while. I would get rid of an idea if i thought it as to stupid or didn’t make any sense,and that held me back from writing stories. But, you taught me that a rule of writing fiction books is to love your stupid and nonsensical idea and to build around those bad ideas.And if i hit writers block i would always just get frustrated,and stop writing for days because i couldn’t come up with anything.But, you told me to stick to my guns even if i feel as though my ideas probably aren’t good enough which was a big help unlocking my creativity. Once again thank you for helping me with writing stories.

  2. Francisco Parra | October 6, 2017 at 11:23 am | Reply

    I personally liked this blog. It was very inspirational its own way. It gave really good points on how not to get distracted from your work. Gibing you the confidence to keep doing your work. And to believe in yourself and the work. Even though believing yourself is a big cheesy cliche, it really was a good point to make.

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