OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
It's my tenth fiction book, the 3rd in the London Psychic series which completes the trilogy. There are also 7 books in the ARKANE series, 4 novels and 3 novellas.
(1) Writing more books will improve your writing
That might sound obvious, but the number of authors obsessing over book one seems to suggest otherwise! It's much better to get the first book finished and edited, then write the next one and the next one, learning on the way.
You will improve faster by writing more books than if you spend years honing one manuscript. You'll get quicker feedback if you hire a pro editor and then self-publish.
I also had an email this week from one of my wonderful readers who is in my Pennfriends reader's group. He said he has been reading my books since the very beginning and has loved them all, but that I have clearly become a much better writer in that time.
That makes me super happy because clearly, I've been working on my craft and applying those lessons in each book.
It's also a natural development from the process of writing more books. If you read Deviance and then go back to Stone of Fire, you will notice the difference, for sure. Every time I have an edit on one of my books, I learn what I'm doing wrong and I try not to repeat those mistakes in the next manuscript.
But I'm OK with that. As the startup industry says, if you're not embarrassed by what you did last year, you're not moving fast enough. Or something like that 🙂
(2) Writing a novella is a lot of fun and readers love them
It's much easier to write a story that is 27,000 words than construct a novel of 60,000 – 100,000 words. For a start, you can hold it all in your head so much more easily and you can get a first draft done in a couple of weeks if you focus. It's also a lot of fun because it's so fast – something I didn't really expect.
I have really enjoyed doing the ‘Day' novellas for the ARKANE series and certainly intend to do more. They also fit my travel addiction 🙂 The titles might give it away: One Day in Budapest, Day of the Vikings (which opens with a murder in Orkney), One Day in New York.
Yes, these books all take place over one day and the bad guys get a kicking by sundown. Super fun! Definitely more novellas to come in my future.
(3) Understand the cycles of writing to avoid guilt
There's a lot of advice out there (including on this site) but we all have to understand our own creative cycles. I don't write book related words every day. Sure, I write every day but it might involve blogging, journalling or other things. For my fiction and non-fiction books, I'm more of a binge writer.
In the last year, I have had some massive word count months, where I have written thousands of words of first draft material every day.
Then I move into an editing phase and the calendar is bare.
But being an author is more than just writing a lot of words.
It's about thinking and letting ideas compost, it's about research trips, it's also about turning those words into a book – the editing and redrafting process – and then, if you're an indie, going through the publishing and marketing process too.
By understanding the cycles of creating a book, you can avoid writer's guilt about not writing every day. (Please remind me of this when I get antsy about not creating enough new words!)
(4) Getting into flow and getting the first draft out fast
If I take too long between writing sessions, I lose where I am. I need to clear the decks and immerse myself for a period of time. Then emerge from the writing cave and do the rest of the work.
I've pretty much nailed my process for writing first draft fiction in a flow state now. It's taken many years!
I get away from my desk and go either to a cafe or a library. I plug in my earphones and listen to Rain and Thunderstorms on repeat. I write for a couple of hours, until I have finished a scene or reached 1500 – 2000 words.
During that time, it can feel like a fugue state. I don't usually remember it. I don't really see the words on the page as my own.
It's quite weird.
But then writers are definitely weird! (Don't worry, you're at home here!)
I think part of this is trusting emergence and the creative side and not editing my writing at all in the first draft phase. It's also partly being more comfortable with what a story really is. I've only felt this in the last 9 months really. I first felt it when writing Gates of Hell and then One Day in New York, both of which were very clean first drafts.
Deviance was hard as the series is much more intricately plotted than the ARKANE books, but after I used Shawn Coyne's The Story Grid to work out plot issues, I wrote the last 50k words in a month. Happy times 🙂
(5) The bug has bitten deep
I love love love love writing fiction.
It's definitely hard work and I have a theory on why. There's evidence that every decision we make every day saps our willpower and our energy. That's why books like The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg recommend having a routine for breakfast and clothes etc so you can save your decision making for difficult things. That's why Barack Obama wears the same type of suit every day.
Fiction writers have to make loads and loads of decisions for their characters which saps our own decision making ability and leaves us exhausted after writing. (Or is this just my justification for chocolate?!)
Anyway, it is hard work but I love it. It stretches and challenges me. I can go deep into things I'm fascinated with, like the tattoo and body modification community in Deviance, and Jewish Kabbalah mysticism in Gates of Hell. I can travel for research.
I can create something new in the world and say, “I made this!.”
Even better, I can help readers escape their lives for a time, like the authors who help me escape into exciting worlds. I am addicted to thrillers and now I get to write them. Happy dance 🙂
I also get paid for doing it. So I am one happy little writer bunny today!
THANK YOU to all of you who have bought my books or tried out my fiction. If you'd like to give it a go, you can get a free novella, Day of the Vikings, here.
You can also get Deviance in ebook or print format today, currently on sale at US$2.99 or equivalent. It will go up to $4.99 in a week or so.