Copyright © 2009, Steven E. Houchin
In my last posting, I extolled the virtues of setting aside a manuscript when the story isn’t coming together. My latest novel, Snowbound, reached that point last summer.
In the meantime, I read Stephen King’s great book, On Writing. The first section of it confused me a bit because it seemed to be just a rambling (and humorous) account of his childhood and his troubles with booze. Okay, but what about the craft of writing? Well, he got around to that later in the book and I better understood why he gave us his background.
I received four great inspirations from On Writing:
1) Be persistent. I already knew that, but it helps to read about another writer’s determination to get noticed and published. In my case, I continue to send query letters to agents, despite a couple dozen rejections, trying to sell them on my second novel, Double Fire. As of this writing, two agents have shown interest and have the full manuscripts in their hot little hands.
2) Write short stories and submit them for publication in literary journals or magazines. This is vital to getting noticed. I’d add my own corollary: submit your novels and stories to major contests. I recently wrote a couple of short stories and submitted one to a magazine and the other to an online journal’s contest. Earlier this year, Snowbound was chosen as a finalist in PNWA’s literary contest.
3) When you’re working on a manuscript, set a word count goal for each day. I made a new goal of 1000 words per day in a push to move Snowbound forward. Once I became un-stuck on how to move the plot forward, this goal allowed me to plow ahead and (yippee!) finally get the first draft finished in October. What a relief.
4) Eliminate tag lines (e.g. he said, she replied) from dialog as much as possible. You ought to use action, gestures, and facial expressions to indicate who’s speaking. Here’s how it looks: “No problem,” Joe said. -- versus -- Joe flicked the ashes from his cigarette. “No problem.” This is something I am now incorporating into the editing phase of Snowbound. I’m also doing another pass (ugh!) through Double Fire to make these kinds of changes. It’s amazing the difference it makes.
It’s no wonder so many writers rave about King’s On Writing. It keeps you entertained while dropping these nuggets of literary wisdom right in your lap.