First, a disclaimer: I am a very new writer. Or at least, very new to writing anything even close to novel-length. I'm very much still learning and struggling with how to do this myself, but I've had a lot of emails and messages on Twitter, Facebook and Wattpad asking me for advice or wanting to know about how I write so I thought I'd let you into my hallowed writing chamber (a sparse extra bedroom in my apartment that is constantly a mess).
By far the best advice I think I can give is this: everyone is different. Be very wary of anyone who tells you "this is how you have to write". There are people who can write anywhere, anytime and then there are people that need to go into the woods and avoid all human contact. There are people who output 5 words a day and people who can crank out 20,000. Some people intricately map out their plots before they write a single word and some people just sit down and start typing without any idea of where they are going. There's no right or wrong way, it's all about what makes you the most productive. I tried out lots and lots of methods before I found some that worked for me and I'm still trying new things all the time.
Don't just read about how your favorite author writes and assume that that is the best way. It's an easy trap to fall into. Some of my favorite writers write in ways I could never, ever imagine myself being able to do. The same is true for authors I don't care for. Everyone is different. The way someone writes is very rarely makes them a good writer. Don't assume that just copying their routine, using the same computer/typewriter/notebook they do, writing in the same setting they do, etc. will in any way magically make you able to write just like them. If anything, it will just frustrate you more. I know, because I've tried it.
Do what feels natural and allows you do get the most work done. Remember, your first draft is just a slab of rock that you're going to carve your David or Fifty Shades of Gray out of. The most important and by far hardest part is just building that slab of marble. Very, very few people who set out to write a novel achieve that, so whether your novel is a masterpiece or a piece of crap you can always be proud that you at least achieved that.
The idea for Meta had been floating around my head for a long time. Obviously there's some very strong comic book influences in the book, but it all started from a few "What if...?" ideas. The first one was "What if a young Clark Kent had become the first Robin?" The other idea I became fascinated with was what a world would look like post-superheroes. Building that world and figuring out how society would react to super-powered beings appearing, disappearing and then reappearing again was very interesting to me.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what narrative I wanted to use. I eventually settled on first-person present tense for two reasons. Time spent debating the narrative style with myself was time spent not writing. Every style has pros and cons which you can argue forever. Some people like certain styles and hate others. I've certainly received a fair amount of unfavorable reviews based on my choice, but in the end it's what worked for me. The second reason was this style of narrative best suited how I wanted the main protagonist to be portrayed.
Tools I Use:
Evernote - I used to be a Simplenote guy, but I really like the flexibility of Evernote now. Ultimately the most important thing is being able to take notes whenever and wherever inspiration strikes. If you think of something good write. it. down. Don't trust yourself to remember it later because you will forget.
Scrivener - The best $45 I ever spent. At first the amount of options is intimidating, but watch a tutorial or two and you'll get the hang of it really quickly. The best thing about it is that you can take or leave the vast majority of the features. You don't need to know how everything works to use it, you can just start writing and ignore everything else if you want to.
My three favorite features of Scrivener?
1. Word Targets - Tell Scrivener how long you want your story to be in terms of word count, when your deadline is, and what days of the week you intend to work on it. Bam, Scrivener parses it out into daily targets and gives you a satisfying little "ding" when you hit them. Write even more than you are targeted for or miss a day? No problem. Scrivener updates your word count targets on the fly.
2. Character Name Generator - Quickly generate a list of character names based on a whole bunch of criteria. At the very least get a quick placeholder for a character name, which helps you keep writing rather than sitting in your chair for an hour trying to think of the perfect name.
3. External Folder Sync - Lets you sync all of your chapters to simple .txt or .rtf files to any folder on your computer. Combine this with something like Dropbox or Google Drive and you're all set to use a tool like...
Writebox - A browser based app that lets you open up that .txt files and add to them, create new chapters, etc. I write on a Mac, a Chromebook, an iPhone, an iPad, etc. As long as you have a web browser though, you can write in Writebox.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you use. I wrote chunks of Meta on my iPhone. To me what's most important is having something that let's you free yourself from distractions and just write.
Books That Helped Me:
On Writing by Stephen King - It might go without saying, but this is a go-to book for writers for a reason. Like him or hate him, you can't argue with Stephen King's output and success. The book is full of practical advice from a guy who has spent more time writing than probably 99.9% of anyone alive or dead.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott - This is a great book not only about writing, but about life in general. Writing a novel is a huge undertaking. There's a reason why so many people dream of "one day" writing a novel but never do it, and that reason is that it's a huge, huge, huge undertaking. Even a terrible novel takes a long time and a lot of patience to write. This book talks a lot about how to accomplish those kinds of gigantic tasks without becoming frustrated and giving up.
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron - The newest book on the list and one that speaks very directly I think to indie writers since it's all about how to increase your output. I'm very, very far from writing 10K words a day, but there is loads of practical advice from this quick read.
General advice that helped me:
Despite hosting a podcast myself, I rarely listen to them. Mostly this is because I can't listen to a podcast and concentrate on anything else at the same time, so unless I'm driving, on a train, etc. I don't really listen. That said, Ira Glass' advice is maybe the best I've ever heard, or at the very least the truest:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
More fantastic advice from Ira Glass just this week via Lifehacker:
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?
"I'd just say to aspiring journalists or writers—who I meet a lot of—do it now. Don't wait for permission to make something that's interesting or amusing to you. Just do it now. Don't wait. Find a story idea, start making it, give yourself a deadline, show it to people who'll give you notes to make it better. Don't wait till you're older, or in some better job than you have now. Don't wait for anything. Don't wait till some magical story idea drops into your lap. That's not where ideas come from. Go looking for an idea and it'll show up. Begin now. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough."
Don't wait. The best advice I could ever imagine. I wish I hadn't waited as long as I did. There are so many amazing tools out there right now like Amazon KDP and Wattpad that there is absolutely no reason you need to wait. I have nothing against traditional publishing, and I definitely understand why some want to go that route. Indie publishing requires a lot of work outside of just writing. Personally, I love that work. I love the bits and pieces of all the different platforms, and the immediate feedback they provide. I can't imagine what it was like before the internet to put work out there and have pretty much no idea how it was received until way after the fact.
That said, as far as I know Meta is not sitting on the shelf of a real bookstore anywhere which is definitely a bummer. I'll just say this if you're thinking about going the traditional publishing route: if you're going to pursue it, still find a way to experiment online. Just because you are pursuing a big publishing contract with your novel doesn't mean you can't put up an unrelated short story on Amazon or Wattpad. Don't let waiting for your big break determine your writing timeline and prevent you from getting work out there now.
Putting something out there for the world to judge is very, very hard. But it can also be as easy as just having the balls to hit Publish, and that alone will get your further than most.