Friday, September 12, 2014

Enquiring Writers Want to Know…

During my years of editing, numerous questions and comments have come from writers who were new to the business. After reviewing some of the more common ones, I’ve made a list that might be useful to others here as they jump into the deep end of our literary pool.


I know exactly how my story is going to end before I type the first word. How do I make sure my ending won’t change? You don’t. Imposing an ending on your story that doesn’t fit its development will kill your book, just as will forcing your characters into cubby holes where they are nothing more than two-dimensional puppets. Instead, craft solid characters with individual likes, dislikes, and personalities; detailed backgrounds; and strong family histories; then put them into your setting and let them tell you their story. Of course, you can’t allow them to go too far afield, but you can give them enough latitude to bring reality to your words and an ending that fits who they are—not a written-in-stone finish that leaves the reader cold and unfulfilled. The last thing we want is for our reader to arrive at “The End” and wonder what happened…or didn’t happen.

Do I really have to do research? This is fiction. You need to do research only if you want your story to be convincing and the reader to be chomping at the bit for your next book. You need to have your factual ducks in a row and your story realistic, plausible, and accurate in even the little details. It should reflect real life, even if it’s fantasy. If it doesn’t, it won’t “connect” with your readers.

pjh via Morguefile

I have so many great stories bouncing around in my head that I know my books will be bestsellers. The big publishing houses are going to line up with contracts and advance checks in their hands. That gives you a big head start on the rest of us. It also labels you as incredibly optimistic. Writing is hard, lonely work. Competition is fierce. "Bouncing" stories in no way guarantee success; even J. K. Rowling and Stephen King had slow starts on their wildly successful writing careers. So come back to earth and begin reading every book in your genre that you can get your hands on. What works for you as a reader? What doesn’t work? How would you change the story to make it better, more exciting, more intense? How would you increase the reader’s connection with the story? Then perhaps you can think about writing a story of your own.

How long does it take to write a book? That’s a great question. While the answer is an unknown quantity, it can be stated without a doubt that the distracting factors (job, family, friends, social life, research required, commitment, perseverance, etc.) in your life contribute hugely to the final outcome in this arena. Best answer: it takes as long as it takes.

pschubert via Morguefile

These are but a few examples of questions and misconceptions from newbies to our field. Do you have other questions or expectations? If you are an experienced writer, can you share some advice that will help new ones as they try to find their way through the writing, publishing, and marketing mazes?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at


  1. How long does it take to write a book? Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in nine days; each of Donna Tartt's three novels took her ten years to write.

    1. Obviously, no set completion times exist in all cases -- although publishers usually have deadlines writers are expected to meet. On another note, this morning I received an e-mail marketing a writing retreat that said the first draft of a book would be completed during the 6-day session. That would certainly challenge my typical time frame. :-)

  2. Never publish a first draft. When an author on FB brags that they write a novel a month and publish them, I question the quality. I could see writing a skeleton first draft in a month, but it takes many month longer to revise and edit and have people read it to point out your problems. The average is a year. I really admire those who can do it six months, but they probably have a good, consistent, talented crit group and an editor.

    1. Absolutely! Quality always suffers from a rush job.

  3. How long? All my books have taken different amounts of time. Those are all complicated questions to answer.

  4. Complicated, indeed! Writing is not a 9 to 5 job where you know what each day's tasks will be. Every writer is different, and every project is different. That's part of its draw and intrigue, don't you think?


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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