Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday 20

Ten Novel Pitches You Probably Shouldn't Make

1. The No-Purpose Life -- Who Cares Why You're Here?: Your existence is completely random chance, there is no Divine Plan, and even if there is, a slob like you wouldn't be part of it (alternative religion.)

2. The Crackerjack Code: blend the boredom of a pointless but easily solved international murder mystery with decoding the meaning behind a collection of fascinating and somewhat sticky prizes culled from 110 years of digging through molasses-covered popcorn and peanuts (junk food thriller, currently under pending lawsuit filed by Frito-Lay.)

3. Cordless: They're evil, those phones, I'm telling you (horror.)

4. What Price Really Liking Someone? -- An I Can't Spell Synister Novel: When her twin brother, Ralphie, disappears soon after taking a job as a poodle trainer for Lord Flexanbulge, Lady Prissy Notalltheway fears he may have become entangled in a dangerous pedigree mutt swindle -- or worse (historical romance.)

5. Killing Your Editor and Getting Away with It: (self-help; presently being sold in self-published edition at writer's conferences nationwide.)

6. Christ the Lord: Out of Diapers: The book succeeds in capturing our savior's profound bowel movements during his infancy, with some of the best scenes reflecting his diaper rash ordeals and what really happened when Blessed Mother mixed a few too many mashed dates in the cream of emmer (biblical historical.)

7. What to Expect When Your Baby's Daddy Hightails it Out of Town: You should have had the court garnish his wages before you told him about the bun in the oven (maternity/self-help legal.)

8. Men of Pot Metal: "Sing, O Ron Popiel, of the ruin of Ginzu..." It is 1984 A.D., and the As-Seen-On-TV-O-Matic Empire is dying, crushed by the weight of its own fantastically affordable and wonderfully versatile products that you, too, can own for just three small payments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling, operators are standing by (not very historical, but amazingly affordable, don't miss out!)

9. The Love Canal Diet: Lose weight, teeth, hair and fingernails (nature/nutrition.)

10. How to Write a Novel in Fifteen Minutes, Sell It to a Major Publisher in One Day and Make #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List in One Week: At last, the definitive book that exposes 100% of the truth about THE SECRET HANDSHAKE (fiction.)

I am kind of tempted by that Crackerjack Code idea; remember how good the prizes used to be? Back in my day you'd get little dolls and mini airplanes and smiley face buttons and teeny books -- none of this lick-your-arm-and-press-on single measly tattoo crap like they put in them now. If someone deliberately used the prizes as symbols in hopes of someday warning humanity of a great and shocking truth that would crumble the foundation of our belief systems...that Mickey and Minnie Mouse did have a secret love child together, and he grew up to be....nah, probably been done already by a couple of Brit Disney experts.

Anyway. It's that time of week again -- who's got questions?

45 comments:

  1. Sheila, admit it: you're gunning for #10 for realsies.

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  2. By the way, you know how you linked that group blog earlier this week (Well Behaved at All Times)? I was poking around, and found Jennifer Crusie's other blog. She has an interesting post this week on cover art, and how an author can (maybe) manage to have input into the cover design process. So here are my questions: have you ever had influence over your cover design, and if so, how did you manage to get it?

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  3. I have a question – how do you make those American style cookies that are chewy in the middle? Not the oatmealy ones, the other kind.

    Over here it’s all biscuits, and they’re not the same thing at all.

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  4. Mmm... chewy biscuits...

    Ahh, question: how did you kill that spineless bitch who questioned your every move to get published?

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  5. Anonymous7:19 AM

    I've meant to ask you this for a while: okay, chapter length. I KNOW everybody says don't stress over length and word count, etc., and I'm not, but what I want to know is this. If an agent or editor asks for the first three chapters, and you write short chapters, does that hurt your chances? Are longer chapters better because you can give them more writing? Or should the work be so irresistable no matter how long it is that they'll want more? I mean, considering pacing and what's right for the novel, it might be more harmful to have longer chapters in some cases, right? Just curious! Thanks, PBW.

    Jess
    (who hopes that wasn't too silly of a question)

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  6. I dunno... #5 and #10, I can see them selling. Especially#10. There's a sucker born... yadda yadda yadda...

    And though I've been pretty lucky with my editors, I've had some friends that might seriously consider #5.

    Stuart, I see your from the UK~ why on earth do you want recipes for American cookies when you all have Penguins? drool...

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  7. LOL I love that love canal one!

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  8. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Good Morning PBW!

    Here's a question for you...when you've got a queue of projects clamoring to get written, how do you decide to order the line? Or is it that when you are under such tight deadlines the choices are pretty much made for you?

    Since you don't write on spec this issue probably doesn't affect you any more, but any advice you can offer new writers is deeply appreciated.

    Thank you for answering all of our questions...I learn a lot every Friday!

    have a great weekend PBW and everyone

    Michele

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  9. Scott Oden wrote: Hehehehe . . . :)

    You laugh now, oh Bronzed One, but just wait: the secrets behind the Veg-O-Matic will lure you to the television set at 3:42 a.m., the holy hour of the infomercials... :)

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  10. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I will be lurking, waiting to see answer to Jess's question about chapter length.

    Also, I have a ludicrous question.

    WTF does spec mean?

    I will be posting as anonymous, TYVM.

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  11. Doug Hoffman wrote: Sheila, admit it: you're gunning for #10 for realsies.

    What, are you kidding? I'm typing up that pitch today. Along with my application for Book Millionaire.

    ... have you ever had influence over your cover design, and if so, how did you manage to get it?

    I generally don't fuss about cover art, because I trust that the production people know what they're doing. However, I will raise an objection if there is something wrong or utterly hideous on my cover. Not that it makes a lot of difference; in seven years I've been able to change things on exactly 2 of my covers.

    #1: In the original art sketches for Blade Dancer Jory was shown bald and in flowing fantasy-like robes; I asked them to put some hair on her head and ditch the LOTR outfit.

    #2: I tried like hell to get rid of Drag Queen Flipper from the cover Afterburn, unfortunately it was a no go, but they did change the sky from a lurid purple to the story-correct green, and got rid of Flipper's cartoonish eye.

    I believe in both cases I (virtually) got down on my knees and begged.

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  12. I've just discovered podcasts (yeah, I'm behind the times). Anyway, Holly Lisle has a fantastic podcast. Any chance that you will ever do a podcast? You can answer this when you get off the floor from laughing.

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  13. Thanks for linking to me!

    My question is: do you ever write longhand, and if you do, what kind of pen do you use? I'm thinking of going longhand but my hand tends to cramp up during extended writing, so I'm looking for the smoothest-writing pen around.

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  14. I have been wanting to ask this since my last round of rejection letters.

    What does it mean when a publisher says your novel is good, but “not good enough for a first novel”? They didn't give any feedback on how to improve, except making it longer.

    I was really confused. I had received two letters from different people, telling me all kinds of positive things about my writing, yet it was too short and not good enough for a first novel. Were they just being nice? I would think they would have just sent a form letter like the others. Hope this question doesn't seem too naive, I just have never seen letters like this.

    Thank you
    Phelan

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  15. I'm not Sheila, but I do know my cookies. The chewy center comes from lots of butter and sugar (or possibly molasses), which caramelize in the oven. Experiment with degrees of doneness until you get what you like.

    I also do a lot of writing in longhand. A fountain pen with a relatively fat barrel is the way to go. A medium nib is a little smoother, but may be illegible. Gold and platinum nibs are a lot more flexible than steel. A good pen store will let you test before you buy.

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  16. Stuart MacBride wrote: how do you make those American style cookies that are chewy in the middle? Not the oatmealy ones, the other kind.

    A couple of tricks: I agree with Katherine's comment; use real butter instead of margarine, and brown sugar or molasses instead of granulated sugar. On the latter, they add a darker flavor but have more moisture than white sugar.

    Another way I've heard is to add some applesauce but I don't know how much and have never tried it myself (I have added mashed potatoes to bread recipes to make them denser and more moist so it probably works the same way.)

    You might chill your cookie dough for thirty minutes before you bake; that's my Mom's trick.

    Some people recommend underbaking to keep the centers soft, but I have tried that and the cookies simply taste doughy to me. I do cool my cookies by putting the baking sheet on a tea towel set on the table versus putting the cookies on a rack, which I think helps them retain more post-baking moisture and not turn into little hockey pucks.

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  17. Jaye Patrick: how did you kill that spineless bitch who questioned your every move to get published?

    I used the secret handshake.

    Seriously, I don't mind people who take shots at me that way. I've been hit with it so many times I don't even duck anymore. No matter how well published you are, there will always be someone out there who think that everything you say about the industry is bullshit. If you regularly question popular opinion, then you automatically make yourself a target (but you also get people to thinking, which is worth it.)

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  18. Jess wrote: ...chapter length. I KNOW everybody says don't stress over length and word count, etc., and I'm not, but what I want to know is this. If an agent or editor asks for the first three chapters, and you write short chapters, does that hurt your chances?

    I don't think so. If your proposal isn't what the editor is looking for, he/she will discern that whether your chapters are short or long.

    There is a tendency among some writers to use the first three chapters as an extended prologue or introduction, aka reassurance for the reader. I've read a lot of partials from writers I've mentored that went like this: Hi. This is my world, isn't it cool? Here are my characters, aren't they neat? Not that anything's happening, but I don't want you to get lost. And, oh, something bad's going to happen in chapter four, but I can't tell you until we get there.

    If that's how your novel starts? Delete those three chapters and start the book with chapter four.

    Are longer chapters better because you can give them more writing? Or should the work be so irresistable no matter how long it is that they'll want more?

    More is not necessarily better. It's my opinion that a shorter proposal has more chance of being read completely by editors (who are collectively always pressed for time), but I know there are people out there who will argue with that.

    I would focus on content rather than length. Your priority should be making sure your first three chapters, however long or short they are, are so dazzling that they knock that editor on his/her ass. If you up the wattage and really use your first three chapters effectively, they're going to want to see the entire manuscript.

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  19. Shiloh wrote: I've had some friends that might seriously consider #5.

    I got a handout my first year as a pro from An Aspiring Writer Who Shall Remain Nameless listing names of NY editors, the conferences they usually go to, descriptions and little snapshots of them. Not being a fan of things like Gawker, I found that rather disturbing.

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  20. Trace wrote: I love that love canal one!

    I still can't get over that some women are actually injecting themselves with botulism to look good.

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  21. Michele wrote: Here's a question for you...when you've got a queue of projects clamoring to get written, how do you decide to order the line? Or is it that when you are under such tight deadlines the choices are pretty much made for you?

    In my case it's simple economics: whoever offers me the most money gets the priority spot on my schedule. For example, if an editor offers me $25K to write a book, and another offers me $12K for another, I commit to the $25K novel first.

    Since you don't write on spec this issue probably doesn't affect you any more, but any advice you can offer new writers is deeply appreciated.

    I do write occasionally on spec, mostly for WFH auditions or when I'm trying out a new genre. I think the best way for unpublished or newly published writers to prioritize is to work on the most marketable projects first. You can use your spare time to do experimental or hard-to-sell stuff.

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  22. Actually, one of the easy ways to get chewy cookies is to partially or completely substitute all purpose flour with bread flour--if you don't get that, just look for strong/hard flour or flour with a higher protein percentage, more than 11% is ideal.

    Depending on the cookie, you may also use oatmeal, just give it a few pulses in the food processor first.

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  23. Anonymous wrote: WTF does spec mean?

    "Spec" is short for "speculation"; in publishing we use it in the term "on-spec" which means "on speculation." It's a phrase borrowed from the magazine industry, where freelance writers send article ideas "on-spec" to an editor in hopes of obtaining a request for the full article.

    In book publishing we use it to refer to a variety of projects, but generally it means anything you submit that does not result from an offer of publication. When I got into the industry, a published author being asked to submit something on-spec seemed to be sort of an insult. In these days, though, I think we're all pretty much living in On-Spec Land.

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  24. Sandy wrote: Any chance that you will ever do a podcast? You can answer this when you get off the floor from laughing.

    I almost had an accident, thanks to you, Miss Sandy. No, I'm afraid my hokey nasalish drawl is not really suited for lengthy recording.

    But if you all are wanting to know what I sound like, here are 21 seconds of my voice from three years ago, back when podcasts were called audblog.

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  25. Love your list. But now I have to come up with new ideas. *sigh* ;)

    Seriously, on chapter length, how do you decide where to end one and start the next? Intuitively I think of my scenes as individual chapters. But reading as old thriller again, I noticed many of his chapters split scenes. I assume to keep me turning pages (the stinker). What do you do?

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  26. Another way I've heard is to add some applesauce

    I tried several of the cookie recipes from the link you posted at Christmas, and the molasses cookies did indeed have applesauce (you have to drain it) and were very soft centered. Super yum!

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  27. 9. The Love Canal Diet

    This is actually the first of the series. Already in development is The TMI Diet. All the benefits of Love Canal, and you glow in the dark. Saves a ton on electric bills.

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  28. Anders wrote: do you ever write longhand, and if you do, what kind of pen do you use?

    I don't write in longhand much anymore except in my private journals, some research notes and in a few cards and letters to friends. I use fountain pens almost exclusively, because they're easier than ballpoint for me to use. I also collect them. :)

    My favorite is a Platinum celluloid fountain pen, a red and pearl "Koi" model. It retails for anywhere from $250 to $350, but Levengers sometimes has had them on sale for $169. There's a pic of it posted at This Just In here.

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  29. Phelan wrote: What does it mean when a publisher says your novel is good, but “not good enough for a first novel”? They didn't give any feedback on how to improve, except making it longer.

    There are many ways to interpret the comments publishers make, and although it would be tremendously helpful if they could give more detailed feedback, usually they don't (unless they believe by making some changes your novel would be something they'd like to buy, in which case, you'll get a list of suggested changes.)

    I was really confused. I had received two letters from different people, telling me all kinds of positive things about my writing, yet it was too short and not good enough for a first novel. Were they just being nice?

    If both editors said the same thing independently of each other, I doubt they were being nice. Your novel may be too short for their guidelines, have you checked them? As for the "not good enough" that's open to a lot of interpretation. It may help to enlist the aid of another writer or writers who can read your manuscript and give you some feedback on it.

    I would think they would have just sent a form letter like the others. Hope this question doesn't seem too naive, I just have never seen letters like this.

    No, this is an excellent question -- when I was pursuing publication and got a personal but ambiguous response from an editor, I played the same guessing game. Also, any time you get a personal response from an editor it's a good thing. A form rejection letter doesn't tell you anything except that your novel isn't right for them. These editors have given you feedback that, while not very detailed, does tell you that your story's length is a concern. The rest I'm afraid you have to figure out on your own, but if you work with some other writers (trading off manuscripts to critique each other is a great way to do this) you may get more information to help you decide where to go from here with your novel.

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  30. Katherine wrote about fountain pens: A good pen store will let you test before you buy.

    Just to chime in on this, Levengers stores have a fountain pen counter and, as of the last time I was there, do let you test-drive any pen you'd like to buy.

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  31. Milady Insanity wrote: Actually, one of the easy ways to get chewy cookies is to partially or completely substitute all purpose flour with bread flour...

    I'll have to try that myself. I wonder if cake flour makes any difference (will check the box for content.)

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  32. 1 L Loyd wrote: Seriously, on chapter length, how do you decide where to end one and start the next?

    I like long chapters, and I used to write a book with perfectly matching chapters: depending on the genre, all precisely 20 or 30 ms. pages long. I used to kill myself trying to write the book to come out that way, too (I assumed in my ignorance that chapters all had to be the same length.)

    I'm not quite as obsessive as I was in my unpubbed days, but I still can't do that thing so many writers do with the one-page or even one-paragraph chapters. It looks cool when other writers do it, but totally lame when I try it with my stuff.

    These days my comfort zone is making chapters about three to five scenes in length. I used to try for the traditional exciting or semi-cliffhanger chapter ending as well, but I've been experimenting with how I end chapters over the last couple of books and slowly changing the way I approach that, too.

    Intuitively I think of my scenes as individual chapters. But reading as old thriller again, I noticed many of his chapters split scenes. I assume to keep me turning pages (the stinker).

    That was my philosophy in the beginning of my career, but I've since loosened up and stopped worrying about dragging the reader into the next chapter.

    Btw, James had an interesting post and discussion about chapters over at his place here.

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  33. Caryle1:38 PM

    I have no idea if this is a nosy question or not, so I'll throw it out there. While walking through bookstores lately, I've noticed a large number of books with some sort of story or "take" on the Knights Templar on display. You've touched on the Knights yourself in your Darkyn novels, so I may just be more apt to notice them after reading your books. It has, however, made me wonder, were you inspired to build on the Templar history by a trend you noticed through market research, or is it simply where your muse led you?

    Thanks, PBW!

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  34. Alison wrote: I tried several of the cookie recipes from the link you posted at Christmas, and the molasses cookies did indeed have applesauce (you have to drain it) and were very soft centered.

    There you have it, folks (and thanks for the tip on draining it first, Alison.)

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  35. Carter wrote: Already in development is The TMI Diet. All the benefits of Love Canal, and you glow in the dark. Saves a ton on electric bills.

    Jane Fonda endorses that one, doesn't she? Lol.

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  36. Phelan2:02 PM

    Thank you. I have asked this question several times, and you are the first to answer it.

    As for handing the script off to others, that is very hard for me. I live in the middle of nowhere. {30 minutes to the city) I started an online community a few months back to try and do this. It has been helpful.

    Thank you again.

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  37. Caryle wrote: I have no idea if this is a nosy question or not, so I'll throw it out there. While walking through bookstores lately, I've noticed a large number of books with some sort of story or "take" on the Knights Templar on display.

    Templars are indeed very hot right now, according to one of my editors.

    It has, however, made me wonder, were you inspired to build on the Templar history by a trend you noticed through market research, or is it simply where your muse led you?

    I wish I could claim to be that market savvy, or at least a little bit psychic. :) Unfortunately, I cooked up the original idea for the Darkyn novels in 1998, long before using Templars in genre fiction became fashionable. The Templars' actual, tragic history and some of the mysteries about them that persist to this day made them the perfect RL foundation on which to build the Darkyn.

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  38. Phelan wrote: Thank you. I have asked this question several times, and you are the first to answer it.

    You're welcome, and I'm only sorry I couldn't be of more help.

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  39. Cake flour will make for lighter cookies. If you make cookies that ask only for egg whites and no egg yolks, using cake flour rather than all-purpose will maximise the lightness. Crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth cookies will also benefit from using cake flour rather than all-purpose.

    In order of protein content: cake flour (is only available bleached), pastry flour (hard to find), bleached all purpose, unbleached all purpose (bleached means lower protein because the process leaches protein from the flour), bread flour, high-gluten flour.

    Hope this helps. :)

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  40. Milady Insanity said...
    In order of protein content: cake flour (is only available bleached), pastry flour (hard to find), bleached all purpose, unbleached all purpose (bleached means lower protein because the process leaches protein from the flour), bread flour, high-gluten flour.

    Ah, much becomes clear.... I've always used unbleached all purpose because I think bleached flour has a chemical taste. Little did I know that I was getting chewy cookies for free. :-)

    People bake with margarine? Ugh. If you aren't going to use real ingredients, why bother?

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  41. You have a great voice.

    Oh, and it isn't just women injecting their faces with botulism--remember John Kerry? (Sorry, that was painful for me--I hope it wasn't for you.)

    Baking? Hmm...I should do that again sometime. Thanks for these hints that I'm certain will improve my chocolate chip cookies--I love them thick and chewy.

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  42. And, oh, something bad's going to happen in chapter four, but I can't tell you until we get there.

    Yippee! Something terrible happens at the end of my chapter one. I must be doing something right ;)

    Thanks for the response re covers. I dunno, I didn't mind the cover to Afterburn, but I could understand if the dolphin-critters didn't meet up to your expectations.

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  43. Wolverine8:41 AM

    Phelan said:

    I live in the middle of nowhere. (30 minutes to the city)


    This isn't really relevant, but woah! I'm assuming you live in America or Britain or Europe or some such where people tend to all live close, because that's nothing. It's half an hour to the city from where I live, and that's a standard commute. The middle of nowhere is 2+ hours to the city. (Or even 1-2 days.)

    Sorry for the interuption, but I just had to comment on that.

    I do have a question though: Do you ever lose motivation to work on something, or did you in earlier years? How do/did you get over it and keep writing?


    Wolverine.

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  44. Wolverine wrote: Do you ever lose motivation to work on something, or did you in earlier years?

    I only do 20 Q&A on Fridays, Wolverine, but I'm guessing you didn't realize that, so I'll go ahead and answer this one.

    Generally I don't have a problem with self-motivation, although a few times I've started writing a book and about three chapters in thought something like, "Oh, God, this sucks." Lately this most often happens with WFH work or an assigned book (something an editor has requested, not something I ever intended to write.)

    How do/did you get over it and keep writing?

    I try to write through any doubt first -- as in, I ignore the feeling and keep writing. If the feeling persists for another chapter, I step back and try to see what's wrong with the story line. If the editor is an approachable sort, I might talk to him/her about it, too.

    I think self-doubt, real life pressures, and fear of failure and rejection is what usually kills a writer's motivation. Writing a book is an enormous undertaking, and then you have to face the submission and rejection process, and if you're lucky enough to make it into print, you're immediately thrown into a highly competitive industry with some very unpleasant characters just waiting to eviscerate your debut. I recommend not thinking about any of that, and making your focus the story.

    Do your planning and research, set a daily or weekly wordcount goal, and get to work. Don't think about writing, just write. Repeat until you finish the book.

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