The Complete Package


No, I am not writing about myself. This is, as are most of my blogs, about writing books.

Spring break is over <heavy sigh> and my Narrative Writing class has turned the corner from writing short stories to writing the first 50 pages of a novel. Some are falling into a panic, while others are relieved simply because they have written novels before. The immediate dread that many fall into as to writing books goes something like this: “Fifty pages! I could never write 50 pages!” It goes hand in fist with the words I dread from my students in Media Writing when they ask, “But how long does it have to be?” I know that if I were to say, “It doesn’t matter,” I would get a classroom full of 35-word stories.

But it’s not about length. If one simply focuses on writing X number of words, all you get is an accumulation of words. Nope. It’s about content. I’ve written about 17 books, and the hardest book I ever wrote was probably one of my shorter ones. It was my doctoral dissertation. For me, the challenge is not filling up the pages. It’s about having the vision. As I tell my students, you have to have the idea in your head to be able to recreate on the page and eventually in the head of the reader. Too many students try to share ideas they just don’t have. It won’t work.

And in this day and age, writing is only the beginning. You have to think about the whole package. Writing a novel is not just taking a short story and making it longer. You have to think depth. Sophistication. Complexity. Plots and subplots. Motivations and character flaws. And that’s just putting the rough draft together.

Then comes rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. If you want it published by a big-name publisher, you have to worry about getting an agent. And getting a publisher contract. If you publish it yourself, you have to think cover concept, marketing campaign, budget, formatting. And after both of these routes, there’s lots and lots of personal promotion.

That’s probably the part that I dread the most. People who know me think that I wouldn’t have a hard time doing self-promotion, but they’re wrong. And for many authors, that’s where we fall down. The reality is, people buy books because of two things (1) it was recommended by a friend; or (2) they have read a book by a certain author, liked it, and want to read everything else by that author. In either case, you have to sell your name.

It’s fun to fantasize of living in some cabin out in the woods and writing one best seller after another. I’ve dreamed that very dream. But I can’t think of any author today that can live that fantasy.

You have to love writing; love it enough that you are willing to put up with all the other junk.

Fortunately, I do.

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One thought on “The Complete Package

  1. WOW! This was the blog I needed to read just about now. I really am scared about turning the corner from short story to novel. Of all the things you brought up this one stuck out the most: “Writing a novel is not just taking a short story and making it longer. You have to think depth. Sophistication. Complexity. Plots and subplots. Motivations and character flaws.”

    Thank you for sharing.

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