The Word Doctor Is In

So, I’m hanging out my shingle, here —

Need advice on writerly concerns? The writer life? The business side? Most important of all, the craft of it? Feel free to ask me, and I’ll pick some questions and over time answer them here at the blog in their own posts. (And I suppose you don’t need to keep your questions writing-focused. You wanna ask me about parenting or profanity or whiskey or whatever, hey, feel free. You want to solicit my fool-headed advice on things, I AM HAPPY TO PLY MY PRETEND EXPERTISE.)

What this means is, if you don’t want your question answered publicly: do not ask it.

You can drop the question in the comments section below.

Or, if you’d prefer straight-up anonymity:

Use this function at my Tumblr and ask there.


135 responses to “The Word Doctor Is In”

  1. Thought of another question. Hope it’s okay to post twice.

    I struggle with bringing a piece of writing to a publishable word count. Most of my full-length novels land somewhere around the 60K mark. Partly, I think this is because my work is dialogue heavy. But I wondered what your thoughts are on general word count in the e-pub age? And also what I can do to make my stories longer?

    • I’m no expert but maybe try to add in more detail and what the characters are doing/feeling while the are talking. This might help lengthen the dialogue parts.

  2. I would love to hear about your process for fleshing out your initial idea. I don’t know if this happens for everyone but when I get an idea it’s really only a small part of a story, for instance I get a couple of characters but I’m not sure what’s going to happen to them. How does an idea become a story?

  3. How do you switch from one ‘writing mode’ to another?
    Background on the question, I’ve been writing for a long ass time and I feel like I’ve come to know my way around my writerly strengths and weaknesses pretty well (though I have definitely made leaps and bounds since starting to read your blog). Still, my primary writer’s exploits are in fanfiction, which I have enjoyed a lot and plan to continue, but I also want to branch out into original work. However, I’ve found that while I feel comfortable with my voice in terms of plotting, pacing, world-building and to an extent character work, there’s other stuff I haven’t ‘trained’ very well like working your characters looks or personality into a story, for example. Or putting together a cast of characters for an idea that don’t all resemble existing canons and characters too closely, because artful imitation and deep analysis of the source material is the name of the game in fanfic, while you really want to make sure NOT to obvioiusly immolate other people’s work when you’re trying for original.
    So, my question again is, how do make your brain go at these less trodden paths of your craft when it just wants to do the easy thing and write what it knows? (I guess this concept could also apply to other modes of writing like, people coming from a career of journalistic or poetic or academic writing who want to try the novel thing)
    And since you have your fingers in so many pies… novels, comics, games, etc. which all have different expectations towards the writer, I thought you’d be the person to ask.

  4. I’m not very good at writing. But my 11 year old kid wants to be an author. I have been following this blog in hopes that I can pass on some inspiration to him. As a parent, I want to help hone his skill without overdoing it and quashing his interest.

    What advice would you give to a kid? Also, as a parent (or other influential adult), how would you encourage his interest?

  5. Might as well throw this out here. I keep hoping someone will give me an answer other than “*you* have to change the way you think about it.” I have a serious allergy to being marketed at due to a bad history in the advertising world, and an extremely strong opinion that I should not do unto others what having done to me makes me ill. How do I make my books known to people who might actually enjoy them without breaking out in hives?

  6. What’s your opinion on blog book tours and blog book cover reveal blitzes (you know, where every blog you follow is revealing the book cover)?

  7. Ok, my question:
    Leading up to the climax of my WIP, the writing was fast and tense and satisfying. It was hard-ass work getting it all out of my head onto the page, but exciting work. Now, I feel like I’m literally rolling down the other side of the mountain, and not in a good way.
    I’ve read reviews in which the reviewer criticizes the book because the ending feels rushed. I definitely think that is what I’m doing- rushing it. But I don’t know how to slow down and still keep the momentum to the last page.
    So, I suppose the real question is about endings. How do you write a satisfying ending? It seems like it would be easy, like the easiest part of the novel, sail on through to the end. Hard parts over? But I’m struggling. Help.

  8. How can I get into the business of writing franchised fiction, such as your new Star Wars novel coming out?

  9. How do you manage to not have a potty mouth in from of your son? After adopting I have tried to stop cussing at work because it seemed to pop into my mouth at home during those WTF are you doing moments.

  10. Hi Chuck! I was wondering if you could offer some wisdom on how to tell if a manuscript is bottom-of-the-drawer worthy or actually viable. A lot of blogs keep saying that the first manuscript you write will be horrible and should be disposed of with extreme prejudice… So how can you tell you’ve graduated from sucking and are actually writing a good story?

  11. Ok, just waded through all the comments, and nobody else asked this one:

    What about attending conferences?

    Like, are they just for Actual Published Authors, or are beginners welcome? Are they useful tools, or just Summer Camp for grownups? And, in that vein, Band camp, or Cheerleading? There’s one coming up this summer in my old home town that I’d love to attend to hear a certain speaker, but I just don’t know what to expect…


  12. Okay I posted a question about blogging, but I have an even more pressing one. How the hell do you manage your time and your expectations when you aren’t a full time writer and you don’t have tons of time to write? I homeschool my kids and I have some volunteer responsbilities for different things we are involved in. I also teach a history class for homeschool kids, which I am NOT doing next year, but this year I am committed so have to finish. I also make extra cash selling my art online and selling digital scrapbooking materials in my Etsy shop. Plus driving the kids to their activities and daily life crap, working out, and all of that. I have some health issues that take up quite a bit of time with daily maintenance, doctor’s appointments to check on me, etc. My plate is FULL but I have a passion to write and create art and when I’m not doing that it’s not pretty. I need it. I have so much anxiety about writing all the time because I don’t have long hours to dedicate to it and I feel like I will never get there.

    Sometimes when I have time, I’m just too damn tired and stressed out to focus on it. I know… quit your whining and just make time. I know that, but… but… but. My artwork is making me money right now, but just a little here and there. Extra spending money. It does get in the way of my writing though and I love writing more.

    Next year I am going to cut down on as much stuff as I can so I have more time to write, but life is still going to be busy. I feel

    I’m stressed out because I had an editor from a small press tell me she didn’t like something in my manuscript that was sort of huge. I had written it in first person. She liked the story and hated the first person perspective. I’ve gotten a lot of bites on this but no offers yet, so I asked her if I changed it would she look at it again. She said she would love to see it. So I finished 25 pages right away and she said give me more, but you also need to do this and this and that. Then I got bronchitis THREE times from November to January, so it has been SO slow going. I sent her the first hundred pages changed to third person and gone over with a fine toothed comb because I have a huge problem with commas and I forget to put them in. Ugh. Well I’m so stressed out now because it took me so damn long, she will probably think I’m a flake. I’m not a flake. I’m just stupidly, ridiculously, so fucked-uppedly busy.

    So until I can get not so busy, how do you manage time to write and make it count? How do you get up the energy to write when you are exhausted and stressed? How do you prioritize so writing happens?

    I’m embarrassed at the ranty neurotic nature of this post, so please be gentle with me. I think I sound like a crazy woman, but that’s okay. It’s where I am at the moment.

  13. A question about the craft. A very specific question. So, you’ve written this perfect moment for your main character, it sums up their whole character arc perfectly (or as close as you’ve ever done), but it doesn’t tie up any of the mechanical plot elements, the mystery that brought us to this point, just leaves them hanging in the wind. So, do you put in an epilogue to tie up the loose ends or just… stop there?

    None of this has anything to do with me, mind you. I’m.. ah *coughcough* asking for a, ah, friend… yeah, that’s it…

    • Maybe a better way to ask this is: At what point do you sacrifice plot (the what) for the Story Arc (the who)? How do you find that balance? Especially in genre fiction, where the plot has it’s own momentum…

  14. Morning Chuck,
    I’m around a third of the way through the first draft of my book. It’s first person young adult fiction, and other than having to resist killing off far too many of my characters, my main problem is writing that bit of blurb that gets sent off to agents and publishers, and will one day, fingers so firmly crossed they are almost falling off, go on the back of my published book to get readers interested. How do you write that bit of blurb? How do you make it captivating and punchy and short and irresistible, without giving away too much of the story?
    Thank you, Hannah

  15. Do I keep looking for a literary agent / publisher or start self-publishing everything?
    I started writing fiction one year ago (after decades as a journalist/PR guy) and started hammering out weird cross genre paranormal/horror/mystery/sci-fi/action/courtroom/foodie/psychological thriller stuff at a journalistic pace – 5,000 words a day. Finished my first novel’s first draft in 17 days. My friend/editor returned it with suggestions/edits in six days. I made the changes in four more days. Total elapsed time – 27 days.
    I was shocked. I hadn’t written fiction since university and then it was just a couple short stories to get a pass in a creative writing course.
    I put that first novel up on Amazon, Smashwords, etc. Reviews were great. Sales were virtually non-existent.
    I wrote my second novel in 34 days. Everyone said it was a lot better than novel #1 so I started pitching it to agents / publishers. After 3 months, no takers. Reassessed. I was told I needed a stronger social media presence. For the past five months I’ve been writing my third novel in bits and pieces while I try to cobble together social media and dabble in film scripts and short stories. It seems I can’t do both at the same time.
    My question: Do I seriously go after the social media thing or just start self-publishing everything. I’ve heard that if you have a half dozen novels out there, it’s one way to build a following.
    I’m thinking of taking on some consulting work, getting some money together and just hiring someone to create my social media presence. I have no problem writing the blog part.
    Personally, I’d just like to write.

  16. Here’s hoping I’m not too late to play.

    Thanks to the ever awesome Mur Lafferty, I got the first draft down. Now I’m beating my head against the next wall in the road: Editing. Yeah I know how to go in and do little changes, grammar, maybe adjust a scene or something, but for the big stuff, I’m floundering.

    So my question is, particularly for that five year book: How did you figure out how to go from draft 1 to 2 to 3 to final?

  17. Is it too late to ask?? I have two quick questions:

    1) Can you write a little bit about your blogger life, please? And how you balance the blog and the fiction? You have a great community here, and it’s clear that a lot of your passion goes into this online space, and I would love to know a little bit about your decision-making regarding this: How did you find/start/get guest posters? Why wordpress? What are your weekly goals for posting? Do you think that you have gained more READERS via your blog or garnered your WRITER community via the blog (and does that cultivate readers? Do you care?). And what do you decide will be “free on the blog” versus “fuck that, people should PAY for this”?
    That’s a lot of questions… sorry.

    2) I’m curious to know how many projects you juggle at once. You seem to have your two series, plus your writer’s advice books, plus the serials for the magazines and the big Star Wars project… and the Holy Taco Church… So you have the best organizational system in the world? Can you give and advice on how you juggle a bunch of stuff at once, plus the blog (plus the wife and the chaos God?)

    Please and thank you!

  18. Short and sweet: What would you say are the first and most important steps to starting out as a freelance writer? Expansion question: How do you solicit and land those first couple of gigs?

  19. How social do you have to be to be a successful author?

    I read alot about writing groups and the various blogs and conventions and so on and so on, mostly saying that you MUST go to writing conventions and you MUST have an online following and you MUST blog and MUST be active on social media. Well I am not very active on social media, I do not have an online following whatsoever. i have a blog I never update, a let’s play channel on youtube that I never update, and a twitter feed that has cobwebs and a strange little bird wrapped up for a spidery lunch. I am not a social person. I dislike crowds, dislike meeting people I don’t already know or have some sort of in with already. i can barely stand being around co-workers all day and I get paid to do that.

    As for conventions, the thought gives me equal parts thrills and chills. Being in the middle of that many people, all vying for the same thing as me, makes me quake in my cute little shoes, but at the same time it sounds like it’s fun and I think I would love to go. But then there is the rub that there are no writer conventions or confrences around me. None regarding my bag of fiction, in any case. The city I live in, five hours away from the next largest city, has no writer groups, no writing programs and seems to abhore the arts. Not that it’s surprising, I live in Oilsand country after all. the closest writers confrence I have been able to find is one in Calgary, Alberta, about seven hours south of where I live, and it’s a tad bit expensive to go to. As in, I have a wife, a baby, one car, and barely make enough to afford our $2300 a month rent on our apartment. The thrill of the idea of going to a conference is often quickly replace with the dread of figuring out how to pay for the trip.

    I love to write. I want to be good enough to get it out there. I want the chance to get it out there. But will my aversion to being a social butterfly ruin my chances?

    (Sidenote: speaking of money, I hear tell of professional editors and manuscript looker-overs who charge hundreds of dollars to make sure your story is as perfect as possible. Is this another required expense? Is trying to be a successful writer going to mean I need to take out a bank loan or something?)

  20. Hello, and thank you for allowing us the opportunity to ask you questions! I’m afraid I have a rather large one that’s been glaring at me for quite some time.

    I’m seventeen years old and have been attempting to write a book that I hope to be published. Thanks to my age several individuals have assumed that I’ll be writing YA. That’s all fine and good, except there are some aspects of YA that I’m not particularly fond of writing which, from what I’ve heard, I won’t be able to get published without. Although I know I /can/ write romance it’s not a topic I like to focus on. I know I tend to get annoyed when the main plot of a story I’m reading gets sidetracked by a forced romance, and that tends to reflect in romantic interests largely being a side note in my own writing. Apparently this is a no-no when it comes to getting published. I also discovered that in one of the stories I had plotted and planned out there was a distinct lack of cisgendered heterosexual white male characters. This, again, got me some frowns.

    I am yet to receive a complaint about my insistence on including soul-snapping abominations that make even those who give the fewest fucks scream in eternal torment. This is good as intend on being entirely inflexible on that subject.

    Anyway, back on topic. Aside from my concerns regarding conforming to the genres I keep worrying about my book being too similar to others. I’ve plotted, planned, written, re-written, and even scrapped a few ideas out of the intense desire to not publish something only for people to say, ‘oh, she’s just ripping off so-and-so’. I had started writing a book that involved supernatural creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting only to cease and desist thanks to the sheer amount of vampire and other supernatual fiction published in the recent years. The result was my current project, a fantasy world of my own creation. I’m going to stop myself from delving into the details of that and cut to the chase. I’m concerned about looking like I’m just copying other people again. It’s a tangled web of paranoia, planning, re-planning, and fear. I mean, no one has a copyright on the notion of dragons, right? Because you can only re-design a dragon so much until you’re working with some entirely new and different scale-thing. That bring another concern of mine into play. Weird is good, but is there such a thing as getting /too/ weird?

    So, it seems that I’ve rambled massively but failed to provide a solid question. Sorry about that. None the less, do you have any advice?


  21. First of all, I have to admit that I cheated and read the first answer you gave to the question, “Should I quit?” before writing this and that it yielded my question which is quite personal, but is therefore probably applicable to other people… Its this… I’m in the middle of a shitty personal process called divorce. It feels like the only way I’ve been able to survive some days is to get lost in reading a story or writing because then life doesn’t seem so painful and awful and pointless but when I’m feeling really bad, writing anything personal seems to turn to shit writing. I need some with ideas for keeping the faith when one knows that one HAS TO write but can only write drivel – like shifting the focus of the drivel so that it goes in a new direction – not personal! I know everyone has times like this and some people do great creative work when they are suffering… It would feel so much better if I could turn this into something beautiful or funny or ridiculous or wildly imaginative. PS I’ve really only written non-fiction personal narrative essays and am working on a memoir.

  22. Chuck – thanks for doing this. I have a question I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while: How do you know Amazon or any other digital store is paying you the correct amount on digital sales? Is there an audit process that ensures you get paid the correct amount? If you sell 100 books this week, what’s to keep them from intentionally or accidentally only paying you for 65 books sold?
    Thank you.

  23. Oh wise guru of wordville … Sitting at 29k words of my first novel and thinking I failed a bit with maintaining the same tense in some areas. Stop and fix it now? Or keep moving forward, letting the story take me where it’s going, and tackle the error in the rewrite? I’m such a noob.

  24. How do you (you personally) come up with such great metaphors? Mine usually have to be birthed over sixteen hours of hallucinatory pain. Tell me yours only appear effortless. 😉

  25. Well, this is my first comment ever. I do not mean in your blog but in any author’s blog. I must say that I really enjoy your writing. Keep at it.

    My question: Do you believe non-native English speakers can succeed in writing professionally?

  26. Okay, a quick question. Scenario: you’re halfway through writing a novel (or composing a song, or creating a sculpture out of dead frogs, or whatever artistic endeavour absorbs you, really) and it’s going well. You see the way the whole thing is going to come together, and it all feels so right.
    Which is when you see that someone else has already filmed your story / painted your picture / turned your soulful blues tune into a pop anthem with Kylie Minogue. They’ve filmed your damn story – or close enough that there’s no way you’re going to convince people that yours isn’t a novelisation.
    Question: is this when you chuck the manuscript away and return to your scratch list of ideas? Or do you push forward and tell yourself that it might *look* exactly like you’ve rewritten Gone Girl, but yours is set in rural France and has a cross-dresser for a lead character, so it is its own animal, damnit!
    They say that all art is inspired by other art and (Blurred Lines notwithstanding) imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The main question is, though, how similar is too close?

  27. My question is about marketing, blogging, peddling my books. I am the mother of a crazy three year old and a college professor. I am the sole source of income and benefits for my family, so I cannot quit my day job. I have a heavy teaching and research load, and with a home and family life too, it is very hard to find time to write let alone do all the things I should do to sell books (I have 2 published and one coming out on 4/1 all by a small non-vanity publishing company). My publisher relies on and expects authors to sell themselves, to set up our own books signings and tours, to make sales happen. It’s primarily ebook and paperback is print-on-demand, so if we want paperbacks in stores, we have to ask the stores if they will carry the book. So far, I am doing a very crappy job of it. I mean, I’m selling a few books here and there (mainly on Amazon and iTunes) because I have a small reader base. Anyway, I guess the point of this ramble is that I need to know some easy, quick things I can do to get myself out there. I am already on Twitter, have a Facebook page, and two blogs that I am practically ignoring. Thanks!

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