Like most writers, I have a favorite place to work in my home. It’s quiet and well-appointed. In all honesty, I had it ‘well-appointed’ way before I ever wrote a word. Which hints at the main point of this post–that blank page can be intimidating. And so we might end up feathering our writer-ly nests indefinitely instead of sitting down and doing the hard work of getting our ideas out onto the paper or keyboard. I know I did.
With my second novel, which I’ve been working on this summer, I felt the same anxiety I felt with my first novel. I would find other tasks to keep me from getting down to business. Prepping for dinner. Cleaning (you know your writer intimidation is bad when you’d rather scrub your shower than sit down in front of your computer). Walking the dog–again.
But then I hit upon something that’s really alleviated a lot of that stress of sitting down to a fresh writing session–focus on word count. Just get a set number of words done, don’t worry about them being perfect (that’s what editing is for anyway), and move on with your day.
I pulled the idea from Tom Holland’s Marathon Training method, which I used when I first started training years ago. His emphasis for first time runners was to focus on mileage–‘Just get the miles, and everything else will follow‘ pretty much sums up the approach. And, at least for me, the same method has worked incredibly well for my writing.
Every day, weekends included, I set out to get 2,000 words down, which translates for my writing style into about 1-2 scenes on average. Something about having the fixed goal in my head, and the forgiveness already embedded in my mindset that my writing will not be perfect, freed up that portion of my brain that was gnawing on fear and preventing me from getting my ideas down.
And the best part? Instead of dreading going down to my writing area, I look forward to it.
So, if you are like many of us in the aspiring-writer universe, you’ve probably been following the #PitchtoPublication twitter feed with such alacrity that you’re now tempted to self-diagnose yourself with carpal tunnel and obsessive personality disorder. Totally understandable, especially given all of the precious tidbits of feedback the participating editors have been offering in their #10queries based on their #PitchtoPublication submissions. If you haven’t been able to keep up with all of them, or are just looking for a slightly distilled version, here are the thematic tips I’ve taken away from this buffet of invaluable advice.
1) Comps, comps, comps! It is incredibly important to have up-to-date (i.e., published in the last 5 years) titles listed in your query as comparisons for the manuscript you are trying to publish. This helps agents note the marketability of your manuscript along with knowing more about your manuscript’s tone, style, and plot than you have time to address in your query. Feel free to use combos of manuscripts, since you don’t want to reproduce a previously published work. Ex: Maze-Runner meets Percy Jackson.
2) Don’t start you query with “Imagine a world. . .” Apparently, this is a cliche of a cliche of a cliche. Auto-reject for some agents, even.
3) Make sure your pronoun use is clear. Use names when you can instead of pronouns.
4) Make it clear how your book is unique. I know, I just mentioned comparable titles in #1. This is why queries are hard to write. Lots to do in very few words. If you don’t make the case for how your story is unique and contributes something special, it’ll be a pass for most/all agents.
5) Be aware of preferred word-count ranges for your genre. Don’t be too under or too over. For guidelines, check out Literary Rejections.
Want to review the #10queries from PitchtoPublication for yourself? Check out these prolific editors for a start. . .