Welcome back writers! It’s a new year! Welcome to 2023!
You know, it feels good to be back. Though at the same time I’ll definitely say that I needed that vacation. My mind was wound tighter than a clockwork spring after having spent the last year working on Starforge, and a break of a few weeks to let everything decompress really feels as though it made a difference.
But now we’re back, and we’re ushering in the new year with the return of Being a Better Writer and all the site content you guys love. But before we get started on today’s topic, let’s take a quick moment to discuss some news. Specifically the big question that’s been on the mind of a lot of readers: How’s Starforge doing so far? Well, with the book having dropped a little over a month and a half ago, I can finally deliver the answer.
Starforge is the biggest launch I’ve had to date. By far.
Without going into exact numbers, Starforge has, even in preliminary sales data, more than doubled the power of any launch I’ve seen so far.
That’s right. The Starforge launch was bigger than any I’ve ever seen.
Not only that, but the momentum of that launch … Starforge‘s release attracted hundreds of new readers who picked up copies of Colony (though it being a SPSF quarterfinalist may have helped some with that decision, I feel) and then proceeded to blast through it, then Jungle, and at last Starforge. I’m not exaggerating when I sale that sales of copies of Colony and Jungle in December were 100% equal. That is that for every copy of Colony sold, someone bought a copy of Jungle.
Starforge outsold both by a large margin, but it was a launch month and there were a lot of people who’d already read the first two books in the trilogy waiting for it to drop, so that does make sense.
But what a launch. And again, that momentum has stayed strong right into the new Yyear. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the new ratings and reviews that were coming with it. Some people have been busily going through my entire library atop finishing the UNSEC Space Trilogy, while others have been content to see the adventure with Jake, Anna, and Sweets through to its end, but the ratings and reviews they’re leaving are making it pretty clear.
This trilogy is a fantastic piece of Sci-Fi.
One other note on this, if I may be allowed. Last night I had the thrill of being a comment recipient on a social media site where someone was gushing at me about how fantastic the trilogy was and how much they’d loved the latest book (Starforge). The catch? They didn’t realize who I was, and were recommending my own books at me as a sort of ‘Oh man, I loved this guy! Have you read his latest book yet?’ moment.
Another one off of the bucket list!
But anyway, it feels good, and it’s a great way to start off the new year. And with the current momentum, my goal of hitting 10,000 lifetime book sales by the end of February 2023—which marks the tenth anniversary of my first published work—is within reach!
Okay. I get it. You’re here to read about writing, and this news segment is getting a little long in the tooth. But as much work and effort went into Starforge, and as many of you who were waiting for it all these years, I think we can excuse things a little. Later this week I’ll do a full news post to talk about everything else that’s already in the pipeline for this year, which includes LTUE, several new books (writing, at least), and other news and projects. But for now? Let’s start the new year for Being a Better Writer officially and kick things off with a nice topical subject.
Hit the jump, and let’s talk writing people!
So, it’s a new year, and with it come new projects. Maybe you’re dusting off an old idea you’ve always wanted to give some attention to, or maybe you made a new year’s Resolution to finally give your writing a serious go. Or maybe you had a brainstorm over the winter, a new concept or idea you can’t wait to turn into a short or even a novel.
You sit down, you start writing, and the words are flowing. Things are going well.
Then, all of the sudden, as if someone had tightened the tap, things slow down. The surge of inspiration becomes a trickle, the rapid clatter of your fingers on the keys begins to slow, and you find yourself staring at the screen, wondering what or where things might have gone “wrong.”
Don’t worry. This is pretty normal for a starting process. There are all kinds of false starts and surges that might lead you to think you’re doing something wrong … And well, maybe. Probably not. I wouldn’t call it “wrong” to stumble at the start of a hiking trail because you forgot to pick your feet up more than one would on a level sidewalk. It’s just part of the adjustment.
And writing a book? Or a short story? Or starting any writing project? It comes with periods of that “adjustment,” where the enthusiasm of “I’m going to climb that mountain” meets with the reality of “Oh hey, that’s pretty high.”
But that doesn’t mean you should stop. Or turn back. Or give up. No, what you might not understand is that everyone experiences these stumbling blocks in one form or another.
Case in point, and part of what prompted today’s post, I—who have been writing and selling books for ten years now—hit a stumbling block with the new Jacob Rocke book I started last month. Something just wasn’t working right. So I re-evaluated, recognized the common point I’d tripped up over, and am now starting back up again (post vacation) with a new angle, the whole story coming together much more smoothly inside my head.
Point being that you shouldn’t feel ashamed for tripping up on any of the common stumbling blocks we’re going to be talking about today. They’re common. You’re not the lone writer hitting a rock everyone else avoided with ease. You’re bumping up against well-worn stones that have been struck by millions of feet over the years. So don’t worry that you’re the latest to trip on them. It’s all part of the process, and no one should be looking down at you for doing so. The only sadness would be in letting these early stones turn you away from your journey.
So, with that said. let’s look at some common early stumbling blocks that get in the way of some of our stories, and see what we might be able to do to avoid tripping over them.
The first and most obvious stumbling block that catches up a lot of writers is a lack of direction. This one is pretty straightforward, but surprisingly seems to catch a lot of writers all the same. This is what happens when you have a cool idea and some cool characters, or maybe a cool setting, and then sit down to write a story about them without knowing where that story is going to go.
I want to note that I’m not speaking of discovery writing here. Discovery writing still has an aim. An objective. A story it wants to tell. The author who discovery writes may not know how his characters are going to save the world yet, but they know that this is the aim of the story: To tell a tale about their cast saving the world.
They have a direction that the story is going. They know when they start out where they want to go. And this gives them something to aim for.
It may surprise some of you to learn that a lot of writers make the mistake of not having a direction or aim, counting on or being carried by the excitement for a cast of characters … and then aimlessly stumble around in the brush at the bottom of the “mountain,” never formulating any sort of plan to get to the top and eventually losing interest and going home.
Thankfully, this stumble is pretty easy to counteract by simply choosing a direction. Pick the peak you want to climb to. Is it a romance? A heist? A slice-of-life drama?
\You don’t have to have a large, complicated plan. Just a goal. A direction. A point to direct your story toward. So that as you type and let these characters live and breath, you know where you want things to wind up … even if that’s just a rough destination you don’t have all the detail of yet.
That little bit of direction, however, will give your feet traction, and keep you from stumbling blindly.
The next common stumbling block I wish to speak of is the lack of character development. Now in this context I’m not speaking of a lack of character development in the story, but rather on the part of the creator. In other words, there simply isn’t enough to the characters that they’re writing about for the story to feel smooth, and so the writer finds their work “tripping” as soon as the plot needs these characters to have some depth to them.
How this happens can vary. It can be that the characters are quite flat, and don’t have the dimension to them to carry the story forward. Or it could be that they’re given depth, but not enough diving into that depth on the part of the author to really know what they’re going to do or how they’d react. Or it could even be that the character isn’t the right one of the direction the writer wants the story to go, and they’re balking at forcing them to make an out-of-character decision. Or realizing on some level that they made them make an out-of-character decision and it just isn’t working.
Regardless, there’s a way to fix this. Step back, and brush up the character a bit! That might mean making some changes (to them or the story) for a problem of not wanting to go the right direction, or it may mean developing them a bit more past their initial concept.
This latter one I see quite a bit with a lot of new writers. They have a concept they’re very excited about, and they charge toward that peak without thinking much about anything else regarding the character (or setting, as we’ll talk about next) and then stumble because there isn’t much if anything more to the character outside of that initial concept. Once it’s been explored or presented, they lose momentum.
But again, the solution? Develop that character! Start asking questions about their motivation, or push the story in a direction that allows them to demonstrate their depth.
The next stone is pretty similar, but just taken from another direction: lack of world development.
I’ve said before that a setting can be just as much a “character” as any protagonist in a story, and this is still true. Thus, it can be a common stumbling block for writers to not have given enough thought to the setting of their story and quickly run into questions that they can’t answer, creating a narrative dissonance if they choose to move forward and bringing their progress to a halt.
Sometimes it isn’t even that they didn’t develop the world enough, but that it was the wrong world. This is the stumble I ran into with the new Jacob Rocke book. I had a setting in mind, starting stumbling more and more and after getting about 10,000 words in, and realized that if I moved the story to another location, everything clicked.
As I said, this is a common stone to trip over. But stepping back for a moment and developing our setting a little more—or exploring why it’s making us trip—can make the difference between words spilling out onto a page and stuttering to a halt.
If you’re tripping up, consider your setting. Is that where you’re having trouble? Can changing it a little or switching it up resolve some of your issues with your story?
Now, those prior three are some of the more common stumbling stones in our path, but there are a few others I see from time to time that we should talk about.
The first is a lack of focus. A lot of you may nod your heads at this one. But it still shows up quite often.
I’m not speaking of a lack of direction here, but instead of being able to focus on the story. This is the stumbling block of “Okay, I’ve got this paragraph down, that was awesome, now I wonder what my TikTok is doing?”
You can insert just about any distraction in place of TikTok there, but it’s topical. But you get the idea. This is the “writer” that spends 99% of their time not writing or thinking about writing, but just goofing off because “inspiration will come.”
This is a stumbling block. There is 100% a difference between an author taking a twenty-second stop and checking their email while their brain goes “Okay, next what if …?” and someone who’s “writing” but has been fully focused on a YouTube video for the last hour about their favorite streamer. It’s that mental focus. Just a minute ago I got up and took a series of paces back and forth across my tiny apartment while going “Okay, now that I’ve written the big ones, how do I want the others, and which should I talk about?”
That’s focus. Jumping onto YouTube and watching trailers for stuff for hours on end while “writing?” Not so much.
Writing is a commitment, and if you can’t get around that, you’re going to stumble over and over again.
Another common stumbling block is being overly ambitious. Otherwise known as “biting off more than you can chew.”
I kid you not, just the other day I saw a very interesting social media post. The context was a fanfic writer announcing the cancelation of their only (that I know of) and incomplete fanfic in pursuit of their “professional career.” They announced that they had begun work on a twenty-one book Epic Fantasy series that would, they assured us, be one of the greatest series we ever read, and they couldn’t wait to have their readers along for the journey.
What do you think the odds are of even the first Epic in that series makes it out the door? Pretty low. Really low, actually. No offense to that would-be author, but they’re very, very likely going to stumble and hard when they start to realize what goes into writing one 300+ page book, to say nothing of twenty-one of them.
But this stumble occurs quite a lot. I’ve seen and spoken with a number of would-be authors who haven’t finished a single short story yet, but have “put it on hold” because they’ve got this idea for an epic ten-book series that’ll be amazing, and of course they have the skills needed to write that, didn’t I see the half a short they made?
This sounds harsh, but it’s also true. I’ve never seen one of those excited, eager writers deliver. They either vanish, or become the perennial “Oh, I’ll start any day now!” who shows up from time to time to remind people that someday this will happen (like the last Game of Thrones book, really).
Walk before you run. Finish your early projects before moving onward and upward. Don’t aim for the highest peak in the world when you get winded walking up the stairs next door to the gym. Hit the gym.
Which brings us to another common stumbling block, or rather series of blocks, which is a lack of commitment. This is the author that starts a new story every few weeks, writing until the first stumbling block comes along, and then either loses enthusiasm or says “Well, this must be broken, so it’s time for a new project!”
Don’t be this writer. Yes, there’s a realistic time to realize a project isn’t moving or has become a death spiral, but it’s not the first time we trip or a new idea enters our mind.
There are other stones out there, but I want to wrap up with one final stone that catches many off-guard. This stone trips up many, and is the stone of personal confidence.
For every would-be author that bites off more than they can chew, there’s at least twice that number who have the potential, but lack the confidence in themselves to see things through to the end. They feel overshadowed by successful authors, the weight of what they’ve set out to do, or a million other things. So they let their short languish, or their first draft stay half-done. Maybe they even finish a story, but they don’t show it to anyone, refine it, or go further. Not because they know this isn’t their thing, but because they’re scared it might not be.
Don’t let this stumbling block trip you up. There’s a space between “Overly confident” and “not confident enough” that you can safely grow it. There may be a moment when you decide writing isn’t for you … but make sure that decision is made realistically and with confidence, not fear.
All right, that’s it. We’re wrapping up for this first Being a Better Writer post of 2023. Again, as you head into the months ahead, don’t let one of these stones trip you up too badly. Have direction, develop your characters, develop your setting. Stay focused, don’t bite off more than you can chew, and keep at it. Have some faith in yourself and keep going.
Will you still stumble? Of course you will. We all trip up.
But we can keep going.
Good luck. Now get writing.
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