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For Beginners or For Avoidance?


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The personality goes on to state that a lot of work and planning will work it's magic to evolve, by inference, even a bad story idea into a "great story." Let's be hyperbolic about this for the sake of example. Writer X has a story idea that pretty much mimics The Hunger Games... Need I continue to elaborate? 

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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Overall, I found this video to be quite positive and helpful. It's the kind I would have loved back when I was just starting on my first novel. Writing can definitely be full of disappointments, so her encouraging attitude is refreshing.

I like the way she presents the info in 8 succinct steps. I also like that she didn't sugarcoat anything. "Embrace the crappy writing." Absolutely! She definitely hit the nail on the head with first drafts.

"Don't edit while writing," is also a very good reminder for any writer, unless you've published a bazillion times and have become superhuman. Otherwise, leave it alone and wait until your first draft is complete.

She did a good job covering all the major steps to completing a novel. However, only part of me loves how she simplified the process. The other part of me, the part that has slaved over multiple manuscripts, is squirming in my seat because writing a novel is anything but simple. But, kudos to anyone who can make it sound as magical as she did. This is in no way a jab. I really mean it.

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I agree with KaraBosshardt here. This person knocked it out of the park with how the process realistically works, especially for new writers. She tempers expectations, she warns of the common "new writer" pitfalls such as editing while you draft/learning to handle doubt, and she very clearly understands plotters/pantsers and the merits of both planning styles.

THIS is the video I think I'll be showing to new writers from here on out. While the process isn't nearly as "simple" as she makes it out to be (and I think she would be the first person to say there's nothing simple about writing a book), what she does is make the concept of writing a book extremely approachable. That is what's going to get new writers to finally break open a word doc and write their very first page. After all, the hardest part about "becoming" a writer is gathering the courage/discipline to write.

I'm curious to see what other knowledgeable or even dangerous "author vloggers" have risen from the pandemic. One key thing to remember is that there is TONS of terrible, no good advice out there for unsuspecting authors trying to learn the craft. Thankfully, she is one of the good ones.

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For reference, this video personality's self-published book on Amazon: 

THE ELYSIAN PROPHECY by Vivian Reis - Copper Hound Press

___________________________________

1. IDEA... "With proper planning, any idea can be worth pursuing." 

Unfortunately, this is far from realistic. "Any idea" means literally that "any idea" or story premise has an equal chance of succeeding in it's current genre market. First of all, we'd have to discard all those ideas that are stale and overdone. Richard Curtis covers this quite well in his Seven Sins of Novel Rejection (#6). This factor alone discounts a huge number of story ideas. I can testify to his testimony in this matter. 

Next, we have story ideas that are middle concept, i.e., they sound like pretty good stories, not terribly trope-heavy, but they're not sufficiently high concept, therefore run the risk of thudding when compared to stories that are truly high concept, and therefore, more marketable.

The video personality here also fails to mention the necessity of immersing in one's genre and sufficiently comprehending it before daring to stew with story ideas. Failure to note this important fact might lead a new writer to believe that such a strategy isn't necessary. 

"Any idea can be made into a great story."

This is a magnification of the initial comment, and now, "any idea" can transform into a "great story"? In whose viewpoint? The writer or the agent on the other side of the table who doesn't see it that way? Does "great story" mean a story that will sell? Or just a "great story" in the eyes of the author's writer group, or their parents?

The personality goes on to state that a lot of work and planning will work it's magic to evolve, by inference, even a bad story idea into a "great story." Let's be hyperbolic about this for the sake of example. Writer X has a story idea that pretty much mimics The Hunger Games... Need I continue to elaborate? After twenty years of workshops, I know this isn't unrealistic, and what is far more realistic is the fact that the vast bulk of aspiring novel authors don't have marketable story ideas no matter how many years they've put into it. One cannot finesse a bad story idea into a sale no matter how much lipstick is applied.

The video personality's commentary infers that low or high concept, it all comes out the same in the story wash. Just doesn't work that way. Never has. Never will.

Anyone with lingering doubt need only join Publisher's Marketplace and examine the story hook lines noted in recent deals. 

______

Pantsing vs. Outline

I find the monologue that follows to be a bit slapdash on the subject of pantsing vs. outline, as if she doesn't wish to offend or challenge anyone's ongoing misconception. She fails to note that publishing house editors want a rising action series of plot points--not exactly easy to create if pantsing rules the novel from start to finish. 

As I've noted elsewhere, a certain amount of "pantsing" under certain conditions might be okay, but when it comes to efficiently plotting the whole novel in a manner desired by professionals, no... or not without a lot of rewriting (which then invalidates "pantsing" in the first place).

Writing

Yes, a good way to avoid writer's block in general is to brainstorm or sketch ahead of time what will be in the scene you're writing; however, I found elaboration on this section to be overly brief, as if she were on a time clock.

Editing

She infers that a writer seeking traditional publication can halt the ms editorial process sooner than a writer who is self-publishing? Did I hear that right?... It's so painful to imagine she actually said this.

She also notes that one should not edit in the least when writing out the first draft. I disagree. It's a good idea at the end of the writing day to go back over your pages and line edit the obvious flubs. This will create a cleaner and more productive second draft. But yes, when actually in the process of banging words on the page, don't keep stopping and editing. 

I'll stop here. Where's my blood pressure medication?

______

 

 

Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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I second Kara and Joe in that this one is positive and kindly meant. I think it's a fine "absolute baseline beginner" video in the sense that it's motivational, with a sweet, sort of fluffy undertone. After all, no one wants to hear when they're first starting that "this industry is brutal as all hell, you should brace yourself for the worst or jump ship now."

However, I also think Michael is right. Her advice is amateurish and too vague and soft to really be helpful. I also do not think that every idea is a good one - there are ideas that, when pursued, lead only to wasted manuscripts (I myself have written upwards of 5 of them and do wish I'd spent that time more wisely). I do NOT recommend experimenting with pantsing if you're a natural plotter. Plotting is far, far easier to succeed at in genre writing. I would wager if someone did a study on the top 1000 writers in the world, between 90 and 99% of them would be plotters. So don't step back from your natural strengths if you're a person drawn to outlines. When writing commercial fiction, that's a plus, not a hindrance.

I also think her ideas about motivation, while good, aren't as blunt as I think professionals would be. At the end of the day writing is a job. You do your job if you want to get paid. That's it. Yes, it's also an art and there's a certain level of intrinsic difficulty in creating art, and pushing past mental blocks. But if you want to be a professional writer, then you need to learn to write like one.

I'll end with a note about her comments on editing. The breakdown of editing here is correct (developmental edit to line edit to proofreading), but there are some HUGE things she leaves out. It seems like an enormous emission not to mention beta readers or critique partners, since literally no writer ever can go from idea to finished novel by their lonesome. Some grammar-savvy authors MIGHT be able to proofread themselves, but trust me, you can't see all the flaws in your own book. The more eyes on the manuscript, the better. She is correct (but doesn't emphasize enough) that, if you're self-publishing, you MUST hire a professional editor. It's even becoming recommended in some traditional publishing circles, to either hire a pro or have several round of betas to make sure that book is in tip-top shape before it goes out to agents. There's mixed advice on whether or not you need to pay someone for editing services before querying, but in a field that's more competitive than ever, writers must do everything in their power to get their books into the best shape imaginable.

All in all, I thought this was a sort of vague, sweet instructional from someone who means well, but isn't, at the end of the day, a pro. I admire her positivity and motivational sentiment, but I think true writing advice for those who really want to reach success in the field requires a bit more roughage.

Although to be fair, after 6 years and 15+ novels, I might just be a lot more jaded...

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