K.M.Weiland: 10 Lessons From a Completed Novel

I'm honored to have one of my favorite people joining us on the blog today--K.M. Weiland. I think of her as The Queen Of The Outline! She offers her thoughts on all things writing on her blog Word Play and has just released her newest book, Dreamlander. BTW, she's also running the BIGGEST & COOLEST contest I've ever seen, so make sure to check it out. 

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 An author can have no greater teacher than his own stories. Every book I write teaches me new lessons about both my craft and my life. Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, I start a new story, and—bam!—I realize I still have so much to learn. My journey with my just-released (yay!) fantasy novel Dreamlander was a twelve-year adventure that taught me more than any book I’ve previously written. Joy, sorrow, excitement, frustration, despair, and confidence—it was all there. Now that I stand at the end of that journey, I can look back and identify some of the most important writing lessons I learned. Here are ten:

1. Prepare. Most of us are going to be eager to skip the prep work and get right down to the fun of writing that first draft. But Dreamlander’s sprawling epic of story (which spans two worlds) drove home to me the importance of planning early on. Every writer’s prep work will look a little different; for me, it looks like a detailed outline, which allows me to chart my course safely through the sometimes choppy storytelling waters.

2. Listen. None of us are experts—even when it comes to our own stories. We lose our objectivity somewhere around the first completed page. Sharing our early drafts with knowledgeable and honest beta readers is vital. But, even more than that, we have to be willing to listen to those readers’ advice. Take a little while to let the sting of criticism wear off, then analyze their comments for the truth they will inevitably offer.

3. Persevere. Stories aren’t written in a day, and they’re not edited in a month. You may not need twelve years to bring your story to fruition, like I did, but it’s my opinion that any book is going to need at least a year or two to brew. To truly perfect a story, we have to grow and gain distance from it. During that time, we’re going to be discouraged. We’re going to believe the book will never shed its gray feathers and transform into a swan. But we just have to keep at it. Perseverance conquers the unconquerable.

4. Research. Writers may dwell in the realm of make-believe. But that doesn’t negate our responsibility to the facts. This goes both for research into topical matters (firearms, linguistics, cultures, etc.) and for research into our chosen genres. Don’t just read your genre—study it. Find its clichés, find its opportunities for originality, and use your knowledge to transform your story.

5. Find the magic. Magic is our stock in trade. But sometimes, as we’re slogging through our fifth revision, it can be difficult to remember why we fell in love with this story in the first place. If you find yourself dreading your story, take a break for a while. Take a bit of time to play with it in your head, just for fun, like you did in the days when you first conceived it.

 6. Find the conflict. We all know it: no conflict, no story. Dig deep and find the conflict that powers your story. What do your characters want most? What’s keeping them from achieving it? That, right there, is going to be the heart of your conflict. Hit it for all your worth and don’t spare your characters.

7. Find the theme. Once you’ve found your conflict, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the arc your protagonist will take over the course of your story. Once you’ve found the arc, you’ll be able to identify the demons your character will have to overcome. And once you’ve identified those demons, you will have found your theme.

8. Be patient. Sometimes getting to know characters takes time. Sometimes getting all the plot points right takes tries and retries. Realize that and stave off discouragement. View every word written, every word deleted, and every word revised as one tiny step that’s carrying you closer to your end goal of perfection. You don’t have to get everything right the first time. You just have to get it right the last time.

9. Be humble. Writing is tough on egos. We usually react in one of two ways. We either cave beneath criticism and fall into crippling depression. Or we figure we know it all and brush off all other opinions. Both are wrongheaded approaches. Always stay open to learning about your own shortcomings. Don’t box yourself into the prison of thinking you have it all figured out.

10. Be fearless. By the same token as the above, don’t let your own imperfections get you down. The only writers who succeed are those who dare much. Throw everything you’ve got onto the page. Acknowledge your fears about your level of talent and people’s perception of your work—and then face them fearlessly.

 In the spirit of #9, I’ll tell you right off that these lessons are all WIPs in my own life. I suspect I’ll still be learning some of them after writing my fiftieth book. But, thanks to Dreamlander, and all the books that have gone before, I’ve learned a little more about myself and the writing life—and I’m ready to apply all those lessons to the next adventure!

 K.M. Weiland is the author of the epic fantasy Dreamlander, the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration

Also, if you are looking for a FEEL GOOD Pay-it-forward type event that is easy to do, please check out our OPERATION: HELP THE ELF! Help us spread some Christmas Cheer among writers!

27 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Awesome advice K.M. My own upper middle grade fantasy has taken me 10 years to complete to the stage of starting querying so I can relate to so much of what you've. I've had to learn the hard way by making a ton of mistakes I had to fix.

Listening to critique partners and being willing to boldly change things if needed and be persistent are such good tips. Good luck with your book.

Miranda Hardy said...

Great advice for any writer! It's always best to have a plan and continue to learn along the way.

JeffO said...

Nice tips, thanks for sharing!

Pk Hrezo said...

#3 has really become a reality for me as I've grown into my writer shoes. At first, we think "a whole year??" And you hear about those stories written in a month that find success, but setting a story aside and coming back to it a year later sheds a whole new beautiful light on it.
Thanks for your tips, KM! All so important to remember, and congrats on your latest release!

Melissa said...

I enjoy KM's blog. She has lots of great writing tips.

I can't wait to read Dreamlander. It's already on my Kindle, waiting TBR. ;)

~Charity~ said...

All important things to remember! Thanks for sharing.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great suggestions here.

Just picked up my copy of Dreamlander. =D

Marcia said...

I like points 3 and 8 especially. I'm glad you said that books really need a year or two to brew. I think that piece of wisdom is getting lost today.

K.M. Weiland said...

Thanks so much for having me again today, ladies!

@Natalie: I think learning the hard way is the *only* way we truly learn. The lessons aren't always fun, but they're always rewarding in the long run.

@Miranda: I'd be lost without a plan. I need to know where I'm going, so I can plan the best way to get there. Saves all kinds of trouble, time, and heartache.

@Jeff: Thanks for reading!

@Pk: It's important for each of us to find the rhythm that works best for us as individuals. Some of us need less time, some of us need more. We shouldn't feel like we have to fit someone else's mold.

@Melissa: So glad you're enjoying them!

@Charity: Thanks for stopping by!

@Donna: Thank you! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

@Marcia: Unfortunately, art and commercialism are often mismatched bedfellows. To be truly competitive these days, authors often have to churn out books on a short timetable. That's all fine and well, but quality is often lost as a result. As a reader, I would certainly rather wait years for a good book than be glutted with mediocrity.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice! I'm not much of a planner (yet) but I do like to get to know the characters before I write the story too. It's so true how we learn something from every story :)

K.M. Weiland said...

I do character interviews/sketches at the beginning of every book. It's always one of my favorite parts of the process. Nothing like a little extra time with some of our favorite people!

vbtremper said...

Awesome advice, thanks so much! I need to especially remember these when I revise my NaNo novel in a few months. For now, I'll read The Emotion Thesaurus to make sure I'm ready to tackle revisions.

-Vicki

K.M. Weiland said...

Congrats on finishing NaNo! That's always a huge accomplishment. I hope you're eating extra Christmas cookies to celebrate. ;)

Becca Puglisi said...

I'd like to say AMEN to #3 and shake my fist at #6. Stupid conflict. Why does it have to be so difficult?

Thanks so much for sharing the lessons you've learned from your writing!

K.M. Weiland said...

It's tough to make our characters suffer sometimes! But conflict is the best way to move past blocks. Just let two characters start arguing on the page and see where it goes!

Joyce Alton / @joycealton said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm at the being humbled, getting down on myself, afraid to get back up and try again stage. Necessary evil, of course. =) It's a relief to know other people go through this, too.

Jeff Hargett said...

Oooh, I think I just found another link to add to my next Sunday Surfing post. Nice!

Diane Carlisle said...

I love things in 10s! A remarkable combination I like is being fearless and humble. These two qualities make for a really great explorer. Writing with this mindset and having the ability to attract the right people to your corner is a winning ticket.

Thanks for sharing!

Robyn Campbell said...

I've been working on my MG adventure for five years. I took a ton of wrong advice on it from crit partners, etc. I had to learn the hard way, that I am the one who makes the final decisions. Not someone else. And while I value their opinion, it might not be right one for my story. Great post! #bepositive

K.M. Weiland said...

@Joyce: Yes, you're definitely not alone. As Orson Scott Card says, writers have to hold two simultaneously impossible beliefs in their heads: that what they've just written is the best thing ever and that it's unmitigated trash.

@Jeff: Thank you!

@Diane: It really is an unstoppable combo. Unfortunately, it's also more than a little tricky to master. :p

@Robyn: Selecting knowledgeable crit partners is vital. Even more, we need to have input from people who understand both our genre in general and our vision for our stories in particular. Otherwise, we can up confused and heading down the wrong path. Been there myself!

cleemckenzie said...

I love that in all the practical, no nonsense advice you include magic.

K.M. Weiland said...

Magic is the most important one, don't you know? ;)

Martha Ramirez said...

What great advice! Thank you!

K.M. Weiland said...

Thanks for stopping by!

Traci Kenworth said...

I read your blog on writerly advice, K.M. and you truly are a great help!! Thanks for sharing the knowledge you've gained and showing us all that if we just keep hold of our dreams, we can achieve them!!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Awesome advice by KM. I agree that it is important to be patient and persevere in any profession, more so in writing.

K.M. Weiland said...

@Traci: Thanks for being a faithful Wordplayer! I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog.

@Rachna: Patience and perseverance are a hard-to-top combo. They can get us to the top of tall mountains.

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