Novel Writing Wisdom: The Creative Penn podcast wants to help you learn how to write

Writing podcasts are a wonderful resource for writers, published and unpublished alike. No matter what you’re into–be it poetry, literary fiction, short stories, memoir, whatever–there is a podcast for you out there somewhere. Today, I’m sharing some notes I have taken from Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn podcast. Joanna has professionals from the publishing and writing industries sit down with her every week, and the knowledge they impart is usually very specific and highly useful. 

These notes come from Joanna Penn’s interviews with novelists Rebecca Cantrell (episode #326) and Rachel Aaron (episode #329). They both have really interesting and fun blogs, so check those out by just clicking on their names.

Keep in mind as you read these points that there is no one way to go about writing that is always best, or always best for you personally. The opinions in this post are those of Rebecca Cantrell, Rachel Aaron, and Joanna Penn.

On The Importance of Characters and How to Use Them

  • Most of figuring out what to write or how to write it is only a matter of figuring out character personalities and motivations.
  • Your character arch ties into the story by being the one thing that makes it a story rather than “a bunch of stuff that happened”.
  • Every scene is the result of something that a character did, or of a decision they made: that makes a character driven story. That makes it gripping and keeps the reader going, and you do not want to let the reader rest; you want to keep them hanging on from page to page by focusing on your characters.

Plotting and Story Structure

  • One method that keeps a story interesting and character driven is for your characters to begin the story with some mistaken or negative assumption which they have internalized as a result of their previous lives. There would come a point in the story where that assumption will be standing in the way of them getting what they want (reaching their most important goal). The character(s) must realize, through the plot events, that their assumptions were mistaken. This is the classic part of the story where they change internally and learn to be better people, thus enabling them to reach their goals.
  • It is tempting to come up with some cool stuff that you want to happen in a story then try to find some way to make that fit into a coherent structure after the fact. Your story probably won’t come from within the characters if you do that, it will all be external, and thus, superficial. Best to start with who they are and why they are that way, always.
  • Plotting: you should know where you’re going before you start writing. Have some concrete idea of how the story will end, why it will end that way, and what shape your character will be in when they get to the end. Ask yourself first: where am I going? Then once you get that, ask: how did I get there?
  • In series: there should be some overarching problem that your story must work towards remedying, so that there is one umet goal through each book until the end of series. It should be a situation that remains a threat or problem throughout the series, and the second book is where you should think about really starting to develop it. This makes your installments less meandering and more cohesive.
  • Like sketching out a drawing before you paint the big picture: your first draft can be extremely simple and imperfect, and yet still help you immensely as you write the second draft. If your scenes read something like this: “Joe went to the market and Mandy is going to be mad cuz he didn’t get her grocery list…,” then you will likely finish more quickly than if you had obsessed over all the moving parts involved in writing a story. Your second draft will fly out after writing and reviewing the pertinent details in this manner, and as you draft you’ll have more headspace available for things like language, form, and technique.
  • Drafting fast: your stamina, speed, and skill will grow with experience, and experience could come faster if you do fast first drafts.
  • Write fast, publish slow: call it a quality check. Quality means making as many edits as are needed.

Publishing and Marketing Your Book

  • If you’re an author and you’ve got multiple books on the market, some things will hit with your audience and others will lay quiet. Once one of your better selling books gets more than a few hundred reviews, or even fifty, begin focusing on your non-starters and market them differently. You can rewrite the synopses or product pages, market to different demographics, put a better cover on it, etc.
  • Experiment with a lot of different types of marketing and discover your own ideal combination of things that you do not hate doing. Look at the lives of successful authors to determine what kind of life you want. Find someone who lives the way you’d like to, then study what they do and how they interact with audiences.
  • Mailing list dos and don’ts from Rebecca Cantrell:
    -Try only sending out an email when you have a new book out, and let those who sign up know that this is the only time you will email them.
    -If you stick to this (and you should stick to your promises with email lists) people will probably remain interested enough in your emails to actually open them, as though they are little presents that only come once in a while.
    -If you write something just for the subscribers, and you don’t fatigue them with emails, they will be excited about what you do for them and they will talk about it, which is key. It feels exclusive to them when you operate this way. If you give them, and only them, whole short stories about the most popular characters from your writing (for example), then your actual, hardcore fans will really appreciate it. Promise them something you can deliver, then deliver it.