Novel writing: Tools, a niche, and a tribe

Writing is not easy. It is a craft. And to be good at any craft, you have to assemble your tools, find your niche, ban with those who can help you succeed, and study with focus, intent and dedication. There are no shortcuts. Only by doing the work on the front end will you be ready to launch a sustainable writing plan.

Novel Writing: Tools, a niche, and a tribe

The Tools

The builder of a bridge and the builder of a house are both builders. They both have a pounding device in their tool box. The pounding tools, however, are not the same.

Writing also has like named tools; that is to say, the 26 letters of the alphabet. To write anything we have to create entire worlds by combining these 26 letters over and over again. The assemblage of letters is never the same. How we choose to assemble them depends largely on the genre and purpose of our writing. We will talk more about genre in the next section.

Before we move to the next section, I want to introduce the analogy of nesting dolls to writing and selling a novel and provide you with helpful links.

inside-nesting-dolls @jenichappelle talks about items you need to understand and practice when you are preparing to write a novel for publication. The sooner you start studying them, the better off you will be when the time comes to write your own. These are the hook/logline, the pitch, query, and synopsis, and the manuscript itself.

  1. Anne R. Allen’s blog, Hooks, loglines, and pitches gives the basics of the smallest of the nesting dolls. These are short descriptions of your larger manuscript that describe the main character, main conflict, setting and stakes. Like the writing that lives in the larger nesting dolls, they must show why your manuscript is worth a read.
  2. Query Shark: Queries are the middle size nesting doll. This doll nests between hooks, loglines, and pitches and the synopsis. Query Shark is a website run by literary agent Janet Reid, who critiques real-life query letters written by aspiring authors.
  3. The synopsis must create the big picture of your manuscript. To me, it is the hardest to write. I researched it in a past blog: Perfecting the synopsis.

Your Niche

Knowing the pieces you will need to write to create a novel and market it is only one part of the process. You also need to know what you are building before you begin to build.

For seventeen years I studied one tiny part of the craft of writing, the part that created essays in the world of education, the part that wrote for literary anthologies and auto-ethnographic focused conferences. (As a side note, Autoethnographies are quite fascinating, and I believe a good read for those looking at the #ownstories genre.) 

In the genre I chose to write in for all of those years I had to quote and summarize and paraphrase the words of experts to validate everything I said. I had to use words like data and outcomes. I presented at conferences that determined my standing in the community. It was a niche, but it wasn’t my niche.

When I decided to change, when I decided to write my first novel, I had to start from scratch. I knew I wanted to write in a fiction genre, but which one?

I had a character in my head. She was wild and more than a little dark. Her mother died when she was young, and she was left to care for an young brother and a father who drank too much. That’s all I had. “Maybe a romance,” I thought. I could do that. “Or maybe a novel for teens who are struggling under very adult issues. What genre is that?” My questions showed me that the first thing I needed to do was to learn which genre felt right for my assemblage of letters. I found Writer’s Digest University’s Definitions of fiction categories and genres. It is a good place to start learning about genres. Trust me when I say, there will be at least one or two you have never considered.

Your Tribe

To be good at any craft, you also need to communicate with others in the field.

In education, I have a lot of people around me every day. I never think about seeking like-minded people out for conversation or help in being seen. They were already there. We used jargon and slang that I was familiar with. In whatever world you live outside of novel writing, you may also have experienced this sense of belonging.

The problem is, unlike education, unlike building a bridge or a house, building a piece of fiction is a much more solitary endeavor. We write alone at a desk or in a coffee shop. Are best friends are imaginary. We spend so much time creating the words that we forget the importance of community building.

However, contrary to what we read and see every day, writing is not a solitary sport, at least not all of the time. We need other writers. We need a world to explore to keep our brains full of story ideas. We need to learn about editing and publishing.We need mentors and teachers and other struggling writers. We need a tribe. If you have not yet found your tribe, here are some suggestions.

First, If you are very new to fiction writing, one place that you can begin building your tribe is a writing academy. As a lesbian writer with the desire to find like-minded women, I chose the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Writing Academy. I had about 30 pages of a story and a dream to write a full novel. Honing my skills in the year-long writer’s academy was a brutal apprenticeship filled with tears, laughter, rejection, breakthroughs, setbacks, and community-building. By the end of the year, I had solidified my spot in a group of brilliant women who continue to hold me and each other up in the good times and the bad. A quick Internet search will help you to find the right place for you.

Second, my exploration of genre ultimately led me to understand that I am a crime writer. I needed to find others who understood this genre in ways I had left to learn. I found Sisters in Crime. Their page states, “Sisters in Crime is committed to helping women who write, review, buy, or sell crime fiction. Our ultimate goal is to become a service organization to address issues of concern to everyone involved in the mystery field.” They have local chapters where we can meet face-to-face as well as virtual meeting spaces where women crime writers come together in solidarity.

Third, talking about finding a tribe cannot be complete without talking about social media. There are a million ways in which you can connect and build community using this twenty-first century explosion of spaces. I am going to focus on only one as an example – Twitter. Twitter has become a favorite communal space for writers. I had no idea how much could be done in 140 characters until I gave in and got a Twitter account. It turns out, it was probably the single best thing I have done for myself as a writer. I have learned so much in the past six months. Communities here are as loyal as any I have ever seen. They hold each other up and promote. They give a space to ask writing questions and to participate in contests to win anything from a query edit to a full-blown manuscript edit. Below are a few examples of what you can find on Twitter:

  1. #OnThePorch – I had to list my favorite first. This is simply a virtual space for writers to come together and chat about writing. I check this thread and participate using the hashtag many times per week. The community I am building is phenomenal. Come on over and grab a lemonade. Look for me, @tammy_bird.
  2.  #PitchWars – This is such a fun hashtag. I found this when I was trying to learn to write a pitch for my manuscript. The editors and authors who give time and information on this and other pitch contests are amazing. Check it out. You have nothing to lose and much to gain.
  3. #AmWriting – This is one of the first hashtags I found that fed my writer’s need for inspiration and camaraderie. It is also a great place to post questions and offer advice of your own.

Learning never stops

Following these tips will lead you down the road to becoming a stronger writer, but it is not enough. We have to constantly find new ways to build our brand, new ways to connect with like minded people, new ways to put together the 26 letters in our writer toolbox. If you have other ideas for connecting or other ideas for blog posts, hit me up in the comments. I would love to hear from you.

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