So you want to make a full commitment to your effort to become a successful, engaged writer of long narrative fiction? Consider the following elements of the job description.
• Determine your story’s three-act structure.
• Chart your plot points/story beats, including but not limited to:
Establishment of the Stakes
Attacks on the Hero
Reversals and Revelations
Recalibrating the Stakes
All is Lost Moment
Hero’s Pause for Dark Reflection
• Review the hero’s journey, desire, agenda, quest, path of change.
• Ditto the antagonist’s.
• Go through and outline your entire first draft before beginning revisions.
• Make daily stops at the best online story aggregators and discussion boards about your subject.
• Check relevant topics on Wikipedia.
• Take whatever field trips are necessary to get the “real feel” of your story world.
• Tune into TV shows about that world on the NatGeo, History, Biography or Spike TV channels, even if you’ve seen the shows several times before.
• Keep checking amazon.com for any new books about your subject, then try to read them when your purchase arrives.
• Download and take a class in Scrivener, even though you have already written thousands of words in Microsoft Word.
• Post regularly on two blogs of your own: a personal one and a writerly one, where you might even consider posting excerpts from your work-in-progress.
• Comment regularly on Twitter, post and share on Facebook, and keep your profile updated on LinkedIn—the minimum in terms of social networking.
• Establish a presence on GoodReads.
• Learn the difference among an Elevator Pitch, a Log Line and a Premise.
• Research the surefire three-paragraph query letter and file away some examples thereof.
• Seek out, similarly, the ultimate guide to crafting a winning synopsis. Be sure you can write it in 1-page, 3-page and longer versions.
• Collect the names of reputable freelance editors who can review your manuscript, if and when you finish it.
• Begin compiling a list of agents you’ll approach about your completed manuscript, with a reminder about each one as to why she or he is receiving your letter.
• Bring yourself up to date about the burgeoning world of self-publishing, in case you opt for or must go that route.
• Read the three writers’ magazines (Writer’s Digest, The Writer and Poets & Writers) when the new issues hit the mailbox or newsstand.
• Explore going away to a multi-day writers’ conference or writer’s retreat, or both.
Local Writing Community
• Attend the semi-monthly writers’ group and the monthly Writers’ Salon and Writers Read sessions at your public library.
• Read the library’s Writer’s Blog, and contribute a post if invited.
• Take part in your own or a neighboring community’s One Book One Town celebration, depending on which town has selected a book that interests you and that you want to or have read.
• Join a fee-based ongoing weekly workshop/critique group with a veteran college professor or published novelist.
• Collate the suggested edits/questions/areas-needing-improvement-or-cutting that you agree with from all of the reading copies of your work that you handed out in the library and fee-based workshops/critique groups.
• Attend local appearances by touring novelists. Strongly consider buying a copy of their new book and getting it signed, perhaps after telling the author that you’re working on your own novel, so she or he will write a pep-talk inscription for you along with her or his autograph.
• Heed the words of Stephen King: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
• Read fiction while writing fiction to keep your creative pump primed.
• Don’t read fiction while writing fiction so you don’t subconsciously fall into the style of the authors you are reading.
• Read the latest Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner.
• Read the widely acclaimed first novel by a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
• Read the just-published second novel of another graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop because you so enjoyed her first novel.
• Stay abreast of key writerly issues, such as the latest developments in the MFA-vs.-NYC and unlikeable-vs.-likeable-main-characters debates.
• Keep sending out the two or three short stories that have been collecting rejection slips.
And, Oh Yeah, Don’t Forget
• Set and adhere to a daily writing schedule—using an elapsed-time, word-count or page-count quota—so you can, once and for all, finish composing and revising your book.—Alex McNab