I’ve had my share of false starts. It happens all the time when I’m writing an article. In all forms of writing those first lines are critical. You’ve got to grab the reader then go for it before they have a chance to think about turning away.
 
In non-fiction, a false start is generally pretty easy to clean up but a false start on a work of fiction is something else entirely.
This week I realized that after 10,000, I was headed down the wrong path. The scenes weren’t flowing as well as they had been and on closer examination I realized my problem. I was pushing my hero to care about something that he didn’t really care about. That meant he wasn’t motivated to step out of his comfort zone and investigate a murder (he’s an actor by trade) and that’s a problem. A big one.
 
To be sure, I ran the story by a friend and then said, so, would you believe Hayden’s going to go investigate this case now? Now? Nope. He’s not motivated enough, she said and I knew I was sunk. I knew I had been forcing my characters to do what I wanted, not what they wanted and that meant I had rewriting to do.
 
Sadly, it wasn’t just a case of driving back a couple of miles then going left instead of right. It meant going back to the beginning of the story so I could present the mystery in a way that was more connected to my hero.
 
I know that the change is the right thing, but sitting here with the prospect of rewriting 10,000 words doesn’t make me happy. Mostly because it means I’m not moving forward – though in a way, I am. If I had left things the way they were, the rejection letters would have come in saying what I knew to be true. Not believable. Why would he get involved? Where’s the emotion? Where are the stakes?
 
And so, this weekend, I will be rewriting those pages and my book will be stronger for it, because beginnings are important and not just for the reader.

When you’re writing for magazines, deadlines are your friend. They keep you on track because you know you can’t procrastinate past a certain date.  With fiction, there are no deadlines, not at first, anyway.  There’s no editor waiting for this manuscript so I can take as long as I want to write this book. I can do it in three months or three years. That’s great, right? No stress!
Not true.
No deadline is more stressful than having one. No deadline means that I have to find a way to put the fiction work in front of the work that does have a deadline (LOL). No deadline means that six months from now, when I’ve only written three chapters, I can toss the story out the window in frustration.

The obvious answer is to self-impose deadlines, but that works just as well as my deadline to drop fifty pounds by last Christmas. A good option is to enter a partial in a contest that requires a full if you win. The downside there is if you win and you can’t finish on time, you’ve burned a bridge and that might not be worth the gamble.

For people who don’t work as writers by day, writing a novel at night is an outlet. It’s fun and that alone is motivation to sit down in front of the computer for an hour before bed. But for those of us who sit in front of the computer turning out articles all day long, it’s a completely different story. That, right there, is the reason we started this blog. It is different for people who work as non-fiction writers for a living and learning to work without a hard deadline is one of those differences that can be hard to overcome.

Do you have any suggestions for self-imposed deadlines? I’d love to hear them.

I sold my first non-fiction book based on a one page query and a list of potential chapters that I wrote over lunch in the break room of the bagel company where I worked at the time. The book was called TV Toys and the Shows That Inspired Them and Krause Publications (a major hobby publisher) offered me a nifty advance that would be paid out in three payments that would act as a salary as I wrote.

Back then, I had a clunky computer that was a stone and a tablet compared to the one I have today. Unsure if I’d be able to even handle writing a whole book on the poor thing, I asked if I could have more of the advance up front so I could buy a new computer. They agreed and a few weeks later I was typing away on a cool PC (which, in retrospect was still pretty low tech compared even to my iPhone.)

I sold two other books this way, including the Official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Pop Quiz which got me not only a nice advance but a copy of every Buffy script written so I could use it to pull trivia. I read TV scripts for fun so this was quite a score.

Years later, I decided to try my hand at fiction. I’d been writing fiction since I was a kid and I amused my friends with tons of Fan Fiction based on my favorite TV shows but I hadn’t tried authoring a fiction novel. With the goal of getting published in mind, I started submitting queries to publishers and found out a crazy thing, they all wanted to see a finished manuscript before they made a decision.

What? You expect me to labor over a manuscript, pour my heart and soul into it for months on end and then, maybe, you’ll look at it? What’s up with that?

Three publishing companies had paid me to write books based only on my query. Why, suddenly, did I have to write the full book before I could make a sale?

Alas, this is the lot of the newbie fiction author.  So you write and write and you rewrite and even then there’s no guarantee that anyone will ever buy the book, so why do we do it? I guess, because in a way, we can’t not do it. And, I suppose, that most newbie fiction writers haven’t had the non-fiction, upfront payment experience, so they’re not jaded.

For me, this “no money upfront” concept has been hard to get around. Since I write non-fiction for a living, every moment I write fiction feels like a waste. What if the book never sells? Just think of all the paid non-fiction I could have written in its place!

And before you say, writing isn’t about the money, I’ll take money out of the equation. It wasn’t just that publishers gave me an advance, but it’s the fact that they gave me a guarantee. My work would be published and read by somebody. That’s all I’m looking for on my novel, the promise that somebody who doesn’t know me or owe me will read it when I’m done.