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5 Things Published Authors Know (and You Can Master)

02/18/2015 05:21 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015
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5. Writing Requires Writing
Here is what a first draft is: it's the paint you mixed. It's the marble you quarried. It's the first in-costume run-through. Do not belabor your first draft. Just get it done so you can sit back after a few weeks' distance and start to play. Yes, I said play. You're probably about 60% of the way there. That's right on track! Some chapters will be awesome. Some chapters will rightly never be seen by anyone but you. Some characters will need to be fired. Some new ones will need to be added. But by starting to move the pieces around you will be in the thick of it. Congratulations.

4. There Is A Reason Dante Put The Indecisive In The Lowest Ring Of Hell
In the May 7th, 2010 issue of The New Yorker Alex Ross profiled the composer Michael Giacchino, who had just won an Oscar for the score of Up. He also provided the weekly stomach-twisting soundtrack to Lost. Every week he had two hours to score forty-two minutes, what on a film would take months. He said, "It's a little crazy, working like this. But there's something to be said for not laboring over everything endlessly. I don't have time to second-guess myself." Pick something, anything. It's a guy, it's a girl, it's historical, it's futuristic, it's set in Nebraska. Just pick and execute, pick and execute. This is not your only book, just your first. Which brings us to . . .

3. This Is Not Your Only Book, Just Your First
This is not a cross-country car ride. You do not need to cram this manuscript full of everything you have ever thought. I can always tell when I'm sent a first novel to blurb because their seventh grade poetry has been shoe-horned into the narrative, along with some long-winded observation on constellations, and the names of all the author's deceased pets. I started out writing poetry. Yes, really. But some of the most beautiful, lyrical stuff I've written I have voluntarily cut from our ten novels because, jointly, we write commercial fiction and it DIDN'T BELONG. It SLOWED DOWN THE NARRATIVE.

2. Don't Slow Down The Narrative
You know what makes a book a bestseller? Pacing. And I'm talking about everything from Beautiful Ruins to The Rules of Civility to Gone Girl. There are burning questions that carry the reader from scene to scene, from chapter to chapter, from the first word to the last. The reader floats on the exquisite language, but make no mistake, the tide is the question. So ask yourself on every page, what is my reader waiting to find out, or waiting to see happen? This will keep you from getting too narrow in the scope of your thinking and help keep the relationship foremost in your mind. Because, ultimately, a book is a relationship between author and reader, and hopefully it's a love affair.

And the #1 Thing Published Authors Know . . .

1. How To Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway
Writing is terrifying. We're sorry if you thought that goes away. It doesn't. But it doesn't stop us, either. We're linguistic window washers. We get the job done and we DON'T LOOK DOWN. That's means we never ask ourselves, who is going to read this anyway? We don't wonder if this is the best use of our college degree. And we definitely don't ask if Jen Weiner already did this better. We just pour another whiskey, unwrap another chocolate, and plow on.

The good news? Anybody can.

For more advice go to our site www.TheFinishedThought.com or sign up for our online Momentum Masterclass.