Plot Holes, Procrastination, and Book Coaches

Let’s talk about writing a novel.

Jim and I sat down to write Uncommon Scents three years ago. We thought we knew what that meant. We had a firm understanding that it would require a lot of words arranged sequentially. We knew words. We hoped that was enough. But then we remembered: punctuation! We stocked up on commas and periods; also a few semicolons.

We read books about writing – Stephen King’s indispensable On Writing, a couple of Chuck Wendig’s books with advice for authors. I watched Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass on the art of storytelling.

We did the world-building necessary for a plausible near-future SF society.

We were rested. We were ready.

I sat down with hands poised over the keyboard and realized for the first time that telling a story starts with a specific character doing a specific thing and I had no idea who that was or what they were doing.

This caused some difficulty.

Over the next year, Uncommon Scents became a real book. You can buy it and read it. And you should!

Along the way we learned some things about the process.

There are four stages to producing a book. Each one requires time and attention and research.

Money. Did I mention money? It might cost money, too. There are opportunities to spend money at each step, and sorry, there’s a roughly 99% chance that you will not recover that money from your royalties. Some of that money will be spent wisely but like too many things in the modern world, there are also people who will take your money and give you nothing and run off laughing and buy themselves champagne at your expense. There are outright scams and there are well-meaning people who just aren’t effective, and it’s up to you to figure that out before you pay for services.

Before I dive into details, let me strongly recommend Writer Beware, a starting place that all prospective authors should bookmark. It is on a website run by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association but the information is useful for all writers. It has a wealth of basic information about each step of the writing process, but it goes on to provide details about what to watch out for – what is appropriate to pay for, what is inappropriate, what is most likely a scam? You will learn the basics about the craft and you will be better protected if you spend time there before you send money to anyone.

These are the four stages of writing a book, with some overlap because of course there is.

Stage 1: Writing a book

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? This is the lonely, introverted part where a lot of words are typed onto a screen. Lots of help is available. More about this below.

Stage 2: Editing and revising the book

This stage will likely be as difficult and time-consuming as it was to write the first draft. You don’t believe me? Send me a note after you’ve gone through it and had the epiphany that your book is stronger after being torn apart and put back together. It’s frustrating and exhilarating. Especially the frustrating part. First-time authors can get huge bang for their buck from a good editor – but choose wisely. More about this later.

Stage 3: Publishing the book

Oh, this covers so much. The threshold step for traditional publishing is to find an agent, which is not a rabbit hole, it is a giant sink hole for time, study, and effort. Self-publishing is increasingly common and takes you down its own dark and twisty paths. There are small press indie publishers filling the space in between the publishing giants and self-publishing. It’s another area where a lot of people will offer to take your money and it’s up to you to guard your wallet.

If you are lucky and driven, whatever path you follow, at some point you will open a box that contains your book on paper. Adrenaline will flood your body and you may involuntarily pee a little. Or maybe you’ll see it on a Kindle for the first time, which is still thrilling but perhaps doesn’t involve as much gasping for breath. Still: you’ve finished a book! It exists! Congratulations.

Stage 4: Marketing the book

At one time a traditional publisher would take the responsibility for marketing a book. That time is not 2024. Regardless of how a book is published, the author will be the one to sell it. It is conventional wisdom now that a book is sold one copy at a time. You will definitely not enjoy it when you learn that is literally true for most authors. We’ll talk about that later.

Today let’s focus on the writing process.

A book starts with a blank screen on which you will type words. With punctuation! Unless you’re Cormac McCarthy, then way less punctuation.

It is the teensiest bit common for authors to look for ways to procrastinate. Perhaps it’s writer’s block, or the unexpected discovery that writing is hard, or maybe it’s lack of inspiration. There are thousands of online communities where other writers will commiserate. Equally, there are thousands of books and articles and YouTube videos with advice about how to get past those obstacles.

There are local groups available for meeting other authors who share your angst. I want to give a shoutout to California Writers Club, with local groups throughout California – Redwood Writers in Sonoma County, Tri-Valley Branch in the east bay, and many more. It helps more than you know to discover that others are sharing your feels.

But you may not be familiar with another resource that is increasingly popular: book coaches.

For a fee, a book coach will form a continuing relationship with you. They’ll look over your shoulder as you write and give you developmental support, big-picture help with concept, structure, plot and character arcs. You might get detailed feedback on prose, pacing, and dialogue. They can assist in building a schedule and motivate you to get past self-doubt and find ways past procrastination. Your coach is the one to call when you’re in the depths of impostor syndrome. When the time comes, they’ll advise and perhaps assist in the ways of the publishing industry.

Take a look at Author Accelerator, a resource to match writers with any of nearly 200 book coaches, as well as providing training for prospective coaches. Even if you are financially able to consider this option, it takes time to find a match! You’ll be matching the genre of what you’re writing and interviewing people looking for a personality that you can work with over an extended period.

Here’s an example. We got to know Kerry Savage as a developmental editor. We thought she was lovely – insightful, empathetic, and suited to our temperaments. In 2024 she’s focused on book coaching and I’ll bet she would be great for us. For you? It’s like hiring a contractor: only you can decide if she would be a good match.

Fill a screen with words. Write a novel, excavate old memories for your memoir, write advice about something you know: get that first draft under way. In the next installment, we’ll talk about polishing it and getting it to shine. Because trust me, in hindsight you will come to understand that your first draft is a little stinky.

Start writing!