A Whole New Way of Thinking About Writing

There’s an old saying in comics that writers can’t draw, and artists can’t write. That’s an overgeneralization. Sometimes you do get a John Byrne or a Frank Miller, but there is a kernel of truth to the cliche. Because an artist is trained to think in terms of visuals, he tends to approach writing by letting the book play out like a movie in his head and writing what he sees in his mind’s eye.

Now, visualization is a useful skill. It can really help with writing setting descriptions and action. But it’s just one of many tools an author must master to reach the pro level. Over-reliance on visualization makes the whole book read like someone reciting the plot and action of his favorite movie. If you see the narrator taking over the characters’ jobs, this is the reason. The only solution is to adopt a whole new way of thinking about writing.

How to tackle this challenge? The only answer, as always, is hard work and lots of it.

In writing, as in all things, you have to walk before you can run. Nobody fully appreciates how hard a major undertaking is until he’s elbows deep in it. The public has been propagandized for decades to think that being a novelist is easy. Authors as a whole do a poor job of informing aspirants how hard building professional level writing skill is. Well, have a seat, because I’m going to tell you.

Remember all the time and effort you put into reaching pro level at your current job? Now you need to do that again, but this time as a writer.

To be a writer, you must read. Movies, TV shows, and even comics don’t count. You must read novels in your genre, and you must read them voraciously. Go to Amazon. Look up the top 100 currently best selling novels in your genre, and read them all. Twice. First, read them for pleasure as a reader does. Then reread them as a writer. That means reading with an eye to the tools the author used to elicit an emotional response. Whenever the book delivers a good gut punch, stop and read that part again carefully until you understand exactly how the author achieved that effect. That puts his tool in your toolbox. You will need a well-stocked toolbox before you go pro.

Then repeat the same process with the books in Appendix N.

To be a writer, you must write. When you can write 2,000 words per day, every day, you will have reached a professional output level. Write daily until you have written one million words of fiction. At that point, all of the bad writing will have drained out of you. You will then be ready to begin.

No, that’s not a typo. I meant begin.

Because the idea isn’t just to write. It’s to sell what you write. When you’ve read your 200 books and written your million words, you will have sufficient knowledge of your tastes and abilities to offer your work for sale.

My reaction to hearing this same advice ten years ago was, “A million words!? That’s ten 100k word novels. I’m supposed to write ten books’ worth of prose fiction and just stuff it in a trunk?”


Hard and fast writing rule: First novels always suck.

Every author begins with a millions sucky words in his head, and he has to get the suck out. Selling the suck to readers would do them and the author a grave disservice.

Here’s the good news. Just because your first novel falls within those first million words, it doesn’t mean you can’t come back to it. I did. You should read the first draft of Souldancer sometime [Editor’s note: I will never let you read the first draft of Souldancer]. That book accounted for fully a third of my first million words. I stowed it in the trunk until I’d finished off the other two-thirds, wrote a prequel, then came back to it and won a Dragon Award.

You need only patience and discipline to do the same.

I put in the time and improved with each book. Read the results for yourself!




Originally published here.

Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a best selling science fiction author and a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel., and its sequel, The Secret Kings, became a 2017 Dragon Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel. He's currently crowdfunding his latest work Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming on Indiegogo. Read more of his work at brianniemeier.com or pick up his books via Amazon.