Writing Your First Novel: How To Get Started.

Manual for First Time Fiction Writers

If you decided to learn how to do your own plumbing around the house, where would you start? Assuming, that is, that you didn’t want to attend a trade school? You might consider a self-help book like Plumbing for Dummies, right? That’s just the way I got started on writing my first novel. That, along with some very good bloggers like WD’s Chuck Sambucino and C.S. Lakin, and Kristen Lamb.

I found Writing Fiction for Dummies coauthored by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy very helpful for learning the basics of novel writing. I had my story premise and a list of main characters thought out before purchasing this book. That was helpful, but not totally necessary.

The authors divided the book into four main parts:  Part I, Getting Ready to Write Fiction, Part II, Creating Compelling Fiction, Part III, Editing and Polishing Your Story and Characters, Part IV, Getting Publishing, and a special part V, The Part of Tens (ten steps to designing your story and ten reasons publishers reject your work).

The first four parts are broken into chapters and chapter parts that get very, very detailed. This makes it is quite a comprehensive guide for building your story, your story world, and developing your characters and plot. One of the first things I learned is that to be effective, your story must create a powerful emotional experience in the reader. And my favorite line: The only rule there is in writing fiction is that there are no rules. But, that doesn’t mean just anything goes, either. Rather, there is a first time for anything that works.

Pantsters and Outliners

The authors point out that everyone’s writing paradigm is different falling somewhere between an out-liner, writing by the seat-of-the-pants, and edit-as-you-go. An out-liner takes a top-down approach, outlining the whole story and then writing it. A pantster (a la Stephen King) just writes, outlining and editing  last for a bottoms-up approach.  An edit-as-you-go approach falls in between.

I thought of some of my best ideas while writing my novel pantster-style, but I did edit along the way. I tended to outline chapter-by-chapter rather than the whole thing at once. I don’t think that approach would work for me. I found myself doing what Stephen King describes as “digging and finding fossils and brushing them off carefully to put the whole together.”  I did, however, know how the story was going to end. I found myself making a very rough outline of all of the chapters to end of the book about half-way through my first draft.

Five Pillars of Fiction

This Dummies manual explains the five pillars of fiction: setting, characters, plot, theme, and style.  It explains the seven elements of novels: action, dialogue, interior monologue (thoughts), interior emotion, description, flashback, and narrative summary and how to use each effectively. All of the different points of view that novel writers can choose to use are explained with tips on how to use them. (Third person, past tense is the suggested POV for beginning novelists).

The authors divide the novel-writing process  using a layering approach. The storyline and the 3-act structure is the top layer. The middle layer gets more concise and consists of synopsis, scene list, and scene. Then it really gets helpful with action, dialogue, and all the other elements that make up the lowest level of the story.

One thing that really helped me was the explanation of writing in “clips.” A clip is one paragraph that contains either public or private information. A private clip is information that the POV character does, says, thinks or feels. A public clip is what the POV character sees, hears, smells….think the senses. This gives your reader the uncanny feeling of being in the story.

A section on how to create real and compelling characters was helpful.  The authors suggest conducting character interviews to help you create these imaginary people. Ask questions about how they think, feel, likes, dislikes, how old they are…just brainstorm questions and record what your characters “say.” This really helps you “get into the skin of the character.”

The authors include chapters on how to scrutinize and edit, polishing and submitting your work, and some reasons why novels get rejected. Fiction Writing for Dummies is a very comprehensive resource for writing your first novel.

“Composting” Your Story

I discovered that a story idea is like planting a seed in your mind that grows. That seed is called a premise, and it’s quite simply the answer to the question, “what is your story about?” It is also called the storyline or log line. The best example I can give is the storyline for the movie  Pretty Woman  which goes something like this: A wealthy gentleman falls in love with a hooker he hires for a business trip. I also found out that this very storyline will be of utmost importance when it is time to write your synopsis and query letter. It forms the basis of your pitch should you attend a writer’s conference.

But until the story is told, that seeds sits there and grows with ideas. It is “composting,” and I found this to be the most fun of the whole novel-writing process. I still have the notebook that I used to write down ideas. It includes bits of scenes and conversations that may or may not have made it in the final story. That process, along with my character interviews are the two methods that helped me the most.

And whether or not you get a book deal or self-publish, if you complete enough words (at least 40,000) to make a story, you have accomplished something that not just anyone has, and you should be proud. I know I am.

Tips For Writers: Stephen King: On Adjectives And Adverbs

Stephen King is the Shakespeare of modern literature with his far out plots, realistic dialogue,  and distinctive characters. On Writing is a must read for any aspiring writer.

King presents On Writing in three parts. The first part is a short and poignant autobiography. His account of writing stories as a kid and selling them for a quarter to his mother, piles of rejection slips and then hitting it big with Carrie is amazing.

In part two, he presents very personalized tips on the craft.

He uses a vivid description of a cavernous red tool box as an analogy for possessing the tools for good writing. And just as a craftsman, a writer carries his tools with him to every job.

On the top shelf of the tool box are vocabulary, the nuts, and bolts of writing. Stephen advises not to make a conscious effort to improve it. He reminds aspiring writers that their vocabulary will grow naturally through reading.

(He establishes early on that a writer must read in order to write)

Overuse of Adjectives and Adverbs

Along with redundancy, one of Stephen King’s pet peeves is the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. He writes by the rule of 10% less than what was in the original draft.

Stephen goes on to show how he gets rid of pesky and awkward adjectives and adverbs while editing his first draft. (Which he has purposely leaves untouched for about six weeks).

King’s examples of editing for useless adjectives and adverbs caused me to pause and think about my own writing.

He says that many adverbs are just not needed. They only slow down the pace of the story.

***

Biscuit greeted his master happily that afternoon when he finally got home.

Ask yourself: “Would Biscuit greet his master unhappily? Probably not.

A better choice, if perhaps no adverb at all, would be ‘eagerly’. Placed in front of the verb, it lets the reader know that Biscuit is a faithful dog, one that is still active and happy to see his master without having to use the adverb happily, which makes the sentence sound amateurish.

So, Biscuit eagerly greeted his master that afternoon when he finally got home.

Avoiding Redundancy

“Oh, you are just a doll,” answered Angie in a syrupy-sweet voice.

If Angie’s voice is syrupy, we can assume it is also a sweet voice. It wouldn’t sound sour or bitter. As Stephen would say, strike sweet.

Angie answered in a syrupy voice. I chose to keep syrupy over sweet. It says sweet a bit more cleverly.

I think what Stephen is trying to tell us is to use adjectives and adverbs that compliment our writing without slowing down the story.

Adjectives and adverbs are like dressing up a new outfit with accessories. Sometimes less is more. Like any other part of speech, adjectives and adverbs have their place and can help explain and drive the plot. Used correctly, they can help to create a picture in the reader’s mind.

***

Jill ran into the arms of her fiance returning from that awful bloody war. Awful, and bloody add to the mood of the story. They also add to the setting and time. The reader will conjure up a war from the past rather than chemical or nuclear war from the future.

The editing stage is the time to get rid of those pesky adjectives and adverbs. This will help to polish your manuscript and get it ready for the final edit.

***

The [dangerous] thief [quickly] picked the lock on the flimsy door and tiptoed [quietly] down the hall.  The [glow of the moon] led the way.

The thief picked the lock of the flimsy door and tiptoed down the hall. The moon’s glow led the way.

Using Content Mills To Get Started On Freelance Writing

Freelance writers that choose to begin a career or make money part time with so-called content mills like Textbroker or WriterAccess will literally write for pennies. Many freelancers dismiss these sites as being a waste of their time and talent.

Depending on your individual skills and education, this may be true. However, if you have changed gears in the middle of life or just merely want to supplement an already existing income, these content writing sites may work for you.

The good news is, a few pennies can become more pennies and then dollars with persistence and patience.  Content sites assign levels according to criteria they have established. These criteria may include client ratings, ratings by the company and algorithms.

After your initial application, you are assigned a level or star-rating from two to five with five being reserved for the most adept writers.  The pennies per article increase for writers as their levels increase. This is the first way to earn more money with content site writing.

Increasing Earnings on Textbroker

Textbroker gives feedback and rates writers by levels. The higher the level, the more pennies you earn per word. You are shown assignments for your level and those below, but you do not have access to those assignments for levels above. Writing consistently good articles and heeding the advice of Textbroker’s feedback will get you more stars. Your star rating is based on the average quality of your five most recent submissions.

Textbroker’s current pay ranges from .07 for a level 2 writer to five cents for a level 5 writer. This means a level 5 writer can earn $25 for a 500-word article. To compare, my first freelance job that I got directly from a client paid $40 for 400 words, but I had to write another version  that had to be at another 400 words. (It was a children’s article and I had to write it for two separate reading levels.)

On Textbroker, I  began as a level three writer and advanced to level four pretty quickly. Clients choose the level of writer they want for their projects, paying more  per level of course. I have not made it to level 5, but I am not worried about it. Level four has consistently more assignments and in more categories than the other levels. Besides, being on level five sounds scary.

Another way to earn more with Textbroker is by joining teams. Clients may pick you to be on a team based on work you do for them from the general pool or from your profile. Your profile is the place to showcase your expertise, experience, certifications, and interests.

Expert teams are selected by Textbroker. They will use your profile to place you on teams that are industry specific.  You should list any medical, educational, legal or any other certifications you have on your profile.

Team jobs may or may not pay more per word.  In most cases they do. Writers can also apply for teams by what Textbroker calls Casting Calls. There are hundreds of these.  Each prospective client has their own method for applying. One may require a 300-word sample on a given topic while another may only ask for 50 words explaining your qualifications.

These casting calls are extremely varied. As an example, one current casting call is for a level 5 writer for health-related articles that pays $10.50 per word. Another is looking for a team of writers familiar with the sights and attractions around New York City for $2.34 per word.

Even if a team doesn’t pay more than the usual, it helps to increase your pay in that the work is only made available to you and a few select others. Work in the general pool is up for grabs by thousands of other writers. Also, you are more likely to be interested in the required topics to write on. For example, an NYC native would have little research to do for that team that pays $2.34 per word, lessening the amount of time for completing articles.

Direct Orders is a powerful feature for Textbroker. Clients can send you direct orders (seen by no one but you). You can accept them or decline, and you can set your price, keeping in mind that Textbroker must have a percentage of the pay. I have only had direct orders from one client so far, but that one client sent me a great deal of work.  It was all for one related theme, making the work go faster as I became more accustomed to the format and content required.

Increasing Earnings on WriterAccess

WriterAccess pays more than Textbroker, but they normally have less work available. It seems to come in spurts. I also started out here as a 3-star writer, advancing to 4-stars at about the same time that I did for Textbroker.

WriterAccess does not give feedback directly to the writer in the form of annotations and awarding each piece of work a number of stars as Textbroker does. They raise or lower your star level based on an algorithm that includes client reviews of met my expectations, exceeded my expectations or did not meet my expectations.

Rather than teams, WriterAccess has what is known as Love Lists. As with Textbroker, clients can add you to their love list by your profile or by your work.  Assignment choices are only visible to a selection of writers. Again, this makes it easier to get something that you are interested in writing about.

Getting on a few clients’ love lists helped me to increase by earnings at WriterAccess. Clients pay for articles on WriterAccess in tiers based on several factors, so being on a few clients with these deluxe accounts can really help.

Instead of Direct Orders, WriterAccess awards Solo Orders to writers that clients request. They will also recommend you to clients based on your industry and/or portfolio samples in your profile.

WriterAccess also has Casting Calls to apply for work that appeals to you. As any writer knows, it is always easier and faster to write about subjects you know about and are interested in.

Getting the Most out of Writing for Content Sites

For me, writing for content sites is supplemental.  That is because I want to have time to work on my own writing.  I am living tighter and working smarter. I have learned to only choose what I really find easy for me as an individual to write.

I don’t pick anything that is going to require a lot of research. Content site writing is basically ghostwriting, it will not have your name on it.   I have actually taken some of the topics these kind folks send out to create a blog on my own site.  This may prove to be another way to increase my earnings as it may help to send traffic and work my way.

Writing content on your own site and freelancing directly for clients eliminates the middle man, which is just what these content sites are. However, Textbroker and WriterAccess have both proven to help me get started down the path of being a writer.

If you are new to this type of writing or thinking of starting, you will find that putting some time and effort into your work ,in the beginning, will pay off for you down the road.  Both sites pay through Paypal and it is always nice to have a little extra jingle in your pocket.

Content Writing Sites: Textbroker verses Writer Access

Freelance writers, especially ones more seasoned tend to frown upon many of the content writing sites referring to them as “content mills.”  True, they are low-paying, and a good growing writer will eventually move on.  But there are a few of them that may be good starting places for a  newbie.

After some exploring, I found a few content sites that writers could apply to write for. Work comes from various clients who need content. These sites act as a sort of broker, taking a percentage of the pay that the clients are charged per article.

Assignments may be blog posts, press releases, product reviews, travel reviews or copy for businesses, hotels, etc. Occasionally, a client may request a rewrite of something. These clients publish your work under their pseudonym.

You are basically a ghost writer. You give up all rights to your work. This is the big difference from writing for revenue share sites. You will be selling an article of say, 500 words for a few dollars, and it will no longer be your baby.

Yes, the pay is low, but with no formal training or experience as a writer, I found it a good way to get started. I knew I had potential, but I had to start out “low man on a totem pole”.

The key is to have another source of income while you transition into full-time freelance writing. Start out your freelance career as a hobby. Don’t depend on freelance writing to be your main source of income. Do it for a nice paying pastime and let it grow from there.

I applied to write for Textbroker and Writer Access.  I tried to apply to one called Content Authority, but after painstakingly completing the writing sample (150 words on a given prompt), a message appeared stating that “they were not hiring at the time.”

Author applications on the sites vary, but all require a writing sample. All are more likely than not to give a test. The tests are multiple choice and involve selecting sentences that are grammatically and mechanically correct.  Some may ask for resumes. If you have a particular industry such as healthcare or law, this could be beneficial later.

I found the tests for both Textbroker and Writer Access to be challenging, and I probably would not have made it without good writing samples. Some of the questions can get quite tricky and technical. These tests proved to me that I really needed to brush up on the writing craft. But the fact that my writing samples did so well was encouraging. I felt I had the hardest part licked. I made sure to get a desktop help guide like The A+ Guide to Grammar by Vicki Tyler.

Both Writer Access and Textbroker assign you a level upon entry. Based on tests and writing samples, the levels start at level 2 and go to level 5. The pennies paid per word increase with each level.  Most, it is said, enter at level 3, which is exactly where I entered.

Textbroker verses Writer Access Pay

The good news is, Writer Access pays better than Textbroker. The bad news? Textbroker has a lot more work available to more people and in many more categories.

Textbroker pays as follows, with the USD amount shown for 500 words and the writing quality

  • .07 cents per word for 2-star writers, 3.50 USD (legible)

  • 1 cent per word for a 3-star writer, 5.00 USD (good)

  • 1.4 cents per word for a 4-star writer, 7.00 USD (excellent)

  • 5 cents per word for a 5-star writer, 25.00 USD (professional

Writer Access pay is very different, although they also pay in quality of writing levels 2-5. Their clients are charged from a little over 2 cents per word to up to $1.00 per word depending on the level of service the clients select with Crowd being the cheapest. Clients also choose the level of the writer they want. The client can upgrade to Standard or Premium. Then the client is charged according to what Writer Access terms “quality, visibility and complexity”. Not writing from a client’s point of view, this is as well as I can explain Writer Access pay.

Both pay only through PayPal.  Writer Access pays monthly around the 7th to 9th day of the month. There must be at least 50 USD in your account for a pay-off. Texbroker pays weekly and the minimum payoff amount is $10.00. This is the one feature I like most about Texbroker. It is always nice to have a little jingle in your pocket.

Textbroker Verses Writer Access for Getting assignments

There is a major difference in getting assignments between Textbroker and Writer Access. With Textbroker, you have all jobs available to anyone at YOUR level only.  For example, if you are a level 3 writer, the number of jobs available in each category will be hi-lighted in orange for your level and for level 2.  Level 4 and 5 jobs are grayed out and not available to you.

After logging onto your Textbroker account, you can select the show assignments tab to see what is available.There are usually around 35 categories listed from art and automobiles to travel reviews and travel.On any given day, the greatest number of jobs are in the level 4 category.

There is a downside to all these assignments. Some of them, well many of them just don’t make sense. Some are practically impossible. I don’t think it’s just me because I will continuously see some of these loopy assignments remain unclaimed.

Textbroker has a cute little assignment rating rubric that uses emoticons. It gives the writer a chance to communicate to the client when instructions are not clear.  I’m not sure how effective it is as you can’t say WHY the assignment makes no sense.

Yes, Textbroker is a sort of library where you can “check out” assignments. If you start working on it and find it impossible, there appears to be no penalty other than only being able to claim that order only once more.

Not so with Writer Access. They frown heavily on dropped orders. If you check out an order (remember the library analogy here) you have one hour to decide if it is doable for you. It’s a chance to do a little pre-research. With Textbroker, check outs are 10 minutes.

After that, this baby is yours to write until the deadline is met. If you don’t meet the deadline and the order expires, Writer Access will not let you claim jobs for 72 hours. I know because it happened to me once. But in all fairness, they will forgive you if you message the client if a situation arises in which you can’t meet the deadline.

Writer Access notifies their writers by email when new jobs are posted. The email always hits at exactly at 5 o’clock in the morning. The major difference between grabbing assignments from Textbroker is that WA claims to send assignments to those who seem best fitted for the job according to the writer’s profile. I find this a bit hard to believe though. I have been emailed some assignments that don’t fit my profile at all. An example? Writing about fire hose clamps!

Writer Access Verses Textbroker’s Word Processors

Both Writer Access and Textbroker have their own keyboarding interface, or you can cut and paste from another program like Word. Writer Access has a fancier one similar to word press. Textbroker’s keyboarding is much simpler. You can bold, Italics, underline, link and create a bullet list and that is about it.

Writer Access has a media link for images for clients who them, which is not often. Some merely want a source URL. With Textbroker, images must be inserted with an embedded link, which again is not often required.

One thing that I appreciate about Textbroker is that your work automatically saves every 10 seconds. I learned the hard way to click save often with Writer Access, which is sort of a hassle. Several times I have lost my work due to a lost internet connection. Very frustrating. I wish they would add an auto-save feature.

Textbroker or Writer Access

In summary, which do I like the best? The old six to a half-dozen saying says it. I like one as much as the other. Textbroker is stricter on grammar, mechanics and correct usage, and they will check and rate your work after a while. They show you your errors and explain. This can help you to increase your level which is one way to increase your pay writing on content sites.

The pay? At one time I made more on Textbroker than Writer Access. That has changed due to some repeat work from clients that have placed me on their love list. After a few months, I was ‘promoted’ to level 4 on both Textbroker and Writer Access. I have been working for them both for about a year now. It is easy for me to bring in between  $400 and $500 a month between the two of them. Not a lot I know, but this is without quitting the part-time day job.

Writer Access provides no feedback on your writing. They depend on some sort of algorithm that includes a rating from the client with the rubric met my expectations, exceeded my expectations or did not meet my expectations.

Both Textbroker and Writer Access require clients to give each author at least one chance to revise an article before it is rejected. The systems keep up with the number of published articles, monies earned and the number of rejections.

I suppose you “get canned” after so many rejections, I’m not sure. Luckily, so far I have had no rejections. I have had a few revisions. No big deal for most. You can refuse the revision and move on if you like with no penalty. Fair enough.

Writing Services

I am available for various writing services.

  • copywriting
  • content writing
  • article writing
  • blogging

I will ghostwrite blogs for your site.

I write on a variety of topics including education, crafts, home and garden, travel and more

Contact@706 754 0791 or mealey.rebecca@gmail.com