Recently, I was invited to join a Facebook group whose membership includes a lot of new authors. I’d forgotten about some of these newbie concerns. I’d also forgotten how everybody asks the same questions over and over, to the point where those of us who have been at this for a while get kind of tired of answering them. So I thought I’d pull together some of these typical questions and answer them here. Feel free to bookmark this post and refer to it as needed.
Q: I have my plot, but I need interesting characters. / I have my characters, but I need a great plot. Can you help me?
Q: Do I really need an editor? Isn’t using Grammarly enough?
Q: What kind of music do you listen to when you write?
A: This is one of those time-waster questions. I mean, some writers use music to block out other sounds so they can concentrate on their writing; others find music too distracting and need to write in silence, or as close to it as they can get. My question to you is this: Why is that relevant to you? Instead of polling other writers about their musical tastes and habits, wouldn’t your time be better spent trying to write with and without music, to figure out which way works best for you?
Q: What’s your book about? What genre do you write in?
A: Another time-waster. I write in the genre of putting my butt in the chair and cranking out some words instead of trying to start conversations with other writers on Facebook.
Q: I don’t read books. Can I still write one?
A: Sure. But reading teaches you a lot about writing. Most writers learn about characterization, pacing, story arc, and so on by reading other people’s books. Plus you learn grammar and punctuation rules along the way. These are all important tools in your writing arsenal. Why would you forgo an opportunity to improve your toolbox?
Q: I can’t tell anyone what my book is about. I’m afraid someone will steal my idea.
A: Relax. Somebody once claimed there are only seven stories in the world. That’s probably an exaggeration – but guaranteed, somebody somewhere has thought of your terrific idea already, and there are likely multiple books, movies, TV shows, and so on that explore it. Mind you, that doesn’t make your story derivative and it doesn’t make you a failure. It means you need to tell your story in your own way. Besides, we all have our own ideas – nobody’s interested in stealing yours. And if someone does actually plagiarize your work, you can take them to court.
Q: Is it ever okay for your characters to go to the bathroom?
A: Depends. (Old joke, sorry.) Does the scene advance the plot? Does it explain something about your character that you can’t show another way?
Q: How about cursing? How about graphic sex?
A: I happen to curse like a sailor, and as for sex…oh. You’re asking about your story, aren’t you? Again, it depends. There are niche genres for just about everything. As a matter of fact, erotica sells really well. But on the flip side, if you don’t like reading about it, no one can force you to write about it.
Q: Are independent authors real writers? Don’t you need to have a contract with a traditional publisher to be a real writer?
A: Bless your heart.