When I started writing novels (aged about 10) I had no choice but to use a pencil and paper. I still have some of those early efforts. They are awful. Later I used an old typewriter. I didn’t know it at the time but I now realize this typewriter was much older than it needed to be. I mean this was the late 1970’s not the late 1870’s. But, for whatever reason, despite the fact that my mother was doing an undergrad degree at the time, this was the means by which to get my fabulous prepubescent ideas down on paper.
As for research, I had a dictionary. And a dictionary of first names. I had no encyclopedia (my mother, being a library clerk did not believe in home encyclopedias) but I DID have a very random selection of non fiction and fiction books to use for inspiration. When I say random I mean stuff like the complete works of Dr Seuss and Shakespeare, a reprint of a Sears and Roebuck catalog from 1912 and a lot of inscrutable science fiction. And more – a collection of vintage cartoons, two volumes of Life Magazine photographs, about ten years worth of National Geographic and a weekly TV Guide. An esoteric library, to say the least.
I did half of my undergrad writing on an electric typewriter the other half on a 286 desktop PC with a mono screen. No internet. Not even a little bit. All my research not only for my academic work but for my creative work was done at the…horrors…library.
These were dark, dark days.
But now, oh now, the wonders of the world of information at my fingertips. How did I ever write without it? Now when I’m writing I lose hours falling into Google holes. Hours I could be writing, I admit, but in the end I think it’s worth it. Maybe I’m one of those many writers who would never have finished a book had it not been for the internet. The internet helps me complete projects every step of the way, from inspiration to marketing. Every writer has favorite websites that they consult during the writing process. I thought I would let you in on some of mine.
Step One: Inspiration
I have no shortage of ideas, but I’m always in the market for new ones. And inspiration can be found everywhere of course. In particular I like to look at art and photographs for inspiration. Deviant Art, an amateur artist site often inspires me. Not only do I use people’s uploads as inspirational images (this one inspired one of my WIPS, although the character no longer looks like this) but as I develop a story I often look for photographs that reflect or inspire characters’ appearance and personalities. This is the nemesis in my Nanowrimo project this year for example. Doesn’t she look like someone you wouldn’t want to cross?
Step Two: Planning and Outlining
Characters need names and although I frequently consult one of the many baby naming books I have collected I also use websites. BabyNamesCountry.com is a particularly useful one because it lets you search by culture or ethnicity. When characters need a last name I have used this rather odd site, which lists several thousand American surnames in order of popularity. If I’m searching for non-American surnames I’ll often use this handy trick: search Google for authors or artists from that culture. For example a search for “Romani Artists” (I can’t help it. I have a thing for the Romani) coughed up the awesome surnames Daróczi, Gheorghe, Zsigó, and Balogh. Once I’ve found a name I like I usually search it again just o make sure it’s not so unusual that readers from that culture will think I am referring to that person.
Of course general research is part of outlining and the great thing about writing fiction is that while your research should be approximately accurate, you don’t need to provide references. For this reason Wikipedia is a great place to start. A good old fashioned Google search is also great, including Google image. I have found, however that no matter your search term, if you don’t turn Safe Search on you usually start getting pornographic images about halfway down the first page. That can be very distracting.
Step Three: Writing
Whether you write with a detailed outline or “pants” (I do both) as you’re writing you may sometimes find yourself in need of a little help. My personal saviour, writing-wise, is Thesaurus.com. While I have a printed Roget’s I find it cumbersome to use. This online Thesaurus is fast, easy and more extensive than the built in one in Word. Just today I couldn’t remember a word (that happens a lot. I’m either getting old or my brain is just filling up with so much nonsense that certain things are getting shunted into long-term storage facilities in less accessible levels.) I knew the word was something like “unsuitable given the circumstance” so I searched unsuitable and lo, there it was “incongruous” – just the word I needed.
As I write verse novels and occasionally want to dabble in rhyme, Rhymezone is also invaluable.
During the writing process I sometimes run into trouble describing something because I can’t picture it in my head. On these occasions I will consult stock photography site because they tend to be more specific than sites like Deviant Art. For example if I wanted to describe a young man in a coat I might find this image from 123rf.com helpful. Alternatively maybe videos can help me to “see” an action. I recently looked at videos about doing a handstands for example. There are really a lot of videos about doing handstands on YouTube! Who knew?
Step Four: Editing
Certainly one can find excellent editorial services online (I recommend TeenEyes) but more than that there are interesting online tools that let you analyse and improve your manuscript. I use AutoCrit, an online tool for editing. It is by subscription only however there is a free trial version on their website. I review AutoCrit here.
Step Five: Marketing
I have an agent, but for those who are looking for one Agentquery.com is excellent. Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents is also extremely useful. Part of your search for an agent is of course, crafting the perfect query. AgentQueryConnect is a superb place to start by posting your first attempt for very helpful and constructive criticism. I would caution you to do some research into your genre and what a query is supposed to look like (read some successful ones here) before posting. AgentQueryConnect members do not suffer fools gladly. QueryShark is another superb help in query writing.
Now agented, my role in marketing myself is a lot about networking. For this I’ve had great success with Twitter. Less personal than Facebook, Twitter is a perfect tool for professional promotion and networking. I don’t flood Twitter with exhortations to read my book – in fact I rarely do that. But I do invite people to read this blog and my other one VerseNovels.com. But more than that I make friendly comments to other authors, editors agents and bloggers about their work, and occasionally enter into brief “conversations” with them about random things such as how to tame curly hair or what to do about a sore throat. I do this for fun mostly, but as I develop my career there is a good chance I will meet many of these people in person at conferences and conventions. Having a shared “tweetship” is a fun way to begin a conversation in real life.
Steps Six Through A Million: Everything Else
Writers need to read. Goodreads is an unbelievable resource to this end. I have found so many great books via Goodreads I can’t even begin to tell you. It has changed my life. Other writing blogs are useful too. I love YAHighway in particular. I also frequently use a strange site called Renaissance Learning. I’m not really sure what the purpose of this site is but it includes the word count and reading level of thousands of books for young readers and many adult books too. Maybe it’s just me but I like to know word counts and reading levels. THE DA VINCI CODE has 138952 words and a reading level of 6.4. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS has 198227 words and a reading level of 6.9. Aren’t you glad you know that?
Sometimes you just need to be distracted. You know those times when you’re almost certain that your mind will explode if you don’t take a break? Pinterest is great for these times as are pretty much ALL shopping sites and YouTube, Tumblr and yes, even FaceBook.
I’m frequently jealous of young people, young writers in particular who wrote their first attempts at novels on high speed internet capable computers. I frequently think that my life might have been different if we had the internet when I was young. I don’t have time to dwell on that though. I have to check something on Etsy.