You fans of the Left Behind series are probably very familiar with this author, but I, on the other hand, didn’t discover him until I was looking up random writing strategies on the internet. I was enticed (right word, I’m sure) by many free PDF writing guides, and I could not resist taking a look at a few of them because of my nerd-dom.
What I saw surprised me. We’re about to go over what of his content I disagree with and what I endorse, but most of his stuff is rock-solid advice to new and struggling writer. Now, I don’t consider myself a struggling writer but I am a particularly “fresh” author, and only a fool would reject wisdom from a seasoned master.
After all: we can’t just pass off the advice of famous authors of bestselling novels with a “yeah, that’s just your opinion”. If the man’s seventy-two years old and has written more than one hundred and thirty novels, a series of which became a national bestseller, we might logically conclude that he knows a thing or two that you do not. The scriptures say respect your elders for a reason: anyone who’s old is rarely a fool, and an old, proven author probably has a good store of wisdom about his craft.
Well, we’re in luck. Jenkins is all too happy to share this wisdom with us, so we wouldn’t do it justice unless we look over what he has to say. Remember, experience is the #1 teacher, and the Jenkins road isn’t the only road to success. But it’s worth at least looking over, which was something I did.
One such free PDF that I signed up for was How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in Twenty Steps. It’s short and it took me about ten-fifteen minutes to digest, so I’m just going to give you my short, one-two-sentence thoughts on each of his twenty steps and why I think that.
Establish your writing space. This chapter details how to set up a successful working station with all the tools of the trade: pencils, erasers, computers, chairs, desks, location, etc. In my opinion, helpful but not super important. (important to have all the tools, but not necessarily an established writing space)
Assemble your writing tools. Self-explanatory. “Get your junk together” basically.
Break the project into small pieces. Here he warns the reader not to think of a project as a finished work until it’s done. Your fingers type characters, characters turn into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into a book.
Settle on your BIG idea. You’re never writing a great book without a great idea. Don’t start writing until you’ve got an earthshattering idea.
Construct your outline. Some people aren’t the outline type: I get that, as I’m not one either. But I do keep a kind of outline in my head. If you have my problem (writing an outline down makes the story shorter and less interesting as it condenses said story) then keep an outline in your head. Or write it down. But an outline is not a bad idea.
Set a firm writing schedule. Get a personal accountant, or something (hopefully one with a gruff voice and threatening muscles). Whatever it is, hold yourself accountable for a time limit or word limit of writing to do every day that you work (at least).
Establish a sacred deadline. A firm schedule will drive you to a set deadline, so it’s no huge biggie. If you do have a problem with establishing a tight schedule, though, a deadline would be helpful.
Embrace procrastination (really!). This is just his way of saying “take periodic breaks”. A sensible suggestion.
Eliminate distractions. Do not access Twitter, Facebook, Instagarbage, or Discord while you’re writing. Block them off if you have to.
Conduct your research. If there’s something you don’t know about, go find it out by the use of research. We live in the Age of Information: writing about science-fiction should at least be researched a little.
Start calling yourself a writer. You are a writer, so call yourself one. Make a name tag with “John Doe, writer” on it if you have to.
Think reader-first. If you want to write something that someone wants to read, that someone is the reader. Please them first and foremost.
Find your writing voice. Not too hard, but imperative. Your writing voice should somewhat approximate your conversational tone, and once you’ve identified it, never deviate from it.
Write a compelling opener. Someone once told me that if someone reads the first half of a book, they’re likely to read the rest of the book as well. How do you get someone to read the first half? Write an interesting first sentence.
Fill your story with conflict and tension. Another guy once told me that “to be an author, you must be a sadist.” Delight in filling your story with difficulties and problems to be solved. Otherwise, the reader will soon abandon your book for another, or the television. You face stiff competition. If you think you’ve got a reader on your hook, jerk as hard as you possibly can.
Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft. Don’t edit as you go along. I actually don’t know of many who struggle with this, but I know that some do. Save the editing for later.
Persevere through The Marathon of the Middle. An interesting term. Jenkins calls the large portion of storytelling between the introduction and the conclusion the “Marathon of the Middle”. This is because many young writers give up and fail because they don’t fill their story with enough interesting ideas to stand the strain. I concur wholeheartedly: if you can’t get through the meat and potatoes, you’re not getting to the desert. That’s the rules.
Write a resounding ending. Like your powerful opening, go for the most dramatic, appropriate ending that Hollywood would be jealous of.
Become a ferocious self-editor. Jenkins likes to harp on this one. While I disagree with some of his methods in editing, I agree that ferocity in self-editing is very important.
Find a mentor. Like what I said about old guys and writing, don’t be shy to ask the sage for his wisdom. They’ll be glad to tell you.
What’s it missing? I probably would have added a rule about depth of character in backstory, unique dialect, and briefly suggested caricatures. Barring that, probably what kind of criticism to accept and what to reject, and who to seek advice from. Other than that, this stuff’s dynamite.
Here’s the PDF if you want to give it a read yourself:
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!