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Much like the way to hell is paved with good intentions, so is the way to finishing your novel. You write up the character sketches, you answer numerous questions, and you even make a half-hearted attempt at an outline (i.e. plot.) But are you writing?
You’re thinking about writing. You’re playing and practicing, but you’re not actually writing. You’re showing up for church and tossing your pennies into the collection plate, but the rest of the week, you’re drinking with the damned. (Because that’s what all writers do, of course, drink. It says so right at the very bottom of this blog with the rules.)
You circle and circle, and soon you find you’ve arrived at Hell. Welcome. Dante’s holding up that familiar sign of: Abandon all hope ye who enter here. He laughs as you point to your notebook with your notes and outlines and plans. It doesn’t matter. You’re fully fettered into Writer’s Hell, my friend, and one or more of these grievous sins is probably what landed you here.
Circle 1: Limbo. You landed here because you didn’t know any better. Not an excuse—you’re still in hell. Read up on craft and read up on your genre—and read up period. Reading will by virtue make you a better writer. You won’t be able to help yourself.
Circle 2: Lust. Your lack of commitment because everything looks like it’d be fun to write leaves you clacking about aimlessly. Saddle a horse and ride it already. A stable of thoroughbreds isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t ride one across the finish line once in a while.
Circle 3: Gluttony. You think you need more and more research books and websites and historical tidbits and facts. If you use 1/100th of all the stuff you’ve researched, you’d have a tome to rival War and Peace. There is such thing as too much research. After a point, you’re doing it to avoid writing and we all know it.
Circle 4: Greed. Stop hoarding. Don’t save it for your next book—this book deserves all you have to give it, and frankly, you might not get a next book if you don’t make this one worth reading. And while you’re at it, help fellow writers around you. If you have a skill, share it. If you find something that was of use to you, share it with the community. The next Julie Garwood will remember you.
Circle 5: Anger & Sloth. Don’t hate them because they’re published; and don’t think writing is about eating bon-bons and substituting hair and eye color for the same old book. (All romances are the same, right? Wrong.) Writing is work; it’s why so few people actually do it. Stop being cranky and get off the couch and write it already.
Circle 6: Heresy. Don’t betray your reader’s trust. Don’t promise them a Happily Ever After, then kill off one of your protagonists or have them end up divorced, on welfare, selling their kids for crack. Sure, it probably exists in the world, but it’s not why the reader picked up your romance novel. Genre fiction makes a promise: the good guys get rewarded for their virtue; bad guys get their comeuppance; the puppy is saved from the burning building. Don’t betray the trust.
Circle 7: Suicides. This is the circle where self-destructive people live. What are the big sins here? Giving up, deleting your stories/chapters because you don’t like them, and trashing other writers to make yourself look better. Exactly what’s the benefit of doing any of these things?
Circle 8: Liars. Liar, liar, pants on fire. We’ve already established the reader trust. This one is: Don’t lie to yourself. It just starts a vicious circle. And lying to the editor you can finish something in X amount of time, when clearly you’ve never finished anything, not even pie, in that amount of time only gives you an overwhelming sense of failure—and leads you to the 7th Circle. You run a marathon by training for it, not by just signing up to do it and showing up on race day.
Circle 9: Betrayers. Traitors still get executed. You’ll notice the trend about hating those who betray us, and in the deepest circle of writing hell resides those who betrayed us the deepest: those who sell out and write “jets of warmth pooled between her flaming thighs.” Seriously, the only reason the fire department will be coming to my house for this line is because I set that book on fire in my front yard! Shoot for some originality, guys. Don’t think just because a hundred books before you have jetting pools of warmth, you should do so too so you can get the big money. You might, by some miracle, get published, but it won’t get you respect. Don't give us the cliche--offer us something unique, something that touches us. Give us the Awe Factor. (You won't be doing that with "His eyes were glued to her nipples." So don't even bother with that one. Find something else.)
So what have you given up for Lent? I'm giving up circle 7 and circle 2. (I always have a problem with LUST. Damn.) Any circles that should be added to the list?