Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, December 23, 2013

Creative Fatigue

I'm on record saying Writer's Block doesn't exist. There's really no writing problem that can't be solved by staring at a blinking cursor until you think of something.

But man do I get tired sometimes. This happened to me in the past month. I worked like crazy to get my guide to writing a novel finished and published and promoted just as I was starting a new job while still maintaining my commitment to make sure I'm getting enough time away from the computer and spending time with friends in person. It was a lot.

I got it done, I got it promoted, the job is going well, and then I had that thunk that sometimes happens when you work like crazy and wake up and realize you're creatively exhausted.

I had to let the blog slide for a while, I took a break from writing even though I'm itching to get going on a new project, and I had to trust that I would get my creative juices back when some time passed and that there would still be people visiting the blog when I returned to it.

But then I think back to 2008, which was by far the most productive year of my life. I was working twelve hours a day as a literary agent, I was blogging five days a week, and I wrote a novel on top of that, which ended up being the start of the Jacob Wonderbar series. I have never gotten so much done in a single year, and it laid the groundwork for a lot of the things I look back on with pride.

And yet I was also really unhappy. I was neglecting friendships, I wasn't feeling like myself, and I paid the price in many ways.

All of those tensions are so incredibly difficult to manage. Sometimes you have to push yourself to get things done. Sometimes you have to let things slide for the sake of your own happiness. Sometimes you have to stare at the blinking cursor until you think of something. Sometimes you have to know to step away.

I don't think I'll ever totally figure it out. All I know is I'm ready to get working again.

How do you figure out when to push forward and when to pull back?

Art: Eingeschlafen by Hubert von Herkomer

Friday, December 20, 2013

Self-publishing was way easier than I thought it would be

It's been about a month and a half since I self-published How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. Both the e-book and print editions are out, the reviews are coming in, and so far I've sold more than 1,500 copies. In the past month the rate of sale has picked up every week, which is really exciting to see.

Here's the most stupidly surprising thing I learned about self-publishing: It's really, really easy.

I say "stupidly surprising" because I feel like I should have realized this, and I'm obviously pretty behind the curve here considering how many people have embraced self-publishing and had a lot of success doing it.

But there's something about the publication process that seemed so daunting to me before I started. So many things to think about. So hard to get the word out. All those nuts and bolts that I've been glad for my publisher to handle.

At the end of the day, it just wasn't that hard. There are really only 6 things to worry about:

1. Writing the darn thing

This was by far the hardest part. When I started writing How to Write a Novel, I thought it was going to be a polished collection of blog posts. I had written so many posts over the years, surely I could just assemble it into book form?

I started stitching together blog posts... and it read like a collection of a blog posts. It didn't read like a book. There were a ton of holes. And it kind of sucked.

So I stated over. Short of the last chapter (10 Commandments for the Happy Writer), I extensively rewrote everything I originally sourced from the blog, and I added a lot of new material that's exclusively available in the book.

It was way harder and took a lot longer than I expected. I thought it was going to take a month. It took a year. Whoops.

2. Getting it edited

This is where things started getting easier. There are so many incredible freelance editors out there, and I'm fortunate to be friends with some of them. I hired my friend Christine Pride to do the initial round of edits. She helped immensely with the shape of the book, and it was her idea to turn the chapter titles into "rules."

For copyediting and final polish I turned to Bryan Russell, who agreed to a barter edit since I've edited some of his work in the past (though I now owe him immensely because he's a way better editor than me).

I am extremely happy with how everything turned out.

3. Cover design

For the cover I turned to my friend and influential graphic designer Mari Sheibley, who may be sliiiiightly better known, among other things, for being Foursquare's first designer and creating so many of those awesome badges that were a huge part of Foursquare's success.

I'm going to blog about how I went about the cover process separately. It was really fun.

4. Interior design

I thought about trying to learn how to design the interior, but this is a corner I decided to cut. I reached out to a few interior designers for quotes, and ended up going with D. Robert Pease, who happens to also be a blog reader, and he was incredibly fast, professional, and the end result looked terrific. He provided me with files in every format I needed.

Piece of cake.

5. Getting everything uploaded

I distributed directly via Kindle, B&N, Kobo, and used the e-distributor Smashwords for everything else. When the print cover was ready I distributed with CreateSpace. Easy easy easy.

How easy? I finished writing and editing the guide about a week before it was on sale.

6. Promotions

I plugged the guide through the blog, I was fortunate to have some really nice blurbs, and I've been experimenting with some social media ads.

I haven't really gone all out with promoting off of my blog as I would have liked, but the great thing is that it's never too late.

This is a bit of a simplification, obviously, and if you have any questions about the specifics of self-publishing process I relied heavily on Susan Kaye Quinn, The Creative Penn, and David Gaughran.

I still think there are many merits to traditional publication, but if you're holding back from self-publishing because it seems daunting, don't sweat it. It's really not that hard.

Self-publishing veterans, how did you find the process? Am I just late to the party?

How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever is on sale as an e-book for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook

and in print for $11.99 at:

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

5th Annual Heifer International Fundraiser!

It's that time of year! Yes, time for the annual Heifer International blog fundraising event where we raise money for a worthy cause and multiply the giving. And you can help too.

It's really simple. All you have to do is:

1) Leave a comment on this post AND/OR
2) Tweet a link to this post and include the hashtag #NBHeifer. Here's a tweet button for ya:

3) Click over to other participating blogs at the bottom of this post and leave comments there too
4) Make your own per-comment or tweet pledge and I'll link to you/tweet you!

To that end, if you want in on the fun and make a per-comment or tweet pledge on your own just leave a comment with a link to your blog post or tweet announcing your pledge or e-mail it to me and I'll feature it in this post. (I recommend Rowfeeder for tracking your hashtag).

You may have already heard of Heifer International, an organization that works to fight hunger by giving needy families around the world and in the United States livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.

If you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you'll consider making a donation. And in order to encourage people to spread the word about this worthy cause, there are two ways to help increase the giving love (and feel free to do both):

  1. For every comment someone makes in this post between now and 6PM Pacific time on December 24, I will donate $2.00. 
  2. For every tweet that includes a) the hashtag #NBHeifer and b) a link back to this post ( I will donate another $2.00. (up to $2,000 between the two) 

We can encourage everyone to stop by so we can multiply the giving! Over the past years we have raised over $7,000 together.

Thanks, everyone!

Participating blogs:

My Karma Ran Over My Dogma

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Terrifying Permanence of the Internet

There's a moment in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go where two of the characters go looking for a cassette tape in a coastal town in England. One of the characters had lost a tape in her childhood and she hadn't heard it in years. They go hunting through second hand shops until, magically, there it is. She found it.

It occurred to me as I was reading this passage that we'll never again have experiences like this, at least not in the same way.

The other night, a random comedy sketch popped into my head, something one of my college RAs played for me on a road trip, The Vestibules' "Boulbous Bouffant." It's a really surreal bit of sound. I had searched for it on the Internet in the early 2000s and had, laboriously, unearthed it somewhere on a random site.

This time when I searched for it, not only did it take two seconds to find and listen to, there were literally dozens of YouTube tribute videos to choose from.

In Never Let Me Go, with today's Internet the character would never have had to hope it was waiting for her in a second-hand shop. She could have listened to it on Spotify or found the mp3s on iTunes or, if she really craved the tape, she probably could have found it on eBay.

Of course precious physical objects will still exist in the future, but these small mysteries are disappearing quickly. More and more of the world is constantly at our fingertips, wherever we are. And what's more, there's very little that disappears into the past.

It used to be that electronics seemed ephemeral. Now, if you want something to be permanent, put it on the Internet.

Etched in Digital Stone

Whenever I talk about e-books, there are still some people who will chime in and say they can't imagine putting their library at the risk of a glitch and losing everything.

This is a serious misunderstanding. My e-book library is far more secure than anything on paper. My e-books live on multiple devices, they're backed up to my local backup drive and both Amazon's and Apple's clouds. If I ever lost one device I could instantaneously download the e-books onto another.

My apartment could burn down or flood and I'd lose all my paper books, but in order to permanently lose my e-books there would have to be some sort of electron catastrophe that simultaneously destroyed all of the world's computer servers (and presumably everything else with a computer chip), in which case we would have much more to fear from planes falling from the sky and cars careening through the streets than we would from whatever happened to our e-books.

There's something about digital files that still feel so impermanent to people, and yet barring an unimaginable apocalypse they're more permanent than anything etched in stone.

People are now coming around to the unsettling reality that everything you say on social media lasts forever, but it cuts even deeper than that. This week we learned that Facebook may even be keeping track of the status updates you started to write but deleted before posting. Google knows every search you've ever made (and so, perhaps, does the NSA). There's very little you can do online that won't be stored, somewhere, forever.

Our photos don't fade and curl their edges and get lost in basements or left behind when we move, they live on perfectly preserved in Flickr accounts and Facebook and iPhoto. Purging yourself after a breakup doesn't mean collecting a few things and putting them in a box to the left, there is an entire digital trail that is nearly impossible to erase. And reputations can be destroyed in seconds, whether you deserve it or not.

We all know this is rapidly changing our lives. Are we aware of just how much?

To Forget is Human

What happens when you can't forget?

There have been people who have been reputed to have "perfect" memories, and they endlessly fascinate us, even if the supposed perfection of their memories can be overblown. One woman particularly noted for her memory calls it "agonizing," and remembers slights as intensely as she did when she experienced them.

Whether there are true consequences for remembering everything, it is certainly uncharted territory for humanity. Photographs didn't even exist two hundred years ago, now there are 208,000 of them uploaded to Facebook every minute. Where before only the lives of kings and emperors were recorded for posterity, now all of us have digital trails that would put those kings to shame.

All your digital mistakes, all your e-mails, all your photos, many of your darkest thoughts... they're preserved for eternity. You may now have the comfort of living your life mainly offline and may even be a social media recluse, but so much of your life is still out there.

Earlier in the year I was on a BBC Radio 4 show about Estrangement in the Social Media era, and there was an expert on the show who specializes in erasing people from the Internet. The unbelievable lengths people have to go to achieve that end serves only to illustrate how completely impossible it really is for most everyone.

There are now debates taking place in Europe and Australia about the "right to be forgotten" on the Internet, trying to preserve some sort of analog analogy into the digital era, but this seems to me to be a case where the genie is out of the bottle.

We're going to have to get used to permanence in a world that used to forget.

Never Let Me Go

We no longer live in a world where it's hard to find a cassette you once had and you have to go hunting through dusty bins to find it again. We no longer live in a world where two loved ones will fall completely out of touch and are unable to find one another.

Humanity will never be permanent, at least on a cosmic timeline, but as long as our computer servers persist none of us will truly be forgotten. Long after our bodies have been turned to dust our digital footprints will live on, our searches and our e-mails and our online existence preserved as 1s and 0s in some chips in some computers in some server farms scattered around the world.

Sure, in some sense this newfound immortality is academic since we won't be around to experience it. But how is this affecting us now?

How many people are staying in relationships because they fear how starkly public breakups can be in the Facebook era? How many people have had their reputations destroyed online by one youthful indiscretion or even a colossal misunderstanding? How many people are confronted every day by the digital ghosts of their exes or loved ones who have passed away?

And what about those small moments that depended on the impermanence of our possessions and memories, the thrill of finding something we thought we had lost forever or had spent years and miles trying to find?

Now that we have access to nearly every book and movie and piece of music ever made, I wouldn't give it up. I wouldn't go back to a world that forgets. But I hope we'll still have some small miracles in the Internet era, like a cassette in a dusty bin we couldn't have possibly found anywhere else.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Last Few Weeks in Books 12/16/13

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.
I'm back! Hello! Anyone still here?

Sorry for the delays in blogging-related activities, we had the Thanksgiving, then we had the catching up from being gone from Thanksgiving, and then we had the holiday parties, and then we had the food poisoning, which I do not recommend for anyone (the food poisoning anyway, everything else was quite enjoyable).

But I do plan to return to relative normalcy, and here are a few of the links I noticed in the past few weeks. Also upcoming: our 5th Annual Heifer International Fundraiser!

First up, I am very pleased to be on a panel of judges for a short story competition that will benefit autism research in the UK. Please check it out and enter! Also they have extended the entry deadline until January 31st, 2014 (people it is almost 2014).

Business Insider created a map of the famous book in every state. To be honest I'm not so sure about the choice for my home state (East of Eden?), but there's no doubt about The Great Gatsby for my current state, New York. What about yours?

Author Jennifer Hubbard put together a fantastic history of YA novels, starting with the 1940s. They've been around longer than you'd think, though they've certainly changed a lot over the years.

Buzzfeed compiled a cool compilation of 21 writers talking about how they found the inspiration for their first book. (via Adelle Waldman)

Over in the Forums, the Great Spam Attack of 2013 has been beaten back, and it is safe again for your discussing pleasure. Head on over to talk about writing, swap critiques on your work and queries, ask me anything, and make general revelry. It's free to join of course. Stop on by!

And finally, the New Yorker had a terrific article about pickpocket Apollo Robbins earlier in the year, but it's hard to top his TED talk for sheer impressiveness:

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Writing in the Internet era: A conversation with Sarah McCarry (aka The Rejectionist)

The Internet can be a challenge for writers. We have to avoid its distractions while writing, only to be besieged with expectations that we will utilize it to promote our books. Writers are thrust into a semi-public life when we publish and have to contend with people saying all sorts of things about us and our books, which can be thrilling on the one hand and unnerving on the other.

How should writers navigate this world? I talked with Sarah McCarry, author of the brilliant novel All Our Pretty Songs, and blogging star at The Rejectionist.

Nathan: There are so many pressures on authors these days to be on the Internet, do all The Social Media, to promote your own books because you can't necessarily count on your publisher, and oh by the way you have to write the books too, which is made all the more more difficult by all the distractions. Do you think writers are better off with social media and the Internet or are we all tweeting while Rome burns?

Sarah: Ha! You think because I am a Pessimist you can provoke me into a Franzenesque condemnation of the kids today and their platforms, but there you are mistaken, sirrah. I like to approach social media as a kind of mutual aid arrangement; I love promoting other people's work and building connections with other writers and like-minded humans. But it's definitely challenging to put on one's little marketing hat and suddenly be all like ACTUALLY CAN EVERYONE PLEASE BUY MY BOOK, ALSO. I'm not very good at it, to tell you the truth. And I am somewhat suspicious of most of the more conventional social promotion activities that many publishers push, like blog tours and book trailers and goodreads giveaways and what have you--I mean, if you enjoy that stuff, absolutely do it, but I would be pretty surprised if many of those tactics had any real impact on book sales. I find my own energy is more usefully spent elsewhere.

Nathan: What I find interesting about your Internet presence is that you are someone who embraced social media very early and I originally met you because we were blog friends, and yet I know you to be very ambivalent at best about e-books, cell phones that do things other than tell time, and the multinational corporations that are speeding those things along. How do you differentiate between the types of technology to embrace and those to be wary of?

Sarah: Nathan, I am large and contain multitudes. (I do want to be clear that I am disinterested in ebooks and having the internet on my telephone for myself personally, but obviously those things are fine for other people and I do not in any way regard them as the harbingers of our pending doom--the same cannot be said for multinational corporations, which are never, ever, on the side of human beings.) I like social media that allows me to build what feel like genuine networks with other people, which is a very hippie thing to say but I have made a lot of real-life and very meaningful friendships and professional connections online--mostly through blogging, and to a lesser extent through twitter. It is always complicated, though, being a semi-public person on the internet, which I know you have struggled with as well. I don't really distinguish between my online personality and my real-world personality, unlike other writers whose online persona might be more traditionally "professional" and less prone to cussing, but I have found that people don't always realize that even though I write about my personal experience in a very public forum I am also very, very selective about what I choose to make public. What do you think about the boundaries between "personal" selves and "professional" selves online?

Nathan: To me that boundary (or lack thereof) between "personal" and "professional" personality online is a seriously tricky one. If you try to create a separate professional personality online that is different from your actual personality you come across as totally fake, and yet very few people I know are comfortable baring their entire lives and their deepest darkest thoughts. It can be very uncomfortable to really put yourself out there and navigate this tension authentically. I don't know that anyone who follows me online would be surprised by my real-life personality, but still, what I show online is inevitably a slice. And yet circumstances can force you into revealing more about yourself than you might otherwise. Even with as little as I had revealed about my personal life online, I still eventually felt compelled to discuss my divorce publicly. Do you worry about the steady erosion of a "private" life?

Sarah: I'm definitely someone who avoids mentioning specific details of my personal life as much as possible--it seems like many other writers find a different way to negotiate that balance, and are more open online, and I think that can work well for folks who are comfortable with it. Honestly, I think it can be really beneficial to build a more personal relationship with readers, but there are lots of ways to go about it. I'm not at all quiet about my politics, and I do sometimes wonder what will happen if all my freelance clients realize suddenly that their web copy is being penned by a raving socialist, but so far, no one has seemed to mind. To me it's such an individual decision--how much to share, what aspects of your life, and with whom--and there's no one right way that will work for everyone. I prioritize offline time as much as I am able, because I'm someone who has a difficult time getting any real work done if I'm online at all or even thinking about the internet. But it's still really weird to know that there is a significant catalog of my various opinions and foibles over the last five years on the permanent record, for sure. And I do not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever google myself; I don't read blog reviews of my book, I do my best not to look at anything else about it online. I'm grateful and delighted that people care enough about the book to engage with it publicly but that's not a conversation in which I feel comfortable participating.

Nathan: I actually wonder about the effect of the Internet on the reading side too. I now find that I'm less patient when I'm reading long-form articles. I skim an issue of the New Yorker where before I might have read it cover-to-cover. I justify this to myself by saying I'm just more selective about what I spend time on because there's so much incredible stuff out there to read, but I wonder if this is really true. I still carve out time to read difficult books, but not all of my friends are reading books at all. Do you find your attention span shortening in the Twitter era? What are we doing to our ability to read books?

Sarah: No! My dream is a shelf full of thousand-page books that are also gorgeous (I just read Donna Tartt's 800-page The Goldfinch, and loved it so much I am reading it again, because I'm a weirdo). I'll read long-form stuff, essays, you name it. I don't have any friends who don't read, though I've also made 90% of my friends in New York through writing about books. I'm pretty happy to live in a self-selected bubble of people who care very much about the same things I care about. Life is short. I tend to step away from Twitter rather than step away from reading or writing.

Nathan: What would your advice be to someone who feels like they are too busy or too distracted or can't find the peace and quiet to write a novel?

Sarah: The best advice I can think of is advice you gave me--that the one thing everyone who finishes a book has in common is that they got it done. The circumstances of people's lives are so different--I don't think it's useful to say "you must write for at least fifteen minutes every day" or "you must achieve a certain word count weekly" (well, unless you are on a deadline, in which case, COURAGE). Some people write a book in a year and some people take a decade, or their whole lives; some people write every day and some people don't write at all for months. There's no one right way to do it. I think the key is finding the story you want to tell, which no one else can do for you, and finding the best way to work with your own brain, which takes a lot of trial and error. And at some point, alas, you do actually have to sit down and write the book. I still get cranky about that part sometimes.

Buy Sarah's book All Our Pretty Songs!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Will You Ever Buy Mostly E-books? The Results!

Could it be that 25% of you really just won't buy mostly e-books ever?

With the caveat that these results are unscientific and the audience has varied from year to year, this marks the third consecutive time 25% of the poll responders said you can pry paper books out of their cold dead hands:

2007: 49%
2008: 45%
2009: 37%
2010: 30%
2011: 25%
2012: 25%
2013: 25%

On the other hand, some fence sitters have moved into the e-book column. The people who welcome their coming e-book overlords:

2007: 7% (!)
2008: 11%
2009: 19%
2010: 32%
2011: 47%
2012: 47%
2013: 49%

These numbers do seem to mirror overall trends. The AAP reports declining e-book sales this year, though as Mike Shatzkin notes these numbers do not take into account many of the e-books that are for sale on Amazon, which aren't reported publicly. Not many people are disputing that the rate of e-book growth is slowing, even as the share of e-book sales continues to rise.

What do you make of these results?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Print edition of How to Write a Novel now on sale!

Who says print is dead?

I'm very excited to announce that How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever is now available in paperback!

It's on sale for just $11.99 at:


The e-book is on sale for $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook

Also, How to Write a Novel is enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program, so if you buy the print edition you can get the Kindle e-book for $1.99.

Even as exciting as it was to have this out in e-book, there was still that special something about getting the print version in the mail.

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Will you ever buy mostly e-books?

It's that time of year!

It's time for the seventh (!!!) annual poll on our e-book future, which I first started in 2007 when the first Kindle had barely launched and when 2013 seemed so far into the distant future it may as well been the setting for a science fiction movie.

Now, yes, caveat, this is a totally unscientific poll as were all the rest. I know it, you know it, we all know it. Entertainment purposes only.

Here are the past versions of the polls:

2008 (technically beginning of '09)

So. Do you think you'll ever buy mostly e-books? Do you already?

Here is the poll. If you're reading this in a feed reader or via e-mail you'll need to click through to the post to see it:

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sound effects for books?

Now that e-books are here, many people are reading on tablets that are fully capable of producing sound. And at least one company out there provides the ability to create soundtracks and sound effects for books that sync with the written text.

I'm sure the purists out there are preemptively plugging their ears, but I think it's actually a pretty interesting idea. After all, William Faulkner wanted to write The Sound and the Fury with different colors of text (a cost-prohibitive idea at the time), who's to say that other writers of yore wouldn't have found some interesting ways to make sound effect come alive? And, of course, audio books have already existed for some time.

What say you? Interesting idea or does it stop being a book?

Art: "The Edison Phonograph" promotional postcard

Monday, November 11, 2013

Favorite Writing Tips

Thanks so much to everyone who entered the #FaveWritingTip contest! We had several hundred excellent entries, and I collected some of the best responses below.

The! Winner! Is! Lela Gwenn, who had the good fortune of having shine upon her and she also happened to have some solid advice with her tweet:

Here are some of my favorite #FaveWritingTip tweets:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Enter for a chance to win a Kindle! The #FaveWritingTip sweeps spectacular

UDPATE: The contest has closed! Thanks to everyone who entered. Stay tuned for the winner.

Want to win a brand spanking new Kindle Paperwhite and learn some great writing tips in the meantime?

Of course you do. Heck, I do, and I'm running this thing.

In honor of the publication of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, which is on sale for just $4.99 at: Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooksB&N NookKobo, and Smashwords, I thought I'd do a giveaway that also compiles some great writing advice in one place. Please check out the guide while you're here, which New York Times bestseller James Dashner called "a must-read for anyone brave enough to try their hand at a novel.”

So here's what you do to enter:

1) Think of your favorite writing tip

2) Tweet and/or Facebook-post your favorite writing tip with the hashtag #FaveWritingTip and a link back to this post: If you post to Facebook it must be posted publicly in order to be entered. Feel free to use the handy-dandy button and link below:

Share on Facebook

3) If you tweet an entry, you must follow me on Twitter so I can DM you if you win:

4) If you're on Facebook, please follow me so that you'll see if I message you:

That's it! Here are the rules:
  • You can post to both Facebook and Twitter in order to increase your chances of winning, but only your first entry on both sites will be considered an eligible entry. 
  • You must include both the hashtag and a link back to this post in order to be eligible.
  • The sweepstakes closes Friday at 7pm Eastern time.
  • I'll randomly select a potential winner and notify that individual by Direct Message or Facebook message.
  • You must be a resident of the United States, age 18 or older in order to enter (Sorry international readers! Sweepstakes rules!)
  • Please take a look at the full sweeps rules here
Want to see all the great writing tips? Keep an eye on the tweet box below. I'll also compile my favorites into a separate blog post that will let everyone see your writing wisdom.

Good luck!

Friday, November 1, 2013

How to get started writing a novel

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starting today (!!), here's an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!

Rule #12: You have to start somewhere

So, uh, how do you get started writing a novel?

Start writing!

Kidding. Kind of.

One mistake that often deters people from writing the novel they most fervently desire to write is that they’re intimidated by how large the task can loom. They freeze up at the mere thought of writing and discover how much fun housework is in comparison to sitting down and confronting the hugeness of writing a novel. Or they stall, attempting to think through every single aspect of the book before actually putting fingers to keys.

There’s a reason for this: writing a novel is hard. It’s easy to get intimidated, but the real trick is to avoid thinking you need to have everything figured out before you start writing.

J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien and H.G. Wells and J.D. Salinger and George R.R. Martin and every other initialed or non-initialed writer out there did not wake up one day having magically conceived of every spade of grass, every glass of butterbeer, every creature in Middle Earth, and every stone at Hogwarts.

You don’t have to have everything figured out before you begin. Don’t feel like you have to know precisely how the whole novel is going to work before you get started. There’s plenty of time for details later.

When you’re just starting to write a novel, there are only two things you’re looking to find: voice and plot.

That’s it! Two things. You can totally wrap your head around two things.

And all the world building, all the ins and outs, and all the “how in the heck am I going to make this work?” You can worry about that as you go along. Voice and plot are what you’re looking for when you start the actual writing.

How do you find your voice and your plot?

Well, if you are a planner, you can craft an outline that can help you figure out your plot in advance. I lean toward the planning side of the spectrum, and while I don’t know everything that is going to happen, I have some major points I want to hit on the way. If you’re an improviser, you can write your way to your plot, and you won’t need to know exactly what is going to happen right off the bat. Just get going.

Planning and improvising are the two basic ways to find your plot, but there’s only one way to find your voice: start writing, and keep writing until you find it.

When you’re looking for your voice, don’t worry about polish. Don’t fret if the first chapter comes out horribly. Don’t worry if it feels like you’re imitating another writer’s voice at first. You’re going to revise these first pages so much that they’ll be completely unrecognizable by the time you’re done with your novel anyway, so don’t get bogged down trying to perfect them.

Just get words on the page. Keep going. Your voice may come to you instantly, it may take fifty pages, or it may take several years. Just keep at it. Push through. Stretch yourself and try different things.

Write your way to your voice.

At some indeterminate point, when you have been at it for a while, you’ll hit a magical flow and realize you have found your voice. All of a sudden you’ll have it, and it will just feel right. It will feel like it’s coming from you and not from the novels you’ve read in the past.

Once you find your voice and plot, you can always go back and revise what you’ve written to make sure everything is consistent, organized, and harmonious. You’ll have plenty of time to trim and refine the parts where you were hunting for plot and voice in the mystical land of “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.”

Start writing. It’s time. You’re ready. You have nothing to lose and a whole new world waiting for you.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How to get over writer's block

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starting tomorrow, here's an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!

Rule #34: You don’t have “writer’s block”

The most important thing you need to know about writer’s block is this: it doesn’t exist.

Seriously. Writer’s block does not exist. It is not a worm that suddenly lodges itself in your brain, it is not a mysterious goblin that sneaks up on you and poisons you with an anti-writing serum, and it is not something that you need to fear coming down with.

Now, when I say writer’s block doesn’t exist, I don’t mean that you will never have the feeling associated with writer’s block or that people who say they have writer’s block are big fakers. I’ve felt the feeling! I’ve been there.

But when people encounter the phenomenon otherwise known as “writer’s block,” what they are really describing is one thing and one thing only: writing stopped being fun.

That’s it. That’s all it means. The writing process stopped being easy and the words were no longer flowing as readily as they were in the beginning. Writing, in other words, just got really, ridiculously hard.

Writer’s block is what happens when novels stop being polite and start getting real. The Real World: Writing!

But remember: it’s a feeling. It is not something that will stop you from finishing, nor is it something that you have to give into because it’s inevitable. You can’t treat it like a virus that will pass in time if you just wait it out. You must seek a cure.

There are ways of dealing with “writer’s block,” and they all have one thing in common: work. Here are the strategies that will help:

Figure out the problem you need to solve
Chances are you will, at some point, feel completely and utterly stuck. This isn’t writer’s block (which, again, doesn’t exist). You’re just stuck.

It’s completely frustrating. And this is okay. There are going to be setbacks. Don’t stress yourself out thinking that everything should always be easy.

Instead of focusing on your exasperation with your own writing abilities, it’s eminently important to figure out why you’re stuck. Does something in particular need to happen in your story that is stymieing you? Do you need to figure out how characters get from Point A to Point B? Is something just not feeling right, and so you need to go back and fix some things leading up to the sticky spot? Has a plot thread gone astray?

The first step to getting unstuck is understanding the problem you need to solve. Once you’ve identified the main issue, the solution is just around the corner. You might not know what to do immediately, and your brain might need to work itself toward the solution, but knowing the problem is a crucial nudge toward writing again.

Go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine

Once you have a general sense of the problem at hand and what you need to accomplish, it’s okay to take a break. Give your brain a breather, get some Vitamin D, stare at some flowers, and ponder how in the world you ended up writing a novel and how maybe it would’ve been simpler to take up gardening instead.

Changing your location and experiencing some peace and quiet can help dislodge the clog in your brain. Find as much nature as you can, depending on where you live. Trees and grass and oxygen are magic.


Get the blood flowing. Lift some weights. Punch a punching bag. Really punch that bag stupid novel argh *#&%@.

You’ll be amazed at the ideas you’ll have while exercising.

And not only this, but, as I’m sure you know, the brain is part of the body, so you might want to keep the whole enterprise healthy. You’ll be happier and more creative if you spend time getting your heart rate up.

Whenever I was stuck with the Jacob Wonderbar series, I headed straight to the gym. The problems had often been solved by the time I got back to my apartment.

Force yourself to stare at a blank screen until you think of something

This is the ripping-the-bandaid-off approach to dealing with writer’s block. It is painful but utterly effective.

Turn off your Internet connection and cell phone. Close the blinds. Hide the TV remote. Lock the doors.

Open up your novel. And stare stare stare at the blinking cursor.

This is my absolute favorite technique for dealing with the affliction formerly known as writer’s block. You just power through.

It is absolutely agonizing to stare at a blank screen and a blinking cursor. It can inspire feelings of panic and despair. You may start wondering if you’ll ever think of another idea again. You may start to wonder if the blinking cursor was originally invented as a torture device.

But then, after ten minutes or more of staring at the blinking cursor of death, you’ll eventually start to calm down. You’ll do the only thing you can do in a quiet, Internet-less room with nothing else to occupy your attention: you will start thinking of ideas. If you concentrate and don’t let the feeling overpower you, you’ll eventually come up with something that will get you out of the writing block hole.

It may take minutes, or it may take hours. It may be the most agonizing few hours of your creative life, or you may be surprised at how quickly you get going.

But here’s what happens after you’ve overcome your blockage and you get back into the flow: you’ll be so euphoric that you’re back on track that it will start feeling fun again.

You’ll realize that the whole writing block thing never existed in the first place.

Read the rest of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. On sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to find a writing style that works for you

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just days away, here's an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!

Rule #3: Find the writing style that works for you

I’ve always been fascinated by other writers’ creative processes. When I first decided I wanted to be a writer, I studied. I observed. I felt that if only I could divine some common thread in the creative lives of the writers I admired, I would then be able to emulate these individuals and be as good as they were.

Going to an Ivy League school and marrying a socialite worked for Fitzgerald, but should I do that?

Volunteering for wars in exotic locales worked for Hemingway, but should I do that?

Drinking and drugging themselves into oblivion worked for most of the writers of the Western canon . . . but do I really have to do that?

Even apart from biography, I delved into the writing process itself. Did they lock themselves in a room? Did they outline? Did they write stream of consciousness?

How did they do it?

Then, after college, I had the good fortune of working for a literary agency, where I had the opportunity to closely observe the habits of some incredibly successful writers, many of whom I had admired since childhood.

And I discovered this: there is no single way to write a novel. There’s not much of a common thread that links great writers. The only thing they have in common is that they somehow, at the end of the day, find a way to get the words onto the page.

Yes, this may seem like odd wisdom in a book that claims to tell you how to write a novel, but it’s true. There isn’t one way to write a novel. There isn’t a formula.

Now, before you scurry for a refund and write a nasty review, please trust that this guide will most definitely help to steer you in the right direction. I will help you avoid the pitfalls, and I will help you channel your innate tree-killing thirst, you ritual destroyer of trees at the altar of books.

But you have to figure out how you write best.

Po Bronson writes in a closet. Hemingway wrote standing up. Vikram Seth once told me he traveled to India and intentionally stayed on U.S. time because the disorientation of jet lag helped his creativity.

Are you an outliner? Are you a seat-of-the-pantser? Do you need peace and quiet? Noise? Do you need to write in a cafe? Would you rather work in a closet? Do you want to write on a computer? A typewriter? Pen and ink? Do you want to write quickly and revise a thousand times? Write a near-perfect first draft slowly? Do you want to write every day? Only on weekends? Do you want to stay up late and burn through fifty pages? Do you want to write during the daylight hours and agonize over five words at a time?

It’s all completely up to you. There are no common threads shared by great writers other than hard work and talent.

Even the ages at which authors become awesome varies tremendously. Some start young and flame out. Some people arrive at writing late. Some start young and work at it for years before achieving a breakthrough.

I hope you are absorbing the enormous freedom presented in this chapter. Let me say it again: there is no single way to write a novel. You don’t have to be constrained by the styles of other people. Don’t let other writers get in your head, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

You don’t have to force yourself to outline if you don’t want to. You don’t have to write every day. (You hear me? You don’t have to write every day. I certainly don’t.) You don’t have to love every moment of writing. You don’t have to find it all agonizing drudgery, either.

You just have to be yourself and find what works for you.

All that being said, it is beneficial to be aware of what kind of writer you are because it will allow you to develop a writing rhythm, which will help you feel normal and comfortable, and it will help you to better enforce this rhythm when your attention starts to wander. Whatever style you adopt, you must be diligent and productive.

While everyone is different, every writer falls somewhere on the spectrum between total planners and total improvisers.

The planners outline, plot everything in advance, choose their words carefully, and tend to write a little slow. They go into the writing process with a pretty clear idea of where they’re going. But when they’re finished, they usually (but not always) have less revision time waiting for them.

The improvisers go in blind, let their instincts guide them, move through quickly, and might not even know where their novel is going until page fifty. They write and write and write until they find the story, and the mere notion of planning everything would stunt their creativity. When they’re finished with a draft, they usually (but not always) have a lot of work to do, as they must go back, rewrite everything, and stitch it all back together.

A lot of people are somewhere in the middle. And everyone is doing just fine.

So if you’re a planner, just know that it’s okay if you move slowly. It’s okay that you feel as if you’re plodding along, even if your improviser friends have written whole novels while taking a bath.

If you’re an improviser, just know that it’s okay if you don’t know exactly where things are going all the time. It’s okay to write in terrific bursts of energy and just get it all on the page, even if it doesn’t all make sense or fit together at first. You can trust that you’ll figure it all out.

Don’t let other people control your writing style or make you feel inferior because of the way you go about it.

As long as you’re getting words on the page, you’re doing just fine.

Read the rest of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. On sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks (coming soon!)
B&N Nook

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

How to choose an idea for a novel

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just days away, here's an excerpt from How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, on sale now!

Rule #2: Think of an idea you love enough to neglect everything else you enjoy in life

The first step in writing a novel is deciding what in the heck you’re going to write about.

There are many horrible reasons for choosing what you’re going to write about, and only one correct reason.

The horrible reasons are almost always variations of one basic and colossal mistake, which is that you are choosing a particular idea because you think it will make you mountains of money.

Visions of endless mahogany bookshelves, of sparkling blingety bling, and of being featured in the New York Times Book Review with the headline “Wunderkind” motivates writers to do many ill-advised things, but perhaps the worst is when they cause writers to chase trends. Take this one to heart: if you’re chasing a trend (vampires! post-apocalyptic!), you’re already too late. (See Rule #7, if you are feeling particularly stubborn on this point.)

Avarice is what motivates people to write in genres they don’t particularly like. It pushes them to choose ideas that they don’t love enough to make it all the way through the writing of the novel. It’s what makes an already difficult process completely impossible.

Let’s get this out of the way: you’re not going to make mountains of money writing books. You’re not. You’re really, really not.

Okay. Well. Some of you will make mountains of money, but you’re most certainly not going to make mountains of money if you are setting out to try and make mountains of money.

The only reason for choosing something to write about is because you love the crap out of the idea.

When you’re choosing an idea for a novel, you’re choosing something you are going to be spending more time with than many of your best friends and your most demanding family members. You’re choosing an idea that will render your bathing habits irregular and your sanity patchy. You’re making a terrifically important decision that will shape the next six months to seventeen years of your life. You have to choose wisely.

In other words, it can’t be an idea you merely like.

Liking an idea will get you to page fifty. It will give you an initial burst of enthusiasm— a dawning feeling of “Hemingway’s daiquiri, I can do this!”—before you inevitably lose interest, your attention wanders, and you find yourself with an unfinished novel that you feel vaguely embarrassed about.

Liking is not enough.

You have to love the idea of your novel. Or if not your plot idea, then your main character, your setting, or some part of your novel that will sustain you through painful bouts of self-doubt and distraction.

How do you get to love?

Well, it’s tricky. Here are some ways not to choose your idea:

Don’t listen to what other people say you should write about 
It has become a fashionable conversational crutch to reward a particularly funny or gruesome anecdote, such as a harrowing encounter with baggage claim or an apocalyptic string of bad dates, with the words, “OMG, you should totally write a book about that.”

Do not listen to these people. Unless the person telling you to “write a book about that” is a publishing professional, assume the person uttering these words is merely being polite and is not looking out for your best writerly interests.

Do not write the novel you think you should write
Maybe you grew up in an interesting locale. Maybe you’ve had a Dickensian biography. Maybe your ability to dress kittens in capes is hailed far and wide.

Set it aside. You’re not going to get to your best idea by marking off checklists or by applying an algebraic equation to your life that goes, “I experienced X and it was rather intense, so therefore I will use it as inspiration to write about Y.”

That’s not to say that your real life can’t influence your central idea and the contents of your novel. After all, what is the point of writing a novel if not to settle old grudges by taking veiled swipes at people who have wronged you? But, it’s important to stop yourself from chasing after an idea by shaking your biography like a piggy bank to see what shiny things fall out. If this happens naturally, and you love an idea that is based on your own life, then absolutely go for it. Just don’t do it out of a sense of obligation or because it is the default choice when you fail to think of something else.

You’re not going to find your idea with a formula, and it’s not going to be immediately self-evident. It has to come to you.

Do not try to think of an idea so unbelievably original it has never even remotely been thought of before
I get it. You don’t want to imitate. You want to chart new ground and be the most brilliantly original new-thinking writer the literature world has ever seen.

Good luck.

Sure, maybe you’re a once-in-a-generation visionary who can conceive of whole genres that have somehow eluded the billions of people who have lived on this planet before you.

But you’re probably not. No offense.

Besides, even if completely new ideas weren’t logistically borderline impossible, they are also highly overrated. There were wizard schools before Harry Potter. There were mystical lands before The Lord of the Rings. There were helicopters with dorky names before Fifty Shades of Grey.

You don’t need to chase the trends that are already out there, but neither do you need a completely off-the-wall and unheard-of new idea that will astound everyone you meet. You do need a unique spin and a unique world that are completely yours.

Just don’t paralyze yourself by trying to break every mold.

So how do you get to the right idea?

By listening to yourself. By keeping the thought in the back of your head that you’re waiting for a really good idea for a novel. By eavesdropping on the people around you to see what inspires you. By letting your mind wander in the shower. By silently thinking, night and day, that you want to write a novel and that you are merely waiting for the right idea.

As you do this, you’re priming your brain for inspiration. You’re opening yourself up to the world so that the right plot hook or character will flow into you. With every insight you have and every life realization you make, ask yourself: Could this make a novel? Is there something here?

And 99.9% of the time the answer will be, “No, you idiot, that would make a horrendous novel.”

Keep asking. You only need that answer to be “yes” just once.

Along the way, you will likely have many false starts and hollow loves. You might not find your idea on the first try. You might start and stop writing a few novels, and you’ll start to wonder if you have commitment issues.

Don’t worry. This is not evidence of your inability to write a novel any more than that apocalyptic string of dates was evidence that you are unfit for marriage. You just have to keep at it.

When you do find the right idea, you’ll know it. You’ll just know. It will beat you over the head with its rightness and make you feel like you’re skipping through a tulip field while hugging a puppy, because you will have finally found an idea you love enough to turn into a novel.

You may still wonder whether you have enough talent, whether you can really do it, whether you can find the time or whether you will ever get anyone to read it, but your faith in your novel will be unshakeable. And then you can get started writing it.

Does this process sound daunting? Well, buckle up, champ. This was the easy part.

Read the rest of How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. On sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever

The most important thing to know about writing a novel is this: You can do it. And if you've already written one, you can write an even better one. Here are my secrets for creating killer plots, fleshing out your first ideas, crafting compelling characters, and staying sane in the process.

I'm extremely psyched that New York Times bestselling author Ransom Riggs said this is "The best how-to-write-a-novel book I've read."

The e-book is on sale now for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks
B&N Nook

The print edition is on sale for just $11.99 at:

Barnes & Noble

Also, How to Write a Novel is enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Matchbook program, so if you buy the print edition you can get the Kindle e-book for $1.99.

In case you don't take my word on this one:

"In his 47 brilliant rules, Nathan Bransford has nailed everything I've always wanted to tell people about writing a book but never knew how. Wonderfully thought out with lots of practical examples, this is a must-read for anyone brave enough to try their hand at a novel. It's also a great review for experienced writers. Highly recommended."
- James Dashner, New York Times bestselling author of THE MAZE RUNNER

"Nathan Bransford's primer is full of thoughtful, time-proven advice on how to write a novel. Nathan can sound both like a reassuring friend and a tough, no-nonsense coach. Whatever kind of novel you're writing, Nathan's insights will make you think about your process and help you find your own way to success."
- Jeff Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of DOWNFALL

"Nathan Bransford is sharp, thoughtful, and a must-read for all aspiring authors. His advice is not only funny and insightful, it's essential for writers at any stage in their careers."
- Tahereh Mafi, New York Times bestselling author of SHATTER ME

Nathan Bransford's book on how to write a novel is smart, generous and funny as hell. Read it. No matter where you are in your writing life, whether you're on your first book or are a grizzled, multi published veteran, you'll find practical advice to help you through the process -- and plenty of wisdom to inspire you along the journey.
- Lisa Brackmann, author of ROCK PAPER TIGER

Equal parts encouraging and butt-kicking, hilarious and wise, Nathan Bransford's no-nonsense manifesto talks you through the process of getting the book of your dreams out of your head and onto the page. Whether you've been writing for five minutes or fifty years, this is the guide for you.
- Sarah McCarry, author of ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS

Thanks so much to Christine Pride and Bryan Russell for their astute editing, Mari Sheibley for the cover design, and D. Robert Pease for the interior formatting.

Most importantly, thanks to all of you for reading and commenting on this blog and making this whole thing possible and so much fun. You guys are the best.


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