Ask SBT: I finished my novel. Now what?

Q: I work in the corporate world but my dream is to be a novelist. I recently finished my first novel and I’ve come to realize that I have NO idea what to do next. I’ve scoured blogs and message boards and I think I’m more confused than when I started! I wanted to know if you have any advice for someone at this stage in their writing career. ~ Ryan H.

A: Congratulations on finishing a novel! That’s fantastic. I began my first novel when I was stuck in a corporate pen as a data administrator for an HMO. ARGH!!

My first piece of advice is to find readers if you haven’t already. It’s important to know that you are reaching your audience. These readers should be intelligent and well-read people, who know what it is you are trying to do in your book. Or, you could join a novel writing workshop. Try to work with a teacher/author you admire. With any feedback, take only that which serves you. You are the author. Make sure your first chapters are the best they can be. This will be your calling card for agent submissions.

I finished my novel. Now what?

There are many ways to publish, but I’m only going to speak to traditional publishing. For the most part, you will need an agent to submit your book to a publishing house. Where to find an agent? Do your research to find a good fit. Look at novels similar to yours and see who the author’s agent is. Often, they thank them in the acknowledgements. Find out what you can about these agents–most importantly, if they are open to submissions and what their submission guidelines are. They receive a lot of queries, so make sure you give them exactly what they ask for. A few have blogs with helpful tips. You can google interviews. Follow them on twitter. (A couple times a year, some agents participate in #mswl. Manuscript wish list, in which they say what they’re looking for.) Usually, you send a query letter and the first 20 pages of your manuscript. Sometimes a 1-2 page summary as well.

In short, make sure your novel is the best it can be. Hire an editor or proofreader if you need one. Do your research on agents. Try not to waste your time or theirs. Stay strong. It only take one to get representation. 

Ask SBT: Secret Journals

Q: I want to start a Mindful Writing practice, but my fear of someone finding my journals after I die stops me from writing unencumbered. What should I do?

A: This question comes up frequently in Mindful Writing classes. Our daily Mindful Writing practice is to meditate letting whatever arises be the practice, then to freewrite letting whatever arises be on the page. In freewriting, there is no editing, no plan. You just keep writing. All sorts of things arise – grievances, rants, self-doubt, unrequited love, story ideas, memories, poems,  plots, and escape plans.

15536110699_a4a9e3c7c7_bAlmost everyone who asks this question envisions having a massive heart attack. (They even clutch their chests as they ask the question.) And then, a family member discovers their sudden demise and promptly sits down, perhaps by their still warm body, to read their journals.

First, in all honesty you will be dead. You will not care. But as you are alive now and having this fear, I understand that your concern is for those you will leave behind.

There is always the option of writing and then burning your pages. If you don’t want to bring attention to yourself by burning paper every day, you can keep writing on the same page. Writing over your writing again and again, so that no one, including yourself, can read what you have written. You still purge yourself of your thoughts, you still partake in the physical activity of moving pen across the page, and your words are safe.

I suggest keeping your journal in a secret place, even just a desk drawer or under your mattress. If you have more than one, keep them in a bureau or a box. You could padlock them in a cabinet or firebox. Or stuff them somewhere people don’t want to go like a gym bag. Choose a friend or family member who you trust not to read your journals. Another writer who keeps journals and understand your concerns is a good choice. Or someone who you find boring and hence you don’t write about. Or someone who hates to read, but who has great loyalty to you. Make sure this person has a key to your home and knows the location of your journals (and the combination if necessary) in case of an emergency. Feel free to also include other personal items you don’t want your children or nosey neighbor to find.

Freewriting lets you get down to what you are really thinking and feeling. You become familiar with your obsessions. Ideas begin to flow. It’s a contemplative activity that will enrich your life. Don’t let fear of a sudden death stop you from a Mindful Writing practice.

What’s your post-death journal plan? Have you inherited someone’s journals?

Writing advice for my Lyft driver


Dear Christopher,

Thanks for picking me up Wednesday night after my Building a Mindful Writing Practice class and making polite conversation with me about the weather and asking about my work. At first I thought you were feigning interest, until you asked, “So, do you have any advice for someone who wants to write in the future?” Then, I realized I had a wanna-be fiction writer on my hands.

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