I Wrote a Book, Now What? 3 Unexpected Ways to Practice Writing After You Publish

The article I Wrote a Book, Now What? 3 Unexpected Ways to Practice Writing After You Publish appeared first on The Write Practice.

Today’s post is written by guest writer Audrey Chin. Audrey is a Southeast Asian writer whose work explores the intersections between gender, faith and culture. Her essays, short stories, novels and contemplative verses have been published in Singapore, India, the UK and the US. She has been shortlisted thrice for the Singapore Literature Prize and is a Fellow of the 2017 International Writers Program in Iowa. You can learn more about Audrey and her latest book, The Ash House, at www.audreychin.com.

Congrats, you wrote a book and launched it! It’s on to the next book. But maybe you’re feeling tired. As for writing a whole book, you need a break. Maybe you’re thinking, “I wrote a book, now what?”

I wrote a book, now what

But can you take a break and still practice writing, if you’re not writing?

Yes, you can! By taking a different, brief and temporary, writing approach.

In this post, I’ll share how focusing on 3 R’s—Reviews, Reading Panels and Residencies—can  help you develop your writing platform in new and unexpected ways.

Hot to Practice Writing (Even If You’re Not Writing)

I’ve published and launched three novels, a collection of short stories, another of poetry, and have been included in many collections. My first book was launched in 1999. Everything else came fifteen years later. That’s how long it took me to recover from my first novel blues.

It wasn’t that I didn’t practice.

You write and published a book, now what? This article teaches how to practice writing even if you need a break.
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I’d turn on the computer, open up my story and look at it. On a good day, I’d manage three paragraphs. On a bad, three words. And then in 2013, I discovered The Write Practice.

Rejuvenated and with some hard work, I wrote a new book. My second novel came out a year later!

We all need to practice. But too much of the same-old-same-old is stultifying. Joining a community like The Write Practice was my first experience of practicing differently.

I was writing with people who were very culturally different from South-East-Asian me. I had to respond to short prompts that had nothing to do with my work-in-progress. It should have been a waste of time. It wasn’t.

Working with US writers challenged my creative writing skills. It honed my ability to write universally appealing scenes. Finding a critique group and responding to prompts in which I had no emotional investment warmed my writing muscles, which allowed me to take on difficult scenes in the novel. It gave me a writing community to help me push through writer’s block.

My work-in-progress began to almost write itself.

Since then, I’ve had something come out in print every year. And when my post-book blues hit, I know to stop and take a break with one of my 3 R’s.

You can, too.

3 R’s for What to Do When You’re Stuck

Here are the three things you can do when you’re stuck on a book, no matter where you are in the writing process.

They’ve led me to new writing strategies, boosted my writer’s profile and helped me establish a solid writing career.

Try them for yourself.

1. Reviews

When you’re stuck, it’s easy to pick up the newest best-seller and immerse yourself in it instead of writing your first draft—or any draft. But reading a completed novel polished to near-perfection can be self-defeating.

You tell yourself, “I’ll never write like that.” And then you close your files and download another book from a bestselling author. Before you know it, you’re reading more than writing.

To keep writing muscles limber, it helps to review every single book you read during “stuck” times. Writing thoughtful critiques—and reading like a writer—allows for best writing strategies to seep into our consciousness.

After a month of reviewing, you’ll be brimming with new ideas for your own work-in-progress. Maybe one of your reviews makes you think of an old book you gave up on, and you decide rewriting that book might be a good next step.

Afterward, use your reviews to extend your writer’s platform.

  • Post them on your blog, Facebook and Goodreads.
  • Contact online journals and offer the reviews for publication.
  • Message authors with a link to your reviews and a personal note about why you loved their book.

After reading A Man from Saigon, I wrote the author Marti Leimbach. She was famous. Her book Dying Young was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. Still, she responded immediately and ended up blurbing my second novel, a Vietnam War story. We’ve been Facebook friends since and she’ll be reviewing my third novel, The Ash House. 

You never know, sometimes published authors will reach back!

However, before writing to an other, keep in mind a few things you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t feel obliged to post good reviews if a book didn’t appeal to you. You’ve already given the writer your time. That should be enough.
  • Look for something good to say about a book if you do review, and if you don’t like it, it might be better not to review the book (think one or two star reviews).
  • Don’t post a really bad review. Writers work hard to send their books out into the world. We don’t need to undermine them (or tag them to bad reviews). Those critical reviews are for personal learning only.

2. Reading Panels

Most online literary journals are inundated by submissions and need reading panels to say no to the ninety-eight out of a hundred submissions they don’t want.

A reader on a panel learns to spot the pearl in the slush pile pretty quickly, and to heartlessly dismiss the rest. It’s one of the best places to learn what other readers think and what’s needed to get a piece up front and out there.

If you’re up for the challenge, here’s how to get on a reading panel:

  • Many online journals are free. Subscribe to some that publish stories you relate to.
  • Start posting comments on the stories and reposting the ones you like.
  • When you’re ready (usually after three or four months), send the editor a letter and a short resume volunteering to be a reader. Usually, the smaller journals will respond positively and you’ll be whizzing through ten to fifteen stories once a week in no time at all.
  • There’s also the old six degrees of separation tactic. Simply tell a couple of people you’re interested in being on a reading panel, and ask them to spread the one.

I’m a reader for the online journal Atticus Review and also for a committee that awards publishing grants in my city. The experience has been invaluable in keeping my nose to the grindstone and my feet firmly grounded in reality.

Getting something written is only half the battle. Getting work read by appreciative readers is the rest of it. Sifting through grist and discovering treasures is a wonderful way to motivate ourselves and take our writing to the next level.

Here are two tasks to help get started:

  1. Look for at least ten online literary journals in your genre. Shortlist five journals to subscribe to. Then, start following and commenting. See where this takes you.
  2. Check in with your local library for a list of local committees that give out publishing grants. Target one or two and start spreading the news that you’re interested.

3. Residencies

Taking a break at a writing residency is like going for a spa vacation. No commuting, no housework, no kids. What’s not to like?

On most days, you need to write. But it’s also great to take a break, and being somewhere  with new writer companions and like-minded strangers is the ultimate way to practice differently.

I didn’t understand this until I went for my first weekend residency in a fringe area of my city.

There were ten of us. We spent both days listening to craft talks, writing and workshopping our pieces. At night, we explored the neighborhood and shared our life stories. We forged friendships that have held till today.

We are still each other’s most reliable beta readers and sounding boards.

Writing breaks at a residency, even a very short one, are absolute necessities in a writer’s life.  We go on vacations. We go to church camps. At work, we have off-sites. Our writing life deserves that same kind of retreat and re-gathering.

There’s no one way to practice writing. If you’re feeling burnt out, try one of these three alternative ways to practice.