A few weeks back, I started a blog series, sharing some things I wish I’d known before taking the plunge and writing my first book. I’m still learning how to write – and I’m sure I always will be – but here are a few ideas for make a seemingly impossible task, like writing a novel, a little easier. This is the final post in this series – you can read parts I and II (about first drafts and critique partners) here and here.
- How you feel about your writing is not an accurate measurement of the quality of your writing
There are days (few and far between, but they do happen) where it’s like you can hear the music of the spheres, where creativity flows in an ecstatic torrent, the Muses whisper directly into your ear, and you’re just the lucky transcriber. And then there are days where writing feels like slowly extracting a tooth.
Here’s the secret, though. When you re-read the manuscript you’ve written…you won’t be able to tell the difference. You might remember that a certain paragraph was written on a “good” writing day or a “bad” writing day, but a reader wouldn’t be able to tell which is which. Sometimes you find that the sublime inspiration you personally experienced just didn’t make it on to the page. And sometimes the writing you thought was garbage at the time that you wrote it turns out, when re-read weeks or months later, to be much better than you realized, better even than the “good stuff.” Most of us writers are terrible judges of our own writing. That is why critique partners and beta readers, etc… are essential. That is also why you should treat writing like a job. Block out a set time or X number of hours a week for writing – and then show up. You wouldn’t not show up at a job because you didn’t feel “inspired” to work that day, and the same is true with writing. Often the inspiration comes once you’ve already begun.
Which leads me to the final point….
- Even if you think your novel sucks…finish it anyway
There is a graveyard on my hard drive of half-finished stories. Inspiration would strike, and like being newly in love, at first I’d be obsessed with my new story idea. I’d write a few pages or chapters. And then when the shiny-newness faded, I’d lose interest. I’d read over what I’d written and think, “Well, that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.” Instead of doing the work of revising, I’d convince myself it just wasn’t a good enough idea. Maybe the next story idea would be better. So I’d abandon that project and start something new. And this was why I never finished anything.
I think most creative people have more ideas than we can ever act on in one lifetime. Ultimately, you just have to pick one. Pick whichever one has the most ‘juice,’ whichever one has the most urgency, whichever one makes you happiest. And then stick to it, till you literally or figuratively reach “The End.” Even if you begin to think midway through that it is the worst book ever written, (and you probably will) finish it anyway.
At least complete a first draft, because you can’t revise until you have something to revise. Now, there will be certain ideas that do turn out to truly be un-workable, but you won’t know that until you’ve thoroughly test-driven them. But ultimately, you learn from finishing things. And as I’ve said on this blog before, there is an enormous sense of self-worth that comes from being able to say, “Yeah, I wrote a novel.” It might not ever get published. It might not even be good. But you’re no longer that person who dreams of writing a book “someday;” you wrote one. It gives you faith in yourself that you can write another book, and another. The road to publication can be long and rocky, but at least you know you can do your part – producing a manuscript and polishing it to completion.
Post script: It gets easier… and it never gets easier
This blog series probably makes it sound like I’ve got the whole novel-writing thing figured out now. Ha! But there are certain aspects that have gotten easier. It took me four years to write my first full-length novel. I started my second book nine months ago, and I’m already at the revision stage. This was where all the plotting and outlining I discussed previously really helped.
And yet, each new book comes with new, unforeseeable challenges. In my current work in progress, I’m trying to juggle a Victorian-esque setting (which entails mind-boggling amounts of research!) a murder mystery subplot (which requires a PhD in plotting!) in addition to coming up with my own unique magic system, not to mention creating memorable characters, a believable love story, etc…and I begin to wonder… what was I thinking?! Why did I do this to myself?!This was TERRIBLE idea!
Maybe writing books never stops being hard. Yet we keep writing. Because we can’t not.
So if you’re thinking about “that book” you’ve been meaning to write for years – make this the year! And for all the authors out there reading this – what did YOU learn from writing your first book, that you wish you would have known when you started? Please share in the “Comments” section 🙂
Here’s a recap of the writing resources I mentioned in Parts I, II, and II of this blog series, and one more, just for fun:
-Rock Your Writing series, by Cathy Yardley
Among the better ‘writing advice’ books I’ve read – plus, they’re short and get straight to the point.
(All the books are titled Rock Your Something: “Rock Your Plot,” “Rock Your Revisions,” etc…)
-RWA (Romance Writers of America)
(I used to think RWA wasn’t for me, because I didn’t write “romance,” because “romance” was “trashy.” I now strongly believe that anyone who writes any genre fiction – fantasy / scifi / mystery, etc… that has a love story integral to the plot, would benefit from the fantastic professional resources offered by this organization. There is a lot of sketchy stuff on the internet geared at writers, and in contrast RWA is well-established, legit, and consummately professional. I’ve also found everyone at every chapter / conference / class etc… they run to be incredibly friendly and welcoming to newbie writers.
“Not for Robots” by Laini Taylor.
This quirky online essay is probably my favorite piece on the writing process. Sometimes when I’m having a “down” writing day, I give it a re-read, and it never fails to make me smile in recognition.