Writing Lessons

The holidays are over. That means it’s crank out the next book time. I’m shooting for 2,000 words a day, though I acknowledge that it will take me several days to build up some momentum. The process of writing this book will be different from how I wrote the first book in so many ways. I decided to take a moment and reflect on what I learned from writing, completing, and revising my first book.

It’s true what they say– the best way to learn to write is to write. I mean, I know everybody says that, but did you really believe it? I didn’t. Turns out, everybody was right. I still maintain that reading books and articles on writing and talking with other writers is beneficial, but nothing gets the job done like, well, getting the job done.

The first draft really is the first draft– the first of many. I think all writers have a teensy part of themselves that believes the first draft will need just a little tweaking to become absolutely perfect. I changed literally every single word in my manuscript at least once. My days of fretting over finding just the write word during the first draft phase are over. This time around, I’m going to NaNo this book to the very end. It’s not a sprint to the finish line; it’s a sprint to the starting line for the marathon that is revisions.

The most useful book I read recently wasn’t really a book at all, but more of a glorified pamphlet. In Tell, Don’t Show !, author James Lofquist says that telling what happens in a scene in the form of lists or choppy sentences instead of writing the scene complete with description and dialog can keep momentum rolling for the overall project. Generally, I cannot write out of sequential order. If there’s a scene that I’m really excited about. I have to write my way there. This method helps me do that more quickly, leaving less opportunity for my enthusiasm to wane in the interim. This method helps me keep my focus on the big picture.

Sleep on it. Now I’m not advocating a nap every time the writing gets tough, but I can’t count the times I wrestled for hours with a plot point only to wake up the next morning and find the answer waiting there as though delivered in the night by the Tooth Fairy. The creative mind is a mysterious thing. Sometimes, the only thing to do is to get out of its way.

That brings me to the final and most important lesson I learned, one that I’ve written at the top of my to do list so it’s the first thing I see everyday. “Have faith. You’ve got this.” We writers are a fickle lot, prone to talking ourselves into feelings of hopelessness and despair. Since publishing a book, friends and family who have bought the book (I love you people dearly) ask me how I came up with this or that idea. The truth? I have no freaking clue. The ideas just came when I needed them, so many that several of them had to be abandoned. Sometimes they were born as I wrote, other times they seem to have been seeded by something I read, heard, or watched. Writing is tough. At the end of some days, I felt like I had been digging a ditch in frozen ground, and all I had to show for it was eight-hundred words of total crap. It happens. It happens kind of a lot actually. But that other thing happens to — that thing where you get lost in the story, and your growling stomach reminds you that you haven’t come up for air in six hours, and you look at what you’ve done and think ‘Whoa! That is awesome.’ Those moments happen too, and it’s those moments that I have faith in.

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Posted in Writing
2 comments on “Writing Lessons
  1. Skye says:

    I used to write every day. I worked hard on stories that had no hope of being published … or being finished satisfactorily. I still have a story or two that I have some hopes for. And, of course, as a tech writer I wrote many, many words, every day, Monday thru Friday and occasionally more. I wrote every day when i wrote my novel’s first draft (which I finished something like 18 months ago … guess it’s time to revise it) I know my writing style: I’m a pantser. I’ve read some posts by Bob Mayer recently where he stated that as a writer gains maturity, he or she will become a plotter/planner. That’s what he did. I believe it’s a bit naive or arrogant to assume that what you’ve found to be the best way for you is the best way for everyone else. I had a novel writing professor like that who turned me off the concept of ever writing a novel for a while after that.

    Even though I’ve been unemployed, I haven’t written. I think I feel like I’m goofing off if I’m writing rather than job hunting. While I am sure I’ll find a job this month, I’m going to work hard on writing a lot every day (I’ve even put it into my daily schedule) so I can a) revise that novel, and b) develop the habit.

    I look forward to hearing more about how this new schedule and what you’ve learned so far work with this next novel. Good fortune and I hope this book is greatly informed by your experiences from the previous book!

  2. Skye, I’ve seen that same quote by Bob Mayer. I can see how the more experience you have, the more familiar you are with your own style, and maybe that might make it easier to plot. So in that regard, he could be right. I’m the pantsiest of pantsers, so I don’t think being a plotter is ever in the cards for me. That’s a lot of what I meant by have faith too, was having faith in my process. It’s messy and inefficient, but it gets the job done. Good luck in the new year with all your endeavors, and do keep me posted on how your writing is going.

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