Opinions Writerly Thoughts

Five Unexpected Lessons I Learned While Writing My Novels

I’ve been writing for an audience since 2010, when I self-published my first novella, and ever since then, I’ve learned quite a few things about the whole concept of writing in general. Writing all the lessons I’ve learned in one post would be enough material for an entire book. (Hm…) As a writer (and even as a reader), I’m always curious about the writing side of authors’ lives, so I thought today I would share five things that I’ve learned from writing since I started doing it professionally about ten years ago.

1. Writing isn’t as easy as people think it is.

I think there is this conception that writing a book is easy, an idea that “anyone can do it.” Websites like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated, in which participants spend a month attempting to draft a 50,000-word novel) do nothing to disabuse people of the idea that writing a novel is easily achievable.

Now, I’m not saying writing a novel can’t be easy. I’m also not saying that someone who is new at novel-writing can’t do it. Obviously, it can be done; every writer with a book out had to start somewhere, after all. But sitting down and writing a book takes more than talent, though a level of talent (and the will to develop it) is necessary in order to write a book. No, what’s really needed to write a book (and not just any book, but a good book) is the sheer willpower to sit down every. single. day. and put the words on the page, one right after the other. That might sound easy on the face of it. But it’s really not.

Remember when you were a kid and decided you wanted to learn how to play (insert musical instrument here)? Remember how you were going to be the next great (insert famous musician that plays your choice of instrument here)? Remember the hours and hours and hours you practiced, every single day?

No, you don’t. Because, statistically, most people quit trying to learn how to play an instrument within the first year of picking it up. Mainly because they didn’t immediately become as good at it as they hoped, and the process of practicing every day grew tiresome rather quickly.

It’s the same way with writing. It takes a lot of willpower and dedication to sit down in front of a computer day in and day out and pull words out of thin air to craft the story you want to tell. And because it takes so much dedication and it is so inherently difficult to keep up the practice of doing it every day, most writers (or attempted writers, if you will) fail to produce much of anything before giving up, mainly because the idea of being a writer sounds glamorous and the process of writing seems so easy—after all, their favorite authors have put out so many books, so how hard can it be?

2. The “spark” of story doesn’t always come easily or as often as you’d like.

Writers often talk about that “spark,” that little niggle of an idea that suddenly blooms forth into the entire plotline of a story that they then sit down and hammer out in a series of days in which they frantically type word after word and occasionally forget to eat and neglect sleep and personal hygiene.

Believe it or not, that “spark” is often hard to come by. Some writers can go years without having a spark of a story idea before a flurry of them shows up. That’s essentially what happened to me. After I completed The Becoming: Redemption, I was stuck in a bit of a quagmire, lacking any real, serious ideas that inspired me enough to sit down and slam out all the words required to create a novel. I finally got hit with that infamous spark with The Unnaturals Series, and last year, the spark for a new book in The Becoming Series smacked me upside the head, and ever since then, the “spark” has been firing ideas at me like a machine gun.

Waiting on the “spark” to hit is definitely a feast or famine scenario.

3. Outlining a story only works sometimes.

The plotting vs. pantsing debate rages eternal in writer circles, and sometimes that debate gets pretty heated. I’m not here to hash through the debate all over again. I’m just here to talk about what works for me. And what sometimes doesn’t.

I’ve discovered over the years that outlining a story is a really great tool for writing quickly and efficiently. I’ve used the technique quite a few times to power through a story and get it written as quickly as possible so I could get it out there. But occasionally (maybe about forty percent of the time), I find the outlining process to be not only unnecessarily difficult but disruptive and sometimes impeding to the flow of some stories.

I’m not sure why this is. I think some stories just lend themselves more to sitting down and writing the story rather than planning and plotting out the details before writing. Those are the times when I set the outline aside and just follow where the characters want me to go.

On the other hand…

4. Pantsing a story leads to more revisions than outlining it.

I have discovered that when I decide to just wing it with the storyline, it can be freeing…but it can also add a ton of extra work to the entire process. Usually when I end up deciding to write by the seat of my pants and not plot out the storyline beforehand, I have to rewrite and revise, revise, revise. As I’ve mentioned before in quite a few different places, I speed-wrote The Becoming: Revelations in the span of a single month, August 2012, without the use of an outline. I then proceeded to have to revise the book nine times over before the end of the month.

That’s not really a point of bragging. It’s not a point of pride, either. It’s just a perfect example of how sometimes, when you lack signposts or a guidebook for a particular story, you can accidentally wander off track and end up having to backtrack and start over. This, inevitably, ends up wasting time, time that could be better spent on another book.

5. But as hard as it is, there’s almost nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Writing is a difficult, time-consuming, often lonely job. Sometimes, it’s thankless. Sometimes, you misjudge what the reading public wants, and what you want to write isn’t what the readers want to actually read. Sometimes you invest a lot of money and time and effort into something that just doesn’t sell. Or, worse, you write a book that does sell but gets reviewed so poorly that you consider just quitting, writing only for yourself, never putting out another book again.

Writing—and publishing—occupies that weird space between business and art. It takes talent and hard work and dedication to finish the book, but it takes business sense and knowledge of marketing and other necessary evils to sell it. I’m still trying to learn how to market and sell my books without feeling like a skeevy salesperson in the process, and I’ve been at this for ten years now.

But you know what? As funny as it sounds, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. (Except for more readers. I could always use more readers.)

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