So, NaNoWriMo often brings a new bout of first time writers (which is awesome!) and because of this I have decided to round up a few things I wish I had known when I first started writing. Because we all know what it is like when we want to start something new, read a few books and suddenly we are experts; then a few years later we realise that we made so many mistakes and it is why we still aren’t where we want to be.
Here are my top 5, in no particular order!
- At some point, you will hate every single word you write.
When you first start you think you could write forever and every word you write is poetry on the page, until you come to revise it and you are looking at thinking ‘what the hell was I thinking?’ or even better ‘what is it even meant to say?’.
This is a very common phase and a lot of budding authors lose confidence drastically when they reach it, they start comparing themselves to successful writers who earn millions with their amazingly edited books, and then look at a heap of words on a page and want to cry.
One thing that got me through this was actually looking at the backstory behind success stories, the rags to riches stories like J.K. Rowling who went from rejection to movie deal. I remind myself that they all sucked at one point too and if they can pull themselves up, so can I.
- The muse does not like writers, she rarely appears when commanded to.
Again, when you start you are full of new energy and you feel like the muse is at your beck-n-call because every time you sit down to write and the words flow from your fingertips like magic. Until the day you hit your first case of writer’s block and you being cursing the mythical being that is the muse herself.
You will question everything about being a writer, what good is a writer who can’t think of something to write? You will see despair everywhere, you’ll think of yourself as useless.
The thing is, you don’t need a muse to be a writer, you need perseverance and motivation. A routine is the embodiment of both of these, getting yourself into a routine will help not only channel the muse to you (because she will obviously know that between the times of 6 and 9am on a Tuesday, she must be with you) but also make you write. Knowing that you write at a set time every day, when you sit down your mind and body will reset to writing mode and suddenly when the muse turns up half an hour late because you sat in a different chair, you are already in the flow of writing.
- Plan, Do. Re-plan, Re-do.
For some reason, when I first started writing I thought that once you wrote the story, that was the only way that it could be written. That the way it was written originally was the best because that is how it formed. Oh how wrong was I!
One of the biggest things I have learnt over the last five years, is to take a draft, rip it apart and play with it. That putting the elements together in a particular order can make a story better or worse, can add tension or take it away. This is where the re-planning comes in; it may even be that you completely change the layout of the story.
I recently read some very interesting advice, stating that once you have drafted a novel (of whatever length) try and write it as a <3000 word short story, if you can do it and it still makes sense while covering all of your plot points, you need more if you want to keep it as a novel, but it might work really well as a short story. I have done this before and let me tell you it really makes you think about what is important to your story and what is added fluff that readers will see through as lazy writing.
Try it! : Take a piece that you have been working on, even if it is still in the planning stages; then write it out as a short story and see how it feels. Does it feel coherent or does it feel like piece of the puzzle are missing. If you feel this way, take it up to a novella length novel (17,500 to 40,000 words) and repeat the exercise again. Eventually you will find where your story fits comfortably and it will be better for it.
- Editing isn’t just reading your work and changing spelling mistakes.
Edits. The word is terrifying.
To me at the start this simply meant reading through and finding the silly little mistakes, because I am an author and the story is great because I wrote it but the spelling is terrible because I wrote it.
When you sit down to do your first set of edits and you want to cry because you have no idea where to start. You read through and realise that you keep switching tenses, that the timeline is out of sync or that you are missing huge connective elements.
For me I learnt the editing process through YouTubers like WordNerds who break down these huge tasks really well. I learnt that it is about looking at the story as a whole first, considering themes, messages, character and plot arcs. Only then do you go down to looking at scenes, do they push the story forward or is it there for show? Before finally doing what I believed was editing, what I later learnt was line editing.
Of course between each edit there are grave re-writes of whole sections, characters are written out of in, and generally it becomes more concise.
- Not many people truly support you until you’re established.
This one is the saddest of all the realisations, I think. There will be very few people who will actively support you before you have anything published, many will see it as purely a hobby and that it won’t amount to anything more than a few saved documents, even if you do tell them you are writing a novel to sell.
There will be an enormous amount of people that will surprise you, why write a book? You’ll get nothing for it, or anyone can write a book, it’s not special. I won’t be surprised that even expressing an interest in writing will get responses like this. My all-time favourite is: when are you getting a real job?
You see, most people don’t realise the effort that goes into the development and publication of a book, especially from a debut in this era of self-publishing nightmares. So even when you are spending day and night producing work after work, they won’t place you with the author group until you have a book published.
What I realised, was that you don’t need anyone else to determine whether you are a writer or not, simply by writing each day you are a writer. When you finish something, whether it is shown to the world or not, you are the author of that piece. It is all too similar to an artist, who spends forever sketching in journals but they only get seen by them; they are still classed as artists, so you are still classed as an author.
The reality is, that some take it even further than this; saying that you can’t be an author until you are living from the wages you earn from your writings. This itself is an enormous task, producing enough work to sustain yourself and getting them all excepted is no easy feat. However, when they are looking from the outside in, where success is measured by whether you can feed yourself/ family on the wage you earn each month, this viewpoint (no matter how aggravating) seems completely rational to them.
I know many of these topics were deep and brutal, however it is the brutal side to life that many people don’t find out until it is too late and they are already up the creek without a paddle. Hopefully, picking up one or two tips from this will help you with those hurdles.
Do you think I have missed a big one off the list? Let me know what you wish you had known about writing 5 years ago, in the comments below.
Until next time friends,